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Episode 5. End of the Golden Witch

"You idiot!!  Isn't it obvious?!!  It'll be fun to kill her and see the pained look on your face, why else?!!  Kuhyahahahahahahaha!!"

"Look, look, don't turn your eyes away, look at it.  Look look, look look!  It's magic, it's furniture, no matter how much you try to deny me and magic, look look, look look look look!  Gyahhahhahahaha!!"

"......Sorry, Battleer.  It was pretty interesting.  ...Still, I was just trying to do what Teacher told me, but it really did work very well!  No matter what, after acting bad-tempered and exploring the depths of cruelty, by acting properly incompetent and soft, you get a massive rise on that goodwill meter thing, ri-ght?  Kyahahahahahaah!!"
That lonely tone was the sound of the desolate wind blowing by.

The color of the glittering flower petals on the rose bushes was...that of gold.
The group of gold butterflies which had once danced through this golden rose garden like fluttering rose petals...could no longer be seen anywhere...
The master of the Golden Land is the Golden Witch, Beatrice.

She could be called inhumane and cruel.  Arrogant and outrageous.  And also, naive and simple.
That laugh of hers, which lost its grace more and more the longer it continued, ......could no longer be heard.
The Golden Witch Beatrice...sat like a doll, resting in a deck chair adorned as beautifully as the golden rose garden.
......She wasn't relaxing there.
Her eyes were empty.

She didn't respond to any questions.
Even so, she was not permitted to sleep.

Beatrice sat like a doll......
Her hair was down, and Virgilia was carefully fixing it up with a comb.

If she had been complaining about this and that regarding her hairstyle, then it would have been clear that she was the usual Beato.
......However, she made no response, and showed no reaction.

So instead, it only looked like Virgilia was combing the golden hair of a large doll...
Alongside them, there was a table.
On it was a chessboard...along with a mix of black and white pieces in an all-out battle.

However, something about this setup looked different from normal chess.
...It might have been a game similar to chess but not identical.
And on the other side, ......sitting back in his chair as he contemplated his next move, was a young man.
...No, perhaps he wasn't thinking of his next move.

Every once in a while, he would change the positions of the pieces, reconsidering the situation each time he changed it.

Maybe he was reconstructing previous arrangements, trying to discover the thought process behind those moves.
In the past...
Kinzo, the Ushiromiya family head, once likened learning chessboard arrangements to taking a journey through the thoughts of the old masters.
Ushiromiya Battler...was on a journey.

――A journey in search of the Golden Witch's thought process...which had led her to create this arrangement and make these moves.
Battler took a black piece which should have been moved forward...and returned it to its original place, sighing deeply.
Battler's pieces were white.
However, on that chessboard, Battler's side was the black encampment.

He was reconstructing that arrangement, trying to play Beato's side...
"......The more I do this, the less I understand your moves."
Even Battler...didn't expect that Beato would respond to that statement.

No, ......thinking that there might still be a chance of her responding, ...he had spoken that as though talking to himself.
Beato's eyes, ......reflected nothing.
And her mouth told nothing.
"........................"
After begging him to kill her, ...the Golden Witch had become a corpse which had given up on living.
She wasn't sleeping.

......She could not step down from this game and was therefore forbidden sleep.
So she must have heard.

However, ......the words probably hadn't reached her heart.
Right now, the Golden Witch would not sneer at Battler's moves, nor would she praise them or belittle them.

Beatrice was no longer......anything more than a living doll.
Even so, she would glance at him every once in a while.  It would be an empty glance, but a glance nonetheless.

Sometimes, she would seem to make some sort of gesture or even move her lips.
However, her movements were never able to communicate anything to Battler......

"How did you decide on this move in this situation?  ......I don't get it at all.  I don't understand your moves."

"....................."

"......Beato.  Battler-kun is talking to you..."

"....................."

"...Say something.  Try giggling or guffawing.  ......I don't even care if you use that shrill laugh of yours."
......Can it be believed...?

That shrill laugh of Beato's...will never be heard again.
However, even if she couldn't answer, his voice surely reached her.

......Battler had spoken because he believed this.

So he said the same thing one more time...
"How did you decide on this move in this situation?  I don't get it at all.  I don't understand your moves."

"..................So, you don't understand what this child is thinking?"

Virgilia answered in her disciple's stead.
Up to this point, she had done her best to avoid speaking for Beato.

After all, there was a chance that Beato would respond in some way, and Virgilia didn't want to be the one to steal that chance away.
......So, Battler would have to bear with this silence......until Beato herself answered.
Virgilia could no longer bear to watch Battler like this...

Furthermore, Battler wanted to have a conversation with Virgilia.

They believed that this would reach Beato's heart......
"Yep.  I don't have a clue.  ......The more I try standing in Beato's shoes and moving the pieces like this, the less I understand."
A serial murder following an epitaph.

With that as a victory condition, I tried reconstructing the arrangement from the perspective of the witch's side, ......but I just couldn't make it fit with Beato's moves.
In past arrangements, I could see several incomprehensible moves that clearly conflicted with that victory condition...
"......I don't get it at all.  This journey through her thinking process is just too rugged."

"Even so, you won't give up, will you."
"Yeah.  .........I promised."

Kill...me.  ......Let me die......

"I promised to let her die peacefully.  ......And I'm the only one who can do that."
...Beato's right ankle was bound with a heavy, cold, steel shackle.

It wasn't tied to anything, so it didn't restrict her movement.
However, it symbolized restriction.

It was a visualization of the restriction that prevented her from leaving the game without either victory or loss...
And, the shackle was probably...hurting her.

The mercilessly cold shackle tormented her over and over inside her waking dream.
"............Ghh......, ......ah..."

So no relief appeared in her empty expression.
Her eyelids would sometimes tremble like she was having a bad dream, ...and every once in a while, she would let out a pained gasp.
Unless I win, ......Beato will never be released from the curse that prevents her from sleeping peacefully...

"...Are you not in a hurry?  It seems that the 5th game has already started."
"..................I'm not interested."

Why should I take part in any game without Beato as an opponent...?

If that's the only alternative, then reconstructing previous arrangements while taking a journey in search of Beato's thought process is a much better use of my time......
"I'll be the next Game Master.  Any objections?  You've got none, right?"
"......I have tons of them.  Beato conceded the fight and is unconscious.  Isn't this loss by default and 'game over' for her...?"

"I'll admit that a lot's happened to Beato, and it feels like she's been knocked out right now.  But that doesn't mean she's lost the will to fight.  That's why I'm acting as her assistant.  Get it?"
Beato was lying down on the deck chair, almost as though she was sleeping.
However, she wasn't sleeping, ......and she wasn't awake either.

She was nothing more than a living doll that had given up on victory, who had asked Battler to perform her last rites, and who had surrendered everything...
Of course, if everyone just sat around, the next game...the 5th game would not be prepared.

So, Lambdadelta had succeeded Beato as the next Game Master and proclaimed that she would prepare the next game.
"Quit messing around.  This game is between me and Beato.  I don't know who you two are, but I'm not gonna just let you carry on without us."

"No one asked your opinion.  What'll you do, Bern?  Accept it?  Or not?"
"........................Sure.  Go and succeed her position."
"What the hell...quit messing around.   I don't know who you two are, but I'm not gonna let you ignore Beato and me and just carry on by yourselves!"

"Calm down.  Of course, when the player changes, then so will the moves.  There might be a lot of things that are confusing to you, but even those might become some big hints, get it?"

"Who cares?!!  Quit saying whatever you want and deciding everything on your own!!"

".........Beato's game has repeated four times, and you still don't understand anything, right?  In that case, I think that changing the player might lead to some huge hints."

"That's none of your business!  This is our game!  Beato prepared it, and she designated me to be her opponent in it.  I don't know what hole you two crept out of, but I don't want you screwing things up!"

".........In that case, wake Beato up and make her get the next game ready.  Can you...?"

"B, ...Beato won't be getting up for a while.  But there's no need for a new game.  Just the four games that she has already laid out are more than enough!"

"Even if there is to be a 5th game, it just needs to be something that Beato lays out and I challenge.  You two have absolutely nothing to do with this!"
Battler couldn't hide his irritation at these two witches called Lambdadelta and Bernkastel, who had shown up after the game's start and who had started to try and continue it on their own...
It looked like these witches were of an even higher rank than Beato, so high, in fact, that even Beato's teacher Virgilia couldn't even come close.
Battler had the feeling that he'd seen these two several times before.

However, this was the first time he had known their names and spoken to them directly.
"You can't get the next game ready without waking Beato.  That's why I'll prepare the next game!"
"We aren't so patient that we're willing to wait however long we have to for Beato to regain consciousness.  Right, Bern?"

"............I don't like boredom.  It really ticks me off."

"We really don't care whether you get bored or not."
"Come on now.  Leave everything to this <perfect> Lambdadelta-sama, okay?  I'll take over as the Game Master.  DON'T WORRY, I won't play with too much 'certain perfection'.

Just like Beato・・・・・・, I'll prepare plenty of incomprehensible fakes, clues, and bonus hints.  I'll give you some big hints to help you understand Beato's world even more, okay?"
Letting my voiceless emotions explode, ...I slammed the table hard.
The two witches didn't flinch at all.

......One grinned.
The other looked indifferent, as though nothing had happened.

The two of them just stared at me silently.  ...As though they were reproaching me.
"What's this?  Not satisfied?  Are you saying you'll step down from my 5th game?  Isn't that loss by default?"

".........Battler won't step down.  Of course he'll participate in the 5th game."
"Don't just decide that yourself!!  I'm not gonna play along with you two.  I don't give a shit!"
"Hmmm.........Then it really is loss by default, right...?  The witch side wins this game.  Is it really alright to end this with the humans surrendering...?"

".........If you step down, then the game will end with your loss by default, get it?  .........If you want to make certain that your lonely sister will always meet with miserable circumstances in an endless number of worlds, that option is indeed open to you."

When Bernkastel mentioned Ange, .........Battler's expression changed instantly.

"Y, ......you bastard, don't talk about Ange so casually......"

".........Because you have me, the Witch of Miracles Bernkastel, as your ally, ...there exists the possibility of a miracle in which Ange's family might come home to her.  Well, even if you throw that chance away yourself and guarantee that Ange's endless futures will all end in sorrow, that might be pretty interesting too."

I vaguely understood what she was saying.

Until I win in Beato's game, I'll remain trapped in this bizarre world.

And if I abandon that victory, ......then most certainly, my parents and I will never return to Ange.

For Ange's sake, ...even though I know that the witches are toying with me, I must keep on fighting...
"Nn, ...d, .........damn......"
".........What's wrong?  You look unsatisfied.  Did you already forget the anger you felt when your sister was turned into mincemeat......?  That spectacle where she was torn to bits, ripped to pieces by countless red-hot pliers.  Make sure you watch closely this time, okay......?"
Bernkastel pointed the palm of her right hand upwards.

...As she did, a pale light gathered there, ......and some kind of blue-glowing crystal appeared there.
......A scene was reflected on its sharp surface, ...but it wasn't the scene that surrounded them now.
If you looked deep into that crystal, ......that Fragment, then you would probably learn what was reflected on there.
If you stared at it, then you could surely see that scene where Ange.........gave up everything after 12 years of her life to finally reach her beloved brother, ......only to have her entire body torn to bits while she was still alive.  A scene of her death throes.

"D, ......damn...you........."
Without thinking, he grabbed at her collar, but as soon as he touched that which made up her form, it disappeared like foam on the waves.
And then, as naturally as though she had been there from the beginning, Bernkastel was leaning against a distant wall.
".........If you step down from the game, this will become not just a Fragment, but a definite reality.  I won't be the one to create that future.  You'll do it yourself.  ......So decide, alright?  Figure out what you want to do with your beloved little sister's future."
Battler's fists shook with anger, ......but even if he swung them down, he wouldn't be able to hit Bernkastel.

This witch wouldn't even let someone pet her if she didn't wish for it, like a cat or a phantom.
And, ...she was telling the truth.

For Ange's sake, I can't step down from this fight.

Even if these unpleasant witches hijack the game board.
"Ehheheheheh.  That's just like you, Be~rn.  You're even heartless when you threaten people.  ...That's how it is, Battleer.  You aren't allowed to step down from the game board.  You and Beato are nothing more than pieces on the game board that exist to distract us from our boredom.  ...Even your incomprehensible anger and irritation make for a wonderful treat to sate our boredom."

"Well, this level of anger only makes for a cheap snack."
".........Like those curry-flavored potato wafers that sell at 30 yen for a pair."

""*giggle*giggle*, ahhahahahahahaha...!!""
"Y, you damn......witches......"

".........*giggle*.  Fight for Ange's sake, okay?  And for Beato's too, right...?"

In a way that was admonishing, ...or perhaps babying, ......and similar to the way something too sweet sometimes gives you a headache, Bernkastel tormented Battler and smiled.

At this point in time, the host of this tea party, Beato, was absent.

......The guest witches were already making themselves at home.

"...What'll you do, Ushiromiya Battleer?  Will you surrender to fate...?"
".................."
"Just step down.  You've had enough of being toyed with as a witch's piece, right?  Eheheheheh, it sure is tough being one of Bern's pieces.  I'm sure she'll use you and throw you away just like she did with Ange.  Geheheheheh!"

"I'm not giving you the option of stepping down.  ......Keep fighting for the sake of your sister's future.  I'm your ally.  Until you win, I'll support you so that you can reach that future...for all eternity, until I get bored.  ......*giggle*giggle*."
I can't let her provocation and cajolery rile me up......

These witches know I get mad easily, and they're trying to take advantage of that...
...Battler withstood it all, ......and finally relaxed his clenched fists.
".........If you want to start this 5th game of yours, ...then just do it.  Do whatever you want."

"Yes, I will do whatever I want.  ......Hey, where are you goi~ng?"

Even though Battler acknowledged this 5th game, he turned his back on them, which surprised Lambdadelta a bit.
"If you're going to be Beato's substitute, ......then I'm sure that Bernkastel witch over there can be mine if she wants."

".........Not a bad idea.  Otherwise, this'll turn into a loss by default."
"What the heck?!  Are you gonna just ignore this Episode 5 that I put so much effort into making?!  Rude, ruuude!"

"......Battler says he's going to take a break for a while.  Until he comes back, I'll be the substitute player.  How's that sound...?  Battler...?"
".........You do that."
"............"

"......What's wrong, Lambda?  So, you'll refuse to play if it's against me instead of that fool Battler...?"

"Ehheheheheh!!  Of course not♪  I'm glad I get to play with you, Be~rn!  Come on, let's play, let's play!  Let's play together in Lambdadelta-sama's super <hyper> and <cute> Episode 5~!"

".........Well, this really is a world that Beato created.  You aren't going to ruin the atmosphere of the story, are you...?"

"Don't worry about that.  I'm really good at reading between the lines for that sort of stuff.  I made sure to use a Beato-ish atmosphere to make an even more interesting tale."

"Battler, make sure you come back as soon as your break's over, okay?  It'd be a shame to miss this.  I've prepared plenty of bonus hints that'll get him closer to Beato's secre~t♪"

"...Is what it'll look like but I'll actually fill it with misdirection and make things more and more confusi~ng.  Wait, hey, Battleer!  Why aren't you listening when a witch is talking?!"
Without answering, Battler disappeared into the darkness.

After shrugging and cackling, the witches immediately started playing with the game board they had stolen from Beato......
"Can those witches really understand Beato's game?"

"...Since they're using the same game board, they cannot do anything that this child cannot do.  However, they can do things that this child wouldn't do."
"...............What do you mean, things she wouldn't do?"
"The materials of chess exist so that you can play chess.  You 'cannot' use them to play cards.  However, things such as throwing the chess pieces at your opponent and scribbling on the board...doing such things is not impossible.  However, that would be blasphemy against the game of chess, so people 'don't do that'."
"....................."
That definitely, ......wouldn't be chess anymore.

It looked like Beato's eyes clouded very slightly with sadness.
".........Damn them.  .........This game is between me and Beato.  ...I won't let anyone else profane it."

At that time, gold butterflies gathered and Ronove, holding a tea set with black tea, appeared.

"Would you like some more tea?"
".........If you wouldn't mind."

"Certainly.  ......So, how has this journey of yours in search of Milady's thoughts been?"
"I don't have a clue, but I'm enjoying it."

"However, ......is this really alright?  Is it alright for you to relax here?"
"......You mean that game those witches just started all by themselves?"

"Yes.  Just now, when I went to serve them some tea, the murders of the first twilight had already taken place, and it seemed as though the next murder would occur shortly."
When Beato and I were playing, the game would be paused whenever someone left their seats.

......However, those witches wouldn't pause that game just because I wasn't around...
"............Ronove, did you see their game?"
"Just a part of it."
"How was it?"
Ronove lifted the pot high with an elegant gesture as he poured the black tea.

After finishing that, he finally said one thing.  He let us hear his impression of it.
"It did not...have love."
"......What do you mean, love?"

"My apologies.  That's how it would be put if a woman were to say it.  ......As a man, ......perhaps one could say it was dishonorable."
I understood what those words meant.

When I met Virgilia's eyes, she shook her head slightly and stared at the floor...
".........At a glance, I believe it resembles Milady's games greatly.  However, the foundation is very different."
"Does it go against the rules of Beato's game?"
"No, it does not.  Lambdadelta-sama actually does understand the rules of Milady's game quite well.  ......However..."
".................."
Battler stood up.

There was no need to make Ronove say any more.

"Battler-kun......"
"......Sorry, Ronove.  I know you went to all the trouble of pouring this for me, but tea isn't what I need."

"So, you will go after all?"
"Yeah.  ......We don't need any outsiders in our game."

...These guys weren't even here in the beginning.

Because I've been loafing about, crazier and crazier witches have been introduced, ......and now they've hijacked this game between me and Beatrice.

"I've got to take it back.  ......Now, I'm supposed to be the one taking care of Beato's game board.  ...That means I shouldn't just sit around here."

"......Thank you.  I wanted to let this child hear those words."
"I'm sure she hears them.  ......Milady is simply unable to answer."
Beato lay there silently, like a living doll with dull eyes...

The game board that she had created herself had been hijacked by incomprehensible people and was being turned into a mess...
If I was designated to be her opponent...
...Then Beato must have created this game for me.

I've......got to take it back.

"......Wait here.  I'll go and take it back."

"....................."

Of course, Beato didn't respond in any way.

......That's right.
If she can't respond, ...then I have to protect it in her place.

"I'll be right back.  ......Virgilia, Ronove.  ...I'm counting on you two to look after this golden sleeping princess."
"Yes.  Leave it to us."
"......See you later, Battler-kun.  And please, ......in the game without this child, try to find some part of her.  If you can, ......then even if this child is absent, it will mean that you have fought with her."

".........You're right.  ...Aaah, ......it's all useless.  What am I doing?"

Let's go.  ...And let's take it back.
"Sorry to keep you waiting, witches!!  My break is over!!"
When he faced the jet-black heavens and yelled this, the whole world shattered, as though it were made out of thin glass.
Then, ......as though it had been that way since the beginning, .........it transformed into that smoking room where Battler had fought Beato so many times, ...and which the two witches had now hijacked.
"What do you think you're doing?  You're only coming back now?  It's way too late!  Not only has the game reached the second day, it's already at the finale, get i~t?!"
".........You never showed up, so I just advanced things on my own."

Yeah, like you ever even waited for me in the first place...

"Bern was waaay more skillful and thrilling than you were.  Right?!"
"Shut up.  I'm the player.  You substitute witches can just take a step back now."

".........Well, I don't really mind if you join in starting now, but there's probably no need for you anymore."
"Seriously.  After all, we're already at the climax!  After this, Bern will probably corner me and win."

"What the hell.........?!"
".........Nothing wrong with that, is there?  Why don't we let him watch the final endgame?"

"Of course.  Come on over, Ushiromiya Battler.  It's almost completely over, but here's the <cute> and <elegant> game I made!


Episode 5.

End of the golden witch!
Right now, no humans exist on this island except for those in this parlor.

And, with one exception, it has been shown that none of them have committed murder.

And, the culprit is among these people.

"......Whoa, whoa.  ...In that case, ...it's conclusive, isn't it...?"
"Unless the culprit is a witch who committed murder with magic, that is..."

"............It was you?!  You killed George, killed my husband?!  Why?!!  Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy?!!"
"I, ...I didn't kill anyone...!  I, I, d, didn't do...!!"

"....................."

In a panic, and with a voice that really couldn't be called flowing, ......in a manner that was, to put it coldly, unsightly...Natsuhi oba-san denied the suspicion placed upon her...
However, ......there was no longer any way around it...

She・・ stood up, ...brushed back her long hair, pointed at Natsuhi oba-san and said it one more time.
"......You're the culprit.  Ushiromiya Natsuhi-san."
"It's Natsuhi, please open up...!!"
As she knocked loudly and repeatedly, Natsuhi yelled.
Shortly after, there was a heavy clunking sound, and the sound of the door to Kinzo's study unlocking could be heard.
As the door opened, a heavily sweet, venomous odor flowed out.

Natsuhi was always ashamed of how she automatically grimaced at that, even though she thought it rude to the family head...

Krauss was waiting for her inside the study.
Natsuhi flew into his arms.

"......I, is Father..., ......is Father........."

"Calm yourself.  ......Doctor Nanjo is examining him now..."

With an uncertain gait, Natsuhi went towards the center of the study, supported by Krauss.
There, a dignified bed fitting for the Ushiromiya family head could be seen, along with Nanjo, Genji, and Kumasawa...

"Doctor Nanjo...  I, ...is Father......"

After sighing deeply, Nanjo left the side of the bed.
On the bed, Kinzo could be seen lying down, sleeping......
".........He died peacefully.  ...I don't think Kinzo-san had any regrets."
"Ah, ...waaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh...  Father..., Fatheeeeeeeeer...!!"

...Natsuhi fell against the chest of Kinzo, the man who had fallen into a sleep from which he would never awaken, and sobbed.

"M, ......Madam, ...please, stay strong..."
"Father, Father......!!  This is, ...just too sudden......  Aaaaaaaahhhhhhh!!!"
"..............."

Natsuhi couldn't stop her tears over the death of Kinzo, whom she had loved like a second father.
Kumasawa rubbed Natsuhi's back, consoling her......
Krauss slumped into his late father's favorite chair.
By sitting there, he might have been immersed in memories of his departed father.

Or perhaps he thought that by sitting there, he might be able to understand just a bit of the madness of Kinzo's later years, which he had never been able to understand before...
And Nanjo too, just like the times when Kinzo used to sit in that chair, contemplating a chess move......turned his back and looked down over the outside world through a crack in the curtains...

"...If he was to die anyway, it would have been better if he was sick in bed for a year or so before dying.  I do wish he could have died after a grace period during which the proper arrangements could have been made."

"It's the other way around.  ......We should be glad that he was in high spirits until the very end."
"At least that's true as far as public appearances are concerned..."

Nanjo understood that as well.
Ushiromiya Kinzo, who had risen like a comet in the business world after the war and glittered like a supernova, had died.
His funeral would probably be of a fantastic scale.
And it would also be the ceremony marking Krauss's inheritance of the headship.
He would have to arrange everything as the host of the event, carry out funeral diplomacy perfectly, and make it clear that the Ushiromiya family still had an enormous influence in the political and financial spheres.

As Nanjo watched Krauss, he was vividly reminded of the time when Kinzo had been suddenly selected as the Ushiromiya family head, the time in which Kinzo had been lost and confused.
In this way, he was able to understand Krauss's distress and sympathize with it...
Natsuhi's sobs eventually subsided.

Watching this and leaving Kumasawa to care for Natsuhi as a fellow woman, Genji returned.

And, as though asking what should be done, Genji lowered his head slightly.

"......Genji-san and I will deal with the formalities.  Krauss-san, perhaps you should contact the relatives first."
".................."

Krauss, with his hands still over his eyes, didn't respond...

Perhaps even though he had known this day would come, Krauss really couldn't hide his shock at how suddenly it had reached them.

"......Leave this to Doctor Nanjo and me.  Krauss-sama, I suggest that you first speak with Madam."
Maybe she heard that, or maybe it was a coincidence.
As though responding to Genji's words, Natsuhi came over.

Her eyes were red from crying so much, but she apparently understood the heavy responsibility that had been imposed on them even better than Krauss did.
"Starting now, you are the head of the glorious Ushiromiya family.  Let us show everyone, inside and out, that you have splendidly succeeded your Father.  ......As your wife, I, Natsuhi, am prepared to serve you until the day our coffins are laid down alongside each other!"
".................."
Trying to encourage her husband, who was overcome with shock, Natsuhi lent him some reassuring words.

When Krauss finally lowered the hands that had been covering his face, ...he looked up at the ceiling with a blank expression and let out a deep, deep sigh...
"......Please, stay strong.  There are a great many people who will plan to devour everything Father has left behind.  We must fight to protect Kinzo's honor and wealth.  That is the first responsibility of the Ushiromiya head."

"...I understand.  I do understand."

"Doctor Nanjo, Genji, please take care of the legal and funeral arrangements.  Especially you, Genji.  I ask that you take particular care and see to it that the funeral will be a fitting one for Father."
"......Certainly."

"And Doctor Nanjo.  Father didn't pass away in a hospital, ......so..."
"Hmm.  An autopsy might be required depending on the circumstances......"

"Can't you do something about that...?  Even though he has passed away, Father's body is precious.  Any damage to it would not be acceptable..."

"I understand how you feel.  ...However, it is also important that an autopsy be carried out with precision.  And, umm, ......I don't really know how to say this.  Several of the relatives might be difficult, correct...?"

......Who knows where those vultures after the inheritance would try to place blame.

They might start an uproar over some suspicious point regarding the cause of death and use that as a point of contention to start some trouble.

Right now, not only was it important to pay Kinzo's remains the respect they were due, but they also had to focus on solidifying the position of the new family head, Krauss...

"......Understood.  Please keep it to an absolute minimum.  Make sure that Father's dignity is not damaged, even by mistake."

"That will be fine.  Do not worry.  ......In any event, leave Kinzo-san to us and stay by Krauss-san's side.  ...Things will start to get quite difficult from here on out."

"I understand.  ......And you too, dear...please stay strong."
".................."

Krauss was still staring lazily at the ceiling with a befuddled expression on his face...

She understood the shock and heavy responsibility.
Natsuhi understood her husband's feelings as much as anyone.
"......I will contact the relatives.  Please rest for the time being."
"............"
Krauss didn't respond.

...Natsuhi had thought him to be just a bit unreliable at the moment, and so had decided that she must support him.

Seeing her husband like this actually stirred Natsuhi up, and a resolute expression rose to her face.
"Things will get busy from now on.  Let's start whatever we can right now.  .........I'm sure my husband wants to have some time alone with Father.  We should step out for a moment."

"......Good point...  After all, this will probably be the last time he gets that chance."

Being in charge of a funeral is tiring work.  There's no time to shed tears.

If Krauss were ever to be given time to cry for his dead father, that time would have to be now.
Everyone agreed with Kumasawa's words.

Even so, Krauss continued to lazily gaze up at the ceiling and didn't respond in any way.

Natsuhi urged the servants to go.
"I'll go talk to Jessica too.  ......That child is now the successor to the head.  I'll make sure to tell her to be fully prepared."
"Wait."
As they each started to make their way out of the study, Krauss finally spoke.
They stopped walking.

"Yes?"
"......Wait."
".........Yes??"

Hadn't she already stopped walking, just like her husband had asked?
But despite that, he had once again told her to wait.

From those slightly weak words, Natsuhi understood that he had probably stopped her because he wanted her to be by his side.

"The rest of you, downstairs.  I will stay with my husband.  Please call us on the phone if anything happens."
"......Certainly."
"I thought I told you to wait!!"
When Krauss suddenly raised his voice, everyone jumped and turned around...

Unable to comprehend what she had done to spark her husband's wrath, Natsuhi ran up to him.

"What's wrong, dear...  Have I said something rude...?  If so, please forgive me."
"No, no, that's not it, that's not it...  Wait a second, give me some time."

"Yes, I understand.  It's important to sort things out inside your heart.  ...We were just going to leave this place in silence to give you some time, okay...?"

"And I'm telling you to wait before doing that............Listen up.  No one move.  Not even an inch.........If you're tired, then feel free to sit in whatever chair or sofa you want.  So just stay quiet and don't talk, don't do anything!"

......Those unreasonable words felt like a glimpse of how Kinzo used to be.

Natsuhi couldn't hide a slight surprise at those words, which made it seem as though Kinzo had possessed her husband or something.
Natsuhi told the servants to wait for the time being.

She ordered them to sit in a sofa a short distance off, approached her husband, and spoke to him in a small voice...

"......If you order it, I will wait however long you ask.  I won't move.  So please, try and calm yourself..."
"...No, ......that's not it, that's not it..."

Was it really blood, or was he actually being possessed?
Krauss's disorderly style of speech strongly resembled Kinzo's...

As she watched this, Natsuhi became certain that Krauss was Kinzo's son after all, and that he was the true successor to the head, more suitable than any other person.

".........Natsuhi.  Over here."

Krauss stood up and headed towards the window, trying to lengthen the distance between himself and the servants waiting on the sofa by even a small amount.

Natsuhi realized that he must have something secret that he wanted to talk about.

"...Yes, dear.  ......What is it...?"

"............Father dying...is bad."

"But he has already passed away.  You can't let that keep you down."
"That's not it.  ...It's bad...that it happened now..."

"......What do you mean?"

"I've been putting Father's fortune up as collateral.  I won't be able to hide it when the division of the inheritance comes into question."
"Wh, ...what...?  C, collateral, you say?  How much...?"

"...You remember how I helped out Kondo-kun back in Melody Land?"

"Didn't I tell you to break ties with that person?  I thought you said you'd refused him...!  Why?!"
"There is such a thing as a man's honor!  I couldn't refuse!"
Krauss claimed to hold honor as a virtue.

...However, Natsuhi knew that he most often used this as an excuse for when he reluctantly went along with some deal that he just couldn't refuse.
"Th, that wouldn't be a problem if we had plenty of money on hand...!  But didn't you borrow quite a lot of money for the plan to turn this island into a resort?!"

"Yeah, I did!  And there were people here and there who lent me a hand along the way!  If I'm going to repay them, I can't just sit around on my hands!  You need money to repay people!  You need money to make money!  You can't even get started without money!  And even the plan for this island would be proceeding smoothly if only there hadn't been problems with the planning company!"

"I made contact with a government official in the city.  I even got the governor's word that this would become the newest travel destination in the Tokyo Metropolis!  The groundwork I laid was completely perfect!!  Random chance and bad timing were against me!  It was just a bit of bad luck.  Like a traffic accident!!"

"That was no accident!  It was fraud!  You were tricked!!  They were never drawing up plans for making this island a resort in the first place!!"
"That's not true!!  Hijikata-kun's vision was simply overflowing with foresight!  The way his eyes always focused on the whole world and the future taught me that things I always believed to be mere dreams were only the tip of the iceberg of what is possible!!  Expand your dreams!  To the whole world, to the future!  You heard him say that too, right?!"
"Yes, I heard...!  And I think I remember telling you what I thought after we returned home!!  I said that he was suspicious, that he only spoke of dreams and didn't have his feet planted on the ground, and that you must not have any further relations with him!!"
"Hijikata-kun is a wonderful, pleasant young man!!  One could learn a lot from the way he lives!  I can respect him despite his youth!  I won't have you insulting him!!"
"That's what you said about the whole moon tourism thing!!  You kept saying it was visionary, that it looked to the future, that it had high aspirations, and what was the end result?!  Eventually, you yourself admitted that it was utter nonsense, right?!!  I was sure something was wrong ever since that strange man showed up claiming to be a high-ranking NASA official!"
"That foreigner was nothing more than an international swindler!  Both Mr. Sonezaki and I were victims in that case.  Right now, his vision isn't mistaken!  In the future, there will surely come a time when the richest people in the world develop a liking for space travel.  And, the very first enterprise in that area will probably be monopolized by a single, private company.  That viewpoint is not mistaken!  There was simply a group of international swindlers who were trying to take advantage of that fact and deceive investors across the world-"
"And I'm trying to tell you that this Sonezaki man was one of them too!!  Just how gullible are you?  Why do you always just accept these suspicious offers without any doubts?!!"
"Take that back!  Mr. Sonezaki is a man with a brilliant future ahead of him!  There's nothing suspicious about him!!  Because the dreams he speaks of anticipate the future, they sound crazy to people who can't see into the future!  A woman like you can't see into the future!!"
"Yes, a woman like me can't see into the future!!  But I can see the present!  Right in front of me, I can see a pitiful husband who's been taken in by sly, double-crossing swindlers and still trusts them implicitly even after he's been tricked!!"

"Shut your mouth!!  You don't understand anything about money or business or economics!!  Don't try to butt in on your husband's job!!  A wife should be satisfied with doing housework!  Don't speak!!!"

"..............., ........."

Without another word, Natsuhi fell silent, just as Krauss had hoped she would.
She was already far beyond anger and sadness.

And the emotion that lay on the other side of those, ...was an almost indifferent pity.
Since the days of his youth, Krauss, who had always been frightened of Kinzo, had started to subconsciously admire the way his father lived.

...Without realizing it, he had come to believe that he could only be recognized as a man in his own right if he surpassed his father.
However, Kinzo had been a mad genius, the likes of which had never before been seen in the Ushiromiya family's long history.

That talent was a gift from heaven, ......and it definitely wasn't genetic, much less something that could be learned.
To give the two of them a chance to talk alone, Natsuhi told the servants not to tell anyone about Kinzo's death, and they left the room for the time being.
Then, she invited Krauss to her bedroom, ......and made him tell her everything about their current financial situation.

These were things that Natsuhi hadn't been told about under the assumption that a woman had no business knowing.
Natsuhi had herself made a point of avoiding this area in the past, thinking that it wasn't a wife's place to intrude on such matters.

However, this might also have meant that she had abandoned her duty as a wife to protect her family.
The depths of this sin had been made quite clear to Natsuhi...
Krauss was probably tired of trying to defend himself.

Perhaps because he had gotten a headache, he hid his face and sank into silence...
Natsuhi noticed that the water in the electric kettle was boiling and stood up to refill her cup with black tea.
And when she touched the cup of black tea, she noticed for the first time.

The sound of the cup and saucer clinking together told her that her fingers were shaking...
Krauss had built up a large debt to obtain funds for his various projects...and to cover the losses when they failed.
Of course, he had put the mansion and property up as collateral.

However, doing such a thing above board would result in the mortgage being registered.
In other words, there would be a record that Krauss had put Kinzo's wealth up as collateral to obtain a loan without anyone's permission.

Kinzo, Eva, and the others must not learn of such a thing.
Therefore, Krauss had been putting those assets up as collateral using the worst possible method.

".........I signed over the deeds and power of attorney..."
"And..., what does that mean......?"

What Krauss was saying probably meant that he had, in essence, signed away the rights to his assets.

If these assets had been used as collateral for a loan, then Krauss would still have some leeway under the law.

He would have to deal with a bank, which would have absolutely no compassion, but they would be able to work something out within the rules set by society.

......However, signing away the deed and power of attorney was a whole different story.
In other words, even the mansion they were living in.  If the person holding the deed were to decide to ignore his agreement with Krauss and sell the mansion to a third party right this moment, they would have no recourse whatsoever.

Far from using collateral for a loan, this was basically the same as selling their house to borrow money...
"...In other words, ...the moneylenders have the power to make or break the Ushiromiya family as they please.  If they were to suddenly sell our house on some slight whim, ......we'd have to pack our bags and leave right now, wouldn't we...?"

"That is technically true.  However, everyone I have had dealings with is very reputable.  This isn't consumer financing.  It's a transaction based on trust between economically literate men."

"I trust them.  And they, in turn, trust that by lending me money, I will achieve great success in business and give them massive returns on their investment.  I signed over the power of attorney as a sign of good faith and so that they wouldn't have to doubt in the certain success of my business.

"What happens if I hesitate now?  Wouldn't that mean even I have no confidence in my own business?!"

".................."

If your businesses had been successful, we wouldn't be in debt now, would we...

...Natsuhi only barely stopped herself from saying that.

"......Father is dead.  What happens next?  Will your debt be exposed to the light of day, and will your siblings hold you responsible?"

"............That won't be all.  ......It will probably lead to criminal charges..."
"C, criminal charges......  Wh, why is that......?"

".........It's better if you don't know.  ......Anyways, ...this must not be learned of by anyone......"
"..............."
Krauss looked at the floor shamefully, shaking his head over and over......
If it would come to criminal charges, ...then he must have broken some laws.
He had probably been so intent on raising a large sum of money that he hadn't paid any heed to appearances.
......Krauss had seriously believed that he would succeed with several businesses and that he would definitely gain huge profits.

So he had figured that even if he broke a few laws, he would be able to pay everything back before too long and pretend that the whole thing had never happened.

......This might have lessened his resistance towards breaking a couple laws.
And now Kinzo's death, the worst possible thing, had occurred, and they wouldn't be able to keep it all hidden for long......
"......What will happen to us?"

"Th, there is no need to worry...  You may not believe, but conditions are most certainly on the rise now.  The value of the city real estate I invested in will rise rapidly.  Right now, I am working on a project to integrate those and construct a massive business tower.  This will be the most reliable of all my investments so far, and will prove to be the most successful."

"......However, it will take a little more time for that to bear fruit.  It's absolutely certain, but that doesn't mean it will happen now..."

"......Will the success of that venture be enough to pay back our debts?"

"Of course it will.  I'll be able to write off all of the debt I've accumulated so far...!!  So believe me.  I only need a little more time!"

"But Father is already dead!  We don't have that kind of time anymore, do we?!"
"I know, I know that...!!  That's why, ...I have to obtain money from somewhere and pay off those debts right now!  Anyways, I need money...  Money, a lot of it, right now!!  Aaaaaaaaarrrrgghhhhhh...!!"
As Krauss roared and clutched at his head, he writhed about as if in pain.
As she watched, several emotions swirled about in Natsuhi's chest.
Her emotions conflicted as she felt pity for her husband, but she also felt he was a fool.

......And, she felt a mixture of resentment and regret towards her own irresponsibility in letting her husband run wild for so long.
Even if this day hadn't come, it should have been clear that they were in a very critical situation.

And yet he had carelessly waited for this moment to come and was now writhing about.
......Her husband was so foolish......and pitiful.

It would be easy to let herself get fed up with this.  ......However, she was his wife.
For a wife to ridicule her husband as a fool would run in conflict with her responsibilities.

...If he was a fool, then she would have to support him to compensate...
However, she didn't have a clue what she should do...

Since there had been such a massive amount of money within arm's reach, it was only natural that Krauss had tried to dip his hands into it......
It would also be easy to tell him to be a man and give up on all of it.

But that would also run in conflict with her responsibilities.
She was Ushiromiya Natsuhi.
......The woman who had become Krauss's wife and sworn to support him, the new head of the Ushiromiya family, for her whole life.

She had to somehow help her husband in his efforts to raise money.
......She understood it logically.

But she couldn't suppress the indescribable dejected feeling that seemed to rise up from the dark depths of her heart......

"That's right, F, Father's hidden gold...!  10 tons of gold is worth 20 billion yen!  If I had that..., that's right, if I had that, everything could be resolved...!"

"Natsuhi, that's it!  The witch's epitaph!  Let's solve that, let's solve it together!  If we can just find the gold, everything will work itself out!!  That's right, it must be hidden somewhere on this island!!  If we had that, if we had that!!"
"Th, that hurts..., dear, ......p, please stop it......"
Krauss, acting as excited as if he'd thought up a perfect, brilliant plan, grasped Natsuhi's upper arms tightly.
Natsuhi couldn't help but be dumbfounded.

She wasn't just taken aback because she'd heard something as fake-sounding as the hidden gold brought up.
Krauss usually disparaged the story of the hidden gold, saying that it didn't exist and that it was all an illusion his father had created to borrow a lot of money.

Because of this, Natsuhi was doubly taken aback...
"Yes, let's have Jessica help us too.  Maybe some things can only be solved with a child's sensitivity!  This is a family crisis.  All of us have to stick together!!  Yes, it's a fanciful riddle that Father created...!!  We should be able to solve it...there's no way we can't solve it...!  It's the only way!!"
"Oh, Natsuhi, this is wonderful, we still have an option left, and right here next to us!!  The gold is on this island!!  If we had it, everything would be resolved!  Waha, wahahahahahahahahahahaha!!  Natsuhi, call Jessica here right away!  Let's overcome this family crisis as a family!!  Yes, right now!!  The gold is on this island, it's right beside us!!  ......Wah!!"
Unable to withstand the pain in the arm he was twisting in his excitement, Natsuhi knocked Krauss aside.

Krauss tripped over the edge of the bed and flopped over onto the floor...
"P, please get ahold of yourself!!  And please calm down...!!  Do you really think that this Ushiromiya family crisis......could be solved by saying something as dream-like as that...?!!"
"N, .........Natsuhi........."

"Please, cool your head off and think of a realistic plan to gather money...!!  I'm going to go cool my head off as well......!"
"...Wait......, Natsuhi......"
Maybe he had come to his senses the instant he fell over.
Krauss tried to tell Natsuhi to stop, but she just kept walking.

After closing the door forcefully, Natsuhi dashed away......
Natsuhi ran through the corridor.
Even though she didn't want anyone to see her like this, she ran headlong into Genji......

"......My deepest apologies.  Madam, have you been injured...?"
"I, I'm alright.  Leave me alone...!!"

".........Certainly."

"Oh, ......Genji.  ...How are things going in Father's study?"
"......It is just as you left it.  Although Doctor Nanjo is in the parlor."

"Is that so...?  ......Do you have the key to the study?"
"Yes.  Right here."

"Give it to me.  ...Let me have some time alone with Father.  If my husband asks where I am, tell him you don't know."
"......Certainly."
After grabbing the key to the study that Genji was holding out to her, Natsuhi rushed up the stairs.
She then flew into the study, ......and finally, let out a wail, ...and cried.
".........Father......Please forgive our foolishness...!!  My husband and I, ......aren't capable of inheriting all that you created...!  Please......please, ............forgive us for our foolishness and our crimes...  And, ...if you can forgive us, .........please guide the way for us fools......"
Clinging to Kinzo as he slept in the bed, Natsuhi cried even harder.

She kept imagining Kinzo sitting up suddenly and patting her head.
No, Father isn't the type of person to pamper...
More likely, he'd yell at me to stop being so noisy.
......However, neither of these imaginations came true.
...Because it was an undeniable fact that Kinzo had entered an eternal sleep.

But even so, Natsuhi begged the sleeping Kinzo to forgive and help them...
Only a few hours had passed since his passing.
Perhaps his soul was still here, listening to her.

......Believing this, Natsuhi begged for Kinzo's forgiveness and help even more earnestly......
"Too noisy.  Don't I always say that I value silence?"
".........Huh-"

That voice made Natsuhi jump up in surprise.
When she faced in the direction that the voice had come from, .........she saw Kinzo sitting at the study desk, folding up his reading glasses...
"Did you get in a fight with Krauss again?  ......Neglecting his wife...that Krauss only inherited my bad traits."
"F, .........Father......"

"......What a wretched-looking face.  Wash it.  Aren't you the wife of the successor to the Ushiromiya family?  You mustn't let the servants see you wear such a shameful expression."
"Y, ......yes, Father......My apologies......"

......Natsuhi understood.

This was just an illusion, ...one that Natsuhi had created out of her desire to speak with a memory of Kinzo as he once was.

No, that's not it...

......She believed that just for now, Kinzo's soul had shown itself to her.
She was sure that doubting this would cause it to vanish in an instant...

"It seems that at the instant the family headship was passed on, the family has reached a crisis..."
"Y, ...yes, Father......  I wasn't able to support my husband.........I am truly, ...very sorry......"

"Hmph.  The Ushiromiya family is so very cursed.  It was in a terrible state when I succeeded the headship too.  That makes your suffering seem almost cute in comparison."
Kinzo had become the family head suddenly.

At the time, he had been nothing more than a single young man from a branch family, far separated from the Ushiromiya main family.

The main family might have had honor and tradition, but Kinzo had had nothing to do with that.
Then, the principal members of the main family were wiped out in the Great Kanto Earthquake, along with their businesses.

On top of that, there had been a complicated antagonism between the members of the family at the time, and the elders were all trying to impose their will on the others in that sinking ship.
Because of this, they weren't even able to elect a leader to revive the Ushiromiya family.

They then found a common ground and selected Kinzo, a youth with absolutely no ties to any of the opposing elders, to be the head.
So the elders hadn't really entrusted Kinzo with the rebuilding of the Ushiromiya family.

Kinzo had been nothing more than their puppet, with his arms and legs being pulled in opposite directions......
".........Yes.  ...I know a lot about your days of suffering, Father."
"And then the war started.  At the time, I was already tired of life.  I hoped that I would die on the battlefield, but I wasn't sent to the front lines.  ......However, the state of the war grew worse with every day, and the time for the decisive battle on the Japanese mainland seemed to grow ever closer.  As bad as it might sound, I hoped that day would come quickly..."
After listening to the approaching footsteps of that god of death day in and day out, ...it is said that Kinzo started cutting his ties with this world one by one.
And then, on that day when he had severed all his regrets, when he reached a state of enlightenment......

It is said that he had a mystical experience.
......It is said that he met her.

The Golden Witch, Beatrice......

"I made a contract with the witch and was given gold and the power of madness.  ......On that day, the old me died, and a new me possessing the insane power of magic was born."
"...I know.  And after the war, you used your ingenious cunning to revive the Ushiromiya family."
The now-deceased elders who knew Kinzo at the time had whispered to each other that Kinzo must have bumped his head on the battlefield and returned with a different personality...

That was how much Kinzo had stood out after the war.
Whether the story about Kinzo meeting a witch was true or not, there could be no doubt that the extraordinary experience of war had prepared him for death...and let him reach a state of enlightenment.

Surely, if he had decided to describe the mystical experience that had occurred as a result as being a meeting with a witch, that claim shouldn't be dismissed out of hand...
"......That's right.  ...You returned from the war, conquered the witch Beatrice, and became the head of the Ushiromiya family in the truest sense..."

"Correct.  Before I met Beatrice, I was nothing more than a puppet which was only the head in name.  ......I only became the head after conquering the Golden Witch."

"......Father......  Umm, ...will this Golden Witch aid my husband Krauss now that he's the new head...?"

"Oh, she will.  Assuming that he has truly succeeded the headship."
"Wh, what do you mean by 'truly succeeded'......?"

"I mean it depends on whether he bears the responsibility and pride of the Ushiromiya family head in the truest sense.  ...Natsuhi, you should understand this.  The headship is not inherited by blood.  It is inherited through spirit and conviction.  ......Even though Krauss is my eldest son, he cannot be called the true head if he does not possess these things!"

"And, if that spirit were to dwell in a human, even someone other than Krauss, they would make a splendid new head.  Beatrice will lend her power to that true head.  .........Isn't that right, Beatrice?!!"
When Kinzo called the witch's name, ......gold butterflies seethed out of every corner of the room.
This fantastical scene had an otherworldly beauty to it.

It was like standing in the midst of a blizzard of golden flower petals being blown about a rose garden of gold.
As Natsuhi stared at this scene in shock, the gold butterflies gathered and formed a human shape...
Then, ......the witch of the portrait appeared...
"Indeed.  I am the alchemy counselor to the Ushiromiya family, the Golden Witch Beatrice.  ......I am free to run rampant!  I do not listen to anyone's orders."

"And there's only one person in the world who can control her.  Me.  ......That is why I am qualified to be the Ushiromiya family head."
"Hmph.  So that pride of yours is what qualifies you to be the head?"

"Pride implies self-confidence and bravery.  And, it is the embodiment of the insatiable desire to gain a power that can match it.  ...That is why I control you."

".........It is quite pleasant to watch men who speak of pride as they turn that desire into reality.  The 'quiet man of action' is nothing more than an excuse used by the extremely lucky.  ...A true monarch also speaks of what he doesn't have.  And he makes that pride a reality without fail.  ......If one is to control me, they must possess that monarch's pride."

"Do you understand, Natsuhi?  A true monarch fears no hardship.  They declare that they will overcome anything without fail.  Even if they haven't yet figured out how.  This gives hope to the weak people.  They gather, revere the monarch, and swear to assist him.  This is where power is gained and his word is carried out.  Engrave that into your heart."
"Y, .........yes, Father......"

Natsuhi understood.

Through this mystical experience, ...Kinzo was telling her how to prepare herself to overcome hardship.  ...Even after his own death.
Feeling a warm feeling rise up in her chest, she let the valuable words Kinzo had given her echo through her mind over and over.
......A true monarch, ...in other words, the true head of the Ushiromiya family...must not be afraid of hardship.
This person must believe that they could overcome any hardship...
If they could not believe this themselves, then they would have no way of overcoming it...
.........She suddenly felt very ashamed of the way she had come into this room...sobbing and asking Kinzo what she should do...

"I, ......was foolish..."
"..............."

"...Of course there's no time for crying when an Ushiromiya family crisis is upon us.  And now that we have inherited the Ushiromiya family from you, Father, we must protect its honor no matter what."
"Hoh.  ......Even though you can't even draw a blueprint on how to repay Krauss's debts?"
As Beatrice laughed unpleasantly, ......no, that wasn't it.

She was testing Natsuhi, to see whether she possessed the mental readiness to be a true monarch.
Natsuhi wasn't confused anymore.
She answered clearly, gazing into Beatrice's eyes.
"Yes.  At this moment, I have not yet discovered the method that we should pursue.  However, my husband is the new head of the Ushiromiya family, and I am his supporting wife.  So in my husband's place, I will proclaim it."

"Let us hear it."

"Ushiromiya Krauss and Natsuhi will definitely overcome these trials and protect the honor of the Ushiromiya family.  You have nothing to worry about, Father."
"......And do you know the scope of Krauss's debt, as well as the horrible state things are in?"

"Yes.  If the worst happens and we are ordered to leave this mansion tomorrow, we won't be able to refuse.  During the distribution of the inheritance, the relatives might even file a criminal complaint."

"However, there is no need to worry.  We will repay all of the debts before then and restore our honor."

As she stood at attention with a resolute attitude, Natsuhi proclaimed this clearly with Ushiromiya Kinzo and Beatrice as witnesses.
For a while, they remained silent, as though weighing Natsuhi's resolve.

Then Kinzo chuckled and turned away...

"......How vexing.  ...Why couldn't this person have been my son..."
"The very fact that a woman with such a disposition married your son is another sign of your great luck."

"............Beatrice.  This is my final order."

"Now that you are no longer the head, I am not obligated to obey your orders."
"Hoh.  In that case, obey the orders of the new Ushiromiya family head."

"You are no longer the head, and Krauss is not yet the head.  Who are you suggesting that I serve?"

"I will leave that to you.  It is up to you to decide who is qualified to succeed the Ushiromiya family head, and who is fitting to bear the mark of the One-winged Eagle.  ......You will ensure this."

"I refuse.  I won't listen to the orders of a man who isn't the head."

"No, this is different.  This is a will.  The last order that the head left behind for you."

"......*cackle*.  Then it seems I will have to obey.  I can be quite a good friend."

"Are you kidding?"
"Hoh?"

"You're only doing this because it caught your interest, aren't you?"
"I can't hide anything from you, can I?"

"Natsuhi."
"Yes, Father..."

"Go and overcome your hardship."
"...Y, .........yes."

That might have seemed like a mere response to Natsuhi, but to Kinzo and Beatrice, it seemed to be something of much greater significance.

Beatrice nodded deeply, and with a motion as elegant as her dress, she bowed deeply before Natsuhi...

"Alchemy counselor to the Ushiromiya family, the Golden Witch Beatrice, right here.  I shall aid you so that the Ushiromiya family can overcome a crisis once again..."
"......Thank you.  I will need your power.  We will most certainly overcome these trials."

"I will not hold back on my support for your cause, but there is something I must warn you about beforehand.  I understand that your troubles now could be solved if I were to bestow a vast quantity of gold again, like I did when I saved Kinzo from his crisis.  However, that is something I cannot do."

".........Is that so?"
"Sorry, Natsuhi.  Beatrice's gold came from a contract limited to my generation.  It was agreed that it could only be passed on to another if that person solves the witch's epitaph."

"The gold is sealed away by the epitaph.  As long as that is not solved, you cannot be given the magic of gold."
".........I understand.  Then I shall search for another method by which we can save ourselves from this crisis.  ......My husband said that his plan would take time, but he also said that it would definitely be sufficient to repay our debts.  If we can buy enough time for that to happen, we will be able to overcome this trial."
"Good, Natsuhi.  Continue."

"But Kinzo is already dead.  The doctor and servants are preparing his funeral.  You were about to contact the family members.  By your own hand, you will bring an end to this ploy for time.  *cackle*cackle*, how charming is a guillotine where you lower the blade yourself..."
"..................Ah-"
Startled, Natsuhi looked up at the ceiling.

There wasn't actually anything there.  ......But even so, Natsuhi had found something.

"So, ......the magical power has descended."
"Natsuhi.  ......Have you made up your mind?  What magic of miracles do you desire from me?"
......Once again, all of those who had witnessed Kinzo's corpse were gathered in the study.

Krauss was still impatient and clutching at his head.
Genji was as expressionless as ever.

Nanjo and Kumasawa wore bewildered expressions on their faces.
But in stark contrast to all of them, Natsuhi wore a resolute expression on her face.
"Dear, let me ask you one more time.  Your plan for raising money is absolutely certain?"

"......Y, ......yes.  Give it a year, ...no, just half a year, and it will certainly bear fruit!  But it's just impossible to hope for anything right now......"

"Then we will wait."

"B, but you said it yourself.  ......Father is already dead......"
"Father has not passed away.  He's still there, as healthy as ever."
When Natsuhi said this, everyone jumped and looked up.

...Because they had instantly understood what those words had meant...
However, Krauss alone didn't get it right away and asked her.
"What......, do you mean by that......?  Father is already, ...in reality...right there......"
"I will say it again.  Father is still in good health.  He is busy with his research, so he'll be even less able to leave his study than usual.  Because of this, we must handle all external affairs ourselves so that Father can devote himself to his research without being burdened by meaningless tasks."
"In short, nothing will change from the way things have been going.  .........Do you understand, Genji?"

"...............Yes.  ...The furniture of the One-winged Eagle will continue to serve the Master."

"Kumasawa.  And you, Doctor Nanjo.  Do you understand what I'm saying?"

"......Oh, ...uh, ......ummm..."
"I, ......is that truly alright, Natsuhi-san......?"
"It may be true that Father passed away today.  But if everyone right here, right now believes, we can use magic to revive Father."

"I, it's impossible, Madam...  That's just too much...!"
"The time of death will be specified during the autopsy.  We can't stop it from looking suspicious...!"

"Father will not pass away, so there will be no reason for there to be an autopsy."
Of course, she wasn't planning to make it seem like Kinzo would live forever.

The fake life given to Kinzo would only last until Krauss could repay his debts.
After that, Kinzo's soul would finally be able to sleep in peace.

Nanjo repeatedly said that the time of death would be discovered during the autopsy, but Natsuhi kept saying that this wouldn't be a problem.
"Father will not pass away by being reported dead."

"A, .........ah, I see.  ......He'll be reported missing...!!"

After clapping his hands together, Krauss stood up, shaking his fists.

"Yes.  Once we've managed to pay back the debt and finish the preparations to lay Father to rest, we will then announce that Father has disappeared."
Rokkenjima's vast, uncultivated forest was the perfect place to stage a disappearance.

One day, Kinzo would go out to the forest for a walk and never return.  ......They would search for him without success and then be forced to report his disappearance...
"If he disappears, we can file a report of his death even without a corpse.  In other words, we can hide him long enough to have him declared legally dead!  What do you think, Doctor Nanjo?!  There won't be any problems this way!"

"Y, ......yes, that might work......"

"...Is this really alright, Madam...?  If we stay silent, then I'm sure we could keep the Master's death a secret...!  However, if we were to slip up even once and let someone find out...!!"

