Part 82: The Key to the Golden Land II
BGM: Organ Short #200 Million in C Minor
"Oh? What is boring...?"
"My, my. What on earth is this child grumbling about?"
"She's probably annoyed by all the tips you gave Battler-sama, Madam."
"...Nooot really. That doesn't annoy me. On the contrary, I'm happy to see that useless Battler finally reach a level where he can match me."
"Hohohoh... Did Battler-kun and I get a little too close? Perhaps us old fogeys had best leave you young'uns alone."
"Pu ku ku ku ku..."
When Virgilia and Ronove giggled and cackled, Beatrice's irritation meter finally reached its limit.
"Gaah, enough with everyone laughing at me! Ronove, vanish for a while! Disappear, disappeeear!"
"Certainly. Then I shall rest for the time being. Pukukukuku..."
Ronove bowed his head, still laughing, and vanished. After that, all that remained was the grumpy and irritated figure of Beatrice...and Virgilia, who was cooly enjoying her tea.
"...I knew it... I did have this feeling it might be a bit too early... I suppose that was right after all, wasn't it?"
"If you had led him further astray first, things might have been different, but as it was, that trump card was a real waste. You ended up rousing him instead."
In addition to denying the witch, Battler had possessed a second victory condition, one of explaining everything without suspecting one of the 18. It was at that point, when he'd been tossed about by two opposing goals, that his heart should have been at its weakest. However, Beatrice had used the red carelessly, proclaiming that there were no more than 18 people. Because of that, Battler had been forced to suspect one of the 18, and he had finally begun to build up the resolve he needed to accept that.
Battler was stubborn, but that was exactly why fissures would run all through him, like breaking china, when he was struck in a fragile spot. That itself should have been his greatest weak point, but...
"Yes, you were too careless. The last game was a difficult one for Battler-kun, but it seems this game will become a difficult one for you."
"...A broken vase will never return to its original form. So, it would be more constructive to think of a next move, rather than regretfully picking up the pieces. However, now that Battler has figured out as much as he has, how should I plot against him...?"
"Hohohoh. Your troubled face is an even better snack than Ronove's cookies."
"...Uu-. You and Battler... and even Ronove are treating me like sweets now. Even though I'm not sweet at all."
With a shameful, childlike face that she would never have shown in front of Battler, Beatrice rolled her head around on top of the table.
"...Teacheeer. At least gimme a hiiint."
"Oh? What kind of hint?"
"If you know some really good move that'll leave Battler speechless and make him wanna accept me... I won't ask you to say it outright, so, umm, even if it's just a hint..."
"Hohohoh, I can't. I am on Battler-kun's side right now, so I couldn't teach you something that would give you an advantage."
"...C'mon, don't be so stingy... Your disciple's in trouble, right...?"
"I seem to remember you brazenly boasting that you had surpassed your teacher."
"...Uu-... Please act like an old person and gimme just a bit of your crafty ideas... Pleease... It's mean if you only help Battleeer..."
"My, my. You're still a spoiled child... But, it's true that I may have given Battler-kun a few too many hints. It did serve as a scolding to you, but perhaps it was a little too much support for a fair game."
"Isn't that right, isn't that right...? Please, Teacheeer, at least just a hint now..."
"...This is only a hint. Think about what it means by yourself, okay?"
"Yeah, yeah! I'll think about it myself, so please! Please, gimme one that'll leave Battler down in the dumps, Teacher."
Considering how she acted like a great and mighty witch in front of Battler, the way she acted when he wasn't around was truly pathetic. Virgilia sighed at how childish Beato still was, despite all the time that had passed.
BGM: As Time Goes By
"Of course. It's a story about how the north wind and the sun challenge each other to see who can steal the cloak off a traveler, right?"
"That's right. Violent, impatient methods aren't necessarily the best decisions in all cases."
"...You don't have to tell me that. I've already reflected on the mistakes I made when I was too anxious to achieve victory."
"...Think well about what this means. And furthermore, there's one point that Battler seems to be misunderstanding a bit, but he isn't the only one. Do you understand the victory conditions of this game?"
"...What else is there, other than making Battler surrender?"
"...See? You're already wrong there."
"How am I wrong?"
"...What's this? You want me to butter him up, begging him to accept me as a witch?! How foolish! I haven't sunk that low!"
Grrrrrrrrrrr... Beato growled like a dog in a bad mood. Virgilia shrugged her shoulders, snickering at her disciple, who was as short-tempered as ever...
"That is my hint. For the rest, you'll have to consider deeply on your own. In any event, your moves up until now will not work on Battler-kun. A significant tactical adjustment will probably be required."
"...I don't need you to tell me that. I don't have a clue what you mean by the North Wind and the Sun, but at any rate, I realize I'll have to alter my course. I'll introduce a scheme clever enough to surprise even you, Teacher...!"
"Hohoho... I look forward to it. I wonder how Battler-kun will tackle that. I wish you good luck as well."
"After Battler, you mean? Hmm..."
...As my mind grew vague and I pretended to fight my drowsiness, while sinking deeper and deeper into the sofa, 'I' scolded myself.
"...You also dreamed about stealing the position of Family Head from Krauss, right...? Even though my magic's given you a chance, are you already throwing it away...?"
You could say that, but... This riddle is really hard. Even a wire puzzle would be better. At least in that case, you know for sure that it's solvable. But in the case of this epitaph riddle, we've been given no reason to be sure of that. I might just be fighting a useless battle.
