Part 81: The Key to the Golden Land
October 5th, 1986, 9:00 AM
Maria got bored and started complaining that she wanted to watch TV. There was no TV in the lobby, so she decided to return to the cousins' room on the second floor. The adults probably wanted to make sure Maria wasn't left on her own...
They told all the children to go to the second floor cousins' room. George, who was grief-stricken by the loss of his fiancée, led the cousins up to the second floor without any resistance. At first, Nanjo had been reading a book in the lobby, but when he noticed the relatives looking like they wanted to discuss something sinister, he said 'It seems I am in the way...' and returned to his room on the second floor.
BGM: Minute Darkness
"It's only natural. We didn't get any sleep at all last night."
"...We will probably end up being barricaded here for a full 24 hours. It may be wiser to take naps in turn instead of over-stressing ourselves."
"True. My husband and I will remain here, so I ask that anyone having trouble staying awake take it easy and rest."
"Our opponent might be expecting that, right? Even if they couldn't defeat this many people, if that number shrinks enough, they may plan to use that moment to strike."
"There are seven of us here, so we could take three-hour shifts in pairs. Tomorrow morning's a long way off. We still have some energy now, but tonight's going to be tough."
"Sure will. Anyone sleepy? Don't overdo it, and get some rest."
Hideyoshi looked around at everyone to see who wanted to sleep first, but no one volunteered. Everyone was just as tired, but no one was bold enough to go to sleep right away. Their fear of the unknown culprit was just as strong as their sleepiness.
"...Nobody? Well, don't overdo it, everyone."
"If we get tired, we'll deal with it then. I'll admit I'm sleepy, but I'm not in the mood now."
As Eva spoke sharply, she reread the second letter from Beatrice, which had been found in the boiler room.
And she'd even provoked them by saying she'd give up her assets and the Headship if they could solve it... Eva took out a notebook and opened it to a page with the epitaph copied onto it.
"...Is this that epitaph?"
"Yes. I hate doing what the culprit says, but we do have time to waste. I think it's the perfect way to stave off boredom."
"...Not a bad way to kill time. Why don't we challenge it together as siblings?"
"...Can I borrow that? I'll rewrite it just a little larger. Natsuhi-san, do you have a slightly larger piece of paper?"
"There should be paper in the servant room. I will bring some."
Natsuhi immediately brought a blank B4 sheet of paper from the servant room. Kyrie borrowed Eva's notebook, wrote out the epitaph on the paper, and laid it out on the table. Then, everyone quickly peered down at it. They automatically formed a crowd.
"I've heard about it, but, really, this is a tough riddle. I don't have a clue what it's talkin' about."
"At one point, I also did my best to solve it, but I was just as clueless."
"If you did know, you wouldn't have come all the way out here with a plan to make money. After all, it's 10 tons of gold we're talking about."
"...This is the first time I've read through it seriously, but... roughly speaking, couldn't it be split into three parts?"
"...I've been thinking this since last night, but you really are a good thinker, Kyrie-san. Perhaps you'll be able to easily solve this riddle that we couldn't."
"Yeah. Kyrie's sharp. She might find a more interesting take on it if she comes in without any confusing biases."
"...That's right. Kyrie-san, would you mind giving us you honest opinion after reading the epitaph?"
"I doubt you'll find it useful. You all give me too much credit."
"That's fine, just say whatever comes into your head. Let's hear your thoughts. The hints you give always help me out when I'm worried."
"Oh, so I have been helpful? It's nice to finally hear about this now."
"Come ooon, don't I always thank you?"
"You two sure are close. I'm jealous."
"And the rest of us would also love to hear these hints of yours. We're just killing time anyway, so relax, okay?"
...But they had all the time in the world. Realizing that this was just a way to waste time, she decided to accept the role she'd been given...
"...I'm sure I'll say something off the mark, but... well, I'll put forward my ideas."
"Indeed. What did you mean in the beginning, about how it could be divided into three parts, roughly speaking?"
