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YOU'RE BACK ON YOUR ASSHOLE GRANDPA'S PRIVATE ISLAND

Chapter Text

 

After so long a wait, welcome back to Rokkenjima. Put yourself at ease- there are no enemies here any longer, only old friends.

The Crimson Witch has come with a tale. She believes in your ability- your ability to 'solve', and to 'understand'. What you do with your understanding is up to you, she says- she only asks that you understand at all.

'Difficulty is what you make of it', says the Crimson Witch. You may take on whatever difficulty you like. Should you choose to battle, she will put up her best.

 

 

(BGM: Rose)

The displeasure radiating from the Endless Sorcerer, Battler Ushiromiya, was such that he needed two master butlers in his chamber to soothe him. Falling back on old habits, though, the human of the two, one Genji Ronoue, had poured him a glass of noxious green liquid, such that his grandfather Kinzo had enjoyed.

It was evident looking from the state of the room, and in particular the shattered glass on the floor, how much Battler enjoyed said glass. “Genji.” Battler said, gritting his teeth, rubbing his temples. “I know you served Grandfather for a long time.” Genji stood impassively, waiting to receive his master's rebuke.

“Indeed he did.” The devil butler, Ronove, twenty-seventh among the seventy-two demons of Solomon's Key, chuckled lightly at his human counterpart's mistake. Between the two of them, everyone admitted he had much better hair.

“And I know that this was his favorite thing to drink.” Battler said, sighing and crossing his arms, before deciding he didn't like that posture and leaning his head onto his fist instead. “I am well, well aware. And I'm not even mad.”

“...My apologies, Lord Battler.” Genji bowed. “I do not deserve your kindness.”

“But I think I would prefer a drink that was prepared for a human, and not a well-preserved corpse of a man like him.” Battler said. “Now, when I say that, just to be clear, I want to be as drunk as possible before I have to go back down there.”

The two butlers were all keenly aware of the situation of which Battler spoke. On Rokkenjima, this night, a calamity had struck. A great and terrible misfortune had befallen the Ushiromiya family and all supernaturally-related forces.

The master's wife, Beatrice-

-had thrown a party.

(BGM: Love Examination)

Yahooooooooooo!” The witch in question shrieked from the floor below. Last Battler had seen her, she was so inebriated that she had had Duke Dantalion remove one of his heads for her to parade around in like it was a party favor. Poor cousin George had been so frightened by it that he had had a heart attack. Then, because they were in the Golden Land, he had proceeded to regain use of his heart and then lose it again in short order. “Ohhhhh yeahhhhhhh! Who's your mommy noooow, Purson? Ihehahahyahahahehahahyaha!”

The chaos in the manor had long since become uncontrollable even for Genji and Ronove's incredible buttling capabilities. Beatrice had invited all of her friends. Were she a normal human, of course, that would mean nothing, but Beatrice the Golden was, after all, the Endless Witch, and she seemed to have every single one of the seventy-two demons of Solomon's Key on speed dial.

Sure, it was nice at first, since a few of them, Battler knew already. Ronove and Gaap were around quite frequently, Zepar and Furfur were a known quantity by now, and somehow or another, Asmodeus of the Seven Stakes of Purgatory held enough sway in the underworld to count (and how that had happened, Battler had no clue).

The first to arrive, Prince Vassago, was a lovely houseguest, having even helped the family set up beforehand. Once Duke Agares came in riding a crocodile, though, in short order, all hell broke loose. Even thinking about the situation gave Battler unfortunate flashbacks. Glasyalabolas's flesh melting across the floor, leaving a stench that would never get out! Naberius, made of shadow, somehow tangoing with Seere from within the walls, and knocking over every painting in the process! And that smug bastard Dantalion, oh, Battler didn't like him. Even more than the great lion man Marbas, who ate all of the meat, or Zepar and Furfur commentating over a jousting match between Eligor and Andras, or Shax, who stole all of Battler's savings and gave it to Doctor Nanjo, of all people, no, Dantalion was the worst, with his smug, punchable faces constantly spewing out about how he knew eeeeeverything, knew the thoughts and held the faces of all people, and yet Battler thinking about the platonic ideal of a fist hadn't gotten him to shove off, aaaaaargh!

“It's no good, it's no goddamned good at all!” Battler roared, slamming his fists on his desk. “Uwaaaaaargh!!!! How am I supposed to deal with this?! Meeting you demonic bastards one at a time was bad enough, and now I have to meet sixty-seven of them in a single night?! Uwaaaaaaaaaaagh!” After screaming his lungs out, he paused. “No offense, Ronove. I love you like a brother.”

“The sentiment is appreciated, milord.” Ronove chuckled.

The door burst open, and the previous Endless Witch, Virgilia, and Battler's Aunt Natsuhi staggered into the door. They leaned on each other for support, though as usual in any situation where she was in a pair, Aunt Natsuhi was the stronger. “A few of them have started to leave.” Virgilia panted. “They... they weren't all this rambunctious before...!”

“Hey, Aunt Natsuhi.” Battler said, levying a spare pipe he'd had to pick up from Beatrice when she'd gotten falling-down drunk at her. “Aren't you from a family of... shrine maidens? Maybe you could try doing something like,” and he stood up and flung out his arms, “Evil spirits, begone!”

The ever-cool Aunt Natsuhi stared at him, and said, “Do you also wish for me to banish Father?”

The whooping cackle of Kinzo Ushiromiya bellowed through the halls. “Uuuuuuuooooooh, Beatriiiiiiceeeeee!” He called out, and behind them in the hallway, Battler could see Kinzo riding the unfortunate back of Count Halphas, who was decent enough. “I would do anything to see your smile once again, uuu, uuuuoooohhh!”

“She's downstairs, you old bat, and get off of me!” Halphas had produced his rapier, which he held despite lacking hands (he was, after all, mostly a crow,) and had begun attempting to stab Kinzo, but if there was one thing that never worked on Kinzo Ushiromiya, it was death.

A few entire bottles of actual liquor later, Battler walked down the stairs to survey the damage to his own home, kicking a rotund woman with a shiny red crown, frog-like tongue, and webbed feet down the stairs as he did. “Sorry, Your Majesty.” Battler said to Baal, the highest-ranking demon in all of Hell. Baal, of course, was unconscious, and very wobbly besides, so she didn't say anything.

As he surveyed the chaos, Battler rubbed his chin and asked, “Who do we have left?”

“There are currently twenty-three remaining guests.” Genji had a list, because he was, after all, a master butler. “Twelve of them are unconscious, two of them are engaged in a battle with Kanon and Lady Jessica-”

“C'mere, you horsey bastard, let's see if you like dancing after this!” Jessica roared, and Battler caught a glimpse of her in the kitchen, wailing on the equine form of Orobas right in the unmentionables- and by the noises Orobas was making, it hurt. A lot. Served him right for all his guff, anyhow.

“-we've just caught a glimpse of Duke Halphas.” Genji continued. “Prince Vassago is still present, and last I heard, he was assisting Kumasawa in attempting to repair the curtains. Gohda is attempting to prevent President Zagan from assaulting his stock of water.”

On a sofa in the parlor, Battler's father Rudolf and a half-naked, mohawk-sporting satyr with an electric guitar (and no pants, because these demon women never wore pants,) were belting out drunken showtunes. “I'm motherfucking Jack Bauer and I kick all sorts of asssssss.” Rudolf slurred.

You're motherfucking Jack Bauer, but sometimes your show is shiiiiit.” Duchess Amdusias crooned back at him.

Battler was taking mental inventory as he went, of the demons as well as the humans. Of the eighteen humans on Rokkenjima, he now counted nine. Doctor Nanjo had fled to the guesthouse to count his ill-begotten gains and flee from the still-raging firestorm caused by the presence of President Amy (or, rather, that was President Amy,) and Uncle Krauss had wisely fled to his moon hotel just before the party started, so that was two more accounted for. Looking outside the window, Battler glared at the moon. Damn you, Uncle Krauss.

Finding four more humans, and one more demon, was as easy as finding where George had passed out previously. His mother Eva sobbed over his unconscious body, while simultaneously roaring at Marquis Forneus in that tiger mother manner she did. “You can teach him 'all manners of rhetoric,' can't you?!” She pointed her fan at the demonic manta, floating several feet off the ground. “Make him loved by his friends and foes?!”

“E-Eva, maybe we should try reviving George before we think about his future!” Her husband Hideyoshi sputtered, bowing frantically. Forneus, honestly, just looked rather bemused.

Shannon, meanwhile, was kneeling on the other side of George's body. She leaned down and whispered, “George-san, you have to wake up now.” She smiled a bit, and said, “That's an order.”

