Part 39: The Witch's Move
October 4th, 1986, 1:00 PM
"Excuse me... I have brought lunch."
After receiving approval, Kanon entered the honored guest room, pushing the lunch serving cart. The servants called this room the honored guest room of the witch. That was because Kinzo strictly ordered that it always be cleaned so that it could be used at any time. Even so, guests would not be allowed into this room no matter who they were. That's why, at some point, the servants had started calling it the honored guest room, which was supposed to be set aside only to greet the special person Kinzo waited for..., the witch from that portrait.
And today, Kanon knew that this was exactly right...
Outside, the rain was no longer falling weakly. As she looked out at the beautiful rose garden, which had been finished after several days of work for today's sake, and saw the winds and rain ravage it, was she lost in some sentimental feelings? Kanon was not able to tell anything more from her back, which was facing him.
"...I will prepare the meal... Beatrice-sama."
Kanon went out of his way to call out the witch's name, because he wanted to make her turn around. He wanted to know. He wanted to know whether the witch who had tempted him and Shannon in the past really had appeared again. When he did, the witch whose name had been called, laughed, her back still facing him. Holding back her voice, she laughed.
Kanon was startled... It was almost as though she had read his mind and knew that he had called out to her, hoping to make her turn around...
"...Yes. He is a cook called Gohda, and was employed in recent years."
"...There's nothing better than being skilled at cooking. Gourmets form the three pillars of pleasure for living in the human world. Not missing out on this is the secret to not getting bored after a thousand years. *cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*."
Kanon and the witch's eyes met. And, she grinned...
Without a doubt. Certainly... This was without a doubt, the witch from that day, Beatrice... The witch that no one but he and Shannon could see in the past finally held a form, and had arrived openly as a guest from the entrance hall...
BGM: Organ Short No. 600 Million in C Minor
"...It has... been a long time..."
Kanon tried not to forget to be polite to the guest for the time being. But dark clouds began to enshroud his heart because of the visit of this suspicious witch, and on the day of the family conference...
"It seems you are uneasy about what I plan to do now that I have appeared. Is that so...?"
Kanon didn't force an answer. This witch probably reads minds. So it was pointless to go to all the trouble of saying it out loud. Of course, even his resisting heart would be read. So the witch giggled at Kanon's childish resistance.
"...I came to resolve my final promise with Kinzo."
"Your final promise with... Master...?"
"...I don't know what you are talking about."
However, uncertainty began to gather in his heart. The story of this witch couldn't be anything good.
"*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*! There's no mistake! The story of a witch isn't anything good. You are correct. Be that as it may, witches are used like scissors. Sometimes, there are people like King Solomon who succeed in great exploits."
"...However, in most cases, one does not meet with a good fate such as those described in fairy tales, right? *cackle*cackle*! But Kinzo is crafty. He has taken in even the interest I am collecting for his own ceremony. Is he an absurd magician to surpass even me? Or else a fool possessed by madness? Interesting. Truly interesting...!"
Kanon couldn't guess what the witch was muttering and laughing about. All he knew was, anything that would make this witch laugh, must have the exact opposite meaning to the rest of them. And in the back of his mind, the horrifying words the witch had spat at him in the past began to be revived.
Even after one thousand years, no better show exists...!
"...My beloved hometown, the sweetfish river running through it. You who seek the Golden Land, follow its path downstream and seek the key."
The witch suddenly began to recite a bizarre poem... It was something he remembered hearing.
"Could that be... the witch's epitaph..."
There was no mistake. It was the epitaph that accompanied the portrait of the witch that Kinzo had hung. The relatives imagined that it probably pointed to the location of the hidden gold, but no one knew what it meant. The witch suddenly began reciting that epitaph.
BGM: At Death's Door
"Rejoice. The day when the shame of your time as furniture will end has finally come."
"I believe you have wanted that for a long time. To furniture, whose existence has no value, just existing day to day must be nothing but agony."
"...Those with souls should persist in the real world, but those without them find the real world to be nothing but suffering. *cackle*cackle*!"
Complicated expressions flitted across Kanon's face. It was the day of release that Kanon had been looking forward to. However, the coming of this day had been mercilessly sudden. And for some reason, it was difficult to accept, since he had been informed that the day of resting had come from a witch speaking in this hateful way. Kanon wasn't even able to decide what emotion he should hold on to...
"...Why are you not happy? Could you actually have some regrets left in the real world? As furniture?"
"...I have no... regrets. Because I am... furniture."
"*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*. You truly are a model furniture. How nice, how nice. However, it wouldn't be interesting if you had no regrets."
"...Are you saying that regrets are your pleasure?"
"That is correct! Most witches who live for one thousand years get tired of living! In order to escape boredom, I adorn people's fates with fruit and brandy and cook them like cakes. I find humans dancing through oppressive fates inside an oven to be so very entertaining...!"
"*cackle*cackle*! It's well known that I take this position, right? So much that rare guests come from far away to see my skill at cooking. Fufufufufu, even if I say that, it may be something that mere furniture can't understand."