"Kumasawa.  You're too loud.  ......Father is sleeping right over there, correct?  Are you trying to wake him?"
It isn't a corpse.
...Kinzo...is sleeping.

As Natsuhi said that, ......Kinzo lay quietly on the bed as though there was nothing at all odd about her words.
"Come, try to remember.  What form did you have?  What sort of life did you enjoy?!"
Once again, a storm of gold butterflies started to swirl, covering Kinzo's cold body...
Then, after the butterflies exploded into fine gold powder and disappeared, .........just like those fairy tales that have been told over and over since long ago, ......Kinzo slowly opened his eyes and sat up...
".........F, ......Father......!!"

"......Natsuhi.  Let me first make one thing clear.  I did not coax you into doing this because of my attachment to life."

"You liar.  Don't tell me you didn't anticipate this at least a little.  How does it feel, Kinzo?  How is your body?"
"It isn't bad, but it feels somewhat like being in a dream.  I feel light."

"A being that wasn't permitted to remain in this world still remains here.  You'll have to accept a little discomfort."

"...Is your body truly alright?!  Is it really, ...alright...?!"
"Hmmm.  Actually, it feels quite pleasant.  ......If this is what the world after death feels like, acting like a ghost might not be so bad."

"How is this, Natsuhi?  Kinzo has revived.  That means a funeral is unnecessary.  Your hardship has been resolved!"
"......B, Beatrice..."

As Natsuhi tried to find words of gratitude amidst her confusion, Beatrice waggled her pointer finger and spoke.

"There is no need for thanks.  The ruler is allowed to be proud.  I will not pay heed to requests, but I will follow orders."

"Even so, I'll say it.  ......Thank you.  This way, ......you've bought some time for my husband.........We will handle the rest."

"Be warned, Natsuhi.  Kinzo may have revived, but that is not an eternal thing.  It will only continue as long as my magic does.  ......Be warned that the magic-resisting toxin might destroy the magic.  You must understand the laws of magic correctly and work hard to maintain it.  I can show you a miracle, but it is your role to grasp it and hold it."

"Of course.  We definitely won't neglect the miracle you have given us."

"Very well.  ...I see, just like floor mats, it seems masters need to be changed every once in a while.  *cackle*cackle*!  I like it.  I shall serve you.  Ushiromiya Natsuhi!  I am the alchemy counselor to the Ushiromiya family, the Golden Witch Beatrice...!!  Call my name whenever you wish.  I shall then appear and grant you a miracle."

"Thank you.  I am Ushiromiya Natsuhi.  I will employ you and protect the honor of the Ushiromiya family...!!"

A Proper Mystery

The rose garden was truly splendid this year.
The roses were blooming like crazy, as though they were competing with each other.

In that rose garden, Kinzo, Kanon, and Natsuhi could be seen...

"Once again, the flowers have grown wonderfully this year.  It must be the result of your care."
".........Thank you very much.  The weather just happened to be good this year."

"Thanks to your care, the garden is even more beautiful than usual.  Good work."
"Thank you very much..."

"If today weren't so special...we might have been able to admire the roses while enjoying some black tea."

Kinzo shrugged.  Today was the family conference.
......When it came to the other siblings' businesses, they hadn't heard anything good.

On the contrary, those siblings probably planned to turn the conversation to the topic of Kinzo's remaining life, and hold a quiet feud over the inheritance.
"......Those people are quite unpleasant.  By the way, what about Krauss?  Is that debt repayment plan of his proceeding well?"

"It really does seem to be a realistic plan.  .........However, the scale of the plan appears to be quite large, and it doesn't seem to be bearing fruit as well as he expected."

"If possible, I had hoped that something could be done before today's family conference."
"......Yes.  My apologies."
"Are you sure that's alright, Kinzo?  Casually walking around in a place like that."
How had she gotten up there?
......Well, it's pretty pointless to wonder about that sort of thing when you're dealing with a witch.

Beatrice was casually sitting on the roof of the arbor, almost as though she had been basking in the sun.
"Those relatives are like a massive lump of the magic-resisting toxin, and they'll be intruding on us.  If you bump into them, your soul will evaporate in a instant."

"Hmph.  I am already dead.  Even evaporating would be no detriment."
"......We can't have that happen.  Please, for the sake of the Ushiromiya family, lend us your strength just a little longer."

"Natsuhi.  It seems that the boat with the relatives on it has left the harbor.  It might be a good idea to end your walk soon."
"......Is that so?  Thank you.  ...Please return to the study, Father."
"Just great...  A shame that I must go back when the weather is so perfect."

"Don't grumble, Kinzo.  Right now, you are nothing more than a ghost that I gave life to.  It'll be troublesome for both me and Natsuhi if you're scattered away by the toxin.  Just be a good boy, shut yourself away in the study, and put a blanket over yourself or something.  *cackle*cackle*!"

"Hmph.  ......Just being given the chance to enjoy the roses even after death makes me extremely fortunate.  I understand.  I shall return to the study."

"But I would like some black tea.  Kanon, tell Genji to take me some.  Some Marco Polo would be nice today."
"......Certainly."
"Then let's go our separate ways.  Natsuhi.  ......I want you to conduct the family conference splendidly without me."

"Of course, Father.  He can't say it in front of them, but my husband is already the Ushiromiya family head.  And, I will do all I can to see that I don't embarrass him as his wife."

"......Compared to Krauss, who's had a stomach ache since this morning, you are so very composed, Natsuhi.  ......My son is quite hopeless."
"My husband is talented in his own way.  Supporting him where he's weak is my duty as his wife."

"Hmm.  Give it your best.  I will make sure to stay shut away so that I don't get in the way of this farce."

"Kanon.  Go with Father to the study.  And then have Genji serve some black tea."
"I'm not so senile that I need your help to stand up.  Here I go......"

Refusing Kanon's attempt to lend him a hand, Kinzo rose from the flower bed he had been sitting on.

The retired head left everything in Natsuhi's hands and returned to the study at a gentle pace......

"......You're looking well.  You possess a sense of dignity similar to Kinzo's deceased wife."
"On the off-chance that the magic-resisting toxin does get to Father, ......will the magic dissolve in an instant?"

"Yes.  In the blink of an eye.  ......I can just disappear, but if someone already dead such as Kinzo loses his form, he'll be blown away by the winds of the sun in a matter of minutes and disappear like garbage.  You must take care."
"Yes.  I understand."

".........You might have talent as a witch.  The magic-resisting toxin has been building up in your system over the years, and yet you are still able to understand magic.  ......If you and I had met during your youth, you might have become a powerful witch by now."

"I am Ushiromiya Krauss's wife, the head's wife.  I would become even a witch or a demon to protect his honor.  ......I am deeply grateful for the power of your magic.  I wouldn't have been able to protect the honor of the Ushiromiya family without you."

"Let's discuss that at another time.  I'd like to enjoy it with just the two of us women drinking tea."

"A friend of mine who went to Sri Lanka sent me some black tea with a wonderful rose fragrance."

"Hoh, you mean Dimbula.  That isn't bad.  Then you should also have patis on the side.  ......You must serve me some as a reward if I manage to trick everyone for the whole upcoming family conference.  It's a promise."

"Understood.  I promise.  Then, I'll see you later."
"Yeah, later."
The witch made her body crumble into the rustling winds, became gold flower petals, and scattered into thin air.
Natsuhi watched her go, then turned on her heels and headed for the mansion.

After that, there was no one left in the rose garden......
"Alright then.  It's <break time>.  Any complaints about how things have gone so far?"

".........None at all.  If you gotta pee, why don't you just go and do it...?"

"What a rude thing to say.  Kinzo is already dead, right?  But he's walking around and talking, isn't he?  Doesn't that mean this is magic?!"

"Well, I doubt this move would work on you after all this time, Bern.  ......But what about you, Battler?  Isn't this weird?  Don't you have to accept the existence of the magic that revived Kinzo?  Hahhihhyahhahaaaah!"
"......If you're trying to imitate Beato, it's pissing me off, so stop it right now."

"*giggle*!  Figured it out?!  Then come on, how are you gonna answer, Battler?  Kinzo was just out for a stro~ll.  Why don't you do what you usually do and start holding your head, crying 'THIS DOESN'T MAKE ANY SENSE!!'...?  C'mon, use that old 'IT'S ALL USELESS' catch phrase and let me hear your classic nonsensical counter-argument."

"There's no way that a human who's supposed to be dead could be walking around, right?  Is this all because of some unknown virus called the Rokkenjima Syndrome which causes mass delusions?  Or do the scales of a mysterious form of butterfly that only lives on Rokkenjima happen to be hallucinogenic?!  Or is it all because a mysterious secret organization called "Yamainu" made an as-of-yet undiscovered drug called Purupurupikopuyo which causes mass delusions?!!  Let me hear tons of this wonderful crap, kyaaahahahaahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!"

".........Just shut up.  This isn't even a problem."


Grandfather is dead at this point in time.  There's no way he exists.

"It's all because Natsuhi oba-san created a lie in an attempt to hide Grandfather's death and trick her way through the family conference...by acting as though he does exist."

"Oh?  It's Natsuhi's lie?!  You can revive the dead by lying?  Wouldn't that make it Natsuhi's magic?"

"This world is like a Braun tube before you've looked in it.  ......It's the world of the cat box before you open it.  As long as Natsuhi oba-san says that she took a walk with Grandfather, and as long as no one can confirm that that's a lie, it's possible to display 'Natsuhi oba-san taking a walk in the rose garden with Grandfather' as Natsuhi's reality.  That means it's possible for Grandfather to appear."
*clap*, *clap*, *clap*...

That extremely unflattering applause was coming from Bernkastel.

"......Bravo.  ............You're much calmer without Beato around."
"Quiet.  You shut up too."
"Wait a second, Battler.  According to your theory, sure, it might really be possible for Kinzo to appear if Natsuhi's the only person there.  If Natsuhi claims to have observed Kinzo in a world with no one except Natsuhi in it, then no one can deny it, right?"
"But Kanon was in the same place, and he was also looking at Kinzo, right?  How would you explain that?"
"...That's no problem at all.  Kanon-kun is a servant who works for the Ushiromiya family.  ......Natsuhi oba-san probably ordered him to keep to her story so that she could hide Grandfather's death.  ......This means that just like Natsuhi oba-san, Kanon can see Grandfather even though Grandfather isn't supposed to exist."

"............Too bad, Lambda.  Battler isn't going to fall for that kind of child's play anymore."

"Seems so.  ......Well, this is nothing more than an opening before the game.  Like an aperitif before a meal."
".........An appetizer at a bar.  Green tea at a sushi restaurant."

"Shut up.  So we aren't gonna get anywhere unless I say it again in blue text?"
"Looks like it.  Would you mind?"

"..................The reason Grandfather is strolling around like nothing happened even though he's already dead...is that people who want to make it seem as though he's alive created an illusion of him.  People who think the same way can share in that illusion.  Then, they talk as though Grandfather actually exists and was with them until a second ago.  That's why he's strolling around like it's perfectly natural."

"Because of this, the illusion of Grandfather is unable to appear in front of people who aren't in on this with Natsuhi oba-san.

That's why they needed to set it up so that he would shut himself away in his study and not come out."
In the games before now, Grandfather has always shut himself away in his study.

We never met him directly.
However, there were some people who spoke in a way that made it seem like he was locked up in his study in a bad mood, and who claimed to have met him only a short while ago.  We blindly accepted that and believed that Grandfather was in the study.

That's why it was possible for an illusion・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・

of Grandfather to exist in the study・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・.
That's right, in the games before now, the only people who met Grandfather were Krauss oji-san, Natsuhi oba-san, and the servants.

Because they all stuck to the same story, an illusion of Grandfather was able to exist on this island, making it seem like he was alive.
"......You even showed me a scene at the beginning of this game of Natsuhi oba-san convincing Doctor Nanjo and the rest to cover up Grandfather's death.  ......I'm not gonna fall for a cheap trick like that after all this time."
".........Not bad.  But I was hoping for the unknown drug Purupurupikopuyo."

"There's no way he'd say something so ridiculous, right......?  After all, supposing that such a thing exists would be just as bad as surrendering to the fantasy genre.  ......Whether it's a virus or a drug or an illness, anything that hasn't been discovered yet is in violation of Knox's 4th commandment."
"......What do you mean, 4th commandment?"

"Knox's 4th.  It is forbidden for unknown drugs or difficult to understand scientific devices to be used.  .........It's a rule that these cannot be used for murder."
"What the hell...  Unknown drug X and unknown scientific device X should be the best kinds of weapons to use when fighting against a witch..."

".........That's what I'm talking about.  All of those violate the rules of a proper mystery.  Supposing an unknown virus, an unknown drug, ...an unknown sickness, or an unknown XXX was used puts it totally in the fantasy genre.  My condolences.  If that was your theory, then it's 'game over' for you.  *giggle*giggle*."

".........H, hey...  What are you talking about......?"

"You think you've been fighting in direct opposition to Beato.  But that's not actually true.  You haven't been in direct opposition.  You've been fighting along with her from a slightly different angle."

"All this playing detective you've done hasn't been fantasy vs mystery.  It's only been fantasy vs anti-fantasy."

"......I don't have a clue what you're talking about.  ...But there's one thing I do get.  ......It sounds like you're saying there's something wrong with the way I've been fighting."

".........We are fighting to kill the fantasy known as the Illusion of the Witch.
That means interpreting this tale as a

proper mystery・・・・・・・.

In other words, from the very start, we have to ignore any and all elements that violate the taboos of the mystery genre."

"I, ...ignore, you say.........?"

"For example, several closed room murders have occurred in the games before now, right?"
"......Y, ...yeah."
At every single crime scene, you enthusiastically check with Beato to make sure there are no hidden doors, right?
Then that leads to a flashy bunch of red truths weaving together all over the place, almost as though that itself is the battle.

I call that a waste of time.
After all, it's clearly specified in Knox's 3rd.

'It is forbidden for hidden passages to exist.'

In the mystery genre, hidden passages

mustn't exist・・・・・・.
So when trying to interpret everything as a proper mystery, the whole debate over whether there are hidden doors or not is lost from the beginning, see...?

After all, there aren't any・・・・・・・・.

As soon as you suspect that they might exist, then it's already 'game over' for you.
In other words, the way you assume that you can't use reason just because it hasn't been proven that hidden doors don't exist at the crime scene makes you simply naive and a failure at the mystery genre.  You've already lost once you start thinking that.
You were trying to interpret everything within the bounds of the mystery genre, right...?
Then you've got to follow the conventions of the mystery genre.  ...*giggle*giggle*giggle*giggle*, hihihihihihihihihihihihyahhahhahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha...!!
"*cough*.  .........That's how it is.  Hidden doors must not exist at any of the crime scenes.  That means anything you do to try and check whether they exist or not is a waste of time."

"...I think I know what you're talking about.  I've heard about it somewhere.  Is this like the ten basic rules for mystery novels or something?"

"Yeah, that's right.  They're the ten wedges to drill into witches that Knox, the peerless archbishop of witch hunting, brandishes.  Those are the true weapons with which to fight and defeat the fantasy known as the Illusion of the Witch head on.  ......Just like you, Bern.  Bringing in such a troublesome weapon.  That's the great rival of the fantasy genre."

"..................So you deny the existence of hidden doors right from the start, without even investigating the crime scene...  That sounds more like fantasy to me..."

"Lambda, who's in charge of the witch's side, is fantasy.  I'm the one who's fighting her, mystery.  What are you?  You are barely anti-fantasy and do nothing but repeatedly dodge and deny fantasy.  You're opposed to absolutely everything, but you can make no counter-proposals.  You're like a politician from some country.  *giggle*giggle*."

"Shut up.  I didn't come here to speak gibberish with you two.  Continue the story right now...!!"

"......Be quiet.  That sleeping princess behind you looks like she's in pain, doesn't she?"
When he turned around, he saw Beato's living corpse resting in a chair...

However, sweat glistened all over her body and it felt like she was breathing a little harder than normal.
......She looked as though she was suffering from a high fever.

"Beato......  What's wrong, ...are you okay...?"
"What do you mean, okay?  You sure do say some strange things.  ......Aren't you fighting to kill this girl?"
"..............."

"We've rewound this 5th game for your benefit, but right now, Bern has done a good job cornering her opponent and is about to break through the Illusion of the Witch.  ...Her existence has been almost completely denied.  It's only natural that she's suffering."

".........Even now, you smashed the Illusion of the Witch by saying there was no way Kinzo exists.  ......This is the proof that your attack reached Beato.  This agony of hers."
"....................."
......I tried to at least wipe away the sweat on Beato's forehead with a handkerchief.
It's true I promised Beato that I'd let her die.

But that was supposed to be, ......peacefully.
I wasn't planning to make her suffer first.
......My goal isn't to make the sleeping Beato suffer like this before killing her......

As if they had seen right through to my complicated feelings, the two witches giggled together...
"Dad overheard because you kept yelling about the inheritance, right, Aneki?"

"It isn't my fault, it was just an unlucky coincidence, right?!  He just happened to be in the corridor and heard...it was an accident, I tell you, an accident...!"

"Could you two give it a rest......?  Just call it our bad luck this time and give it up.  If you leave a man alone, his mood'll pop right back to normal."
"Hopefully Father's feelings weren't hurt so much that he writes up some strange will."

The relatives took a deep breath and fell into silence...

"Hey!  You can't jump around either, Maria!  What'll you do if Ange-chan falls?!"

".........Sorry to keep you waiting.  The boat is ready."
"Alright, let's go.  Won't get anywhere by complaining now."
"We eagerly await your return to this island."
Natsuhi was sitting on a bench in the rose garden, looking completely worn out.

However, when she noticed that Kanon and Kumasawa were coming back, she immediately sat up straight, regaining the dignity of the head's wife.
"......Did the boat leave?"

"Yes.  It departed just a minute ago."

"I see.  Good job seeing them off.  ......What is my husband doing?"
"He returned to his room a short while ago.  He is resting."
Since the previous day, Krauss had been almost overwhelmed by anxiety over the thought that Kinzo's death might be discovered.

When the family conference ended, his weariness must have suddenly gotten ahold of him.
......However, the way he had refused to let even a sliver of his true intentions slip out and the manner in which he had managed to act as though everything was normal showed that Krauss's nerve was nothing to sneeze at.
".........How was it?  Did they seem to notice anything suspicious about Father...?"

"Nope.  Eva-sama and the rest were having a big ruckus over how the Master overheard them talking about the inheritance.  Right?  Wasn't their panicking just priceless?"

"Yes.  They were quite shaken up."
"But Kumasawa, you really are quite an actress.  All that panic in the corridor made it seem like Father really was there."

".........Kumasawa-san is quite talented at that sort of thing."
"Oooh, come now, I don't deserve such praise.  Hoh-hoh-hoh-hoh."

"*giggle*  I always have to strictly tell Genji not to easily believe anything you say when you call in sick."
"Now that's just too harsh, Madam.  Oh-hoh-hoh-hoh-hoh..."
"You really did a good job.  Both of you, as well as Genji and Shannon, will get your pay for a month's worth of past vacation time, as well as five extra days, just as promised.  This is a secret benefit.  Talk with Genji when you collect your pay so that the other servants don't find out."

"Su~re, we understand.  Right?"
".........Kumasawa-san.  Your voice is too loud."
"Ooh, not good, not good, ...hoh-hoh-hoh."

"Good point.  Let's leave it at that for the time being.  We should all return to our regular duties.  That's right, I've had Gohda prepare some special tea.  Tell him to serve it."
Natsuhi let them know that she wanted to be left alone for a while so that she could drink some black tea in the rose garden.
And the black tea which had been carried all the way to the bench...was the Sri Lankan tea Dimbula that she had promised Beato, along with patis...

And sitting on either side of this, staring at it curiously, the wife of the head and her witch could be seen.

"......So this is patis...  I just assumed it would be some kind of baked sweet..."

Apparently Natsuhi, not realizing that it had a curry-like spicy flavor, had started chocking after putting it in her mouth.

To describe it in Japanese terms, it was like fried dumplings stuffed with mashed, curry-flavored potatoes.
As a household dish, it would probably be pretty popular with the kids.

However, it was something of a shock to Natsuhi, who expected that a treat to go with tea would be something sweet.

"Didn't you know?  Dimbula always goes with this.  Black tea always goes with cookies.  Oh, but chocolate is good too.  You must have sweet bean jelly with Japanese tea, although salted konbu also works.  Chinese tea goes with Chinese dumplings.  Though I like moon cakes too."

"......I'm surprised.  You know a lot about culture, don't you?"

"Well, I haven't been living a thousand years for nothing.  I've tried refined teas from all over the world.  Perhaps you could call it a journey through the world of tea."
"That does seem like it would be a wonderful way to travel the world.  Before today, I never knew that one could enjoy tea like this.  I will treasure this experience."

"I cannot leave Rokkenjima.  This is the only way I can travel.  What about you?  I'm sure you've elegantly traveled the world like any wealthy wife might."
"............Before Jessica was born, my husband took me to many countries.  Before marrying, I never once traveled overseas, so each time was a fresh and new experience."
"......Hmph.  Sounds like you were also born into a very rigid family."
".....................It was strict, but they gave me a wonderful upbringing.  It would be rude to my father and mother to call that rigid."
"That's a pretty eloquent way to call it rigid.  *cackle*."
Krauss might have pitied Natsuhi.

Or, he might have wanted to take her away from the rigid Ushiromiya family for a little bit and let her rest.

......Or, he might simply have wanted to take his wife around countries he knew well and show off everything he knew.
"Unlike Father, my husband likes countries in Asia.  Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, Thailand.  I think we also went to Malaysia."

"*cackle*cackle*.  That Krauss...was he trying to resist Kinzo's western obsession?  But Asia is good too.  The Japanese are strongly influenced by the west.  When they think of foreign countries, only western ones come to mind.  But the east exists as well."

"I myself knew a few things about the west, but I knew very little about the Orient...  I seem to recall my husband making fun of me now and then during our travels."

Beato secretly peeked into Natsuhi's heart, which was grumbling that they had all been very tiring trips.
"Are you listening?  This is called an areca nut.  It's a popular luxury food item around here."
It looked like a small, round, gourd-like nut that had been smashed, with cucumber wedged in it.

At a glance, it looked as though it would probably taste like pickles.
"I, I see.  So I just bite it here...?"

As she tried to bite the one her husband was holding, he suddenly moved it away.
...It felt kind of embarrassing, like she was a fish who took the bait.

"Whoa, wait up.  You have to eat it a certain way.  Yes, you are supposed to bite it.  Bite it.  Chew it.  But don't eat it."

"Huh?  Even though you bite and chew it, you can't eat it?"

"Yes.  Bite and chew.  Don't eat.  And don't drink the juice.  It'll make your stomach hurt."
"I, I don't understand...  Why would you eat something like that??"

"Think of it as something like gum.  Chew it and enjoy the flavor.  Then take the scraps you've bitten and the juice and spit it out into a paper cup like this."
"......D, dear, the inside of your mouth is bright red...!  Wipe it off, wipe it off.  ......Eeek!"
Even her favorite handkerchief, which she had wiped Krauss's mouth with, had bright red marks on it.

Something that's poisonous if eaten or drunk, and it makes the inside of your mouth so bright red, and having to spit something out after you've put it in your mouth...how indecent!  ......Thinking this, Natsuhi adamantly refused Krauss's invitation.

"No way, no way, I'm fine, I'm fine...!"
"This is a cross-cultural experience.  What's the point of traveling if we don't do things that can only be done here?"

Krauss kept chewing, ignoring the fact that even his lips were being covered with bright red.

"Father likes these too.  He must have ordered some long ago, because he used to chew away at them on the mansion's terrace.  Although it seems he's stopped ever since you came here."
"Look here, Father, the person you respect even more than me, used these all the time.  Look, look, don't be shy and take some."
"No, no, stop it, stop i~t, de~~ar!"
......During travel, Krauss had the innocence of a child.

He didn't even conceal his jealousy of the respect Natsuhi normally gave Kinzo.
Just being able to see that side of her husband made traveling all the way to another country worthwhile...
Krauss urged her even harder to bite it, but Natsuhi, undaunted, ran from place to place and finally yelled that he was being too pushy.
Krauss was miffed the whole bus ride.
What a child, to let something like this get him down, Natsuhi thought, astounded.

Then, a native tour guide in the bus took out one of those areca nuts and started explaining about it.
It had apparently been a beloved luxury item in these parts since ancient times, similar to tobacco.

Just like Natsuhi had done, it was starting to become disliked by young people and was becoming obsolete.
......Furthermore, it was treated as a good luck charm in this area and known as a symbol for couples.

She looked at her husband's face.  ......He turned away abruptly, but it looked like his cheeks had gotten a little red...
"So, you then leaned on your husband and held his hand, did you?!  What the heck, you and your husband share a pretty pure love, don't you?!  Did you get all fired u~p?  You know, like, that night♪  Kiiihihihihihihi!!"
Red-faced and avoiding Beato's eye, Natsuhi tried to hide her embarrassment by swallowing the patis whole, chewing with her cheeks puffed out like a blowfish.

Beato said 'Yep, there's nothing better than this to go with tea' and nodded several times, a broad smile on her face...

"However, that's only how it was when we were newlyweds.  Right now, I cannot even leave Rokkenjima.  I'm a bird in a cage."
"Well, it's the same for me.  I can keep dying, but I just can't escape Rokkenjima.  I'm also a bird in a cage."

"I don't know much about you, and I won't pry.  ......However, I do see that you're under circumstances not to be trifled with."
"I have no desire to act like the chief prisoner here.  Let's be friendly as fellow birds in this cage.  I've taken a liking to you."

"Really?  Thank you."
"The instructions and orders you gave the servants for this family conference were superb.  You took everything from where Kinzo would be and when, what he did, and what he left behind, and put it all together splendidly without any contradictions.  That detailed written plan of yours had the same beauty as a high-level magic circle."
To make it look like Kinzo actually existed and was living life his own way, she had written his schedule for the day down to the finest detail and made the servants follow it to the letter.

When did he meet who and where, and what did he leave them?
When did he do what and where, and what changed?
As a result, even though the relatives never saw Kinzo even once, they hadn't suspected in the slightest that he hadn't been there.
Eva and the rest truly believed that Kinzo had just happened to be walking through the hall when he heard them talking about the inheritance and went into a rage.

Everything had gone just as Natsuhi's plan had predicted, down to the finest detail.
And the cooperation by the servants had also worked down to the finest detail......

"We couldn't afford to have this secret known even in the worst case scenario.  That's why I double-checked the plan thoroughly."

"Your willpower and attention to detail summoned success with certainty.  ......As a witch, it seems that you're in Lady Lambdadelta's camp.  At your current level, as soon as you become self-aware of that as magic, you will be worthy of calling yourself a witch apprentice."

"If you call something like that magic, then that would make Kumasawa the witch of feigned illnesses.  She only calls us to say she's taking the day off because of her bad back on the busy days.  Like every year's family conference."

"Oh no, Kumasawa is completely different.  She's a witch of a much, much higher level.  If you knew what she really was, it'd shock you!  *cackle*cackle*!"

Watching these two have their pleasant chat...was another pair with steam rising from their black tea.

However, this second pair was in a world that the first couldn't see, where golden roses bloomed.

"......Ronove was kind enough to make us some of that Dimbula tea too."

"........................Nn..."

It felt as though Beato muttered something.
For the first time, it felt as though she had been able to communicate something.

Surely, she had taken an interest in the black tea and felt like drinking it...
Thinking this, Battler took Beato's cup and her hand, making her hold the cup...
"............Nn, ............"

Beato's eyes trembled sadly, and her fingers shook.
Almost as though she couldn't even move her fingers as she wanted to......and was mourning the fact that she could no longer enjoy the tea she had once loved by her own power...  That's how she looked...

So Battler put his hand on Beato's, grabbed hold of the tea cup, and lifted it to her lips......
......Then, ...though it was only a single mouthful, ...Beato sipped.
The days in which they had been in a killing-fest with red swords and blue wedges...already seemed like the distant past.

Now, not only was Beato unable to do that, ......it was even difficult for her to make her body do as she pleased.

Even just drinking a mouthful of black tea like this was hard......

"......How is it?  That rose aroma makes for a great black tea.  Do you like it...?"

".................."

Of course, .........Beato didn't respond.

"......What happened to you...?  ......Is this...another strategy?  Are you pretending to be in a slump so that you can shock me later?"

".................."

"......If that's what you're after, the same trick won't work again, so give it a rest.  ......If you keep acting like that, even I'll start to feel out of whack."

".................."

"Hey.  ...Isn't it about time for you to start laughing loudly, saying 'Caught you, dumbass!' or something?  Any kind of joke stops being funny if you use it too much.  Especially if it's a rehash."

".................."

"Laugh.  Just like you're cackling over there as you drink with Natsuhi oba-san."

".................."
"............"
"........................................................................"
"............Can't you at least grin...?"
"Never again.  This child will never laugh again."

Those sudden words......were exceedingly cruel.

"How can you say that for sure?!  Quit trying to steal away Beato's right to laugh."
"......Oh, should I say it in red then...?"

I shook my head furiously.

Then, with an expression that didn't reveal her thoughts in the slightest, Bernkastel spoke while looking at Beato's face.  ......And I didn't understand the word she used in the slightest.
"Congratulations."
".........For what?"

"Beato is like this as a result of your victory."
".........What are you talking about......?"

"You said something interesting in a previous game.  You said that this would be torture where you both torment each other.  That was right.  It's torture for Beato as well.  And, you won that torture game.  ......That's why Beato's soul was killed, and why she became a doll-like corpse."

"Are you saying, ......that I did this to Beato?"

"The battle ends when one of you loses the will to try and win.  ......As far as the battle between you and Beato goes, the conclusion was already reached last time.  Well, it probably happened without you noticing though."

".........In that case, why hasn't the game ended when I've already won?  ...Why is this game still continuing?"
"The shackle attached to that girl's ankle.  ......That's a rule Lambda made."
Even if Beatrice tries to yield or gets discouraged or gives up, she isn't capable of stepping down from the game.

......That's the rule.  Or maybe it's a curse.
"In the past, I supported you when it looked like you were going to give in.  Though you probably couldn't perceive it, I assisted you by giving you hints and making things go your way.  That's why you're able to be here now.  ............Remember?  Remember how I saved you?"
Bernkastel stared at me...

......It's true I wasn't aware of it, ......but just maybe, ...I was saved by her.
"In the same way, Lambda is supporting Beato.  And this time, Beato is on the verge of giving in.  That's why Lambda's been giving her support this time, to keep her from giving in.  That's what the shackle is.  By refusing to let her resign, she's saved Beato within the game."
"......How does that work?"

"Normally, there are only two ways for this game to end.  Either one side will accept defeat and resign, or one side will win the game with a checkmate.  Beato was about to collide with the first way.  That's why Lambda crushed that chance and managed to just barely avoid losing.  That's a wonderful bit of support within this game."
In that case, the only way left for this game to end......is for me to win.

At the very least, until I do win, this witch called Lambdadelta can probably try to buy time for Beato's condition to turn back around.

But, ......that would just prolong Beato's suffering even more...
Neither of us want that.

Both Beato and I fought with all we had trying to win.
The game repeated several times because we were both giving it everything we could muster.
Then, that one time.  We confronted each other head on with all of our strength.

And then, .........Beato acknowledged her loss.

She said she wanted me to end this game...and entrusted everything to me.
So, Bernkastel's words are the truth.

She said it was my fault that Beato has become a living corpse.  ......That's true.

But it's something both of us wanted.

"Our match has already been resolved.  ......Even so, the game won't end.  That's why Beato put her trust in me.  She told me to win quickly and end this game."
"..............."

Now that the game has been resolved, for it to continue any further would be torture without end to Beato.  ......Nothing more than a nightmare.

I have to give her a perfect checkmate, end this game in the truest sense, ......and give Beato a peaceful sleep...

For that reason, I'll keep fighting.
But by continuing the game, Beato's eternal torture will continue.

It felt as though I could only let her sleep peacefully by slowly strangling her to death...

".........I'm starting to feel like truth doesn't matter anymore.  ...That way, the game doesn't matter as long as Beato is satisfied.  Beato resigned.  I'll ignore the truth about this Illusion of the Witch and return home with my family.  ......Is there anything wrong with that?"

If only Lambdadelta hadn't placed the curse of that shackle on her, this battle would be over already.
......That's why I found it detestable.

This game, where I have to torment Beato even more to end it......is detestable.

"......Whaat's this?  Beato has started to look like she's in pain every time you get closer to the truth, so you're suddenly going easy on her...?  Then just go as easy on her as you can.  And why don't you just let Beato win while you're at it?  Then your little sister can have a lonely, tragic future forced on her endlessly."

"That's not how it is.................."

......That's right...  I have to return for Ange's sake as well.

I know this isn't the time to start feeling compassion for Beato.
"In that case, make sure you kill her.  Kill this witch without fail."
"........................"

Even though Beato was right there, Bernkastel spoke without holding back...
"Your goal is to kill this woman.  ......In the last game, you said it at Beato's request.  You said 'I'll kill you'."

"......Yeah, that may be true, but that doesn't mean you get to complain about it."

"Did you know?  When you tear one of your fingernails out, it's better to do it in one go.  ......Pulling it out like you do...timidly, twisting and slow...hurts much, much more.  What you're doing sounds much more like torture to me."

"..............."

"If you have any compassion, kill her all at once.  That's how killing works."
"That's none of your business.  I'm the one to decide how to perform her last rites.  You and that Lambdadelta witch have nothing to do with this.  I'll kill her.  I won't let anyone else do it."

".........As long as you don't lose that willpower.  I'm betting on you.  Alright?  Make sure you don't forget.  You will never be released as long as this game remains unresolved.  You won't be allowed to abandon this game either."

"......I get it."

"I know what Lambda is after.  She wants to make you lose your will to fight just like Beato, to make you a pair of living dolls, and to keep this world in perpetual equilibrium.  ......You don't want that, do you?  I wouldn't like it either."

"Why should I care about what you want?  Still, I won't throw this game away.  I won't abandon the responsibility of fighting with Beato."
"I'm glad our goals are the same.  So, this means you'll be able to kill this child without any hesitation, right?"

"........................"
"............That's right."

"........................"

I have no way of knowing whether those words eased her pain or hurt her.

...But because of this dull tingling in my chest......I believe that she must have been hurt.

I have no way of knowing what the silent Beato feels.

......If I believe she's been hurt, ...then does that make it a sure thing?

And, if I didn't think I hurt her, would I have been able to get by without hurting anyone?

..................

"......So, about that Beato who's drinking tea over there with Natsuhi.  You can handle that, right...?"
"Yeah.........No problem."

"It's the same as it was with Kinzo.  Beatrice doesn't exist.  This is a fake illusion of a witch that Natsuhi created, believing that she thought up a brilliant plan to overcome hardship by borrowing a witch's power.  The only reason it looks like the two of them are drinking together
is because Lambdadelta, the Game Master and

the one who is telling the story・・・・・・・・・・・・ interpreted it that way."

"If you stare without a fragment of love for Natsuhi, you won't see illusions like that.  .........That's why with my eyes, all I can see is Natsuhi all alone, drinking her tea in silence."


Without love, it cannot be seen.
Because love is lacking, it cannot be seen.

"That's a delusion that Natsuhi's showing us.  ......Beatrice doesn't exist there."
"..................Ugh........."
Beato mumbled softly.
......It was a small voice that made it sound like she was in pain.

The thorn of Bernkastel's truth had stabbed into her chest.

"......Yeah, that's probably true.  I think your theory is right.  But don't say that in front of Beato."
"It doesn't matter where I say it.  This is Beato's world."

"......Also, it's not like I'm protecting Beato, but there is a possibility that Natsuhi oba-san really is drinking tea with some unknown person X calling themselves Beatrice.  This scene takes place a year before everything.  The number of people on the island on this day has never been shown with the red truth."

"............Sure.  Even Lambda hasn't said anything in red about the number of people on Rokkenjima on this day."

"In that case, it's possible for Natsuhi oba-san to claim that she really did drink tea with a woman calling herself Beatrice.  Just like I can't deny your theory, you can't deny mine.  That means you can't say for sure whether the Beato there is an illusion or not."

".........Oh, the cat box theory?  That might have worked on Beato, but it won't work on me."
"Why?"

"After all, Natsuhi is drinking tea all by herself right there."
There was a violent sound of glass breaking, ......and the Beato joking about Natsuhi's newlywed years and laughing happily...was erased.
......A lonely wind blew, ......and the one person who remained on the bench drinking tea with a tired expression......was Natsuhi oba-san, all alone.........
"............Nn, ggh.................."
Beato......groaned.  I could see clearly that she was in anguish.

Another illusion of the witch had been smashed, ......calling Beato towards death.

......In short, this is what the battle to let Beato sleep in peace is all about...
A second ago, Bernkastel likened our fight to the torture of tearing fingernails out.

If I have to tear them out anyways, ......then my last bit of compassion towards Beato should be to minimize that pain.
In other words, ......even if I want to minimize the pain, I still have to cause it.

I have to accept......that look of anguish on her face......
And at the same time, ...I realized what a merciless thing the red truth was.
......Right now, in this rose garden, there is no one except Natsuhi oba-san.

In other words, there are no observers except for Natsuhi oba-san.

So, if that lone observer were to say that she'd had some tea with Beato, ......no one should be able to refute that.
......If no one can refute it, ...doesn't that mean it's the truth?

Natsuhi oba-san is enjoying the roses and drinking tea together with Beato.

...How could anyone have the right to mercilessly trample that pleasant moment......?

".........The red truth is kind of like a blade."
".................."

"In a battle with a witch, it's a blade that sometimes tears your theories apart, but sometimes becomes a weapon you can fight back with."
"......I know.  So what?"

"Don't use it without reason."

"............"

"A blade is a tool if you use it when you're supposed to, ......but it's a weapon if you use it out of malice."

Certainly, Natsuhi oba-san hadn't really been drinking tea with a witch.
However, saying that with the red truth probably has nothing to do with our game.
Our game is the tale of October 1986.

The two days of the crime give us more than enough time to injure each other with our red and blue blades glistening.

"This isn't about the Illusion of the Witch.  ......It's about Natsuhi oba-san's privacy.  How could anyone have the right to expose that?"
"........................Do you want to acknowledge that a witch actually existed here and drank tea with Natsuhi?  Weren't you trying to deny the existence of witches?"

"......Yes, during the game of the two day period from October 4 to October 5, 1986.  But I have no desire to question whether or not witches exist outside that game board."

"In the first place, it's impossible to deny the existence of witches because of the Devil's Proof.  And, according to the rules of this game, saying something like that in red is a forbidden move that leads to a stalemate.  You can't deny the existence of witches even with the red truth."

"............True.  ......I never thought I'd hear you talk about witches existing.  ............Not bad, Lambda.  You've done a good job of making Battler stuck between his human culprit theory and the thought that it doesn't matter whether witches exist or not."

"She really excels at controlling a human's heart.  ......Looks like I'd better start helping you out even more."

"I really couldn't care less about you two.  Disappear.  This game is between Beato and me.  We're gonna keep this game to ourselves."

"............No way."
"What......?"

"After all, I'm enjoying this game too.  .........*giggle*giggle*giggle*giggle*.  Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha......"

Bernkastel disappeared, leaving only that unpleasant laugh behind.

"....................."

After that, all that remained was Natsuhi, sipping tea all alone, ......Beato, her hand still on the tea cup as she stared blankly at the surface of the liquid, ......and me.

"......Bernkastel and Lambdadelta.........Virgilia called them your friends, but......you really should choose your friends more carefully.  Or wait, maybe they actually make a good match with an ill-natured person like you..."

".................."
"............"

Beato didn't answer.
Battler took Beato's hand, made her hold the cup again, and brought it to her lips.

......Beato made a quiet sound in her throat and drank another gulp......
Then, Natsuhi's lonely teatime ended.
......That truth, which was only Natsuhi's and observed by no one else, had been defiled.

In Natsuhi's world, surely......that tea party, which had been peaceful despite her annoyance at Beato for making fun of her too much, had come to an end, and the two of them had split up.
However, in Natsuhi's exposed truth, ...she was all alone.
Natsuhi tottered away.

......On the bench, only a single person's cup remained......

Closed Room Barrier

After dashing to her bedroom, Jessica answered the phone call that had been transferred there.
"Ah, hello?!  Sorry to keep you waiting!  Battle~r!  What'd ya think you're doing, not contacting us for six years?!  How's it goiiiiiiiing?!  Oh, really?  How the hell'd I know?!  Heh, shut up!  Ahhahahahahahaha!  So you'll be coming to this year's family conference?  It's been six years!"
Five businessmen in expensive suits were visiting in the parlor, giving Krauss and Natsuhi a progress report on their business.
Spread out on the table were the blueprints and designs for a building, as well as documents related to expenditures and the like...so packed that even a tea cup would have gotten in the way.
Officially, they were here to give Krauss a progress report, ......but in actuality, Krauss had called them all the way over to Rokkenjima so that Natsuhi could hear from them directly.

This was because Natsuhi needed to hear someone other than her husband explain what condition their business was in.
......In short, even though another family conference without Kinzo was approaching, their business had not yet earned them any money.
After telling the guests to wait for a short while, Krauss took Natsuhi out into the hall and once again summarized the situation...
"......In short, they are saying that the business is proceeding much better than we imagined it would.  This is where that personal connection between me and the governor is really starting to pay off!  By now, it is certainly impossible for this catch to get away from us.  To the contrary, it's growing so big that in one go, we'll be able to regain not just that power of attorney, but everything we've lost up to this point as well!"
Krauss spoke passionately.

......This made things seem all the more suspicious to Natsuhi, but this time, at least, she had to admit that everything really did seem to be going well.
Certainly, this business Krauss boasted of had expanded in scope over the last year, and was promising an even greater payoff than had been anticipated in the beginning.

Whether it proved to be a winner or not, investors had gathered around it, and they were rapidly gaining funds.
This must be what they mean when they say that money summons money.
It was probably the greatest success of Krauss's life so far.

......No, it probably would become・・・・・・・ his greatest success yet.
That point was where Natsuhi's misgivings lay.
True, it was certain, and as Krauss had said, they wouldn't lose this catch now.

However, .........the fish on the line had gotten too big.

"We'll definitely be able to reel this fish in.  There's no need to rush.  It's such a success that I wish I could show it to Father to be praised, if he were still alive...!"
"Yes, I know.  However, I believe you made me a promise last year.  You said you were sure you could manage something within a year...!"

A pained look rose to Krauss's face.
They certainly had hooked a fat fish that guaranteed a great success.

However, it would require an appropriate amount of time to reel it in......
Natsuhi pressed Krauss, asking if there was any way for them to make money before this year's family conference, but Krauss kept saying that he needed just one more year...
Krauss planned to use this unprecedented success to catapult them into further challenges in the future.

Because of this, he didn't want to do anything that would raise suspicions by making it seem like they were rushing to get money...

Certainly, fortune tends to turn against people who take it for granted even in the slightest.
Like by anxiously begging for money......

On many occasions before now, Krauss had gotten cold feet and sold businesses that would surely have brought in a profit had he just waited, and had, in effect, given away his winning picks.

Natsuhi also knew this.
She knew that guts were the thing her husband lacked most.

That's why she was unable to refuse when Krauss said he wanted to prudently wait just one more year......
"......Hahahahahahahaha.  So wonderful that things are going well.  And that means it looks like I'll have to sit around here as a ghost for a little longer."

"You don't look too disappointed.  Your life is fated to be chewed to bits by demons as soon as you leave this world."
"......My apologies, Father.  ...For another year, ...you might not be granted peace."

"It is fine.  Do not worry, Natsuhi.  I am no longer the Ushiromiya family head.  The ghost of the study should obediently follow the current head's commands.  ......I've taken a look at Krauss's charts, and they aren't bad at all."

"Even from your perspective, Father?"
"......Hmmm.  They're pretty good even from my perspective.  Everyone is confident in victory and concentrating a significant quantity of magical power.  As a result, that victory is growing ever deeper, gathering more and more people and magical power, and beginning to create gold.  A perfect embodiment of alchemy's shortcuts."

"Hoh.  If you've earned even the Golden Witch's approval, that is very reassuring.  Be pleased, Natsuhi.  This business of Krauss's will save the Ushiromiya family from its crisis without fail."

"Th, ...thank you very much.  ......And, if you would once again......"
"Hmmm.  We'll have to overcome one more family conference, won't we..."

"Yes.  I think things went well last year, but I imagine some of the relatives will find it suspicious.  .........I think this year's conference will be a critical period."
"During last year's family conference, you were correct to predict that the same thing might have to happen again someday."

"......Even for those who aren't witches, preparing for the worst case scenario is one of the basics for getting on in this world.  ......So, what will you do this year?"
"Just like last year, I will see to it that a high concentration of the servants who know Father's secret are there on the day of the conference.  ......Some of the relatives may already have noticed that Father isn't around.  A careless act might actually put us in more danger of exposure."

"Hmmm.  It is said that too much is as bad as too little.  ......Then what will you do?"
"Unlike last year, I think we'll go with a plan that has you staying inside your study until the end."

"That would be suitable.  A barricade is simple, and a final trump card."
"No matter how much the mansion is filled with the toxin, it will be impossible to deny Kinzo's existence as long as the closed room barrier remains around this room.  I shall guarantee that myself.  ......However, when making a barricade, it is inevitable that you will be surrounded."

"I know.  ......Even so, I beg that both of you lend us your power just one more time..."

"I cannot disobey the orders of the new head.  Furthermore, a ghost cannot disobey the orders of the living.  If you tell me not to leave this room, then I will obey."
"Thank you very much......"
"I don't like it.  If you want me to lend you my power, I won't listen to a mere request."

"Yes.  You are the alchemy counselor to this house.  So, I won't ask you to help.  I order you to help.  ......We are relying on your magic alone.  Use that power to create an illusion of Father just one more time."
"Very well.  I hear and obey.  I find your dignity quite pleasing."

From the shadows of the study, Battler watched the exchange between these three......

"......I see.  So we've made it to this year's family conference.  ......Grandfather was in a bad mood, so he shut himself in his study and didn't appear in front of anyone."
"........................"

Natsuhi spoke boldly about how she would somehow overcome this year's crisis and protect the Ushiromiya family honor until the end, while Kinzo praised her, saying that it looked promising.

Beato also praised her, saying that Natsuhi's dignity was even more fitting for the family head than Krauss's.

.........However, .........right now, the true number of people in this room was......
At the same time I thought that......no, just because I thought that, Beato grabbed her chest and moaned.

"......Don't worry.  We're still outside the game board.  So, I won't deny you or Grandfather over there."
"....................."
I put my hand on Beato's as she tried to hold back the pain deep inside her chest......
I already told Bernkastel.

Just the two day period of the 1986 family conference is enough to deny the Illusion of the Witch.

"In the last game, you said in red that Grandfather is dead at the start time for all games.  However, you never mentioned whether Grandfather was alive or dead before the start time for the games.  ......In short, even if Grandfather exists in this place right now, that doesn't create any contradictions."
My hand that was touching her let off a faint blue light, ......which seeped into her chest.

That light tenderly wrapped itself around the splinters in Beato's chest...

"......And, I also can't deny the existence of the Beatrice in this place.  The number of people on this island outside the game board...in other words, before October 4 1986, has not been proclaimed in red.  Therefore, there's nothing strange about Beatrice existing here."

"........................ah."

Beato's expression softened slightly.
My blue light......slowly started to melt the red splinters that denied the Illusion of the Witch...

".................."

Beato still wore the same sad expression, but she lifted her face...and looked me right in the eye.

Even though she was silent, her eyes told me that the pain had gone away.

The feelings that showed in her eyes were gratitude for taking the pain away, .........and appreciation...or was it surprise?  ...For leaving even a tiny bit of leeway for witches to exist.
Unable to look directly at those pure eyes of hers, I automatically averted my gaze.
"......Don't get the wrong idea.  I don't plan on accepting the existence of witches or surrendering.  I just want to let that part slide and fight like a stoic so that I can win in this game against you.  I have no desire to bully you outside the game board as well."
".................."
"............"
Beato hung her head.  ...I was still facing away from her.

However, we waited wordlessly for a while, my hand still on hers......
.........By now, no one would believe this woman with sad eyes......was the same person as that prideful Beato.
So, ......I asked once more.

Even though I said it aloud, it wasn't a question to her.  I was asking myself.

"......Just what in the world......are you thinking?"
".................."

"That's right.  Even though this is Lambda's game, ......I have to find you here.  I have to find what you thought...and what you were trying to do."
Very soon, this game will also reach October 4, 1986.
......The 5th game will finally begin.

And this time, I'll reach the end.  The end of that journey.
"......I'm not worried about the obvious stuff, like murders and tricks.  ...What did you, ...the Golden Witch Beatrice, think, and why did you do what you did?  What were you hoping for?  .........That's what I'm gonna find out."
That's right.  I already know how I can reach the end of that journey.  And it's been shown since the very beginning.

"......This time, I'll turn the chessboard over.  I'll peruse this tale not from my side, ......but from yours."
".................."

"And this time, ......I'll understand you.  And I'll pick my way to your heart.  ......I won't let you feel pain.  Don't worry.  ......I won't let those witches make you their toy anymore."
"...............Nn..."

Beato looked up at me again......and gave a small nod.
......That's right.
The position of Game Master might have been snatched up by Lambdadelta.
However, ......as long as I continue this contest with the intent of fighting against Beato, ......our fight will continue no matter who controls the game board.

......Very soon, the curtain will rise on our game......
"At this year's family conference, we must conceal the Master's secret once again."

"Y, yes.  ......I understand."
".........I'm a little doubtful that the same trick will work twice."

"Madam shares your concerns.  Because of that, it was decided that this year, he will not leave the study even once."
"In other words, we'll make it seem like he's shut away in the study the whole time...?"

"......Yes.  And the only ones allowed to enter the study are the three of us, the servants permitted to wear the One-winged Eagle."
".........Which means that the three of us will have to perpetuate the lie about the Master..."

"Correct.  ......The relatives will probably question you about the Master's health and mood.  Make sure you answer without hesitation, and see to it that nothing is seen as suspicious."
"......Y, yes.  I understand."

"I'm sure you'll screw up right away, Nee-san.  Maybe it's better to say you have a cold or something so that you can skip that day."
"Th, that's mean......"

Kanon wasn't just making fun of her.

......He only wanted to release Shannon from the burden of working on this most serious of days.

"Genji-sama.  Is it really necessary for Shannon to work that day?  We can manage things well enough without her."
"That I cannot do.  Madam gave strict orders that the three of us be scheduled to work on that day."

"Yes......  I am prepared to perform my duties successfully."
"Don't screw up."
"I won't."

Shannon grew sullen, and Kanon shrugged.
Then Genji told them that they weren't taking this seriously enough.

"......Shannon.  Kanon.  ......The Master we serve has already passed away.  However, until he has truly passed on, we will continue to serve.  ......That study is not empty.  The Master is still there, hard at work on his usual research.  Make sure you take that to heart."

""Yes, Genji-sama.""
"Father has already passed away...?!  That's insane...!"

"Settle down...  It's only a possibility.  It's well known that Takeda Shingen said in his will that his death was to be kept secret for three years.  Know about that?"
"......Is that how it went?  My Japanese history isn't so great."

"At the time, Takeda was in the middle of a war with Oda and Tokugawa.  If his death had become known at a time like that, it would probably have had a negative effect on the war.  'Cause of this, he left a will sayin' that his death should be kept hidden for three years.  ......Hideyoshi did the same thing, right?  He completely suppressed information about the death of his master, Oda Nobunaga, so that the enemy wouldn't find out, quickly made peace with Mouri, and defeated Akechi in the Battle of Yamazaki."

"On the other hand, Shibata Katsuie failed at this.  The enemy, Uesugi, learned of Nobuyuki's death, so Shibata had to deal with an unexpected counterattack and was slowed down.  That's why, later on, he suffered a great loss against Hideyoshi in the fight for the succession."

Hideyoshi, who had a strong fascination with the commanders of the Sengoku period, would always show off his knowledge whenever he got the chance.

Wincing slightly, Eva made him get back to his point.

"......In short, ...the whole time since last year's family conference, I've felt as though something was strange."

"You mean the time when Rudolf and I were talking about the inheritance and Father overheard us from the hall..."

"That's just it.  ......Natsuhi-san and the servants kept saying Father was here or there and that he seemed to be in a bad mood, but not a single one of us relatives saw Father, right?"

"If what you're thinking is right............What does that mean?!  Does it mean that Nii-san is trying to get all of the inheritance for himself?!"
"Of course, hiding someone's death is a very dangerous thing to do, and all things considered, I'm not sure Krauss-san would be willing to do it just to have the inheritance to himself.  However, it is possible."
"......W, ...well, it's true that Nii-san has always been greedy.  He always used to take things that were meant for all of the siblings and keep them all for himself..."
"Krauss-san is supposedly the most affluent of the siblings.  For Krauss-san to scheme to keep the inheritance all to himself to the point of accepting the risk of hiding Father's death...sounds a little unbelievable to me.  Even so, last year's family conference was just so strange that it makes me wonder."
"....................."
Eva and the others were painfully aware of how reckless it would be to try and see Kinzo when he was in a bad mood.
So, during last year's family conference, the whole time after they heard about Kinzo getting into a terrible mood, they never actively tried to contact him.

That's why, to this very day, they hadn't found it suspicious that Kinzo hadn't shown himself once......

"......It definitely is something we should suspect...  But I wonder if Nii-san really would do something as appalling as hiding Father's death.........For all his pride, that man has a coward's side to him.  Would he really make such a once-in-a-lifetime bet......?"

"In any event, it'd probably be a good idea to make sure we get a chance to meet with Father during this year's conference."
"......They're extremely bad rumors.  It seems that Aniki's businesses are failing even worse than we'd imagined.  It looks like he's had massive losses and is giving it everything he's got just to try and cover up that fact."

"In that case, it would be very difficult to borrow money from Krauss-san."
"Yeah.  I could almost cry."

".........So, would being in financial distress give Krauss-san some kind of weakness?"

"A weakness?  .........Well, investors tend to have a keen eye.  If they were to hear that Krauss is actually low on funds, none would want to have anything to do with him."
"I guess trust is the most important part of that business.  ..............."

Kyrie smiled thinly.  Rudolf was taken aback by that smile...

He had figured that his plan, which involved raising money to get him out of his current mess by borrowing from the affluent Krauss, would all come to nothing now that they knew Krauss himself was in financial trouble......

"......Krauss-san's trustworthiness might have been necessary in his businesses in the past, but it isn't something we need now."
"You mean extort money from Aniki?"

"I wouldn't want to.  Who would want to stir up something like that between blood siblings?  *giggle*giggle*."

Rudolf felt a shiver go up his spine at Kyrie's cold smile...
At times, Kyrie was able to throw away all compassion and think in an extremely ruthless manner.

When he felt that, Rudolf became certain that he'd never like to have her as his enemy......

"I wouldn't want to threaten Onii-san if there were any other way to get money."
"......If there were another way, we wouldn't be worrying."

"Don't you think worrying about a problem when you have no other options is a bit pathetic?"
"....................."

Rudolf stopped talking, folded his arms, and lowered his gaze.

Some of the terror Rudolf had felt for Krauss due to his violence when they were young still remained.
......And now, he would threaten Krauss.

That meant Rudolf would also have to fight against his childhood trauma.

So to give her husband a little push, Kyrie smiled reassuringly, ......and perhaps coldly.

"I never like to work based on trust.  It takes hard work to build up trust, but only an instant to lose it.  There's no less profitable investment."
"Y, ...you're right.  ...All the trust in the world isn't worth a good banknote."

"Even though Krauss-san has been taking huge losses, he should be able to prepare enough money to buy us some time.  Of course, that would probably force him to exchange all the trust he's built up for cash to raise money."

".........That, ......wouldn't turn out well..."

"We'll have to prepare sufficiently.  We haven't been given any time or room for failure.  Isn't that right?"
"Among my Kyoto friends, there are a few people who are very good at investigating that sort of thing.  I'd rather not be in the debt of these people, ......but do you want to try meeting them?  They don't give receipts, but I'm sure they'll dig up something that makes them worth the investment."
"Yes.  Maria is doing well too.  .........That won't be necessary.  Thank you.  .........Huh?  Well, I'll have to look at my schedule..."
Rosa was talking to Rudolf over the phone.

