Part 74: The Beginning of the Ritual
October 5th, 1986, 12:00 AM
In his dimly lit study, occasionally brightened by lightning, Kinzo kept mumbling and laughing to himself. On the antique clock with the intricate design that had been sitting on his desk, the two overlapping hands tilted to the right and began to slide. The measure of time that counted up to 24... had returned to 0... and had begun to count back again...
But perhaps a person's life is the same. You live, aiming for a perfect 24, and in the instant you reach it, you return to 0. People will probably praise the departed, saying that he did reach 24, but he most certainly did not. In the end, he's a 0.
"I am different. I will live and reach 24. That itself is the Golden Land. For that is where Beatrice dwells."
Kinzo had been fumbling around with some tarot cards for some time. It looked as though he was trying to divine his own luck with a contest, doing it over every time he didn't like the result. The most forbidden action in tarot reading is trying to predict the same thing twice. To do so ridicules the results of fortune telling... and also desecrates those beings higher than humans that give revelations through the tarot cards.
However, Kinzo knew. Tarot cards shouldn't be used twice because... since they're nothing more than a random number generator, reading them twice will naturally cause a different result to appear. Therefore, reading them twice was only forbidden to preserve the mystique of the tarot cards' results. However, that didn't mean that Kinzo didn't take tarot reading seriously. Kinzo's interpretation of tarot reading was done in a completely different way. That was to repeat the reading, over and over, without giving up in the slightest, until he reached the result most favorable to him. The mark he set for this 'most favorable result' would vary, but when he demanded the most favorable result in a strictly literal sense, it was the same as a simple roulette of luck, where he seeked an arithmetic miracle.
...However, Kinzo used miracles of numbers as the basis of his magical power, so this functioned perfectly well as a magical ritual. In other words, until the result he desired appeared perfectly, he would strive to repeat the tarot readings over and over, with conviction, turning the feelings of his heart into prayers, so that when they reached the heavens, they would be sublimated into results. This was Kinzo's personal magical interpretation. Therefore, even though Kinzo's tarot cards were no different from those generally used, the way in which they were used was completely different...
Kinzo stopped his hands for a second. He seemed not to be getting the results he wanted. On the contrary, bad cards that shouldn't show up so often appeared repeatedly... and continued to interfere with the miracle Kinzo wished for.
"...Hmph. Is that how it is?"
Kinzo seemed to have received some revelation that was different from normal. But, judging by the unlucky cards scattered across his desk, it was difficult to imagine that the omen had been a good one...
For a while, Kinzo closed his eyes tightly, pondering something. Then, as the thunder roared, he made up his mind about something, took the telephone receiver, and dialed.
"...It is I. Is Genji there? An urgent matter has come up."
In front of the entrance hall, Shannon's once burning face had been cooled off by the frigid air. She had thought... that George's proposal would surely come sooner or later. It wasn't as though she hadn't prepared herself mentally. And she had answered by nodding. Had she been reckless because of her youth? Should she have thought about her future more seriously?
I wonder if my immediate reply made him think I'm a cheap girl. If I'd at least waited until tomorrow morning, would that at least have shown him I was taking this seriously?
Now that she'd already received the ring from George, Shannon kept fidgeting in embarrassment. I should've done this, I should've done that. As she did, she heard the sound of footsteps splashing through puddles. Shannon immediately chased away the emotions welling up inside her.
"...Genji-sama? And Kanon-kun too...! I-I'm sorry, I have to go back soon, umm..."
She grew stiff, thinking she'd surely be scolded for spending too much time in her secret lover's meeting with George.
"...Huh? Y-Yes, certainly...! What in the world...?"
"He said he had a premonition of misfortune. How convenient for him, considering he's the one who started this ceremony."
"We will enter from the back, so that Gohda doesn't notice us. Hide your footsteps."
"Yes. Nee-san, take care. You're so noisy."
Kanon was especially good at hiding his footsteps. Just like a cat. He was able to suddenly be there without anyone noticing and leave in the same way. For example, even though he stepped in puddles, the sound he made was far smaller than that of the rain hitting them... Genji also had abilities of that kind. Or rather, those servants called furniture were supposed to be like that. Just like how desks and closets go unnoticed by members of the family, these servants also held it as a great virtue to just suddenly be there whenever they were needed.
Compared to that, Shannon's footsteps still strongly asserted themselves. She was also trying to hide her footsteps, but compared to Kanon and Genji... well, you could say she was a little more boisterous...
Eventually, they reached the back door, and the three of them entered the mansion.
It was different from a sense of smell, and it seemed to hit the depths of their noses. This hard-to-describe sensation, which you might call a sixth sense, allowed them to perceive that something was different than usual.
"...Indeed. Let us hurry."
That sensation made it feel as though a tense something was pressing in around them. Realizing that, the three of them dashed up the stairs, heading for Kinzo's study while still hiding their footsteps. When they dashed up the stairs, that smell of sweet poison particular to Kinzo's study reached their noses.
"What is it, Genji-sama...?"
After hearing Kanon's words, she looked at the door to the study. A scorpion pattern was engraved on the doorknob. A powerful ward against magic. The final barrier, which protected Kinzo himself.
