Part 37: Guest of Honor
October 4th, 1986, 10:45 AM
BGM: Moonlit Night
They stand still, talking with each other about the roses' beauty and the state of their blooming. In the midst of all this, there was a single unhealthy rose, and Maria became overwhelmed with dejection at its state. But George used his quick wits, and, saying everything would be fine if they looked over this poor thing, marked it with a candy wrapper, and immediately restored Maria's good mood. And once Battler, with whom she had been getting along well since that morning, raised the subject that Maria loved so much, Halloween, she began playing around energetically again.
Maria probably treasured that marshmallow jack-o-lantern candy that her mother had bought for her more than anything. It seemed that several of them had been bought for her, and she demanded trick-or-treat from every person she met, giving them candy instead of the other way around.
"Isn't that because it's a kid's festival where they get to parade around in costumes? It's fun to play around in an outfit that's different than usual."
"No, I think there's probably a slightly deeper reason. After all, she is the 'witch' Maria-chan."
"Come to think of it, when we were at the airport, didn't Maria say that if she was going to wear a costume, it would be a witch? Did Maria like witches?"
"...Yes, she loves them. So much that it becomes a problem."
"Well, admiring fantastical stuff like that is to be expected at that age."
"At least it would be cute if she admired a heroine on some TV anime...haah."
Judging by Rosa's appearance, it seemed that, as a mother, she did not find her daughter's love for witches pleasant. It seemed that the cousins other than Battler were able to realize this, and they shrugged their shoulders, smiling bitterly.
"Hmmmm? So you're arguing that because she likes witches, she also likes Halloween? If we don't know, why don't we just ask the person in question? Hey, Maria. What kind of relationship do Halloween and witches have with each other?"
As Battler asked that, George and Jessica raised a small voice. It seemed they were too late. It almost looked as though Maria had been waiting for that question.
After looking happy for an instant, her expression turned a little mean, as though to say 'Didn't you know that?' It was the expression of an enthusiast who has been enraged by the misspeak of an outsider with a wrong impression.
"Uu-. The Celts thought of the changing strength of the sun over the course of a year as, its birth, its growing up period, its aging and death, and then its revival."
"I get it. In spring, the weak warm sun starts to grow up and become hot, and then it gradually gets weaker and worn out, so I agree that you could think of the sun as an entire life."
"Yes. So they thought that at the end of October, the sun died, rested its body in the land of the dead, and then revived again at the winter solstice. Then, they called the day that the sun ended its one year lifespan and died New Year's Eve, or Samhain."
"It's very interesting to think that on the day of the winter solstice, when the daylight hours start to grow longer again, the sun is revived. It's an episode that makes you understand how much ancient people regarded the sun as sacred."
"...I see. And? What do witches have to do with this?"
BGM: Melody (instrumental)
She glared at me with eyes that told me to let her explain without interrupting. Maria looked like she was having fun telling me, so I decided not to interrupt...
"In the interval between October and November, life and death become the closest they ever will. The Celts believed that during this time, the world of the living and the world where the dead and those not of this world reside grew closer, and many of those living in the other world would come to visit. It was like the Bon festival in Japan. Kihihihihi."
At the time, the people believed that the souls returning to the physical world would go into people's houses or possess people, and do bad things. So in order to avoid harm from them, the people created enchantments. One of those was to imitate creepy monsters and scare the souls instead, which was apparently a way to avoid being possessed.
"That part became a festival, which turned into a costume parade. Maria's really knowledgeable!"
"...Ain't it the truth. Even I never knew Halloween had such a history."
"But where did the whole 'trick or treat' thing come from?"
Her knowledge was so extensive that the adults had suddenly started listening in too. Maria, who was normally treated like the youngest the whole time, puffed out her chest in pride. Rosa tried to say this was just a kid's story, and that she wanted to quickly break up the circle and set the luggage down in the guesthouse, but nobody else agreed, and she let out a heavy sigh.
"Uu-. Trick-or-treat is just for fun. It has nothing to do with what was originally a Celtic ceremony. That was created later when Christian customs were mixed in. However, Maria thinks that Halloween should be that way."
Because humans could receive the favors of those spirits, they were able to earn a wonderful blessing, and a year's worth of good crops.
"So in other words, Halloween was also a bit of a harvest festival?"
"I see. Now you mention it, I get the feeling that October is a turning point in various ways, including seasonally. Really the opposite of April in Japan. I see, that might be a good place to mark it."
"Uu-! And you know, the witches, they hold a witch assembly during that time, on the Sabbath. The witches thank the spirits that give out blessings of prosperity, and reward them."
