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Episode 6. Dawn of the Golden Witch

A beautiful glow shone in from the skylight over the grand cathedral.

The place was somehow different from the way it had been during the witches' trial.  The decorations had changed.
The several pleasantly sparkling white ribbons were paper-thin, but they hung beautifully in the air.
Flowers were arranged all over in a way that would make any place look cheerful.
It was like how a single drop of impure water could spoil an entire cask of wine.

Just the presence of the flowers, the ribbons, and the red carpet that ran down the center of the room...made it hard to believe that this was the same place Ushiromiya Natsuhi had been falsely accused of a crime...
It had truly become......a wedding chapel.

"Love is generous, love is merciful!"
"Love does not envy, it does not boast!"

These words, spoken by two demons who seemed to be in charge of this gathering, were part of a ceremony for making an oath of love before the eyes of God.

Of course, in this wedding celebrated by demons, there was no priest in sight.
Instead, there stood the witch who controls miracles.
"In sickness and in health.  ......Yeah, a wife's true job is to be supportive in times of sickness.  Isn't that right, Erika?"

"......Yes.  My master......"
"That looks good on you.  What a fitting outfit for the one who has conquered the bridegroom.  *giggle*giggle*giggle*."
"Ehehehehehehehehehe.  I'm honored, my master."
The bride standing on the carpeted path...was Furudo Erika.  ......The groom's face couldn't be seen.
The bride's outfit was, without a doubt, a pure-white wedding dress.

The bride's veil represented both the white of God's blessings...and the white of the demons' cruelty.
A great many goat nobles, witches, and demons were gathered for this wedding.

If only their heads hadn't been those of goats, it would probably have seemed to be a very refined crowd worthy of this great cathedral...

"......I'd expect no less of you, Bern.  Every single thing you come up with is always so screwed up."
"A wife to support her ailing husband.  ......Isn't that wonderful?  It suits you, Erika."

"......And......congratulations to you too, ......Mr. Groom."
At that point, ......Bernkastel stared straight into the groom's eyes.
The groom......didn't answer.

His eyes were gray.
......His lips would mutter something from time to time, but no one could tell if the words meant anything.

"Hey, ......are you listening・・・・・・・?  All of you?"
She spoke to the groom in the plural.
......Of course, there was only one groom.

And, of course, the gray-eyed groom didn't answer...
"*giggle*giggle*giggle*.  He might be able to hear you, but he can't answer, right?  ......Don't worry, okay, Battler-san?"
"............Nn...............gah......"
"I'll take everything of yours, ......and trample all over it......  *giggle*giggle*giggle*!!"
Ehhahahahahahahaahahahahahaahahahahaha...!!
The Witch of Miracles sneered with an evil smile that would make even demons want to avert their gaze.
Even that sneer......provoked no response......from Battler's dim eyes.

"People live for the sake of love!  Therefore, today, you have fulfilled the purpose of your lives."
"Oh, how great is the power to live, the power of love...!  I pray that the brightness of this day blesses these two for all time!"
"......Just give it a rest already, you demons.  What comes next?"

"The couple will now make an oath of eternal love."
"After that, they will exchange rings...!"
On Battler's hand......was a ring bearing the seal of the One-winged Eagle, proof that he was the territory lord of this world.

And on Erika's finger was a diamond ring that could not be shattered by any miracle.
Diamonds signify an 'eternal bond'.

However, in Greek, the word diamond simply means 'unbreakable'.
Erika wasn't vowing to love Battler forever.
She just wanted to take Battler as her property for all eternity.

This wedding was being performed......for the sole purpose of humiliating Battler.
"......Don't worry.  I won't love you forever.  After all, the point of this ceremony is to make you submit to me.  ...Your heart will be shut inside an inescapable closed room forever......where I, Furudo Erika, the detective and the Witch of Truth, will command it.  Your position as territory lord and your ring will become mine..."
"............Can't......get..."
"......Hmm?  What was that?"
"........Nn......gah...............Can't......get out......"

"Hmph, ...ha, ......hahahahahahahahaha...!  Yeah, I'll bet you can't get out of that closed room.  After all, you made that closed room yourself.  You will suffer in that room for all eternity.  I'll remain by your side as your wife for eternity......and get to enjoy that look of anguish on your face all by myself.  *giggle*giggle*, ahhahahahahahahaha...!!  I'll defile you forever.  ......Ushiromiya Battleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeer!!!"
......All that could be heard was the sound of the wind.

A sound of misfortune, strong enough to bring sadness and unease to those who heard it.
Slowly, ......I came back to my senses.

I finally regained consciousness on top of a bed with a firm mattress...
Where......was this, again...?

I can't remember where this is, ...but I can vaguely recall......that I must not remain here.
The room was dimly lit.

There was a light on, but that just made the darkness and eeriness of the room more apparent.
There were no curtains over the window, but it was too dark outside to see anything beyond it.
If I squinted into that pitch-blackness, ......it felt as though I could see the witch of the forest peeking back at me from the darkness, ...and I averted my gaze from the window in fear.
......I can't see or hear it, ......but I get the feeling that if I leave this room, it'll be bright and warm, and someone else will be there for me.

I have to get to where everyone else is right now......
Bad memories from when I was very young began to well up.

Horrible, harsh memories...of when I started dozing off during a family gathering and was put to sleep in some room I didn't know.  I remember waking up there, incredibly lonely and sobbing...
I......must not remain in this room.

Yes, I should get out quickly.
Now that I think about it, I don't want to stay in this room a second longer than I have to.

I'm scared.  It's creepy.  ......Where is everyone?
I want to get out of here right now...
I opened the door, trying to leave the room.
A pleasant glow snuck in through the crack of the door.
......As I'd thought, the corridor was filled with a comforting light.

I couldn't actually hear them, but I could sense that far away, people were enjoying themselves.
......I'm sure everyone's gathered in the room across from this one.
......I've been shut up in this lonely, creepy room......all alone.
I should go, quickly.

As soon as I thought this, a merciless metallic sound rang out, and the door refused to open any further.
.........The chain had been set.

I've always hated chain locks.
You can open a normal lock just by twisting.
......But chain locks are built in an annoying way, and I couldn't work them easily.

...So I've hated them since I was very young.
.........See?  ......Even this chain...is causing me trouble...and I just can't get it undone.
Why is this happening?  I just want to leave this creepy room right away...
Just on the other side of this thin door, everything is bathed in a warm light...
I can't undo it......I just can't undo this chain.
The more desperate I grew, the more that unsettling darkness seemed to be closing in on my back, and the more frightened I became...
......Then, I finally noticed.

There's something......wrong with this chain.

......Yes, there is a chain, ...but this isn't a chain lock.
This is just a chain staked into the door so that it can't open any further...

In other words, it isn't made to be opened.
"Wh, ......what the hell's going on......?  Who'd do something like this, dammit..."
No matter what I did, no matter how much I struggled, I couldn't pull out the stake or undo the chain or break the mechanism.

This door was just a demon's mouth...made to trick me into thinking it would open before crushing my hopes.
Even so, if only I could just open this door somehow, I could get out into that pleasant corridor......  This desire forced me to keep my hand glued to the doorknob.
But it was useless.

Both the chain and the stake were firm, and though they clattered about, there was no chance of them letting the door open any further.

Even though I could see the pleasant hallway through the crack, I had no chance of opening the door any further.
Maybe someone will come if I yell...

Maybe the door can be opened easily from the outside...
When I thought this, ......I tried to call out to someone, ......but it was as though the wind had been knocked out of me.
I could mouth the words 'someone, come here', but no voice left my lips.
What's...going on...?!
Someone, come...  Why can't I cry out...?!
Help me help me help me.

The mere fact that I can't say "help me" out loud is even scarier.
If I turn around, ......the witch gazing into the room from the darkness outside......might be inside the room this time, standing right behind me......I'm frightened...I'm scared I'm scared I'm scared...
Someone help me, someone help me...

I can't get out...I can't get out...

Let me out......of this room......, help me, I'm scared I'm scared I'm scared, let me out let me out let me out, help me help me help me......
"Lady, it sounds like they've arrived."
"Huh?  .........Oh, ........."
Amakusa ran his finger down my cheek.
I awoke in an instant from the doze I had just been in.

I glared at Amakusa for waking me up in such a creepy way, but he just played dumb.
Where......is this?

It feels like the parlor in a house of some well-off person, ......but I have no memory of this place at all.
".................."
Where......is this......?
...And......why am I...?

"Are you still half-asleep, Lady?"
"......Yeah, sorry.  Where are we......?"
"Huh?"

Apparently, he hadn't expected me to forget something like that just because I wasn't fully awake yet.  ......Oddly enough, I agreed.

Why am I in this parlor that I don't recognize?
The sound of the footsteps from the 'they' Amakusa had mentioned had come right up to the opposite side of the door.
I could hear the sound of a conversation.  They were probably women...
Judging by the coffee and snacks laid in front of me, I was the guest here.

In that case, I'd better remember why I came here......or at least who it was I came to visit...
Who am I?  Ushiromiya Ange.
Who is the man standing behind me?

Amakusa Juuza.  The man who used to be my guard long ago.
He's now the bodyguard Okonogi assigned to me.
......In that case, ......this is after Eva oba-san's death......when I've thrown off my pursuers.........on that journey to find out what happened 12 years ago......?
......Really...?

...I do have a memory like this・・・・・・・・, don't I......?
After a knock, the door opened, and the person I must have come here to meet entered with an assistant.
......Oh, wonderful.  ...Even after seeing her face, I can't remember who she is.
"Sorry to have kept you waiting.  This is Hachijo Tohya."

That's a relief.  The assistant introduced her to me first.  ...And, I finally remembered who she was...

'She'?  I was sure it was a 'he'......

"Excuse me, ...but you are...?"
"Yes.  ......I am Hachijo Tohya (八城十八)."

"The magazines talked about your book signing event.  Supposedly, a mysterious male author showed up wearing sunglasses and a mask...  Never thought you'd be a woman......  What's the deal?"

"......That was just a double set up by the editing department.  I was the assistant standing behind him at the book signing."
"Heh, now there's a shock.........I haven't read your works, but I'll bet you're more mysterious than your books are."

"My readers only pretend to read my books.  ......They buy them just based on the name of the author and the brand and think that they've actually read them.  ......No matter what I write in my books, they don't truly read anything.  They just pretend to read so they can look smart and knowledgeable and keep up with the current fad.  ......Am I supposed to expose myself to these people?  Why indulge such trash?"

"......I see.  Looks like......you really are the great Hachijo."

This person really is eccentric...
There's no doubt about it...  This is Hachijo Tohya herself...
Hachijo Tohya is a mystery novelist who's become the center of discussion lately.

It seems her actual books have been highly praised, but it's her mysterious debut that's attracted so much attention towards her lately.
Last year, she somehow managed to win several different awards for exceptional mystery novels offered by multiple large publishing companies, submitting each of her works under a different pen name.

And after that, several highly regarded anonymous works were discovered, one after another, to have been stories she had written in the past under false names, and her popularity soared as she herself became more mysterious than her books.
Despite all of this, the author herself never appeared in public, and everything about her was wrapped in a veil of secrecy.  However, just a few days ago, this author had finally made a public appearance for a book signing, showing up with a mask that covered 'his' face and drawing even more public attention...

......And yet, apparently even that had been a fake.

Given this person's radically unconventional track record, it was hardly a surprise to hear her casually insult her fans like this.

"I know quite a lot about you, too, Ushiromiya Ange-san.  The talk shows have been discussing you for some time now..."
"I'm sure you've heard nothing good."

"Yes.  Nothing good at all.  Apparently, you employ and then fire people on a whim, think anything can be resolved with money, and are an outlaw and a thug."
"Yep, sounds about right.  Heheheh!"

"However.  ......I happen to like intelligent people like you."
"......Is that why you agreed to meet with me?"

"Exactly.  You're the only person who's managed to spot that Itouikukuro Reigonamu is another pen name used by Hachijo Tohya.  That's actually pretty impressive..."

"Itouikukuro Reigonamu.  It was a pretty strange pen name.  However, if you match the Japanese syllables to numbers, you can read it as 11019960576."

11,019,960,576.  This massive number is equal to 18 to the eighth power.

18 to the eighth.
In Japanese, 'tohya no hachijo'.

......That's how you reach Hachijo Tohya...

"Heheh, ......very well done.  I was quite impressed.  In fact, I was so impressed, I decided to let you meet me in person.  ......Welcome to my mansion, child of man."

Her manner of speaking was extremely condescending, but, perhaps because of her elegant manner, it didn't feel particularly irritating.

This person had a sort of majestic grandeur about her which made that style of speech seem almost natural.  ......At least, that's how it felt to me.

......In fact, it felt almost as though this was the manifestation of some noble being, who would have no need to show herself before mere humans under normal circumstances.

Since I'm not particularly a fan of hers, I guess this is proof that her mysterious charisma really is nothing to be laughed at......
However, I didn't come here to talk to Hachijo Tohya, the mystery novelist.

......I'm interested in Itouikukuro Reigonamu, the mysterious web author who only released her works over the Internet...
Around the Japanese parts of the Internet, Itouikukuro is an extremely famous Witch Hunter.
However, she isn't a big opinion leader like Professor Ootsuki.

She was one of those 'message bottle Forgers', who were always the center of vigorous debate...
Message bottle Forgers are, as the name suggests, people who forge and post the contents of riddle-filled message bottles which purport to tell the story of the Rokkenjima incident.

They claim to have discovered a new message bottle and post either a very close counterfeit story or a new theory with their own interpretation of the truth, claiming that it was written by Ushiromiya Maria.
They openly call themselves 'Ushiromiya Maria', write up a new bizarre tale as if they had been there themselves and knew the truth, and send their stories out into the newest sea that mankind has discovered--the Internet--calling them the third or fourth message bottles...
All of the first Forgers were either simple pranksters or crooks trying to swindle collectors.

However, eventually, people who claimed to have solved the riddles of the message bottles' tales and reached the 'truth' started to appear, and they started work creating third and fourth message bottles from Ushiromiya Maria, as though they had moved over to the riddle-teller's side.
Since these people rewrote the tale of the witch with whatever interpretation they wanted, every once in a while, parts of their theory would gain a great amount of support on the net.  Some of these 'creations' began to be so widely trusted that they were believed to contain some grain of truth.

The more rigid Witch Hunters openly despised these people, calling them 'Forgers', 'Counterfeiters', or just 'Witches'.
Though they claimed to have reached the truth, they refused to tell it, and created fake message bottles as though testing everyone else.

It's no surprise that the serious Witch Hunters were very annoyed by these Forgers...
However, there were many people who simply liked to entertain themselves with the occult fantasy of Rokkenjima, and a small number of those accepted these creations as literary works, glad of this expansion to the mysterious tale...

Of all the Forgers, Itouikukuro was the one most highly regarded.
"......End of the Golden Witch.  I've read that one.  ......Seems you love killing off other people's families."
"Is that why you came all this way?  Just to say that...?  I think not, final descendant of the Ushiromiya family."
In her latest forgery, 'End', she killed off seven of my relatives, at least during the actual story.

No, if you count 'Alliance' and 'Banquet', the other forgeries she's made before now, then she's killed off most of my family in horrible ways, over and over again...

Of course I'd want to complain.
However, all of her works are known for being, in both form and level of completion, the closest tales to those written by 'Ushiromiya Maria' herself.
In particular, Itouikukuro's first forgery, 'Banquet of the Golden Witch', managed to show everything, including Ushiromiya Eva's escape to Kuwadorian.  People wondered whether this might be the true story of Rokkenjima, and it even made it onto the talk shows...
So far, all of these tales have been nothing more than electronic text on the web.
......However, people will eventually realize that Itouikukuro is actually Hachijo Tohya.
When that happens, it will become the work of 'that bizarre Hachijo', and no one will think of them as mere fan creations.  ...People will probably start wondering if this might actually be a third message bottle she found and released under the guise of a story she herself wrote.  When that happens, these stories will probably seem even more bizarre and credible...

"......You are cunning, aren't you?"
"Why do you say that?"

"You're doing this to make your forgeries more mysterious and more credible."
"And what do you mean by credible?"

"Once you've gained credibility, your forgeries will rise to the level of truth."
"Rise to the level of truth?  Hmph, how foolish.  Such a thing is unnecessary for my works."

"......Is that because your works are the truth, and not mere forgeries...?"
"Correct.  They are the truth, so there's no need for them to rise into anything."
"You aren't Maria onee-chan.  And you weren't on Rokkenjima on that day.  So how can you be so absurd as to call this the truth?"

"Lady, you're getting a bit too stirred up."
"Shut up.  How can you call this stirred up?"
"*giggle*......"

Ange realized that she'd let her emotions get control over her.
She let out a sigh and shrugged...
"Your reason for coming here.  It wasn't to yell at me for killing your family several times within my forgeries, correct...?"
Hachijo had been smiling at Ange kindly, ......but in a condescending manner, or else, like a mother might watch over a very small child.

Ange realized this and was unable to suppress her irritation.

Apparently, Amakusa could tell that Ange was getting worked up.
He joked around with her for a bit so that they could start the conversation over again from the beginning.

"The thing you came here to hear...  ...It's the 'truth' that I've reached, is it not?"
".........Why are you so sure that you've reached the truth...?"

"Because I've understood all of the tales."
"And I'm asking you why you're so sure about that."

"......Do you think the sun ever revolved around the earth?"

Hachijo suddenly started talking about the Ptolemaic theory.

......Ange was about to tell her not to answer questions with more questions, but she quickly realized what Hachijo meant.
"......Humans used to support the Ptolemaic theory.  However, that theory has been disproved in the modern age.  ......Does this mean that, at the instant the theory was denied, the sun stopped moving and the Earth started revolving around the sun?"

"......Of course not.  The truth doesn't change based on what humans believe."
"It's the same with this case.  If you try to deny my theory, it comes to the same thing."
Several scholars proposed the Copernican theory before Galileo.
......However, it was hard to objectively prove that theory using the scientific techniques available at the time.

However, that didn't change the fact that it was the truth.

'Despite it all, the Earth still revolved around the sun'.
"......So, you're saying the truth is still the truth whether you can prove it or not...?"

"Correct.  In the future, when the full truth finally becomes known, people will look back and realize that I had already discovered it."

Apparently, Ange just couldn't stand Hachijo's attitude.
She kept getting irritated, and every time, Amakusa would joke around until she settled down again.

However, there could be no mistake that Hachijo was a genius and had used her extraordinary intuition to form a most interesting outlook on the events that occurred on that island...

That was why Ange had wanted to contact Itouikukuro and hear about her viewpoint.
Still, she really was lucky to have been granted this meeting.

Ange hadn't been absolutely sure that Itouikukuro was Hachijo Tohya, she hadn't thought that the publishing company would really contact the author, ......and moreover, she hadn't dreamed that the mysterious masked author would grant her an interview under such short notice.
The more she thought about it, the more she realized that the sum of the events leading to this meeting made for nothing short of a miracle.
......Yes.  A miracle.

......After all, in reality, I wasn't contacted by the publishing company at all and left for Niijima the next day.
............?
.........I left for Niijima, then I went on to Rokkenjima.

......Then I gave Onee-chan...Sakutarou.

......Huh?
.........Why would I have Sakutarou.........?
............
My memory of the future...is all muddled...
My head......hurts...
Hachijo said something about showing Ange something good, rose from the sofa, and headed for the study desk.

When she turned her back, Amakusa asked Ange, who seemed to be troubled about something, if she was okay.

"......Hey, Amakusa.  ......How...long have I been here...?"

"Wha?  You've been looking weird for a while now.  What's going on?"

".........I can't remember how long I've been sitting here."
"Are you still sleepy?"

"That's not it.  ......I mean, I was able to get an appointment with Professor Ootsuki, but the publishing company never got back to me about Itouikukuro, ......so in the end, I wasn't able to do anything today...right?"
"Huh?"
"Amakusa, ......you went to go get that large black bag, didn't you...?"

That's right.  Just before we left for Niijima, Amakusa and I parted ways just one time.  ......He said something about getting a weapon from an acquaintance of his, and he went to go get that large black bag.
Wasn't that......today......?
What...am I talking about...?

I mean, ......didn't I go to Niijima, ......meet Captain Kawabata, ...and, inside the bed shop, .........huh?  .........What...?
"......Something wrong...?"
Did my confusion and uncertainty make me sigh out loud...?

Even though Hachijo's back was to me, ......she slowly turned around......and smiled as though she had peered into my heart.
"N, ......no, it's nothing."
Strange memories...ones that even I can't understand.

I tried to hide my confusion, .........but for some reason, Hachijo had a strange glint in her eyes, ......as though she could read my mind.

"I have revived and killed your family several times within various forgeries.  ......Almost like a witch might."
"Reviving and killing them whenever you like.  .........Endlessly.  ...Sounds almost like Beatrice, doesn't it..."

"Yes, it does.  ......So, please follow the lead of all those people on the web, and consider the possibility that I might be a witch."
She took a thickly-packed, brown envelope out of a locked drawer.
It appeared to be filled to the brim with printer paper.
......Perhaps this was a manuscript for one of her works.
And, the neat letters written with a fountain pen on the envelope......spelled out the word 'Dawn'.

There is no forgery by the name of Dawn.
......Which...must mean...
......Ange could tell.  This was a new one.
Hachijo's newest, unreleased forgery......

'Dawn of the Golden Witch'...
"For one such as I, who knows everything, everything is boring.  ......However, I don't dislike letting the ignorant read my works to see what kind of reaction they have.  ......And so, I want you to read it."
"......You want me to read your newest work, which you've created as the new Endless Witch?"

"Correct, child of man.  Whether you resent it or admire it, you can help me forget my illness for a time."

"...............Let's put an end to this farce, shall we?  ...Who are you?  ......I don't remember ever meeting you like this."

Yes, I did try to contact Hachijo Tohya.
However, in the end, I never got a chance to meet her.

In other words, all of this is a falsehood.

"Whose piece am I this time?  ......Sorry, but if you think you can tame Ushiromiya Ange so easily, you're making a big mistake."

"......Pfft.  ......*giggle*giggle*......  Yes, ...I hoped you'd be this interesting.  Eheheheheheheheheheheh..."

She finally couldn't hold it back and burst out laughing...

Gradually, the space around them seemed to be filled with a strange purple mist...
The room itself seemed to twist and bend...
Her figure also twisted, ......and, after something that couldn't be described elapsed, her form changed to become just what she had called herself......a witch.
"Splendid.  You did well to see through my trick..."
".........It seems I'm the type that witches just love to cling to.  .........All of you have that same condescending tone towards humans.  I figured you were a witch right away."
The novelist sitting on the sofa was nowhere to be seen.
Even Ange's bodyguard, who was supposed to be around at times like this, was gone.

There was only a nonhuman figure relaxing in a large, ornate rocking chair.

"I find you to be truly interesting, child of man.  ......Your charming nature is the perfect thing to alleviate my boredom."
"Yeah, well, I don't see anything charming about this.  ......Why am I alive?  ...Wasn't I killed in a pretty nasty way for breaking the rule about revealing my name...?"

Well, ......I did doubt that those people would just let me go so easily.

......What kind of farce will I be forced to go along with this time?
I really don't care.  I'll just do whatever I can within the bounds of the role they give me...whatever I can to help Onii-chan.

Of course, I understand.

......Even if he wins, he'll never come back to 'me'.
"Even so, ......I'll struggle on.  I'll make sure Onii-chan comes back to the 'me' of that day."
"No need to lose your temper.  I am not asking you to be a piece..."

"Then why did you summon me here?  Don't tell me you want me to read this new story or whatever it is you've written."
"That's it exactly.  ......I do not want you to be my piece.  I have always been a mere observer, and I have no intention of sticking my neck into their game..."

"......I don't get it.  What is it you want from me?"
"Be an observer for me.  An observer of the Fragments Beatrice has woven."

"An observer...?  I don't really know what you mean, but no deal."

"In the past, I observed the Fragments through Battler's eyes.  ......However, now that he has succeeded the position of Game Master, he is not a suitable observer.  I am following this tale with true and earnest intentions.  It would be such a waste to observe it through the eyes of Battler as he is now, like reading a detective novel backwards..."

"......Onii-chan is the Game Master??  What on Earth are you talking about?"
"Of course you don't know.  You want to know, don't you?  ......I too wish to know something.  What kind of tale will Battler weave now that he has taken the position of Game Master?  ...Furthermore, I wish to search for the truth Battler reached as part of my own mental journey.  .........My illness affects me gravely.  If I do not think, I cannot even keep my heart beating..."
".........So, ...you want me to read your new picture book aloud to you...?"
"You might as well interpret it that way.  In exchange, you will also be able to take part in your own journey of the mind.  I do believe that even you have yet to reach the truth.  .........I think you want to continue on the journey to find that truth."

"I don't owe you anything."

"Don't push your luck.  I can be lenient at times, but that is not usually the case..."
"............"
Ange hadn't yet reached the truth either.

Though she knew that the game was little more than a toy for the witches to play with, she wanted it to resume...so that she could follow the tale and close in on the 'king' called truth......
"......I might follow the tale so that I can find the truth myself, ......but I have no obligation to read it aloud until the end for your sake.  ...Understand?"
Ange was willing to read the story aloud, but she could quit any time if this witch made her mad.

She was, in effect, warning the witch not to annoy her...
"Of course.  ......You call it a picture book, but to me, it is the only medicine for a fatal illness.  I cannot take that medicine without you to assist me.  ......In other words, a mutually beneficial arrangement."

"......So, you're telling me to read you a book until you fall asleep.  And in exchange, you'll let me read it too.  ......Is that right?"

"Precisely.  ......If you are willing to accept, I shall ask that you become my Reader for a time."
"Well, it's nice to get my own title, but all you really want me to do is read books, right?"
"Becoming my Reader means the same as becoming my familiar.  ......In other words, what is done against you will be done against me.  I will not permit anyone to disrupt my only interest, that being to read the rest of Beatrice's tale.  ......I will not let Bernkastel, Lambdadelta, or even Beatrice force anything upon you..."
This witch, who seemed to have an almost divine quality to her, spoke both quietly and forcefully...

There was no threat in her words.

......However, even so, it was clear that she was on a different level than Bernkastel and the other witches, and not at all to be taken lightly.

"So, you'll offer me protection if I agree to read your book...?"
"Of course.  What I want is for you to read aloud to me.  ......I will not spare any who attempt to stand in the way of that."

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

"......If my attitude seems arrogant to you, allow me to apologize, child of man.  It may not seem so, but I am speaking to you with the utmost respect."
"Yeah, probably.  ......Even that witch-like style of speech...feels as though it's more respectful than anything you've said in the last few hundred years."

"When you're reading a book, do you tell it 'thank you very much' before flipping through the pages...?"
"......I guess it is like that.  I understand."
Just by agreeing to have a conversation with Ange, she was showing an incredible amount of respect and willingness to compromise.
Ange shrugged, but she also nodded to show her consent.

"Sure.  ......I'll be your Reader.  I see that you showed a ton of respect just by asking for my consent first."
"You understand well, child of man."

"......My name's Ange.  Not child of man or whatever."
"Heheheheheh.  ......Very well.  As proof of my respect for you, I will acknowledge your name."

For her, acknowledging a human's name was like acknowledging the names of all the leaves scattered across the ground.

So, ......her acknowledging Ange's name was a miracle.  No, it was immensely good fortune.

"...From this point forth, Ushiromiya Ange will serve as Reader and miko to the Witch of Theatergoing, Featherine Augustus Aurora.  Until you finish reading, I shall bring calamity to all who attempt to hinder your task."
When the Witch of Theatergoing, Featherine, spoke this, ......Ange was wrapped in a bright light.
Ange didn't feel any particular change herself, ......but she definitely had been given something that only nonhumans could sense.

It signified that from this point forward, Ange would be attached to the Witch of Theatergoing.
That didn't mean that Ange would gain some sort of special power, ......but at the very least, it probably meant that anyone wanting to cause her harm would first have to take on Featherine herself...

"Miko?  You want me to be your shrine maiden?"
"It is as I have said."

"......Your name is pretty long.  Sounds like some ancient Roman person.  ......What should I call you?"
"Those not familiar with me call me Augustus Aurora."

".........After all the respect you've shown me, it's only fitting that I respond in kind.  I'll call you Featherine.  Any problems?"
"None at all.  ......For an ailing witch such as myself, even being called by my first name will be an experience to be treasured and pondered over.  Child of man."

"I have a name.  It's Ange."
"......Heheh.  Even conversations like this are nice every once in a while.  ......Ange, my miko."

Ange accepted her role.
She would observe this tale with the Witch of Theatergoing.

The curtain was rising on the sixth tale......
At one time, only Beato and her fellow witches had gathered in this smoking room to chat.

Now, however, an unusually large number of people were present.
"Ehheheheheh.  I wonder what kind of game Battler's going to show us."

"......I don't care what...as long as it's fun enough to relieve my boredom as I crush it."
"Leave everything to me, my master!  I will perform to my fullest and give you the results you desire!"

"Yeah, you'd better.  ......I kept making strange faces all the time last game thanks to you......Thought I might start getting wrinkles."

"Th, there's no need to worry.  The beauty of my master's face is without peer, no matter how wrinkly it may get."
"...............!!!"

"Eheheheh!  It's rare to see Bern in such high spirits.  Beato's game board really is something else."
"......How sad it is that the master of this game board is no longer with US."

"A tiger dies and leaves behind its hide.  Looks like Beato has died and left behind her game."
"Even though chess still exists, no one knows the name of the person who invented it."

"Oh, you're right!  Kyahahaha, poor game inventors!"

"Come to think of it, Battler-san has really kept us waiting, hasn't he?  Is he still setting up the sixth game?"
"......Gertrude.  How have Lord BATTLER's preparations PROGRESSED?"

"Please, allow me to speak.  ......Know that he will be finished very soon."

"If he's kept us waiting this long, he must be pretty confident in his plan.  ......He really humiliated me in front of my master last time.  I'll defeat him no matter what it takes...!  And you in particular!  Make sure you don't screw up again...!"
"......I will meet the challenge with all of my strength."
The previous Game Master, Lambdadelta, had confirmed that Battler understood everything about Beato's game.

However, in order to prove it, Battler would have to run this game by himself and carry it through to completion.
In other words, if Erika could crush this game of Battler's, she would, in effect, wipe away the dishonor of that last game.

Though Erika was chomping at the bit to get started, it was taking Battler quite some time to show himself.
At that time, a swarm of gold butterflies popped into existence and formed a human shape.

From the shape of that familiar dress, everyone immediately realized who it was.
"Ah, look, it's Beatrice-san.  And I thought you'd died and disappeared last time."

"......Beatrice the player is the one who died last time.  This is probably just a piece...Battler's piece."
"Even if she is a piece, it does not change the fact that it is HER."
Beatrice gave an elegant curtsy as she appeared.

This humble entrance was so vastly different from her usual high-pitched laugh that it made the long-awaited start of the 6th game feel even more ominous than it otherwise would have...
"Father will be here very soon.  I ask that you wait for just a short while longer......"

"...............Aha.  Father?  What's that?  Is this some new scheme?"

Not only had Beato started talking in an unusually polite manner, she had also used the word 'Father'...probably referring to Battler.
For an instant, everyone was stunned into silence, but they quickly realized that this was setting up some kind of scheme, and they grinned.
Beato wasn't the type who could keep up this kind of act for long.
It would probably fall apart in a few seconds, leaving her laughing and cackling rudely at everyone.
Erika, who was itching for a fight, went for Beato almost at once.

"I can't believe that incompetent Battler-san reached the truth of your game."
"......I'm sure Father understands it quite deeply.  He really is good at that sort of thing."

"............You're pretty lucky, aren't you?  If Battler hadn't become the Game Master, you wouldn't have revived again.  Or maybe I should say you're really unlucky."
"......Unlucky?"

"Well, after all, I'm going to pay you back in full for last time.  You're just one of Battler's delusions, so I'll erase every part of you and knock you down into the depths of oblivion."

"I too cannot allow you such an easy victory.  ......I, uh, look forward to having a good, clean fight."

"............???"

By this point, everyone realized that something weird was going on.

There was no doubt that the face, the dress, and the hair were all Beatrice's.
......However, ......her expression was different.

Even though she had Beato's face, Beato would never show anyone an expression like that.

"............"
"...Just who...are you?"

There was a heavy silence.

......Lambdadelta spoke for everyone there.

At first, Beato had worn a smiling yet blank expression.  ......However, when she realized that the mood had gone suddenly stiff, her expression finally darkened, and she hung her head.

"Who......are you?"
"......You appear to be Lady Beatrice......but is that TRUE...?"
Even Dlanor was forced to ask despite the rudeness of the question.

That was how much...this woman...who appeared to be Beato...was not.
"......Am I somehow different......from the Beatrice everyone was expecting?"

"What......are you talking about?"
"Wait a second, don't tell me you have amnesia or something...?"
"I, ...I was only born recently, so I have no memories at all.  ......H, however, I will study hard...in order to become the Beatrice you all expect-"

"Beato.  ......I thought I told you to stay in your room."
Battler's voice came out of nowhere.

......His tone was very slightly cold.
Beato's expression looked like that of a young girl being scolded.
With a swirl of gold butterflies, ......Battler appeared.

His dignified bearing and appearance were fitting for the ruler of this game.
......However, his expression was gloomy...and his gaze was directed at Beato.
"......Go back to your room.  You aren't supposed to be here."

"I, ...I just wanted to help you however I could, Father......"
"Go.  To your room."

He spoke both softly and forcefully.
Battler didn't leave her any room for debate.

Beato hung her head and curtsied as she prepared to leave the room...

"Also."
"Y, yes, what is it, Father?"

"......My name is Battler.  ...Never call me by another name again."
"...Y, .........yes."
Beato melted into a swarm of butterflies and disappeared.
This was the first part of the tale with Battler as the Game Master.
The witches had all expected him to come forward with some flashy, big developments, ...so they were all fairly confused.

......Their mouths were still hanging open.

"......This is a pretty weird plan."
"Pardon me.  ......Please forget what you saw just now."

"Hmph, so, are you trying to trick us with this?  You're scheming to give us the wrong impression, like another North Wind and the Sun strategy, aren't you?"

"......Is there something WRONG?"
"Don't worry about it.  It has nothing to do with you people."
"I see.  Then it's of no importance.  Alright, Battler!  Please start up the new game right away!  You've kept us waiting so long, it's gotten totally boring!"

"......Sure.  Let's start the 6th game.  ......Erika, and you too, Bernkastel.  This will be my tale, proof that I've reached the truth about Beatrice.  ...Lambdadelta.  Please oversee this game, as a former Game Master."

"Sure, looking forward to it.  What's the title?"
"......'Dawn'.  ...As in, the Dawn of the Golden Witch."

"Of course, the winter sun is quick to sink back below the horizon."
"Of course, my master.  I'll drag it back down for you right away.  At least your title is <good>, Battler-san.  I'll give you that much."
"I'm glad you like it.  ...Then let's get started.  The 6th game will now begin."
Battler solemnly announced the start of the game.

......Compared to his fired-up attitude at the end of the last game, where he and Erika had sworn to settle everything next time, he was extremely quiet now......

"......Ange.  Beato seems very different from the way she was before."
"I'm surprised too.  ......I don't have a clue what's going on.  In fact, I don't even get why Beato's revived in the first place.  I just finished reading it a second ago, ......but at the end of the previous tale, didn't she die just before Battler reached the truth?"
"There are two kinds of death in this world.  ......One of them is when a piece is taken from the game board.  This is only a death within the bounds of the game, and these lives can revive over and over again each time you start a new game."
"......And that's why the witches are so merciless when it comes to taking those lives..."
To the witch players, the lives of those characters who appear on the game board are no different from pieces on a chess board that take other pieces and get taken.

After all, these pieces will be set up again when the next game starts.
"Maria's Sakutarou is a prime example of these."

"......Sakutarou is Onee-chan's piece...?"

Yes, ......that does make sense.
In the game board that represents the inside of Onee-chan's head, Sakutarou certainly does exist, and is a piece which always stays by her side.

Though he's nothing more than a stuffed animal in the real world, on Onee-chan's game board, he is a full piece, no different from any other piece.
"But, ......I wonder.  ...It might be easy to revive a piece on the witches' game board, ......but Onee-chan was unable to revive Sakutarou in her world."

"......That's because she lost that completely unique stuffed animal that was his vessel.  Because of this, the conditions for that piece's existence were violated, and it became impossible to revive him on Maria's game board.  ......The only reason you were able to revive Sakutarou on the game board was because you once again satisfied the conditions for his existence, correct?"

".........True."

Maria onee-chan was only unable to revive him because she had lost the stuffed animal that was his vessel.

......If, like the rest of my family on Beato's game board, she hadn't needed a 'vessel' for him, she would have been able to revive him as often as she wanted.

"Got it.  ......I see that Sakutarou might be considered Onee-chan's piece.  At least, as long as his vessel was okay, he could have been revived over and over again."
"Correct.  As long as his vessel is safe, he can be revived over and over again.  That's what the life of a piece is like..."

"......That's the first kind of death in this world.  ......What's the second?"

"That's the death of beings outside the game board.  To continue with the Sakutarou example, this would be like Maria's death."
"Not the piece, ......but the real Onee-chan's death, right?"

"It doesn't have to be her death.  Loss of interest or concern would have the same effect.  ......When Maria grows up from playing with stuffed animals, then 'Maria the game player' will die.  It's as quick and easy as turning off the switch on a TV when you get bored of it."

"......I see.  In that case, 'Beato the player' completely gave up on winning during the last game, ......so she died and vanished.  ...If so, and if Beato thinks she has a chance of defeating Onii-chan again, she'll come back to life, right?"

"Logically, that is true.  It's the same for humans, witches, and even gods.  If they lose interest and concern, they can die at any time.  And if they regain that interest, they can revive at any time.  ......However, though the concept of time does not exist in the world of gods, who can revive whenever they want, time shoots by like an arrow in the human world, and it is not so easy there..."

"That's true.  Skipping school for one day might not be a problem, but if you skip for three days in a row, it'd be really hard to convince yourself to go back."

"And what if that stretched out for a month, a year, a decade?  What if it lasted for a thousand years, like the world of witches?"

"......I see.  If you skipped for that long, it would mean your 'death' as far as society is concerned.  ......If you remained dead for that long, not only would you be unable to catch up on all you missed in the world at large, you'd also lose any motivation you might've had when you left.  ......So, even though you'd be alive, you could say that you'd died once.  You would never again......be able to regain the self that you once were.  It would never revive."

"Beato lost any chance or hope of winning.  ......Even though she knew this, she pretended not to and kept on fighting for many, many games.  So, Beato will not return.  Her hopes were crushed.  She's spent all of the willpower that she might have used to regain the will to fight.  Therefore, ......that Beatrice will never revive again."
That Beato, who just sat around the whole time with empty eyes in the 5th game......must have been her corpse.
She had managed to remain on the game board despite it all, ......but then even that corpse was wiped away...
If Beato had been the Game Master at that time instead of Lambdadelta, the game board itself would have vanished at that moment, and everything would have ended.
Come to think of it, Beato started to lose the will to fight back near the end of the 4th game.
When Beato loses her will to fight, ......the world of this game disappears.

However, the witches wanted to keep playing in this game board world, so Lambdadelta bound Beato in place with the curse of that shackle.
She used that shackle to make sure that the game board wouldn't disappear, even if Beato did lose the will to fight.
In chess, this would be the equivalent of removing the set time limit for each turn, making it endless.

However, simply having the game endlessly paused on Beato's turn would cause the witches to die from their illness of boredom.

That's why Lambdadelta took the position of Game Master.
......Starting then, Beato's existence was no longer one of the conditions necessary for the game to exist.

That's probably why the shackles binding her to the game board were released.

And that explains why she disappeared in the 5th game...
"......So, when Onii-chan managed to reach the truth, ...it was one game too late for him to tell Beato about it."

"The 5th game was a form of charity on Lambdadelta's part.  ......She merely showed Battler some mercy as the Witch of Certainty, acknowledging his strong desire to reach the truth no matter what..."

"......How can you call that charity?  It's just those fickle witches killing time.  ......Let's get back to the point.  So, that means this weird Beato isn't the player Beato.  She's just a piece Beato."

"True.  ......If that is the case, she should become the Beato everyone knows.  ......I imagine that is the Beato that Battler wants..."

"..................You mean, ...he wasn't satisfied with just a doll?"
When playing with dolls, one can project the personality they most desire onto the doll.

......However, since you are acting out their part, nothing unexpected can ever happen.
You cannot hope for any unanticipated happiness.
In the human world, there is nothing so boring as a pre-established harmony.

That's why, though a doll can become a person's best friend in the world, ......people eventually get bored and outgrow them...
Onii-chan only wants the real Beato.

He couldn't bear having a doll that only acted like Beato...

"...A Beato born as Battler's piece would probably move according to Battler's wishes."

"She is a piece, so that's only natural.  Pieces move according to their player's directions.  ......And they are incapable of moving in any other way.  ......I see what it is Onii-chan wants.  Then, just who is this weird Beato?"

"......Battler might be trying to revive Beato in the truest sense.  ......It is the never-dying dream held by children of man."
"You just used the red to say that wasn't possible."

"......'That Beato' has no chance of reviving.  However, that doesn't mean that it is impossible for 'Beato' to be born again...  Have you forgotten?  I believe that Bernkastel herself revealed Beato's true form at the end of the 1st game..."

"..................Now I remember.  ...She said something about how Beato exists as the incarnation of the rules."

"Information began to be accumulated based around that rule, and in the end, it took the form of the witch known as Beatrice.  If that pattern is followed once more, the same Beatrice will be born again, and perhaps one could call that a resurrection..."
".........In other words, that weird Beato......is like an egg of Beato, ...or else a chick."
"That interpretation is probably accurate...  ......In short, this Beato is a chick that might become that Beato."
"And that means, .........this pure and lovable kid will eventually grow into that screwed up, crazy witch."
In other words, that Beato is a baby version of the Beato we all know.

So, just like how no person is born evil, ......the newborn Beato isn't evil either.
Even though she really is a different person, ......if you measure her by her basis...her soul......then maybe you really could call this a resurrection.

......However, ...this reality can't possibly be easy to accept.
Though she may technically be Beato herself, ......she is also, without a doubt, a different person.

And that way she acts...would make anyone feel as though something's out of place......

"How entertaining...  ......Hearing you read aloud is far from boring."
"......I wonder if you even really need someone to read aloud for you.  ...It looks like you already know everything."

"I only reached that thought because I am engaged in a conversation with you.  ......My thoughts are more numerous than the stars in the sky.  I only appear to know everything to a child of man like you.  ......However, without you here, I am nothing but a weak, sickly person without even the power to think..."

"If you'd just said that in the first place, I'd have agreed to read for you a lot more easily."
"......My mood just happened to improve.  ...Don't get an over-swelled impression of yourself.  I think of your life as nothing more than a leaf one has lost after using it as a bookmark..."

"'Please keep reading already'.  Is that pretty much what you're trying to say?"
"Heh......  Far from boring.  ...You really do make an excellent miko."
Featherine rocked back in her rocking chair and looked up at the ceiling, laughing as though the conversation itself was pleasant for her.

Ange was slowly figuring out how to deal with this strange witch.
...This person was also...bored.
When a sick person has been in bed for a long time and gets too bored, they sometimes act in a rebellious way.
On the other hand, they also get a little bored of being treated kindly all the time.

She may want to be respected for her superiority, but it's probably more interesting for her when she's spoken to rudely.
......What a coincidence.
That's exactly how I used to be.
"Anyways.  ......From what we learned in the 4th game, there's no doubt that there's been some kind of antagonism between Beato and Onii-chan in the past.  Learning about this Beato might give us a key towards finding the truth."

"It does seem so.  ......It has caught my interest as well.  ...Let's read her tale too."
"Oh, sure, as you wish, my master."

When Ange raised her hands like a conductor, the bookshelves in this bizarre study responded.

......Once again, several books floated out and began to swirl around Ange......
Kinzo's study is the room belonging to the master in the human world.

So, this study in the world of nonhumans belonged to the master of the game board......and was a place where he could look down upon the humans...
Therefore, it was understandable that one might mistake the imposing, robe-clad man in the center of the study for Kinzo, if only for a second.
It wasn't Kinzo.

......This was Battler, the one who had taken up the position of Game Master and become the new territory lord of this world.
".................."
Around Battler was a swirl of glowing Fragments, sparkling like the night sky, ......and on the floor was what appeared to be a red magic circle.
To an outsider, it would have appeared to be nothing more than an incomprehensible geometric shape.

But to Battler, who stood at its center, it was the outline for a new tale...
A new line grew across the magic circle, following Battler's gaze.

Then, at the instant it connected with a complicated symbol, the entire magic circle flashed brightly.
"......So, ......how does it look?"
"It is splendid, Master.  ......The 6th game is complete."

As Battler wiped his forehead and finally relaxed, Genji, who was standing behind him and watching over his every move, nodded deeply in response.

"......I always thought being a Game Master meant you could make the tale however you want, ......but this is seriously harder than I thought it'd be."

"You must write up multiple tales and make the inner and outer sides of the story match.  ......And yet, you have displayed such skill.  It is hard to believe that this is your first time.  ......I believe even Erika-sama will be satisfied with this game."

"Well, hopefully it matches that great detective's tastes.  ......Still, ...I've got to honestly respect Beato now.  ...I can hardly believe that she managed to make tales that complicated and do it so easily."

"......It was not easy.  ......Beatrice-sama also worried and worried, and each time she created a tale, she would then worry over various contradictions.  She was constantly battling with logic errors."

"Logic errors?"
"That is when the two sides of the tale do not meet, creating a contradiction.  ......When this happens, it becomes a fatal violation of the rules known as a logic error, and the game board will immediately collapse and be destroyed.  It is the greatest and worst form of error that the witch side can make, and one which must always be avoided."
"So, Beato got close to bumping into those several times in her games...?"
"......She fought with them every time she created a game.  ...I believe it grew even more difficult for her as you became a more effective opponent."

".........So, ......do you think this game I've made...is good enough to show Beato?"

"......Yes.  ......Of course."

"...............Beato hasn't woken up yet, has she?"

".................."
"It's been a while since her body was formed as a personification of the rules.  Is she still not awake...?"
After remaining silent for a while longer, Genji answered.
"......She woke up three days ago.  You were concentrating on the construction of the 6th game, so I decided to wait before telling you...  My sincere apologies..."

"Oh, really?  Yeah, I'll bet she's still all drowsy after sleeping so long.  I've really wanted to show her my game!  No, it's more than that.  I have to show her my game.  I need to tell her that I've understood everything."

Battler's face broke into a smile.

There was no trace in his expression of the hatred he had once felt towards Beato for murdering his family...

"......In a way, ...that was the final riddle of the 5th game."
"Yes.  ......When Battler reached the truth, there was a great change in his impression of Beato."

"So, should we assume that there really was something between Onii-chan and Beato and that he forgot all about it...?"

However, Battler suspected this in the 4th game and asked Beato about it.

According to the tale, this was denied by the red truth: 'Six years ago, no person called Beatrice existed for Battler'...
"......We can read this as saying that Beato did not exist six years ago, or it could simply mean that she had no connection to Battler at that time.  However, either way, Battler did not visit Rokkenjima at all for the next six years..."

"October 4, 1986 should have been the first time Beatrice and Onii-chan met.  ......If so, why was there already some kind of antagonism between them?  I don't have a clue what it means."

"......That 'Ushiromiya Battler's sin', which Beato questioned Battler about in the 4th game, might give us a clue.  ...The result of that might have been Beatrice herself."

"The result?  The result of Onii-chan's sin was...Beato...?"

That almost sounds as though Onii-chan created the witch called Beatrice himself...

"Almost as though......Beatrice was Battler's piece."
"......Huh...?"
"Battler sinned six years ago.  Because of that sin, people died.  The killer was Beatrice.  ......If you consider the possibility that everything is connected to Battler's sin six years ago, ......then the one who created Beatrice was Battler himself.  I thought it sounded almost as though she was Battler's piece..."
"I don't get it.  If Onii-chan sinned in some way, it must have been something much lighter than murder, at the very least.  If someone caused this huge massacre in retaliation for that, that's totally out of proportion."
"Beato killed our family.  Dad, Mom, Onii-chan, everyone.  ......I can't believe that Onii-chan's sin was anything deserving of that."

"The weight of a sin depends on the person measuring it.  Even a sin so light that Battler might have forgotten could have been so serious to Beato that she hated him enough to massacre his whole family a full six years after the fact.  ......Well, even I think that a bit excessive, and more importantly, if she were a person like that, I would find it hard to accept that Battler would act so friendly towards her after discovering the truth..."

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

Featherine's observation was extremely interesting.

In a past game, Beato clearly said that Onii-chan's sin six years ago was the cause of this two day tragedy.

I still don't know what kind of sin that was.

However, he figured it out at the end of the 5th game, ......and he even apologized to Beato.

Even though she was the witch who had massacred his entire family in retaliation for his sin of six years previous, ......Battler apologized to her.

......Of course, it was the player Battler who apologized, not the piece Battler whose family had been murdered over and over again.

But even so, ......Battler must have remembered something at the end of the last game that made him feel like apologizing...

"......This sin from six years ago.  ......Does this mean that it's hidden somewhere in the tale so far...?"

"...I have already formed a theory about it."
"Oh?  Let me hear it."

"Heheheheheh, I can't tell you yet.  I want to enjoy being the only one who knows the answer for a little while longer..."

"......Well then, I guess I'm done reading for you."

"Hahaha, well, we can't have that, can we?  ......Have some patience and read a bit further.  My theory is still nothing more than a guess.  ......Once I'm certain of it, I'll tell you."
"Okay, okay, my master.  I actually do want to hear what comes next, after all."

Just what kind of connection do Onii-chan and Beatrice have with each other?

......Understanding that will probably give me a massive clue towards finding the truth of this world.

After all, because he remembered that, he was able to reach the truth.
"Beatrice...!!"
"Welcome, Master...  Beatrice-sama is waiting for you.  This way, please......"
This place was a villa set aside for Beatrice's use.

It was a sacred site for her only, built so that she could spend her days without being affected by the outside world.
My heart began to race.  ......I'm so glad that she was able to revive...and that everything's okay...

Beato is a personification of the rules.
So, even though she was destroyed once, it is possible for her to be reborn again...
Battler had quickly succeeded in reviving Beato's body, but he had had trouble summoning her soul back.

However, during the time he had spent immersed in the creation of the 6th game, she had woken up.  And this had happened three days ago.
Battler let himself be led into the dining hall.

The dining hall had been set up for his and Beato's use.

......It existed so that they could enjoy some black tea while discussing the truth, now that he had finally reached all of it.
I want to tell her.
I want to tell Beato that I've found the truth.
Battler couldn't hold back his excitement over this miracle he had been granted, that Beato was waiting for him in the dining hall to hear what he had to say...

"How is Beatrice?  Same as usual?  Is she in high spirits?"
"Oh yes, she is in very high spirits now.  She has been waiting for you all this time, Master.  Oh yes."

"Is she in the dining hall?  Is she eating or something?  Ah, that's alright, it doesn't matter either way...!"
"Hohoho, you'll be surprised..."
"Beatrice...!!"
When he swung open the doors to the dining hall, ......Battler was greeted by a wonderful sight.

Though the food laid out on the table wasn't particularly sensational, it was arranged beautifully, and a champagne bottle stood there waiting.
......Then, ......the person clad in that familiar dress with the beautiful golden hair bowed deeply in greeting.
"......B, ......Beatrice..."

"You have my sincerest gratitude for giving me this form.""Ha, ...hahahaha...  Come on, don't worry about that......  ...I'm so glad...  Beato........."

Battler rushed up to Beato and hugged her tightly.
...Just to make sure her body wasn't just mist or an illusion.
"......I......solved...your riddle for you......  But then, before I could tell you about it, you went and disappeared......"
"......I am right here...  I will not disappear..."
"It's okay, you can stop talking like that.  I'm not going to ask you for anything in return.  ......Anyways, I want to apologize.  And I want to talk with you.  ......I don't even know where I should start."
"You have done nothing that you need to apologize for, Father.  ...I'm glad just to be of service to you."
".........Beato......?"
"Beatrice was born for your sake, Father.  Please, let me support you.  And Father.  Congratulations on completing the 6th game."

"I told you, stop talking like that.  It's totally creepy."
"......Do you find this style of speech displeasing?  Please forgive my rudeness..."

"Well, I don't 'find it displeasing', but it's not like you.  I guess I like the way you usually talk best."

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

Beato smiled vaguely.

To Battler, it probably looked as though they were both smiling over the same joke.

......However, Beato's smile was literally vague and uncertain.

After all...she didn't know how she was supposed to talk...

"Anyways, Beato.  Just what kind of joke is this?  Don't tell me that the great Beatrice-sama decided to cook for me...?"

"When I heard that you had completed the 6th game, I wanted to see if I could prepare a modest reward to congratulate you......"
"...Hohoho.  Beatrice-sama really worked hard to make this.  I didn't even need to lend a hand at all, no I didn't!"
The food set on the table really was modest and inexpertly made.
You could tell by looking at it that Beato, who wasn't particularly skilled with cooking, had given it her all when making it...

However, signs of discomfort and irritation were beginning to appear on Battler's face......

"......What......is this all about...?"

"Oh yes, as she said, Beatrice-sama decided that she would like to congratulate......"

Sweat was starting to show up on Kumasawa's forehead...

......She was also feeling uneasy.