"First, there are the five lines up until 'There sleeps the key to the gold'. Up until this point is the first part, which directs you to the location of the key. And then there's the part formed by the 11 lines up until the tenth twilight, which refer to the location of the Golden Land itself. And the remaining six lines make up the part after the Golden Land has been reached."
"I see. It can be divided into three parts about the key, the Golden Land, and the Golden Land's treasure."
"Even we have been able to grasp that much. The three sections that refer to the key, the door, and the treasure."
"...Nii-san, don't butt in any more than you have to! Let Kyrie-san speak her ideas freely."
"Kyrie, please continue. We see it the same way you do so far. So then?"
"Since Father went to all the trouble of telling us that it's beloved, we can imagine that it's a hometown he had strong feelings for. Did Father come from Odawara?"
"...Odawara is definitely where he was born, but I don't think that's the hometown he loved. I imagine all of us siblings have the same place in mind."
"...Right. This probably isn't Odawara. From what I've heard, he had a very fun time as a youth."
"Hahhaha. Being made the Ushiromiya Family Head was probably Dad's greatest bit of misfortune in life."
"...Probably. Father didn't actually want to become the Head."
"So where is this place? Is there a river there where sweetfish swim?"
"...Maybe there was at the time. There's been a lot of development there since then, and the sweetfish might have disappeared. It would be extremely difficult to investigate whether sweetfish were there during Grandfather's boyhood years."
"And there probably isn't just a single river. I believe we all gave this a thorough investigation geographically. You even went to the actual place to investigate directly, right, Eva?"
"That was only as a vacation. But, the townscape had changed completely since Father's time. After all, it was caught up in that war, wasn't it? By now, even precisely locating the place Father lived is impossible. I imagine that if Father went there himself now, even he wouldn't be able to pick out the place he'd lived anymore."
"Well, after all, those guys have also gone through a remarkable recovery..."
"...Does the part about a sweetfish river bring any place name clearly to mind?"
"Well, yeah. After all, they're sweetfish, right? People say they live in rivers with clean water, so there are countless rivers that might work. Any stream Dad innocently went sweetfish-fishing in was probably buried by the development later. It'd be different if we had a map from before the war or a person who knew a lot about how the area was before the war, but..."
"What do you mean...?"
"...Behold the sweetfish river running through my beloved hometown. You who seek the Golden Land, follow its path downstream in search of the key. After these two lines, there's a single blank line."
"What do you mean, something is being presented...?"
"...I don't know. At any rate, what we can get from these two lines alone isn't something vague, like the question of which river it might be, but the clear presentation of the keyword 'river'. It may be that this isn't a 'river' with water flowing down it. The 'sweetfish river' might be some kind of metaphor. What sort of impressions does the word 'sweetfish' give?"
"...Sweetfish are like salmon. They're freshwater fish, but they go out into the ocean right after they're born. When they get big, they go back to the river to live there, and then they spawn there and end their lives there. Well, they leave their home at one point, but when they get big, they come back and lay eggs. Might be able to link that to the idea of clan prosperity."
"Oh? They're freshwater fish, but they can live in the ocean? I didn't know that. I figured river fish wouldn't be able to live in the sea."
"What's that, Natsuhi-san?! You've never eaten salt-grilled sweetfish?! They're delicious! You should try it sometime soon!"
"It is a food for commoners. Hardly appropriate for your mouth."
"...This is just my wild idea, but the impression I get from a sweetfish river makes me suspect a family tree. The sweetfish go out into the ocean for a time, but they return to the river where they were born to spawn, right? It reminds me of myself."
"You're right. By this point, I can confess that I've sometimes suspected that it refers to you and Maria-chan."
"Isn't that right?! But as you all know, Father doesn't like Maria, and he almost never speaks with her. And, in the past, Father told me to give Maria a completely different name. I just decided to go with Maria on my own. Father was very mad about that. Given that, it's very hard to imagine that he would reference Maria's name in his precious epitaph about who would succeed his wealth and inheritance."