Rosa rarely received calls from her older siblings, so she braced herself for something serious.
"Well, truth is...I want to have a little talk about the next family conference, without Aniki."
".........Between you, me, and Eva nee-san?  ......Sounds like a headache."
"I can't talk about the details over the phone, but you might find that it's worth listening to."
"Something good?"
"Of course.  Aneki is all for it."
"Nee-san is......?"
"We just want your approval.  We aren't going to ask you for money or anything like that.  The most important thing is that the three of us stick together.  Got it?"
Rosa let out a sigh.

...She did so because, in the past, when Rudolf and Eva got into a fight with Krauss, they always used to talk to her like this right before dragging her into it......
"First, tell me.  I stand to gain something from this too, right?"
"Yep.  The three of us will each grab 200 million out of this.  If things go well, we might be able to squeeze out more.  That should be enough to handle your debt, right?"
"............And when will we be grabbing this by?"
"Of course, it'll be within a year.  I need it.  Aneki needs it.  And you need it too, Rosa.  All three of our problems'll be settled."
"So, its chances of success are good enough that Nee-san's agreed to it?"
"Now do you wanna hear?  I know it's a bit sudden, but let's meet next Sunday, 19:00, at that coffee shop you like in Ginza.  That's the only time Aneki's schedule and mine match.  Any problems?"
"If it could bring me 200 million, I'll have no choice but to listen.  ......Then let's meet at 7:00 PM next Sunday at Leopold's."
"And Maria-chan.  You can bring her too if you want."
"Don't talk about money in front of that child!"
She set the receiver down with a *clunk*, a little violently.
Apparently, either Eva or Rudolf had gotten ahold of one of Krauss's weak points.
They would probably threaten him with that at the next family conference and force him to pay money.

Even before hearing the details, she knew full well that it could be nothing good.
But even so, ......this might be her once-in-a-lifetime chance to pay back her large debts.

Rosa took a notebook out of her handbag and started to fill in the day she would be meeting with Rudolf and Eva.  ......Then she frowned and smacked herself hard in the forehead.
Because written there was 'DZL with Maria'......something she had planned to do with her daughter.
Maria was in her room, playing around excitedly with Sakutarou and the others.

It was because she was going to be taken to the amusement park that had just been created, Delsney Land, the following Sunday......
Looking at the clock, Rosa saw that it was just past 9:00 at night.  Maria was breaking the lights out rule.
After covering her face and agonizing for a while, ......Rosa stood up and stomped over to Maria's room.
The room was almost certainly a mess as well.  ......At least tonight, that was convenient.
As she stood outside the door to Maria's room, listening to the happy laughter seeping through, Rosa's face twisted in anguish once again, and she looked at the floor.

Then, when she raised her head again, her brow was furrowed, and her face had become an ugly expression of anger...
The weather wasn't that great.

The weekend forecast had said that there was a high likelihood of a tropical cyclone growing into a large typhoon.
If unhappy premonitions tend to be right...

......This year's family conference will probably take place in absolutely horrible weather.
No, I wish that a typhoon large enough to stop boat travel to the island would seal Rokkenjima away forever.

If that happened, I'd be able to hide Kinzo's death as long as I wanted......
"If only, ......the typhoon would keep them at bay forever."

Natsuhi let out a deep sigh.  ......Just doing that made her headache throb...

As the day of the family conference approached, the intensity of her headache just kept on increasing.
At that time, the phone rang.

Natsuhi turned the TV off and picked up the receiver...
"......Hello?"
"I apologize for calling during your rest.  It is Genji."
"Is something the matter...?"
"There is a phone call for you from the external line.  ......However, they will not state their name."
"They aren't saying their name...?"
"Yes.  The person in question said you would know when you spoke with them...  What should be done?  It might be a prank."
"What did they sound like?"
"I believe it was a young man.  Any idea who it might be...?"
"A young, ......man?"
Natsuhi didn't have a clue who that might be.

In the first place, there was no one amongst her acquaintances who would do something as rude as refusing to state their name.

And on top of that...a young...man......?
As a wife, she must avoid any contact that might be considered suspicious with anyone other than her husband, much less a young man.
As soon as she thought this, the phone call suddenly seemed like something dirty.

But at the same time, she was more interested than ever in what this person wanted to tell her.
......Could it be that there was some kind of trouble related to Krauss's business?

What if there was some particular reason that they needed to talk to Krauss's wife instead of Krauss directly......?
"....................."
No matter what it is, it's my duty as a wife to listen and report to Krauss.

......If it's some strange kind of threat, I just have to firmly refuse and inform Krauss that I received such a phone call.

If it's just irritating, then I just have to tell Genji to never again send me a call if the caller doesn't state their name.
As Natsuhi thought this, she told Genji, who was offering to hang up after all, to connect her to this person, and she set the receiver down.

After a short while, the phone rang again......
"............Hello?"
This wasn't the internal line.  It was the external phone line, which Genji had redirected to her.
So it should already have been connected directly with the mysterious man.
However, the person on the other end didn't respond to her.

......Not liking this at all, Natsuhi spoke one more time, sounding displeased.
"Hello?  Who is it?  Tell me your name...!"
"....................."
She heard something that sounded like a sigh.
She automatically gulped.
After remaining silent for a little longer, the man finally answered......
".........It's been a long time."
That was the first time the man had spoken.
"......Just how long has it been?  ......How many years, I wonder."
"What are you talking about?  Who are you...?!"
The voice certainly did sound like that of a young man.

But it's a bit hard to figure out much about a person just by their voice over the phone...
It sounded like a young man, but it might actually be a middle school-aged boy or an adult man whose voice still hadn't deepened.

No wait, it might be too soon even to be sure that this is a male.

However, the one thing which was certain......, was that she had no clue who this person, who spoke so casually with her, was...
"......It'd be easy for me to tell you my name.  ......But that would make me very sad."
"I don't know what you're talking about.  Who are you?  And what business do you have with me?!  If you can't tell me that, I'm not interested!  I'm hanging up...!"
"What I want, ......is for you to remember."
"And what is it that you're telling me to remember?  I don't know you, so I have nothing to remember!"
".........Please don't say that.  I'm your child, aren't I?"
"What did you say......?!  What are you talking about?!"
"Don't say things that'll make me so sad, ...Mother."
That unsettling word thrust itself mercilessly into the depths of Natsuhi's heart and started churning it about...

In her entire life, Natsuhi had never once been told something so unsettling.
In her bewilderment, Natsuhi felt her heart beat so loudly that it felt like it would explode.
"I, ......I, I don't remember someone like you ever calling me Mother!  I don't know what you're thinking, but I'm hanging up...!!"
"......I came back for revenge.  ......Revenge for your crime of 19 years ago."
Natsuhi's mind went blank......

And from beyond the sound of the wind howling outside the window, she most certainly heard the roar of the sea from that day......
".........So, you actually do remember, don't you......?"
"I, ...I told you I don't know what you're talking about!!  N, ...n, never call here again!"
"I haven't forgotten how you treated me 19 years ago.........To curse you, I still call you Mother despite that, no, because of that.  .........It'll be the family conference very soon, won't it?  ......I am your son, Mother.  I'll come on the day of the conference.  ...After 19 years.  ......So that I can have my revenge on you."
*click*!!
Breathing so hard her shoulders heaved, Natsuhi slammed the receiver down and hung up...
Then she hit the phone violently, knocking the receiver off.

So that no more calls would come through it...
I can hear the roar of the sea......
The voice I can hear from beyond the howling wind is certainly, ......aaah, even if I cover my ears, even if I cover my ears, ............the headache won't............
Completely pale, ...Natsuhi kept shivering as though cold......

".........Lambda, are you there?"

"Yes, I'm here.  I'm anywhere you want me to be, Bern."
"......Then crawl into the cupboard under the kitchen floor.  Or in a jar of rice-bran paste, if you want."

"Ooh, you're gonna dip me in bean paste and bite me?  But in that case, I wish you'd dip me in hone~y.  In return, I'll cook you in sugar water."
"......At least make it sweet soy sauce with sweet sake."

"So what's up?  You gonna make me repeat something?"
".........That's right.  Is Natsuhi's phone conversation here a fact?"

Lambdadelta grinned unpleasantly, as though sizing Bernkastel up.

She was probably trying to tease Bern for making that demand.

".........You refuse to repeat it?"
"Well now...  Should I refuse, or should I respond...  As the Game Master, that's up to me to decide, and I get to make that decision any time I want."

".........Unless I state it in the blue text, you aren't obligated to respond."

"That's it!  *giggle*giggle*.  Now the best you can do is wonder about Natsuhi's secret of 19 years ago, right?!  Make sure you're sitting on the edge of your seat, alright?  *giggle*giggle*."
Of course, this fishy telephone call happened before October 4, 1986.

This is still before the start time of the game.
So, there's basically no need to question whether it's true or false.

".........Since you, the Game Master, went out of your way to show me this, I'm guessing you're setting up some sort of strategy.  ......It might be a trick, but I'll at least keep this move of yours in my memory."

"Ehheheheheheheheheheheheheheheheh.........  So, you'll leave without turning the card over.  Ouch, wh, what?!"

"............<Direct Attack>."

After suddenly being conked on the head, Lambdadelta was bewildered.

But perhaps this incomprehensible exchange was funny to her...because she quickly went back to giggling.

"......Are you done preparing the game board now?"
"Yeah, that's right.  Now I'll finally move on to the game.  On to October 4, 1986...!"

".........I wonder what number October 4, 1986 this is.  ......So, the Endless Witch.  ...Beatrice.  ...She really is a frightening child."

"Is your side going to do anything, Bern?"
".........Nope.  If you've refused to repeat what I asked, then I'm done."

"<Turn end>, right?  <Untap, upkeep, draw>!!  Come!!  October 4, 1986!!!"

Furudo Erika

Sat, Oct 4 1986 11:00AM`
"This rose garden really is a masterpiece.  It's gotten even more awesome than it was six years ago.  You're so lucky to have this as your yard!"

"Are you kidding?  For me, it just makes it a longer walk to the harbor, which is a real pain."

"Hahaha.  That's a pretty luxurious worry."
"Uu-!  Getting to say hi to the roses every morning, so awesome!  You must get late after saying hi to so many roses...!"

"Shame about Ange though.  I hear her stomach gets upset easily?"
"Apparently.  It's probably her intestines that are weak.  She's got diarrhea all over the place."

"Uu-.  You shouldn't say something like that about a lady......"
"Ihihihihi, sorry about that.  Yeah, I forgot, marshmallows are what comes out of a girl's butt, ri~ght?  So, Ange got sick, and the marshmallows turned into syrup."

"Yeah, that's really-""-way too gross."

George and Jessica slammed a knee and a fist right into either side of Battler's gut.

*whack*, *smack*thud*.......The *smack*thud* was probably the sound made when his knees hit the ground and he fell over.
Normally, Battler possessed the good sense you'd expect of an 18 year-old man.

However, it seemed that this reunion had brought him back to the mental age he had been six years ago.

And bit by bit, Jessica and George realized that they were also returning to the way they'd been six years ago...
Natsuhi gazed at this (charming?) chat through an open window in the hall.

".........Madam.  Krauss-sama is searching for you."
"I'll go in just a bit.  ......It isn't even lunchtime yet, ...and I'm already tired."
Just a few moments ago, the sparks had already started flying between them and Eva's group.
The others had pounded on Krauss and Natsuhi over and over to get Kinzo out of his study...

Apparently, they hadn't been fully tricked at last year's family conference after all......
".........There are......no problems with Father, right...?"

"Correct.  ......Leave it to me.  Shannon and Kanon are also fully aware of today's arrangements."
"......Kumasawa is a good liar, so I'm not worried about her, ...but I am a little concerned about Doctor Nanjo.  ......I get the feeling he's bad at hiding things."

".........Leave that to me.  I intend to support Doctor Nanjo from nearby as much as possible."

"It's very reassuring to have you there.  .........It really helps a lot.  ...Without your strength, we wouldn't be able to succeed."
"......I am honored by your words."

"Don't worry.  The closed room barrier on the study is perfect.  As long as the barrier remains unbroken, no one will be able to expose Kinzo's secret."

".........Yes, I understand.  Still, you heard that conversation in the parlor just now, didn't you?"

"......Yes.  It seems that some considerable suspicions were aroused last year.  The terrible toxin has accumulated and is being spread all around."
"......It seems this year's conference really will be crucial."

"We might be able to overcome this year somehow, ......but there is such a thing as pushing our luck.  It's probably best to assume that next year won't be manageable."
".........With this much of the magic-resisting toxin filling up the place, it will probably be difficult to preserve Lord Goldsmith's magic for yet another family conference."

"W, ......who are you?"
"Oh, no need to be surprised.  This man serves as my head furniture."

"Greetings, Madam Natsuhi.  My name is Ronove.  It is a pleasure to meet you......"

"This man's reliable.  He's also helping to guard the closed room barrier."
"......Is that so?  I am Ushiromiya Natsuhi.  I thank you for your cooperation."

"Of course, Madam.  ......I will be aiding you from the magic world.  Please rely on me."
"............In that case, I guess I'll introduce myself next.  <Hi>, Riiche.  Long time no see......"

"Ah, Gaap!!  I'm glad to see that you're here as well!"

"......Well, I only came to have some fun.  ......If you need an extra hand, let me know.  Nice to meet you, Madam.  ......This is the first time I've said hello, but I'm always right by anyone's side."

"Pu ku ku.  Gaap here is quite the prankster...  Remember that headache medicine you dropped on the floor of your room and lost as you were getting dressed?  Gaap was the one behind that."

"Whenever you set something small down somewhere but can't find it later, it's always a good idea to suspect that it's one of her pranks.  ......Long ago, she used to tease me all the time!"
"I, ...is that so?  ......In any event, this is the Ushiromiya mansion.  As long as you are here, you will obey us.  You understand, correct?"

"Of course.  We understand.  ......Think of me as a Genji of the magic world, and please give me orders whenever you wish."
".........I'm pretty sure I know how to be a good guest.  ...I won't let the landlord lose face."
"You can count on Ronove and Gaap.  However, the magic world and the human world are two different sides of the same coin."

"I understand.  ......Of course, I will do all I can in the human world.  Let's work together and protect Father's secret."
"Yes."
"......This happens every time.  Looks like we won't get anywhere until the next day."
"Hmm?  Well, su~re.  October 4 is like a preparation turn for me.  If you don't feel like doing anything, why don't you just sit around until October 5?  I'll call you after the first six die.  *giggle*giggle*......!"
......Of course, that was a very irritating way to say it.

The fight won't start until the crime occurs.
However, waiting for the crimes to start would mean turning a blind eye towards the murders of the first twilight.
In other words, it would be the same as being content with the fact that six people would die......

"............Did you know?  They say that in chess, the player who moves first is twice as likely to win."

"Although that can change as the tactics of the match progress.  Don't they say that the second player has a much better chance at a draw?"
"......Even I know what 'the first to strike wins' means.  .........Then what are you trying to say?"

"Pff, *giggle*giggle*!  This is why you're so incompetent."

"......Seriously.  ......Are you listening, Battler?  There is a puzzle which can be solved even on October 4.  ......Do you know what that is?"
"You don't mean..................No, but..."

"Heheheheheheh!  ......Well, watch and see, Battler the incompetent!"
"*giggle*giggle*..."
I have a general idea what these witches are talking about.

......I've tried solving it several times myself in the past, but I still haven't found anything resembling an answer.
On the contrary, I still can't even

understand why that puzzle exists・・・・・・・・・・.
.........That's right.  ...The reason it exists.
Why did Beato......prepare a puzzle like this in the first place......?

We all discussed it together from time to time inside the past games.

However, I've started to avoid thinking about it under the assumption that there's no point in trying to solve a riddle that can't be solved.
......This time, I should change my viewpoint.
I shouldn't just focus on the obvious parts...like the truth of the riddle and how to solve it.
......What's more important is why that riddle was set up in the first place and displayed for us to see.

That's what I should be thinking about.
And the one proposing that riddle......is Beatrice.

Even if I can't solve it, I should be able to try and figure out what Beato was thinking when she showed it to us.
......Alright...this time, I'm turning the chessboard over...
The witches keep calling me incompetent.
Let them laugh.  ......They aren't my enemies.
......I'm continuing our match.  Beato......

"......Oh.  Seems like it's finally started raining."
"Sheesh...  I wish I could keep the downpour limited to the inside of my heart."

The people in the parlor noticed that raindrops had started to drip down the window.

"So now, we have nowhere to run until the family conference ends."
"......The same thing goes for Nii-san.  ......I won't let them escape, you can be certain of that...  The cards we're holding aren't bad.  Nii-san is just bluffing.  ......I'll make certain that he surrenders..."

"Well, a deal isn't just about making your opponent lose.  ......You've gotta get a pitfall ready, praise them a bit, and convince them to stand on it of their own accord."
"......Hideyoshi-san is right.  We pressed them a little too hard last time, Eva nee-san."

"Th, that was perfectly reasonable considering it's Nii-san we're dealing with."
"Heh, looks like Rosa's fallen asleep."

"She was complainin' about how early she woke up this morning.  Well, guess there's nothin' wrong with taking a nap."
"There's a chance we might be forced to spend all night on this.  Getting a nap in now is probably a smart idea."

Out of consideration for Rosa, who had fallen asleep on a sofa, the others quietly left the parlor.
Unaware of this, Rosa slept.

After telling Maria to just stay where she was after that tantrum over not being able to find her rose, Rosa slept, unaware that the rain had started to fall......
The rain poured down as though it had been saving up for this moment.
Of course, Maria noticed that the rain had started falling and was soaking her to the bone.

However, that just made her even more stubborn.
Unable to find the poor, slightly unhealthy rose that she herself had marked, ......she just couldn't stand having that search be interrupted by something like the rain.

So the more the rain fell on Maria, the more stubborn she grew, and she wandered around the rose beds...
As she did, .........from behind Maria's back, ............came a *patter*, *patter*.  ...The sound of approaching footsteps.
Then, the footsteps landed in a puddle, making a small splashing sound, and Maria finally heard.

However, even the slight distraction that sound caused made her feel irritated, and Maria ignored it despite having heard it.
"............Hello."
"......ah."

Maria turned around, bewildered.
......After all, that voice...was one she didn't recognize at all.

On this sealed-off Rokkenjima, ......that voice belonged to no person she knew...
"Krauss-sama, Madam.  ......I was looking for you.  Something important has come up."
Krauss and Natsuhi had been privately discussing what should be done next in a deserted corridor on the third floor.
Genji had searched everywhere for them.

"What is it?  It must be something more urgent than a few sheets getting wet by the rain."
"What is it?  Has there been some sort of blunder?"

"......A short while ago, someone came to the mansion...claiming to have drifted here after an accident at sea."

Krauss and Natsuhi couldn't help but go wide-eyed and look at each other.
This was the first time they had ever heard of someone coming to this island uninvited.
"Someone drifted here......?  Is that true?  Poor thing.  ......Treat this person politely, like a guest.  What is happening now?"
"Doctor Nanjo is performing an examination.  ......He hasn't finished yet, but from what I could tell by looking, the drifter seemed tired but uninjured."
"That's good.  Natsuhi and I are having an important conversation right now.  When it is over, we will go to check on this person.  Please tell this drifter that we want them to feel at home."
"Certainly......"
When Genji bowed deeply and started to leave, Natsuhi called him to a stop.
Genji stopped walking and Natsuhi jogged up to him...

".........Genji.  ...Is this drifter.........a man?"
"No.  ......She is a young woman, about the same age as Milady."

"...A woman...?  .........I see.  Very well.  Back to your work."
The parlor of the mansion was bustling.

The adults gathered, worrying about the health of this sudden guest...

"Well, if she was able to walk all the way to the rose garden by herself, her life probably isn't in danger."
"......It always helps to be prepared.  It's probably all thanks to the life jacket.  Without that, she might have drowned."

"What kind of girl was she?  Older or younger than George?  Jessica?"

"She was younger than Jessica.  She was wearing a life jacket and swimsuit.  Looked like she was all tired out...!"
"Assuming she washed up somewhere near the harbor, that must've been a bit of luck amid disaster.  It would've been terrible if she'd landed on the opposite side of the island..."
"......Still, you have to feel sorry for her.  With this weather, the boats won't be coming.  I imagine she'll also be stuck on this island all day tomorrow."
At that moment, the door clunked open and everyone looked in that direction.

"Would anyone like some tea?"

It was Gohda and Kanon, with the latter pushing a serving cart laden with a tea set.

Gohda understood well that doing a little extra at times like this would earn him points.

The relatives, hungry for information, crowded around Gohda...
Gohda ordered Kanon to serve the tea and became the sole object of the relatives' attention.
"Gohda-san, how's that kid doing?  Does she seem well...?"

"W, ...well, I don't know about that.  But there is no need to worry...!  Doctor Nanjo is giving his full attention to taking care of her, and Kumasawa and Shannon are with him.  Please, do not worry.  Why not relax with some black tea for now...?  Come, Kanon-san.  Quickly, quickly, serve it, serve it."
"..................*grumble*..."
Kanon knew that this tea was just Gohda's way of earning points, so he lined the cups up with a slightly sullen air.

"Uu-.  I'll help too."
"......I, it's alright.  You can just wait there, Maria-sama."
"Uu-!  I wanna serve tea too-!"

"Didn't you talk with Doctor Nanjo?  Did he say anything?"
"Yes.  When I met him a short while ago, he said that there weren't any serious external wounds...  And from what I could tell at a glance......"
And, just as Gohda had successfully captured the gazes of all present and was about to start talking knowledgeably on the subject, Nanjo returned.
Of course, Nanjo instantly became the center of attention.
......Kanon turned his back on Gohda, who seemed downhearted.

"Doctor Nanjo...!  How is her condition...?!  Does it look like she'll be alright?"

"Not to worry, everyone...  She is fine.  She had no injuries at all.  It seems that she is quite worn out, but there shouldn't be anything to worry about tonight, as long as she doesn't develop a fever."

"That's good to hear.  ......We're lucky enough to have a doctor, but this is no hospital."
Everyone was relieved to hear that the girl was in good health...

When Nanjo gave the more detailed results of his examination, concluding by saying that she was young and should therefore be fine, everyone who no longer fell under this description nodded in assent.

"......Uu-.  Boats really are scary.  Fa-ll, fa-ll.  Battler was right..."
"Maria-chan, let's not tell Battler-kun about this."
"Oh, Madam!  Krauss-sama!"

Gohda, who had lost his nerve and was handing out cups, called out in an excessively loud voice.
Apparently, he was that desperate to get everyone's attention.

"......How is the guest?"
"Yes sir!  Her condition is not serious."

"I see, that's great.  Where is she now...?"
"I believe Kumasawa-san and Shannon-san were guiding her to the bath.  And they said they would get her some clothes afterwards."

"In that case, they will probably arrive here soon.  ......Everyone.  This may be the day of the family conference, but we have a guest brought here by an unfortunate accident.  She wasn't invited, but I want you all to welcome her."

"Who could disagree with that?  I'm all for it."
"Same here.  Didn't Mom always tell us to be nice to girls?"
"You take that line way too far."

"......It's probably best if we call George and the rest over here too.  Let's all greet her together."
"Well...wouldn't that just make her feel more timid...?"

Eva stood up and made a phone call to the guesthouse.
At that moment, they heard the sound of a knock, followed by Genji's voice.
"......It is Genji.  The guest has arrived..."

At those words, everyone fell into silence, and the people who had been sitting stood up straight.
Genji came in first, opening the door slowly, .........then moved off to the side, bowing deeply and urging the guest forwards.

The guest had Shannon and Kumasawa following by her side, ......and though she looked at the large amount of relatives waiting for her in the parlor, she didn't seem overawed in the slightest.

Just this single point...showed that this girl possessed a dignity appropriate for a guest invited in by the Ushiromiya family...

"......Furudo-sama, allow me to introduce you.  This is the representative of the Ushiromiya family head, Ushiromiya Krauss."

"Welcome to Rokkenjima.  Though you arrived due to an accident, you are a guest of the family.  We welcome you.  Please, make yourself at home and relax however you please."
".........Thank you very much.  ...Allow me to introduce myself.  ......I am called Furudo Erika (古戸ヱリカ).  My deepest apologies for disturbing you members of the Ushiromiya family like this.  ......I am truly grateful for the warm welcome I have received despite my status as an uninvited guest."
......There was a general sigh of acceptance.

The clothes she had been lent were probably Jessica's formal wear from long ago, ......but the composure of her introduction gave the impression of a dignity by no means inferior to the clothes she wore...
The girl's name was Furudo Erika.

She looked slightly younger than Battler and Jessica, but her composure and mannerisms were beyond what anyone would have expected from a high-schooler, almost as though she was a well-to-do family's daughter...

"Wait a sec.  ......Who is this person?"

"............With someone incompetent like you as the main character piece, the game wouldn't get anywhere.  That's why I've placed myself there as a piece..."

"Well, it's just a bit of a bonus.  Even in a closed circle, it'd get boring to see the same thing every single time, right?"
"Quit messing around.  This piece doesn't exist on Beato's game board.  Beato and I won't acknowledge it...!"

"This is Beato's game board, right?  If Beato refuses, then I'll think about it.  And Beato's opinio~n?"
"........................"
Beato was unable to answer.
......Lambdadelta grinned as though in triumph.
"......Wanna try complaining about the rules and stepping down from the game?  Isn't that the favorite move of you mystery people♪  If there's even a tiny element that goes against your expectations, you have a tantrum and totally stop thinking."

".........Ugh..."

".........Don't worry.  I'll make a detective proclamation about this piece."
"Detective proclamation......?"

"I proclaim that Furudo Erika is the detective."

"The detective is not the culprit.  No proof is needed to show this.  ......In short, there is absolutely no need to suspect this girl.  Even if she appears as a human piece from now on, you can theorize the same way as you always did, get it...?"

"......Because of Knox's 7th.  'It is forbidden for the detective to be the culprit'.  There was an exception clause in the original, but for this game 'the detective isn't the culprit' has been proclaimed in red, so you don't need to consider the exception.  I hate word games, so I'll say it in red too.  Furudo Erika is not the culprit."

"Repeat it.  ......'Furudo Erika had no influence on any of Beato's games before now'."

"Sure, I'll respond.  Furudo Erika had no influence on any of Beato's games before now.  She's nothing more than an extra character who appears for the first time this round.  She does not exist in the worlds before this one, nor does she influence them."

"In that case, what happens to the number of people on this island right now?"

"Of course, it's plus 1 over the previous number.  But don't worry.  Furudo Erika only increases it by one person.  Besides her, the number of people on this island is exactly the same as it was in the previous games."
At that time, the loud sound of people running through the corridor could be heard.

It was Battler, George, and Jessica, who had come from the guesthouse after being called here by Eva.
They immediately spotted a guest they didn't recognize, and their eyes went wide.

"......Whoa.........Wh, who are you.........?"
"Uu-.  Guest.  She came by fa-ll fa-lling."
"Huh?  Fall, fall...??"
"...Genji-san.  Who is this person...?"

"This is a guest, Furudo Erika-sama.  ......Furudo-sama, this is the daughter of the family, Jessica-sama, along with her cousins George-sama and Battler-sama."

"Umm, oh, ......n, nice to meet you.  I'm Ushiromiya Jessica..."
"............Hello.  My name is Furudo Erika.  I am very pleased to meet you......"

Though Battler, George, and Jessica didn't have a clue what was going on and were utterly bewildered, they each introduced themselves...

"......Isn't that convenient.  This way, the number of people is clear.  The people in the guesthouse have joined up with the rest, and now, all of the pieces except for Kinzo...all of the humans, have gathered in the parlor."

"Looks like it.  In other words, the number of people in this parlor now is equal to the total number of people on this island."

"There were supposedly 18 people on the island, ...but since Grandfather was actually dead, that became 17.  ......And now one piece of Bernkastel's has been added......"

The number of humans on this island has returned to 18......
'I' glanced around at the humans in the parlor.

The guest, Furudo Erika.  And behind her, Kumasawa-san and Shannon-chan.  Off to the side was Genji-san.

Krauss oji-san and Natsuhi oba-san were welcoming the guest.

Gohda-san immediately started showing off, and Kanon-kun was being unsociable, wearing his usual blank expression.

There was Dad and Kyrie-san.  Eva oba-san and Hideyoshi oji-san.  Rosa oba-san and Maria.  And, Doctor Nanjo.

Then, on either side of me, were George-aniki and Jessica...
This is everyone.  The true number of people on the island at the moment......

"Well, all of us are Ushiromiyas.  Please don't feel obligated to call us by our family name.  I'm George."
"I'm Battler.  Nice to meet you!"

"......Thank you very much, George-san, Battler-san.  ......I'd be pleased if you would call me Erika."
"Nice to meet you, Erika-san...!"

It was decided that Erika would be welcomed like a guest and allowed to borrow the bedroom next to the cousins' room on the second floor of the guesthouse.

In front of all the relatives, she had seemed dignified and a bit stiff.
However, as she talked with George and Jessica, her expression began to soften gradually......

――And so, the 'detective' Furudo Erika was placed on the game board......

"I'm surprised that Jessica's old clothes suit her so well."
"......Kumasawa made the decision on her own to use Milady's old clothes.  Please forgive her."

The clothes Erika was wearing were Jessica's old formal attire.

Though the guest possessed a dignity that would put many adults to shame, her body was still physically similar to a middle-schooler's.  Jessica's old clothes fit her perfectly.

"Not to worry.  They match this guest perfectly.  If she likes them, we might even let her keep them as a sign of friendship."
"......Certainly.  Thank you very much."
"Have you contacted the police and her family?"
"Yes.  They seemed to have been quite distressed."
"............By the way, ......our guest really did...have an accident, right?"
"......She said that she fell from a boat as it was returning to port."
"Is there anything to back up that claim?"
"I checked with the Coast Guard.  It seems that she fell from the rear of a pleasure boat, unnoticed by the others on board.  We don't know the exact location she fell from, but it was probably somewhere near this island..."

".........Playing on a boat with such a bad weather forecast was foolish.  However, ......is it really conceivable that she nearly drowned in the nearby waters and drifted to this island?"

"It is not impossible.  Tales of drifters washing ashore exist in several of the islands around this area."
"....................."

"......I believe it likely that there was an accident.  ......This is the middle of a typhoon.  There is no place on this island where it would be possible to land a boat."
Genji had already figured it out.

Natsuhi probably suspected that this mysterious guest, who had arrived during the already high-stress family conference, might be the agent of someone's conspiracy.
Therefore, Genji had already checked to make sure that the accident was real, that Furudo Erika was her real name, and that there was nothing suspicious going on......
"......I understand.  My husband has ordered that she be politely entertained.  Make sure that there are no blunders.  ......However.........you understand, don't you?"

"Yes.  ......I won't let her anywhere near the family conference.  After dinner, I will see that she retires to the guesthouse."

"Make sure that they don't start trying to force us to let her meet Father, or anything like that."
"Of course.  I will keep that in mind."

".........Hoh.  ...Furudo Erika, was it?  It's rare for guests to come here to Rokkenjima.  Doesn't this look like it'll be interesting?"

"She's probably Lady Bernkastel's piece.  ......Though she will follow the rules of humans, the player is a witch.  We can't underestimate her."

"Hmph, there is no problem.  Even if she was Lady Bernkastel herself, since she is a human, she's no match for us.  ......After all, we have Gaap with us.  Humans certainly cannot win against Gaap!"

".........Thanks.  Still, it's not a good idea to overestimate yourself.  ......The definition of a witch doesn't only imply the ability to use magic."
"True.  ......A joker and the eye of a typhoon.  That is what a witch is..."
"Hmph.  I'm the one who gets to call herself a witch on this Rokkenjima.  Only I, the Golden Witch and Endless Witch, Beatrice!  Let's see how good Lady Bernkastel's next piece after Ange is.  I intend to watch very carefully...!"

Witch of Miracles

Sat, Oct 4 1986 7:00PM`
Erika's seat was the lowest one in rank.  In other words, it was at the inferior end of the table.

Since Kinzo's seat at the high end of the table was empty, if you turned the whole thing around, it sort of looked like Erika was the host of this dinner...
"Well then, everyone.  I would like to begin tonight's dinner, if I may."

After Gohda's announcement, dinner began with the almost customary applause.
It was finally the beginning of the dinner orchestra conducted by Toshiro Gohda.

Except for Krauss's household, sitting at such a majestic dinner table was no everyday thing for these people by any means.
However, they were all used to it and acted as though this was completely normal.
......Again, if anyone was to be surprised, it should have been Erika.

And yet, she showed no surprise at this dinner and acted with composure, blending in with everyone else.

......There wasn't even a sliver of the fear one might expect from someone who had wandered here like a lost puppy.
".........She's a strange child.  She doesn't seem the least bit flustered over the Ushiromiya family's grandest dinner of the year."

"Kids these days have nerves of steel.  ...Definitely not something I dislike."
"Is Furudo-san used to meals such as this one...?  She seems to be quite composed."
"No kiddin'.  She seems very experienced.  Heck, I still get confused about which fork I'm supposed to use next.  Yeah..., was it this one, or this one...?  Wahahahahaha!"
Without showing any confusion over the line of utensils in front of her, Erika gracefully ate her hors d'oeuvres.

Hideyoshi had started joking around with her, gripping a fork in each hand.
Of course, the president of a company in the food service industry like Hideyoshi would obviously know his table manners.

However, thinking that Erika must be nervous over this dinner, he had intentionally spoken with a comic tone of voice.
".........You just have to start on the outside and work your way in.  ......If that's a pain, then just ask for some chopsticks.  ......If you're Japanese, you've got to love chopsticks."
"Chopsticks are so great.  Just one pair of those, and you can deal with any kind of food!"

As soon as she began talking about chopsticks, her eyes started glittering.
......The smile she now showed for the first time was far different from the dignity she had shown before and more like something you'd expect from someone her age.

"*giggle*.  But you would use a spoon for curry and rice, wouldn't you?"

"Just make it as donburi.  Is there anyone who eats gyuudon with a spoon?  Of course not.  For the Japanese, it's absolutely, positively, totally chopsticks!  So, Gohda-san.  Would you mind bringing me some chopsticks?  I want to show everyone how a true Japanese person should eat, without any shame!"

"......By the way, what are we eating next?"
"Unfortunately, that would be soup."

As she pretended to shrug, Erika winked at everyone.
"""Wahhahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha...!!"""
Of course, no one was laughing at her.

She obviously knew that soup came after hors d'oeuvres in a full course meal.
Furthermore, Erika had even noticed that she'd been performing too perfectly and creating a sense of tension...and that this was why Hideyoshi had tried to break the ice.

That's why she'd started behaving a little childish and light-hearted, acting out the part of a guest enjoying a harmonious dinner......
Pretty soon, not only Kyrie, but everyone else also caught on.

Even though she was an uninvited guest, she was apparently worthy of participating in an Ushiromiya family dinner.

"Smart kid.  ......Did she really just come here by coincidence?  Don't tell me you secretly called your illegitimate child to today's family conference, Nii-san?"
"It seems she's not only smart, but knows how to brighten the mood too.  And her manners are simply wonderful.  It wouldn't be bad at all to have this girl as a daughter."

"Hihihihi.  That's pretty cruel.  Where does that leave Jessica-chan?"
"*giggle*.  That's mean, Rudolf nii-san."

"What's wrong, Jessica-chan?  Headache?"
"Uuuu...  I get the feeling my reputation's taking a dip......"

"Well, as the daughter of the head family, I doubt you're any worse.  Try using those table manners and dignity Natsuhi oba-san's always training you with, and fight back!"
"Wanna see, wanna see!  Wanna see table manners!  Uu-!"

"Hey, jumping around is bad manners.  Come on, Jessica-chan.  Show us how it's done."
"......S, sure, of course..."
Jessica straightened up so much it looked like someone had poked her back with a pole.
......She had good posture, but it somehow lacked elegance.
She looked...well...kind of like a triangle ruler.
She sat at attention with her gaze fixed straight ahead, tried to bring her food to her mouth despite this, ......and failed miserably.

Dad, who was sitting next to her, suddenly realized that something was up.

"Hm?  What is it, Jessica-chan?  Your stomach hurt??"

Jessica turned bright red.  ......Ah, sorry, I can't help myself...
We laughed our heads off.
Jessica protested, still bright red.
Natsuhi oba-san scolded us for being too improper.

Well, no matter how much we try to smooth it over, we are who we are.  We couldn't act like we were anything else.
Still, that laugh really did help us to relax.
We were so concerned about the guest getting nervous that we had grown even more nervous ourselves.

Our chatter from the center of this long table spread to both ends, and ultimately, the dinner went even more smoothly than usual...
With some delicious cheese and coffee, our peaceful meal came to an end.

Gohda won unanimous acclaim and was praised for his skill by all present......
After a short period of harmony following the meal, it was decided that we would return to the guesthouse.
Normally, dinner tended to have a very dark atmosphere about it, and the adults would often move right on to the family conference with the same dark atmosphere.

However, perhaps because this year's dinner had been oddly peaceful, everyone decided to take a break, the adults included.
After eating, taking a bath, and relaxing while watching TV, I wonder if they'll gather again in the mansion in the middle of all this rain and resume their high-tension family conference...  I'd rather not think about that.
Apparently, Eva oba-san got very worked up trying to convince the rest to start the family conference right away, but it didn't look like many people agreed with her.  The meeting had probably come to a close for the night.
Since they had guesthouse duty, Gohda-san and Kumasawa-san were chosen to guide us to the guesthouse.
It must be tough for Gohda-san.
Even after making and cleaning up such an extravagant dinner, he also has the midnight shift at the guesthouse.

I heard that Kumasawa-san, old as she was, would be going to sleep soon.
It seems she was assigned a spare room in the guesthouse.

"Allow me to guide everyone to the guesthouse.  Erika-sama, your room has also been prepared."
".........Thank you very much."

"Why not rest a bit?  Are you sure you feel alright?"
"...That's right.  I'd totally forgotten, but you nearly drowned and floated here, didn't you, Erika-chan?  It's probably best if you take it easy today and get to bed early."

".........I'm perfectly fine.  ......On the contrary, I'm so nervous and excited that I doubt I could get to sleep."

"Uu-uu-!!  Then let's play, let's all play together!  Play cards!"

Maria latched on to her, giggling.
This lack of restraint particular to youth was very much like Maria.  ......However, we really should be worrying about Erika's physical condition now.

"Maria, why don't you play cards with us.  Erika onee-chan is tired."
"......I like cards.  Please let me join you after I've had a short break."

"Uu-uu-uu-!!  All right!!"
"............Who is that?"
As she passed through the lobby of the entrance hall, Erika stopped walking......
When we saw what she was looking at, ......the rest of us also stopped.

"......Oh, that is the Golden Witch, Beatrice-sama."
"............The Golden.........Witch."
"What're you doing, brats?  Head off back to the guesthouse right away."

Dad, Kyrie-san, Eva oba-san, Hideyoshi oji-san, and Rosa oba-san all came over.
The guesthouse party had all gathered.

However, Erika's gaze was captured by the portrait of the witch, and she simply stared at it for a while......
"......Yeah.  Supposedly, Dad has a stash of hidden gold worth 20 billion yen, and the hiding place for that gold is written of on this epitaph."
Perhaps because it was too early for them all to disperse into their individual rooms, the relatives who had returned to the guesthouse all gathered on the first floor, continuing their chat.

The topic......was the witch's epitaph, which Erika had taken an interest in.
".........It really is a fascinating riddle.  .........He stuck it out in a place where anyone could see it, challenging our intelligence.  .........I love that kind of challenge."

"Whoa.  You seem surprisingly interested, Erika-chan.  Do you like solving riddles or something?"

"......Don't challenges like this seem interesting?  ............It seems pretty clear that Kinzo-san wants to use that epitaph to choose his successor."

When she said that, the adults stopped moving, ......and slowly turned to face Erika...

"Why, .........do you think that...?"

Eva oba-san spoke with a coaxing voice.

......Though there had been whisperings between the relatives every now and then that the person who solved the epitaph's riddle might be given the family inheritance, ......that had been nothing more than wishful thinking, since such a thing had never been specifically stated.

And yet, though she had only read it once......this outsider had already reached that conclusion.

How had she come to it?

No, .........that's not the problem.

'If you solve the epitaph, you can become the next head'.
She wasn't trying to make it sound like wishful thinking......but an outright fact.

So they closed in around Erika, asking why she was so sure.

".........It's somewhat common for extremely rich people to relinquish their wealth to the person who solves a riddle.  ......Furthermore, Kinzo-san didn't publish this epitaph in a newspaper, but displayed it in his mansion.  That means the riddle is directed at the people in this mansion."

"You're right............Since it's inside the mansion, there's no way for someone who can't enter the mansion to solve it.  ...So, that means Grandfather has been challenging the people in this mansion."

".........<Good>.  Well thought.  Just by the simple fact that the epitaph is inside the mansion, it's possible to figure out that much."

At first, this Furudo Erika girl had seemed to be the fairly silent type, ......but apparently, that wasn't the case.

When she grew excited about being challenged to a game of wits, she became much more talkative than I had imagined.
"I, I see......  Well, it does make sense that an epitaph inside a mansion would be there so the people in that mansion could read it......"

"But......can you really be so sure that the one who solves it will be given the headship too?"

".........If the treasure gained by solving the riddle were something small, I wouldn't even have considered that."
"That's right.  The hidden gold is worth 20 billion.  ......You could consider it the wealth of the Ushiromiya family itself."
"............Inheriting that would be almost completely the same as inheriting the Ushiromiya family itself.  ...In other words, this riddle of the gold's hiding place buried within the epitaph is nothing less than a way of selecting the practical successor of the Ushiromiya family."
......The idea that the person who solved the epitaph would be chosen as the next head was something that had been floating around between a few of the relatives for a while now.

However, since that had never been stated specifically, it had been nothing more than an optimistic dream.

......Thinking this, they had decided to abandon all consideration of this point until it could be made clear.
Erika had clearly declared that this uncertain part was, in fact, true.
If one of the relatives had said it, people would have thought it to be merely an optimistic dream.

However, when Furudo Erika, a complete outsider, declared this, her words seemed more credible than they otherwise would have......
Everyone remained silent for a while, slowly considering what those words implied...
".........Simply by the existence of the epitaph in that place, this level of reasoning is possible for Furudo Erika.  ......What do you think, everyone?"
"......S, sorry to butt in, but my father is the successor to the head.  It doesn't matter who finds the gold, because just finding it doesn't make someone the head, right?"
Jessica thought the treasure-hunting part of the epitaph was really fun.

However, she couldn't help but let her expression grow bitter once they started talking about undermining her father's position...

"......By using deductive reasoning based upon my theory, it seems likely that Kinzo-san doesn't want the successor to the head, Krauss-san, to inherit that position very smoothly."
"Wh, why's that?!!"

".........Becoming the head of the Ushiromiya family, with all of the vast wealth it entails, would mean gaining a great deal of influence in a political sense.  ......In that case, the succession must be overseen vigorously, without letting any element of chance creep into the equation."
"Th, ...that's right.  ......It happens a lot in those stories about Sengoku period military commanders that my husband loves.  When there are multiple candidates for the successor, it usually results in an internal squabble..."

"...That's right......  That's why it's important to clearly specify a successor, so that you can avoid any trouble.  Sometimes, there's even a purge of all the competing successors."

Even the Sengoku commander Hideyoshi admired, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, made his son-in-law Hidetsugu commit seppuku, but it was rumored that he might have done this to make Hideyori, who was his real son and born after Hidetsugu, his true heir.

......In other words, naming a successor was a way to make it generally known that a single, unique person would be acknowledged by everyone as the successor, and a way to remove any chance of another person becoming an opposing candidate.
".........<Good>.  That's exactly right.  The only purpose for an epitaph like that would be to cast doubt on Krauss-san's position as successor to the head.  In other words, if Kinzo-san wanted Krauss-san to become the head smoothly, he would have no reason to go out of his way and display something so dangerous for all to see."

"That's right.  .........If you turn the chessboard over, you certainly could say that.  It would be odd if he handed over the position of the head normally, but didn't hand over the 20 billion yen in gold except to the person who solves the riddle."

Kinzo would give up the title of head, but he would only give up the 20 billion yen in gold to the person who solved the epitaph.

......You really couldn't call this passing on the headship in the truest sense.

".........That's how it is.  By this theory, we are able to doubt whether Kinzo-san truly acknowledged Krauss-san as his successor.  ......Simply by the existence of the epitaph in that place, this level of reasoning is possible for Furudo Erika."

"......What do you think, Jessica-san?"

"Wh, ...what the hell's that?!!  How do you call that reasoning?!  That's bullshit!!  It's screwed up!!"

Jessica let her emotions lay bare and glared at Erika.

...Erika, on the other hand, looked exceedingly calm with an expression that said 'Well, that's just the truth, right?'

.........I see.  It looks like table manners aren't the only way this girl is fitting for the Ushiromiya family.

...It seems she really is like the family, ......even in ways that it would've been better if she wasn't...
"Well..., t, take it easy, Jessica.........And Erika, let's leave it at that for now."

"Well, umm, we can put all this about the successor to the side for now.  In any event, there's no doubt that it's Father's big question for us.  ......Wahahaha!  It's 20 billion yen!  Maria-chan, what would you use it for if you found it?  Wahahahahahahaha!"

"......Uu-.  The Golden Land isn't just gold.  It's a more sacred place!"

Hideyoshi oji-san kept trying to force himself to chuckle and thereby force the mood to improve.

Everyone else tried to go along with that, but Jessica's mood didn't get any better.

"Ha, hahahaha.  So, Erika-chan, would you like to have a go at the epitaph's riddle?"
"............Yes.  My little gray cells are itching to get started.  So I'd like to start solving as soon as possible."

George-aniki skillfully turned the conversation around.

Just like the time she had made everyone laugh in the dining hall, Erika looked about with gleeful eyes and jumped at the chance.

"*giggle*giggle*.  I like it.  .........Well, since Erika seems so interested, let's all try and solve it together, just like last year."

"I'll make some coffee.  Raise your hand if you want some.  Not for you, Maria!  You won't be able to sleep...!"
"Uu-uu-!!  Wanna drink black coffee!!"
"....................."

"......Don't they get you excited?  Riddles like this.  .........I love them."

Erika said that and smiled...

Even though she must have known that she'd ticked Jessica off and made the atmosphere sour, ......she just smiled nonchalantly...

"......See?  Without even waiting for the crime on October 5, there's a riddle you can solve."
"........................I've tried to solve it many times myself.  But-"

".........But you didn't have a clue, so you gave up and stopped thinking.  ...Right?"

It pissed me off, but I didn't have a good counter for that.

After all, ......I don't get the epitaph at all.
I don't even get the beloved hometown part, much less the parts about the sweetfish river and the key...

Thinking that a few more hints would show up if I waited, ......I kept on waiting, ...and just stopped thinking......

".........Have you figured out an answer on your own?  .........Because I'm about to

solve it・・・・."

"Wh, what......?"

"This is where Bern solved the riddle of the epitaph.  ......I'd expect no less from the Witch of Miracles.  'If a riddle is solvable, she can solve it without fail regardless of the difficulty'.  ......How many years did it take to solve this one?"

".........That's rude.  I only fished through a few hundred Fragments."
"Heheheheheheheheheheh......  You really are terrifying."

"You aren't going to cheat by suddenly saying the answer in red or something like that, right...?"

".........Don't worry.  Just like you, I follow the rules as a player.  ......Well, shall we begin?  .........It's cramped here.  Why don't we talk over the sea?"

"OK.  ...Don't get queasy, Battler."
"What do you mean, sea...?  ............?!"
Right after I thought the world had turned pitch black, ......I was struck by a strange floating sensation.
It must have felt like suddenly having the floor drop from under you, sending you into a bottomless pitfall...

When I looked, ......I saw that the two witches and I......had been thrown into a pitch black universe.
In this space, every direction was covered in an endless darkness, and it felt like an endless expanse filled with countless glittering objects.
......Some people might have likened it to the depths of an ocean where countless glittering fragments drifted.
"Uh, ......wh, whoa................"
"............Didn't she tell you not to get queasy?"

"If you want the concept of gravity, just create it yourself, okay?  ......Come on, calm down and look at us.  ......Come on, don't we look like we're just fine?  ......Believe that your feet are on the ground and that you're being controlled by gravity.  ......If you do that, you'll find your equilibrium."

Y, yes, the two witches are standing normally, as though their feet are planted on a transparent piece of glass.

I'm the only one floating about like someone in a rapidly plummeting elevator.

......When I saw that they were just fine, I started calming down, figuring that there was no need to be scared.

Then, just as Lambdadelta said, I gritted my teeth and kept telling myself that there was a place to stand here...and that I had to calm down......

"Wh, ............whoa..."
"Very good, very good.  ......What's your name?"
"Ushiromiya Battler.  ......Who else do I look like?"

"OK.  You mustn't lose your will, emotions, or form.  After all, this is the ocean.  If you lose your purpose, you'll fall into the depths of eternity and become a scrap of ocean seaweed.  Be careful."

I don't get what Lambdadelta is saying, but I should calm down for the time being.
It seems that I gain my equilibrium more the more I calm down.
Gradually, that weird floating feeling, like I was falling forever, began to disappear.

......It still felt strange, like trying to stand up straight at the bottom of a deep pool, but it was much better than before.
".........Then let's begin.  .........I'll grab a Fragment for solving the riddle of the epitaph......"
Bernkastel opened both of her hands.

Then, like a planetarium.........all of the Fragments throughout this empty space began to spin, leaving tails behind them...
The expression 'planetarium' might have been even more fitting...

......Multiple Fragments were tied together by gold lines, and what looked like constellations zoomed by us rapidly, one after another.

It felt almost as though we were dashing through space at an incredible speed...
Then, with tails of light drifting behind them, ......several brightly glowing Fragments swirled around Bernkastel.
It looked almost like she had created her own solar system with her as the sun.

That solar system surrounding Bernkastel grew to a radius large enough to swallow us up.
And every once in a while, one of those satellite Fragments zoomed right past me.
When those Fragments passed right by me, ......it felt as though some kind of memory welled up inside me.

So I sensed it.
......These Fragments are probably like a crystallization of memories.
"They aren't memories.  They're Fragments of worlds.  ......Well, I guess they might feel like memories to you."

".........Then let's begin.  ...Let's start with this Fragment."

One of the satellites in this solar system was slowly sucked into an inward trajectory with Bernkastel at the center.

After drawing a spiral and approaching her, it settled down on the palm of Bernkastel's outstretched hand...

Then, it glittered brightly, painting over the world with pure white......
"...The 'beloved hometown' definitely won't betray our expectations.  ......The only past that Father held dear was his years as a boy."
".........I remember that.  ...This is when, in the 3rd game, Eva oba-san was just about to solve the riddle of the epitaph, and was thinking it over with this witch inside her or whatever."

"............That's right.  And, from these thoughts, she made her way to the correct answer.  In other words, this Fragment shows a vital hint for reaching the truth.
.........In other words, it means that

this theory is not mistaken・・・・・・・・・・・・."

"So, ......you're saying we should assume this beloved hometown isn't a metaphor or anything like that...but the place Grandfather actually spent his youth?"
".........That's right.  And at the very least, it isn't Odawara."

"............Odawara is definitely where he was born, but I don't think this hometown Father loved was Odawara.  I believe all of us siblings are thinking of the same place."
"...Right.  This probably isn't Odawara.  From what I've heard, he had a very fun time as a youth."
"That's right............Eva oba-san and her siblings said that it wasn't Odawara.  ......And not only that, it looks like everyone guessed where Grandfather's hometown was."

"......Right.  And annoyingly, the actual location isn't spoken of in any of the Fragments."
"Of course.  If I told you that, there'd be too many hints.  .........If a riddle isn't

hard, there's just no point to it・・・・・・・・・.  ......Uh-oh, that's a hint too.  *giggle*......"
".....................Just where is this hometown of Grandfather's?  ...We can't even start if we don't know that..."

"You mean you couldn't start, so you stopped thinking?  ......Since it had to be a place where he could have lived, the number of possibilities is limited.  .........Well, this is the toughest part."

".........You were the witch who could 'certainly solve any riddle that can be solved', weren't you?  ......So you took those limited possibilities, ...in other words, everywhere on the earth, and considered every single piece of land that Grandfather might have lived on?"

"............That would work too, but that way, no amount of time would be enough.  So, I needed to take some more hints into consideration to wring out the answer."
"......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......"

".........A sweetfish river running through the hometown.  However, this river isn't truly a river.  ......Eva thought of something else, something that could be linked with a river."

"Sure......  But if it isn't a river, then what are the sweetfish...?  ..............."

".........Think.  A river that runs through the hometown.  ......But it isn't a river with water running down it.  Something that can be likened to a river........."
".................."
".........The beloved hometown, the sweetfish river running through it.  ......Eva knew where the hometown was, so she could forget about the sweetfish hint.  ......However, since we don't know where it is, this could be a hint for us."

".........I worried too much about the sweetfish river.  The sweetfish part didn't really matter that much at all, did it?"
"That isn't true.  It was an excellent hint, wasn't it?  Well, of course, maybe there was no need for it to be sweetfish."
"............What are these 'sweetfish'...?  ......If the river isn't a literal river, then of course, 'sweetfish' probably doesn't mean the kind of fish that swims."
"Yeah.  And on top of that, Rosa tossed it aside, saying that sweetfish weren't that significant."

".........And on the other hand, Eva said that it wasn't important for them to be sweetfish, but that it was still an excellent hint.  .........In other words, the 'sweetfish' is a key to make you think of something else.  If that something is a different word, but a word that sweetfish makes you think of, then Eva's line about how it 'probably didn't have to be sweetfish' makes sense..."

"........................"

From these thoughts, Eva oba-san formed some theory, ......went to the archive, looked through some books, and 'verified that she was right'.

In short, Eva oba-san formed some theory about the true nature of this sweetfish river running through a hometown.

Then, ......she opened a certain book to determine whether that theory was correct or not.

In other words, this theory was something that could be verified through some kind of book...

Also, after she figured out what the sweetfish river was, she figured out the rest of the riddle very quickly......

".........Good thinking.  ......The epitaph continues on, saying 'If you follow the river downstream, you will find a village'.  At that point in time, Eva hadn't yet solved the three lines starting with this one."
"......What is '里' (village)?  What does it mean?!  If you go down the 'river', there's a 里......?!  ............ah, .........aaaaaaaahhh......!!"
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...

Is it, ......really alright for this to be the answer?
R, really?  Really...?!
"...So...if we figure out what the 'sweetfish river running through the hometown' means, ......we'll automatically understand the 'If you follow the river downstream, you will find a village' stuff, ......and get the key to the Golden Land."

".........Correct.  And that's because even Eva didn't know what the village down the river was until she read the book and checked."
"Dammit.........Just what is this book...?!"
"...But this isn't six characters at all.  ...I'm absolutely sure that 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.

If you can't believe that, why don't you cry yourself to sleep, and then just give up and die...?
"............1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.........Oooh, ...s, ......six characters.........I, ......I found it.  ...This, .........is, th, ......the key to the Golden Land.........!!"

"............Then, Eva found the key to the Golden Land."
"Yeah.  And this key......was some kind of word, number, or string of characters...six characters long!"

".........That's it.  If we know that the key's true identity has six characters, the meaning of the first twilight changes drastically."

"A, ...at the first twilight, you shall lift up as sacrifice the six chosen by the key.........Chosen by the key...the six............Six characters......!"

In other words......it means to sacrifice the six characters chosen by the key at the first twilight...!
"This key points towards a certain group of six people.  ......No, we should say it points to 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, Kyrie-san has been thinking that way ever since that moment...!
"...At 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 six characters are removed.
"In other words, at the first twilight, we take a list of characters that's longer than six, 'kill' the six that are the key, and then do something with the characters that remain...!"

