Part 17: Occult
October 5th, 1986, 1:00 PM
It seemed that, at first, Natsuhi had planned not to let anyone set one foot outside the room, but when it came time to prepare lunch, she finally realized that this was impossible. However, in order to avoid having anyone alone in the kitchen, she told the three servants to go together. Because of that, the servants were the first ones given the right to leave the stuffy parlor, which had been packed with eleven people. Since breakfast had immediately followed that terrible incident, and many of them hadn't eaten much, everyone tore into their lunches in silence.
"I will wash the dishes, so you can rest a while, Kanon-kun, Genji-san. Do you want something to drink?"
"...I don't need anything. Kanon?"
"...I don't need anything either."
"You two must have been so busy, and so early in the morning... It's no wonder you're worn out..."
The only sound was that of Kumasawa washing the dishes, which resounded throughout the kitchen. Genji and Kanon sat in some chairs a short distance away, their eyes lightly closed. Just as Kumasawa had said, those two had probably built up a great deal of fatigue. But that didn't mean they could let it show in front of the relatives. Avoiding that was one of their virtues.
After the silence had continued for some time, Kanon opened his mouth and muttered.
BGM: Minute Darkness
"...Forget about how she died. It was nothing more than bad luck."
"...You're right. It was nothing more than bad luck."
They both fell silent once again. Kanon's expression was filled with grief.
"To think that Shannon-chan's actually dead... I still can't believe it. Poor, poor Shannon-chan... Not being able to meet her again feels like a lie... I just wanted to see that girl's smiling face one more time..."
Kumasawa spoke with her back facing them. After all, Kumasawa hadn't seen Shannon's corpse, so she had no trouble mentioning Shannon's face. When Kanon heard those words, it reminded him again of how only half of Shannon's face had been left, and his grieving expression twisted even further...
"...It was nothing more than bad luck. If we were less lucky, one of us could have been lying out there. And it could have been anyone else. Everything is left to fate."
"Genji-sama. You said that the door to Madam's room was stained with traces of something like blood, right...? The same substance that was painted on the shutter?"
"...Hmmm. It was the trace of something unpleasant. Almost as though someone with blood-stained fingers had been trying to pull out the doorknob... no, scratch through the door... That sort of unpleasant mark."
"So does this mean that... Beatrice-sama came to visit Madam's room, and tried to open the door, but couldn't...?"
Genji thought back to the time he had seen those traces of blood on the door to Natsuhi's room...
With the substance sticking to the door around the doorknob, and the marks of something scratching against the door... it had definitely appeared as though someone had tried to open the door, but couldn't.
"...Why... was Madam not chosen as a sacrifice...? If only she had been chosen, Shannon wouldn't... Shannon wouldn't have had to die..."
Just then, a loud, sharp noise came in from the hall. Both of them turned around, surprised.
"...Battler-sama. Please, excuse me..."
Genji-san and Kanon-kun stood up, surprised, and hastily bowed... But I didn't care about stuff like that. I was more concerned with continuing their discussion.
"I told them I was going to the bathroom, so they let me go. I thought I'd suffocate if I was locked up in that room any longer... When I was about to come ask you for some water, I overheard something pretty interesting. You don't need to bow your heads or anything. Please, let me hear the rest."
"...That just now... wasn't really..."
"I've been listening to you for a while. Don't try to hide it now... So I'll ask directly. Who is this Beatrice? She's supposed to be a witch from a kid's story, but it doesn't look that way now."
Kanon-kun averted his gaze. It was obvious that he didn't want to talk about this, which only made me want to ask even more. While making an effort to smile, I grabbed the collar of his shirt.
"If it were last night, this'd be none of my business. But after this morning, everything's changed. Now that Dad and the rest have been killed, this is totally my business. I have the right to listen to this suspicious story, don't I?"
Even so, I glared into Kanon's eyes as he kept trying to look away in apparent pain. Since there was a big difference in our heights, Kanon had to stand on his toes and it looked like it hurt a bit.
"...Battler-san... please let go of him... It's not like Kanon-san is really hiding anything..."
"Then you won't have any problem talking about it, right? It's lonely being out of the loop, get it?"
When I tried to further twist up his collar, Genji-san cut between us and spoke. There was a slight sense of resignation on his face. It looked like he didn't plan on hiding anything.
After Genji-san and Kanon-kun looked at each other, they nodded as though they had decided to talk...
"...Understood. Please ask us anything. We will talk."
"Right. Then I'll ask. Who in the world is Beatrice? All I know is that she's a witch who lives in the forest of Rokkenjima. I've heard that it's a story that Grandmother or someone invented to keep people out of the dangerous forest... Is that wrong?"
"...No, it isn't wrong. It's as you say. Beatrice is a witch who dwells in the forest of Rokkenjima."
Battler-sama. I don't expect you to believe this all of a sudden, but... Beatrice-sama exists. She is a real person, the one who gave the Master a vast amount of gold and who has worked by his side for many years."