The words of power jolted George awake, and he loudly gasped off of the floor. “Eh? Eh, eh?” He muttered. “Where am-?” He pushed up his glasses threateningly when he realized where he was, and what had transpired. “Ah. I see. Thank you, Shannon.” They stood up and left, nodding to Battler, all while Eva's berating the poor Marquis left her so distracted she didn't even notice.

Over by the well, in the raging firestorm, Aunt Rosa was attempting to catch her daughter Maria, who was currently riding without a care in the world atop a massive, multi-headed hound whose flesh was constantly in a state of rotting off. “Uu, uu!” Maria called out. “Faster, faster!”

Captain of manslaughter and bloodshed, Count Glasyalabolas, beat his wings of bone and bits of flesh, constantly burning in the flames. A horrible, echoing bark rattled out from his long-dead throat. Maria cried that she was enjoying herself, too. “M-Maria!” Rosa shouted. “At least find another demon to ride! You might get sick!” She had picked up Duke Agares's crocodile, and was pointing it at Maria, who rode onward unheeding. Duke Agares, meanwhile, was chasing after her on his very tiny legs, despite the fact that his beard was burning off.

Finally, Aunt Kyrie (who was, it should be noted, technically Battler's mother, but that was a long, complicated subject) was in the island's chapel, discussing with the great Princess Stolas regarding... various manners. “Tell me more about this 'iocane powder.'” Kyrie hummed, nodding her head.

“Odorless, tasteless, and guaranteed to be fatal in most doses, but an immunity can be built up through ingestion in its natural form from inside the seeds of the snozzberry plant.” With great, glowing eyes peering from within her wings-that-were-also-a-cloak, Stolas needed not poke her head out from within for her to have a clear presence. The long bird legs also helped. Frankly, Battler was reminded more of a ball of lint by her fashion sense, but if this conversation was any indication-

“That's interesting.” Kyrie smiled. That smile scared Battler. “I'd like to get my hands on some.”

Eleven conscious demons found meant that Dantalion was gone, though, and so Battler felt free to open up the door to the dining room, to find, atop a pile of unconscious bodies including Gaap, Dantalion (thank god,) and a few others Battler didn't even know, the Golden Witch Beatrice, hanging from her necktie on the ceiling fan, spinning around on the ceiling. “Yoooooohoooooo, Bat-to-raaaaaaaa~” She sang out, throwing up the horns. “Aren't my friends greaaaat? Kihihihihi!”

“Beato...” Battler sighed, put his fingers on his forehead, and sat down at the one seat that wasn't already full. “You know, yeah. They're great. Real... real great.” Beato being this trashed probably meant she was sad about something, though. “What's wrong?”

“Ehhhh?” Crashing down from the ceiling fan, Beato landed stomach-first, gracefully crashing onto what little order remained in the room, her face landing to pout in Battler's. “Me, sad? Never! Look at meeee, don't I look happyyyy?”

“Well, while I've been over here meeting sixty-seven new wild characters-” The instant the number left Battler's mouth, Beato's pout increased in intensity. “What's wrong?”

Beato jumped up onto the table and started walking away from Battler on it, staggering slightly under the force of her inebriation. “Nothing's wrong, unless you're in the mood for a bit of a whipping.” The thought did sound pleasant, he wouldn't lie. “B-besides, anyone who wouldn't come to a party hosted by the great Beatrice isn't worth thinking about anyway.”

“Excuse me, Lady Beatrice.” Genji bowed his head as he entered the room. “Only sixty-six guests appeared at this gathering, Lord Battler.” Beato whined, then tripped and fell onto Gaap's unconscious body.

“Just one missing?” Battler raised his eyebrow. “Which demon would that be?”

Ronove appeared suddenly to add. “Ranked fifty-sixth, the Duchess Gremory. Lady Beatrice was quite fond of Gremory in times past, and was direly hoping that she would come.”

“Roooonooooveeeeeeeee!” Beato shouted, jumping across the chairs and bodies to get in his face. “You aren't supposed to tell him! He's supposed to figure it out!” She groaned loudly at him, and Ronove chuckled his trademark little laugh.

Battler sat back in the chair. This was a good way to distract himself from all this chaos, so he pondered. Just one demon hadn't come to the party? He found himself curious about this 'Gremory', since evidently she was smart enough to avoid all this nonsense.

Of course, wondering like that was a great way to cause something new to happen, so at that moment, Kumasawa called out. “W-we have another guest approaching!” She shouted from the great stairwell. The old woman was staggering on the banister. “I only have so many mackerel jokes!”

“N-no need to worry!” The chef Gohda said, standing guard at the door with his burly body. “I, Gohda, will protect you from whatever foe comes through this door!”

It took a bit, though, so Battler came out to see. “Kanon.” He called. “On me.”

“Right.” The small boy leapt from having just dealt with his opponent from before, his magic blade still active.

“If they're rowdy, cut to kill.” Battler ordered, and Kanon nodded. They fistbumped.

(BGM: Dammi una Sigaretta)

Stepping out of the door, within the firestorm's eye, stood the approaching new guest. Riding atop a camel, she'd dismounted and stopped to inspect the roses. This woman was wholly human-shaped, and tall, about as tall as Battler himself, with long, red hair just a touch more vibrant than Battler's own. She had on a blue and white tricorn hat, a bit narrow, like a naval uniform. She wore a dull red dustcoat (with a few golden spangles,) to defend from the flames, but under it, a baby blue camisole atop a pink t-shirt was almost bafflingly informal and... well, Battler had to admit, a bit downright baffling. It took Battler a second to realize what was strangest about this woman, though, and it was that she was wearing pants. Denim pants, jeans, like were apparently all the rage in America. And then her boots were... those were go-go boots. Battler had seen those in disco clubs before.

When Battler stepped forward into the rose garden to greet this new guest, Kanon's blade at the ready, she turned her head, tilted it strangely over her shoulder, and said, “Rose garden in a firestorm is my aesthetic.”

Battler blinked. “Uh. What?”

“I mean, sure, we got burnt horribly, but, you know, mood.” She shrugged, and patted a bit of singing on her camel. “Nice cape.”

“...Thanks.” Battler nodded. “I... appreciate it.” There was a bit of an awkward pause as Battler used the process of elimination in his head. “...I'm gonna go ahead and guess that you're Duchess Gremory.”

“Lemme guess, Beato's trashed and draking about me?” Gremory snorted. Battler mutely nodded. “Doesn't she know being fashionably late is in these days?”

Kanon, behind Battler, leaned in to whisper and said, “I... don't know what 'draking' means.”

“Just stay calm. Smile and nod.” Battler said. He then cleared his throat. “So, er. Duchess Gremory. Fifty-sixth of the seventy-two demons of Solomon's Key.”

“You even took count?” Gremory whistled. “That's pretty extra, Battler Ushiromiya.”

Hearing his full name from a supernatural being still, even now, always put Battler on edge, and now was no exception. He grimaced, and Kanon's blade roared to life. Gremory threw her hands up in response. “Whoa, whoa, chillax, dudes.” She said. “I come in peace. I'm legit.” She smirked. “I've just heard a lot about you, Battler. Lots of shade. Not all shade. It's just, like, you know, fucking fascinating to meet the man himself.”

Bounding out the door to the manor, faceplanting on the stairs, Beato came charging out, shouting, “Gremoryyyyyyyy!” She was giggling. She was really drunk. “You came, you came! You even brought the camellll!”

If the surreality of the situation wasn't already strong enough for Battler, hearing this woman say, “Hey, Bae.” and accept a hug from the utterly trashed Golden Witch was definitely not helping.

“I haven't seen youuuuu,” Beato hiccuped, “in aaaages, kihihihi!”

“Eh, I've been off. Doing stuff.” Gremory waved her hand. “Tell me about this husband of yours.”

“Battlerrrr?” Beato said, and the two of them got in shoulder-to-shoulder, forming a wall against Battler. Kanon wasn't much help at times like these. “He's an idiot. And he's soooo fucking incompetent. Couldn't even-” She hiccuped again. “Fuckin' gave Erika some duct tape.”

“Wha- hey!” Battler cried, grunting loudly and pointing his finger. “That was- that was all part of my master plan to revive you!”

Suuuure it was, Battler. Congratulatiooooons.” Beato snorted.

“Anyway, figured I'd be a good party guest and all, so I brought you a present, Battler Ushiromiya.” Gremory nodded to herself. “If I remember anything about the rest of these goons, it's that they've destroyed your house, so I won't come inside or anything.”

A present for Battler, huh? Battler smiled, and a certain fire came into his eyes. “Finally, someone this night is speaking my language.” In just an instant, the parlor around the gameboard materialized, and Battler, now just in his signature suit, sat on one end of the board. Gremory sat on the other side.

