Part 92: The Definition of a Witch II
Rudolf's group had gone out with two guns and a master key. But those had been lost. It was already clear that those had been stolen by the culprit. Because the shutters were closed on the windows, they couldn't be opened even if the culprit had a master key.
The front and back doors that led to the outside were all sealed by chains, and they were further blocked with sofas and tables. Even if the culprit decided to break in through violent means, it wouldn't be easy for them.
"If there wasn't a typhoon in the first place, the boat would have arrived before noon. That's not much of a silver lining."
"...Eva-san, how do you feel? Please, try to take it easy."
"Thank you. I still feel like I have a fever, but this is no time to complain about that. For the children's sake as well, this is no time to be bedridden."
After crying so much in front of Hideyoshi's corpse, Eva had felt a strong self-awareness of her position as a mother, and her expression conveyed a strong will. In actual fact, her fever still hadn't gone down. And she was aware of that. If she didn't keep a strong hold on herself, she felt as though the fever would make her mind hazy again.
By this point, the first floor formed a final line of defense set up by Krauss, Natsuhi, and Eva. The children and the guest, Nanjo, had been strongly warned not to go downstairs without taking great care. If the culprit used a ladder or something, it probably wouldn't be impossible for them to attack from the second floor. But it wouldn't be easy for them to break those sturdy shutters from such an insecure position. The second floor was relatively safe compared to the first.
Battler and George had also wanted to remain on the first floor so that they could fight if the worst happened, but Eva had put a stop to that. In her mind, George was now the only member of her family. It seemed that she didn't even want to expose him to the danger of coming downstairs to the first floor. Krauss and Natsuhi could understand that feeling.
In the second floor cousins' room, Battler, George, and Jessica sat dazed...and didn't even listen to the TV that had been left on. For a while, Nanjo had been with them and had tried to lend them words of encouragement, but when he realized that he might actually be having the opposite effect, he hid himself in his own room on the same second floor.
George kept looking dazedly at the photographs inserted in his notebook. It was from the time he'd taken a vacation to Okinawa with Shannon. Shannon's happy smile was contained in those photos.
So to George, they weren't simply photos, but a door to bring back warm memories... In this room, even though the sound of the typhoon and the TV should have entered George's hearing, it was the scenery of Okinawa he had seen with her and her laughing voice that reached his eyes and his ears...
George had strived to be reborn after meeting Shannon. He had sworn to separate himself from the timid person he had once been, easily caught up in the atmosphere, unable to refuse a request, and easily used by those around him. He had resolved himself to become a strong man who could make her life more joyous. Therefore... If he hadn't met Shannon, the man called Ushiromiya George would probably have lived a very different life. And the George of that different life surely wouldn't have been as excellent a man as he is now.
It's completely meaningless, isn't it?
...He felt a deep, deep sadness, as though he himself had become empty. That feeling must have been tormenting him this whole time. However, until Battler mentioned it, he hadn't been aware of the feeling himself. He'd finally managed to remember... that it should have been all right for him to cry much, much more. So he cried. Just like Battler had, he cried himself dry.
...By now, his eyes were bright red and swollen, and he couldn't cry any more. So George did his best to change his way of thinking. He was not meaningless now, and he should be grateful to Shannon for giving him such a character.
If he were to chase after Shannon and kill himself, she would surely be deeply dejected. It worked the other way around, too. If he had died, and Shannon had chased after him, throwing away her own life, he wouldn't have been able to forgive himself. So he chose to surpass his sadness and anger... and decided to thank her instead.
As a result, she had shaped him into the kind of person he had wanted to be. He wanted to thank her for that. He tried to quell his sadness in this way, but each time he did, he remembered Shannon's smile...
...He understood it logically. He knew that grieving any more than this would only make her grieve in heaven, but that didn't bring a stop to his sadness...
Battler muttered. It was as though he was speaking on behalf of all humans. His question probably hadn't been directed at anyone, but Jessica answered.
"...It's always sad when you have to say goodbye. But when the person's old or there's some time, when you know beforehand that it's coming, sooner or later, that sadness gets spread out over a long period of time. When misfortune comes suddenly, it's sad... because you don't even get that time..."
"...I see. So, if they get sick or something and end up bedridden in a hospital, you might be able to ready yourself for it bit by bit, but when it happens suddenly someday, you don't get that luxury."
"...The sadness that's usually spread out over several years... closes in on you all at once. That's pretty tough. Sometimes, it makes you feel a sadness so deep, it can leave scars for life..."