When he noticed, Battler realized that it wasn't just his imagination.
Beato turned her back to Battler and stuck a corkscrew into the champagne bottle.
Then, she showed it to Battler.
"Father, congratulations on the completion of the 6th game.  In the hopes that you will prove victorious over your longtime rival, Furudo Erika..."
*pop*

When presented with a champagne bottle and a sound like that, anyone would think that the cork had been pulled out.

However, it wasn't the cork......it was the bottom of the bottle.
The high-quality champagne that Beato had procured splashed out all over the floor and her dress.
Then, the same sound repeated several more times.

......Each time, one of the plates of food on the table was knocked into the air.

"F, ......Father, ......did you find the food displeasing...?""Who......are you...?"

"...I, ......I am Beatrice.  ...I was born for your sake, Father..."

"That's not right..."
"Huh...?"

"Who is this?!  This isn't Beato...!!  And anyways, don't call me Father...!!  What's going on here?!  What is this?!  Didn't I revive Beato?!  Genji, what's this all about?!!"

"......My apologies, but that is indeed Beatrice-sama."

"Are you kidding me?!  How is this supposed to be Beato?!  She's totally wrong, a fake!!"

"No, that is Beatrice-sama.  It is, without a doubt, Beatrice-sama, who was born in accordance with the rules of the game board."

"No, this isn't anything like Beato...!!  Beato would always talk in this weird way, she'd laugh rudely, and more, and more...!!"
"No, this is most certainly Beatrice-sama herself."
"Then why is she talking like that?  Why is she calling me Father?!"

"B, Beatrice-sama was only born a short while ago...  It would be far too cruel to expect her to act as she once did so soon..."

"Are you saying that her memory hasn't returned yet?"
"......Master.  This person is definitely Beatrice-sama herself.  However, she is not the Beatrice-sama you know so well."

"What are you talking about...?!  I'm the Game Master, right?!  Why can't I revive Beato...?!"
"Oh yes, she most certainly has revived.  However, the old Beatrice-sama had lived for a thousand years.  ......This Beatrice-sama, on the other hand, was only born a short while ago...!  If she appears to be a different person, well, that just can't be helped...!"

"Then, ...how can I revive that Beato?!  Her body is right here!  How can I revive her soul?!"
"......If she lives the same thousand year life again, she should become the same Beatrice-sama she was before."

"So I'm supposed to wait a thousand years...?!"
"A, a person's personality isn't decided solely by their birth.  It can change drastically based on how they live and what they experience..."

"......Do you understand?  Even though she is the same Beato, she is not the same."
"I get it.  ......Even if you had two of the exact same person, they could change enormously depending on their upbringing."

"Even though they might both be the same human to start with, their upbringing could change them so much that they effectively become two completely different people.  ......Usually, we use the term 'person' to refer to a person, not their personality.  However, since humans recognize a person by their personality, those two might as well be different people, from a human perspective..."
"......That's so true.  If that tragedy 12 years ago hadn't happened, this Lady would be a cute girl who could smile without looking weird."

"That's rude.  As if I'm not totally cute as it is."

......I understand.

If a personality is what makes a person a person in our eyes...
You could probably say that a second personality represents a different person entirely, even if it inhabits the same flesh body.
At the very least...
I'm a completely different person than I used to be 12 years ago.

And if my family had come home 12 years ago, ......then the Ange that resulted would surely be a completely different person from me.
Even the same human can become different people.
In fact, depending on their upbringing and endless possibilities, they can become an endless number of different people.

......So, just because this is the same Beato, ......that's no guarantee that she'll be the Beato that Onii-chan knows so well.
"And on top of that, Beatrice is a witch who lived a thousand years.  ......Given just three days, people can die or be reborn.  A thousand years......is just too long."

".........It seems you're quite a skilled reader.  ...For most of my readers, it would be necessary to spend several hundred pages to explain how a single person can become different people depending on their upbringing and time."

"Don't underestimate your readers.  We aren't just reading.  We read...and we think."

"......If I make a hundred people read it, only 90 people will actually be able to.  However, only 50 will actually understand what it means.  And not even 20 will actually think beyond that.  ......And all I ask is that they think it over a bit.  ...Nothing more than that.  *giggle*"

"However, it seems that 'you' are one of those precious 20 readers...  That's why I invited you here, child of man..."

It was hard to actually like this Hachijo Tohya person.

......However, though this forgery she had written was still in its first stages, ...it definitely felt as though it had something very similar to the tales in those message bottles.

Speaking metaphorically, ......one might call it a scent.

An indescribable stern atmosphere, ......like a stuffy library.

The 'Beatrice' who wrote the message bottles and Hachijo Tohya are different people.

......And yet, this has the same scent as that tale...

......I see.
This is why some of those curious Witch Hunters are so intensely devoted to her...

Their keen sense of smell was able to sniff out that familiar scent......

"Very well then.  ......Please continue reading.  There could be nothing more entertaining than watching your face as you glance over the words. That, and speaking with you..."

"I guess it's true that writers are always starving for opinions on their works.  ......However, sorry to disappoint you.  I don't have time to read all the way through this thick manuscript.  More importantly, ............"
"......And yet, you have plenty of time......"
Both the second hand and the pendulum on the ornate clock behind Hachijo had been moving the whole time.

However, ......absolutely no time had passed for a while now.

Only about three minutes had gone by since the time she had entered the room...

"See?  Time isn't something you have to worry about.  ......You won't run out of time until after you've finished reading..."
".................."

"Next page, Lady, next page."

Amakusa badgered me to turn the page, ......so I returned to the world of the tale once more.
......Why does her tale have the same scent as Beatrice's, I wonder...

Is it because......she actually has reached the truth, as she claims?
Does this mean that anyone who knows the truth could create an endless number of message bottles?

......Is that what the cat box world is like...?
I see.  ......I guess she might also be an Endless Witch.

In fact, ......maybe anyone who knows the truth can become an Endless Witch.
An endless tale, created by the Endless Witches.
The two days starting on October 4, 1986, where my family is being toyed with endlessly.

......I have to end it.

I have to find a hint of the truth from within this story......and end this endless tale.
"What do you think, Beato?  How's this 6th game I've made?"
"............"

"Well, you're not the type to give me an honest compliment anyways, are you...  You'd probably say something more like 'not bad for an incompetent fool like you'."

"*cackle*cackle*  Not bad for an incompetent fool like you."

"Heh.  Now that I've seen what it's like to be a Game Master, I understand everything.  ......You really had to work hard during each and every game."
"............"

"'Creating a game is not such an easy thing.  To think the day would come when we would both congratulate each other like this.'"

"Creating a game is not such an easy thing.  To think the day would come when we would both congratulate each other like this."

".................."
".................."
"......All wrong...  ......This......isn't Beato..."
Battler slammed hard on the desk, but the piece Beato showed no reaction.

......After all, Battler hadn't ordered her to react.
It was easy to revive that Beato as a piece.

However, it would only move according to Battler's wishes.

......Having a conversation with it......was no different from talking to himself......
The Game Master could summon any kind of piece.
He could move those pieces in any way he wanted, reigning as an absolute god.
......However, for that very reason, ......they were just pieces.

That made it unbelievably lonely......and sad.
"......You created many kinds of furniture, as well as several tales in the past.  ......When I saw that, ......I was sure you were having a great time doing it."

"'But that's wrong.'"

"You were......unbelievably lonely."

"'It must have been such a relief for you to have an opponent in me who could actually go against you.  I'm painfully aware of that now.'"

".........That weird, polite Beato......she was you, right?  ......The way you were a thousand years ago."
"'However, ......she is a separate person.'"
"The way she looks just like you is what I really can't get over...!  I can't stand it......"
"'However, she isn't a piece, so she can go against my will.'"
"Unlike the piece you are, that Beato is much more alive.  I acknowledge that!  But it's all wrong!!  That isn't you!  She's a completely separate person, like a long-lost little sister or something!  And that's why......I just can't accept her...!!"
......As much as he hated this piece Beato...

Battler felt an even stronger dislike......for the 'chick' Beato.
Even after a whole thousand years...
She still wouldn't become the original Beato.

Even if she were ordered to act like the original Beato, ......it would just be an imitation.

This was a very similar but separate person, and definitely not Beato herself.
......So, .........in the previous game, ......Beato really did disappear for all eternity...

Even after becoming the Game Master, ......there was no way to revive her......
"......Laugh.  Laugh at how pathetic I am."
"...............Heheheheh, *cackle*cackle*. Pfft, hyahahhahahahahhahahaaaaah!!"
Just give it a rest already......

You're just an illusion who won't laugh unless I order it......and who can't even continue to laugh unless I keep on ordering it...  ......Just disappear!!
......On Rokkenjima, this day--or rather, this round--was the same as any other.
The typhoon would be coming very soon.
The clouds hadn't yet grown thick, but they were moving quickly.
The only thing on Natsuhi's mind was the plan to cover up Kinzo's absence this year as well.
Krauss appeared to have suffered a stomach ache from the stress and was sleeping in his room.
Jessica and Kumasawa had left in a boat to go shopping and greet the incoming relatives on Niijima.
The servants had been busy since the early morning in preparation for the family conference, the greatest event of the year...
Shannon and Kanon were getting the guesthouse ready.

"......Shouldn't the guest rooms in the mansion be more than enough to hold the relatives?"
"Good point.  It is a pain to clean up here as well.  ......Even so, I like cleaning the guesthouse."

"Yeah, it's nice and quiet without Madam and all the annoying servants."
Shannon smiled bitterly as she performed a detailed examination of the guest room.

Did we forget to clean anything?  Do we need to restock anything?
She diligently gave the room one final check over......
"You checked everything thoroughly last night too, didn't you?  You really are dedicated."
"It's days like this that you tend to get pranked if you're careless.  ......You can never find important things when you need them, and things that were supposed to be closed turn out to be open."

"That's because you're too careless.  You don't pay attention while you work."
"I guess that's why you're helping me check.  Thanks."

"......There's nothing to thank me for.  If you were a bit more alert, I wouldn't have to help at all."
".........*giggle*.  But the truth is, you just want to be with me, right?  You're such a kid."

"Th, that's not it at all...  It's all because you've been so ecstatic about George-sama lately.  You're messing up so much, I can't let you out of my sight."
"*giggle*...  ......Kanon-kun.  Let's chat a bit."
"......We can't do that now.  We're working."
"You keep making fun of me and George-sama, ......but how is it going between you and Jessica-sama?"
"N, ......nothing's going on in particular.  If you have time to talk about that, let's just finish this.........wah-"

Kanon had--very obviously--been trying to change the subject.
Shannon had then snuck up behind him and pushed him down onto the bed.
"So, why did you turn down Milady when she asked you to go with her to welcome the relatives?"

".........Because I have work to do..."

"Liar.  ......You don't actually have any work at all."

Shannon and Kanon had switched roles.

Normally, Kanon was the one in control, but when it came to romance, it was the opposite.

As Shannon had said, ......Jessica and Kanon were supposed to have been the ones to go greet the relatives at the Niijima harbor.

However, Kanon had suddenly claimed that he had work to do, so Kumasawa had gone instead.

Kanon...didn't have any work to do.  Shannon knew this...

"Milady told me.  ......Despite what happened after the cultural festival, she really does like you, Kanon-kun."
".........Even though I'm...furniture..."

"That's right.  And I'm furniture too."
"......But despite that, you're in love with a human.  ......Even though that's impossible."

"You think so...?  ......Maybe, we are furniture......just because we think that."

"I don't have any special feelings for Milady Jessica.  ......I only think of her as the daughter of the family we serve."

"Really...?"
"Really."

"............"
"......Wh, ......what?"

"You know, .........there is a chance...that George-sama will propose to me tonight."
".........!"

Shannon wore an incredibly peaceful smile on her face, ......but Kanon could tell that there was no way she'd let him change the subject.

Kanon realized that she must have made him help out here in the guesthouse in order to talk to him about this, and he clicked his tongue softly...

"......You really think you can marry a human even though you're furniture?"
"I think I can."
"That's impossible."
"Why?"
"That dream future that George-sama has imagined for you two...is something you can never give him."
"W, ......well......"

"......We aren't humans.  We're furniture, inferior to them.  George-sama only thinks that you're human."
"...W, ......well, that is true, but......"

"I'm impressed that you've managed to trick him for this long.  Do you really think you can keep tricking him like that forever?  Even though you still haven't been able to tell him that you're furniture."

"......Being furniture or being human...has nothing to do with this.  ......I believe that George-sama will accept all of me."

"And yet you don't have the courage to check and make sure."
"..................You know what?  ......I think...I'll accept his proposal."
As Shannon looked up at the ceiling, ......she spoke of the imagined future that she and George would create.

Though some anxiety over the future appeared on her face, ......so did joy from discovering what it was like to live with love.

As Kanon watched this vivid dream he was being shown, ......he knew that none of his words would reach Shannon anymore...
"......Hmph............You can just do what you want.  ......Once you've said something, you're incredibly stubborn."

"Yep.  ......I want to live life my own way.  ......I'd like to stop being afraid about who's furniture and who's a human."

"..............."
Kanon walked over to the window silently.

......He saw the rose garden filled with boring, gray flowers in bloom...
He realized that Shannon was acting above her place.
And he knew that her tale had no chance of a happy ending.

......However, he also knew that no words of his could change her mind now that she had made her decision.
".........In that case, ......it doesn't matter what I say.  ......If I tell you to stop, you won't listen.  If I tell you to do what you want, you'll do what you want.  ......Why are you talking to me about this?  It's not like you care what my response is."

"What I want to know......is how you feel about Milady.""......I have nothing to do with the two of you."

"Do you really......feel absolutely nothing for Milady?"

"......No, I don't, as I keep telling you."
"Liar."

"Why do you think that's a lie?"
"I know.  I'm your big sister."

"You don't know.  You can't know what I'm feeling...!!"
"I do.  I know everything about you, Kanon-kun."
"If you really do know, then why did you ask?!  Aren't you completely satisfied and overwhelmed with George-sama?!!  And anyways, I love you for being such a sincere person!!  That's why......I'm rooting for you in the only way I can!!  Otherwise, ......even I...!!"
"Even I?"
"Even I, .........wanted to love Milady...!!!"

Kanon finally turned to face her, honestly and openly telling her his real emotions.

That was what Shannon had wanted to hear.
And after hearing that, she closed in even further on Kanon's true feelings.

"You can't leave it at that.  I won't let you."
"Then what should I do?!!  What do you want me to say?!!"

"Don't try to dodge by saying 'I wanted to love her'.  All you need to do is honestly tell me what you really feel."
"Milady is......too dazzling for me!!  The way she lives is dazzling, like the sun!!  That's why I love her...!  I was so happy when Milady stretched out her hand and asked me to walk with her!!  No, I still am happy!!"
"You love her, don't you?"
"Yes, I do!!  I love Milady!!"
Finally, ......Kanon confessed his feelings in their entirety.
In fact, by saying it aloud, he finally understood how he truly felt.
As passionate tears welled up in his eyes, ......Kanon finally accepted it...
He couldn't stop the tears from dripping down his face.
"Both of us are exactly the same, locked up on Rokkenjima and living without any hope at all...!  And yet, Milady was able to light her own path and create her own fate...!  She was so dazzling that I envied her!!  I felt as though, if I could be with her, ......I could find my true self, instead of the pitiful person I am now...!!"
"When you turned down Milady's confession, ......were you sad?"
"I was!!  I never realized that a lie you make yourself could be so sad, so painful, so excruciating!!  And I just couldn't forgive myself for hurting Milady with that lie!!  I believed that I didn't deserve to ever fall in love again!!"
"But you did deserve it.  You know what?  Whether or not you deserve to fall in love is something that you decide for yourself.  Being furniture or not has nothing to do with it.  Once you decide that it won't work out, then it won't.  You mustn't be so rigid.  I gave myself, overambitious furniture that I am, the right to fall in love.  So you're capable of it too."
"I'm capable of falling in love?"
"Yes.  If no one else will give you that right, I will."
"Thank you.  ......I feel as though I can finally...see the sea......"
"......I'm certain of it......George-sama will propose to me tonight."
".................."
"When he does, I will accept.  ......I intend to leave this island and start a new life in our new world."
"If that's the path you've chosen, ......then I have no say in the matter."
"I'll leave this island, ...and after that...I'll never return again.  ......I'll have to say farewell to you, Kanon-kun."
"........................You're right.  ......We won't......see each other again, will we?"

"If......if you do love Milady from the bottom of your heart, and if your feelings are at least as strong as my feelings for George-san, .........then you and I will have to settle whose feelings are really stronger."
"......N, .........nee-san......"

"This way is best for both of us.  ..........Don't give up on your feelings for my sake."
"Even though my selfishness might keep you from your happiness......?"

"I'm fully aware of it.  ......My happiness......is hurting you as well."
We have no choice but to hurt each other.

As she said this, Shannon turned her back to Kanon...

As Kanon watched Shannon from behind, ......he was struck by her strength...and the love she still felt for him despite everything.

"......Nee-san.  Living with you...made me happy."
"Me too.  I wouldn't have lasted this long without you.  ......And that's why I was able to meet George-san."

"Yeah.  And I wouldn't have realized how dazzling Milady is......if it weren't for you."
"I won't abandon my emotions.  ......I'll focus only on my feelings and ignore everything else, and I won't look away when I trample over your heart."

"......Me too.  I won't use you as an excuse......to hide the way I really feel.""Whether my love bears fruit...or yours does.  ......We will both rejoice in the result."

"Yes.  ......I promise.  And if I win, ......I will love Milady......and treasure you."
"Thank you.  But if I win, ......I'll forget you and this island and leave this place forever."

"Yes.  ......Whichever of us wins, that person will pursue their love with all they've got.  ......Even if they know that love will be unrequited."
"Yes.  After all, by now..."


""We are not furniture.""
The boat carrying the relatives docked at the harbor.

They left the boat one by one, making fun of Battler...

Gohda wasn't the only one to greet them.  Kanon was there too.

"It has been quite some time, everyone.  Allow me to welcome you to Rokkenjima."
"......I hope that your long journey went smoothly.  Welcome to Rokkenjima......"

Ah, good, good.
Gohda complimented Kanon in a whisper.

Kanon ignored this, looking just a little sour, and continued to greet the incoming relatives.

"This is your first time meeting Gohda-san and Kanon-kun, isn't it, Battler-kun?"
"Uu-!  It's Maria's first time meeting Battler too!  Ahaha!"

"Gohda-san's a splendid chef.  He's the only reason anyone'd ever want to come to this island."
"I am most honored.  Battler-sama, I do hope that you look forward to your meals during your stay."

"I can't wait...!  I'll be looking forward to it!"

"Long time no see, Kanon-kun.  You seem to be in high spirits today.  That's great."
"......Y, you think so...?"

"Oh yes.  Your face is looking brighter today.  I can't tell if it's your complexion or if your gaze looks a bit more gallant."
"Hahah, it must be a growing phase.  That's how a boy becomes a man."

"You usually look as though you're about to pass out from anemia.  You're a bit different today."
"You've got some vigor.  A boy can change a lot in just three days.  I guess this means even Kanon-kun's gettin' a bit more manly!"

"We aren't making fun of you, okay?  We're all complimenting you.  *giggle*"

......Kanon had sworn to start changing the way he lived bit by bit.
However, he had only meant to change within himself, and hadn't expected that it would show on the outside.

He was a bit shocked to hear that his expression had changed so much that people had apparently noticed as soon as he opened his mouth.
No, ......maybe the real surprise should have been that his normal expression must have looked so incredibly sullen in comparison.
Gohda led the way up to the guesthouse.
Kanon brought up the rear, helping to carry some of Kumasawa's shopping.

"......So, ...does my face really look that bright today?"
"Hohohoh...  It looks that way to me as well.  ......Did something good happen?  *giggle*giggle*"

Even Kumasawa was saying it.
......Kanon, unable to see what his own face looked like, hung his head in embarrassment.
......When they reached the rose garden, they could see the others entering the guesthouse.

Then, he saw Jessica running towards him from there.
......Is even Milady Jessica going to say that I'm in a good mood today?

Kanon hung his head even deeper.
And so, almost as though he couldn't control himself, Kanon spoke first.

"......Do I really look that different?"
"Huh?  A...hahahahahaha.  ......Well, you know.  You aren't usually the type to come out and say hello of your own accord.  That's probably why everyone was surprised..."

"..................I apologize for not going with you earlier, Milady."
"Huh?  Oh, don't worry about that...  I'm the one who's sorry for asking you to come all the way out to Niijima with me to meet everyone...  I know how busy you must be today..."
"I......didn't have anything in particular to do.  ......You were just so dazzling.  ...So dazzling that I couldn't bear to be with you.  ......I was just weak."
Jessica faltered, uncertain what Kanon was talking about.
However, she realized that this was something too important to be laughed off.

"......Did something happen, Kanon-kun...?"
"Shannon says......she's going to get married."

".........I see.  ...So George nii-san is going to propose this year after all."

Jessica thought that this change in Kanon's appearance was probably caused by a change in his state of mind.  She thought he was sad that he and Shannon would soon be parting ways.
Kanon realized that Jessica was probably thinking this.

......So, he spoke to her clearly and honestly.  Because he wanted her to know.

"I decided that I would stop working here if Nee-san ever quit."
"......I know.  ...So, are you going to quit too?"
"I'm not sure anymore.  ......I feel that, if I quit, I might lose sight once more of something that you shone on like the sun and revealed to me."
Jessica was stunned, unable to understand what he was saying.
......However, she did realize that he was trying to tell her something important.

And so, she was able to accept that his next words were neither a lie nor a joke...
"Milady Jessica, I...like you."
".........I, ......I like you too...!"
"You live your life like the sun...and I want to try walking that path alongside you.  I have the feeling that, with you, I'd be able to get away from the part of myself that I hate for being furniture."
"You aren't furniture, Kanon-kun.  And you weren't born just so that you could become a servant!  A boy your age should be enjoying life much, much more...!  Ha, hahahaha.  I'm the one who's dazzled.  You're so dazzling......I can hardly see."
"These are my genuine feelings.  .........I'm...sorry for trying to hide them for so long.  ......I apologize for hurting you on that day...in my cowardice."
"That's okay.  Just hearing you say that......makes me happy."

"So, ......so that I can be with you all the time, ......I plan to stop being furniture.  I ask that you give me some time to do that.  ......Please forgive this last bit of weakness."

"Th, there's nothing weak about you...!  You've shown me.  You've shown me that you have the extraordinary courage to change yourself from the way you used to be.  So, I'll support you until the end, and I won't rush you until you're ready."

"......If I am the sun lighting your path, that's because I wanted to shine more brightly than anyone else so that you'd look only at me.  Without you, I'd never have become like the sun.
......So, I'll wait.  As long as needed."
"Thank you, Milady."
"......'Milady' is a bit stiff, don't you think?"
"May I......call you by your name?"

"Sure.  .........Oh, but only when we're alone, okay?  Otherwise, ...it might make things difficult for you."
"......Good point.  Shannon and George-sama are doing the same, it seems."

"If Shannon hadn't told you about the engagement, ......you wouldn't have said what you said just now, right?"
Kanon hung his head, at a loss for words for some time.

But it was true.
If Shannon hadn't told him about the engagement, he probably wouldn't have been having this conversation at this moment.
".........Yes.  ...Because she said that, I was able to think deeply."

"Ah, come on.  You heard about Shannon and you wanted to see what love felt like yourself, right?"
"Yes."

"......Th, that's a pretty straight answer.  ......W, ......well, when I watched those two......I was pretty envious myself..."

In truth, the real reason was different for both of them.

They had been shown the courage needed to speak up and tell the person you love how you feel.
This was the reason for both Kanon and Jessica.

"......So, ......what should I call you?"
"Jessica works fine."

"......Just saying it like that......would be a bit embarrassing."
"Then you can use 'san', at least at first.  Why not try it out?  Come on."
"J, .........Jessica-san......"
"Good, that'll do for now.  And I'd like to call you by your name, Kanon-kun.  ......You have a real name...besides Kanon, don't you?  I imagine it has the character 嘉 in it, like Kanon does...  Wh, what could it be, ......ehehe..."

"......My name is Yoshiya."
"O, ......oh, ......how is it written?"

Jessica tried tracing out various characters on the palm of her hand.
......Then, Kanon used his own finger to write out his name on her hand...

"You write it as 嘉哉..."
"......So, you're Yoshiya...kun...  ......Yeah, that's a great name.  ......Totally better than my weird name..."

"That's not true.  Milady Jessica has a wonderful na-"
"Hey, say it again...!"

"Huh?  ......M, Milady Jessica has-"
"One more time!"

"M, Milady Jessica has a wonderful......um, ......is something wrong?"
"......*giggle*.  No big deal.  Thanks.  ...Yoshiya...kun."
The red, red flowers of the rose garden seemed to celebrate the two lovers whose feelings had finally connected...

......The scene was watched by one not human, who gazed out quietly from beneath the rose garden arbor...
"............"
Come to think of it, those two had never called each other by their names until now.
Jessica hadn't known Kanon's true name.
Kanon hadn't called Jessica by her name.

By calling someone by their name, people acknowledge the worth of that person's soul.
That is why names are sacred.
......Getting permission to say someone's name means that they have acknowledged your soul.
"......Is that why......Father wants me to call him by his name......?"
No, ......that's probably wrong.
When Father sees me, it reminds him of that other me...the past me.
And I'm sure that 'me' called Father by his name.

However, ......that probably doesn't mean Father would be happy to hear me call him by his name.
After all, .........I am me.........and not the Beatrice my Father knows well.
......What can I do......to help Father......?
How can I be useful to him?

That's the only reason I was born......
Hanging her head, Beatrice sat all alone in the Golden Land's arbor that was next to the rose garden...
This scene was watched by the Witch of Theatergoing and her miko as they sat across from each other...

".........Poor kid."
"I never thought I'd see you feel compassion for Beato..."

"......It'd be too cruel to call this Beato and the former Beato the same person.  They're completely different people."

It may be that, by the rules, this Beato is 'the' Beato.

......However, saying that would be horribly unfair to her.

".........Battler must be very depressed to have revived his former rival and have things end up this way."

"I can sort of understand Onii-chan's despair.  ......However, I can understand how this child feels as well.  ......No person can become a replacement for another.  Not even the past version of themselves."

Compared to the young boy and girl who had found new versions of themselves and called each other by their true names, ......this witch looked very feeble.

The witch knew that she was an illusion created in the image of the person she once was.

And she also knew that it would only hurt Battler to try and pretend to be that person.

".........And even so, this Beato wants to be useful to Battler.  ...How admirable."
"Is that the purpose for the witch known as Beatrice?"

"......That is what she claims.  She says that she was created to be of service to Battler."

"So, the Beato who was born for Onii-chan's sake eventually commits a serial murder and drags Onii-chan into a bizarre game that she calls eternal torture?  I don't get it."

"I believe you also understand that one can become a different person over a thousand years..."
......At the very least, Beatrice was once a pure creature who was born for Battler's sake.

It is also very clear that, in her current feeble state, she does not possess any of the courage or the motivation needed to bring about those fearsome serial murders.
If so, ......that means the sinister witch we all know must have changed during the thousand years since her birth.
"......We keep getting this 'thousand years' business, but I get the feeling that those words are just a metaphor for a really long time in the world of witches."

"As you get closer to the world of gods, the concept of time becomes increasingly vague.  Six years can become a thousand, and a thousand years can be nothing more than a quick nap.  ......One can fit an eternity long enough to be deserving of the title 'one hundred year old witch' in a mere two weeks..."

In other words, the pure Beato transformed into the cruel Beato......during those six years that could be called a thousand...

So, does that mean something bad happened during those six years that made her hate Onii-chan?

"That doesn't make sense.  During those six years, Onii-chan not only stayed away from Rokkenjima, he even stopped using the Ushiromiya name.  ......Onii-chan had nothing to do with that change.  Her hatred must be totally misguided."
"............"
"Oh, so this is where you were...  Shall I make you some black tea...?"

"......Kumasawa-san.  ......There's something I'd like to know."
"Hohoho...  Very well, what is it?"

".........My name is Beatrice......isn't it?""Yes, that is correct.  You are Beatrice-sama, Milady."

"However, ......the Beatrice that Father talks about...isn't me."

"......Well......"

"I think Father wanted me to be that person.  ......I think that might be why...  He was disappointed because, no matter how much I looked like her...I am a different person."

"That isn't true...  You are you, Beatrice-sama herself.  ......You have merely lost your memory of the past after being newly reborn...  Even without your memory, you are still Beatrice-sama.  You are the same person whom the Master loves."

"......So then, ......how can I regain those memories...?""Well........."
Beato looked at Kumasawa with hopeful eyes, as though praying that she would tell her the way.

......Kumasawa averted her gaze unhelpfully, as though trying to say that she would, if only such a way existed...
"If I can't regain them, ......can't you at least tell me what kind of person the Beatrice Father loved was?"

"Th, ......that is something I can tell you, but......"

"I was born for Father's sake.  So, I want to become the Golden Witch Beatrice that Father desires."
"......B, ......Beatrice-sama......"

"I cannot use magic.  ......However, if the witch Father desires could use it, then I will learn.  I want to become the witch he desires.  That's the only way I can repay Father for creating me."

".........That's admirable.  Without the thousand years gone wrong, she really is an incredible kid."

"A chick of a witch......very interesting.  ......I've taken a liking to her, Ange.  I shall allow this chick to make use of my study.  Let us open the door which leads back to the world of witches."

"......So, you're going to make her read aloud the stories about her previous self.  ...Yes, I want to know too.

The tale of how the Golden Witch Beatrice was created."

"...............Very well.  If you wish it, ......then let us open the door once again.""......Kumasawa...san..."

A golden splash welled up around them.

......It was a cloud of gold butterflies.

With a golden flash, the form of the old lady transformed into that of a witch in a dress......

"You must choose the path that you are to walk down.  ......Let us call it a path of roses.  The beautifully blooming roses may encourage you and their thorns may torment you.  ......But even so, it is a path that you once walked down.  ...You may pass through the same thousand years.  You may pass through a different thousand years.  If you wish, you may even return back the way you came."

"I'll move on forward.  ......I don't want to spend a thousand years in this garden drinking tea.  ......I, Beatrice, was born for Father's sake.  So I want to live for Father's sake.  Please tell me...about the Golden Witch."
......The great witch spread her arms, communicating the other's unbending determination to the brilliant heavens.
At that moment, a brilliant light covered the two of them, and before they knew it, they were in a strange study.

There sat the master of these archives, the great old witch, and her miko.

...Virgilia gave a deep and elegant bow.
"......It is the greatest of honors to be in your presence.  Lady Featherine Augustus Aurora, the majestic Witch of Theatergoing, Drama, and Spectating."

"Raise your head, child of man.  ......I shall give that child the privilege of using my archives however she likes for a time.  ......Ange, my miko.  See that she has no trouble."

"Sure, sure, as you wish, my master.  You could just tell her that you want to see her story."

"Miko of the Witch of Theatergoing.  ......I leave Beatrice in your care."
"......Pleased......to meet you......"
"..................The Beatrice you're trying to become...was suffering from something.  ...At the very least, you've been released from that for now.  ......Will you really go on a journey to regain those shackles...?"

"Y, ......yes.  ......I want to become the Golden Witch.  ......That is the reason I was born."
"I, the Endless and Finite Witch Publius Virgilia Maro, ask that you make her journey through Purgatory a pleasant one and that you grant her your protection."

"Huh?  Oh, uh...  ......Let it be known that as the miko of the Witch of Theatergoing and as the Endless Witch and Apprentice Witch of Resurrection, I, Ange Beatrice, do accede to your request and all that stuff..."

Featherine snorted.

"......So, ......your name is also Beatrice......?"".........Yep.  I know a lot about you."

"Please teach me.  What kind of person was I?"
"Sure.  ......And I'll want you to teach me.  Why did you become the person you were?"
"......In this archive, the Fragments showing the tales of all your games up until now are stored as books.  By reading them, you should be able to learn everything that has happened before now..."
"By reading them, can I become the Golden Witch......?"

"......To become the Golden Witch, one must solve the epitaph of the gold.  ......And this trial cannot be skipped, not even by Beatrice herself......"

"I, I'll do my best.  So please, let me read the books in this archive...!"
"......As worthy of admiration as ever.  Why do you want to go back to being like that so much...?"

"I do not know what I was like then.  ......However, if that me can be of use to Father, I want to become it."

Ange sighed resignedly.
......No words would stop this girl's feelings of respect.

...Ange was the miko of the Witch of Theatergoing.
She could do nothing except watch over the stage.
Yes, they weren't actually interfering with the play.
This was just a bit of directing...to shine the spotlight onto the tale of Beato's past.

Even this was nothing more than the Witch of Theatergoing watching a play.
"If you read, you will learn what kind of a person the old Beatrice was.  ......However, you must decide what you will take from that experience...  ......You are free to stay in the archive or leave the archive or even return to the archive again later.  ......In compensation, I will watch your play."

"Watch my play...?"

"......It means you can do whatever you want."
"Th, thank you very much, Augauau......umm-"

"She likes it when you call her Featherine."
"Thank you very much, Featherine-sama......"
After being welcomed in by Featherine, ......Beato left on a journey to know herself.
That tale connected the old tale with the new one.  It wove them together.
......The thousand year old tale about her returned to its starting point, becoming a snake eating its own tail.
The ring of that snake began slowly, bit by bit, to turn into the shape of a small island floating on the sea.

That island was......Rokkenjima.
The thousand years of the witch born on this island...were tied to the island.

Was it a thousand years, or just six?
......Or did this tale start even further back into the past?

Beatrice went out on a journey to find herself......
The wind had been strengthening since a while back.
The breaking waves had grown fierce.
The ferryboats probably wouldn't be coming for a while now.
The crashing thunder told that the island had been sealed off from the outside world.
A thick rain poured down, mocking the fools outdoors who had to rush pathetically to find shelter.
No longer would anyone be able to leave this island.
......And no longer would anyone be able to reach this island.

......No one, unless blessed with a miracle.
There was another flash of lightning.

......The retinas of all who saw it were filled with white.
As that white faded away, ......an eerie shadow pulled itself up amidst the raging waters of the beach...
As though suddenly remembering, it coughed violently several times, filthily spitting out the sea water that had filled its stomach.

......She then tore apart the velcro of her life jacket and threw down the reason she had been able to float here without so much as a thank you.
"Hahahahahahaha, ahahahahahahahaha!!  Gurgh, *cough*cough*cough*, haah, haah, haah...  ......*cackle*cackle*, ahahahahahahaha!!  Welcomed in by a storm, same as always!  Very <good>!  Yes, come and entertain me, Battler-san!!"
The news about the drifter, Furudo Erika, quickly spread across Rokkenjima.
Erika had been politely entertained, and it was decided that she would be treated as a guest until the typhoon passed.
In the dining hall, Gohda's wonderful dinner had ended, and everyone was relaxing and enjoying some after-dinner coffee and cheese......

Apparently, Battler was a bit relieved that Erika had come and turned into a good scapegoat.  It drove away some of the attention he'd been getting piled on him for finally coming back after six years.
In fact, she turned out to be very talkative.

When the conversation turned to a sophisticated discussion of the mystery genre, even the adults were drawn in.
She was apparently so well versed that even Nanjo, who had a vast knowledge of the subject, was impressed.

"Wahahaha, good point.  A strange family in a western mansion on an isolated island during a storm.  Now that we have a detective stopping by to take shelter from the rain, we've got all the major factors lined up."
"Have no fear.  No matter how difficult the crime, I will solve it.  That's a detective's job."

"How reassuring.  It almost sounds as though you want a bizarre crime to occur.  I hope I don't have to play the part of the victim."
"Dear, don't be imprudent."
"Well, the history of the human mystery genre is only about a century old.  Its tricks and ideas are limited to a few recycled patterns, so there's nothing left to show.  No matter what kind of impossible crimes or closed room murders might occur, it'll be nothing more than one of the same classes of tricks dressed up to look like something new."
"......The only reason mysteries still make for popular books today is because self-proclaimed 'fans'--those who work off pieced-together knowledge and who have hardly read any of the classics--mistakenly think that a classic trick they didn't know about, through lack of proper study, is actually something new and surprising."
Everyone couldn't help but gape at this imposing claim...

If an aged critic had said it, that would have been one thing.
......But to think that a young person like this could say it so boldly...
"Mystery is a genre that ended a half century ago.  At least as far as I'm concerned.  ......However, thanks to the countless ignorant fools, I get to play my part as detective.  *giggle*giggle*giggle*giggle*...!"

"By that argument, wouldn't it mean that romance was perfected back in Shakespeare's time, so everything after that isn't worth reading?"
"Exactly.  So, if you just read Romeo and Juliet, it's the same as having understood all of romance."

"That's ridiculous.  .........It's not like there's any need to read more books than everyone else just for its own sake, but on the other hand, you can't be so satisfied with just a few stories like that.  ......Just reading classics of the past and never anything new is being overly nostalgic, don't you think?  That sounds to me like the excuse of an old person who's too lazy to read anything."

"..................That's right.  I don't read as much as you, so I get the feeling you'd beat me in an argument."
"Me?  Haha, I don't read books."

"............"
Battler chuckled, ......but Erika knew from the previous game that 'Battler' was actually quite an avid reader.

So, his words felt like more of a challenge.

"If you're so confident in your reasoning abilities, you must be really good at quizzes and puzzles, right?"
"Oh, right.  Maria, didn't you bring a quiz book or something?"
"Uu-!  Brought it!!"

Picking up that Erika's arrogant statement had made the atmosphere a little more tense, George smoothly changed the subject.
By now, it was more than clear that she wasn't the cute guest she had appeared to be.

Maria pulled a book out of her bag that had quizzes and puzzles written on it and started reading them to everyone.
It might have looked as though it would become a peaceful quiz party, ......but of course, that isn't what happened.
In credit to all her big talking, Erika managed an impressive ratio of correct and immediate answers...
Erika took complete control.  ......Her bragging began to escalate more and more.

George slightly regretted the choice he had made when changing the subject.
"106 matches.  No need to even write a tournament chart for it."

The question, how many matches would you need for a tournament with 107 teams, was answered instantly by Erika.
"This is less of a puzzle than it is a test of knowledge.  There's a formula which shows that the number of matches is always the number of teams minus one.  ......Well, if you just look at the examples showing three matches for four teams and seven matches for eight teams, it should be easy to figure out the pattern."

"Uu-!  Erika, that's awesome!"

"Erika onee-chan, right?!  Say it."
"Uu-, Erika onee-chan, that's awesome."

"Really impressive.  .........So, you don't call yourself a detective for nothing."
"I couldn't very well act the part of the detective if I was incapable of handling puzzles of this sort."

"Incredible.  I'm sure you'll be able to become a real detective in the future."
"Well, I'm pretty sure I already am one."
The cousins all thought about the answers to the questions, but Erika always answered first.

Rosa thought that it was a bit rude for Erika to say the answers out loud while people were thinking, instead of keeping them to herself, but since Erika was a guest, Rosa decided against mentioning it.
......In truth, Erika was perfectly aware of this when she answered the questions instantly.

Each time, she would grin broadly, as though saying 'you all still haven't solved such an easy problem?'...

"......Since you're a great detective, you don't really need to take this so seriously, right?"
"Good point.  Even though these are just childish questions, I've been taking them a bit too seriously.  ......I'll take more care, so let's hear the next question please."

"Alright, I won't lose this time.  Maria, next question please!"
"Umm, ......you have one large piece of cheese.  A single slice with a knife can split it into two parts.  So, what is the lowest number of slices you can make to cut it into eight parts?  Uu-!"

"Oh, I know this one.  So I guess I'll stay quiet this time."

George, acting like the adult he was, set up a mood that would prevent people from answering right away even if they knew the answer, in effect sending a warning to Erika.
It seemed that Erika understood, and she averted her gaze, snorting derisively.
"......To make eight pieces, four slices would be enough, right?"

"That's dumb.  It would hardly be a puzzle if that was the answer."
"Hahaha.  That's right.  These are usually set up so that a smaller number than you'd expect is the answer.  But still, how exactly could it be done?"

"......Oh, got it, got it.  You can only do this because it's cheese."
"True.  If you tried to do it with a birthday cake, there'd be a huge fight."

"Wahahaha!  That's right.  You might be able to do this with cheese, but you'd never cut a cake like this."
"Huh?  Huh?  All of you know the answer?!  Dammit, am I the only one who doesn't?!"

"Oh, I've got it!  I see, so you have to think three-dimensionally."
"Wait, even Jessica?!  I don't get it!  What should I dooooooo?!"

"Kihihihihihi, I know the answer.  It's written right here.  Kihihihihi."
"You didn't know the answer until you looked, right?  *giggle*, get it?  Battler-kun?"

"I see, I understand it as well.  This is something you can do because it is cheese."
"Gyah?!  Even Doctor Nanjo gets it?!  Could it be?  Am I the only one who doesn't get it?!"

"......If we tried cooking your brain a bit, it'd probably become as flexible as cheese.  *giggle*giggle*......"

"It isn't something like 'use zero slices with the knife and break it apart with your hands', right?"

"Of course not.  It's impossible to cut this cheese with anything other than a knife."
"Think of the cheese in three dimensions.  If that's hard, it might help to draw a picture on a paper napkin."

"S, so, we have one large piece of cheese, right...?  Then we use a knife to make eight pieces......  ......Can the knife only cut in a straight line?"
"Yes, that's right.  The knife only cuts in straight lines.  ......Oh, but here's a hint.  You can only cut in a straight line, but you're free to cut it wherever you want."

"Try thinking of various ways to stick the knife in."
"You should probably try to think out of the box a bit.  Show us what you've got, Battler-kun."
You have a large piece of cheese.

How many times must you cut it with a knife to make eight pieces?
It's obvious that you could do it in four cuts.

Can it be done in even fewer cuts than that?

The hints said that it was something that could be done because it was cheese.

If it was a birthday cake, you really wouldn't be allowed to do this.
".........Cheese.  ...Cheese.  ......Something you can do because it's cheese?  ......Oh, ...oooooooooooohh!!  I've got it, I've got it!!  I was totally tricked!  This isn't something you can think up with a stiff head...!"
"Seems like you've finally hit on it.  Hopefully it is the right answer."

"It's impossible to cut the cheese with anything except the knife, right?  The knife can only cut in a straight line, right?  There aren't any other rules, right?  Right?!"

"Uu-.  Not really."

"Alright, then that's got to be it!  Wheeew, that was a tough one...it's almost like a riddle!"
"Hahahaha, it's just that you won't get anywhere if you always cut down from the top.  You make two cuts from the top to get four pieces.  If you keep it like that and cut across the side, splitting it into an upper half and a lower half, you get four times two equals eight pieces!"

"It's an answer you can't reach unless you think three-dimensionally.  In other words, the correct answer is three."
"......Huh?  Really?  I......thought the correct answer was one."

"Wahahahaha!  What kind of magic did you use?!  There's no way in the world you could manage it with one."
"*giggle*.  This isn't a riddle, it's just a normal math problem."

".........Huh?  Oh, ......really...?  Nnnnn, I thought of the three-cut method right away, ......but I figured that was too easy, so I guess I tried to twist it too far......"

"......Battler's answer is smaller than the one in the book.  Is Battler right?"
"Yes, he is.  .........Battler-san is right.  The right answer is one slice."

Battler was happy that someone had confirmed his answer.  ......However, at some point, Erika's face had lost its cheeriness.

".........To think that a human other than myself would answer one...and that it'd be you, of all people."
"Your answer was one too, Erika?  ......I guess you were also thinking out of the box."

"It would be truly foolish to arbitrarily decide the shape just because you heard it was a piece of cheese."

"That's impossible.  Onii-chan got it wrong, didn't he?  How could you cut it into eight pieces with less than three slices?"
"How foolish, child of man.  *giggle*giggle*......  It says to cut it into eight pieces, but nowhere does it say that they have to be of equal size..."

"It's still impossible.  Do you cut it with something other than a knife?"
"The rules say that only the knife can cut it, and that the knife can only cut in a straight line.  However, to turn it around, the rules do not say anything besides that......  In fact, the shape of the cheese is never specified."

"I get it...  When you all heard 'a large piece of cheese', you thought of a flat cylinder, like Camembert.  ......I was thinking about sliced cheese, like the kind you might put on your toast for breakfast.  ......After all, I don't usually have anything to do with full blocks of cheese that you'd cut with a knife."

"......The shape of the cheese isn't specified in the rules.  A mistake by the ones who made the book.  I imagine that there's a picture of a flat cylinder of cheese there in Maria-san's book."

"Uu-.  There is.  Right here."
As Erika had guessed, the book Maria held had an illustration of a piece of cheese just as Erika had described it.

......With cheese of this shape, three slices really would be the correct answer.
You cut it in a + pattern from the top to make four pieces.
Then cut it from the side to double that and make eight pieces.

However, since this illustration hadn't been shown, the interpretation of the cheese had been left to the answerer.

"......That is right.  When the problem was stated, it never said anything about what the cheese's shape was or how flexible it was."
"Exactly.  It seems that Battler-san was the more flexible one when it comes to both brains and cheese."

"I, ......I don't get it.  How does making it sliced cheese let you cut it into eight parts with a single knife slice?"

"Why not try it with that paper napkin.  Pretend it's sliced cheese."

"......It's like this.  You fold it accordion-style.  ......How many times do you need to fold it to make eight sections...?"
"Six times."
To fold it accordion-style, you alternate between upward and downward folds.
Once you've done this six times, it looks like the side of an accordion.
"With normal cheese, it'd break if you tried to fold it like this, ......but the rules say that this cheese can't break unless you use a knife, right...?"
"Yes, no problems there.  After all, this is magic cheese that can only be cut by the knife."
"After folding it, ......if you start at the top and make a cut right down the middle..."
"......Y, ......you're right.  ...There are eight parts."
"W, wait a second.  The parts aren't all equal this way, right...?!"
"......All the questioner said was to cut it into eight pieces.  They didn't say anything about them being equal.  ......Well, if you change the way you fold it, it is possible to make them all equal sizes, but I wouldn't want to confuse you stiff-headed people with the explanation.  Eheheheheheheheheheh......"

"Oh, ......ooooooohhh............"

For a while, everyone was stunned......

Battler had reached a far better answer than three by thinking of the problem as a riddle.
Erika had already known both answers and had even spotted a mistake made by the book.

......The others could do nothing but stare at those two in surprise.

"I, ......incredible.  ...So we were the stiff-headed ones...?"
"What...a failure."
"We were thinking in three dimensions, ......but it looks like Battler-kun and Erika-chan were thinking in one dimension higher."
"......It seems the game with the witch has toughened you up quite a lot.  ......Puzzles without specified rules--in other words, all things not covered by the red truth--are left to the observer's interpretation.  ......It's the most basic of methods for constructing gaps in the witch's closed rooms."

"What are you talking about...?  Is that a quote from some novel...?"

"...............Well, let's call it that for now, shall we?  Anyways, I guess this means that everyone's brains are as stiff as rock-hard cheese.  *giggle*giggle*giggle*...!"

Without any signs of restraint, Erika looked at everyone and laughed sarcastically...

Only Maria didn't notice the venom in that laugh as she happily turned to the next page.
"Uu-!!  Then on to the next problem.  You have three cups and six coins.  Split up the coins so that there's one coin in one cup, two coins in another cup, and three coins in the third cup.  Uu-!"
"Wait a sec, that's easy.  Just stick one coin in the first cup, two in the next one, and three in the last one and you're done."
"However, can you do the same thing with only five coins?!  Uu-!!"
"Here's another cliched problem.  Don't tell me that you'll all need to waste several precious seconds on a problem like this......?"

By now, Erika was gazing around with an unpleasant look, acting in a manner that was completely inappropriate both for a guest and for someone of her age...
She was no longer a guest who would be staying until the storm passed.
She had transformed into an annoying guest who wouldn't leave until the storm passed...

Everyone thought this, but they were unable to say it aloud...
"Uh, ......oh, right, speaking of problems with coins, I've heard that you can tell whether someone's good with chopsticks or not by seeing if they can pick up coins with them..."

"Chopsticks!  nbsp;Yes, chopsticks, that's right.  Chopsticks are the most elegant utensil on the planet.  Poking things and chopping them up with forks and knives is so barbaric!  Chopsticks are the best.  For me, using chopsticks is truly an art."
Jessica was about to say 'isn't a chopstick just a stick?'...but stopped herself just in time.

She realized that it was best to let George take control for now...

"I have a coin here, so would you like to challenge me?  I'm pretty good with chopsticks."
"Th, that's right...  We trained George very well with chopsticks."

"True.  Upbringing is what makes for good table manners.  Erika-san was very impressive herself."
"I'll lend you some coins too.  It'll probably be more fun with more of them."

"Jessica.  Watch closely and learn."
"D, dammit...!"

"Alright, let's go.  Let's see who can move the most coins over to their plate."
"Bring it on!!  Chopsticks, chopsticks, haah haah!!"
......This time, George had steered the conversation into a good direction.

Everyone else understood, and they helped to egg on this chopstick fight and change the subject.
They were fully aware by now that Erika was extremely proud of her intelligence.
And apparently, she had the bad habit of using that to look down on other people.
She spun her chopsticks around with the deft hand of a juggler, staring at the coins scattered on the table like a dog begging for a meal......
......The unsettling sound of the wind had now blended in with the sound of rain, resembling the howl of some monstrous beast.

Just when it seemed to be crying out sadly, it would suddenly turn into a roar and rattle the window, striking up even more fear and unease within me...
Light from the hallway poured in through the thin crack of the slightly open door......and it seemed to carry with it laughter that was warm and happy, but very distant...

I'm sure everyone's in the dining hall or somewhere, having a good time...
I want to go there as soon as I can...

.........I'm sure my family will be there...
I hate being all alone in a place like this......
......Dad......  .........Mom......
I stubbornly tried again and again to open the door, but the merciless chain just wouldn't let the door open any further than that crack.
On the contrary, feeling this close to a way out just made me more impatient.

......Gulping and trying to ignore the fear lurking behind me, ......I quietly closed the door.
That light coming out of the crack......is just a trap.

This is an iron shackle, trying to keep me locked in here for eternity by making me think I'm just an inch away from getting out a door that will never actually open......
I need to get out of this creepy room...
......As soon as possible...
When I closed the door, all that filled the room was that eerie sound of wind and rain.

The way the wind picked up every now and then and shook the window frame felt like a monster in a cage shaking the bars...

......I was so scared of that monster......I couldn't help but avert my gaze from the window.
Gotta search.  If I can't get out the door, I need to find another way out......
Just to the side of the door was a closet.
There was only enough space inside to hang overcoats.
......Of course, it didn't connect to anywhere outside the room.

If this were hide-and-seek, it'd probably be fun to hide in there.
However, inside this creepy room, ......it would be no better than stepping into my own coffin...
......If I go in there, ......maybe I won't be able to get out of the closet next.

This fear I didn't understand sent a massive shiver up my spine, and I closed the closet door in a hurry......
There's......one door left.
When I opened it, there was the bath and toilet.

......Of course, there was no exit.
There weren't even any windows.
If I turned the faucet, water would probably come out......then disappear down the drain and flow outside, ......but I couldn't get out that way.
......Unless I went into the bathtub, with the stopper pulled out of the drain, and smashed my flesh and bones to bits...

I had the feeling that this was the only way out, so the black stopper in the bathtub drain looked extremely terrifying...
I tried a lot of things, both mentally and physically, but there really was no way of getting out through the bathroom......
Next is.........the window.

Beyond the window is a pitch-black darkness.
The fierce winds and rain are slamming against the glass...
The darkness on the other side of the window may have been unsettling, but I didn't really care where I went, as long as it was outside this room.
However, the window......was clamped shut.

Right down the middle of the window, which was made to swing open like a set of double doors, were several ugly metal clamps.

It was even more unnerving than the chain on the door, like a rough operation scar on some bizarre monster.
The wind and rain slammed against and shook the window frame, making it creak loudly.
However, unlike the door, this wouldn't open even a crack.
......I've...had enough.
Give it a rest already...  What the hell's going on with this room......?

I've had enough of this creepy room...enough, enough, enough, enough...!
It's impossible to go outside except by the door and windows.

And compared to that thick door, the window looks like it might be possible to break.
I'll smash it.

......If I swing a chair at it, the glass will probably break.
I might even be able to smash the wooden grid that runs through these latticed windows.

All I need to do is make a gap large enough to slip out of.
......I grabbed a fancy-looking antique chair and headed back to the window.
A, .........aaaaaaaaaaaaahhhh......!
Smash it.  Over and over.

The glass smashed with a violent sound, and the frame groaned and creaked.
Smash it, smash it.
Over and over.

If I can just break through the wooden grid......!
......Dammit......what...the hell...

Even though the glass had been smashed apart, ......even though the cold rain that blew in tormented me, ......I just couldn't get that grid to break...!
They weren't iron bars.
It was just a slender wooden mesh...

Even though it's fragile enough to make that creaking sound, why doesn't it break...?!
No wait, maybe it's almost broken.
What if I try attacking it from a different angle instead of just smashing it head on?

I stuck my left hand outside through the hole in the broken latticed window, grabbed the frame from the front with my right hand, and tried to break it by shaking it around from both sides.
My left hand started to grow ice-cold from the frigid winds and rain...

......As I shook, fragments of glass sticking out from the broken frame poked into me, and my wrist was soon stained with blood.
But...if I can just get out of here, this much pain is no big deal.

But, ......I can't get out.  I'm stuck.  It won't open...I can't break it......!
The more violently I shook the frame, the more the glass fragments tore into my left wrist, causing me intense pain.  ......Wait, what's......huh?  Ow, ...owowowowow?!
Before I realized it, the glass fragments on the frame had extended outwards.
It was as though an ugly beast was trying to chew my hand off with glass teeth.
It didn't just feel as though they were growing outwards.
They actually were getting longer before my very eyes, .......aaaah, and they're chewing my hand to bits...!!