Beatrice had casually switched into her dress during the shift, and was now dealing with the fact that she was no longer intoxicated. “Ugh.” She grumbled. “Where am I? Battler, where are we. I-” Then she saw Gremory there, and started sputtering. “G-G-G-G-G-G-G-Gremory?!”

Gremory waved. “Hey again.”

Turning away, Beatrice huffed. “What gave you the idea you were welcome here? And with a gameboard. I bet anything you came up with would be ridiculous.”

“Eh, well, you're not wrong.” Gremory laughed and shrugged. She looked back to Battler. “Bit different when she's sober, isn't she?”

“Beato's a lot more honest when she's drunk.” Battler said, smiling at Beato's turned back. “That said, you did invite her.”

“I did no such thing.” Beatrice stomped. “Who would want to invite this hooligan?”

Gremory clapped. “Anyway, I heard you liked these, so I gave putting one together a shot. Few people told me it was a bit extra, but hey, whatever. Game's a game, and what better way to get to know the famous Battler Ushiromiya.”

“Famous, eh?” Battler smirked. “I love hearing things like that about myself. Do I get any awesome action scenes in this one? I don't know if you ever heard, but there was this one where I saved Beato from this detective named Erika when she called down Eiserne Jungfrau on us-”

Gremory snorted. “Nope.”

“It was a pretty good time.” Battler said.

“No, I mean you don't get any awesome action scenes in my game.” Gremory said. “Let's see if I've got the hang of this still, so I can make one thing clear...” She cleared her throat, and the world shook, and glowed red.

In this world, Battler Ushiromiya does not exist.

Chapter Text

8:00 A.M.

 (BGM: Apathy)

'battler' isn't a name. you aren't sure what drugs your asshole dad has been smoking his entire life to think that 'battler' is a name, but it's not. you think sometimes that maybe it was supposed to be 'butler', which is at least a fucking name, but then your dad is too busy philandering to make sense of that. sounds like something he'd try to come up with.

you'd hate being called butler anyway.

the phone is coughing. “h-have a good-” ange's coughing. she's sick. she can't come, so they had to hire a babysitter.

“i will, ange.” you lie. you know damn well you're not going to have a good time. but ange's just six, she doesn't get that yet. there's a lot about this you could never explain to a six-year-old and you wouldn't want to anyway, not when she's happy. “get well soon, alright?” the urge to say something in english wells up inside you a bit, but you suppress it. fuck you, dad.

ange's miserable when she says it, but she says, “have a good time, onee-chan. i love you.”

“yeah.” you nod. “i love you too.” that, at least, is true. you love your little sister. the fact that she isn't coming is high up there on the long, long list of reasons that today absolutely motherfucking god damned sucks shit and holy FUCKING SHIT every hair on your body is standing up and screaming nope, nope, go the fuck back to bed, go back to bed and pretend you're sick too, but no, you have to, you really fucking have to actually go back to your asshole grandpa's private island. fuck.


 

you're in the cab now. kyrie offered to give you a lift, but you decided you wanted to arrive at the airport on your own. even if you are part of the ushiromiya family again, you don't want to be associated as your dad's child, because fucking fucking fuck your dad. not like this family matters.

but enough thinking about your dad. you look out the window, watching the streets pass by, kids playing with each other. you're getting near the airport now. “you look bummed, little lady.” the cab driver says. you've always been bad at hiding how you feel, that's true, so you're not surprised you noticed. “going on a trip, i'd think you'd be a bit happier.”

you shake your head. “it's my family. they're a bunch of assholes and i really don't wanna go, but here i am going anyway, because fuck me, right?”

for a high school girl, and hell, for a japanese person period, you're tall, but even so, the driver's shocked to hear language like that coming out of a schoolgirl. he laughs out loud. “nothing fun to do at a yearly family gathering? what, getting together for halloween or something?”

“eh, something like that.” you shrug. it's not untrue. knowing your asshole grandpa, you're going to wind up hearing about grimoires or something anyway. “but don't worry about me, man. i'll live.” if nothing else, you're really looking forward to seeing maria now that she's a bit older. she was barely the size of your thumb last time you saw her. and jessica, too. and it's been too long since you've heard any mackerel jokes from kumasawa. and-

you stop, and sink inside yourself for a bit, because of course you do. then, you casually notice how everyone you're looking forward to seeing is a woman. you're predictable, but then, people have always said that how much of an open book you are is one of your cuter traits.

 


 

'battler' isn't a name. you never had a name before you tried giving yourself one. 'fight person?' what a fucking joke. your dad is an incompetent moron. but, for the time being, just 'tora' is working. tora ushiromiya.

your mom's family didn't get it, but you made do. you're tall, broad, and, you mock in your mind, the spitting image of your grandfather in his early days, blur blur blur, but you made it work. at school, you've been tora for a while now.

of course, the fact that one time you clean knocked out some asshole who apparently thought that girls with daddy issues were hot told people you were nobody to fuck with, too (though sometimes you still get mad about how that technically made you a person who did a fight fuck you dad.)

still, even if you do have friends, and your own life, it's hard not to be kinda jealous. you're not as tall as you could've gotten if grandpa's any indication, but you're still pretty tall. other girls are smaller. cuter. have bigger tits. holy shit you love tits. they're the greatest thing in the world. what you wouldn't give to be able to touch a titty right about now. they rule. holy shit they rule. oh god. you love tits. yeahhhhhhh!!!! tits!!!!!! whoooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!

you're outside of the cab now, waving the cabbie off and telling him to have a good time because you sure as shit aren't going to. thankfully, he probably couldn't read minds. the inside of your own head is a dark, dangerous place, one which you'd rather other people kept out of a lot of the time.

 


 (BGM: Doorway of summer)

on the way over, you've fallen flat on your face. you are really glad you're wearing those thigh-highs right about now, because you would've scuffed your knee otherwise, and you don't need any more pains in your ass today. ah, but your suitcase is tipped over. and there's a kid standing by you. oh, you- there's a little crown on the floor. is that hers? aww, does she have a little crown? did you- you knocked over her crown. “hey, sorry.” you say. “lemme get that.”

she's staring at you with these big, bright eyes as you pick up her crown, wipe it off, and put it back on her head. this is a cute kid. holy shit, this is a cute kid. those eyes are insanely bright. and that little dress she's in? killer fashion. this kid is going places. you like this kid- wait. wait, wait. you recognize the fringe of her hair, sort of this... this way her arms move. “uu?” she makes a little noise and tilts her head.

oh holy shit it's maria? WHEN DID SHE GET SO CUTE??? this is NOT fair oh god your little cousin is THE CUTEST THING EVER. UGGGGHHHH YOUR HEART IS EXPLODING. “uh, hey, hey, sorry! hah! haha!” you say, like a very cool person, which you are. “hey, are you maria ushiromiya?”

she smiles. “uu!” context means yes! she has a little crown!!! aaaaaaaaa!!!!!!

“hey!” you smile, squatting down to meet her. “been ages, kiddo! you, uh.” you look away. she has a curious look on your face. “okay, you definitely don't remember me. there's literally no way you remember me.”

she murmurs something about her memory or something like that, her eyes wide. then, with a serious look on her face, she shakes her head. “uu-uu. don't remember.”

“well, i'm one of your cousins.” you smile. “ange's big sister. my name's tora.”

“uu!” sudden recognition lights her up like a christmas tree. fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck she's cute. “tora! tora!” she's smiling really brightly, and grabbing your hand. “tora onee-chan!”

“yeah, that's me!” you laugh and smile. her enthusiasm is seriously infectious. you kinda wanna pick her up and just run around screaming for a bit but that might piss her mom off or something. there's people roaming around, but you don't see any of your family. “so, what's going on, maria? your mom go off somewhere?”

“uu.” maria says. “mama went to take a call. said she'd be right back.”

“okay.” you sit down next to her. “so, first question. what are you into these days? tell me about stuff, i don't have anywhere else to be.”

maria lights up even brighter when you say that, and she pulls a notebook out from a bag, flipping through the pages. “here, here!” what she shows you is... what are those. diagrams of magic circles. those are diagrams of magic circles. “been learning magic!”

your little cousin is a magical girl. holy shit, she has diagrams of magical circles. she is describing to you in great detail the effects of a given magical circle. she even has this voice she puts on for it. this. this is the coolest child ever. you love this child. you love this child like your own child.

it takes a while for aunt rosa to show up, so you get a pretty good amount of time spent learning about cool magic stuff with your insanely cool cousin. “m-maria!” her hair is fluttering as usual. aunt rosa doesn't look a bit different... maybe some deeper frown lines. “ma'am, i'm SO sorry.” she grabs maria's hand. “i'm so sorry that my daughter distracted you. come on, maria-”

maria is really sad, calling out your name. “hey, cool down.” you raise your hands. “it's no big deal. she's a good kid. i like her a lot.”

aunt rosa stops, and scrutinizes you for a second. you know what she's doing. she's recognizing you. the realization is slowly sliding into her brain. sloooowly, sloowly. she's almost the- “b-battler-kun?”

sighhhhh. “hey, aunt rosa.” you wave. “sorry i'm late. i was just keeping maria company while you took that call. no big deal if it's family, right?” she's got this particular i-don't-approve-of-my-kid look that you've seen a few times, so you have a bit of a bad feeling.

it takes her face a few seconds to shift back into neutral upon realizing that you are, in fact, something vaguely akin to 'battler-kun'. “a-ah. yes, of... of course.” she puts on a smile. “just as long as she wasn't... bothering you.” there's an awkwardness to her posture. “maria, let's go. he'll be there too, we'll have plenty of time to talk to battler-kun at the conference.”