...Still hazy, I looked at the notebook I'd been holding the whole time. It was opened to a page with the epitaph, which I must've stared at hard enough to burn holes in it on so many hundreds of nights, I'd lost count.
On the other side lies the 'Golden Land', the place I've wanted to drag myself to no matter the effort ever since I was a child... and the place I was never able to reach. Am I touching the door with both hands, with the book... no, the door right there in front of me, ready to be opened, and yet still unable to reach the other side?
"...That's right. Your hand is already on the door. Come on, open it with all your strength. And read the characters written on the door."
Strain your eyes. See through to the thing beyond the epitaph written in the notebook...
That's right... Then what about the 'sweetfish river'? There are several rivers where they swim, and there's reason to doubt that this just refers to one close to the place Father lived. If we take out a map and start calculating which rivers with sweetfish were closest, things will quickly get vague and we won't be able to narrow it down...
"Didn't you say it yourself? You said it didn't have to be a river with water flowing down it. If the word sweetfish is too complicated, why not forget it...?"
"Think of a river. A river. Linking it with a 'family tree' wasn't a bad idea. Try thinking about how to link a river with something else along those lines..."
...It isn't a river? But where else could sweetfish swim? Oh, but if we're talking about places sweetfish can swim, then maybe the ocean has something to do with this... Didn't my husband even say that they go out into the ocean, even though they're river fish...?
"...Did you notice? But that's just a faint memory. There's supposed to be a room for storing books in this building, right? If you investigate, you can make sure."
...If that's the 'sweetfish river'... And if the key might be a six character word... Then could the key actually be resting in that river?
I-I don't know, I don't know. Anyway, I have to search in an atlas... But, even if I know that, I don't know 'from what' I should take the six characters...
"...You really don't know? Think deeply. We're pretty smart, so our ideas are solid."
"Don't think of it like it's something as massive as the riddle of the epitaph, but like it's a child's riddle. Men are always children, no matter how old they get. Even if Father has advanced into old age, that doesn't change the fact that he's essentially a child at heart."
"...Throw away your awe of Father. Think of this like it's a worthless, infantile game with riddles, like the ones Maria suddenly brought out on the boat."
...Riddles. Worthless, infantile... Huh... ah. I'm sure that was... what was it... umm, umm... I'm sure, if my memory isn't wrong, that it's probably the case, umm...
No, I don't have to rely on my vague memory. I should be able to figure that out immediately by searching the library.
"...We've probably already noticed the answer. All that's left is to investigate whether it's correct or not. Come on, Eva. Let's go to the library, making sure no one sees us. There, we should find a mountain of thick books that didn't fit in Father's study. I'm sure we'll find a book that answers our question. Quickly. This is the first and last chance we'll ever get to make our dreams come true."
"...I'm sorry. It looks like I woke you."
"...Eva, if you're sleepy, don't overdo it. You rest first."
"...Th-Thank you. I'm just going to the bathroom for a bit to wash my face."
"You should take it easy and rest. You're just gonna make yourself feel worse, you know?"
"I told you I'm fine! I'll be right back."
After leaving only those words behind, I rapidly left the lobby. The lobby was partitioned off by a door, so as soon as I went into the corridor, they could no longer see me.
Father always owned a vast book collection, but ever since he started to become engrossed with his occult hobby, that collection grew even larger, so that the normal books suitable for a normal study had been forced out as his study overflowed. This so-called library was mostly used as a storage room for those normal books. They were all thick, like complete encyclopedias for intellectuals, but that was very convenient for me, now that I was investigating something.
I entered softly, and just in case, I checked the room with my gun readied, making sure that there were no suspicious people there. Then I locked it from the inside. I actually wasn't thinking that the murderer might be hiding somewhere. What scared me was the thought that one of my siblings might hear what I was investigating.
My heart had started racing before I realized it... I was half-asleep just a moment ago, so I didn't realize how significant this thing I noticed was. But as I gradually became aware, my heart started to feel like it was about to explode.
I don't think Krauss and Rudolf will notice. But I don't know about Kyrie. She has extraordinarily good intuition. And I don't know about Rosa either.
"Rosa's stupid too. She always has been, incredibly so."
Really...? I'd say she was wise enough to make you think she was stupid, so that she didn't earn herself unnecessary malice.
"...Here it is. I wonder if we'll find it in this one."
I pulled the book out and flipped through the pages...
I see... This is what the sweetfish river means. Don't dawdle around, research further.
Why have you stopped thinking?! Oh, is this too much work for you? If only you'd just give up... If only you'd just hand the Ushiromiya Headship over to Kyrie...!
...In the village, look for the shore the two will tell you of. 岸 means shore. Get it?
"Uu, *gulp*... I-I-I understand...! 'Shore'... 'shore'...!"
Right before my eyes, the pieces that I hadn't been able to understand at all... began to *snap*... *snap*... into place, all by themselves...
I couldn't even remember to close my open mouth. My throat grew completely dry...
"...But this isn't six characters at all. I'm absolutely sure this is the answer, but this doesn't reach six characters at all...!"
Did you stop thinking again? In that case, think of a way you could read it with six characters. If you can't think of one, then research it. There has to be an answer. You must not doubt that. Is believing in that too much for you? If only you'd just cry yourself to sleep, and then you can just give up and die...
Yes. This is...the key to the Golden Land. The key... to our childhood dreams. The only keyhole this key can be stuck in... is that place.
That... has to be what offering the sacrifices means. I'm sure you get it by now, right...?