"............That's right.  But, like Kyrie said, what should we kill the characters from?  ......We don't know this longer string of characters that we're supposed to be killing from."

At the first twilight, kill the six characters that are the key.

..................At the first twilight.

"......In other words, ...by the time we reach the first twilight, some string of characters already exists?  But 'the first twilight' (第一の晩) only has four characters.  Is there another way to read it?  If we act like Grandfather and read it in English, ......what does 第一の晩 become...?  <1st−night>...?  ............"
".........<Good>.  That idea of yours isn't bad, Battler-san.  ......We can interpret the six sacrifices chosen by the key as a string of six characters.  I think it's a very clever concept.  That way, the key doesn't necessarily have to be key-shaped."

"I also thought of the possibility that it's an anagram."
"......Come to think of it, you did say something like that before.  But in that case, where do we take the six characters out from?"

"That's right.  ......Since we're taking six characters out, it must be at least six characters long.  How can we read 第一の晩 so that it has more than six characters..."
"If we follow Father's sensibilities...I guess it probably is English after all..."
".........If it looks like we're getting stuck, why don't we move on to the second twilight and look for hints.  ......Those who remain shall tear apart the two who are close.  ......We can probably think of 'those who remain' as 'the remaining characters after the first six have been taken out'."
"In that case, ......what does it mean by two characters that are close...?"

".........I see.  ......I get it, that's what this is about...!"
For example, let's take the following list of nine characters: 123456789.

And then, let's say that the six characters offered as sacrifices are 1, 3, 6, 7, 8, and 9.

In this case, we erase the aforementioned six characters from 123456789...and get x2x45xxxx.

"So 2, 4, and 5 are left.  ......So what?"
"......Oh, ......4 and 5 are close..."

"Yes, I get it!!  So the two who are close are..."

x2x45xxxx.
"Yep.  There's a gap between 2 and 4, but 4 and 5 are right next to each other.  They're the two who are close...!"

".........<Good>.  Well done, Battler-san.  We can't tell whether 'tear apart' means to crush 4 and 5, or to put a gap between them, but I think that's a good observation."
"Then what do you think about the third twilight, those who remain shall praise my honorable name on high?"

".........Since there's a good chance that we're playing with letters, there's a possibility that this is also playing with letters.  ......'The characters that remain shall praise my honorable name on high'."
"Hmmmmm......  That's tough.........What could it mean...?"

".........Does anyone know?  .........I think I do."
"Huh?  What is it?  Tell me...!"
"......Is this also...an anagram?"

".........Once again, <good>.  ...Battler-san, you're a pretty clever thinker."

"By anagram, you mean playing with letters, right?  ......That means......"
"In other words, maybe it means that you can make some kind of word by changing the order of the remaining letters."

"Yeah.  ......If so, ..................This theory might be a little rash, ...but maybe the original list of characters that the first twilight is taken out of is 11 characters long."

".........Well done again.  I reached the same conclusion."

"Wh, why's that?  Why do you think there are 11 characters?!"
".........We think that 'killing a single sacrifice' means 'crushing a single character'.  If we interpret the 'tear apart' of the second twilight to mean adding a gap between two characters, then there are 11 characters total.  If 'tear apart' means to crush those two characters, then we can assume that there are 13 characters."
"......After all, from the fourth twilight to the eighth twilight, the word 'kill' appears five times.  And then, on the ninth twilight, it's written that none will be left alive."

"If we ignore the part about the witch reviving for now, I figured that after crushing the first six, separating the characters that are close, and then crushing five more of them......there should be no characters left."

So that makes 6+5, or 11 characters.

If tearing apart the two who are close in the second twilight means to kill both of them, that makes 6+2+5, or 13 characters.

There's a chance that the word which means 第一の晩 has 11 or 13 characters......

".........Wonderfully done.  That's the exact same theory I thought of.  ......It looks like you were gifted with a lot of little gray cells just like me, Battler-san."
"Hey, quit it.  Just doing what comes naturally."
"............Hey, what the hell.  ......The piece me is pretty damn smart.  There's no room left for me to make theories."
"Oh, sorry about that.  ......You weren't around at this point, so I just controlled your piece for you.  .........Isn't it nice how smart I made you look...?"

"*giggle*giggle*giggle*...!  It looks like you'd be wiser to let Bern be the player.  ......Why not step down as the player and concentrate on being the piece instead?"

I joined in on this game on October 5, after the first few murders.

That means the piece called 'me' was controlled by the player, Bernkastel.

So, I guess that means it's possible for Bernkastel's reasoning to be announced through 'my' mouth...

......The game I'm watching now is nothing more than a replay of a part that's already ended.
However, that's probably good enough for now.
......Since this Bernkastel-sama has gone out of her way to solve the epitaph for me.

...I'll watch closely for now.
.........And, ......I'll try to find out what it means.

Lambdadelta let it slip herself just a second ago.
"Of course.  If I told you that, there'd be too many hints.  .........If a riddle isn't

hard, there's just no point to it・・・・・・・・・.  ......Uh-oh, that's a hint too.  *giggle*......"
......This theory about Grandfather creating the epitaph in order to choose a successor isn't bad at all.

Erika and Bernkastel's logic is extremely reasonable.

But that's only if we assume Grandfather was the one to create it.
He was probably alive at the time the epitaph was displayed, but of course, ......Grandfather is already dead by 1986.
And, in the games up until now, Beatrice threatened us repeatedly with letters, saying that the only way to survive was to solve the epitaph...and trying to force us to solve the riddle.
In other words, ......it was Beatrice's intention, ...her hope......that we would try solving the riddle of the epitaph.

The epitaph is so confusing that, in most cases, the relatives never seriously tried solving it until the threatening letters started to arrive.

That's why Beatrice fired the starting pistol which made us take a go at it.
..................
.........Why is Beatrice succeeding Grandfather's will after his death......?
Like the theory proposed in the first game, ......is Beatrice really Grandfather's confidant, who's following his orders even after his death and trying to select the successor with the riddle of the epitaph in Grandfather's stead...?

If she did that, it would mean that Beatrice really was Kinzo's trusted underling, like the alchemy counselor she called herself in that letter...
After Grandfather's death, Beatrice managed the ten tons of gold and took the title of alchemist.
......She was entrusted with the epitaph's riddle, and without ever embezzling the gold, she waited for a human fitting to be the successor to appear and solve it......

And if that human didn't appear within a set time limit, ......would that be 'game over'?
Certainly, Eva oba-san, who solved the riddle in the 3rd game, became the only survivor and, automatically, the final head of the Ushiromiya family, inheriting everything.
Up until now, no one has ever survived past October 5 except Eva oba-san, the one who solved the epitaph......

That was the only case where Beatrice let anyone survive......
..................

Is Beatrice's loyalty to Grandfather......the thing that drove her.........?

Was she so loyal that she faithfully carried out some terrible order...to kill everyone if the epitaph wasn't solved......?
............

......I must not stop thinking.  ...Don't, ......stop thinking......
Don't just think of the riddle itself......think about why it's significant.

..................
Why is Beatrice telling us to solve the epitaph......?

Why did she create such a confusing・・・・・・・ epitaph for us......?
......If Beatrice makes us try and solve this epitaph that we have no real chance of solving, .........and by some lucky chance, a 'miracle' occurs and someone is able to solve it......, .........what significance would that have to her.........?
I don't know......what this miracle would be worth to Beato.
"Anyway, ......until we figure out the first twilight, we'll have to give up on the rest."

We tried looking at it from several different angles, but in the end, we got stuck there and made no further advances.
"Mmph, ...fwaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhh......"

Maria let out an extra-large yawn.
This caused several other people to yawn.
...We had been using our heads so much that everyone had gotten a little sleepy.

Jessica, who had been silent and looking displeased the whole time, quickly stood up.
"......I'm going upstairs with Maria.  We'll watch TV or something."

"Okay...  I'll go up too.  Hey, why don't we all play cards upstairs?"

When George proposed this, Maria completely forgot about that big yawn of hers and started jumping around, insisting that she wanted to play cards.
Judging by the clock, it was already 10:00 at night.
It was already about that time you normally take a bath and get ready for sleep.

Even the adults seemed pretty weary from traveling.
We decided to continue this later and went our separate ways...

"Will you play with us too, Erika-chan?  Cards?"

".........I appreciate the sentiment.  I overstepped my bounds a little, forgetting that I'm a simple guest.  I'd like to take it easy and rest for the night.  .........I'd almost forgotten that I was just in an accident."

"Seriously.  You're in such high spirits it's hard to believe you almost drowned."
"*giggle*.  That's youth for you.  Still, I enjoyed it.  I think we've taken a big step in our reasoning thanks to you.  If I find the gold, I'll let you have about a million yen worth."

"Wahahaha!  Can't you at least offer the poor girl a hundred million!  Uhahaha!"

"No need to bother.  I'm only interested in solving the riddle.  ......Well then, if you'll excuse me.  ......Good night."
"Yeah, 'night."

"Oh, you aren't going upstairs, Battler-kun?"

"......I'm getting a bit interested here.  I'll think things through here just a bit longer.  If I can just figure out the list of characters that marks the first twilight, I'll bet the road before me will open up all at once..."
Everyone went up to the second floor one by one.

Only Rosa oba-san remained behind, cleaning up the coffee cups everyone had been drinking out of.
Kyrie-san and some others had offered to help, but since Rosa had refused this, she was washing them all alone.

Since I'd just been treated to such delicious coffee, I decided to help too.
......I wasn't just doing it because I felt obligated.
I wanted to keep discussing the epitaph with someone.
".........The first twilight...the first twilight.  ......Gah.  Rosa oba-san, have you thought of some list of characters or a word?"

"Nope...  I don't have a clue.  .........But instead of the first twilight, it's the tenth twilight that bugs me."
"The tenth twilight...?  What about it?"
"Well, .........the word 'Golden Land' appears several times, right?"
"Yeah, it does."
"Why is it......that only on the tenth twilight do we read it as 'ougon no kyou'...no, 'ougon no sato', instead of 'ougon kyou'?  It's written as '黄金の郷' (ougon no sato) instead of '黄金郷' (ougon kyou).  ...It bugged me a little that this is the only place it's written as '黄金の郷'."
"............You're right.  ...No mistake.  Even though it's written as 黄金郷 everywhere else..."

Even though the rest are all 黄金郷, the tenth twilight alone has a 'の' in it...making it 黄金の郷 and possibly changing the pronunciation of the 'Land' in Golden Land from 'kyou' to 'sato'.
Could it have some kind of special meaning.........?

..................

"Still, ......you and that Erika-chan girl are incredible.  The way you think really is flexible.  ...I'm already an old lady, and my mind just doesn't work that fast.  That theory about the six chosen by the key signifying six characters to be removed was very impressive."

"After hearing that, I can't see it as being any other way, but before then, I didn't think it was like that at all...  My thickheadedness is getting annoying."

"That's not true.  You think in a very flexible way, Rosa oba-san.  This thing about '黄金の郷' that you found might be a key to something."

"Not at all.  My mind's very stiff.  ......Up until now, I've always thought that this 'first twilight' was nothing more than a place one-tenth of the way on a road to the Golden Land."

"......What's this?  Sounds interesting.  Could you let me hear?"

"*giggle*.  ......After all, in the line before the first twilight, it's written 'you should travel to the Golden Land', right?  Then you travel for ten days, so I thought the rest was a story about that journey."
"......A journey............Yeah.  ............"
"Then the journey begins, and when you set up camp at the first twilight, you offer the six as sacrifices.  ......So, where is that place?  How many kilometers from the starting point...?  That's all...  Don't tell anyone, okay?  I'm a dummy, so I've always read the '郷' of 黄金の郷' as 'kyou'.
......Look, when you say 'kyou', it sounds like Kyoto, right?  So I thought there might be some kind of secret hidden at the end of the first tenth of the road from Father's hometown to Kyoto..."
"Are you kidding?  That idea is totally clever.  .........The very first place on a journey that lasts ten days.........The name of that place might be the key......"

"In order to figure that out, you'd have to know both the start point and the end point.  ......I know the start point.  I know the hometown Father loved.  The place Father spent his time when he was a boy really is far away."

"......But the problem is the goal...the Golden Land.  Where in the world could it be?  ......If we don't know that, my theory gets us nowhere.  I've been stuck at this spot for a long time, but after listening to your reasoning today, I've realized what an embarrassing mistake I've been making."

".........No, ...I think that's still an interesting idea.  ..................A start and a goal, a ten day journey.  ...And the place reached at the very first twilight......"

"Believe it or not, I think you might solve this one easily, Battler-kun.  ......If you do solve it with your aunt's hint, share some with me.  Even 5% would be great.  It's a promise♪"

Despite being my aunt, she gave me a wink which would've made a man's heart jump.

As I helped her wash the coffee cups, ......I kept pondering the epitaph's riddle silently.........
......After I finished helping Rosa oba-san and went into the corridor on my way to the bathroom, I saw Erika unlocking the door to a room on the way there.

"......Your room is on the second floor, right?  I was sure you'd gone upstairs and had fallen asleep by now."
"............I was just searching for something.  ......I thought it might be here."

"Searching for something......?"
Erika unlocked the door and opened it.
A dusty smell drifted out...
It was the archive.

The gaps between the bookshelves were too small for this to be called a library room.
This was obviously a room made for storing books, not reading them.

"......So you're searching for a book?"
"Not necessarily a book, ......but materials.  There's something I've just got to look up."

"............You're looking for something having to do with the epitaph's riddle...?  Pretty admirable that you haven't given up yet.  I guess 20 billion yen is pretty enticing."

I hadn't given up either.
Apparently, we were both bad at giving up......

"You're joking.  ......I'm only interested in riddle-solving.  I'm only looking for the gold because I want proof that my reasoning was correct.  Even if I found it, I wouldn't pocket it for myself, so don't worry."

......She immediately cast it aside, saying that she just liked solving riddles and had no interest at all in the gold.

At first, I was pretty sure she was a weird one, and it looks like that impression was spot on.
As Erika slowly circled the bookshelves, she started searching for the book she was after...
"I'm also in the middle of trying to solve the epitaph.  .........Oh yeah, just a second ago, I heard something interesting from Rosa oba-san which might be a hint about the first twilight."
".........Let me hear it."

Erika asked this without stopping her search or even turning to face me.
"In the line before the first twilight, it says one who lays hand upon the key shall do so and so."
".........He who lays hand upon the key shall travel under the rules below."
"Whoa...  You've already got it memorized?  Guess I shouldn't be surprised..."
"And what about that?"
"......Yeah.  You should travel to the Golden Land, right?  Apparently, this made Rosa oba-san think about the tenth twilight...in other words, going on a ten day-long journey from the beloved homeland to the Golden Land..."

"Actually, I already noticed that myself.  The place you reach on the first day of the ten day journey.  ......That's where you offer the sacrifices from."

"Y, ...yeah, that's what Rosa oba-san thought of too.  I also think it's an interesting theory.  ......The place you reach on the first day of the ten day journey.  That bit of land, or else the place name, might be a key..."

".........I also guessed that the place name might be a key.  That's why I'm looking for materials.  I want to turn my guess into certainty."

"What is it.........that you're looking for?"

Then, Erika's hand suddenly stopped, ......and she slowly pulled it out...

Then, as she dusted it off, she finally looked at me and spoke.

"It's an atlas."

Those Who Reach It

Sat, Oct 4 1986 10:00PM`
"......We've managed to make it through the first day."
Natsuhi could be seen in the study.

When she muttered as though to herself, gold butterflies appeared and formed into the shape of a person...
"We can't be optimistic.  ......Don't think we can make it through tomorrow by simply sitting around here."

"......So, simply saying Father is in a bad mood and refuses to come out won't deceive them after all."
"Yeah...  It seems they grew quite suspicious last year.  Because of that, the toxin has expanded and is coiling itself around this study, growing ever tighter..."
"It probably isn't due solely to people being suspicious since last year."

".........That's right.  The toxin has grown too thick to be explained away by that alone.  ......There must be a strong will which has suspected Kinzo-sama's death since last year...and is trying to expose it at this year's conference."
"Does that mean......they weren't fully tricked last year?"

"...Unfortunately, it might be best to assume that in the current situation.  The typhoon will remain here tomorrow, and the boat will not come for them until the day after.  In short, we must endure for another 36 hours at the very least..."

".........Your eyes probably can't see it, Natsuhi, but the closed room barrier sealing this room was once very firm.  Tonight, however, it has been worn down so that it's nearly crumbling, like dry leaves waiting for a storm."

"No, the storm is already here.  .........Natsuhi-sama.  I propose that we switch from the closed room barrier to something else."
"What do you mean by something else...?  Do you mean to change our plan...?"
"That is correct.  ......Virgilia-sama and I will reconstruct a barrier similar to last year's."
"In other words, we'll take Kinzo out of the study and have him tightrope walk from shadow to shadow where the toxin can't reach, just like last year.  It will be dangerous, but I would like to propose the same thing."
"What did you say...?  You want to change the plan this far in...?!"
"When you learn that you cannot withstand a siege, you must consider abandoning the castle..."

"......Right now, this room is like a castle surrounded by enemy troops with its walls about to crumble.  If staying put means certain death, then you still have the ability to ride out for one last stand and an honorable defeat.  ......After all, surrender doesn't seem to be an option in this fight."

"I'll protect Father's secret until the very end!  If it's discovered, there will be no chance for us to talk our way out of it!  My husband's embezzlement will be exposed to the light of day, and the Ushiromiya family's honor will be destroyed!  We must remain firm and prevent that no matter what...!"
"......Calm down, I understand that.  ...Krauss's alchemy will soon see great results.  If we can make it through this year, we'll be able to manage.  So don't get flustered."

"But we planned this siege because using the same trick as last year wouldn't work, right?  Isn't it the height of stupidity to return to a plan you previously abandoned because it was impossible...?!  Just what kind of plan could we make at this point...?!"

"Ronove and I will prepare that.  Leave it to us, as creating illusions is what witches do.  ......All you have to do is give us your permission, Natsuhi-sama."

".........Teacher and Ronove are very reliable at times like these...!  Also, the servants of the One-winged Eagle are excellent furniture.  If Teacher and Ronove reconstruct the magic, they will probably work to protect it.  ...It still isn't too late.  Let's take Kinzo out of the study and have that illusion walk around...!"

"Did you forget that we chose our current strategy because we considered those kinds of plans and couldn't find anything that would work?!  To get flustered in an emergency and carelessly throw away the primary plan is simply foolish!"

"But Natsuhi-sama...!  You, right there amidst the toxin, must realize better than anyone else that we will no longer be able to outlast this siege...!"

".........I propose that we try and think of another plan without changing our objective of holding the fort.  ......In any event, as long as we can keep this room sealed, no one will be able to deny Father's existence.  After all, you can't determine the contents of a cat box that can't be opened no matter how many people you have with you......!"
"...Well, that is true......However, humans are irrational.  It's possible for them to eat into an airtight cat box and go inside like black ants surrounding a box of cake.  .........And I'm also worried about Lady Bernkastel's piece."

".........It was fortunate that Erika-sama stole the show at tonight's dinner.  By doing that, she created an atmosphere where it was possible for tonight's family conference to be closed.  ......If you had gone straight back to the family conference afterwards like usual, the barrier might have broken tonight."

"But because of that, the toxin has grown even thicker.  ......After thickening all night, the toxin may be able to penetrate the closed room barrier easily.  Whether we keep up with holding the fort or give up that plan, we will not be able to make it through tomorrow unless we prepare a new strategy and a new barrier."

"......Lady Bernkastel may have some plan for breaking the closed room barrier.........  We can't take that piece called Erika lightly..."

"............Come to think of it, that man who said something about taking revenge for the events of 19 years ago might also be Lady Bernkastel's piece.  ......This board, which achieved equilibrium with 18 pieces, has had two undesired pieces added to it.  ...There are too many irregularities this year."

"Lady Bernkastel is a fan of Eastern things.  ......In Shogi, Japanese chess, aren't you allowed to drop pieces in the middle of a game?"

"Yes, that is possible.  ......Even dropping a queen from the captured pile right in front of the enemy king is a trump card-like move that would be allowed in Shogi."
"......I wonder......what is that man who spoke of 19 years ago doing?  ...Is he already hiding somewhere on this island...?"
".........That girl called Erika was able to appear by claiming to have drifted here.  ......That man might also have landed somewhere on this island despite the typhoon, ...and he might be hiding somewhere......"
"......And it's going to be hard to fully deceive the relatives any longer..............................Why?!!  Why have so many irregular things happened at the same time?!!  How can you explain this nightmarish miracle of coincidence?!!"
Natsuhi slammed the desk hard, held her head, and cringed at the pain from her overwhelming headache...
".........Lady Bernkastel controls miracles.  ...There's no point being surprised at irregularities or miracles when that person is around."

"It may be true that Shogi is a game where an enemy piece can suddenly appear right in front of a king.  However, that is why you build up a perfect formation that doesn't allow for that kind of weakness, artistically constructing a castle to protect your king."

"In that case, isn't holding the fort something we should be doing now?!!"
"If we had a fort that we could hold then perhaps, but we cannot hope for such a thing now."
"It is difficult to corner a king without a wall to his back, and even more difficult to corner one with open spaces in all directions.  ......Think of a mouse.  You can catch a mouse that's shut in a cage.  However, catching a mouse in a field is like trying to catch a cloud."

"Natsuhi-sama.  ......Please allow us to consider an option.  ......Kinzo-sama will leave his study and wander around the mansion on a whim, avoiding the gazes of the relatives.  ......We will think of a natural-seeming plan for this before morning."

".........Don't you see the danger......?  ......If we're willing to consider such a dangerous option, wouldn't it be better to continue acting as though Father is in his room in a bad mood......?"

"Tomorrow, the relatives will again crowd around in front of the study.  They will crowd right on the other side of that single door.  After that, just how long do you intend to make it seem like they're having a yelling match with Kinzo-sama?!  It's impossible...!"
"We have to somehow postpone that impossibility for 36 hours!!  If you tell me to do it, I will!!  I am Ushiromiya Natsuhi!  The wife of the Ushiromiya family head!!  If you tell me to do that, ......I will act out a shouting match with Father for as many days as it takes...!!  Aaaaaaagghhh!!"
......Even Natsuhi understood that there was no way she could manage it.

But she could no longer see any chance of victory from a plan which involved making an illusion of Kinzo walk around......
Banging on the desk several times, with tears of rage streaming down her face, Natsuhi alternated between groaning from her headache and placing the blame on one thing or another.

It was enough to make one feel that there was a curse which made anyone who sat in that chair do the same......
".........This is like a game of mating Shogi, where you are on the defensive.  ......In mating Shogi, the opponent has no king, and you have no way of winning other than avoiding a checkmate for a predetermined number of moves."

"And to think.........that I must escape for a whole day and a half's worth of moves.........that's just too many..."
"Don't stop thinking...don't give up...!  I'll listen to your complaints, so don't have a fit...!  That certain will of yours to overcome this trial no matter what will produce results with certainty...!  That is the power of the Witch of Certainty."
"You must not lose that magical power.  ......Believe that you will overcome this no matter what...!  I'm sure you'll think of a brilliant plan.  Therefore, you must not give up and stop thinking...!"

"......You're right...  I understand...  If I can't overcome this hardship, then no one else can......"

"That is correct.  Didn't Kinzo entrust you with the job of overcoming all of this?  ......Kinzo acknowledged that you were worthy of this responsibility...!"

".........Father......Father..., gaaaahhhh!!!"
"Teacher and Ronove will think of a move.  Of course, I will think as well!  However, we cannot do even that without our master's permission...your permission!  So at the very least, don't abandon your will to fight...!  Don't give up...!!"
"I understand..., I understand!!  But, ...I'm already, ......all tired out, ...and I can't stand this headache.........Why is it...that I'm crying here......all alone in this ice cold study?!  Why...why isn't my husband here for me now?!"
Back when dinner ended, Krauss claimed to be dizzy and went to bed early.

Of course, he had done this to get enough rest to ready himself for the long day ahead, but to Natsuhi right now, it felt as though he had just gone straight to sleep and pushed all of the burden onto her.
However, complaining about such a thing would mean that she had failed as a wife.

......Isn't it a good wife's duty to work hard and think of the family first even when her husband is resting......?
Still regretting even her anger at her husband, ...and unable to determine whom she should be angry at, Natsuhi continued to sob......
If only......Kinzo could just speak to her kindly at times like this.

Beato searched for him, but Kinzo had been nowhere to be seen in the study for some time now...
Perhaps Natsuhi had noticed this as well...
Though she bragged that fighting alone and supporting from behind was the responsibility of a good wife, ......without anyone to confirm whether this was really necessary, .........she was now so frail that she couldn't even stop her own tears.

Just as Beato was thinking of words she could use to console Natsuhi, Virgilia tapped her lightly on the shoulder.
......If words of consolation don't come from the mouth of the right person, they can sometimes do more harm than good.

Therefore, Virgilia silently urged Beato that remaining silent was the best course of action for now...
"............Hi, sorry to interrupt.  ...I know I'm an outsider, but I wonder if you'd let me speak."

"Gaap.  ...Please restrain yourself for the time being."
"No, as long as you're here, there's no distinction between outsiders or guests and the rest of us.  ......You may speak."

".........Thank you.  ......Ronove said it himself a while ago.  This is mating Shogi with you on the defensive.  .........How does one lose in mating Shogi?  It's because their king is checkmated, right?"

"That goes without saying.  And the opponent has no king.  Therefore, all Natsuhi can do is have her king run away constantly."

".........I see.  ......So you're thinking of that move.  Has that time already come?"
"What do you mean?  ......Are you saying we have some sort of move?"

"............It's the thing you proposed in the very beginning about how to hide Goldsmith's death.  ...I'm trying to say that the time has come for us to use that..."
"You mean...having him go missing......?!  You mean to make that move right now, during the family conference?!  That's too dangerous!"

After successfully resolving all of their problems, they would have to lay Kinzo to rest.
And the way to do that......was to make him disappear.

One day, Kinzo would go out into the forest and never return.
They wouldn't be able to find him no matter how much they searched, so he would be declared 'missing'......

".........You said it yourself a second ago, Riiche.  You can't catch a mouse that's escaped to a field.  And you can't catch a Goldsmith who's disappeared into the forest."
"You plan for us to talk our way out of this using that?!  Using such a move now, when the suspicion against us is greatest, would be no better than committing suicide!!"

"They will probably suspect.  This move would most certainly lead to mistrust.  .........However, even if they set foot in this study, such suspicions will be unprovable.  ......It will be impossible for them to capture Kinzo forever after, and no matter how much they suspect that he has died, they will be unable to prove it..."
"Forget about a mere 36 hours, wouldn't you be able to protect Kinzo's secret forever that way......?  ...Of course, it will come with an appropriate risk."

"......If you make this move, you may be able to overcome this particular challenge, ......but we cannot even guess at how much prestige you might lose for it."

"Even so, ............this move will most certainly overcome this one challenge.  Of course, you must then deal with an even greater suspicion.  But you won't die."

"Y, .......yes, ......that may be true, but......"

".........During the Great Kanto Earthquake, the Ushiromiya family should have died.  However, the mad genius Goldsmith revived it so splendidly that it is now something you desire to protect.  ......So this time, it is up to you and your husband, the new head and his wife, to do the same."
"......Hoh............Is that how you intend to stir her up?"

"I'm not stirring her up.  I'm just asking if she's prepared to be the wife of the head............Are you prepared to protect the Ushiromiya family even if it means eating dirt......?"

"I, ......I am..."

"Then now is the time.  .........If you can last a little bit longer by eating dirt, then chow down as much as you can.  You will drag yourself out of this world of suffering, and you'll eventually regain that glory.  .........I, Gaap, the 33rd in rank, promise you this."
".........Gaap..."

".........The fact that I came to play at a time like this must be guidance from the gods of happenstance.........I'll keep that promise, Ushiromiya Natsuhi.  I require nothing in return.  Riiche, the one who serves you, has already paid me plenty in advance."

Gaap seemed quite careless, but she was actually possessed by a strong sense of duty.
She was the kind of person who just couldn't leave someone in trouble alone.

"Payment in advance?  Oh, when did I do that...?  I don't remember it..."
"*giggle*giggle*............Just the various magical items that you couldn't remember where you put.  I made off with quite a few of those."

"Wha?!!  So it really was your fault that I could never find those...!!  Give 'em back!!  Give back my Phantom Silver Crystal and Moon Stick!  I still haven't played around by sticking them together yet!"
".........This is the sort of magic or plan that I can give you.  I can hide Goldsmith away in a world where no one will be able to find him.  .........Let me know the instant you need this magic.  Until then, you may think of another, safer plan."

"True.  ......Having an option open to you leaves you with a little peace of mind.  ...Without any peace of mind, you cannot think up a brilliant plan."

"Natsuhi-sama.  The night is not short.  ......Let's leave Gaap's plan as a final trump card and iron out our plan for the time being.  Please give us permission.  ......Furthermore, please give us the trust, magical power, and certain conviction needed to succeed without fail."

"If you believe, I will make that come true.  If you doubt, I will make that come true.  ......You must make your own future."
".................."
Kinzo's...disappearance.
And right in the middle of this family conference.

That is truly our last resort.
Hiding this final trump card in her heart, ......Natsuhi decided that she would grope around for a different plan until the last second.
After all, this long, long night had only just begun......

......Bernkastel and her piece had just as long a time to prepare as Natsuhi did.........
"......Gouge the foot......and kill.  ......Now it's complete..."

"I see, ......so that's what 'gouge' meant after all.  Once again, my reasoning was correct."

The reaction this last time was clearly different from the previous ones, making it feel as though some sort of device had activated.

However, as far as a quick glance could tell, there was no dramatic change, such as an entrance of some sort opening.
Apparently, they would need to do just a little more before they could find it...

"You're incredible.  .........After all this, if we really do find the gold, we'll have to split it together."
"Enjoying the intellectual stimulation is enough for me.  ............The only thing I like is solving riddles.  Proof that I was right is all I need for a reward."

She shrugged it off, saying that just seeing the gold would be enough.

Then she crouched down, peering fixedly at the lock mechanism.
......It's no exaggeration at all......to say that this girl really loves solving riddles.

Her fondness for treasure hunting is fueled by a romanticism regarding the process of finding hidden things, and she has no interest whatsoever in getting the treasure for herself and becoming a billionaire or whatever......

"......I see.  You really think such a device would fool me......The mistake 'you all' made was welcoming me onto the island in the first place.  .........Simply by the existence of the epitaph in that place, this level of reasoning is possible for Furudo Erika.  ......What do you think, everyone?"

As she said this to the device she had exposed, she grinned at it.
That smile had a bit of triumph on it, but it was more fully characterized by the small bit of unpleasant disdain it contained.

After solving the riddle, she was probably reveling in the pleasure of having won against the one who had proposed it, as well as the way she could now scoff at this person......

".........If we find the gold now, the successor to the head won't be Krauss-san, but you."
"Heh.  ......Well, I wonder."

"......Isn't Krauss-san kind of arrogant?  Maybe you could even call him a braggart.  It'll be pretty pleasant to see him have both the gold and his position as successor to the head snatched away by his nephew in the course of a single night, won't it?"

"..................."

Erika was still crouched down as she spoke, her back to Battler as she toyed around with the device...
".........Jessica-san...was her name, right?  The girl who spoke up against me."
"Nn, ......yeah."
".........She really was acting big about her father being the successor to the head.  ......When she wakes up tomorrow and learns that you've inherited all the gold and that her father is no longer the successor, I wonder what kind of expression she'll have on her face......?"
".........It's not like I have any desire at all to keep all 20 billion for myself.  ......Well, if I get even 10%, that'd be as much as I could handle.  We can split the rest fairly amongst the family.  I'm even less interested in being the successor to the head.  I'd be glad to let Krauss oji-san deal with that."

".........Can you really settle things so easily in the end...?  *giggle*giggle*giggle*.  Instead of trying to predict that, ......I get the feeling it'll be much more fun to guess what kind of expression Jessica-san will have on her face tomorrow and what kind of sad excuses she'll try to make."

".........You...really have a bad personality."

"Oh?  .........Couldn't you reason that out from the time you learned that I liked solving riddles......?  .........I'm an intellectual rapist who enjoys exposing things people try to hide, get it?  ......Same thing goes for solving the riddle."

"......You probably wanted to expose the gold Grandfather had done everything he could do to hide."
"Yes, that's how it was at first, ............but my goal changed halfway through."

"Halfway through?  ......Changed to what?"
"Jessica-san.  .........She butted in on my reasoning, contaminating a pure and noble time for me.  .........That's why I changed my goal into solving the riddle so that I could get even with this girl called Jessica."

"............Hey...are you serious?"

"*giggle*.  .........*giggle*giggle*giggle*giggle*.  ...I'll make any opponent surrender, no matter who.  That is my sole pleasure.  ......Do you need any more reasoning?"

".........Ushiromiya Jessica irritated me.  That's why I wanted to put her in her place and decided to solve the epitaph.  .........That is what guided me to the emotions I hold now.  ...Can you reason it out?"
......This time, I turned my back on her in earnest.

Thinking that this riddle-solving game was pretty fun......did I let her get to me and do something terrible...?
That's right.
......It was possible to guess this.
If the riddle is solved, the relatives will probably get into an uproar about who will be the successor to the head.

Dad and some others will probably make a fuss about how I, the discoverer, should be the next head, and some relatives not thrilled with that prospect will probably oppose them.
Despite how adamantly Erika affirmed it, it isn't written anywhere that the one who solves the riddle of the epitaph becomes the next head.

Because of this, it'll lead to a fight between those who acknowledge that and those who don't......
If I reason out what'll happen next, as Erika did...

......It will probably turn into a messy fight between Krauss oji-san and the rest of the relatives.
After I solve the riddle, ......will Jessica admire me...or curse me?

......I don't want to think about that now......
......Erika was still mumbling.
...Apparently...she had already started trying to reason it out...

As I began to feel very bad, ......I lazily gazed out into the black night...
"............ah."

At that time, .........I looked at a dimly lit outdoor light......and saw the silhouette of a person in front of it.
I thought I must be seeing things.

After all, it was unthinkable that someone would have been standing there the whole time, pounded upon by the rain without even an umbrella.
However, ......the silhouette didn't move an inch, .........and maybe.........no, it couldn't be......
.........It was...looking at me.
And......it was.........
".................."
".....................G-"

......Grandfather...............
At that time, ......I understood.

Grandfather had probably.........been watching us solve the riddle the whole time.

......And, ......he had seen us......as we had spectacularly solved the entire riddle of the epitaph......
".................................Hmph......"
Without a doubt, .........Grandfather smiled faintly.
Grandfather, who had never worn anything except moody and frightening expressions, ......looked me in the face......and smiled at me for the first time.
......Almost as though he was saying 'How impudent'.
Or else, 'I never thought it would be you'...
However, ......this is the result...chosen by Grandfather's epitaph.

So I'm sure......that Grandfather accepted that result.
In the end......he grinned one more time.

Of course, he didn't use words.

His smile seemed to be wordlessly saying......well done......
......I didn't know how I should respond.

I couldn't do anything but stand there in shock, ignoring Erika as she crouched down, mumbling with her back towards me.
......Then, Grandfather stretched a hand out from the folds of his cloak and pointed at something.
When I looked in that direction.........there was.........

The thing he was pointing at......was probably...
......The signpost to the Golden Land.
......Go.

I'm sure Grandfather said that one word.

I......nodded to show that I understood.

After watching that, Grandfather nodded back, satisfied.
Then, with a spin of his cloak.........he disappeared, seeming to melt into the darkness......

The expression on his face at the end......was a truly and finally satisfied......smile.

"Are you listening?  Battler-san?  Did you hear my reasoning?"
"............I've found it.  That's the signpost to the Golden Land."

"......Huh?  Ah, ......it's facing a different direction than it used to.  ......I see.  So it means 'go that way'.  ......You've got some pretty good powers of observation."

"Grandfather told me about it."
"Huh?  Kinzo-san...?  Where?"
"I'm going.  .........Why don't I take a look.  ...A look at this Golden Land..."
We started to walk.
The entrance to the Golden Land was right there.........
".........So, my epitaph has finally been solved.  ......And...it was Battler............Pfft, ...hahahahahahahahahahaha...!!  Wonderful, couldn't be better."
When I think about it, I was also a head that no one saw coming.

How interesting that the one who will succeed me as head is also a person no one saw coming.
"I now have no regrets remaining in my life!!  Beatrice, I am coming to join you.  Along with a present, the miracle chosen by my epitaph...!"
Battler, of all people.

......That......Battler......!!
"Wahahahahahahahaha...!!  Wahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!  At the very, very end of my life, I have seen a true miracle!!"
"Beatriceeeeeeeee!  I've won this beeeeeeettt, waaahhhahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaaaahhh!!!"
"Ha, hahahahaha...!!  Yahoo!!  Hahahahahaaaahhh!!!"

".........Except for its non-corrosive properties, there's no practical way to turn gold into money.  I imagine it'd take a lot of work to exchange all of this for cash."
At the end of a crude underground tunnel, in a VIP room which was so beautiful that it seemed improper, .........there was a pile of gold so large that there could be no doubting its 20 billion yen worth...
Erika was calm, but Battler couldn't suppress his excitement.

As for which of the two was the correct reaction to show after seeing a mountain of gold...only those who saw the scene with their own eyes could say for sure......
In this day and age, it's said that an average salaryman earns about 200 million yen in wages over his life.
......And this is 20 billion yen worth of gold.

With even one one-hundredth of this gold mountain......a single human could live their entire life without working.
What is labor?
Isn't it the very point of a human's life, since a person who doesn't work cannot eat......?

If so, then 200 million yen is enough to make a single person's life complete.
And this is 20 billion yen!

......This would account for the labors of a hundred humans, no, a single human life one hundred times over...!
Of course, if you still wanted to work, you could.
Any money you gained as a result could all be used to play with.

After all, you would already have enough money to live for your entire life, no, for eternity...!!
No, wait, I mustn't keep it all to myself.  I can split it up among 100 people.

If I could create a world where a full 100 humans wouldn't have to work for their whole lives, ......just what kind of world would that be...?

.........Yeah, ......there's no doubt at all......
"This.........is the Golden Land......"

"There you go.  Bern-Battler splendidly discovered the gold.  Congratulations.  Heheheheheheheheh!!  I had her hide the more central parts of it, but nothing wrong with being just a little mean, right?"

"......Sure, do that as much as you like.  I'm not interested in the micro details about what kind of riddle it was or what kind of answer it had.  The important thing is that as a result, 10 tons of gold were discovered."

The gold was discovered in the third game as well, by Eva oba-san.
Rosa oba-san had also witnessed it.

However, the two of them hadn't spoken of the gold's discovery to anyone.

In other words, there was a chance that the gold's discovery was a cat-box truth kept between the two of them.

In other words, it was possible that the gold didn't exist and was just an illusion...!

"However, ......'I' have finally found it...  The cat box...has been opened...!"

"It'd be a waste of time to do that 'repeat it' game, so I'll give you a little bonus.  This mountain of gold is the real thing.  All of the ingots piled up here are real, pure gold!  There are absolutely no tricks such as replicas or fakes!!"

"......Alright, got it.  I'll accept that this gold exists.  ......However, there are still some things I can't accept!"
".........Of course.  You met with him, didn't you?  ...With Kinzo."

"*giggle*giggle*!  Even though Kinzo's supposedly an illusion, you met with him just a second ago, didn't you?  *giggle*giggle*, I guess that really was magic, wasn't it?!"

"Ridiculous.  ......'I' didn't exchange any words with Grandfather.  ...I only felt as though Grandfather and I had exchanged words.  Give it a rest.  The same move won't work again!"
"In that case, your blue truth, if you please!"

"I was probably in an excited state after solving the epitaph's riddle.  Then I mistook something for Grandfather."

"For example, maybe that was some kind of sheet or cover that had gotten caught in a dark grove of trees, which looked like Grandfather wearing a pitch black cloak!  As a result, I mistakenly thought that I'd had some sort of conversation with Grandfather."

".........Blue truth, effective.  Well, I did say the exact same thing in blue."

"So?  Did it work?  Where's your counter with the red truth...?!"
"I have none.  At least, not now, okay?  *giggle*giggle*giggle*giggle*giggle*!!"
The 'me' who had let out a strange yell in front of the gold mountain was finally starting to regain his cool.
......Now that we'd found it, there was no covering it up.
I faintly thought about keeping this discovery a secret.

......However, Erika wanted to prove that her own reasoning was correct by announcing this fact to everyone.
She really is an intellectual rapist...just as she says.

The puzzle-solving game is what's important to her, and she doesn't intend to take any responsibility for what happens after the riddle is solved.
......A riddle is sort of like a lock.
Locks exist to be locked.
And they're only significant when they're locked.

Therefore, there has to be some sort of reason for exposing that sort of thing.
However, ......this girl has set the exposing itself as her final goal, ...and she's doesn't plan on taking responsibility for anything that happens later.
......Maybe the true storm to hit Rokkenjima......isn't the typhoon, but her.
She won't keep this discovery secret.
She'll definitely announce it to brag about her success.

Then, ......she'll call a real storm down upon this island.
I won't be able to keep this covered up......
...Then in that case, ......there's nothing to do except announce this fact fairly.

I can't imagine what will happen after that.
As she grinned, Erika muttered to herself.
......She must have been predicting the uproar the relatives would soon bring about.

To her, ......imagining that was much sweeter than 20 billion yen in gold......
"......Simply by the existence of the epitaph in that place, this level of reasoning is possible for Furudo Erika.  ......What do you think, everyone?"

The Frantic Golden Drama

Sat, Oct 4 1986 10:47PM`
*knock*knock*knock*knock*!!!
The sudden sound of someone banging fiercely on the door brought Natsuhi to her senses.

She had probably nodded off in the study while planning how they would overcome the next day.
But...what could it be...?
At a time like this...
More importantly, the knock itself was strange.

If someone had tried to contact her, they could have just used the internal phone line.
She had told them that she would be here.
Realizing that something strange was going on, Natsuhi shook her head one more time, completely throwing off her drowsiness.
"Father, Father...!!  It's Eva.  I have something urgent and vital to talk to you about!"

It was Eva's voice.
......What is this?

I thought I told them to lock the doors and windows of the mansion tightly after everyone left for the guesthouse.
So why is Eva here...?!
Natsuhi ran up to the door, responded with a small knock, and spoke through the door in a quiet voice.
".........What is it?  You're too noisy."
"Natsuhi nee-san...?!  Why are you in Father's study at this hour?!"
"......I told you to be quiet!  Have you forgotten that the head likes peace and silence more than anything else...?!"
"Now's not the time to be saying that!!  Stop harping on that and open up quickly!!  Bring Father out!!"
"The head just went to sleep!  I don't know what business you have, but I will listen to it tomorrow!"
"I don't have any business with you!!  Just open up right now!!"
Sometimes, multiple schemes and hypotheses can fall apart due to the most direct, simple, and emotional of strategies.

This is bad...
If I open the door, Eva will probably throw herself forwards and rush into the study.
Now, I can't even open this door...!
At that moment, the phone suddenly rang.
I, it's alright.
Both of the keys to the study are here.

No one can open this door...!

Natsuhi inched away from the door and grabbed the receiver...
"H, ...hello!!  It's Natsuhi!"
"It's me...  Things are bad.  I want you to come down to the parlor, quickly."

It was from Krauss.
His tone was strained.

......What in the world happened...?!
"It seems that Battler-kun and the guest called Erika.........solved the witch's epitaph and found the gold."
"Huh?  ..................Is, ...is that true?!"
"Rudolf and the rest have forced their way in.  They're saying that Battler-kun will show everyone the way to the location of the hidden gold..."
"Right now, Eva-san is just outside the door, yelling at me to open it...!  If I open it now, she might push her way into the study...!!"
"...I, I understand.  I will go there too.  Don't worry about Eva.  Just stay there and don't do anything...!  I'll give you a signal once I've gotten Eva away from the door, so leave as soon as you hear that.  Ready...?!"
Right after that, Krauss came up the staircase, accompanied by Genji.
A heated debate started between him and Eva.  "Open up!"  "No, calm down."

In the middle of that, there was a small knock as a signal.
......Krauss had skillfully pushed Eva away from the door and distracted her.
During that gap, Natsuhi slipped out of the study and quickly shut the door...
Eva noticed this, and her face twisted in disappointment, but the heavy sound of the auto-lock had already rung out, and the door had been sealed.
"The gold of the epitaph has been found!  It's only natural that we should inform Father...!!  Or else what?  Is there some reason you can't tell Father about this?!"

"Father gave strict orders that he not be awakened--no matter what--after he went to bed.  Following those orders is the duty of the head's representative.  Isn't that right, Genji-san?"
".........Yes.  The Master's sleep must not be disturbed, no matter the circumstances."

"Even that rule depends on the time and circumstances, doesn't it...?!!  I mean, the epitaph was solved!!  Father has a right to know straight away!"
"Of course, the two of us will report on everything to the head tomorrow.  That's our duty as the head's representatives."

"I don't care about that!!  Come on, just open this door!!  Let me see Father!!  Father, Father, can you hear me?  It's Eva!!  Please open up!!"

"Owowow, let go of me...!!  Th, that hurts...!!"

"We're telling you to listen to us......! Don't knock on the door so loudly......!!"
"Ouch, owowowowow...!!  Let go, let go of me!!"

"Krauss-sama, Eva-sama.  The Master is sleeping.  Please refrain from disturbing him any further...!"

When Genji spoke firmly, the two finally ceased their scuffle.

It seemed that Genji, the one who had spoken for Kinzo since they were very young, still possessed an air of dignity strong enough to handle both Krauss and Eva...

Eva put her argument aside for the time being.

She could worry about that after seeing the gold with her own eyes.
Eva hadn't seen it for herself either.

Natsuhi and the others had managed to deal with this crisis somehow.

......However, the move of the demons, which would sneer upon their efforts, ...had already begun...

"Battler.........solved the riddle of the epitaph, you say......?!"

"Yes.  ......Though he had a lot of help from that Erika girl, Battler was the one who reached the answer.  Erika has proclaimed that she will abandon her rights to the Golden Land.  ......Therefore, Battler is the one who reached the Golden Land."

".........Fate can be truly interesting.  To think that Battler-sama would reach that place..."

"What will you do, Beato?  ......You made a promise to stop the ceremony if anyone solved the epitaph's riddle."

"Yes.  ...That was the deal."
"............That was the deal.  Hmm."

"Apparently, Battler-sama does not intend to become the master of the Golden Land.  ......It now seems that no one will become our master."
"That is also fate.  It has been several decades since we first manifested in the human world through our bond with Lord Goldsmith.  ......It was all very fun."

".........Come on, Lia, you sound like an old lady.  ......So, what're we going to do?  According to Riiche and Goldsmith's rules, now that Battler's solved the epitaph and decided not to become our master, we've been relieved from duty, right?"

"That's true.  ......I have no regrets at all.  I've been prepared to be kicked down into Cocytus all this time."

"Wait.  We can't let that happen.  ......You might not have any regrets, but I will keep on serving Natsuhi.  To let ourselves be relieved from duty just because Battler solved the epitaph would be quite irresponsible.  ......Witches aren't allowed to break contracts, but they also must not fail to show gratitude."

"......True.  We should serve her until the family conference ends."

"In that case, you won't be relieved from duty for a while either, Lord Goldsmith.  ......Perhaps you should wait until you've overcome this family conference safely, said goodbye to Natsuhi-sama at the very least, ......and if possible, rewarded her for all her efforts."

"............Hmm.  ......She has done well supporting my foolish son."
"Aren't you a fallen angel with one of its wings plucked off?  Just leave the other wing as a parting gift and go."

"......Hmm.  ......That is also fitting.  Natsuhi might be worthy to bear my wing.  ...However, .........we are approaching the critical moment.  ......Your reward is waiting for you.  Try and overcome this test safely......, Natsuhi..."
The mountain of gold left everyone speechless.

Regardless of how strongly they had believed in its existence, ......no one could look at this much real gold and not be shocked...

".........To think that a place like this existed........."
"I can't believe it............That Dad........."
Everyone was stunned by the gold.
The first one to break the silence and jump around in ecstasy was Hideyoshi.

Letting out an excited laugh, he clung to the wall of gold.
Then he felt the cold, hard touch of it all over his cheek.
"W, wahahahahahahahahahahahaha...!!  Th, this is incredible!  It's the real thing!!"
"......H, ......hahahahahahaha!!  That damn Dad, sticking this much gold into such a ridiculous place!!"
"Now that we have this much......we no longer...have anything to fear...  With this, ......we could overcome any kind of trial......!  Rosaaa......!!""Nee-san......, Nee-san......  We'll be able to find happiness with this, right......?"
Eva and Rosa started walking towards each other at the same time and hugged each other as they broke down crying...
Ecstasy and shock...wonder and sighs.

After stepping forward in front of the pile of gold that caused these mixed emotions, ......Erika spoke as though she were an announcer in some show.
".........If this world is money, then this gold is the embodiment of happiness.  ......Congratulations, everyone.  I pray that this discovery makes all of your lives richer."

"I take my hat off to you............To think that you would solve the epitaph within a single day of coming to this island."

".........If you couldn't solve it in a single day, then you wouldn't be able to solve it no matter how many days you had.  After all, it doesn't take more than an instant for your little gray cells to give you a flash of intuition.  ......Also, I wouldn't have been able to solve this riddle myself.  I ask that you praise Battler-san's achievement as well, everyone."
".................."

"......I abandon any rights to this discovery.  I'm already satisfied to have my reasoning proven correct.  Therefore, I want to give Battler-san the full credit for discovering the gold."

"......I may be here, but please continue your discussion as though I am not.  Battler-san called all of the adults here, making sure that none of the cousins would notice.  That can only mean one thing.  ......He must have wanted to begin the true family conference with all of you."

"......Erika.  Quit deciding things on your own."
"My apologies.  ............In that case, I'll step down as the facilitator of these proceedings.  So, who will take my place?"
Shrugging, Erika looked around at everyone.

......After a short period of silence, Eva made the first move.

"None of us have forgotten the deal we made earlier today, right?"
"Yeah.  Divide it between the four of us, with 2.5 billion for each.

And then the successor to the head・・・・・・・・・・ gets another 10 billion."

".........W, wait a second!  Who decided that the one who discovers the gold becomes the successor to the head?!"
"Hold up, you won't be able to get away with that, Natsuhi-san...!!  We've all been arguing based on that premise the whole time, haven't we?!  You really think you can pretend that never happened now?!"

"...That's right.  ......Weren't you the one worrying about how if one of the servants solved the riddle, they might consider themselves the successor to the head...?"

"But nowhere is it explicitly written that that's the truth, right?!"
"You bastard!!!  !sWe were all aware of it, weren't we?!!"

"That's right, Aniki!  Are you going to change your position this late in the game?!"
"Though it was never stipulated, I believe it was most definitely common knowledge between us.  I don't see how you can call it completely irrelevant."

"You can't just interpret the head's epitaph however you like!!  Where is it written that the one who finds the gold becomes the successor?!  The epitaph was decided upon by the head.  You have no right to decide these things for yourselves!!"

".........Calm down, Natsuhi."
"How could I calm down?!  I certainly find it very impressive that Battler-kun solved the epitaph!  I don't care what kind of reward he gets.  However, saying that reward should be half of everything here is clearly a stretch, and you won't get away with the argument that the discoverer is the next head...!!"
"Th, that's low, Natsuhi nee-san...!  This is completely different from what you were saying earlier today...!"

"I agree!  Though it was never stipulated, the fact that the guy who solves the epitaph becomes the next head has always been the greatest unwritten assumption between us...!  It's not fair if you start complaining about that at the last second, right?  Yeah, it isn't fair!!"

"Anyways!!  This gold is Father's!!  We can't decide how it will be split up without Father's permission!!"
"No way!!  That's low, Natsuhi-san!  We were talking about this on and on earlier, right?!  Are you saying that whole conversation today was a bunch of bull?!  That's just not right!!"

"Why don't we just vote on it?!!  Battler-kun, the one who found the gold, is the successor to the head!  My husband and I have no objections!!  What about you, Rudolf and Kyrie-san?  Rosa?!"

"No objections here.  Nice going, Battler!!"
"I have no objections either.  Battler-kun is the true successor, chosen by the epitaph.  If you aren't satisfied, then why don't we just ask Father directly...?!"

"That's right.  Like you just said, Natsuhi nee-san, Father is the one who wrote the riddle of the epitaph.  And he's also the proper owner of this gold.  In that case, shouldn't we talk to Father about this directly?  How should Battler-kun, the person who discovered the gold, be treated?  I believe Father is the only one capable of deciding that...!"

"B, ...but......!!"
"......Didn't I tell you to calm down?  ........."

"Rosa and Kyrie-san are right.  Let's ask Father!!  Your turn is already up, Nii-san, Natsuhi nee-san!!"
"Yeah, yeah!!  Bring Father out to us!!  We won't get anywhere with just you two!  Let's begin the real family conference!!  Does this look like something you can put off just because he's tired?!  If we take this thing lightly, we'll have a massive problem on our hands...!  Hey, are you listening?!!  We won't get anywhere with just you!!  Bring Father out right noooooow!!!"

"............Are family conferences always like this?"
"......How the hell'd I know?"

"They're probably always like this on the inside.  .........Heheheheh.  Looks like they won't be able to get this figured out right now without Kinzo-san.  ......To think he's being called out to settle his children's fight even though it's been announced that he has only a short while to live.  ......I wonder how he feels right about now.  ......*giggle*.  Imagining that...no, reasoning that out will be a treat."
The parents ignored Battler and Erika...and kept yelling at each other, on and on...

Even though Battler had more or less imagined that this sort of thing happened behind the scenes, this was the first time he had seen it.
He had suspected it since six years ago, and he'd been able to get a pretty good idea of what this was like by the darkening expressions on his parents' faces when this time of year drew near...
However, this argument his relatives were having before his very eyes......was much more......ugly than he had imagined...
That's why he was very glad that he'd called the adults out here without letting the cousins catch wind of anything......
Perhaps because everyone was tired out from this seemingly endless argument, they took a short break.
It was decided that this family conference inside the Golden Land should be moved over to the mansion...

This place may have been gorgeous, like a VIP room, but there was no heating, and it was a little cold.
It wasn't well suited for a long conversation.
They thought of the possibility that someone might snatch the gold away while their backs were turned, but of course, no one could manage much with just human hands and a small amount of time when it's 10 tons of gold they're dealing with.
In fact, it might be said that having this mountain of gold in the background was actually robbing them of the ability to make sound decisions.

So they agreed to return to the mansion, in part so that they could regain their composure and continue the conference more ruthlessly......
"......Then, if you would excuse me for the night.  ......I imagine I would just get in the way if I remained any longer."

"Sure, sorry.  Did we bother you too much?"
"Let us show our gratitude again tomorrow.  Sorry for letting you see such an embarrassing side of us."

"You said that you refused, but allow us to prepare a fitting portion, out of gratitude, for you as one of the first to discover the gold.  Right, Nii-san?"

"......Yes.  We know what you're capable of.  I think you can grasp our current circumstances."

20 billion yen in gold isn't something they wanted out in the open.
They didn't want an outsider like Erika telling people about it.

Of course, Erika had already 'reasoned out' that much.

She'd worn an unpleasant smile on her face, as though she'd understood all too well...

"......You don't need to worry about me.  Of course, I have no desire to tell anyone else about this.  ......And if I did, no one would believe me without proof."

".........I got to see something interesting tonight.  It was quite a spectacle, so I'm more than satisfied."

"Heheh, I see.  I guess it's not every day you see 10 tons of gold."

......Seeing the gold was the spectacle?  Of course not.
Judging by Erika's dark nature, it's obvious what she's so happy about.

I thought about telling her to just go away, but I wanted to leave this all behind me myself...
I tried to head back to the guesthouse along with Erika.
However, Kyrie-san grabbed my shoulder.

"You can't go, Battler-kun.  Please come with us."
"Yes, yes.  You're now a real successor to the head!  You've got to have an audience with Father and have him acknowledge you right away...!"