“i'll see you in a bit, maria!” you smile.

she nods. “in a bit, tora onee-chan!” you grit your teeth, but aunt rosa seems ecstatic enough to get out of the conversation that she doesn't seem particularly interested in commenting. phew.

to be honest, if you're glad about one thing, it's that the miracle of progress means you don't have to take the fucking boat. a twenty-minute plane ride is awkward enough, but having to deal with your family on that boat? fuck. you feel like you're gonna tip over and fall every time you think about this day anyway, who needs more stress.

 


 

once you get through security, you smile. kyrie's waiting there for you, sitting on a bench casually. you come down and sit next to her. “yo.” you say. “what's up?”

“we've been waiting for you.” kyrie smiles. “i know being fashionably late is in, tora, but i've had to field so many questions from eva and hideyoshi that it makes me feel like i'm your parent.”

“the old bastard not feeling up to it today, huh?” you smirk. “or wait. no. he was in the fucking bathroom again isn't he.” kyrie nods, and the two of you nod again in solidarity. “typical.”

kyrie is your dad's wife. kyrie is also the coolest person ever. you know, aside from the whole being in love with your dad thing, which would be completely incomprehensible even if you weren't gay, but you don't begrudge her that, the heart does what it wants. but seriously though. she's hot, she's from a yakuza family which probably means she's straight murdered some fools, she's cool and has never had a problem with you being you, which was kind of a big deal considering how fucking awkward it was having to visit your fucking dad that year. she's unflappable and does a great job keeping your asshole dad in line. plus she's ange's mom and that's a good kid.

so, basically, the first time you ever met kyrie, you knew for certain that you wanted to be her when you grew up. not that it was in that plain terms the first time, but whatever. except, again, for the whole being in love with your dad. and marrying your dad. holy fuck you hate your dad. “where are aunt eva and the rest, anyway? i ran into aunt rosa and maria out there.”

“well, now rudolf and eva are arguing about her roundhouse kick's form.” kyrie says. typical dad and aunt eva. “hideyoshi is mediating. george took rudolf's place in the restroom.”

you weigh your options. on the one hand, you could wait to see george come out of the restroom. on the other hand, that sounds duller than watching paint dry. “welp, time to die.” you say. kyrie gives you a casual thumbs up and you stroll off towards the gate.

 


 

your heart is cold in your chest because you are making this fucking walk and eventually oh for fuck's sake there they are and aunt eva is saying that 'stopping a hair's breadth away is a high-class technique' and there's him and his fucking face talking about how women shouldn't spread their legs like that and auuurrrrghhhhhhh he's no good, he's no god damned good at all!!!!

“so i heard,” you say, casually strolling up, acting like you don't have to vomit, “that you just about kicked the old bastard's head off just now.” uncle hideyoshi already saw you, but aunt eva's head spins a little and her eyes widen. “can i see?”

then she smirks, and launches another kick at dad's head. she stops maybe a centimeter from his temple. you politely clap. “excellent form, auntie, but you stopped a bit early.” you say, raising two fingers in a gesture you absolutely did not steal from kyrie, shut up. “his head is still attached to his shoulders.”

“frankly,” aunt eva cuts past his head and finishes her kick, “i think the same thing every day.” she laughs, opening her fan. “i'm amazed, rudolf! one of your kids actually has a head on their shoulders!”

you know rudolf ushiromiya, so you know very well he was making shit jokes up until now, but now he's got an awkward frown on his face, and he's rubbing the back of his head like he's the one on the spot here. “uhhh... yup.” he says. “anyway-”

“and uncle hideyoshi, how the hell have you been keeping then?” you ask, launching your hand out to your jolly old uncle for a handshake. these two were always the funny uncle and aunt, and you always suspected aunt eva completely actually hated your dad anyway even as a kid, so out of any of the branches of the family, you figured you had the best chance of actually getting along with them.

“ahh, battler-san!” uncle hideyoshi grins, and takes your hand. “it's great to see ya!” ah, yup, he still has that weird maybe-fake accent. “how ya been?”

“eh, keeping on.” you shrug. “was a lot better before i had to see his ugly mug.”

aunt eva comes up to scope you out. you're like, a centimeter or so, you're not sure, shorter than george, and she apparently finds this pleasing. “fu fu fu.” she laughs. “truly, you're an individual of discerning taste. are you sure you're related to rudolf?” you guess you are a fair bit shorter than him now, though it's possible you had to stop some of that yourself. you're not complaining. the less you look like him, the better.

“i probably get it from my mother's side.” you smirk. “i sure didn't get it from him.”

“certainly not.” aunt eva smirks. “so, don't leave us hanging, is 'battler' alright to call you? you are the guest of honor, after all.”

wow, loathing your dad is an even better deal than you thought if it gets you in this good with aunt eva. “if you don't mind, i'd appreciate 'tora.' just take the 'bat' off.”

“even abandoning the name you gave her!” eva cackles at rudolf. “ahh, but i'm sure you have your own sort of bond even still.”

“now, now, eva, tora-chan.” uncle hideyoshi waves his hands. “i think we've embarrassed poor rudolf enough for one hour. why don't'cha leave it until we're actually there?”

“yeah, please.” rudolf snorts. “my beautiful wife isn't even here and i'm being killed like this? this is harassment. i'll sue, you damn brat!”

“yeah, sure you will, old man.” you scoff.

 


 

it takes a bit before rosa and maria show up. maria lights up when she sees you, but rosa grabs her hand a bit to stop her. the fact that people here are calling you four different things ('battler-kun', 'tora-san', 'tora-chan', and 'damn brat') just sort of adds to the bizarre surreality of it all. eventually, walking out of the restroom, george shows, sweating. “a-ah, everyone is here.” he pushes up his glasses. “i'm very sorry.”

“didja get lost with a magazine?” uncle hideyoshi laughs.

“no, that's rudolf's job.” you and kyrie say simultaneously. you are always so glad when that piece of shit has her to reign him in. “he was probably,” you continue, “saying lines to himself in the mirror or something.”

you really don't expect george's face to freeze for a second before he laughs nervously. you were actually right. wow. “tora-san! it's good to see you.” he extends his arm out for a handshake. they're still slightly moist, so he did wash. good. as the eldest cousin, george had his shit the most together, and even now he apparently does.

you whistle. “someone's been doing his research.” you shake his hand. it's not awkward, and you don't say, 'alright, mate.'

“ah, i asked uncle rudolf.” he smiles. “i didn't want to make myself look like a fool when you saw me for the first time in so long.” you decide to yourself that you like this branch of the family, against all odds, even if some of it is mostly because of your united loathing of rudolf ushiromiya. “that's not how to make a good first impression.”

“well, good on you, aniki.” you smirk and pat him on the back. he blushes and adjusts his glasses again. you always used to call him aniki when you were a kid, but maybe the lack of pants and long hair makes it a bit more awkward these days. some part of you takes a wry enjoyment in that.

 


 

this plane is tiny. you really hope it doesn't shake. you really, really hope it doesn't shake. “aniki is this plane going to shake. is this plane going to shake.” you say.

george laughs. “not too much.”

“what do you mean too much.” you say. “i can swim from a boat okay but this is a plane. is there a parachute. oh fuck there's no parachute.”

“come on, tora, quit being a wuss and get in.” rudolf starts pushing. fuck! doesn't he know there's no parachute!! this is important!! oh fuck!!! fuck!!!!

“alright, stop this nonsense, let's get moving.” kyrie says. rudolf starts complaining.

“uu-! move! move!” maria claps. thankfully, maria is an impelling force that sticks you in this fucking seat where you're going to actually for real die for real. fuck.

“this is your pilot, kawabata. we'd like to thank you for taking new tokyo aviation's flight 201 today. we estimate that the flight to niijima airport will take about 20 minutes.” okay. 20 minutes isn't long.