"Huh...? Ah, come on... Is Grandfather paying you to repeat everything he says?"
I laughed like it was a joke, but neither Genji-san nor Kanon-kun laughed... not even Kumasawa baa-chan, who was avoiding my eyes, flustered, as she started washing the utensils. So unfortunately, I was the only one laughing. Painfully, bitterly.
"...I see, that's why Genji-san refused to mention it. If you really mean it, of course I'd take it badly. So you're saying that a person named Beatrice actually exists?"
"...Yes. She was working for the Master since before the mansion was built on this island. She has most likely been working for him even longer than I have."
"What do you know, Kyrie-san's theory was off... Grandfather really did have a confidante called Beatrice. Is that person on the island now?"
"...Yes. I believe that she is here."
That's a vague way to say it. I guess that means you haven't seen her face today or yesterday."
Yes. It is extremely difficult to say, but... umm..."
Kanon-kun once again dropped his gaze, avoiding my eyes.
Come on, don't just stop there. That's like freezing an inch before the blow, right?"
I urged him on jokingly. However, it looked like Kanon was still confused as to whether he should speak or not.
...Then, Kumasawa baa-chan whispered.
BGM: Witch of the Painting
"...She has no... what did you say?"
"Beatrice-sama has no body. Therefore, unless Beatrice-sama wishes it, common people like us are not able to see her form."
"I have heard that the portrait shows what Beatrice-sama looked like back when she had a human form... It seems he yearned for that figure so much, he would often stand in front of that portrait... Hoh-hoh-hoh..."
"Beatrice-sama sometimes changes her form into glittering butterflies and shows herself. On the rare occasion that you spot them somewhere in the mansion, there is a rule that you absolutely mustn't chase after them. It is whispered that you will meet with disaster if you follow them. In fact, there was a servant who broke that rule and quit because of a great injury."
"Wait a sec, are you kidding me? Are you all serious about this?"
"...Battler-sama, Beatrice-sama has already arrived. Such language may be unwise."
"Beatrice-sama does not like it when she is profaned. If you doubt her existence, you will surely meet with disaster."
"Battler-san, you probably find this story unpleasant. But you know what? Beatrice does 'exist', okay?"
"She 'exists'. Beatrice-sama hates people who doubt that."
"...Don't you understand, Battler-sama? Beatrice-sama has already arrived here..."
"...Come on, quit it. You know I'm weak against that stuff... You're freaking me out..."
However, there was no trace of a joke in the eyes of the three servants. On the surface, I laughed and tried to look unconcerned, but I was quickly starting to sober up. Their eyes were also sobering up fast.
"...Battler-san, I beg that you stop profaning Beatrice-sama. Please trust me..."
Kumasawa baa-chan, who was usually cheerful and would always tease people, now spoke with a totally straight face.
"...W, well... Sure you say she exists... but I don't see anything... Are you trying to say that she's standing right next to me or something? Quit joking around..."
Just then, that unnerving laugh suddenly filled the kitchen... When I turned around, Maria was standing there by the entrance. But her expression and the feeling about her, her presence... felt exactly the same as the servants.
"Whether your wavelength matches or not is determined at birth. Battler, you were born with a mismatched wavelength. That's why you can't see her. That's why you can't meet with her, and that's why you can't talk to her. Kihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihi. You're the type Beatrice hates the most."
Maria's laugh almost sounded insane, and it was extremely eerie. It was almost like she was laughing at me because I alone didn't understand.
"Do you want to know about Beatrice? Beatrice is a thousand year old witch. With all of the demons at her command, she can harness the power of alchemy to create the philosopher's stone and a vast quantity of gold. Grandfather built up all of the vast wealth of the Ushiromiya family by making a contract with her."
"Yesterday, I read Beatrice's letter, didn't I? That was real. Well, I guess it's pointless for me to try and force you to believe. After all, it looks like you were born without a trace of the sixth sense. Kihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihi...!"
"...What are you talking about? Witches, demons? Who told you about that...?"
"Kihihihihihihihihi. I heard it from Beatrice herself. Kihihihihihihihihihihi!"
Maria kept doing that unpleasant laugh. However, the servants who watched over this didn't even blink.
"Maria, it might be rude to ask, but I'll ask one more time, okay...? Who gave you that letter yesterday?"
"I got it from Beatrice. How many times must I tell you before you understand? You don't get it, do you? You can't see it. You can't believe it, can you? Kihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihi."
Just then, Maria's laughter suddenly stopped.
Battler. You still don't understand? Beatrice-sama 'exists'."
"She 'exists', you say... but where?"
"Like I said, Beatrice-sama 'exists' here."
...That's right. Now that I think about it, I've been feeling for some time now that the others haven't been looking in quite the right direction. I'd figured that everyone had just been gazing into the distance, but... that wasn't the case.