"...Scars for life, huh?"
"...Some people whisper... that this is why he started sacrificing the rest of his life to occult research, in order to revive the dead."
"If that's true, Grandfather succeeded in that miracle in his last moments. The culprit is the revived Beatrice, and Grandfather was reunited with her at the moment he was killed. Pretty ironic that he revived her, and then got killed by her."
"...Even so, Grandfather probably managed to meet her. He gambled half of his life and, even though it was only for a short time, he was reunited with the woman he wished to see once again."
"...Then he got totally roasted though. Feels like that result doesn't quite add up to the cost of researching for half his life."
"That's not true. Even if it was only for an instant, Grandfather must have been happy to be reunited with the woman he loved."
"...And that would be true...even if his crime of going against divine providence was punished by God, and his body was burnt and sent down to hell, even if that reunion only lasted a very short time, right...?"
"...I wouldn't care I met with the wrath of God and had my body burned. Even if it was just for a short amount of time, if I could revive Shannon again... I would sacrifice the rest of my life to the same research as Grandfather. I want to talk with Shannon again, even if it's only for five minutes... Even one minute would be fine... In exchange... I wouldn't mind... sacrificing the rest of my life...!"
When Battler and Jessica realized that their pointless discussion was causing George pain, they could do nothing more than shut their mouths...
...George directed his thoughts to Kinzo's life.
...And, on the last day of his life, he revived the person he loved most, and probably succeeded in his reunion in his final moments. George didn't know how much time they'd had together. He didn't know if they'd been given an hour... or just five minutes. However, that moment must have been enough to reward him for all those months of research. Even though he spent dozens of years to achieve it, that small amount of time was probably more than worth it to him.
Until today, I never believed in the occult or magic or anything. Somewhere in my heart, I even made fun of Grandfather's research, thinking of it as nothing more than a pastime. However... I won't make fun of it anymore. No, to the contrary, I'll believe strongly that it's real. If the power of belief can create miracles, I'll probably throw away all of my studies up until today, spending the rest of my life from today onwards studying magic.
...Give me the power of magic... And give me a miracle that'll let me see Shannon again...
"...But things like that don't exist in reality. No one researches it. That's because... they know the dead can't be revived with magic. Sorry for saying something so weird. It's my fault that the atmosphere here has gotten so strange. Sorry for making you tiptoe around me, even though this is tough for us all."
...Even if I did it to divert myself from my sadness, maybe I did say something strange. If I keep talking about stuff that's so weird, I'm sure it won't do anything good for their sadness... But... that doesn't mean I can bear this silence.
Battler-kun and Jessica-chan lightly shook their heads. Without pressing them any further, I took my mug and left the room.
The shutters were all closed in the hallway, so the corridor was very dim.
It seems my mother's orthodox method of making coffee isn't universally appreciated.
One time, I made some for Shannon, but she told me that while it was delicious, it was a little strong...
That's no good... Even though I left the room to change my mood, that image of Shannon's face filling my head hasn't faded in the slightest... I keep seeing those fun days with her, more and more vividly, and it's saddening that I never even got a chance to see her dead face. According to our parents, she was apparently killed with something like a gun or a spear. I'm sure they were just trying to console me, but they had said her dead face had been very beautiful and peaceful.
I wonder if she had the engagement ring I gave her last night... on her finger. If she accepted my engagement, she should have had it on the ring finger of her left hand... Last night, we were both on the edge of losing it and not calm at all. Shannon accepted my engagement pretty courageously, but she might have regretted that as a rash action once she cooled her head. She might have taken the ring off. I wonder if she has the ring on now. I want to be sure of at least that much. I want to know how she felt... at the very end...
...I wonder what will happen to her body. After the autopsy, it will probably be immediately cremated. Then, I'll never be able to see her face, even her dead face, for all eternity...
"...Haha... has the shock of losing Shannon... made me go a little crazy...?"
I don't want... her body to be burned. If she's burned and turned to ash, never again will it be possible for her to revive.
They say cremation is frowned upon in Western tradition. Because on the day of resurrection, there would be no body to revive. Because of that, it seems that great criminals in Western history were often cremated after execution as a punishment, and their ashes were sometimes scattered in rivers and such... In other words, to Western people, death is nothing more than a sleep until the resurrection. It is essential that the corpse is left after death.
Now I understand. I understand why Grandfather idolized the Western occult. That was his only reason from the very beginning. Just to revive the person dear to him, Grandfather spent the rest of his remaining life researching the Western occult.