"Father is the only one who gets to decide that!!  Don't make things up on your own!"

"......Battler.  I know it might be a pain, but stick around with us for a little while longer.  Don't say anything.  Just stay quiet and keep your head down.  Got it?"
"............Just do whatever you want."
It would have been easy to say that I had no interest in being successor to the head.
......But I was sure that would only add more oil to the fire.
Even if I hadn't been ordered to keep quiet, staying shut up like a clam is almost certainly a good idea...
In that case, would it really be so bad if they just let me go back to the guesthouse...?
Dad put his arm firmly around my shoulder, and I told him it was uncomfortable and to let go.

However, he didn't pay attention to a word I said...
".........I've solved the epitaph.  Just like you wanted."
".................."

"When you were the Game Master, we'd always get those letters.  ......'Try and solve the epitaph'.  'If you don't, I'll kill all of you'."
".................."
.........Why did she want to make us solve the riddle of the epitaph?
By solving it, we found a mountain of gold.
Yippee for us.
And what about Beato?

......Does she gain anything......by having us find the gold?

Or does she lose something...?
"...As far as chessboard thinking tells us, ......people don't make moves which cause them to lose something.  That means you must have something to gain by having us solve the epitaph..."

"No.  This child has nothing to gain from having someone solve the epitaph."

".........Are you sure that's alright?  ...Using red like that without her permission."
"......This child most likely wishes for it."

Virgilia, who had suddenly appeared there, quickly gave me an answer to my question with the red truth...

"In the past, I sometimes guessed that the reason Beato was trying to make us solve the epitaph was that she wanted to make us find the gold's hiding place for her so that she could snatch it away.  .........Is that wrong too?"

"Yes.  ......In the first place, the gold of the Golden Land belongs to this child.  She had absolutely no need to make you find it for her or to snatch it away herself."
Of course.
......Beato is Beatrice the Golden.

Isn't she the master of the Golden Land and the Ushiromiya family's alchemy counselor?
...That totally makes sense.
However, that makes me even more confused.

......Even if someone exposed the answer to the epitaph's riddle, Beato has nothing to gain.
No, to the contrary, her own gold might be stolen away.
"In that case, I'm understanding this less and less.  .........I understand the epitaph murders.  It might be revenge against the Ushiromiya family, or else a ceremony to revive her powers as a witch.  ...After all, she's probably doing it because of some reason or goal of her own."
".................."

"But what's the point of her telling us to solve the epitaph?  Whether we solve it or not, she has nothing to gain at all.  ......In other words, the whole issue of whether the epitaph is solved or not is immaterial in Beato's eyes."

"......You're right.  Whether the epitaph's riddle is solved or not, this child stands nothing to gain at all."
"Whether it's solved or not, it doesn't matter at all.  ......In other words, could we say that the epitaph's riddle itself is immaterial to Beato...?"

"..................You're right.  The epitaph's riddle doesn't have any meaning for this child.  So even if you take it to an extreme and call the epitaph's riddle immaterial, it may not be possible to argue against your claim..."
".................."

Beato......
......Why are you making us solve the epitaph's riddle...?

If we liken the witch you are to a pair of scales, the epitaph murders lie on one plate...
And the riddle of the epitaph lies on the other plate.

For some reason, she's saying that she'll stop the epitaph murders if the epitaph is solved.

......In other words, the epitaph murders and the epitaph's riddle are worth the same to Beato.

Like two sides on a balanced scale.

That means that both the epitaph's riddle and massacring all the relatives...are equally significant from Beato's point of view......

But Virgilia responded with the red text.

Regardless of whether the epitaph is solved or not, Beato has nothing to gain.

If she has nothing to gain, then this epitaph's riddle...is meaningless and immaterial to Beato.

In that case, how much are the epitaph murders, which lie on the other side of the scales and are equal to the epitaph's riddle in value.........worth to her...?
......Think, don't stop thinking......

The epitaph murders and solving the riddle of the epitaph have equal worth.

As long as the epitaph murders, which are Beato's goal each time, have this single way that they can be stopped, a way that she decided on herself, both are worth the same thing to her.
X=Y.

And whether the epitaph's riddle is solved or not, Beato has nothing to gain.

Y=0.

So, in this case, ......what is X......?

".................."
"......Wait a sec.  ......That means the epitaph murders are also meaningless and immaterial."

"......Every time she performs that bizarre serial murder, she's willing to spend an incredible amount of effort on politely sending an advance notice and then killing us one by one in accordance with the epitaph without getting exposed.  So all of that is meaningless to her...?"
I turned the chessboard over and searched through Beato's moves over and over.
This is always the first place I stumble.

The significance of the epitaph murders.
Why did she have to commit serial murders in a way that reproduced the witch's epitaph?
If she wanted to kill the whole Ushiromiya family for revenge, it would be much simpler, safer, and more reliable if she just put poison into their dinner or else went around killing people one by one in the middle of the night while they were sleeping.
However, on the first evening, Beato sent us a letter that sounded like an advance notice and then carried out a three part serial murder with large gaps in between the six people of the first twilight, the two people of the second twilight, and the five people of the fourth and later twilights.
We aren't fools.
Once the first murders occur, we barricade ourselves in somewhere to stave off any further murders.
Furthermore, we quickly suspect a culprit among us and start analyzing each other's alibis.
As the victims increase, the number of suspects decreases automatically, and Beato's chances of success in this serial murder drop closer and closer to zero...
All of the epitaph murders......are like she's strangling her own neck, making it harder to succeed in the serial murder.  ......All for a useless ornament......all just for show.

".........She's raising the difficulty of completing her own objective."
"That does follow.  ......She really is a strange child."

"Did you know?  In mystery novels, they call things like these epitaph murders 'plotline murders'.  ......I think you can split the possible reasons for these plotline murders into three groups."
"......And what are those?"

"The first would be the benefit the culprit receives by following the epitaph and thereby confusing the evidence and alibis.  ......Pretending to be dead and mixing yourself in with the victims fits this pattern, as does committing murders that don't follow the epitaph and making the others get the order wrong, so that you can give yourself an alibi."

"I see.  So perhaps she only made it look as though she was killing them in a ceremony following the epitaph......when she was actually guiding their thinking in a manner that benefited her.  That sounds interesting."
".........However, in our games, the dead are truly down for the count thanks to the red.  ...While she might have confused them in the world of the game board, she can't confuse us up here in the same way.  ......In other words, the most obvious possible goal for her...isn't the real one."
"In that case, what are the other two reasons for carrying out the plotline murders?"
"Another one is coincidence.  ......A crime carried out without any particular intention just happens to look similar to the epitaph, and the witnesses mistakenly think it's a plotline murder.  Humans try to find cause and effect in everything they see.  ......If we think we know what something is, then that's how it looks to us."
"......I see.  That's also interesting.  ...However, it seems a bit odd.  In this child's games, there's always an advance notice of the crime given before the murders of the first twilight.  Also, I believe you find letters and circumstantial evidence one after another that clearly show the culprit is carrying out epitaph murders."

"Yeah, that's right.  .........It isn't coincidence.  From the very beginning, Beato has been proceeding with a goal of making this look like a series of epitaph murders.  We weren't mistaken about that.  These are clear 'plotline murders'.  That's why this can't be the reason either."

"In that case, ......there's only one reason left, right?"

"The last one.........is to show someone something.  In other words, to make them feel fear.  ...By following the epitaph, she gives the others clear notice in advance that the murders will continue.  The survivors are in constant fear of the murders, which they're certain will continue."
".................."

"In other words, ......this child performed these epitaph murders to make someone feel the fear of death?"
"At least, ...putting it that way, everything makes sense, more or less.  ......The grotesque mutilation done to the corpses and the dark decorations were all a show to terrify someone......"

"To terrify whom......?"
"Huh?  ......Well, us, of course.  .................."
After hearing that one line Virgilia spoke so casually, ......my thoughts clouded over once again...

Is it really enough to just use the vague statement 'to scare us'......?
There are many humans in the Ushiromiya family.

There's the head and the one who holds the rank of his successor...Grandfather and Krauss oji-san.
The relatives, who have some pull in the business world.
......On the other side, you have the young cousins, who usually visit at most once a year, and the unfortunate servants, who just happened to be on duty.
......Even if the culprit hated all of us, ......they probably didn't hate all of us equally.

In other words, they might have made it clear which of those among us they particularly wanted to take revenge against and terrify.
If we liken this to a kid eating dessert......
Isn't the strawberry on top of a shortcake the part you should eat last?

No one tells you that you shouldn't eat it first, but our mentality leads us into saving it for later.
".........In that case, ...the culprit would want to leave the person they hated most until the end.  ......Yeah, similar to what was said by my favorite character in this novel I like.  Something about how the worst way to kill someone is to 'start by killing the people closest to them, make them feel that sadness, then kill that person in the end'."
"Oh my, that must have been quite a terrifying novel.  How frightening......"

"......In that case, you could argue that the people who stay alive until the end are the ones Beato hates the most.  ......However, every single time, the order people are killed in gets totally changed.  ......If we try counting up the people who live until the last twilight every single time...even though they do die in the end.............................."
".................."
......I'm the only one.

".........Let me first speak with the red.  Battler-kun isn't the culprit.  Battler-kun didn't kill anyone.  This can be said of all games."

"Then that.........just makes it even more likely that it's me.  ...It means the sole reason she had for bringing about the epitaph murders...was to show it to me."
Every time, Beato brags that she chooses who to kill next with a roulette.
However, I am the only one she never kills.
......Though she does kill me in the end, she leaves me be until the very last moment.

In all of these supposedly random games, there's only this one unchanging constant......
"She wants.........revenge?  Against me?  So is she performing the epitaph murders to make me feel fear...?"

"That's wrong.  ......Her goal is not to make someone experience fear.  And it isn't to have revenge on someone either."

"In that case!  That means the epitaph murders really don't mean anything to her.  The epitaph's riddle is meaningless, and the corresponding epitaph murders are also meaningless.  X=Y=0!  But even so, she's clearly trying to show these meaningless things to me!"

"What could she want from me...which is worth the same to her as something meaningless?!  ......I don't get it!!  The more I think about it, the less I understand what she's thinking!"
".................."
Beatrice, the fickle witch who committed a meaningless, worthless serial murder.
Even the epitaph's riddle, which that witch made into a condition to suspend the serial murders...is meaningless, immaterial.

And, ......she's thrusting this meaningless, immaterial thing in front of my face.
......What is it......that you want from me...?
......Or else, what is it that you want to give me......?
My idea that Beato must have been taking revenge on me...has already been denied by Virgilia's red truth.

Both X and Y.
Both the epitaph murders and the epitaph's riddle mean nothing to Beato.
X=Y=0.

However, since she's thrusting that in front of me......it must......have some meaning.
She showed us the scales representing 'if you don't solve the epitaph, I'll carry out the epitaph murders'.

In other words, neither the epitaph murders nor the epitaph's riddle have any significance by themselves.

However, it becomes meaningful when she puts both halves on the scales and thrusts it out before us.........no, before me.
......In other words, it should be like this:

X=0.
Y=0.
X+Y>0.
A scale with meaningless, weightless things on both sides.
However, it has weight itself...and gives the rest meaning.
"......It's almost like......playing.  Like kids playing rock, paper, scissors."
Rock, paper, scissors is an extremely familiar method to randomly determine a winner and a loser.

You sometimes bet some sort of privilege on the outcome, ......but kids often do rock, paper, scissors just to play, without betting anything in particular.
Unless you bet something, you have nothing to gain or lose except happiness and frustration.
In other words, the two sides of the scale, both winning and losing, are immaterial.

However, the very act of seeing which way it will tip...is the reason kids play rock, paper, scissors.
After all, the kids are enjoying the communication that surrounds the game, ......and they aren't purely interested in the value of winning or losing.

They aren't overly concerned about who wins and who loses......
"That would mean that it doesn't matter to Beato......whether the epitaph murders succeed or not.  ......It almost feels like she's just enjoying the process."
"............"

"......In the past, ...I cursed her, deciding that she was a heartless witch who kept murdering people for no reason.  ......But right now, I can't imagine that's true."

".........Thank you.  In that case, I'll give you some more red.  ...Beato never committed murder for the sake of pleasure."

She didn't do it for pleasure, and she didn't do it to make anyone feel fear.
Since she has nothing to gain, she doesn't care whether the epitaph murders succeed or fail.

It's almost like...a random game kids would play......
"That's not right.  ......It does have meaning.  It has meaning for her."
".........And what is...this meaning...?"
"I don't get it.  Even though both sides of the scale are immaterial, ......the scale itself has some weight to it in her eyes."
......Of course it isn't meaningless.  Some meaning definitely exists.
In the previous game, she urged me to remember my sin of six years ago.

......Could that have been meaningless too?
No.  That definitely isn't the case.
I clearly remember the serious gaze Beato had back then.

Unfortunately, I didn't have a clue at the time.
......When she saw that, she was horribly dejected.
That's right.
At that time, I'm sure she even went so far as to say that the crime wouldn't have occurred if I hadn't come.

"It does have meaning.  .........It means something to her.  And it's something she wants from me."
"........................"

I laughed softly and poked Beato lightly on the head, ......then patted her head.

"......Next time you want to send a love letter, I suggest that you just write 'I love you'.  ...If you make it too roundabout and confusing, no one's gonna be able to figure it out."
".........*giggle*."

"I still don't have a clue what she's thinking.  ......Even so, I won't stop thinking.  ...I've only just started turning the chessboard over.  ......I definitely won't give up......on this journey in search of your thoughts."

The True Family Conference

Sat, Oct 4 1986 11:49PM`
......Battler did nothing but gaze lazily out the window.

The fighting between the relatives continued without end......
At first, the relatives had crowded around the study.
However, no matter how much they knocked, the master of the study did not answer even once.

Eva and several others said that they should open the door with the second key, the one Genji held.
However, in a flash of brilliance, Natsuhi said that Kinzo had been in a particularly bad mood and had taken back the key he'd previously given Genji, meaning that he now had both keys himself.  She claimed that this was the reason they couldn't open the door.
After she promised to let them meet Kinzo tomorrow morning no matter what, they finally returned to the dining hall.

But, of course, the argument continued on even after they returned to the dining hall.

Eva's group wanted a lot of cash very soon, and they were trying to threaten Krauss somehow and make him pay up.

......Apparently, Battler's solving of the epitaph threatened Krauss's position as the next head, which gave the others a huge tailwind.

On the other side, Krauss and Natsuhi based their argument on the claim that it had never been specified that ownership of the gold would be handed over to the person who solved the epitaph.

It hadn't been hidden gold, but just Kinzo's stockpile, and it was still Kinzo's property, which meant it was only natural that it be distributed only after Kinzo's death with the rest of the inheritance.

After they claimed this, Eva's group once again started demanding that they be allowed to see Kinzo.
......It's probably been obvious from the beginning.
This sibling fight can only be settled by Kinzo...

It was obvious that this confrontation was between Eva's group, which wanted cash fast, and Krauss, who was hiding his lack of funds but still didn't need money right away.
As he listened vaguely to this exchange, ......Battler marveled at how, despite their usual affluent airs, they were surprisingly deep in debt...
"Didn't you already say that a short while ago?  That's enough, let's take a break.  We're all repeating the same things over and over again."
According to the clock, it was almost 24:00.

It certainly was a perfect time for a break.
The atmosphere relaxed just a bit...
"I agree.  It'd do both sides some good to take a breather.  ...So, why don't we take a record down for the rest.  I've had enough of fighting over what was or wasn't said."

"Seriously.  We really can't do without a record of proceedings, not when Nii-san can so easily deny something he's said before the words stop bouncing off the walls."

"With a written record, just writing it would be a pain, and it'd be open to forgery."
"Right.  ......Aniki, want to fire this up?"

"A tape set, is it?  ...I see.  This way, we can keep a record without bothering to write it down, and forgery will be impossible.  It's fair for both sides."
"Make sure you don't mess anything up...!  Those are Father's precious music tapes!"
The dignified tape set had a sense of weight to it which matched this majestic dining hall perfectly.

On pleasant Sunday mornings, it would sometimes be used to play famous tapes or records.

However, right now, it was the most neutral and impartial conference record keeper around...
Rudolf fished randomly around the cassette rack, searching for a blank tape.
And every time he found some tape with 'sophisticated' music, he would chuckle at how pompous it was.

"Pardon me.  ......You called?"
"We're taking a break.  Sorry, but could you make us something to drink?  And maybe some biscuits would be nice too."

"Certainly.  I will prepare it right away......"
"Also, ......sorry.  Do you have any cold medicine?  I've been feeling a bit feverish."

"Then don't overstrain yourself.  Get some sleep."
"If you really feel like it, why not get some sleep, Rosa?  Though I wouldn't step out of such an important conference because of a simple cold."

"Really?  Allow me to take a rest as well.  Natsuhi, why don't we take a short rest too."
"............Yes, dear."
Sensing that he meant to have a strategy meeting, Natsuhi stood up.
......Even if this hadn't been the case, she was so desperate to get out of the room even for a moment that she'd have taken any excuse.

Krauss and Natsuhi left the dining hall, ......and the tension in the room truly relaxed.
"............*sigh*."

"You've been doing great, Battler-kun.  ......I imagine you feel just horrible.  Think of this as part of growing up and just accept it."
"Just how long am I going to have to sit around doing nothing here?"

"......Who knows.  After all, you're like our own portable shrine.  ......Sleepy?"
"About as much as your average school class."

"I'm pretty sure Father won't show up tonight anyways.  When Krauss nii-san and the rest come back, I'll propose that we might as well let you go."
"......I'll be counting on you."
*knock*knock*.

A light knock and the faint sound of china clinking together could be heard.

"Excuse us......"
"We have brought tea."

Shannon and Kanon had come by with a serving cart.
The pleasant smell of black tea had the effect of relieving a bit of tension.

"......Hey.  Did you hear about it?"
"What are you talking about......?"
"............We didn't hear anything."

"Stop it, Rudolf.  There's no reason to tell them."
"......We are furniture, so we have no interest in the family conference."

"I see.  That's a wise answer."

"......You have the midnight shift?  That must be tough."
"That is our job.  ......We would be happy to receive your orders."
"That may be.  It'd probably be even more tiresome to sit around awake doing nothing.  When I was still down in the bottom rungs, I once worked as a warehouse keeper.  Even if you're just staying awake, it's still pretty tough...!  Right after the war, you had robbers all over the place.  Plus you couldn't rely on the police back then, so it was a pretty dangerous time...!"
Hideyoshi was particularly proud of how he had started with nothing and built up assets by illegally diverting goods from the American army.
Once the subject came up, Hideyoshi tended to get pretty talkative.

The relatives who knew this were greatly relieved to see that a perfect sacrifice had come up.
"If you got found out, you were in for it big time!  Those Americandy people are scary!  Their strength's in another league 'cause of all that beef they eat.  If you got caught, it would end with them shooting you or <death by hanging>!  Get it?  <Death by hanging>!  Oh yeah, and then, I figured it out.  It's all about the meat!  Japanese people've got to eat more meat!  And that's when I had a revelation that I needed to start up a business to win over people's stomachs!"
"I, ...I see...  That m, must have been quite a difficult task......"

"Stop it, dear.  No matter how much you tell people born after the war, they'll never understand how we suffered back then."
"Oops, looks like my bad habit's jumped out again...!  Sorry, sorry!  Wahahahahaha!"

"You two should have some tea as well.  I think it might be helpful for you to use your own mouth once in a while and learn more about the tea you're brewing."
".........No, we'll be fine.  There's no need to be concerned for our sakes..."

"Hang out with us for a bit.  Being surrounded by only adults makes me feel like I'm gonna suffocate."

"Hear that?  That's an order from Battler-sama, successor to the head!  Sit over there and have some tea with us.  Then you can talk about recent events, your hobbies, TV shows you're watching and whatever it is that's popular with young folks these days.  There's a lot we could learn."

"*giggle*.  That's a brilliant idea.  Come on, you two sit down too.  And why don't you become sacrifices for us now that we crave something to talk about."
"Wahahahahahaha.  That's right.  I thought it'd be nice to talk to some young kids, but that'll be pretty hard when I'm too old even to go to a cabaret club."

"......How long are you planning on standing around there?  Rudolf told you to sit.  Sit down.  ......I give you permission as well."

After getting Eva's permission, Shannon and Kanon looked at each other and finally obeyed, nervously.

For a while, the two were pounded by questions and became the relatives' playthings......
At that time, *knock*knock*.........a reserved knocking sound could be heard.
All of the servants tended to knock in a similar manner, so no one noticed anything strange.

However, Shannon and Kanon turned around with surprised looks on their faces.
......The servants here today included the two of them, Genji, Kumasawa, and Gohda.
Gohda had the midnight shift at the guesthouse.
Kumasawa had gone to bed in a spare room in the guesthouse.

They were in here, ......so Genji was the only person left, ...but they knew very well that Genji wouldn't knock like that......
"......Who is it?  It's not locked.  Just come in."
Rudolf didn't recognize the knock either.

When he asked 'Who is it?', it became apparent that no one could tell whose knock it was......
After that, the same *knock*knock* repeated just once more.

......Could it be that someone had their hands full...and was asking that the door be opened for them...?
As a slightly odd feeling began to encompass the room, the sound of the large clock in the hall could be heard.

It was a sign that October 4 had ended and October 5 had begun......
Let's go back in time a bit.

At this time, Krauss and Natsuhi were a ways off, in a deserted corridor on the second floor......

".........So, we no longer have any other options."

"Yes.........The same move probably won't last us all day tomorrow.  ...If we hesitate any longer, there's a chance that Eva-san and the others will claim that we have Father locked up and call the police.  This is......as far as we can go."
".................."

"......Battler-kun finding the gold......was totally unexpected.  If that hadn't happened, I'd thought of a plan which might have managed to get us through this somehow......"
"......Hmph.  This always happens when I bet on something.  ...Something unexpected always happens, and something which should have been an absolute certainty gets all messed up."
".........Let's set it up so that Father's room is empty starting tomorrow morning.  Let's plan it out with Genji and have him say that he saw Father heading out into the forest early in the morning."

"I doubt Eva and the others will simply accept such a disappearance..."
"I'm fully aware of that.  However, we have no other options...!"

"If we do such a thing, ......Eva and the others will doubtless make a fuss that our actions were suspicious.  They aren't worried about appearances as long as they can squeeze some money out of us.  ...It might end up in some odd magazine and cause serious damage to the confidence placed in me."

"We can live with damage, right...?!  If by any chance Father's secret is discovered, we won't get away with just damage...!!"

"There's nothing wrong with persisting until the last second tomorrow.  If we're able to make it through safely, we won't have to lose anything.  There's no need to get impatient and use that trump card...!"
"You want to wait until after they start clambering about how we've locked Father up, and then say he's gone missing?  That way would invite much more suspicion...!!"
"...............Nnnn......"
"......Let's just...put Father to rest now...  To go any further.........would be impossible......"

"Calm yourself.  You've just been wrapped up in Eva and the others' toxin and have lost your composure.  ......Only two keys exist which can let anyone into that study!  And you have both of them right here.  That means no one can go inside.  That door is of a very special make.  No matter what kind of tools they bring out of the storehouse, it won't even budge."

"It isn't a physical problem like that...!"
"Please, don't be hasty, and calm down.  In any event, you can pretend to have gotten a fever and stay in bed.  In the meantime, I will overcome all of this for you."

"......I can't leave everything to you...!  I'll fight until the end too...!"
When Natsuhi could no longer hold back the tears brought on by her fierce emotions, ......Krauss held her gently.

......Just how long had it been since the last time she'd felt warmth from her husband's compassion......
"Your headache.........must be awful, yes?  It's always that way when you wrinkle your forehead like that."
"............Dear......"
She had come to think that her husband could never guess the way she felt.
But, ......when it came to times like this.........

"......Let's wait for the very last moment before using our disappearance trump card.  It's like a last-resort treasured sword.  It's best when it remains in its sheath.  The important thing is that you're ready to pull it out at any time, right...?"
"I......understand that..."

"Would you let me handle that trump card?  .........Of course, at the final moment, I will take all of the responsibility.  ......I won't get you and Jessica involved."
"What...do you mean by that...?!"
"When the Ushiromiya family is destroyed, it is enough that I alone am crushed in the rubble.  .........When the typhoon passes, let's make sure we're ready to file for divorce.  I will sign the papers and let you hold onto them.  ......I've secretly left some of my assets in your name.  If you add on some compensation money, that should be enough for you and Jessica to live on without any hindrances."
"No!!  Ushiromiya Natsuhi is the name that should be engraved on my tombstone...!  Please let me be with you until the last moment...!  Even if it turns out that you are the last head of the Ushiromiya family, ......please let Natsuhi......be the name of the final head's wife......your wife......"
......Krauss's existence was based solely upon the trust and power of his assets as a financial fixer.

If either of those weakened, nothing would remain.

If they used the trump card of Kinzo's disappearance, they would lose one of these two essential supports.
......It was like offering your right arm in exchange for your neck being cut.

It was probably better than losing your neck, but you still might die from the blood loss, and even on the off-chance that you did survive, you would have to bear a heavy wound that wouldn't heal for the rest of your life......
Krauss was prepared even for death......

Natsuhi understood this, ......buried her face in Krauss's chest, ...and cried...
".........My apologies for interrupting."
Genji's sudden voice made Natsuhi jump back and hurriedly wipe the tears from her eyes.
Krauss stood in front of Natsuhi, shielding her.

"Ah, Genji-san.  Please don't sneak up on us.  ......Do you have some business?"
".........Yes.  My apologies, but I have something to report to Madam."

"To......me......?  Dear......"
"I don't mind."
Krauss left Natsuhi's side, went to a window a short ways off, and gazed at the windy and rainy rose garden......

Natsuhi went with Genji to a place a short distance away.

"......What is it?"
".........Well...  The truth is, another phone call has come for you, Madam."
At that time, she was surprised by a sudden, eerie sound.
It was the large clock in the hall announcing 24:00...
"You don't mean.........that man......again...?"
".........Yes.  ......What is to be done?"

"D, ......did he say what business he had with me?"
".........He would not answer.  He kept insisting that he wanted to speak to you directly."

".................."
Again, ......a phone call...from the man who claimed to be taking revenge for what had happened 19 years ago.
19 years ago.

......That was just one year before Jessica and Battler were born.

In Natsuhi's eyes, the gap between 19 years ago and 18 years ago was immense.
......For a long time, she had been unable to fulfill her role of creating a successor for the Ushiromiya family...and had been treated very coldly.

But then, she finally gave birth to Jessica...and became able to call herself the Ushiromiya successor's wife with her head held high.
......So in her eyes, 'Ushiromiya Natsuhi' began 18 years ago.
......That's why everything before that, including 19 years ago......contained nothing but hateful memories.
And......the last year of that hateful period.........is whispering of revenge...from the other end of the phone......

.........I can still......hear the roar of the sea......

..................
".........What is to be done?"
"Transfer it......to my room.  ......Don't let my husband know."
"......As you wish."
From the very beginning, Genji had guessed that she wouldn't want Krauss hearing about this phone call.
That's why he had told Natsuhi covertly......

Natsuhi ordered that he transfer the call, told Krauss that she would turn in for the night, and left at a quick pace......
She returned to her room and locked the door.
...There's nothing peculiar about that.
......In the Ushiromiya family, hallways are like public roads.
There's no special meaning in locking the door when you enter your own room...

...This is what she told herself.
Then, as though it had been waiting for her, the telephone rang.
...Genji had probably transferred the call.
She took a deep breath, readied herself, ............and picked up the receiver.
".........Hello........."
".................."
Again, ......it started with silence.
She realized that the person at the other end was trying to irritate her and make her feel uncomfortable, and she got angry...
"Why are you silent...?!  I'm hanging up...!"
"...Hahahahahahaha.........Don't hang up, Mother.  I want to hear your voice a little longer......"

Again......that unpleasant voice......
"Are you trying to mock me...?!  Tell me what you want...!"
"I want to play with you, Mother."
"...Wh, ......what?  What are you talking about?!  I have no desire to play with you...!!"
"......You're tired from the family conference, right?  Is that chronic headache of yours getting to be a pain...?"
"Th, that's none of your business...!"
Just the fact that he knew her headache was troubling her made a shiver run up her spine...
"You get headaches because your head's all stiff.  If you go straight to bed like that, you won't be having nice dreams."
"Haven't I told you that's none of your business?!!  I'm hanging up!!"
Natsuhi forcefully yelled that she was hanging up, but in actuality, she couldn't...
After all, being at the receiving end of a phone call was much better than the alternative.

......If she hung up violently, ...this person might then call someone else...
"Let's play a bit to help you relax.  I won't take up much of your time."
"I, ...I have no intention of playing with you......!"
"......Your name is Natsuhi, Mother.  It has the kanji for a season in it.  Pretty nice name.  .........However, just because your name is Natsuhi, that doesn't necessarily mean that you like summer.  ...Which season do you really like, Mother......?"
"You think I'll tell you?"
"If you don't, ......I'll hang up.  .........Is that alright?"
"...Gah, ............"
It was clearly a threat.
......It meant that if she forced him to hang up the phone...anything might happen......

Humiliated that she was forced to give in to a threat made by a man whose name she didn't even know, she gave him the answer he wanted......
".........I, .........it's Fall."
"Why......?"
"B, because it's an easy season to pass the time in...!  There's no other reason in particular.  Are you satisfied now?!"
"Yeah, I'm satisfied.  ......So, looks like your favorite season really is the same as mine.  ......I like Fall too.  .........Heheheheheheheheheheheheh..."
"......Liar!  You just made that up...!"

Surely, this man would have done the same thing no matter which season I said I liked.
......What is he after?!

What's so fun about making me uncomfortable like this...?!
"It's not nice to call someone a liar.  ......I didn't make it up.  I already knew that you liked Fall, Mother.  .........I can even prove it to you."
"Prove.........?"
"Yeah.  ......Is there a clock in your room, Mother...?"
"...A clock......?  Y, ......yes, there is, but what's your point......?"
In Natsuhi's room, there was a beautiful antique clock with an intricate design.
......Krauss had bought it for her as a birthday present long ago.
".........It's 0:07 right now.  I'm tired, so please get this farce over with quickly...!"
"Try lifting the clock up."
"Wh, why?"
".........You just don't know when to shut up.  Stop resisting every single time I say something.  Just shut up and do what I say."
The tone of the man's voice suddenly went low, turning into a threat.
It made it clear that he was displeased.

At first, this man seemed to have a calm way of speaking, but on the inside, that wasn't the case at all.
If she enraged this man even a little more, he would surely show his true nature right away...
"......Are you really that eager to make me hang up?  Things are best when I'm talking on the phone with you.........I could tell your husband and daughter about what happened 19 years ago any time I want to..."
"I, I don't know what you're talking about, but please don't get my husband and daughter involved...!  I'm listening to everything you say...!"
"Then just do what you're told......"

Once again, the man threatened her in a low voice, as though warning her not to interrupt again...
My head was filled with the pain from my headache, the sound of my beating heart, ......and the roar of the sea...

......I can't disobey him anymore.
.........As the man had ordered, I lifted up the antique clock...
".....................?"

There lay what appeared to be a single playing card.
............?
Is it the warranty for the clock.........?

Thinking this, she took it and turned it over............
"Are you.........wide awake now?"
"Eek, ah, ......aaaaaaaahhhhh......  Wh, wh, wh, why......why is......this here...?!?!"
"Well, I'll be happy if your headache's gone down a bit.  ......Tell me you're happy, Mother."
"How did you...?!  Why?!  How?!"
"I want you to tell me you're happy, you murderer.  How dare you act like a normal, neat-freak mother.  You make me want to vomit.  Do you want that to land on your husband and daughter as well?  You don't, do you?  You want me to keep quiet, don't you?  Yeah, I'll keep quiet.  See, aren't you happy?  Aren't you happy?!"
"Ah, .........gaaaah, I'm happy...I'm happy...!!  So please...stop...  Don't burden my husband and daughter...!  What is it you want?  Money?  How much?!"
"I don't want money.  ......My wounds couldn't be healed with any amount of money.  But there is a medicine.  ......That's right.  It's like a kind of ointment.  ......Thick, syrupy and dribbling.  ............And that is...my hatred......my resentment towards you.  ...Slathering myself with that...is the only way to hold back the pain..."
Natsuhi had never had anything so hateful said to her in her entire life.
So she suspected many times that she must be having some sort of bad dream.

However, ......this definitely wasn't a dream...
"......Y, ...you couldn't possibly be......on this island right now, are you...?""I am.  Didn't I promise you?  I said I'd be at the family conference."
"That's impossible...!  There's no way you could have come during this typhoon...!!"
"That's no problem if I came before the typhoon reached here.  ......And I'm pretty sure this guest called Erika or whatever arrived even during the typhoon."
Her blood froze......

Furudo Erika had supposedly been brought here by coincidence...

If he knew that name, he would have to be very close by......
"Wh, ......where......a, ......are you.........?"
"......I won't appear in front of anyone until you introduce me.  Don't worry.  .........Oh yeah, it's useless to try and search for me.  Your mansion is huge.  You even have a phone system in it.  And I'm sure you don't want to meet me, right?  ......Or else, do you want to expose me and introduce me to everyone...?  Introduce me to Jessica too.  ......Tell her I'm her older brother by one year.  Heheheheheheheheheheheheheheh!!"
"S, stop it......, stay away from Jessica......"
"I guess I've scared you a bit too much.  That's all from me...for tonight.  ......But don't forget.  You cannot disobey me.  Understand, ......Mother?"
"......Y, .........yes......"
"I'm going to hang up for the night, ......but I have an order to be followed up until tomorrow morning."
"Wh, ......what is that.........?"
"You may no longer leave that room tonight, and you may not make a phone call to anywhere.  If a phone call comes for you, you aren't allowed to take it.  And you will turn the lights off right now, get in bed, and sleep.  Then you will wake up at your ordinary time.  ............Heheheheheh.  It sure is nice to live a healthy life.  I really am such a good son, working so hard for the sake of my Mother's body......"
"I, ......I understand.  I'll sleep right now.  I won't leave my room, and I won't pick up the phone...!  So, let my husband and daughter......!"
"As long as you follow my orders, I'll keep your secret, Mother.  ......Don't disobey me.  ......I'm already very close by to you.  I can easily tell whether you've turned your lights off, or whether you're on the phone.  ...If I wished to, I could even kiss your sleeping face."
"I'll keep it!  I'll keep my promise!!  So stop it, just stop it!  Stop iiiiiiiiiiiiiiittt!!"
......As she screamed, Natsuhi took the card she had found under the clock, and crushed it up into a little ball.

It had a pattern on it like a tarot card......and also...'秋', the kanji for Fall.........
Let's go back in time once again.
Right now, it is exactly the same time that the large clock in the hall announces 24:00.

Wondering who the person who knocked on the door twice was, ......the relatives in the dining hall stared at the door.
Rudolf told them to come in.

......But there was no answer.
Until the end of that long tone marking the coming of 24:00, which had come from the large clock in the hall shortly after the knock, they were unable to move in the slightest......

"......Maybe their hands are full and they can't open it......"
"Maybe.  ......But it's a little creepy that they won't say their name."

"......Should I open it?"
"Open it."

Kanon nodded back, then slowly opened the door......
"Ah, ......what's that...?!"
"......It's......one of Father's envelopes?"

Right behind the opened door, on the floor of the hallway, ......lay the envelope.
"There's no one in the hallway.  Perhaps they placed this here and left..."

The adults flew out into the corridor as well, but they could find no trace of anyone who might have knocked on the door......
Barely an hour ago, Shannon and Kanon had come in to serve tea.
At that time, everyone had seen that nothing lay in that spot.

Someone came, knocked, left an envelope with the mark of the One-winged Eagle on it, and left...

"C, ......could it have been...the Master......?!"

"......It's not unthinkable.  ......Father's pretty much the only person in this mansion who would refuse to answer when asked who he was."
"That's not possible.  If that's so, then why didn't Father come in here openly?"

"......That's right.  Father would probably just suddenly come in here without knocking...  The doors and windows of this mansion are locked now, right...?  In that case, the only people who could conceivably have left the letter there are Krauss-san, Natsuhi-san, and Genji-san."
By this point, the mansion had been completely locked up.

Therefore, the cousins in the guesthouse, Nanjo, Gohda, Kumasawa, and Erika could not have come here.

Furthermore, since Krauss, Natsuhi, and Genji were the only three who weren't in this room, one of those three had to have been the one who set that letter down in the corridor.

In that case, it was very likely that Krauss and the others had placed the letter there to make it seem like a message from Kinzo...
"I see...  It'll have something written on it which is supposedly in Father's name, saying that he won't accept Battler as the next head, or something of the sort.  Ridiculous.  I can't believe you'd try to pull such a childish trick, Nii-san...!"

"It's not like I have any interest in being the next head..."
"Give it up.  That's just your fate.  ......Anyways, why don't we read what's inside?"
Rudolf set the letter on the dining hall table and let everyone see the front and back to show that there were no tricks or hidden mechanisms, almost like a magician does before performing his act.
"......This envelope is without a doubt Father's?"

"Y, ...yes, there's no doubt.  Father liked to use this envelope for handwritten letters...  What do you think, Shannon-chan?"
"Y, yes............To my eyes as well, ......it looks like the type of envelope that the Master uses..."

"That doesn't mean Father was the one who wrote it.  It would be pitifully easy for Nii-san to snatch one of these from a drawer in Father's study...!"

"Even Krauss-sama would not be able to enter the study easily...  It might be hard for him to steal an envelope......"

"Let's try opening it.  We can think about this later.  ......There's something in it.  I wonder what."
Rudolf opened the envelope a bit roughly.

Then, a folded letter......and a glittering object fell out.
......It was a ring.
"Huh?  .........Wait a second, ...that ring is......!"

Eva noticed it immediately and grabbed at it...
"Th, ......this is......Father's ring, isn't it...?!  I, it's the head's ring!!"

"......Wh, ...what in the...!!  Seriously?!"
"Are you sure it's Father's ring...?  Could it be a replica...?"

"No, this is the real thing!  I've always dreamed about wearing this ring on my finger someday.  Even though Father wore this on his finger, I know more about it than anyone else.  ......This is Father's ring, no doubt about it!  Why is it here?!"

"In that case, was it really Father who wrote this letter...?!"
"......Heh, heheheheh.  The sender isn't Father.  ...It's much more interesting."

"Then, ......who is the letter from?"
"The Ushiromiya family alchemy counselor!  .........It's from the Golden Witch, Beatrice-sama......!!"
Rudolf showed everyone the part of the letter where that was written.
It really did say that......

"I, ......it's from Beatrice......?!"
"What's it say......?"
"I'll read it.  .........<Congratulations>...  I acknowledge that Battler-sama spectacularly solved the epitaph's riddle and reached the Golden Land.  .........All of the gold belongs to Battler-sama.  Furthermore, Battler-sama is the new head of the Ushiromiya family.  ......As proof, ............I send the ring of the head, ...which Kinzo-sama left in my charge.........Battler-sama, I beg that you take the ring, become the new master of the gold, and lead the Ushiromiya family.  ......I sincerely pray that you flourish as the new head............"
"......Hah, ......hahah!  What the hell...!  I see, Dad just won't come out of his study, so Beatrice, the witch of the forest, has acknowledged Battler directly...!  Hahaha, hahahahahahahahaha!"

"......Battler-kun.  You should take that ring.  ......This is a special ring to be worn by the family head.  .........I don't know who this Beatrice is, but she's watched the whole thing and sent you this ring after acknowledging you as the true successor."

"I, ......is that alright...?  It's such an important ring......"
"Yeah, it's fine.  You should wear it proudly on your finger.  ......Got it?  Even if Aniki and Natsuhi nee-san tell you to take it off, you better not do it no matter what...!"
All of the relatives, with creepy smiles on their faces, urged Battler to put the ring on his finger...

It looked like things would get pretty nasty if he refused, so Battler reluctantly decided to put it on the middle finger of his left hand......

The ring was heavy and stiff......

At that moment, Krauss returned.
......Genji came back as well immediately afterwards.

"My apologies.  It looks like my wife isn't feeling so well, so she's gone to bed early.  .........Did something happen?  You all seem incredibly flustered."

"............Battler-sama, ......that is........."

Immediately, Genji keenly spotted that which Battler had just put on his finger...

"Your eyesight's pretty good, Genji-san!  ......Looks like you know whose ring this is."
"What...?  What are you talking about......?"

Judging by Krauss's dubious expression, it's pretty unlikely that he was the one who set that letter there......

Furthermore, that expression quickly changed into one of shock.

"Eheheheheh!!  That's right, it's the ring of the Ushiromiya family head!!
The family conference took up this new topic......, and the storm came once again.........
The rain was still pouring down as hard as ever.

......This weather was supposed to continue all day tomorrow as well, which made me feel a bit depressed.
......Oh wait...given the time, that's today, not tomorrow...
But that doesn't really matter now.

.........I'm sleepy...
With half-asleep eyes, I opened my umbrella.

The large drops of rain pounded against it mercilessly.........
Technically, the end of the family conference had been proclaimed at 1:00 AM, but external scuffles kept continuing sluggishly.
I'm really jealous of Rosa oba-san, who managed to slip out of there at that time.
She cleverly got away by saying that she'd check on Maria, who might have been staying up too late.

Dad caught me, I missed my chance to escape.........and they made me stick around until now, 3:00 AM...
After all this time, what have they decided on...?

They haven't decided on anything.
......They just kept on arguing about who said what, like elementary school kids.

......I'm sure that they're tired too.
I'm sure that's why they keep dragging on with the same pointless questions.
I no longer felt any shock or anger towards them.
I guess no painkiller works better than drowsiness...

......I left them behind and finally returned to the guesthouse.
When I returned to the guesthouse, the first floor lounge was lit.

Not only that.  I could even hear people chatting inside......
Apparently, some people were still awake this late.

Despite this late hour, Gohda-san and Doctor Nanjo were still awake and chatting.

Plates and cups were lined up on the counter, and it looked almost like a bar with Gohda-san as the bartender.

When they noticed I had returned, they apparently finally realized how late it was.

When Gohda-san made to top off Doctor Nanjo's glass, Doctor Nanjo declined with an exaggerated gesture.

"That's enough, that's enough.  ......It's already too late to be up."
"Look how late it's gotten...  You were such a good person to chat with, I hardly noticed."

"If so, it's all thanks to your liquor.  We'll have to do this again sometime."
"Yes, gladly!  Battler-sama, welcome back.  Is the discussion with Krauss-sama and the others still continuing?"
"......From the way things were going, it looks like they might plod on until dawn.  None of my business..."

I spoke carelessly, with a big yawn.

".........They have quite a lot of stamina.  I'm surprised."
"Oh, ......so you're here too..."

"......With one thing and another, they ended up having a small night party here.  They let me join in.  .........Don't worry, I haven't said a word about *that*."
".................."

Erika could be seen on the sofa.
She had taken her shoes off and was lounging around as though she owned the place.

"Erika-sama is very knowledgeable on a variety of subjects.  I enjoyed listening to her immensely."
"Your knowledge truly is extensive.  Very impressive for one so young..."

".........You're very welcome.  I, Furudo Erika, know quite a bit about trifles such as this."

Erika grabbed the corners of her skirt and posed.
This was somewhat less than graceful considering she was lounging on the sofa with her feet up.

"......Where's Rosa oba-san?"
"She returned at 1:00 AM, but she went straight upstairs to sleep."

That's probably true...
After taking part in that conference for so long...

I feel like flopping down in bed right away myself.

......I've had it.
I'm tired enough that I might flop over right here...

".........Well then, let's call it a night.  Don't you have to get up early tomorrow morning to make breakfast, Gohda-san?"

"Preparations for breakfast have already been made.  I would be most pleased if you look forward to tomorrow's breakfast."
In Gohda-san's eyes, the family conference is an open stage on which to display his culinary skills.
Maybe this invigorates him so much that he doesn't even get sleepy.

Erika stood up, laughing at how youthful Gohda was.
This became a sign that it was time to disperse.
"I will clean up here.  Please, go and sleep, everyone."

Leaving the clean-up to Gohda-san, I went to the bathroom and then climbed the stairs to the second floor.

"Goodnight, everyone.  These old bones have stayed up a little too late."
".........Good night, Doctor Nanjo.  Good night, Battler-san."

"Yeah.  .........G'night..."

Then, in the second floor hallway, we split up.

Doctor Nanjo went to his own room.
Erika went to her room.
And I...returned to the cousins' room.
I couldn't hear any sounds of playing coming from the cousins' room.

......Could they have fallen asleep already?
No surprise, at this time of night.  If they were still playing, they would have been staying up way too late...
When I opened the door quietly, as expected, the room was already pitch black except for a small nightlight.

Everyone was already sleeping in their beds.
I'm sure they all had a great time and played a ton.
......Then they'd probably talked about youthful things and enjoyed staying up late.

......If only I hadn't found the gold, I could have enjoyed my time with them...
I'm already...tired......so tired.
Forgetting even to change my clothes or brush my teeth, I crawled into bed, .........and immediately started to fall into the marshes of sleep.........
Aaah, ......today's been so insane......

I wonder if that old bastard is still in that family conference now......

......How does he not get tired............?
Come to think of it......, ......what was it that old bastard said when we parted company......?
'Tomorrow, there's something important I want to talk about, as a family.  It's about you.'
......I'm sure it's more stuff about being the successor to the head.
...I don't even want to hear about it......
'If I tell you about this, ......I'll probably be killed.'
I'll kill you whenever you want, you old bastard......
And then, ......what was it he said next......?
'It's about your birth'

My.........birth......?
......Probably just something about the noble Ushiromiya lineage......
Not interested......

.........Just let me......sleep.........

Revenge for 19 Years Ago

......The sound of crashing waves.

The sound of the tide surging.
The noise of the sea breeze.

Whenever my headache torments me, these are the sounds that fill my head......
Unable to bear a successor, I was in a very difficult position with regards to the Ushiromiya family...

Whenever I heard of a drug or incense that could make you achieve pregnancy, I tried it......but nothing I tried had any effect.
Until I was blessed with Jessica 18 years ago......, I was ashamed to even call myself a wife.
"......The creation of a child depends on the efforts of two people and the whims of heaven.  It's not fair to place all the blame on yourself."

"I still don't know what caused my inability to become pregnant.  I even went to see noted physicians.  I underwent humiliating examinations.  ......But I was always just told that they didn't understand the reason..."

"Even though quite some time had passed since your marriage, you still couldn't bear a child.  ......I see.  It's only natural that Eva, who secretly aspired to become the next head, would start getting ideas..."
Eva tried to convince Father that I was a failure as a future head's wife.

It was a time when Kinzo was also very disappointed in my husband's repeated business failures.
On the other hand, Eva's husband Hideyoshi's business was growing well, completely the opposite of my husband's business.
......He was the only person who could bring Father good news.
In that case, perhaps there could be no blame placed on Father if he decided to lend an ear to Eva's words......or even accept them completely.

It was all my fault, because I couldn't bear a child...
"You are sinless.  Aren't babies of this country carried here by storks?  If anyone is to be judged, it should be the stork."

"............Thank you.  However, ...even though he was still in good health then, the head was already well past his prime, and it's not hard to imagine that he wanted to see his grandchildren's faces as soon as possible..."

"Who cares.  If he wanted a grandchild, he could have just done what he wanted with that appalling amount of money he had.  ......This is Kinzo, the man who always bragged about how money could create anything.  If he wanted a grandchild, why couldn't he just manage something with that money he was so proud of...?!"

"...............Yes, ......that's right.  ......The head......gave up on me when I couldn't bear a child......and did just that."

......Thinking it the duty of anyone in possession of large amounts of money, the head gave a lot to charities.

One among these, the orphanage known as the 'Fukuin House' had been given an especially large donation, possibly because he had old ties with that place.

"Ah, the Fukuin House.  ......Furniture came from that place quite often."

"As part of their work training and public activity, the head employed Fukuin House children with exceptional grades as servants.  ......All of the servants in the mansion with "音" (On) in their names, such as Shannon, Kanon, Runon, Manon and Reion, came from there."

"......There were quite a lot of them, weren't there...  Though most quit after just a few years."

"That's probably because a few years of wages from working here would earn them more than enough to live on their own.  ......Experience as a servant for the Ushiromiya family would be a wonderful thing to add to their resume.  I'm sure it was the head's ambition that they would gain this for themselves and then spread their wings in society."

"............I see.  ......So, an adopted child........."
".................."
"F, Father......  What......did you just say......?"

"Welcome this baby as my grandchild."
"Ohhh......, there, there.  There, there..."

Apparently, the baby Kumasawa was trying to soothe didn't like the air in the study at all.
...It kept on crying, displeased......

"M, ...my apologies, Father.........I'm not sure what you want me......"
"Welcome this baby as my grandchild.  And raise this baby to be the one who succeeds Krauss."
"......In other words, ......you want me to raise the baby...as me and my husband's own child......?"
"That's right.  It's clear now that you cannot bear children.  ......There must be some sort of defect in your body."
"Ooh..., there, there.  Ooh, there, there......"

As though she couldn't hear our discussion in the slightest, Kumasawa kept on persistently trying to cuddle the baby.

This made its crying get even louder......
".........That's nonsense.  If all the responsibility of giving birth to children rested with the woman, there would be no need for men in this world."

"I've never forgotten the bitter pain I felt that day............It's not as though I didn't want a child............However, no matter how much I prayed, I couldn't get pregnant......  Thinking that something to do with my body might be the cause, I went to see several famous doctors.  But even so, no matter how hard I tried......I couldn't become pregnant......"

"And in the end, ......this was the result.  ............I understand."
The baby had been picked up by the Fukuin House just recently.

Of course, you couldn't help but feel compassion for this child, who was so young and who had already lost its parents' affection.
However, .........it brought me nothing but pain and sadness.
It would have been another story if I had suffered to bear this child......but why did I have to hold this baby.........who not only shared none of my blood, but who was not related to my husband in the slightest either......?
"I don't hate Father.  ......If anything, ......I only hated my own body...!  I detested it!  I truly detested my own body for being unable to bear a child......!!  So I prayed.  I prayed to both angels and demons!!  And, my wishes were granted by both...!"
"......For what did you pray to angels?"
"I prayed for a miracle in my body...!  If there was something wrong with my body, I could accept that.  In that case, I wanted to overcome that defect and somehow be granted the miracle of being given my husband's child...!"
"......That wish was granted.  ......The next year, you gave birth to Jessica."

"And, ......for what did you pray to demons?"

"I couldn't stand it......, I couldn't stand it......  I hated my body...!  So, I hated this baby, ......because it made my failure so apparent...!!"

".........What did you wish for?"
"For the first time, I prayed and wished to demons...!!  I wished that this baby would just disappear!!"
......Of course, that wish was also granted...by demons.
On that day, I left the baby with an older servant and went to think about the future in the rose garden.
No, that's a lie.

......I didn't want to think about anything.
The baby's cries were annoying, so I ordered the servant to take the baby to a place where I couldn't hear.

......By a place where I couldn't hear, I meant somewhere far away.
Yes, I wished.

......I wished for the servant to take the baby far away and never return...!!

"I see............So, a passing demon heard your wish, Natsuhi-sama."
And then, ......what happened next?"
"After that...was a bizarre accident that could only have been granted me by a demon..."
The woodland path from the rose garden to the harbor is probably well suited for a comfortable walk.
......It must surely feel good to occasionally leave the path and walk through a grove of trees, depending on your mood.

However, .........wouldn't that path be fairly hard to travel on when taking a walk with a baby in your arms...?
"There was a cliff on the other side.  It was......about ten meters tall, I think.  It was rocky below.  ...There was also a fence there!  Does it seem at all likely that the servant went to the trouble of walking there holding a baby and then leaned against the fence...?  The only conceivable explanation is that she was lured there by the beckoning of a demon!!"
"............She was lured there.  ......A demon who heard your wish lured that servant there......"

"And then, ......the servant and the baby..."
"They died...!!  They fell from the cliff, down to the rocks below...!  No, they died because I wished it!  That means this is-"

"It isn't your fault!  There's no need to think about it any further."
"But it happened because I wished it......!!"

"No, that's wrong!  Even if you wish for something, whether it comes true or not is decided by the whims of gods, demons, and witches!  You are sinless.  Humans are sinless.  You can even say that I killed them.  No, I did kill them!  I saw your mourning and felt pity, so I lured the servant with the baby to the cliff and guided them down it!"

"Wasn't it just an unfortunate accident?  Even if you can't accept that it was an accident, blame it on us.  That's why demons exist."

".........That's right.  We're here for your sake.  .....It's not like you killed them.  We killed them.  So you are sinless.  ......So please, don't blame yourself, Natsuhi."
"Is that true......?  Am I truly sinless......?!"

"Yeah, you are.  Fuhhahahahaha!!  Young one who claims revenge for 19 years ago.  If you're going to curse someone, curse me.  However, witches have a patent on curses...!  Let me take on this fight you're trying to pick with Natsuhi!!"
"I am the Ushiromiya family alchemy counselor, Beatrice the Golden!  If anyone picks a fight with the master I serve, I will fight in my master's stead!  Revenge for 19 years ago, you say?  I'll make you learn that's not even a blink of an eye for a witch who's lived a thousand years!!
Gahahahahahaahahahahahahahaha!!
So, you hate Natsuhi for wishing your death 19 years ago?!

Let me make you remember just who it was that lured you off that cliff...!!
......As the middle-aged female servant cuddled the sobbing baby, she walked on a small path through the trees...
Natsuhi had told her that the baby was too loud, so she had tried to get as far from the rose garden as she could.

......She was completely unaware as to why she'd gone out of her way to head in this direction.
However, the sobbing baby......suddenly stopped crying.
Something was reflected in its eyes, but the servant couldn't tell what.

However, thinking that the baby had stopped because it had taken an interest in something, ......she headed in the direction of the baby's gaze...
The baby had seen......a group of gold butterflies disappearing off into the trees.
And, .........on the other side of the trees, ...the servant could see a woman.
.........Who?
She didn't recognize this person, but it didn't look like anyone who was supposed to be here.

The baby stopped crying and stared in that direction.
...Then, the servant's legs started to automatically carry her that way...
"Come this way, woman.  .........Bring that cursed baby with you."
"..................Ah......"

The woman couldn't disobey.
......She was completely overwhelmed by Beato's gold-glowing eyes...
She walked lightly, as though through a dream world.

......At some point, the scenery around her had changed, ......but she did not notice.  She could not notice...
Though this should have been Rokkenjima, ......at some point, it had become the garden of a mansion she had never seen before.
It was a garden she had never seen before, even grander than the great rose garden of the Ushiromiya family......a garden of gold roses.
There stood an arbor, ......and a woman wearing an elegant dress beckoning her.........
...There was a man who looked like a butler, and the tea he poured with a beautiful gesture had a very nice and enticing smell.

It was as though they were telling her to join their tea party......
She couldn't disobey.

.........She had to go to the master of this golden rose garden.........and give this child as an offering......

"Forgive me, woman.  Curse your bad luck for being entranced by a witch.  ......And, surrounded by these gold roses, which you would never be able to enjoy in this world, sleep.  .........Gaap."
".........Yes, understood."
When Gaap snapped her fingers, ......a pitch black hole opened at the woman's feet, and she was swallowed up along with the baby.

Then, the scene of the next moment after that probably burned itself into the eyes of the woman and the baby.
The two floated in the air......and looked down at the gold rose garden spread out below them.

Below their feet was not the earth, but a golden rose garden which stretched as far as the eye could see without any interruptions.
If one could have this scene imprinted in their minds as their last memory, that would be such a merciful way to die......
Then, the woman and the baby were swallowed up by the golden sea.
The *thunk* was remarkably plain, and remarkably quiet for the sound that stole the life away from the two of them.

......However, that was perfectly suitable for the entertainment at a tea party of witches.
With the woman and the baby at the center, ......the rose garden was slowly swallowed up by darkness...
The sound of the wind grew stronger bit by bit.
...Is that TV static?
What is that noise...?
......It was the roar of the sea.
The two who had fallen into the thicket of golden roses from that great height and died......were gradually wrapped up in the roar of the sea, wrapped up in the scenery of the beach below the cliff...

