Part 96: The Witch's Courtroom II
...A single gold butterfly secretly watched that scene from the corner of the hallway. It was Beato, who had barely escaped with her life once before.
By now, her power was so weak that even maintaining this form was difficult for her. Right next to her, Ronove also appeared.
BGM: Melting Away
"...She has grown feelings of love for Kanon... I have toyed with them at times. However, such behavior was shameful for a witch."
"...Love is the single element. Romantic love is even more pure, more sacred. Though for some reason, you seem to despise it thoroughly, Milady."
"...Teacher told me. Magic exists to bring people happiness. That's something I myself must have been aware of in the past."
"...Ever since I forgot that, I stopped being a witch. And so, I lost the right to be Battler's opponent..."
"I know... Even if I do save her, she will become a plaything of the witch's banquet when the door to the Golden Land opens."
"...But even so, that death would be far more compassionate than what that person would do to her. The witch's banquet steals lives in a terrible way, but it does not do so more than once. It does not toy with life and death."
"...However, that person is different. She kills over and over. She kills for fun! There is not even a trace of compassion there. I want to at least save Jessica from that kind of cruel fate."
"...Certainly, by carrying that out, you would probably be praised as a good witch."
"...However, the new Beatrice-sama already views you as hostile, Milady. If you were to be seen by her again, you would not have any method of escape this time, correct?"
"...When I reunited George and Shannon, I finally understood what a witch is... and what magic is."
"...I am a witch. I must act as a witch. And I must be acknowledged as Battler's opponent, and make Battler accept me as a witch this time around."
"...The road to that goal may be long and difficult. However, if I do not take a step forward here and now, I won't be able to call myself a witch."
"I understand your feelings, but how do you plan to rescue her? There are not many forms of magic that your body is capable of now, Milady. Did you not have to borrow George's power even back when you revived Shannon?"
"...Right now, she is begging for Kanon to save her. If I can borrow the power of that emotion, my magic may be able to knock on the doors of the Land of the Dead once again."
"You may be able to knock. However, you would use up all of your magical energy. If you were to be spotted by the new Beatrice-sama, you would truly be without a method of escape."
"...I am no longer your butler, Milady. Understand that I cannot assist you if the situation worsens."
"...I know. By now, I have toyed with and taken more lives than I can count. So, I may not be able to make up for it... except by saving the same number of lives, bringing them through that door."
"...I have had nothing to lose in the first place. I am just a gold butterfly who has passed its name and magic power on, and who is no longer acknowledged as a witch."
"...What about Battler-sama? You are partway through a game with him. He has said that he would wait until you returned. Are you truly satisfied to end it here? You have a duty to return to the seat across from Battler-sama, Milady."
"For that very reason...! If there's a life that only I can save, I will save it. And I will be accepted as a witch. I must become a witch...! If this is training, it is a very childish thing, nothing that compares with the evils I have committed before now."
"...Vanish, Ronove. Watch what may be the final magic of a single butterfly who used to be called a witch...!"
"Go, my friend. If you can find enough ink, write down the story of my foolish life... and hand it over to some fool who is about to walk down the same path. So long, Ronove...!"
BGM: Soul of Soul
It seemed to Jessica as though she'd heard Kanon's voice just then. She looked around with unseeing eyes, but of course, she saw nothing. On the contrary, that action caused her head to hit the desk again.
"...Kanon-kun, Kanon-kun... Help me, help me..."
"...K-Kanon-kun...?! Y-You survived...?!"
This time, she thought she heard his voice clearly. Jessica jumped up in surprise, banging her head against the desk once again.
Jessica obeyed those words. She chased all idle thoughts from her head and relaxed her breathing. Of course, her heart felt like it was going to explode after hearing the voice of the one she'd liked and had thought was dead. She resisted the excitement with all her strength.
...When she did, she felt as though Kanon-kun really was right in front of her. Even though she shouldn't have been able to see him with her eyes, she was able to sense him clearly.
"Yeah... I can see. I can definitely see you, Kanon-kun..."
"...I exist only as as a soul now. So I cannot touch you, Milady. I cannot do anything except talk to you like this. With my current weak existence, I can do nothing more than that, but I should be able to be of some aid to you, Milady."
"...So, we can only talk...? I can't...touch you, Kanon-kun...?"
"I am now more fragile than smoke from a candle. So much so that if one of the living such as you were to touch me, I would be wiped away instantly. So please, don't try to touch me. Because I am also... holding back my desire...to touch you, Milady."
