Part 40: The Witch's Move II
Even though it had been so lively in the parlor with so many people gathered there, when all of them scattered at once and were sucked into the vast mansion, it created an eerie silence, with no sound except that of the rain...
BGM: Corridor of the Sands of Purgatory
"...I haven't met them. Kyrie-san, is that true?"
"...Even I only greeted her quickly when she came into the entrance hall. She looked like she was in her twenties. I told her my name, but she didn't tell me hers. She was being guided by Genji-san and I saw her go up to the second floor."
"So it would probably be faster to find Genji-san and hear the story from him directly. Still, what a strange turn of affairs..."
The mystery woman had spoken to Kyrie. Without naming herself, she had sneered that Kyrie should have had a vague idea. And the person that brought to mind... was her look-alike, the witch of the portrait...
"Was this person trying to say that she was... the witch of the portrait?"
"I realized that was what she was laughing at. Even though it was our first meeting, she spoke as though she knew I'm your second wife."
"...Aneki. You really don't know someone like that?"
"You talk too much. I have never seen a blonde woman like that go in or out of this mansion!"
"That kind of thing doesn't matter. The problem is what happens if that woman starts calling herself Beatrice, if she starts calling herself the manager of Father's assets."
"Or, maybe she plans to call herself his mistress's daughter, and demand that the inheritance be distributed to her. Either way, an outrageous joker has been slipped into the deck. Did Nii-san call her? Or did Father...?"
"This is bad. We've been thinking that if we did a good enough job cornering Aniki in our discussion, we might be able to work things out. But this takes us back to square one."
"...I don't know what kind of schemes you've been making when I'm not around, dear, but it looks like we've been given a little time to form a counter-strategy."
"...Yeah. The little time that we've been given to discuss a counter-strategy is better than what would have happened if Miss Blondie had suddenly appeared at the dinner table and scared the shit out of us."
"...Our effective counter-stategies will be limited as long as we don't know what she came to do. What could they be after...?"
"Isn't it obvious! It's to claim that they are the rightful heir to Father's inheritance! Father is still captivated by Beatrice. If that girl were here, you would think he'd want to give up all of his assets! She might even thrust some strange will before us!"
"...Sure, if we take it to court, we could probably claim half of a quarter of it, but that probably wouldn't be resolved until the distribution of the inheritance is settled. That's a problem. To me, to Rudolf too! And of course Rosa too, right?"
"...For all of our various situations, we need to gather money urgently. It's our biggest weak point. Then, what are they after? Kyrie, can you tell?"
"...It's the first I've heard of it, but one of the premises here is that we have an urgent need to collect money, right?"
"...Kyrie-san. When you're on the offensive in a man's business, that's the time ya need funding. Please understand that."
"...What's this, Rudolf? You didn't tell Kyrie-san about it?"
"...Sorry. I wasn't really hiding it. Actually, it was kinda..."
"It's alright. If this is something that you decided wasn't necessary to tell me about, I won't press you about it right here. What's more important is finding out what the Golden Witch is after, right?"
"Yes... By organizing what we know, will we be able to see the enemy's move coming?"
Of course, it didn't give him any more peace of mind than fortune telling, but every time Rudolf was polishing up some important strategy, he would give a great deal of thought to Kyrie's advice... For a while, Kyrie pressed her finger against her forehead, considering...
"...Judging by the fact that her coming here was kept hidden until today, one of her goals is some kind of surprise that she wants to give us. We can't know whether that has something to do with assets or being recognized as a relative."
"However, because it was kept hidden that she could come until today, maybe you could say that she didn't want us to be notified in advance and therefore interact with her. Which means that, it seems her goal is one that would be disadvantageous to her if we did interact. Understand?"
"I get it... For example, if it was something like a will which Father had written previously, or something that could prove that she was acknowledged as a blood relative, if we assume it was something like that, it would be completely unshakable. If she thought it was rock-solid proof, then you'd think she'd actually have announced it beforehand."
"...That's right. Since we are in a position to doubt her, she should have brought a lawyer or an expert, and thrust some completely undeniable proof before us. If she could."
"Hmmmm... So that would mean that, from the time she first aimed for a surprise attack, we know the enemy couldn't win in an honest, frontal attack. No wonder. It's best to play a trump card that can surely win openly. If you play it in a roundabout way, it might actually obscure the impact of that trump card."
"...To skip to the conclusion, you would probably expect that that some huge surprise would be thrust in front of you, something related either directly or indirectly to the inheritance problem that everyone is so infatuated with. The other party probably plans to have the impact of this alone be enough to overpower us. However, even if this carries with it a significant impact, it is not absolute."
"In other words, we have enough leeway to take advantage of this."
"You've really got brains! Even understandin' just this much is really reassuring! In other words, you're tellin' us not to get sucked into our opponents pace."
"...In the end, it's an extremely simple conclusion. No matter what our opponent brings up, we interact calmly, without rushing things. This is just the very first step in the art of negotiation. You really can't say that you've predicted your opponent's thoughts with just this."
