Part 71: Rosa and the Witch of the Forest
BGM: White Shadow
"...Hmm. Were you? My apologies. I was lost in my thoughts. Forgive me."
"The weather is pleasant. Yes, I can understand how the weather has stolen your heart. Will you have your black tea here...?"
"...I will bring some tea now. Wait here for a while."
"Forget about the tea. Talk with me."
Kinzo had used the excuse of getting black tea to try and interrupt the conversation for the time being. But his attempt had been very transparent.
I sat in a garden chair and beckoned Kinzo to do the same. Kinzo sat down heavily, exaggerating his age. For a while, we sat and appreciated the silence...
"...Who am I? Until today, no one has answered this question. For some reason, everyone averts their gaze and evades me."
"...I have known you for a long time. I think of you as my best friend, even as a father. That is why I want so much for you to tell me. You should know... Who I am..."
"...I do not know."
"What's this? Don't you even understand what it is you want to know? How mysterious. In one's youth, there are times one wants to play in the maze of thought that has no exit. Perhaps that's what your worries are..."
Kinzo laughed as though it was a trivial matter. However, I couldn't help but feel that this behavior was another attempt to force me to stop any further questioning.
"...Hmph. So you won't tell me... after all."
"There is nothing to tell. You are Beatrice. Isn't that more than enough?"
"...No, that's not it. What I wish to know is not my name. I want to know... who... I am."
"...Who am I? What am I? How long have I been here, and how long will I have to continue my days here?"
"...I really should bring some black tea. Don't you think it a waste of all this fine weather?"
"Something like that. To think I would go this far back..."
"Looks like you had some pretty deep worries even then, wondering who you were."
"...That is to be expected. At the time, I was unable to understand who I was, or why I was alive."
"Well, in puberty, everyone's captured by those philosophical worries at least once, wondering what meaning there is in their life. Doesn't this just prove you had a charming period like that at one point?"
"...I could walk freely throughout the mansion and the garden, but outside of that, not once was my desire to take just one step outside of my own accord granted."
"...What do you mean by that? Are you trying to say that, as far back as you can remember, you were always a bird in a cage?"
"...That's what I thought at the time. After all, as soon as I became aware, I was living like that. I didn't even think to question it."
"Who in the world... are you?"
"That's it. That is what I also hoped to know."
"...Heh. I'm sure you'll say something like 'I wasn't a human, I was a witch,' right?"
"What the hell...? This is getting weird."
"...You probably won't believe it anyway, but listen first. I was a mighty witch, who had lived for one thousand years. But at one point, I was summoned by Kinzo, and by that hidden art, I was bound as his prisoner for eternity."
"...Never heard that before. From what we hear in the Ushiromiya family, you were summoned by Grandfather, made something like a devil's contract with him, and gave him the gold."
"Indeed. That is correct. Then, I was supposed to vanish until the contract was complete. But... well, popular women have it rough. By some turn of events, Kinzo fell in love with me."
"...Grandfather's nearsightedness must've gotten pretty bad. With astigmatism too, ihihi. To fall in love with you, of all things."
"...Hmph. Well, to me, there could be nothing more bothersome. However, the power of Humans is a frightening thing. He displayed that fearsome power and rooted me to this place. He said I wouldn't be freed until I nodded my head in agreement. Such an overbearing man."
"Isn't that awesome. Everyone knew Grandfather was obsessed with the occult, but who would've guessed he had the power to root down the Great Witch Beatrice... Heh, ridiculous. Who'd believe such a weird story?"
"...As I thought, you don't believe."
"All I believe is the fact that you lived in this hidden mansion in the middle of the forest. You are the 19th person on Rokkenjima, right?!"
"Mistress isn't the right way to say it. You should probably call it Kinzo's unrequited love. I spoke of it just now, correct? He fell in love with me of his own accord. He then courted me, but I rejected him."
"...I've got no idea what you said at the end there."