"More importantly, Milady, please listen well. The new Golden Witch has a cruel heart. She surely plans to make you meet with a horrible fate. You must escape from this room and hide."
"...H-How...? I can't...see anything...!"
"Quiet... I will be your eyes, Milady. Please move in accordance with my instructions. First, please crawl three steps from there, then stand up. You are now under the desk, Milady. If you stand there, you'll hit your head."
"...Th-That was under the desk...? Okay, 1, 2, 3... I'm gonna stand..."
"Ha, haha... This is pretty... embarrassing... Ah, ack, owowow..."
"Are you okay? Does your wound hurt...?"
"N-No, I'm fine... What next...?"
Jessica thought that if this was a dream, she didn't want to wake up. And, if she were allowed to, she would've wanted to take off the bandage covering her eyes and see him. However, if she did that, Kanon might vanish like frail candle smoke, just like he himself had said... She was afraid of that. So she satisfied herself with just listening to his words once more, repressing her desire to see him, to hold him.
Therefore, what hurt her eyes now were tears of gratitude. Tears of gratitude for the god... or maybe the witch... who had given her this miraculous moment.
"...I have erected a secrecy barrier. As long as we don't make any loud sounds or speak noisily, no one will notice us. That's why people can't tell when I'm around."
"...I-I don't really get it, but anyway, we'll be fine as long as we stay quiet, right...? Wh-What should I do next...?"
"Please walk 10 steps in that direction. You will touch the sofa. Please continue along that. Do it slowly. Stay calm. Believe in my words."
"...S-Sure. Heheh, it's weird... Even though it's so scary not being able to see, I'm not scared at all if you're with me, Kanon-kun..."
"...Yes, that is the sofa. Trace it to the left while advancing slowly... There is a table just to your left. Be careful not to bump into it with your shins..."
Even though she would have been killed in an instant if the terrible witch noticed her, there was no fear in Jessica's heart. She was being protected and guided by Kanon, someone she thought she'd never be reunited with.
...It would probably be just a momentary miracle. Even so, Jessica was deeply grateful for it. If she hoped for too much, she was sure that he would disappear, so she tried not to ruin this faint miracle. And, trying to engrave this moment into her heart for all eternity, she slowly, slowly... continued to walk, obeying Kanon's voice...
"...Okay, if you walk 10 more steps, you will exit the servant room. Then, please turn to face 9 o'clock, and keep walking very slowly. Put your hand on the wall to your right, and keep on following that. I will take you to a safe room."
Kanon didn't answer. But his lack of an answer was enough to tell her the truth.
"...Then, no way. ...I don't want to go..."
"If you stay here, you will be killed by the witch."
"I don't mind... If I'm killed, I can go to the world where you are, Kanon-kun..."
"...Milady, please listen to me. ...The human world is too bright and painful for the dead, like me... So I cannot stay for long."
"So Milady, please allow me to use what time I am allowed...to guide you to a safe place. Because after that, I will stay with you until my time runs out."
"...Is that...the very best you can manage, Kanon-kun...?"
"...Yes. In exchange, I will stay by your side as long as possible. I will stay with you... and talk with you, Milady."
"...What do you want to talk about...?"
"...I don't care what, as long as you're willing to tell me, Kanon-kun..."
"...The story of how that girl, after being reunited with that boy by a miracle from god, used that chance to finally muster up her courage."
"...I also... want to hear that. So, for that reason as well, let us go. To a safe place."
"...Yeah... If I could be with you, Kanon-kun, I would walk however far, however long it took... I don't need eyes anymore. If you tell me to step forward, I will take that step, even if it leads off a cliff."
"Thank you. Come, Milady. Let us go. The first 10 steps."
"No, I don't like it. I won't do it... unless you call me Jessica."
"...Understood... Well then, Jessica. Take the first 10 steps."
Very quietly, Jessica and Kanon slowly snuck out of the servant room. Just around the corner, the witch could be seen cruelly looking down at Nanjo's corpse, but she didn't even notice their presence.
...Kanon thought 'Oh no', grimacing and blocking Jessica with his back.
He played dumb, just as though he hadn't spotted Kanon in the first place. No, maybe he did appear to chuckle. From a finger on Ronove's hands, which were joined behind his back, a single small gold butterfly appeared, flying in front of Kanon as though guiding him. It went unnoticed by the master he served.
Kanon was surprised at the magic that butterfly held. Because it was far more powerful than the secrecy barrier Kanon possessed. He may not have known it, but that power of his had originally been Ronove's. Kanon's ability was an imitation of that, which Kinzo had made and given to him.
