Part 138: The Next Head VI
Video: Succession, Part 3
...Ronove advanced with his magic circle wall bit by bit... and would probably crush her against the other wall eventually. Considering the distance, she threw out her fists... This would be her final strike.
Jessica had dealt out many punches so far. The wall wasn't invincible. It had already started to crack, and it wouldn't be strange for it to smash at any moment. However, due to the rebounding damage, Jessica also had cuts all over her body... and was all worn out.
"...Q-Quit fucking a-around... Not yet... It isn't... over yet..."
"...You have wounds all over your body. It's all you can manage just to stand, is it not? It seems you plan on putting all your strength into this final strike. However, that final strike will be fatal for you."
The damage reflected by Ronove's magic circle wall was proportional to the strength of the attack. Jessica's all-out punch would be bounced back onto her. The more all-out she went, the more suicidal it would be for Jessica.
"I-I get it, I know that..."
"I am warning you. Stop this now. This is for your own good."
"Stop bluffing. Your wall is already about to break, right...? I can tell by the feel of it after punching it so much, okay...?"
And on top of that, Jessica's fists had been imbued with an unimaginable magical attack power by now, and their destructive strength defied the imagination. In the worst case, that destructive power might even pierce the defensive wall, smash Ronove as well, and create an expansion connecting this room to the next. However, that damage would rebound on Jessica as well. She wouldn't escape unharmed!
"I will say it just one more time. Stop. I say this out of consideration for you!"
Jessica howled. Putting all the strength of her greatest and final destructive power into her fist, she roared...
...He was after her. He was planning on bringing her down with a single strike...
Gaap was also aiming for a single strike. If she let that chance slide, she would be killed this time...
"...Aren't you going to use your pitfalls?"
Even the tiny opening during the time it took to open the hole would prove fatal with George as an opponent right now. Gaap cautiously calculated the distance and timing, but even as she did, George closed the gap between them...
"...If you won't come, I will."
"...G-Go ahead... There's no point in cheap tricks anymore. I'll settle it... with this kick of mine!"
For an instant, she thought George's body blurred, and then only his jacket was floating in the air. The moment she thought 'Ah-', darkness covered Gaap. George, with his heel swung up high, was attacking from the sky like a massive dragon.
BGM: Dread of the Grave -More Fear-
Gaap opened a vast pitfall with her in the center, swallowing up George along with herself...!! The two were swallowed up by the pitfall... and spat out from the ceiling of the arbor. But that was what Gaap had been after, so she alone landed lightly.
...However, there was another pitfall in George's landing spot.
"Ehheheheheheheh, aaaahhahahahahahahahahaha!!! Gotcha, Ushiromiya Geoooooooooorge!! It was fun, so die. The Ushiromiya Family Headship would be wasted on the likes of you, so I'll finish you right here, right now!!! Aaaaaahhhhh, nngaaaaaaaaaaaahhh!!"
George once again fell from the ceiling of the arbor. He had probably been dropped the same distance as falling off the roof of a two story building. In the sky, he couldn't control his posture in any way. It was impossible to resist or defend or avoid!!
As Gaap spun like a whirlwind, she concentrated all of her energy on the sharp tip of her stiletto heel. This was the final strike... to perform his requiem. The final strike of the queen bee that would bore into heaven, knocking him down into the true Abyss!!
She closed in on her prey... and stuck her foot up into the sky.
...At that time, she saw George's face. Even though he was in midair, he was calmly adjusting his glasses with the middle finger of his right hand. And his posture was still preserved as that of an axe kick.
Without the faintest deviation, he aimed for Gaap's forehead...
"If I'd jumped to make the person on the ground taste my heel, my posture would have collapsed long ago. However, my posture hasn't collapsed in the slightest. Do you know why?"
"...You... don't... mean..."
"Uu, oooooooooooooohhh, aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhh!!!"
"It's your loss, Miss!!!"
The final, strongest punch that Jessica had raised... reached the wall... and was sucked in. It was sucked into a black, large hole that had suddenly opened on the wall.
"Well, I did tell you to stop."
"Actually, I wasn't even close to being in a pinch. Sooorry..."
BGM: Happy Maria! (Instrumental)
The shocking destructive power imbued in Jessica's fist crushed George's organs and scattered his abdomen. The same destructive power in George's axe kick smashed half of Jessica's head... and scattered its contents in the same manner...
"Pfft, ahhahahahahahahahahahaha...!! Didn't I tell yooou? About a witch's acting proweeeeeeess? Hey, hey, Beato, what do you think, were you watching...?"
Beato and Gaap casually high-fived each other.
"...Nng, aaah... whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhh!!!"
Gaap dropped Jessica's corpse through a pitfall... and all the chunks were thrown into Jessica's room, as carelessly as throwing something into the trash...
Jessica's corpse and lumps of flesh fell from the ceiling and poured out all over her room. Ronove shook his head slightly at this gruesome change of scenery.
"However, the true art of us demons... that is, foreseeing this conclusion and giving you advice I knew you wouldn't listen to, really isn't something a Human could understand. Pukkukukukukukukukukuku!"