I tried desperately to pull my hand out, but it had already dug deep into my wrist, and I couldn't move it.
I put all my strength into it, but it just hurt more and more, and the glass didn't even budge...!

What...the...hell...?!!  D, dammit, let go......let go, let go..!!
I hit the glass with my right fist over and over, but that just hurt my right fist and did nothing to release my other hand...
Just then, ............my left hand, which was still stuck outside and exposed to the rain, brushed against something slimy...
Wh, ......what?!
It couldn't have been a leaf blown about by the winds, or anything like that...!
I mean......it felt just like the touch of someone's rain-soaked hand......
Then, ......it closed tightly around my left hand.

When I felt the five fingers, ......I knew that some person out in the darkness was touching my left hand.
And............yes...I know who it is......
It's the witch...  The terrifying witch who controls Rokkenjima's night......
The two hands soaked in the freezing rain......gently caressed my left hand.
However, though I could tell this was happening from the touch, I couldn't see anything out there in the darkness......
Then, .........it felt about my fingers, ......and twisted my ring finger upwards.
O, owowowooow...  I, ......it's gonna break......gyaaah...!
......At that moment, I saw something in the darkness for the first time.

It was white.

The darkness......grinned...and bared its white teeth.
Then, ......that mouth filled with eerily white teeth, which had lined up next to my twisted up finger......opened wide.........

E, ......eeek.....................
It must have been laughing at me from the darkness.

After all, that creepy mouth was twisting upward in a huge grin.
I had a horrible idea of what it might be trying to do to my finger.
A shiver ran up my spine.

......I resisted as much as I could, but the fangs of glass just wouldn't release my left hand.
And then, .........it gently bit my finger.
.........Flesh and bone were crushed and torn apart in an instant......

*crunch* *rip* *tear* *squelch*...*splat*.
"......Did you hear something just now?"

"I think I heard it too.  It sounded like a clunk......"
"It's probably just the wind hitting a window.  Heheh, this is a beat-up old mansion, after all."

"Yeah, it is pretty creepy.  When I was a brat six years ago, I remember spending a lot of nights all scared that the witch really was walking around the mansion."

"Uu-, exists!  Beatrice exists!"
".........What's at the other end of this hallway?"

"There are guest rooms there, but they aren't being used now."
"Yeah.  After all, we have the guesthouse now.  Until then, we would always stay in these guest rooms."

"Yeah, I remember too.  When I saw the guesthouse today, I was surprised at how beautiful it was."
"Well, that's because it was just built.  I wish I could move my own room over there.  Shannon, Erika-san's room is in the guesthouse too, right?"

"Yes.  We have prepared a room for her in the guesthouse."

"......And, since the guesthouse is a good distance away from the mansion, ......no matter what kind of trouble happens, you can't hear what's going on in one from the other."

"Heh.  Are you still in detective mode?  Ihihi, sounds as though you'll be disappointed when we wake up tomorrow and everyone can say 'good morning' to each other."

"*giggle*, true.  It would be troublesome if our numbers haven't thinned by tomorrow morning.  Right?"

"A, ...allow me to guide you all to the guesthouse..."
The adults were apparently about to begin a conversation that they didn't want the kids to hear.
......The real family conference was about to start.
As the kids and Erika followed Shannon on their way to the guesthouse, they passed through the entrance hall...
"Looks like it's pouring down at its hardest right now."

"......Should we watch TV in the parlor until it dies down a bit?"

"Mama said to go back to the guesthouse.  Have to go or she'll get mad.  Uu-."

"I think it'll be a lot more relaxed over there...  I'm more than happy to stay away from our parents' unpleasant voices and faces."
".........*giggle*giggle*.  It looks like everything's falling into place."

Erika giggled, an openly indiscreet look on her face.

"I'll go prepare some umbrellas for everyone.  Please wait here."

"Oh, wait a second.  It's been bugging me for a while.  ......Who's the woman in that portrait?"

Well, to be honest, I already know that it's Beato's portrait.
......Still, we only just walked past it in the last game, which is no fun.

Erika whispered to herself, but of course no one heard her.
"......This is the Master's benefactor, Beatrice-sama."
"I've heard that she gave Grandfather a vast quantity of gold, meaning that she's to thank for the Ushiromiya family's revival."
".........She's just a witch of Grandfather's delusions.  They say that her ghost walks the corridors of the mansion every night."

"Hey, quit it...  That story always freaked me out when I was little, so much that I couldn't stand being in the mansion at night."

"Oh, right, that's true.  What about now, six years later?"
"I'd totally forgotten, but looking at this portrait head on, I can feel that old fear coming back a bit."

"Uu-.  Beatrice isn't scary.  At least, as long as you respect her.  If you don't, .........kihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihi!  Right, Shannon?!"
"Uh, ......yes.  ......That rumor does exist among the servants as well.  ......Rumors about servants patrolling at night bumping into mysterious silhouettes...or gold butterflies..."

"Yeah, was it last year or the year before?  Didn't one servant fall down some stairs and get so badly injured that they quit?  Wasn't there a rumor that it was Beatrice's curse?  Ihhihihihi~!"

Jessica told it like a ghost story, trying to scare Erika, but Erika just laughed disdainfully.
"C, come on, that's creepy...  It was probably just an accident, right?  Just a coincidence?"

"......It happened just after Grandfather had this portrait hung here, so it was probably the year before last.  ......In fact, if I remember, this here is the staircase that servant fell down, right?"
"Yep.  After all, this insanely huge portrait really stands out.  Shortly after it was put up, everyone was talking about what it might be.  ......And then, when the accident happened shortly afterwards, people started calling it Beatrice's curse."
"So, these ghost stories about Beatrice started after the portrait was displayed...?"

"......N, no.  Rumors about Beatrice-sama's ghost walking about had been around even before that.  However, I think those stories grew in number after the portrait was put there..."

"......Before then, even though they had heard about the witch Beatrice, they didn't have an actual distinct picture in their heads of what she'd be like.  I imagine that this portrait made that picture distinct for them, strengthening the rumors even more."
"So, ......who started talking about the witch Beatrice in the first place?"
"Grandfather.  He would get in a rage and start yelling about 'my beloved witch Beatri~ce'.  Though until we saw that portrait, we had no idea what she looked like."
"It's no surprise that you'd get one or two ghost stories with a creepy portrait like this hanging around.  You'd always get ghost stories cropping up around things like a portrait of Beethoven in the music room or the statue of the school founder."
"......True.  It wouldn't be strange for a few ghost stories to arise in an old, gloomy mansion with the sound of wind and rain present in the background for so long.  ......Well, it's nothing more than a ghost story, a delusion, a fairy tale.  Worth less than the useless drivel of a half-sleeping nitwit."
Erika looked up at the portrait and smiled at it hostilely......

As though she felt that this smile was disrespectful to Beato, Maria's face soured.

"......Uu-.  Beatrice exists.  If you say things like that, you'll definitely feel the curse of the witch."
"Oh, how frightening.  Please, curse me if you can, Beatrice.  ......*giggle*giggle*."

"Ihihi.  So, if we find you mysteriously dead next morning, it'll be the start of a witch's murder case.  ......You're the detective, right?  Wouldn't having the detective get killed off in the beginning be a little too radical?"

"Ah, that would be troubling.  That would get in the way of the crime scene inspection.  ......I see, even the Knox rules don't prohibit the detective being killed."

"I have something good!  ......It's a charm that'll protect you from Beatrice's curse...!"
"A charm?  You have a charm for something like that?"
After fishing around in her bag, Maria pulled out a string of beads attached to a medal that had a scorpion drawn on it.  ......It looked like a cheap prize from an arcade or something.
"What are these?"

"Uu-!  They're magic-repelling charms!  Their effect is very weak, but if you use them, you'll definitely be able to avoid Beatrice's curse all night long."
"I've heard that spiderwebs are also useful for repelling magic."

"Uu-.  That's probably because Beato is the incarnation of a butterfly."

"Huh?  Wasn't it the evil spirits of Akujikishima that were weak against that?  Kumasawa-san knows a lot about that sort of thing."
"......Witches...and evil spirits?  Heheh, this is getting a bit interesting.  Would you mind telling me about it in a bit more detail when we get to the guesthouse?"

"Here are umbrellas for everyone.  It is still raining very hard outside, so please take care."

Shannon handed out the umbrellas she had brought.
Everyone headed towards the exit......
After that, when there were none left standing in front of the portrait, ......a gold butterfly appeared.
Then, expanding out into a golden splash, it became a human form.
In the hall, empty now that the children had left, ......Beato stood alone and silent, looking up at her own portrait...
".................."
Without a doubt, the figure depicted there was as like her as an image in a mirror.
However, it felt as though its eyes and expression...were just a little different from hers.

From her perspective, while the person in this portrait was almost infinitely close to herself, ......it was just as surely a different person entirely.
".........Who...are you?  ......Please tell me what kind of person you are..."
Beato had already finished reading the Fragments from Featherine's archive, which showed the tales of all the games so far.

However, the witch called Beatrice who had been depicted in them...had been so vastly different from her.
......At the very end, it had looked as though that witch and Battler had connected just a little bit as rivals, ......but for the most part, Beatrice had just bullied and bullied Battler in nearly all of the tales.
Even though this was about her, she had no idea why Beatrice had tormented Battler so much when she had supposedly been born for Battler's sake.
......All she had learned from Featherine's archive......was that the former Beato was a completely different person who defied understanding...
"......What happened to you?  .........I am an egg of you.  A chick.  ......Your wings should have existed for Father's sake.  ......Just when did you have one of those torn off.........and end up so drastically different......?"
She had listened to the conversation Battler and the others had just been having.

Beatrice can't handle scorpion charms...?
Beatrice can't deal with spiderwebs......?

It wasn't as though she would like to touch either of those if she had the choice, but nothing bad would happen if she did.
......Was being perfectly fine when around those......proof that she wasn't Beatrice...?
Even though it was about herself, ......she didn't understand at all.
So, she quietly gazed into her own eyes on the portrait.

It felt as though the truth hid behind those eyes......
......Beato slowly......approached the portrait......
And then, ...she lightly touched it......
When she did, it felt as though the portrait rippled slightly.
......Yes.  This is...a doorway.

A doorway to the long path that would lead her to the Golden Witch, Beatrice......
Beato felt a bit dizzy.

......She lost her balance, feeling as though the world was twisting around her.

Then, she couldn't tell which way was up or down......and was swallowed downwards.
*plunk*  With a soft, watery sound, ......Beato was sucked into the portrait...
The world inside the portrait.........was pitch black.
However, there was nothing unsettling about it.

It was a comfortable darkness, like when you put your head under the covers in bed at night.
Beato...realized.
This was a world inside herself.

......So, despite the darkness, she felt a warm embrace.

As long as she asked for nothing, ......this world would ask nothing of her.
But she couldn't remain like this.  ......She didn't want to spend eternity inside the darkness of this world.
Yes, I need to hatch out of my egg.

This darkness is the shell surrounding the gold butterfly called Beatrice.
".........I will be born...for Father's sake.  ......I will be born to live for Father's sake and to serve him."
She took her goal...her reason for being born......and put it in words.
As if in response to those words, the seal on the shell began to melt away......
Cracks appeared in the darkness......and a brilliant light enveloped the world...
And so, .........Beatrice......was born.
"............Huh...?"

"............?"

There I stood......along with another me.

For a second, I thought that the me in front of me was the real Beatrice, the one I wanted to be more like.

However, she was looking back at me with the same bewildered eyes, ......so I realized that wasn't quite it.

......That's right.  ...I wasn't the only one born from the egg.
She was also born.

......My twin?
No, it feels a bit different.
How can I put it?

......Both of us are lacking something and immature.

Yes.  Both of us are chicks, ......but we are also...fragments of the true Beatrice.
It felt as though we could become the real Beatrice together.

......No one explained this to us.
However, we naturally understood...
I decided to talk to this other me.
Unless I get to know her and become one with her, I won't be able to become the Beatrice Father desires......

In other words, the thing that Father wants from me...and was so heartbroken to find missing...must be something that she has...
".........H, ......hello......?"

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

The Beatrice with her hair down looked at me dubiously several times, then finally spoke.

".........Why...do you have the same face as me...?"

The true Beatrice also spoke in that manner.

......It looks like she really does have something that I lack.

"W, ......well...  I don't know why either."

"I am the Golden Witch, Beatrice.  And you are?"

"I, I am also...Beatrice.  I was born for the purpose of serving Ushiromiya Battler."

"......I am the Golden Witch and the ruler of Rokkenjima's night.  ......I know Ushiromiya Battler, but I have trouble imagining why I would have to serve a brat like him."

I realized that the thought I'd had a second ago, ......that together, we could become the true Beatrice...must really have been true.

......Though the person in front of me does have the part that makes her a witch, which I lack, she does not possess the mission to live for Ushiromiya Battler's sake.

She has what I do not, ......and I'm sure I have something she does not.

"The two of us are surely one and the same.  ......Almost like twins."

"......No, that is not so.  You are my little sister.  I have been here since long before you were born."

"Huh?  I, ......is that so...?"
I was born later...

......So, does that mean the mission to live for Ushiromiya Battler's sake was born later on...?
However, I don't think my existence is something quite as faint and intangible as a mission.

......I have enough of a personality to think and act as I am doing now.
So, the witch Beato and I are separate people, both of us possessing something the other lacks.

In that sense, ......maybe it's fitting for us to call ourselves sisters, as she says.
"I, ......I want to know about you."

"I also wish to know.  I understand that you are also 'me'.  ......Why is it that you speak that way, and why must you serve Battler?  As long as we cannot understand that, it seems both of us will remain immature."

"......I...want to become a complete Beatrice."

"Until you were born, I was complete.  ......However, now that you have appeared, I believe that accepting you is my obligation.  ......I also wish to know about you."

The witch Beato's tone was very slightly arrogant, matching with her self-proclaimed status as the older sister.
However, since we both realized that we were the same person, there was no need to be unkind.

......This was probably because she understood that, after meeting me, her current form was no longer her real self.

"Where......are we?  Is this...the hall of the mansion...?  ......Oh-"
Beato gasped.
Her portrait wasn't there.

......In other words, did that mean that this was at least two years in the past...?
"Precisely.  This is the hall of the Ushiromiya mansion.  ......The night is my time.  And the nighttime mansion is mine as well.  That fool Kinzo is still so desperate to catch me or revive me.  How truly ironic.  Here I am, openly controlling the mansion every night.  *cackle*cackle*!"

"So, ......what do you do here...?"

"......I have lost my body, and due to the effects of that hateful shrine, I have no magical power.  However, I am reviving that magical power bit by bit every day.  ......I can't wait to undergo a spectacular resurrection at the end so that I can taunt that Kinzo.  I can't wait to tell him that I've succeeded in escaping from his cage...!  I have become a ghost wandering about and killing time every night just so that I can look forward to that smile."

"C, can I come with you......?"

"Of course!  After all, you are a part of me.  How could a left hand refuse the company of the right hand?  Why should I refuse?  I shall be pleased to have you, my little sister, the new Beatrice."

"Th, thank you very much, b, ......big sister."

"A somewhat embarrassing name.  But it is not bad.  Come, let us go.  Let us take a walk through the nighttime mansion.  *cackle*cackle*, let me introduce you to my boring everyday life."
The two Beatrices changed their forms into two gold butterflies, flitting silently into the depths of the shadowy mansion......
"......Back then I was, and I guess I still am, a bit of a klutz...  I'd always forget where I'd put things...or intend to lock something but then forget.  ......I caused a lot of trouble."

"Hahaha, I remember how Natsuhi oba-san used to get mad at you all the time."

"But eventually, Shannon managed to overcome that forgetfulness."
"Oh, and how'd you do that?"

"......Heheh.  It wasn't anything big, ......but I got into the habit of writing things down.  I'd write down wherever I put something important.  ......For things that happened often, I made a checklist and always made sure to check it......"
"So?  Did you see Beatrice or didn't you?"

"Oh, umm, ......I didn't see her directly, ......but, umm, ......some very strange things did happen..."
She was talking about a certain summer night.

It was when Shannon was doing the nightly rounds......
From her perspective, it was a ghost story.

From the witch's perspective, ......it was just the story of a little summer's night prank...
"My little sister.  Do you understand the anti-magic toxin that humans possess?"

"N, no.  What is that, big sister?"

"Hmm.  The time of witches has long since passed.  ......Those vile humans who claim to control everything came to deny our existence and possess a strong toxin."

"Is that toxin harmful to us...?"

"It is extremely dangerous.  If it got to us, our forms would probably evaporate in an instant.  However, one thing we do have in our favor is the fact that our existence is still extremely weak.  Because of that, the toxin does not affect us greatly.  At worst, it can only transform us into mist for a time."

"However, we'd rather avoid it if we can, right?"

"Correct.  Yes, I see that you are me.  You understand quickly."

The older sister appeared to be haughty at first, .........but, perhaps because she was so happy to have met her double and little sister, she was more than willing to teach her anything she wanted to know.
The first thing she had taught her was that they were witches, a different type of being than humans.
Beato had thought that she wasn't a witch because she couldn't use magic, but apparently, she was still a witch nonetheless.
Then she was taught that witches such as her, unlike humans, were bound by various restrictions.

The greatest of those restrictions was the anti-magic toxin possessed by humans.
"So, in other words, we mustn't enter a human's field of vision..."

"Correct.  You can think of it as though human eyes radiate the toxin.  If they see you, it is the same as your body being burnt.  Though they are lesser in extent, being heard or sensed can also result in contact with the toxin."

"......So, it's dangerous just for us to get close to humans..."

Wasn't Father a human...?
Why am I not burnt by Father's toxin......?

"If we stock up magical power and have it acknowledged by humans, that toxin can be reduced drastically.  In other words, by having our existence acknowledged by humans, we make them lose their toxin, making it possible for us to appear before them once more."

"I see......  Simply put, as we are now, we can only exist when humans aren't around..."

"We are still very lacking in magical power, which makes us inferior to even a stray cat hiding from humans in the shadows."
The main goal of the older sister was to gain a large supply of magical power and be revived as a great witch strong enough to have no fear of the anti-magic toxin.

For that purpose, she had wandered around the mansion night after night, striving to regain her magical power and reduce the anti-magic power of the humans...
The powerful previous Beatrice, whom she had read about in Featherine's library, had appeared openly in front of humans and had even toyed with them at will.

......According to her big sister, such a level of power was most impressive.
"To think that a witch could appear openly before humans and use magic at will!  ......A witch like that would be so great that even I can hardly imagine it.  Is that what we will eventually become?"
"Yes.  ......She was like a witch from a picture book, appearing openly before the humans of the mansion and summoning magic and underlings at will..."

"Hmmm, how inspiring.  If that is our future, it means that all of our hard work will have been worth the effort."

"That's right.  ......Anyways, big sister.  How are those efforts and going around unlocking windows like this related...?"
It was the middle of the night.  They were following behind servants who were checking the locks on the doors and windows and undoing those locks after the servants thought they had locked them.

......It felt more like a child's prank than the work of a witch...
"Eheheh, this is the path that leads to becoming a great witch.  All journeys begin with a single step.  To those who cannot understand, that first step may look quite foolish from time to time.  However, it is still a momentous first step...!"
With pride, as though making the first step for mankind on the surface of the moon, the older sister undid the lock on a window with a *click*.
"Do you not understand, my little sister?  Can you not see what makes something like this momentous?"

"............?  No, big sister.  ......I don't really understand."

The older sister closed her eyes lightly, smiled, and opened the unlocked window a crack.
Cool outside air flowed in, making the curtains flutter.
"Let us put it in the toxin-filled words of a human.  ......We are not supposed to exist on this island.  I shall go further.  'Right now, there is no one in this corridor'.  And yet, the lock has been undone, ......and the window has opened.  ......Can you see how great a miracle, a work of magic, ......a proof of our existence that is?  Even you should understand the coolness of this breeze..."
"......I do understand.  It's nice and cool..."
"The coolness, the softness of the breeze.  ......And the feel of the fluttering curtain touching your hair.  ...All of these things show that we truly are here."
"So, ......by unlocking the window like this, we can leave behind proof that we really did exist."
"......And that is why I unlocked it."
Of course, it wasn't just small pranks like opening a window.
......She could also smash windows and vases or leave behind strange fires and mysterious scribbles.
In fact, one time, she actually did play a large-scale prank in the kitchen, piling up kitchenware in an eerie manner and leaving behind a bizarre scribble, which scared the servants considerably.
It had been a complete success.

It had been truly terrifying, and she had succeeded in making the servants acknowledge the existence of magic, weakening the anti-magic toxin...
However, she chose to make her presence known by unlocking windows.

By doing this, ......she could release herself from the restrictions imposed by the humans' toxin.
"One day, I will..., no, we will become a single witch and control all of Rokkenjima.  ......When that time comes, we will gain complete freedom and will be capable of stretching our wings as we please."
We won't have to be afraid of anyone's gaze anymore.

We'll be able to fly wherever we wish, disappear whenever we want.
Laugh however we like, prank however we like, talk with anyone we want to.
Humans might ask things of us from time to time.
They might fight with us or play with us too.

What wonderful things for us frail creatures, who cannot appear before anyone, to look forward to......
"......Right now, they are little more than pranks.  However, as they pile up, proof that we exist will begin to gather.  The servants already call me the witch Beatrice, master of the night, and are beginning to believe in me bit by bit."

"The more they believe, the more those humans will lose their anti-magic toxin..."

......I see...  So, this means that Father has no anti-magic toxin.
And, .........that's because he truly believes in the existence of the witch I am, without any doubts.

I finally realize that, though I'd thought him to be cold, Father did possess a kindness that couldn't be seen......

"I'd like to become a great witch and appear in front of everyone soon."
"Yes.  Eventually, we will be able to appear openly in front of anyone.  By doing that repeatedly, we will make people believe in us, ...and eventually, we shall display even our magic for all to see.  ......After that happens, we will descend upon Rokkenjima as the great witch you told me of.  Ahahahahaha!"
"......The logic of the witch side is very interesting.  It keeps me entertained."
"It does sound credible, in a way.  When humans are frightened to hear that they've entered a ghost hot-spot, they're likely to start yelling 'ghost, ghost!' at the drop of a hat."

"That's right.  All phenomena are fundamentally neutral, indifferent, and dull.  ......If one wishes to have them be accepted in a certain manner, they must first create a suitable environment..."

"If a person has charisma, people will interpret what they do in a positive way, even when they screw up.  ......I see.  I guess in that sense, the Beatos' small efforts aren't for nothing."

"If it was just the mansion's locks being undone, everything could be resolved by saying that someone forgot to lock up or that it was some kind of prank.  ......However, the rumors of a witch wandering about the mansion night after night slowly began to take shape as the existence of the witch."

"An environment was established so that, if anything strange happened in the mansion at night, it would all be viewed as the work of the witch.  ......I get it.  If you follow that reasoning to an extreme, it means the same thing as a witch existing in the mansion at night."

After the Beatos finished their mischief of unlocking and opening the window, they enjoyed the coolness of the wind and the brightness of the moon, then became gold butterflies and disappeared into the darkness.
......There was no way of knowing whether the window they had opened had actually been opened by them.
The servants might have forgotten to lock up, or one of the family might have opened it after the servants had locked up and forgotten to shut it again, or maybe someone had played a prank.

In the same way that none of those possibilities could be denied, ......it was also impossible to deny the possibility that a witch really had opened a window to enjoy the night breeze......
".........A result without an observer can possess an endless number of ways in which it might have occurred.  ...Humans, who can't grasp anything more than a single possibility, are unable to imagine anything."

"However, people who believe in the possibility of a witch can imagine that it was a witch's prank.  ......When that happens, the scene of the Beatrices' prank that we have just seen is etched into the Fragment as a fact..."

"......That's one of the foundations of magic.  Decorating...the process."

With just a little magic, even a mass-produced stuffed animal......can be reborn as a wonderful, unique stuffed animal filled with a mother's love.

If you doubt it, ......it will be burnt by the anti-magic toxin.
If you believe it, the magic will become the truth.

"........................Not all magic is bad.  ......Maria onee-chan was right.  ......Good magic exists too."

"The power to repel evil magic may be necessary for a child of man.  However, it is the nature of love in the human world that it does not burn away and defile love-filled magic."

"..................Well, good magic is the only kind I can forgive.  ......For all other kinds, the best remedy is to deny them and burn them away."
"Heheheheheheheh...  A typical answer for a child of man."

"Getting back to the point.  ......Knowing this much, I guess this means that the ghost Beatrice, who was called the ruler of Rokkenjima's night, doesn't really exist.  It's nothing more than a general term for any inexplicable occurrences that took place in the mansion at night.  In other words, Beatrice isn't the name of a person, it's the name of a phenomenon."

If anything bizarre happens, it all becomes the work of the Golden Witch...

That 'environment in which a witch could exist' is what Beatrice is.

"......That all piles up until we reach 1986.  ......This is the veil that the true culprit is hiding behind.  And the person hiding behind it is, without a doubt, a human."

"Let us say that this holds true at this point in the witches' tale of the past.  ......However, I doubt you can use that argument alone to fight all the way through 1986, don't you......?"

".................."
"Heheheheheheheheh......"

"Ridiculous.  Wasn't that obviously because someone forgot to lock up?"

"W, ......well, you may say that, but...umm...  B, but this isn't just something that happened once or twice..."

"In other words, you're a klutz, a fool, and a moron of a servant who forgot to check not just once or twice, but many times over?"

"......Shannon isn't the only one.  That same window was always opened even when other servants did the rounds."
"Yeah, Mom even asked me if I'd ever left a window open in the hall at night.  I had absolutely nothing to do with it, but she still got pissed.  Sheesh."

"I'm sure Beatrice wanted to gaze at the moon.  Uu-."
"It is a bit creepy to have that happen over and over at the same window.  ......And that time where the kitchenware was piled up in the kitchen, with a creepy magic circle scribbled there...that sounds even more freaky."

"......Y, yes.  They said it was an eerie magic circle drawn with something like blood......  Ever since then, people have been scared to patrol the kitchen..."

"About the case of the eerie magic circle in the kitchen.  Who witnessed that?"

"Well, ......uh, ......it wasn't me...  I, uh......think I heard about it from a servant kid who quit.  I wasn't on duty that day..."

"So, it's basically like this.  Just like how the story of some popular haunted location is exaggerated, you servants like to have a little fun telling ghost stories about the mansion at night, right?  By doing that, you speak as though the witch exists and infect others with that belief."

"......So, all of the eerie things that are supposedly done by Beatrice are baseless rumors, which are either the result of coincidence and accident or something that someone fabricated for fun.  ...Is that what you're trying to say?"

"Exactly.  Of course there's no way Beatrice exists."
"Uu-......  Beatrice exists."

"I'm glad you understand so well, Battler-san.  ......There's probably some person by that name, or else multiple persons of known or unknown number who take actions to support that claim.  However, this delusion of a Golden Witch Beatrice that we're all thinking of is completely impossible."

"Uu-!!  Uu-uu-uu-!!  Beatrice exists!  I've met her!!"

"Ooh, could you tell me about that in detail?  You met Beatrice?  And did she show you magic or something?"

"Uu-!  I see her all the time!  Every time I come to Rokkenjima!  And she always shows me fun magic!!"

Denying the existence of the witch would always have the immediate effect of infuriating Maria.
However, Erika, who didn't know to avoid this topic, had challenged her head on.

But no matter how Maria tried to smooth over the matter of Beatrice's existence, she stood no chance of defeating the ruthlessly intelligent Erika in an argument...

George and Jessica hurried to calm Maria down, but Maria's anger could not be settled by this point.

"<Good>!  So, she showed you magic?  Could you explain in detail what kind of magic?"

"She would always use magic to give me candy as a present!!  Beato can create candy with magic!!"

"She just took it out of her pocket, didn't she?"

"No, she didn't!!  It was magic!  It was incredible!!  Tons of candies poured out of an empty cup!"

"W, wow, that's some awesome magic..."
"That's right, that really would be magic...!"

"Yeah, it was magic!!  It really was empty!!  I checked inside it myself!!"
"Huh?  What do you mean, you checked inside it?"

"G, give it a rest, Erika-san...  She's just a kid..."

"Anyways, Erika-sama, ...would you like some more t-...kyah-"
"<No thank you>.  I'm having a seriously intellectual discussion over here.  You outsiders can stay out of this!  You'll have to tell me in more detail, Maria-san.  What do you mean when you say that you checked inside it?  Fortunately, we have right here with us a tea cup that's just been overturned and emptied!  Come on, be my guest and reenact what happened then, okay?!  Let's see it, if you would, let's see it!!"
After holding the cup of black tea, which she had just overturned and was still dripping, upside down over the table, Erika slammed it down hard and slid it over to Maria.
Erika's eyes glowed repulsively, like those of a snake about to snap up a frog.

Those eyes were ice-cold and had a madness in them that made one want to avert their gaze.
On the other hand, Maria was glaring furiously, her whole body shaking uncontrollably, in the greatest expression of anger that a human can manage.

The look on her face was frightening...not at all something one would expect to see on a nine year old girl.

"S, stop it, both of you...!"

"Uuu--!!!  Okay!!  So Beatrice took the empty cup!!  Then she did this!!  And she put it upside down on the table!!"

"Yes, and then what?!  Did she then lift it up and candies flowed out?!  Incredible, that really would be magic, right?  ...It *would* be!!!"

Battler and the others tried to get between the two and calm them down, but it was no use.

The two violently pushed aside the others, and, glaring at each other from so close that their foreheads banged together, they repeatedly slammed down the upside down cup on the table.

The sound of their foreheads banging together and the cup being slapped down...shattered the barrier between reality and illusion...!!
"It is magic, it is magic!!  Beato used magic to make candies appear!!"
"Then why don't you reproduce it for us?!!  Founder of Mariage Sorciere, MARIA, the Witch of Origiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinsss!!"

"Lady Erika, this opponent is not worth your TIME.  This battle is not worth FIGHTING..."

"Shut up, murder doll!!  Alright!!  How do you claim that the overturned cup was filled with candies?!"
"Just turning the cup over won't make candies come out!!  Because you have to use magic to make them come out!!  Beato can use magic because she's a witch!!"

"Oh yes, magic, she used magic!!  How did she use magic?!  Did she swing a magic wand and tap the cup to make candies pour out?!  *giggle*, no, that can't be it, right?  Right?!"

"Beato is a witch so she used magic!  Magic is when you say an incantation and cause a miracle!!  You can't use the magic that makes candy unless you say the incantation!!"

"Oh, sure, understood.  <Good>, <good>, very <good>!!  Let's see this incantation, let's see this magic, come on, what kind of incantation would a witch use?  What kind?!?!"
"Come, try and picture it!!  The inside of the cup is filled with candies!!  Try and picture such a wonder!"
"Ooooooooooh?  And then whaaaaaaat?"
"Look, the inside of the cup......is filled with candy!!!"
Maria grasped the overturned cup so tightly that it nearly cracked, ......and slowly......lifted it up...
Then, ......from the inside, ......several cute candies poured out...!

Maria looked at Erika with a full smile, as though saying 'that showed you'.
"<Good>!!  Is this what you call Beatrice's magic?!  Dlanoooooooooor!!

Beat her to death!!!"

"........................As you WISH."
"I won't let anyone deny Beato's magic!!  After all, magic is magic!!"
"Magic is impossible.  You might be telling a lie about something that never happened!!"
"Repetition DEMANDED.  Failure to respond will be a violation of Knox's 7th."
"Ahahaha, I'll respond!  This is the truth!!  This story really happened!!"
"This wouldn't have anything to do with a trick in the actual cup or table, making this just a sleight of hand, right?  That would be against the rules, wouldn't it?!?!"

"Hidden devices and tricks are in violation of Knox's 3rd.  However, if and only if foreshadowing has been presented, these are permitted by Knox's 8th."


Knox's 3rd prohibits hidden doors and devices that have no clues pointing towards them.

However, by presenting foreshadowing and clues that point towards the existence of said devices, Knox's 8th allows them to be used.

"They had no such tricks in them!!  It was just an ordinary table and an ordinary cup!!  That's why it's magic, not sleight of hand!!"
"......UNDERSTOOD.  ......By Knox's 9th, we acknowledge that Lady MARIA witnessed MAGIC."

"Ahahahahahahahahaha!!  That's right, with the 9th at least!!  Observers are always allowed to speak their personal opinions!  Otherwise, mysteries where the culprit is seen dressed up as a woman and it's written 'I saw a woman' would all be disqualified!!  Sure, that's fine, claim that you saw magic all you want!!"

"All truths are nothing more than claims!  So, I'll make a claim separate from yours and smash right through yours!!  That is the detective's duty, and the time we shine the mooooooost!!"
"You can't break through this, this is magic!!!"

"Since it is magic, only witches can use it, right?"

"That's right, only witches can use it!!"

"...So, if a human like me could use it too, that would mean it isn't magic, right?"

"You can't use it!!!  Only Beato can use magic!!"

"<Good>!!  Then why don't I show you?!!  I'll make candy appear from out of this empty cup!!"

"If you think you can, just try!!  Impossible, impossible, useless, useless!  There's no way a human can do it!!"
"Then please, please, please just relax and watch!!  Okay, here we have an empty cup.  Is that okay?  It is, isn't it?  Then we turn it over on the table like this!!"

"......Let it be known that this fight has no point..."
"............"
"Okay, can you say the incantation for creating candies?  In fact, why don't we say it together?  Come, try and picture it!!"
"The inside of the cup is filled with candy!!  Try and picture such a wonder!!"
"<Stooop>!!  Maria-san.  Why do you close your eyes when you say the incantation?  Why not witness the miracle of magic?"
"Humans are stained by the anti-magic toxin!!  If a lowly human saw it, the miracle of magic would be wiped out of existence!!  That's why there's a rule that says lowly humans have to close their eyes when using magic!!"

"I see, I see.  Okay, I understand the protocol used by humans performing magic!!  In other words, not once have you ever witnessed the moment the magic happened!  Isn't that right?!  Look, it's done!  Please, try and lift up the cup, okay...?  After all, I've used the magic to make candies appear."

"There's no way someone who makes fun of witches could use the candy magic...!"

"But if it actually did work, all the better."
After glaring at Erika with the utmost of malice, ......Maria slowly stretched her hand out towards the overturned cup...

......There was no way that Erika, someone who made fun of witches like this, could ever use magic.
There was no way that there'd be candy there...
"............So, how's it look inside?"
".....................Ah-"
......And there......lay a single...candy with a cute wrapper......
".........See?"
"............"
"......This is magic, right?"

Erika smiled gently......
A look of disbelieving shock rose in Maria's eyes......along with envy for this person who could use the same magic as Beato...
"Erika.........you can...use magic too...?"
"See?  It's magic, isn't it?  What I did there."

"Y, ............yeah!!"
"So, in other words-"

Erika smiled pleasantly.  ......She and Maria had finally reached a deep understanding...
"You're a morooooooooooooon!!!  While you had your eyes closed, I just lifted the cup up and tossed a candy in!!  Call that magic?  It's just a third-rate triiiiiick, hyahhaaaaaaah!!!  There's my blue truth as the detective.  Now, as the Witch of Truth, here's my red truuuuuuuuuuth!!!"
Your so-called candy magic is nothing more than a sleight of hand!!
Just a sleight of hand that the fake witch calling herself Beatrice or whatever claimed was magic!!
I mean, seriously, did you really get tricked by such a stupid sleight of hand?  The magic that your perspective speaks of is completely untrustworthy!!!
"Everything that you ever thought was magic was just a trick that you didn't get!!  There's no way it was magic!  There's no way magic exiiiiiiiiiiiiiists!!"
"......Huuuh?!"

"P, putting the candy in this cup might have been your sleight of hand, but that doesn't prove that Beato's magic was also a sleight of hand.  Uryuuu--!!!"

"However, you also can't prove that it could only have been done with magic!!  You rotten stuffed animaaaal!!"

"......Please, allow me to speak."
"Know that this is a meaningless battle."
"You damn scraps of paper!!  Why'd you have to butt in at the good part...?!!"

"That is ENOUGH.  Lady MARIA has been shown that the magic which makes candy appear in a cup could possibly be a trick that she misunderstood to be MAGIC.  Therefore, her claim that it was magic is DISMISSED."

"However, it might really have been magic when Maria saw it...!  Just because it can be done by a sleight of hand doesn't disprove magic."

"......Well done, Lady Erika.  Congratulations on crushing Lady MARIA's Illusion of the WITCH."
The Illusion of the Witch is created by making the existence of magic be acknowledged by claiming that it would be impossible without magic.  That is the attack used by witches.

If someone can argue back and say that it would be possible without magic, the Illusion of the Witch is defeated, and the witch must retreat.
The magic that Maria claimed to have seen had the possibility of being a trick, so it was unqualified to be acknowledged as magic.

That was only the result of this battle.  It was still too early to bring the fight into the domain of denying Beatrice, the witch and the magic that Maria believed in......

However, battles will always end instantly when your opponent surrenders.

Erika had wanted to hit Maria with everything at once, defiling the witch and magic she believed in and crushing it without a fragment of compassion...

"..................Sheesh!!  Just one more step and I'd have been able to take a heart as innocent as the smooth sand just after a wave has pulled back...and tear it to bits.  .........What a shame.  This isn't any fun anymore.  ............Are you satisfied now?!  Ouch, ...owowowow......"

Erika grumpily punched Dlanor's arm that had been restraining her.  However, that cold, hard, marble-like arm just made Erika's hand hurt.
".........D, diplomatic immunity...!  This battle is over...!"

"Allow me to speak.  Diplomatic immunity accepted."
"......Know that this fight is childish."
"Did you say something?!"

"She did NOT.  ......Let us WITHDRAW.  Lady MARIA is no enemy of yours, Lady Erika.  There is no need to pay any attention to small fry such as THIS."

"............Hmph.  ......You're right.  How childish of me, tearing a kid's dreams apart.  I'm really sorry, okay?  I apologize for my momentary lack of elegance.  *giggle*giggle*.  Let's go."
Erika's group turned their backs on Maria, who was still crouching down limply.
However, ......as detectives in famous mysteries have always done in the past, Erika clapped her hands, stopped, and turned around.
"Oh, that's right.  ......What do you think...?"

"............?"

"Simply by the existence of the overturned cup, this level of reasoning was possible for Furudo Erika.  .........What do you think, everyone?"
".........!"

Erika's merciless words gouged themselves into Maria's heart once more......
*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*cackle*, ahhahahahaahahahahhaahaha!!!
Erika left, leaving an evil laugh behind her.

After bowing to Maria and Sakutarou, Dlanor left too.
......Gertrude and Cornelia followed suit...
After that, only Maria and Sakutarou were left in the lonely Golden Land......
"............Uryuu-......"

"......Beato......is a witch......"
"Uryu...  Beato is a witch..."

"It was magic............*hic*......it was magic......""It was magic...  Beato used magic to give you candy...  You don't need to doubt that...  ......Uryuu-...!  Please believe in Beato...  You know that magic can't bear fruit unless you believe..."
"Uuuuu......uuuuuuuuuuwaaaaaaaaahhhh......"
In the middle of an ice-cold drizzle, which had started falling at some point, ......Maria sobbed...

Trying to at least protect her from the rain, Sakutarou used his large sleeves to cover Maria's head......and stayed there by her side......
"Okay, let's go, Maria...!  Let's play cards together in the room upstairs..."

"......Erika-san.  As an adult, I cannot condone that conversation just now."
"My apologies.  I'm still just a kid, after all."
"......*hic*, .........*hic*......"

After seeing that wonderful candy magic brutally insulted by Erika, ......Maria had been crying this whole time...

"Haah...  ......I started noticing it at the quiz party after dinner, but your personality is screwed up.  ......Do you think this is fun?!  Do you like tearing a little kid's dreams apart?"

"P, please stop, Battler-sama...!  Please, for my sake, don't push any further here...!  Please...!"

Shannon, who had been looking flustered, bowed her head deeply and implored Battler to stop.
George, who didn't want Shannon pressured, fell in line.
"Let's go.  Let's spend this year in the cousins' room too.  We can watch TV and play cards."

"......I've heard that Erika-san has her own room.  Shannon, please guide her."
"Oh, no need to bother yet.  I'll relax down here for a little while longer.  I want to savor it a bit."

"......What the hell are you trying to savor......pft."

Battler and the others could no longer hide their irritation.

They had no obligation to entertain their uninvited guest any further than this.
Erika herself understood perfectly well that no place would welcome a detective.

Battler and the others wanted to leave, and Erika wanted to stay.
Neither had any desire to stop the other.
Jessica urged Maria, who was still crying, to come along...

Then, Maria stopped and spun around.

".........Got a problem?"

"Kihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihi!!  They do exist here and there...humans that are practically lumps of the toxin that doesn't believe in magic!  There were many boys like you in my class!"

"They don't believe in witches, or magic, or miracles, or happiness!  You can't become a witch if you let the toxin of people like that burn you to ashes!  I may not look it, but I'm Beatrice's disciple!  I'm the Apprentice Witch of Origins!  Kihihihihihihihihihihihihihi!!!"

Maria, who had been sobbing until a second ago, seemed to have been transformed into an entirely different person.  ......She laughed...no, cackled eerily.

Battler's group stiffened up at this sudden change, but Erika was watching calmly.

Then, she smiled and gave a small nod in response.

"<Good>.  ......You've got some guts.  Goodnight, <Miss> MARIA.  Let's fight in a more satisfying game next time."

"Sure, let's.  It's a promise.  ......Kihihihihihihihihihihihi."

"Y, you stop that too, Maria...!  Come on, let's go."

"What about you, Shannon-chan?  You can play cards with us, if you want."
"Come on, join us for at least one round.  It'll cheer you up."

"Uh, ......ah...th, then, just for a bit......"

Shannon couldn't remain in this suffocating lounge any longer either.
In part apologetic and in part trying to escape, she followed after Battler's group...
After that, Erika was the only one left in the lounge...

Still wearing a thin smile, she tapped a glass with her finger.
There was a light *chink*.
......A surprisingly boring sound.

Even so, Erika wore a thin smile, as though pleased...
"Hohoho, sorry to keep you waiting.  I was just in the bath...  ......Oh, where is everyone?"

"......You just missed them.  They went up to the second floor.  I'm the one who called you here.  ......I've heard that you know a lot about the story of Akujikishima and the story of the witch of the forest."

"Yes, well.  Hohoho.  It is a trivial story, but..."

"I don't mind in the slightest if it's trivial.  Would you like a drink to follow your bath?  ......Even I like to be helpful every now and then."

Erika stood up, opened the refrigerator behind the counter, and put ice into the ice pail......
"......Erika-chan, huh.  She's an odd kid.  ...Somehow, I just can't seem to get along well with the young kids these days."

"*giggle*  You're still pretty young yourself, George-san."

"Hahaha...  I guess it's because I've always been the oldest of the cousins...  It's always made me feel like I'm not one of the young ones anymore."
George and Shannon could be seen standing in the rainy rose garden.
Though the rain was still pouring down, there was hardly any wind at all.

The scant protection provided by the arbor was more than enough to house this secret meeting between lovers.
Following that fight with Erika, they had decided to play some cards for a change of pace.

When that was over, Shannon had returned to the servant room, .....and shortly after that, George had left his room to meet with Shannon at the time they had arranged.
"I think kids around Erika-san's age have a really hard time accepting themselves."

"......Yeah, that's true.  Around that age, most kids are so determined to free themselves from the shell of childhood that they lash out in all directions with their beaks.  When they do break out, they'll finally be free to stretch their wings and fly high.  ......I was like that too.  When I was still inside that shell, I was a weak, deplorable man who didn't deserve any respect."

"Th, that's not true..."

"No, it's okay.  I realize it myself.  Back then, I might have been the oldest of the cousins, but I was still a lazy, hopeless man.  ......And it wasn't just with the cousins.  At home, at school...I was like that everywhere."
......I hated being like that.

I wanted to break that shell and become a splendid adult like Mother and Father.
"But in the end, ......you did break out of that shell, George-sama. ......Every time I've met you these past few years, you've grown beyond recognition."

"Thank you."
"......Did something cause you to make up your mind?"
"To break out of my shell?"

"Yes.  ......I can't imagine that you grew so rapidly, like a butterfly breaking out of its cocoon, by just wandering around aimlessly.  ......I thought there must have been some turning point which made you become so determined."

"......I fell in love with you, and grew thanks to the power of love...is what I've told you so far.  Haha, ......but the truth is, the turning point was a much more negative emotion."

"No way......  It's hard to believe that someone who's always as bright and cheerful as you could have negative emotions."
"Well, ......my parents taught me to treat a girl well.  And I thought that I had succeeded in living that way."
"Yes.  I think you're a really wonderful gentleman..."
"But that was wrong."
".........?"
"I didn't know how to interact with the opposite sex.  I deified them excessively......and though I always behaved in a gentlemanly, ladies first kind of way, I was probably outright afraid of interacting with girls."
Of course, George had wanted to be around girls as much as any boy might.

However, he didn't know how to interact with them.  He wanted to act like a gentleman, avoid being disliked by them, and treat them with care.
Of those feelings, only the words 'treat a girl well' took precedence, blossoming into a subconscious fear of women...
"You might call a man like that 'gentlemanly' or 'a late bloomer'.  .........Ridiculous.  I was just a coward.  Because of that, I started to wonder why I couldn't get a girlfriend if I was so gentlemanly, and I eventually came to the conclusion that all the women in the world had no taste, and started to hate all of them...stupidly.  .........That's what a truly pathetic man looks like."
How many years ago was it when I noticed?  Probably when I was in middle school.

At the time, I assumed that I was obviously the most gentlemanly of the cousins, so I would obviously be popular with women.
However, reality was completely different.

At school, I was pretty much completely hopeless.

......Far from being a leader, I was the bullied kid who got pushed around by everyone.

At the time, I figured I was just a capable and adaptable man, who could keep in perfect tune with his surroundings.  ......How stupid.
Sure, I might have gained some measure of trust from girls.

......However, not only was there no one who would become my girlfriend, there were very few girls I could even call a friend.
"Of course.  ......I was a man who always stood behind girls, under the pretense of ladies first.  Who would ever want to stand behind such a negative, unmotivated man?  ...It's funny.  I didn't even realize this, and thought I was a pretty attractive guy."

"......I can sort of understand how you felt.  ...Just because someone puts in a lot of hard work to look attractive to the opposite sex, it doesn't necessarily work out as they planned."

"Oh?  ......Has that happened to you too, Shannon?"

"Of course.  ......One time, I wanted to catch a boy's eye so much, I tried to put on makeup even though I didn't know how and embarrassed myself...  ...Eheheh, I remember a lot of embarrassing failures."

"The person that made me finally get over my conceit and open my eyes......was you, Shannon.  ......No, it was both of you."

".........What was the turning point for you, George-san?"
"Haha, ......envy, probably.""That's unexpected.  ......But envy for what?"

"I saw you and Battler-kun having a really good time talking.  ......That made me envious."

"............Me and...Battler-sama?"

Shannon raced through her memories, trying to find a conversation that might have made George envious.

"Haha, it probably seemed trivial to you two.  However, it still made me envious.  ......I don't want Battler to hear what I say next, no matter what.  Can you promise me?"

"O, of course..."
"..................It's going to be a shameful confession.  ...Still, I want you to hear it.  I want to hear your answer tonight...only after I've told you about my bad sides as well."

".........Okay.  ......Let me hear it."

With a smile but a serious look in her eyes, Shannon nodded.

Tonight.  ......She knew what he was going to ask her tonight.

George had the right to confess before asking that sacred question, and Shannon had the obligation to listen.
Shannon understood this, ......so she listened quietly.

"So this is what a Witch of Theatergoing peeps in on during her spare time?"

"......Stories of love are truly timeless.  I never tire of them.  ......However, I do find that expression of virgin disgust on your face even more charming..."

Featherine laughed quietly.

Ange huffed and looked away, but she quickly realized that this would only entertain Featherine even more, so she tried to act unconcerned...

"Both Battler-kun and Jessica-chan have always been spirited.  ......No, phrasing it that way is just dodging the point.  ......Let me be frank."
George looked up at where the moon should be, high above the rain clouds...and spoke.

They were honest words, spoken from George's meek heart...

"......For a long time back then, I thought of Battler-kun and Jessica-chan as bad-mannered kids.  ......No, let me be more direct.  ......I thought that even the way they talked was vulgar.  .........It's true.  I don't mind if you hold me in contempt for that."

"I don't.  ......People are allowed to think anything they want inside their hearts.  In fact, I think you were all the more commendable for not letting it show on the outside."

"Thanks.  .........I secretly looked down on those two.  I was so conceited that I truly thought I was just overflowing with gentlemanly charm compared to them."
I was at that age where having a girlfriend felt like a necessary condition for becoming a real man.

I truly believed that no girl could fail to admire a gentleman who treated girls as well as I did.

So, I really did assume that the girls I knew were attracted to me.
"I thought that Battler-kun and Jessica-chan, who always joked around and spoke in a rude, vulgar fashion, would never be able to get a boyfriend or girlfriend.  ......I might have used that argument to distract myself when I still couldn't get a girlfriend.  ......I was a fool.  They weren't inferior to me at all.  I was the inferior one, with my deification of the opposite sex and my fear, which I hid under the guise of 'ladies first'."
"That's been Battler's and Jessica's personality from the beginning.  True, they were rude, and one couldn't have called them gentlemanly or ladylike.  ......However, they did have the power to interact without worrying about their sexes.  ...In fact, you might even call that their charm."

".........I sort of understand.  People like Onii-chan and Jessica onee-chan can get along with anyone whether that person's a boy or a girl.  ......I hate to say it, but I find guys who act too polite...a bit creepy.  ......It's like they're virgins trying too hard or something..."

"People respect it when someone they are distant from is boring and harmless.  However, they only like that person because he or she doesn't get in their way.  ......No human would want to hang around with a boring person."

"......Of course.  No idiot would want to be friends with an unmoving, unspeaking telephone pole.  ......However, unmoving and unspeaking is exactly what you'd want from a telephone pole."

"That's it.  It seems as though George finally discovered that he wouldn't be viewed as an attractive man no matter how superior he was, and that he had been treated like a telephone pole the whole time..."
"Back then, my conceit was at its peak.  ......So, when everyone gathered at the family conference, I believed that I was the most attractive, and that all the servant girls who played with us loved having me there.  .........On that day, I finally realized how pathetic I was."
".........Did I...say something inconsiderate then......?"

"No, it's the opposite.  .........You didn't say anything at all.  My conceited delusion that I was the only one ever reflected in your eyes...was crushed."

Just when did it start?
......No, it must have started long before then.

I only failed to noticed because my eyes were clouded with conceit.

"......One day, I suddenly realized it.  ......You guys were getting along with Battler-kun and Jessica-chan far better than with me, ......playing around and having a good time."
......Yes.  Those two, whom I had looked down upon so much, were radiating far more charm than I was.
You really looked like you were enjoying yourself that day.

The look on your face was far brighter than any you ever showed me.
"Hahaha, sickening, isn't it?  ......I just assumed that you liked me, and even had some childish fantasy that we might end up dating.  I one-sidedly felt as though my girlfriend had been stolen from me and let myself feel hurt.   .........Just how pathetic was I at that moment...  ......When that happened, I finally realized how foolish I had been."
".........George-sama......"
"After that, stuff happened and Battler-kun stopped coming to the family conferences, but I heard about him from time to time from Rudolf oji-san.  ......He's a pretty funny guy.  Even though he got in fights with Battler-kun all the time, ...he always paid close attention to his son's goings-on."

"......That's true.  He spoke to me about it as well.  ......I think even Asumu-sama was bothered by it.  ......She thought all his popularity with the girls at school and the unceasing trouble this caused must have been because of Rudolf-sama's blood."

"And Jessica-chan too.  I hear she built up a huge number of friends, both boys and girls, and that she was always the center of attention.  ......When I actually talked with her, I realized that this was no exaggeration."
That experience had......shown that the two I had looked down upon......were much more attractive human beings than I was...
"At first, I tried to imitate those two.  ......It was pretty ridiculous.  I thought that by joking around and speaking rudely, I could get that same charm they had."
"*giggle*  ......You did that?  It's a bit hard to picture."
"It was miserable...  I wish I could forget that time for the rest of my life.  In any event, I quickly realized that I would never gain any true charm by imitating them like that."
The reason I had no charm was because of my cowardice.  ......Under the pretense of respecting people and acting to fit in with the general atmosphere, ......I was always running away.
I resolved myself to overcome that flaw and be reborn.
......I finally understood the shell I was in, and I swore to break out of it.
Every time my resilience began to waver, ......I would remember that day.  ......That day I saw you two forget about me entirely and play around happily.  And the fact that those eyes of yours, which I always assumed were attracted to me, never noticed me at all.
.........I made an oath.  This time, I would really make you take notice of me, and I would be reflected in your eyes.  ......Actually, that's the first thing I felt when I fell in love with you.
".........Sounds pretty...complicated."

"On that day, my desire for revenge against the two of you who ignored me and played together, ......no, against you alone...suddenly transformed into true love.  ......However, I swear this to God.  Even though that was the reason I first started to take you seriously, ......there are no lies in the way I feel about you now.  ......I swear to love you for all my life.  I will not lie about that for anyone or anything.  And I am prepared to take you as my wife, even if it means having the entire world as my enemy."

"......George...san......"

"That is the confession I wanted to make to you beforehand.  ......Before now, I've called you my first love, love at first sight.  ......That was a lie.  ...It was only my selfish, twisted-"

"That doesn't matter."