"Have you ever let Maria-chan read the epitaph?"
"Uh, yes, of course. But it looked as though she didn't have a clue. She didn't have a clue, and she kept going on about that same occult stuff, about how it was a resurrection ceremony for the witch."
"...A connection between Father and Maria. Certainly, they do share that occult hobby, but they never interacted. I can't imagine it that refers to Maria either."
"...I believe this word 'beloved' here at the beginning... must refer to a place full of very important memories to Father."
"...Hmmmmmm. Well, that's fine. It would be hard to pinpoint since we don't have even a trace of a map from that time, but at any rate, there were probably several rivers with sweetfish swimming in them near Dad's hometown during his youth."
"That's if we're looking for a river with water flowing down it, right? And then? Go on, Kyrie-san."
"...I don't really understand the three lines starting with 'If you follow the river downstream, you will find a village'. It's probably linked to the two lines about the sweetfish river. I imagine it's something we'd understand automatically if we knew what the sweetfish river really was. Until we figure that out, it's probably useless to try and solve those three lines any further."
"So we're stuck unless we know what the 'sweetfish river' really is... And there's no guarantee it even means a literal river. Seriously. What's up with the sweetfish? Did Dad like to eat them? Or does it have some special meaning? Is it pointless to read too deeply into it?"
"...If you don't have both a micro and a macro perspective, your field of vision grows narrow. It might be better to be flexible and avoid thinking too deeply, focusing on an abstract image of a river where fish swim, or something that can flow... up or down."
"Then, the answer behind the 'sweetfish river' passes through the next three lines and makes its way to the 'key to the Golden Land'..."
"If you think about it this way, I wonder if it was a mistake to split it into three parts. There's actually four parts. 'Go down the sweetfish river', 'find the key to the Golden Land', 'journey to the Golden Land', and 'the treasure of the Golden Land'."
"Hmmm... Truly intriguing. Well, you've gone this far. Would you mind continuing and telling us your opinion on the most central portion of the epitaph, up to the point when we reach the Golden Land on the tenth twilight?"
"...That's the most symbolic... and also the most disturbing part."
"Since the word 'sacrifices' keeps coming up, I can't help but think it has something to do with Father's occult ceremonies... How do you see it, Kyrie-san?"
Kyrie recrossed her arms several times, peering into the paper with the epitaph copied onto it as though she was looking through it...
"...Just like how the 'sweetfish river' isn't necessarily a river with water flowing down it, it's also doubtful that this 'key' is actually something shaped like a key."
"Right. It might also be a code or a keyword. After all, this key isn't something to be stuck into a keyhole. It's something that selects six people to be sacrifices for the first twilight. In that sense, we can say for sure that this key isn't being used to open the door to the Golden Land."
"...But what a disturbing key it is. A key that can choose six human sacrifices..."
"How would a key select anything? Do ya spin it like a roulette...?"
"This key indicates a certain group of six people. No, we should say it indicates a certain group of six things... if this doesn't mean a literal command to offer sacrifices. For example, it could be an anagram."
"An anagram? Do you mean playing with letters...?"
"Yes. I've been thinking about it ever since Rosa started talking about the family tree, and about how village was a part of Maria-chan's name."
"...It seems that ever since the words 'beloved hometown' came up, Rudolf-san, for example, has assumed that this epitaph points to some coordinates or some other geographical feature, but that might not be the case. This could be some kind of puzzle, or maybe playing with letters."
"...Forgive me, what do you mean by playing with letters?"
"...Merry?? Take out the e's and r's, huh? ???"
"Stop it. It is an undignified game, inappropriate for you."
Only Natsuhi didn't get it and had a blank look on her face. It seemed she'd only guessed that the answer had to be something undignified, going by Rudolf and Eva's sniggers.
"Ah, Natsuhi nee-san, it's something like this. This is just something from Maria's book of riddles, okay? There's this thing called a Tanuki Notebook. It's a notebook written like a code, with a lot of 'ta's mixed in, and if you 'remove' all of the 'ta's, then the true paragraph pops up. It's a game like that."