Holding my breath tightly, I slowly looked over my shoulder...
Of course, there wasn't anyone there. I've known that the whole time! However, everyone in the room except me was focusing on that point as if there was someone there.
"Beatrice is a great witch of gold who has lived for one thousand years. But since she can't show her form to humans of the wrong wavelength, she can't talk to them. And you know what? That's really sad. It means that she truly despises it when people like you, who were born without a fragment of the ability needed to sense magic, deny that she exists...!"
You're lucky, Battler. Good thing that I gave you that charm yesterday, right? Don't you realize what kind of curse Beatrice would have put on you by now if you hadn't been carrying it around? You really are lucky, Battler. Kihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihi...!"
"...Right, that scorpion keyholder. I'd thought that was just some cheap gift or something, but are you saying that really had some benefit?"
"Kihihihihihihihi. If it weren't for that, you'd be lying in that storehouse as a sacrifice with your face crushed by now. Kihihihihihihihihi, you're so lucky, Battler...! Kihhihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihi!"
"...I see. So if it weren't for that, I'd have been killed by now..."
"Battler, why don't you believe in Beatrice? Even though she 'exists'. Right now, over there, look. Kihihihihihihihi! Hey, I'll bet you want to believe it now. Believe it. And thank me for giving you that charm! If it weren't for that, you'd be in the storehouse right now. But then, maybe you would have saved someone else in exchange, right? Kihhihihihihihihihihihi!"
...Right then, I burst into laughter. Playing witches had been pretty fun up until a second ago, but unfortunately, that last one seemed to be too much for me to gloss over.
"Hahahahahahah. Then it's all useless, isn't it, Maria? If that's true, then I'm sorry, but it's all useless."
When Maria saw me suddenly start laughing, she stopped. Even though she didn't understand what I was laughing at, she realized it wouldn't be pleasant for her.
"That means the charm can't be the only reason I'm alive now, and even though I should have been cursed by the witch, I'm perfectly fine. Sorry, but I don't believe in things I don't see with my own eyes."
"Sixth sense? Wavelengths? Magic sensitivity? Sorry, but I don't believe in fake stuff like that. When I hear the girls in class start talking about how good or bad their ability to sense the supernatural is, it pisses me off! I don't know how much Grandfather is paying you, but if you're trying to talk me into joining some cult, believe me, you won't be able to do it that easily."
"...You guys are free to believe whatever you want. However, when it comes to the things I believe, I am always the one who decides! Sorry, but I can't believe in something as shady as Beatrice until I've seen her with my own eyes!!"
I spoke forcefully and sharply... When I did, Maria started cackling again.
"Kihhihihihihihihihihihihi! Well that's just fine, isn't it? Eventually, even people like you with totally mismatched wavelengths will be able to see Beatrice."
In the end, Natsuhi's order to keep everyone packed together in the parlor, that no one be left alone and that no one leave the parlor, had to be withdrawn, however reluctantly.
In any case, if eleven people are shut up in the same room starting early in the morning, the air will start to get stagnate. And after a little time had passed, everyone had started to recover from the shock of that morning. Maybe their sense of danger was weakening over time. However, it was a certain fact that six people had been killed inside this mansion, so no one was completely negligent. So when they went out into the hallway for a breath of fresh air, trying to act tough, they would quickly get scared of standing there, isolated, and would eventually return to the parlor.
I guess it's like 'The North Wind and the Sun'. If you force someone to stay shut in, they'll resist, but if you tell them to do whatever they want, they'll come back, obediently. People sure are hypocrites.
...When the servants finished cleaning up from the meal, they returned obediently to the parlor just as aunt Natsuhi had told them to, and sat in a sofa near the entrance, patiently awaiting orders. Maria, almost as though she had suddenly finished playing witches, had returned to the pure Maria I knew well, saying 'uu-uu-'.
BGM: Minute Darkness
"Aah, that happens sometimes. Just like when Maria started talking about the magic circle, that just happens sometimes. It's freaky though."
According to Jessica, it seems that she's spotted the 'Kihihihihihi' laughing Maria a few times. This was just bad timing, and furthermore, it was the first time I'd seen it so it really shocked me...
"So what is that? Does Maria have a dual personality or something? Or are you saying that her spiritual sense really is that strong, and she's being possessed by it?"
"...No, I don't think it's that. Haven't you ever experienced it? When you were small, did you have someone other than yourself who you wanted to be?"
They want to be different from other people. But that doesn't mean that they will find that they're different from the others in their class, since they are learning the same thing in school and forced into the same lifestyle. When they realize that, they start off by breaking the rules, in what's called the rebellious age. Since everyone follows the rules, they want to show off their individuality by breaking them. Even people who call this behavior childish and make fun of it, will realize that it's just a cute kid searching for themselves when they look at it this way.