Shannon smiled, ......but she spoke forcefully enough to cut through George's words.
"Is there some rule saying that people can't get together just because they weren't each other's first love...?  Is it betrayal to forget the first person you fell in love with...?  Love......isn't that simple.  Well, ......it might be simple.  ......After all, love is easy.  ......Always, whatever you feel now......only the honest feelings you feel now can tell you the right answer.  So, things of the past or how our relationship started aren't important at all."
"......Then, ...I shouldn't have confessed...?"

"*giggle*, no.  ......I'm a bit glad to learn that even George-san, who's always perfect at everything, has a human side to him.  ......And I'm kinda glad that I'm the only person you've told this to."

".........Thank you.  ...I was only able to become who I am because of you."

"Me too.  I am as I am because of you, George-san.  ......So please, tell me without holding back.  ......What kind of husband and wife will we be, ......and what kind of future will we build together?"

"When I have you as my wife, I will become an even more accomplished businessman than my father.  ......And after several challenges and adventures, I hope to find the limits of my potential.  I want to reach that peak together with you.  ......The view from there will be something no one can show you but me."

"It sounds fun.  ......I'll be with you wherever you go."

"Of course, it won't only be an adventure as a businessman.  ...I'd like to create many things that only a couple can make."

"*giggle*.  ......And what could that be?"
"Let's have some kids."
"*giggle*  .........Yes, my husband."
"I'd like three of them at the least.  At least one boy and one girl."
"And what if all three are boys...?"
"Then the next one might be a girl.  We can make a fourth one.  ......It doesn't matter how many.  Let's enjoy the adventure of bringing them up together.  And when those children eventually leave their nest, they'll make us some grandchildren.  Before we know it, we'll reach a boisterous old age surrounded by many children and grandchildren."
"It sounds like fun.  I wonder......what kind of a grandpa you'll be."

"And I wonder what kind of a grandma you'll be.  However, I will always keep loving you.  ......And when we eventually pass away, surrounded by our vast family, our lives will stretch behind us, unmatched by anyone else's."


George didn't just talk about his love of the present.
He swore to love her soul until the final moment when the lid of their coffins would be shut.
Then, George took a small box out of his pocket.
......Even without opening it, she knew what was inside.

He took it out with a motion that was more natural even than the one he had practiced in the bathroom at the airport, and it was overflowing with charm.
"Sayo."
"Yes."

"Let's get married."
"Yes."

"Please, take this ring and put it on your finger."
".........Yes, George-san."
That ring, which glistened divinely even in the dim light of the arbor, ......passed from George's hand to Shannon's finger.

Of course, Shannon had already decided which finger to put it on.
"I swear to resolutely stand against any fate which may attempt to get in the way of our future."

George proclaimed that he would reveal their engagement to the entire family on the next day.
"My parents might criticize this marriage.  ......However, I will not let them stop us.  I am going to inform them of our engagement, not ask for their permission.  If Mother says that she will not allow our marriage, I plan to have myself disinherited, and we will leave this family together."
"I have been prepared for that since long ago.  ......I swear once again to resolutely stand against all fates that get in the way of our future."
......George had said it aloud.

So, Shannon said the same thing.

"Me too.  ......I swear to stand against all fates that get in the way of our future."
"*giggle*giggle*.  ......Battler-saaan, when will the crimes start?  I've just about had enough of this love show."

"..................Be quiet and watch."

"......Sure, fine.  I'd hate to yawn and let some spectacular bit of foreshadowing slip by."

".........Do you have no love?"

"Are there any mysteries which accept love as proof?  No, there aren't."

Erika laughed coldly and stared down at the two on the game board.

Battler watched her quietly.

......Erika thought she felt a touch of pity in his gaze, and she averted her eyes uncomfortably.

"..................I do understand, more or less.  Love can at least become a motive for murder.  ......I can interpret this scene beneath the arbor to represent a possible motive for the crime if their engagement is somehow impeded."

".........Then again, no matter how much people talk of love with words that aren't red, it's all just an illusion.  *cackle*cackle*cackle*!"

".........That's very sad.  ......So, you could never love a human without proof given to you by a witch."

"Please put an end to this frivolous love talk.  I'm your enemy, not a friend to whom you can talk about love just for the hell of it."

"..............."
"I can't understand you at all right now.  ......What on Earth did you figure out?  Weren't you and Beato always insulting and trying to kill each other?  ......What kind of truth could you have reached to make you change your emotions regarding her?  ......Please don't tell me that feelings of true love have sprouted from your murderous rivalry or anything like that, okay?"

"......Lady Erika.  Let us have him continue the game's PROGRESSION.  Boring love scenes such as this are best finished QUICKLY."
"Ah, you've got a point there.  Sorry for butting in.  Come on, let's move on."
".................."
"......It's Shannon.  I've come back."

"Hmm.  ......The log for today has not yet been filled out."

"Yes.  I'll do that right away.  ......Kanon-kun, thanks for keeping an eye out while I was gone."
"..................That was a pretty long break."
Kanon had already noticed.  ......There was a silvery glint coming from the ring finger on Shannon's left hand.

"Then I will retire.  ......Please do not hesitate to wake me if anything occurs."

""Goodnight, Genji-sama.""

Genji disappeared off to the waiting room.

......After that, only Shannon and Kanon remained.

"......Thanks for giving me some time.  I'll stay here for the rest, so you can go to sleep now."
"........................So, it's my turn next."

".........Yeah.  ......Sorry, ......but we aren't going to lose."
"And I......won't lose either......"

"Even though you've always been a coward and let Milady take the lead until now...?"

".........Wasn't it you who taught me, Nee-san?"

"What did I teach you...?"

"The past is immaterial when it comes to love.  The present is all that's important.  If that is true, then I think my present is in no way inferior to yours, Nee-san."

Shannon and Kanon glared at each other with serious eyes.
That period of tension vanished when Shannon chuckled.

"......Yeah, that's good.  ......You and Milady have to give it your all.  ......If you do end up together, ......make sure you build up a relationship wonderful enough so that the rest of us can cheer you on with all our hearts."

"Well, you do have a huge lead on me."
"......Nothing to be done about that.  That's what you get for your cowardice before now."

"I know.  ......That is my...sin."
Shannon and Kanon fished around in their pockets, ......and drew out two small things that glittered gold.

They looked like......the left and right wings of a gold butterfly.
"We are furniture.  ......In order to become human and receive the miracle that allows us to love, ......we must rely on a miracle of magic once again."

"......To think that her brooch would prove useful."
"It's the only magic within our reach."
It was the golden butterfly brooch, which Beatrice had once given to Shannon in the hopes of creating love between her and George.

Shannon had given it to Kanon, but he had let his emotions get ahold of him and had crushed it into pieces.

So, when the two wings they held were brought together, ......it would regain the form of a beautiful butterfly.

"......Then I'll be back soon.  ......After all, they have asked me to play cards with them."
"Yeah.  Good luck.  ......I'm sure Milady will be happy."

"......It's a bit embarrassing."

"Enjoy that feeling."
Kanon left the servant room.  ......He went to go see Jessica and tell her what he had determined to do.

Shannon quietly watched him go.

The fragment of the brooch and the engagement ring let off a gold and silver glint......

"That takes me back.  That's something I gave Shannon, if I recall.  ......I always wondered where they lost it after Kanon stepped on it, but it seems they still had it all the time."

"......That's the golden butterfly brooch, isn't it?  ......I read about the magical brooch that can save a love relationship in Featherine-san's book."


And that had been the first moment that Beatrice, witch of the forest, had met with a human and given them her power.

Bit by bit, she had transformed from a mere ghost to the ruler of the mansion at night, ......and by making the servants believe in her, she had wiped away the anti-magic power.

And then, ......it eventually became possible for her to appear openly in front of Shannon, whose magic resistance had grown particularly low and who had begun to believe in the existence of Beatrice...

To Beato, who had been unable to interact with anyone for many years, this conversation with Shannon must have been especially fun...

"That's why I generously gave her the butterfly brooch.  ......*cackle*cackle*, I was in quite a good mood.  ...It is no common thing for a heartless witch such as myself to be so gracious."

"But it's wonderful.  You brought a pair of future lovers together."

"Of course, I did not do it to pamper them.  ......It was in exchange for smashing that hateful spirit mirror that had repressed my magical powers.  Thanks to that, I was able to regain much of my power all in one go."
"But then, one night, purple lightning smashed the shrine.  Those of the surrounding islands called it an evil omen.  Oooh, now that I think of it, that must have been a prelude to Beatrice-sama's resurrection."
Kumasawa had the rest of the night off.

So, she had let Erika talk her into drinking a bit, and was chatting about the legend of Akujikishima and Beatrice in a happy, tipsy mood.
Erika would nod from time to time, but she listened very closely.

She wasn't actually taking notes, but she was gathering the information on the whiteboard inside her head.

......Then, she frowned as though noticing something out of place and held up her hand.

"Wait a second."
"Yes?"

"......That shrine was built by a traveling mountaineering ascetic to seal up the evil spirits of Akujikishima.  Isn't that right?"

"Yes, that is correct.  It was one who possessed a vast supernatural power, and who placed that power within the mirro-"

"And placed it within the shrine as a sacred mirror to seal the evil spirits.  ......Something feels off about that.  ......Why would a shrine to seal the evil spirits of Akujikishima also seal Beatrice?"

"W, ......well...  That's, uh, because the power of the sacred mirror..."

"......I see.  So it's this really convenient sacred mirror that works on both evil spirits from the East and witches from the West.  ......Got it.  I'm still not satisfied, but I'll back off there for now.  What I don't understand is why Beatrice can't stand spiderwebs."
According to the legend, the evil spirits of Akujikishima despised spiderwebs, so they were apparently used as wards against evil in the surrounding islands.
Actually, spiders are a useful bug.
There was nothing strange about the fact that the farmers of the islands had treasured them.

It's very possible that they were then tied to the story of evil spirits and became known as charms against evil, leading to a tradition of people treating this useful bug with care through the generations...
"But that's just the legend of Akujikishima.  The origins for the legend of the witch Beatrice came after Ushiromiya Kinzo moved to this island, when rumors sprouted about the mysterious legend of the gold and his mistress who gave it to him as a witch."
"In other words, the evil spirits of Akujikishima and the Golden Witch Beatrice are completely different things.  And yet, their setup is treated in exactly the same way."

"W, ......well now......"

The evil spirits of Akujikishima couldn't stand spiderwebs.  So neither could Beatrice.
That sort of reasoning has been applied all over the place.

......When it was pointed out that this was strange, Kumasawa was lost for an answer...

"The doorknob to Kinzo-san's study has a scorpion magic circle drawn on it, which represents a charm against magic in western sorcery.  That's why the western witch Beatrice can't touch it.  ......I can understand that part."

"But there's no reason for Beatrice to dislike spiderwebs.  I don't remember spiderwebs ever being included among things witches can't stand.  On the contrary, wouldn't spiders be the friends and minions of a witch?"

"W, ......well......"

"In my opinion, ......those two legends about the evil spirits of Akujikishima and the witch Beatrice...have been mixed together a little.  In fact, maybe they've been fully joined together as one."
"......The legend of Akujikishima is a fairy tale created by fishermen fearful of reefs in the Rokkenjima area.  However, there was no visual image to go along with those evil spirits.  Were they people, or monsters, or ghosts without legs?  There's no mental picture of them.  People are bad at imagining things without visuals.  ......And that's when the legend of the witch called Beatrice came in."
"A witch is a lot easier to picture than evil spirits.  And on top of that, Kinzo-san had a portrait of Beatrice drawn and displayed.  In other words, the lack of a visual image, which was the one weak point in the legend of Akujikishima, was finally completed.  At some point since then, perhaps the two legends have been mixed together."
"W, well, I wonder......  ...H, ......hohoho...  It is a bit confusing for an old lady such as myself..."
Kumasawa laughed to smooth it over, wiping away a cold sweat...

She might have seemed confused, but she actually did understand what Erika was saying.
......In truth, she had been vaguely aware of how the legend of Akujikishima, which had been around before Ushiromiya Kinzo had come to Rokkenjima, and the legend of the Golden Witch, the story of the woman who had given Kinzo a vast quantity of gold, ......had both transformed.
She didn't want to acknowledge it, ......but she knew.

The 'setting' where Beatrice hated the spirit mirror and spiderwebs.

This had been based on the ancient legend of Akujikishima.
The 'evil spirits' part of that legend had just been replaced by the witch of the portrait......

"......So, if there really was someone claiming to be the Golden Witch Beatrice, I'd really like to ask her whether she actually does hate spiderwebs or not.  ......What happens when she touches them?"

"I, it is said that witches and their minions.........receive burns when they touch spiderwebs......so that is probably what would happen, I guess..."

"Hmph, that's not bad.  A splendid witch trial.  ......If the spiderweb touches her and she gets burned, then she's an evil spirit, not a witch.  ......And if nothing happens, then it proves she's just a human."

"In other words, .........whether she's burned or not, it will prove that the Golden Witch doesn't exist.  ......The legend of the witch is nothing more than the legend of Akujikishima re-boiled with a new face on it."

".........W, ......well........."

"Simply by the existence of the legend itself, reasoning of this level is possible for Furudo Erika.  What do you think, everyone......?"
Though only the two of them were in the lounge, Erika faced in the direction an invisible audience would have been if there was one, and shrugged...
And, to match Erika's imagination, ......the two of them actually were there, listening in...
"......Spiderwebs...?  They burn if you touch them......?"

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

When Beato the elder snapped her fingers, ......a single, graceful spider slipped down from the ceiling, hanging by a transparent thread.

Afterwards, only a single silver strand remained.

".........Umm........."

Timidly, ......Beato stretched her finger out towards the spider's string...
Then, ......she touched it......

"..................I'm fine."

".........You are?"
"Huh......?"

Beato the elder lifted up a white, pale finger, and after showing it to her little sister, ......she traced the silver string with it.

...There was a stench like a single hair being burnt.

Once again, she held her finger up in front of Beato, who was dumbfounded.
There was a thin burn line, as though someone had traced across it with a razor......

"What's...going on...?"
"That's what I would like to know.  Why are you unharmed?"

"I, I don't know.  ......What I don't understand is why you do get burnt by touching a spiderweb..."
"......I do not know.  It has always been like that since I first gained consciousness."

"Then, ......are you......"

Beato hesistated.

......However, her question was clear.

"No.  I am not one of the evil spirits of Akujikishima.  I am Beatrice, ruler of Rokkenjima's night.  ......Even I do not know why I have the same weakness as this island's evil spirits of old..."

"Are spiderwebs the only things you can't handle...?"

"As this Erika said, I can't touch the doorknob to Kinzo's study.  That scorpion magic circle burns me.  ......For me, trying to open the door to that study is like trying to pick a red-hot horseshoe out of a fire.  .........What about you?"

"Huh?  Scorpion magic circles, you mean......?"

The older sister snapped her fingers again.

When she did, the surrounding scene bent and twisted, and they had suddenly moved to the place in front of Kinzo's study.

And there......was the doorknob engraved with the scorpion magic circle.

"Those who research magic must have a refuge sealed off from both human and spiritual disturbances.  ......It's no surprise that Kinzo chose to seal off his study and place a charm such as this here.  ......And, unfortunately, that affects me as well."

She gently grasped the doorknob.

As she did, a violent burning sound, unbelievably stronger than the one caused by the spiderweb, rang out.
"B, big sister, are you okay...?!  Your hand......aaaaaaahhh...!!"

Her hand...had been horribly burnt, and Beato couldn't help but avert her eyes...

"Fear not.  This scratch will heal quickly."

Apparently, it would heal by itself if left alone.
......The older sister seemed to heal at an inhuman rate.

"However, ......it seems that you can handle it just fine."

"............Ah, ......aaah."
She timidly poked the doorknob.  ......Nothing happened.

Slowly, ......she touched it with her entire palm, but she felt nothing but a pleasantly cool sensation.

"......Strange.  ......Though you are my double, you are different from me in several ways."

"While I might be able to touch the doorknob, ...if I ever get burnt like you did, I don't think I'd heal that easily..."

".........It's as though you're a normal human."

"Y, yes.  ......Even I find it a little hard to believe that I'm a witch...  ......I can't use magic like you, and I can't get strange burns or heal from them later...   .........Father believed......that I was a great witch reborn......but......I cannot believe that......"

"......Who are you?"

"I, I am Beatrice.  ......I was born for Father's sake.  ......And you, big sister?"

"I am also Beatrice.  I used magic to give Kinzo gold, and later became a soul and the formless witch that haunts this island."
".........Just who on Earth......are we......?"

"......Unlike me, it seems you possess a body."
"Huh?  Really......?"

"Yes.  ......I thought of it while listening to that Erika person.  ......I am a witch who can use magic but has no body, ...and you are a witch who has a body but can use no magic.  .........Eventually, perhaps we will become one, each filling in what the other lacks, and become the true, complete Beatrice."

".................."
It did seem plausible.

Both of the Beatrices were missing something.

If they become one, then surely they would be very close to the Beatrice Battler desires...

"......Do you want...to try?"
".........Huh...?"

"Hold out your hand."

The older sister slowly raised her palm and held it out before Beato.

The large burn from a second ago really had started to heal already...

"It may be possible for us to become one.  I want to know as well.  By becoming one with you, ...I want to learn about my future self."

".................."
Beato also raised her hand slowly, .........and the two hands......touched......
..................
......But nothing happened.

Perhaps this meant that, while they were fated to become one eventually, that time had not yet come......
"......For me, being burned by spiderwebs is perfectly normal.  However, you didn't even know about it.  ......In the same way, you say that the reason you were born was for your Father's sake.  ......Apparently, that father is Ushiromiya Battler."
"I know him as a rare guest who only comes a few times a year, but I cannot understand what connection you and I have with such an infrequent guest.  ......Surely, we must learn more about each other."

"Y, yeah, you're right...  ......I get the feeling that learning about each other will lead us to something very important."
"On the other side lies the single future Beatrice.  ......No, it may be more correct to say that it is the true form we are supposed to possess."
With their hands still joined, the two Beatrices swore to fill in the parts the other lacked and regain their single form.

......Bit by bit, .........Beato was walking down the path that led to the former Beatrice...
......The eerie sound of the wind and rain.

Once again, I hazily regained consciousness on top of the bed...
The finger that the witch had bitten off.....was still attached.
I didn't say 'it was all an illusion'......just that it was still attached.
...After all, the pain and the teeth marks as though a witch had bitten it.........were still there.
And yet, the window, which I had supposedly smashed, had been fixed as though it had never been broken in the first place...
.........How can I escape this creepy room?
Why am I locked up in this eerie room......all alone...?

I want to get out.  ......I have to get out.  ......Let me out of here.........
......The door was sealed with a firm chain.

I could open it a crack, but only enough to peek out into the corridor at best.
It would probably be hard even to get just a fist through it.
The window won't budge either.

It was no better than a barred prison window...
The bathroom didn't even have a window.

......The only thing that could get out of there was the water that flowed out if you turned on the tap.
......No matter what I do, ......I can't think of a way out of here.
Being shut up in a place like this makes me a true prisoner.

Unless someone comes from outside to save me, ......I won't be able to get out for all eternity.

.........In that case, can't I just call for help?
Yes, the tiny gap I can make in that door must exist so that I can call for help.

But......can I make the words come out...?

Earlier, I tried to call out for help, but for some reason, the words couldn't escape my mouth.
......I might have made some kind of mistake.

I might have just lost my voice in my haste and confusion.
I'll open the door and make that crack appear one more time.
The warm light of the hallway flowed in, making the darkness of the room stand out all the more...
Though I couldn't hear any voices, I did feel something peaceful.

......I'm sure everyone's in the room at the other end of the hallway, chatting happily about something.
If I can just call out, surely someone will come to save me......
".........Haah, .........haah, .........nng..."

Holding back some indescribable fear, I tried yelling once more...
"............!!  ............!!!  ...............!!!!"
But the result was the same.

It was like trying to yell underwater.  ......All I did was get out of breath, unable to call out in the slightest.
".........Haah!!  Haah, ......haah, .........haah........."
Even though I could say as much as I wanted if I just grumbled to myself inside the room, ......whenever I tried to make my voice reach outside, I choked and was unable to say anything.
I understand.

......My body isn't the only thing locked up in this eerie closed room.

......My voice is too......
Thinking that I could use some other kind of sound to call for help, I tried opening and closing the door violently, making the chain rattle.

It does sound as though it's making a noisy clanking sound, ......but it's surely no good.
Even this sound......is being locked inside this closed room.

No matter how harsh a sound I make, ......I'm sure it'll be quieter than a leaf falling by the time it reaches the other end of the corridor......
I tried using the hateful chain that sealed the door to make a sound to call for someone, but that only deepened my despair...
"............?  ......This......chain......?"
That's insane...
Even though just a second ago, it was a stiff chain that looked like it was used to seal a monster away......

At some point, .........it had transformed into a normal chain lock.
This changes everything.
Now I can just undo it from the inside...!

I tried to undo it, but the chain wasn't long enough for that while the door was still open a crack, and I couldn't get it off.  Of course.
"......C, calm down.....................*gulp*..."
I gulped, ......and calmly closed the door.

Then, ......when I saw that the chain had slackened enough, ...I touched it with my finger to make sure.
......When I was little, ......I hated chains, because I could never get them undone right.

However, ......that was a long time ago.
Now, I can undo something like this.  ......Anyone could...it's easy...
*clank*......

I had a vision of the demon who had locked me in this room using this as a trap to give me hope and then make me despair even more, ......but I pushed those thoughts aside for the time being.
I undid the chain lock...and the chain dangled there right before my eyes.
......Now, ......there is no lock sealing this door.
Please, ......don't torment me anymore......and just.........open normally......!
......Slowly......the door opened.

I had closed the door in order to undo the chain, ......so the warm light from the hallway had been cut off.
If I open it again, what if that warm light is gone this time?  ......I was even afraid of that.
However, that was...............just me over-imagining things.
Slowly, ......quickly, ..no, I guess this is normal for a door......

As the door let out an annoying creak, .........the exit from this cursed closed room finally opened......
"............!!  ...............!!!"

Ha...hahaha, I did it......I did it......!

Even my cry of joy was strangled.
......But that doesn't matter anymore.
All that matters is that I can get out!
I poked my head out and looked left and right down the corridor.

The warm corridor.  I could sense people having fun at the other end.  ......Everyone's right there.  Let's go, right now.
".........Gyeh.........?!?!"
At that moment, something cold and heartless crushed my throat.

It was as though an iron loop had been fastened around my neck and pulled on hard from behind.
No...not 'as though'.

......Without my knowing, ......at some point.........a thick, metal collar had been fastened around my neck.
When did this happen?!  When I turned around, I despaired even more.
Out from the inner side of the door I had just opened, ......a thick chain had extended......and attached itself to my collar.
I pulled on it, but it didn't even budge.
When I shook it, the whole door creaked.
......What......th......the hell......
The chain that connected to my collar......was attached to the inner side of the door.

Yes.  The same vanishing chain that had secured the door a short while back...had suddenly become a chain holding me in place...
That's insane...that's insane...!!
Dammit, what's going on here?!!

I pulled with all my strength, trying to tear the whole door off, but I already knew from repeated experiments that it wouldn't even budge.
......I'm sure this chain will disappear once I go back inside the room.
But it will never let me leave the room.
Though it had appeared to revert to being a normal chain lock, ......nothing had actually changed.

The fact was that 'the chain lock' still bound me to that room...
"......Uuu......nnngh......aaaaaaaaahhhh......!!!"
Tears flowing down my face, I pulled with all I had.
......It was completely useless.  No matter what I did, I'd never tear it loose.
And I wasn't even permitted to call out for help.

......I felt a confused anger at how the demon had mercilessly made me think that I'd escaped for just an instant.

But no matter how much I yelled, no voice came out, and no one on the other end of the corridor could hear me...
Then, .........I noticed......an odd stain on the wall of the corridor.
It wasn't a stain.  ......They were letters, traced out by a finger that had been covered in red paint.
".........?!  ............?!?!"

Those letters......which looked like they had been drawn in blood, answered my biggest question...



The chain lock must be set.

You're allowed to unset it, but it must then be reset.

Unless it is set, this exit of yours will be unusable.
I instantly understood the meaning of that ominous message.
Then I tried it out, and understood completely.
When I returned to the room and reset the chain lock, ......the binding around my neck disappeared.

When I undid the chain lock again, ......that heavy feeling around my neck returned.
In other words, I cannot leave this room while the chain lock is still unset.

In that case, why don't I just set the chain while outside the room...?!
I undid the chain one more time.

The collar and chain appeared around my neck again.
I stepped out into the corridor and closed the door behind me, leaving only the slightest of cracks.

I stuck my hand through that crack, grabbed the dangling chain, and tried to reset it somehow.
......D, ......dammit......
......Even though it was so easy to do from the inside.........why...is it so hard to do from the outside...?
The gap needed to be wide if I wanted to manipulate the chain well.
However, that made the chain too short to reach.

To make the chain reach just a bit further, I would have to close the door a little bit more.
But if I do that, there won't even be enough of a gap to fit my hand in.
......Of course, it was perfectly natural.

Chain locks are made to be done from the inside.
They'd be completely pointless if you could set and unset them from the outside.

That's why the length of the chain is specially chosen to prevent anyone from setting or unsetting it from the outside.
Then can I use some kind of hard and thin tool?
If the gap of the door is just a finger's width across, that's more than enough for the chain to reach.

......If I could just bend a wire hanger so that it fits through the crack and work the chain with that......
That's right, there's a closet just to the side of the door.  Could there be some hangers in there?
".........Found one...!!  O, ......ooh, thank god...!!"
A single, cheap-looking hanger, like one you might find in a laundry room, was hanging there.
......Really?
I'm pretty sure that when I last looked a short while ago......nothing like this was in the closet...
Ah, who cares...!  Quickly......quickly......!!
I twisted the wire hanger, bending the end with the tip around.
I formed a loop at the end to grab at things with, ......making for a sort of burglar's tool.
I then dashed out into the corridor again and closed the door almost as far as it would go.

My wrist could never pass through this.
However, if I close it this much, the chain should have extra length to spare...!

And this crack is large enough for me to stick the hanger through...!
Now it's just a matter of technique...!
I'll definitely be able to do it if I try enough times...I'm certain of it!!
".........Hah......haah.........haah......haah...!"
It's harder than it looks...
.......But the chain is long enough.  ......It isn't impossible...!
I had finally gotten my hands on the one way to escape.
......It was hard, yes, but it was theoretically possible.

If it is possible, I'll be able to get out.
I'll be able to escape from here...!!
"......Hihi......hihihihihihihihihi......"
"......!  ...?!?!"

At that moment, ......I felt a heavy weight on the far side of the door.
It felt as though someone inside the room had pressed their forehead against the door...and was drawing closer.

And she.........the witch.........had laughed.
Then, I felt a powerful and strange force on the wire hanger.

......Is she trying to grab it away from me?!
Yeah right, like hell I'll let go!!
Like hell I'll let my one key out of here get stolen while my guard's down!!

Fortunately, I had stuck my wrist through it so that I wouldn't drop it if my hand got tired.

You won't be able to snatch this out of my hands...!
"Hihihi, hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi......"

The witch on the other side of the door watched me and laughed......
Then, ......I noticed something weird.

I looked at my left hand, which I had pressed against the door to hold it in place, ......and between the fingers of that hand, ......I could see something red.
.........They were.........red...letters.
I realized immediately.

At some point in time, even more bloody letters had been drawn on the door, and my left hand had been covering them up.
Still fighting against the vice-like strength of the witch beyond the door, ......I moved my left hand to the side.

Where that hand had been......bloody letters had indeed been drawn.
It was......as though someone had predicted that I'd struggle this way from the very beginning......a message from the witch to me.
It is impossible to set or unset the chain lock from the outside by any means.
All tricks done from the corridor......had been sealed by the red letters.

"N, .........no way........."
"Hihihihihihihi.  ......Hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi...!!"
There was suddenly a terrible sound, and the force that had been pulling on the hanger was suddenly released.

Then, ....when I pulled it out and looked...I lost all hope.
As though it had been hit by the acid of the room's darkness, ......the tip of the hanger......had burnt and bubbled......and melted off.
Now it's pitifully short.  This can't be used for anything...!

It would be useless to search for a substitute.
......All schemes to close the chain from the outside...have been sealed...!
Dammit......dammit, dammit, dammit...!!
I threw the remnants of the wire hanger against the floor, .......faced the hallway filled with a warm light, ......and called for help.
However, I just choked, unable to speak at all.
Everyone's just down the corridor.
And everything's peaceful there!

I can't hear their voices, but I know!
I'm sure they're all having a good time playing cards!
Please, someone notice!!  Someone...save me!!!
Hi...hihihihihihihi.........hi hi hihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihi!!
Aaaaaaaahgggyaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhh...!!!
"""......Ahahahaha, hahahahahahahaha."""

This time, it wasn't the witch's voice.  ......It was the happy voices of everyone else, which I could hear from the other end of the hallway...

Someone, come over here......and save meeeeeeeeeeeee......
"Sorry, but I'm out!"

George slammed his last card down, ending the game with his victory once again.
Everyone gasped in unison.
The cousins' room was filled with laughter as they enjoyed their card game...

"Whoooooooa, so you really did have it, George-aniki!  Damn you...damn you six of spaaaaadeeessss!"
"Your eight of diamonds was pretty nasty too.  Aah, I was so close, ahahahahaha!"

"Uu-uu-uu-!!  You're incredible, George onii-chan!  You won again!!"
"Yep, looks like we've won again.  Ahahahahaha."

Maria couldn't really hold her own in an all-out battle.
So, she had teamed up with George, which was why she was celebrating his victory.
"......Gah..................Utter defeat."

Kanon winced and let his cards drop to the table.
The game of sevens that Kanon and the cousins had been playing had been a fierce battle.

Normally, they would take things easy since Maria was there, so this sort of game was rare.
Kanon had started taking the game seriously, unwilling to lose, so George and Battler had responded and the battle had grown fierce.
Unlike Battler, who was carefree enough to enjoy it whether he won or lost, Kanon's mood changed drastically with every victory and defeat.

......It was less of a dislike for losing and more that he just wasn't used to playing.
He wasn't used to trading a few wins and losses with his opponents, so he took even losses within a game seriously.

Since he had resolved to win and had unfortunately challenged the veteran players George and Battler, the result was plain to see.

As Kanon slumped his shoulders, Jessica slapped him on the back.

"Hey, you almost had it...!  Ahaha, I love fighting all-out like this!"

"......Whether we went all-out or not, if we just lose in the end, it's all pointless..."

"Are you kidding me?  If you really gave it your all, who cares if you lose?  If you lost after hardly trying, then you'd be grumbling and complaining about how you'd have won if you'd taken it seriously, right?"

"That's right.  People who really give it their all never complain.  Those guys are always cheery no matter what the result."
"That's right.  And those people are scarier than anyone else.  They always learn something from their experience and grow."

"......Very true.  ...I was a coward, so I could never learn anything.  ...I see that I am still immature."
I am furniture, so it is useless to dream.
Because he had rigidly believed that, he had distanced himself from everything and shut himself away.

However, during that time, Shannon had undergone many life adventures.
And now, her hand is resting on the door separating furniture and humans......
The old Kanon would only have seen this card game as a way to pass the time.

However, ......the new Kanon was now capable of gaining something new from this experience.
That could probably be called...growth.
When time passes, furniture does nothing but rot.

Being able to grow......is a privilege given only to humans.
"Thanks for playing with us.  You probably have work to do, like filling in the log, right...?  I'm really glad you decided to hang out with us."

"......Actually, I had a lot of fun.  ......Not only that......I now understand why doing things like that is fun.  Thank you very much for forcing me to come."

"Let's challenge ourselves more and more.  And let's go and find more and more things you didn't know about.  ......O, oh, by the way, about what we were talking about...ever wanted to try playing guitar?  W, well, it's not like I'll force you to or anything, but..."

".........It must be very difficult."

"Y, yeah, I guess.  But I'll do a good job teaching you, and I'll even practice with you.  Well, I guess I'm not that much of an expert myself,  hahaha..."

At first, Kanon was scared that he might make a complete fool of himself if he touched a musical instrument for the first time in his life.
......It was because he knew that screwing up like that would make him feel bad.

......However, Kanon was starting to learn.

"It's only natural that I'll be bad when I first start.  ......If I just try to run away from that, I'll never learn a thing for all eternity.  I'll never achieve anything."

"Yep.  Isn't that why people love it when they feel themselves improving?  Even I sucked at making my left and right hands move at the same time when I first started...!  But I slowly got the knack of it, and it started to feel more and more natural...!"

"........................I'd like to reach that level too.  If one path to that goal is playing music with you, Milady, ......I would love to do that with you."

"R, really...?!"

"Yes.  ......I'm sure I'll be horrible when I start, and I might even make you lose hope in me at times.  ......But if I've given it my all, even messing up is no big deal.  ......That's what I learned from you all just now."

"......Hahahahahahaha, you're embarrassing me..."

"Now, .........I like you even more, Milady.  Because I averted my eyes for so long, even though you shone like the sun, I never noticed you when you were right there next to me..."

"Eheheheh.  Then I'd better work even harder to make you like me even more...  Ehehihi, hahyahyahya..."
Kanon's serious and competitive words were more than enough to make Jessica shy.

However, Kanon's expression unexpectedly clouded......
"......Milady, the reason I like you is so clear.  ......Because of that, I can't bear not knowing."
"N, not knowing what......?"
"......Why did you start to like me?  .........Unlike you, I do not shine in any sense.  ......Even now, I'm just clinging to your back as you shine the way.  ......I can't think of any reason why you would like a wretch like me."
"Th, ......that's not true, okay?!  There are all kinds of good things about you, Kanon-kun..."

"......Let me swallow my pride and ask.  ......What about me made you like me, Milady?"

Kanon hung his head.

......He had never learned anything, so he had never been able to take the lead with her.

And yet, it made him sad and frustrated that he had always been the one-sided recipient of her affection......and could do nothing but respond to it.

Jessica was lost for words.

......After all, compared to the reason that Kanon had started to like Jessica, .........Jessica's reason was a lot more vague.
She had heard Shannon talking about her love with George, ......and at school, she and her friends had always talked about relationships with boys.

There would have been nothing strange about a girl fascinated by the idea of romance developing an interest in a nearby member of the opposite sex.
......However, if you put that into words, it would be misinterpreted to mean that any nearby boy would have done just as well......
However, ......at this moment, her heart was filled with nothing besides her own feelings.
She really did like Kanon, ......and she truly wanted to fall in love.

As a result, they might end up together, or they might not.
However, if she reached that result without holding back, she could accept it no matter which it was.
That's why she was able to become serious about her emotions.

However, ......she couldn't find the right words to tell Kanon this.
When Kanon saw Jessica bite her lower lip in frustration, .........he finally realized...

"......I'm such a fool."
"Huh?"

"What about me do you like?  ......That very question is foolish.  It's proof that I'm not serious about myself, and that I haven't been able to understand myself.  ......It's horrible of me to try and make you say it for me."

"Th, that's not true...!  A, after all, it's the first question any girl would like to ask after being given a love confession...!  Th, the question 'What part of me do you like?'..."

"It was immature of me to ask you that.  How could anyone like someone so immature?"

"W, wait, that's not..."

Jessica panicked, trying desperately to explain how she felt.

However, Kanon was calm.  And then, he spoke.

"In that case, .........I want you to like me...the way I already like you.  ......I've decide to change myself so that can happen.  I can hardly imagine that you would like me the way I am.  ......But someday.........no matter what..."

"......Yeah.  I'm absolutely sure you'll become a wonderful person, Kanon-kun.  A guy so cool that I can't keep my eyes off you.  Until then, I'll stick by you all the way.  ......We have plenty of time...!"
"........................But unfortunately, there isn't that much time left."
"......What about time?"
"When I talk about furniture......it usually saddens you.  ......However, this is something I must talk to you about.  And it is also something I must fight for with all my soul."
"What are you talking about...?  I don't want to hear any more of that 'I'm furniture so I can't fall in love' talk.  You're a human, not furniture...!"

"Yes.  I would like to become human.  However, I am still furniture."

"In that case, just do it...!"

"The witch taught me once.  ......The single element of this world.  She said it was love.  ......It's something that humans born into this world can take for granted.  ......However, it is not something that those not from this world, who were born as furniture, can take for granted.  ......In order to gain it for themselves, they must have magic or a miracle."


......In the same way that Nee-san and George-sama......would never have ended up as they have without borrowing the power of that golden butterfly brooch.

"I don't really get this last part."

"......What don't you understand?  ......Let me hear it."

"Since this game began, ......a large portion of the time has been spent on Shannon and Kanon's determination to fall in love.  ......I have no problem with interpreting that as a story of growth and teenage determination for a girl and boy who call themselves furniture.  However, one of the assumptions they make feels really out of place to me."

".........Why is magic necessary?  ......Is that it...?"

"Both Shannon and Kanon......call themselves furniture.  ......These furniture have always claimed that there cannot be love between furniture and humans.  At that point, the magic of the golden butterfly brooch comes into play, and as the miraculous result of that magic, love is established between Shannon and George onii-chan.  That's what they claim."

"Could it not be merely that forbidden love between people of different classes would be impossible to manage without a miracle of magic......?"

"Good point.  I can accept that Shannon and Kanon, who are servants in forbidden love with members of the family and suffering for it, might debase themselves as furniture."

"......Then what is it that you cannot accept...?"

"'Without the power of magic once more, marriage will be impossible'.  ......That seems to be common knowledge between Shannon and Kanon.  ......I just can't understand that part."

After meeting in secret for quite some time, George and Shannon had finally gotten engaged.

Both were fully prepared for it emotionally, and though there would be some trouble with the relatives, it would probably be impossible for anyone to prevent their marriage by this point.

".........Trying to stand between two who wish to be wed is as foolish as standing in front of an arrow and trying to catch it."

"Exactly.  Now that George onii-chan has sworn to protect his lover for the rest of their lives, he has no need to fear opposition and disinheritance from his parents.  ......On the contrary, you might even consider that a perfect test for his love for her.  .........In other words, they will be married no matter what.  No one can stop them.  And they have both consented to the engagement."

"No one can stop them or impede them.  Trying to break apart lovers is a foolhardy venture..."
"Yeah.  And that's what's strange.  There's no need for magic."
If George and Shannon had wanted Eva's approval for their engagement...
......Then magic might really have been necessary.

After all, Eva had forbidden his relationship with her.
No matter how much George spoke on Shannon's behalf, the chances of Eva being convinced were very near zero.

If that were the case, it would be understandable if they wanted a magical miracle to make Eva acknowledge that engagement.

"However, George onii-chan has already sworn to it.  He doesn't care whether his parents approve of the engagement or not.  ......Yeah.  There's nothing standing in the way of their engagement.  And Shannon should know that well herself.  So why is it that now, on this night where the proposal went so smoothly, she's still praying on a miracle of magic?"

"......The furniture claim that she will not even have the right to marry without that miracle..."

"And there you go.  It means that Shannon has accepted George's proposal, ......but she knows that there's still some kind of barrier that can't be overcome without a magical miracle.  And that barrier isn't something that they can overcome by their own efforts.  That's why they need this miracle called magic."

"Why do they need magic?  If two people love each other, what other miracle could they possibly need to be together?!"

".........Hmm, I see..."

Featherine listened to Ange's interpretation, smiling in a satisfied way.

......Apparently, she had already reached that conclusion and enjoyed watching Ange finally manage to do the same.
"And that same question applies to Kanon as well.  ......The love between him and Jessica onee-chan has just begun, but their emotions are pure.  There's nothing standing in their way.  They're already in a loving relationship even without the golden butterfly brooch.  ......It'd be no surprise if the relationship they've started lasts for years and eventually results in marriage.  There's nothing standing in their way either."
"......As long as they don't seek approval from Krauss and Natsuhi, it seems that they will not need a magical miracle either..."

"Exactly.  ......Kanon watched how Shannon lived, and changed his own way of life.  Then, he let his true feelings be known and started a relationship with Jessica onee-chan.  ......There's no need for magic anymore."

"......If it were a one-sided love, then he might need a love charm or something.  But their feelings are already mutual.  They've already communicated their intentions to one another.  ......So why do they still need a miracle?"
Both furniture were in relationships of mutual love.
There shouldn't have been any need for a miracle any longer.

So why......do they still desire some miracle?
And on top of that, the single brooch was portrayed as bestowing only a single miracle.

It felt almost as though Shannon was hesitating because, if she used up that miracle for herself, Kanon's chances at love would be automatically sealed away for eternity...
"So this is the question: why is furniture not allowed to love?"

"......So, you ask why love is not permitted without the miracle known as magic."

"And also, ......there's this golden butterfly brooch that's supposed to give the lamenting furniture the love they so strongly desire.  Just what on Earth is that?"
"Of course, it is a crystallization of magic.  However, like most magics, it can be burnt by the anti-magic toxin."

"......So, it can only have an effect for those who believe in magic and witches."

"Correct.  So, Shannon, who was capable of interacting with me, was able to make use of its benefits.  However, if Shannon had dropped it in a sandy beach and someone who knew nothing picked it up..."

"......If that person was shrouded in the anti-magic toxin, they wouldn't be able to make use of the brooch's magic power..."

"Precisely.  A witch's magical items often lose their power if they are not handed over directly.  However, just as how a witch can manifest herself if her existence is acknowledged by a great many humans and the anti-magic toxin disappears, the power of that magical item can also be preserved if it is believed in by a great many people."

"That's ironic.  ......No matter what kind of magic we witches give out, everything depends on whether the human we give it to can accept it."

"I have heard that the same goes for medicine.  Even with the exact same medicine, humans who know of the medicine's effect experience it to a greater degree."

"......Oh, I think I understand.  When taking cold medicine, I've gotten the feeling that it's more effective when you read the description on the bottle."
As she listened, Beato thought that magic sounded a bit like a charm.

When most humans think of magic, they think of incredible miracles being performed one after another in front of a crowd.

However, this true magic that the older sister spoke of sounded almost like a charm, something that had no effect if the person using it didn't believe.
......Shannon's heart was captured by George bit by bit as he grew by leaps and bounds.
However, she had given up, thinking that one of a different class such as herself would never find love with him.

That was when Beatrice had given her the golden butterfly brooch and encouraged her.
Giving up means that you have zero chance of success.

However, with the power of magic, if you think that there just might be some chance of your wish coming true, the odds of it happening are greater than zero, at the very least.
Zero remains zero forever, but if even a faint probability exists, ......it would be no exaggeration to say that a miracle had occurred since the time that probability had been zero.
Humans can use magic to take 'resignation', by which they themselves make the probability of success zero, and cancel it out.

When a human does not give up, though their chances of success may be small, those chances do exist.
And the more determined they become, the greater those odds rise.

It was easy to imagine that Shannon had made earnest wishes upon the brooch, believed in its effect, ......and tried little things over and over again to get George to like her.
"The power of belief becomes magic......"

"And those who make others believe are witches."

Those who make others believe......are witches.
......That's an interesting way to put it.
If you think about it, it's true.
Let's say a witch steps out into a spotlight, waves her staff in front of a crowd of onlookers, and makes a rabbit appear out of thin air.

The many people who see it will surely think that it was a sleight of hand.
They might wonder at how it was accomplished, but they would be sure that it wasn't magic, and they would applaud the splendid trick that had appeared to be magic.
But what if...

What if they performed a sacred ceremony inside a great ancient temple in front of a crowd of believers...and ended up with the exact same result?

......Would any of the people there think that was a sleight of hand?
In fact, in the ancient past, when magic tricks as a form of entertainment didn't even exist and divine spirits were worshiped, this would doubtlessly have been a miracle of magic...
"I, in that case, ......could this here be......magic?"

"Oh?  Will the witch who cannot use magic now perform it for the first time?"

"H, ......here I have an empty tea cup.  There is nothing inside it."

"Yes, it is empty.  *giggle*, and then?"

"You take it, ......turn it like this, ......and place it upside down on the table."

"Heheheheheheh.  And then?  What next?"

"Umm, ......l, let's both close our eyes and chant the incantation."
It was......the same magic that had been used to give Maria candies.

Beato the elder grinned and closed her eyes.
When she saw this, ......Beato slowly chanted the incantation.
"C, come, try to remember.  ......What was inside the cup?"
"Hmm.  Come, try to remember.  What was inside the cup?"
As she chanted, Beato slowly opened her eyes and made sure that the older sister was repeating her with her eyes closed.
Then, a single gold butterfly appeared out of nowhere......fluttered down onto the overturned cup, and scattered away in a golden splash.

"May I open my eyes now?"

".........Y, yes.  Please open your eyes and inspect the contents of the cup."

"Well now.  ......Let us see how well your first bit of magic has worked."

Taking her time and dragging out the suspense a little, the older sister......lifted up the cup.

"......Aha."

"H, how is it......?"

When the cup was lifted up, .........there lay...a single golden rose petal.

"C, ...could this be...magic...?"

"*cackle*cackle*cackle*......  Yes, it is.  You used magic to create a golden flower petal inside an overturned cup.  It was a splendid bit of magic."

"'Without love, it cannot be seen'.  That much I understand."

"It may be viewed as a trick.  It may also be believed to be magic.  ......It all depends upon the toxin of the individual..."

"Then again, ......while this can explain some of the magic that's been used in the past, it can't explain everything."

"To get back to the point, all this stuff about believing in magic and charms...  It doesn't answer the question: 'What was this golden butterfly brooch, which allowed the furniture, who strongly believed that they could not love, to finally find love?'"

"......If we blindly accept the story of those two Beatos as true, ......might we assume that magic had the power to cancel out their 'resignation'?"

"'Why mustn't furniture fall in love?'  'Why is the power of the magic brooch necessary?'  ......Yes, it does seem at a glance as though what you and the Beatos are saying provides an answer, though a vague one.  However, let me say this as a Reader.  ......I can't accept this as you've presented it."

"You cannot accept it, you say...?"

"......The tragedy those furniture were struggling to resist was something much more immense than this would allow for.  I doubt they could reform their way of thinking just because they were given a charm for making relationships."

"It's true that the brooch gave Shannon the chance she needed to get together with George onii-chan, but after that, she said she wanted to deepen their relationship without borrowing the power of magic, and she even tried to give the brooch back to Beato.  At that point, she supposedly rejected the miracle of magic for a time.  ......In that case, why is that power necessary again?"

"Well now.  ......Perhaps there is no way to say it except that love and marriage are very different things."

Featherine laughed lightly.

......She had probably formed a theory of her own and was laughing at Ange, who hadn't reached it yet.

"Let me hear it.  What's your view?"

"I'd like to keep that to myself for just a while longer.  ......And of course, watching you form doubts and let your mind race is one the joys of being read aloud to.  If I gave you my views, you would accept them and stop thinking.  Then, having you read aloud would be no fun."

"......So, you're having me read a mystery novel you already know the answer to, just so you can enjoy watching me blunder about."

"Well, I am the Witch of Theatergoing.  ......If you wish to laugh at my bad taste, please do not hold back, my miko."
"'Wa ha ha ha.'"

"Pft, ......*giggle*giggle*, hahahahahahaha..."
I understand that a part of magic is created by a believing heart.
And that magic probably permeates deep into the world of us humans as well.

However, though it does permeate so far, the power that dwells within magic is small.
Visiting a shrine to pray for success on a test is something that many people do.

However, not many people will actually credit that visit as the reason for their success.

Praying like this contains no power except as a calming influence.
In love, where even a small chance and a little bit of courage can cause a major change, this power might cause a massive upheaval...

However, .........would this insurmountable fate that the furniture claim to be in the middle of...really change because of something like that......?
I think that in the past, the magical power of the brooch as it joined Shannon and George was little more than a good-luck charm.
However, at this point, the magical power that the furniture are seeking from the brooch...

......It's not something as vague as a charm.

It feels much stronger, like

a whole different interpretation of magic・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・.
If you believe in a sleight of hand, it becomes magic.

......But that's no more than a child's trick.
And that only explains one part of magic.
They...are hoping for something.

They're hoping for something with much, much more power......for true magic, not a sleight of hand.

"......So then, ......just what kind of magic are the furniture expecting from that brooch......"

".........A golden butterfly...brooch...?"

"There exists a magic charm that the Golden Witch Beatrice gave to Shannon in exchange for smashing a mirror, and which made her love succeed.  ......That's what this is."

From his pocket, ......Kanon pulled a single wing from a gold butterfly.

Though it was a single wing, it was easy to tell from its shape that it had originally been part of something with a butterfly motif.

"The magic of this brooch gave Shannon the chance she needed to start her relationship with George-sama.  ......However, before that magic was fully realized, she left it to me.  ......So, thanks to the power of this brooch, ......I gained your affection, Milady."

"That's not true...  I started liking you because of my own honest feelings..."

"......Thank you very much.  ...You are human, so you do not believe in witches or magic.  It's only natural.  ......However, as furniture created by magic, my very existence here is proof that the miracle of magic exists."

"S, sorry, what are you talking about...?"

Jessica sort of grasped the gist of what Kanon was trying to say.
However, she couldn't understand it, and had to ask him to repeat it with a bitter smile...
"..................Both Shannon and I.  ......We need magic to succeed in love.  The key for that is this brooch.  ......I stepped on it and crushed it, so we each have one part."
The brooch had lost its power when it was split in half.
However, if it was ever joined together again, ......its magic would be revived.

It would revive the miraculous power that could join furniture and a human together...
"However, a single brooch can only grant one person's wish.  ......Only one of us furniture can be joined by this single brooch."
It was the single live coal of love that the old, shrilly-laughing Beatrice had sown.

That Beatrice had likened humans who were tormented by this coal to ripe fruit and had enjoyed it evilly.
However, the magic infused within this seed...was real.
It was the only crystallization of magic that the Golden Witch Beatrice ever left in this world......

Its glint......increased.
"Huh?  ......Wh, ...what the...?!"

"It's okay.  ......But please don't look right at it.  It'll blind you."

"Ah, .........aaaaahhh......!"

The glint grew even stronger, shining like the sun.
Jessica didn't need Kanon to tell her to put her hands over her eyes......
As the light grew stronger, ......a sound like the roar of the wind or the tide also grew in intensity.
The sound of the wind and rain outside had already been overwhelmed...

Jessica could no longer even stand, and she crouched on the floor......

A flood of sound and light...  Until it withdrew, Jessica could do nothing but moan......
"Come on, it's okay now.  Let's hurry."

"I, I hope Father likes sweet foods......"

"Oh yes, he does like them.  In fact, he seems to enjoy eating pretty much anything.  Hohohoho."
After waiting for the master of the study to be out, Beato and Kumasawa entered the study.

Then, they quickly cleaned up the books on the desk, set down the basket they had brought there, and opened it up.
Inside......were several cute cookies cut out in a butterfly shape.
They set out a cute plate and neatly decorated it with the cookies.

It was the kind of slight adornment that the person eating wasn't likely to even notice.  The whole setup was filled with that sort of feeling.

"You spare no efforts for the sake of your beloved Father."
"This is......all I am able to do right now."

"To think that I would give Battler cookies...  Why should I, the ruler of the night, do so much for a guest who comes so rarely?"
Then, the study door swung violently open.


It was Battler, with Genji by his side...

Battler's eyes went wide for a second when he saw Beato there, but his expression quickly went blank again.

"......What are you doing here?"

"Father, ......please excuse me.  I didn't come here to get in the way of your important game......"
"How were you able to get in here...?  Wasn't this room locked?"
"......My apologies.  I lent them a key because they wanted to surprise you with a gift."

"See, have a look...!  Beatrice-sama baked these cookies with all her soul, hoping that you would enjoy them."

"Kumasawa-san and Genji-san taught me...  I never knew Genji-san was so good at baking cookies."

"Hohoho.  He hasn't done it much of late, but Genji-san used to cook many things long ago.  He was especially good with sweets...!"
"Cookies...?"

"Y, yes.  It's a gift for you, Father.  I sincerely pray for your victory in this important match..."

Battler looked at the plate on the study desk that was piled up with beautiful cookies...and the message card of encouragement lying next to it, and his face twisted with a complex expression, which might have had traces of both sadness and anger contained within it...
".........Master..."

Genji urged him to consider saying some words of gratitude to Beato...
Battler understood.
......He had no reason to respond to this kindness with displeasure.

Even though he understood it logically, ......he couldn't help but give a small exasperated sigh.
"......Thank you, I'm very grateful.  ......However, I don't like sweets.  Please take it away."

"M, ......Master..."

"............"
"Don't make me say the same thing again.  ......Please clean it up and take it away."

"M, Master, couldn't you just try one bite...?  Beatrice-sama worked hard to make them for your sake..."

"......I am grateful for her feelings.  ......I'm in the middle of a vital game right now.  This is the final game...
and it's vital both for me.........and Beato as well.  So please.  Try not to trouble me any more than is necessary."

"That's just too sad for her...!  I'm glad that you are grateful for her feelings, but can't you show it by taking just one little bite...?!"
"............Father..."
Beato looked at Battler sadly.

......Battler hung his head to avoid her gaze.
The expression on his face caused Beato more pain than any he had shown her before...

"..................Kumasawa, please clean this up and take it away."

"Master...!!"
"............"

Kumasawa clung to Battler, but he turned his back to her...
"......My...apologies...  ......Let's clean this up, Kumasawa-san..."

"I won't allow it.  By making this gift, Beatrice-sama gave it her all to try and support you in the only way she could.  To tell her to take it away without eating a bite yourself...how can you trifle with a woman so?!!"
".........Kumasawa."

"If you call yourself a man, you should at least try a bite when a woman makes you a handmade snack!!  If you truly intend to crush a woman's feelings like this, I, Kumasawa, will not back down even if it kills me!  No I won't!!"

