Part 31: Furniture II
Video: The Single Element
BGM: Golden Sneer
And after that, over several millennia, humans added several elements to those four, trying to explain the world with several interpretations such as the five elements, the six elements, the seven elements, the eight elements, and the twelve elements, but they couldn't explain the one true 'single element'. However, a single man appeared, guided by a star, and finally explained the single element that makes up the world. Know what it is...?"
"...eh, ...ah, ...wh, ...wh, who..."
Shannon fearfully turned around...
Right there, she existed. Not as an illusion, in reality. The contrast made by the lightning made it clear that this was not just a daydream.
The witch of the portrait elegantly held a golden pipe to her mouth, and giggled. She laughed at the ignorance which causes humankind's thoughts to stray far from the most simple answer.
"That man explained everything in the world with love. That is the single element. That man fully explained how the world was constructed with the smallest number. How simple and clear, how splendid, exhilarating, pleasant and thrilling. The year that man was born eventually came to be known as Anno Domini. *cackle*cackle*!"
Shannon lost any words to speak. She thought that when first meeting an unknown guest, her first words should ask that person's name. But without saying anything, Shannon knew this person's name, so she refrained. No... surely as a person of this island, asking this person for her name would be the greatest disrespect. Because... she was a master of this island in addition to Kinzo.
"Indeed. I am Beatrice. The face people first make when they see me hasn't changed after one thousand years. *cackle*."
The witch giggled at how Shannon's reaction didn't betray her expectations. Shannon realized that she had met with a being that mustn't be met with, and she took a step backwards. That's where the wall and the portrait were, so even as she gazed at the witch, she supported the witch's portrait on her back.
"Even if you scoop and scoop, it is never filled, an eternal desert of the heart. The original sin that humans are founded upon and everything is made of."
"Understand? What Adam and Eve learned when they put the fruit of knowledge to their lips was love. Because of that, humans were chased out of the garden and became 'human'. Which means that what makes one human is knowing love and suffering. You are a girl with a kind heart. You should be praised. Now that you have known that, you are no longer furniture. You are now 'human'. I recognize that upon my name."
"Hmph. Is it hard for a common person to understand? Oh, well. *cackle*cackle* Forgive me. It has been a long time since I have spoken with a human. I shall apologize for my talkativeness."
Without expecting a reply from Shannon, Beatrice laughed pleasantly for a while.
"Saying my apology is one thing, but would it be alright if I granted that desire of yours with my power?"
"I am offering to bring you and the one you love together. Normally, I would demand a corresponding compensation for that."
"*cackle*, I am in a good mood. And, you have done well in not forgetting to pay me respect. That is something worth rewarding."
"...I... is that true...?"
Normally, Shannon would have been shocked by this guest who didn't seem possible, and wouldn't have been able to speak. However, almost as though she had been captured by the witch's trick... Shannon responded to the witch.
"If I use magic, it is no trouble at all to arrange for a pair of people with feelings for each other to be joined."
A witch is a witch. A sinister being. Beatrice the witch is surely sliding in through the cracks in my heart, and taking me prisoner... The temptation that many fairy tale picture books warned me about when I was young, is truly right in front of me now.
"Fear is also a form of respect. It is comforting, but we will make no progress this way."
"...I certainly will not separate myself from the detestable image of a witch that you hold. However, I show good will to those who respect me. Aren't humans the same? Although I doubt there is a human who would repay your squaring off at them with good will, right?"
"...M, my apologies... I didn't mean..."
Shannon eventually realized that her posture was rude to the guest. And... she finally digested the words that had been spoken to her a short while ago.
...The more she reflected upon those words, the more Shannon felt like she could understand her own agony...
"...What was that, umm, just now... about a reward?"
"I am saying that I can arrange for you to be tied together with the man who has captured your heart. You can think of it as thanks for diligently polishing my portrait all the time."
"Calm yourself, I ask for no compensation. I am generous. However, while I ask for no compensation, I have a request."
Look, here it comes... A separate part of Shannon inside her heart warned her. She had been warned about this several times in picture books, which she had read and been frightened by when she was young...!
...I immediately remembered it. When you reached Rokkenjima by boat, there was a torii and a shrine on a reef which was too small to even be called an islet. I have the feeling that Kumasawa-san told me its history, but I can't remember well. A traveling mountaineering ascetic or someone had built it or wished it or something.