As that butterfly of secrecy magic scattered gold scales, it grew smaller bit by bit. It probably wouldn't last long. But without a doubt, even that would buy them enough time to get them far away from the cruel witch.
"Yeah. If I can be with you Kanon-kun, I'll keep on going, on and on..."
Led and protected by the small gold butterfly, the pair separated by the wall of life and death slowly walked away, towards the end of the corridor... There was no way that the evil witch could have had magic to notice their flight. Until they disappeared at the other end of the corridor, the witch didn't realize that Jessica had vanished...
Even though she would have been able to make it this far quickly if she had been able to see, as she was now, it had been a very long adventure.
"...Come, Milady. We've reached the parlor. I will now take you to the bundle of curtains by the window. If you hide in there, you'll surely be safe."
"Inside the curtains... Not bad. I used to hide in there a lot, long ago."
Kanon called out the witch's name. Jessica looked around in surprise, but she obviously couldn't spot the witch when she couldn't see...
"...I don't know what sort of whim led you to revive me, nor do I understand what you're thinking now."
"...Oh, it was nothing more than a whim. No, this is how witches should be. It took me a thousand years to realize that. That is how... foolish it is."
"Wh-Who is it?! Who's there...?!"
"...Milady, be quiet. She is the witch, Beatrice... I owe her, because she let me be with you one more time."
"...The witch, Beatrice..."
"...Forget about me. More importantly, you should quickly hide that girl in the shadows of the curtains. You probably do not have much time left. You may spend it having a final conversation with Jessica."
"...A secret meeting inside a bunch of curtains? How clever you two are. *cackle*cackle*..."
"U-Umm, thank you, Beatrice...!! Thank you for letting me be with Kanon-kun...!!"
Jessica didn't know where Beato was, so she said that while facing in the wrong direction. Perhaps because she found that funny, Beato snickered.
"I will now leave this room to the pair of lovers. Evil witches have no need for tales of love. Allow me to depart."
"...Beatrice-sama, thank you very much."
"Hmph, there is no need to thank me. You know that something like this cannot compensate for all of the evil I have done."
"I offer my gratitude to this good witch as a parting gift. I don't know what has happened before or what will happen later. However, at this very moment, you are without a doubt... a good witch."
"...You flatter me, furniture. The next time we meet, I may be an evil witch who doesn't betray your expectations. And with that, farewell."
And, mustering the last of her remaining magical power, she sealed the door.
The fact that those two had escaped into here would eventually be noticed. And now that the ninth twilight had been reached, no matter how much they struggled, their inescapable fate had already been decided. However, until that final moment, they should be given the chance to speak with each other of their love.
The witch poured out all of her magical power to protect their time together. So that no one would be able to defile their time alone until the last possible moment.
At that time, Beato noticed something. Her body had been detected by a magical searching technique. The evil witch's furniture had sniffed this place out.
"...So, boorishness is the witch's way of doing things after all... To think that she doesn't even intend to let those two young ones speak together of their love... *cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*!!"
BGM: Dance of the Moon Rabbits
"Go ahead and shoot. Oh, and avoid her vital areas. There's something I want to ask that old hag."
"410, Firing. Nihi!"
The Chiester Sisters' gold bow released a gold snake. It crawled down the corridor starting from the front of the servant room, aiming for the parlor as it drew a soft, snake-like curved line trajectory... and pierced Beato's chest.
Gold butterflies gathered, and the cruel witch appeared along with her furniture.
"...Ugh... uu... I didn't think they would be... Still, the Chiester Sisters really have gotten rusty. To think that they failed to bring me down. And twice, at that...!"
Ronove spoke in a manner befitting the witch's butler. As she pushed her pain aside, Beato grinned and spoke back.
"M-My apologies, Predecessor-sama...! We were ordered to avoid vital areas...!"
"As soon as we get the order, we can pierce you at any time. We can pierce a hole in your ears, a hole in your belly button, any hole you like. Nihi!"
The gold snake that had pierced Beatrice grew even longer, drawing a funnel-shaped helix and awaiting its next order. It was prepared to pierce a vital spot as soon as the evil witch told it to.
"...For what reason would someone like you, who is no less brutal than I, make them avoid my vital areas? New Beatrice...!!"
"Why is it that even though you could've escaped by hiding, you took the risk of appearing again? It can't be that you came back just to protect those two young people, riight?"
"...Well, who knows? *cackle*cackle*...!"
"And just a second ago. Why'd you do something as soft as reviving the lovers and reuniting them? The more I hear about you, the more I learn that I don't even reach up to your feet as an incarnation of evil. If you're like that, why did you suddenly start acting so mildly? That's what I wanted to ask."