It had been broken. Of course, there was no change to the doorknob that the eye could see. However, those who could understand things people couldn't perceive... were able to recognize that a dramatic change had occurred...
"...Master. Master...! It is Genji. Please open the door."
Genji called in this way after knocking several times, but there was no answer from the study.
"Shannon, guard our backs. Kanon, search inside the room."
To protect the backs of the pair watching the door, Shannon faced the other way, ready for the unexpected.
"...The Master must be in here... But it's too quiet."
"Do you mean to say he's safe?"
"No. It's too quiet."
"...Could it... possibly be..."
"Master, excuse us about the door."
Genji pulled a gold key out of his pocket. It was the only key to the study that existed, other than the one Kinzo held. He stuck it in the key hole and turned it heavily. At first glance, that seemed to prove that it was a sturdy lock. However, now that the barrier had been destroyed, this door might as well have been left open, from the viewpoint of anyone with magical power. The heavy sound just now meant that the door had now been opened even for humans.
As Genji respectfully bowed his head, and Kanon's sense of tension grew tighter, and Shannon trembled, they entered the study...
...He was sitting on the reception sofa so that his back faced them. Genji noticed the person sitting across from him, and again bowed deeply. Kanon also noticed that person, but he didn't bow his head. He stood in front of Shannon and spread out his arms, blocking the way to her. So without even seeing that person's face, Shannon already had a good idea who it was...
"...So, you have come, Beatrice-sama."
BGM: The Candles Dance
"...So, Ronove-sama has come as well."
Genji directed his greeting towards the thin darkness behind and to the right of Beatrice, where there shouldn't have been anything. Even Kanon and Shannon would never have imagined that someone was there. However, the darkness responded immediately and praised Genji's eyesight...
"My days have been full and satisfying. ...It appears you have been living quite a full life yourself, Ronove-sama."
"Yes. Thank you. And Shannon, it has been a long time since I last saw you as well. You have grown quite beautiful. And, it seems that you have grown quite strong. That is fortunate."
"...Thank you very much."
"...Nee-san, who in the world..."
"This will be our first meeting, Kanon-kun. I, Ronove, have been entrusted with the position of Beatrice-sama's head furniture. I am an old friend of Genji-san's, and I am also furniture, just like you. Although the master I serve is different."
The tense color didn't disappear from Kanon's face in the slightest. Depending on the master furniture served, they might be kind or brutal or anything else. If this person claimed to be furniture serving the hated Beatrice, then he must be despicable as well...
"*cackle*cackle*! It seems I'm thoroughly despised. It's as though you hate everything that has anything to do with me."
Beatrice openly sneered at Kanon's hate-filled face... Then, Kanon finally realized. Beatrice and Kinzo were having a chess game across the reception table. But Kinzo hadn't even quivered. He was holding his head with both hands, his eyes closed tight, as he contemplated his next move. Or was he in anguish...?
"*cackle*cackle*! There's absolutely nothing I can do about it. Because it truly was decided by the fickle roulette."
"...L-Liar. We know you're just a murderer who kills for fun..."
"Stop it, Kanon-kun..."
"...So, Kinzo, isn't it about time you decided to accept your loss? *cackle* With this, our long contest is at an end, yes?"
At a glance, it was hard to make out the situation on that chaotic chessboard. However, judging by Kinzo's anguish and Beatrice's malicious confidence, it seemed to be over already...
"...It is unavoidable... Perhaps even this could be amusing."
"It is to me too. Resolving my contest with you may bring a flood of emotions, but it has already surpassed love and hate. It was fun. These past few decades certainly weren't boring...!"
Beatrice advanced her queen... and made her final move. And that... decided it.
Kinzo suddenly stood up and laughed, like an opera singer facing a full crowd and spreading his arms, as though he had succeeded in a century-long plan. That laugh... spat crimson.
But Kinzo kept laughing. The more he laughed, the more the hellfire spewed from his entire body and began to char him... Those flames became a brilliant light, which dazzlingly shone on the various magic tools throughout the room, making their distorted shadows dance across the walls. Those shadows looked like the dead in hell, watching over Kinzo in ecstasy as he burned...
And, for one who had made a contract with the witch, it was an extremely fitting end... in accordance with those terms...
Those incredible blazing flames disappeared as though he'd been completely burned up, and afterwards, nothing remained but a festering and burnt corpse that one could hardly bear to look at...
"Hmph. You should talk. As if you didn't think that was a fitting way for him to die..."
"...Why have you shown yourself...? Do you have some business with us...?"
"Stop it, Kanon-kun. You mustn't provoke Beatrice-sama."
"It would seem you have them absolutely terrified. Pu ku ku ku."
"I imagine I'll never get along with Kanon. Hey, it's not as though I dislike you particularly..."
Beatrice grinned. Kanon violently averted his gaze, obviously unhappy. His reaction was so different from what he wanted to do that it made the witch and her butler laugh.
"Kanon, you stand in the presence of Beatrice-sama. Carefully consider your manner of speech."
"Oh, I care not, Genji. Let him say what he pleases. I am gracious."
"...How are you gracious...?!"
