Part 24: Besieged II
He had done nothing more than fortify it thoroughly with his occult hobbies. If Grandfather's hobby had been chasing after pop idols, these walls might be buried beneath idol posters. Even if I didn't understand it, I did realize that this room was a bundle of all his hobbies.
Even so, I couldn't help but remain dumbfounded by the smell of his creepy medicine and the sweet stench that seemed to melt my head...
The shutter, the receipt, the chain. And now, the auto-lock. This fourth door had the most magnificent lock yet, and this was doubtlessly a closed room.
Just to make absolutely sure that the room was secure, we checked all over for ways in or out. The window was tightly locked. That should have been enough, but just in case, we tried knocking all over the walls. After all, it was rumored that there might be a hidden door in this room... But we couldn't find anything suspicious.
Grandfather's study was very large. Even though we called it a study, it wasn't really a single room. It could be divided up into four basic sections: a study section, a bedroom section, a toilet/bathroom section and a section for cooking that had a sink. I see, this study has enough in it to live in. Now I understand how Grandfather could live his whole life in this room without ever leaving. It seemed that Grandfather wasn't in the habit of watching TV, because there was no television or even a radio in this room.
We can't do anything except pass the time listening to the sound of the rain... until tomorrow morning.
It was apparently the partly finished chess match he'd been playing with Grandfather until yesterday. The black had the white pretty well cornered, and it looked like checkmate would be reached within a few moves. The last part of the endgame. Even though checkmate had almost been reached, the endgame had been rushed, and in the end, was never completed.
"...Kinzo-san. It seems... we weren't able to see this match through after all..."
"...I was Kinzo-san's friend for a long time, but I never knew about more than half of him. I believe that two Kinzos existed, a wise one... and one trapped by some madness... I never understood anything about him..."
"...Especially when it came to Beatrice-sama, it would seem like his personality changed..."
Grandfather probably spent every day in this room, and so much of his time... talking to the witch in that portrait.
Who was Beatrice to Grandfather in the first place? Right now, you couldn't just explain it away by saying it was a story made by the parents to frighten children away from wandering into the forest...
Whether the culprit was Beatrice herself or someone pretending to be her, whether they were a witch or a human, that was besides the point. The woman in this portrait was strongly related to the basis and background of this case. You couldn't talk about this case without talking about her.
"...That's right. Mom, you picked up the culprit's letter in aunt Eva's room, right?"
"Yes... I still haven't opened it... Let's try opening it."
Aunt Natsuhi took out that western-style envelope. Genji-san pulled a paper knife out of a drawer in the study desk and handed it to her. While watching her open it, George-aniki grimaced slightly. After all, it was a letter left at the site where his parents had been murdered. There was a good chance that its contents would say something unbearable to Aniki...
It seemed that aunt Natsuhi also realized that... So she glanced over the contents first without reading it aloud. We were a little frightened that she might grimace after reading something shocking, but she just frowned unhappily.
"...What does... it say...?"
"...There is one unpleasant sentence. ...It must be trying to provoke us."
Natsuhi, after deciding that the contents could be shown to the children, set it openly on the table. Everyone stared at it at the same time.
"Normally, you'd expect another weird magic circle to show up."
"...But it wasn't a magic circle. It's just as I expected. Kihihi."
"What could it mean...? I wonder if she wants to tout her own existence..."
"That seems reasonable. With this letter, we now know that the author of last night's letter is the culprit. I think the identical envelope is more significant than what is written here."
"...Without a doubt, this is the type of envelope and sealing wax that the Master used."
"...Ooooohh... I don't know what's going on anymore... This is the first time I've seen anything like this since I started working for the Ushiromiya family..."
"If we're to believe the letter last night, then Beatrice claims to be Grandfather's oldest confidante. Grandfather often said the same thing in the past, right?"
He spoke to Genji-san and Kumasawa-san, who nodded together.
"...So, the two of you knew more about this than anyone except Grandfather. Could you tell us?"
"For a long time, I made a point of ignoring this topic. But now that it has come to this, I can no longer do so. Genji, tell us everything you know."
Genji-san didn't answer. Did he remain silent despite his knowledge, or did he know nothing at all? Still, I had a good guess.
The ghost story of the witch Beatrice had long been deified among the servants. He had probably been very close to Grandfather and his occult hobbies. So there was a good chance that he'd been indoctrinated with even weirder things, and had increasingly come to deify the witch.
As Grandfather's most trusted servant, who had sworn loyalty to him, he might be the most influenced by the illusion of the witch that Grandfather had created...
...A short while ago, Maria had been more than willing to speak bluntly and unrestrainedly, and that had earned her a scuffle with Jessica. It was natural for Genji-san to keep his silence...