"...Yes, I know about it, but... what does, that...?"
"I will not explain everything from square one to a person who does not know of demons. To make a long story short, it is restraining me. Actually, there is mirror kept inside that shrine. I want you to break that."
That was a very suspicious request. She didn't know the history, but if there was a torii and a shrine, and something kept inside it, it had to be something sacred. She wants me to break that? Is a person who may be a witch relying on a human to do something that she herself cannot...?
There was no need for Shannon to speak her thoughts aloud. Beatrice started speaking of that quite natural question before Shannon could answer.
"If only the push of that mirror were gone, I could prepare a spoon perfect for drinking soup. If only that were to happen, I could drink soup, and even dig my way out of a rocky prison. I could even scoop eyeballs out... is that what it was? *cackle*cackle*!"
"...I... I don't know what you are talking about. If that is because I am uncultured, I apologize."
"It comes down to this. If you take action and break that annoying mirror for me, as a reward, I will grant you your wish."
"...I am in a very good mood today. If you want to, you may change your wish, and I can give you all of the gold I bestowed upon Kinzo, alright? *cackle*cackle*!"
"...What did you say?"
When she heard Shannon's words, Beatrice realized for the first time that her expectations had been betrayed.
"If there is a reason, tell me. If there is a misunderstanding, I shall resolve it."
"...I... I don't really understand the reason. But, until today, the island had been in peace, and nothing bad has happened... So, even if I don't break the mirror, the peace that has existed until today should continue into the future."
"Hmm... I see, I see, that is quite right. It's just as you say. If you don't break that, the same unbreakable days that have passed until today will continue into tomorrow and the next day. Why don't I give you an absolute guarantee?"
BGM: Organ Short #600 Million in C Minor
Shannon was trapped by a creepy hallucination. The mirror was probably something to restrain the witch. So breaking the mirror should have been something done for the witch's sake. But it felt as though Shannon had to do it for her own sake. It seemed like some premise had been switched...
"What I will do is nothing more than give you a chance to fulfill your feelings as a reward. It's up to you whether you try to break it or not. If you break it, I will grant your wish."
"If you don't break it, the tomorrows up until today will continue for all eternity. Your wish will not be granted for all eternity. Do you understand? What I am saying? *cackle*cackle*."
The witch spoke. She was pressing Shannon, saying that if she wanted to be joined with George, break the mirror. And she was announcing that if Shannon didn't break it, then her feelings would definitely never be fulfilled...
"...Please... stop it... I don't... want to hear something like that...!"
"I didn't want to cause you pain. Oh well. Feeling madness from love is the best thing about humans. You should enjoy that emotion to your heart's content."
"However, if you wish to borrow my power, you can break that mirror at any time. And you can yell my name and awaken me. I will definitely keep my promise. This way, you should have no complaints, right? I won't force you to decide right now. Are you comfortable?"
In the end, was that something she was comfortable with? Definitely not. To Shannon, who was burning with and worried by love, being tempted forever with a way to escape that path was truly a cruel test...
"I won't set a time limit on that promise, but there is a time limit on the magic that can grant that wish. That limit is not something I have decided. The person of your feelings will decide it himself. Do you know what that means?"
"...I, I don't know."
"The limit is the time that the person of your feelings chooses the person he should pledge his love to. I am a witch, but I am not a demon. I do not have a power which can tear apart two who love each other, you see...? *cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*!!"
"I hear that the person of your thoughts will soon be attending a marriage meeting, right...? You may have stronger feelings for that man than anyone else in the world. However, that doesn't mean that you are the most appropriate for him, does it...?"
"She came from a good school, achieved good grades, and has composure and prudence. She is more beautiful than you, wiser than you, more suitable than you. Why would a ignorant, incompetent, uncultured girl like you be suitable? You know better than anyone. You are the most unsuitable! Even imagining that you and Ushiromiya George could be joined is sinful, and foolish, foolish foolish, know your place!! Have you forgotten to be grateful for your education? Know your place."
"To answer that expectation, he has studied tirelessly, entered a wonderful college, and is getting wonderful grades. Did you really think you could snatch George away, you uneducated, incompetent, unqualified, uncultured servaaaant?"
