Part 23: Besieged
October 5th, 1986, 8:00 PM
Even though Doctor Nanjo and the rest did all they could to heal him... There was very little that could be done on an island like this without medicine or proper facilities...
However, Kanon was the only human ever to confront the culprit. If only he could give us some kind of clue... However, at the time we carried Kanon here, it was already... too late.
Jessica was crouched in the corridor, crying in anguish. She had probably been taking care of Kanon until the moment of his death. George-aniki tried to approach her with words of comfort, but when Jessica pushed him away, he stopped trying to force her to talk and left her alone.
"How can you say it like that?! Kanon-kun spotted the culprit and bravely stood up to them!! If only Kumasawa-san had gone with him, the culprit might have hesitated and chosen to run away!!"
Emotion-filled words that I never thought I'd hear coming from Jessica's mouth tumbled out. Kumasawa, looking truly sorry, could do nothing but hang her head...
"...You shouldn't have said that. It's the same for me, and probably Battler-kun as well, okay? We don't know what's going on, and it feels like our hearts are going to split open..."
There were tears in George-aniki's eyes again. Seeing Jessica break down crying probably brought back the pain of losing his parents. I had already cried myself dry. So I didn't want to cry anymore. However, I understood how great the pain in their chests was.
"Beatrice will resurrect the dead, and even love that has been lost. So you'll definitely be able to meet him soon. Then, everyone will be able to live in peace."
"Is this Beatrice of yours, the one who supposedly gave you that letter yesterday, the one who killed Kanon-kun?! Where is she?! Where is she hiding?! I'll find her and tear her apart!!! Say it! You know, don't you? You know who the culprit really is!! What do you know and what are you hiding?!! Tell me, damn iiiiiiiiit!!!"
"M, Milady, please stop...!"
"Uu-! Uu-! Beatrice exi-sts! 'Exi-sts'!! Uu-uu-uu-!!"
"Damn it, let go of me, Genji-san!! Maria knows who the culprit is!! And she's been hiding that she knows it! She must be telling them what we're doing, guiding them as they kill us!!"
"Jessica, be silent!!"
Jessica rushed at Maria and grabbed hold of her... Genji tried to stop her, but Jessica could not be calmed. The next thing I heard was the sound of aunt Natsuhi slapping Jessica's face. After that, Jessica's sorrowful sobbing voice resounded throughout the hall...
Although those words seemed kind, they clearly showed that George still had some doubts about Maria. He hadn't tackled Maria. However, he felt exactly the same way Jessica did.
"...Aniki. I already asked her the same thing. The answer was the same, too."
"I want to hear it from Maria's mouth. Who is Beatrice?"
"...Even if I tell you, you won't... believe me anyway."
"What do you mean by that?! Is it possible that the culprit is someone I know well, and that, for some reason, you're covering for them by remaining silent?! Who gave you that letter?!"
"...I got it from Beatrice. I'll say it no matter how many times you ask. I got the letter from Beatrice. Kihihihihihihihihi. George onii-chan, do you refuse to believe in Beatrice because she's not an opponent you can hit?"
"You want to turn your feelings of helplessness into violence and beat someone up. So you won't be satisfied unless your opponent is a human you can hit. So even if I tell you the truth, you won't accept it. So it's pointless for me to tell you. You won't believe."
"In that world, Mama is nice, Papa is with us and is also nice. I want to go there right away. Everyone is afraid of Beatrice. But that is only natural. So calm yourselves. Beatrice said so herself. By the time the typhoon has passed, I will have ended everything."
"...Maria, I don't mind you being talkative, but let's leave it at that for now. I'll bet this is all a pretty happy situation for you, since you're always going on about how a witch exists, but keep that to yourself for the time being. Leave everyone else out of it."
"Th, this brat, I had a bad feeling about her before, and there's something wrong, something's wrong with her!! Don't you think so too, Battler, Genji-san?! Kumasawa-san?! What about you, Mom!! Maria knows who the culprit is and she's hiding it! Maybe she hasn't directly done anything! But she's definitely the criminal's accomplice!! That's right, a spy! We can't let her stay with us any longer!!!"
Aunt Natsuhi glared at Maria with frightening eyes. Maria was used to aunt Rosa's loud style of scolding, but she apparently wasn't immune to this kind of silent telling off. She shrugged and kept her mouth shut.
A desolate feeling filled the room... It felt as though things would just get more complicated if anyone spoke.
