Part 66: My Preparations Are Already Complete II
BGM: Organ Short #600 Million in C Minor
"Sorry to keep you waiting. I've finally prepared a new game. Come, let us begin this tale of tragedy! Come to me, winds, rain, typhoon! Cut this island off from the real world!! Throw Rokkenjima into another realm, into the spirit world, into a world of fantasy!"
However, to an Endless Witch, what did it matter whether it was the first, second, or third time? It probably didn't matter at all. After all, this was a tale of fantasy, endlessly repeating until the match was settled. Would Battler surrender first, or would the witch?
Then the sky grew dark and cloudy, and the rain and wind were summoned together and became a typhoon... Maria could be seen in the rose garden, paying no mind to the rain that had started falling, going around in circles, searching for that single rose that should have been marked...
Maria definitely remembered it. That rose had been in the flower bed right here. And yet, it wasn't anymore. She didn't know what to do with her irritation at not being able to find something that should've been there, and, moaning bitterly, she couldn't help but keep going back and forth in circles around the same spot. She was acting almost as though she'd be able to see it if she looked at a different angle, but even though she did that, there was no way to find something that wasn't there...
The wind grew increasingly strong, and the rain turned into cold, large drops. There was no way even Maria would fail to notice this. However, if she couldn't find her rose here, it would surely disappear forever. Maria believed that. That feeling spurred her on to keep searching for a rose that she had no chance of finding...
Just then, the cold drops of rain tormenting Maria were suddenly blocked.
Maria raised her head. When she did, she saw an umbrella there, protecting her from the rain...
BGM: Witch in Gold
"What are you doing so frantically in the middle of all this rain? You could catch a cold like this. Even witches have to care for their own health."
"I... can't find... my rose... Uu-. No matter how many times I search, even though it should've been here, I can't find it..."
Maria told Beatrice about how there had been a slightly unhealthy, pitiful rose, and that she was sure they had marked it.
"Hoho. So you can't find it. If you are a witch's apprentice, you should use magic to search for the rose. I believe that searching with just your eyes won't be nearly enough."
"...Uu-. I can't find it. I did my best and tried to search with magic, but I can't find it..."
"I think practicing your magic is a very good thing, but it might be a little too much for you with all this wind and rain. Allow me to lend you some special power. Concern for one's disciples is also one of a teacher's duties."
"Th-Thank yooou, Beatrice!!"
Maria's face, which had been full of sadness until just now, split open into a grin. Maria knew. She knew that there was nothing Beatrice's magic couldn't do. So she was sure that Beatrice would be able to find the rose easily, even though Maria couldn't...
Beatrice closed her eyes lightly, acting as though she was listening for something in all this wind and rain. Then she heard it, opened her eyes, and spoke.
"Uu-... Then, my rose...?"
"It was uprooted by the wind...and is no longer of this world."
What Beatrice had said was quite reasonable. There was nothing odd about the flower being broken off at the stem in this strong wind. However, Maria couldn't accept this and bitterly gave a low-pitched moan...
"...No, no, no! It's my rose!! My rose won't come back, no! I'll bring it back to life with my magic. Beatrice, teach me how to revive a rose with magic...!!"
"Ha! It's much too early for an apprentice like you to learn the hidden art of Endless Magic. Know your place."
Maria wiped the tears from her eyes, full of regret. Beatrice shrugged her shoulders and chuckled at Maria's pitiable expression.
"Very well. I will lend you my power, the hidden art that can revive a rose."
"Indeed. Well then, concentrate the power of your heart. Close your eyes, forget the rain, forget the wind, and search for the soul of the wandering rose with the eyes of your heart."
Maria closed her eyes. Then, she repeated Beatrice's song-like words...
Around Maria, who was concentrating her power, her eyes tightly shut, small golden butterflies began to dance. Was this the manifestation of the magical power Maria held?
"Lost soul of the rose. Gather into one, and remember your form. Come, gather, remember..."
The glitter of the gold butterflies began to strengthen, and their numbers increased. Then, Beatrice raised a finger up to the skies, and they began to gather at the tip of that finger... This was the miracle of the golden magic...
The gold butterflies began to condense into a single dazzling grain of gold. It was a single glittering gold seed. It rode on the tip of Beatrice's finger, budded into a golden sprout, and opened into a golden leaf. It then slowly fell from that fingertip, sank into the mud of the flower bed, and began to grow steadily...