"...*cackle*cackle*! I am brutal, therefore I am fickle. What purpose could questioning that possibly serve?"
"Chiester Sisters, sew her."
As the cruel witch had ordered, it drew a cross-stitch through Beato's chest. The gold thread made a squeaking sound and tormented Beato... Rather than a gold snake searching for its prey, it waited for orders like a sewing needle ready to sew Beato.
"If it's you we're talking about, there's no way it could've been a whim. I've heard about you. And I've learned. You're such an incarnation of evil that I don't even rise up to your feet. I thought I was truly a fitting successor to you."
"...But you've always been in the way. You always say warm, pleasant things that shock me. What changed you? You explored the depths of evil for one thousand years, and I let you live... because I wanted to know what happened to make you change so much."
BGM: Thanks for Being Born
Beato's chest was once again sewn with a golden cross-stitch. It tightened once again, squeezing fresh blood from Beato's chest. The intense pain it caused ran in conflict with its beauty to the eye.
"...You might be one of those things that disappear when they die and don't leave a corpse. So I'll kill you slowly."
"But if you answer my questions honestly, I'll let you die easy. I'll give you a splendid, gorgeous death, perfect for my Predecessor-sama. I'll sink you in a coffin filled with water and roses. Isn't that wonderful? And you still won't talk? About the reason for your change of heart?"
"Of course, you don't have to answer. After all, that way I get to torture you. Kuukuhihihihihihihihihihi!!"
"The Endless Magic truly is wonderful. When you think about it, this world is limited in every way. The endless cannot exist in the human world. Because gods are without limits, the human world is deprived of all limitlessness, so that they can be looked down upon."
"...So, in other words, this endless power is the power of the gods! A wonderful power where, the more you play with it, the more fun ways of playing you find! You used that power as you pleased for one thousand years and went on a rampage! Why are you having a change of heart only now? You aren't gonna say you regret handing it over to me, are you?"
"And this is what you realized...? Then what... is it?"
"*cackle*cackle*cackle*! Wander about for a thousand years without realizing, foolish witch."
"Sew. Three times this time."
"Gwoah, gyuooh, gu...!!!"
Beato's chest had been embroidered with the gold thread. It tightened even more, causing Beato more and more pain...
"...Well, that's fine. I'm no longer curious about what kind of revelations an old hag who refuses to die might've had. I'm bored now, so I'll just kill you. If I do, the barrier around the parlor will dissolve."
"...Then I'll torture Kanon and Jessica to death a whole bunch of times. Being able to have two lovers as my toys at the same time... sounds pretty fun, right? Kuhhihihhihhihihihhihihihihi!!"
Beato finally remembered the actual feeling of dying, which she had forgotten over the course of a thousand years...
But... she couldn't die. She must not die. If she died, it would mean handing over the two in the parlor to the cruel witch. So she definitely couldn't die. She resolutely... refused to die...!
"No waay. Isn't tearing apart two who love each other fun? You said it yourself. So I want to try it!"
"*cackle*cackle*... In that case, I mustn't allow you that pleasure... *cackle*cackle* Yes, it can be fun, tearing apart lovers."
"Really? I'm sure it is fun. So don't get in my way!! Sew more! Sew, sew, sew!!"
"Nihi! 410, Understoood!!"
The merciless gold sewing needle sewed the gold thread through Beato's heart over and over again. However, no matter how much it tightened, that heart did not stop...
"Nng, aaaaahhh, this isn't nearly enough... I won't die by something like this...!!"
"What are you doing? Make this old hag shut up. Kill her quickly!"
"...W-We're killing her...!! Even though we've sewn her heart in place several times, this person's heart... w-won't stop...!!"
"...Are you... immortal?"
"Of course not. I've handed the endless over to you. My heart will not beat many more times."
"Sew!! Keep sewing until her heart stops moving!!"
"Guuh, guooooh, gwaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhh!!"
"...Wh-Why doesn't she die?! It's impossible...!!"
"Why... isn't her heart stopping... even though it's been sewn in place?!"
"Who cares, we'll make the heart explode from the inside nyeh...! How pitiful, and you could've died cleanly if you hadn't resisted us!!"
As they said that, even though the gold needle and thread made round trips over and over again, Beato still didn't die... The cruel witch eventually grew pale at how bizarre that was.
"...*cackle*cackle*cackle* You probably cannot understand. Even I didn't understand. And yet, somehow or another, it seems that this is true magic. In other words, I have now... become it. I have become... a true witch!!"
