Part 16: The Curtain Rises on Tragedy II
As I looked over the parlor, I saw George-aniki and the others gathered, talking. It looked like they were talking about the magic circle that had been painted onto the shutter. As uncle Hideyoshi thought back to that time, he started drawing the shape in the margins of Maria's notebook. I see, since Maria was second only to Grandfather in knowledge of the occult, she might understand what it meant.
"...After that, around the top of the circumference, there was a small mark. Five small circles arranged in a plus sign, and straight lines connecting them..."
"Ah, yes, there definitely was somethin' like that drawn there... Yep, there's no mistakin' the shape. I don't understand the thin characters, but the arrangement was nearly the same."
Everyone was staring down at the shape, so I stared down at it too.
"...The only person who would want to draw something this confusing is probably Grandfather. Seriously, where did he go?! I wanna grab him and ask what the hell this is supposed to mean!!"
Jessica's voice contained impatience and anger. She hadn't gone so far as to say that Grandfather was the culprit, but it looked as though she thought that Grandfather definitely knew the culprit's background. Of course, if you were searching for the link that bound the Ushiromiya family and the occult together, our Grandfather's name would probably come up... And, to a person who knew nothing of the occult, this strange mark would have no meaning. Which meant that this might have been something addressed to Grandfather...
That's right, and the reason the crime had been shown off to the survivors was so that they would find this. In that case, where had Grandfather, as the essential recipient of this message, disappeared off to...?
"Does this shape ring any bells...?"
Maria looked at the shape with a serious face.
"...My first impression was that the design resembled a German swastika..."
"Aah... It certainly does have that kind of design. Does that mean it has somethin' to do with Germany?"
"The swastika was originally a crest from a religious order of knights and was supposed to protect pilgrims traveling to sacred places..."
"...So in other words, this magic circle might have some religious meaning? This is starting to sound like gibberish..."
When I looked over at all of them, preparing to jump into the discussion, something shocked me. Maria was laughing, an eerie and incomprehensible expression on her face.
BGM: Fishy Aroma
"Kihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihi. That's completely wrong, everyone. Kihhihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihi... Can't you tell just by looking? Kihhihihihihihihihihi."
While everyone was scared out of their wits, Maria, alone, kept on cackling happily... After a while, that laugh was suddenly and abruptly cut off. But her expression was still like someone completely different from Maria.
Maria stole the writing materials from the stunned Hideyoshi's hand. She then started drawing another magic circle with a rustle, right next to the one that Hideyoshi had drawn...
"...See? Was it this kind of shape?"
"u... Hmmm... It was..."
"...Ma, Maria, incredible... You really do know a lot..."
Jessica tried to smooth things over by praising Maria. Maybe she wanted to make sure that this was still the Maria who everyone knew so well... But Maria didn't answer her in any way in particular. With a rustle, Maria began writing characters that seemed familiar to her in the corner of the shape. When uncle Hideyoshi and Doctor Nanjo saw them, their eyes immediately began to open wide...
"Written on the top and bottom and left and right are the names of the angels who preside over wind, fire, earth and water. Chasan, Arel, Phorlakh, and Taliahad. And in the four corners are the names of the four great kings. Ariel., Seraph, Tharshis, and Cherub. Do they match?"
Even if they hadn't been able to correctly write what they had seen... when they were once again shown something identical, it wasn't difficult for them to realize that the two were the same. When Maria asked them whether it matched, uncle Hideyoshi and Doctor Nanjo nodded over and over again.
"There's no mistake, that's it. I'm sure that those kinds of characters were written there...! How can you write something like that...?"
"Th, there were also characters written around the circumference..."
"I know. Like this, right?"
With another rustle, Maria began to surround the circumference with more Hebrew writing...
For a while, everyone, including me, was at a loss for words. A little later, George-aniki returned to his senses, and slowly managed to speak.
"...That's incredible, I'm surprised... So, what meaning does this magic circle have?"
"It's a magic circle to borrow the power of the sun. He who wears it as a talisman drawn in gold shall be able to break free from the bonds of any prison, and receive the power to gain freedom."
"...Break free from the bonds, gain freedom...? It sounds deep..."
"The word 'bonds' is not limited in its interpretation to some kind of physical object. Therefore it does not only hold meaning for people locked up in an actual jail. It can also refer to the release from mental bonds such as ties of obligation and inescapable fate."
"...Ties of obligation and, inescapable fate, you say? That's also pretty deep."
"But I really don't understand... What does this have to do with those six bodies? Far from bein' released, they were killed and stuffed in a storehouse, weren't they?!"
"It's not like the magic circle was drawn for their sakes. The six of them were there for the sake of the magic circle. It is truly pitiable... Kihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihi."
"What do you mean? What in the world do you mean when you say the six of them were there for the sake of the magic circle?"