"K, ......Kumasawa-san, ......you've done enough for me already......"

"I won't allow it!!  Master, do you think there might be poison inside them?!"
".................."

......Yeah.
If Beato ever came to give me cookies......

......Of course I'd think that she'd put some kind of crazy poison in them......
She asked me if I thought there'd be poison in these?
Do you really think......that cookies piled up in such a neat and cute way......could possibly have something bizarre hidden inside...?

And......who could possibly imagine......that Beato would ever make something like that...she said......
Because of that, ......Battler couldn't bear to look at Beato's innocent reaction, which was completely free from any malicious thoughts of slipping poison into the cookies......
Beato quietly started to clean up.  ......Every now and then, she sniffled.

Kumasawa continued to glare at Battler, but she then gave a small sigh and helped Beato clean up.

However, the hardness didn't disappear from her expression.

".........My apologies, Father.  ...Please excuse me."

"Don't call me that......"
"............"

"Don't call me Father.  ......Beato never called me that."

"Y, ......yes, as you wish.........My apologies."

Hanging her head so low that her chin touched her chest, Beato hurried out of the study.
After giving Battler a look, Kumasawa chased after her.

Kumasawa threw the door open a bit violently, and the footsteps of the pair rapidly disappeared off into the distance...
"..................I may be his little sister, but I'm not sure how I feel about that."

"If she were anyone other than Beato, you'd think of him as a true enemy of women, is that it...?"

"......I don't have a clue why Onii-chan and Beato act so friendly together.  Right now, I think of Beato as our greatest enemy, the one we must defeat.  ......Still, even so...  As a woman, ......I can't say I like Onii-chan's reaction."

"Though I can understand Battler's feelings a little.  ......What a sad state of affairs."
I still don't understand what kind of antagonism or connection there was between them.

However, Onii-chan probably views Beato......as a friendly rival, if not something more.
Onii-chan's reason for defeating Beato isn't to destroy an enemy out of hatred.  ......It feels like he wants to give a sincere answer to her questions.
Yes.  I can't deny the fact that their fight isn't based on hatred...but on a stronger emotion.
".........And on top of that......Beato really is something to remain dedicated to Onii-chan all the more even after being treated so coldly.  I agree with the other, older sister Beatrice.  ......I can't understand why she's so dedicated to Onii-chan."

"And, though it may take a thousand years, that single factor that you don't understand must be passed on to the Golden Witch Beatrice we know so well..."

"......Yes.  I understand that.  ......Knowing this Beato is connected to knowing that Beato.  ......And that may be able to explain the greatest piece in this crazy game, if not the game board itself..."

"Such a mysterious witch......"

Though she said those words, Featherine wore a confident smile on her face.
Her sarcastic confidence, as though she already knew the answer, was unchanged.

".........Beatrice.  I want to ask you something."
"Y, ......yes, what would you like to know, Ange-san...?"

When Ange asked her question, Beato, who had been reading a Fragment book in the shadows of the study, jumped.

"......Why do you call Ushiromiya Battler 'Father'?"

"B, because he created the piece that I am..."

"......In that case, why are you so dedicated to Ushiromiya Battler?  Is there some rule that pieces must obey the Creator that makes them?"
"There is no such rule.  ......Pieces are tools, ...like a knife.  ......If the Game Master uses them well, they can be quite useful.  However, if you use them incorrectly, they can hurt you as well.  ......Whether the tool is used as a tool or a weapon, that has nothing to do with the tool's own will.  It is merely the result."

"In that case, why are you so dedicated towards Onii-chan?  It's almost as though......that's your goal as a piece."

"Y, .........yes.  ...That is the goal that gave birth to me."

"Did Onii-chan, the one who gave birth to you, give you that goal?"
"That's not it.  ......As the Game Master, Battler merely set 'a piece with that role' on the board.  ......Also, the one who gave birth to this piece...was the first Game Master and the one who created this game, Beatrice herself..."

"......Aaah, this is getting confusing.  ......In other words, you keep calling Onii-chan 'Father', but he's not actually your father.  ......You're just calling him that affectionately because you feel that you must dedicate yourself to him."
"Y, ......yes.  ......I think that's true.  Father was the one who placed me on the game board.  If he hadn't, my piece would never have had a turn.  So, the reason I exist here right now and the reason I am able to devote myself to my goal...is all thanks to Father."
"......I see.  So that's why it makes sense for you to call him Father.  ......In that case, who told you to devote yourself to Onii-chan?  ......Gah, that must have been the first Game Master, Beato herself.  ......Aaaahh, this is so confusing."

"You wish to ask her why she must serve Ushiromiya Battler, correct?  However, she cannot give you that answer.  She was given nothing but the goal itself.  ......Only the person who gave her that goal knows the reasons for which they did so."

"......I see.  'Consider that as well, child of man', right?  ......So, that means you already have an idea and you're laughing at my confusion."

"*cackle*cackle*.  You really are just perfect for my miko..."
"......I will......do anything for Father.  ...My existence will bring Father happiness.  ......That is my one and only pleasure.  ......And........."
At that point, Beato hesitated.
"What?  And what?"

"Y, yes...  ......And, .........if I could one day have Father acknowledge my efforts, ......it would be my one and only joy..."

"Pft........."
".........What the hell.  ......If you only wanted to serve him, I'd say you're just another furniture of the witch, ......but you want him to acknowledge your efforts?  That's less like furniture and more like..."

Ange stopped mid-sentence.

......That's less like furniture and more like.........you're just a girl.........who loves Onii-chan.
............I don't...get it.

The guiding force behind this Beato's actions...is that of a girl who adores Onii-chan.
But then, what does that make this Beato?
If the first Beato liked Onii-chan, then she should have adored him and done things for him herself.

Why would she create 'a piece of herself', a separate entity, to do it......?
This way, ......even if she does attract Onii-chan's attention, it will be towards the piece version of herself, not the creator who made that piece.
If I ever like someone, I'll probably want to do things for them.
But of course, I would want to do those things myself.

After all, I would want him to notice 'me'.
It's as though this love is destined to go unrewarded......No matter how devoted she is, she will never get anything out of it.

And she's doing this out of her own free will...
Beato's actions look no different from those of an average girl in love.
She's devotedly doing all she can for him, dreaming that her kindness will eventually be acknowledged.

......Why would Beato create a piece like this...?
Is putting it in terms of romance a bit too confusing?

Then let's try using food as an example.
It's as pointless as creating 'a piece to eat food for you'.

No matter how much food your piece eats on your behalf, you won't get any less hungry, right?
You are the one that wants to eat.
There's no reason for having a piece do that in your place.

For most jobs in the world, you can get someone else to do it for you.
However, with love and food alone, there can never be any meaning in letting another person do it in your place.
That's right.  ......This Beato was created as a 'piece'...because of an impossible reason......

......Though at a glance, she looks like just a normal girl, .........the more I know about her, the less I understand, ......like an imaginary number......
"......Father hates it when I call him Father.  ......And the 'me' that Father desires...didn't call him by that name either."

"Right.  The former you spoke to everyone without even using honorifics."

".........However, ......simply possessing that knowledge doesn't mean I can refer to Father quite that informally.  ......I'd like to do my best......and start by calling him Battler-san."

"I'm surprised you haven't gotten discouraged after being treated so coldly."

"......Fath- ......no, ......Battler-san is in the middle of an important game right now.  His opponent is the formidable Lady Erika, piece of the great Lady Bernkastel.  ......It's no surprise that he was in a bad mood when I stepped in at a delicate moment in his game, just as it was starting to reach the critical part, ...and called Battler-san by that name he doesn't want to hear..."

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

Apparently, Beato still wanted to devote herself to Battler, even after being treated in such a cold manner.

Though to an outsider, it just looks as though she's being snubbed, ......it doesn't faze her at all.

It truly is the blindness of a girl in love......

"......Or is it that I can't see because I have no love?"
"At times, love can make the invisible visible."
Beato once again immersed herself in the Fragment book that the former Beato had written.

......She was trying to find something about the Beato that Battler desired.
Ange shrugged, as though saying 'well, I don't get it'.
Featherine laughed when she saw this, as though hinting that an 'innocent young woman' could never understand.
Ange grumbled something back unhappily.

It seemed that their give and take had no effect whatsoever on Beato as she sat in the shadows of the library......
After chasing all the others out, ......only Battler remained in the study.
There was no color in this dimly lit room.

However, ......for just the short time that the plate of cookies had been placed there, the room had seemed at least a little cheery...
Battler's gaze drifted over to the table, ......which no longer had anything on it.

When he did, the cookie plate that had been there until a second ago was revived.
However, ......it was an illusion.
Though the cookies could be looked at, they could not be touched, much less eaten...

If Battler wished, he could make it possible to 'touch them' or 'eat them', ......but it would be an empty sensation.
It would only give the touch and taste that Battler desired.

......He no longer had any way of knowing what kind of cookies they had been.
".................."

On the reception sofa across from Battler, ......a cloud of gold butterflies slowly gathered, ...and took the form of the old Beato.
"'Come o~n, have a bite☆  It's not every day that I'll make these by hand...!  Have no fear, I'm confident in how well they've turned out.'"

"'Pu ku ku ku!  Hearing that from Milady makes them all the more dubious.'"
"......Seriously.  ......Any cookies you made would obviously have some kind of strange poison in them."

"'Shocking that you should think so.  Even if I did put something in, it'd be no worse than the kind that does this and that to your other thing.  Uhyahyahya!'"

"'Since you do that sort of thing all the time, Battler-kun will never agree to eat them.'"
"'Huh?  Putting things in someone's food is pretty basic, isn't it?  Fingernails, bits of hair, magic charms, Fragments of love...eheheheheheheheh!  What would you people put in?'"

"'Yes, ma'aaam!!  I wouldn't put anything in them!  I'd just eat them all myself!'"

"'Obviously.  Do you have to be so predictable?!!'"
"'Well, they say a girl's gotta grab by all three sacks☆  The first step is the stomach, right?  Next comes the wallet...so what could the third one be?!  *giggle*☆'"

"'If I could catch a guy's attention, I'd want to make him sacrifice his body, heart, and soul to me!  That's why I pour all my power and affection into my cooking.'"

"'Heheh, in any event, making someone eat your food is probably a frontal attack that has gone unchanged through the ages.'"
"'Ridiculous.  How pathetic to think that you couldn't grasp a single man's heart except by relying on such simple tricks.'"

"Ooh~?  So does that mean you've ever succeeded in grasping a man's heart, Onee-sama?'"

"'Battler, there's nothing weird in it, so have a bi~te.  Don't think you'll ever get a chance to eat my handmade cookies again☆'"


.........There probably won't...be another chance.

I slowly stretched out my hand, ......out to the illusion of the cookie plate, ......and touched it.
Just before I did, it became a cloud of gold butterflies, ......and vanished into the darkness of the study.

The illusions of Ronove and Virgilia also disappeared.
...However, the illusion of Beato alone still remained on the sofa.
"......Is there something that does not satisfy you?"
"............Do I really need to say it?"

"*cackle*cackle*cackle*.  ......The more the new 'me' differs from the form you wished for, ......the more you are reminded that I can never be revived again, ......correct?"

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

"*cackle*cackle*!  If you let a good woman get away, you never get a second chance.  So, only now, you've finally realized what a good woman I wa~s."

"......Shut up.  If you never appear again, ......that'd be a relief."
"Hmph........."

Beato lay sprawled on the sofa and looked up at the ceiling.

Battler also turned his back and moved to the window.  ......For a while, there was silence.
"I think you understand, but......"
"......I do understand."

"The 'me' you were expecting...has already disappeared."
"......I know.  ......Even though that Beato is you without a doubt, ......she's a different being than the former you.........and I can say with certainty......that you will never revive again..."

"My soul, femininity, sparkling personality, and splendid character were cultivated in a thousand years spent as a witch.  Unless an exactly identical thousand years is traversed, it is impossible to become me.  And so, ......at the moment you decided to create me, my personal history contained differences."

"Yeah.  ............That damn Bernkastel has already guaranteed that you'll never revive..."

"However, you still hope for it, don't you?"

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

"One day, the new 'me' trips and lands on her head, and all her memories of the past are restored!  ......You were hoping for something like that, weren't you?  Ahyahyahyahya!  A delusional plot like that wouldn't even pass in a light novel these days!"

"......Shut up.  ......In the past, you also...  ......You waited and waited......for me to remember......and take notice..."

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

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

Then, ......what is it?

Does this mean.........that our relationship......is exactly the opposite of how it once was......?
".........Hmph...  ......Well, at times, I did continue the game believing that you would eventually notice and remember, that a miracle would occur."
"............How did it feel?  ......How did it feel when you were playing with me?"
"*cackle*cackle*cackle*...  As they say, look inside your own heart..."
"............"
......It's tough.

If only she didn't look so much like you, ......I would have kept my cool a little better.
"Well, do as you wish.  In the past, I toyed with you and tormented you.  ......Now's your chance for revenge against me.  ......The new 'me' will just wander about, ignorant of everything.  You may boil or burn her as you see fit.  Perhaps it will clear away an old hatred."
".........I would if it was you.  It'd probably make me feel a lot better.  ......But............that Beato......isn't you."

"If it isn't me, who is it?"

"......It's someone very like you, .........but not you."

"However, there can be no doubt that she is me."

".........True.  She is you, ......and at the same time, ...she is a different person."

"In that case, the new 'me' really has it rough.  She's being treated like a plaything in my place.  ......*cackle*cackle*, how truly pitiable."

".................."
That might...be the contradiction inside me.

Because the new Beato seems like a different person, I can't accept her.
Even though I know she's a different person, ......she keeps reminding me of Beato's face.
"In that case, ......why not think of her as my daughter?"

"......Your daughter......?"

"She does share my blood, so consider her a daughter that closely resembles me.  After all, she is my double, but hasn't lived a thousand years, so calling her that is not incongruous."

"......True..."

"Imagine that I have died, left behind a daughter.....and entrusted her to you.  That way, won't it become a little easier to think of how to deal with her?"

"That's actually a good analogy.  ......It's unlike you."

"Do not jest.  That is my daughter.  She is the child I left behind after my death.  ......You are free to press my likeness upon her.  You may also let loose your pent up resentment on her in my place.  ......Making her bear my sins and torturing her as you please may calm your grudge.  If that doesn't match your tastes, you can also guide her down the right path so that she does not end up on the inhumane road that I have tread."

"......She was made to devote herself to you since the moment of her birth.  If you wish, you can mold her into any shape you desire.  .........With a miracle of a thousand years, she might even become me."

"......So, I could even strip her naked and drag her around with a chain, like you did to me once."

"*cackle*cackle*.  Yes, at this point, even greater humiliation would be possible..."

".....................So, ...she is......your double......and your daughter..."
Yes, she is exactly the same person, the same piece, which was created once more by the rule called Beatrice.

However, when I can't accept it that way, .........I could have interpreted her as being Beato's daughter, ......and found a clear guidepost on how to interact with her and smooth the uncertainty in my heart.
.........Finally......I...

...I understand how cruel......I was to her then......
My tears poured to the ground, ......and when I followed them with my eyes...

I noticed that a white business card had fallen onto the floor.
It was......the message card that had adorned those cookies.

I rushed her, telling her to clean up and leave right away, which was probably why it had fallen to the floor unnoticed.
I picked it up, .........and read the message on it.
.........It was...extremely short, ...pure, ...and sincere.
It's so clear, ......that I should be able to read it.

......However, ......it's blurred with tears, ...and I can't.........see anything.........
......The flood of light and sound slowly dissipated.

The silence that followed was not interrupted even by the sound of wind and rain outside that had once been present.

Both Jessica......and George......timidly opened their eyes...

......Where in the world......is this......?
It was a strange room that they had never seen before.
It looked like a western smoking room.

......Its furnishings were stylish and expensive.
It felt as though a dignified person must own this room.
Preparations for black tea were set on the table, ......and so was a chessboard, which seemed to be halfway through a game.
However, there was something strangely out of place.

The black and white checkerboard pattern made it feel like chess, ......but it looked like a very similar yet totally different game that no one knew of.
In the same way that it both looked like chess and not like chess...

The furnishings of this room...no, the room itself...  ...Though it first seemed like a western smoking room, ......it also felt like something completely different...
".........J, ...just where...is this place...?"

"......Jessica-chan and Kanon-kun...  ......And Shannon?  Where's Shannon...?!"

"I'm right here, George-sama."
"And I am here.  ......Milady, George-sama.  We apologize for bringing you to a place like this."
"......What on Earth is going on?  ......Just when Shannon took out something that looked like a butterfly wing and it started shining..."

"Th, the same thing happened to me...!  Kanon-kun took out this golden butterfly brooch thing, it started to sparkle, and..."

"Milady, George-san, first off, please allow us to apologize.  And please stay calm.  ......Something strange is about to happen.  That strange thing will probably test us."

"Test us......?  ...Do you mean...that trial you were just talking about......that we had to overcome if we wanted to be together?  ......Is that it?"

"A......a trial?"
".........I haven't explained it to you yet, Milady.  My apologies.  .........But please, ...if your words just a second ago were the truth, ......please lend me your strength.  I will give it everything I've got, so please......"

"......I...I don't understand a thing that's been happening...  Do you know something, George nii-san?"
"A bit.  .........I'm just as surprised as you about what's happening now.  But if they say that this is an unavoidable trial and that we are essential for it, I intend to take on whatever may come."

"............A trial......?"

"Kanon-kun.  The brooch."
"Yeah......"

The two of them brought the halves of the broken golden butterfly brooch closer to each other.
As they grew closer, the strength of their bright yellow radiance increased.

"......Jessica-chan, I want you to prepare your heart as well.  I am already prepared."

"Wh, what do you mean...?!  I don't have a clue!  What the hell's going on...?!"

"It's a trial.  A test for a pair of lovers."
"H, ......huuh...?!"

George spoke these awkward-seeming words quickly and easily.

It was such an embarrassing line that Jessica couldn't help turning red, ......but the expression on George's face, which was so serious that it was almost grim, forced her to tense up as well...

Shannon and Kanon were just as serious.

......With a glow in their eyes, as though they were taking part in a sacred duel, the pair of them brought the two gold butterfly wings together.

Then, the wings they held became a single brooch...and regained their magical power.

An even more intense light filled the room......and the scene was burnt into the retinas of all present......as the brooch shattered and two shining things flew out of it...
"People live for the sake of love!  Yes, this world is love itself!"
"Oh, how great is the power of love...!  Love is everything!!"
Suddenly, the voices of two people they had never heard before rang out.

What was it?  Who were they...?

George and Jessica nervously opened their eyes......

When they did, they saw that two demons had appeared there, ......almost as though the brooch which had once been split in two had become them...
"Ooh, that's weird, Furfur...!!  Why are we in a place like this?!"

"It really is strange, Zepar...!!  There's no one but humans and furniture!  Where is the witch?  Where is the witch capable of summoning us?!"

"Yes, we remember the name of the witch of the contract really well, don't we?  Let's try calling it out, Furfur!"

"Yes, you're right, Zepar!!  We know the name of the witch of the contract, the Golden Witch!"

"Then let's try calling her!"

""Beatriiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiice!!""

Considering their exaggerated manner, like a theater play, and their slightly humorous style of talking, it would probably be hard, at this moment, to comprehend the great power these demons possessed.

When the two demons called Beatrice's name, a cyclone of gold butterflies picked up throughout the room.
Then, it took the form of two Golden Witches...

"Ooh, there are two Beatrices...!"
"Well, there are two of us as well.  Why shouldn't there be two Beatrices every now and then?"

"This is my double and my little sister.  We two are the same and as a single person."
"P, ......pleased to meet you."

"It has been a long time, Beatrice-sama..."
"............"

"A, ......am I dreaming......?"

"......I feel the same.  Still, it's too early to get dumbfounded."

Unlike Jessica, George had maintained his composure even during this bizarre scene.
......After all, Shannon had already told him what would happen next.
"Demons of the contract, it has been too long...!  Zepar.  And you too, Furfur."

"Ah, long time no see!  You seem to be in high spirits as always!"

"But look at your cute little sister here!  Those juicy eyes must have the taste of white peaches when they grow teary...!"

"Uh, ...ah, ...well, I wonder..."

Zepar and Furfur latched onto Beato from either side, wearing strange smiles.

Each movement they made was exaggerated yet polished, as though they were acting out a play.

"Leave it at that for now, demons of the contract.  To think that tonight will be the last time we see that mischievous spirit.  It will be dearly missed."
"The last time......?"

"The brooch, our vessel, has already been destroyed!"
"Eheheheheh, in other words, our role is finished after this!  Ah, yes, it has been fun, Beatrice!"

"However, it was decided when the contract was made.  It was decided that we must lend our power one more time before our final farewell."

"So, this is truly the final miracle!"

"Once is enough for the miracle of love!  After all, eternal love will never be needed a second time!"
"......There you have it.  Lovers!  Those gathered here are ones cursed to have unsuccessful love unless a miracle occurs.  The power of the golden butterfly brooch, which can grant this miracle, is your last chance, and like it or not, this chance is limited to this evening!  This miracle can be given only to a single pair!"

".................."
"......I won't lose."

"Yeah.  ......Let's both give it our all."

Shannon and Kanon exchanged a serious gaze.

......Both had already readied themselves to fight for the sake of their love's success.
"I, I don't really get it, ...but I don't wanna borrow the power of some strange demon...!"
Jessica was finally starting to figure this place out.

These demons......were probably planning to pit her and Kanon against George and Shannon.
"Let me be clear: this is none of your business!  Kanon and I can handle our relationship by ourselves.  I'm not obligated to put myself in the debt of some bizarre demons!"

".........Milady, please listen.  ...If we don't overcome this trial, .....we cannot be together..."
"Jessica.  Accept it.  This is the only trial that can be imposed on upstart furniture wishing to be joined with a human."

"More of this stuff about furniture and humans!  Don't butt in...  This has nothing to do with us!!"

"You still haven't told Milady...?"
"......I didn't know...how I should explain it."

"Kanon-kun, Shannon, and you, George nii-san!  Why are you listening to these creeps?!  No one can stand in the way of a person's love!  Why do we have to please these demons?!  It's none of their business!!"
"Well, it seems we have quite a troublesome blockhead among us.  .........We could begin the game like this, but that would hardly be fair."

"C, ......couldn't you explain it for her?  ...I don't understand that well myself.  Is there some kind of problem with the love between Jessica-san and Kanon-san...?"
"Oh my!  It seems you understand nothing at all!"

"With our blessing, the pair can cultivate their love at their leisure!  No need to worry about suspicious demons!"

"However, without our blessing, your love will vanish, disappear, wither and decay."

"How the hell're you so sure?!!"

""Because it is fate!!  You may choose not to accept it, you may choose not to resist it!""
".........Oh, what happens if you choose not to resist it...?"

"That love will end.  ......Well, an abstract explanation isn't so convincing.  Well now, how could one explain the dead end fate you're in..."

"Ushiromiya Jessica, the future you two share is far more grim than you realize."
"If you don't gain the miracle of magic, disaster will most certainly befall you."

"Then it will cover you, fester within, and split the two of you apart.  ......Even I will not be so boorish as to describe the details of that process.  However, if you will not believe, Jessica, I will tell you how it ends.  ......Kanon will stop being a servant and will leave the island.  For all eternity."

"You will probably leave the island yourself in search of the one you love, but such a venture will doubtless be in vain!"
"Yes, and then you will mourn and hate!"

"Hate who?!"
"You!!"
"Me?!"

""No, the 'you' of this moment!!""

With a dramatic gesture, the two of them pointed at Jessica.

......They were saying that, if she left, the person left with regrets would be Jessica herself.
"Wh, ......what the hell are you......saying......"

"When you have lost the one you love, you will realize.  You will realize how much you hate the person you were when you ran away from the trial to complete that love!"

"Yes, we're messengers from the 'you' of the future!  Please, at this very moment, take your love seriously and fight!"

"And if you don't listen to the message of the 'you' from the future?!"

"The foolish snake eating its own tail will keep on gulping!"

"The endless cycle of suffering will swallow you up......and you will simply vanish."
"What the...hell are you talking about...?!!"

Jessica's confusion showed up on her face as anger.

......However, a memory of what she had heard a long time ago welled up in the back of her mind.
......Unlike Nee-san, I don't plan on working here for many years...

After just a few years, ......or possibly...

......If Nee-san ever decides to stop working here, ......I think I'll stop working too......

"Kanon......kun......"
"............"
"If you give up on the miracle of magic and leave it to Shannon and George, ......they will be joined and leave the island.  ......After that, Kanon will leave the island as well.  That is an unavoidable fate."

"Th, ......then what if they can obtain the miracle of magic...?"

"Of course, Kanon will remain on the island, by Jessica's side for all time.  ......He will probably start learning music with Jessica as she wished for.  ......How their relationship will progress afterwards is a matter for the two lovers.  They may deepen their relationship slowly all by themselves, as Jessica wanted..."

"......However, ...if that happens, George-san and I will not be joined."
".........We must fight this fate by betting our futures and our happiness."
"A, ......are you kidding me...?!  What the hell...?!  So if we are joined, the other pair will split apart?!  What kind of demon's game is this?!!"

"Don't be mistaken.  You will not be taking something from each other.  ......Without the power of the golden butterfly brooch, neither love is fated to bear fruit."

"A, and who the hell decided that?!!"

"It is due to your sin of falling in love with furniture, which is not allowed to love.  ......Didn't Kanon clearly reject you, saying that furniture was not qualified to love?!  Knowing that, you chose Kanon as the one you loved.  I won't let you get away with saying you didn't know...!"

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

Though she couldn't accept any of it, Jessica was unable to argue back.

Then, George spoke up with that soft tone that he always used to smooth things over.
......However, his expression was still ruthlessly serious.

"......Jessica-chan, can't you think of it this way?"
"Think of it......what way...?"

"I love Shannon.  I am prepared to overcome any and all trials and obstacles that stand in the way of us being together.  .........What about you?"

"W, well, ......I'm not so weak that I'd lose heart over most things..."

"Yes.  That's it exactly.  Right now, we are being tested.  Tested to see who can display the strength of our feelings more strongly."

".........Are you actually......satisfied with this insanity...?"

"There's no need to be satisfied.  ......When I gave Shannon that engagement ring, I swore to fight all trials and barriers that stand in my way.  ......No matter how unreasonable or incomprehensible these trials might be, ......I cannot choose to avoid them."

George spoke clearly, ......then looked at Jessica with a cold gaze.
......By now, Jessica almost understood.

If she kept on grumbling and avoiding this demons' trial, ......the game between the two groups would automatically end with her defeat by default.

In other words, George and Shannon would win.
Then they would gain the miracle of magic, their love would be completed, .........and Jessica and Kanon would split apart, ......with Kanon eventually leaving the island and never seeing her again.
"......Nothing would make me happier than to see you step out of this trial.  ......That way, I wouldn't have to fight you.  And that would show the limits of your feelings for Kanon-kun."
"Nn.........gah........."
It seemed as though George spoke ruthlessly, ......but he was actually being exceptionally fair.

If it came to a loss by default, Jessica would never be able to clear away her lingering regrets.
That would leave a bad aftertaste even for George.

"......We must fight openly for that single miracle.  ......Even if I lose at the end, ......I'll be able to accept it if we both gave it our all.  And because of that, I will be able to cheer on the victors from the bottom of my heart."
".........Hmph.  ...George's determination is quite impressive."

"After hearing that-"
"Are you still going to run away?"

The two demons giggled and challenged her.
Of course, George didn't laugh, but he still challenged her with cold eyes.

".........And Shannon......?"

"......Please forgive me, Milady.  ......I am determined not to flinch in my resolve.  .........Even if I know......that sticking to my feelings......means ending your loving relationship, Milady."

Shannon had never before spoken to Jessica with such serious and solemn words.

Jessica realized what a strong will had dwelt within her usually weak and clumsy friend, and was surprised.
"Kanon-kun........."

"I......want to start a new life with you, Milady.  ......Even if that life.........means crushing Nee-san's happiness......I will not falter..."

Kanon was also doing all he could to restrain himself.

Yes.

All of them......were being serious and frank...and abandoning any naivety they might have possessed.

All this about golden butterfly brooches and miracles of magic...
And the trial that the demons were giving them......none of it mattered.

Only one thing was being tested.
Whether or not they possessed the strong will to make their love come true.
Jessica clenched her fists, ......and hung her head, shaking, while biting her lower lip.

She was silent, but she would probably gain an unswerving will of steel before too long.
......She just needed a little time first.

The two demons who taunted people with dramatic gestures...did not violate this silence that Jessica needed to resolve herself.

Love brings about conflict, and this conflict gives rise to determination.

As the demons of love, they could understand more fully than any others how noble that determination was...
".........Jessica-san......"

"Furthermore, ......this magical miracle is something that can be received by you as well."

"By me too.........?  Wh, what......do you mean......?"

She had thought this had been about two pairs of lovers.

Beato was surprised to suddenly hear that this had something to do with her as well...

"With the miracle of the golden butterfly brooch, .........even your wish, ......your wish that your affection for Battler will be acknowledged, can be granted easily.  ......And without a miracle, .........you also can never be bound to him."

"............"
"It means you're no outsider to this either."

"To cut across the marshes of love!  That is your wish, is it not?!"

"We will not make light of your wish!"
"......Even your relationship with Battler will eventually fester and rot.  ......No matter how much of a positive outlook you take, you know that this fate will eventually come to pass, barring some kind of miracle."

"............Well........."

Beato hung her head sadly.

She hadn't wanted to lose heart from that cookie incident.
......However, it would have been a massive lie to say that it hadn't hurt her...

The more she tried to get close to Battler, the more she hurt him.
However, she had been born in order to get close to Battler.

...She was like a hedgehog freezing in the cold and bunching together for warmth.
She had approached him because of love, and had been hurt for it......

"If you understand that much, entrusting your fate to a miracle may prove to be of some interest.  As they say, an un-bought lottery ticket earns you nothing.  Zepar, Furfur!  Let my little sister join in too."

"Oh, of course!"
"Welcome, second Beatrice...!  We were planning on including you from the very beginning!"

""After all, we are Zepar and Furfur!  The demons of love!!""

"......M, ......may I......join in as well......?"
"If you want to, I don't see a problem.  I won't prevent anyone from entering.  We'll win against all hindrances and make everyone celebrate our union.  ......Of course, it's the same the other way around.  If you succeed in love by defeating us at our best, then both Shannon and I promise to sincerely support the pair that wins.  Right, Shannon?"

"Yes.  We will not lose.  And even if we did, we would cheer you on from the bottom of our hearts."

"......I feel the same.  I will not lose."
".........Well, if there's no way out of this fight, ......let's show 'em what we've got.  ......No matter what!  Kanon-kun and I don't plan on losing."
"You feel the same, do you not?"

"Y, ......yes...  ......If there is even a small chance that Father...ah...no.........that Battler-san will acknowledge me, I'm willing to put myself on the line."

"Well said.  Good going, little sister.  Zepar, Furfur!  The actors have gathered!"

"Then let's begin, Furfur!"
"Yes, let us begin, Zepar!"

""Let's begin this trial of lovers, the fight over a single miracle of magic...!!""
Erika had returned to the room on the second floor of the guesthouse that had been given to her.

The next room over was empty.  It was very quiet there...
Even pressing her ear against the wall wouldn't enable her to listen in on the voices in the cousins' room.
Even with hearing power boosted by the detective's authority, it would probably be impossible to make out anything.

This room was the farthest down the hall, a long ways away from the cousins' room......
"And last time, my room was right next to theirs.  ......I see...so he's placed my room farther away this time."

"It is a modification of the initial arrangement well covered by the powers of authority given to the Game MASTER.  It is, perhaps, a quite reasonable first MOVE."

"Well, it's better for me that way too.  Like I'd want to hear those brats' squeaky voices as they play cards."
"............"
This whole time, Erika had been facing the desk and toying with something.
......She was preparing some of those duct tape seals from before.
She had asked Kumasawa for the stickiest tape in the place.

She drew a complicated signature that could not be counterfeited across it with a permanent marker, then began making notches across it.
This way, she could stick this over a place that she wanted to prove had been closed, creating a powerful seal equal in strength to the red truth.

Those menacing seals had cornered Natsuhi so thoroughly in the previous game...
".........Nn......  ......Great..."

"Is something WRONG?"
"......He got me.  ......That Battler doesn't let anything get by him, does he?"

Erika shrugged and showed the piece of duct tape she had torn off to Dlanor.
At a glance, Dlanor couldn't tell what had annoyed Erika.
However, as soon as she held it, she realized the difference right away.

"......This won't be any GOOD."
"Yep.  It's barely sticky at all.  This won't reach even close to the red truth."

Even duct tape can be of low quality, and it sometimes gets weaker with age.

The tape Kumasawa had found was a bit too weak even for normal use.  It wasn't nearly sticky enough to be used as a detective's seal.

"It is possible to tear it off CLEANLY.  This cannot count as proof of a SEAL."

"......I guess Battler isn't as totally incompetent as I thought.  He probably tampered with all the duct tape on the island using the authority of the Game Master."

Letting Erika get her hands on duct tape gave her a fatal weapon to use against witches.  The previous game had proven this fact.

And so, Battler had removed that weapon from the entire mansion......

"Most likely, all possible substitutes for duct tape have also been tampered WITH."
"......Probably.  Well, it isn't really so bad.  At least this way, I won't have to look like a fool crawling all over the outer wall in the cold rain."

Erika tossed the duct tape aside carelessly and flopped spread-eagled onto the bed...
"Anyways, waiting calmly for the crime and smoking a pipe is also part of a detective's role.  ......I doubt you'll have any role until the first twilight begins, so why not vanish off somewhere and take a break.  .........I imagine that just the sight of my face is tiresome for you."
"......I do not SMOKE.  I am just a KID."
"Oh, really?  ......I wish I could.  ...Well, only if it really is as refreshing as smokers claim."
"......It seems...that you are not in high SPIRITS."
".........Does it look that way?"
Erika answered lazily, still looking up at the ceiling.
That in itself was half an answer...
The silence between the two was filled by the sound of the wind and rain.

It was so quiet that the sound of the ticking clock rang out clearly.

".........Lady Erika.  May I ask a QUESTION?"
"Depends on what it is.  Answer's probably <no> though."

".................."
"............Well, we're just killing time anyway.  What is it?"
Erika was probably bored as well.
......Or maybe the sound of the rain was making her sentimental.

She assented, which was very unlike her.
"WHY?  ......Why do you hate magic, Lady Erika?"
"......Ah.  ......You mean that thing downstairs with Maria?"

"That was nothing more than a foolish trick to deceive CHILDREN.  Everyone knew THAT.  ......Was it really necessary to go so far to destroy that ILLUSION?  ...I cannot UNDERSTAND."

Erika didn't need Dlanor to tell her that it had been a childish fight.
"......Well, I am a self-proclaimed intellectual rapist.  I can't stand having magic confuse the truth."
"And so, you feel pleasure from exposing THAT?  ......I sense a different EMOTION."
"A different emotion?  .........What's that?"
"To me, it feels less like pleasure, ......and more like a different, negative EMOTION."
"Hah, ......you really are a murder doll, aren't you?  Even your eyes are like knotholes."
".........My APOLOGIES.  Please forgive ME."
Erika rolled over grumpily, turning her back to Dlanor.
So, Dlanor couldn't see her expression.
......Even so.

For some reason, she could guess that this completely unobserved expression was one of pain...
Interpreting this to mean that Erika wanted her to go away, Dlanor gave a bow and made to leave.
Then, Erika suddenly spoke.
The words had come so far out of the blue that Dlanor doubted her ears, and she had to ask Erika to say it again.
"......What did you SAY?"
"I like you."

It really had been out of the blue.

Dlanor wanted to see what Erika really meant, but the latter still had her back turned, and her face was out of sight...
"............Thank you very MUCH."

"I was going out with another girl a while back, but we've completely broken up.  The others might talk about us out of envy, but please ignore them."
".................."

"I'm gonna devote my whole life to you, so I want you to do the same for me.  Let's find happiness together."
Dlanor avoided asking what she was talking about and stood there in silence.
For a while, Erika kept on dully and emotionlessly repeating soppy phrases that might have popped up in some shoujo manga...

Then, unexpectedly, she once again followed up with a complete non sequitur.
".........A new wallet."
"............?"
Of course, she had no idea what Erika was saying.

However, with her back still to Dlanor, ......Erika kept on saying disconnected words.
"A strange cat keychain.  A different style of cologne.  A music tape that's not his style...which he said he borrowed from a senior at theater.  ......His senior was going so he couldn't refuse.  He suddenly had this part-time job to go to.  Talked with a friend on the phone for a really long time."
Made too much curry.
Went to theater practice more often.
The way he folds paper towels.
Thanks, I've already eaten.
He knew stuff about cosmetics.
Sorry, I was sleeping.
The toilet seat was left down.
He spent the night over at his stage friends' place.
My acting friends had a party here earlier.  Someone must have left it behind.
The drain and sink were cleaned out.
Receipts and point cards from places he doesn't usually go.
The muddy soles are evidence that you went out on Monday when it was raining.  That matches the strange symbol on the calender.  None of your theater friends have hair this long.  That's a leading question.  How do you know the plot of a movie you haven't seen yet?

Evidence, evidence, circumstantial evidence.  Observation, surveillance, tracking, tailing.  Information gathering, wiretapping, asking about, questioning.
I found tons of evidence that I loved you.

I found tons of evidence that you loved me.

But I couldn't find any evidence that you haven't been cheating on me.
Give it a rest.  If you love me, then trust me...
If you can't do that, then you don't love me anymore.  How could I love someone like that?  I'll treasure you for all my life, but I want to do well in theater just as much.  You said you liked seeing me act, right?  So why are you telling me to stop acting now?  Why do I have to choose between you and acting?  What's wrong with you?  I'm seriously worn out, alright?  Come on, if all we do is fight when we see each other, maybe we both need some time to cool off, okay?  I need to concentrate for my next performance anyways.  There's this senior girl who suddenly said she wouldn't be able to perform.  I need to rewrite the script by tomorrow.  I don't have the time for this.
If you really find it that hard to trust me, we're through.  Stay away, just go home, bitch, I don't love you anymore.  Don't cry dammit, it's disgusting.  Just die.  Stop shouting, dammit, you're annoying the neighborhood.  Just get the hell away from me and never come back.
"......Without love, it cannot be seen?  ............Hah.  That's backwards."
"........................"
"Because of love, you end up seeing things that don't even exist."
......It's nothing more than an illusion, one that no one except you can see, and one that even you can never touch.

Without love, humans would never need to sift through truth and lies.

Because we can see those, ......we doubt.  We suffer.  We cry out loud.
".........Right now, I am happy.  ......Though it may be temporary, I have become the Witch of Truth.  ......As I am now, ......I no longer need to worry about being tormented by non-red words."

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

"..................What about you?  How would you have countered my endgame?"
"How would...I?"
"That useless man wouldn't play the part of my opponent in that game.  ......I was wondering how you would have countered it?"
".................."

Dlanor was suddenly thrust into the position of Erika's opponent in the witch's game she had once challenged that man with.
Dlanor shared in the Fragments of Erika's past and was made to grasp the full situation.

The board was reproduced in full inside their heads...
The situation...was one-sided.

Erika's side had constructed a blue truth based on countless bits of circumstantial evidence, had turned all of those into pieces, and was already cornering the opponent.

For some time, Dlanor thought in silence......and announced her by-the-book response.

"First MOVE.  ......I demand that you provide evidence that I have been CHEATING."
"Counter with the blue truth.  I present 84 points of circumstantial and physical evidence."

"Counter with the blue TRUTH.  I present 6 points of circumstantial and physical evidence that I still love YOU."
"<Good>.  Blue and blue cancel each other out, but the number of pieces used to construct each is overwhelmingly unbalanced."
When both opponents meet with the blue truth, the decision is almost always based on which side has more pieces of evidence, regardless of the actual circumstances.  ......This is especially true in the human world.

So, by the standard rules, Erika would win...

"First point to me.  Your next move?"
"............I will attempt to switch offense and DEFENSE.  I ask that you, Lady Erika, provide proof that you are not CHEATING."
"Perpetual check.  That's a forbidden move, since it'd result in an endless repetition of the same question going both ways."
"Then I frankly declare that, despite a lack of proof, I still love Lady Erika even NOW."
"Not the red truth, so that's ineffective.  Even if it was red, that'd be a stalemate.  After all, I'd have no move to counter with."
".................."
Dlanor remained silent for a while.

Then, she quietly responded to Erika's moves until they reached checkmate.
A stalemate is a forbidden move in the game of witches, since it means the ruin of the game.
However, in chess, it also represents a draw.
Because of this, it is a splendid final move that the weaker player can pull off if they are already unable to win outright.

In this situation, Erika clearly had the advantage.
......On the other side, it was natural that Dlanor would seek a stalemate to obtain a tie.
However, that would only be the case in chess.

......In the game where witches fight over the truth, it is a forbidden move.

So, it was already checkmate from the very beginning.
Dlanor had no way to turn the game around...

However, regardless of what the real truth had been, .........this game would...............

"......Any other moves?  O witch-hunting archbishop, protector of the truth?"
".........NO.  ......I RESIGN."

"See?  There you go.  ............Hmph..."

Erika had succeeded in crushing her opponent with the truth she espoused...that her former boyfriend no longer loved her and was cheating on her.
Her opponent had no way to argue back.

.........After all, humans are not allowed to use ――――.
A splendid game, a splendid finish from a superior position.

Regardless of the truth of her opponent, Erika could win.

A splendid......victory.
Dlanor could only respond with silence.

And with that, Erika spoke no more.
......She was probably done talking and wanted Dlanor to leave.
Dlanor understood this, but even so...

......Before leaving, she wanted to tell Erika one thing.
"A splendid game, Lady Erika."
"It's only natural that the detective wins."

"Even before you became Lady Bernkastel's piece, you truly were a splendid wielder of the blue TRUTH.  .........However, Lady Erika.  Humans are only allowed to use the blue TRUTH.  And the only thing that can counter blue truth is red TRUTH.  And humans are not allowed to use the red TRUTH."

"............In that case, ...how should your opponent have shown his TRUTH?"
"......Who knows.  ......Maybe he should have used that gold truth or whatever, which is supposed to be stronger than the red truth at times."

"..................You certainly were the victor in that GAME.  However, allow me to say this as a protector of the TRUTH."

"What?  ......I imagine it's something unpleasant, so say it and go away."

"......YES.  .........This game is your VICTORY.  However,  ......you still have not denied the six points of blue truth evidence that I showed to claim that I still loved YOU.  ......Even you are HUMAN.  You cannot use red truth to deny those POINTS."

"Later on, I used the detective's authority to have all 84 points transformed into red truth.  By the power of my master...!  I am human, yet superior to humans.  A detective and a witch.  I am the Witch of Truth, Furudo Erika.  Any other questions?  Parting remarks?"

".........I have NONE.  ......In that case, please excuse ME."
Dlanor bowed and disappeared.

......After that, all that remained was a single Witch of Truth laughing off a bitter past with an equally bitter smile...
Judging by the bedside clock, it was almost exactly 24:00.
"......Okay, guess I should get a little sleep.  The curtain has finally opened on the second day, October 5th.  ......I wonder if the murder this time is happening somewhere about now.  I hope our victims leave us some interesting dying messages this time.  Ehheheheheheeheheheheheheheheheh...!"
"Why didn't you discuss this with your mother?!!  This is about the partner who's supposed to support you throughout the rest of your life!!"

"That's right.  She's the woman I want to spend the rest of my life with."

"And that's why you need to choose very carefully, right?!  How can you be so rash?!!"
Eva and George could be seen beneath the eaves of the guesthouse.
George had revealed his engagement with Shannon.

......Eva's anger had exploded almost instantly.

This had been no more than George had expected, so he had responded with an ice-cold calm...

".........Did you sleep with her?  She told you she was pregnant to force you into a marriage, didn't she?!"
"How rude.  I'm a strong believer that chastity is to be preserved before marriage."

"Then why an engagement?!"
"I asked her.  She accepted.  What more could be needed?"

"No, it's all wrong!!  Marriage isn't as easy as it seems in manga or whatever you're thinking of!!  What about her parents?  Relationships between the two families?  Are you some stray alley cat, or are you Ushiromiya George?!!  How could you be so rash now, when you might even be selected as Grandfather's successor?!!  Why didn't you consult me...?!!"

"I'm consulting you right now.  No, not consulting.  I'm just reporting.  ......I've never counted on being selected as Grandfather's successor.  In fact, I'd rather refuse if it did come to that.  I want to build up my own country and castle from scratch, just like Father did."
"N, now listen here...!!  Do you realize how hard your father has worked to get here?!  That's not something you could duplicate just by imitating him!!  Do you understand how often he was saved by luck and coincidence before now?!!"

"And he got through it because he had a wonderful life partner by his side...you.  Sayo is the kind of person who'll support me and make me be reborn as an even stronger man.  ......You've praised me for becoming the adult that I am, but that could never have happened without her."
"Huh...?!!!  Are you listening?!  George?!  Just let your mother handle this for now.  Cool your head and think very carefully!  Shannon isn't the only person interested in you, right...?!  Ayumi-san from that marriage meeting really took a liking to you!!"
"First I've heard of it."
"I thought you knew...!!  Her parents were also very impressed by you!!  If you really dream to build your own castle like your father, Ayumi-san is the one who'd really be able to help you, right?!  Do you intend to betray her feelings?!"
"......There's nothing to betray.  There was never any special relationship between Ayumi-san and me.  We just had a marriage meeting and our parents got all fired up afterwards.  You made us go out together several times, but we never even looked at each other."

"Ayumi-san is a well-bred, modest woman, isn't she?!!  She just couldn't look at you because you're a man and it would be embarrassing and ill-mannered...!!  If you can't feel anything from her unless she looks at your eyes, then just tell her that.  I'm sure she'll look at you in the future...!!"

"You want me to marry Ayumi-san because it will benefit you.  ......You aren't pushing that engagement for the sake of anyone but yourself."
"George!!  How can you say that?!!  Have I ever failed to think about what's best for you?!  I haven't, have I?!  What's a parent's job?!  It's to look after the long-term welfare of their children, right?!  We've been looking down upon your entire future from a great height!!  And from our vantage point, we can see that you're letting your momentary youthful emotions lead you down the wrong path!!  That's why I'm saying what I am even though I know you'll hate me for it!!"
"If I didn't care for you, we wouldn't be having this fight!  I'd just tell you to marry whatever strange girl you like and leave you be...!  You hear me, George?  Leave this to your mother.  There's no need for you to meet with Shannon-chan anymore.  We'll take care of everything for you.  ......Don't worry, we won't do anything bad to Shannon-chan.  After all, it's thanks to her that you've grown so much...  We won't forget that.  So leave the rest to us......  George........."

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

Sometime during Eva's rage, tears had started to drip from her eyes.

As though those tears had caused him to hesitate, ...George turned his back and sagged his shoulders...

Even George is a child of man after all...

......Though he understands that marriage requires nothing more than the love of both people, ......he can't get over his desire for his parents' acceptance...

And so, he is trapped between the tears of the mother who has always helped him and the fiancee he chose............or is he...?
"......Alright.  I think that's enough."
"Huh.........?"

"All my life, you've done a great job raising me, and I'm grateful for that.  When I have children and become a parent, ......I'll become a parent like you.  I'll be the kind of parent most worthy of respect in the entire world, one who can truly fight for his children's sake."
"George........."
With his back still towards her, ......George threw away his umbrella, ......and slowly stepped out from beneath the eaves into the rain.
Then, ......he slowly turned around.
It was, without a doubt, the familiar face of Eva's beloved son.

......However, he was now his own man, self-controlled and independent enough that their blood connection might be forgotten.
"I think that's just about enough."
"......What...is...?"
"I think it's about time you learned to let go of your son, Mother."

".........Geo......"

"From now on, let's stop talking as mother and son.  I am George.  You are Eva.  Let's forget that you're my parent and let our true intentions ring clear.  .........The reason you want to choose the person I marry......is for financial reasons, public appearances, ......and so that you can posture in that still continuing quarrel between you and your siblings.  ......You have no other reason."

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

"You'd do well to just give up and admit it now.  ......I'm about to share my point of view with you.  I suggest you do the same.  .........After all, you will lose."

No traces of love and respect for his mother remained in George's eyes.
There was only a frigid glare as he gazed ruthlessly down at the witch who was trying to bind his future.

"......George, ...why......are you looking at your mother like that......?"
"Because I'm not looking at my mother.  ......All I see is a wall, a trial...that's standing in the way of the future I'm trying to grasp.  ......You're only human.  I know that you have dreams and ambitions, and that you're still chasing after those.  And, I think that's a wonderful thing.  ......We also know how hard it is for a person to chase their dreams without giving up."

I need to inherit your wonderful strength.

I've learned a lot from my parents, my friends, and Sayo...and I've grown.
"And the last thing I've learned, acquired and perfected.........is the real Ushiromiya George!  Now I'll overcome the final barrier...you!!"
"............!!!"
".........What...?"
Eva had disappeared.

The pouring rain landed evenly across the ground everywhere.
No, ......it was blocked very slightly in one place.

However, there was no one there.
......Standing on the ground isn't the only way to block the path of the rain.

Then, ........could it be.........
".........!!"
"Great, it's good to let your true intentions fly every once in a while!  I'll speak my mind.  So why don't you just lay it all out too?!  Ahhahahahahaahahah!!"
In the rain-filled sky, with the moon that shouldn't have been visible behind her, ......was the Golden Witch of the future who had finally obtained everything of the Ushiromiya family.
Even the drastic change in his mother's appearance didn't faze George.

On the contrary, he seemed to be moved by her boldness.

Because his mother had honestly and truly displayed......her true nature.
This way, ......I can confidently show her my true self...
"Here we go, Mother.  Here we go......Eva.  This is my first step towards escaping from your shackles...!"

"First steeeeeeep...?!?!"


With that first step, he felt something odd beneath his feet.

He knew that this sticky sensation, which didn't quite feel like mud, represented his mother's arrogance trying to prevent him from making that first step.

"I used to read to you all the time when you were little, didn't I?  Do you remember your favorite story, 'Journey to the West'?"
".........That takes me back.  That's probably the first fantasy I really loved."
Sun Wukong, the Monkey King, wanted to become a god and was tested by Buddha.

'If you can jump free from the palm of my hand, I will acknowledge your wish.'

Then, Sun Wukong managed to reach what he thought was the end of the world, and found five pillars standing there...only to discover that they were Buddha's fingers, and that he still hadn't left Buddha's hand.
"......Are you saying that's what my first step is like...?"
"Ehhehehhahahahahaahahaha!!  Your resistance, your conflict, your anguish and self-restraint and everything else!!  All of it is a road I once traveled down...!  This first step of yours would be overwhelmed by my life!!  How long are you gonna avoid looking at it?  Why not just look?  Watch your feet!!!"
At George's feet, on the pitch-black earth soaked by the pounding rain...

There was what appeared to be a slightly red sash that glowed ominously......and blocked George's first step.

It was deep, viscous and it held George's foot in place.
From Eva's perspective, as she looked down from the sky, ......it looked like a vast red spiderweb that radiated out with George at the center.
".........That's right.  This is me.  This is me, being tied down by countless studies...and raised for the sake of your ambitions."

"No, that's not it.  Let me make it so that you can understand.  I'll show you.  And then, you'll realize the truth!!  Ahahahahahahyahhaaah!!!"
The vast, red spiderweb on the ground scooped up George as easily as scooping scum out of a pot.
Then, it lifted him into the air like a deer caught in a net and swung him about.

EVA's insane laugh was as innocent...and as cruel...as a grade schooler happily swinging about a bag filled with her gym clothes.
"...Gah.........gwooh.........!!"

"*giggle*giggle*!!  Come on, try to remember, okay?  What happened on Tuesday...?!!"
"Gyahh!!  Guh, ......gggh..................I remember.  ......That was piano lessons.  I still cringe whenever I hear 'I Stepped on the Cat'."

"You did violin in kindergarten.  That's the sort of instrument you'd expect smart kids to play, right?  But you didn't seem to have the talent.  Then we switched you over to piano!!"
"Then, do you remember Wednesday?!"

"I, .........I remember.  That was the day for cram school.  It was so far away, and a real pain to have to travel to..."

"And Thursday?  Ahhahahahahaahahahha!!!"
"That was the day for supplemental lessons.  You were just terrible at subjects with memorization, weren't you?  You could apply your knowledge but were horrible at learning by rote, a classic 'he can do it if he tries' kid!"

".........That one stung.  Those are the most annoying words a kid can hear at a parent-teacher conference."

"'You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink.'"
"That's a British aphorism, isn't it?"
"Making you motivated and keeping you that way was the hardest thing to doooooooooooooooooooooo!!!"
"Gah, .........gwah, gghhh...!!"
George was bound hand and foot by the bright red spiderweb, reduced to the witch's plaything...
She would innocently swing him around, then smash him about, all with an insane laugh.  Again and again.
"Do you remember Friday?!"
".........Of course.  As far as after-school lessons go, that one was pretty unique.  A school you go to with your parents can be trying in more than one way."

"'Don't buy your child a fishing rod, go fishing with him.'"
"You do like a British education, don't you Mother...  .........Uwah!!!"
"That school was a pain for us parents too!!  But for you, that was the most effective one!  The monthly fee was high, and it was a pain to have to spend Friday nights there every week!!  But it was the most effective!  That's when I realized!!  Kids don't grow unless their parents watch over them!!  If children are sprouts, then parents are the sun!    No plants will bud, and no flowers will bloom without the sun!!"
Still bound hand and foot, George was thrown, slammed, and smashed.
He could do nothing...
He was still like Sun Wukong, unable to leave the palm of his mother's hand.