His concubine... That could be possible. For ordinary poor people, polygamy isn't only viewed negatively from a moral perspective. It is also an unmaintainable financial situation. But that isn't the case for the very rich. It's possible for them to have another lover in addition to their real wife. We can't deny the possibility that Grandfather had another woman in his life besides Grandmother.
"Maybe... When Grandmother was alive, it seems she strongly suspected it. She thought he was cheating on her. I always thought she meant Grandfather's imaginary witch..."
"...This is getting really interesting. You told me, didn't you Genji-san? You said Beatrice has been working for Grandfather since before the mansion was finished."
"I heard that the construction of the mansion was completed in Showa 27 (1952)."
"That would mean that this person called Beatrice has been in a relationship with Grandfather for over thirty years..."
"Could that concubine of thirty years ago... or maybe a relative or hidden child with that person... hold some kind of grudge and be planning revenge? ...Ihihi, I see, this is starting to sound just like your standard western mansion mystery."
"...It's a filthy topic, but the easiest line of reasoning to accept. What do you think, Genji?"
"...Who is this person called Beatrice?! And what is she doing now?!"
"...I have heard that she passed away before the mansion was completed."
"She's already dead...?"
"...Yes. The Master mourned for her most grievously, and he devoted himself to the art of black magic as a means to revive Beatrice-sama. The Master loved Beatrice-sama from the bottom of his heart. It was that madness which drove him to do all that you see here."
As Genji-san said this, he spread his arms, as though asking us to look at this room, filled with the signs of Grandfather's madness.
Almost anyone would find it impossible to understand. What could be possibly be so enrapturing about this unpleasant black magic hobby? Since Kinzo was just an 'eccentric' who had restored the Ushiromiya family amidst his madness, nobody had tried to understand him... All that had been on Grandfather's mind was the loss of a beloved woman, and the sorrow that he couldn't escape.
...Earlier, this room had seemed creepy, but in an instant, our understanding of it began to change. The creepy books, the magic circles, the medicine, all of it. All just because he wanted to revive the face of a single woman who had left this world for thirty years, for one last time...
"...The Master only told me about Beatrice-sama's story once, when he was very drunk. Although I have forgotten the details. It was... a deep, deep love, enough to make a woman like me jealous."
"...When Kinzo-san succeeded the headship of the Ushiromiya family, his marriage to his late wife had already been decided by the few surviving elders of the family."
"...So, he was forced into a marriage with some woman who would benefit the Ushiromiya family?"
"...That is correct. Kinzo-san was installed as the head who would revive the family, and had to bear all of that heavy responsibility. I do not pretend to know the details of when or where Kinzo-san first met her."
"...It'd be rude to say any more than that."
At that point, Grandfather had truly fallen in love for the first time...
"...I... had it all wrong, Genji-san."
"I... I've always thought that... maybe you servants believed blindly in the witch because you were influenced by Grandfather's creepy black magic hobby. But that's not how it was..."
By acting as though at least Beatrice's soul had been restored, and existed inside this mansion, you might have hoped to soothe Grandfather's heart... With closed eyes, and an expression as though he was remembering something from the distant past, Genji had broken his long silence. In making that confession, he probably felt like he was betraying his one and only Master in the most serious way, even though that person was already dead.
Beatrice has revived as a witch, and she is in the mansion even now. He had been told that, had believed it, had been made to believe it, and Genji would take that with him to the grave. This might have been the last service he offered up to his Master.
"...I remember denying the witch's existence in front of Father on multiple occasions. Now I finally understand how much that must have wounded him..."
"...Right now, I can understand very well. If I thought that I could revive Shannon using black magic... I'd immediately become the next owner of this room and start researching..."
Another strand of tears dripped from George's eyes. Maybe his tears were infectious. Tears rose to Jessica's eyes too, and she sniffled...
――Very soon, the door to the Golden Land will be opened. In the promised land that glitters gold, the souls of all the dead will be resurrected, and the lost love will be too.
Then I will sleep in a world of peacefulness for all time.
"...Did she say that? The Beatrice who gave you the letter?"
"...You don't believe, do you? ...Kihihihi."
"...If only Grandfather were here. I'm sure he'd be happy. I'm sure he'd be jumping for joy now that Beatrice is about to be revived... In that case, I believe. If Grandfather gave up half of his life for this research, trying to resurrect the soul of the woman he loved, and spending the rest of his life believing, I'll believe too."
"...When love for a single woman is persistent over a long time, it is shared by those around you and becomes the truth. Maybe you could say they're just being considerate. But right here, now, I'd like to call that magic."
"...It isn't just consideration. It really is... magic. She's a witch. Kihihihihihi. It looks like nobody can see Beatrice after all..."
"...If you ask me as a woman, then while I'd like to understand Father's feelings of true love, it did leave Mother in an awkward position."