At that time, as Shannon held her head, trying to protect her heart from the blade of Beatrice's words, Kanon ran in front of her. Kanon didn't care who this woman was. As long as he knew she was an enemy that was tormenting Shannon, who he loved and respected as a sister, nothing else mattered.
"...Kanon-kun, stay back...! This person is...!"
It seemed that Kanon also realized that the being standing before him was the witch of the portrait. And also that she was a terrifying being.
BGM: Fishy Aroma
"...But I will leave that promise as a reward to you. If you need my power, call me at any time. I have already told you how."
"...Well then, now, let us disperse. Hostile gazes may be pleasant, but they are bad for your figure, right? *cackle*cackle*cackle*"
"Disappear...!! I don't know who you are, but you're threatening Shannon! Don't ever show yourself again!!"
It seemed that Kanon's words made the witch horribly displeased.
"...So, you do not choose your words carefully, lowborn? I am gracious to those who respect me, but brutal to those who do not, right...?"
While she still smiled, the witch's face began to twist itself... And, there was a oppressive feeling that couldn't be noticed with any of the five senses, which gradually filled the room... Even though they couldn't understand it, they immediately realized that it was something terrifying...
When you swim in the ocean. and something large goes by in the water beneath you, you want to escape to the land even before you learn what it is. This was the same as that!
"P, please stop, Beatrice-sama!! Kanon-kun is still a child. I apologize for his language!"
Kanon blocked the way to Shannon, his body outstretched. There was tense sweat on his forehead. At that time, the witch certainly had Kanon's fate in the palm of her hand. She didn't even need to lift a finger. By just twisting her own smile, she had Kanon's fate in the palm of her hand, so that she would easily crush it...
Kanon also understood that. So he started sweating. His knees felt weak...
However, Beatrice abruptly released that feeling of tension, and laughed.
"...In parting, I shall leave a single souvenir. Hold out the palm of your left hands, you two."
When Beatrice grinned broadly and snapped her fingers, against their will, their left hands stretched out in front of them, and their palms opened. It was a strange sensation, as though only their left hands had become someone else's. It felt like only their left hands had become puppets, which were being pulled by strings hanging down from the ceiling.
"Wh, what... are you trying to do...?!"
Kanon resisted, but he couldn't freely bring his hand back.
"Don't struggle. It will be over soon."
When Beatrice held her pipe aloft, from inside the smoke, gold-colored sparkling dust hovered in the air.
That glitter eventually became several gold butterflies. The beautiful butterflies danced freely throughout the reception hall, creating a fantastical and beautiful world. And two of those butterflies alighted on the palms of Shannon's and Kanon's hands.
There was a sharp pain, as though they had been burned. When the two of them tried to examine their palms, there was no trace left of that inability to move their bodies, which had been there until a second ago.
"...Ah, ...a bruise...? What is..."
On the palm of her hand, a small burn mark had been made, the size of a speck. Furthermore, it was shaped like a butterfly...
"Wh, what is this supposed to be..."
Apparently, Kanon had the same bruise on his hand. He stared at the witch hatefully.
"...The impact of a meeting with me is strong. Sometimes, at the next morning, people try to think of their meeting with me as a dream or an illusion. You should think slowly and carefully, Shannon. And you should probably take a good rest, look at my mark tomorrow morning, and try thinking again."
"I do not use coercion for anything. You should freely decide your future, by your own will. However, to think that the object of desire could be satisfied with compensation such as this... It would annoy the great artists who write plays about blighted love to no end. *cackle*cackle*cackle*!"
"Well then, let us meet again when the chance arises. It truly is fun to have a conversation again after so much time. Goodbye, furniture. Ahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!"
Beatrice's body crumbled like smoke and blew away. It was golden smoke... no, a group of gold butterflies. They scattered in all directions inside the reception hall, leaving a golden splash before disappearing into thin air. After that, only the cold silence was left. The extreme silence was enough to make both of them think that they might have been daydreaming until just a moment ago... Which is why the witch had left it. She had left a mark to make it impossible for them to think that this was a daydream.
As Shannon and Kanon thought back on the butterfly bruises on their hands, and the pain they had felt when those had been left there, they kept standing still, in shock...
And from that day on... Shannon was tormented by days of suffering and conflict...