However, since he wouldn't surrender, he could still show resistance at any time...
"Then what about Saturday?!  Saturday?!"
"......That's when the tutor came."
"He came to our house, which made it much easier, right?!"
"......It was a pain having to invite some other person into my own private room every week.  ......I hated the smell of sweat left behind when he left...so much that I can still remember it."
"He was a wonderful teacher who drilled a scholarly attitude into you!  His monthly fees were on par with a lawyer's consultation fee, and it was well worth it!!"

".........And the following days, Sunday and Monday, I didn't have any extra school and could finally rest.  ......How ironic.  Have those extra classes from Tuesday until Saturday held me down all this time?  ......I really am just like Sun Wukong."

"*cackle*cackle*!!  Yeah, if you're arrogant enough to think that you can escape from the palm of my hand, you'll be crushed by Buddha's five mountains!!"
Sun Wukong, who wanted to become a god, was crushed by the five mountains of fire, water, wood, metal, and earth, and sealed away.
These are the five elements that the days of the week, Tuesday through Saturday, are named after in Japanese.

Only now did George, who had always admired Sun Wukong, recognize this greatest of ironies.
"Just like Sun Wukong, you need some reflection and punishment for your arrogance.  If you show that you're willing to reform yourself, I'll release you."

"That's not being released, it's brainwashing.  ............Ugh!!"

"There's no need to think about anything!  Why not just leave everything to Mama?!  I'll decide everything for you.  That's the best kind of life for you!!"

"I've found the most intellectual woman in the world ready to sacrifice everything for you!!  I've paved the way towards success in everything!!  And eventually, you will be chosen for the highest honor in the Ushiromiya family, the position as successor to the head!!  And then, you will begin your true life...!"

"A first step?  Don't make me laugh.  You still haven't even been born yet!!  This isn't my web that you're caught in.  ......You're still inside my caring, nurturing womb!!!"
George was slammed against the ground over and over.
......It was a heartless atrocity, unlike anything one would expect a blood-related son to receive.

However, in Eva's eyes, ......perhaps even this was a sign of love for her precious son...
The human-shaped lump of flesh wrapped in the red bag was slammed over and over, then thrown high into the air......where it was caught in a massive spiderweb in the sky, still covered with fresh blood.
While he hung there as though crucified, George did not even twitch...

Even if he did have some power to resist remaining to him, ......the red web holding him there would have held even that in check...

The rain, which had been falling non-stop since the beginning, quietly tormented and pitied George...
".........Be sealed by the five mountains and cool your head.  ......I'm not telling you to stop because I think Shannon-chan's a bad kid, okay.....?  She's a great girl, the one who gave you the chance you needed to grow up."
"......However, an ill-considered engagement is a whole different matter.  It isn't because there's a problem with her.  Understand that..."
"......'Don't criticize your child's friends.  Criticize their actions'......right?  ......That's another British saying."
"......I really did raise you to be a smart kid.  ......No, I am raising you.  ......You're still inside me, right...?  You need to be nurtured a little longer.  Okay, that's enough punishment, so apologize to your mother."
The spiderweb released George reluctantly.

Then, it threw him to the ground beneath the cloudy sky...
"Thank you, .........Mother."
"............"
It was all George could do to get up on his hands and knees.
......Though he wiped the mud away and stood his ground, he still couldn't raise his head...
"......Everything you've done so far, ......you've done......for me, haven't you......?  ......Thank you......thanks for everything......"
"That's right.  ......You must hate me now.  But one day, you'll thank me.  I'm sure you'll understand how much I loved you."

"Being bound by all those extra classes from Tuesday until Saturday, ......was a result of your efforts as you tried to raise me to be a great man......"
".........That's another British phrase.  'To wrap a child in blessings is the greatest education of all'."

"...Thank you.  ......In return, I'll give you a British saying."
"What's that...?"

"'Even if you strike all the trees in the forest once with an ax, you will not fell a single tree.'"
"......Hmm?  ...And what does that mean......?"
"Maybe this one is clearer.  ......'To spend too much time in studies is sloth.'  ......Francis Bacon."
The man drenched in mud and fresh blood......straightened his crooked glasses, ...and slowly stood up.
Though he was covered in filth, his appearance had a divine quality to it, ......something that could only appear on a self-controlled man, not one who had merely been dozing in his mother's amniotic fluid.
"I cannot count the number of things I've learned from Sayo.  ......She taught me courage and chivalry, how to be ambitious and witty and humorous, and just a little stylish.  It's ironic.  ......Almost all of the things you say are so wonderful about me......didn't come from you at all."
"G, .........George............are you......are you still...?!!  Time to get back in Mother's womb!!  I'll nurture you in a sea of warmth once more!!!"
As EVA howled, a bright red spiderweb appeared at George's feet once more and tried to scoop him up into the air again.

However, that instant...
A powerful magic circle could be seen in the area surrounding George for just a moment.
Faster than he could be scooped up by the spiderweb, George jumped, and with a sharp kick of the heel and a magnificent forward flip, ......he cut the shackles of that spiderweb apart.
".........Wha......?!?!"

That smooth movement proved that he had possessed the power to escape from those shackles all along.
He had willingly allowed himself to be bound by that web.

"......Everything I owe you for what you've done, ......I've paid back now with pain.  ...Thanks to that, I can finally leave the nest for good.  It really is necessary.  ......Parents and kids should fight now and then."

"George, ......wh, why must you disobey me so completely, and with that girl?!?!"

"It looks like you really do need to let go, Mother.  .........Then, I guess it's about time."

"T, time for what?!"
"'It's about time.  Time for me to fight back.'"
The curtain of spiderwebs that EVA shot out in defense were all too slow.

George weaved through them in that instant, and the next, he was right before her eyes...
".........Ahh, aaaaaaaarrggghhh!!"
EVA jumped out of the way of a kick that would have knocked her feet out from under her, ......then blocked the second half of George's double roundhouse with a high kick of her own.
"I guess there's one thing I can thank you for teaching me."

"O, ...oh, and what day of the week was that......?!"

"It's the martial arts training we focused on during long breaks from school...!"
"...Ha, ......kyahhahahahaha!!  I'm glad, George, to hear you're grateful for at least one thing!!  Your mother is happy!!  Kyahhahahaaaah!!!"
EVA's swift feet flashed like lightning.
Low, low, low, mid-level attack.
As George's head fell forward, she caught it in both hands as though she was about smash it against the ground.

It was then met with EVA's knee as it rose like a bolt of lightning from the earth.
"You should have learned Muay Thai too!  It would have been more fun to have learned it with you!!"

"......You're right.  Learning martial arts with you was the most fun time for me."

"Then now is the most fun!!  Isn't it fun, George?!  Isn't it?!!!"
"Is it fun to play with your son like this, Mother?"

"Yes, it is!!  You are my precious son, and I'll love you lots and lots inside my womb!!  I even love it when you kick in there!!"

"Got it.  But this kick's coming from the outside of your belly."
George's knee buried itself into EVA's abdomen.

An instant before she felt the pain of that fierce attack, EVA watched her son's kick with a proud smile......and then she vomited.
"Gwaah!!!  Gghh, .........ggwaagh!!"

"You are getting on in years, Mother.  ......Maybe it's about time you held back on wearing childish clothes like that."

"G, .........Geeeeeoooooooorge......!!!"

Her chin still covered in vomit, EVA looked up at George with a twisted anguish.

She could see how pathetic her face was by her reflection in his glasses.

"Both you and I.  ......We need to leave our childhood days behind.  So long, Mother."
The violent lightning and rain......made time freeze.

George's beautiful kick.........had stopped an inch from Eva's chest.
However, the power of the red magic circle surrounding George......had already pierced EVA's body.
Though he had stopped without hitting her, ......blood poured out of EVA's back.

No wound had been left on her chest, ......but her heart had been torn apart......
EVA slumped backwards......and landed in a puddle with a splash.
There were no convulsions.
......Her life had been ended without leaving her even an instant to writhe about in pain...
"......I know you're somewhere over there.  Gaap."
As he straightened his glasses, ......George spoke to the rose thicket behind him.

Then, a pitch-black hole opened in the air there, ......and Gaap jumped out.
".........Impressive.  ......Even considering that it was before her ascension, you managed to defeat EVA Beatrice."

"Thought you were there.  ......Thanks for not interfering.  I'm glad we were able to keep it between mother and son."

"But of course not.  I wasn't here.  .........You summoned me just now."

"It doesn't matter either way.  ......I have something to ask of you."
"Do I have to listen?"

".........Will you refuse to listen...?"

With his back still facing her, ......George reset his glasses.
The threat in his voice held the solemn presence of a king who could control demons.

That presence made Gaap gulp, and she licked her lips before bowing respectfully to his back.

"I like hot guys, but I like kings even more.  ......Your wish is my command, o demon king."
"......I want you to lay her body to rest in a place fitting for a woman who admired the head of the Ushiromiya family, and who lived her life with the misguided dreams of that position."
"So, in Kinzo's study?"

"No, ............the VIP room will do fine.  That never-opened VIP room on the second floor of the mansion."

".........Ah, that room.  As you wish, Your Majesty."
Gaap approached EVA's corpse and lightly tapped the ground with her right heel.

When she did, a large hole opened up, swallowed both Gaap and the corpse, and closed.
After a while, a small hole opened in the air, and the staff she always carried, which was marked with the One-Winged Eagle that symbolized the head of the Ushiromiya family, was spat out into a puddle...

...Because the corpse would no longer have any use for it...
".................."
George slowly approached that staff, ......and stepped down hard on the tip.
When he did, the staff spun violently into the air, ......and after passing by the blue moon which honored the demon king, it flew into George's outstretched hand.
The instant he grasped it...

Another fierce lightning bolt landed nearby, ......and when the flash disappeared, the staff he had been holding became a spray of gold butterflies......and vanished.
It was as though George had crushed the staff out of existence...
"And now, .........I've finished my part.  ......I'll let someone else have a turn."

"......I, ...I can't believe, ......you attacked your own mother......"

".........It's the person who loves you first in the world, ......and the last one you have to separate yourself from.  ......That's what it means to leave your home.  This is the courage I need to show to take Sayo as my wife."

"George-sama........."
"............"
"Bravo, Ushiromiya George.  An excellent start."
"......Even though it was just within the game...  Even though it was just a piece...  ......I didn't like having to kill my mother.  .........However, that was the trial you set me, so I saw it through."

He stared at the two demons.

The demons looked at each other, then showed their surprise with their now-familiar exaggerated gestures.

"Wonderful!!  Wasn't that splendid, Zepar?!"

"Indeed it was, Furfur!  George-kun's determination is the real deal!  It seems I've misjudged you.  Please accept my apologies!"
George chose not to go along with this almost theatrical conversation.

He just quietly looked down upon the game board, .........found the piece representing his mother, which was right next to his, ......and tipped it over.
......This was the trial that Zepar and Furfur had set for him.

'So that the love of the pair will stand true, offer up the life of one person by your own hands'.

It was similar to the game within Beato's 4th game, where they were given three options as part of a test to select the next family head.
However, a pair of lovers will never abandon each other's lives.

So, they were automatically left with just the option of sacrificing the life of another instead.
......In fact, it was merciful that they only had to choose the life of one person other than themselves, instead of all.

And besides, it only meant taking those lives as pieces on the board.
For the versions of themselves to whom the game board was the only world, this was a tragic parricide, ......but to these ones who stood around the game board in this witch's smoking room...it was nothing more than a movement of the pieces, representing George's will to overcome his parents.
However, the fact remained that the demons had ordered them to take these lives, ......even if it was just within one of the endless Fragment worlds...
George appeared to have distanced himself from the events on the demons' game board, ......but Jessica still seemed to resist the idea of stealing another person's life, even if it was only their life as a piece on the game board.

".................."
"......Heheh, have you been scared stiff?"

"N, ......no......  ......T, the Beatrice that Battler-san desires......would not be shaken by the likes of this..."

""Well then, who will take the next trial?!""

"Please choose the next victim!  It doesn't matter who!!"
"Please name the next challenger!  Any one of you may go!!"

"If no one speaks up-"
".........That means I win, doesn't it?"

"Yes, that's right!  If so, congratulations, Ushiromiya George!!"

"The key that leads to successful love between you and the one you cherish-"

""We will now proudly gran-!!""
"W, .........wait up......!!!"
As the demons delightedly named George as the victor, ......they were interrupted by the next challenger.

".........Jessica......san......"

"......So, .........I'm next............Alright, I'll do it.  ...I'll show you that I'm serious about Kanon-kun!!"
As usual, this year's family conference was getting bogged down.
Everyone had decided to cool their heads for a moment, and a short break had been agreed upon...

The four siblings could say whatever they wanted, but Natsuhi and Kyrie, for example, were outsiders and found it difficult to speak freely in this sort of atmosphere.
A conference where you aren't allowed to say what you want can be tiring even as you just sit there quietly.

Even Kyrie couldn't help letting out a deep sigh...
".................."
This was the second floor hallway of the mansion.

Rudolf had wanted to be alone during the break, so she had felt like doing the same......and had drifted up the stairs to reach this place.
Her expression was less tightly controlled than it was when her husband was around.
......Kyrie wore a tired look that she didn't often show.
She pressed her cheek against the cool window glass.

I need to regain my spirit and support my husband.  Even if I'm not allowed to speak.

......That's the duty I've won.
"............Who is it?"
She suddenly sensed another person, turned around, and saw Jessica standing at the other end of the hallway.
".................."

"Oh, it's you, Jessica-chan.  ......Didn't you go to the guesthouse?"

"......Well, ......I just decided to head back to my own room for a bit to get a book."

"I see.  Were you about to return to the guesthouse?"
"Y, yes.  That's right......"
"Can't stand this rain.  Is the wind really strong...?"
"It's weak right now, relatively speaking......"

As Kyrie looked out the window, ......Jessica watched her back, looking agitated...
"......Kyrie oba-san...  ...Sorry, guess you just had bad luck..."

"Ah, Zepar!  Jessica's roulette of fate has chosen Kyrie!"

"What will you do, Jessica?!  The roulette has chosen Kyrie, but you may reject that choice and spin the roulette again if you wish!"

""It doesn't matter whose life is sacrificed for this trial...!!""
Jessica wasn't like George.

George had willingly chosen Eva to be his sacrifice, to signify his separation from his old life so that he could step into a new life married to Shannon.
However, Jessica hadn't thought of any particular target.
......So, she had left it up to the roulette of fate.
That is no exaggeration.

......She had walked around at random, imposing a rule on herself saying that the first person she met would be chosen as the sacrifice.

And so, ......the roulette of fate had brought her to Kyrie...
Of course, there was nothing forcing her to keep that rule.

However, Jessica didn't want to break a rule she had once made.
......Now that she was participating in this demons' game, this was the one bit of justice that she could cling to...
Right now, she could attack that unprotected back...
But Jessica still wasn't able to fully resolve herself.
"..................What is it?  Do you have something to say to me...?"
Noticing Jessica's strange silence, Kyrie turned around.
......That unprotected back was already gone.

Jessica realized that her hesitation had cost her her own first chance...
......She had taken on this demons' game to prove her love for Kanon.

However, ......would it really be alright to sell her soul to demons......for the sake of love...?
Not wanting to let George, who had already taken a far-sighted view of the situation, get any more of a lead on her, she had energetically consented to this demon's game, but...

......Her heart still wasn't ready......
"Umm, ..................Maybe I shouldn't be asking you this, Kyrie oba-san......"

"......What is it?  It's rare for you to ask me questions, Jessica-chan.  I hope I'm capable of answering it for you."

"Actually, umm, ............I...have someone I like."

"Oh, really?  That's wonderful, *giggle*.  Then is it love you wanted to talk about...?"
"E, ......eheheh...  ...Yeah, ......pretty much."

"......Very well.  I'll help out if I can."
"Th, thank you very much...  ......Actually, umm......"
"Is it still one-sided?"
"No, ......I guess you could say that it's just become mutual...  But, well, ......there's this trial...for us to be joined together......"

"A trial?  What are you talking about?"
"......There's the two of us and another pair of lovers......and we have to fight each other."
"A triangle relationship?  Or is it a square...?  Sounds complicated.  ......And?"

"Only the pair who wins can be together...  .....It's something complicated like that.  In other words-"

".........Sounds nasty.  ......Love that can only succeed by using the others as a footstool."

"Yes...  ......If we are joined, ......then they will fall apart.  ......And the same the other way around."

"......I think I see where you're going with this.  ......Something like this, right?  'How far is a person allowed to take advantage of others to find happiness', ...right?"

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

Yes, ......Kyrie is very smart.
She had already guessed the question that Jessica had wanted to ask most...

"If you don't fight, it automatically becomes their victory, and you will lose.  ......However, if you fight and win, it means they'll fall apart.  ......It's nasty either way.  However, the answer is obvious."

"............Yes......"

Kyrie giggled.
......If she wasn't willing to stick to her love, then that would show the measure of their relationship.

If that were the case, she should just let the other pair of lovers win.
However, if this was a love she couldn't abandon...
......She couldn't abandon her chances at victory either.

So, ......she had no options other than to fight.
In the end, Jessica's hesitation was caused by guilt over forcing the others to split apart as the result of her inevitable decision......
"......I guess......I'm just......being soft after all......"
"Yep.  ......That you are."
"........................Still, ...that doesn't make it any easier to step over someone else for the sake of your own love..."
"In that case, ......will you give up on your lover?"

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

"I can tell you one thing for certain.  Doing that would be even more painful.  You'll be forced to crawl through hell.  ......For the rest of your life."

A hardness had entered Kyrie's gaze...

"......I was just six, so I don't remember much about the time.  However, I found Mom's notebook among her belongings after she died."

"Was it a diary...?"

"It was more a collection of her thoughts.  It was much less organized than a diary would've been.  ......I found it and read it right after she passed away, ...but I needed to wait until I'd grown for several years before I could understand it."

"......I see.  ...So, did it speak of Kyrie's worries about her marriage?"

"It was......practically a book of curses.  ......It cleared up several questions I had vaguely felt back when I was six."


When I was six, it seemed as though my parents were very close and had no problems.

......And though I thought it odd that Onii-chan lived separately even though he was in our family, I accepted it as the way things were.

"Did you not know about Asumu?"

"......I think Onii-chan talked to me about her when no one was around, but there was no way an elementary schooler like I was could understand.  ......After all, I never even saw a picture of her.  ......Mom had sent all of the pictures with Asumu-san in them to Onii-chan, leaving none behind in the house."
To Ange, and to Battler, who only rarely came home, ......Kyrie's smile never faltered.

If she hadn't written her thoughts in that notebook, Ange would probably never have known them.
Since his school days, Rudolf had been particularly popular with girls, a typical playboy.

He had probably built up a formula of being audacious, over the top, and yet not lacking a bit of gentleness towards women.
In their attempts to win Rudolf's favor, several women tried various seductive tricks.
Rudolf himself probably enjoyed that more than anyone.

Since the beginning, love had been a game to Rudolf.
He never thought of it as a trial and error process to find a single life partner.
He would intentionally spark jealousy between women, lap up their compliments, and revel in the harem.

......He may be my father, ......but he was an awful man.
"But at the same time, Dad must have looked down on those toadying girls.  ......Mom, who was very aware of her self-worth and extremely intelligent, must have stood out."

"......Though even that might have been due to the skillful way Kyrie tried to catch Rudolf's gaze."

"..................Yeah, maybe.  Mom was smart in many ways."
Like the other Ushiromiya siblings, Rudolf had strong ambitions and lofty goals.

Under the mottos of 'if you do it you've done it' and 'as long as you can get away with it', he would alternate between setting up businesses that were borderline swindles or illegal, then running away.
I've heard that in his college years, he was already making use of that talent, thinking up shameless projects and cleverly making money through the panic selling of party tickets, so much so that he could brag about carrying a wallet full of a hundred 10,000 yen notes all the time......
Many women fell for his charisma in being the man responsible for these radical projects, ...as well as his thick wallet and generosity.

......It would be a lie to say that Kyrie was not one of them.
However, what made Kyrie very different from the other women......was that she could support Rudolf as a business partner.
Rudolf would make a large-scale party successful, unable to hide his laughter at this massive easy profit.  The women would surround him.

Among them, only Kyrie was calm and composed.  ......She could point out several ways that income and expenditure could be improved upon, and could even lay out a proposal for the next project.
"So then, ......Rudolf slowly began to accept her as a partner."

".........Just like some people say men don't belong in the kitchen, ......there's also a sense that women should stay out of financial affairs.  ......It's normal for women to be treated by men.  ...The details of how those 10,000 yen notes were scrounged up are vulgar, so they don't ask, don't know, don't care."

"So, you're saying that Kyrie viewed money from a man's perspective..."
In that regard, Rudolf noticed something unique about Kyrie.
He knew all about how much hard work it took to make just one of those 10,000 yen notes.

So, somewhere inside him, he had looked down upon those extravagant women who never even considered the efforts he had undertaken.
......Among all of them, only Kyrie possessed the same sharp financial intuition as Rudolf...

Every time Rudolf thought of a new plan, he would talk to Kyrie about it, work out the kinks, and make it succeed.

In this way, Kyrie steadily worked her way up until she was the number one of Rudolf's large group of followers.
"But Mom was still a woman.  ......I doubt she enjoyed seeing Dad pampered by all the other girls."
"......So, she would rather have been his only one, instead of his number one..."

"Yeah.  Though she served as Dad's right hand person, she slyly got rid of the other women in the shadows.  ......It was only a matter of time before Mom would succeed in her love."

"When did Asumu come into the picture?"
"......She was one of those who swarmed around Rudolf-san.  ...No, not even that.  She was just one of his fans."

"Did you ever talk with her...?"
"Of course.  ......I knew her well.  Ever since the very beginning, before Rudolf-san even knew her name.  .........I'm sure she was quite intelligent herself.  And cunning.  ......I tried to use my intelligence to stick out, ......but she did it in the exactly opposite way."

"......By her...stupidity......?"

"*giggle*.........I mean she was good at triggering his protective instinct.  Out of all the girls who came to flatter and flirt with him, ......only she stood out with every action she made, unlike the flashy girls Rudolf-san had tired of."
......Kyrie still acknowledges the mistake she made in letting Asumu and Rudolf get too close.

Kyrie had thought that she had Rudolf all to herself by taking the role of his business partner.
......That might have been due to her pride.

And, it might have been her arrogance in trying to eliminate the relationships the other girls had with Rudolf.
Perhaps she sometimes tried too hard as a business partner, putting too much pressure on him, regardless of the fact that it was justified.

Bit by bit, Rudolf had started to need a woman who could stay quiet and soothe him, ......without making him think about anything complicated.

.........That woman was Asumu.
"I am ruthless and intellectual.  Rational and economical.  ......In a plank of Carneades situation, I would push the other person off without hesitation.  ......I thought that was the kind of partner suitable for him."
However, though that ruthlessness had made her reliable on the business side of things...
......It might have disturbed Rudolf deeply outside of business.

At some point, ......though Rudolf still acknowledged Kyrie's skill, he began to yearn for a quiet, warm acceptance.
Asumu had satisfied all of those conditions.

She would never talk about anything complicated.
Even if he did, she would just shake her head to say she didn't know.

However, she would care more for him physically than anyone else, quietly putting a blanket on him and staying by his side until morning...

"......Yes, I did get the position of his business partner.  ......But before I knew it, ......Rudolf-san had grown a need for a mental partner, someone who could heal his heart.  Though I foolishly claimed to be the intellectual one, I never noticed."

".........And then......Rudolf oji-san...married Asumu oba-san......?"
".....................Yes, that's right.  She stole him away from me."
"............"
"He had slept with a lot of women.  ......By that point, he wasn't the kind of guy to let his emotions be captured by a woman just because he slept with her.  After all, sleeping with women was just a game to him.  ......That's why I used something other than my body to attract his attention."
"......What pride as a woman..."

"Before long, they were both pregnant.  ......Asumu-san told Dad about it right away, but Mom did the opposite."

".........So, she was afraid that pregnancy would threaten her position as his business partner..."

"Apparently, Mom didn't eat much at the time, so her period was often irregular.  Because of that, it took a really long time before she realized she was pregnant."

"When did she notice...?"

"......It was after Asumu-san suddenly moved into Dad's family register.  ......Mom learned about her pregnancy after that and plotted several times to split Asumu-san and Dad apart, but..."
"Even though Asumu-san......always acted like such an airhead......once she got her hands on Rudolf-san, she didn't let go.  'Do you have a problem with that?  Please stay out of our way'...she'd say.  ......And this coming from that little girl who would curl up into a ball every time she got on a bus."
".........At that point, I realized.  ...She had been the truly cunning one.  ......Yes, even her fear of vehicles was another lie to catch Rudolf-san's sympathy.  ............"
"............My apologies.  I must be boring you."
"Oh, ......no........."

"At the very least, I wanted him to acknowledge the child I would give birth to.  ......It seems as though Rudolf-san was prepared to do that.  He made sure there was a hospital waiting for me, and even though Asumu-san was close to giving birth herself, he gallantly came to see me.  .........Even though she was already his wife.  What an awful man, really......"
After that......is the tale I can't bear even to tell.

Both Asumu and I......had the same delivery date.
And yet, her pregnancy had meant her marriage, ......where mine was completely meaningless.
I swore to bring up my child well and have Rudolf-san acknowledge it.

Asumu-san had won her fight against me.
......However, I hadn't lost yet.
If I would make my child excel far more than Asumu-san's...if I could make it fully acknowledged by Rudolf-san...I would be rewarded.  .........That's what I believed.
"However, ......that child was a stillbirth."

"Yeah.  ......Asumu-san gave birth to Onii-chan.  ......But Mom didn't give birth to anyone.  ......Even Mom's final hope of being left a spot as Dad's second wife...was destroyed......"

Kyrie had fallen from his partner to his second wife, ......and then, unable to give birth to the bond of a child, ......she tumbled down...to being merely his mistress.

I can't imagine......how much she must have hated Asumu and that kid...Battler.

"......And despite that, ......Mom was able to act in a very friendly way towards Onii-chan.  ......It was definitely a shock for me.  To think that my gentle mother...had held such negative emotions for Onii-chan...and had managed to hide them."

"...............She must have despised Battler."

"Probably.  ......If Asumu-san had had a stillbirth and Mom had given birth to Onii-chan, ......history might have changed in some way.  It seems she thought that, if that had happened, Dad might have divorced Asumu-san and married her instead."

"......Was that...also written in that book where she kept her thoughts?"
"Yeah.  ......After all, that was just a random thought, a delusion.  ......Mom's resentment, as she chewed on the corner of her tear-stained bed sheets."

"There's just one thing I regret."

"......You mean...the pregnancy?"

"No, no.  ......It's my arrogance I regret.  .........Rudolf-san is already mine, so I'm completely safe.  ......I'll never lose to that Asumu girl.  ......When she was screaming about on buses and planes, I was capable of properly managing the arrangements and expenditures for them.  ......And so, I was overly confident......that I was the one Rudolf-san trusted the most."

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

"They say love needs to be nurtured, right?"
"Y, ......yeah."
"That's not wrong.  ......You both need to water it, care for it, and nurture it.  ......And at the end, it will finally bear the fruit called love.  Did you know?  It isn't over when it bears fruit.  ......If you don't harvest that love, your love will never be realized."
".........Harvest......?"
"You need to think about that yourself, Jessica-chan.  ......If you make it bear fruit without harvesting it, it can sometimes grow rotten.  And bugs will often gather around it.  In fact, ......sometimes thieves will come by and pluck it off the branch."
".................."
"Young kids like you, Jessica-chan, think that love ends with nurturing.  ......That is naive.  ......If you don't harvest it, you will never be rewarded for your love."
"Harvest......love......"
"At a glance, it may seem to be a matter just for the pair of lovers, but that isn't true.  Putting off the harvest because you assume you can do it at any time...just gives the thieves a chance.  ......What if that fruit you've worked so hard to nurture gets pulled off the branch the next morning?  ......You'll regret that you didn't choose to harvest it the previous day instead of complaining.  ......That regret really hurts.  ......It'll make you crawl through hell."
"............"

"I was lucky.  My hell ended after 18 years.  ......So, I'll never misjudge myself again.  ......That person is mine.  I won't let him get away.  I won't let him out of my sight.  And I'm grateful to my master...for giving me that chance.  My 'certain willpower' in not giving up on that man no matter what was answered with a 'miracle'."

By now, Jessica was speechless......and didn't even nod her head in understanding.

......This true form of love that Kyrie was telling her about...was far, far more harsh than anything she had imagined...
"Right now, ......I would do anything to keep Rudolf-san by my side.  And I will show no mercy against his enemies.  ......If he wished it, I might not even hesitate at murder."
".........Because I finally gained that determination on the 18th year, ......that certain willpower......brought about a miracle for me.  ......You know, miracles only appear for those who can make them come true themselves."
Asumu's death had not been a murder of any sort.

However, Kyrie had often cursed her and hoped for her death, ......and finally, on the 18th year, she had built up the determination to kill her with her own hands.
And then, ......she actually......got herself a knife to do the deed with.........

That was when the miracle had occurred......

"......Asumu oba-san passing away......was a miracle......"

"Not really.  ......That wasn't even close to a miracle."

".........Huh?"

"After all, ......if she hadn't died, I would have killed her.  ......In other words, she was fated to die no matter what.  ......The miracle is that, even though she did die, 'I didn't have to get my hands dirty'.  That's all."
......Until now, Kyrie had never shown Jessica.........no, she had never even shown Rudolf...that glint in the deepest depths of her eyes.
It told plainly and clearly that romance and love are not the sweet and fluffy candies that young girls imagine them to be.
Jessica was overwhelmed by that pressure......and stunned silent.

And she had to acknowledge it.

This was......the power of will that could make love be realized.
With the force of this willpower, Kyrie had supported Rudolf as a wife.

And it was the same as George's.

......He had already developed and proven that he had the willpower to oppose all obstacles to love between different classes.
Right now, ......Jessica could clearly understand.

This was the magnitude of George's determination, which had allowed him to coldly carry out his part of the trial...
Then, ......what about her.........?

Did she really have the resolve to make her love with Kanon bear fruit...and to then harvest that fruit.........?
"*giggle*, I'm sorry.  You probably wanted a little advice, and I've scared you...  ......*giggle*giggle*  Blame the weather.  I just wanted to pressure you a bit, but I've gone overboard."
Kyrie let a relaxed smile rise to her face.
The tense atmosphere finally slackened.

......However, her words had been gouged into Jessica's heart.
"I don't know what your love has been like, Jessica-chan, .........but if you have a rival and neither is willing to back down, you can't let yourself become complacent.  ......If you do, you'll end up like me.  .........For the sake of love, a woman should be willing to kill at least once in her life.  ......I can tell you that all women in the world who call themselves mothers have been through that."

After all...
"Women who don't do that are chewed to bits by the others and forced to crawl through the hell of envy and regret for the rest of their lives.  .........My hell lasted 18 years.  ......I was lucky to be pardoned after just 18 years.  ......That hell is still filled with women......who will never get out until they die.  ......Unless they execute themselves in their regret."

"...............How should I put it......I have nothing...to say."

"*giggle*  ......I was trying to spur you on, but here I've gone and threatened you too much.  ...I'm truly sorry.  ......Love can be much more easygoing than that, okay?  Love really is like playing with fire.  Anyone can play easily and lightheartedly.  ......But when you mess up and get burned, that scar stays with you your whole life.  ......*giggle*giggle*giggle*."

Regrets in love will never fade.

That was all that Kyrie had been trying to communicate.

......It wasn't like Kyrie to tell her life story, which she usually avoided, instead of just saying it directly.

However, ......Kyrie might have felt as though Jessica deserved to hear.

Jessica had timidly brought up the subject of love.

......Perhaps Kyrie had opened up and told everything because she had seen the fires of Jessica's determination in her eyes.

"Okay, I need to head back soon.  ......Let's keep what we've talked about a secret, okay?  Eheheheh..."

With a mysterious smile on her face, Kyrie turned around.
.........I wonder if I scared her too much.

Still, it's a hundred times better to learn of that hell from a warning.
......Once you've fallen into it, it's already too late.
Good luck, Jessica-chan.
It sounds complicated, but don't lose.

Eheheh, it's not every day I get to act as a mentor...
"......Hmm?  What is it, Jessica-chan...?"
Huh.........
A windstorm grazed Kyrie's head.
It had been a hair's breadth away.
If Kyrie hadn't twisted her body slightly, that fist would probably be buried in her face by now.

A bitter smile rose to Jessica's face when she saw that her first strike had failed to land a kill...
"Just so you know, I didn't strike you unawares out of cowardice.........I hoped to end it with a single painless strike before you realized what was happening..."
"......Didn't I tell you that I've lived through the hell of jealousy?  I've been nearly burned a couple times already.  I know how it feels just before a surprise attack."

"You mean you could sense it...?"
"That, plus the lie you told in the beginning."
"......A lie?"

"Come now.  If you had come from the guesthouse to get a book from your room, you wouldn't have come through this hallway in that direction.  ......Of the seven reasons you might have had for lying, which chessboard theory led me to, this was the worst-case scenario."

Telling a hasty lie to Kyrie would only put her on her guard.

If Jessica hadn't told that lie, her surprise attack would have succeeded.

".........Not bad.  ......I should have expected it from you, ...Kyrie oba-san."

"Why?  You were planning to kill me from the beginning."

"It didn't matter who it was."
"How horrible."
"It's what you said that gave me the boost I needed.  .........Thanks a lot......"
"......Wha.........?!"
Kyrie dodged the punch, placed her hand against that fist, and slammed it against the wall.

Normally, Jessica would have hurt her hand on the wall and rolled around clutching at it in pain...
However, Jessica's fist had left what looked like a meter-wide crater in the wall.

Instead of a look of anguish after smashing her fist against the wall, Jessica clicked her tongue in irritation at having missed...
"......Incredible.  I see that you are your father's daughter.  Have you taken up boxing too...?"

Impossible...  Jessica is barehanded.
She isn't holding any sort of weapon at all...!
"............Please don't resist, Oba-san.  Just one strike to the head...  I won't let you feel a thing."
Kyrie tried to look confident, but she couldn't hide her confusion at this unreal destructive force.

If that punch had hit, her head probably would have split open like Jessica had said, killing her without any pain.
"Here I go........."
".........!!!"
If Kyrie's kick off the ground and leap backward had been an instant slower, her gut would probably have been pulverized.

Though she had avoided it by a hair, Jessica's left body blow was followed by a terrible tornado-like gust of wind, which blew Kyrie back.
"......Is this a dream?  Am I still sleeping?!  I...I don't understand!"

This Jessica looked like the normal Jessica, but something was different...!
It wasn't human, and common sense didn't apply to it!

This is probably......some kind of nightmare...!!
Kyrie slowly stood up.

Then, she looked at Jessica, noticed the several meters between them...and realized just how far that blast of wind had sent her flying.

".........Feel free to hate me.  ...However, ......just like you, ......I cannot back down.  .........I can't let...my love......end half-baked either."

".........What are you talking about...?  Hey, what are you saying?!  What on Earth is going on?!  Someone, tell meeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!"
The scene around Jessica seemed to bend like a heat wave.

It seemed to be enshrouding her fists.  ......And, it seemed as though something like a red magic circle had appeared beneath her feet.

It looked just like a western demon standing amidst the flames of hell.
"...Flame upgrade.  ......Mass upgrade.  ......Armor-piercing upgrade."
Each time Jessica muttered, her fists were surrounded by a pulsating, sinister, red light.
......Those fists, which were even smoking, surely represented......the iron hammers of hell wielded by demons...
"G, goodbye!!  This is just a nightmare...!!"
Kyrie dashed away with lightning speed.

Yes.  Right now, that was her best option.
Fortunately, she was smart enough to realize that pinching her cheek wasn't the best way to wake up from this nightmare.
"......Ronove."
When Jessica muttered once more, a blood-red magical barrier cut across the corridor.
Kyrie slammed into it hard and realized that her path of escape had been cut off.
"Gah.........M, ......make this stop...I don't understand...!!  This is.........a nightmare......It's a nightmare.........Let me wake up.........quickly......"
"......Yes, this is a nightmare............If you want, I'll wake you up right now.  ......Just one strike...   Don't move......"
Wielding her flames, Jessica slowly stepped forward towards her...
Each time her foot lifted off the floor......a boiling steam hung around her footprint...

This was......a true nightmare......  ......Kyrie clutched her head in her hands, shaking it over and over again......

"It's a nightmare, right......?  This is......a nightmare, isn't it.........?  Please, tell me it is......!!"

"Yeah, it's a nightmare."

"It is, right...?  It's a nightmare, right......?  Ah, ......aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh!!"

"I acknowledge it.  ......This is a nightmare."
"I do too!!  I acknowledge that this is a nightmare!!  S, so please-"
"I'll wake you up, just one strike.   Wwaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh!!!"
"Ack......gghaagh............??"
Jessica's neck was twisted at an odd angle, ......and she staggered backwards, her eyes white, as though she didn't have a clue what had just happened.
In her forehead......a demon stake was buried at an angle.
It pulled itself out of her, spun around, then became Leviathan and landed.

The hole left behind in Jessica's head spewed blood.
"Leviathan of Envy, right here......!"

"If this is inside a nightmare anyway, ......why not have the friend that shows up in my nightmares?  My friend from the hell of envy.  Thanks for showing up just in the nick of time."

"......It's too early to thank me.  She's......not down yet...!!"
"......Gah.........gah......"

Even though she had taken a deep gouge to the top of the head, ......Jessica just stood there, convulsing and white-eyed, and didn't fall over.
The blood stopped pouring out of her forehead, ......and her blank, doll-like eyes returned.
Then, she slowly pressed her own hand against the wound in her forehead.  ......There was a *sizzle*, as though she had pressed a hot iron against it.

It was easy to imagine that she was doing this to seal up the wound.

If Kyrie didn't escape now, there would never be another chance...!

"Can I defeat her...?!"

"No such luck.  ......She's immortal, thanks to a contract with one of the great demons...!"

"That is because of love!!  That is why she is immortal!!"

"Yes, love is magnificent!  Those with our blessings cannot be killed!!"

"Can we break that red magic wall?"
"Ronove-sama is also a great demon.  There's nothing I can do...!"

"Can we escape from the window?"
"That was blocked by Ronove-sama's barrier a while ago...!"

"Incredible...so has she sold her soul to demons for the sake of love?"
"How could she make so many contracts with great demons...!  Aah, I'm so jealous...!!"
"..................Armor upgrade.  ......All-attribute defense, counter-attacking armor upgrade."
In response to these words, this time her entire body pulsated with a red light.

......She had upgraded herself with a defensive power that would prevent Leviathan's attacks from working again......

"What is she talking about...?"
"......Self-augmentation.  It's a kind of enchantment.  ......Right now, she has enough defensive power to prevent me from piercing her, and she even has the power to reflect the damage back upon the attacker!  ......She's no longer human.  She's a monster...!!"

"Oh, so that's all.  Then not much has changed."
"How can you say that?"

"Just like in the very beginning, we still have no chance of winning...!!"
"..................That hurt.  ......But it won't...work again."
Jessica slowly lifted the hand that had been covering her forehead...and there was no longer any hole there.

The hall was cut off by barriers on both sides, and even the windows were sealed.  There was no way out.

"Is the door to this room sealed?"

"No, it's just locked.  ......But it's just a normal room.  It does have a window, but that's already been sealed.  In other words, that's a closed room, and a coffin for us...!"

"A coffin is just what I need.  Unlock it.  ......Aah, I'm jealous, why are you the only one who can unlock it?!!!"
Leviathan's stake flew about at high speeds, ramming itself into the keyhole to that room.

The tip of the stake had become a key.  As soon as it was unlocked, the door flew open.
Both of them fell into the room and quickly locked it.

This was probably...Krauss's study.
Its soothing furnishings brought about a sense of nobility that Krauss would probably like.
"Even if you lock it, she can just smash though it with one punch!!  You've just put the lid on your own coffin!!"

"However, if she wants to send us a killing blow here inside this coffin, she'll have to take the lid off first!"
"............?"

With dim eyes, Jessica tilted her head upon hearing Kyrie's words.
"............What are you talking about...?  ......How will such a small room...be able to protect you, Oba-san...?"
"This room may be a closed room.  It may leave us with no method of escape.  However, even you can't break into this room.  That's what a closed room is!"
"......What are you talking about......?  How does this tiny room......with its tiny door, make you think you can escape me......?"
Jessica wearily looked between her own burning fists and the door with a confused expression on her face.

Then, slowly, ......she sent that pulsating, red light to her fists......
She repeatedly enchanted her fists to give them the destructive power for the killing blow.
"......I'll smash this door to bits........."

"If you think you can, give it a try."
"K, Kyrieeeeeee......!!"

After sealing the door and calmly saying those words, Kyrie placed a single index finger on the door.
Jessica slowly......raised her fire-wreathed demon's fists......
"......So long, Kyrie oba-san......"
"Kyrieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!  .....................?!?!"
"......Oh......"
Jessica's fists slammed into the door in slow motion.

It was like the decisive scene in a movie was being acted out.
However, this was no act.

......Jessica's fists really were...slowing down as though they were being sucked in.....like a spoon sinks through a jar of honey.

That punch...was no longer a punch.  It was no more than a knock.
"I'm envious of you."

"............Envy......"

"I crawled through the hell of envy for 18 years because of my arrogance and naivety in love.  ......So I envy you.  ......You're going to remember my warning, succeed in love, and walk a beautiful life, right......?"

"............Hah..."
"......Aah, I envy you.  You'll get to live through the most beautiful time in a woman's life...for a full 18 years longer than I did.  ...Aah, I envy you so much...!!"
Jessica tried to slam her fists against the door over and over again.
However, as soon as her fist approached it, its speed plummeted.

She could barely knock, much less smash the door...!
".........Speed upgrade.  ......Instantaneous upgrade.  ......Speed of sound upgrade."
"It's useless, girl."
"......Smash it.........!!!!"
With full speed upgrades, Jessica's fist moved at the speed of sound, 1225 kilometers per hour.

However, how long had Jessica been in envy to gain that speed?
She had started to envy George and Shannon's relationship about two years ago?

2x365=730 days,
730x24=17520 hours.
However, she wasn't envious all the time.

It only happened when Shannon started going on about George.

With Shannon's shift on about 3 days of the week,
÷7x3.
And it wasn't as though she would go on about George all day long.
Her fond words for him would only leave a mark on Jessica for about an hour, right?

So only one 24th of each day.

17520÷7x3÷24=312
(Removing the fractional part)
The number of hours that Kyrie had been jealous was 157680.
In other words, this wasn't even 0.2% of the time that Kyrie had been jealous.
Even 1225 kilometers per hour, the speed of sound, becomes only 2.45 kilometers per hour in the 1/500 world.
"......Understand?  ......You're lacking in both love and jealousy."

"............!!!"

Even if she increased the speed of her fist, ......in Kyrie's world, Jessica couldn't make it any faster than a walking child.

Jessica ground her teeth, her fist still pressed against the door.

If someone could have seen this from both sides of the door, it would have looked as though Kyrie was holding it shut with a single finger...
"Way to go, Kyrie...!!!"

"See?  This room is a closed room.  At most, Jessica-chan can knock on the door, but she can't lay a finger on us inside!"
"Ah, Beatrice's definition of a closed room."

".........What the hell...?"

"At this rate, this closed room will be troublesome indeed.  It is impossible for a human to carry out a closed room murder.  ......Only magic can do that.  ......Until you truly understand magic, you will not be able to crush it."
"Jessica-chan can't corner me any further...!  As time passes, the relatives will eventually realize that I haven't returned, and they'll start searching the mansion.  And then, you will be observed.  Both witches and magic disappear when they're observed.  ......The nightmare is already over, girl!!!"
"......D, ......damn...it........."

"Ooh?!  I can't believe Jessica dropped out all of a sudden!!"

"Oh, please give it your all!  Do it for your beloved Kanon!!"

""Come, Jessica, believe in love and let us see a miracle!!""
"I revise that.  There isn't even any need to wait for time to pass.  ......After all, there's an internal phone line right here.  Of course, the line hasn't been cut.  ......I'll just.........pick up this receiver!!  This is...my......checkmate!!!"
".........Construction completed.  .........Closed room murder."

"......Oh.  ......It is effective."

".........Permeation upgrade.  .........Attack transmission, indirect attack power upgrade."
"Huh............"
Jessica's fist, which was pressed against the door, glowed red...and then white-hot...
Jessica didn't even swing her fist.
She just kept it pressed against the door.

However, ......Jessica's 'murder' extended within the 'closed room'......

Through the crack in the door, through the keyhole...burst the flames of hell.
Jessica couldn't see what was happening inside the room.

......However, even here, on the other side of the door, she could tell that the flames of hell had swallowed the entire room.
"Ggh............gyah.........gah............"
Kyrie's smoldering death throes could be heard from across the door.

Jessica clearly heard as Kyrie danced a dance of death amidst the hellfire, ......fell to her knees, ......and slumped over to the floor.
Slowly, ......Jessica tore her burning fist away from the door.
".........If you love the hell of envy so much, then burn.  ......Burn in the flames of envy...for all time.  .........There are probably some things that can be learned from envy.  However, it's nothing to be praised, and it's no one's duty.  ............It seems you were too proud after all, ......Kyrie oba-san."
"......A splendid......closed room murder."

"I'll let you take care of the mess.  .........I'd hate for her corpse to be burnt to a crisp when it's finally found.  ......Do you think you could clean it up...?"

"As you wish, Milady."
Ronove transformed into a gold butterfly and entered Krauss's study through the keyhole.

......Then, he had to cross his arms and think......about how he should even start cleaning up Kyrie's unrecognizable corpse and this room that had ended up as a burning hell...
".....................Haaah.........haah..."

Jessica finally let out the breath that she had been holding down in her chest...
Her normal human glint finally returned to her eyes...

......And then, ...she couldn't help at shudder at what she had done, ......even if it had been just a trial on the game board for the sake of her love...
"......Is that good enough, demons?!"

""Yes, well done, Jessica!  Your love is the real deal!!""

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

George welcomed Jessica with a crisp applause.
......Beato timidly tried to join him, but Jessica yelled at her and she stopped.

"......It's just something that happened on the game board.  There's no need to look so sad about it."

"I know that logically!!  But still, ......how am I supposed to just accept it emotionally?!!"
"......Milady-"

"Kanon-kun, ......I...like you...!  I can't give up...!!  That's why I've shown how strong my feelings are...!  I...didn't do something wrong, did I?  I'm not wrong, am I?!  Uuu...aaaaaaaaahhhhhh......"
"............Milady..."

As Jessica started to sob, ...Kanon held her quietly.
And, he realized that he would have to carry on the determination she had shown him...
"You didn't make any mistake.  ......And it also isn't a mistake to keep your human heart and be sad.  ......I just happen to be a bit more of a stoic when it comes to that sort of thing."

"......Not everyone can match up to George-sama's level.  ......But, in any event, you have completed your trial, Milady.  ......Well done.  I admire the strength of your determination."
"Hmm, I see.  Both George and Jessica have splendidly succeeded just the same.  Very impressive, Jessica!  ......That 'closed room murder' just now was wonderful enough to fascinate even a witch like myself."
Jessica had used 'magic' to kill Kyrie, who had holed up inside a closed room.

In that instant, Jessica had 'constructed' a closed room murder, had it acknowledged by the demons, and raised it to the level of magic...

"The trials for the two of you have been completed!!"
"So then, who will take the next challenge?!"

"Will it be Beatrice-sama?!"
"No, no, it might be Shannon!"

"No, this has to be Kanon's time to shine!"

""Come, speak up!!  Who is next?!  Who will take the next trial?!""
"............Nn-"

"What witch would hesitate at committing murder on the game board?  Even excess shyness can kill love."
"............"

"Alright!!  Who will-"
"Carry out the next murder of love?!"

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

"......Nn-"

The three who remained looked at each other.

......If none of the others raised their hands in the next few seconds, they would raise their own hand.

......All three thought this at the same time.

So, they all raised their hands at the same time.

......The ones they loved had already showed their determination.
They had to carry on.
Rosa could be seen in the parlor.
It seemed that the relatives all wanted to be alone now that they had dispersed for a short break.

Since everyone avoided the parlor, the one place where people would normally gather, Rosa was able to have this relaxing and comforting room all to herself...
That didn't mean she looked relaxed.
Her expression was heavy with gloom and weariness.

The cup of red tea that she had brought from the dining hall had gone cold......
".................."
......A pleasant silence.

Now that no one was in sight, Rosa's heart finally awoke.
She was always treated like a kid in the conferences with her three siblings.
She had no influence at all.

But, possibly because of that, she was apparently considered to be a neutral party.
The siblings would often ask for her agreement, sometimes even treating her like a referee or a judge.
"......I have to make use of that......and turn the discussion in the direction I want."

I have to find almost a hundred million yen by March.

That was supposed to be my great commitment, a burden I bore to help support 'that man's' business.
Now, ......I'm not sure anymore.

If I can pay off my debt, ......will he call me again?
......Don't kid me.
Even if you do contact me after all this time, ......I'll be the one to refuse.
......But still, ......you are Maria's father, aren't you......?

Please come and see her, ......if only just once......
"......Love is quite a difficult thing.........to stick to, isn't it?"
"Huh?!  Wh, ......who......?"

Though no one should have been in the parlor, someone suddenly spoke to Rosa and she jumped.
......Just when had it happened...
Kanon could be seen standing there.

Even considering that she had been deep in thought......to think that she hadn't noticed him at all......

"......You scared me.  ...Sorry, I guess I was thinking so hard that I didn't notice you.  ......Need something?"

"No.  ......The reason you are currently in pain is because of love, Rosa-sama.  ......Am I wrong?"
"Th, that's sudden.  ......I'm not sure what you're talking about."

"......Maria-sama's father wanted you to be the co-signer on a loan, and you accepted, Rosa-sama."

"..................What a troublesome kid.  ......You were listening to Krauss nii-san from the hallway, weren't you...?"
......True, earlier this day, in this very room, Krauss had seen through to the fact that Rosa was bearing a massive debt because she had become a co-signer on a loan.

However, he hadn't said that her partner had been Maria's father......

Why......did Kanon know so much......?
"You are a very wise person, Rosa-sama.  ......You wouldn't have become a co-signer without thinking carefully about the consequences."

".........I hadn't yet moved to his family register, but I thought of the man I would soon marry as my partner.  If he couldn't borrow the money without my name, I figured that helping him out was my responsibility as his future wife."

"......And did that future ever come?"
"............"
No, it hadn't.
So afterwards......Rosa was always alone.

And Maria......never had a father.
However, time moved on.

Maria, who should have been a symbol of their union, just kept growing, almost like a living hourglass measuring the length of the hell Rosa had crawled through......

Because of that, Maria's growth......hurt.
"......It's ironic.  ......I tried to forget that man several times.  ......But you know, forgetting him doesn't get rid of that debt."

It was only natural.  ......That's why she had to forget her love and do all she could to pay that money back.
"But you know, I also think of it this way.  ......If I can manage to pay everything off, it'll mean that I've passed the trial of love that he gave me.  ......If I have to pay off my debt anyway, how can I abandon my reward, the love I'll gain as a result, before it's over...?   Don't you think I could put off thinking about that until after I've paid it all back......?"
".................."
It may have been a trick of words that only those who have suffered through love could understand.

Even Rosa vaguely realized that she might have been deceived.
However, if she was able to succeed in paying back the loan, ......he might acknowledge her usefulness as a wife...

When that happened, she might be able to regain that love.
And if she abandoned that love?

......This debt, this 'trial that he had given her', would become completely meaningless......
Yes, for her, ......the debt itself appeared to be a trial of love.

In fact, the very fact that she looked at it that way might have been her blindness due to love, as well as proof that she still hadn't rid herself of her affection and firm belief in the past...
And that pain still continued within her......

At the very least, ......until she paid back the massive loan, and let a good deal of time pass after that, until she could finally lay her feelings for him to rest...
".........Could this be......that hell Kyrie-sama spoke of?"

"......Probably.  ......Though I'm not sure what you're talking about.  ......There's no doubt that my world has been a total hell."

"And how can that be put to an end...?"
"......Who knows?  If anyone did, ......no one would ever be crushed by the disease of love."
That disease is a serious one.

......It sometimes eats into a person for their entire life, .....spreading to and hurting the people closest to them.

That disease was torturing her now as much as it ever had...
"Well, since you bring up Kyrie-san, ......her story is like a wish or a dream to me."

Though she had her man stolen from her, she persevered for 18 years.
She never fell to despair, and instead continued to support Rudolf, hiding and waiting for a miracle......
"Maria is still nine years old.  ......I've only waited for the first half of Kyrie's 18 years.  ......If I gave up after just this, ......she would laugh at me."

"......Do you think that a miracle will occur within nine years?"
"..................If I doubt that, it's all over."
"............"
"In a sense, I'm a ghost.  ......I am already dead.  I'm just living on without noticing."
"......A ghost waiting for eternity for a person who will never come......"
"That's right.  ......That day, when I naively said that I wanted to support his dream, I was probably already dead.  .........I guess that really was a regretful day, in the end.  'I have dreams.  I want to go overseas.  I'll fly out of this tiny country, make it big, and come back to you'.  ......That takes me back..."
......At that time, I thought of lovers as a pair of people willing to acknowledge the other's radical dreams.

That's why he would always talk happily about how I'd become a successful designer and release new items in Paris while being jostled by the press.
When I think about it, ......I really had my head in the clouds during that strange time.
............We both lifted the other up, as though we were drifting about in the air.