Well, I'm lecturing about all this like I'm so smart, but I actually got it second hand from George-aniki. I myself was one of those embarrassing guys who thought it was cool to act like a little bastard... Well, that was when I was the age where you try standing out for the opposite sex.
"The whole point of the growing period is that people try to separate themselves from being a kid. It's the same impulse as a chick trying to crack the shell of their egg. Do you know what the difference between a child and an adult is?"
"Age? Or is it the condition of their body?"
"No, it's experience. Adults can look down on children because children have very little life experience. The reason they snort and look down on children whenever they say anything is because children don't know anything about the world."
"Yeah, I understand that. When you're a kid, you try to say things like you've got life all figured out, and try to act like an adult. No matter what a kid says, adults will just snort at them because they're too naive or because they'd 'understand once they grew up' or something. Well, it's probably true, but to a kid, it's just annoying, like they're being looked down upon."
"...I get it. It's about whether they have knowledge and experience. Of course, age isn't something to respect if a person's just wasted their lives."
"Therefore, during the period when they try to separate themselves from other children, they also try to take on personalities different from those around them. if what separates kids and adults is knowledge and experience, then...?"
"...I get it, if they know something that no one else knows, it becomes part of their identity."
"You know, when I was in elementary school, I'd learn things no one else knew, get things no one else had, and wear things no one else wore, and became a bit of a hero for it. I'll bet you have done the same thing, Battler."
"Yeah, yeah. There was definitely an age when I wanted to excel in something. I see, that was because I was trying to separate myself from being a child, my growing period."
"If you look at it in a good way, the growing period, by forcing you to separate yourself from others, pushes you to gain skills and knowledge that no one else has. This is also interesting from a sociological standpoint. Because people hate being like everyone else, they try to learn skills that other people don't know. In this way, society can acquire the broad range of skills it needs to survive. The quality of the gods' programming is truly surprising."
"Well, individual personalities can also be negative, right? Like when everyone in the class is studying hard, and I'm just slacking off, it sticks out."
I actually had been like that. Only recently, I'd finally been able to thank that middle school teacher who had slapped me after school.
"But, well, I'd try to jump over things that no one else could, sprint as fast as I could, trying to lap those guys with good grades when we did a marathon. I just felt like doing it. It was in my nature that, if I couldn't study well, then at least I could get back at them by exercising... I get it, I really went all out during my growing period."
"After all, boys do tend to focus more on physical things. But you know? Girls of the same age tend to focus more on emotional things. I'll bet there were groups of girls in your classes that were really interested in fortune telling and their spiritual senses."
"Yeah, yeah! There was, there was! They'd come over, asking me for my sign and my blood type! And then they'd laugh 'Aah, I thought so, *giggle* *giggle*!' It really got on my nerves. No matter which class you go to, girls like fortune telling. Deciding whether your spirit sense was strong or weak, what your sensitivity was, whether you could see things that couldn't be seen. That kind of thing definitely happened."
"That's because fortune telling and spiritual senses are things that aren't taught in school. To girls, who unlike guys are more introverted, that's a genre which is easy to build an identity upon, and one that they find very interesting."
"Just like when boys enter their growing period, and start acting tough and rebel against adults, when girls enter their growing period, they start getting interested in that kind of thing. Well, I didn't though!"
"...So Maria having so much interest in the occult isn't that rare among girls her age?"
Even if you accept that, I wonder if it explains that creepy dual personality thing... Well, I think I can accept it vaguely.
"You see it all the time in manga and anime right? It's kinda like that. Like memories from antiquity are revived. Like someone's possessed by the soul of the great something, or whatever."
"Ah, and also like a sleeping gene gets awakened, or maybe a sealed power or memory returns. There's a lot of that. For some reason, those kinds of things are really popular at that age. Why's that?"
"All of those examples you've just mentioned are illusions that children can add to their knowledge and experience immediately. If a nine year old girl says that she has a thousand year old witch possessing her, it's because by saying that, she gains a 1009 year old identity."
"So what you're saying is that studying is annoying. But to people who want to learn different skills from everyone else and brag about it, and get attention from it, it's a convenient delusion."
So she could brag about something without having to work hard or study. I see, isn't that a kid's greatest dream?
"Furthermore, in their desire to separate themselves from being kids, they always project an image of their ideal imagination, and it's not rare for the image of their desire to become an alternate personality. Even you, Battler-kun, I'm sure your character is a little different at home and at school, right? It would probably be embarrassing if anyone at school saw how you were at home. At school, you try to project yourself as you want to be, but home is where you are your true self."
"So, in other words, I'm changing my character for different situations. Are you trying to say that having multiple personalities is actually really common?"
"A girl who is a fan of the occult might say that she's being possessed and then reawakened. Honestly, there are some kids who can suddenly change their personalities. Even some boys, right? Guys who just blow their top and suddenly become violent. I'll bet they think it's pretty cool, but it's painful to watch."