"I guarantee it.  You are completely sinless!!  I'll accept this revenge for 19 years ago!!  Wahhahahahahahahahahaha!!"
"...Ee, ......eeeeeeeeeeeeekkk.........!"
When I spotted the two of them on the rocks below, ......I went pale.
Then, I dashed back to the mansion......and there was a huge uproar.
They took them to a hospital in a boat as soon as possible, ......but from that height, it was a miracle that they had even avoided an instant death.
Both the servant......and the baby.........died.
In less than three days from the time Father had entrusted me with the baby, ......I had killed it...!
My husband had been on a business trip.
Rosa-san, who had still lived on the island at the time, had been traveling with her friends.

......Father and I were the only ones on Rokkenjima!!
And before anyone except Father and I knew, ......a baby had appeared out of nowhere...and then disappeared again!!
That's right, it was a dream...a nightmare!!

I was sure that Father would blame me.
...However, he seemed somehow strange...!
"Heh, ......heheheheheheheh, fwahahahahahahahahahahahhahhahaha!!  I saw this coming, I knew this would happen!  How long will you struggle?  How long will it be before you're mine?!!  Wahahahahaahahahahahaha!!  I have no interest in an empty cage!  Throw it away!!"
When Father learned of the accidental death, he kept on laughing and laughing, as though there could be no greater pleasure, enough that just listening to it gave me a creepy feeling.

Perhaps something had come loose in his mind......
From that day onwards...

Father shut himself up inside the world of the occult even more than he ever had before......
When my husband came back, he was surprised to see that Father was even more bizarre than he had been before.
However, ......he had already accepted that this would happen sooner or later.
Of course, my husband had heard about the baby.

However, he told me that it was surely just some whim of Father's, and to forget it.
So I forgot it!
It was an unfortunate accident.

No, there wasn't an accident at all!
I forgot everything, even that the baby had existed in the first place...!!
After all, it was a twisted nightmare which lasted not even three days!
That's right, it was all a nightmare...!!
I don't want to remember!!

The cliff, the broken fence, the roar of the sea, and......the cry of the baby.........!!!
"So, that baby.........is the baby of 19 years ago?"

"Of course not!  I killed that baby!  It no longer exists in this world!"
"......However, there is no red truth in the human world.  Nothing can be trusted in the human world."

".........That's right.  Beato definitely killed that baby.  However, it might be made out to be alive in the human world.

......Whether it's really alive or not・・・・・・・・・・・・・, right?"
"Are you saying, .........that it actually was alive?!  After falling to the rocks from that height......?!"

"I don't know.  But calm down.  ......No matter how much that person hates you, the truth is that it was an accident.  If he does hate you, that hatred is completely unjustified...!"

"But, but...!  Even if I didn't lay a finger on him, ......inside my heart...!!"

"Calm down.  ......No matter who the man from 19 years ago hates or what he yells, there's no way the sin he's after actually occurred.  So calm down.  Why don't I welcome the man from 19 years ago as my guest?  *cackle*cackle*cackle*!"

"And just when the riddle was solved and I thought my job was finished.  I've got to entertain this final guest of mine!!  Kuhhyahyayhahyahya!!"

"It's getting interesting.  ......Not only are you protecting Lord Goldsmith's secret, but you also have a 19th guest and a man from 19 years ago."
".........That's right, since we claim that Kinzo is alive, Erika is the 19th person.  And after that 19th person, we have a man from 19 years ago?  How interesting.  I'm getting all excited."

"We have no lack of opponents!!  And I was just thinking it a shame to have only one guest at my tea party!!  Come, you fools!!  Kuhhahahahaahahahahahahaahahah!!
Furudo Erika is Lady Bernkastel's piece.
In that case, whose piece is the man from 19 years ago......?
The voice which could be faintly overheard through the receiver...was Natsuhi's.
"I, ......I understand.  I'll sleep right now.  I won't leave my room, and I won't pick up the phone...!  So, let my husband and daughter......!"
Even this begging scream, which would have shaken the heart of anyone listening to it.........could be listened to ruthlessly through the end of the receiver...
"As long as you keep our promise, I'll keep your secret, Mother.  ......Don't break our promise.  .........I'm already very close by to you.  I can easily tell whether you've turned your lights off, or whether you're on the phone.  ...If I wished to, I could even kiss your sleeping face."
"I'll keep it!  I'll keep my promise!!  So stop it, just stop it!  Stop iiiiiiiiiiiiiiittt!!"
The receiver was set down violently.

......'He' knew very well how much the way you hang up a phone can leave a nasty aftertaste for the other side...
"Okay, good night, Mother.  ............Alright, there you have it.  Now Natsuhi won't come out of her room tonight."

".........That's pretty handy.  You can change your voice?"
"*giggle*!  Anyone can change their voice.  A sweet voice when coaxing Papa♪  A sick-sounding voice when taking the day off school.  An apologetic voice when turning down a friend that you actually hate!  If you want♪, I can do~ any voice at all☆  Got i~t?!"

".........You should stop being a witch and become a voice actress."

"Heheheheheheheh!  So, are all the pieces set up on both sides now?  .........'Furudo Erika'.  What a wonderful piece.  She's a much more suitable piece for you than Ange was, Bern."
".........Your praise honors me, Lady Lambdadelta."

"The pleasure is mine.  ......She really is wonderful.  Truly cute.  I'd like to make her surrender to the Illusion of the Witch and see her face twist in humiliation."

"......Hear that?  ......Don't embarrass me, okay?  Show me that you're a much more useful piece than Ange was."

"Yes, leave it to me.  Lady Bernkastel, my master.  ......I'm nothing like that gloomy, dull-minded, totally uncute piece."
"*giggle*giggle*giggle*!  She's right.  That Ange didn't do anything useful except get turned into meat chunks to egg Battler on!  I have absolutely no interest in family love or sibling love!  The game we want to see is more gruesome and sticky!  A <grotesque>, <pop>, and <cute> murder case!!"

".........If Natsuhi is the king, then I wonder if Beato is the queen.  *giggle*.  The pack of witches and furniture guarding Natsuhi is less like a set of chess pieces and more like-"

"Bowling pins, right?!  Kyahhahahahahahahahahaha!!  Illusions of Natsuhi and Beato, Kinzo and the worthless furniture!  Entertain us a bit, will you?!"

"Especially Beato!  We're already bored of you!  This 'Legend of the Witch Murders' game of yours is over already!  Your time is up!!  This game board is already Bern's and mine.  It'll suit you to be reduced to one of our pieces and toyed with for all eternity!!"

"*giggle*giggle*giggle*giggle*giggle*.  Both Natsuhi and Beato are like the guts of a filthy truth wrapped up in a bit of thin skin.  ......Tearing that to bits and dragging the insides out is one of my, no, one of our few pleasures."

"Yes, you can have a lot of fun with it.  Hey, are you watching?  Beatrice?  Look at how much fun can be had playing with your board.  I'll show you.  This 5th game really is fun!!"

".........It's a bit sad if we're the only ones having a pleasant chat.  Why don't you let Beato talk too?"
"Hear that?  I'll give you special permission to talk.  What do you hope to gain from this latest game?!"

".................."
"Ahahahaha!  She said nothing!  That's right, that's right!  You're the loser who surrendered to Battler!  Leave it to me, okay?  I'll put the witch side on top right away!  But that means I'll have to sacrifice the piece you are!!"

"The epitaph has been easily solved before the first twilight, and Beatrice, the keeper of the gold, has lost face.  ......*giggle*giggle*!!"

"......Isn't it great that you've been left as a piece as part of Natsuhi's illusion?  ......Well, we're treating you as a pin now instead of a piece, okay?"

"The Golden Witch Beatrice is out of the picture now!  You and your furniture have only a miniscule role in my game!  A loser's role!!  Resign yourself to getting blasted away and becoming Bern's and my toy!!"

".........If you don't like that, why not just tell us to stop?  If you do, we'll stop."
"....................."
"She's saying she doesn't mind!  *giggle*giggle*!!  You're totally a pin!!"
"Ahhahaha, ahhahahahahaha "kyahhhahahhah hahahahahahhhahahahgwahyahhahaaah!!!""
There's no need for a Golden Witch anymore.

All that's needed is a sacrificial doll so that the two witches can enjoy some time playing.
Die, die, disappear.
Confess to your filthy past and your crimes, speak out your sob story of regret and repentance as you throw yourself off a cliff and die!!

The Golden Witch will never again have her turn......!!

Ahhahhahahahahaahhahhaahahahahahaahahahahahahaha...!!
"....................."

"............Beato..."


This will probably......turn out to be a nasty game.

On the surface, it looks very similar to the usual tales.

However, ......there's no respect given to the true main character of this tale.

This tale...was supposed to be one that the Golden Witch Beatrice invited Ushiromiya Battler to see.

However, the host has been lost, and there are no longer any guests.

......The one who did the inviting and the one who was invited are no longer around in this horrible tale.
Welcome to the 5th game,

  End of the
              golden witch.

Welcome to the banquet without the guest of honor, which has been hijacked by the evil witches......
".........Ready, Battler?  The second day is finally about to start.  Heheheheh!  Just like Beato, I hate slow story progression!"

"Just do what you want.  ......No matter how much you mess things up, I'll definitely reach the truth of this game."

"*giggle*.  .........It has to be that way.  You've got to fight for your little sister's sake as well."
"..............."

"Don't worry.  ......Lady Lambdadelta is a far more terrifying opponent than that fool Beatrice, but I'll be giving you plenty of support, so there won't be any problems.  ......Together with me, why don't you finally expose the Illusion of the Witch this time?"

".........I don't give a damn about you.  I won't acknowledge anything that didn't exist in Beato's games, so I don't need you."

"Is now really the time to act tough?  .........Oh well, let's both give it our all, okay?  Together, let's tear this Illusion of the Witch apart.  *giggle*giggle*!"

Erika acted as though she was asking me to shake her hand.

...Instead of just passively ignoring this, I gave her an active and clear answer by knocking her hand aside.

".........*giggle*.  Looks like he hates shaking hands.  Just like Ange."
"Don't worry.  I'm a far more useful piece than Ange.  ......I'm nothing at all like shredded meat which couldn't do anything except restore Battler-san's fighting spirit."

".................."
"*giggle*...!  Isn't it great that you've been blessed with such a helpful-looking ally?!  In the past, it was Virgilia and Ronove.  Then Ange came as well.  And now you have Bern and Erika!  There are so many pieces supporting you!  So how does it feel knowing that you still can't catch on to the truth despite that?  How does it feel?!"
".........It doesn't matter.  This battle is between me and Beato.  Everyone else besides us...doesn't matter."

"Oh, is that true?  Are you finally standing on your own?!  You've always had someone helping you, someone sympathetic to you, so I wonder just how far you'll get on your own!  Entertain me!"

"......I'll take it back.  .........This is our game.  ......You two aren't invited!!"

"*giggle*.  Yes, that's true.  .........This is your game.  So try taking it back.  ......Let's see how far someone like you, who couldn't even win Beato's games when she went easy on you all over the place, can get in Lambda's completely ruthless game without any help!"

"Well then, wake up!!  Ushiromiya Battler!!  Welcome to the morning of October 5!!"

Morning of Tragedy

Sun, Oct 5 1986 7:00AM`
......Was it someone's alarm clock?

*beep*beep*
An electronic tone repeatedly rang out through the room......
Battler, who had gone to bed late and not managed to get enough sleep, covered his head in his blanket and waited for someone to turn off the alarm.

......But no matter how much time passed, the electronic tone didn't stop.
.........I see.

The point of an alarm clock isn't just to be loud enough to wake you, but to be annoying enough to keep you from wanting to fall back asleep.
Heeey..., the alarm's going off.
Make it stop please......

Why do waking-up voices always get this annoyed?

......Well, it does makes sense.
After all, people are still sleepy and in a bad mood.
However, there was absolutely no sign that my annoyed voice had caused anyone to turn over in their sleep or crawl out of bed to stop the alarm.
Letting out a deep sigh, I stumbled to my feet.
With the shutters down on the windows, there was almost no light getting in, and the room was as dim as it had been earlier.

Though even if the shutters weren't down, there's no way that this dull weather would let in enough sun to make this a pleasant morning.
The cousins were still wrapped up in their beds, sound asleep and taking no notice whatsoever of that beeping.

Normally, once any one person gets up, the others tend to automatically follow...
......Annoyed that this 'law of serial summer camp awakenings' that I'd just made up had been broken, I searched for the source of the sound.
I could hear it coming from a wristwatch set on a table.
Judging by the style of the watch, it was probably George-aniki's.

Anyways, when I randomly pushed a small button on the side of it, the sound stopped.
Apparently, it had been set for 7:00 in the morning.
........Is it already 7:00?

Sorry, but I really don't feel like I slept at all......
Playing cards were left on the table as though they had stopped mid-game.
......The game had probably been sevens.
".................."
Dammit, ......I've got this piercing headache.
What the hell happened last night?

......That mountain of gold and the subsequent argument between the relatives...it all feels like a bad dream...
".........So stupid..."
Breakfast normally came at 8:00.
......Now wasn't a bad time to start getting up and getting dressed.
Even those adults probably won't argue in front of the cousins.

......In that case, I'll stay with my cousins all day long.

I'm sure they'll be able to separate me from all this annoying talk about the gold and being the successor and all......
In fact, I should have done this from the beginning...
I felt disgusting, having slept with my clothes on last night, which caused me to get all sweaty.
......I guess I'll take a shower.

I'm sure the others want to too.
At this age, it's embarrassing to wake them by shaking their shoulders.
If I turn the TV on, everyone will probably wake up.
Well, let's at least turn the lights on for now.

......In this dim light, with the quiet sound of the continuing wind and rain, it really doesn't feel like morning has come yet.
I flipped the light switch.

And then, that dimly lit morning ended.

".........George......, .........Geeeooooooooorge!!!"
"This is just too much......  How...could anyone get away with something like this...?!!"

As they clung to Aniki's corpse, which would never wake up again, ......Eva oba-san and Hideyoshi oji-san cried.

"......That's enough.  Do you think George-kun would like the two of you to see him this way...?  Of course not...!"
".........Aneki.  I know how you feel, but let's have Doctor Nanjo handle this..."

"You don't understand!!  George was killed!  George!!  Geoooooooooorge, ugghaaaaaaaaaaahhhhh!!"

"Doctor Nanjo is right.  We mustn't keep looking at George in such a state.........This is for George's sake!  We have to restrain ourselves for now...!"
When Eva oba-san tried even harder to cling to that corpse, Dad and Hideyoshi oji-san dragged her away and had a heated debate with her beside the wall...
"No, nooooooooooooo!!  Geooooooooorge!!  Doctor Nanjo!  Help him!!  If he's lost too much blood, do a blood transfusion!!  George and I are the same blood type!!  I beg you!  Doctor Nanjo!!"
"...............Eva-san.  ...It pains me to say this, ......but your blood can't do George-kun any good now..."
Doctor Nanjo shook his head slightly, then nodded across to where I stood, giving me a signal.

I softly pulled the blanket up......covering George-aniki's corpse.
His neck......was split wide open.

...It was probably.....larger and deeper than his mouth.
Would it have looked like a clean and neat corpse if that part had been covered up...?
Of course not...

......The large amount of blood which had poured out stained the bed a horrible red and black, ......and even covering him with the blanket couldn't hide the traces left by the blood which had leaked out.
After all, there were even large, red-black stains on the blanket, and covering him with it made his corpse look even more gruesome......
So I stripped the blanket off of my bed and placed it on top of the first one.
......But there were only two extra blankets.

So if we covered one more of the corpses, ......we wouldn't be able to cover any more.

I feel bad about the ones we can't cover, ......but for some reason, ...times like these make me feel like muttering 'don't complain about it being unfair' inside my head......

"......Kyrie.  Put blankets over all of them.  ...Wouldn't want them to catch cold."
"............Sure."
Kyrie-san and I covered the other corpses up to their heads with their blankets, just like George-aniki's...

......So that they wouldn't have to undergo any more shame...with their terrible wounds exposed like this......
In one bed, ......rested Jessica.
......Jessica was exactly the same as George-aniki.

Though she appeared to be resting quietly in the bed.........her neck had been sliced deep and the wound lay open in a brutal way......
And Maria was the same.
......Not only Maria.

There was one more victim.
Lying on the same bed as though they had been sleeping alongside each other......was Rosa oba-san.
George-aniki, Jessica, Maria, ...and Rosa oba-san.
......In this room were four humans who had been killed, their necks sliced open.

They had probably been like that since last night.

......I'd returned without noticing anything, gotten in bed, and fallen asleep.........
.........All of them had a horizontal cut across their throats.
I had been...forced to see all the way......into the depths of those gashes in everyone's throats...

At worst, the wound might have been deep enough to stretch halfway through their necks.
......If you tried to open it up, you'd probably be able to see that the gash reached all the way to the bone.
The only wounds were the single gashes on each neck.

......So if you just covered their necks with your hand, ......you might be able to persuade yourself that they were merely sleeping.
But even so, ......this frighteningly deep wound.........was incredibly......gruesome.........
There's no such thing as 'clean' or 'dirty' ways of killing.
...All methods of killing are equally brutal.

But even so, .........this was horribly......brutal............
And...there was one more thing which adorned these brutal murders to make them even more unsettling.
Drawn very large on the wall.........was something like an eerie magic circle.

It was drawn in a bright red paint which looked like blood and made it look as though some creepy ceremony had taken place in this room, with the four of them offered as human sacrifices...
However, that wasn't what we were concerned about.

......No one has a heart so cold that they could witness the deaths of those close to them......and still worry about some scribbles on the wall...
".........Good morning, everyone.  .........Oh, ......what a wonderful magic circle."
The girl who bragged that she drew more pleasure from the process of exposing the truth rather than the truth itself......and who went so far as to call herself an intellectual rapist, ......appeared in the hall.
When she saw the extraordinarily creepy magic circle in this gruesome room, I heard what was unmistakably a sigh of admiration escape her lips...

"You............don't come in here......"

".........I just heard about it in the corridor.  It's four people who've passed away, correct?  ......Allow me to express my sincere regrets."

On Erika's face......no, that's not it.
It was in her eyes.

......In Erika's eyes, I could see......an indiscreet smile, .......that was hard to describe.

She...found this interesting.

......She found the outbreak of a crime......interesting...

It was like the smile of a kid off to the side of the stage just before her turn to appear in a school play...

"......Sorry, Erika-chan.  We're busy at the moment.  ......Could you wait in your room?"

".........Well, we can't have that.  It's the detective's right to investigate the scene."
"We're saying that we have no business with you...!  Now's the time for outsiders like you to stand back!!"

".........'Mysteries in which a suspect who tries to interfere with the investigation turns out to be the culprit are third rate', ......is how I see things."
"Who gives a damn about what you want?!!  Get out!!  No one needs you here!!"
"Erika-chan...!  I'm truly sorry, but could you return to your room?!  We're busy at the moment!"

"Geooooooooooorge, Geooooooooooorge, waaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh!!"
"......Stand back.  I can't investigate the scene like this."

"If anyone needs to do something like that, we'll do it!  The police will do it!  Like hell you have the right to shame everyone's remains more than they already have been!!"

"Detective's authority.  ......The detective has the right to inspect all crime scenes.  Stand back, Ushiromiya Battler.  This is an official right of this game, which the human side has acknowledged."
Those words, which seemed to be utterly ridiculous at first, ......were words of power which had come from a world on a much higher plane than the one they were in.
Battler was thrown back by an unseen power and landed on his butt.
Struck silent by this quiet intensity, ......nobody was able to prevent Erika from entering the room, suffocated by this bizarre atmosphere...
".........Don't worry.  My goal is not to profane the dignity of the deceased.  It's not like I want to peek into something as disgusting as a slit through someone's neck.  ......I want to know something completely different."
"In other words, who committed these murders.  .........Doctor Nanjo.  And everyone else.  ......Particularly the first one to discover them, Battler-san.  .........There are many things I want to question you about, so I ask for your cooperation."

"L, ......like I said, by what authority are you doing this...?!"
"Because I am the detective."
Battler couldn't argue against this incomprehensible nonsense.
......No, ...he wasn't permitted to argue.
It was a restriction...placed on pieces.

Erika summoned Doctor Nanjo and heard the details of his preliminary autopsy.
......Normally, he wouldn't have spoken of that to an outsider so casually.

...However, for some reason, the atmosphere about the place had begun to make it feel as though nothing should be hidden from Erika...
".........Okay, let's enjoy this first twilight of Lambda's.  Four corpses?  That's two corpses short.  ......Well, she doesn't necessarily have to see to it that six people are killed, but that's how we've been playing.  That girl isn't completely clueless, so she must have killed two more people somewhere."
On the wall was a magic circle representing the first twilight, similar to the ones in Beato's games.
*giggle*, that girl talks tough, but I wonder just how closely she'll be able to imitate Beato.

*giggle*giggle*, ahhahahahahaha...!

That Hebrew sure is crappy.
It isn't written exactly right.

"......What the heck...  What's going on?  Why's there a magic circle?"
"I'll bet they wanted to copy Beatrice-sama.  Aha, what a crappy magic circle...!"

"Are you kidding?!  Some human went out of their way to draw it so they could make it look like Beatrice-sama did this...!  Anyways, let's report to Beatrice-sama about this!"

"Even though we're already up to our eyeballs just protecting Goldsmith's secret......what a pain."

"But these murders have no beauty to them at all.  ......It isn't really a closed room, and there's nothing impossible about it.  Such pitiful murders aren't worthy of Beatrice-sama at all."

"...Furudo Erika...  ......An unexpected crime and an unexpected woman.  ......And the unexpected man from 19 years ago.  .........And if you add on the fact that Battler's already solved the epitaph, this game is completely different than normal.  ...What the heck's going on...?!  Let's go!!"
""Yes, Onee-sama!!""
In the kitchen, Gohda was preparing a wonderful breakfast at a brisk pace.
The main dish would be herb omelets.

Even simple foods could become an invigorating feast under Gohda's skillful hands.
He would precook everything beforehand and prepare the food in the dining hall right before everyone's eyes.
"Hmm hmm hmm hmm♪ Pan pan pan pa~n♪"

Gohda hummed as he continued his preparations in high spirits.
When Shannon, who was helping out, saw Gohda like this, her mood also brightened.
She arranged the salad in a neat little pattern and showed it to Gohda.

"How is this?  I think it makes the tomato look a bit cute."
"Hmm~~, very ni~ce!  You really know what you're doing, Shannon-san!  Hmm hmm hmm hm~m♪"

""Hmm hmm hmm hm~m♪""

The two happy people gave each other a high five.

Shannon didn't like Gohda when he was sneaky, but she had no problems at all with him when he was cooking happily.

She sometimes even thought it'd be nice if his contract hadn't included any jobs besides cooking.
If that had been the case, he wouldn't have had to get in a bad mood doing unnecessary jobs.

"The dining hall is ready.  You can carry it in whenever you want."
"We're almost good to go, so please get the serving cart ready.  Hmm hmm hmmmmm!"

Without thinking, even Kumasawa caught Gohda's high spirits.

The kitchen had a very nice smell and atmosphere about it, truly refreshing for so early in the morning.
Then, Kanon came back in the usual bad mood he always had all day long.
Kanon and Genji were in charge of getting many things ready for the morning, such as opening the curtains.
......However, Kanon was alone today, so it had taken much longer than usual.

"I'm done.  ......Where's Genji-sama?"
"He still isn't here.  .........That's odd.  I can't imagine he'd sleep in."

"Hohoho.  I guess even Genji-san sleeps in sometimes."
"That's rather careless of him, considering that this is the middle of the family conference.  Kanon-san.  Could you wake him up for us?"

"............Yes."

"I wonder what Genji-san's face looks like when he's half asleep.  Hohohoho.  Let me go with you."
Even though Gohda had asked her to get the serving cart ready, Kumasawa plodded off after Kanon, skillfully skipping work.

As Kanon muttered about how Gohda was the one who slept in all the time, he headed for the servant waiting room.

"So you didn't wake him up this morning, Kanon-san?"
"......Last night, I fell asleep while still in the servant room, so I didn't return to the waiting room."
Last night, Kanon had dozed off while in the middle of his late night shift, falling asleep in the servant room.
Shannon had been kind enough to put a blanket on him, but that had just made it so warm that he fell into an even deeper sleep...

So he hadn't returned to his bed in the servant waiting room the previous night.
Because of that, he hadn't met Genji even once this morning.
There was a knock on the door.

"......Genji-sama.  It's Kanon.  Good morning."
".........Oh my.  I wonder if he's still sleeping."
"......Pardon me."
When he tried to open the door, ......Kanon noticed something strange on the upper part of the door.
......What is that?  ......Duct tape??
A small strip of duct tape was stuck along the frame of the door, almost as though it was sealing the door shut.

Furthermore, there were notches made with scissors along the center of the duct tape, so that if you opened the door only a slight amount, it would be torn apart.
Also, written sloppily across the duct tape with a thin pen was what appeared to be someone's signature.

......It was written in a very intricate and decorative manner, so even if it was a signature, there was no way of telling whose it was.

"It's probably some sort of prank......"
"I don't get it, but it's no use worrying about it now.  ......Genji-sama, pardon me."
The duct tape tore apart, and he opened the door.

It wasn't as though anything happened when it split, so the two quickly forgot about that strange duct tape.
......The room was dimly lit.
The lower bed of the two-layer bunk bed still had a lump under the blanket.

Apparently, Genji was still sleeping......

"Good morning, Genji-sama."
"This isn't like you.  Ho ho ho.  It's mo~rni~ng."

"............ah, G, Genji-sama......!"
"Eek, ......wh, what is this, what is this...?!"
There was a large, red-black stain on the blanket.

......Though this was one of the servants' blankets, those were always kept clean.
There's no way a stain like this could be there.
Kanon hesitantly peeled back Genji's blanket, .........saw what was left of him, ......and was shocked into silence.
"Wh, what the heck?  His neck has been cut open!"

".........It's thin.  ...You wouldn't be able to leave a cut this deep without a fairly long blade."
"Wh, what's going on?  Battler solved the riddle of the epitaph, right?  Why are murders occurring?!"

"I don't know.  ......In any event, this isn't good.  We should report about this to Beatrice-sama and Natsuhi-sama."

"Belpha, hurry and report to Luci-nee...!!"
"Understood...!"
After dashing out, Kumasawa called Gohda and Shannon over.

......Then, this new pair let out screams identical to the first two.

"Hey, Gohda-!  Don't stop making breakfast!"
"Is now really the time to be saying that?!!  ......There's no chance they'll be having a quiet and peaceful breakfast on the second day.  ......I have a bad feeling about this.  Genji might not be the only one.  ......Let's check the entire mansion.  Something else might have happened...!"

"Yes, Onee-sama!!"
Natsuhi sprang awake at the sudden sound of the phone.

Even Natsuhi was surprised that she had to wake up.
......She had thought she'd spent the whole night unable to sleep out of fear that the mysterious man might come in at any moment, but before she knew it, she had fallen asleep...
Of course, Natsuhi still didn't feel rested at all.

Though she groaned from the dull pain in her head, which hadn't gone away once since last night, she managed to get out of bed...

"Good morning, Natsuhi-sama."
".........Good morning.  ......It's a horrible morning......"

"Don't worry.  No one tried to enter this room."
"......I see.  ...Thanks for keeping watch all night..."

Even so, that didn't mean she had been able to sleep peacefully.
.........The continued ringing of the phone made her headache throb even more strongly...

"I think you should probably answer the phone.  ......Afterwards, I have some bad news to report from my sisters."

"......Let's leave the bad news for later.  ......I'll answer the phone first."

Natsuhi shook her head to wake herself and picked up the receiver.
......Then, she regretted not listening to Lucifer's bad news first.

...Because she wanted the first thing she heard about on this horrible morning to be something better than this...
".........Morning, Mother.  ......Did you sleep well?"

That voice......told her that this horrible morning...this nightmare...would not stop...
"I, ......I kept my promise.  I've been holed up in this room the whole time.  Of course, I haven't been on the phone either...!"
"But you did pick up the phone just now, didn't you......?"
"W, ......well, ......ah-"
"Ahahahahahahahaha.  ......Just kidding.  This is just a morning call I'm giving my beloved Mother.  Morning, Mother.  ......*giggle*giggle*...!"
".........How far do you intend to mock me......?"

Natsuhi gripped the receiver so hard it creaked...
"I wanted you to leave your seat so that I could set up for the party.  ......Thanks to that, everything's ready now.  Of course, you're the main guest, Mother."
"......Wh, what are you planning to do......?"
"That's for you to look forward to.  ...Don't worry, I won't keep you waiting.  It's already begun.  ......Oh, that's right, wait a sec.  There's someone I want you to hear."
"......Huh?"
There was the sound of the receiver being jolted around.
......The phone was apparently being passed to someone else, but there was a clunking, clattering noise, as though it was taking a lot of effort to hand the receiver over...
Who in the world could he be giving the phone to?

......No matter who...this man gives the phone to...that can't be good news for me...
"......Gwah!  Untie this...!  Coward...!!"
"Huh?!  D, ......dear?!  Is that you?!"
"Gghgghghghghgh, mwoooohh...!!  Untie it, untie iiiit!!"

It was, without a doubt, the voice of her husband.
However, he didn't respond to Natsuhi's voice.
......Perhaps he was bound somewhere in the darkness.

Krauss, not realizing that Natsuhi was on the other end of the phone, repeatedly demanded that he be untied...
"......Your husband is here.  His eyes and ears are covered, so he can't talk, but I think you can tell that he's in perfect health."
"Wh, what are you after...?!!  Let my husband go!"
"I'll let him go tomorrow.  If you'll keep two promises, that is."
"What are they...?!"
"One is that you keep it a secret that I'm taking care of your husband.  ......There will probably be a fuss when they're unable to find Krauss anywhere in the mansion, but you know nothing, so you will say nothing.  ......Understand?"
"I, I understand...!  What's your other condition?!"
"......It's just a little game.  At 1:00 today, you will go into the foremost guest room on the first floor of the mansion and hide in the closet."
"A guest room......?  Why should I go into a closet......?!"
"It's just a little hide-and-seek.  If you can hide there for an hour without anyone finding you, you win.  ......If someone does find you, you lose."
"And if I lose, ......what happens......?!""Nothing in particular.  ......Isn't that what playing is all about?  If you play along with this hide-and-seek, I'll release your husband tomorrow."
"W, ......will you really...keep that promise, I wonder...?""Of course.  Make sure you do too, Mother.  ......If you break our promise, I'll know right away."
At that time, there was suddenly a loud knock on the door to Natsuhi's room.
Her heart leapt automatically.
"......Madam, are you there?  Good morning...!"
"It's Gohda and Kanon!  Madam, please wake up...!"
The voices coming from across the door were Kanon's and Gohda's.
...The knock had been wild, and the voices a little shrill.

......It seemed that something strange had happened...and that they were agitated.
".........What is it?  Did something happen?"
"I, It's nothing.  It looks like the servants have arrived.  I'm hanging up."
"Sure.  I've said everything I wanted to.  .........So, don't break our promise."
"......I understand.  A, and you don't break our promise either...!"

"You've got it wrong.  That's for you to decide, Mother.  .........Don't make me break my promise.  Mother."
".........Ack......"
"I'll be watching you all day today, Mother.  *giggle*giggle*, ahahahaha, ohohohohoho!"
*clank*!
Lambdadelta slammed the receiver down on the antique phone.
Then the phone exploded into bits and changed into a golden splash, became a group of gold butterflies, and disappeared.
"*giggle*, dance for me, Natsuhi!  Dance in fear of your sin 19 years ago!!  My turn's going pretty well.  Okay, your turn now, Bern!!"
".........I'm sure this is a waste of time, but let me confirm whether correspondence with the outside world, including reporting this to the police, is possible or not."

"It's impossible to make use of the external li~ne!  Looks like you can use the internal line!  It's impossible to use a boat inside the typhoon!  I guess the closed circle is complete now!  Congrats, you're now a full detective, Bern!"

When the police intervene, they sometimes steal some of the detective's authority.
However, with the construction of the closed circle, the existence of police had been denied for all eternity.

From now on, the authority of the detective piece would be totally guaranteed.

"Yeah, yeah, thanks a bunch.  Then I guess it's time to get this game started."
Erika, you're the main character.

Now, begin...!

"......E, even Genji-san?!  F, five people have been killed?!"
"Y, yes.  ......And it was so......horrible......!"

"It was exactly the same as the four in the guesthouse.........The neck......was sliced open...with a terribly sharp blade..."

"......T, ...to think that even though I had the midnight shift, ......I didn't notice anyone suspicious......"
"Don't blame yourself.  ......If you'd bumped into the culprit, you might be the one dead right now."

"On top of that, the phones aren't even connecting...!  I doubt any boats will come in this weather.  This is serious...!"
"......And that means it's very likely that the culprit is still nearby."

"E, eeeeeeeeeeeeekkkk...!  Then what?  Does that mean we'll be trapped here with a murderer until the typhoon passes and the boat comes...?!"
"...I, it'll be alright.  If we all stay together like this, even the culprit won't be able to lay a finger on us...!"
"E, ......even Jessica.........I can't believe it........."

"W, we won't let ourselves be killed...!!  I'll avenge George!!  I won't let them get away!  No matter who the culprit is or what their reason was, I won't let the one who killed George get away!!  I'll kill them, I'll kill them!!  Waaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhh...!!"
".........Okay, everyone, are you done crying yet?  Silence, please.  ......Has anyone seen Krauss-san yet?"

"......We've been calling him for a while, but he hasn't answered..."

"Could the receiver be off the hook......?"
"No, we could hear it ringing.  There's no way he didn't hear it......"
"............"

"Wh, what does it mean......?  You don't think......Krauss oji-san too......?!"

"............Thought so.  .........I hate to say it at a time like this, ......but there were four in the guesthouse plus Genji to make five.  ......I figured there would be one more."

"Why?!  How could you know that?!  Are you the culprit?!  Did you kill George?!""S, stop it, Eva-san...!  Now is not the time...!"

Eva got agitated and grabbed at Kyrie.
Nanjo stepped in between them, and it grew into a bit of a scuffle......

Watching this, Erika smiled condescendingly and shrugged.
"Probably.  It's natural that you'd guess there were six victims after seeing the crime scene in the guesthouse.  There were only four corpses, so it'd make you wonder who the other two were."

"How could you know such a thing?!!  You killed them?!  You killed Geoooooorge!!"
"Qu, quit it, Eva!  .........Erika-chan, Kyrie-san...!  How can you know that?!  Can't you think before you talk...?!"
".........It's a simple connection to make.  The scribble drawn at the scene of the crime in the guesthouse was a magic circle.  I just thought of things that are connected to both magic and murders."

"I see.........the epitaph..."
"......I see............It's.........the first twilight."

"Huh?  ...Huh?  What's going on...?!"
"W, well, I don't have a clue either...!!"

".........Is that how it is...?  ......That damn witch......"
"So is this really.........Beatrice-sama's doing......?"
"Why do you all keep talking as if you know something?!!  I don't have a clue!!  Someone, explain!!"

"I told you, Eva...!  Calm down a bit...!!"
".................."
"......That's how it is.  Since I saw the magic circle at that crime scene, I imagined this might be a plotline murder following the epitaph's first twilight, which would mean there are six victims."
"......Simply by the existence of the magic circle in that place, this level of reasoning is possible for Furudo Erika.  What do you think, everyone?"

".........So, Krauss oji-san was also...killed...?"
"We can't be sure of that.  ......Krauss-san isn't the only person who hasn't come here, right?  There's one more."
"............ah-"

For just an instant, Natsuhi's brow furrowed......
So, ......she hadn't been able to avoid the topic of the study after all...
"You don't mean, ......Dad?!  Hey, someone must have contacted the study, right?!"
"O, of course we called and even knocked on the door...  But, umm, there was no answer..."
"F, ......Father is immersing himself in his research...  H, he sometimes leaves the receiver off the hook because he doesn't want to be called and even ignores knocking...!"

"...B, but the phone was ringing......"
"A, anyways...!  Let's first check to see that my husband's alright!!  Let's go to his room!!"
Natsuhi stood up in a flurry and dashed out into the corridor.
Rudolf and the others immediately chased after her, telling her to wait.
"............Come on, let's all go together.  In both third-rate mystery and third-rate horror, people who act alone tend to die first.  ......Yeah, this game is just the same.  ......Beato really is third-rate.  *giggle*giggle*giggle*...!"
Oh, but in third-rate disaster movies and third-rate action movies, people who act alone do survive, right?

Weird.
*giggle*giggle*!
"......Even though the epitaph has already been solved......Who's behind this farce......?"

"It might be the work of this man from 19 years ago, who is thought to be Lady Lambdadelta's piece.  ......Ah yes, that can't be true."
"......In the games up until now, Beato has already stated that Kinzo has vanished, meaning that no more than 17 people exist and no 18th person exists.  Now that Erika has been added, it's been stated that no 19th person exists.  There's no room for this man from 19 years ago to appear on the island."

"Then, the man from 19 years ago is disguised as one of the existing humans, ......or else..."
"*cackle*cackle*!  Even if a 19th person isn't permitted by the red, slipping in a 19th person is no trouble for me, no trouble for witches...!  Now it's getting interesting.  Why don't we watch this a little longer?"
"Still, those two witches...they've finally started doing whatever they like with my game board...!"

".........Didn't you know that would happen when you invited them?"
"Hmph.  ......As a witch, I have the same dislike for boredom as they do.  Even the unexpected brings the kind of joy a witch expects.  Very well, bring it on...!"

"It's great that you're so eager, ......but things have taken a nasty turn.  Get it?"
"............Indeed.  Perhaps this isn't the best time to wait and see what happens next."
"I know that.  At this rate, Kinzo's existence will become a problem once again.  ......And the barrier around the study won't last long."

"That isn't all.  Things are going to get even worse.  .........See?  Move one, move two, move three.  ......Cornered, ......Natsuhi."

Gaap whispered something into Beato's ear.

Beato's mouth......slowly widened into a grin.
"......That Erika has brought everyone together is actually convenient for us.  All darkness outside the range of observers belongs to us demons.  ......This may be the only time to make that move."

"Natsuhi is the king.  She can't move far, but we cannot allow her to be taken!  ......Let's take the initiative.  If we slip up here, Natsuhi will be cornered...!  Gaap, can I count on you?!"

"Of course!  ......I'll blow a hole through closed room tricks, alibis, and mysteries alike.  .........Leave it to me.  I'll deal with it."
Gaap was swallowed up, along with the chair she sat in, into a pitch black hole which opened on the floor and disappeared.

Then, a hole opened on the ceiling and spat just the chair back out, returning the place to the way it had been...

"......Things are becoming troublesome."

"Heh, ......heheheheheheheh.  ......I see.  So, against Lady Lambdadelta, even I am nothing more than a mere piece.  So in the early game, I must worry more about expansion than losing or taking pieces.  .........*cackle*cackle*!  I'm just no match for that person!  I won't let her do that.  Natsuhi is the final master I will serve!  Know that this is a piece you'll never be allowed to take as long as she has a contract with me, Beatrice!!"
"Krauss's room was empty.  The bed was also empty, but massive bloodstains similar to the crime scenes where the other five were murdered remained there."

"But there was no corpse."
"Nope."
"Then he isn't dead."
"Maybe not.  Eheheheheheheheh...!!"

"......What's going on?!  Where is Nii-san?!"
"Judging by this blood-stained bed......  I don't like to think about it, but we should probably assume that he was killed and had his neck cut open, just like the people in the guesthouse..."
".........Probably...  Judging by the amount of blood lost, ...it's hard to imagine that he's alright..."
"B, but......  Where did Krauss-sama go......?"
Large amounts of blood stained the top of the bed, but there were no similar marks on the floor of the room.

Whether Krauss had been seriously wounded and wandered off somewhere...or killed and carried somewhere, ......they had no clue where this 'somewhere' was.
".................."
......Natsuhi knew.

Though Krauss had been sounding far from his best over the phone, he at least hadn't sounded like he was on the brink of death.
In other words, these blood stains had to be a setup.
That might not even be blood...
.........However, ......just what was that man thinking?
...What's this supposed to be...?!

"What the heck...............So, on the first twilight..., there were six sacrifices......?"
".........Was Krauss nii-san in the habit of locking his door?  We just came in without unlocking it."

"......Yes, Krauss-sama did have a habit of locking up."
"A, at this house, Madam has ordered that all non-public areas be locked."

"How many keys can unlock Krauss oji-san's room?"
"In addition to the one key Krauss-sama held, the master keys..."
"Oh, all that stuff about keys is a pointless argument.  ......Did you forget that Genji-san is already a victim?  His master key is missing.  That means all of the locks in this mansion are meaningless."
".........How boring.  In other words, no closed room murders have existed or will exist in this mansion.  ......Sheesh.  This is getting to be a pretty boring mystery."
Erika laughed off this murder in disappointment, as though it was something she was watching on TV.
......I can't understand it.

...Why is 'her world' so different from ours?
It's almost like she's in a separate dimension from us...
"......W, ...was Jessica also......like this, ......in a bed?"

"............"
"......Yes, that's right.  ......Just like George, her neck.........was cut......"
"......Jessica.........Let me be with Jessica...  I haven't even seen Jessica's face yet...!  .........Jessica, ...Jessicaaaaaaaa!!"
"W, wait up, Natsuhi-san......!!"

"The culprit might still be hiding nearby!  It would be dangerous to let her be alone..."
Natsuhi flew out of the room and dashed towards the guesthouse this time.

...It was only natural.
Natsuhi still hadn't even seen Jessica's dying face.
Everyone probably thought that.
.........Of course, even Natsuhi was half thinking that.
The other half......was her desire to shift everyone else's attention away from the study.
Strange crimes had occurred, the gold had been discovered, and some relatives had even recommended Battler to be the next head.

Even in these twisted circumstances, .........she had to protect Kinzo's secret.
.........Aahh..., ...if my head...is going to be wracked by this suffering anyways...
......Please just let my head explode right now.

That way, I won't have to suffer any longer.........
"So, everyone.  For Natsuhi-san's sake, let's return to the guesthouse for the time being.  ......Though it's not as though seeing their dead faces is going to lead to any developments."

".........Do you even have a heart?"
"A heart?  What's that?"
Just seeing her daughter's dying face wouldn't bring Jessica back to life, nor would it heal Natsuhi's anguish.
On the contrary, she would probably wail, wasting a considerable amount of time before being able to think properly again.

......This probably sums up Erika's screwed up argument...
..................

Just seeing their dying faces won't lead to any developments......?
"It sure will lead to some developments!  *cackle*cackle*cackle*.  Beato's pieces have brought about an interesting change.  *giggle*giggle*!"
"Wh, ...what in the............"
Natsuhi flew into the cousins' room on the second floor of the guesthouse, ......and was struck dumb by the blood-stained beds and the eerie magic circle which looked like it might have been drawn with the victims' blood...

"......Where is Jessica......?  Where is Jessica...?!  Jessicaaa!!"
"In that......bed........."

"Bed?  Where?!"
"Huh?  ......George...?  Wh, ......where is he......?!"

"Wait a second, ......what the hell......is going on here......?"".........This room was locked tight when we left.  We can now be certain that the culprit has a master key.  Once again, my reasoning was correct."

"Who cares about that...?!  Where did they go...?  Wh, where did everyone's corpses go...?!"

"............Heheh.  Nice trick."
"Hey, look, look, it's magic, ri~ght?  That Gaap who's with Beato hid the corpses somewhere with magic...!"

"......All of us moved together.  So you're trying to say that everyone had alibis?"
"Your reasoning goes like this, right?  The four of them weren't actually dead, they were just playing dead.  Then, when no one else was around, they hid somewhere.  Am I right?"

"You don't intend to proclaim any of their deaths in red now, do you?"
"Of course I won't.  Unlike that dolt Beato, I don't give red out for free!"

"In that case, I'll be glad to use the blue truth.  I can think of many ways to work around something of this level."
"*giggle*.  Sure, go ahe~ad!  Blue truth time!"

"Here's the first one I can think of.  The victims aren't actually dead.  They pretended to be dead, then secretly hid themselves somewhere.  After all, you haven't proclaimed anyone's deaths with the red truth."

"Ahhaha!  Even if you've been shown their gaping wounds, you're still trying that one on principle as long as there's no red, right?!  But don't get your hopes up.  I'm not giving you a freebie red truth!  After all, I just have to deny it all at once at the end of the game, at 24:00 on October 5!"

"Ah, the witch's side has such a big advantage!  It'd all be over now if that stupid Battler was my opponent, but you aren't like that, right, Bern?!"

"Of course.  Anyone could have thought of that silly move.  I have more.  Second one.  Krauss carried the corpses off and hid them.  You've acted it out so that it looks like you've kidnapped Krauss and locked him up somewhere, but he might actually be free.  Krauss has no alibi.  Krauss hid their corpses."

"Yeah, that's right.  It's not like I proclaimed that Krauss was being confined with the red truth.  *giggle*giggle*!  You know how they say you've got to confuse your friends before you can confuse your enemies!  So he lied to Natsuhi, making it seem like he'd been captured!  Eheheheheheheh!!  Any others?!"

"Third one.  The corpses were different people in the first place.  They were substitute corpses just like the victims.  George and the others were hiding from the beginning, and later cleared up those substitute corpses.  These corpses were dead from the very beginning, so they don't count towards the number of people on the island."

"Ahhahhahhahahahahahahahaha!!  That's messed up!!  So even though all those people gathered around and saw their dead faces, none of them realized that they were substitute corpses?"

"Since you haven't used the red truth, there's a possibility that everyone misidentified all of the corpses.  Though if you feel like repeating 'no one would misidentify a person', I'll withdraw that claim immediately, okay...?"

"No wa~y♪  I'm not falling for that provocation!  The red truth is only useful if you use it with flash, right?  I'll take a single truth out of a large pile of blue and smash it with the red!  Then, the rest of the blue truths will be swallowed up by darkness before you can find out whether they were right or wrong!"

"That darkness is the world of witches!  You won't be given any truth at all!  Ehheheheheheheheheheheheheh!!"
.........Heheh.

...This girl acts like she's stupid, but she's not bad at all.
She'll never rise to provocation.

Looks like she understands this darkness of magic even better than the true Game Master, Beato.
And apparently, Gaap also understood that well.

......That move of hiding the corpses.
It was pretty effective for both Lambda and Beato.
In any event, I've thought up a full three theories about the disappearing corpses.
Three blue wedges for a single riddle.

That doesn't mean she can just deny one of those three.
Unless she eliminates all three wedges, this riddle has been defeated.

That is the ironclad rule of witch hunting.
A single wedge isn't nearly enough.

Only vampires die from a single stake.
Compared to witches, vampires are weak.

......True witches won't die unless you stab them all over with stakes, right?
It's the same with assassins, isn't it?

Assassins only kill their targets with a single perfect shot in Japanese manga.
Real assassins will empty out an entire clip of bullets.

.........That's how you do things, right?  Of course, it's the same for me.
But it's this girl we're talking about, so she might slice it all in two with a single swipe of the red.

By simply letting off a few quick lines confirming their deaths and Krauss's innocence with the red, she can remove all three of my wedges.
Well, that's okay.

When the red truth does come out, I just need to follow along with it and stab her full of blue wedges again.

.........*giggle*giggle*.  This is how a game of witches plays out.
*giggle*, ah, it's so fun...!

Battler's sluggish battles always pissed me off, so I'm loving this...!!
Yeah, I understand, Lambda.

This first twilight is just the beginning of the beginning.
It's just a skirmish, right......?
*giggle*.........Wouldn't have it any other way...

.........I'll make you lose pathetically and cry out in regret as you crawl and scratch at the floor!

I've almost forgotten the pleasure of grabbing that cute hair of yours and wiping the floor with it as I roll around laughing......!!
The servant waiting room in the mansion had once again gone silent......
There lay Genji's corpse, which had been covered completely with a blanket......
In the ceiling of this cramped room, a pitch black hole appeared, ......captivating legs sprouted out......and Gaap floated downwards.
".........Sorry, Genji.  You probably want to enjoy your eternal sleep there, but that's not going to be possible.  Please disappear from this place so that you may serve Natsuhi, the final head of the Ushiromiya family, even after death."
Gaap stripped off the blanket as she said this to Genji, who was sleeping peacefully...
Then she stared at the deep wound in his neck...
".........That's a nice cut.  ......It must have been made with a single slice.  .........Has anyone who's capable of this manifested yet......?  This isn't so great.  ...Among those capable of this, I can't think of anyone good."
It goes without saying, but witches are capable of summoning beings with a strength proportional to their own talent.

The great Lady Lambdadelta called that being here as a trump card 19th person.
......Even optimistically speaking, this is on par with Ronove and me...
A pitch black hole opened on the bed, and Genji disappeared as though the bed had swallowed him up.

Just like the four in the guesthouse, Genji's corpse was also hidden in some unknown place...
It was a place that no one could find, located within neither this world nor the next......

No longer would anyone be able to find their corpses.
No longer would anyone be able to confirm their deaths.
She carried Genji's corpse to this place of endless silence, where it would never be disturbed......
"Without a corpse, they go missing.  ......When treated as missing, people both suspect that they might be the culprit and suspect that they might be victims, truly like the inside of a cat box.  ......The darkness inside of cat boxes which will never be opened is the place where we demons and witches reside...!  You were a bit too slow, Miss Great Detective.  ......Heheheheh..."

Gaap licked her lips and gulped......

"......I wonder why Gaap-sama is going around hiding corpses."
"I don't know.  But Gaap-sama is pretty cool.  She's just so......awesome."

"Don't be stupid, what happened to standing guard?!  The humans are returning from the guesthouse!!  Gaap-sama...!"
"Yes, let's disperse.  .........This should be enough to give Natsuhi a way out..."
Gaap jumped into a pitch black hole which had opened near her feet.

Mammon said 'I'm going in too!' and jumped in, followed by Asmo, who said 'Me too, me too!' and hopped in, giggling.
As Satan hesitated over what to do, the hole closed.
"A, and you call yourselves members of the Seven Sisters of Purgatory...h, how childish.  So stupid...!"
Satan went bright red and got angry all by herself, then turned into gold butterflies and disappeared...

".........It seems that Gaap has succeeded in moving the five corpses."
"Well done.  ......However, the next part is tricky."

"They will probably be somewhat surprised at the disappearance of Genji's corpse, but their interest will most likely swing back to Kinzo's study after that."

"......There are two keys to the study.  ...It's fortunate that Natsuhi is in possession of both.  If she had left one with Genji, it would probably have fallen into Lady Lambdadelta's hands by now."

"It seems that Lady Lambdadelta has no intention of hiding Kinzo's death.  ......Apparently, she plans to fight while ignoring the moat, towers, and ramparts that you have created."
"Heh, ......heheheh.  This has become a strange triangular confrontation.  We are all each other's enemies, but we sometimes join forces without notice.  ......In a three-way fight, just when you think it's two against one, it suddenly becomes one against two.  ......That's what it's like.  The Chinese battle royal!  Don't you think it's like that 'Records of the Three Kingdoms' thing?"
"Oh, the Longzhong Plan.  That's quite a sophisticated analogy to hear coming from you, pu ku ku...!"

There were three empires in Records of the Three Kingdoms, weren't there?  Wei, Wu, and Shu, right?  That sounds just like us.  ......So, which empire won out in the end?"

"......The power that gained control in the end was the Jin dynasty.  The three empires you mentioned were all destroyed."

"Hoh.  ............I didn't know that.  I thought one of the three empires won.  Did the Wei have an overwhelming advantage...?"
"They had the position of emperor stolen from them, and their empire was subjugated and destroyed."

......The Sima clan, a noble family that Cao Cao invited in as advisors, eventually gained central control in a power struggle and took over the country.

".........So, they were invited in as advisors, ......and they seized control..........*cackle*, ......very interesting.  ......That Lady Lambdadelta......!  *cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*!!"
"Pardon me.  ......The humans have confirmed the disappearance of Genji's corpse in the servant waiting room.  ......They have started moving towards Lord Goldsmith's study."

"Riiche.  ......They're coming."
"Hmph, ......let them come.  The humans......and the Witches of Certainty and Miracles..."
If this is a three way fight with humans and witches.........then what should we be called...?

If the thing we're protecting for the time being...is Kinzo's phantom...
"......So, .........are we...phantoms then.........?  ......Heheh, ......heheheheheheheh..."

Ten Wedges to Pierce Witches

Sun, Oct 5 1986 8:04AM`
"......Father..., it's Natsuhi.  Good morning..."

"There's no way he'll wake up if you do it like that!  Father, it's Eva!  Please wake up!  It's an emergency!!"

Eva pushed Natsuhi aside and knocked repeatedly with all her strength.

"Q, quiet down...!!  You're being too boisterous...!"
"Is now really the time to be saying something like that?!?!"
"............So he isn't picking up the phone, and he isn't responding to knocking either?  That's troublesome."

"...H, ...he might be in a bad mood again...  Kinzo-san sometimes considers even the slightest change to be an omen and gets into a bad mood for reasons only he can understand..."

"Hoh, ......hohoho...  Yes, that's true...  This isn't something that's started today..."

"Is that how badly Grandfather wants to shut himself away in the study?"
"......Yes.  ......It's not uncommon for him to stay in his study for more than a month at a time..."

"......Don't tell anyone, ......but even though I work here, I sometimes forget that the Master even lives here..."

"Gohda.  That's not the sort of thing a servant should be saying!!"
"M, my apologies, Madam..., I am truly sorry......"

"Anyways, ...isn't it bad that we can't get in contact with him?  In the worst case, Father might not even know that there was a crime!  Right?!"
"......W, well, I wonder........."

Keenly noticing that people were starting to doubt Kinzo's existence, Kanon mumbled his words...

"............Who was the last person to meet Father...?  ......And when?"
"I, ...it was me.  Last night, ......up until the time of the uproar from when Battler found the gold, I was in Father's study, giving the daily report."

".........So around 23:00 last night."
"......No way around it.  Let's open it up."

"Wh, what did you say...?!  This is the family head's precious study and research room!  No one is permitted to trespass without permission, okay?!"
"Who here holds the highest rank?  Me, right?!  I am the third in rank of the Ushiromiya family!  If we open it and get scolded by Father, that is also a responsibility to be taken up by the highest ranked.  Because of the urgent circumstances, we'll open this door.  You have a key, right?  Open it."

"I, ......I believe you know this, but the study door cannot be opened with the master key."
"Umm, ......the Master has recently taken away Genji-sama's key as well, so he has both keys on his person.  ......Therefore, umm......"
".........So, both of the keys that can open this door are inside the study."

"A closed room.  .........<Good>.  It's finally starting to get a little interesting.  ......It'd be pretty neat if Kinzo-san was lying on the bed in there with his throat cut."

"That is too imprudent, Erika-san!!  A, ......anyways, as you know, this door can only be opened by the keys that Father has."

"......That means it's impossible for anyone, even a murderer, to even touch Father from outside the room!  So Father must be alright...!!"

"Still, that doesn't mean we don't have to worry about checking to see that he's safe.  Are you really so unconcerned about confirming the safety of the Father you respect so much......?"

".........Th, ......that isn't..."

The atmosphere, which had been so agitated a second ago, suddenly went cold......and an eerie feeling filled the room as everyone stared at Natsuhi.

......They could understand why Natsuhi would protect the study under normal circumstances.

It was understood that she probably didn't want to disturb the research of Kinzo, whom she respected, and she was therefore trying to keep the unpleasant relatives away.

However, ......this was an extraordinary situation.
A murder had occurred.

Natsuhi's persistence in keeping things quiet for Kinzo even in a situation like this...was hard to understand using common sense.
".........There's a good chance that the crime which has occurred on this island will turn out to be murders set up to follow the epitaph.  ......It's probably a good idea to assume that the crimes will continue."
"If we reconsider this as a series of murders following the epitaph, that means the crimes will continue further, resulting in a total of 13 lives being taken.  .........Do you have any concept of how many victims that would be?"
"......Wait a sec.  How many people do you think there are on this island?  ......Wouldn't that be almost everyone...?"