BGM: Organ Short #600 Million in C Minor
Kanon was taken aback by that creepy laughter... Beatrice wasn't here just to take Kinzo's life. The first twilight required six sacrifices. Kinzo alone wasn't nearly enough. And they'd just casually walked in here...
"*cackle*cackle*cackle*! Fear not, Kanon. It isn't as though you'll be selected as sacrifices just because you came here. After all, you were called here because you'd been selected already...!"
Their instincts were good enough to spot her meaning instantly...Six sacrifices were required for the first twilight. After Kinzo, how many more would you need to add up to six? In this mansion, the number five instantly made them think of the number of servants here..
"...Is that... what you desire?"
"Indeed. Thank me, furniture. Tonight, your days of suffering will finally end. You ought to thank me for coming here to tell you this."
"...Certainly. If that is your desire."
Genji had agreed to the witch's heartless announcement with his usual demeanor, without raising an eyebrow.
"Now that the Master is dead, Beatrice-sama is our master. Responding to her demands shall be our final duty. Shannon. Kanon. You have done well serving until today. That hard work is now over."
"...As I expected of you, Genji. As your fellow furniture, I'm proud to have known you."
"Shannon, do you have any objections?"
"...I heard that George-sama gave you a ring. Do you still say... that you have no regrets?"
"Yes. That blessing was more than furniture deserves. Just receiving the ring has already satisfied my feelings."
There probably were regrets left in her heart. She probably wanted to spend a little more warm time with the person she cared for, George. But she released herself from that. She took a single deep breath... and a blank expression rose to her face.
"It does surprise me a tad to find that you've gained such composure, Shannon. It seems you too have taken a philosophical view as furniture."
"Won't you at least shed some bitter tears for not being able to spend a night with the man you love? What a boring woman."
"...This feeling cannot be understood by the likes of you, Beatrice-sama. If you desire our lives, please accept them. We will solemnly carry out that duty."
"...Very well. Excellently put..."
"Pu ku ku ku. Just the type of person Beatrice-sama can't handle."
"She's been taking such a far-sighted view of things lately. I must've tormented her too much last time. Speaking of which, didn't I do the same to Battler? Hmmm. Am I still soft? Or is the way I corner them lacking? In any case, she's just no fun."
"...However, it seems you will still entertain me, right? Kanooon?"
Compared to the two who had taken a far-sighted approach, there was a painful anguish on Kanon's face. Kanon was still far too young to accept his demise after being told of it by a suddenly appearing witch...
"...Are you trying to make me your plaything...?"
Kanon realized that he was being provoked. However, no matter how furiously anger spurred him on, his opponent was a witch. He was furniture. He hadn't had a chance of victory from the beginning. But the witch was expecting that he'd struggle in vain and writhe around, and was even looking forward to it... Just thinking about that was frustrating enough to get his blood boiling.
Was disappointing the witch by refusing to resist, like the other two, the only way he could strike back at her...?
"Eldest of the Seven Sisters of Purgatory, Lucifer. Arise."
"Kanon, it would be far too cruel to force furniture to fight a witch. No matter how much anger spurs you on, you would have no hope in a battle without a chance of success. Of course, such a battle would be boring for me as well."
"...So, let it be furniture against furniture. Why not resolve it with a battle between you two? That should be enough to allow you some hope for victory, right...?"
"...Forgive me, Beatrice-sama, but how could I be inferior to this good-for-nothing furniture?"
"As if this cutie would have any chance against me... Heheheheheheheheheheheheh."
"Prove that you can defeat my furniture, the Seven Stakes of Purgatory. If you manage to win through... let us see. I will let you select the five who will escape becoming one of the 13 sacrifices. I will welcome the five you recommend into the Golden Land without any conditions. How about that?"
Kanon understood that he was being provoked. However, the witch's offer was very tempting. By this point, Kanon couldn't care less about this evil ceremony the witch and the rest were trying to carry out. On the contrary, it was much more important that he remain alive so that he could be invited to the Golden Land... and have his wish granted by Beatrice there...
"You cried, saying you'd had enough of being furniture, right...? I shall grant your desire. I shall give you that human body you wanted so much, you cried yourself to sleep. What do you say...? That way, you and Jessica could be together, yes? Ooh, just perfect. You may recommend that Jessica and yourself be invited to the Golden Land."
"...If you alone finding happiness isn't a satisfying solution for you, then you can add in Shannon and George, the one she loves... If you're worried about duty, then you can also add Genji. Hoh! That's five people. Isn't that enough, Kanon? With this much of a reward, *cackle*cackle*cackle*! You won't let me get bored, will you...?"
"...She's just playing with you. There is no need to listen to her."
Beatrice couldn't hide her evil smile at those words.
"I don't like it. I want to be happy! I've had enough of being furniture. I want to become human... and have normal love...! I want to know that... the ocean is blue, like you!"
"...How young. I'm jealous."
"That's why I like the young ones. Genji, Shannon, stay back. Kanon, Lucifer, forward."
"As you command."
That was probably humiliating for Lucifer. But at the same time, she was also happy... that she was lucky enough to have this adorable prey all to herself...