"Halloween costumes imitated the guests coming from the other side. In other words, you might as well say that giving candy is because of feelings of thanks for the yearly harvest."
"Uu-! Just like George onii-chan says!"
"So Halloween is a time when this world and that world intermingle? So, in other words, it's the most important chance for witches to intermingle with guests from that world. Is that what you want to say?"
"Uu-!! Just like Battler says!"
"And you know what? You know what?! October is the time when the power of witches and demons is at its most vigorous and prosperous! Kihihihihihihihi, I'm sure Beatrice will come!"
"And then, we'll eat marshmallow candies together, and she'll bring Maria to the Golden Land with her! We'll sing magical songs together, learn magic spells together, learn how to draw magic circles together! And then, we'll learn the secrets of runes, and Maria will become a great witch really, really quickly!"
"M... Maria... That's enough of that story!"
"Don't worry about it, Rosa-san. It's a dream that any girl has at one time or another."
"Th, thank you very much... But Maria has already graduated from that age. Hey, I'm telling you to stop!"
Rosa scolded Maria, trying to shut her up before her cheery discussion about black magic earned her the sniggers of the relatives.
"Hey... Isn't that a pretty large-scale story? By the way, who was Beatrice again? What was it, umm, umm, I've heard that before..."
Battler had been gone for six years, and had completely forgotten about the Legend of the Rokkenjima Witch. However, when he said that he didn't know Beatrice's name, Maria's mood, which had been so bright until just now, became sour in an instant. When he saw that, Battler immediately remembered that it was the name of the witch of this island, but the damage had been done. Until Maria's mood improved, she went on and on about many mysterious and fabulous episodes regarding the Golden Witch...
"...Kanon-kun, don't you have work to do? Please leave now. Gohda-san, it looks like everyone wants to set down their bags for the time being. Sorry, but could you guide everyone to the guesthouse?"
"Certainly. Well then, everyone, I will guide you to the guesthouse."
"...Then if you will excuse me."
Gohda lead the relatives and they began to head to the guesthouse. Since they wanted to set down their luggage and take a quick rest, they didn't realize that Rosa and Maria had stopped in that place.
After watching them leave towards the guesthouse, Rosa's features changed suddenly.
She let go with the hand that had been gripping Maria's arm the whole time. There was a bright red mark there, making it clear how much excessive force she had been gripping Maria's slender arm with.
"Even though I'm always telling you not to talk about witches... Haven't I always said that was our promise together...?"
"Mama, ouch, Mama, ouch..., ouch ouch ouch..."
"You're so noisy with that 'Halloween, Halloween'... A witch festival...? What are the Celts, what is black magic, ridiculous, isn't it...? You are nine years old, nine... In the train, you made that ruckus, so I had to all the trouble of getting off the train and buying you that disgusting monster marshmallow that looked like it had fluorescent paint on it... We were even late because I bought it for you. How much more will you have to embarrass me before you're satisfied...?!"
As Rosa cursed, she twisted Maria's ear up, making it seem like it was going to snap off... As an expression of anguish spread across Maria's face, she stood on her tiptoes as though her life depended on it, trying to soften the pain on the ear that was being pulled...
Rosa suddenly stole the candy that Maria had been holding in her hand.
To Maria, it was supposed to proof of her memory of that brief span of time when her mother had bought something fun for her... But the fact of the matter was that she saw her mother trampling on it. It was as though a brand had been pushed against Maria's eyes, leaving a mark that couldn't be erased...
"What's with this disgusting candy, disgusting, disgusting...!! That's what you are, that's what you are!! Disgusting disgusting disgusting!!!"
Maria closed her eyes tightly, patiently bearing her mother's violence... No, that wasn't quite it.
"...Come back, Mama, come back, Mama... Save me, Mama, save me, Mama... Beat the bad witch..."
She kept bearing it, muttering that over and over...
"Will you LISTEN!! I TOLD you... to STOP... saying... witch!! You little... You... You...!!!"
Rosa's shoulders shook as she breathed, tired from hitting. Maria grasped her hands together, withstanding it, hoping her 'mother' would come back quickly...
"...Mama, Mama... Come back quickly... Save Maria, Mama... Finish off the bad witch..."
"Wh... why don't you just stay there doing that forever!! And then you can just stand there, mumbling about witches and Halloween forever!!"
After throwing those words at Maria, Rosa went off towards the guesthouse, leaving Maria behind. Maria, unable even to remember that it was alright to cry, kept staring down at the trampled, unrecognizable jack-o-lantern candy...