"Non non.  You've got it all wrong.  .........As far as I know, the mystery novel with the most dead people in a serial murder was 'And then there were none' by Agatha Christie, which had 10 deaths.  In the realm of Japanese mysteries, it's probably 'The Zodiac Murders' by Shimada Souji.  Though there were less than 10 deaths in that one."
"......Did you know?  If 13 people die at this rate, it will lead to the most infamous and famous development in the history of the mystery genre, the completion of a 13 person serial murder case, get it?  And if everyone on this island is killed......that would make it a historical achievement in the world of serial murder mysteries, with even more deaths than the longest murder mystery in the world and the longest one in Japan put together, don't you see?!  ......Hey, didn't you know?  Everyone?"
"The culprit in this crime......is giving us an incredible challenge, one that might even surpass all the mysteries throughout the world and throughout history.  ......Of course, everyone's realized that long ago, right......?  If you like mystery, Christie's a must-read.  If you're Japanese, then it's only natural that you've read Shimada Souji's works all the way through.  ......Are you sure you've been reading enough, everyone?  *giggle*giggle*, *cackle*cackle*cackle*........."

"............That's no good."
"Huh.........?"

"Looks like you haven't read enough yourself."
"Did I say something wrong...?"

Erika, who had been chatting away happily all by herself up until a second ago, changed her expression into a displeased glare in an instant...

"It's what you were saying about the Japanese mystery genre.  ......Sakaguchi Ango's 'Non-serial Murders' beats 'The Zodiac Murders'."

"...............ah.  ...............Th, .........the number of people was the same in both, right?"

"They tie for the record, but 'Non-serial Murders' was first published in 1947.  'The Zodiac Murders' was 1981.  ......If you know so much about it, shouldn't you have mentioned 'Non-serial Murders' first?"

"............Nn, ...............gah."

Erika glared at Battler with an expression that couldn't be fully described with the word 'shock', and her arms shook as she stood there, lost for words......

"Ahahahahahahaha, kyaahhahahahahahahahahaha!!  That's so totally laaame!!"

"Well, that's understandable.  The crimes in 'Zodiac' took place in 1936, right?  That must have gotten her confused, right?  Aaahhihihihihihihihhyahahahaahh!!"

Lambdadelta kept on hitting the table, overcome with laughter.

Even Bernkastel, who had been struck with humiliation, snorted and started pounding the table and laughing in the same way.

"Pfft, ..........hihihihihhahahahahahaah!!  This is just too good!!  Giihihihihihihihihihihiii!!  .........Not bad, Battler's piece.  Gahihihihihyahahhaahahahahahahahahahahaaaaaaaahhh!!"
".........I'm impressed.  ......You must read a lot, ......don't you, Battler-san?"

"Books?  I don't read those at all."
".........You liar.  ......You know......quite a lot, don't you?"

"I'd never say something as arrogant as 'I read books'.  ......'I read books' isn't something a person who only reads about a hundred per year should say so lightly, don't you think......?"

"Y, ......you mere......piece........."
"Ah, ......*cough*.  ...A, anyways, we can't let such a massive crime take place...!!"

"That's right.  At any rate, checking Dad's safety is our first priority right now.  But what should we do?  He's ignoring the phone and our knocking.  The keys are inside.  There's nothing we can do.  Are we supposed to knock this thick door down?  ......That won't be easy."

"Father might have been attacked by someone and severely injured, and maybe he's waiting for someone to help him.  ......This is an extraordinary circumstance.  Even Father will understand.  And if he has any rebuke, I'd be happy to take responsibility myself."
".........B, but...breaking down a door would be...qu, quite rude......"
"What about the window.........?"

"Th, ......that's right.  The window.  ......Is there a ladder somewhere which can reach up to a third floor window?  We should be able to go inside by smashing the window...!"

Erika finally came back to her senses and her tone regained its decisive edge.

"The third story window...th, that would be dangerous......"
"We won't know unless we try.  Is there a ladder around here that can reach up three floors?"

"I don't think the ladder in the gardening shed is long enough......"

"......Oh, then what about the ladder in the boiler room?  I remember using it earlier when a bird made a nest on top of the rain gutter...!  Yes, that would be able to reach without a doubt."

He must have been extremely happy about thinking of something Kanon hadn't.
Looking pleased with himself as though he had won something, he glanced around at everyone.

He was probably hoping that Natsuhi would praise him, but she quickly avoided his gaze...
Of course, Kanon had known about that ladder too.

......However, in order to protect Kinzo's secret, he had intentionally pretended to have forgotten......

"But with this weather and the strong winds...  Isn't this just too dangerous......?"
"I agree.  Even if someone gets seriously injured, we can't go to a hospital until tomorrow, right...?!"

"......The wind might not be as strong in the courtyard.  It think it's at least worth it to take a look."

"But seriously, going up to the third floor will be quite a challenge...!  Back when we had to clean up the bird's nest, most of the servants shrank away from the danger, and that's when I, your humble servant, took on a major role in spectacularly handling the situation.  Uhahahahahahahaha...!"

"Right, then there's no problem!  Let's just get a ladder that'll reach-"
"And it looks like someone here already has experience with this sort of thing."

".........Hahahahahaha, .........huh?"
Because the courtyard was surrounded on all four sides, while the rain was fierce, the winds had almost no effect.

Fortunately, the ceiling jutted out a bit, so even the rain wasn't so bad.

"Alright.  Let's try standing the ladder up.  ......Be careful.  Don't hurt yourself."
"Sure..."

Rudolf and Battler carried the special ladder, which was designed for work on high places.

Two umbrellas followed the pair.
Shannon and Kanon were holding umbrellas and sheltering them from the rain.

"It doesn't matter if we get wet.  Go back under the eaves.  ......Gohda-san!  Even if there's something wrong with your knees, you can at least hold a ladder down, right?!"
"Y, yes yes yes yes...!  If only I had enough Hyaluronan, going up a ladder would be no problem at all......I am truly sorry..."
Gohda clambered forwards to replace Shannon and Kanon.
As she watched this, Kyrie giggled.

"Dad, hammer."

"Cool.  ......Battler, you love athletics, don't you?"
"Not as much as I love my cool handyman of a Father♪"

"You little brat.  .........Sheesh, I guess I need to show this son of mine my good side every once in a while.  Battler, Gohda-san.  Hold that ladder down tight.  And make sure you're looking up, okay?  My hand might slip and you'll have this hammer tumbling down on you."

"Don't worry.  I'll catch it and smash your head in."

After putting the hammer they had gotten to smash the window in his pocket and cracking his knuckles, Rudolf started climbing the ladder......

"Will Rudolf-sama......be alright......?"
"He will be.  That guy could totally be in an action movie.  Plus, sports are one of his strong points."
"......I wish you'd tell me how my skating prowess is supposed to help me climb ladders...
......♪I am Ina Bauer, always in a big pi~nch...or whatever."

"He'll manage to avoid dying, so there's nothing to worry about.  ......More importantly, we're really lucky that the shutters aren't down.  Isn't it a common practice to lower the shutters to Father's study for the night?"

"Y, yes.  When we're permitted to enter and exit, we open and close them in the morning and at night."
"......However, I think it was decided that such a thing was unnecessary for the time being, so it was left open."

"I see.  ............Father will be pretty mad, won't he?  ...If his son smashes his window and comes in while he's sleeping."
"......That's...probably......"

"It would be wonderful if we didn't have to smash the window, don't you think?"
"..............."

Both Shannon and Kanon...knew that Kinzo no longer existed in this world.

Natsuhi had ordered them to interfere as much as possible, ......but now that it had come to this, there was nothing that the two of them could do.

......They had tried to interfere by pretending that they didn't know about the ladder that could reach up to the third floor window, but...

Because of Gohda's showing off, that ladder had been found...
Rudolf carefully climbed the ladder.
......He would reach the third floor window very soon.

As he did this......Shannon and Kanon stared at him, looking uneasy......
After this......what will happen next?

To the two of them.
To Madam.

......To the Master.
......Very soon, Rudolf will reach the window.
"......So, it's already the end for this room's barrier."

"Hahah.  The soldiers are scaling the ramparts, trying to reach the other side.  The moment of surrender is truly right before our eyes.  .........I am prepared to be erased at any moment."

"We can't let that happen.  You have to remain alive, even if it means eating dirt.  ......Think about what happens next.  Escape from this place for now."

"You may say that, but what can I do?  ......Eva and the rest are still camped out in the hallway and Rudolf is approaching the window.  There's no way of retreat through the door or the window."

"In that case, perhaps you could hide under the bed."
"......Hmph.  So I am not even permitted the chance to wait for the enemies' arrival in my throne?"

"You might have done that while you were still alive.  However, you are now a ghost that Natsuhi and I brought to life.  Ghosts should do what ghosts do best and hide under the bed or in a closet."

"Will something like that really deceive their eyes...?  My, my."

".........Don't worry.  I'll be with you.  I'll let you escape at the last moment."
"It'll be dangerous for you.  Even though you're a demon, you won't get away unscathed if you're burned by the magic-resisting toxin."

"Don't worry about that.  .........Anyways, I need things to get at least that bad before my heart starts pumping."
"How comforting.  ......I understand.  I'll hide under the bed."
".........Milady.  Rudolf will reach the window very soon."

"Gaap.  I've changed my mind.  I'll guard this place.  Hide yourself along with Ronove."

"What did you say...?  You've got it backwards.  Didn't we plan to leave this place to Gaap and have you retreat, Milady?"

Even though Ronove should have been used to her fickleness, this surprised him for the first time in a long while.
......Though Beato was the powerful queen, she was also an important piece which mustn't be exposed to danger.
Though she was strong, running to the front lines without any plan would not be a praiseworthy move.

"What kind of whim is this...?  ..............."
"It's just a whim.  I'm not so fond of boredom that I could simply sip tea while leaving everything to you...!  I've just gotten the urge to jump into the struggle right away...!"
".....................I understand.  It is your game, after all.  You can do as you wish.  I'll carefully watch over the corpses of the first twilight that I erased to make sure that nothing happens to them."
"Sorry for stealing your time to shine."

".........Is this really alright, Milady?"
"You should know that I like standing out even more than my three meals a day.  I've done nothing except gobble up Gaap's turn.  Don't worry about it...!"

......Ronove and Gaap were both silent.
The two of them had already noticed.
Lady Bernkastel, who used Furudo Erika as a piece, was a terrifying opponent.

......This fight would probably be terrifying as well.
Beato couldn't expose Gaap, her friend, to this danger......
Beato bluffed and said that this wasn't the case, but Ronove and Gaap had already figured it out.
Therefore, after confirming Beato's resolve one last time and seeing that she was completely firm in her decision, ......they nodded in silence and accepted it.

"I understand.  ......I'll leave this place to you.  I'm rooting for you.  .........Take care."
"Yeah.  Please watch over my efforts to your heart's content...!"

"......Lady Bernkastel will probably start trying to expose Kinzo's absence with a closed room argument.  ......Fights in a closed room are normally Gaap's area of expertise.  ......Queens are the commanders because they are best at fighting in wide open areas.  ......This won't be an easy fight."

"I'm fully aware of that.  I currently serve Natsuhi.  Watching Natsuhi's danger from above and letting Gaap take care of it doesn't make sense to me."

".........Understood.  ......I wish you luck in your battle."
"Be careful.........If it becomes a complete closed room, we won't be able to come in and help you."

"I'll laugh at them a bit, and if things get bad, I'll just grab Kinzo and run for it.  It's easy.  With the door and the window, the past and the future to choose from, there are plenty of places to run to.  Of course I won't let this become a closed room."

"......Though you won't see us, we'll be cheering you on from very close by.  ......Good luck."
"Sure."
Gaap and Ronove became a swarm of gold butterflies and disappeared, and Kinzo melted into the darkness beneath the bed.
Then, Beato also became a swarm of gold butterflies and melted away inside the study...

After that, all figures and signs of life had disappeared from the study, and it once more regained a silence as though no one had been there from the beginning...
Then, ......Rudolf's outline slipped into view from beyond the window's curtain.
"Dad...!!  If you're there, answer!  Daaad!"
As he yelled, he hit the window.
His foothold was so uncertain that just hitting the window felt life-threatening.
But of course, this was Rudolf, the show-off.

Deciding that he couldn't do anything stupid with so many people watching from below, he suppressed the fear from being so high up...and boldly knocked on the window.

".........Come on Grandfather...can't he hear...?"
"I, I wonder...  I hope he doesn't drop the hammer..."

"How many seconds have passed?"
"......It's been 30 seconds since he knocked on the window."

"So, ......he'll really...sm, ......smash it?  Umm, the Master...will be very mad..."
"There's one person who's been kind enough to brag about how accepting that anger is her duty, so there's no need to worry.  ......Rudolf-san!  That's enough.  Do it...!"
"Sure...!  .........Dammit Dad, you better not complain after I smash it."
He hit it several times, and eventually, a fist-sized hole opened up in the glass.
Because of his unstable footing, this took a lot of effort...

Using the end of the hammer skillfully, he brushed aside the now fractured bits of glass and opened the hole further, stuck his hand through it, and unlocked the window.
Then, after a hard struggle, Rudolf somehow managed to open the window, and his body slipped through into the study.
After that, he flopped onto the floor, using his entire body to enjoy the relief of having a ground under him.
".........Dad!  It's Rudolf.  Answer me!"
It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that Kinzo's study was a small villa he had created inside the mansion.

A study.  A book archive.  A place to sleep.  And a bathroom and washroom.
It was divided into multiple rooms.

......That's right, with all this at your fingertips, it wouldn't be hard to spend your days in this study without leaving at all.
The bed was empty.
There were marks on it which made it seem as though someone had slipped out, but there was no one in sight.
"......This happens a lot in ninja movies.  Someone finds that the bed is still warm, so the occupant couldn't have gone far."
Rudolf tried placing his hand on the bed, but he couldn't feel any heat at all.
Not only was there no heat......it felt completely ice cold.

And the bed wasn't the only thing that was ice cold.
......The air inside the room......and even the presence about it, if that's the right word for it......even that felt ice cold.

To Rudolf, it felt as though Kinzo had slipped out of this room a long time ago...
"......However, it's been well cleaned.  It has signs of having been lived in.  ..............."
Wrinkles in the bed.
The slight angle of the chair.

Here and there, there were many marks that would doubtlessly have been cleaned or fixed up if someone had come in to make the beds.
"As far as I can tell off the top of my head, Dad must have slipped out of bed several hours ago at the latest..."
That would be the same general time period as the brutal murder case.

......It looks like we really can't be sure that Kinzo's absence and the crime have nothing to do with each other.
For the time being, Rudolf leaned out of the window and told Kyrie and the others in the courtyard to come back up since he was going to unlock the door.

Then, he pushed the button on the study desk and released the door's auto-lock.
There was a heavy clunking sound, and Natsuhi and the rest dashed in immediately...
"F, ......Father......  Good morning..."
"Sorry, but it isn't Dad.  ......I'm the one who opened it."

".........Was Kinzo-san there?"
"Nope.  ......It looks like someone slipped out of the bed, but you can't tell when that happened."
"And Natsuhi nee-san was the last person to meet him, right...?  Around 11:00 last night.  I wonder if that means he slipped out of the study sometime after that and went somewhere else..."

"Th, ......that's......  B, but Father is a fickle person...  He used to sometimes say that he had a revelation in a dream all of a sudden, wake up in the middle of the night, and walk around the mansion.  Isn't that right, Doctor Nanjo...?"

"Nn, ......y, yes, such a thing has happened before......Anyways, ......umm, he is a fickle person.  R, right, Kumasawa-san...?"
"...Hoh, ...hohoho.  That's true...  He might have had some sort of strange dream and slipped out of bed...  That happens a lot, yes......"
"Then where did he slip off to...?!  Does this mean...that there's a good chance Father's been caught up in this crime?!"

".........See?  We should have checked to make sure Father was safe from the beginning, right?"
"...Nn..............."

"We can't be sure he isn't in this room.  Maybe the culprit tied him up and locked him in the closet or something like that."
".........Good point.  Let's search."
"Th, ......this is the head's precious study...  You mustn't touch things without reason...!"

"Ah yeah, that's right, There's something I need to tell you, culprit-san."

When Natsuhi heard this said from right in front of her, her heart froze.

......But Erika had only just happened to be standing right in front of Natsuhi when she said it.  She had directed her words to the room at large.
......She hadn't been speaking to Natsuhi in particular.........

Natsuhi turned her back on Erika, trying to make it so that her faltering expression wasn't noticed...
"......I have a photographic memory.  If you try to alter the crime scene by hiding some evidence, I'll know right away.  ......Please don't slip up here and disappoint me.  Don't you think that any mystery where the 'who dunnit' is solved by a culprit's slip-up or misspeak is only third-rate?"
".........I, ...I don't understand what you're saying, but try to refrain from incautious remarks.  ......Father, are you there...?!  Please answer me...!"
Natsuhi started walking around and calling out in a loud voice, refusing to let Erika say any more.
There was a knock.
Kyrie and the others who had gone down to the courtyard had returned.

"So Father isn't here after all?"
"He might be tied up and shut away somewhere around here.  We were just searching for him."

".........I'm surprised he managed to shut himself away in a place like this for all that time."

".................."
"......Give it up, Nee-san.  ......We can't change anything now."

"I wonder......what Madam plans to do......"
"......Get paid back for all the lies she's told up until now."

".........Shh.  ...Let's leave fate in God's hands."
"Y......, ...yes......"
"............"
Many people clambered around Kinzo's vast study, looking here and there.
Inside the closet and in the bathtub.
Even in the refrigerator and under the study desk.

......They looked everywhere, almost as though they were 'it' in a game of hide-and-seek.
......However, not only were they unable to spot Kinzo, they couldn't even find a single suspicious mark...

"I, it seems clear that Father isn't here.  ......That's enough.  Please don't disturb Father's precious study any further."
"That's right, that's right...  There's nothing the Master hates more than having things moved around without his permission..."

"Father's nowhere to be found.  .........Maybe he really was caught up in the crime...?"

".........Th, though we can't be sure of that..."

Natsuhi averted her gaze once more.

"......It's alright, Natsuhi."
"......We truly do have our backs against the wall...  On the off-chance that someone entered the study, I had planned to trick them by saying that he had probably gone for a walk somewhere.  ......However..."

"Hmph.  No one would believe that I'd get dressed up for a casual midnight stroll in a mansion where a murder has occurred and many people have been killed.  Though I wouldn't put it past myself to do such a thing."

"Come now, Kinzo.  Be a good boy and hide under the bed.  ......It's alright, Natsuhi.  You may remain calm.  .........You can prove that someone exists, but you can't prove that someone doesn't exist."

"In other words, the human world is one in which regardless of whether something exists or not, you can make it so that they 'exist'.  ......And the shadows which can make those things 'exist' form the world of us witches, the world of demons."

"......You mean...a Devil's Proof."
"Yes.  .........So don't worry.  The power of demons will most certainly protect you."

".........If it could protect the honor of Father and my husband, ...I wouldn't mind sacrificing this body of mine to demons."
"Your resolve is good.  ......Don't be anxious.  I most certainly won't

let Kinzo be killed・・・・・・・・・."
At that time, a dry sound suddenly rang out twice.
Erika had clapped her hands, seeking everyone's attention.

Though such an action should have been above a guest's place, for some reason, it already felt like a natural right of hers.

......After all, she was the 'detective'.
".........I think that's enough.  Ushiromiya Kinzo-san is nowhere to be found in this study."

"Yeah, we've searched all the places where he could have been hiding.  Dad's nowhere to be seen."
"Furthermore, we've found nothing that looks suspicious."

"Yes, we didn't find anything at all."

Erika said it again.
They hadn't been able to discover anything......
"In that case, we mustn't loiter around this room.  Do you understand how angry Father would be if he learned that so many people were looking through his study...?!  Eva-san, you said that you were prepared to take responsibility, didn't you?  Are you prepared for him to break off relations with you for the rest of your life...?!"

"Th, that's for Father to decide...!!  Not you!!"

"Silence, please.  .........I'd like to lay out the situation.  At 23:00 last night, the last person to meet Kinzo-san in this room was Natsuhi-san, right?  Can anyone confirm that?"
"......Confirm...?"

"Yes, that's right.  After all, the only one who claims that Natsuhi-san really did stop by here at 23:00 last night is Natsuhi-san herself.  There wouldn't be a problem if Kinzo-san confirmed that Natsuhi-san really did come here last night, but that vital witness isn't here."

".........So you're saying that alibis are the foundation of a mystery?"
"Yes, that's right.  Alibis are important.  Of course, they're almost useless when it comes to the actual theory-making, but it's common courtesy to poke around those boxes."

"Heh.  ......Even though you didn't ask for alibis regarding last night's murder, you are doing it for Grandfather's disappearance.  ...You really are a fickle person."

"Oh, don't worry.  Have no fear that I will fully examine everyone's alibis regarding the murders of the first twilight later."

".........So, can anyone confirm that Natsuhi-san visited here at 23:00?  If no one can, we'll be forced to doubt whether Natsuhi-san really was the last person to spot him."

"......A, are you saying that I can't be trusted?"

"No, no, it's actually the opposite.  I hope that you aren't the culprit.  After all, that would make things reeeally boring.  Only the worst third-rate mysteries have the most suspicious person as the culprit."

"...Natsuhi-san......is suspicious?  W, wait a second.  How can you say that...?!"
"He's right...!  Calling Madam suspicious is the height of discourtesy...!!"

"Be quiet!!  Doctor Nanjo, Gohda, thank you.  ......Erika-san.  ......Do you have enough proof to justify such a rude outburst......?"

"......Yes.  Though it's so simple that it annoys me.  Sorry to bother you with this TV drama-quality evidence, but if you don't mind..."
".........Why don't you just let us hear it?"

When Battler glared at her, ......a cold expression rose to Erika's face for an instant.

But it was only for an instant.
After smiling peacefully and gazing around at everyone, she started to talk.

She looked almost like the main character in a play who had come out onto the stage, bathed in a spotlight...

"It's about this morning.  Please remember the time after the murders occurred, during the big uproar that followed.  ......We wanted to tell Kinzo-san about the crime, but he wouldn't come out no matter how many times we called him on the telephone.  Remember that time."
"Anyways, ...isn't it bad that we can't get in contact with him?  In the worst case, Father might not even know that there was a crime!  Right?!"

"......W, well, I wonder........."

Keenly noticing that people were starting to doubt Kinzo's existence, Kanon mumbled his words...

"............Who was the last person to meet Father...?  ......And when?"
"I, ...it was me.  Last night, ......up until the time of the uproar from when Battler-kun found the gold, I was in Father's study, giving the daily report."

".........So around 23:00 last night.  ..................Heheh."

Erika chuckled significantly.
"A, and what's your point?  Ridiculous."

"I think Kyrie-san probably did that intentionally.  ......Am I right?"
"..............."

"Wh, ...what do you mean......by that......?"

"......I figured someone might fall for it."
"I see.  Thanks, Kyrie-san.  Actually, I was planning to say the same thing if you didn't."
"......I, ...is it really that important who saw the Master last...?"

"Yes.  If we take the circumstances into account, then in response to the question 'Who met him last?', it was very odd for Natsuhi-san to instantly answer 'me'."

"Wh, ......why?!  Madam told the truth without hiding anything...!"
"Be quiet!!  Why do you think that was odd...?"

"Why are you so sure that no one else met Kinzo-san after 23:00?"

"W, ......well, ...that's because I watched as he went to bed.  It's only natural to assume that he would then sleep until morning and not meet with anyone..."

"In light of the circumstances, it was easy to suspect that the last person to spot him had some kind of involvement with this case.  ......If a normal person was in Natsuhi-san's position, they wouldn't say 'I was the last person to meet him. I met him at 23:00'.  Right, Kyrie-san......?"
"..................Yes, that's right.  ......A normal person would say 'I met him at 23:00.  However, I'm not sure that I was the last person to meet him'.  ......Something like that."

"<Good>.  .........Claiming to be the last witness is usually quite difficult.  ......That is, unless you know some reason which makes you sure that there were no other witnesses after you."

"......In third-rate mysteries, the last one to spot the victim is often the culprit.  They killed the victim themselves, so they knew that no one else could have met the culprit later on...is how the argument goes."
"Hohoh, ...hohohoho...  Couldn't that be nothing more than a minor misspeak...?  It's not important enough to be picked up out of the blue and focused on..."

"Yes, yes, that's nothing more than nitpicking...  Isn't it a little too early to suspect Natsuhi-san because of a little slip of the tongue like that......?"

"Furthermore, you mentioned needing a reason to be sure that no one else spotted the person in question...but of course, she had such a reason...!  She left the room after seeing the Master go to bed!  Following common sense, it's perfectly natural to assume that he probably wouldn't meet anyone else until the next morning...!"
"......No.  That isn't natural at all.  After all, Natsuhi-san, Doctor Nanjo, and Kumasawa-san all made this claim a short while ago.  Please, try to remember."
"And Natsuhi nee-san was the last person to meet him, right...?  Around 11:00 last night.  I wonder if that means he slipped out of the study sometime after that and went somewhere else..."

"Th, ......that's......  B, but Father is a fickle person...  He used to sometimes say that he had a revelation in a dream all of a sudden, wake up in the middle of the night, and walk around the mansion.  Isn't that right, Doctor Nanjo...?"

"Nn, ......y, yes, such a thing has happened before......Anyways, ......umm, he is a fickle person.  R, right, Kumasawa-san...?"
"...Hoh, ...hohoho.  That's true...  He might have had some sort of strange dream and slipped out of bed...  That happens a lot, yes......"
".........Yeah.  ......Grandfather often slips out of bed all of a sudden late at night......That's what you claimed."
"<Good>.  Your memory is pretty good, Battler-san.  .........In other words, it's well known amongst the people at the Ushiromiya head house, Natsuhi-san included, that there's a chance Kinzo-san might wake up in the middle of any given night on a whim and wander around.  On top of that, they were aware that this happened quite often."

"......Isn't that odd?  ...If you knew that Father often wanders around at night, there's no way you could be certain that he'd stay in his bed until morning.  Right?"

"It really is......like a third-rate mystery.  A lot of those have this part in the last 5 minutes where the culprit asks 'When did you figure out it was me?' and the detective answers..."

"Seriously......  That's why I feel let down.  If it turns out that Natsuhi-san really is the culprit, this'll be worse than a TV mystery.  ......That's why I want to clear away the suspicion surrounding Natsuhi-san as soon as I can.  I want to make sure that this mystery isn't third-rate before I do anything else."
".........uu, ......gah......"

"......There's no need to get anxious, Natsuhi.  This is a classic word game used by detective wannabes.  ......So what's her point here?  How could she corner you just with this accusation?  In the court of hell, all of the demon jurors will declare you innocent.  So calm down and don't get flustered..."
".........It may be true that Natsuhi oba-san looks suspicious when you say it like that.  ......Still, it sounds like you're just nitpicking to me."

"But it is suspicious.  ......Isn't this more than enough reason to suspect that Natsuhi nee-san is hiding something...?"

"Th, that accusation is entirely false...!  And that's not fair, Eva-san...!!  Aren't you the sole person who can confirm that I really was here at 23:00...?!"

".........Is this true, Eva-san?"
".....................Oh, did that happen?  ......Heheheh, I'm sorry.  At the time, I was losing my head because the gold had just been found, so I forgot all about meeting Natsuhi nee-san until just a second ago."

"So, Eva-san, you can confirm that Natsuhi-san was a witness at 23:00?"
"Yes, unfortunately.  I'm able to acknowledge that one part of Natsuhi nee-san's story.  ......But only that she came out of this room."
".........Wh, what are you implying?"

"Let me tell you what I'm implying.  ......No, I've wanted to say this for a long time now.  ...I really did feel like saying this in the middle of such a tragic murder case would be improper, but the timing now is just too perfect.  .........You know what I'm talking about, don't you?  ......Natsuhi nee-san.........?"
The servants gulped and held their breaths...

It seemed that they hadn't been able to hide it......after all.........
In the middle of this heavy silence, ......Eva fingered her trump card, and Natsuhi pretended to be calm.
Both space and time grew as heavy as lead...and swallowed up everything...
"Just when did Kinzo-san disappear, I wonder......?"
Erika's words, spoken almost casually, tore that atmosphere to pieces like shattering glass......
"......Simply put, we haven't met him once at the family conferences this year or last."

"That's right...  We've suspected it since last year.  ...Seeing as how my son and the others have just been killed, this may not be the time or place to pursue this.  ......But there's a chance that this has something to do with the crime, so we will do just that..."

"It's possible that you have a motive for hiding Father's death.  ......We can suspect that you're embezzling Father's assets."

"If Father were to die, an investigation would be conducted for the distribution of the assets and your embezzlement would be exposed.  That's why you hid the fact that Father is already dead!!"
".........I see.  That's more than enough for the 'why dunnit'.  This keeps getting more and more third-rate.  Aaah, ......boring."

"I, ......I don't know what you're talking about...!!  You say I'm hiding the head's death?!  I most certainly won't forgive...such a reckless accusation!!"

"That's right...!!  In addition to Madam, the other servants take care of the Master on a daily basis, and they see him all the time...!!  Genji-san, Shannon-san, and Kanon-kun...!  Even Doctor Nanjo and Kumasawa-san meet with him often...!"

"......P, perhaps because he doesn't trust me, I haven't seen him even once since last year, but..."

"Be quiet, Gohda!!!"
"Eek!!  M, my apologies...!"
"Aren't all of the witnesses besides Natsuhi-san servants employed by her?  ......So you used money to make them follow your story...ah man, this is really third-rate.  Pitiful, pitiful.  .........I'm disappointed, Natsuhi-san.  So I guess I'll have to finish this now."
"F, .........finish what......?!"

"Ushiromiya...Kinzo-san."
".........What is it, ...uninvited guest?"

"You don't exist, do you?  ......You're a ghost whose death was concealed by those humans who didn't want it known because of the inheritance problem."
"......Hmph.  ......Heheheheheheheh."

"Ghosts are supposed to quickly pass on to the next world.  ......Even though this is the first time we've met, I've yet to give you a proper greeting.  My apologies."

"......Good day, pleased to meet you.  And goodbye!!!"

So close to Erika's face that you might just barely have been able to wedge a single sheet of paper between them, ......Beato's pipe stopped suddenly.

"And a good day to you too.  ......I'm the Ushiromiya family alchemy counselor, Beatrice the Golden.  I'll be your opponent in this fight from here on out."

"Glad to meet you, I'm the detective of this game, Furudo Erika.  I'm pleased to make your acquaintance.  And now, goodbye."

"So, you're Lady Bernkastel's next piece after Ange.  ......I'm afraid I didn't get to fight with her to my satisfaction in the end.  I'm glad I'll be able to lock horns with you this time, Lady Bernkastel's piece...!"

"............My master is almighty and all-powerful.  A fool like you couldn't even begin to compare with her.  I accept your challenge."

"*cackle*cackle*cackle*.  You really are calm.  ......Even though a witch has appeared before you and is about to fight with magic and fantasy.  .........If you were Battler, you'd be lying on the ground, screaming that this can't be a mystery anymore."

"Yeah, even in the mystery genre, parallel universes like this have gotten popular lately.  You know about Pure Reasoning Space and all that?"

"Ayatsuji Yukito doesn't make his debut until next year."
"You sure are picky for a witch."

"Hahha!!  You think you're on the same level as a witch?  Don't be so full of yourself, you mere human!!"

When Beato snapped her fingers, something bounced around the room at terrifying speeds...!!
It was the witch's stake.
The witch's wedge which contained the power of the blue truth within it...!
Of course, a mere human like Erika couldn't follow that terrible speed with her eyes.

Erika understood this, so she didn't attempt to look every which-way stupidly trying to spot it.
"You blockhead!!  Take this!!"
With a terrible sound, Lucifer's blue stake buried itself into Erika's right collarbone.

It pierced all the way through her back.
Lucifer rotated and rebounded, landed in front of Beato, and disappeared, laughing shrilly.
Erika wasn't blown back.
She had just been run through deeply by the blue wedge.
".........So, this is that so-called blue truth.  Well then, let me hear your opinion."

"You can't deny the possibility that Natsuhi met with Kinzo at 23:00.  During the following six hours or more before you pushed your way into the study, Kinzo had many chances to escape this study!  Because of this, you can't state decisively that Kinzo doesn't exist."

Beato announced that with an expression worthy of her title as witch.

Erika was silent.

......Was she too shocked to speak?

There was no anguish in her expression.
She was just quietly listening to Beato's blue truth.

No, ......judging by her disdainful expression, it's probably more appropriate to say that Beato's words went in one ear and out the other.

".........<Good>.  Let's start with the classic moves.  .........By the way, this thing really is stuck good.  I can't take it out."

She tried pulling from the front and the back of the blue wedge that pierced her, but it didn't budge an inch.
However, her indifferent, relaxed expression didn't budge an inch either.

"You can't take it out!  ......The blue truth can only be defeated by the red truth.  ......For one such as yourself, a guest who came to this island at most a day ago, there is no truth that you could possibly know!  That means there exists no red that you can use...!  In other words, this is checkmate!!"

"......I see.  So that's what kind of space this is.  ......In that case, I'll need a piece worthy of fighting with a witch.  ......I'm the detective.  My position is to be an opponent for the human culprit.  You are a witch.  ...There does exist a fitting piece to use against witches and demons."

"Let me introduce you.  .........Miss Dlanor.  It looks like it's your turn."

"D, .........Dlanor...!!!"
"Ahhahahahahahaha!!  I thought so, I was certain you'd bring that piece in sooner or later...!!  The ten wedges with which to hunt witches, the archbishop of witch hunting, Dlanor!!"

"There's no more fitting piece in a battle against demons.  I have my double, Erika, and the greatest natural enemy of witches, Dlanor.  I've now taken control of the seventh rank with my two rooks.  ......Let me show you, Lambdadelta.  And you too, Beatrice.  Now you'll see how useless your struggling is.  ......*giggle*, ahahahahahaahahaahahahahahahahaha!!"
The air shone brightly, and the piece Erika had guided there showed its form...
That form resembled a clergy member perfectly suited for confronting an evil witch......
"Pleased to meet you.  Dlanor A. Knox is my NAME."
Even though this space was like a bomb just waiting to go off, she introduced herself in a neat and frank manner.

......Her out-of-place appearance, completely different from those of the demons and witches, felt blatantly odd and had a kind of severity to it.
"......This is the first time I've met you, but I've heard all the rumors.  Therefore, this truly doesn't feel like a first meeting."

"The same goes for me, <Miss> Beatrice.  The detailed materials about you in Eiserne Jungfrau are summarized in 600 PAGES.  I always read those, so this doesn't feel like a first meeting to me EITHER."

"The secretary of hell could summarize those 600 pages into 6 letters."
"Allow me to ASK."

"'Danger'."

"That's a good SUMMARY.  When I get back, out of respect to you, I will summarize the materials related to you with only 2 more letters than that, a total of eight LETTERS."

"<Executed>."
".........So I'm <cute> now, *cackle*!  You're too polite, my guest...!"
"Then let us CONTINUE.  <Miss> Beatrice.  I, Dlanor, the Head Inquisitor of Heresy, do humbly accept my role as your OPPONENT."

"My first move is over.  If you can't remove the blue wedge from that Furudo Erika over there, then you might as well totter back up to heaven and get back to your usual boring job of stamping things!"
"......I ask that you take care of this wedge or whatever it is.  It looks like Beatrice-san thinks she's already achieved checkmate with just this."
After making a show of tapping the blue wedge that pierced her with her finger, Erika shrugged as though taunting Beatrice.
"......B, Beatrice..."

"It's alright.  I'm just toying with her a bit.  ............After all, if things get bad, I can grab Kinzo and run out of here whenever I want.  I can leave this room at any time and go anywhere."

"That is USELESS."
"......Hoh?"

"Now that you've met up with me, this is your DEMISE.  Escape will not be PERMITTED.  No one can ESCAPE."
"It's true that we can't deny the possibility that Father suddenly woke up and went somewhere.  .........But you know what?  I can state that such a thing couldn't have happened.  Heheheh, you know why?"

"H, how could I know...?!  Are you trying to say that you stood outside this door all night, watching to make sure the head didn't take a step outside...?!"

"Yes, someone was watching.  This kid right here!!"
"Please, allow me to speak.  Let it be known that entering or exiting through this door is impossible.  The palace guards are ordered to blockade the study door."
The doors to heaven opened with a strong, unrelenting radiance like the sun's, announcing the arrival of Dlanor's underlings.

Those words were clad in the red truth and cut off the witch's method of escape.

"Siesta 410, right here!"
"Siesta 45, right here!  It has been some time, Great Lady Beatrice!  We were dispatched in accordance with Alliance Agreement #1516 and a request from the Great Court of Heaven.  We apologize for the rudeness that is to follow...!"

"We've formed a precision blockade on the study door nyeh.  I think it's best if you stay away from the door, nyeh?  Kihihi!"

"Allow me to speak.  I say again, from last night at 23:00 until the present time, the study door was not opened even once."

"Wh, ......what is that scrap of paper?"
"It's a completely ordinary receipt.  But even so, this mere scrap of paper proves that you lied."

"Last night, when you came out of the study, Eva saw her chance and wedged a receipt into the crack of the door to the study...!  And that fell down just now when Rudolf-kun opened the door for us...!!"

"Know what that means?  In other words, from 23:00 last night until now, it's impossible that Father opened this door!!"
".........Wh, what'd you say......?"

"Rudolf.  The window was locked, right?"
"......Yeah.  That's why I smashed the glass."

"The other windows are all locked as well.  They're built so that you can't lock them from the outside...!"

"Allow me to speak!  Know that the windows were all locked!  Palace guards, blockade all of the windows."

"By the name of Eiserne Jungfrau, I give the palace guards permission to make use of forbidden weapons."

"Understood.  Entire force, Permission Granted for Use of Forbidden Weapon: Red Warhead.  Begin Transmitting Activation Code!"

"Unya?  The password doesn't work nyeh."
"410, turn caps lock off and try again...!"

"Siesta Squad, Precision Blockade for Study Door and All Windows Complete.  We warn the Great Lady Beatrice that if anything is caught passing through these physically, conceptually, or by any other method, we will shoot without warning...!"

"Data Link from Archangel Satellite 4.  Homing Format, Verdict-Model Conceptual Guidance...!"
"And on top of that, we've got Red Warheads nyeh.  Impossible to shoot down, impossible to avoid, impossible to survive when hit.  ......It'd smash even Lady Beatrice into little bits nyeh♪"
The Siesta Squad had laid down a pinpoint blockade over the door and all of the windows.

Escape would no longer be permitted through any of these...!
".........My, my.  ......I should be doing the welcoming, but it seems I am the one being welcomed.  I'm grateful for the courtesy call, and you've even brought the Siesta Sisters...!"

"Allow me to inform you that your paths of retreat have been cut off!  Commander Dlanor, let us now remove the sin and purify...!!"

"You've done WELL.  .........<Miss> Beatrice.  I've had your paths of retreat TERMINATED.  You cannot leave through the door, nor can you leave through the WINDOWS.  Therefore, escape will now be PROHIBITED."

".........You think you've shut me in with this alone?  *cackle*cackle*......"

The Inquisitor of Heresy in Heaven and her subordinates surrounded the witch.
The subordinates used a powerful barrier to cut off Beato's methods of escape.

......Demons fight, and as a result, they sometimes escape.

However, angels block off passages of escape, and as a result, they eradicate their targets without fail...!
"In other words, this study was a perfect closed room from the time Natsuhi nee-san claims she said goodnight until the time Rudolf opened the door...!"

"In that case, Father would have to be here.  But there's not even a trace of him...!!  Come on, what the hell is going on...?!!"
"Uh, ...gah............"

"I keep telling you to calm down...!  The thought that I, Beatrice, could be shut in just because the doors and windows are closed is simply laughable."

"...Kinzo...I was just playing around, but it seems our guest has no such intentions.  Let's withdraw before we lose our chance."

"Yes.  I would not regret losing this life of mine, but for Natsuhi's sake, I cannot die yet."

Beato waved her pipe and the air was split vertically.
Then, a pitch black gate appeared there and slowly opened.

......It was a warp portal, the same as the pitch-black holes that Gaap used.
"I believe this was written on my files.  An elusive phantom.  Can appear from anywhere and disappear to anywhere...!  As long as Kinzo has me, it will be impossible to capture him...!"
The pitch black gate opened.
That gate led from everywhere and to nowhere.

Both Beato and Kinzo would be sent to a place where no one could catch them, a place were no one could set foot in, much less chase after them...!
"Th, ...this is the study of the Ushiromiya family head.  And it is also a room that Father helped to design personally.  ......Do you think there would be anything strange about him having some way of getting outside without using the door...?"

"...Y, yes, that's correct...!  There would be nothing strange about the Master having a hidden door...!"
"A hidden door?!  Heh, and where would that be...?!"

"It's a hidden door, so I don't know.  ......There are several devices and hidden doors in this mansion that only Father knows of.  ......No one has seen them directly, but everyone in this mansion knows about them vaguely.  Correct...?"

"Uh, ...ah, ......yes...!"
"......It's true that there have been always been rumors about hidden passages only the Master knows of..."

"I, it's true that Kinzo-san would probably like devices such as that..."
"Hohohoho......  And they are hidden doors, after all...  No matter how much people such as ourselves might search,

it's only natural that we won't find them・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・."
".........I see.  It's a Devil's Proof.  You're saying we can't deny the possibility that a hidden door exists in this room."

"That's nonsense, a farce...!!  Even considering that your lie about concealing Father's death is about to be revealed, how dare you...!!"

"That's right!!  Just where in this study is there a hidden door...?!!  Try and prove that it exists!!"

"Proof is unnecessary!!  It's a Devil's Proof.  It's impossible to find a hidden door and therefore impossible to disprove that it exists!!  Therefore, no one can deny the possibility that Kinzo escaped from this study through a hidden door!!"
"I will not allow a hidden door to exist in this ROOM."
Beato's blue wedge, which had been fired off as a farewell gift, was crushed with a flash of Dlanor's long sword, ......and the pitch black gate was crushed as well...!
And it wasn't just crushed visibly and physically.

From that moment onwards, the warp portal which conceptualized hidden doors had been destroyed.
"Wh, why can someone like you, who is neither the owner of the study nor the Game Master, ......use the red truth......?!  And what was that?!  What to you mean you 'will not allow' hidden doors to exist?!"
"It's because this is the mystery genre.  Knox's 3rd.  It is forbidden for hidden passages to exist.  Hidden doors mustn't exist in the mystery genre.  Sorry about that."

"In this world, there are no other gods except our god, and no hidden doors EXIST.  They must not EXIST, we won't let them EXIST.  It is blasphemy against our GOD."

"......Enough pride in you to shock a witch...  Hah, it's a pleasure greater than shock...!"
"Ahahahahahahaahahahahahahaha...!!  Here it is, the ten wedges to pierce witches...!!  Just like usual, it's the kind of irrational argument that I just love to hear...!"

"What a fool.  The Devil's Proof might have been vague enough to let you escape from everything until now, but now that you're up against Dlanor, that move won't work anymore, Beatrice!"
"......As I thought, you're no different from any witch after ALL.  I'm DISAPPOINTED."

"......Beato.  ...It seems this isn't an opponent we'll be able to escape from easily after all."

"Please do entertain me, Beatrice-san.  ......You should at least serve some tea for your guests.  It doesn't even matter if it's third-rate!"

"Come on, please use the blue truth, and tell me how Kinzo-san escaped from the closed room study...!!"

"......Very well.  Make sure you don't cry!!"
"It's possible that, after slipping out the door, Kinzo noticed the trick with the receipt and correctly returned it to its original place."
"Denial of that with the red has already been FINISHED.  After 23:00, the door to the study was not opened even ONCE."
"Kinzo might have been a marvelous magician and an inventor, right?!  He might have invented a drug that turns his body to mist and slipped out through the keyhole!!"
"No such drug EXISTS.  It must not EXIST."
"Or maybe he invented a teleport device, right?!  That possibility is impossible to deny because of the Devil's Proof!!"
"Such a machine does not EXIST.  I will not allow it to EXIST."
"Oh, so you can examine every drug in the world?  You can deny the existence of unknown scientific devices?!  There's no way you can, it's a Devil's Proof!  You cannot deny that they might exist!"
"I will REPEAT.  By the name of god, I will not let such a drug or machine EXIST.  I will not allow them to exist for all ETERNITY."

"The future, too?!  Oho, so you think you can even deny something into the future of the human race?!"
"It's Knox's 4th.  It is forbidden for unknown drugs or hard to understand scientific devices to be used."

"The progression of humanity, as well as techniques and knowledge that might be obtainable in the future, are decided upon by our GOD.  And the denial of their existence has been proclaimed for ETERNITY.  Therefore, I will not allow for such a technique to exist for all ETERNITY.  It is not PERMITTED."

Beato and Dlanor had supposedly just gone through a massive exchange of red and blue.
......However, not only did Dlanor not take any damage, she also showed no signs of fatigue.
Beato might have been a fearsome witch, but blood flowed through her veins and she did breathe.
She felt both pain and fatigue.

But Dlanor......was like a doll made of marble.

She felt no fatigue, no pain, no hesitation.

Even if Beato's sharp wedges had aimed right for Dlanor's eyes, she wouldn't have shut them.

......No, it's doubtful that she ever even blinks in the first place......
"B, ......Beatrice......, hang in there......"

"......I've heard the rumors, but we really do share the worst compatibility.  ......To think that dreams, hopes and even future possibilities are forbidden.  The pride of the gods is overwhelming.  ......I'd expect no less from a witch hunt executioner.  It seems we'll never be able to drink together."

Even the strikes which had made Battler surrender over and over had absolutely no effect on Dlanor.

......Well, I knew that already more or less, but to think that I would be repelled so easily...

"Quite a formidable opponent..."
"Oh my, so even the great Goldsmith has gotten old and decrepit.  Hearing those words come out of your mouth is rarer than seeing two comets in the night sky...!"

"Hmph.  I'm not decrepit, I'm already dead."
"Hah, that's true.  Sorry, but I won't let you be for just a little longer."

Beato experienced something she'd only rarely felt during her entire life.
......It was probably what we'd call 'hardship'.
Beato quietly brushed aside Natsuhi's hand that tried to comfort her, and she regained her posture again, showing off her witch's pride and her continued readiness to fight.
"Is that ALL?  There was no need for me to come HERE.  I'm DISAPPOINTED."

"I'm not done yet.  I was just testing a few moves just now.  I was only trying to measure your abilities."

"How foolish.  Know your place, Golden Witch."
".........Lady Beatrice..."
Beato's expression became tense once again.
No longer was there any trace of mischief.

......The mood changed.
"The time for playing is over.  Here I go.  In that case, I shall acknowledge that Kinzo did not enter or leave the study.  Why don't I accept your closed room?"

".........HMM."
"Let it be known that Beatrice has changed her pattern of attack."

Beatrice, who had until then thoroughly resisted the idea that a closed room existed, did an about face.
She proclaimed that she accepted that proposition.

Of course, this didn't mean that she'd surrendered.

This was a new attack of Beato's.

Dlanor noticed this and readied herself.
"What's going on?  Why did Lady Beatrice acknowledge the closed room when she's trying to destroy it nyeh?"

"......Sh, she's probably trying to claim that Kinzo existed outside of this room.  ......Confirmation that the Great Lady Beatrice's warp portal has reactivated!"
"Natsuhi claims to have 'talked with Kinzo in the study', but she never said that she spoke with him face to face.  Therefore, if Kinzo was in a location other than the study, there is no contradiction as long as they held a conversation!"
".........nn-"

After bouncing at an erratic angle, the witch's stake pierced the top of Dlanor's foot.

"You sure are slow.  ......Heheheheh, top of the foot, all mi~ne!"

"Natsuhi used the internal phone line in this study to speak with Kinzo, who was in another place!  There's nothing strange about Kinzo, who hates the relatives, predicting that they would enter his study and leaving to go elsewhere.  He might have gone to the hidden mansion, Kuwadorian!"
Asmodeus's stake, which contained the power of Beato's blue truth and pierced Dlanor's foot, changed into a blue wedge.

"Not bad, that makes sense nyeh...!"
"......Blue truth, effective."
A cyclone of gold butterflies swept up with Beato at its center.
......The magical power of the pitch black gate that had been smashed was once again refilled.
......If I can hold Dlanor off here somehow, this time, I'll be able to warp Kinzo out of the study, all the way to Kuwadorian...!
Dlanor moved clumsily, trying to pull the blue wedge out of her foot, but it didn't even budge.

Of course, Beato didn't miss this chance.

No witch would!
"I've got more, so get ready.  There's a chance the Kinzo Natsuhi mentioned does not refer to the person himself!  The Kinzo Natsuhi spoke of might have been another name for this room, right?  Kinzo had taken refuge in Kuwadorian and was impossible to contact.  Perhaps Natsuhi called this room 'Father', and by contemplating inside of it, she felt as though she had received some sort of revelation from Kinzo!!"

"We've stopped you from moving.  You've already lost!"
Beelzebub's blue wedge pierced the base of Dlanor's neck!

Of course, even this didn't cause her to flinch, but her movements were restricted even further.
"......Interesting.  Is that ALL?"
"You don't call it a full course dinner if you stop at the soups and hors d'oeuvres!  I'll hit you with the main dish and the dessert at once, so watch your stomach explode and die!!!"
"Even if, as you say, this is a closed room and impossible to escape from, you can't deny the possibility that he is still hiding in this room.  I'm not talking about a hidden door!  He might be under the bed or above the ceiling!  He might be hiding in a truly unobtrusive blind spot that only demons could know of, right?!"
"Or, it might be that Natsuhi, who was ordered to speak specially on Kinzo's behalf, considered herself both his representative and another Kinzo!  In other words, it's possible that Natsuhi was also Kinzo!"
"I've got plenty more!!  At 23:00 last night, Kinzo escaped out the window!  Natsuhi watched him go, then locked the window!!  This doesn't lead to any problems.  In fact, it might be the most beautiful blue truth yet!  How's that?!  Dlanor A. Knox?!  Hyahhahahahaaaaahhhh!!  There are many ways to escape from this closed room!!"

"Know your foolishness in trying to oppose my master!"
"There's no need for you to argue back."
"Just lose and sleep for all eternity...!"
The Seven Sisters appeared from Beato's golden tornado one after another, and they pierced Dlanor with blue wedges.
Four blue wedges were buried into her neck, her chest, her gut, and her thigh.

Including the one buried into the top of her foot, she was pincushioned by five stakes.

"Aaaah, Beatrice-sama!  What about my turn?!"

"I'll use you if I think of any more.  Be quiet for now!!  *cackle*cackle*, how's that, Dlanor the witch hunter?!!  After skewering and burning so many witches in the past, how does it feel to be skewered by a witch this time?!!  Hehhihhahhaaahhhahahahahahaha!!"

They were all ridiculous arguments, but they came fiercely one after another.

Though a total of five wedges pierced Dlanor, her expression didn't change in the slightest.

However, her movements had indeed been limited...

"Hyuu...  Witches sure are scary nyeh...  You can't beat twisted logic nyeh."
"They don't violate the Knox Decalogue...  Effective...!"

".................."
"...W, ......well done, Beatrice...!  Even if there was no one in this study and even if it was a closed room, that alone isn't enough to deny Father's existence...!"

"Against a normal opponent, I'd think the matter settled by now.  ......But this is Dlanor.  Head Inquisitor of Heresy!  This ruthless woman killed even her father when he violated the Decalogue...!  Kinzo, now!"

"Right...!"

Now that Dlanor had been pinned down, this was their last chance to recover their magical power and escape.
Once again, a pitch black gate began to rise slowly in front of Beato and Kinzo......

Though the gate had once been opened by simply drawing in the air, it wasn't so easy in the study now, filled as it was with the power of denial.

"Wh, ......what do you think, everyone?!  No matter how much you question the state of this study, you can't question whether or not Father is in good health...!!"
"......Oh, so you say.  Both you and I...had better not forget that we are part of this battle, right?  I cannot fight against witches, but I can fight against you."
Erika grinned at Natsuhi with a smile more demonic than a real demon's.

"......Natsuhi-san.  Let me ask again.  ......Last night, you're sure you spoke with Ushiromiya Kinzo-san, right?"
"Y, yes.  I have said repeatedly that I came to deliver a report for the day and to say good night...!"

"This may be a strange thing to ask, but since it's needed to prove your innocence, please answer me straightforwardly.  ......Is this Kinzo-san you speak of the Ushiromiya Kinzo-san we all know of?  It isn't a different person or thing with the same name, is it?"

"I, I'm not really sure what you mean...!"
"......It's like this.  You didn't, for instance, start calling this room itself 'Father' after Father's death, right?  That's what she's asking.  You said you gave a daily report to Father before he went to sleep, right?  That doesn't mean you gave a daily report to the wall here inside the study called 'Father' all by yourself, right...?"

"H, how rude!!  Nothing of the sort happened...!  Father is Father!!  He is in good health!  And I most certainly gave him a report and said good night to him last night...!!  I'm not trying to trick you or talk my way out of anything!"

"I see.  In that case, can you repeat what I tell you to?  If you aren't tricking or deceiving us in any way, you should be able to repeat my words."
"F, fine.  I'll repeat whatever you want...!"

"Repeat it.  'Ushiromiya Natsuhi did, at 23:00 last night, speak with Ushiromiya Kinzo in the same room as him, which was this room'."

"I, I, 'Ushiromiya Natsuhi did, at 23:00 last night, speak with Ushiromiya Kinzo in the same room as him, which was this room'!!"

"<Good>!  Then I'll ask one last thing.  ......Seriously now, Natsuhi-san, you didn't do anything such as throwing Kinzo-san out the window after your conversation and locking the window behind him, right?  Because everything still makes sense if you did."

"Wh, why would I want to chase Father out the window?!!  This is intolerable!  This mockery is intolerable!!"

"Please, allow me to speak.  Let it be said that the 'Kinzo' Natsuhi mentions refers to nothing other than Ushiromiya Kinzo."

"Please, allow me to speak!  Natsuhi claims to have met face to face with Kinzo in the study at 23:00!"

"Ah, .........aaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhh...!!"

Natsuhi let out a cry, but it was too late...
She had been totally suckered in by their provocation...!
The blue wedge to the foot representing a telephone discussion.

The blue wedge to the neck representing the study itself being called Kinzo.
The blue wedge to the gut representing Natsuhi herself being called Kinzo.

The blue wedge to the thigh representing Natsuhi letting Kinzo escape out the window and locking it afterwards.
The four of them were smashed up with a thin sound...!
Because Natsuhi, 'the one who knew the truth', had denied them, those denials had gained the power of the red truth...!

Despite Kinzo's absence in this closed room, Beato had introduced five ways that Kinzo could still exist.
Natsuhi had carelessly crushed the premises behind four of those herself...!!
Only one wedge remained.

In other words, this was the last blue truth which could bury the contradiction of Kinzo existing in the study at 23:00 but not existing there later, after it had become a closed room.
There was only the theory that pierced Dlanor's chest, 'Kinzo is hiding somewhere in this room'.
With this theory, even if Kinzo didn't exist in this closed room of a study, he could 'exist' there...!

If this wedge of Satan's were to be crushed, their chances of escaping this room would become hopelessly dim......!

"Gghhh, .........ack...!!  B, Beatrice-sama...!  Quickly...escape while you still can...!!  Ggh, gyah......"

Dlanor slowly grasped the final wedge, which still pierced her chest.

......Apparently, that vice-like grip was hurting Satan as though all the bones in her body were being broken.

"All that remains......is this one WEDGE.  It was about Kinzo hiding somewhere in this room, CORRECT?"
"As the detective, I've searched all of those places.  If I didn't find him, just where could he be hiding?  *giggle*giggle*giggle*!!"

With the final wedge still sticking out of her chest, Dlanor slowly approached Beato...

If this wedge was taken out, ......then......!

"Allow me to ASK.  Just where in this study is Kinzo HIDING?"

