Part 73: Rosa and the Witch of the Forest III
"...What happened to her, Rosa?"
Rosa fell silent. Her gaze dropped to her feet, as though she were seeing through the floor into some disgusting memory...
Eva's brutal words were the ones Rosa had most wanted to avoid. And when she was hit with them, she screamed in resignation.
BGM: The Candles Dance
"I spoke to her, shook her!! But she refused to respond, not even a blink...no, she wouldn't even close her eyelids!! It was my fault! She was wearing a dress, remember?! Even though I knew her outfit was difficult to move in, I said we should go down the cliff!! She was incredibly innocent, so she obeyed what I said without any doubts...!!"
"I was just flirting with your friend the sexy-assed chick. More importantly, what the heck's going on here?"
"Well, as you can see, I missed my footing, fell down, and died."
"What the hell...? Even though you showed up as the 19th person... you were already dead...?"
"Don't mess with me, that's impossible...! Aunt Rosa was a kid, and she was panicked. And it's not like a doctor was there. She probably just mistakenly thought you were dead, and you were probably...umm...alive and pretending to be dead or something. Isn't that right?!"
It can't be true. She's got to be alive. Otherwise, how can she be here...?!
I stared into that face too, but her eyes were still open, and it really was a corpse. I wanted to dodge the issue by saying something vague, like 'she must be playing dead', but no matter how I looked at it, it didn't look fake at all... it really did look like she was dead... Beatrice had fallen upside down from a cliff of that height, and her head had smashed against the pointed tip of those sharp rocks.
...Yeah, you probably would die... after landing on those rocks... from that height... But I couldn't accept it... No matter how dead she looked, she had to be alive...! Then, she went on to become this damn irritating witch! That makes all the inconsistencies fit. Grandfather must have kept her confined constantly in a hidden mansion. Then, to take revenge for that, she committed several atrocious murders!
Aunt Rosa probably just mistakenly thought she was dead. But she was actually alive, and as soon as Aunt Rosa left, would miraculously breathe again. Then, she somehow lived on until today...and opened the curtain on her revenge drama. Otherwise, the facts don't fit together!!
"...I won't let you trick me so easily. Can you repeat it in red?! That she's certainly dead!! She has to be alive, right?! It's obvious!!"
My theory that the 19th person was Grandfather's mistress, a human Beatrice, had been defeated. I had planned to strike back from a defensive position, but...
"...Then... who are you? You just died, right?! Don't tell me you revived yourself with magic?!"
"*cackle*cackle* I've already explained that, have I not? The 'me' lying over there definitely possesses my soul, but that body's nothing more than a cage of flesh tying me to the physical world. This is how that cage of flesh was broken. Do you understand what that means?"
"...I don't have a clue anymore. ...Keep having fun with your witch girl tricks. I'll listen to that in place of a snack! What the... it's empty. Hey, could I get some more black tea?"
"*cackle*cackle*! Ronove, our guest would like some tea."
...Butlers sure are convenient.
"A refill, you say? Certainly. How much shall I pour you?"
"Well, I've got more than enough snacks. Half will be fine."
"Even so, filling it to the brim is the English custom."
Even though just enough to wet my throat would have been fine, he filled it to the top. I turned my back to Beato, sipping it in silence...
Rosa shook me... no, shook the corpse that had once been me. I watched over her from a short distance away. Ah, so I fell from there and died...
For a while, I believed that was true. I saw Rosa spend a long time beside my corpse, then watched her as she ran away. Eventually, I realized that I was a different individual from that corpse...
Eventually, I felt the memory returning... The fact that I was an Endless Witch who had lived for one thousand years. Then, I remembered that I'd been summoned by Kinzo, and that I'd been imprisoned by him for a long time...
While being imprisoned in a cage of flesh, I completely lost my memory as a witch. However, thanks to Rosa, if you could say that... Thanks to my accidental death, I'd now finally regained my self...
"...Rosa, you probably regret bringing about my death. But I should be thanking you. *cackle*cackle*!"
I couldn't see Rosa anymore. Did she go to call a doctor, or was she so terrified that she ran away? It no longer matters. That soulless shell no longer has any value.
And yet... I'm so frail now. Even this glorious midday sun is agony to me. I destroyed my human form. Then, I changed it into several gold butterflies. Yes, with my magical power as frail as it is now, this form is easier to maintain.
To escape even a little from the light of the sun, I rode the wind and gently flew up the side of the cliff. It will probably be a bit cooler in the forest. Anyway, I'll take some time to recuperate and regain my former power. As I ponder how to make Kinzo pay up all he owes me.
On the rocky shore... lay the figure of what had once been me, the figure I would eventually regain. To regain the form of that physical body I had thrown away, it would probably take more than one hundred, two hundred days. And it might require one thousand days, or perhaps even more. However, I am the Endless Witch. The Golden Witch who has lived for one thousand years. Waiting any countable number of days would be no problem.
*cackle*cackle* Oh, Kinzo. Regret that you are not here now. No longer will you be able to capture me. *cackle*cackle*!
"That is correct. I take this form to sneer at you, but most of the time, it is easier magically for me to keep my form as gold butterflies."
"Hey, feel free to take a load off and stick to whatever's easiest. I wouldn't mind not having to hear your irritating laugh."
"*cackle*cackle* When I turned into butterflies and slipped into the forest, it was already no longer possible for Kinzo to find me. However, Kinzo was not dismayed. Still, he was not immediately able to prepare a way to catch me."
"So, he first moved to prevent me from leaving this island... and to keep me from regaining my power."