BGM: At Death's Door
Six people in Dad's group. After that, both aunt Eva and uncle Hideyoshi, Kanon-kun, Grandfather... There were a whole 18 people on this island, and 10 of those people have been killed. More than half of us have been killed. And right now, there is absolutely no proof that the remaining eight people will be alright...
"...Anyways, now is not the time for discord. Now that we are certain that the culprit can enter and leave the mansion at will and strike out of nowhere, we must give our undivided attention to surviving until tomorrow."
"...I agree strongly with aunt Natsuhi. Tonight, we can put off searching for the culprit. Instead, it would be better to think of where we can barricade ourselves in."
As I said this, I pointed out the clock to everyone. It was already 8:00 at night. We had been receiving shocks over and over again since the early morning, and both our bodies and our minds were completely tired out. There was still a long, long time until tomorrow. We needed to find some place to barricade ourselves in so we could rest our bodies and get even the smallest amount of relief...
"...Were Shannon, Kanon-kun and Gohda-san holding master keys?"
"...Yes. They were supposed to have them on their person during work."
"...We didn't want to disturb the scene, so we didn't investigate that closely. We can't eliminate the possibility that someone stole a key from them."
"...We know there's a chance that the culprit visited the servants' room at some point in time so that they could unlock the shutter to the rose garden shed. It's conceivable they obtained a master key from there earlier on."
There were many servants serving the Ushiromiya family. Because of that, there were several master keys. Furthermore, every time the shifts changed, the keys were passed between servants, and we had to acknowledge that this had probably gotten a bit sloppy at times in the past.
"Even if they borrowed a bundle of keys from the pockets of one of the murdered servants, is there any safe place that even those keys couldn't open...?"
"...Because of the conditions of our jobs, we have been entrusted with keys to all of the rooms... All of them in the mansion and in the guesthouse..."
"So in other words, no matter where we hole up and lock ourselves in, it'd just be pointless. Sounds great, like you'll even need a key! If you're gonna come, come on, dammit! I'll beat you at your own game!!"
"...The enemy won't approach us from the front. I don't know about the first six, but if we look at what happened to my parents and Kanon-kun, and even Grandfather, the enemy has only gone after isolated people. They don't have the power to assault all of us openly in a secure room."
"That's right. It's just like Aniki says. Maybe aunt Natsuhi's rifle can serve to stave off the enemy."
"...I hope that is so, but..."
"Maria, I know you want to say something, but keep it to yourself and stay quiet for a while."
Maria probably wanted to say that witches weren't afraid of things like guns, or something like that. But if she were to say it out loud, the atmosphere around here would start to get pretty edgy. I had noticed and decided to put a stop to it...
"...Would you mind? I know of only one place that can't be entered even with the servants' keys."
"Where is that?"
"I, I'm against this!! I don't even wanna think about going in Grandfather's creepy room!"
"How many keys can gain access that room?"
"...There are two. I always have one of them. The other was held by the Master himself, but just now, from the corpse in the boiler room..."
Genji-san took a handkerchief out of his pocket and opened it, showing us the burnt and filthy key to the study. Then, he showed it alongside his own key, which he had once lent to Natsuhi.
"...Normally, I should have left the Master's key for the police, but because he ordered me to protect the safety of the study, I borrowed it for the time being."
"...I see... Which means that Kinzo's study is the only safe location right now..."
"...It would appear that way. I don't even want to think about being shut up in that strange room all night, but it appears we must accept that his room is safer than anywhere else right now."
"...After Grandfather locked himself up in that safe room, the culprit brought him out and killed him. We can't say for certain whether it's truly safe."
"According to your theory, Grandfather skillfully let aunt Natsuhi and Mother walk right past him, which removed the receipt, and then left the room of his own free will. If you think about it that way, it still might have some worth as a place to barricade ourselves in..."
"...You're too optimistic, Aniki."
If we assume that the culprit used some technique to kidnap Grandfather from his study... they would have to show us the same trick again if they wanted to assault us in the study. That would also give us a chance to make the culprit show us some proof right before our eyes. If they're a real witch, we would be forcing her to use her little magic trick to open the door right in front of us...
But such a thing is probably impossible. If you turn the chessboard over, you realize that the culprit is obviously trying to act like they're a witch. If that's true, all they have to do is appear in front of us and wow us with a colorful display of magic. Since they've avoided doing that, everything must be the work of a fake witch who wants us to think otherwise.