Maria, who admired magic and the witch, really wanted to see this fantastical sight. However, as an apprentice, Maria was still not qualified to see it. No, she was probably afraid that, if she opened her eyes to look, the power that she had concentrated in her heart would be cut off, and the magic would be lost. Therefore, Beatrice, as the only one permitted to witness this golden miracle, was the only witch, the sole master of many miracles.
Then, the fully-grown rose bloomed, creating one golden flower. And when Beatrice poked it with her finger in just the right way, the gold-colored sparkle scattered, just as if a golden soap bubble had popped, and what remained was a single beautiful rose.
"...However, if we just leave it mixed in with these other roses, you won't be able to tell it apart. Shall I perform one last service?"
Beatrice, for the sake of her cute apprentice who was moaning even more now in concentration, decided to use one more bit of magic. When she snapped her fingers, a single gold butterfly appeared, fluttered around, and landed on the flower that had just been revived. Then it suddenly burst open and disappeared, becoming golden lace and marking the rose...
"That will do. Maria, you may open your eyes now."
"...Uu-? Where's the rose? It's not here. Not here."
"Not over there, over here. Look. I've marked it with golden lace."
"Wah, you did...!! Awesome, awesome, awesome, awesome!! Thank you Beato, thank you Beato!! I want to become a witch quickly, a Great Witch like you!!"
"And you can. Long ago, I too wished for that innocently, just as you do, and I have attained that level."
Maria was ecstatic over the revived rose, clapping her hands and jumping around in joy. Watching that, Beatrice also smiled, looking fairly pleased. By now, I can break and repair any soul if I try, not just that of a rose, and kill and revive as I pleased.
Now is the time for the Golden Witch, Beatrice, to descend as an Endless Witch.
Beatrice pulled from her pocket an envelope with the family crest, the One-Winged Eagle, and gave it to Maria. Maria frolicked around at being selected to be the witch's messenger.
BGM: The Candles Dance
"So then, let us make the ante. All that you have given should be returned to you in the end. Come, take it!!"
Kinzo flung the window of his study open wide, took off the valuable golden ring that had been on his finger, and threw it into the darkness of the raging wind and rain... That ring was struck by lightning, and after twinkling gold for an instant, disappeared. Kinzo watched it go, grinning broadly and fearlessly.
"I don't think I'll lose. You are mine. Forever!!"
It headed for the rose garden, almost as though it was being guided there. It then found the figure of the Golden Witch and fluttered down... When it came down right in front of Beatrice, it burst open and returned to its original form, flying through the air. The way it was going, you would've expected it to fall into a puddle, but it stopped suddenly in midair. Almost as if some transparent person had caught it.
Apparently, even Beatrice hadn't expected this. However, she realized what... no, who it was, and grinned broadly at it. As she did, the shadow of the person who had caught the ring began to fuzzily appear...
BGM: Fishy Aroma
There was no man like this among the servants of the Ushiromiya family. Even so, Beatrice laughed as though it was someone she remembered fondly.
"Ronove, is it? It's been quite some time. It seems you have remembered me. You were always a man who took loyalty seriously."
"It has been quite some time since your last correspondence... Not for a single day have I, Ronove, forgotten that I serve you, Milady. I was more afraid that you had forgotten about me. After all, you can be quite forgetful."
"*cackle*cackle*...! I see, yes, I certainly am forgetful. I'd forgotten even your sarcasm until I heard it again."
"Milady, take this."
With an exaggerated yet elegant gesture, he bowed respectfully... and held out to Beatrice the Head's Ring that he'd just caught.
"It is the Ushiromiya Family Head's Ring, returned to you from Ushiromiya Kinzo. It is now once again in the possession of its Master."
"Indeed. This is Kinzo announcing the start of the game. Of course I'll accept it."
"So, how shall we play tonight? Shall I prepare the roulette immediately? Or shall I prepare some black tea first?"
"I can't decide which, but first, I need you to greet someone. I'm sure that guy's got his mouth hanging open and can't shut it."
Video: A Devil's Proof
"See? His mouth's hanging open and he can't shut it, right? *cackle*cackle*!"
"By the way, Battler, did you notice? Did you realize that meeting him is a true 'Devil's Proof'?"
"A-A Devil's Proof...?! What do you mean...?"