"...My, my. At any rate, Kinzo's spitefulness was unimaginable. It was pretty tough to be loved by someone like that. *cackle*cackle*!"
"He found a way to keep you from leaving after you turned into butterflies? What, did he put a bug net around the entire forest?"
"Indeed. A magical one. Didn't you know? On the sea in front of the harbor is a reef... upon which sits a small shrine of Eastern magic."
"...Ah, that. It was gone by this year, though. It was a small shrine built long ago by a mountaineering ascetic, right?"
"...They brought harm to humans and probably left several eerie legends in their wake. That small shrine was built in ancient times by an Eastern magician who heard of them. A long time passed, and that power was lost. By repairing it, Kinzo restored this island's barrier... and once again bound me to the island."
"...Can Eastern magic work on a Western witch like you?"
"Normally, the affinity would be poor. However, for the purpose of sealing me here, it may have been quite convenient in a way."
"If it was Western magic, I would have had some knowledge. For any barrier, there would have been some measures I could have taken. But Eastern magic is outside my area of expertise. It was as if I had been given chopsticks instead of a spoon for some soup that I wanted to drink."
"In a space dominated by Eastern magic, Western magic loses much of its power. Even if she were given one thousand days to regain her strength, she would have to wait many, many more."
"...So you're saying it took you 20 years to regain your power, and now you've revived, as we can all see?"
"...That period of 20 years was fortunate for me. Kinzo tried to use all sorts of magic to find and capture me, but each failed. There's a limit to how many miracles a single human can bring about. Even simply holding me captive for that long had been a miracle far above his place. It would be unthinkable for me to be captured like that multiple times."
"...Grandfather said something in the previous game. It was something like... magic lies in a miracle of probability."
"Indeed. As Kinzo was searching for a hidden art to capture me again, he stumbled upon that. Then, he finally worked out the ceremony involving the offering of 13 people as sacrifices to revive me again."
"13 people... as sacrifices..."
"That is the witch's epitaph. A song of sacrifices. Six people on the first twilight. Two people on the second. And then five more people on the fourth through eight twilights. A forbidden ceremony, involving the offering of a total of 13 people as sacrifices... Those sacrifices were to be chosen randomly, and the one who held the ceremony, Kinzo himself, was no exception."
I'd had a vague idea that this might be the case... But I couldn't just hear that it was true from a witch and a demon and say 'Oh, really?' and accept it!
"There are 18 people on Rokkenjima. 13 are offered as sacrifices, five are left alive. Then I revive."
"...In other words, the odds that Kinzo will be able to meet me again are probably around one in three. He bet his own life on those odds, wishing for a reunion with me for the last bit of his remaining life."
"...You're saying he gathered our family for the sake of that joke of a ceremony?! Don't fuck with me!! Don't say stuff like that, damn it!!"
"It was all set out in our contract from the beginning. When Kinzo's life ended, all the gold I lent him and all of the assets he created would be given to me."
"...Yes, Kinzo did stab me in the back quite brutally, but looking back now, it was a rare and precious time during my thousand years of life. After all, boredom is my natural enemy. To Kinzo, who offered me a chance to run away from that for several decades... yes, you could say I owe him for that."
"I decided to go along with Kinzo's game. So, to start, Kinzo returns the Ushiromiya Family Head's Ring to me. It was my gold that revived the family, after all."
"...Then, 13 people are chosen at random to be sacrifices. While that happens, you all run about, showing me all kinds of human interactions as you try to oppose me, and entertaining me greatly. Yes, I truly have taken a liking to this game of Kinzo's! *cackle*cackle*."
"Aaaaaaaaaahh!! I definitely won't believe in that kind of magic story! Then who are you?! You fell off a cliff and died, right?! Your soul slipped out, became butterflies, and went to the forest? That isn't possible!!"
"But you're here! Who are you?!! Aren't you the 19th person?!"
"That is true, I am the 19th person."
"*cackle*cackle*! But it's no good, I'm afraid...? It's no goddamn good at all!"
BGM: Black Lilliana
"Wha... what did you saaaaaaay...?! So you're saying... that the 'X' in the 18+X doesn't exist?! Are you saying the piece I took... the X... doesn't exist?!"
"Pu ku ku ku... That is what this means. My condolences. Still, you do move fast, Milady. And I thought you'd let him flounder about before spinning everything around at the end. Well then, Battler-sama, would some more tea be agreeable?"
"I-I don't need it, damn it!! I don't believe it! The culprit can't be one of the 18! Then what are you, and why are you here?!! If the 19th person doesn't exist, then are you saying you're one of the 18 in disguise?!"
"*cackle*cackle*! Perhaps you are castling. Though reluctantly, you are doubting one of the 18 people as your last way out."
"However, it will be difficult for me from here on out. If you choose to stop caring about propriety, you could prepare a culprit freely amid 18 people! Making you reach checkmate by evading those 18 pieces... will be truly difficult."
"As if I'd do that!! I won't suspect any of the 18! I don't want to suspect people!! Have I really been cornered here again...?! Damn it, damn it, damn it!!"
"It looks like we're finally approaching the end, in the third round of this game of ours. You've nowhere to run anymore, right? *cackle*cackle*! You don't want to suspect any of those beloved people in the 18, do you? Were you trying to hide that from me? Then why do you refuse me?"
"They say you should play the opening like a book, the middle game like a magician, and the endgame like a machine. I'll corner you from here on. Slowly, carefully, surely. Or, on the other hand, would it be better if I pressed you all at once, which might suit your style more?"