"You will just make fun of it and refuse to listen, right? After all, you say you don't believe in witches or magic. If you have no ears to hear what I tell you, saying it would be the pinnacle of foolishness."
"...I'll decide whether I believe or not. After all, if I don't ask, the story won't continue. Tell me. Let's hear this story from your past."
BGM: Melody (instrumental)
"...Talk about overbearing. Guess no one likes obstinate men, huh?"
"...*cackle*cackle* Regardless of whether I responded to his courting or not, having a man so desperate for me was... well, as a woman, it wasn't so unpleasant."
"...However, I never accepted his proposal. I tried to find some way to break through his guard, but that barrier was firm, and I couldn't crack it."
"After trying to resist in various ways, I eventually reached the conclusion that, to escape from Kinzo's barrier, I would have to throw away this body of flesh. The physical body is a vessel with many restrictions for a magic user."
"Throw away your body of flesh...? What does that mean? Something like an out-of-body experience?"
"Well, if you want to think of it that way. However, I am no spirit. Even though I am a witch, in the beginning, I was born with a human's body of flesh. So for me, throwing away that physical body, while it didn't mean the same thing as death, it did require a similar level of resolve."
"So in other words, you decided that you couldn't be released except by suicide, is that it?"
"It wasn't suicide. It was nothing more than throwing away my body of flesh. Of course, becoming nothing more than soul is a precarious situation. When the soul leaves its body of flesh, it is constantly exposed to the strong winds of the sun. It was not easy for me to maintain myself and avoid being scattered by them."
"It was a final measure that I wanted to avoid if I could. However, there was no other way to break through Kinzo's barrier."
"*cackle* Anyway, I am an unfettered person. I couldn't stand being kept in a cage until Kinzo's life was over."
Grandfather persistently courted her, and to escape from that, she chose her own death...?
"...So you're saying you committed suicide? What are you talking about? Isn't that you, sitting carefree there in the garden chair?"
"...That's right. That is the new cage I was given by Kinzo."
"...Cage? You mean this mansion?"
"No. I mean my body, relaxing in the garden chair over there. Even though I was so desperate to escape that I became naught but a soul, Kinzo still had no intention of letting me go."
"...Oh, he was a fearsome person. Normally, when the object of one's unrequited love shows that she is willing to die, it should be enough to bring that person to their senses, even if their love has lasted a hundred years. Perhaps that's why even he managed to become a sorceror of sorts. *cackle*."
"Don't try to confuse me with that incomprehensible witch-girl talk. What exactly are you trying to say?"
"Tying down a dead soul... is not something that can be accomplished easily, not even for a magician who specializes in such matters. Because I knew this, Kinzo's fearful magical power shocked me for the first time. Then, Kinzo seized my soul and brought me back. However, a cage to hold a seized soul cannot be made from iron or lead. Only one thing remained."
"...What? You aren't gonna say it was a magical cage or something, are you?"
"Wrong. It's that body of flesh over there, just like yours or mine. Only a cage made of flesh and blood can tie a soul down to this world. Kinzo shut my soul up in a cage of flesh built to be exactly like me."
"...So to sum up, it's like this? Grandfather obstinately courted you, you started to hate it, and you committed suicide, but you weren't clever enough to finish the job? Damn, you really took a roundabout way to say something like that."
"No, that's wrong. My soul was shut up in the seed of a homunculus, and I was born out of a test tube."
"Huh?! But that's crazy...! That isn't even possible, right?!"
"Kinzo accomplished even the miracle of creating life. And simply to shut my soul up in that cage. That he would show such magical power simply because of his own love... A thoroughly terrifying person."
"Aah, it's already gotten pretty ridiculous! Say whatever you want. I won't believe anything. Just do what you like."
"...Mu. What's with this unpleasant attitude?"
"Heh, in the beginning, I showed a little interest, thinking that there might be some huge hint hidden here, but the more I ask, the weirder this story starts to get. I get the feeling that even though this is supposed to be a game about denying witches, I'm suddenly being forced to just swallow this story about witches."
