Part 91: The Definition of a Witch
October 5th, 1986, 1:30 PM
By any measure, their return was too late. And Krauss and Natsuhi, who waited by the entrance, were reaching the limits of their patience. The chain was set on the door. That was a precaution in the event that Rudolf's group was attacked and the master key stolen from them. For that reason, they needed to wait by the entrance like this for the others to return...
Krauss glanced between his watch and the door, struggling to keep his composure.
"If... something happened to prevent them from returning..."
"...A terrible thought, but it seems we should ready ourselves for that possibility. So, it really was too reckless after all."
"Th-That is what I said...! Why did they go outside when they knew it was this dangerous...?! How foolish! Why go outside, even though Rosa-san had just been attacked...?!!"
"...Nothing will come of saying that now. At any rate, there are now three adults in the guesthouse. Me, you, and Eva, who's asleep with a high fever."
At that time, the forceful sound of a door being opened came from the hallway, and they heard Eva's panicked voice. That voice kept calling out Hideyoshi's name. It seemed as though she'd had a bad dream or something due to her fever... and was calling for her husband.
"Eva-san, what is it, are you okay...?"
Krauss was struck dumb by this attitude of hers, which she had never shown in front of him before, but Natsuhi understood her feelings.
"...C-Calm down... Hideyoshi-san is with Rudolf-san and Kyrie-san, and they're outside right now."
"Outside?!?! Wh-Wh-Why, why did he go outside, after he promised that he'd stay with me the whole time?! You mustn't go outside, the witch is outside, you mustn't go, you'll be killed!! Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhh...!!"
"...Eva, calm yourself. Hideyoshi-san returned to the mansion with Rudolf and Kyrie-san."
"Why did he have to go to the mansion?!! Why did he go outside, even though it's safe here?!! Why did he go back to the mansion?!!"
"...They went to get enough food to last until tomorrow. Hideyoshi-san was worried about your health... and said that was partly why he wanted to go..."
"When will they come back?! When will they come back?! Don't go outside, don't go to the rose garden, don't go to the mansion!! The witch is there, the Golden Witch is walking about! If she finds you, you'll be killed, you'll definitely be killed!! When will my husband come back?!"
"...They left here thirty minutes ago. We are waiting for their return."
"We have to go get them!! We have to hurry to where they are!! Eeeeeeeeeeeekkk!!"
Eva probably had quite a nightmare. And, because it had continued even after she woke up, she could no longer hide her panic. Natsuhi tried calming her down, but all it did was make Eva's emotions explode even more.
Maybe they heard that disturbance. Battler and the kids, who had supposedly been on the second floor, were peeking their faces through the crack of the lobby door. Krauss, Natsuhi, Eva. And Battler, George, Jessica, Nanjo. Everyone in the guesthouse had gathered by the entrance... and understood the current situation.
"Yeah, that's right. It's even possible that their load's too heavy and they're having trouble carrying it. They should welcome some extra hands."
"...Th-This happened right after Rosa-san was attacked. This may have been a secondary disaster connected to that. We should act with caution here and..."
"Don't be a fool!! What do you mean, caution?! Are you saying we should let my husband die, even though he might be begging for help?! I'm going to look, and the cowards can stay here!!"
Looking agitated, Eva raised her gun. Judging by her face, it would be useless for anyone to try and stop her. George, who realized that first, raised his head.
"I'll go as well. You will too, right, Battler-kun? The more people, the better...!"
"S-Sure!! Aunt Eva, we're coming even if you tell us not to."
"...I-I'm coming too...! I can't be the only one to hide in a safe place...!"
"Jessica, you must not go outside!! Stay here with me. Got it?!"
Natsuhi realized that Eva felt like her heart had been gouged out, but she spoke out strongly as Jessica's mother.
"...You're right. That should be fine. Let's have Nii-san's family keep an eye on the guesthouse. This is a problem for my family and Battler-kun's. And I wonder if Doctor Nanjo would mind coming too. Just in case."