"So let's sum this all up. Girls of about Maria's age, even if they show a creepy second personality like she did a minute ago, you're saying that's not such a rare thing?"
"If you bring it all together simply, that's what it means. Identity is an important thing used to build up one's sense of self. If you make fun of that, it could actually cause children to go back into their shell. So it's important to go along with them to some degree. Although whether that is accepted is determined by the broad-mindedness of the parent."
"...Aniki, I can't believe you aren't married... You sound like you've already raised kids through middle school. So, I wonder if aunt Rosa also knew much about Maria's dual personality."
"She knew about it. Just between us, aunt Rosa really hated it. She said it was unpleasant, and that Maria was becoming increasingly isolated from the rest of the class. So any time Maria started talking about the occult or laughing like a witch, she would slap her... And it looks like Maria stopped talking that way in front of her."
Just a girl trying to show that she was different and independent by holding interest in witches and the occult. And since she wanted to be different from herself, young as she was, she was switching between her normal personality and the personality of her ideal, a witch. In the beginning, I had found that very disturbing, but after being lectured to by George-aniki, it felt like this was a path that everyone walked down at one time or another.
...I haven't told anyone, but when I was in kindergarten, I joined up with a little gang of kids trying to form a Earth Defense Force, saying we'd help protect peace on earth. My face turns red when I remember how, during what we called battle practice, we would chant EDF! EDF!
...I calmed down a little. I had started to recover from that mysterious shock I had received in the kitchen. If I hadn't talked to Aniki and Jessica, I might still be frightened by the idea that an invisible witch was standing right behind me.
However, can I really accept that as an explanation of what happened back there?
I was starting to feel a little uneasy...
Aunt Eva had claimed that no 19th person exists, saying that someone within the family's messy quarrel had committed the crime. On the other hand, aunt Natsuhi had claimed that the culprit was hiding somewhere outside the mansion. That meant that she was denying that the crime had been committed by one of us, and accepting that a 19th person exists.
And in the kitchen, Maria and the servants had agreed that a 19th person exists. But according to them, this 19th person isn't human. They had said that it was an invisible witch, plotting something mysterious.
Was there a 19th person, or not? And was the culprit a human, or a witch? For some reason, I couldn't just laugh it off... Even the most ridiculous story about the witch.
"...Hmmm... I have the same view as you, okay? I think it was just a stupid ghost story made by the parents so that their kids would listen to them. But I can't deny that the atmosphere inside the mansion makes it a little hard to say it out loud..."
"...Because Grandfather has proclaimed that Beatrice does exist. And because of their position, the servants can't doubt that. Even uncle Krauss doesn't want to get into a fight with him, so on the surface, they go along with it. So you could probably say that, inside this mansion, doubting the existence of Beatrice is taboo. Unlike the rest of us, who only come here once a year. Is that right?"
Jessica took a deep breath in admiration... It looked like Aniki had guessed right.
"...It's just like you say. No one really believes it on the inside. But on the outside, they accept that she exists. See, it's just like the way some people are about gods. Even though they know god doesn't exist, they feel like it would be uncouth if they actually said that out loud..."
"...How do you think the servants feel about it amongst themselves? Is it true that, since their employer says she 'exists', they have to go along with it...?"
"Well... I don't really know the details, but between the servants, the story about Beatrice has been treated a little like a ghost story. Remember yesterday? When Shannon was talking to us down by the beach? That story about how one night, when she was doing the rounds in the mansion, she saw something unsettling."
She had said something like that, hadn't she... Back then, I had thought she was just being really nice to help improve Maria's mood, but it had felt like she was serious when she said it.
...That's right, she definitely said it. She definitely said the same kind of thing that Genji and the rest had all unanimously declared back in the kitchen...
...That's right, she definitely said that. Exactly the same thing that I had been told just now.
"Ah, but, there's nothing to be afraid of, right? Beatrice-sama is another ruler of this mansion separate from the Master. Therefore, don't be strangely afraid. If you respect her, she won't do anything bad."
"However, it would be dreadful if you didn't respect her, right?"
"...Yes. I heard that, just before I began working, someone who spoke badly about Beatrice-sama fell down the stairs and quit after receiving a large injury to their back. Because of that, there was a rumor between the servants that Beatrice-sama's anger had been brought down upon this person..."
Of course, even though everyone accepts that curses and the like don't exist in the modern era, people are still afraid and still have a little respect for them. You often see it when, in a residential area, someone is building a house, and they call a Shinto priest for a ceremony to honor the god of that plot of land. You might think that was just a big waste of time and money, but it is said that if the workers don't do that, a big accident will occur, so they never neglect to do it. You also hear about how, if an Inari shrine is carelessly removed during a town replanning, there would be a curse by Kitsune-sama.
I think I might have read somewhere that when the occupying forces were trying to expand an airport, and had to remove a Inari-san that was in the way, all of the workers were suddenly taken out by some mysterious fever. Even in modern cities like Tokyo, it wasn't rare to see modern buildings packed all around an old Inari shrine, leaving the shrine itself untouched.