The situation surrounding us now is abnormal. Grandfather did revive his beloved Beatrice. And, that Beatrice has carried out a terrible serial murder, with linked closed rooms that force us to conclude that magic was used. The Golden Witch, Beatrice. The incarnation of the miracle of the Western occult. And also, the culprit who killed Shannon... She's an entity I should hate, and yet, for some reason, I want to cling to her.
I wonder... if Shannon could be revived with the magic of miracles, which Grandfather bet his life on...
...Then, if I also met with her, instead of gold, would she give me Shannon's life? As collateral, I don't care what sort of devil's contract she imposed. I wouldn't mind sacrificing all of my remaining life...
George probably couldn't believe or realize that his voiceless wish... was heard by the witch herself, who stood right behind him.
...Battler had told her that she didn't know the value of a human's life, and wanting to understand that in her own way, she had stealthily visited, listening in on their discussion.
"...That is your wish, you say...? If I could grant that, would I be accepted as a witch...?"
Beato looked at the palms of both of her hands. She had handed over most of her once-surging magical power when the new witch succeeded the name of the Endless Witch. Of course, her current power still made her worthy of being called a witch, but it could not begin to compare to her previous strength.
Inside her head, she thought about several magical steps she could take to revive the dead. Even magic that should have been easy in the past would be difficult with her current power. She thought of something, then clicked her tongue, then did so again, over and over.
In the end, she finally thought of a single spell. But that was a spell that she couldn't use by herself. It was a spell that witches with weak power used, one that relied on the aid of others. In the past, Beato had looked down upon that type of magic. Therefore, she frantically tried to search for any conceivable alternative, but in the end, she couldn't think of one and slumped over in self-derision.
Then, careful not to surprise him, she softly called out. Softly, to George's heart...
"...I can hear you. Who are you...? Are you really the witch, Beatrice...? Or are you an illusion created by my sorrow...? If it's the former, please hear my wish. And if it's the latter, just leave me alone..."
Their conversation in a mental world was a lot like having one in a dream. When you dream, haven't you ever had the experience... of casually accepting something that would've been absurd in the real world? The conversation in this world was like that. So even though a witch appeared and started talking to George, he was not surprised...
"Indeed. I am... the Golden Witch, Beatrice. Normally, you and I would not be able to talk together in this manner. However, you are strongly conscious of me and wish to have a discussion, so both of our channels are able to match like this."
"...I don't care if the person who killed Shannon was you... or someone else using your name. As long as you exist as a real witch..."
"...I'll pay whatever cost you ask for. If you desire my life, take it right now. Please, I want you to bring Shannon back to life... If that's impossible, I'd be satisfied if you'd just let me talk to her for a short while... Please..."
"...Really...? Really, you'll revive Shannon...?"
"Indeed. However, my current magical power is not sufficient to use the magic of resurrection. Therefore, I must rely on your help."
"...If there's anything I can do, I'll do it. Even if that means taking my heart out right here and now, I will not hesitate..."
"...I told you, I don't need anything like that. I will chant the magic. Then, a gap will open in the door to the Land of the Dead."
"...But as I am now, I do not have the power to bring Shannon's soul up through that gap. However, you have strong feelings for Shannon, and those feelings will surely become magic that can bring her soul out without fail. What do you say? Will you help me...?"
"...I will. If Shannon's life will be restored, there's nothing I'm afraid to lose...!"
George's fists shook in silence.
He had been absent-mindedly standing near the window in the hall that whole time, his mug still in his hand...
"Wh... What the... I-It isn't... a dream..."
"...Be quiet. I am very fragile now. If any more Humans appear, I will not be able to preserve this form. I shall grant your wish, so stay silent for now. Understand?"
George covered his mouth with both hands, nodding enthusiastically several times. In that instant, he almost dropped the mug he was holding. George frantically juggled it around and caught it. He was afraid that if it fell to the floor and made a loud sound, the witch's form might disappear like a bubble popping. He softly set the mug on the floor... and stared at the witch in front of him again.
...Her form didn't disappear. It wasn't a dream...
"Come, let us go to the parlor where Shannon sleeps. With the power of your feelings, we will bring back her soul."
"Y-You say go, but how...? My mother and the rest are downstairs. There's no way they'd let us go outside. And... didn't you just say that you wouldn't be able to preserve your form if another Human appeared?"