"It really was fun, kid. But you play with words a bit too much. Is 'Maybe it's about time I started fighting back?' really the best you've got? Heheheh, are you trying to be someone from a light novel or something? *giggle*giggle*giggle*!"
In the arbor brutally decorated by George's and Jessica's scattered blood and guts, Gaap enjoyed a loud laugh for a while... But she quickly realized that, in all seriousness, this was a little too filthy and undignified, and she snapped her fingers. As she did, a cloud of gold butterflies rose up around her, stuck to each of the bits and blood stains, and dropped them. Then, George's corpse returned bit by bit, and the brutal corpse with its guts torn out was repaired into a clean corpse that looked like it was sleeping. Was this some act of sportsmanship towards a dead rival...?
The heavens were split. Because Gaap had lifted her leg high, pointing at the sky.
Without a trace of mercy, that foot stepped down... and was buried into George's forehead. The stiletto heel that was sharp as a weapon pierced George's forehead. With a *bloop*, it was pulled out... It was like a mark proving that Gaap certainly had finished him by her own hand...
Ronove also returned Jessica's corpse to its original form. And unlike how it had been with George, he restored Jessica's life...
"No, that is wrong. You certainly did pass away, Jessica-sama. You should be well aware of the memory of your final moments."
Jessica's mind was burning. For some reason, she remembered being thrown somewhere... and having George's heel smash her head...
"Am I... alive...?"
"No, you are dead. With my magic, that will only be postponed for a scant three minutes. After three minutes, the magic will end, and you will return to being a tragic corpse with half of its head crushed."
"...Wh-What'd you say...? Heh, heheheheh..."
"Death is brutal. In most cases, you aren't even given the time to ready your heart. But to praise you for fighting so bravely, I've decided to give you this time. Perhaps you should sort out your regrets from this world in those three minutes."
"I can also... decide to take you along with me during those three minutes..."
But the power that had burned through Jessica's body until a second ago had been completely lost. Jessica was aware of that herself. She was already dead.
"And that is all for me. If you would excuse me. It was fun, Jessica-sama."
Ronove turned his form into a cloud of gold butterflies and disappeared. All that remained was the sound of the wind and rain, and the figure of Jessica as she crouched down, leaning against the wall...
Jessica could tell. She probably really would revert to the corpse she had been after three minutes. Was there anything she could do in those three minutes...?
She stood up, and with a shaky gait, took the phone that was on the desk...
"...Heh, heheheheh... They... got me..."
"Are you okay?! Did you get injured?! I'll come to save you right now!!"
"No, it's already too late. I'm... already dead, or so I hear... Ahahaha, by the time you got here, Battler, I'd be a corpse with half its head split open."
"Craaaaaaap, that damn geezer!! Wait there, I'm coming right now!!"
"Listen to me, Battler!! Listen closely, okay...? Now I totally see why Gohda-san and Kumasawa-san were evasive about the time the six in the dining hall got killed."
"Wh-Whaat?! What are you talking about...?"
"I saw it, so what am I supposed to do?!! Those guys warp and set up barriers, ahhaha, and do whatever they want, okay...? It's like some kind of manga, an anime... hell, and we seriously can't keep up. Ahhahhahhah... From the very beginning, fighting was useless... They really aren't opponents that you'll be able to fight with that hat-stand spear you're so proud of..."
A line of blood dripped down from Jessica's forehead...
"Y-You mean about the test...?"
"No. Don't misunderstand... and assume that your enemy's Human. The enemy... isn't Human. They're demons... that can freely wield a terrifying magic. No matter what, don't get the wrong idea about that... *cough*, *cough*cough*!! Be... careful..."
A line of blood dripped down from Jessica's mouth as well. The left half of her head started hurting. Jessica realized that she was about to return to the corpse she had been.
"...When 13 people die, the Golden Witch... will revive. Six were killed including Mom. That's the first twilight. Then George nii-san and I were killed... for the second twilight. So once five more people are killed, the ceremony will be complete, and the witch will revive."
Battler already didn't understand what Jessica was saying. But from her tone, he realized that she knew she was about to die. So even though he didn't understand the situation, he urged her to give it her all.
"...Haha, I said I'm already dead. See ya. It looks like it's time."
"Good luck on your test. I hope you... can become the Head...."
"Jessica? Jessica?! Hey, answer me!! Jessicaaaaaaaaaaa!!"
Battler's sorrowful voice could be heard from the dangling receiver. As she leaned against the wall in that corner, crouched down...
Jessica's head had been half smashed...
"...Is this... a well...? Where is this...?"
Kyrie stuck her face out of the well, and then Krauss showed himself too. When he realized that they could see the back of the mansion from beyond a grove of trees, Krauss knew more or less where they were. To think that here, in a certain well, there had been a hidden underground passage, which led to a hidden mansion...
"Th-This really is tough on this old body... I usually came up from a different spot, with real stairs. If you just unlock it..."
"...I will ask you to tell me about the layout of this place in detail later, Doctor Nanjo. Shannon, are you okay? Grab hold."
"...I-I'm fine. Kanon-kun, quickly."