Maria lifted up her pointer finger and waggled it as if she were making fun of us.
"See, you say... I have no idea what you're saying."
"...You're saying that... they're sacrifices?"
If the part that Maria had just read aloud was the vital part of the magic circle, then it was saying that the benefit of this magic circle required sacrifices to be offered in exchange. So inside the storehouse, where the magic circle had been drawn, the sacrifices had been offered...
It looked like everyone had slowly arrived at the same conclusion. Some people were shocked, others spat something out furiously as they punched their knees... This was starting to become a seriously disturbing story. And since we couldn't accept it, we couldn't understand it.
...I don't care what kind of magic circles or curses other people believe in, I won't pick a fight with them. But did they really kill Dad and the rest as sacrifices for crap like that...?! I just couldn't stand that feeling. After this, I'd rather still be disgusted over that theory about fighting over the inheritance...!
As I started getting pissed off with a feeling between anger and sadness, I broke from the circle everyone was in and returned once again to the window.
That letter from the witch, Beatrice, that Maria had read aloud at last night's dinner. After that point, it felt like we had... no, like this whole mansion and this whole island had started to become shut up in some kind of mysterious world...
That's right. When I think back on it, that letter was an invitation from the witch. The ruler of the nighttime island had invited us inhabitants of the day into another world. The phone and the radio had been interrupted, the island was shut off by the typhoon, you could now call it another world cut off from the real one. That's right, right now, on this island, now that the witch has sent her letter, having sacrifices offered for a magic circle is perfectly natural.
So what will happen next? Will some weird people wearing goat masks start doing the Bon Festival dance or something...?! Aah, it's hopeless, it's hopeless, I don't get it... The inside of my head's all screwed up, and I don't even know what to think...
Anger, sadness. The opposing emotions all swirled up together, and they started to suck me in. Unable to resist, I could do nothing but cover my eyes with my hands and trust to my mind and body as I started getting sucked in...
...As I started losing heart, I began to recall a memory from when I was small. It was from when I was very small. I had unfortunately seen a scary occult movie on TV, and for a while, I hadn't even been able to go to the bathroom by myself. That old bastard had given an exaggerated laugh and said this:
It's because they don't exist. Something that ridiculous can't be found anywhere on the planet. Because they don't exist, people want to see them and go to a lot of effort making them. That's why those occult movies just make me laugh.
If I were forced to choose, I'd say, rather than demons and monsters, this year's earnings call and angry wives are 100 million times scarier.
...Seriously, why have I been acting so damn thickheaded. I was totally taken in. Don't try to mess with me, this is the human world. I don't even care about witches, demons, magic circles and sacrifices. The human who killed Dad and everyone else is still on this island. That's all there is, right...?!
The next thing that started speaking to my heart was Kyrie-san.
In other words, when you are completely cornered and you think you have no moves left, that is the moment when it is easiest to read your opponent. However, when a person is forced into a defensive position, they can't help but lose their ability to think clearly, so they aren't able to get their minds around their opponent's moves. That's when you 'turn the chessboard over'.
With us put on the defensive, we couldn't even guess at the culprit's scheme. If you turned it over and looked at it that way, just how far could you see? First off, at the time the murders were committed by the culprit, they knew that the island was cut off by the typhoon. Therefore, they should have understood that even if they carried out the murders, they wouldn't be able to get away until the next morning. In short, the culprit had begun without securing a way to escape.
Furthermore, that bastard had tossed the corpses in the storehouse, almost like they were politely telling us 'They are here' with that weird scribble. In other words, since we would probably find the corpses sooner or later, they wanted to show us them. If we had all been dim and hadn't noticed the storage shed, the culprit's goal would not have been achieved, would it?
Hehe, if you think about it this way, that bastard of a culprit... Since this morning, he must have been watching our every move with bated breath. After all, if we hadn't been so kind as to discover what was on the storehouse, all of that hard work and preparation that they had done last night would have just gone 'poof'.
The defacement of the bodies had occurred after death. So it hadn't been the means by which the culprit had murdered. It didn't mean anything to those who had been killed. It did have meaning to those who found the bodies. The culprit wanted to make it appear that they had been killed so brutally.
Ha! After thinking this way, I really want to tell that bastard to stop taking me so lightly. Who would just dance to that tune? If you're told 'Please be scared', you can't just say 'Really? Sure thing!' When someone tells the great Ushiromiya Battler 'the entrance is right here', I'm the kind of guy who'll start wanting to sneak in through the window!
They must have drawn that thing in pitch-black darkness, taking a lot of time and holding an umbrella in one hand. Isn't that amount of hard work and perfectionism impressive? What purpose would have been worth all of that effort? If we were looking for a fan of the occult in this mansion, most likely, all of us would naturally doubt Grandfather. Did they want to 'make us think Grandfather was involved?'