And this wasn't limited to Japan. It's probably similar to how people baptize babies. Of course, by the Christian doctrine, if unbaptized souls have even the slightest amount of sin, they will still go to hell. Putting water on a child's forehead doesn't do anything but make them cry. But if by doing just that, parents can prevent their children from going to hell, they will happily go through with that ceremony.
"...So, in other words, if anything happens that doesn't seem explainable in human terms, it's called the work of Beatrice. I think Shannon-chan said it. Windows and doors and locks that were tightly shut would be open the next time you went to check them. Lights that should have been on went out, and lights that should have been out were turned on."
"...And after all, like Jessica was joking about, sometimes when she went to leave in the morning, she couldn't find her shoes. That was also the work of Beatrice, right?"
"I remember it well. Normally, you'd say some little imps took them, but on this island, it's Beatrice. Man, what a stupid story."
"This mansion has been standing for about thirty years by now, hasn't it? It's natural for things that old to get their fair share of ghost and occult stories. Like the seven mysteries at a school."
"...So is that where we 'turn the chessboard over'...?"
"What don't you like...?"
"Just assume that an invisible 19th person existed, and that this person wanted to make it known that they existed. If it were me, I could do it with even more perfect timing."
"...What do you mean by perfect timing?"
"...Well. After all, the crime probably took place after midnight while it was still dark, right? Until midnight, people were talking together, some people had the night shift, and some people had returned to their rooms and were sleeping. Everyone's alibi is really vague, and there's plenty of room to suspect that the crime was committed by one of us. George-aniki, aunt Eva probably told you too, right? That there's a good chance that one of us is the culprit?"
"...n... yes. I guess."
"...In other words, if the 19th person really existed and wanted to show themselves, this first crime was a complete failure. No, in the first place, it was a mistake in the timing. If this invisible 19th person really wanted to show themselves, they had to make sure that the crime took place under conditions which proved that the remaining twelve people were all innocent."
"Unless there are no suspicious humans, they can't prove that they exist. So by killing them in the middle of the night, when everyone's alibis were at their most ambiguous, whether or not this 19th person exists was also at its most ambiguous. Even so, they chose that time to commit the crime."
"...By committing the crime then, it's obvious that one of the 18 would be suspected. Even so, everyone has denied that they were the one who took the name of the witch and handed Maria the letter."
"In other words, you're trying to say that one of the 18 is trying to make it look like a 19th person called Beatrice exists? That's pretty crazy... I think that my mom's theory that someone is hiding outside the mansion is a little more credible... Battler, do you actually suspect that someone in this room is the culprit?"
"...Seriously, that's too crazy... Haven't you been reading too many weird detective novels...?"
"But it's a viewpoint that we can't ignore. Whether there's a 19th person or not, the culprit is definitely planning something involving that rule about this island. Just now, listening to Battler-kun talk, I've remembered something that's a little disturbing."
"...It said that. It definitely said that. That the collecting of the interest would now take place, but if the riddle of the gold could be solved, she would lose that right."
"...Grandfather was granted the gold, and the Ushiromiya house prospered. In other words, Beatrice is talking about the interest on all of the gold that was created. In other words..."
"...That's pretty scary for a joke, Aniki...You don't mean, everything of the Ushiromiya family... in other words, everything that Grandfather gave birth to... in other words, everyone with Grandfather's blood flowing through their veins...!?"
"If you read the letter that way, these murders are just Beatrice legitimately collecting interest. If that's the case, these crimes will continue... Because the collection of interest is still only halfway completed."
"A... are you... saying that we're all gonna be killed...? But that's weird, George nii-san! In that case, why only six people? They should have killed a lot more. In the worst case, it should have been possible for them to assault everyone while they were sleeping and kill them. Why didn't they do that?!"
"...The special clause. If someone managed to solve the riddle of the gold, the right to the interest would be lost. And the very last part of the letter is tied in with this, right? It said to try and solve the riddle of Grandfather's gold."
"Jesus! It looks like we're finally getting close to understanding the culprit's message... In other words, the culprit is telling us to try and solve the riddle on that epitaph Grandfather had made... Furthermore, they're saying that if we just sit around, they'll keep collecting the interest..."
I realized that this was all based on several crazy guesses... But not everything that happens in this world fits together in a perfect line. Most of the events that we don't know about yet are only individual points. By fitting them into a straight line, I was beginning to understand. The closer the points are to the line, the easier it is, intellectually, to understand them. And the farther away they are from the line, the more fragmented everything becomes. Therefore, as far the distance between these guesses was concerned, we should call this theory crazy.