"...Come to think of it, that is true. So, Krauss and the rest are downstairs. In that case, we definitely cannot go down. Well then, we just need to go to the mansion without going down to the first floor, right? It's simple."
Beato laughed, as though she had thought of a pleasant prank. And with her golden pipe, she lightly tapped a window with its shutter closed. When she did, three gold butterflies appeared from the pipe and opened the lock on the window as though melting it. Then, the window opened without a sound. The shutter beyond it was exactly the same. The clasp unset itself, also without making a sound, and it quietly opened. The window opened, exposing the wind and rain outside the mansion.
Perhaps because of the direction or something related to the construction of the building, the wind did not blow inside. Because of that, for a while, George felt as though this entrance that opened to the outside was a dream or an illusion, and he couldn't accept it as real.
Beato gently floated upwards. It was a natural action, like that of a diver enjoying an underwater stroll. It made it easy to believe that if you acted like she did, you too might be able to float in the sky just as though you were swimming through the water... No, George did believe that. So without thinking, just as she had done, he also... gently, as though swimming in the water, lifted his feet...
"Hoh. Not bad. So, you learned how to dance in the sky faster than I could explain it."
George was shocked to find himself floating in midair like he was swimming. Of course, Beato was also shocked that George, who shouldn't have been able to use magic, had figured out how to do that just by instinct.
"...To be able to... fly in the air, to swim in the air..."
"...You mustn't be bound by reason. Accept it as a natural thing. You mustn't fall back to your Human doctrines, such as those of Newton and Einstein."
"Especially when flying high in the sky. Inexperienced witches sometimes plummet to the earth."
"...I-I accept things for what they appear to be... I-I accept things for what they appear to be..."
George repeated those words over and over. He must not deny magic, no matter what. Denying that would be like throwing away what might be his first and last chance to revive Shannon. However, compared to Beato, who was elegantly drifting like smoke, George's movements clearly resembled someone underwater. Therefore, if he didn't act like he was kicking his feet in water every once in a while, he'd be caught by the force of gravity bit by bit.
"I must say you're doing better than when I first danced through the sky. Here we go. Come with me."
When Beato beckoned to George, she gently flew into the stormy sky. It was just like a scene from a fairy tale. The scene unfolding before George's eyes felt entirely like an extension of his dream.
"What's this? Are the wind and rain tormenting you...? I could teach you magic to block against that, but it may be too early for you, and it may be a misuse of time right now."
"...Yes. The magic I need... isn't that."
George wore a strong-willed gaze, refusing to let the wind and rain get to him.
"The mansion is coming into sight. Hold out just a little longer. If you fall now, you'll hit the bushes in the rose garden."
The undulating rose garden was spread beneath the witch and George's gazes. This illusion-like scene no longer surprised George. Only the gradually approaching mansion was reflected in his eyes.
"Shannon, wait for me... I will definitely... revive you...!"
"...Now, all that's left is the seventh and eighth twilights. Just two more, and my obligation to that old hag Predecessor is finished. I'll kill Krauss and Natsuhi. Let them die together like the good couple they are."
"...In the lobby on the first floor of the guesthouse, two targets and Ushiromiya Eva identified. Measuring Anti-Magic Power Levels. Data Link to 410."
"410, Data Received. Anti-magic power levels are extremely low. If Eva just goes outside, they're tuna and abalone on a chopping board. Nihihihihi...!"
"What do you think, Great Lady Beatrice? When you give the order, we shall snipe right away...! Please, your orders...!"
"...You guys reeeally are convenient furniture. Not at all like that old, second-hand furniture that's only useful for gouging corpses. Right?"
"Chiester Sisters, please show me your skill once more. Prepare to fire! *giggle*giggle*giggle*giggle*giggle*! And carry out the corpses again, got it? 'Cause I'll play with them a lot."
"No complaints from you, right, Ronove?"
"...Correct. As you command."
"...Was that someone's presence just now? Did anyone feel it?"
"M-My apologies, I haven't noticed anything, so please forgive me...!!"
"We were in the middle of observing the guesthouse, so our peripheral surveillance was set to off. Nihi. What about you, Lucifer-chaaan? Did you feel any presence?"
For just an instant, Lucifer glanced at Ronove, asking whether she should answer honestly or not. Ronove gave a small nod in response.
"...I see. If a great demon like you says that, then it must've been my imagination."
The witch persistently stared in the direction the presence had disappeared to. That was where the rose garden lay. And beyond that, she could see the mansion's dark silhouette creating by lightning.