"...The fourth through sixth twilights? Then, the corpses were pierced through the forehead, chest, and stomach with those demon stakes?"
"Yes. The demon stakes were buried into them: one in Rudolf's forehead, one in Hideyoshi's chest, and one in Kyrie's stomach."
"The disorder of the clothing on all three suggests that they were fighting or running away. Since the three corpses were not found right next to each other, it is hypothesized that after coming into contact with the culprit, they attempted some form of resistance."
"...And they had stakes in the forehead, chest, and stomach. Horrible, just like usual..."
...Normally, the witch would have killed them in a much, much more horrible way. The corpses had been left in this manner only because Beato had suggested to the witch that she show restraint. The new witch, thinking it would fit well enough as long as she gouged them with stakes, would probably have just stuck a stake into a lump of meat that wasn't even shaped like a Human.
Rosa's and Maria's corpses were a particularly striking example. If they'd been killed as the Golden Witch had wished, just how gruesome would the corpses have been? Beato had changed that into the 'still better' kind of killing Battler had mentioned earlier. Wanting to have Beato's small bit of thoughtfulness appreciated, he thought of telling Battler about this.
...But judging by Battler's eyes, that might do more harm than good. To humans, the gap between being alive and being dead is very large. Saying that she'd given them better deaths might have made it possible for a demon to understand her feelings and pardon her, but there was no way a Human would be so accepting. Understanding this, Ronove remained silent despite knowing of Beato's modest efforts...
"Just like usual, let's start by checking whether the corpses are dead. Ronove, please declare it in red."
"Hey, can't you hear me? Please declare it in red. Repeat it. 'Rudolf, Kyrie, and Hideyoshi are dead'."
"The hell...? What are you planning, all of a sudden...?"
By now, proclaiming that the victims were dead in red was almost a given in this battle. Refusing to do that was almost like losing by default. So when Ronove refused as part of his first move, Battler was dumbfounded.
"My apologies. As of this moment, I relinquish my position as Milady's representative. Accordingly, 'I' cannot repeat that in red. The only one qualified to repeat that... is Milady."
"...His point is a valid one. Ronove is only a representative for Beato's side. If he steps down from that position, and if you will not accept Beato as an opponent, a new representative must be named."
"...No new representative exists. Please, Battler-sama. Please accept Milady as your game partner once more."
"...Sorry, but that's advice I can't listen to. I definitely won't accept that unpleasant, cruel bastard as my opponent. My refusal to accept her is why I can't step down from this game."
"As to her being unpleasant, I apologize in Milady's stead. Allow me to pledge that Milady will not undertake such unpleasant actions again."
"...I wonder about that."
"...Battler-kun, I also want to apologize as that child's teacher. I'll give that child a good talking to, so please offer your forgiveness just this once."
"...Hey, hey, enough of that. You're making it sound like I'm the bad guy. And no matter how much you guys apologize, it won't reach my ears. If Beato can say that from her own lips... well, I might listen to her."
"...Understood. If that is your only condition for acknowledging your opponent again, let us have that child apologize. Ronove, call for that child. Will that be all right, Battler-kun...?"
"...Sheesh... Do whatever you want. Still, don't expect me to forgive her. Go get that irritating witch."
"...You have my thanks, Battler-sama. I shall summon her here. Milady, Battler-sama is calling for you."
...It was a much more docile appearance than the one's she'd made before.
"...Did you call, Ronove?"
"...I believe you heard. Is there something you have to say, from your own lips...?"
It looked as though Beato shrunk slightly under Battler's cold gaze. Several times, Beato made an effort to get the words out of her mouth, but that didn't work so well, and she was just as awkward as someone trying to light a match during a freezing winter with icy hands...
Even as she did that, the game board was advancing... In the hall, they had just found the corpses of the new victims and had broken down crying...
"...Mother, hang in there... Even for me it's... so crushing... so sad...!!"
"...They probably died instantly. I'm sure that, even if we had arrived immediately after they fell, it would have been too late..."