"Come on. Just like usual, that was pretty good. Now that we know that we have a little leeway to attack, it gives us a little more room to spare."
"What we don't know is how she is connected to Krauss nii-san. Is it a surprise for Krauss nii-san too, or was the person who called her here none other than Krauss nii-san himself? If it's the latter, it might make things very troublesome."
"...That's right. Secretly calling a mystery woman on the day of the family conference... Repulsive, but it somehow feels like Nii-san."
"Aneki, let's handle it like this. As long as she can't clearly prove her identity, we won't accept her position in any way."
"That would be best. She really didn't even name herself to Kyrie-san. We won't stand for an announcement from a woman whose true form is unknown to disturb our conference."
"...She might even show us proof that she's a blood relative. If she can show that Father's blood runs through her veins, like with a maternity record document, there's nothing we can do."
"We can suspect that any proof is only something disguised. Even if it is the real thing, in order to prove that the person mentioned is the person in question, we would need to check their condition at a hospital. At the very least, it will be impossible to prove that now, on Rokkenjima."
"...You're right. So, in other words, it's something like this. No matter what is shown to us now on Rokkenjima, it can't be accepted as truth. So we can't believe anything until the typhoon passes and they prove it to us at the proper place. *giggle*."
"Recklessly finding fault in that kind of thing is Aneki's specialty. We'll be counting on you."
"Are you an idiot? You'll be helping too. We need money. And quickly, and a large sum! We're all in this together. As if we could just stand by and let a mystery woman, who appeared unexpectedly in a place like this, destroy our goal, the inheritance...!"
Kyrie noticed how indomitable they looked, swung her head slightly to the side, and gave a small sigh as she looked out the window. Outside, there was still a strong rain falling, and everything was gray, having lost all vibrance. It felt like the lush garden that the sun had shone on earlier had been no more than a lie.
For some reason, the words Eva had said just a short while ago kept repeating in Kyrie's head.
There was an odd nuance to those words. Right now, this island was closed off by the typhoon and isolated. They had no official connections and no hospital. So on this island, no matter what manner of proof with any relation to the outside world was shown, one could claim that it was fiction.
It was impossible to prove that something was the truth. They were cut off from the outside world, and any truth that must be proven in the outside world would be called 'fiction'...
So did that mean... that now, on this Rokkenjima, there was nothing that was truthful? That everything would be controlled by 'fiction'? It almost gave the illusion that separate from the human world made from truth... was another world called fiction, in which they had been shut away.
Kyrie remembered what that woman had looked like one more time. And she remembered the woman's figure, and the witch of the portrait.
No matter what she did, Kyrie couldn't help think of that smile that had appeared on that woman's face as anything other than a thing of misfortune...
It feels like my chessboard thinking mistook a vital premise, now that I try to understand that smile of misfortune. That's right, that smile seemed like that of something not human looking down on me.
I have reasoned based on the assumption that my opponent was a 'human' like us. However, just like this island now, she may be a being that is not human, and human values may not matter for her. In that case... all reasoning is useless.
For what reason has the witch been invited here today? Only one thing is certain. Now, in this instant, she is staying somewhere in this vast mansion...
"...Uu-. Said it many times. Beatrice."
"Maria, did you ever meet Beatrice before that...?"
"Uu-. Met her every year."
"Every year...? In this mansion on Rokkenjima?"
"I don't know what uu- means! Is that true?!"
"How long have you been meeting her? How many years ago did it start?!"
"...Uu-. Don't know."
"You don't know?! Why?! Last year? Two years ago?!"
"...Since before that. ...Uu-."
And yet, Maria said that she had been meeting with that suspicious woman every year during the family conference... If what Maria said was the truth, then that strange woman called Beatrice had been at the family conference every year. That's insane. Is she saying that some eerie woman was at the family conference every year, and none of us ever noticed it...?!
Even though Rosa had just met her herself a couple of hours ago in the rose garden, she was overcome with a strange emotion which told her not to accept that existence...
"...Maria. So, you said that you met her every year. After you met, what did you do?"
"Uu-. Sang songs, learned magic. Learned how to write magic circles."
"R, really? That's incredible. Maria, you often draw scribbles... no, magic circles, in your notebook, right? Did she teach you that?"
"Uu-! You know what, Beatrice draws what they should look like! C'mon, c'mon, look! Look!"
Maria joyfully fished around in her handbag. Then, she drew out a single notebook and began opening to that page. Most of the pages were covered with drawings that were literally scribbles. All of them were occult-like things, and, while it might sound rude to Maria, who was joyfully flipping through the pages, they were all creepy.
"Look! Here! Beatrice wrote it!! Uu-!!"
Furthermore, at a glance, Rosa realized that Maria hadn't drawn them. The strength of the strokes, the thickness of the lines, how clean the shape was. This by itself wasn't enough to guess the background of the person who had written it, but it was enough for Rosa to understand that it was definitely someone older than Maria.