“we're receiving reports of atmospheric turbulence.” fuck. fuck turbulence fuck. fuck fuck

“there might be some shaking of the aircraft,” HE SAID IT WOULDN'T SHAKE

“so we ask that you do not take your seatbelts off after takeoff.” YOU CAN TAKE THEM OFF IN A JUMBO JET YOU FUCKING LYING PIECE OF SHIT ANIKI IT'S GONNA SHAKE OH GOD YOU SHOULD'VE JUST TAKEN THE BOAT OH GOD YOU'RE GONNA FALL YOU'RE GONNA FAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

 


 (BGM: Ride on)

 

Wanderlust of the Golden Witch

 

Ushiromiya 'Tora' Battler

Willard H. Wright

 

Ushiromiya George

Ushiromiya Jessica

Ushiromiya Maria

 

Ushiromiya Kinzo

Ushiromiya Krauss  Ushiromiya Natsuhi

Ushiromiya Hideyoshi  Ushiromiya Eva

Ushiromiya Rudolf  Ushiromiya Kyrie

Ushiromiya  Rosa

 

Nanjo Terumasa  Ronoue Genji

Shannon  Kanon

Gohda Toshiro  Kumasawa Chiyo

Chapter Text

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaaaaaa where are you. is this a taxi. where the fuck are. what. “aniki.” you say. george is there. “aniki what. where. where am. what."

(BGM: Desolation (Piano))

he laughs. “as terrible with heights as ever, tora. we're on our way to the harbor.”

“har.” you breathe. you're heaving a bit. “harbor. what. where.”

you shake your head. fuck. who are you? you're you. you're tora. right right right okay. you're. you're here at. family conference going. george frowns. “are you alright? i don't remember it being this big of an issue for you.”

“ah. it's. just.” you gulp. it's 'just' that your piece of shit brain fires on cylinders you don't even have when you're, gonna, faaaaa, aaaaaall, shake and fall and fall and fuck fuck fuck oh god you're in a car what if you cra-

“no goddamned good at all.” you mutter to yourself. “no good no good no good no good no good no good no good no good no... no good no... no good...”

that mantra of yours always works. ange picked it up as a cool catch phrase, but for you sometimes it's the only thing that keeps you sane. you take a deep breath, and everything comes flooding back. “sorry. yeah, it's... gotten worse.” you sigh. “i didn't... i didn't even realize i had gotten off the plane.” you pause. “was i even moving?”

george nods. “you were, but you didn't even react when uncle rudolf told you to kiss his ass for being slow.” he chuckles nervously. sometimes you're glad your body can move while that's happening. sometimes.

when you were a kid, people thought it was funny that you'd get scared on the boat. it's not funny. sometimes, you wanted to scream, why do you think this is fucking funny, huh? why is it so funny that i'm going to die, what is so funny about this, why don't you get it, why aren't you scared, why, why, why?!

but these days,

sometimes when you get scared

you just vanish

and something else starts piloting your body.

it's been a hard time trying to figure out what the fuck is wrong with your brain sometimes, especially with just the resources you have, but you know what this is called. it's 'dissociation.' sometimes, 'you' shut off, and something else starts piloting your body. it's like everything around you isn't real, like you're off in some fantasy world while something is controlling you. you don't know what it is. you don't know who you are, when it happens. you don't know where you are. you don't know when you are. you don't know how you got there. you don't know why anything happens. it's like it's all a dream, but it's a dream you can't wake up from. it's a dream that makes you want to vomit and vomit and vomit until something cuts your throat and you start vomiting blood and eventually you puke up everything in your entire body and there's nothing left and you die and everything just stops for a second and maybe

“aniki?” you say, hesitant. “sorry. i... i have a hard time... when that happens.”

he smiles. “that's alright.” he smiles nervously, and pushes up his glasses. “i... thought that might be the case. that's why i volunteered to take you.”

you blink. “really?”

“time around our aunts and uncles wasn't what you needed then, right?” he says, and you nod. “er, sorry. to tell you the truth, i've... been reading on the subject of...” he trails off. “on the subject.” he finishes.

you blink again. “you're a decent guy, aniki.”

“oh, no.” he shakes his head, and chuckles awkwardly. man, he's awkward. “not at all.” he pauses. “tora... are you okay?”

“huh?” you ask, and you smirk at him. yeahhhh, there's that swagger. “why wouldn't i be?”

(BGM: Doorway of summer)

“you clearly don't want to be here.” he says. well, no shit. “but, er...” he puffs his chest out a bit. “well, you can rely on your aniki if the need arises. i'm, er...” he sweats a bit.

“you,” you laugh, “are really no goddamned good at talking to girls.”

“i'm really not!” that gets a genuine laugh out of him. “i'm terrible at it!”

you're finally relaxing a bit, so you kick back. “ahh, but fuck old people, aniki.” you say. that gets a laugh out of the cabbie, who's been keeping silent other than that. “the olds don't get our youthful enthusiasm.”

“that's for sure.” george chuckles. “i love my parents, of course, but sometimes i wonder if mother thinks i'm still eight years old.”

“seriously.” you laugh. “i'm really looking forward to seeing jessica.”

there's one other person you want to see. but you don't say that.


 (BGM: Dammi una Sigaretta)

“Okay, hold on.” Battler called out, raising his hand to stop proceedings. The taxi continued on towards the harbor, of course. Battler recognized it himself; Jessica and Kumasawa would be there at the harbor. “Before I go on-”

“Ah, you wanna tell me how tops my writing is?” Gremory asked, leaning her elbow on the table and smirking. “I'm all ears, boss man.”

Before Battler could continue, Beatrice scoffed, her voice full of spite. "Gremory has always been a bit frustratingly off-beat." Beatrice said, narrowing her eyes, though they twinkled with a nostalgia that belied her words. "I can never quite seem to wrap my head around her words, even with my endless capability."

"That reminds me," and silent as the night, Ronove appeared to pour the three of them cups of tea (and of course, he already knew Gremory's preferences as well, so he didn't need to ask.) "of a time when Lady Beatrice was younger, a 'swinging single,' if you will. She had summoned Gremory and I to accompany her on a casual trip across the countryside-"

Gremory blinked. "Ronove. My homeslice. That happened, like, five different times. You're gonna need to narrow it down."

"Ah, but on this trip, a mosquito chose Lady Beatrice on which to alight." Ronove smiled. "In her anger- for you see, this was of course before she learned to control her temper- she rained down death upon the poor thing, killing it and reviving it in manners that caused birds to flee from their brutality.” Beatrice snorted in disdain, because of course a maiden like herself would never do that. “I won't bore you with the details, milord, but suffice it to say, once Lady Beatrice had crushed the mosquito by driving one of the chariots of the horses of the Underworld onto its head, not only crushing it but causing it to be burned alive in the ever-searing flames of Hell, which of course burn not only the body but the spirit as well-"

"Big mood." Gremory murmured.

"-Gremory commented, 'big mood,' and Lady Beatrice was then distracted on what in the world that comment meant." Ronove concluded. "As such, they fought well into the evening, creating a massive crater in the earth- not, of course, that any humans saw it the next day, since after all, Lady Beatrice is the Endless Witch." He bowed. “And a late how-do-you-do to the honorable Duchess, of course.” Pu. Ku. Ku.

Battler blinked. "Well. Thank you, Ronove. I appreciate the story. Dismissed." And away went Ronove. “Anyway, your writing is certainly, uh.” He paused. How to put this. “Unique, but that's not my question.”

As the taxi approached the harbor, the amicable conversation continuing, Battler's eyes sat upon the girl who'd taken his place. “Tora Ushiromiya isn`t me. Obviously, but I want to hear it from your mouth.”

“Tora Ushiromiya is not Battler Ushiromiya.” Gremory repeated.

“So, she's not 'my piece.'” Battler continued.

“That's basically the idea.” Gremory nodded. “Tora Ushiromiya is not a piece controlled by Battler Ushiromiya.”

Battler nodded. “Right. In other words, I don't have a piece this time. All I can do is watch.” Gremory gave him a thumbs up. Alright, next step. “Repeat it in red! Tora Ushiromiya possesses the detective's authority!”

Gremory shot a finger-gun back at him. “Quick draw, hot shot, but I'm gonna have to deny that one. Unlike Beato, though, I can actually explain why.” She smirked, and Beatrice grunted. “As just established, Tora Ushiromiya sometimes experiences dissociative episodes when she's really stressed out. She can't possess the detective's authority if she's detached from reality like that.”

“So, in other words,” Battler said, “there was a plane ride and an airport in between those two moments, and because of that, the detective's authority can't be applied.” He smiled. “Got it.”

“That said,” Gremory continued, “I've got a backup application ready to roll.” She cleared her throat, and whipped out a flash card to remind herself of the wording. “All of Tora's narration, formatted as seen here in the second person, is genuine, and possesses no fabrications, on her part or mine. She does not hallucinate.”