"No, that's wrong!! They were definitely alive!! His chest was stabbed with something like this...! My husband must have died in extreme pain...!! If we had come faster, surely they would've been saved! They would definitely have been saved!! Uuuuuwaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhh..."
"...It must be tough... for you too, Battler-kun, but stay strong..."
"...I'm okay, it's okay, Aniki... Let me cry just a little bit longer... I've got it the best... I should be the least sad...! So if you let me cry just a little longer, I'll be fine..."
"That isn't true... I can understand how much it must hurt your heart to have lost both parents... I still have Mother. That's much better than what you're going through, Battler-kun..."
"...In this group, you're the saddest... and the one who has it toughest!! I understand that, so I can't keep on sobbing like this...!! Aaaaaaaaaaaggghhhh!!"
"...Why... do you say it's toughest for me...?"
"To me, Dad and Kyrie-san... were people I'd eventually split up with when I grew up and became independent. Since they're parents, it was fated that they'd die before their kids. It just happened a little early, that's all...!"
"...But it's different for you, Aniki. You didn't just lose your parents, who would've parted ways with you eventually. You also lost Shannon-chan, someone you should've spent the rest of your life with...!!"
"You can't value human lives differently. Whether it's a baby or an old person, they should all be respected the same...! But still, the more life that person has ahead of them, the longer the future you're building together is, the sadder the fact of their death is...!!"
"Aniki, you were engaged to Shannon-chan, right? You promised that you'd build a life and a home together in the future, right?! Compared to how huge that future was, compared to how huge that happiness was... stuff like my pain doesn't even come close...!! So you should be allowed to cry much, much more, Aniki...!! And yet, just because you act like a big brother to us cousins, you force yourself to act like you're so calm...!"
"...Stop it, Battler-kun."
George was trying to make a calm smile. But already, he couldn't stop a single hot tear from leaving a streak down his face.
"...Of those dreams, even the very first one, having her move into my family register, could not be granted... so there's no way I wouldn't... be sad, right...?"
"Compared to that, I...I...!! Like I said, I have no right to cry any more! When even you're struggling to hold it in, I have no right to shed any more tears!!"
"...We're the same. We both feel the same sadness from losing those close to us. So there's no rule that says you can't shed any more tears than me, Battler-kun."
"...And, for me too... there's no rule... that says I have to hold back my tears any longer, is there?"
As Battler and George hugged each other tightly, they cried a waterfall of tears over each other's shoulders for the people who had been so precious to them...
BGM: Melting Away
"...I-I was listening, so I understand. Your sadness is proportional to the length of time you would have been able to spend with that person afterwards..."
"...Of course, you can't calculate it just like that though. We Humans aren't like you witches. From the time we receive life to the moment we die, we live within that limited period as strongly as we can manage."
"...I can't forgive anyone who makes light of that. And I definitely can't forgive anyone who sneers at people and toys with them. A person like you, whose very concept of death is all screwed up, probably can't understand that."
"...I'm not just mad because of the length of time they would've lived afterwards. It's... sneering at the lives of people living with all they've got... That's what I can't forgive the most."
"George-aniki lived his life by recklessly doing his best. He must have approached this day with a grim resolve to marry Shannon-chan no matter the challenges. That's completely different from me, since I was happy just to be able to meet my cousins after a long while."
"Beato. For now, stay silent and listen."
"...In a way, I understand your point. You say you need to continue murdering according to the epitaph for your own resurrection."
"...So, considering your circumstances, I can just barely bring myself to understand your murders. Because to you, it's a necessary course of action. But that means all unnecessary actions you take beyond that... are due to your meaningless and brutal tastes."
"...In other words, if killing the six people for the first twilight was a 'necessary action' for you, then all that show of crushing their faces and splitting their stomachs and stuffing them full of sweets was completely unnecessary, and caused by nothing more than your brutal hobby. That's an aspect of you that I definitely cannot forgive."