"I'm sorry. The roses were so wonderful, I just..."
"Rosa, quickly set your luggage down and come. We're going to Aniki to greet him."
"Hmm? What happened to Maria-chan? Is she still by the flower beds?"
"...Yes. It looks like there was a rose she liked, and she said she wanted to look after it and didn't listen. I decided to let her do what she wants for a while."
"...We sometimes forget that girls have their own little world. Sometimes, we have to respect that, right?"
"...That's right. Thank you for caring, Kyrie nee-san."
"...Gohda-san. Where is our room?"
"I will guide you, this way. Allow me to hold your luggage."
"I'm fine, I can carry it myself, thank you."
Rosa went into her room, guided by Gohda. She then closed the door somewhat violently and threw her luggage on top of the bed.
In front of the bed, she got down on her knees, burying her face in the bed. For a while, Rosa made as if to shred the sheets with her fingernails, sobbing continually...
Kanon, who had been hiding behind a thicket, appeared after watching Rosa leave.
"...Kihi... kihihihihihihihihihi... I'm fine. Kihihihihi."
Maria laughed unpleasantly, but to Kanon, who had seen the whole thing, it looked like she was enduring as best she could...
"She's a horrible person. I can't believe that was a mother..."
"...It can't be helped. Maria can handle that much. Maria is just fine. Kihihihihihihihihihi..."
Kanon got down on his knees and picked up the trampled candy.
He thought about dusting it off and returning it to her, but really couldn't do so with it in that condition. He was at a loss at what to do, and he met eyes with Maria.
...No, they didn't meet. Maria was looking at the candy that Kanon had picked up. Right now, Maria's heart was surely the same as the trampled candy which had been crushed into a pulp. Kanon realized this, but he didn't know what he should do...
"That's right... I'll exchange it for something I received earlier."
Kanon remembered that a similar candy which he had received from Maria was in his pocket. Maria stuck out her hand. Kanon thought she was trying to take it, so he held out the candy, but Maria didn't try to grasp it.
...Then Kanon realized. She was saying 'Give it back'. No matter how tragic and trampled it was, the candy was Maria's. Her mother had bought it for her. No matter how tragic, it had to be this candy...
If it could be made clean by dusting it off... Kanon hung his head.
"...I can't do anything except dust it off... Sorry."
Kanon held out the miserable candy she wanted. Maria took it, and spoke.
"...Thank you. A human can't do anything except dust it off, but a witch can repair it to how it was. It would be easy for Beatrice. Kihihihihihi."
"...Maria-sama... you know about Beatrice...sama?"
But just now, Maria had told Battler about it proudly. She had spoken almost as though she was meeting with Beatrice regularly. The inside of the fist Kanon made with his left hand hurt sharply. In the past, a witch called Beatrice had appeared, and had tempted him and Shannon. He had always tried to make himself think it was a bad dream. However, Shannon insisted that it had definitely been a real witch.
And then, this summer. The shrine to the local Shinto god had been hit by lightning and had disappeared without a trace over the span of a single night. He had known that Shannon had broken the mirror. And he remembered that, upon the witch's departure, she had left with parting words staying that she would eventually be revived.
Kanon couldn't suppress a sense of some kind of misfortune welling up in his heart. For a while, Maria remained silent, as though she could see into Kanon's heart. Almost as though she was waiting for a memory of Beatrice to be revived. And then, she spoke, as though it was a fact.
"Kihihihihi... You know, Maria is friends with Beatrice. Why don't we meet her today and play? Kihihihihihihihihi..."
"...Yeah. Let's play, okay? Let's study magic together. Kihihihihihihihi..."
The face of the witch, who Kanon had tried to pretend was a bad dream, began to slowly creep into the back of his mind...
BGM: Moonlit Night
"...Come on. We've put this conference in our schedules and come all the way out to Rokkenjima during the very busy fall season. I wish father would act a little more sociable."
"So true. Doctor Nanjo. Is it really a problem with his research and his mood? He isn't already bedridden, and unable to get up, right?"
"...Well... I wonder. There is not much I can say..."
Nanjo glanced at Natsuhi. As though he wasn't qualified to disregard Natsuhi when he spoke.
"Father is steadily regaining his health. Calling him bedridden is extremely rude...!"
"But he only has three months left to live, right? Normally, wouldn't that mean that he'd have wasted away, unable to get out of his bed? Right, Doctor Nanjo?"
"...For a normal patient, that would probably be the case. But Kinzo-san has extraordinary willpower. I may not even be able to approach, in fear of that willpower..."
"If he's that energetic, then we can be at least a little reassured, right?"