"He may not look like it, but this guy's one of the 72, a genuine demon. In other words, I've brought a demon right in front of you, which truly proves that they exist."
"*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*!! Ronove holds a noble rank in hell, the 27th highest-ranked Great Demon. He's a pretty useful man. I summoned him at high cost and made him serve me."
"It is an honor to meet you. While my name is amongst those of the nobles of hell, I now serve as the head furniture of Beatrice-sama, who despite being a vulgar human, is a Great Witch of such caliber that demons flee before her."
"*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle* He's a very useful man, but he's impudent with his words. Frustratingly enough, he sometimes forgets to respect his Master."
"Nothing in my contract specifies the manner in which I am to speak. Would you like to change that contract?"
"It keeps me entertained, so it's fine. *cackle*cackle*!"
Beatrice turned her back to him, cackling. After bowing once to her back, Ronove turned back to Battler and stuck out his right hand, showing off an innocent smile. Normally, this would mean that he was asking for a handshake.
"...Wh-What is this supposed to be?"
"...Of course, this in no way implies your entry into a contract with a demon, so fear not."
"Sorry, but I'm right in the middle of a big fight with your master. I only shake hands with an enemy after we've beaten each other up in a rainy schoolyard and are all worn out, like something you'd see in a teen drama. Remember that."
"I see. To shake hands with you, Battler-sama, I must create a fitting atmosphere in a suitable location, exchanging sweet words and physical language with you that rings true to your heart. When the opportunity arrives, I shall arrange for such an encounter."
"I must say, I simply lo-ve situations like that myself. Pu ku ku ku...!"
As Ronove laughed tauntingly, he whispered to Battler, bringing his face so close that their noses were almost touching. Battler, his face turning red after getting so close to another of the same sex, pushed him away.
"Y-You're a creepy bastard... I see, just right for Beato's butler..."
"It is an honor to receive such words of praise. I'm very confident in my tea brewing abilities, so please look forward to tea time. Baking cookies is one of my hobbies, so please feel free to request any snacks you may desire."
"Just what I'd expect from a pair of the same gender. You've started getting along well right off the bat. I'm jealous."
"My, my. I apologize for making you jealous, Milady. I shall not sneakily snatch your guest away from you. Well then, I will leave for now to retake my post as head furniture and greet my subordinates. Please forgive my short absence."
"Indeed. Only the common goats and the Seven Sisters used for the ceremony have manifested themselves. You will be able to finish greeting them in no time."
"Oh? Those lively Seven Sisters are here? I wonder if those naughty girls have grown a little more graceful?"
"...Ihihi. If that's graceful, I'll have to doubt the definition of the word graceful."
"Is that so? Then I suppose you've already had the opportunity to play with those sisters."
"Judging by your expression, it would seem they're just as naughty as always. Even though I am always telling them to act more fitting as servants of Beatrice-sama. What troublesome kids..."
"If that's your problem, don't worry. They actually act perfectly fitting for their master..."
"*cackle*cackle*cackle*! Now even you have begun to say it!"
"However, a conversation means that you accept your partner. The fact that you've started to respond to my idle chatting proves that you are gradually starting to accept my existence."
"Heh. That's because, even if the sun starts rising from the west, I will definitely, absolutely never accept that you're a witch. You might wanna try a more positive approach, like crying and kissing my shoes."
Even if Battler was bluffing, he still spoke forcefully, a fearless expression on his face. The witch and her butler snickered together, realizing that their guest had regained more than enough of his willpower to attend to a new game... and that preparations were complete...
After Ronove exchanged a few words with Beatrice, he bowed silently to Battler, scattered into several gold butterflies, and disappeared.
BGM: Golden Sneer
"...How boring were the days when I was trapped alone on this island, unable to regain my power and lacking anyone to talk to..."
"...I get how that unpleasant guy is really fitting as your butler. But tell me. Why has that butler only appeared now? You said something about how only the goats and the nee-chans of the Seven Stakes had manifested themselves. What did that mean...?"
"Indeed. You still resist, but I am a fully-fledged witch. I am in contact with several nonhuman entities in the spirit world."
"I'll bet. No sane people would hang out with you. First some goat monsters, then those ass nee-chans, and this time a demon butler's showed up. I hate to think about it, but the way things are going, I wouldn't be surprised if even more weird people appeared..."