So, when he said that he wanted to get out of Japan, I applauded him and promised to support him.
Acknowledging each other's great dreams is a standard sort of pillow talk for lovers.

However, when it comes to actually carrying them out, ...you need to be more serious and calculating.
"......For a long time, I felt proud of letting him go on that day.  ......No, I still do."

"..................But you still regret it."

".........That's right.  .........If I had sobbed and told him to stop on that day, I might not have fallen into hell.  ......Seeing him off with a smile was my victory?  Of course not.  It's as though I lost by default by refusing to fight when the time came."

"...I only glorified that loss, ......saw him off with a smile as he went to take on the world overseas, and became intoxicated with the illusion that I was some brave woman waiting patiently for her man's return with her daughter.  .........Even though, without a single call from him, mail sent to the address he had given me came back 'forwarding address unknown'..."

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

"......This is hell.  ......In this hell, I'll regret not fighting when I should have until the day I die.  ......I've even dragged my daughter into it.  .........I wish someone would just kill me.  ......I want to be told that I've already been killed, that I'm a ghost."

".........In love, ......if you do not fight, ......you fall into hell."

"......Yes.  Love is a fight."
"Will you win and gain, or lose and die?"

"But please, have no fear of death."
"After all, it is a peaceful sleep."

""The truly terrifying thing is...the hell into which falls the unsleeping ghosts who cannot win yet cannot die.""

"......That hell has no end..."
"The battle of love is cruelest to those who do not fight yet cannot die."

"......So in love, you've got to give it a shot and put it all on the line.  Dying in battle.......is better than the alternative."
"They say the most torturous toxin for humans is made from rotting love.  ......The suffering it brings......exceeds the tortures of the most twisted hells."

She used this knowledge to try and embolden her double and little sister, encouraging her to take on any trial no matter how fierce...

"............I understand."

After all, when my desire to have Battler-san accept me one day wells up in my chest, ......I can feel the seed that resides there.

"......It is up to me to kill that seed or make it bud.  ......However, if I let it rot here in my chest, ......that poison will surely torment me forever..."

"And that.........is the most fearsome torture in the world, even for us thousand year old witches..."

"See what happens to those who make light of love!  This hell of Rosa's-"
"Is what happens to those who do not possess the courage to make the seed of love bud, and instead allow it to rot."

""One cannot end that pain by their own hands.""
.........Huh?

......Just now......was that a red light......?
".........Pardon me."
"......Huh...?  ......What.........?"
Just now...I thought......I saw something strange.
......I wonder if I'm tired.........It's probably just my imagination.
Rosa picked up her cup of cold tea.

When she did, ......she saw a small.........red rose petal float to the surface.

......A......rose...............?
".........I have heard that, in your youth, ......you loved to lie on that sofa."
"............"

It......wasn't a rose petal.
It was......a drop of blood.........that had fallen from Rosa's eyes.

In an instant, ......Kanon had beautifully and precisely.........cut just a single thread of Rosa's life...
There was no wound on Rosa's body.

However, ......several drops of blood...dripped down from her eyes.

Her pain, her uncertainties, and her worries......were all gone now.
Slowly, ......she fell down onto her side on the sofa.
This had been the happiest thing she had done during the happiest time of her life......
"Sleep well, ......Rosa-sama.  ......Your hell...has ended."
Kanon took a blanket out of a cupboard.........and gently covered Rosa with it...

To anyone, ......it would have looked just as though Rosa was sleeping peacefully......
......Those demons had not exaggerated when calling this trial a battle of love.

It was at least accurate on this cruel but unassailable fact: that those who have their love shattered meet with death...
"......Now my part is complete.  ......Did you see, demons?"
"......D, damn......"
"How could you kill Mama?!!  
HOW COULD YOU KILL MAMAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAWAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!"
One of the two great witches of Mariage Sorciere, MARIA.
Though she was just an apprentice, the power sleeping within her had impressed even Beatrice at the height of her strength.
In MARIA's eyes, though Rosa was the black witch, ......she was also the vessel of the mother she couldn't help but love.

Her anger at having that stolen from her was near madness.
"How could you...Mama, Mama, Mama!!  Nngggyyyyyyaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhh!!!"
MARIA's attack was too emotional.

Because of this, she didn't notice that Kanon had vanished for several heartbeats...and she released her barrage at what had become empty space.
In the meantime, Kanon jumped from wall to wall, around to MARIA's back...
"......Huh...h...?"

"......I don't want to kill past my quota.  ......But I will defend myself...!!"
".........Uryuu."
"Wh, ......what are........you-"

"......Diplomatic immunity!  ......I won't let you target MARIA or me...!"

"D, ......damn......"

The red locus blade extending from Kanon's hand vanished in an instant.

He managed to make it reappear, but when he tried to use it on Maria and Sakutarou again, it vanished once more.

Because of Sakutarou's power, he was unable to make either of them the target of his attacks.
"......There you are.  ......Since when have you been there......?"

"Uryuu...  ......I won't let anyone bully MARIA."
"D, ......dammit......"

MARIA finally noticed where Kanon was, and she slowly turned around...
Kanon made his sword materialize yet again, but no matter how often he tried, it kept fading out, like a flashlight with a bad battery...
"I won't let you get away now.........I won't forgive you...for the sin of stealing my Mama away...  ......I'll kill you.  ...Just like Mama killed the others, ...I'll kill you without mercy!!!"
As MARIA howled, the entire parlor was surrounded by a cube of red, magic barriers.

It was a closed room symbolizing a barrier that Kanon could never escape.
"......D, ...dammiiiiiit...!!  Not......here......!"
Kanon cursed his bad luck.

Even though he had fulfilled his goal in the demons' trial, ......if he was killed here, he'd be dragged off of the game board...!

"......MARIA.  ......Take it easy."

"Yeah, take it easy.  ......I'll be a little more gentle than Mama was.  ......Kuhihihihihihihhi, hahahahahaahahahahaahhahaahahahahahahyahahaaaaaaaaaahh!!!"

"......?!?!"
"Uryu, who is it?!"
"......Pardon me, Maria-sama...  In accordance with the contract with Zepar-sama and Furfur-sama, I come for your life...!"
"Shannon, ......don't get......in my waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaayyy!!"

"It's pointless, Shannon.  ......I won't let anyone target MARIA...!"
"Yes.  I don't intend to target her in any way.  ......I will simply protect myself."
A cylindrical red magical barrier surrounded Shannon as she stood in the center of the parlor.

She made its brightness and thickness grow, and its radius suddenly expanded, filling up the room.
It wasn't targeting MARIA.
This power was being wielded to protect Shannon's body.

So, Sakutarou's power didn't make it disappear.
".........Hey, ......Nee-san......"

"Would you let your feelings for Milady collapse in a situation like this?  ......Get ahold of yourself...!"
"Ugh, ......ghgh, gghh.........!!"
"Uryu...uu.........!!"
By now, the shield with Shannon at the center had covered up the entire room.  Its power crushed MARIA and Sakutarou into the corner of the room.

Ironically, they were perfectly wedged between Shannon's barrier and the closed room barrier MARIA had set up to prevent Kanon from escaping.
"...No...good.........Can't......escape......"
"......*cackle*cackle*, kuhihihihihihiihihihihhihihiihi!!  That's right, this is a closed room...  ......Kihihihihihihihihihihi!  This might be just perfect for that wannabe detective who's trying to deny Beato's magic."
".........Checkmate, Maria-sama.  ......Is that acceptable?"

"Yeah, it's fine!!  Crush me!  ......Kihhihhihhihhihhihhihhii!!"

"Then here it comes...!"
The entire room was filled with the red light of the shield, ......and the output and pressure were raised to their limits.

......Then, crushed between the shield and their own closed room barrier, ......MARIA and Sakutarou lost their forms, scattered into a golden splash, and disappeared...
"......Thank you.  ......I couldn't afford to disappear here."

"If you lost in a place like this, you wouldn't be able to give up."
"......Yeah.  I wouldn't give up if I lost in a place like this."

"Zepar-sama, Furfur-sama.  We have both finished our trial.  Is that satisfactory...?"

"Yeah, truly splendid!  No complaints for either of you!"

"Then shall we finish with Beatrice's turn...?  Oh, where did she go?"
"To the victim she has chosen, of course."

""Then let's go there as well!""
......Natsuhi could be seen in her personal room.

Krauss had told her to go to bed, but she couldn't afford to lie around sleeping on an important day like this.
However, she realized that she was the type to get excited easily, and that this sometimes held her husband back...

So, ......though she didn't like it one bit, ......there was no way around it...
It was probably close to the time for the break to end, and the family conference would begin once again in the dining hall.

Her husband would have to protect the Ushiromiya family honor from those greedy siblings......all by himself.
If she grew emotional by his side, she would just tie him down.

...Though she knew that quietly waiting here was the best way she could support him, .....that didn't make the waiting any easier.
Natsuhi pulled the small box she kept treasures in out of the drawer.

This was her secret box.
Inside was everything from valuable items to mere rubbish.

......However, they were all precious, memorable treasures in Natsuhi's eyes.
She pulled a small pouch out of the box.
She stuck her hand inside it.

......It was a kind of charm that her own family had given her when she had married.

...It was a spirit mirror to ward off evil.
Her own face was reflected in the mirror.

......She wasn't as young as she once was.
Recently, she had seen a bit of her parents and grandparents on her own face.

So by staring at her reflection in the mirror like this, she felt as though her soul had returned to the family she had been born into...
"......Dad...Mom............I've always been so neglectful...and unable to support my husband..."

Of course, her face in the mirror did not answer...  However, Natsuhi continued.
"......I am waiting here alone because I love my husband.  ......However, I think love means being close to one another.  ......Though I understand logically that staying here is the best way I can help him, ......I still feel wretched for doing it...  .........It's tough, isn't it...waiting for the sake of love..."
With a *plop*, ......a tear fell onto the mirror.
Old, dear memories of her life at her parents' house rose up inside her.

Now was the time......for her to follow her parents' example...
When her father came home late, her mother would always sit up straight waiting for him, prepared for him to arrive at any moment.

......She would always wait for him, kneeling in the entrance hall, and no matter how late he came home, she would always wake up all the children and line them up to greet him.
At the time, I only thought of her as being exceptionally strict, .........but at this age, I finally understand how strong she was, persevering in her love for her beloved husband even after being left in charge of the house while he was out.
"Because of your love for your husband, ......you couldn't bear to be made to care for an unfamiliar child."
"......?!?!"

The sudden voice made Natsuhi jump up and look about the room.
When she did, ......there was a western lady wrapped in an extravagant dress.

"Wh, ......who are you?!"
"............"

Natsuhi was confused.
There was no one like this in this mansion.

However, though this was her first time seeing her, it felt as though she had seen this person somewhere else...

Her mind had gone blank with her anger at the ruffian who had snuck into her private room and confusion over the appearance of someone she didn't know, ......so much so that it took quite a bit of time before she realized that this was the witch of the portrait.
"......Though you murdered a baby you didn't know on that day 19 years ago, I will not hold that sin against you."
"Wh, .........what are...you...talking about......?"
Beato had chosen Natsuhi as her sacrifice.

She was 'Battler's' enemy.
Beato didn't understand much about the details of Battler's birth.

.........However, she knew the Fragment of the previous game, and knew there was a chance that Battler was the baby that Natsuhi had pushed off a cliff 19 years ago.
Battler had used his blue wedge to protect Natsuhi from certain false charges, ......but since that might have been related to Battler's own confession, Beato still viewed Natsuhi as an enemy who might have forced Battler to live a painful life.
"You killed that baby, who lacked your husband's blood, for the sake of your love for your husband, so, also for the sake of love, I will not hold it against you."
"I don't......have a clue what you're talking about!!  Get out!!  This is my room!!"

"Therefore, ......please do not hold it against me when I kill you for the sake of my love."

Beato slowly stuck out her arms......and made as if to grab something in empty space.

......That grab......bound itself around Natsuhi's neck.
"Ggh.........ah.........eh........."
Natsuhi's heels lifted up, and a faint, purple shape appeared around her neck...
Natsuhi frantically scratched at her neck, trying to stop whatever was strangling her, but there was nothing there.

......So, to an outsider, it just looked as though Natsuhi was standing on her toes in anguish, scratching at her own neck.
"......Both pairs of lovers have shown their determination.  ......I do not think...that my love for Battler-san is inferior to theirs...  ......Just as I will not blame you for your sin of 19 years ago, ......I will not blame myself for this sin...!"
".........Eh.........gah......gghh............"
As Natsuhi twisted in agony, something she had been grasping fell from her grip.
Since it had fallen by her feet, Beato dropped her gaze to see what it was...
......It was......Natsuhi's spirit mirror.

When she peered into it, .........there was a sound like a burst of electricity.
That sound released Natsuhi from the invisible hands...and made Beato topple backwards like a doll.
"*cough*...*cough*cough*......?  .........?!??"

Coughing, Natsuhi tried to comprehend what was going on around her.
Beato rolled over and, dizzy as though she had just bumped her head, she slowly tried to stand up.
Her eyes were bewildered, as though even she didn't really understand what had happened.
"......Wh, ......what......what is this......?"

"That is...surprising......  You could touch spiderwebs without trouble, ......but you can't handle the spirit mirror...?"

"E, even I......don't have a clue what's happening...  What in the world......"

She had thought that only Beato the elder possessed the non-human weak points such as getting burned by spiderwebs and wards and having her power sealed by spirit mirrors.

However, ......for some reason, this spirit mirror alone could apparently affect Beato as well.

Even Beato couldn't understand what about the spirit mirror had had such an overpowering effect on her.
"............!!"
But Natsuhi was different.

She instantly realized that the reason for the hesitation of this unearthly being, this witch of the portrait......must be the power of the mirror.
So, she rapidly crawled across the floor and picked up the mirror.
Then, she stuck it out so that Beato could see it...
......Beato still didn't know what was happening, so, still sitting down, she looked straight at it.
And this time, both of them understood the situation completely.

Beato realized that the mirror was working some hateful power against her.
And Natsuhi realized that the spirit mirror had the power to repel witches.
"......Gghh......uuuuuhhh......!!  Wh, ...why is...the mirror......?!"

"It is because you are an evil witch.  .........This miraculous spirit mirror repels all creatures of evil...!"

".........Don't......point it at me......!"
With the spirit mirror still held out, Natsuhi cautiously closed the gap between them.

She was cautious, so as to prevent the other from suddenly lashing out and stealing the mirror, ......but she steadily moved to corner this evil.
"I...I do not know who you are.  ......All I know is that you tried to kill me.  And I know that you are a creature of evil, fearful of this spirit mirror.  ......Begone, evil one...!!"
Beato didn't understand what was happening herself.

......She didn't know why she had to fear this spirit mirror.
However, when she tried to look at the bright light let off by the spirit mirror, it pierced her eyes.

Though she didn't understand why she must be afraid, she did understand that she must be afraid.
By now, Beato realized that this spirit mirror was both terrifying and harmful.

As it came closer to her, she felt an increasingly stronger burning sensation over her whole body, as though someone was approaching her with a hot iron.  She couldn't even open her eyes because of the mirror's bright, painful glint...
"Uuuuu......ah......aaaaaaaahhh......ah..."
"Go, return to the world from whence you came, evil one!  I, Ushiromiya Natsuhi, do not fear evil in the least!"
......It's......no use......
......Why......?

Why is this......musty mirror...so...
If......if I lose here, ......I'll be the only one......to fail this trial......
Just like George-san and Shannon-san...Jessica-san and Kanon-san.........I also want Battler-san to acknowledge me......and treasure me...

And......even though I've finally admitted that.........I alone.........in a place like this......
"Are you giving up?!  Only you?!"

"Believe!  The miracle of love will surely occur!"
......I...love......Battler-san...

I want him to notice me.
And I want him to acknowledge and accept my feelings......
If my reason for calling him Father and dedicated myself to him......was out of duty towards a parent of mine, I would have been satisfied with no reward...
That had been...a deception to fool myself with......

......I......love Battler-san.

And I want him to see me.
I accept it.
I won't turn away any longer.

......I was born because I love Battler-san...and I want him to love me back......
"......And so.........I cannot lose......here......"
"Begone, evil one!!  There is no place for you here!"

"Nn, ......gwaah...!!!"

Her determination had come too late.

If she had had it since the beginning, ......she would probably have finished Natsuhi off right then without any fear.

Because she had wavered, it had taken time to kill Natsuhi, ......and things had ended up like this.
But now, I am resolved.

I want to love Battler-san.  I want him to love me.
"......And so...I cannot lose here...!  After all, ......I was born for Battler-san's sake...!!"

"Yes, that is-"

"What we wanted to hear."
".........Ah...?!"

Just after a sound like a beetle banging off all the walls in the room, the spirit mirror was knocked out of Natsuhi's outstretched hand.

It fell onto the floor, ......and the stake flying around the room pierced through it with a crash.
"Lucifer of Pride, right here!  ......You dare mock me by having a single old mirror as my first target in so long?"
".........Huh?!  Ah, ......Lucifer...san......?"

"Beatrice-sama, you must complete your trial...!  She'll get away...!"
"S, ......someone!!  Help me!!  Someoooooooone!!"

Now that the spirit mirror, her last ray of hope, had been smashed, and the number of strange demons had increased, Natsuhi could do nothing but run for it.
However, if she made a scene and people gathered, the anti-magic toxin would burn Beato.

Now was her last chance.
"Th, ......thank you, Lucifer-san...!  .........P, prepare yourself, Ushiromiya Natsuhi...!"

".........Gggah!!  Ghghhgg.......kk......"
Once again, Beato choked the thin air.

This time, she wouldn't let her escape.

She had to end Natsuhi's pain right away before it got too drawn out.  ......But...her power wasn't...enough......
Though Natsuhi scratched at her neck, she also struggled to escape from the room.
......Her shaking hand...stretched out...to the lock on the door.
A closed room is one of the definitions that makes a witch.
Just unlocking the door made the anti-magic toxin strengthen a little.
Since Beato was at her limit even within a closed room, if Natsuhi undid that lock, ......Beato's power would weaken immediately, and Natsuhi would surely escape into the hallway.
Their strengths were matched.  However, Natsuhi's began to surpass Beato's slightly...

The power of the living to live is fundamentally stronger than the power of magic.

Of course, Beato was mustering all her might.  However, ......Natsuhi was just slightly stronger......
".........That's enough.  ......Lucifer, do it."
"A, as you wish!"
Lucifer transformed into a stake, and, like the time she had smashed Natsuhi's spirit mirror, flew violently around the room.  ......Then, she struck Natsuhi's forehead.
Natsuhi......crumpled slowly.
When Beato saw this, she also fell to her knees, breathing hard.
"Hey, Zepar!  Does this count?  Beatrice didn't complete the trial by her own strength alone, right?!"

"That's right, Furfur!  True, this trial must be accomplished without borrowing the help of any other!"

"But maybe this is an exception?!"

""A pair in love are as one!  This doesn't count as help from outside!""
".........B, ......Battler-san......"

"Did you really have to scare me like that in the first twilight?"

"M, ......my apologies...  Sorry I didn't listen to your instructions..."
"Instructions?"

"......Well, ......I didn't stay in my room......"

Beato hung her head apologetically.
......When he saw this, Battler scratched his head uncomfortably.

"In that case, ......I should apologize too.  ......I should have been more kind."

"N, ...no, you did nothing wrong.........Father, ...I...I mean...Battler-san..."

"It's okay.  Call me whatever you like."
"Huh.........?"

Battler had always looked at the new Beatrice sternly.

However, that was gone from his expression now...

"......True, the old you may have called me just 'Battler'.  ......At first, I might have tried to force you to speak to me that way.  ......However, that would be pointless.  You are Beato...but you're yourself.  ......You can call me whatever you want."

"B, .........Battler-san......"
"Sure, that works great.  ......Can't say being called Father is really my thing."

"...Y, .........yes..."

Earlier, she had hesitated just to say Battler's name at all.

If Battler had told her to say his name without honorifics, she couldn't have done so right now, .........and even if she had, that might have hurt Battler even more.

However, ......now, she was allowed to call Battler by his name.

If you just looked into her eyes, ......there would be no need to describe just how happy this made her feel...

"I heard from Zepar and Furfur.  ......It seems a strange game has been started."

"Y, yes...  Sorry for being so selfish......"

"No problem.  That reckless way you get into something before you understand it is really like you.  ......And...well, I've heard about the theme of the game.  Apparently, you're supposed to play it in pairs."

"Yes, that is correct, sir!!"
"If you can succeed in winning through our trial!"

""We will bless the pair of you and bestow a miracle of magic upon you!""
"It seems these guys have been given the power of Beato's golden butterfly brooch.  That means their effect is guaranteed.  ......We've been stuck with each other for a long time now.  Nothing wrong with playing this sort of game every now and then."

"......Battler-san............"

"Oh, did you hear that, Furfur?!  It looks like Lord BATTLER is joining in as well!!"

"That's no surprise!  After all, we've known since the beginning!"

""Welcome to our trial, Lord BATTLER!  Then, who will your sacrifice be?!""

"......I've already done that.  Go and check if you want."
"Very well, Lord BATTLER!  Come, Furfur, let's go check!"

"Yes, let's!  But Zepar?  This means that all six lovers have succeeded in their trials, right?  What should we do next?!"

""The resolve of all six is the real deal!  Let us test them further in the next trial!""
The two noisy demons disappeared.

It seemed that they had left to go check on the sacrifice Battler had killed, ......and that they had done so also so that Battler and Beato, who could finally look each other in the eye and talk, could have some time alone......
"......What do you think of the tale so far......?"
When suddenly asked this question, Ange immediately came to her senses...

Then, she realized that she had been immersed in the other's tale.  She felt a bit defeated and tried to look displeased.
"Y, ......you've cleverly tried to mix things up with all this about the love trial, but exactly six people have died, setting up the first twilight.  Impressive."

"Oh, you're right.  I didn't realize."

Amakusa clapped his hands as though he'd been outsmarted.
Even though he'd figured it out before me, he played the fool.
"......That's simply because the number of lovers just happened to be six.  The fact that it matched to the number of the first twilight was half coincidence, half design.  ......It's a bit more interesting that way.  Feels more like fate."

"Humans have the bad habit of taking two meaningless phenomena and trying to link them together.  Trying to make things seem like fate is a 'trick' of books."

"I guess you aren't a fan of destiny and miracles, Lady."

"It's like UFOs.  Everyone knows about them, but no one has ever seen them."
"There's a cool metaphor."

"......So.  Normally, I'd try to skip over all the love and illusions and call them unnecessary, useless scenes for the mystery."

"......But Okonogi-san disagreed with that way of thinking.  He thought that, by looking at things without love that way, the truth could never be reached."

"Ah, you mean President Okonogi's killer phrase?  Without love, it cannot be seen?"

"Yeah, that.  ......If I put aside my anger at the person who killed my family in a story, ......and even speak with respect for Hachijo, the one who wrote this tale, then there must be a point to this depiction.  After all, she's used up all these pages talking about love and trials.  ......In other words, those are the themes and key words of this tale."
"......Oho.  ......And there are many who claim that all words not written in red ink are not worth reading.  ......It is an honor, child of man, that you have read the black letters as well."

"Stories are written because the writer has something they want to communicate.  And some writers feel that it's unrefined to lay everything out too directly.  .........All of this about how you'll never reach the truth without love has shown up many times in the works before this one.  This new work makes that even more striking.  ......It means that that is the one thing the writer wanted to tell the most...the thing that they want us to think about the most."
......When you think about it, there have been many scenes about love ever since Beato first appeared.
Even the first time she appeared before Shannon, she spoke clearly about how love was the single element of the world.
And the golden butterfly brooch she had given...was also an item for love.

She had said that she enjoyed sowing seeds of love and watching complications arise, and when Shannon stopped borrowing her power, the reason for her argument was also love.
......After her interactions with Battler started up in full, scenes about love were toned down for a while, ......but the 'without love, it cannot be seen' definition of magic had been mentioned repeatedly.
Then, in the tale right before this one, where Beato had become like a doll, the scenes shown made it seem almost as though Battler and Beato accepted each other as rivals...or possibly something more.

In the end, Battler had regained some memory, and his impression of Beato had undergone a complete change.
......And then, this game.

From the beginning until now, the word 'love' has been repeated over and over again.
"The tale you wrote keeps talking about love.  However, that's not from Maria onee-chan's viewpoint or Beatrice's viewpoint.  ......It's Hachijo Tohya's viewpoint."
"......Correct.  That is what I wanted to tell.  And it is my own sort of 'answer'."

"Answer?  ......Then all of the crimes 12 years ago were a trial of love started by strange demons?"

"Ridiculous.  I didn't come here to read a romance novel you wrote.  ......What I want to know about is the truth you claim to have reached."
"......Foolish child of man.  ...After reading all of this, do you still not understand?"

With an obviously condescending gaze, Hachijo shrugged.
It was clear that she was trying to provoke Ange.

She was probably hinting that Ange should just go home if she was annoyed.  'If you're going to read my noble work and not even attempt to see whether you understand it, then get out'.
......Normally, Ange would already have thrown a fit and left.
However, ......Ange couldn't do that.

Though she didn't like someone else toying with her family's fates in a story, ......she was growing increasingly certain of something else as she read through the story.

......Just as Hachijo's followers said, ......this tale really does have the same presence......the same scent as the tales written by Beatrice.
The author is certainly different.

However, because it reached to the real truth, it had the same scent...
Ange was beginning to acknowledge this.

......Hachijo Tohya......was one who had reached Beatrice's truth, .........an 'Endless Witch' like Beatrice, who could add to the endlessly stretching parallel worlds of the cat box...
"......If one has reached Beatrice's truth, ......they can create a new tale, whoever they are.  ......With this new manuscript, I'm sure some other than myself will appear and reach the truth.  ......Those people will be qualified to create new tales of their own."

"So there will be more and more Endless Witches..."

"Yes.  And these many Endless Witches will add to Beatrice's cat box tale.  ......The more they add to it, the more people will reach the truth...  ......When that happens, the very first Endless Witch, Beatrice, will finally be rewarded for writing such long letters, packing them in bottles, and throwing them into the sea..."

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

"......You might have yelled at me angrily and risen from your seat.  However, you did not.  .........Why?"

"I hate to admit it, ......but I'm starting to think that your tale has some kind of truth or hint within it."
I already have my own ideas.
However, that's no more than looking with a single eye.

Unless I accept a different viewpoint from my own and look at things from more than one angle, I'll never be able to see the truth in three dimensions.

That's my interpretation of 'without love, it cannot be seen'.
"Very well, child of man.  ......Perhaps, as the final survivor of the Ushiromiya family, it was fated that you would find the truth and become an Endless Witch.  ......I exist only as a guidepost to awaken you as the true successor.  ......ANGE Beatrice."
Sometimes, I don't understand what she's saying......
However, she knows something.

And maybe......she actually has reached the truth, as she claims...
......In other words, I don't know the truth even after the two message bottles Beatrice left behind, ......and I've read several tales with hints afterwards.

"So, ......these hints are challenges, provoking me to think."
".........Indeed."

"Perfect.  ......I'll find this truth you say you've reached.  ......It's a good thing I came here."

"That it is.  ......I invited you here because you hadn't found it yet, child of man......"

Let the truth I see and the truth you see overlap.

Just as you see things with a single eye, so do I.

Now that I've found you, I can finally look at the truth with both eyes.
"Fwaaah......aaaahhh...  So, the first twilight has fiiinally happened.  Everything so far's made me so sleepy."

"......You have some sleep in your eye."

"Huh?  Wh, where...  ......Th, that's none of your business."
"......Hmph.  As you wish, let's begin.  ......First off, the first twilight."
Erika was dozing off on the bed, so when a knock sounded on the door, it took some time before she noticed.
She looked at the clock and saw that not much time had passed since she had lain down.
".........Yes, who is it?  I hope you have a good reason for knocking on the detective's door at an hour like this..."
"That's right.  ......I have one thing to say before we begin this game."

"Oh, that detective proclamation thing.  Do as you wish."

"No, I mean the opposite.  ......I say we raise the stakes."

".........Raise...the stakes...?"

"What's this?  Now that sounds interesting. What do you mean?"
"......It's simple.  Battler got a shot off at us in the last game.  So, if Erika does the same in this game, we're only even."
"Wasn't the last game a tie...?"
"We threw a game we should have won easily, right?  If that isn't a loss, I don't know what is.  Right, Erika...?"

"Y, yes, my master.  If I hadn't failed so miserably, we would have won that game by default..."

"......Ooooh, I get it.  So this time, you'll intentionally fight at a disadvantage by not making a detective proclamation...and win despite that...!  You're scheming to not only wipe out your loss from the previous game, but to totally flip the score upside down, right?"
"Y, ......you intend to challenge the game Battler-san poured his heart and soul into with a foolish handicap like that...?  That is not only presumptuous, it's quite rude...!"

"......Sure is.  It sounds more like an excuse just in case they lose."
"True, you could also look at it that way.  If they win, it's a great victory, but if they lose, Erika's side has a nice little excuse.  Isn't that a bit unsporting?"

"Don't worry, this bet is balanced on both sides.  ......If we win as a human without the detective proclamation this game, it will be impossible for Battler and the others to pick up the pieces of the Illusion of the Witch.  ......But on the other hand, if Erika loses, that detective trash will be sent into the depths of oblivion along with the worst possible Fragment."
"............"

"......See?  That's balanced, isn't it?  An ultimate victory with a mere human, not a superman detective, destroying the Illusion of the Witch.  ......She's putting her own destruction on the line to make that bet.  I've gotten bored with these sluggish repeating games that you and the former Beato made.  ......So we're raising the stakes and settling it all at once."

"......Well, that is true.  

......If Battler makes it through・・・・・・・ this game, it will mean that Battler has 'won' Beato's game, and the game will end.  ......In a sense, it's a showdown you can't escape, right...?"
"..................I see your position.  ......Are you okay with that, Erika?"
".........Y, ......yes, of course.  ......In order to regain my master's trust in me, which was lost by my previous defeat, ...I...I will risk even my own destruction..."

"Is that of your own will...?"
"............"
"............"

".........What's wrong, Erika?  Answer him, okay...?"
"O, .........obviously.  This is my own will.  ......I certainly will not lose...  ......Even without the detective proclamation, ...I...I will defeat you no matter what...!!"
".........Battler-san........."

"..................Sure, that's fine.  If that's what you want, I'll accept that challenge."

"..................Th, thank you very much.  I'll make sure you don't regret it."
"After all, when Battler played for the human side, he never had anything as convenient as the detective's authority.  All he was allowed to do was use the blue truth and ask Beato to repeat what he said."

"Exactly.  In a way, the last game was unfair.  .........We failed to win despite that, which is why it was no different from a loss."
".................."

"Do what you want.  If you feel like making a detective proclamation, do it whenever you like.  ......I understand that you're holding it in reserve at the moment."

"You really think......I would use it......?  Against an opponent like you......?"
"............"

"Then get started, you two.  I'm already starting to get bored."
"......Leave it to me, my master...!!  I will destroy the Illusion of the Witch for you without fail...!"
George and Jessica had been the ones knocking on Erika's door.
They were asking whether Battler and Maria had come to this room.  ......Of course, they hadn't.
"A good while ago, they went downstairs, saying they wanted to get something to drink.  We thought they might have come to your room..."

"Of course they didn't.  ......Are you sure they didn't go to the mansion?"

"We called the servant room and dining hall of the mansion, but no one picked up..."
"......Please stay here, you two.  I'm going to go check the mansion."

"H, hey, it's dangerous to go out this late."
"How could a stranger sneak into this sealed-off island?  Stay in that cousins' room of yours.  I'll contact you if anything happens.  Also, tell the servants in the guesthouse servant room not to leave the building.  Bye."

"W, wait a second, Erika-san...?!!"
".........She is a strange kid."

After speaking her mind and not listening to anything else, Erika had dashed down the stairs and rushed outside.
"......The first twilight usually starts in the morning, but it looks like we've got an early fight this time.  ......No crime has occurred in the guesthouse.  So, that means the stage of the tragedy is in the mansion..."
Though she had an umbrella up, Erika got drenched as she sprinted.
She brashly licked the raindrops that dripped down her face......

......Erika was at her most energetic...
According to her memory from the previous game, the entrance hall to the mansion would be locked after the start of the family conference.
However, the lock was undone this time.

......Had someone unlocked it, or had the lock not been set, or had it not been possible to set the lock?
"Well, no point thinking about it now.  After all, that might just be a whim of the Game Master's."
As soon as she entered the entrance hall, the door to the parlor opened violently.
Out of it flew Gohda's large body.
"Ah, good evening, Gohda-san.  Is something the matter?"

"A, awawawa, awawawa!!  P, police...ambulance...!!  Awawawawawa!!"

That expression really is wonderfully pathetic.  Just fitting for the first one to discover the crime.

"Please calm down.  How could the police or an ambulance get to an isolated island inside a typhoon?  I'm sure the phones are out anyway, so please calm yourself."
Krauss and Rudolf's yells could be heard from the parlor.
Their shaken appearance perfectly signified the coming of the first twilight......
"Well then, give me the victims, the scene, and a reconstruction of the situation."

"......Those who left to take a break didn't come back, so the adults went to the parlor.  When they did, the door was sealed from the inside, and they couldn't open it.  You'll see later, but the hat stand in the parlor had been used to bar the double doors from the inside."

"So you're trying to say that the door was blocked from the inside, and the windows were also locked from the inside...?"

"That's it.  ......When they went around and looked into the parlor through the window, they saw Rosa lying on the sofa in an unnatural position, with blood pouring from her forehead.  ......They then smashed the glass, entered the parlor, and discovered that Maria was also there, lying by the wall and covered in blood."
"......Got it.  That would make them yell.  And the other crime scenes?"

"The entrance wasn't locked when you came into the mansion...because they had gone out through it to check the parlor from the outside.  ......Since it had been locked before they went out of it, and there was a chance that the other people who had gone missing were lying elsewhere within the mansion, the adults are now searching the entire building..."

"So does it match the places where the victims died in that long, crazy delusion of yours that you showed earlier?"

"......They match."
"Rosa and Maria were in the parlor.  Also, ......Natsuhi was in her own room, and Kyrie was in Krauss's study.  Eva was in the rose garden......no, wait, she was moved to the VIP room, wasn't she?"
"Yes.  Eva's corpse was found in the VIP room."
"That makes five victims.  Ah, that's one short for the first twilight.  Who's the sixth person, and where?"
"......?!  Krauss-sama!  The chain on this room is also set...!"

"Cut it!!  The culprit might be hiding in there!!"
"Gohda, do it!"

Rudolf and Krauss had brought Winchesters from Kinzo's prized collection.

They yelled at Gohda, who was carrying the wire cutters, to cut the chain.
The victims had been found one after another at several locations inside the mansion.

The men who had lost their wives searched through the mansion in a rage, looking for the culprit.
This was...a guest room.

It had previously been a room where the relatives would stay, but it hadn't been used much since the construction of the guesthouse.
This forgotten room was locked from the inside by the chain...
"......Nnnnn, ......hyaahh!!"
As soon as the chain was cut, Rudolf pushed Gohda aside and flew into the room.
"Is anyone there?!  Get out here...!!"
"There's someone on the bed...!"
"Let's get some light, Aniki...!"
When Krauss pushed a switch on the wall, ......the guest room lit up, and the figure lying on the bed came into view...
"B, ......Battler......!!  D, ......dammit, ...what are you doing...in a place like this......?"

Rudolf fell over Battler's corpse as though his knees had crumbled.
No words could console him as he cried with a mad sorrow...

......In a single night, ...he had lost both his wife and his son.
During this time, Krauss had checked the window and the bathroom and searched the closet to find if anyone was hiding there, but he had found no one...
"Battleeer...Battleeeeeeer......dammiiiiit......aaaaaaahhhhh......"

"H, ......how sad......"
"......I can't believe it, ......but this room is also...a closed room."

"Wh, ......what, again...?!"

"Yes......  My study, where Kyrie-san was, Natsuhi's room, the VIP room with Eva, the parlor with Rosa and her daughter...  ...And now Battler-kun in this guest room.  ......They're all closed rooms, aren't they...?  ...I don't......understand...  It couldn't be suicide, could it...?!"
"That's impossible...!!  How could this be a suicide?!  Aaaaggggghhh...Battleeeeeeer......"

"Oh, ......there's a surprise.  To think that you yourself would be the sixth person."
"It's more interesting to kill yourself off every now and then."
"And all of the crime scenes are closed rooms.  ......It's a murder that could not have been performed without magic."

"Hmph, isn't seeing through that the point of this game?  ...In other words, it must be a murder that could have been performed without magic.  ......After all, if it really could be done only with magic, this wouldn't be a game."

"......That's an interesting thought.  ......Yes, that is the sort of game we have been playing."
This game is fair.

The goal is to explain without magic the strange crimes that are claimed to be caused with magic.

If that couldn't be done・・・・・・・・・, it wouldn't be a game.

In other words, as Erika had said, they must be murders that could have been performed without magic...
......To turn it around, the witch side had a certain responsibility.

They had to make a crime that could be

reproduced with tricks and not magic・・・・・・・・・・・・・.
As long as the human side couldn't see through to those tricks, the witch side could use all kinds of magic and illusions.

......In other words, in order to carry out a closed room murder with magic...

It was necessary to create a crime that would be possible by human hands.
".........Now I understand.  I see why, when I ordered the seven sisters to kill my classmates back at Saint Lucia's, ......they couldn't do what I told them.  ......And I now understand the meaning of Mammon's words."

"'Magic can only do what you can accomplish by your own hands', ...was it?"
At that time, if I had possessed the determination to kill my classmates, ......no, that's not it.
At that time, if I had been capable of killing my classmates....  Capable of pulling it off...

......Then the Seven Sisters of Purgatory would probably have pulled it off for me.
They could only accomplish what I could do myself.

......No, that's not it either.
They could take what I had accomplished and turn it into 'magic'.
However, because there had been a great number of witnesses in that classroom, it would probably have been impossible.  ......It would have been burned by that anti-magic toxin Maria onee-chan and the others always talk about.
However, ......if I had called those classmates out somewhere without witnesses, ......and if I had succeeded in murder...

At that point, 'the Seven Sisters of Purgatory would be capable of carrying out a magical murder'...
"......Even with magic, witches cannot do things that they cannot accomplish by themselves.  ......They can only 'adorn' the things they can do with magic."

"......Interesting.  ......And that is because those who accomplish something without using magic...later claim that there was magic and call themselves witches."
"This Erika person has understood that since the beginning.  ......That's why she will never surrender to witches.  ...She is confident that it must be explainable with tricks.  The old Battler was toyed with so frequently because he did not possess that confidence..."
"......If this rule is seen through, the witch loses any chance at victory.  ......That's why they have to make their opponent surrender before they see the truth of this rule.  ......The longer the match is drawn out, ......and the more hints are given, ......the greater the witch's overwhelming disadvantage becomes..."
Once again, this reasoning keeps spinning around in circles.

......Why did Beato let this game get drawn out until she lost?

..................
Many victims had been found, and the mansion was still wrapped in chaos.

Hideyoshi's group seemed to have gone to the guesthouse, worrying about the safety of the kids there.

Krauss and Rudolf were in the hall, talking about what should be done next...
During a short gap in this chaos, .........Erika dashed all about the mansion.
She was checking the crime scenes.
Normally, with the detective's authority, Erika had the right to openly investigate the crime scenes to her heart's content.

However, this time, she hadn't yet made use of that authority.  ......Because of that, and with her being a guest and an outsider, there was little to no chance that she would be allowed to investigate.
So, she was forced to quickly check all of the crime scenes now, while she could still run about as she pleased.
In the servant room, there had been a clear folder containing a sketch of the mansion's interior.
Because she had borrowed that, she knew the location of all rooms in the mansion...

Erika skillfully made her way through the mansion, dashing into each crime scene in turn...

"Lady Erika, ......I believe you know, but allow me to warn you just in CASE."
"Yes?  What is it?"

"It is true that you have an incredible photographic memory, Lady Erika.  ......By combining that with the detective's proclamation, it is impossible for you to be fooled by ANYTHING."

"Yeah, I get it.  ......Since no detective proclamation has been made about me, even my photographic memory doesn't count as foolproof evidence.  Of course, I understand that.  ......Still, that doesn't mean I can afford to miss viewing the crime scenes directly."

"......After all, in the last game, my pride in that regard led me to a truly miserable failure."

"For example, by this argument, no matter how well you examine a person's corpse, you could not even guarantee that they were not faking their death with absolute CERTAINTY.  Most probably, features of this situation must be individually confirmed by telling Battler to repeat them in red."

"And I'll need to use the blue truth liberally in order to make him.  ......I understand.  Let's start with the basics.  ......The lack of the detective's authority is no handicap.  It simply means that I'm fighting under the same conditions Battler once was."
Yes.  This fight......is retracing the old days when Battler and Beato fought so fiercely.
I have no conveniences such as the detective's authority.
......I just have to truly fight the same way the old Battler fought.

Thinking of it this way, it may be true that I was in a very blessed, unfair position last game, just as my master has said...
It may be difficult without the detective's authority, which also holds my honor as a detective.
But I won't let that be a handicap.

I know what magic is, and I'm fully aware of how to fight with the red and blue truths.
I know the way to fight in this game many times better than the old Battler did......
I quickly visited the VIP room, Krauss's study, and Natsuhi's room on the second floor, as well as the parlor and the guest room on the first floor, this time checking with my own eyes, as I had failed to do in the last game...
First off, all of the scenes were made to look like closed rooms.

Probably of special note was the fact that the master keys had no relation to the tricks this time.

The closed rooms were all made without relying on any elements that could be locked or unlocked from the outside by a master key or something else.
The windows were locked from the inside, and the doors were all locked and chained.

The master key could get around all of the locks on the doors, but not the window locks or the chain locks.

I haven't yet had Battler confirm that it's impossible to manipulate those from the outside, ......but I'm sure he'll be able to say it in red.  It'd be stupid otherwise.
"......I understand.  Right now, I am a mere human.  ......I can't even properly confirm the death of the corpses."
......Last time I neglected to check the corpses, ......and let a massive bit of 'magic' get by me.
I won't fail like that again......

If I did, ......I wouldn't be able to face the master I am so indebted to......

"We have checked all of the scenes and finished gathering INFORMATION.  Here is our REPORT."
"Go ahead."
"First, all of the rooms form closed rooms with the window locks and chain locks, so that 'interference from the outside would be DIFFICULT'.  The only exception is the parlor, where Rosa and Maria lay DEAD."

"Please, allow me to speak.  Let it be known that the door was barred with a hat stand."

"It is thought to be substantially the same as a chain lock, in that it can only be set from the inside."

"It is probably their goal to construct closed rooms where explanations using master keys are made completely INEFFECTIVE.  The parlor has no chain lock due to its very nature, so it is natural that something else would be used in the chain's PLACE."
"......In that case, the interesting question becomes why one of the other rooms that have chain locks wasn't chosen to be a closed room.  There were several other guest rooms other than the one Battler lay dead in, all with a similar construction, correct?"
"Yes, that is CORRECT."
"In that case, even though it should have been more beautiful to throw them in there, so that everyone would be inside a chain lock closed room, they did not.  ......This hat stand door bar in the parlor seems very suspicious.  I should probably pursue this when demanding red truths.  Also, we have corpses, ......but are they the same absolute deaths with their necks sliced open like in the last game, which could be confirmed even without the detective's authority?"
Of course, she had checked all of the corpses in all of the crime scenes this time.

......However, without the detective's authority, she had no guarantee that she would be able to see through any faked deaths 'with certainty'...
The old Battler had also started fighting by doubting whether the victims were truly dead.

It was the same for Erika......
"Please, allow me to speak.  Know that there were no corpses that could have been confirmed dead with certainty by physical means."

"Please, allow me to speak.  We cannot deny the possibility that any one of these corpses might be a faked death."

"......Well, I doubt Battler will easily confirm their deaths in red even if I tell him to.  ......Sheesh......"
"I liked Beato's chain of six closed rooms better.  ......However, these closed rooms are even more complete, considering that master keys are of no help at all."

"......There are two general ways of breaking closed rooms that Battler might be after.  ......An illusion of a closed room, or an illusion of a crime.  It'll be one of those."

"I get the first one.  That's when something looks like a closed room, but it actually isn't, right?  What do you mean by an illusion of a crime?"

".........An illusion that makes it seem as though a crime has occurred.  In other words, are they really dead?"

"Come on, are you kidding me?  If the people inside are alive, handling any kind of closed room is like pissing in a toilet.  ......Still, with this closed room...  It's pretty hard to think of any other answer."

"What about the endless possibilities of manipulating the chain lock from the outside?  We don't know if there are secret doors, ways to kill from a distance, chances of suicide, or even whether these are complete closed rooms in the first place."
"......I already know, since I'm looking at Battler's game board from the underside, but these are perfect closed rooms.  They can only be constructed from the inside, and there exists no method by which to construct, deconstruct, or interfere with them from the outside."

"Can you say that in red?"
"That'd be a little too rude to Battler, so no.  If you do love me, you must see my words as red truth, right...?"

".........Then the closed rooms are perfect.  In other words, this is an illusion of a crime."

"It does seem that way.  If so, these are all trick closed rooms.  ......Doesn't this mean that everyone got so pissed at Erika bragging about detectives and stuff that they joined together and set up a fake murder to make fun of her?  Oh, is that the right answer?  I'm, like, a super detective☆"
"Unfortunately, ......this isn't a fake.  The victims really have been killed."
"Huh?!  You don't mean by 24:00 on the second day, right?"
"No detective proclamation has been made, but she is very accurate when examining corpses.  I could almost even give her examinations the red truth."

"So?  Does that mean that they were definitely dead when Erika examined their corpses?"
"Yes, that's right.  Totally."

"But you won't say it in red for her, ri-ght?  *giggle*, and that poor Erika must want it so ba-d."

"Well, she isn't the detective this time around.  I won't give her any red.  *giggle*giggle*."

"However, ......that makes it incredible.  This time, ......Battler's really made a perfect closed room!"
"......Oh, is that so?"

"Will Erika be alright?  It looks like an ordinary closed room murder at a glance, ......but this one is pretty nasty.  Won't this load be a bit too heavy for Erika without her detective's authority...?"

"She is a self-proclaimed detective.  I'm sure she'll pull through.  .........If Battler and Beato are defeated by a mere human who isn't even a detective, they'd fall apart in the most exquisite way, don't you think?"

"......And even if Erika loses, you get to play by throwing her into the worst Fragment and knocking her into the depths of oblivion?"
"Exactly.  No matter how we fall, it won't be boring."
"You really are heartless, aren't you?  ...Well, wringing out this black cat like a towel and licking up every last drop is my only bliss!"
"Beato's game board did entertain me for quite some time, ......but we've already wrung everything we can from it."
"......It'll be over with this game.  So, in the end, we really must let Battler and Erika bet everything in one final face-off."

"......Sheesh.  And I wanted to play with you forever in this game.  ......What a shame."

"Come now.  I've spent plenty of time with you already.  ......Go find me another interesting game.  If you do, I'll play with you again..."

"Ah, .........yes, you really don't let me get bored.  ......That's alright, Bernkastel.  Seeing your face twist with anguish is the one forbidden honey I've found for myself."
Lambdadelta had guaranteed that it was a perfect closed room.

Bernkastel had guaranteed that it was a perfect murder.

A perfect 'closed room' and 'murder'.
The witches hate a killjoy, so they haven't said anything with the red truth yet.

......Pursuing that was the role for Battler and Erika......
"It seems you've crawled all over the crime scenes.  ......Satisfied?  Is your inspection complete?"

"Yes, I'm satisfied.  So, about our war of red and blue.  Shall we start right away?  Or do it all at the end?"

"I don't like putting things off.  I think the same goes for you."

"Then let's get started with the closed rooms of the first twilight.  ......First, I'd like to check.  Do you intend to respond if I ask you to repeat something in red?"

"Depending on what you say, yes.  I have no obligation to respond to all, and I won't reveal my reasons when I refuse."
"<Good>.  ......Then let's start simple and confirm the definition of a closed room.  Dlanor!  Please read it aloud."

"UNDERSTOOD.  ......We demand that the following be REPEATED."

Dlanor spread out one of those scrolls that some official would always spread out when announcing the king in western fairy tales, and read it aloud.

"First.  'The rooms with the six people in them are all closed ROOMS'."
"Acknowledged.  Of course, that's only until Gohda and the others severed the chains and destroyed the closed rooms."

At a nod from Dlanor, Cornelia, who stood behind her, started taking notes.

"Second.  'The definition of closed room implies that it is impossible to construct from the OUTSIDE'."
"Acknowledged."

"......In other words, no trickery done from the outside can construct a closed room.  It is not permitted for a chain lock to be reset from the outside by a skillfully used wire, for example."
"I didn't need you to tell me that.  Dlanor, please continue."

"Third.  'The definition of a closed room implies that all forms of interference that pass between the inside and outside of the room are PREVENTED'."
"Acknowledged.  However, I won't deny the kinds of interference that you'd expect from a normal room, such as knocks, voices, and the extension telephone line."

"Fourth.  'At the time of the deconstruction of the closed rooms, none existed within the rooms except the VICTIMS (Natsuhi, Eva, Kyrie, Rosa, Maria, Battler)'."

"Acknowledged."
In this way, they could check whether or not the culprit had been hiding inside a closed room.

If the culprit had slipped out of the room after the discoverers had noticed the murders and then walked away, it would have been possible to construct an illusion of a closed room.
Because Battler had acknowledged their statement with the red truth, the possibility that the culprit and the victim had both been inside the closed room at the time of the crime, that the culprit had hid under the bed and snuck out after the discovery of the crime......had been denied.
"Fifth.  'No murder was committed after the deconstruction of the closed ROOMS'."
"I refuse."

"......Why?  Because the victims really were alive after the closed rooms were destroyed?  So, Krauss and the others who crowded in were the culprits and committed the murders then.  In other words, it was a murder after the closed rooms.  Is it because this is the truth...?!"

"No, that's not true.  The murders will continue to occur, so we cannot say in red that no murders will happen after this."

"......Sheesh, what twisted logic.  You probably see what we're getting at.  Krauss's group cut the chain and destroyed the closed rooms, then killed the people inside.  I just want you to argue against this."

"Lady Erika, ......it is insufficient to refer to 'Krauss's group', an unspecified number of PEOPLE.  You should first check to see which humans entered the room after the closed room was DECONSTRUCTED."

"Allow me to speak.  ......Excepting the victims, those who entered the closed rooms were Krauss, Rudolf, Hideyoshi, and Gohda."
"Allow me to speak.  This is based on hearsay.  There is no proof that others did not enter."

"I know that already.  Let's have you repeat that.  ......'After the deconstruction of the closed rooms, then excluding me, only Krauss, Rudolf, Hideyoshi, and Gohda entered the rooms'."
"Sure.  Acknowledged.  However, this only applies to the current point in time.  It's possible that some later development in the game will cause more people to enter."
"Repeat it.  'Krauss, Rudolf, Hideyoshi, and Gohda are not culprits'."
".................."

Battler put his finger on his chin, deep in thought.

This word 'culprit' was fairly broad.  And it might serve to greatly restrict the darkness of the witch.
".........Why not answer?  If we refuse, they'll leave behind a blue truth saying that Krauss and the others were the culprits."

"..................Sure.  ......I'll acknowledge it, but I'll make the language more strict.  Krauss, Rudolf, Hideyoshi, and Gohda...were not involved in the murders of Natsuhi, Eva, Kyrie, Rosa, Maria, and Battler."

"And that means, 'it was also impossible for any of the other humans, who didn't even enter the closed room, to have been involved in those murders', doesn't it?"

"Who knows.  Think about it yourself.  If you think you can build up some blue truth for how a closed room murder can be committed without entering the room, then I'll respond with the red truth.  ......However, I only need to destroy one of the blue truths you'll be presenting from here on out.  In other words, even if you do manage to use the blue truth and explain this away with some long-distance closed room murder trick X, I don't necessarily have to counter that with the red truth."
These are the rules of the witch's game.
Ange checked these details with Beato in the fourth game.
The witch side lays out riddle after riddle that it claims are impossible to carry out except by magic.

The human side must use the blue truth to argue that they are explainable with tricks.
And if they cannot make a counterargument with the blue truth for even one of the riddles, that riddle will be considered to have been 'done by magic', and it will be impossible to deny the existence of a witch...
In other words, the witch side only needs to protect any one of its riddles.

On the contrary, the human side has to fully explain all riddles with the blue truth.
And even if the human side manages to explain all of the riddles with the blue truth, if any one of those is successfully countered by the red truth, the witch will win.
That was why, like the strategy the old Beato had adopted at the end, it was sufficient for the witch side to put off their red text counterarguments until the very last moment, then make a single strike at their opponent's most fragile spot......
"In any event, ......you've refused to repeat that last one, right?"

"Don't kid yourself.  I don't give out red for free."
"......Ggh......"
From the witch side's perspective, repeating statements made by the human side is just a supplement to make sure that they haven't misunderstood the question.
Therefore, they had no obligation to respond to extremely broad demands...

"......Not bad.  ...Looks like you can handle being a player on the witch side pretty well too."
"Your experience is no match for mine."

"Tch...!  Dlanor!"

"Let us CONTINUE.  Next, 'the victims did not die by any method other than HOMICIDE'."
"Acknowledged."

"Of course, there were no suicides or accidental deaths."

"Seventh, 'the victims-"
"That's enough, Dlanor."

"......Are you SURE?  There are still items..."