"Sorry, but I don't feel like listening to this any more. Just keep rambling on to yourself as much as you want. I'll be over here, picking at my earwax or something."
Of course, her expression was still shameless, but in that really easy-to-understand expression of hers, I had the feeling I was able to catch a glimpse of loneliness at my failure to find the story of her past interesting. For some reason, that subtle reaction made her seem pitiful, so even though I kept my careless attitude, I decided to cover for her slightly.
Damn it, even though she's an irritating witch, I'm still weak against her because her chromosomes are XX...
"So you treat the story of my past like little more than a snack... Do you expect me to just casually tell you when you insult me like that...?"
After I made fun of her, Beato reacted a little sensitively. It looked like, even though making fun of people was her specialty, she was horrible at being made fun of by others.
Just then, my black tea cup suddenly made a sound, surprising me.
Before I realized it, the demon butler had taken my cup and was adding more black tea to it.
"Ronove, enough of that. This person just said it was too ridiculous to be worth listening to. Well, he's too ridiculous to be worth talking to."
"I'm baking some new cookies right now. Until they're ready, I thought you might find the story of Milady's past to be a perfect substitute for a snack. Pu ku ku...!"
"...D-Didn't I say that's enough talking about me?! Such unpleasant people, the lot of you. I'm leaving! Ronove, serve our food and then go. No pointless chitchat with Battler."
"Certainly. I will make an effort."
Beato's short temper peculiar to women, which I didn't really understand, took hold of her, and she turned her body into gold butterflies, scattered, and disappeared. After that, only Ronove and the scent of the black tea were left...
"As long as you're aware of it yourself, I need say nothing more."
"Wait a sec. Weren't you the one who struck the finishing blow?"
"Pu ku ku ku. My, what could you mean by that? How would you like some sugar and milk?"
"...Just milk will be fine. And some tea snacks would be nice too."
"...Well, it will be a bit longer before the cookies are ready."
"Didn't you say we've already got something to use in place of a snack?"
"...Certainly. If you will listen quietly, I will continue the story."
BGM: Witch in Gold
"Yes. Milady's soul was shut up in a homunculus, and she was revived into this world, receiving life again as a baby. However, because she was a baby, any professions of love on Kinzo's part would have been quite useless."
"...You aren't saying... that Grandfather shut that baby up in this hidden mansion... until it grew to reach the same age she'd been?!"
"Correct. That is what I am saying. However, while her soul was the same, a human spirit is strongly influenced by its container. Milady lost all her memories of the past and grew up as a very normal human girl."
"And you're saying... that's the Beato sitting in the garden chair?"
"Yes. That is correct. It grew to be completely identical. However, it did not possess her power as a witch. Milady was completely human."
Beato, who was sitting in the garden chair, looking up at the sky, voiced that same question again. She asked who she was.
The meaning of those words was finally starting to click. She couldn't understand why she was living here, all locked up. Grandfather had seized Beatrice's soul, shut it up in a body of flesh, and then shut that up in a hidden mansion. However, since she had lived here since the time of her birth, she couldn't even understand who she was, or why she lived shut up in there...
Grandfather met Beatrice. He then fell in love with her and courted her, but she didn't accept him. Then, he flew into a rage and shut her up inside this hidden mansion. Beatrice tried to escape, but no matter what she did, she couldn't succeed, so she finally chose her own death.
...And then... no. Maybe there was a girl who looked just like Beatrice... no, a baby. Grandfather raised this child with care. But maybe he didn't view this child as his daughter. 'The soul was once again shut up in a cage of flesh.' Those words probably meant that he didn't view this kid as her child, but as her reincarnation. Maybe that's what it meant. If you interpret it that way, even a story this weird might make a little sense...
...No, no, no. This might be some bullshit Beato cooked up to confuse me. As if I could accept any of this...! In the first place... Kuwadorian, was it? There's no proof whatsoever that a hidden mansion actually existed. Couldn't this be something she just fabricated on the spot?