"Haha, I agree. Cheating is cheating. No way to make it pretty..."
"...That's also true. Poor Grandmother."
"And... is there any story about a child between Beatrice and Grandfather...?"
The keyword 'Beatrice' has been hidden in every corner of this case. So it's natural to suspect any relative of Beatrice.
"No. I have not heard of anything like that."
"If there was one, a memento of his most beloved person, he surely would have given them all of his affection. Since that didn't happen, and he immersed himself in black magic... maybe we should assume that there was no such child."
"Tell us, aunt Natsuhi. Don't you agree that we shouldn't hide things from each other?"
"...It's a worthless story. It is said that Father heavily supported an orphanage... and that they started having the orphans employed as servants for his house, as part of their social studies. It's nothing more than a story spread by some foolish people, saying that this had something to do with one of Father's filthy hobbies."
"At one point, there was a rumor that he was collecting sacrifices for his black magic... Actually, since he's always doing weird experiments and ceremonies in this room, I half believed it myself..."
"...And these servants who came from the Fukuin House?"
"...There were several of them, but during the family conference, only Shannon and Kanon were scheduled to be here."
To resurrect Beatrice, he had summoned servants from an orphanage, as sacrifices...?
"After all, everyone that Grandfather selected as a servant was young, about the same age as Shannon or Kanon-kun. I was sure that it was because Grandfather had some bizarre hobby."
"Jessica! Control your words."
When aunt Natsuhi scolded her, the atmosphere instantly went sour and everyone fell quiet. However, something was tugging at the back of my mind.
Sacrifices... Sacrifices... Sacrifices brought over from an orphanage... What is it? Freaky words like 'sacrifices' don't pop up often. Even so, I've seen or heard that word recently. Some part of my memory is tugging at me.
...Hey, Beatrice. What do you know...?
...Below it, just like in the entrance hall, was the epitaph said to point out the place where the gold was hidden...
"...Ah...! Sacrifices... here."
"Wh, what the hell, Battler? You're creeping me out..."
Both of my eyes were as wide as plates... Right there, everything had been predicted since the very beginning...! Everyone crowded around. And the same expression of terror rose to everyone's face...!
That's right. It was written in the epitaph.
"Ah, aaahh, there's no doubt. Six people died in the beginning! And even on the shutter where the magic circle was drawn, no, where the Hebrew was written, it mentioned the offering of sacrifices...!!"
Uu-. I've been saying that from the beginning."
That's right, Maria had been saying it from the very beginning! Right after we found the six bodies, when Maria was in the parlor watching TV, she had said it!
'...Uu-. The culprit isn't human. It's just the sacrifices chosen by the key.'
"This has nothing to do with the location of the hidden gold!! It's black magic or something, the instructions for a resurrection ceremony! After all, this epitaph requires a large number of 'deaths'!"
"...It, it sure does. Even reading through it quickly, there'd be 6+2+5... 13 people who must die...!"
"...How many people are normally on this island?!"
"It, it changes depending on the shifts for the servants, but there's Father, my husband, me and Jessica. And two or three servants. Today and yesterday, there were five of them, but there aren't normally that many."
"Which means that normally, there wouldn't be enough sacrifices to carry out this 'ceremony'. No, wait. There's that rumor that Grandfather was collecting servants from an orphanage to be used as sacrifices in some creepy ceremony..."
"So what does this mean?! He increased the number of servants to increase the number of sacrifices, and waited for the annual family conference when even more people would gather... Isn't now the only time of the year that this ceremony could be held?!"
When Jessica screamed this, Maria broke out in that creepy laugh, looking truly pleased.
"Kihihihihihihihihihihihihihihi. Aren't there some people who make bets to test their fate?"
...When flipping a sandal, you have at worst a 50% chance. Even if you get it right side up, it's not worth much. But if you carelessly roll three dice and they all come up six, you might think that's a small miracle.
"...Magic works the same way. If you want an unlimited, impossible effect, then you continuously praying earnestly. Then, the feelings from all those stored up prayers gain magical power and become incarnate. The magic that Grandfather was trying to perform was probably like that. The key randomly selected sacrifices in a lottery. So to reduce the chance that he himself was selected, he chose the day with the greatest number of people on the island to carry out the ceremony..."
"Ridiculous!! Are you saying that this entire situation is because of something like a ceremony for some weird magic?!"
Natsuhi yelled. She couldn't stop thinking fearfully about how she might have been protected just because of the scorpion charm.
...The culprit had noticed the charm from outside the door, and had given up trying to open the door. A human couldn't have perceived that. The charm meant to stop someone that was not human... had done just that...!! Impossible, impossible, impossible!!!
"However, Natsuhi-san... Look, the epitaph goes on after that..."