"Ah, oh, I see...??"
"...So maybe 'kill' actually means 'remove' in that sense, right...?"
"Yes. I also thought that. It's possible that the key to the Golden Land is a word with six characters."
"In other words, the 'ta' from the Tanuki Notebook... is actually six characters here...? Hmmm, this is getting complicated..."
"Playing with letters, is it...? Hmmm. In Japan, it really feels like a child's game, but it's apparently a stylish form of humor among intellectuals in the English world. It is easy to imagine that Father was interested in it."
"'Sweetfish river', 'go down it', 'then find the key'... all of that is extremely sequential. And as a result, we can guess that we gain a six-character key, but in that case, we now don't know 'what' we kill the six characters from."
"That's right. Where do we pull the six characters from? It doesn't tell us."
"...On the second twilight, there are 'those who remain'. Which means that, at the very least, that 'something' has a limited number of characters. You could read it like it's telling you to continue with the remaining characters after the first six characters are removed. And yet, we don't know what this 'something' is, even though it should've been shown to us at the beginning. Are we wrong even in our assumption that this is playing with letters...?"
Everyone crossed their arms and fell silent. It felt like they were about to reach a novel understanding they hadn't managed before, but they stumbled just one step short.
Then, Hideyoshi's stomach rumbled heartily. That silence was broken by laughter.
"Natsuhi, isn't there anything to eat here?"
"There should at least be enough set aside for breakfast. I will prepare it."
"I'm also starving. And I'll bet those brats above us are the same. Still, I doubt there's enough for the 18 people here, much less a full three meals, right?"
"That's right. It'll be a long journey 'til tomorrow. Maybe we'd better take a trip back to the mansion and fish around for some canned food or somethin' in the kitchen."
"There's nothing more than crackers and snacks here, but if that will be sufficient, I can get them ready for you all. But with this many people, there might not be any left for lunch..."
"That will do for now. Would you mind getting those ready?"
It looked like the men had been taken over with an appetite that stopped all thought. The atmosphere grew more peaceful, and the epitaph investigation team split up for the time being. But Eva kept staring at the paper the epitaph was written on like she was going to burn a hole through it...
"...Thank you. I'll just keep doing this on my own. Would you mind leaving me alone?"
Eva spoke coldly. Kyrie didn't bother her any more, and instead went to help Natsuhi prepare breakfast.
"Nee-san, shouldn't we also help prepare breakfast?"
"Then you go help. I'm busy solving this!"
"S-Sorry... Th-Then I'll help..."
"...Good grief. How can you be like that?"
"The Ushiromiya Family Headship will be given to the person who solves this epitaph. It looks like you've given up from the beginning, as if it has nothing to do with you, but if you can solve it, there's a chance even you'll be able to receive the Headship."
"...Um... umm, I..."
Rosa hung her head, unsure as to how she should answer. Too late, she regretted carelessly speaking to her sister when she was in a bad mood.
"If you've noticed anything, say so. Even though Kyrie-san and I were thinking hard, you just kept nodding your head, didn't you? Come on. Isn't there anything you've noticed? Come on!"
"...Uh, umm... Don't... you think this part's strange?"
"...Strange? What is?"
"What's your point? Do you get some keywords by splitting up the characters in 'Golden Land'?"
"Um, umm, that's not it. Look, isn't just the tenth twilight strange?"
"...Oh, uh... but I'm probably splitting hairs over nothing, if you think about it. This is Father we're talking about, after all. He probably just said it that way to make it sound more dramatic."
For those interested in the epitaph, but not interested in Japanese wordplay: The Steam version of Umineko uses a different translation of the Epitaph, and a this conversation between Eva and Rosa is different as well. You may want to check it out.
Of course, nothing will come of it. Uncovering the location of the hidden gold is an optional challenge, even more difficult than discovering the truth of Rokkenjima. It's far beyond the abilities of any mere human.