BGM: Melody (instrumental)
Ronove used the red to say that Kuwadorian actually existed. Did that mean the same thing as the red Beato used?
"I may not look it, but I am a demon. Please keep this a secret from Milady, yes?"
Beato, who knew I would try to trip her up, had grown extremely cautious when using red. To think that Ronove could also use the red... However, it was the red of a crafty man. I didn't know how far I could accept it, but anyway, I might be able to get some kind of hint out of it...
"So that Beato relaxing in the garden of Kuwadorian...and that conversation she had with Grandfather... were the truth?"
"Yes. It is the truth. In the past, the pair actually had a conversation like that in this place."
"Th-Thanks a lot. I'll ask for some more red. You said she was born from a homunculus, but does that kind of unscientific, magical thing actually exist?!"
"...A stalemate?? What does that mean?"
"It's a chess term referring to a state in which, similar to a 'perpetual check', any further progress in a game becomes impossible. This would be the opposite of an endless repetition of moves, because all moves would disappear, and it would bring about a kind of deadlock. In chess, this would lead to a draw, just as a perpetual check would. However, there can be no draws in the game between you and Milady. Therefore, I am unable to answer a question that would bring about a stalemate."
"...You obviously want to confuse me by saying incomprehensible stuff, but simply put, you're trying to dodge the question, because you can't use the red to say that something magical like a homunculus exists, right?"
"If I were to say in red that 'a witch exists', what would you do, Battler-sama?"
"...Mh. Whether or not I believe that is what our whole fight's about, right? If I was told that point blank, it'd be game over."
"If I said 'a witch exists' in red, you would have no room for argument. However, since the reason would never have been made clear to you, Battler-sama, you probably wouldn't accept it. However, after being told that in red, you would have no room for argument and would not have been shown any proof."
"In this situation, even though you wouldn't be able to admit defeat, you would have no way to make a counterargument, and it would become a deadlock. Even though checkmate would not have been reached, there would be no existing moves left."
"Since you would not be able to play your next hand, it would never become Milady's turn, and the game would stop there for all eternity. As a result, Milady would be unable to force you to submit. That would be a deadlock situation. In order to avoid that, I am unable to answer questions of this nature in red."
"...So, to say it quickly, you're saying point-blank questions are prohibited? Well, that's true, I guess. If I were told 'a witch exists', I'd have to give up from the start."
"I am pleased that you understand. I believe we might be able to work together if you ask your questions in a different form."
"...Can you help me with that line Beatrice dodged when I told her to repeat it? About the number of people on this island?"
"If Milady held back on repeating it, then of course I cannot respond. As Milady's furniture, I am unable to be too forward."
Ronove made an exaggerated gesture, trying to act like a loyal retainer. This guy's so shameless.
"Heh. Just when I thought you might actually be useful. I'll give up on that and search for a different question. That's right. I was forgetting to check something important. This is a story about Beato's memories, right? When did it happen? It couldn't be happening right now, right?"
Let's try rearranging this story again. I wonder if it couldn't be something like this...
Grandfather fell in unrequited love with a person called Beatrice. Then, he confined her in this hidden mansion and continued to court her. But she was stubborn and didn't give in. Eventually, she grew pessimistic about being able to escape from here... and probably... committed suicide. And then, her soul was put in a homunculus and...
No, no, if I accept that, it's the same as accepting the witch.
Grandfather must've believed that her soul had been placed in a new physical body... and might have thought that the child was the reincarnation of Beatrice... That means, at least 19 years ago, Beato existed on this island as the 19th person, umm...
"...I'm starting to get confused. Either way, we can't do more than speculate. The only thing we can say for sure in red... is that in 1967, in a hidden mansion on Rokkenjima, Beatrice existed as a human. That's all."
"That is correct. In 1967, in a hidden mansion on Rokkenjima, Beatrice-sama existed as a human."
"Oh, thank you. That really helps."