Rosa had to accept it now. There really was a person on this Rokkenjima that she herself hadn't known existed until now, and this person had come to the family conference every year to play with Maria.
"...Maria. Umm, does this witch Beatrice live here...? Or does she live outside the island like us...?"
"Uu-. Beatrice is the witch of Rokkenjima, so she lives on this island."
"...So, you're saying that she's on the island even when it isn't the family conference... right...?"
"I don't know what uu- means!! What do you mean?!"
How long has this unknown witch been living on this island?! I used to live on this island. I lived on this island, passing the time in the mansion, in the rose garden. And even so, I never encountered a witch like that... never... I think...
"Mama...? Mama...? What's wrong...? Mama...?!"
...I was probably getting a little mixed up with my memories from when I was a young girl. When I was a young girl, unlike Maria, I was very frightened of the witch. So for me, the name Beatrice was a synonym for something frightening. So surely, my feeling of fear from my days as a young girl has been revived because a woman calling herself that has appeared...
...She couldn't be a witch. She's obviously a 'human' calling herself Beatrice, right?
Rosa pulled that western-style envelope out of her pocket. It was the western-style envelope which bore the Ushiromiya family crest, which Kinzo used on his personal letters. And it had even been sealed with the red sealing wax by the ring of the head, which Kinzo held... Which meant this envelope belonged to the Ushiromiya head. In other words, it was from Father.
That's right, I'm sure she said to read this aloud at dinner. What in the world could be written inside...?
An uncertainty gripped Rosa, as if opening this envelope would release a ridiculous object of misfortune... However, at the same time, a little curiosity sprouted up, causing her to want to find out what was written inside before the other siblings.
Using common sense, one could guess that a huge resolution somehow related to Father's inheritance was probably written inside. Actually, since she had been made to hold it by a woman who called herself Beatrice, there was no way that wasn't related. Did it mean that this person wants, not just the four, but a total of five people to be included in the inheritance?
I needed a large sum of money, and I couldn't wait long. I felt like a sinful daughter for discussing the distribution of Father's inheritance while he was still alive. However, this was no time to keep everything pretty. And I was even consulting with Rudolf nii-san and Eva nee-san in order to get some money out of Krauss nii-san. With myself in this situation, I can't help but foresee misfortune...
What could be written in here? I'm sure there must be something frightening written. Shall I first read it secretly myself? The witch had requested it be done at the dinner table, when everyone was gathered. However, didn't that just mean that she could have read it aloud herself at the dinner table? Why did she go to all the trouble of entrusting it to me?
...In other words, was that because it didn't matter whether I secretly read it beforehand...? It would be better to secretly read the contents first. I understand that it would be breaking my promise. But this is no longer the time to keep things pretty... It would probably be good to discuss it with Eva nee-san and Rudolf nii-san, depending on the contents.
...Nee-san and the rest are always really good thinkers when it comes to this kind of thing... When I gulped, and put my hand to the red sealing wax... Something suddenly pulled on my sleeve, and I let out a small scream.
"...Wh, what?! M... Maria. Don't scare me like that. What?"
BGM: Witch in Gold
The same sign of misfortune as the witch appeared in Maria's expression, sending a tingle up Rosa's spine...
"...Beatrice told Mama to read that letter during dinner. You can't break a promise with a witch. Kihihihihihihihihihihihi..."
"Th, that's not it. I just wanted to look at the envelope for a second. I'll keep my promise. After all, Mama always tells Maria to keep her promises. Of course Mama will keep her promise..."
"Yes. Mama's a good girl. Kihihihihihihihihihi..."
"Th, that laugh... It isn't cute, so stop it."
"Come to think of it, you received a letter too, Maria. What was written inside?"
"It isn't open. Beatrice said mustn't open it until the time to open it comes. So taking good care of it. Uu-."
"I... I see. You listen well to what Beatrice says, don't you, Maria."
"Uu-. Maria is Beatrice's disciple, so she listens well to what her teacher says."
"...I... I see."
...If she broke the rules, and opened the envelope here, Beatrice would probably know about it. Because Maria was the witch's disciple. Maria communicated with that witch...
"...Mama will keep her promise. So tell Beatrice not to worry, okay?"
"Uu-! Tell her."
"...Hey, Maria. I want to speak with Beatrice, but what could I do to meet her, I wonder...?"
"I don't know. Beatrice is very fickle, so she always shows herself suddenly. Maria doesn't know a way to get her to meet Maria. But you know, she's always watching Maria. So when Maria gets in trouble, she'll definitely save her afterwards. She has definitely, erased her form, and is hiding close to Maria... Kihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihi."
"D, don't I always tell you to stop that laughing!!"
Rosa swore. She swore that, at least until they left this island, she must not leave Maria alone.
She couldn't allow an unknown being to make direct contact with her daughter any more...