"Heheh, well then...  Maybe he's under the bed?!"
"A check of that place has been FINISHED."

"Maybe he's in the bathtub!!"
"A check of that place has been FINISHED."

"Inside the closet!  Under the desk!  Behind the curtains!!"
"A check of that place has been FINISHED.  Check FINISHED.  Check FINISHED."
"Behind the bookshelf, behind the closet, under the carpet, under the floor, above the ceiling, behind the wallpaper, inside the sofa, inside the chair, inside the bed, inside the blankets, inside the walls, inside a rock, inside a stone, inside the room!!"
"CheckFINISHED checkFINISHED checkFINISHED
checkcheckcheck FINISHEDFINISHEDFINISHED
checkcheckcheckcheckcheckcheckcheckcheck
    FINISHEDFINISHEDFINISHEDFINISHED
    FINISHEDFINISHEDFINISHEDFINISHED
            <Die The death>!
          <Sentence to death>!
    <Great equalizer is The Death>!!"
No locations would work against Dlanor by this point.

Dlanor took Beato's final desperate onslaught head on, turning everything back with a far stronger power of denial!
Beat them up!
Knock them down with overwhelming force!!

No longer does any place exist in this study for Kinzo to escape to...!!
Beato was blown back like a leaf dancing in the wind, knocked around over and over again like an empty can lying on a road.

By now, no matter how many times Beato used the blue truth, it wouldn't be able to defeat Dlanor's red truth...
"Hahahahaha, ahhahahahahahahaha...!!  .........Witches are so pathetic.  ......You just try to talk your way out of things endlessly, trying to confuse the truth.  Let me borrow Dlanor's words.  ......I'm disappointed, Beatrice-san.  ...*giggle*giggle*giggle*giggle*!"

"......guh........., ............ggghh......"
Erika coldly delivered these decisive words to Beato, ......who was crawling on the ground.
"Detective's authority.  The detective has the right to inspect all crime scenes.  I have exercised this right.  Therefore, I can say this."
"Kinzo-san is not inside this room.  Furthermore, this room is a perfect closed room.  From the above two points, I can state this fact: this room was empty the whole time.  Natsuhi-san lied about having met Kinzo-san here last night!  That makes this checkmate.  Beatrice-san...!"
"*giggle*giggle*, ......ahahahaha, ahhahhahahahahahahahaahahahahahahahahaha!  How's that?  Simply by the existence of this room!  This level of reasoning is possible for Furudo Erika.  What do you think, everyone?!  Ahhahahahahhahhahhaaaahh!!"
At these words, the final wedge shattered, and at the same time, the pitch black gate which was about to open shattered once again.

This time, the warp portal had been completely destroyed...
No longer would Kinzo be permitted to exist in this room......or escape from it...
Beato struggled to her feet......but that was the best she could do.
She no longer had the energy to fight.
She had taken all of the denying red head on from close range.
It was all she could do to withstand a pain so strong it felt like she'd vomit up all her insides...
Even Beato, who had aimed for the title of strongest and most evil witch all this time, ......couldn't do a thing against a witch hunter.

No matter how sturdy a sandcastle you build on the beach, it can never win against the rising tide......
".........S, sorry, Kinzo.........Looks like...this opponent really was tough after all......"

"Beatrice, I thank you.  ......You've done so much for me despite your remaining grudge."

"I guess it's true that your life flashes by when you see death coming.  ......I've remembered how you once looked when you were young.  .........You were annoyingly like Battler."

"I now pass on everything, my soul and the qualifications of the head, to Battler.  I no longer have any regrets...!"

"............Battler...............My apologies......How pitiful......Though I swore to fight with you once again, ...I must settle my accounts with something like this..."

"..............."

To Beato, it seemed as though Battler had met her gaze.
......There was no way he could have.

This Battler was the piece Battler.
There was no way he could see Beato in this higher-level world.

However, his eyes really did meet hers.

Even though they couldn't have, .........Beato was sure they did.
As Erika, Eva and the others closed in on Natsuhi, questioning her over and over, ......only Battler stood apart from that tumult.

His expression held none of the enthusiasm and excitement that the other humans had.
It just piercingly and coldly surveyed the scene.
And the expression on his face......was a quiet displeasure.  Anger.
He wasn't feeling compassion for Natsuhi because her lie was about to be exposed.

However, he couldn't excuse Erika, who called herself an intellectual rapist and was simply enjoying cornering Natsuhi and those who sympathized with her.
Then, he whispered softly.
".........It's useless."
Beato and the others definitely heard that...

"You don't think......Battler might...turn things around from this weakened position......?"

"......I probably could have done it, back in the day.  ......And Battler can probably do it."
".........Battler..."

"Battler.........If you are indeed the man who will inherit everything from me, ......now is the time to prove it...!  Don't let the Legend of the Golden Witch end here......!"
"It's true that I met Father here last night!!  It's true!!  And he spoke to me of the Ushiromiya family's glorious history, as well as the burden of bearing it..."

"Your lie has already been exposed, Natsuhi-san.  We already know that you were alone in this room last night."

"Isn't it about time to give up and confess?  Culprits who are bad at giving up tend to go with bad mystery novels.  At least in the end, please prove that this is a slightly better third-rate mystery than that."
".........Aah, it's useless.  It's all useless."
Battler, who had been silent off by himself up until then, spoke.

At first, it sounded as though he was attacking Natsuhi.
......However, when Erika realized he was glaring directly at her, her expression visibly clouded with displeasure.
"And just what......is useless?"

"If this is a third-rate mystery, then the detective is also third-rate.  ......Listen up.  I'm gonna become Grandfather."

"......B, Battler......?!"

"You'll become......Kinzo-san?  Are you saying you'll become Kinzo-san and reenact his disappearance from this room?"

"......You couldn't possibly think you can deny my checkmate, right?  ......Fool!!!"

"......What is this man SAYING?"

"Hey, new girls.  ......This is your first game, correct?  Sorry, but calling checkmate after something like that is totally useless.  Yeah, it's all useless...!!"

"Wh, what are you talking about, Battler?  You say you'll become Dad......?!"
"Yeah.  I'll reenact it.  I'll become Grandfather and disappear from this room."

"Y, you can't use the windows or the door, right?!  How would you do it...?!"
"Did you find a hidden door?!"
"I don't have a clue either...yes, not a clue...!!"
*rustle*.

.........That sound wasn't just the noise of the onlookers fidgeting.
...It was a provocative chill that ran up Erika's spine.
".........Interesting.  I see, you are the Ushiromiya family head, the one who bears the ring of the head.  That should more than qualify you to stand in for Kinzo-san.  .........Why don't you let us have a look at your theory?!!"
Erika's expression was no longer a provocative smile.
......It was malicious.
Extremely displeased.

She couldn't conceal her anger at having this very pleasurable time of hers ruined.  

"......H, ......how will he...get us out of here......?"
"Heh, ......heheheheh.........I've got it.  I see, so that move is still available."

"So you finally figured it out, you damn geezer.  Hidden doors and hiding under the bed......all that stuff is so pitiful it brings tears to the eyes.  This is THE Ushiromiya Kinzo we're talking about here.  ......There's got to be a more thrilling and exciting answer."

"Exactly.  How pitiful that even I couldn't think of it, even though it was about me.  And how pitiful that the only one of my relatives to understand me is Battler, the kid who's returned after being gone six years.  .........Battler, take my place.  Do not shame me!"

"Sure, Gramps!!  I'll teach these guests what the dignity of the Ushiromiya family head is all about!!"

"What are you planning to do..., Father...?!"
"Wahhahahahaha!!  Natsuhi, Beatrice, watch!  ......We'll show you what being the Ushiromiya family head is all about!"
"...That Battler, what is he trying to prove......?"

"There's no way he can do anything.  ......This is a perfect closed room!"
"Natsuhi oba-san.  Come over here.  Now, move as I tell you to."
Battler called Natsuhi over to the window and whispered something to her with his back towards the others...
"......<Miss> Dlanor.  You're ready for everything, right?  It's not possible for Kinzo and the witch to slip out of this room, right?"

"Of COURSE.  ......Gertrude, Cornelia.  And the palace guards.  Double check that the seal of this closed room is PERFECT."
"Please, allow me to speak.  Our barrier is perfect."

"Allow me to speak.  There are no hidden doors, and escape will not be granted through either door or window!  Palace guards, when Battler hits the barrier, fire your arrows without hesitation!"

"S, Siesta Corps, roger.  Battler-sama, prepare yourself...!"
"Escaping from this room...is impossible...!"

".........But he'll do it nyeh."
"H, how...?!"

"He's certain he can succeed even without any basis.  That's what it means to be the Ushiromiya head nyeh...!"

".........True.  Let's watch."
"Yeah.  ...Let's see the majesty of Riiche's opponent...!"
"Then I'll begin."

Everyone nodded and watched Battler's every move...
"Grandfather was lying in bed like this grunting his understanding of Natsuhi oba-san's daily report or whatever."

Battler laid down on the bed himself.
As if it still mattered now, Erika grumbled about disturbing the crime scene, but no one listened to her.

"Then, I stop answering and sleep.  .........Well, realistically speaking, I probably get tired of all that talking and only pretend to be asleep."
"Ahahahaha!  You really do get it...!"
"I, ......I see that Father has gone to sleep, ...bow silently, and leave."
Natsuhi lowered her head to Battler, who was still lying down in the bed, and turned around...
Then, she started wandering around, as though doing an inspection of the room.
"......After seeing that Grandfather was asleep, Natsuhi oba-san probably did an inspection of the room before leaving."
"Of course, she had Shannon-chan and the others clean it every day, but she still checked it thoroughly herself.  ......Making sure there was no dust piling up.  Making sure that he hadn't run out of any consumables."

"Y, yes.  This is the room of the precious family head, so I check everything carefully myself instead of relying entirely on the servants.  I always do that."

".........Th, that's true.  Madam usually checks things very carefully."
"Her inspection is very detailed, and she even checks all of the consumables in the washroom one by one."
"In other words, it's not just dust on the windowsill like you see all the time on TV.  .........She checks to see that there's enough soap and toilet paper in the washroom.  Though she probably doesn't have to do it each day, she's very devoted."

"Th, that is my routine.  I mustn't slack off in my inspection of the head's room for even a single day."
".........So what's your point?  Please keep any showing off to a minimum."

"*giggle*.  So only the detective is allowed to show off?"
"Nn, gah, ......I, ...I'm...the...detective........."
"Since we're inside the study, you can probably tell, but even though we call it a study, it wouldn't be wrong to call it a second house inside the mansion."
"It has a sleeping room, a study, a washroom, and even a toilet and bath.  In other words, it isn't a single room.  You could call it a full house."

"......Thank you for the explanation of the room's LAYOUT.  However, the move of having him hide somewhere in this room has already been DEFEATED."

"He isn't hiding.  However, there has to be several blind spots.  ......For example, if Natsuhi oba-san went into the bathroom to check the amount of toilet paper, most of the study would be out of her sight range."

"......In other words, for almost every location in the study, the observer would have disappeared."

"!!  ......O, observer disappearance...!  We've lost track of Kinzo...!"
"Let it be said that the witch's darkness is filling the study."

"Good.  ......It's being filled with the power of darkness.  Heheheheheheheh!"

"And so what if the observer...if Natsuhi left...?  ......What next?!"

"When Grandfather noticed that fussy Natsuhi oba-san leaving, he got up."
"Why?!"
"Wahhahhahhahhahha!!  On a mad night like this, nothing goes better with a drink than enjoying the mad weather of the night sky!!"
"......Because Natsuhi oba-san was in the blind spot of the bathroom, it becomes possible for Grandfather to walk about the study at will."
It was possible for him to move without Natsuhi's knowledge.
It was possible for him to move without contradicting what Natsuhi knew!

"Warning, Battler is approaching the study door."
"Allow me to speak.  A noise rings out when the lock on the study door is released.  Know that you cannot leave through the door without Natsuhi thinking something was odd."
Because Battler had acted as though he was heading for the door, Gertrude, who was sealing the door, immediately sent out a warning.
Maybe it was possible for him to leave the study while in Natsuhi's blind spot.

......However.

"That's right..., it's the sound!!  We know that there's a loud sound when the auto-lock is released!  Even if Natsuhi was in a blind spot inside the study, she wouldn't miss hearing the loud sound when the auto-lock is released.  Of course she would find that odd...!!"

"Allow me to speak.  Let it be said that Natsuhi did not hear the sound of the door opening while in the room."

The washroom and toilet are very close to the door.
Even if they hadn't been, that auto-lock always lets off such a massive sound.

She'd be able to hear that sound no matter what.

Now that Natsuhi had spoken with Erika and the others about the details of the previous night, she had made it quite clear that nothing out of the ordinary had occurred.

The argument that Natsuhi would have failed to hear the lock would not work...!

"Please, allow me to speak once more.  Kinzo entering or exiting through the door will not be permitted."
"Let it be said that this is a useless struggle!  It is foolish...!!"

".........It's true that I can't break through the red of that Nee-chan by the door.  .........But what about you over there by the window?"
".........!"

Turning his back to Gertrude, who claimed that leaving through the door was impossible, Battler locked his gaze on Cornelia, who stood in front of the window.

"Make sure you hold that barrier of yours up tight.  ......'Cause you're gonna be

.........blasted away, got it?・・・・・・・・・・"

By now, Battler's target was clear.
.........It was Cornelia.  And......it was the window.

He was going......to smash this closed room from the window.

Not expecting to be chosen as the target herself, Cornelia was overawed for just a second, but she quickly regained her composure.

It was rare that a struggling, fleeing witch would directly challenge the barriers she set up.
Furthermore, such witches were always fighting desperately on the brink of death!

"Please, allow me to speak.  You are Battler's target, Cornelia.  I ask that you be on your guard."
"Fool!  God, have pity on this foolish lamb...!!"
"I'm no sheep.  ......The head of the Ushiromiya family is an eagle.  With one wing.  ......Don't think you can keep me shut up in this study forever with just a flimsy window like that."
......Starting from a low posture, ......both silent and supple, ......Battler ran forward like a white leopard.
"............Th, ......this guy......couldn't possibly mean to.........!!"
"............ah!!  Th, this is...............agh.  A, allow me to speak...!  There is no way to defeat my red!  Know that your wish will not be granted...!!"
Cornelia thrust out both her arms and made a sign.
When she did, a red barrier closed in front of Battler.
"Know that this is useless, Ushiromiya Battler...!  Know that my window is sealed from the inside and Natsuhi did not let Kinzo escape...!!"
"Natsuhi oba-san didn't let Grandfather escape.  ......What if Grandfather snuck out, keeping it a secret from Natsuhi oba-san?!"

"Wh, why would Kinzo go out the window on his own?!!!"

"To me, jumping out into the rainy sky on a mad night is nothing more than a bit of fun to go with a drink!!!"

"But this is the third floor, right?!  It's impossible!!!"
"Even you've jumped down a flight of stairs at least once in your life, right?  Three stories is nothing for Kinzo...!"

"I wouldn't put it past him."
"Wouldn't put it past him."
"Th, that's...r, ridiculous......!!!"
Blue cracks appeared in Cornelia's red barrier, and it shattered with a crisp sound.

It was all far too quick.
It looked almost as though she'd gotten out of the way herself in fear of Battler.

"E, ...Endless Nine...!!  Magic Resistance Power, Endless Nine!!"
"Cornelia-sama, you can't block it, retreat...!"
At the same time the barrier shattered, the window behind Cornelia's back was flung open.
The curtains fluttered for just an instant.
Though it was all filled with rain, the heavens and the courtyard were spread out in front of them...
A fitting exit for an eagle leaping from this closed room!
"Cornelia, repair the BARRIER!!"

"As you wish, Commander Dlanor!  Kn, know that you will not be allowed to break this...!!"
Cornelia quickly came back to her senses and set up another red barrier.
......However, this was the last one.
"Please, allow me to speak...!!  Then let us accept for the time being that Kinzo escaped through the window...!  In that case, how did he lock a window which cannot be locked from the outside?!  The window was locked from the inside!!"

".........Useless!"
"Yeah, it's all useless!!"

Kinzo and Battler grinned!

She thought this feeble red could block the charge of Battler and Kinzo, the two family heads?

"After Grandfather jumped out the window, Natsuhi oba-san probably noticed a slight draft.  She then approached the window, realized that it was wide open, and quickly closed and locked it...!!"

"Natsuhi probably couldn't even imagine that I had slipped out the window!"
"Yeah!!  So it's only natural that Natsuhi oba-san thought Kinzo was sleeping in bed!!"
Now that Battler had found the answer, the red barrier was more fragile than thin glass.
The red magical wall of certainty had been smashed again, so easily that it disgraced the name of certainty itself!
Unbelievable, right?

That barrier was more firm than any Ronove had ever used against Jessica.

And yet it had been......destroyed so easily...!
Though Battler was rushing fiercely and had almost reached Cornelia, she didn't step aside.
Her steel spirit, worthy of the name Eiserne Jungfrau, didn't allow her to step aside.
She took a charm from her pocket, placed it against the thin air, and made a sign.

Then, not red, but blue burned there.
Though it was far more frail than the red barrier, it was her last method of resistance.
"Y, you won't get through, you won't!!  Let me speak, let me speak!!  Be that as it may, this is the third floor...!  How could a wingless human escape from the window......?!!  Know that you won't get through, you wooooooooon't!!"

"Just quit your whining and watch!!!"
"This is the answeeeeeeeer aaaaaaaaaaahhhhh!!"
Battler......jumped.
He burst through Cornelia and her blue barrier, knocked them away, .....and his body flew out the window through the darkness of the rainy sky.
The fragments of the blue barrier scattered, coloring the air beautifully.

The closed room......had been smashed open......!!
Battler......flew out of the mansion.
He was in the sky above the rainy courtyard.

......All of the raindrops became small round gems and were scattered through the air.

Battler flew through the treasure box world of the beautiful stormy sky, ......through the countless gems of rain that filled it.

In the sky over the world frozen in time, Dlanor and Battler faced each other.

If Battler, who had smashed and flown out the window, was like a knight leaping off a white horse, ......then Dlanor, who floated in the air waiting for him, was also a knight.

In the air above the courtyard surrounded by the Ushiromiya mansion and frozen in time, ......the true new head of the Ushiromiya family and the disciple of heaven who would test him crossed paths......
"......Well DONE.  When you fall into the courtyard, whether you live or die, it won't change the fact that Kinzo could have defeated this closed ROOM...!!  You who have thrown away your life and jumped are a MARTYR...!!  Well done, you have smashed our closed room BARRIER.  Splendid, Ushiromiya Battler!!"
"However, I am the Head Inquisitor of Heresy, Dlanor A. Knox!!  I cannot allow you to escape out from under my NOSE...!  Now, at the end, allow me the honor of crossing swords with YOU!!"

"Sure, bring it on.  ......This game is surprisingly unrelenting."

In this world where the gems of rain......fell slowly like large snowflakes on a snowy field.
......Dlanor and Battler slowly.........crossed paths.
It seemed slow.

And yet, ......it happened in a flash.
Their gazes crossed and clashed like lightning.

Knight confronted knight head on, and it would all be decided in a single strike......!
Blue and red......crossed paths......
"Was it shown beforehand that a blind spot existed within the study for Natsuhi?  If it wasn't shown, this theory will not be permitted.  Knox's 8th.  It is forbidden for the case to be resolved with clues that are not PRESENTED...!!"
Dlanor's double strike with both the blue and red blades reached out to slice Battler.........and missed.

Those long swords, which had never lost in a hundred battles, cut through the empty air......

"When we entered the study, its structure was clearly referred to.  ......Too bad for you."

For the first time, Dlanor showed an expression.
......It was a sudden smile.

She had known since long ago that the study's structure had been referred to.

But she couldn't let him escape without making a single strike.
As an Inquisitor of Heresy, she could not do that.

So though she had known that she wouldn't make it, she had still crossed swords with Battler.

"Yes, I KNEW.  ......That answer of yours doesn't violate Knox's 8th."

"......Here it comes.  Don't regret it."
"Yes, COME."

In Battler's hand......was a blade that shone red.
That blade etched out the red truth......

'It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that Kinzo's study was a small villa he had created inside the mansion'
'A study.  A book archive.  A place to sleep.  And a bathroom and washroom.  It was divided into multiple rooms'

That has already been shown.
And it suggests that there might have been a blind spot somewhere within the room...
Without any mercy, ...no, without any reluctance that would have been dishonorable, ......the sword of red truth cut into Dlanor.

It cut a beautiful hemisphere through the countless gems of rain that filled the sky......

"Well.........DONE......"
"............"

Time...exploded into life.
Both of them...fell through the courtyard.

One drifted down.
The other tumbled through the air.

Then, there was a soft sound and a dull thud.
......The first was the sound of Battler landing gently in the courtyard.
The second was the sound of Dlanor crashing down.
After crouching down for a while, .........Battler slowly stood up.

Though he had jumped down from the third floor, ......he had landed as lightly as though he had merely jumped over a fence......
"B, ...Battleeeeeeeeeeer.........!!"

Beato leaned out of the study window, looking to see if the supposedly wingless Battler had landed safely.
"Beato!!  Come on, jump!!"
"Huh......?!"
"That window is our way out!  ......So jump!!  You aren't the kind of witch who can be locked up inside a closed room, right?!!"
The study was no longer a closed room.
She could jump from here, escape from here...!

By now, the closed room which had threatened to capture the witch and suffocate her had been destroyed.

"Y, ......yes...!!  Y, you too, Kinzo...!"
"Go.  From the moment Battler showed his answer, my spirit had already escaped from this room."
Kinzo's form became a group of gold butterflies and disappeared.
The closed room barrier had dissolved, and the power which denies magic had scattered.
Beato ran towards the window.
......That was the only exit from the closed room of this witch hunt.
After glancing at the subordinates of the Inquisitor of Heresy and the Siesta Sisters, she readied her wound-covered body and ran towards the window, just like Battler had done.

She looked like Cinderella running as she heard the bell toll.
"Th, there's no way we'll let you escape, Beatrice, Illusion of the Witch!!"
Erika flew at Beato, trying to latch on as Beato dashed, but it was like trying to catch smoke, and she landed face first on the floor.

......There's no way a human can catch a witch.
For one such as her, without love, even touching Beato was impossible...!
"Siesta Corps, shoot the witch!  Shoot her dead!!"

"Alignment conflict.  Unable to fire."
"Allow me to speak.  I have no barrier prepared which can block Battler's blue truth."

Both Siesta 00 and Gertrude spoke with unbelievably calm voices.
"N, no one can stop them?  Not Battler?  Not Kinzo?  Not Beatrice?!  If these guys escape, ......m, ......my closed room, my theory...!!  I'm......the detective, ...Furudo...Erika...kkggghhhaaaaaaaaaaaggghhgh!Gyaaaaaaaaaaggghhhaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhh!!!"
Erika crouched, screaming and clutching at her head.
"The great Golden Witch isn't gonna be defeated by something like that geezer's grubby study!!  It's still just the first twilight!  I'll teach these newcomers that your game isn't that easy!!"
Just like Battler, Beato also......jumped.
She drifted down through the rain treasure box world into Battler's chest.

......Battler caught her with both arms as though catching an angel's wings.
It was like a knight catching a princess who had been locked up in a tower, ......like a beautiful picture of a scene in some fairy tale...
".........Crap, I think I'm in love.  ...Are all the Ushiromiya family heads guys like this?"

"If you were to write down the unprecedented feats of Ushiromiya Kinzo, ......you would probably have an uproarious tale longer than all the grimoires in the study put together.  It seems the tale of the next head will be worth writing down as well.  In fact, it already is being written.  It's already a very, very long tale.  ......Pu ku ku ku."
The demons giggled on top of the roof, holding umbrellas.
Then, they quietly looked down over the two in the courtyard.

"Hah, hahhahhahahahahahaha.........You're......not bad at all......"
"I guess all your games've toughened me up."

In shock, Beato.....actually praised Battler as he held her in his arms.

Battler laughed in his usual carefree way......
".........Th, ......this is........., impossible...impossible!!"
Erika looked down from the window and clenched her teeth, still clutching at her head.
Still holding Beato in his arms, Battler grinned back.

"Erika."
"......Wh, ...what is it...?"

"I'm not giving the riddle of the Golden Witch up to you.  I'll solve it.  ......That riddle belongs to the two of us.  Right, Beato?"

"Y, ......yes...!  My riddle is...yo......yo......"
"Yo?"

When Battler laughed evilly, Beato's face turned uncharacteristically red, but even so, she spoke while laughing loudly.

"My riddle is...yo......yours...
...yours alone...!!  Ushiromiya Battler!  I won't let anyone else solve it...!!"
"Heheh, listen to her, saying something like that...!!"
Battler snorted, amused that Beato had said something so unlike her.
And, still holding Beato in his arms, he spun around in a kind of waltz.

The falling gems of rain celebrated their overcoming of this trial......
".........He jumped down from the third story...?  ......And he's alright...?  He jumped down......and escaped from the closed room...?  Th, this is ridiculous......This isn't reasoning.........it's insane!!"
If Battler had at least been seriously injured and writhing in the mud, ......Erika might still have had some ground to stand on.
She might have been able to claim that Kinzo couldn't have jumped down with his old body and gotten away unscathed.

......However, Battler stood calmly in the courtyard, looking up at Erika with the dignity of the victor.
"Everyone, I, ...I'll ask one more time.  ......This is...impossible, right?  There's no way a human could jump down from a third story and land unharmed...!!  Isn't that right, everyone...?!  Much less Kinzo-san jumping down from the third floor at his age!!  This isn't reasoning!!"
Erika tried to get everyone's agreement and somehow turn things around, ......but their responses were no different from how they had been a short while ago.

"No, it would be possible for Kinzo-san."
"I wouldn't put it past Father."

"This is Father we're talking about......"
"There're plenty of crazy stories about that man.  Somethin' like this wouldn't surprise me at all."

"Wh, ......what.........?!!  I, ...is there something wrong in your heads, in your minds, people?!?!"

"At any rate, ......it looks like your closed room argument wasn't perfect."

"Ah, ......gggrrrrrrrrggh...!!"
Not only the servants, but the family members also agreed.
They all agreed that there was nothing strange about Kinzo jumping down from a third floor window.

J, just who in the world...is this Ushiromiya Kinzo person...?!!

"Well, I'll give you 60 points...  Kinzo would have done it with a bit more flash in his younger days.  It needs some more tweaking."
"Oh, and how much should it be tweaked?"

"W, well...  Umm, ......h, he might have jumped down with me in h, his arms!"
"Got it.  Next time, I'll jump down with you in my arms."

"I, ......if you think you can, just try and do it..."

Beato's voice grew very faint, and she gulped.
Then, her body suddenly became a group of gold butterflies and crumbled away.
It was because many people had rushed up to the window, and she was being bathed with gazes filled with the anti-magic toxin.
Beato's body became invisible to them and melted into the air...

So to their eyes, it appeared that Battler was standing all alone out in the courtyard...

"Battleeeeeeeeer!!  You okaaaaaaaaay?!!"
"I, it looks like he's alright...!  Thank goodness!"
"......I have LOST.........In that case, for the benefit of those people in the study as well, ......deliver the final blow to ME.  Use your final blue truth to show how Kinzo escaped from the closed room of that STUDY."
There was no pain in Dlanor's expression.

...Pleasure and pain never showed up on her face in the first place.
However, she used her long sword as a crutch as she painfully rose to her feet, so it was easy to tell that she had taken heavy damage.

And despite her lack of an expression, you could tell that this was a loss she could accept.

Battler and Dlanor turned to face each other.

"Here I go."
"Yes, COME.  ............"

As though readying herself, Dlanor quietly closed her eyes, but she still stood tall and maintained her air of dignity.
"This is my blue truth."
The blue power gathered.
......Battler slowly approached Dlanor.

Then, he faced the rainy sky and yelled out the blue truth.
"Ushiromiya Kinzo escaped from the study through the window when Natsuhi oba-san couldn't see him.  Natsuhi oba-san didn't notice and locked the window.  This way, Natsuhi oba-san saw Grandfather go to bed, and Grandfather was able to escape from the study without contradicting the lock of the window or the door sealed by the receipt.  I have just demonstrated that it was physically possible for him to escape.  Therefore, this battle is over!!"
The blue wedge flashed through the courtyard along with a blue bolt of lightning, and roared down towards Dlanor's forehead as she stared up at the sky.
"............ah."

".........Beato's game isn't easy.  It's even doubtful whether the fallbacks of the mystery genre even work here.  Your swordsmanship isn't bad, but you should be a bit more flexible in your thinking."

......A massive blue wedge which looked like a pillar......was above Dlanor's forehead......and had stopped with its tip just slightly touching her.

It didn't run her through.
......It made no mark larger than being poked with a pencil.
When Battler snapped his fingers, the blue wedge shattered and became a shower of translucent gems, .........no, drops of rain that poured down over the courtyard.

Dlanor sat down in an absent sort of way...
Amidst the thunder and rain, the successor to the Ushiromiya family faced the people staring down from the study and......spread his arms wide...
".........Welcome to Beato's and my game.  Welcome, Furudo Erika......!"

"Ahhaha, ...............Ahhahhahhahha, kahhahhahhahhahha...!!  I like it, Ushiromiya Battler...!  <Good>, truly <good>...!!  Ahhahhahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha...!!  I'll chew it to bits, this riddle of the witch...!!  All the way deep into its guts while it's still alive!!  Ahhahhahhahhahhahahahahehyahhahahahha!!"

Battler and Beato both looked calmly up at Erika, who couldn't contain that evil laugh......
"Ohhohohohohohohoho, ooohohohohohohohohyahhyaaaahhh!!  Ah, this is good stuff!!  Erika, that was so laaaame, ehihhahhahahahahahahahaha!!"
"G......gah.........  L, Lady Bernkastel.........M, my apolo...gies......"

"That face of yours.  ......It's so incredibly laughable that I'd like to smash it and put a frame around it.  *giggle*giggle*giggle*giggle*, my double is so...pathetic, pathetic, lame, lame, heheheheheheheehehehehihhhihihihihihhihahahyhahahahahahaha!!"
Bathed in the sneers of Bernkastel, the being who was like a mother to her, ......Erika was so ashamed that it looked as though she'd chew her lower lip to pieces...
"......This......resentment...will definitely.........definitely.........  Gwaaaaaaahhh......!!  Ushiromiya Battler.........Beatrice............Ushiromiya............Natsuhiiiiiiiiiii........iihhihihihihihihihihi...!!  Hihyahhahahahahahahaahahaaah!!"

"This riddle is ours.  ......I won't let anyone get in the way...!!  Beatrice!!"
"Y, ......yes!"

Reasoning and Inspection

Sun, Oct 5 1986 11:00AM`
In the Golden Land, the quiet rain......just kept on falling.

In the arbor......sat the sad witch whose eyes had lost their glint......and Battler.
Virgilia could also be seen there.
......She sat next to Beato, knitting quietly.
Lambdadelta's game had passed the climax of the first twilight, and they were taking a short break.
Gazing out at the golden rose garden soaked with rain, ......Battler thought back on the present, what was to come, and what had happened so far......

To Battler, thinking was itself a battle.

Even with the game stopped and Beato unable to speak, ......he could still keep on fighting.

......Virgilia suddenly stopped her knitting.
Battler noticed it too.

......Because, though none should have been able to visit this rose garden, she had noticed a silhouette approaching.

".........That's unusual.  Not many people can reach this place."
"It's her............"
That silhouette, ......which walked amidst the quietly falling rain without so much as an umbrella, .........was Dlanor.

"......That was a spectacular garden MAZE.  A very nice way to enjoy the ROSES."
"Why.........are you here?"

"It's been some time, <Mrs> Beatrice.  ...No wait, now it's <Mrs> Virgilia, is it NOT?"

"Long time no see, Dlanor.  ......Come over here.  We aren't ones to leave a guest out in the rain."
".................."

"Don't worry.  She hasn't come to fight."
"......Do you know her?"

"She's one of my old friends from heaven.  ......This really takes me back."
"That it DOES.  <Mrs> Virgilia possesses a deep knowledge in Heavenly STUDIES.  I have often argued with her over INTERPRETATIONS."

"Ho ho ho...  My many intellectual adventures with you were quite enjoyable.  I'd like to do it again sometime."
"Yes.  Let's do it again SOMETIME.  I'd love to fight with you AGAIN."

They used the word 'fight', but it didn't sound like they meant anything unpleasant by it.
It sounded like something old chess rivals would say to each other.
Unlike Beato, it seems that Virgilia has always acted properly and courteously, so she had many friends in various other worlds, including both heaven and the demon world.

Surprisingly, Dlanor was one of them......
Dlanor, who had crossed swords with 'me' just a short while ago, ducked her head as though taking shelter from a sudden rain, and sat in the seat Virgilia pointed out, like a guest.

"......Is there any type of black tea you would prefer?"
"ANYTHING.  ......Any tea you make is SUPERB."

"Then how about some Darjeeling?  ......Battler, Beato, would you like some more?"

"......Yeah.  Beato and I would like a refill.  ......Right?"
".................."

As usual, Beato didn't answer, ......but if you quietly gave her a cup, she would sip it from time to time.

There was still some black tea left in that cup, but it had already chilled.
So Battler asked for a refill for Beato as well...
"......I have heard the RUMORS.  ......How pitiable that Beatrice, the Endless Witch famous for her cruelty, has been reduced to THIS."

"She's no longer participating in the game.  ......Lambdadelta is the one controlling the Beato that's on the game board."

"I KNOW.  ......However, she is the original master of this WORLD.  And you are the proper guest, invited by that MASTER.  That is why I have come to pay my RESPECTS."

On the game board, Beato and I met Dlanor.

But those were the game pieces of those witches.
They weren't Beato and me ourselves.

"Is that why you went out of your way to greet Battler-kun and Beato here...?  ...I see you're as conscientious as always."

"That is my way of doing THINGS.  .........Greetings, <Mister> Battler.  I am Dlanor A. Knox.  ...We play opposing roles, but it is a pleasure to meet YOU."

"......Sure.  I'm Ushiromiya Battler.  Pleased to meet you."

"Greetings, <Miss> Beatrice.  I am Dlanor A. Knox."

".................."

"......Beato.  She's saying hi.  ............"
".................."

"..................She says 'welcome'."
"Thank you very MUCH. <Miss> Beatrice."

The witch and the Inquisitor of Heresy whose job it was to hunt witches greeted each other around a tea table surrounded by the aroma of black tea.
......It was a strange sight.
Virgilia made gold butterflies sprout from the palms of her hands and transformed them into a teapot and a can of tea leaves.
......A witch-like tea set.

She was a witch, so it wasn't an incredibly bizarre scene.
......Though I was a bit concerned about whether Dlanor, an Inquisitor of Heresy, could watch such a spectacle.

"......Do not WORRY.  I am not so boorish as to complain about how my tea is SERVED."
"Even though the tea's being made with magic...?"

"......There is a tea set hiding in the shadows, and <Mrs> Virgilia is making us tea with it in SECRET.  We interpret and/or judge that it was 'made with MAGIC', and it is written as such in the TALE.  ......That interpretation is allowed by Knox's 9th."
"Oh my...  I do believe the interpretation of the 9th is such a delicate problem that it's viewed as a taboo, even in the Great Court......  Even though it's just a personal opinion, if it became known that the Head Inquisitor of Heresy said such a thing, you might be sacked."

"No matter how I might interpret it, there is nothing false about the way your tea TASTES.  Therefore, I do not worry about how it was PREPARED."
"............Aha..."

Though she looked cold, .....she was a surprisingly tactful person.

......If Dlanor were to deny that the black tea had been prepared with magic, this magic would surely be crushed in a instant.

However, since the possibility had been presented that a tea set existed and had been used to make the tea normally, the fact that Virgilia had made tea was, in the end, undisputed.

"Magic that hides the result in darkness is EVIL.  I will not permit IT.  However, magic that governs the process is not necessarily EVIL.  My foe is evil itself, not MAGIC."

"I see.  ......The important thing is that you're being welcomed with some tea, so it's just common courtesy to avoid complaining about how it was made."
......That's right.
It's common courtesy to be grateful for tea that someone makes for you.

There's nothing elegant about pushing your way into the kitchen and poking around through the tea-making process.
"You don't invite your guests into the kitchen.  And when you set the table, you should adorn it beautifully in the spirit of hospitality.  ......Here you go.  It's hot."

"Thank YOU.  I would like some sugar and MILK."
"*giggle*.  You still can't drink it straight?"

"I'm a KID.  It must be SWEET."
".........So then......is magic...a gentle......lie?"
"The word 'lie' makes it sound bad.  The word 'embellishment' is probably more fitting."

"When giving a child candy, you can take a crumpled up one out of your pocket, or use a wonderful bit of sleight of hand to take the candy OUT.  The impression you give with each method varies GREATLY."

"That's because it's cooler to take it out with a little magic trick."
"WRONG.  It is significant because it embellishes the result--giving them the candy--by making it even more beautiful and FUN."

"......Think of when you give Maria-chan a candy.  There's a huge difference between taking it out of your pocket to give to her and slipping it into her pocket and saying a fairy gave it to her for being such a good girl."

"In my opinion, it would be boorish to then question everyone about their alibis and pinpoint who it was that slipped it into her POCKET.  The important thing is the result: that the girl received the candy and REJOICED.  And it is significant that it was embellished in a way that made her REJOICE."

"......That's surprising.  When you showed up, I got the feeling you'd deny anything that went by the name of magic."
"That is how I act in my capacity as an Inquisitor of Heresy.  It is my JOB.  However, when I am away from my job, I don't enjoy being quite so cold-HEARTED."

"So, this is what they call leaving your personal feelings aside when on duty?  ......You do it well."

"As an Inquisitor of Heresy, hunting witches is my JOB.  ......However, I personally find witches pitiable.  Despite this, I carry out judgment mercilessly as an INQUISITOR."

"......In the end, that doesn't change the fact that I sentence witches to DEATH.  ......In the end, my pity is nothing more than a useless EMBELLISHMENT.  Whether I have it or not, nothing CHANGES.  So, it would be better if I DIDN'T......"
".........That's not true.  Even if the ends are the same, there's a big difference depending on your heart."
"......Your mother's cookies must have been more delicious than those made by a good pastry shop.  ...That's because you know that they were made with heart."

"That's right.  .........Even if the result appears to be the same, ......there's a huge difference between whether or not it had a little thing called sincerity..."

"Is that SO......?  .........Whether I have a heart or not is completely MEANINGLESS."

Dlanor's gaze fell to her cup, a little sadly...

"That's not true."
"............"

"After hearing all that, I've changed the way I look at you.  ......So I'm certain your heart isn't something meaningless."
Virgilia was a little surprised to hear the words she should have said coming from Battler's mouth.
After all, understanding the 'heart' is the first step towards finding the essence of magic.

By now, ......perhaps Battler has unconsciously started to understand, bit by bit, ...the essence of Beato, the essence of witches...and the very first essence of all, ......magic.
Whether you want to become a witch or vanquish them...
......The very first step is learning about magic.

Virgilia was sure that she felt this faint change within Battler...

"......As for that last fight, thank you very MUCH.  I am grateful for the mercy you showed me at the very END."
"That 'me' wasn't me.  ......Lambdadelta was controlling him."

I joined in on the 5th game partway through.
I still haven't participated at 'this point in time'.

So until I do join in, the piece 'me' is probably being controlled by Bernkastel or Lambdadelta.

"......Just what kind of whim are they working off?  Trying to make it look all cool...  They made me look like some kind of knight coming to save Beato."
"Lady Lambdadelta wants both witches and humans to be in balance, resulting in a draw.  .........With Erika's appearance, the scales tipped strongly in the favor of the human side, so she manipulated the tale in a way that supports Beato."

"I am aware of that.  However, pieces cannot do things that are impossible for THEM.  And they specialize in actions appropriate to their original PERSONALITY.  ......Therefore, that was certainly something that you......that Battler was capable OF.  That is why I am grateful to YOU."

"......It feels a bit weird to be praised when I didn't actually do anything.  ......After the game continues a bit more, I'll probably regain control of my piece.  Not sure I'll be able to go easy on you then."

"It's the same with ME.  The next time we cross swords, I won't hold BACK."

"Bring it on.  I'll be your opponent.  Come at me with all you've got."
"I PROMISE.  With everything I've GOT."

......Dlanor.

I'd thought she was an emotionless killer doll without a heart, ...but maybe she actually is pretty approachable.

......Though of course, neither of us will show any mercy when fighting over the game board.
For a while, we gazed at the rain-drenched rose garden as we quietly enjoyed our tea.
".........There is one thing I must apologize FOR."

With a sudden sigh, Dlanor muttered something.
"What is it?  ......If it's about that fight a short while ago, it's already over.  We both fought with everything we had.  The outcome was just luck of the draw."

"No, it wasn't luck of the DRAW.  ...I couldn't just let it be, so I came here to APOLOGIZE."
"......What are you talking about...?"
".....................You're saying you threw the match, aren't you?"

Virgilia spoke softly, without hesitating in her knitting.

".........YES.  ......<Mister> Battler."
"That <Mister> really hurts.  Just Battler is fine."
"Battler.  ......I APOLOGIZE.  We did not give it everything we HAD."
".........I know.  ......'Kinzo is dead at the starting time for all games'.  Beato has already spoken that truth.  ......In that battle, Battler-kun could only have achieved a draw at best.  He most certainly had no chance at all of winning."
"......You're right.  ......If you just say that, the whole fight's already over.  ......Why didn't you use that red?  Don't tell me it was because of a stalemate or something like that."

"Knox's 2nd.  It is forbidden for supernatural agencies to be employed as a detective TECHNIQUE.  We cannot use that red truth DIRECTLY.  However, I gave Cornelia, who was protecting the window, the red truth that 'the window was never opened after it started RAINING'."

"Boom.  ...That's checkmate.  .........Why didn't that girl use that trump card...?"
"............ah!!  Th, this is...............agh.  A, allow me to speak...!  There is no way to defeat my red!  Know that your wish will not be granted...!!"
Though she had fought calmly up until that point, ......she quickly got flustered when I dashed forwards.
I'd thought that she had been frightened by my sudden attack, ......but the truth was different.

Even though she held a trump card which could completely repel me, .........she suddenly became unable to use it, and hesitated.
"I don't UNDERSTAND.  All of a sudden, in that instant, use of that trump card became FORBIDDEN.  Once we lost that, your victory was GUARANTEED."

".........The Game Master, Lady Lambdadelta, probably interfered."
"That bastard............So in the end, that whole fight was a farce in the palm of Lambdadelta's hand.  She made 'us' play out that entire act according to her script."

"I do not like IT.  However, since you told me to fight with everything I had, I had no choice but to let you KNOW.  ......Please forgive ME."

"Still, even though you'd lost your trump card, you kept on fighting all-out with your remaining cards.  I don't believe anyone could find fault with what you did."
"......That's right.  ......On the contrary, you should be mad at Lambdadelta for butting in."
"'Kinzo doesn't exist' should already be an established FACT.  Lady Lambdadelta and Lady Bernkastel should know this WELL.  And yet, they are both leaving room for Kinzo to exist as they continue in this GAME.  ......It's almost as though the two are conspiring to prevent Kinzo's existence from being DENIED."

"In other words, they intentionally let 'Grandfather' escape...?"
"YES.  They must be after SOMETHING."

"............That is a bit odd.  ...Lady Lambdadelta and Lady Bernkastel should always be in opposition unless the witch side is in a superior position.  ......It's hard to imagine that those two are conspiring together at a time like this..."

"I can't help but think that they have some sort of wicked GOAL.  I came here because I wanted you to know THAT."
"......So, ...you came all the way here to tell us something like that?"

"YES.  ......Which means that my business here is FINISHED.  I think I will leave NOW.  The game will probably resume SHORTLY.  I must aid Erika during the rest of this GAME."
Dlanor gulped down the last of her black tea and stood up.
"Next is the battle of the second TWILIGHT.  At that point, I will once again raise my merciless long SWORD.  ......So I ask the same of you, Battler.  Show no mercy towards ME."
"......I understand.  ...If I went easy on you, I'd have my own head smashed in."

"On the game board, I am nothing more than Lady Bernkastel's piece and Furudo Erika's SUBORDINATE.  In the future, we will probably stand across from each other as opponents many TIMES.  ......However, my heart is always NEUTRAL.  ......No, ......please forget THAT.  ......That has nothing to do with the relationship between the two of us."

"It does.  ......There's no doubt you're a fearsome opponent, but you don't piss me off anymore.  Though that Erika totally pisses me off."

"GOOD.  Furudo Erika also pisses me OFF."
"Heh, hahahahaha."

Dlanor's expression finally softened slightly.
......At the very last moment, it felt as though we finally understood each other.

"Furudo Erika is a very evil CREATURE.  ......She's lost face from her recent defeat and is burning with a desire for REVENGE.  Even I don't know what she is PLANNING.  However, it can't be anything GOOD.  Please take CARE."

"......Just knowing she's Bernkastel's piece means I can't let my guard down."
Dlanor nodded as though satisfied, left the eaves of the arbor and walked out into the rain.
"......Who would have thought that I would work as a subordinate to such EVIL............Why was I called to this WORLD?"

Dlanor let out a small sigh.
'Pieces' can do nothing except fulfill the function they have been given.
And that function is given to them by the one who controls them.

......She probably can't disobey 'her' own player, Bernkastel.
"............Lady Bernkastel may be the one who called you here.  However, the one who let you into this world is Beato.  ......If this child didn't wish it, you would never have been able to make it through the garden maze and arrive here.  ......Right, ...Beato......?"
".................."

"..................<Miss> Beatrice.  What is it that you want from ME?  ......I do hope that I can help you in some way, though I may be a subordinate of EVIL..."

She spoke to Beato......but of course, there was no response.
After bowing once more in thanks for the black tea, ......Dlanor disappeared off into the rainy rose garden......

"So, no one can reach this Golden Land if Beato doesn't want them to?"
"Yes.  ......This child is the one who called Dlanor here."

".................."
".........So, ......Beato called her here so I could meet with her..."
......However, I know of a person who reached this place despite Beato's wishes.
It's Ange.

...In the last game, Ange reached this place by herself......even though she was an uninvited guest.

Was that......also something......Beato wished for......?

"I am here, you are here.  Beato is here.  Dlanor was invited here.  ......All of these things happened because this child wanted them to.  ......Even the bit of time you and Dlanor spent together drinking tea."

".................."
"......Beato.  What was I.........supposed to learn from her......?  Does it have something to do with finding your heart......and letting you sleep peacefully......?"

Dlanor A. Knox.

The natural enemy of witches.
Inquisitor of Heresy.
......A vanguard of mystery...who denies fantasy.

Is she here to help......by gouging out your heart......and choking the life out of you.........?
.....................

"Please stand.  On one leg."
"............"

Cornelia slowly got up, and, as she had been ordered, stood on one leg.

Her hands were clasped behind her back.
...Because she had been ordered to do so.

Then, with a *thump*, Erika pushed her from behind with both hands.
Cornelia landed on the floor face first with a *thud*.

"Please stand.  On one leg."
"............"

Cornelia rose shakily.
Then, once again, she stood on one leg as she had been ordered.

She had been ordered not to hold her ground.

So she had fallen on her face over and over again.

She had barely managed to protect her nose, but after smashing against the floor so many times, her face was bright red.

She wasn't shedding any tears.
No, she couldn't shed them.
Because she was forbidden to do even that......

"Please stand.  On one leg."
"............"
*thump* *thud*.
"Please stand.  On one leg."
*thump* *thud*.*thump* *thud*.*thump*............*thud*.
Erika repeated this falling torture over and over again.
At times like this, Erika hated counting things.
So she decided that, once she ran out of fingers to count the number of times, she would just repeat it until she lost interest.

However, Erika's main redeeming feature was that she never lost interest in anything, so the torture continued on without end......
......Erika didn't know why Cornelia had been unable to fully protect the window.

So the whole time since then, ......she had placed all the blame of their loss on her.
"......Please, allow me to speak.  Forgive Cornelia.  She has already done enough in repentance..."

"Oh, is that true?  Then please take her place from now on."
"G, ......Gertrude has done nothing wrong......"

"Gertrude.  .........Please stand.  On one leg.  Clasp your hands behind you."
"............"
Gertrude followed the order......and clasped her hands behind her back, standing on one leg.

"You mustn't resist or hold your ground.  You are not permitted to bend your knees.  You are not permitted to shed any tears.  Got it?"
".........As you wish......"

"Gertrude............"

Erika made a show of walking behind Gertrude.
She was even enjoying making her wonder when she'd push......
At that time, Gertrude and Cornelia burst in a bright light and disappeared.
......Because Dlanor, who must have returned at some point, had sent them back to the heavens for the time being.
Erika, who'd had her fun spoiled, directed a bluntly malicious expression at Dlanor...

"<Miss> Erika.  I will bear any fault of my subordinate as her SUPERIOR.  I ask that you let her GO."

".........<No, thank you>.  Punishment only works because it causes pain.  ......There's nothing interesting about an unfeeling doll girl that I can't leave a single injury on."

Erika slowly grabbed hold of the back of Dlanor's hair, tugging unrelentingly.
Dlanor's neck tilted upwards, creaking.

"......You may not cause a physical injury, but you do INJURE."

"Hmph.  As if you had a heart which could be injured.  You lowly witch-hunting murder doll.  .........Are you trying to talk back to me?  Me, the envoy and double of the great Lady Bernkastel...?!"
".........NO."

"I got scolded by Lady Bernkastel because you guys are useless...!!  Please, never fail so lamely again...!  Un-der-sta-nd...?!"

The hair she had grabbed was stretched back as far as it would go, along with more creaking...

This didn't cause Dlanor any physical pain, but she could clearly feel Erika's ill will.

"............My APOLOGIES.  Forgive ME."

"Filth."
With a sound like a bowstring being cut, several of Dlanor's hairs were pulled out.

Then, Erika waved her hand about as though trying to brush off something dirty that had gotten stuck to it.

"Well, that's alright.  I'm done.  .........My anger has finally settled down, and my little gray cells are tingling again.  ......Please call those two useless people back and reconstruct the crime scene.  Let's start the reasoning game."

"UNDERSTOOD.  .........Gertrude, Cornelia."
""As you wish.""

The two of them reappeared behind Dlanor and reconstructed the crime scene for Erika, the one who had just been tormenting them...
"......Kinzo disappearing was nothing more than an added bonus for the first twilight.  Okay, let's start investigating the first twilight.  ......But before that.  Did you realize that we were actually given a riddle before the murder case even occurred?"

"YES.  It's the letter with the mark of the One-winged Eagle, which appeared at 24:00 last night along with a knock by some PERSON."
"That's right.  For that instant, the tale creates the illusion that it was impossible for any human, making it seem like an unknown witch exists.  ......Let's start by crushing this Illusion of the Witch.  We'll first check the situation in the dining hall last night when the letter was delivered."

"UNDERSTOOD.  Gertrude, Cornelia.  Reconstruct last night's family conference in the dining hall."
""As you wish.""

The family conference last night was held with the adult relatives and Battler.

And partway through, the servants had arrived to serve tea.

"Let's check everyone's location at the instant the letter arrived.  How did that go, again?"

"Please, allow me to speak.  Before the family conference, Erika, George, Jessica, Maria, Nanjo, Gohda, and Kumasawa left the mansion and moved to the guesthouse."
"Please, allow me to speak.  Of those who remain, only Krauss, Natsuhi, and Genji were in the second floor corridor, while all others were in the dining hall."
"Because the family conference was proceeding and the mansion was entirely locked, all other humans were unable to enter the MANSION."

"Aha.  That would mean no one inside the mansion could have knocked and placed the letter there, right?  Eheheheh."
"YES.  The witch side will probably say that this person is the one who wrote the letter...the witch, Beatrice."

"Ridiculous.  A stupid trick.  .........There's no guarantee that the letter was placed there at exactly 24:00.  It's only sensible to consider that it might have been placed there earlier."

"Just a few minutes before the letter was discovered, Shannon and Kanon came in to serve TEA.  When they entered, multiple witnesses confirmed that there was nothing suspicious like a letter in the hallway."

"Maybe one of those not in the parlor: Krauss, Natsuhi or Genji, simply saw their chance right after that and placed the letter there.  No wait, it should be possible for the people who supposedly went to the guesthouse too."

"We've heard that the mansion was locked and that no one outside could get in, but if someone pretended to have gone to the guesthouse and instead hid inside the mansion, it's perfectly possible that they could've placed the letter there."
"Allow me to speak.  Blue truth, effective."

"In that case, the problem is the 'KNOCK'.  Unlike the letter, someone would have to exist there at the instant of the KNOCK."

"I see, so this is the so-called proof that a person who shouldn't be there, a witch, existed?  This is completely ridiculous.  Do they think I, Furudo Erika, would surrender to something like that?  *giggle*giggle*, ahhahaha!"

"First off, we can doubt whether the knock was even something hitting the door to the dining hall at all.  For example, there may be a certain pillar on the second floor which, because of how the mansion is constructed, makes a noise when struck which is transmitted down the pillar and which sounds just like a knock on the door to people in the dining hall."

"Or they could have misheard some random sound to be a knock and all misconstrued it in the same way.  Or the recorded sound of a knock could have been stealthily replayed from a tape, which might have been carefully set up to go off at exactly that time."

"Either way, I can think of many ways to make them hear a knock even if no one was on the other side of the door...!  How is that?  My master!  How is my reasoning...?!!"
"........That's what she says...what do you think?"
"Well, it looks like your cute piece gave it her all to think up these blue truths, so I guess I'll be nice and give out a few red truths♪"
I guess I'll start with the letter.

There was a knock when the bell of the large clock rang out 24:00.
And when the door was opened, there lay a letter in an envelope bearing the One-winged Eagle.

It's so obvious to assume that the people who weren't in the parlor secretly placed the letter there, right?
Krauss, Natsuhi and Genji did not even touch that letter!
"......Oho?  Then, when Shannon and Kanon came in to serve tea, who was the last human to enter the dining hall...?  Let's say it was Kanon.  Wouldn't it be easy if Kanon, the last person in, secretly dropped the letter there when he closed the door?"

"Not a single person in the dining hall...no, there's a simpler way to say it.  Among all those inside the mansion at 24:00, not a single person placed that letter in the corridor."

"So, you can't say that no one touched it?"
"Of course.  They 'touched it when they picked it up'.  I couldn't say that none of them touched it."

"I see.  Then let's interpret it this way: Someone who existed outside of the mansion at 24:00 placed a letter somewhere other than the hallway beforehand.  Then, it was moved by some means and ended up 'placed in the hallway'."
"Just as an example, let's say it was stuck to the bottom of the serving cart the servants were pushing.  It was simply glued there in a way that would make it come unstuck after a certain amount of time.  When it eventually fell off, it became 'the letter left behind by a witch' who shouldn't have existed.  In other words, this is a classic trick where the true sender gives themselves an alibi by making the letter appear at a different time."

"Allow me to speak.  Blue truth, effective."

"In other words, the fact that it landed just outside the dining hall door was just the culprit's good luck.  At worst, it might have happened in the kitchen, the corridor, or even inside the dining hall."

"......Oh, <good>!  If it had happened inside the dining hall, that would have been even more wonderful.  Within everyone's sight, a letter would suddenly appear on the floor.  And that wouldn't even violate a red truth saying 'no one in the closed room of the dining hall touched the letter unexpectedly'!"

"Well DONE.  If the letter was stuck to the bottom of the serving cart, then anyone could be the CULPRIT."

"That might work okay regarding the letter.  However, will that same type of argument apply to the knock as well?  Let's try this again, shall we?"
".........Please, go ahead."

"Neither Krauss nor Natsuhi nor Genji knocked!"

"This isn't the limited meaning of them knocking on the door, okay?  It means they didn't use a pillar to transmit the sound or push the play button on a cassette tape they'd recorded or create that knock sound by any means!  Of course, this applies to direct, indirect, intentional, coincidental, and unintentional means!"

"This wedge has already been knocked in, but I'll repeat it.  Maybe someone other than Krauss, Natsuhi, or Genji made that knock, or else a sound that could be misidenti