"When you saw Aunt Rosa getting repeatedly killed in that horrible way, you apparently said something like 'If they're going to be brought back to life in the end anyway, it doesn't matter how they're killed.' I heard from Virgilia."
"...Well, as to that... well, umm..."
"That idea that you can kill them as many times as you want, as long as you bring them back to life in the end... Isn't that a completely unnecessary action, with no purpose other than to toy around with someone's life?"
"...If you're going to kill, do it instantly! Don't toy with them!! If you won't kill them, then don't bully them!! You're taking advantage of the fact that you can do as you will with people's lives, and you've forgotten the sanctity of life. So I can't accept or acknowledge you...! I definitely can't accept as my opponent a person who doesn't know the value of a life...or the sadness felt when lives are lost!"
"...For that reason, Endless Witches sometimes start playing by jumping over the gap between life and death like it's a game. That is a very, very frightening thing. So as an Endless Witch, and by my own choosing, I never reached your level."
It was something Virgilia had been trying to tell Beato for a long time. But Beato had been too young to obediently listen to those words. She had been too wild. She had been possessed by that detestable pleasure.
"...I have been told not to break vases. But that's why I wanted to break them."
"...Then I gained the Endless Magic. When I knew that I could fix them back to normal no matter how badly I broke them, I was surprised at how fun it could be to break a vase..."
"That is what's known as the forbidden honey. People are not captivated by what's inside. They are captivated by the sealed lock. ...It is truly regrettable."
"...I want to ask you, Virgilia. Why does this thing called the Endless Magic exist? For what purpose does it exist in this world?"
"It is not limited to the Endless Magic. All magic exists to bring happiness to the human world. After everything that has happened, it may be difficult for you to believe, Battler-kun, but in order to bring blessings to the human world, we witches are supposed to become bridges between humans and nonhumans, and that is why we train so hard."
"...How does reviving the dead and torturing them to death over and over again help the human world?"
"When a vase that was an important memento is broken, if by fixing it, everyone will regain their smiles, I would repair it with magic as many times as necessary. However, I would not be fixing it in order to break it again. I would be reviving it to give humans happiness."
"In that case, Beato, you fail as an Endless Witch."
"...Maybe this game isn't about making me surrender. Maybe it's a test for you to be accepted as an Endless Witch...in the truest sense."
"...I-I don't know about that. The reason I proposed this game to you was... umm... simply as a way to kill time... There were no ulterior motives at work."
"Just now, I heard the definition of a witch from Virgilia. By that definition, you, Beato, are not even a witch. You're an apprentice who's still in training... and who misunderstands her own power."
"...This was supposed to a fight between a witch and a human. If you aren't a witch, then you aren't qualified to be my opponent. Understand?"
"...You say... I am still... only an apprentice...? Then, when will I be accepted as your opponent once again? When can we resume this game?"
"...Who knows. At the very least, it isn't now. When you fully understand what I've said and become a real witch, I'll probably accept you as my opponent in this game once more."
"I-I can't understand if you say it so abstractly like that... Clearly tell me what I should do to earn your forgiveness..."
"No, I've said enough. You think about the rest. That's all I want to say. If you can't figure it out, try talking with Virgilia and Ronove. A brat like you should start off by listening to what the adults say."
"...Understood. Until Beato has been acknowledged as having earned those qualifications, the game will proceed without an opponent. Is that all right with you too, Beato?"
"...I-I have no objections. I want time... and a place where I can think at a leisurely pace. May I leave my seat for that?"
"...Yeah, that's fine."
"...Well then, see you... later."
"Wait... Don't make that dejected face."
"...Sorry about that. Letting everything inside my heart show up on my face is part of my personality. I cannot deceive."
"Then maybe there's still some hope for you. Let me promise you one thing. In this game with you, I might win, and I might lose. If you don't come back, it might be my victory by default."
At that point, Battler stopped talking for a second. Then he spoke forcefully.
"...Thank you, Battler. I will definitely... come back and be accepted by you."
After showing a hopeful smile for a very short while, Beato vanished.