“It's not like that stopped Beato from lying.” Battler shrugged, snorting.

“What was that, Bat-t-leeeeeeer?” Beatrice put on one of her several very, very evil faces. “Was that you blaming me for your not looking in the shed, perchance? Did you seeeeeeeeee the body? Hm? Did you look that far back in the shed? Did you, Battleeeeeer?!

Battler sighed. “No-”

I, the Golden Witch Beatrice, have won again! Hihihihihihihihihi!” That one sound that Beato loved, the bit of canned laughter, played repeatedly in the background.

Sighing, crushed under the weight of the raw, overpowering force of his wife's vigor and personality, Battler set his eyes back on Tora, laughing and enjoying herself with George. He closed his eyes, and shook his head. There was a sort of emotion in it, one he hadn't felt in quite some time.

(BGM: La Meglio Gioventù)

On account of the nature of the catbox, its personage was usually quite closed off. An endless list of permutations of the eighteen humans on Rokkenjima and their dramatic conflicts had played out again and again and again in front of his eyes, so many times that by now, he was completely desensitized to it. One dead George, for instance, was just one more in a list of endless dead Georges.

But this girl, this Tora Ushiromiya, she was new. She was a person who didn't exist in Battler's world, or any world that he'd ever played so far. On the one hand, some part of him- a great part, actually- wanted to get to know this girl in his seat, to know her struggles, her pain. That was the nature of the Golden Land, after all; in this world, the truths behind all the lies were laid bare, and the pretenses thrown to the wind. If it wasn't so, he'd never have obtained the love he shared with Beatrice, and though it had been hard, he wouldn't give her up for the world. But on the other hand-

All that awaited on the witch's island, for a human in the next thirty-eight hours, was suffering. Suffering, pain, and death.

Battler opened his eyes, and stared at the face of the tale's author. Battler didn't know Gremory, either. He'd never met her before. Beato wrote her story, and hers alone. Two faces, great witches both, flashed in his mind- Lambdadelta, who'd written a story without love, and Bernkastel, who'd written a cold, calculating logic puzzle.

There was a relationship between the author and the reader of a mystery, and that much, Battler knew quite well. He himself had written a game board, after all, and it was so uniquely 'him' that the thought of his plan there still made him chuckle from time to time.

So what was Gremory's story? What sort of tale would she be trying to tell, this strangely-dressed, strangely-speaking woman from a forgotten corner of Beatrice's past, presenting a game of the Rokkenjima catbox without Battler Ushiromiya?

“I've got to admit, Gremory.” Battler whistled, and grinned toothily, smirking at her. “It's early, but you've got me hooked. I really wanna see how this ends.”

“See? That's what I like to hear.” Gremory nodded. “Don't get salty at me later, big guy.”

(BGM: Towering cloud in summer)

Beatrice was off laughing to herself about her endless victories over the ever-incompetent Battler, so Battler's smirk widened. “Well, my salt content from all those shady growth hormones aside,” Battler chuckled, “have I ever mentioned that you have quite the appreciable rack, ma'am? Maybe if I win, I can do a little touchy-touch-”

His chair flipping over and dropping Battler on his face was proof he'd gotten the intended rise out of her. “Gremoryyyyyy.” Beatrice said. “When Battler is inappropriate, you have my full permission to kill him.” Ah, he loved her dearly.

“Eh.” Gremory shrugged. “Do I have to touch him? He's totally got cooties.”

...what were 'cooties?'


 

when you get out of the taxi at the harbor, you're entirely re-swaggered and ready to kick ass. you could, you think, probably kick george's ass into the harbor, but you won't, because you are a reasonable person. “the boat is over there.” george says, pointing.

“heeeey! anikiiiii!” yup, there's another person calling him 'aniki,' standing next to a boat with an old lady. that blonde beauty, therefore, would beeeeee jessica, fuck. what the fuck. why is she so hot? look at her boobs! they're so much better than yours! guuuuh! why does every woman in your family have a better rack than you?

well okay there's a pretty reasonable explanation for that from a scientific point of view but not, like, why, but like, whyyyyyyyyy. why is the world this way. why is jessica so much cuter than you.

as you head up, george waves. the olds and maria are still disembarking, but you two were by yourselves, so. “hello, jessica, kumasawa. it's been too long.”

“oh ho ho ho.” kumasawa cackles. she is so old. she's like, eighty. why is she still doing this work? you don't know. it's kinda badass, you don't lie. “when did you become such a philanderer, dearest young master george?” she smirks. “bringing along beauties like this to the family conference.”

what.

oh she's talking about. you point at yourself, and she nods. about you. “yeah, uh, who's this, aniki?” jessica asks. she glares. “you aren't becoming uncle rudolf, are you? because i will just straight up tear your dick off, my man.”

“p-please don't do that.” george sweats. “it's, uh-”

you smirk, and point your nose up at jessica. “ah, i see. you're just jealous that i've become a far more beautiful maiden than you are.” you cackle like a princess in your animes. “no, no, don't worry. i understand. it's hard to deal with majesty like mine.”

jessica is staring blankly for a second before she makes the connection. “wha.” she says, and then she blinks. “huh.” she sputters for a second. “buh.” she covers her eyes for a second, and then uncovers them, and you are in fact not gone after that rousing game of peek-a-boo. “buh.” then she staggers back. “battler?!”

(BGM: HANE)

“these days i'm going by 'tora.'” you explain. kumasawa is a bit shocked, too, but it's much more muted.

“you were a girl?!” jessica sputters. you nod. then she thinks back for a second, and glares, pouting. “how are you prettier than me. this isn't fair. battler is a prettier teenager than i am.” arguable. “hey, hey, if you were a girl, how come your dad always gave me shit for talking like that?”

“i'm gonna drop a little knowledge on you, jess.” you put your arm around her shoulder. “rudolf ushiromiya? he's a fucking tool. the tooliest tool who ever tooled.” then you back up and stare at george. “wait. do you. do you have a girlfriend?”

“oh my god you haven't told her.” jessica's eyes go wide, and george continues his ever-advancing campaign of turning into a tomato. “you have missed a heck of a lot... uh, 'tora.'” she smiles at you. ah, good. this is good. your cousin jessica has turned into a woman of culture.

“but still, to think that the young master battler, who violently refused all my carefully crafted mackerel dishes, could grow into such a beautiful young lady!” kumasawa cackles. you join george in becoming a tomato. “don't you know mackerel is good for the complexion? it could've helped you blossom earlier, you know.”

“haha! yeah! um!” you say. “no! thank you! haha!” you give her two enthusiastic thumbs down, and everyone laughs.

“uu!” oh! oh there's a special girl! “tora onee-chan!” maria runs up to you and you are possessed by the urge to pick her up and squeeze her. in fact, you do, because you're an ushiromiya, and your family has no self-control. “fall, faaaaaall!”

“yeah! i didn't fall!” you say. she's laughing at your freakout, but you can't blame her, she's just a kid, and you probably did shout at least a bit. “we made it, maria!” you're spinning around a bit, holding her in the air, and you're both laughing! you love this kid! oh she's so good! oh, she's so, so good! “maria, maria!”

“tooo-ra! tooo-ra!” she calls back. kumasawa is laughing, and jessica is smiling. she looks a bit surprised. maybe she didn't expect you to like maria this much. when aunt rosa comes up, though, she's got a look that tells you she really wants to shout at you to put her kid the fuck down, so you put her kid the fuck down. “uu?”

“i think your mom wants you, maria.” you nod. she turns her head, lights up again, and runs back to aunt rosa, who sighs and looks away awkwardly.

“ya aren't jealous, are ya, rosa?” uncle hideyoshi laughs. eva and rudolf laugh. kyrie chooses, perhaps wisely, to not make a noise, but she smirks at you from behind them.


 

so, it turns out, the captain got rid of his old boat and got a very, very fast one. that he modded himself. that goes very fast. very very fast. very very very very AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA okay but anyway so you managed to convince him to go slower so you don't die right the fuck here. jessica's laughing, and saying, “yup, i'm still way more badass than you.”

“i will accept this fate.” you say, laying on the deck. “i am weak and frail.”

the olds are inside the boat laughing at you, but george and kumasawa, with the captain's apologies, bring you drinks. fuck yeah, you love fluid going inside your body. you SLAM THAT PUPPY. WHOO. “anyway, how are your folks, jess?” you ask.

“how are they?” jessica snorts. “'jessica, you're not going to be able to pass your exams like this. you need to study harder. no, study harder! you need to do it or you will die!'”

“personally, i'm pretty grateful that my mother told me to study for exams as hard as i did.” george chuckles amicably in that george-y way of his. “look at me now... young'uns.”