Therefore, a culprit who used a technique other than magic to defeat the closed room couldn't open the door before our eyes.
"Whoa. That's incredible. But isn't that weird? You're saying he built another house inside his house? That's pretty cramped for that last house of someone like our Grandfather, who bought a whole island and realized all of his dreams."
"...That's right. After some point in time, Father wouldn't trust any other place even inside the mansion."
"...We always sneered about how he shut himself up in there, and this time, we're the ones who are gonna shut ourselves up. Ha!"
Jessica spat the words out.
"Jessica-chan, it feels like you would rather go search for the culprit than stay shut up somewhere."
"...Of course, I don't think we'll be able to find them if we just start searching now. In the end, we can't do anything but wait. Then it doesn't matter where we wait, does it?! We can't run away or hide. Why don't we just take it easy in the parlor, watching TV or something and waiting for Beatrice-sama to appear?!"
"...It's alright if she doesn't appear. There is no need for us to expose the culprit."
"Well said... We shouldn't take too many risks before the police get here."
"Thank you, Doctor Nanjo. I think we should move to Father's study. Considering the possibility that Father was taken out of there, there's no proof that it is completely safe. However, I can't deny the other possibility... Perhaps, as Battler-kun reasoned, Grandfather left the study of his own accord and was attacked outside."
And Grandfather couldn't have used that trick unless he had known that the receipt was wedged in the door. Aunt Eva hadn't pointed out that last part, but it's clear how absurd the theory was. Then does that mean, as aunt Eva claimed, that the door was sealed and the room was closed? Is it a doubtless fact that aunt Natsuhi was the culprit, and that the room was a closed room...? If aunt Eva were here now, she would probably make that claim openly and blow my strange theory away.
But anyways. I had to admit that a room with both a bed and a toilet, that all eight people could be shut up in, and with only two keys, both of which were gathered here, had to be the safest place in the mansion right now... At the very least, I figured this would be better than just staying shut up in the parlor and hoping nothing would go wrong.
...Aah, it's useless, it's useless, it's all useless... My flimsy head is about to break out in a fever. If I keep turning the chessboard over, right and wrong will keep switching with each other over and over, and I won't be able to believe anything...
When it seems like the culprit is one of the 18, I want to believe in Beatrice, and once I start believing in Beatrice, I start wanting to find the culprit amid the 18. If that keeps spinning around forever, in the end, my thoughts won't have taken one step from where they started...
How far back in the past was it that Kyrie-san taught me this chessboard way of thinking? That concept of examining the situation by turning it over and thinking from the enemy's side... I get the feeling that I was so interested in this way of thinking at the time, that I let it guide the way I thought about everything.
By the way, Kyrie-san was Dad's coworker back then. I hadn't dreamed that the day would come when she would be added to our family...
...Didn't Kyrie-san... tell me something? I get the feeling she once said that, while this chessboard thinking was one way to look at things, it clearly wasn't all powerful, and it wouldn't be good to rely on it too much...
"I really wanna try it! If I could study and perfect my chessboard thinking, it'd be fun to be able to read into any opponent's moves, wouldn't it?"
"But you can't believe in it blindly. Game theory is a very deep and complicated subject. Chessboard thinking is just my interpretation that skims the surface of game theory. In order to thoroughly read your opponent's moves like you are imagining, you need to study your opponent. Additionally, while chessboard theory is convenient and practical, it isn't perfect. It has many weak points despite its convenience."
"Yes. Chessboard thinking is founded upon game theory. When you thoroughly investigate game theory, it boils down to math. Do you know what the weak point of math is? It's noise."
But, for example, unlike math, the Japanese language has noise mixed in. Kanji are a good example. Old kanji and new kanji are slightly different, which represents an introduction of noise created by the changes between time periods. Isn't history the same? There are dozens of policies that seem foolish in the modern era, but were meaningful at some point in the past.
Because the rules of chess are fixed, when a pair of experts are discussing one particular layout, it's possible that they could reach the same conclusion whether they're from one hundred years in the past or one hundred years in the future. However, if the rules of chess had gone through massive changes over time, it is possible that a discussion about the same layout would have changed as well.
...That's right. Kyrie-san definitely said that... Chess has always been a game were both sides play by the same rules and fight with the same conditions for victory. This is why it is possible for both sides to predict the other's moves. It's possible to read an opponent because you can always suppose that they will advance with the best moves they can find.