But if that was all they wanted, they could have just drawn any old scribble that looked like a magic circle. It wasn't like any of us amateurs could be able to tell the difference between genuine and fake. However, this magic circle was genuine, and furthermore, it had even been written in Hebrew. So this magic circle had a message that could only be understood by someone with knowledge of the occult. This message was a form of communication.
By sending it, they were hoping for a reaction. Reaction? For some reason, we couldn't find Grandfather now. I couldn't know how Grandfather might have seen the magic circle on the shutter, but had he chosen to hide himself in reaction to that sign...? No, was it a trap to make us suspect that Grandfather had participated? You could read it either way, damn that's annoying. What kind of reaction was the culprit hoping to get out of us by showing this imitation of the occult...? Somehow, that felt like the culprit's weak point...
Isn't that interesting? This is a battle of wits between us and the witch. Will we be sucked up by her occult game first? Or will we pull off her fake skin first? There's a whole day until the typhoon passes. Why not enjoy ourselves...?!
Everyone had sunk into their favorite sofas, some deep in thought, some irritated, some acting depressed. Maria was once again enjoying the television as if she had never left it. It looked like she found the commercials more fun than the boring program, and was happily yelling 'uu-uu-kya-kya-.'
I stared at each person's appearance in turn. If there wasn't a 19th person, the culprit must be in this room.
Right now, aunt Natsuhi was searching the mansion with the servants though, wasn't she? Then it shouldn't be 'in this room.' 'In this mansion,' is what we should say. After all, there was also the possibility that aunt Natsuhi was behind this, and we still couldn't deny that one of the servants could be the killer. Anyone could be the bad guy.
Still, aunt Natsuhi and the rest sure are slow... Of course, it's not a small mansion, but isn't this taking a little too long just to walk around, checking the windows and doors?
Just as I thought that, aunt Natsuhi and the rest returned. Not one of them was missing... But our relief was short-lived. Everyone looked at aunt Natsuhi, shocked...
...The story I had been told by aunt Eva started to creep back into my mind. The possibility that the culprits had enough in numbers or weapons to kill all of those six at once.
BGM: Scar Sound
At a glance, its silhouette looked a lot like a hunting gun, but it was unusually short, and kinda looked like a kid-sized gun. However, it had a thickness to it which revealed that this was definitely not some kid's toy.
"...Is that Kinzo-san's gun...?"
"Did you know about it? That's right. I remembered that it was in Father's old collection, and I managed to find it."
"Whoa! Awesome... aunt Natsuhi, is that thing real?"
"Yes, it's real. It can fire live ammunition. Long ago, Father used it to chase wild birds."
"...Ah, I remember. Where could that have come from... No matter how much I asked him to let me touch it, he never let me lay even one finger on it."
"Oh... Grandfather had one of these...? I didn't know."
"Long ago, Grandfather was really addicted to cowboy films. That generation really liked this kind of rifle."
"Is that a Winchester? But I've never seen something that short before."
"Ah--! I remember, that gun! That really takes me back. That's the one Steam McQueen fired off in Wanted: Alive or Dead!! Father sure has good tastes...!"
"...Long ago, the Master had that brought over specially from America. As you can see, it is a real gun, so please don't tell anyone about this..."
"He was quite fond of it right after he managed to acquire it. It seems the workings that ejected the cartridges were more interesting to him than shooting it, and he played around with it back in the forest all the time. Hoh-hoh-hoh-ho..."
"...Still, it's the real thing. Are you sure you should be dragging this out?"
"This is preparing for the worst. There's probably more than one of them. Furthermore, they are horrible people who killed six of us, including my husband. I have the responsibility to protect everyone until tomorrow in my husband's place."
As Natsuhi-san said this, she slumped down into one of the sofas and took a deep breath. She had been trying to find Grandfather as well as check the doors and windows. Since Grandfather was not with her, apparently his whereabouts were still unknown.
There was a dangerous atmosphere between the two of them. If you think about who was the most suspicious from the inheritance problem standpoint, aunt Eva was the obvious answer. However, there was no proof that aunt Natsuhi was innocent... No, if you view Beatrice's letter as Grandfather's complicated prank, and think of this case as just an extension of that, there was more than enough evidence to doubt even Grandfather.
So aunt Natsuhi thought that the criminal was on the outside... But aunt Eva thought the criminal was on the inside.
So was the culprit among us, or not. And did Beatrice exist, or not. If you assume that something as stupid as a witch couldn't exist, it was the same as saying that one of the these relatives here, who shared a common bloodline, was the culprit. If you didn't like that, it would be much more comfortable to simply accept the fairy tale about the witch.
And the witch? Did she draw that weird magic circle and sacrifice those people? If I accepted that rubbish, I would be able to completely trust everyone in this room.