However, he realized well enough that this was a terrifying being who treated the fate of humans as a show, enjoying it whenever some harm befell them. However, furniture had no soul or life, much less a fate. Pitiful "furniture" did nothing but serve until the day they were released from the real world. To furniture like that, the witch, who had appeared to release them from everything, was a being for which they overflowed with affection... Even though the day that Kanon should have been waiting impatiently for had come, he was confused at himself and his inability to easily accept that.
Why was it...? The face of Shannon, the person he loved as a sister, rose to his mind... And for some reason, Jessica's face did too.
Kanon bit his lower lip painfully. What Jessica was thinking of was not permitted for furniture. Even though he had tried to realize that, and had found fault with Shannon's relationship, how could he still remember Jessica at a time like this. He felt a little shameful at his own naivety. And to forget about Jessica, he turned his thoughts to Shannon. Shannon is also furniture. On the day everything returns to nothing, there was no reason she shouldn't be happy.
...But Shannon, through her relationship with George, had known an emotion that shouldn't be known by furniture. Even though she wasn't qualified to be bonded with him, she was still trapped in a dream that she wasn't permitted to see. Could Shannon... accept something like that with pleasure?
...She must not. Shannon still had remaining regrets. That would probably become a great source of pain and torture for Shannon. And the fact of the matter was that this regret... had been planted by this witch. Why? Just because that would be 'more interesting'...!
"...And, I hate you for making this day difficult for Shannon to accept...!"
"I wanted to make you feel pain from your regrets as well, just like Shannon. However, you continued to be like furniture with foolish honesty, and didn't get ensnared by me."
"...However, it looks like you loved Shannon too dearly, right? *cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*! Shannon's regrets became your regrets. Will that become hatred for me...?"
"If you want to kill me, try to do it. *cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*! As Kinzo's furniture, you should have at least that much power, right? However, if you kill me, the day of rest for the furniture will not come for all eternity. Could you withstand that...? Can you really reject your release by me...? *cackle*cackle*cackle*!! Kneel!"
"...So, Kanon? Could you withstand that...?"
"If the door to the Golden Land is opened, your life as furniture that has been full of hardship will end. If you desire, I will even give you life as a human. After that, you will be on the same level as Jessica! Surely you want to know of it, the taste of love...!"
"...Stop it... stop it...! Are you trying to ensnare me again...?! I won't be reduced to a toy to please you...!"
"Hoh. Then I will be satisfied with Shannon. You weren't the only one I sowed those seeds into. There are sometimes fruits that don't bear fruit."
"...He who lays hand upon the key shall travel under the rules below. At the first twilight, you shall lift up as sacrifice the six chosen by the key. At the second twilight, those who remain shall tear apart the two who are close..."
The witch recited the epitaph again. It was so sudden, and diverged so strongly from the current topic. However, that challenging smile made it seem almost as though she were using that epitaph as a threat to Kanon.
BGM: Golden Sneer
"...It could be any two who are close. A husband and wife, or even a pair of lovers. According to the rules of the ceremony, who will be selected is up to me to decide on a whim. Don't you think that there is no one more fitting to be a sacrifice for the second twilight than Shannon as she is now...? *cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle!!"
"...Wh... what a dirty..."
Kanon knew. Until today, he had planned on giving everything up and living as furniture, like furniture. But in reality, that wasn't true. He loved Shannon too dearly. Therefore, when Shannon was in pain, Kanon shared in that. If only Shannon had continued to live as furniture, indifferently like Kanon, without any regrets in this world, he wouldn't have had to be in so much pain...!
The witch planned to toy with Shannon, who had known the taste of love... no, who she had taught the taste of love, as she killed her. Being released along with her love meant that she wouldn't be invited to the Golden Land, but would become a human sacrifice for an evil ceremony, after receiving the limits of torture and pain...! And this witch would probably make Shannon actually meet this horrible fate for no reason other than that it was interesting to her. Furthermore, she was threatening to do that so that she could make Kanon, who hadn't submitted to the witch even once until now, finally surrender...
It was that simple. In the end, though he had tried resisting the witch to avoid pleasing her, he had only made things interesting for her. After all, he was furniture. No, a toy. They were nothing but toys meant only to distract her from her boredom...!
"What will you do, Kanon...? If you kneel, I'll surely hold back from choosing Shannon as a sacrifice, okay? *cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*! I've wanted to make a toy like you surrender just once. *cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*, kuhihihihihihihihi!!"
Without even a fragment of elegance, the witch sneered at Kanon with an indecent laugh. That's right, she had seen through Kanon even faster than he had been able to make up his own mind...
It didn't matter what happened to himself. However, just the fact that Shannon, who during his days as furniture had given him his only reason to live, was being toyed with... that alone was something that he couldn't overlook... Therefore, something like kissing the shoes of the witch was an easy oath for Kanon to make.
...At the time that his quivering lips actually touched the witch's shoe... Beatrice, after letting a look of ecstasy rise to her face, ...laughed with a voice filled to bursting.