"...Although if he's that energetic, I wish he'd at least come to greet us. Isn't the point of the family conference to come and see Father's face? Now I don't know why we came."
"Don't say that. If he were here, you would complain the whole time about how you couldn't relax. Shouldn't we celebrate that all of the siblings have gathered this year, by ourselves, and without even one of us missing?"
"We couldn't meet him at last year's family conference, right? I wonder why you can't understand that his children, related by blood, want to see him after two years."
"...If you have words of greeting, I will tell him for you. And Eva-san. Is there something you have to discuss with Father other than greeting him...?"
"...nn. Come on, what are you talking about, sheesh."
"Give it a rest, Eva. Natsuhi-san, forgive us. Eva is just worried about the condition of Father's sickness, as his daughter. Please understand her feelings a bit."
"That's right. Haven't you quickly become respectful of Father now that his remaining life has been announced, Eva? I see, it isn't as though I can't understand how much you want to see him. Hmph."
"...What are you trying to say?"
"Quit it, Aneki. Why don't we pray that his mood will improve by dinner? And we've just arrived. First, we'll just visit and have a light greeting. We can even hold the family conference without Father. No, there should be a few things that the siblings couldn't talk to him about before forming a unified opinion, right? Right, Hideyoshi nii-san?"
"Yep! Just as Rudolf-kun says. We can only gather our faces here once a year. We must take this precious time seriously and talk together modestly."
"But before that, I wonder if we have enough leeway to enjoy some black tea at our leisure, surrounded by the wonderful furnishings of the parlor..."
Kyrie's words seemed to hold some slight warning towards all of the people gathered in that place. They all understood, and as they cleared their throats and straightened their neckties, the atmosphere in the room returned to normal for a moment.
"Hey, Shannon-chan. You just keep gettin' prettier and prettier!"
Shannon entered the parlor, pushing the serving cart. Everyone decided to slowly enjoy some black tea for the time being... A wonderful aroma began to spread throughout the parlor. As far as anyone could see, the strained atmosphere which had been there until right before Shannon had entered seemed like a lie. Of course, Shannon, who was setting out the tea, probably didn't even notice. Kyrie acted as though she was laughing at everyone's adult appearance.
Rudolf didn't like it when Kyrie took the initiative and spoke at the family conference. It was his worthless male pride. He probably didn't want to look like a weak man who took advice from his wife. She understood that, and did her best to refrain from saying anything unnecessary. So she separated herself from the circle of siblings, which only looked like it had no outsiders in it on the outside, and slowly enjoyed her tea near the window.
"...You are joking."
"Sorry, don't take it the wrong way. I'm just shocked at my husband."
It seemed that Rosa hadn't been able to get along just on the surface. They had come here to fight bloodily and dirtily, each trying to steal the inheritance. Maybe by now she didn't want to play a part in a conspiracy... Or maybe she was still much too inexperienced for that.
"...It looks like the wind has started blowing hard out there. The plants are all shaking so much."
"The typhoon has probably already come fairly close. I wonder if it will rain a lot tonight."
"...Maria-chan really has grown a lot this past year."
"...Does it look that way...? She still can't even fold her own western clothing yet."
"Yes. It's because she has such an affectionate mother. Kids with a rich heart grow."
Rosa was silent. Maybe she was unsure as to how Kyrie meant that...
"...I...am not qualified to be a mother. Children can't choose their parents. That poor girl..."
"Doesn't that go both ways? A parent can't choose what kind of child is born, too."
Rosa bit her lower lip...
"It isn't a matter of who is at fault. Isn't everything alright as long as you slowly watch over her as she grows up, with living together on your mind?"
"Rosa-san, you spend every day with Maria-chan, so you probably don't notice any small changes. But the rest of us, who have been reunited with her after a year, really understand that she's grown up a lot..."
"...If you are serious, thank you very much."
"Then, if you will excuse me. If there is anything you desire, please call for it at any time."
Shannon bowed politely and left the room.
"...If Father is unable to be here, well then, there are still things we can talk about. Right, Rudolf?"
"Yes, that's right. We didn't come all the way out here just to drink some dusty tea, right?"
"...Very well. Why don't we hear this topic that you're scrambling to get to?"
"...My, my. Those people sure are strong-minded. They really started fast."
"I must join in as well. If I don't assert myself, those people will quickly forget that there are four siblings."
"...It's pretty tough for you too. Maybe I didn't choose my words well. My apologies."
"No, I don't mind. I'm the one who should be apologizing. As a pair of mothers with daughters, we must interact more often. E-very time we meet, we talk about something strange..."