“the kind of nerd who thinks he can get away with saying young'uns?” you laugh. jessica laughs too. so does kumasawa.

“uu!” the clarion call of maria! “tora! tora! saw the island! uu-uu! there! there, there!”

you run over to the side of the deck and lean over, and there it is. scenic rokkenjima, a bunch of land that could be used to build houses or something for the infirm or disenfranchised, but no, instead it's your asshole grandpa's private island, and it looks the same as it ever has.

god. your family is rich. your family owns an entire fucking island. sometimes you think about this and realize just how insane this world really is. “welcome back.” jessica laughs, and pats you on the back. “to hell.”

“oh, don't i know it.” you brush a lock of hair behind your ear, and jessica grumbles again about how it's completely unreasonable that you could be prettier than her, god now mom's gonna be on her ass again, something like that. kumasawa disappeared for a second, but now she's back. maybe she's a ninja. the thought of kumasawa with a sniper rifle flits through your mind for a second, but then it's gone.

“uu. gone.”

“eh?” you ask. maria's staring at something with a really concerned look. “what's gone, maria?” she just repeats, 'gone, gone,' so you look out at the sea. george comes up asking about it too, but you notice it pretty soon.

“oh, that... shrine, the torii up on that crag.” you point. “it's gone.” there's a lonely shrine that was up there for years before this, for as long as you remembered. “that, right, maria?” maria nods.

“that old thing, yeah. probably got washed away.” jessica sighs, crossing her arms. “shame. i think i might miss it now that i know it's gone.”

“or perhaps,” kumasawa says, "a huge lightning bolt fell one evening and smashed the shrine... the fisherman whisper that having a thunderbolt fall upon our honored tutelary god would be a certain sign of misfortune. ooooh...” she waves her hands menacingly at you and your cousins. “kuwabara... kuwabara...”

“d-don't you kuwabara me!” you sputter, as maria starts muttering about misfortune. “aw, geez. no, maria, don't worry.”

“misfortune. misfortune.” she says. “misfortune.”

“don't worry, maria.” george kneels down to soothe her. “it's just a coincidence. there's no need to worry-”

(BGM: Hour of darkness)

“misfortune... is coming.” maria says, a completely serious look on her face. jessica asks where it's coming from, and she points into the sky. ah. the clouds are heavy.

jessica, george, and kumasawa all look like they're trying to placate her, but you think you know what this might be. “there's something coming because the shrine is gone, right, maria?” you say. “something that normal humans can't feel. something scary.”

“eh.” jessica blinks. “are. are you into this kind of stuff now? i thought you were into mystery novels!”

“uu!” maria nods sternly. “uu! uu! misfortune!”

“at this age,” you say, “well, people with supernatural sensitivity are at their most. sensitive. so i think maria is feeling something we can't.” you turn back to maria. “maria... when we get to the island, will you teach me more of what's in your book? i want to help you protect us.”

“uu...” maria blinks at you, and her eyes widen, as though she's seeing you for the first time again. “tora onee-chan... protect us?” you nod. “tora onee-chan...” she's smiling again. “uu! tora onee-chan!”

(BGM: Towering cloud in summer)

“yeah!” you say. “we can beat any misfortune together, maria!” you cheer.

“beat any misfortune! uu!” maria is jumping up and down, and she's hugging you.

“that's very impressive!” kumasawa cackles, now that you've agreed to work with maria. “here i thought that little maria couldn't be cowed by anyone other than her mother.”

“it takes a certain knack.” you hug maria back. “but really, all you have to do is listen. it's not that hard, guys.”

george is staring, wide-eyed. “amazing.” he whispers. “i- well, of course, when. if. i become a father, i'll have to...” he laughs under his breath awkwardly. “can i take lessons?”

“from me?” you snort. “yeah, sure! let's buck the gender norms.” there's a child here, so you say, “heck the po-lice!”

“uu!” maria chimes in. “heck the po-lice!”

the harbor to your asshole grandpa's private island is coming up. and... misfortune? you don't think you're any stranger to that.

it's nothing you can't handle.

Chapter Text

10:30 A.M.

(BGM: Rose) 

“Genji.”

For a while now, the head of the Ushiromiya family, Kinzo Ushiromiya, had been sat solemnly at his window, pondering. Such quiet moods from him were his least common, so Genji had thought to try to maintain it for as long as possible- and yet, when the master calls. “Yes, Lord Kinzo.”

“There is something in the air.” Kinzo leaned forward onto his knees, and steepled his fingers, staring out the window. “Something has arrived at this island of Rokkenjima. Something I did not summon.”

There were many things that the master, with his love of the occult, could've meant, so Genji took the simplest path first. “Do you mean Mr. Wright?” Genji asked. “He has been assisting us with preparations for some time-”

Standing up like a whirlwind, Kinzo flung his cloak, creating the impression that he was even larger than his already great stature. “Mr. Wriiiiiiiiiiiight?!” Kinzo clutched his hands at Genji. “Think you I care about the affairs of some human who dares to set foot on my island? This world of humans bears no love for me, and I none for it, Genji, no, noooo, none at all!” Kinzo cackled. “No, Genji. I speak of beyond. Of magic. Of demons.”

“...Yes, Lord Kinzo.” To furniture such as Genji, this was familiar.

“Something has arrived on Rokkenjima which could weight the Devil's Roulette...” Kinzo began chuckling to himself. “The greater the risk, the greater the magic... ooooh, Beatriceeee, is this another trial? Shall I suffer more to see your smile again, the one thing which this world can possibly offer me, oh, uoooh, Beatrice...”

Curling into himself, staring at the great portrait on the wall which bore her visage, and her coquettish smile mocking him for desiring more, Kinzo Ushiromiya wept. “Beatrice! Beatriceeeeeeeeee! For you, I will suffer any trial, any misfortune, any tearing from the vultures which call themselves my 'family'! Please, let me see your smile once again, Beatriceeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!”

...This was the master's ever-common refrain. Calling for Beatrice was his life now, staying miserably within the walls of this room as he did. And Genji, as his loyal furniture, stood by his side always.


(BGM: Novelette)

you... actually don't know this guy. huh. there's this burly dude waiting at the dock with a big ol' smile on his face. “welcome home, milady. you were quite late, and i began to worry.”

jessica laughs and pats you on the back. “aw, that's sweet of you! ms. 'weak and frail' here got all scared, though, so we had to slow down.”

“mmhm. my fault.” you raise your hand. “sorry.”

burly man's off greeting the olds, though. 'you must all be quite tired from your long trip.' 'it is always my pleasure to serve.' wow, this guy seems like... kind of a pro. “tora, you haven't met gohda, right?” kyrie chimes in. oh, 'gohda', huh? you shake your head.

“my apologies for the wait on my introduction, ma'am.” gohda bows. he is very large. wow. “i am gohda, your servant. i have been working for the ushiromiya family since the year before last. i am pleased to meet you, battler-sama.” he smiles. “i have heard much about you from young miss ange, but please, tell me if there is anything i may do better to assist you.”

“gohda's always like this.” george chuckles. “it's been a while.”

“so it has, george-sama.” gohda bows his head.

“as usual, yer a reception pro... if ya ever get bothered with this job, call me anytime, 'kay? i'd hire ya anytime!” uncle hideyoshi laughs.

“you do me too much honor. please allow me to assist you, hideyoshi-sama.” yeah, a 'pro' seems about right. this guy's worked this kind of job before. he knows what he's doing. a normal, adult servant around your asshole grandpa's private island is a bit weird to see, but you don't mind. you and maria wave to the captain as he waves goodbye back.

and, aaaany second now...

...aaaaaany second now...

...the kitties aren't crying. “the kitties aren't crying,” you say. “i knew something felt weird.”

“the kitties?” jessica and aunt rosa say simultaneously. “oh, you mean the seagulls?” jessica continues. “huh. yeah, they are kinda quiet, huh?” usually, when you hear seagulls anywhere else, it reminds you of how everywhere else on this island is just full of these goofy sea cats, meowing it up. nyaa. nyaa. nyaa.

“...uu?” maria asks. she's bummed. honestly, you kind of are too. “why no seagulls?”

an urge to make a joke about yakitori bubbles up to your chest, but you suppress it with the power of your non-ushiromiya blood. “i'm pretty sure it's because of the typhoon.” you say. “seagulls are kind of sensitive to stuff like that. they'll be back when the weather is better, so tomorrow, i think.”

“uu-.” maria says. “they're sensitive. waiting for the weather to get better. uu-uu-!” you two smile at each other, and you hug again because you love maria, she is so good!

when maria brightens up like that, jessica laughs. “i can't believe surly-ass 'battler-kun' is gonna wind up being the best mom out of us. here i thought you were the one who was good with kids, aniki.” she snorts. “maybe when you're big president material, you can hire tora for childcare.”