"Hahahaha! Among the furniture that work at my great golden mansion, how many demons do you think want to come over and play? They will keep coming. Many of them will appear."
"When the door to the Golden Land is opened, I will call back all of my furniture and build my new castle here on Rokkenjima. Then I plan to invite all of my old friends, and we will drink and dance together for three days and three nights."
"...Of course, I also plan to invite Kinzo's family, you see? You too, if you wish. *cackle*cackle*...!"
"...So Let me get this straight. Since you lost your power for a long time, you couldn't summon them. And then, since your magic power has been gradually increasing, you've become able to summon more and more monsters?"
"It is as you say. You stopped a hair's breadth before crumbling, but your heart is already wavering, and you are unable to deny that I am a witch. That wavering in your heart has been slowly restoring my power as a witch."
"That's right. Bit by bit, you are surrendering to me...! Isn't all that humiliation you suffered in the last game a result of you submitting to me so deeply? Wasn't it great when you had to sacrifice your back for the sake of my feet? *cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*!!"
"...D-Dammit, I thought I'd be able to keep things as they were, as long as I didn't accept you. But it looks like that was wrong."
"Correct. The closer you get to surrendering, the more the game will swing in my favor. Isn't chess the same? In the process of cornering each other's kings, we trade several pieces. Of course, I still haven't cornered your king."
"...And furthermore, you're giving it everything you've got just to help your king escape, and have lost several pieces to me, as well as a large advantage. It is only natural that further developments will tend to turn in my favor."
"From now on, you will probably be frantic as you try to avoid my checkmate. However, as you do, I will steal your pieces from you one by one. In the end, you'll have lost everything but your king, and you won't be able to escape no matter how much you try. Then you will receive a true checkmate."
"...You were talking big last time, weren't you? Something about how you'd never accept me and would torment me with eternal torture. Only witches who have reached the endless level can talk about eternity. That's been beyond you ever since the very beginning."
BGM: The Candles Dance
"Tonight, I ask that you enjoy your battle of wits with Kinzo-sama to the fullest. I sincerely pray that this night will be both intellectual and elegant. --Beatrice the Golden."
When Maria finished reading the letter that Beatrice had handed her, everyone was at a loss for words for a while. And then, they all broke the silence at once...
"R-Ridiculous. What a worthless, vicious prank!"
"I agree wholeheartedly. There is no way Father gave up the Head's Ring. Beatrice? Ha! What a transparent prank, hoping to confuse us just by bringing up that name."
"Hey, hey, who filled this dessert up with a little too much punch? I wanna applaud and praise you, so come clean, okay? Rosa?"
"O-Of course not...! I wouldn't pull a prank by assuming Father's name!"
"Then Aneki?! Aniki?!"
"Me?! Are you an idiot?! It was Nii-san, right?! Only he could plan something this vulgar!!"
"Are you trying to mock me?!! I'm the one who wants to question you! Who is behind this ill-natured prank?!"
Krauss beat the table and stared at everyone. Since that included the children too, he scared most of them...
"We can't be sure. Maybe it really is one of Father's shady pranks... He might've planned this to shock us a bit, since we've been discussin' the distribution of his inheritance without him..."
"If Dad was the one who planned this, then we can't take what Maria-chan just read aloud as a joke, right...?"
"...That's right. If you interpret the contents literally, then this is a test from Father. The epitaph of the witch has been displayed in the hall for quite some time now, so that any one of us could solve it. There was plenty of notice. That means he was saying that the first person to solve it would be handed the inheritance along with all of his wealth, right...?"
"Nothing so foolish could possibly be the case!! It is an unshakable fact that my husband is the Successor to the Ushiromiya Family Headship!!"
"Well, doesn't this letter shake that?! This is a message from the person who was given full rights to all of Father's wealth! Nii-san's right to become the Head has returned to a blank slate. The person who solves the riddle... the person who finds Beatrice's gold will become the next Head of the Ushiromiya family!!"
"Ridiculous...! Do you think we can trust the meaningless words in that letter? That the seal was the real thing? There's no way we could trust that!!"
"Then let's try to go and ask Father directly! At this point, you can't get away with saying he's grumpy or feeling bad, right?! The sealed wax clearly shows that this was from Father's representative! If you doubt that, then show some proof, Nii-san. Show that this letter does not contain Father's will!!"