"Yes, that will do fine.  I've confirmed the status of the crime scene.  From here on, it's time for me to argue back with the blue truth."
"Sure, fine.  Let me hear your masterful theories."
Though Battler and Erika were enemies, ......it looked to Beato as though they were having a little fun doing it.
......She was probably slightly jealous of Erika.

Beato thought back on the books she had read in Featherine's archives, in which the old her and Battler had fought.  ......That must have been fun as well.
During a short break in the family conference, a horrible, brutal mass murder had occurred...

The six people killed, excluding Battler, had all been women......
The remaining men went mad with rage at this cowardice, then broke down sobbing at the sadness of losing their wives......over and over again......
"Why were they all girls......?  How cowardly can a person be...?"

"What's wrong with us?!  Here we are, under the same roof, and we're just smoking away, not noticing that members of our own family are being killed...dammit!!"
"......But...who......how...?  They were not unguarded...  The chain was set for all of them..."

"Who gives a damn about that?!  I don't care how they killed them, I just want to know who!!"

"Hey, Genji-san, Gohda-san.  Were the doors and windows to the mansion all locked during the family conference...?"
"Y, yes.  There can be no doubt...!"

"......In accordance with Madam's instructions, everything is always locked at the time of the night patrol.  Tonight was a special case, but everything was locked up shortly after seeing the children off to the guesthouse..."

"How is that possible...?!  I mean, Battler and Maria-chan were inside the mansion, right?!  They shouldn't have been able to get in, right?!"

"If everythin' really was locked up properly, that couldn't have happened...!  Doesn't that fact prove that the building wasn't completely locked up...?  Well?  Well?!"
He was arguing that Gohda's failure to lock up properly might have allowed a stranger to sneak in.
At the very least, none of them had known that Battler and Maria had visited the mansion.

If those two had come and found everything locked tight, they wouldn't have been able to get inside.
If they had rung the doorbell, Gohda would probably have heard them from the servant room, but Gohda said that nothing of the sort had happened.  How they had entered the locked mansion was a complete mystery...
"Y, you don't think......  For example, what if Madam or someone happened to be walking in by the entrance...and noticed Battler-sama and Maria-sama knocking......?"
"That couldn't have happened!  You were in the servant room then, right, Gohda-san?!  Isn't there a chime in the servant room that goes off when the front door opens?  There's no way you'd have missed anyone!"
"W, well......"

"......At that time, Gohda was serving drinks as you requested, so he was not in the servant room."
"Why was there only one servant in the mansion on such an important day?!  Why was someone as important as Genji-san on duty in the guesthouse?!  Does that make any sense?!  Why was the servant room left empty...?!!"

"......My wife formed those shifts.  ......She probably hoped that Gohda would be kind enough to serve some fashionable drinks during the family conference as well..."

"But Krauss nii-san...!  This is the family conference, right?!  The most important day of the year, right?!  Why was Gohda-san left as the only person on shift in the mansion...?!  If there had been just one more person, everythin' would be different, wouldn't it?!  Right?  Right?!"
With a half-crying, half-enraged jumbled up expression, Hideyoshi yelled at Gohda.
Of course, the culprit who killed everyone was the most to blame and the most despicable.

......However, even if he understood that, he needed to let off some of his emotions by hating someone he could see.
"......I am fully aware of how everyone feels.  ......However, please calm down.  ......Either Gohda-san wasn't thorough when locking up, ......or someone let Battler-san and Maria-san in after they came back from the guesthouse, and then forgot to lock up afterwards.  ......However, that doesn't necessarily have anything to do with how the culprit snuck in."
"......After all, the mansion is massive.  They might have come in much earlier and hid until late at night for all we know.  ......I can understand that you might want to suspect certain people, but please calm down."
"......Our guest is right.  ......The culprit is the one we should hate, ......not the servant who just happened to be on duty...  ......At any rate, let's calm down.  ......I feel as terrible as the rest of you.  However, we must take the initiative now and regain our composure."

"Aniki......"

"Everyone feels just as sad and devastated.  And none of us will ever forgive the one who did this.  For that reason, we must regain our composure..."

"......H, ......he's right.  ......I still have George.  Krauss nii-san still has Jessica-chan.  And Rudolf-kun...you still have Ange-chan waitin' for you to return, right?  It's still......too soon...to start pointin' fingers......"
"......The culprit is still on this island.  And we can't be sure that this tragic crime is over.  We need to stay calm and prevent any further tragedies."
Erika's words softly consoled them...and gently admonished them.

......If a servant had said the same thing, Rudolf would probably have jumped on him.
However, since it had come from the lips of the guest, a neutral party, ......it seemed to reach their ears.
"Let's stay cool.  ......We have three grown men with us, and guns as well.  Judging by the pattern of the murders, the chances that the culprit has a gun are low.  ......In other words, as long as we keep our heads, the culprit no longer has any way to touch us."
"......She's right.  We can't let the culprit do as they please any longer on our island."

"Let's find the culprit!  We're in the middle of a typhoon.  They can't escape from the island, and there's a limited number of places they can take shelter from the rain in...!"
"This island is larger than you'd think.  Unfortunately, it would be difficult to search the island with this many people.  ......After all, if you found the culprit now, you'd kill them.  If the frightened culprit has run into that deep forest, you won't find them easily."

"..................Right.  ...We should just wait for the typhoon to pass, have the boat call the police for us, and let them thoroughly search the island...  The police are incredible.  They'll bring hundreds of people and pick through it with a fine-toothed comb.  ......That forest may be deep, but they'll definitely smoke the culprit out..."

"The most important thing now......is to make sure no more of our beloved family members are taken from us.  .........Rudolf.  If something happens to you, what will happen to Ange-chan back home?"
"......Kyrie.........Battler.........  .........Dammit......dammiiiiiiit............I never......had a chance......to tell you the truth........."
"..................Krauss-san.  I'm sure that everyone in the cousins' room is extremely agitated right now.  ......If you show them that you've regained your composure, I'm sure that will help them relax a lot.  ......Would you mind heading up there?"

"......Good point.  We have to talk with everyone about what we're going to do next."

"Please go up with him, Genji-san and Gohda-san.  ......I'm sure that Shannon-san, Kanon-san, and Kumasawa-san are all very agitated."
"Y, ......yes...!  Yes, I'm sure everyone is quite agitated......!"

".........Are you certain?  ......Is there anything else we can help with?"
"That's why I want you to go with Krauss-san.  I want you there to help him if something happens.  ......I'd like for the rest of us to check and see that everything's locked up here.  We'll head up soon, so please go on ahead."

"Understood............If you need anything, please call us."
Genji bowed, and Krauss nodded.
Krauss also nodded to Erika, then headed up to the second floor with Genji and Gohda.
......In times of confusion, when only men are around, it is easy for a composed member of the opposite sex to control the initiative.
Even without the detective's authority, she was able to control them quite naturally.

Erika had wanted to get rid of the servants for the time being......

"Okay.  In that case, let's get to checking the locks."
"The problem is the big window in the lounge.  It looks like it doesn't even have shutters.  If they smash this, we won't be able to stop them from comin' in."

"Don't worry, the sound of the glass smashing will be more than enough warning.  We'll turn them to Swiss cheese!"

"......Quiet, please.  I didn't have you stay down here to check the doors and windows.  ......Please listen calmly to what I'm about to say."
When Erika lowered her voice, Rudolf and Hideyoshi realized that she was talking about something secret, so they brought their ears closer as soon as they regained their composure...
"Listen up.  This crime happened during the short break in the family conference.  ......In that tiny span of time, six people were killed without anyone noticing.  I can't imagine that was the result of any haphazard crime.  This crime was committed by someone who knew the layout of this mansion well, inside and out."
"......W, ......well........."

"......W, well, if they didn't know the inside well......  B, but......"

A short while ago, they had attacked Gohda, suspecting the servants of making a blunder.

However, they had only thought that he had forgotten to lock up, and were attacking him for letting the mysterious culprit sneak in.  ......They hadn't considered that one of the servants they knew so well might have taken those lives with their own hands.

...No, they hadn't wanted to think that.

People can't easily suspect someone they know well of being a culprit......
"At the time of the crime, the mansion was locked from the inside, and only those involved with the family conference existed there."

"So, Aniki killed Kyrie and the others?!  Or am I supposed to suspect Hideyoshi nii-san?!  It's impossible...unthinkable!!"

"I've never even considered suspectin' Krauss nii-san or Rudolf-kun...!!  All of the siblings had excellent relationships with their spouses!  True, the Ushiromiya family may be strict with discipline and money.  But that doesn't mean we treasure our own families less than any other family...!"

"Yes, of course I believe that.  I wouldn't dream that any of you would kill your own wives."
Erika had already received red truth proof from Battler that they were not the murderers.  So, there was no need to argue that point...

Krauss, Rudolf, Hideyoshi...and Gohda.  ......None of those four was the killer.

.........And yet, .........Erika said this:
"However, ......what about Gohda-san?  He was in the waiting room the whole time during the family conference, in a position from where he could do anything without anyone knowing."
"Isn't it a little early to suspect Gohda-san?!  Gohda-san came to bring us drinks in the dining hall during the break.  ......He was with us for quite some time.  I can't imagine he had the time to kill six people...!"

"......However, he might have been able to let the actual killer into the mansion."
"Precisely.  ......Gohda-san probably didn't kill them himself.  However, it's very possible that he secretly welcomed the actual murderer into the mansion."
Rudolf and Hideyoshi, stunned, looked at each other.

They were family.  Even a wife of the siblings would be considered family.  ......Though the siblings hated each other, it wasn't possible that they'd hate each other's wives enough to kill them.

Eva and Rosa were two of the siblings, but none of the others could have had any reason to kill Natsuhi, Kyrie, Battler, or the young Maria...
But......to a servant like Gohda......perhaps everyone was little more than a complete stranger.........
"I suspect the servants on two points.  First, the victims are familiar with them, and there were no signs of a fight in any of the crime scenes.  I think you know well that there was no disturbance at any of those places."

"......I thought that too.  ......Figured Kyrie was used to fights enough that she wouldn't get killed that easily, without resisting.  That woman wouldn't hesitate to bite your finger off...  It does make more sense if the culprit was someone she knew, who suddenly attacked when her guard was down..."

"C, come to think of it, same goes for my Eva...  She knows a dozen kinds of martial arts.  She spends every day practically wishin' for some ruffian to attack her.  She wouldn't have been killed off so easily...!"

".........Then what about Rosa-san, in the parlor?  Do you think she would be easily killed by a stranger, without resisting, while she had her only daughter with her?  And this tells us something else that's important."

"Somethin' important...?"
".........The culprit isn't just one person, right...?"
"Y, ......you're right...  Both Rosa-san and Maria-chan were in the parlor.  If they hadn't both been killed at the same time, there would have been an uproar.  Since the culprit was able to do that, there can't be just one of them..."

"When it comes to Maria-chan, Rosa was like a quick-to-anger mother bear.  ......She wouldn't cower in fear, even if someone pointed a gun at her.  ......I see, so it had to have been people who wouldn't rouse Rosa's suspicion until the last second..."
"......Now we see that the idea of an unknown outsider sneaking onto the island is actually the less realistic.  The culprit is someone familiar with this island.  And there's more than one."
The culprit is someone familiar...and there's more than one.

Erika's reasoning......pointed clearly at the ones they should suspect and guard themselves against.
"......So, ......are you suspecting the servants......?"
"Yes.  Under the current circumstances, they are the most suspicious.  ......The second reason to suspect them is the closed rooms with the chain locks."

"Why do the chain locks make them suspicious?"
"......What if there was no chain lock on the closed rooms?"

"Then it wouldn't be a closed room.  With a single master key, anyone could make them."
"......Yes, ...I see...  ......The servants had to seal them with the chains so that they wouldn't be suspected..."
"Exactly.  ......By setting the chain, they don't have to worry about being suspected.  ...To turn it around, if the chains weren't set, they wouldn't be able to avoid suspicion since they hold the master keys."
"So, ......the only ones with somethin' to gain from settin' the chains......are the servants......"

"I'm not trying to protect them or anything, ......but if so, how did they actually set the chains?!  Is it possible to set them from the outside?!"
"Considering how they are built, I don't think that would be impossible.  ......Have you heard this story?  Apparently, some mailmen who deliver to apartment mailboxes are known to carry loops of wire with them."

"Yeah, ......I've heard of that.  Apartment mailboxes often have similar adjoinin' boxes around them for the nearby room numbers.  I hear they would sometimes accidentally deliver letters to the next room over if they weren't careful."

"These mailboxes are almost always locked.  If you put the mail into the wrong one, you'd have no way of getting it out..."
......In that situation, they are supposed to tell the owner of that mailbox about their mistake, have that person unlock the mailbox for them, and retrieve the improperly delivered mail.
However, the resident of that apartment would often be out.  And going through that process would be a real pain.

Because of that, some mailmen would make a little tool out of wire with a loop at the end, and use that to fish the mistakenly placed postcard out through the crack of the mailbox...
"......I've heard something similar from a friend of mine at a building management company.  ......It seems they'd sometimes get drunks who locked themselves in the bathroom and fell asleep, so to get them out of there, they would stick a thin, metal tool through the crack in the door and undo the latch..."

"Exactly.  All industries have little tools that can easily open things that normally can't be opened.  ......It wouldn't be particularly surprising if the servants of a mansion had something of the sort."

"............G......good point..."
"......Once you figured out the knack of it, you probably could set the chain from the outside by using a wire.  .........Yes......we can't be sure that it's impossible..."
......True, physically speaking, one couldn't say for sure that there existed absolutely no way to set and unset chain locks from the outside.
Chain locks allow for the door to be opened a crack.

If you stuck something through that crack, ......you should be able to manage it easily...  ......It was very natural for them to think that.
However, Erika knew better.

Though it might be possible in reality, ......the red truth had already declared that these closed rooms could not have been constructed from the outside.  In other words, it was impossible to manipulate the chain lock from the outside.
And yet.  ......Erika was guiding their thoughts with the illusion that only the servants could have constructed the closed rooms...
With an air of solemnly revealing some vital point, ......she steadily steered the situation in the direction she wanted.

Everything about her serious face for the last few minutes......was an act.
No, to put it in her words, it was a detective technique for tricking suspects......
"I plan to tell Krauss-san what I've told you.  ......I'm not saying that all the servants are culprits.  However, it is very likely that one of them is a culprit or has been assisting the culprit.  ......We should split them apart and have people with guns keep an eye on them."

Rudolf and Hideyoshi looked at each other again.

......What she was saying made sense, and it sounded as though she was calmly smoking out the most suspicious people at this point in time.
With her accomplished conversation techniques, Erika was skillfully grasping the initiative.  ......Even without the detective's authority, it is possible to control human nature to this degree.

What do you think, everyone......?
"......So, how is it, playing on the witch's side?"

"It feels strange.  .........I used to think that the witch's side had such a huge advantage.  But now that I'm on that side, I see that that's ridiculous.  It's almost like that game where you stick knives in a barrel and try not to stab the mustache guy inside."
From the perspective of the human side, it feels like trying to shoot at a target hidden by mist.

But from the witch's side, a random shot might become fatal.
"......The old 'me' played games like that all the time."

"Yeah, it's almost like Russian Roulette.  ......Even so, you believed that I would eventually notice, and stretched those games out to the limit."

"......It may be impudent of me to ask, ......but just what is it that you noticed, Battler-san?  At the very end of your games with the old 'me'..."

It was a strange question.

Even though, in the past, Beato had always been the one posing it to Battler...
Now that Battler had figured it out, Beato was the one asking him about it...
"......It's the exact opposite.  ......In the past, only you remembered, ......and only I forgot.  But this time, it's the other way around.  Only I remember, ......and only you have forgotten."
"Would you mind telling me what it is...?"
".........Telling you would be...easy.  ......But I don't want to tell you.  I'm not trying to be mean.  ......I just want...to believe in a miracle for a bit myself."

"............A miracle...?"
Yes, this was the single miracle seed that Battler had left behind.

......If Beato could remember a certain something without being told, ......that would prove that Beato had truly revived.
So he wouldn't tell her.

......It was Battler's final seed...which existed because he still couldn't abandon his hopes that Beato would revive.
"If you can't tell me, then I won't ask.  ......If I have displeased you, please forgive me..."

"Don't worry about it.  I'm just stubborn.  ............"
As she watched that sad smile, Beato's chest tightened.

......He was looking at her...and seeing the old her.
Yes......I must become my former self...for his sake.
My older sister who gets burned by spiderwebs, and I who don't, must become one.
......Surely, it's more useful to him if I go on a journey to find myself now......than if I simply watch over his game.

"How do you feel about this game?  ......Do you think you can win?"
"I intend to win.  I'll win......and end this eternal torture, just like Beato wanted."

"When it ends.........what will happen to the world...?"

"Who knows.  ......I wonder.  ...However, that is what we wished for.  ......So, no matter what the result is, I'll accept it."

".........What will happen to me...?"
Beato was...uncertain.

Even she was probably no more than a piece in this game.

......If the game ended, then would she, one who had been born out of that game's rules, ......disappear...?
"The game will probably disappear.  ......But now, I completely understand magic.  ......So, I'll be able to carry you off the game board.  ......I think that was your wish."

"My...wish...?"

"...............The rest is a secret.  ......I'll be waiting for the miracle......for you to remember all of that by yourself."

After smiling bitterly for just a second, Battler laughed and told her not to worry.

Apparently, it was best if she avoided talking to Battler about her previous self...

"......Well then, I'll go check on my opponent for a bit.  ...I can't wait to see what kind of twisted logic that idiot thinks up next."

"The old Battler-san did a lot of that too.  ......My favorite was the one from the first twilight of the 2nd game, when you said the culprit killed everyone by feeding them small bombs."

"Aaaaahhh, the highlights of my dark past...  Please forget that ever happened..."

"Yes, I will try."
Battler became a cloud of gold butterflies and disappeared into the darkness.

Beato kept bowing until he disappeared completely......
To fill in his place, a single gold butterfly appeared......and became Beatrice the Elder.
"......Did you call me, little sister?"
"Yes.  .........I want to know more about you.  And......I want to know what the real me is like.  I want to become like that."

"Of course, I also want to know about my future self.  ......Didn't we reveal everything about ourselves to each other for that purpose?  ......However, we did not become one.  I cannot understand what we must do to become our single self."

"............What can we do to become one......?"

"I have high hopes for the trials of Zepar and Furfur."
"You mean the miracle of magic given to the victors?"

"I wonder if that magical miracle means becoming one.  ......I will find my true form.  You will fulfill Battler's wishes.  Battler will also be happy, and all of us will suddenly have what we want."

"......This is a trial, right...?"
"It means we cannot lose to the other two pairs."
"......George-san and Shannon-san, Jessica-san and Kanon-san.  ......I can only grasp happiness......by trampling over them..."
"The conditions apply to all of us.  ......If one of the others succeeds in love, the other two groups, including you, will be trampled over."

"......Why must the scales be so tilted, I wonder?"
"Tilted?"

"Some people will find love, others won't.  ......In that case, you can put those two groups on a scale.  However, the scales for our trial have three plates, and two must lose for one to win.  That seems horribly tilted..."
"Who knows?  It might mean that successful love is worth two destroyed loves.  ......You're too insecure, little sister.  If you can't put your desire to answer to Battler's expectations before your uncertainty of what happens to the losers, you won't be able to win anything."

".........You're right.  ......I won't give up our victory.  ......I don't like doing this to the others, ......but there will be no hard feelings between us and them."
If I do lose...

......I'll give my strongest blessings to whichever of the lovers wins.

So, I'll fight with all my heart and soul, ......so that I have no lingering regrets......and I'll win that miracle of magic.

"How was it?  How did the red and blue shootout over the first twilight go?"
"We started by testing the waters.  Battler seemed pretty eager too."

She had just come back from a fierce fight with Battler, where she had gathered information by making demands for the red text.

It was the old, familiar kind of fight, reminiscent of the time that the red text had first appeared, or that the blue text had first been permitted...
"And the result...?"
"First, in all cases, it was the victims themselves that constructed the closed rooms.  Also, those closed rooms were perfectly preserved until Krauss's group broke them open.  Also, I confirmed that during that period, all sorts of interference from the outside were impossible."
Erika reported this proudly as though it had been a great battle, but Bernkastel looked bored as she listened.

After looking at her blankly for a second, Lambdadelta spoke her opinions frankly.
".........Wait a second.  Doesn't that mean this closed room murder was perfect?"

"Wha......uh......"
The victims had sealed the closed rooms themselves.

And, that had been preserved until Krauss and the others had broken the closed rooms open.
And, no one had been inside the closed rooms except for the victims.
And, Krauss's group, the ones who had broken the room open, were not the culprits......

......In this way, she had managed to win several little red truths like these.
Normally, simply collecting such vital information would have been enough.

However, the master witch, tired with boredom, ......had expected a much more flashy, argument-winning victory instead of this bland result.
"H, however, ......This time, I don't have the detective's authority, so there's a chance I messed up when examining the corpses.  S, so, if we suppose that a drug which mimics death was used to fool my examination, umm..."
"You mean Purupurupikopuyo?"

"N, no, not that...!  It's not impossible for certain well-known drugs, such as insulin, to bring about a temporary state that mimics death.  ......Battler did not counter that with the red truth.  In other words, my blue truth worked...!  I...I think we've started with a victory."
To sum up Erika's report, all she had done was listen to the red truths Battler had wanted her to hear.

Only the information Battler had wanted out had been shown, and she hadn't been able to strike at any weak points.

She was like a kid who had gone out shopping, then forgotten her job and only bought candy...
.........However, this was all the players on the human side could do.
Without the detective proclamation, she could only fight by collecting dull bits of information like that.

......However, her master had been expecting more than that sort of dull fight...
So, ......she had tried to give her report energetically, ......to make it seem as though they were in a superior position...

But no matter how much she tried, the cold expression of her master remained merciless...
"......Your blue truth worked...?  If he didn't cut it down, it's probably just because it was too stupid.  ......You call yourself a great detective with reasoning like that..."

"I...I did try to examine the corpses with care, to the best of my abilities...  ......However, I don't have the detective's authority, ......so we can't be certain..."

"Wait a second, weren't you the one who decided not to make the detective proclamation?  Didn't you say you wanted to raise the stakes to make up for your disgrace last time?"

"......W, ......well............"

"What's wrong?  ......Are you saying you can't win against Battler without the detective's authority......?"

"Th, ......that's not true, my master.  ...I...I could easily defeat an incompetent like that, even without the detective's authority...  ......It's just......this style of fighting is a little different from what I'm used to, and I haven't gotten the hang of it yet......"
Personally, Erika was the sort of human who held a very large advantage.

Her knowledge and powers of memory and insight were ahead of the pack, and most likely, no human could be more suitable for the role of detective than her.
However, no matter how much of an advantage she might have over other people...
......That didn't matter in the witch's game.
In the witch's game, it's either 0 or 100.
In other words, everything is either the red truth, or it isn't.

If a normal human was worth a 10, her exceptional power would probably rate a 99.  ......However, it could never be 100.
Since it wasn't 100, it couldn't be absolutely certain.
So it didn't count as red truth.
For example, ......the examination of the corpses that Erika had worried over in the fight just now.

If she had performed it with the detective's authority, she could have said with 100% certainty whether they were alive or dead.

However, without the detective proclamation, it was 99%.  ......There was a 1% chance that she made a mistake, and that overturned the foundation of the examination.
Erika had gained the detective's authority and become the Witch of Truth because Bernkastel had supplemented her talent of 99 with an additional 1...
Just because Bernkastel wouldn't give her that one, ......in the world of witches, Erika's 99 was treated exactly the same as zero...
Even her great assistant Dlanor couldn't be fully used without a power of 100.

When working under an Erika who had lost the detective's authority, Dlanor's red longsword lost its power.
Dlanor was also irritated that she couldn't provide full assistance...

......She had tried several times to convince Erika to use the detective proclamation, but Erika had stubbornly refused each time...
"Why not just do it?  Make that detective proclamation.  If you do, you'll be unstoppable.  Dlanor could even use her red longsword and the Knox Decalogue."

".........Why not do it...if you want......?"
"N......no."
There was no need for anyone to explain...

By now, it was clear that Erika hadn't abandoned the detective proclamation by her own will.
"......When Battler reached the truth in the previous game, ......this game was already finished.  This isn't really the 6th game.  ......It's a finale game so that Battler can have a chance to serve as Game Master at the end.  It was already decided last game."

"Yeah, pretty much.  The games won't continue forever, and I've lost my bet with Bern.  .........In this game, Battler will prove that he's reached the game's truth, and then Beato's game will be destroyed in a big victory for the human side.  And a big victory for Bern too.  ......Well, supposedly, but you look unsatisfied for some reason."

"............Yeah, I'm not satisfied.  I didn't want such a boring victory."

"The victory you did want had Beato's game board being torn to bits and Beato's true, pathetic form exposed, humiliated, and trampled on.  ......But this victory of Battler's isn't quite like that, is it...?"
"......All this about love......and promises.  ......To end the game quietly and let her sleep in peace?  ......That sort of ending would make anyone vomit."
"I didn't give Battler all that advice so that he could end things like that.  ......I had his little sister turned to scrap meat behind his back.  I had his parents and family killed horribly over and over again.  That was all to spark a desire for revenge against Beato."
"And now.........what kind of ending is this...?  Have I won?  Of course not!  ......Battler's gotten his hands on a victory that neither you nor I can stand.  ...I had to withstand a staggering period of boredom just to come all the way out to this territory, just so that I could see Beatrice lamely and pathetically torn to bits.  I didn't come here to sip from a rotten yogurt Fragment like this!"

"Aw, your angry face is wonderful too, Bern.  ......I see, so this is why you wanted to straighten things out for yourself at least once at the end."

"It's all the fault of this moron piece screwing up all the time in the last game!  Because of you, this game board that looked like it'd be entertaining for many thousand years...is all...wasted...!!  Filth, trash, scum!!"
"...M, ......my apologies, ...my master......  ......I will definitely...bring you a victory, ......so please forgive me......"

"If you couldn't win with the detective's authority in the last game, how do you expect to defeat Battler now that he's the Game Master...?  You don't have a chance at winning even with the detective's authority.  ......So why bother with it?"

"I......uh......"

"True, if you can't win anyway, then the detective proclamation isn't necessary.  The lack will just make your loss all the more certain."

"And therefore, if you manage to win in this even worse situation, ......that would be a miracle worthy of me.  If and only if you can do that, I'll be able to forgive you."
"Y, yes.  ......I will surely...show you that miracle...!"

"Like hell you can, scum."
"All you can do is thoroughly expose your wretched self in a horrible punishment game, with your only weapon taken away from you...and even through it all, you'll still roll over playfully and beg to keep me entertained, scum."

"......uu..."
"......Sounds fun.  Am I getting in the way?"
Gold butterflies gathered in the darkness and took the shape of Battler.

Though he had just arrived, he seemed to know that the mood was dark.

"......Ah, Battler.  I had a look at your first twilight.  Quite impressive closed rooms.  I'm sure you're more talented than Beato."

"It's just a rehash of the closed rooms Beato made in the past.  I'll take that to be a compliment for Beato."

"It seems your fight with Erika wasn't bad either.  Think your serial murders will move along smoothly?"

"......Who knows?  My role isn't to carry out serial murders.  It's to use that process to show you closed rooms that are impossible without magic, and thereby achieve victory for the witch side and prove that I have fully understood this game.  ......No, there's one more thing."

"What......?"

"To settle things with Erika, after that evenly matched duel we acted out last time."
"......Battler......"
"Even...ly...matched...?"

Bernkastel noticeably grimaced.
Erika averted her eyes and hung her head, timidly...

"I know what you're thinking.  That wasn't a draw, we should have won easily so it counts as a loss."

"Hey, it's not polite to eavesdrop."
"......Look at a mirror.  It's written all over your faces."

"No way...!  Where?!  Hey, what's going on?!  If you tell me it's written in ink only morons can't see, then death, death, super death for you!!"
Lambdadelta pulled a mirror out of thin air, then looked at it and jumped around angrily.  She was apparently pretending to be stupid in her own, special way.

".........Erika."
"Wh, ......what is it?"

"That last, fierce attack you and Dlanor made in the last game...was spectacular."
"......Th, .........thanks."

"What happened to Dlanor this time?  Are you by yourself?"
".........NO.  ......I have been waiting HERE."
Dlanor had been just standing around in reserve, hiding her presence in the dark shadows...
"Well, when she can't use her red longsword, Dlanor is just useless scum.  There's no point having her around, so she's hanging back."

".........All I can do now is record Lady Erika's REASONING."
"Why won't you fight with her?  Why can't you use that red longsword?  ......Erika's reasoning...and your longsword.  Those were strong because they worked together."

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


Dlanor didn't answer.  She just glanced slightly at Bernkastel's expression.

......However, that glance was the same as a clear answer for Battler now.
Battler fully realized the situation......
"You.  You're the one who told Erika not to use the detective proclamation."

"......Oho, I don't know what you're talking about."

"This fight is between me and Erika.  .........We're going to fight with all we've got.  That way, we'll be able to accept it whether we win or lose.  There's no need for a mastermind behind the scenes like you."

"......Come now, I'm no mastermind.  I'm just a theatergoer trying to relieve her boredom."

"A theatergoer is someone who sits quietly in the stands and watches.  That's not what we call someone who jeers at the stage and threatens or manipulates the performers."

"Sorry for being an ill-mannered audience.  ......You might not know it, but I've already paid a huge admission fee to watch this play.  Sorry, but I intend to enjoy it until I get my money's worth."

"If you get in the way of the game's progression, I can use my authority as the Game Master to boot you out of this game."
"If you want to, go ahead.  If you chase me out, then I'll head back with my piece, Erika.  This game will be cancelled, and you won't be able to prove that you've reached the truth.  ......A theatergoer is an observer.  A truth with no observers is the same as an illusion.  ......You need a theatergoer as a witness until Beato's game ends."

"......Our truth only needs to pass between the two of us!  If you get in the way any further, I will boot you out by force.  ......Then you can writhe around in boredom for a few centuries until you find another way to kill time."

"Then why don't I?!  Erika, this game is over!  Good work.  ......You were completely useless.  You weren't able to overturn the dishonor of your loss, so as promised, I'll throw you into the worst Fragment, I'll toss you into the depths of oblivion with the empty popcorn buckets!!"
"M, ......my master...!  I will...I will win...I'll win no matter what...!!  So please, ......let me fight Battler until the end...!!  I don't......want to lose...and get thrown in the d...depths of oblivion............*hic*......*hic*......"
"......You know I want to watch until the end, right?  ......But Battler says he'll toss me out.  Hey, what'll you do, Lambda?!"

"Well, ...I realize you've been irritated since the last game, Bern, but calm down a bit.  ......And Battler, don't provoke Bern so much.  This kid can't control her emotions sometimes."

"Shut up...  Who can't control her emotions...?!"
Bernkastel, who, at one point in time, never showed any expressions at all, was now twisting her face into all kinds of displeased and ugly shapes.
When Lambdadelta made fun of that, Bernkastel clicked her tongue and looked away.

As they say, nothing can stop poison but poison.  ......Apparently, Lambdadelta was the only one who could rein Bernkastel in.

"......Erika, you want to fight Battler, clear your name, and get Bern back into a good mood, right?"
"Y, ......yes..."

"Battler, you want to quickly and neatly end this 'final game' so that you can prove that you've found the truth, right?"
"......Yeah.  This is a face-off between me and Erika.  I won't let anyone get in my way, but I won't let anyone get in Erika's way either."
"...B, .........Battler........."

"If both of them wish to fight, then that should be respected.  ......Leave Bern to me.  I'm the only one in the world who can calm that kid when she gets into a bad mood."
"......You're the same sort as her, ......but at least you can be reasonable."

"..................You shouldn't underestimate me.  I just like seeing Bern grimace.  That's why I've taken a liking to this game of yours.  ......If you think I'm easy to handle, you're apt to get burned, okay...?"

".........Hmph."
"Dlanor can't use her red longsword because the detective proclamation hasn't been made.  If Erika makes that, she'll regain her power right away.  Right?"
"......YES.  When that happens, forgive ME."
"Erika."

"What...?"
"Make the detective proclamation."
"..................No."
"Do you really think you can beat me as I am now without the detective's authority?"
"......I...I can win......"
"......Lord BATTLER.  ...Lady Erika is herself a PIECE.  She cannot disobey her master's orders.  All she can do is gather the power she has...and fight for SURVIVAL."

"And Dlanor, your power can't be used at all without the detective proclamation?"

".........I need permission before unsheathing the 'red KEY'.  One form of that permission is the detective PROCLAMATION."

"Are there ways of getting that permission besides the detective proclamation?"
"Wh, ......what are you saying...?!  I, if you're doing this out of pity for me, that's none of your business!"

"Quiet.  You're so flimsy by yourself that it's boring.  Be quiet, detective who isn't a detective."

"......Gah......"
"The 'red key' is extremely close to the red TRUTH.  ......If and only if I am given a 'truth', I am permitted to draw my sword for items that pertain to IT."

"What do you mean by a 'truth'...?"
".....................For example, ......there are Lady Erika's duct tape SEALS."
"Ah, ......those."
"Lady Bernkastel has already acknowledged that those seals are equivalent in value to the red TRUTH.  Therefore, I am permitted to draw the red key only for truths pertaining to those SEALS."

"Those caused me a lot of trouble last time, so I had all the sticky duct tape removed from the game board this time around."
"......A splendid MOVE."

".........Erika was proud to be able to call herself the detective, wasn't she?"
"YES...  ......Though her only goal was to irresponsibly solve riddles, ......it was a matter of pride for HER."

"Then, she must really be suffering now that she can't make that proclamation."
".........Only she could tell you THAT."

".................."
Battler took a deep breath, then hung his head in thought for a time.

......Erika was his enemy, but she was the player on the human side, and without her, there would be no game.
It had been the same way with the old Beato.

Battler had one-sidedly viewed Beato as the enemy.  However, though Beato had thought of him as the opposing player, she hadn't personally considered him an enemy.
......In accordance with the rules, I must fight my rival ruthlessly.

However, that doesn't mean I need to hate Erika herself.
..................

......I won't misunderstand・・・・・・ Beato's game.
"Erika.  It's up to you whether you make the detective proclamation.  In that case, go and fight just with your power as a human."

"I've been prepared to do that from the beginning...!"

"However, you have talented allies.  ......Dlanor, ......Gertrude, and Cornelia.  You aren't alone.  You have allies."

"Yeah, but they're unreliable, powerless, and useless scum."

"Dlanor.  ......Just like I was supported by Virgilia and Ronove in the past, Erika needs support as well.  I know from repeated experience that playing for the human side is tough."
"......YES.  I will assist her with all the power I POSSESS."

"Understood."
"Know that it is our job."
"Hmph.  And you can't even use the red truth!"

"Erika.  ......I will give power, not to you, but to your allies."

"Huh?!  Wh, what do you think you're doing...?!  I'd rather die than receive your pity!!"

"Three people: Dlanor, Gertrude, and Cornelia.  ......Erika.  I'll let you use three rooms' worth of those duct tape seals."
To fully seal one room, multiple seals are needed to cover all the doors and windows.
If he had just said three seals, it would only be able to fully seal up one room at best.

So, Battler was generous and measured them by room instead of by seal...
"......Lord BATTLER......"

"As the Game Master, I also acknowledge that these seals have the same effect as the red truth.  ......This way, you'll also be able to wield that red longsword in a fight surrounding those.  Right...?"

"......YES...  ......But...are you CERTAIN?"

"Winning against Erika when she's less than a detective is hardly a victory.  If Erika's upping the stakes, then I should have the right to do the same."
"Whew, what a man!  Aren't you lucky, Erika?!  Now you can use a bit of red without making the detective proclamation and irritating your master."

".........Y, ...you'll regret this...  ......I'll use these three seals......and kill you...no matter what......!"

"Sounds great.  Come and kill me."
"......Gah...nnnn..."
Though it was only for three rooms, it was a red truth that Erika would have killed for.

Now, she finally had enough leeway to fight as she pleased.

......She ground her teeth at being pitied by Battler, but her tears were not those of shame.
"......UNDERSTOOD.  Three rooms' worth of duct tape seals, ACCEPTED.  ......Regarding this matter...should we consider them as being accepted retroactively, back when Lady Erika received the non-sticky duct tape from <Mrs> Kumasawa?"
Erika had borrowed duct tape from Kumasawa to make seals with.
However, Battler had made it so that those were not sticky...

If he made it so that there never was any problem with the stickiness of that duct tape, the transition could be made smoothly.

"Sure, that's fine.  ......I'll rewrite the tale.  ......The duct tape that Erika received from Kumasawa-san late at night on the first day was sticky, but there was only enough left to use on three rooms.  ......I'll apply that from here on out."

"UNDERSTOOD.  ......Lady Erika will also retroactively adjust her movements, starting before the discovery of the first twilight, and taking into account that the application of this privilege is now POSSIBLE.  ......As soon as these changes affect the progression of the game, they will be reported to the Game MASTER."

"......Letting you do it retroactively, even though you know which rooms the crime will occur in...  ...That gives you a pretty big advantage.  You won't have to waste tape on other rooms."
"It seems you've grown quite arrogant since becoming Game Master.  Isn't it fun to give out charity to your pathetic opponents?"
"Quiet.  And don't misunderstand.  .....I'm not being arrogant or easy on her.  .........Erika, use this weapon and come at me with all you've got.  Then I will crush you with all I've got.  So, hold your head up high and use those three.  That is all."
Battler made to leave the room with a flick of his cape.
As he did, he thought he heard Erika let out a strained voice calling him to a stop.
"..................What is it?"

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

"If you have no business with me, I'm going.  Make sure you talk with Dlanor.  Don't listen to those obnoxious witches, whatever they tell you.  As long as I'm on this game board, I won't let them do whatever they please."

"......Th......thank you...uu......"
"............"

"...Thank you......  ......I'll...fight with all I've got...  I'll come at you with all my strength......so...I'll defeat you no matter what...  ......So, ...if you do win against me......please crush me with all your strength.  *hic*......  ......Please......don't leave...a scrap behind......  ......*hic*......!"

"..................Understood.  ...And don't you go easy on me.  ......This is the final game.  I'm playing to prove to Beato that I've reached the truth.  ......By now, who wins and who loses doesn't affect that goal.  So, I just want to accept you as a rival and settle this.  .........In the game, let us suspect each other over everything as enemies.  But as fellow players, let's trust each other.  ......That's how this game is supposed to be played."

"......Yes.........Thank you...  ...Thank you......uuuuuu......"
Battler went into the darkness, became a cloud of gold butterflies, and vanished...
Erika remained behind, sobbing......

......Uuuuu......*hic*......

Just kidding☆

"Dang you're dim, stupid man.  ......You totally fell for it and gave me the tape...
......I...Furudo Erika.........have duct tape...!!"
It was hard to imagine that the person who had been sobbing pathetically and this person now were the same.  ......That's how vile her face contorted to be...

The two witches were also cackling with ugly smiles...
"I so understand.  When you become Game Master, it feels like you've become God and you get all sure of yourse~lf."

".........It was the same for you, Lambda.  ......You lost because of a stupid mistake with walking corpses.  ......Stupid Game Masters, stupid mistakes, stupid pride, stupid losses, stupid Battler, stupid everything.  *giggle*giggle*giggle*giggle*!!"

"Stupid losses, stupid Battler, stupid everything.  Ahahahahaha, has a nice ring to it.  Nice one, my master.  *giggle*giggle*!  Stupid Battler, stupid everything, stupid Battler, stupid everything."

"If that stupid Battler really thinks Erika's at a disadvantage, then I really pity him.  ......A detective proclamation isn't what you need to kill a moron."

"Death by falling on a piece of tofu?"
"It'd have to be soft tofu too."

"Add some gochujang chili paste and you've got a snack that'd go great with some wine.  *giggle*giggle*giggle*!"
The three giggled together...
It had all been an act to get the duct tape for the seals from Battler...

Even though the duct tape that had tormented him so much in the last game had become unusable in this one, ......he had fallen for Erika's act, ......and she had gotten what she wanted, though just three rooms' worth.
The illusion that Erika had an overwhelming disadvantage was just an act.

......A trap to trick Battler and make him hand over the duct tape.
"With this, I can kill Battler perfectly...!  I figured out those pathetic closed rooms long ago...!  A perfect closed room?  Dumbaaaaaaaaaaaaass!!  I'll show you a real perfect closed room!  And I could almost cry for joy at the fact that you gave me the weapon that will finish you...!  My master, Lady Lambdadelta...!  Thank you so much for going along with this act!"

"It was fun.  No need to thank me."
"......Plus it wasn't an act.  *giggle*giggle*"
Bernkastel had probably said something disturbing, but in her good mood, Erika didn't care a bit.

That pudding-for-brains moron, thinking he's done something so noble!
I'll make you regret it, kuhihihi!!
"Alright!  Let's use these seals at our leisure...!  You did great too, Dlanor.  It seems that Battler trusts you, so he believed every word you said."

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

"Don't tell me you've hurt your conscience.  You little murder doll."
".........NO."

Dlanor looked at Erika in a slightly lonely way.
......Then, after shaking her head slightly, her gaze turned hard, and she looked at the darkness Battler had disappeared into.
"......He should have known that this was a no-holds-barred FIGHT...  ......How foolish, Lord BATTLER.  This is, without a doubt, the result of your PRIDE."

.........<Mr> Battler, ...this will be FATAL......
"So far so good, Furfur?!"

"Yeah, all of the lovers clearly possess a strong will!"

""This is a victory for love...!  That, we shall extol!!""
......Everyone had gotten used to these two overdramatic demons.

George spoke quietly with an annoyed expression.
"We'll only extol that after we've passed your trial and someone has been given the miracle of magic."

"I agree...  ......We've all passed the first trial.  What's next?  ...I won't hold back anymore...  I'll do whatever it takes..."
"......Yes.  We won't lose."

"We won't lose either."
"Yeah.  ......And of course, the same goes for Battler-kun's group."
".........Of course.  I doubt anyone here is so naive that they hope to win by having the others forfeit."

"Right...  ......Anyone weak enough to drop out would have no right to be here right now."
Even Beato, who seemed to be the shakiest one of the six, was strongly determined.

The two demons nodded, taking note of the six's continued resolve.
"So, what's the next trial?  Don't tell me you still haven't decided..."

"Well, we thought at least some of you would drop out."
"We didn't think that you all would remain.  This is a happy miraculous miscalculation due to love!"

"Shut up.  ......So?  Are we going to play musical chairs or something to make sure someone drops out?"

""Yes, precisely that!""

"We've decided to have this trial eliminate one group no matter what!"
"This trial is the second twilight of the epitaph-"

""'Tear apart the two who are close!!'  Ahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!""

"......I don't understand."
"Zepar-sama, Furfur-sama......what sort of trial is this?  ......Do you mean we're going to kill each other...?"

"That'd settle things quickly."
"Though it's not exactly civilized."
"Love is carnivorous."
"......We can't all just find happiness together......can we..."

"This is what they call a zero sum game.  It's an economic word, but maybe you've heard of it...?"
"N, ...no, my apologies......"
"Zero sum game.  It's where victory and losses all cancel out to end up with zero.  ......In order for someone to win, someone else must be forced to lose.  ......It's the ruthless way of this world."

".........Heh.  ......If only everyone could be happy.  ......But there's no way an ideal world like that could exist."
"No, there is!"

"That is the Golden Land!"
"......The Golden Land...?  What are you talking about......?"

"......That's right.  If you reach the Golden Land, ......all love will be satisfied.  ......However, like heaven and hell, that's not a place in this world."
"I wouldn't want that.  ......Love has meaning because we find it in this world.  I could never support a sad lovers' double suicide, where they are only united after death.  ......I'll stick to my love in life.  I won't lose to anyone."

"......George-san..."
The door to the Golden Land can be opened by solving the epitaph's riddle......

That is a place where love and lives are all whole and can be revived......

"We're straying from the point.  ......Let's hear about the second trial now."
"Right.  ......What're you trying to make us do with this 'tear apart the two who are close' thing...?"

"It is quite simple!"
"The only possible way to tear apart two lovers is by the sad farewell of death!"

"The second trial involves killing one of the six!"
"Of course, any lover with their partner killed is disqualified."

"In short, one group of lovers must fail during this trial!"
"......You say kill so simply.  ......What are we supposed to do?"

"You can just fight to the death-"
"Or you can decide by a lottery of some sort."
"Like hell we'd choose by drawing lots.  Let's have a fair and square duel."

"......Though if we do that, I imagine that Battler-kun, the Game Master, and Beatrice, who is the Golden Witch even though her memory is gone, ......will have a substantial advantage."
"Ah, ......w, ......well, I wonder about that..."

"Don't worry!  For this trial, we have made everyone's powers equal."

"Even the Game Master, Lord BATTLER, is taking this trial on an even footing with everyone else."

"In that case, ......it's fair......"
"Is it completely and purely on an even footing?"

""Yes, it's perfectly even!  In a one on one matchup, victory would be decided by luck!""

"It's perfectly even-"
"So it'll probably take some time before it's settled."

"So, is the trick to attack when you're in a superior position, I wonder?"
"Duels that take time are, of course, wonderful!"
"Why would anyone leave it up to luck?  ......Of course we want to fight in a situation to our advantage."

"......In that case, ......a three-way struggle...?  ......Won't that mean we're stuck...?"

Beato was the first to notice.
If the six people were truly on an even footing and wanted to fight so that they could win, they would have to pair up and concentrate their attacks on a single person.
If that happened, then the pair containing the member they were targeting would, of course, band together and resist.

In other words, it would never be two against one.
In that case, it would become two against two, and a matter of luck.

However, at this time, the third pair watching all this...could team up with whichever pair they liked with no risk to themselves, defeating the opposing pair with certainty...
"Sounds troublesome.  ......It means that it isn't to your advantage to move first."
If you advance and fight, it's a matter of luck.
If you sit and wait for the others to start fighting, it's certain victory.

......The fight would never begin in this situation...

"......Maybe we could just have everyone fight the person next to them one on one.  ......Then, as soon as one fight is settled, the trial will be over."

Unless everyone could abandon any naive hopes for a two on one fight, this trial would never begin and never end.

In that case, if they made a gentlemen's agreement and had everyone duel at once, it would be no different from drawing lots, ......but it would at least be even...

"That won't work.  If we do that, everyone will just defend instead of fighting proactively.  All they need to do is wait for someone to lose before they do."

Shannon's point was a sound one.

If both fighters just glared at each other without attacking, then neither would lose.
All they had to do was wait for someone other than themselves to lose first.

This brought them back to the starting point.  ......No one would fight proactively.

"In the end, no one will move, and nothing will be resolved..."
"......Since there's this arithmetical situation where we all have the same strength, ......it's almost like a puzzle."
"True.  ......It would have been an interesting duel if our strengths were unknown.  ......However, since we've been told that we're perfectly even, this duel is no different than rock, paper, scissors."

"......In that case, ......why not use rock, paper, scissors to decide it......?"

"Are you crazy...?!  I'm not gonna do that!  Even if someone does lose, there's no way they'd accept their loss!"
"......If they don't accept it, then they will be attacked by the four winners.  ......In the world where all are equal, the losers will have no chance of surviving..."

"True.  ......Well now.  Is rock, paper, scissors actually the most reasonable way to settle this?"

"It is extremely reasonable.  However, if you ask me whether I'd be reckless enough to entrust my fate to a random number generator, the answer is no."

"Please do consider that problem...!"
"This is the second trial we have for you!"

""Think, and fight to the death!  Please decide who the sacrifice will be!!""
".........Tr, ...true, it isn't unthinkable...  The servants are the most suspicious..."

"It isn't as though we have any physical evidence, so we can't tie them up and throw them in a closet.  So, we need to make sure that they are always within sight of those with guns, and that we keep an eye on them all the time."

"Aniki, we should also gather the master keys.  ......Only the servants could have created those closed rooms.  They must have done something with the chain locks using some tool or setup that only the servants know about."

"......They have all served us for a long time.  I can hardly imagine that they would commit murder..."
"Kinzo-san's life is nearly over, and I hear that the inheritance problem is still very shaky.  ......Add on that story about ten tons of gold being hidden somewhere.  A possible payoff like that might be enough to convince certain people to commit a crime..."

"I don't want to think about it, ......but there's also a chance that the old bastard is running some bizarre occult ceremony.  The servants of the One Wing are his pawns, and they might have been the ones to carry out the murders.  ......How about Dad, anyway?  Have we been able to contact him yet?"
"N, no...  The extension line isn't working either...  The culprits might have broken it.  ......And Father does sometimes leave the receiver off the hook when he's in a bad mood...  When I knocked, umm......I only received a grumpy reply...   ......We can't contact him, but that study is well protected.  It's probably safer there, so it might be best to have him stay there..."
Flustered, Krauss tried to explain away Kinzo's silence.

Battler, the Game Master, hadn't made 'Kinzo's death' a major theme for this game, so the conversation didn't progress any further at this point.

They stopped talking about Kinzo without Rudolf thinking anything was particularly suspicious.
"Anyways, we can't let the servants out of our sights.  I've already talked with Hideyoshi-san about this, but we've decided to split everyone into two rooms on the second floor and hole up in there."

"Why two rooms?  Wouldn't one room be more secure?"
"Well, if we tried to stick 12 people in one room, they'd suffocate.  Plus, I want to isolate the people we need to keep the closest eye on.  There's Genji-san, the head of the servants, Gohda-san, the largest one there, and though he's just a kid, Kanon-san is a boy."
"I think we need to pay those three special attention, Aniki.  This way, we can isolate that group, and you and I can keep a close eye on them.  With two guns, the pair of us could cooperate on a moment's notice.  If they make even a single suspicious move, *boom*!"

"......I understand.  Let's do that.  ......But Rudolf.  We can't be certain that they are the culprits.  Don't be too pushy."
".........You're telling me not to be pushy?  ...We must be getting old."
"Right now, Hideyoshi-san is upstairs, dividing everyone into the two rooms.  We'll gather the ones being isolated in the cousins' room, and the others will go into the next room over."

"Ah right, Aniki.  What about Jessica-chan...?  She insists on being in the same room as you."
"......Jessica..."

"We were planning to have five people in the cousins' room and seven in the next room over.  If Jessica-san wants to go to the cousins' room, it'll be split clean down the middle.  If this was a wolves and sheep puzzle, there are now three servant wolves and you two sheep in that room.  If you add in Jessica-san, it'll be balanced out."

For a while, Krauss crossed his arms and thought.

The cousins' room would surely be more dangerous, so he wanted his daughter to go into the next room over.
......However, in an emergency like this, he wanted to have his daughter where he could see her.
"Let's let her stay with us.  ......We might need her there to make sure we remain good dads and uncles."

"......Yes.  I am thinking logically now.  ......But I can't guarantee that my sadness at losing my wife won't change to anger..."

Even without any physical evidence, the servants are certainly the most suspicious.

During the long wait, the two men's weariness and anger and sadness might make them lose their reason and act out in anger...
After thinking deeply, Krauss decided to accept Jessica's request, in part to prevent this from happening...

"......I think that's a good idea.  I approve as well."
"I agree.  ......It's enough that only Rosa and I lose children..."

".........Rudolf......"
In this way, all of the survivors excepting Kinzo split into two groups and holed up in two rooms on the guesthouse's second floor.
One group was in the cousins' room.
Krauss, Rudolf, Jessica, Genji, Kanon, Gohda.
Six people.

One group was in the next room over.
Hideyoshi, George, Shannon, Kumasawa, Nanjo, Erika.
Six people here too.
Perhaps as the result of the killer's doing, the external phone line had been cut off, and they would have to wait for the ferryboat coming the next day before they could contact the police.

However, the weather report said that the typhoon would make the ocean rough all the next day.
......When that happens, the ferryboat takes the day off.
So, it would probably be two days before the boat came.

In other words, they would need to spend a full two nights holed up in here...
While Erika and the others held their planning meeting in the lounge, food and blankets had been brought in to prepare for the siege.
The sudden tragedy had everyone on edge, but it was already well after 2:00 at night.

If they really suspected the servants, then the observers couldn't afford to fall asleep at the same time.

Either Krauss or Rudolf should probably take a nap right away...
"......Not bad.  Even without the detective's authority, you've managed to control things very skillfully."

"A man who's lost his cool is no different from an emotional dog.  If you treat them properly, it's easy to control them."
One of the benefits of the detective's authority was being able to take charge of the situation.

Because of this, Erika, who was both a guest and a young girl, had been able to order a large number of adults around at will.
However, she didn't have that power this time.

......So, Erika had taken charge by making good use of her natural conversation skills and techniques for controlling men...
"The detective's authority is the same as magic.  ......You can't do anything that's impossible for you.  So, Erika was only acknowledged as such because she already had that much talent."

"......Magic is not something that is given to lazy or powerless humans."
"Right.  On the contrary, people who can hide their great efforts are the ones we call witches."

The absolute nature of the detective's authority can act as magic.

However, that convenient power probably hadn't been given to Erika easily.

......She probably needed her skills to be acknowledged.

Even if she isn't given a special power by the witch she serves, ......she's very competent on her own.

"But Erika, why did you split them into two rooms?  I'd thought you were going to gather everyone into one room."

"......I would have if I had the detective's authority.  This is a move to preserve my right to investigate at will."
"Ah, ......is that it?  ...I see.  Not bad."
Since Erika was being 'protected' as a guest, it was hard for her to move about freely.

In truth, she wanted to take some time and investigate the victims at the crime scenes at her leisure, without being interrupted by anyone.
She had already inspected the scenes once as she ran through the mansion, but that probably wasn't perfect.

However, they wouldn't have let a guest into the crime scenes, so she had had no other choice back then.
......She wanted some time