"Congratulations. With this, you have made clear the existence of the piece known as the 19th person. A 19th human for you to blame, just as you longed for."
"...A sacrificial sheep upon which you can shift the blame of any crime. How amusing that it happens to be Milady. Pu ku ku ku."
Ronove laughed indiscreetly. Somehow, I didn't like how he put that, so I didn't feel like laughing along with him.
"...That's right. There's that thing Aunt Rosa said. Beatrice is dead? 'I killed her'? What did that mean...?"
"As for that, it may be faster to see the actual circumstances rather than listen to me tell you. Let us advance the clock a little more."
Ronove pulled a stylish pocket watch from his pocket and touched the watch stem. As soon as he did, I saw gold butterflies gather behind his back and take the form of a person. Was it Beato?!
I quickly realized that it was someone else. It was her. That oldest sister of the Seven Stakes, who loved tormenting me more than her three meals a day. If I don't consider myself lucky to see that sexy ass, I won't be able to keep up with their torture game...
BGM: Fishy Aroma
"My, my, what kind of urgent business could it be? It's seems my chat with Battler-sama has run a tad long."
"Well then, Battler-sama, if you will excuse me. Please continue to enjoy your game with Milady."
"Yeah, yeah. I'll enjoy it as best I can. 'Cause my conversations go a lot more smoothly when they're with you, as opposed to her. And you're more gracious with the red too. Come and talk again any time you like."
"...Battler-sama, despite how I look, I am Milady's furniture. I can do nothing that Milady does not desire. What I said in red was something that normally should have come from Milady's mouth. I did nothing more than announce the red truth in Milady's place as she sulked."
"So she really was sulking then? Ihihihi!"
"Pu ku ku ku."
Seeing me and Ronove incomprehensibly hitting it off, that Seven Stake chick cocked her head curiously.
"Ronove-sama, we are keeping Beatrice-sama waiting. Let us hurry."
"Yes, I shall go immediately. Well, Battler-sama, I will see you later. It appears that we have finally started getting along. As I thought, I have the feeling we'll manage to become good friends."
"Sure, if you mean partners at gossiping behind Beato's back."
"Yes, yes. If you will excuse me."
Maybe she didn't like seeing him act so friendly with me, or maybe she really had been told to hurry. When the Seven Stakes babe let out a thunderous cry, Ronove laughed frivolously and disappeared, as if running away...
"Why so grumpy, girl? If you're hungry, eat a cookie or something. Why don't I give you the last one? Ihihi!"
"...Hmmmm? How thoughtful. Then, shall I take one?"
I casually pushed the snack plate with the last remaining cookie over to her.
BGM: Organ Short #600 Million in C Minor
As though coming as a period at the end of the sentence, a sharp sound pierced the table... The nails on three of her fingers extended, grew sharp... and pierced the space between my fingers on the hand that was pushing the plate, missing them by a hair's breadth. It had happened in an instant, so for a while, I didn't even realize that her fingernails had grown. The tips of those sharp nails were like blades with a red manicure.
...The spaces between the bases of my fingers hurt sharply. Those razor-like blades had been plunged into the table a hair's breadth away from the back of my hand and my fingers... Because of those three blades, I was unable to even let my careless right hand tremble, and by now, all I could do was let a bead of cold sweat drip down.
"...Whoa. Isn't it about time you cut your nails, babe?"
"It's Lucifer. That is my glorious name. The honored furniture who serves Beatrice-sama, and the oldest sister of the Seven Stakes of Purgatory."
"...I'm not like my disgraceful younger sisters. If you don't show proper respect, you will regret it."
"...And why would I regret it, exactly? Can't really think of a reason."
"...Heheheheheh. Stupid kid. Do you really wanna play with me that much? Was it that unforgettable? I'll thrust my stake deep, deep into you and let you enjoy being gouged to the fullest, okay...? Heheheheheheheheehehehhh...!"
"...Dammit. Some day I'll have you down on the floor and say the same thing."