"...That's the fault of the atmosphere in this mansion. Once we breathe in this air, everyone gets so strained. Just once, I want to drink a nice, long cup of tea with you, Rosa-san, when you aren't attending a family conference. There's a wonderful coffee shop in Ginza which is a favorite of mine. Please let me invite you sometime soon."
"Thank you, Kyrie-san. That sounds good..."
"Oh, no. The sky is getting dark quickly. It's almost as though the people in this room have made the weather worse. ...There's already thunder. Oh? Was that one there...?"
There really were small splashes of rain on the glass of the parlor window. It seemed that the weather had gotten worse faster than they had expected.
...Just then, a silent thunderbolt struck inside Rosa's head, and she remembered that her beloved child was in the rose garden. A normal girl would think about going into the house if the weather got bad. ...But Maria was different. She would sometimes become stubborn, and wouldn't move if rain or even spears fell from the sky.
"Oh... oh no...! Maria...!!"
Everyone looked back at Rosa when she let out a small scream.
"...What, what happened?"
"I, I'm sorry, I'm going outside for a second. I'll be right back!"
"...What the, what's going on with her, really..."
"It's fine, right? She'll be right back. More importantly, should we begin? Our main topic."
"That's right. We can keep talking about that without Rosa. Let's return to our discussion."
Rosa dashed from the entrance hall into the rose garden.
Just as Kyrie had said, the wind was mixed in with small droplets of rain. There was also a low rumble of thunder. It could start raining anytime. Rosa headed for the rose garden. She headed for the place where she had scolded Maria a short while ago.
...It was almost lunchtime. The children had been told that they should come to the mansion around lunchtime, so they were probably in the guesthouse, waiting to be called. Even if Maria didn't come, they would surely think that I had taken her to the mansion with me, and wouldn't worry much. After all she was with her mother, so there shouldn't have been anything to worry about.
Except I was here, and threw my daughter into the worsening weather outside, all alone...!
It really was as I'd thought. She was still standing stock still, exactly the same way she had been, in the place where I had scolded her. Held in her hand... was the candy that I had bought, given her, and then stepped on and crushed.
With that gripped in her hand, she stood there as the strong wind whipped her hair about, tormenting her...
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry!! Sorry, Maria...!! Forgive Mama...!"
"...Uu-. Mama, welcome back... Maria waited a long time for Mama to come back. Mama was pinched by the scary witch, but Maria held out, waited for Mama to come back without crying..."
"...Maria... Forgive Mama... forgive Mama..."
"Mama isn't bad... She was just possessed by a bad witch again... So I'm fine. I really like Mama. I love you..."
Rosa buried her face in Maria's small chest, crying and begging forgiveness. And again, those tears dripped down after who knows how many times. If only the brilliant sun had been shining on the two of them, all of their cares would have evaporated, and they would have felt like they could begin anew.
However, what surrounded the two of them was the worsening weather. The strong winds mixed in with the sound of thunder were saddening. The sound of Maria sniffling made Rosa notice. If she stood exposed to the wind for too long, she would probably catch a cold.
"...So, Maria. It will be lunch very soon. Why don't you come back to the mansion with Mama."
"Uu-. I'm not coming."
Rosa thought that she had already received Maria's forgiveness, so she hadn't imagined Maria would refuse. But that expression on Maria's face didn't look like that of a child resisting her mother. So Rosa wasn't able to understand why Maria wanted to stand still, pointlessly, as the weather grew even worse.
Maria answered that question...
Rosa was a little lost for words and remained silent. After they had just gone to great lengths to make up with each other. She chose her words carefully, trying to get Maria to come with her to the mansion without denying the witch outright.
"...Beatrice is... coming?"
"Really... Then instead of waiting here, why don't we wait in the mansion? If you stay in this wind too long, you'll catch a cold..."
"Come! Beatrice will co-me!! And when she does, I'll give a candy to Beatrice. I'll do trick-or-treat! I'll give her a jack-o-lantern marshmallow candy and say Happy Halloween!! Uu-!!"
Maria pulled yet another sweet out of her handbag, moaning uu-uu-. Rosa was bewildered and didn't know what to do as Maria started being difficult again...
It was probably a sign. A sign that this island was closed off by the storm, detached from common sense and reality. Therefore, after this moment, all common sense would probably be useless.
The wind blew even stronger, and in the middle of the blizzard of scattered rose petals, ...a figure appeared, leaving Rosa unable to imagine that this was a scene from reality.
...No, it was probably, definitely... fantastical.
Because that shadow of a person was...