But what if... the opponent is fickle or a little tired, and makes a move that can hardly be called 'the best'? Or maybe... what if the game actually has special rules, only the enemy knows them, and they can make use of something unknown to you? In fact, what if the opponent actually has some goal other than victory?
Many times, I've thought that by using chessboard thinking, I could perceive the plans of the person hiding behind this case. However, I don't know anything about the culprit. Am I just playing in a labyrinth of thought? If Kyrie-san were here at a time like this, she'd probably be able to notice something with her much, much sharper thinking ability...
Everyone was already trapped by paranoia. Kumasawa-san had prepared dinner at one point, but after the case involving George-aniki's parents, the kitchen and the parlor had become devoid of people. Someone had said that it might have been death by poison. Because of that, we were unable to even touch the food that Kumasawa-san had taken the trouble to make for us.
The manner in which the first six had been killed was still unknown, but there was a possibility that it was poison. Of course, if this were the case, even a single person would be able to carry out the murder of six large adults. Furthermore, this idea made it seem like there was only a single culprit, who was afraid of aunt Natsuhi's rifle, and this was very good for our emotional stability.
But the fatigue and hunger were even harsher than we had imagined. We all went along with Kumasawa-san's proposal to go together to the kitchen, and gathered some canned food, which would be hard to poison, to take in with us. All of Kumasawa-san's efforts to reward us with just a little dinner on this savage day regrettably came to nothing... The food piled up on the serving cart looked just a little sad.
Once we'd dragged ourselves up to the third floor, just as aunt Natsuhi had warned us of beforehand... there was a mixture of a chemical smell and a sickly-sweet aroma, a stench hanging in the air that felt like it was eating into our heads.
"...I see, this kind of stench probably would give you a headache if you were shut in with it for a whole night. I know it's a little late, but I'm with Jessica. I vote against going into Grandfather's study."
It felt like the stench was floating out from this magnificent door. It was the door to the forbidden study, which should defend against any who would enter...
While Genji-san was unlocking the door, Maria was staring at the door and the doorknob with great interest.
"...Uu-. Incredible door."
"It looks old and strict and like it'd stop any jokes cold. Sure is a fitting door for Grandfather's study."
"...It contains a really strong power to ward off any spiritual menace. Beatrice probably couldn't open this door."
"Oh...? What does that mean?"
Maria pointed at the doorknob. A scorpion crest... no, a design like a magic circle arranged around a scorpion, was inscribed there.
BGM: Witch of the Painting
"...The fifth magic circle of Mars is a strong magic repellent. Additionally, this magic circle was very diligently constructed, and is full of power. To beings of magic like Beatrice, this magic circle is quite troublesome."
"Isn't that comforting. Are you saying that we can even escape the grip of Beatrice's evil hand in this room? Our little witch here sure is reliable."
"...Then how did Beatrice take Grandfather out...?"
"Just as Battler reasoned. Beatrice can't go inside. But since she has magic, she can create a familiar. Using them, she might have been able to force Grandfather to leave the study."
"Aa-, I read that in a manga. I've seen a bunch of scenes where vampires were frightened of crosses, so they couldn't get close, but their familiars were fine, so they made their familiars attack."
"Those scorpion keyholder-like charms I gave to you yesterday also had the fifth magic circle of Mars on them. The power dwelling within them was weak, but they should be enough to protect you until we leave the island. Although it sounds like you've lost yours, right? Kihihihihihihihihihihihi..."
"...Scorpion keyholder charms?"
"Ah, aaah, that... The charm I gave you yesterday was something I got from Maria. I heard that it would repel magic if you put it on your doorknob, and at the time I thought maybe it would be better if you had it..."
"...Is that so? I thought it was an odd thing for you to be carrying around."
"...Aunt Natsuhi put that... on her doorknob?"
"Yes. Last night, after hearing about it from Jessica, I hung it from the doorknob on the inside of my door."
"Then aunt Natsuhi, you're really fortunate. If you did that, Beatrice probably couldn't even lay a finger on you yesterday. I think Beatrice must have been really annoyed. Kihihihihihihihihihihihi..."
...Beatrice, annoyed...? Couldn't lay one finger...? Natsuhi thought back on that eerie scribble she had seen that morning, like someone had been tearing at the outside of her door with blood-soaked hands, and gasped in surprise.
"Quit it, don't talk about that... Witches don't exist. The culprit does. And that's a human just like us. And if you need proof, why don't we dice her up and see if her blood's red?"
"Damn it, damn it... How could you... to Kanon-kun..."