There was a terrible sound...and gold leaf was scattered around the area, along with a cloud of gold butterflies. Beato's chest had opened wide from the inside, and from that, gold butterflies and gold leaf poured out, staining the surrounding area gold...
Then, Beato's flesh crumpled. Like a puppet whose strings had been cut, she crouched down...and crumpled.
When the Chiester Sisters saw that, they fell on their butts in shock. Somehow, even though Beato had become nothing more than a heart, it still kept beating, continuing to protect the barrier to the parlor. It was an immeasurably vast magical power. Impossible to measure. In other words, endless.
"Chiester Sisters!! Smash that heart!! Quickly!!"
"I-It's impossible, my apologies! We can't do it!!"
"...Indeed, it probably will be impossible. No number of people could crush that heart. And certainly not the soldiers who serve under His Highness the Dragon King."
"In that case, an Endless Witch like me should be able to crush it, right? My power is that of a god!!"
"...Just what... do you mean by that...?"
"Just as there can be no light without knowledge of shadows, there can be no infinite without knowledge of the finite. Before Milady Beatrice's true endless power, your frail magic is quite, quite lacking."
"What is... that... aah-"
The cruel witch was surprised and stepped back. It was thinner than a lace curtain... no, Beatrice's form was still standing there. Even after being laid bare so tragically like this, she refused to let evil through that door. At that time, a shadow just as thin as Beatrice stood behind her. It was Kanon.
"...Hmph. I'll hear those words of yours once the number of my blessings has surpassed the number of grievances I have caused. Was that long enough?"
"Yes. Truly, thank you very much. And Beatrice-sama... you have also done enough. Please, be at peace..."
"...Is that so? Is this... enough...? Ha, *cackle*cackle*cackle*..."
"What's going on...? ...Why are you guys calling that old hag Beatrice?!"
"Beatrice is my name, right?! It's got to be, since I'm the new Golden Witch and Endless Witch, right?!"
"...How rude. How dare you claim Beatrice-sama's name."
"I am afraid to say... that the name of Beatrice-sama belongs to the one crowned as the Endless Witch. Right now, you are the Predecessor. Pukkukukukuku."
"What... did you say...?"
"...Farewell, Kanon. I'm sure I'll see you soon enough. In a new nightmare."
"...In the nightmare of a new night, I will once again be your companion, Beatrice-sama... With that, if you would excuse me..."
Kanon's form grew faint, and he disappeared into thin air.
Then, there was a *splat*. The golden heart that had been floating in midair... lost its sparkle, became bloodstained flesh, and fell to the ground. How frail it was. It was ragged and full of holes. But until a moment ago, it had sparkled so much, had continued to beat so forcefully.
That heart still just barely managed to beat. However, it was only a matter of time before it stopped. Beatrice, whose form had become fragile and faint like incense smoke, lay on the floor, steadily watching her own heart... There, the cruel witch could be seen...
"How can there be a finite infinity? That's a contradiction, it couldn't exist! This is the limit of your magic! The endless is better than the finite!!"
Beatrice no longer even had the will to respond. No, on the contrary, it was doubtful that the words of the cruel witch even reached her ears...
"If you're a real Endless Witch, try standing up!! How's it going? You can't stand, can you?!"
"Why do you think you can't stand?! It's because you aren't the Endless Witch!!"
The cruel witch poked Beatrice's heart with her fingernail. Beatrice had no words with which to respond to that provocation. However, instead of words, she returned a single expression. It felt humiliating only to the cruel witch.
There was no way she had misheard it. That rough squeaking of heels was the sound of Battler's footsteps...
"...Battler, is it...? Ha, *cackle*cackle*cackle*... After talking so tough, I ended up like this..."
"...I've been trying to become... the true witch you talked about... in my own way..."
"...Yeah. I was watching."
"...Hey, have I... been able to become... a witch...? Have I earned... the right to become your opponent...?"
Battler said it unbelievably bluntly. As Beatrice breathed painfully, she saw this and sneered at herself, as though she should have expected it.
"...Ha, *cackle*... I see. Yes, the road to becoming a true witch will be much, much longer than this..."
"...However, I will not surrender... Just like you never surrendered to my torture, I will definitely... become a true witch... and be... accepted as your opponent..."
"Yeah, it's no good. It's no goddamn good at all. You aren't my opponent."
"Die, you old hag!! Let's see how endless you are when you've been crushed to a pulp!! I'm the witch! I am the Golden Witch, Beatrice!!! Diiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiieee!!"