"V-Very well. It is just as you say. It no longer matters whether Father's in a good mood or not... Let us go up and ask him directly."
"Let's do it. We'll ask Dad directly. Dad is Dad, so why would he act in such a roundabout way? Then again, I guess that would be like him!"
"I-I wonder if we really should continue this discussion on the assumption that this letter came from Father..."
"Stupid Rosa!! Isn't it obviously from Father?! That letter is Father's!! Isn't it obvious that he's giving the four of us an even chance to become the Successor?!! Die, you brainless idiot!!"
"I-I'm sorry...! Th-Th-That's right, I'm sorry..."
In the beginning, the adults had all doubted the credibility of the letter, but after realizing that this was a once-in-a-lifetime chance in the inheritance struggle for the three younger siblings, Eva changed her position, claiming that the letter was authentic. Rudolf and Rosa caught on and agreed.
"Outrageous!! How can adults like you take such a worthless prank this seriously...?! I don't need to be Father to understand his contempt!!"
"Whoa, whoa, whoa! Natsuhi-san, all we've gotta do is ask Father and we're done, right...?! Won't everything be fine if Father just tells us that he doesn't know about any letter?"
"Nii-san, take responsibility and just get him to say that he doesn't know about the letter. This is no time to get scared just because he's in a bad mood, okay?!"
"Y-Yeah! Let's get this settled clearly. He's probably eating in his study right now. Let's have him set down his chopsticks for just a moment...!"
"It's decided. Let's go! Kyrie, wait here for a while. We'll go to check whether it's true or not and come back quickly."
"...Thank you. I'll wait patiently for Gohda-san to bring in dessert."
The four siblings, Natsuhi, and Hideyoshi all rose from their seats forcefully and flew out into the hallway with a clatter. Afterwards, only the children, stunned completely speechless, Nanjo, who looked uncomfortable, and Kyrie, who just shrugged, were left. In the middle of all of this was Maria, who looked a little scared at the adults' sudden change. However, judging from her appearance, she didn't look like she realized the full meaning of what she'd just read.
"...They're all bastards. Do they really want the inheritance that much...?!"
"...Everyone, this is our parents' problem. It has nothing to do with us. So you mustn't worry about it."
"Even if you say that, they were so blatant about it..."
"I can't believe them...! Showing off their greed like that...!"
"Uu-! Everyone has to believe together that we'll be happy! Uu-uu-!"
"...That's right. We all did promise. Come on, Battler-kun, Jessica-chan, you too..."
"...I feel horrible..."
...We'd been vaguely aware of how filthy this family conference was going to be. However, after that six-year blank, I couldn't help being shocked... When he saw that the children were completely dejected, Doctor Nanjo cleared his throat uncomfortably.
"...It's an adult matter. It has nothing to do with all of you young people. Let us forget about it."
"I would if I could...!"
"I know it's hard. But forget it for now. All of your parents are fighting frantically to make your futures just a little brighter. Please, don't look at your injured parents with those cold eyes when they come back."
"...No matter how much you ask us, Kyrie-san, that'll be tough."
"If we could be happy with an explanation like that, we wouldn't be kids..."
"Uu-! Everyone, be happy-!! Can't get da-rk!! Belie-ve! If everyone doesn't believe we can be happy, that happiness will get away! Everyone has to believe! Uu-uu-uu-!!"
"...I like the sound of that. I'll believe too. I'll believe we can find happiness."
"Uu-! Aunt Kyrie, thank you!! Battler and Jessica, you believe too! Beatrice is also always saying that magic won't have any power if you don't believe. Uu-!"
Kyrie-san rose from her seat quietly, went over to Maria, and crouched down so that their eyes met.
"...Uu-. Aunt Kyrie believed. Now, Battler and Jessica have to believe."
"Those two are strong. They'll feel better soon, and then they'll believe."
"More importantly, I want you to tell me something."
When Kyrie-san said that, Jessica, George-aniki, Doctor Nanjo and I all listened closely. It looked like our parents were so concerned with the inheritance problem that Grandfather filled their minds, but we wanted to ask Maria about something simpler.
"The witch drawn in that portrait...?"
"Uu-! She gave me this letter and an umbrella! And she used magic to fix my rose that was broken! Beatrice is an awesome witch who can do anything!!"
"...Could you tell us about that in a bit more detail...?"