"A, at the second twilight, those who remain shall tear apart the two who are close... Could this be talking about Eva-sama and Hideyoshi-sama...?"
"...P, painful as it may be, ...we must reach that conclusion. And after the culprit killed them, they left the words from 'the third twilight' in a letter there."
"Th, that's right... After carrying out the second twilight, they left the third twilight in that place. The third twilight was... just like aunt Natsuhi just read...!!"
'At the third twilight, those who remain shall praise my honorable name on high'
Aaaaaaaaaahhh, if you read it this way, it just keeps going on, doesn't it?
"...That's Grandfather... He had been burned in the incinerator, and our eyes were so drawn to that part that we didn't notice, but Grandfather's forehead... no, his head had been gouged."
"Grandfather is... the victim of the fourth twilight? Th, then, Kanon-kun...!"
"...'At the fifth twilight, gouge the chest and kill'. We thought that Kanon-kun's case was an unexpected encounter with the culprit, but that's wrong. They had been planning on luring someone out alone and driving something through their chest from the beginning..."
"...If the culprit has followed the epitaph this far...does that mean three people still have to die...?!"
"...Y... yes, you could read it that way... hiiiii..."
"Well, I wonder about that... After those three die, it reaches the ninth twilight. Take a look..."
"We are... all going to be killed by Beatrice..."
"...I don't get it. Doesn't that mean that everyone will die no matter how many people there are? What was Grandfather's goal? Doesn't this mean that this ceremony would kill Grandfather himself no matter what...?!"
"...It's alright if no one's left alive. At the tenth twilight, we finally arrive at the Golden Land."
'At the tenth twilight, the journey shall end and you should reach the village of gold'
'The witch will praise the wise, and should bestow four treasures'
"...Grandfather wasn't afraid of something like death. Look at the second and third of the four treasures."
"...'One shall be, the resurrection of the souls of all the dead. One shall be, even the resurrection of the lost love'. So Grandfather believed that he would eventually be revived, even if he died partway through this ceremony...?"
"Ridiculous, that's insane!! When you die, it's over, right?! The dead don't come back to life. Isn't that a miracle that humanity has been chasing after for thousands of years and still hasn't accomplished?! So is this what it means? Something like, you'll be able to meet them in the world after death, where they can be revived?!"
"...If what you say is right, would that mean... Grandfather, whose remaining life is slim and who is insane because of love, is committing suicide, no... a massive forced group suicide...?!"
"...Genji. Can that possibility be considered...!?"
"...I don't know. The Master is a man who sometimes has the wisdom to see a thousand years into the future. However, there are times when that appears to be nothing more than madness to commoners such as myself..."
"What, does that mean yes?! What do you say, Kumasawa-san?!"
"I, I don't know anything...! That's right, I don't know... Do you think I would be on this island today if I did know? I would have faked an illness or done anything to take the day off, that's right!!"
"What about your opinion, Doctor Nanjo? You've been Grandfather's friend for many years..."
"...I, I feel the same as Genji-san. Kinzo-san was a man who far surpassed ordinary people. I've even felt a sort of inhuman power from him at times. ...I too... don't know what Kinzo-san was thinking when he wrote that epitaph...!"
"...All we can say... is that even if the person who created this outline was Father, the one carrying it out is a different person."
"That's right. At the very least, there's another culprit who attacked Grandfather and Kanon-kun. Furthermore, that person is still continuing the crimes just as the epitaph says...!"
"...The letter in the beginning that we didn't think deeply about... What was it that was written there?"
But then she had also revealed a special clause. If someone discovered the location of the gold Grandfather had hidden, that right would be lost. At the time that the letter had been read, Grandfather was still alive. But at that time, it had already been sealed with wax by the 'head's ring'. Which meant that Grandfather had handed the ring over to Beatrice while he was still alive.
If you think about that straightforwardly, maybe we should assume that Beatrice is carrying out that strange contract, and that Grandfather is securing her that right. In other words, this was the same as saying that Grandfather knew of and approved of the contents of that letter. In other words, it's as though this is a joint message from Beatrice and Grandfather... telling us that Beatrice will start collecting interest if we don't solve the riddle. In other words, Grandfather and Beatrice were telling us to solve the riddle of the epitaph. And if we couldn't, they were saying that the massacre would be carried out according to the epitaph.
What does that mean? What do they want?! I don't have a clue what it means!
"...Look, another letter from Beatrice."
"...Huh? What did you say?"
Maria was pointing at the top of the table, where the canned food that everyone had been eating just now still lay. A western-style envelope really was sitting there, but, ...something about it...
Aunt Natsuhi let out a hysterical cry, looking between her own hand and the table... Because the envelope that she had just opened was still grasped in her hand.
...And despite that, there's an envelope on the table...?!