However, if the distance is narrow between the points, you could call the idea limited. Would that idea be any different from reasoning? Was I just trying to force everything that I knew about the case to fit my simple imagination? No, that's not it. When you're searching around with your hands in the dark, that search is imagination. Only imagination can find points that fit with each other. Reasoning is nothing more than tying those lines together.
If you can't imagine, you can't reason. What I was doing might have been crazy, but it also wasn't a mistake. Only the power of imagination could pull out a clue from the darkness... And the power of reasoning could tie those clues together. It was a lot like the process of searching out an enemy's weak spot and striking.
For the time being, I put aside whether a 19th person exists, and announced the theory that the goal of the culprit might have been to make us solve the riddle of the epitaph.
Uncle Hideyoshi looked like he was really interested, but aunt Natsuhi thought it was ridiculous.
Even though she was puffing up her cheeks in that cute way she had been doing since yesterday, I couldn't think of it as cute. If I took it lightly, it might suddenly transform into a creepy laugh...
"The hidden gold doesn't exist. However, the culprit, who foolishly believes that it does, wants Father's gold. If their motive is to make us solve the riddle and then steal the gold from us, then I will agree that it makes sense."
"However, in that case, why did they kill those most highly ranked in the Ushiromiya family first?"
"...That makes sense. If they wanted to make us solve the riddle, killing those closest to Kinzo-san doesn't sound like a good plan to me."
"Really...? But if we follow that argument, wouldn't it have been quicker if they had threatened Father in the first place? You'd think it would be faster to just ask the person who wrote it, rather than try to force us to solve it."
"That's also a good point. However, I don't think that Father would let it slip because of any ordinary threat."
"Anyone who knows Kinzo-san well would probably realize that he won't bow to ordinary threats..."
"...He is a man who bears the burden of all the Ushiromiya family's wealth. He's been exposed to many threats and attacks in the past. It is because he was able to overcome them that the family prospers today."
"That's freakin' right. I can't even imagine that our Grandfather would obey if someone threatened him!"
"...Jessica, watch your language."
"In that case, what about this idea? No wait, is that too crazy...?"
BGM: Scar Sound
They say that most people who have died in battles were killed by wounds from arrows. In a battle you couldn't just shoot off one arrow. You shoot off a whole bunch of arrows at once, and attack the enemy soldiers with a wall of them. So shoot them, over and over! 'Attack with a wall of truth...!'
"If the culprit is after the hidden gold, it would be very ineffective for them to force us to solve the riddle. Asking the person who made it in the first place would be much quicker and easier. In that case, the question is... is this all a message directed at Grandfather?"
If you think about it that way, it explained Grandfather's mysterious disappearance. If the culprit had attacked Grandfather, then judging by the state the six corpses were left in, he should have been displayed somewhere with that horrible makeup added. But despite that, we still hadn't found him. Did that mean that Grandfather was kidnapped, and had been taken somewhere?!
"...How could... You aren't saying, how could...!"
"*giggle* *giggle*. That sounds interesting. So Grandfather is being confined somewhere, and being threatened that if he doesn't tell them the location of the gold, we will be killed off one by one?"
"It pains me to think about how you find that interesting...!"
Aunt Natsuhi threatened her, but aunt Eva just smiled calmly.
"...Since we still haven't seen him after all this time, I think that it's almost certain that Grandfather has gotten caught up in the crime. If you think about it, you can't just ignore Battler-kun's theory, right...?"
"Stay quiet George. When did Father disappear in the first place?"
"...Who was the last person to see Father?"
Aunt Natsuhi pulled out the gold key and handed it to Genji. Looking at the key, aunt Eva giggled...
"...Hey, Genji-san. I'm sure the police will inspect Father's room thoroughly anyways. If there's anything hidden there, it will just be exposed anyways. So maybe it would be better if you just told us about it right here, right now."
"...What are you talking about?"
"It's simple. Father's study is a closed room, with no way in or out except for that key, right? I want to verify whether that's true. There is one entrance to Father's study. What about the window? Any other entrances or exits?"
"...There are none. There is no way to get in except the entrance."
"You're sure about that? There isn't some secret hidden door or anything? Since Father isn't here, I am the highest ranked member of the Ushiromiya family. I am asking you as a representative of the Ushiromiya family head. Understand that and answer me. Are there any ways in or out of that room other than the main entrance? As Father's closest aide, I'm sure you know."
"You, too, Kanon-kun, Kumasawa-san. If you know, won't you tell me? If there is one, it would be better if you said it. If there isn't, then someone might be driven into a corner in a second. If we assume that there is a hidden door, then my argument comes to nothing."
Aunt Eva didn't specify which person was about to be driven into a corner, but following the flow of the conversation, I had to feel that she was referring to aunt Natsuhi.
"...Mother, what are you talking about?"
"George, stay quiet for a while. What do you say? Genji-san? Kanon-kun? Or Kumasawa-san? Is there a hidden door? Is there not one? Genji-san, when you remodeled Father's study, you must have overseen the construction. I won't let you say that you don't know."