Rosa had bought a high-class brand of black tea from a famous store in Ginza. That had been prepared, and the inside of the parlor was filled with a very nice aroma... Since the children were together with the adults, the adults tried to interact like relatives on the surface, talking peacefully about recent events and how their children were growing up.
It had started raining outside, so the children couldn't do anything but sit here like this, watching TV, unable to go outside. Maria continued watching a boring daytime program without getting bored, giggling all by herself, like a true TV kid. At first, Battler joined in, apparently deepening his relationship with Maria, but he had gotten up early that morning, and was therefore attacked by a wave of drowsiness...
"Oh, that's a big yawn. Did you get up really early this morning?"
"...Well, something like that. With all the tension resolved, I started to get sleepy, listening to the sound of the rain."
"Tension? Hehe, you call overreacting that much tension?"
"At least it's like that for me. Fuaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah..."
Battler gave a great yawn once again, and slowly lay down in the sofa. He really did look tired. George and the others had tried talking to him, thinking it was a sign of boredom, but when they realized he really was sleepy, they decided to let him be.
"My, my. They say that if you lie down right after eating, you'll become a mackerel. Hoh-hoh-ho...!"
"...Stop kidding around. Gohda-san said that tonight would be calf steak. That would make it mackerel steak."
"Kumasawa-san. This guy looks pretty tired. Would you mind bringing him a blanket?"
"Hoh-hoh-ho. Here you go."
Kumasawa brought a blanket over from the shelf. The wide parlor wasn't cold, but the air had gotten a little chilly. So when Battler took the blanket, he immediately wrapped himself up in it, like a little turtle.
"...You really were sleepy. When will you wake up? I'll take care of it."
"Uu-? Battler sleep? A nap? A nap? Uu-uu-, Maria will do it too!"
"H, hey, Maria. Battler's sleepy, so you gotta leave him alone. Kumasawa-san, could you give us another blanket?"
It was doubtful that Maria really wanted to take a nap. She probably saw Battler wrapped up in a blanket and wanted to do the same. When she received the blanket from Kumasawa, she joyfully wrapped herself up in it and set up camp again in front of the TV.
"Sheesh. Even though we've finally gathered all the cousins together after six years. This guy doesn't have a clue that he's the main guest of this family conference, does he?"
"...I can hear youuu. I've casually eaten lunch, and there's even a typhoon and rain. Since we aren't doing anything, that means it isn't my turn yet."
"I wonder about that. If you have a passive attitude like that, and don't do anything unless something happens, your life will be pretty boring, right?"
"If this were a play, it wouldn't be my turn to go on stage. ...So the best thing to do is stay on the wings of the stage."
"You're always the main character of your own life, right? Why are you acting like a supporting actor? You have to move forward by yourself and get up on the stage."
"...That's not what I mean. What I'm mean by saying that it's not my turn now... Kuaaaaaaaaaaah... Sorry, my mind's a mess. Give me a break... *mumble*..."
"Seriously. You're so sleepy that you aren't making any sense... We'll leave you alone now."
"I think that's inexcusable. You are always the main character in your own life. But I kinda want to seriously argue with Battler about that!"
"He's just half-asleep. Don't take him too seriously."
"...You know what? I think he's got that kind of personality where he doesn't want to get up on the stage because he can't be the main character. Something about that pisses me off..."
With distant eyes, Jessica gazed out the window at the grey rose garden obscured by rain... When she put her forehead up against the glass, it felt as though the pleasantly cool sensation chased away the memories that she didn't want to remember...
In that case, who is the main character on stage...?
BGM: Fishy Aroma
"*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*! It's because your argument regarding 18 or 19 people, which you are using as a basis to deny me, is truly humorous. So much so that I tried changing my move."
"...The greatest basis upon which you deny me is simply because I was not laid out as a piece on the game board. So doing this is nothing more than showing you the queen first, isn't it? Isn't opening the road for the queen in the first move one of the shortcuts in chess?"
"...Q, quit playing around... There's no way I can accept something like this, right?! A witch came in, walking right through the entrance hall, you say?! Don't mess with me!!"
"What's this...? In the last game, I let you make your moves terribly freely, right...? This time, I am doing nothing more than matching your moves and moving the pieces. Will you give in already after the first move...?"
"...Y, you bastard... Don't mess with me! Who's gonna give in! Great move, why don't you just move however you like?"
"I see, so your turn is far from over. Move however you like! Form a huge battle formation while you can."
"I will definitely defy you. I'll definitely corner you!! Come at me as best you can, I don't want you to have any excuses."
"...This much isn't even close to enough to make me accept something like a witch. That's right, just now, it looked like Maria's candy was fixed with magic, but you might have actually had another one of the same candy hidden in your pocket, and switched them with that little show, making it only look like you had fixed it with magic! Yeah, that's right, that has to be it, it's useless, it's all useless...!"
"...Hohoh? Rosa saw the moment when the candy split into butterflies, right?"
"I don't know about that!! That was a hallucination or a trick... or otherwise, she just saw it wrong!! That isn't a big problem!!"
"*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*! So you throw out the part you can't explain as trivial? I see, is that your move in response to mine...?"