Kanon climbed up a ladder out of the shaft that was disguised as a well. It was probably quite deep. When he looked down, for the first time, he realized how far he'd come up.
...Everyone there looked through the hole in Kanon's chest to the scenery beyond...
Kanon slumped backwards... and was swallowed up into the depths of the well...
"E-Everyone, run!! The Chiester Sisters!! They've locked on, we can't avoid them!! Run!! Let at least one of us remain alive...!!!"
Her head had been pierced. The three had witnessed it perfectly until it had shot out the opposite side, blowing it away. Shannon fell to her knees, blood gushing from both sides of her head, and flopped to the ground.
"They're after us!! Run!! We'll be killed!!"
As Nanjo doubled over in shock, stunned by how Shannon had died, the Chiester Sisters did not allow him to escape.
...Thump. And so, Nanjo passed away.
"What the, why...?!! Where's the enemy coming from?!"
"We're being sniped!! I don't know where from, but they've honed in on us perfectly!! Let's escape into the mansion, block their field of vision!!"
The two dashed towards the back door of the mansion. Then, right as Krauss was about to shut the door behind him...
Krauss's body leaned over, fell down, and drew a neat radial pattern with the insides of his head...
Kyrie ran wildly through the hallway, flew into some room, and locked the door. But even so, she wasn't even remotely convinced that this had saved her life. She would probably die soon!
After hanging up the call from Jessica, Batter had been about to dash out. In that instant, the phone rang again.
"...Yes, Battler-kun. I got lucky. I managed to escape the dungeon somehow. I really did have luck on my side."
"Where are you?! Is everyone okay?! Over here, it looks like Jessica and George-aniki are-"
"Listen!!! I probably won't be alive for long."
...Oh, that's unusual. The enemy, who sniped the other four one after another with extraordinary skill, apparently really does have trouble shooting me between the eyes with a single shot while I'm holed up in this room. But the next strike will probably hit...
At this point, Kyrie finally remembered the first massive killing in the dining hall... That's right... This is what killed Rudolf and the rest, all six of them...
"...Listen, Battler-kun. I'm going to tell you everything exactly as I saw it. I'm sure you'll think there's something wrong with my head."
"Yes, it's okay for you think that. Even I still haven't sorted out what it was I saw."
"...Today, after you all returned to the guesthouse, the family conference began in the dining hall... and I'll tell you everything that happened next. Listen until the end without butting in. The call might be suddenly cut off partway through. If it does, at that time, I'll be dead."
...About how she had escaped somehow... and ran away to where she was now, and how everyone had finally been killed... It was all spoken dispassionately, with no dramatization, just as she'd seen it. She even spoke about how everyone except her had been killed, and how she had observed the moments of all their deaths, and how even now, someone was trying to kill her.
"First it was by my feet. Next, it was close to my shoulders. Just now, it grazed my ear. Its aim is getting more and more accurate. Looks like it'll go right between my eyes pretty soon..."
"R-Run, Kyrie-san...!! Run awaaaaaaaaaaay!!!"
"Where to? I've... run this far, shut myself into a room, and even locked the door, right...? Now that I'm still being pursued, just where should I hide... hey..."
"Hey, Battler-kun... Are Jessica-chan and George-kun...still alive?"
"...Not long ago, I got a phone call from Jessica... It kinda... sounded like they were... done for..."
"...Thought so. Yeah, when we were being killed one after another, I had a kind of premonition. I thought that perhaps the second twilight had been finished in the ceremony of killing 13 people... before our twilights had been reached. In short, when I die, that's 13 people. This way, the ceremony is complete. The Golden Witch, Beatrice, will resurrect."
Kyrie-san's voice... had completely given up on her own life. Because Battler understood that, he couldn't stop the tears...
"...There's just one thing...I can advise you on."
"...If... a demon or a witch does appear in front of you..."
"There's no need whatsoever to doubt whether it's real or not. Understand that it is what it seems to be."
"You might think there must be some trick, or that there's some true nature hidden behind it. If you have the time to think of something like that, it'd be much more constructive to plan out how not to damage the mood of whatever you're facing. Even mistakenly, you must not say 'In that case, try showing me magic'... Because to prove that, they'll probably use an even crueler way than before... to show you."
"...I can't... believe it... Even if I hear... something like that coming from your mouth, I can't believe it..."
"...You're telling me to believe in Beatrice... and demons and witches and monsters...?"
"...Even after being shown things not of this world so clearly, I think we still weren't able to believe any of it. I'm still like that now. The true form of this thing that keeps attacking me, trying to shoot through my forehead, is something I don't understand... and I can't believe it. So... I want you alone to believe, to understand, to accept the existence... of what we couldn't accept. If you do that for me, our deaths won't be wasted. It'll also have been worth it for me to make this phone call... Ah...!"
"...I'm still okay. It scratched me, but it missed again. It looks like... I probably won't get another chance. Thank you. And goodbye, Battler-kun. I treated you coldly sometimes because you were Asumu-san's son. Forgive me... for those days."
I felt as though I'd heard an incredible sound at the other end of the receiver. Then, a noisy clacking sound. As though the receiver had fallen to the floor.