"...There is nothing like that in the Master's study."
"You're sure? What about Kanon-kun, trusted by the One-winged Eagle?"
"...Yes. I'm sure. There is nothing like a hidden door in the Master's study."
"N... no, I haven't heard of such a thing..."
"What about Doctor Nanjo, who had a close relationship with Father?"
"...I, I have never heard of something like that..."
"Great! Then are you ready? Let me begin. It's really simple."
BGM: Fishy Aroma
"Natsuhi nee-san was the last person to spot Father, right? I forget the exact time, but I think it was a little before 9:00 in the morning. Nee-san, do you remember? I ran into you just as you were coming out of Father's study, right?"
"...Yes, I remember. What does that have to do with anything?"
"And the next time Nee-san went to visit Father's study? That was after we had found the bodies of Nii-san and the rest, right? Together with me, you went up to the study to report that, and we discovered that he wasn't there. By the way, Nee-san. At that time, when you went to enter Father's study, did you notice anything?"
"...Notice anything? What are you talking about?"
"Come on. You threw away some trash, right? A folded receipt."
"...I do seem to remember throwing away some trash. What does that have to do with...?"
"I got that receipt when I bought some candy at a store in the airport."
Aunt Eva pulled a small bag of candy out of her handbag.
"...Aah, the receipt from when you bought that candy? But Mother, what does that receipt have to do with anything...?"
"George, stay quiet and listen for just a little longer..."
Uncle Hideyoshi's expression was a little strict. Somehow, it seemed that he understood what aunt Eva was getting at.
"...So, what does that mean? Does it meant that, until aunt Natsuhi picked up that receipt, no one opened the door...?"
"W, wait a second, aunt Eva...! Sticking a receipt in would be obvious! It's possible that, when Grandfather opened the door, he noticed it and, finding it interesting, stuck it back in the door..."
Jessica hurriedly argued back. She still didn't really know what it meant, but she realized that, whatever it was, it would raise doubts about her own mother.
"Of course, I folded the receipt up very small so that no one would notice it. But even if you assume that he saw it fall, he would have no way of knowing how high up the door it had been stuck, right? I checked it while Natsuhi nee-san was taking the key out. The receipt was still stuck not one millimeter away from where I had put it...!"
"I... I can't understand why you would pull such a childish prank! I, I'll bet you were the one who did that prank on the door to my room, too!"
"...The door to Natsuhi-san's room?"
"...It was unpleasant to talk about, so I didn't, but this morning, when I woke up, there were the signs of some prank on the outside of my door, with what was probably the same red paint that was scribbled across the shutter. There were some unpleasant marks, as though someone had been tearing at the door..."
"Wait, what is this! Why have you been silent about this until now...!!?"
"My apologies. Since so many horrible things have occurred since then, I had completely forgotten about it until just now."
"I don't know anything about that. What I did wasn't to your door, but the door to Father's room, right? After you checked that he was in his room, and until we made sure that he wasn't, that door wasn't opened even once. How did Father get out if he didn't use the door?"
"...I, I don't know that...! That's what I want to know!!!"
"Natsuhi nee-san, other than you, who else checked to see whether Father was in his room?"
"Last night, the last time I met Kinzo-san was when we were playing chess... so I was with him until just before dinner..."
"Who saw him after that?"
"...I did. I gave him his dinner last night."
"...Yes. Shannon and I were with him."
"So at that time, Father was still definitely in his room. However, Natsuhi nee-san. When you found out that he wasn't there, I hear that all ways in or out of the study were closed, right? But even so, you said that she met with him this morning."
"...I... I don't understand why everyone has become so gloomy. Could someone explain it to me...?"
"F, Father and Mother are you... saying that what Natsuhi says about meeting Grandfather this morning... is a lie?"
"How could she tell a lie? Mom's innocent!! Why would she lie!!"
"Jessica! I keep telling you to watch your language!"
All at once, everything became confused... Aunt Eva and aunt Natsuhi confronted each other across the parlor table, with George confronting Jessica... What in the world...!!
"Many people spotted him last night, right? But since this morning, the only one who claims that they saw Father is Natsuhi nee-san. And then there's that strange fact we learned from the receipt. So, how can we connect these points together...?"
Aunt Eva urged everyone to imagine it... Sure, that receipt could become an important point. But I didn't know what kind of line could be drawn through that point...!
The answer aunt Eva was hoping for was that aunt Natsuhi had lied about seeing Grandfather in that room this morning. Had aunt Eva's whim exposed that...??
"I don't get it at all!! Why would Mom have to lie!!? She had no reason to, right!!?"
"...That's what I want to know. But Jessica-chan. You can't say that there was no reason for her to lie and say that Grandfather was in the room, right? You see it every once in a while in mystery novels, don't you? That trick of confusing the time of death to create an alibi."
"Wh, what are you talking about?! I've never heard of that!!"