“ah, well.” george chuckles. “i wouldn't mind that, i don't think. it'd be lovely to see her that often.”

“hey, hey.” you say, waving your hands. “did i agree to this? am i a childcare worker? am i just your babysitter now, aniki? have you become one of the olds? am i just an asset?”

george and jessica laugh. aunt rosa looks really uncomfortable, and grabs maria's wrist and hurries off. that gives jessica pause. “what's aunt rosa's problem?” she asks. “usually she's so much nicer than this.”

“ah, well.” 'it's probably because she thinks i'm a freak she doesn't want her kids hanging out with.' “i think we got off on the wrong foot. maybe she feels put out because i'm so shiny and beautiful.”

the truth is, you actually really like kids. if there's one thing you've learned, it's that kids are honest, and their judgment isn't clouded. kids can be really cruel, but kids can also be the kindest people in the world, too, and any time you can make a kid's life better through some act of kindness, you do. there don't need to be more bitter adults like your family in the world. it'd be better if every kid could grow up happy, in a place where they felt loved, and do what they wanted.

of course, you've been told before that that's pie-in-the-sky idealism. and you know that. but it's the kind of ideal you want to strive for. it's the kind of ideal that you think striving for, even if it's unattainable, makes the world a better place, and that's all a single girl like you can do, really.

you were saying something akin to that out loud, too, and jessica, crossing her arms, says, “okay, are you sure you're the same kid i knew six years ago? the kid who liked spouting stuff in english because she thought it was cool?”

you turn back to jessica, and say, “you know, sometimes, i wonder if i even am.” you shrug.


 

when that piece of shit tells you to hurry up, you hurry up, through the long, winding path to the manor. there's something you remember quite clearly, something you hope is still there-

(BGM: Hope)

-and it's better than it ever was before.

the manor at rokkenjima is a horrible place, yes, but this rose garden is somewhere you loved as a child, and it's even more beautiful now. you take a deep breath, and then, with childlike enthusiasm, you start running around, looking at all the flowers, look, look how many there are! look how bright and beautiful this place has become! oh, red, pink, yellow, so many colors of these beautiful roses!

you remember running around here when you were younger, and all the adults would laugh, because it'd be one of the few times you ever really lit up during the conference. you were a bit of a weird kid, always had been, but nobody could deny the joy you felt in these roses.

now, maria is running with you. you're laughing aloud, and in the distance, you can hear aunt eva and gohda talking. apparently, this year's bloom is less fantastic than last year's. but who cares? it's so beautiful. it's all so, so beautiful.

you love these roses. you barely even noticed the guesthouse there, but even so, you also notice that covered patio there. how could you forget it? you have so, so many important memories here, and there, and everywhere! this garden was never really part of rokkenjima, of your family, no. it was a part of something bigger, something grander.

the olds are laughing about how kyrie would murder any woman rudolf got his hands on. that is actually rather funny, but sad for the women. not for him. he deserves nothing but pain.

“whoa, tora!” jessica says, running after you. “you're still a big fan of the garden, huh?”

“aren't you?” you laugh. you know jessica sees it every day, but how could anyone tire of this beautiful place?

kyrie chuckles, and says, “now aren't you glad you came back?”

“maybe a little bit.” you smile.

“don't hurt yourself.” rudolf says. “there's thorns on those things.” he's right, but fuck you, rudolf.

“uu.” maria tugs on your dress. “tora onee-chan. this rose is strange. uu.”

“hm?” you squat down, and look to where she was pointing. sure enough, in all these many, beautiful roses, there's just this one that's withering. that's normal, of course, but... “ah, yeah. this one's not healthy, huh?”

“uu. the others are all healthy, this one's sad.” maria says.

“well, that's 'cause they all bloom and wither.” jessica squats down too. “i mean, in a way you could say this one blossomed faster than all the others.”

“well, either way.” you say, and dig around in your purse, because women's clothing doesn't have pockets and you endlessly hate this fact. george looks a bit put off, and you think maybe he was having a similar idea just now. you'll have to apologize later for stealing his thunder. you whip out a... what is this, a wrapper from a candy you ate earlier today? maria lights up. “while we're here, let's try and keep this rose going as long as we can, okay, maria?”

you affix it to the rose. “alright, now we'll know which rose it is when we come back. we can take care of it, alright, maria?” she nods her head.

“uu!” she says. then she looks towards the rose. “name, name!”

“oh, you think we should name it?” you ask, and she nods. you rub your chin for a second. “hmmm...” roses, roses. roses, roses. oh! “how about, 'the rose swordsman, schtolteheim reinbach the third?'”

there's a pause for a second. “sch...tolte... uu?” maria grimaces.

“hey, what.” jessica says.

“i agree, what.” george says.

“aw, c'mon!” you say, standing up and throwing your arms wide. “even amidst his many descendants growing into adulthood, the brave rose swordsman keeps on fighting even into advanced age! his name will be passed down into centuries! it's gotta be something dramatic! schtolteheim reinbach the third!

you hear uncle hideyoshi laugh. “havin' some trouble there, tora-chan?”

“they're the ones giving me trouble!” you respond, like a cool person.

it sort of keeps going on like this for a while. gohda's supposed to show you to your rooms, but man, fuck that, roses! roses roses roses! eventually the olds get tired of it, though, and then-

“my...! heeey! if it ain't kanon-kun! it's been so long, how ya doin'?!” you turn, to see the person uncle hideyoshi is addressing.

and your heart stops cold.

 

 (BGM: White shadow)

you start walking slowly up towards 'kanon-kun.' everyone else does, too. he was transporting gardening tools in a wheelbarrow, but he's stopped, and his eyes have flashed wide. for a second, he stares at you. “kanon-san, staring is rude.” gohda smirks and stands by him. “battler-sama, let me introduce you. he is one of the servants that serve the ushiromiya household. kanon-san, greet our guest.”

kanon takes a moment to recover, before saying, lowly, “i'm pleased to meet you. i am the servant, kanon.”

you plead with your eyes, but gohda interrupts. “kanon-san. could you perhaps give them a bit more as a greeting?”

kanon shakes his head, and looks downcast. “...no. because... we're furniture.”

jessica hurries over to back him up, laughing nervously. “ah, sorry, tora, uh, kanon-kun's kinda shy, he's the type who doesn't talk much, but he really is a good person! don't get him wrong, he's- i mean, h-hey, kanon-kun, you've been working here for three years, so a year longer than gohda, right?” she's still laughing. jessica-

three years...? “it's... it's fine.” you shake your head. you can't keep yourself from frowning in confusion. what are you supposed to say? you don't understand anything.

you nod your head. “i'm... tora.”

“...tora-sama.” he parrots back, looking away. “ange-sama's older sister?”

you plow ahead before anyone else can answer for you. “yeah. i am.” you nod, sternly. you affirm yourself. that is who you are.

“i see.” he says. he looks you in the eyes, and there's something that's communicated there.

“kanon-kun, could you perhaps be a little more courteous?” shut up, gohda. “a smiling face is also the duty of a servant.”

you can see a little twitch in kanon's eyebrow. “...i apologize.” he says. “i will make an effort.”

“hoh-hoh-ho.” kumasawa laughs. “it's only natural for a boy his age to get a bit tongue-tied when he meets a pretty young lady, no? give him a break, gohda-san.” gohda didn't seem entirely satisfied, but whatever, fuck him right now.

kanon's hand twitches slightly as he puts it back on the wheelbarrow. “...i still have work to do. if you'll excuse me.”

you really, really, really want to follow him, and help him with that load. he's clearly not strong enough to reasonably be carrying all of that. but, somehow, the force of excusing himself helps him get it off the scene soon. he even manages to deftly avoid this little pebble in the road, which is good, because you bet gohda would get pissed.

you stare after him, and people are laughing. “and for a girl her age to get a bit tongue-tied when she meets an attractive young man.” kumasawa laughs, too.

“ahhh, so that's what it is.” aunt eva snorts and laughs a bit. “surely you'll have time to moon later once we aren't carrying all of these heavy bags, hm, tora?”

“huh?” you blink, and shake your head. before you know it, kanon's gone.

“don't'cha worry about him none, tora-chan.” uncle hideyoshi laughs. “kanon-kun has a ton a things he's good at too, just bein' young works against him. it's a cryin' shame.”

“it's a prickly age.” rudolf snorts, and shrugs. “close-mouthed servants like him are just fine, though, so you be nice, gohda.” for once, you agree with him a bit. but still, on principle, fuck you, rudolf.

 


(BGM: Odonata (Unrest))

Kanon stared over a hedge as the guests all entered the guesthouse. Then, he stared up at the sky, away from his wheelbarrow. A complex mixture of emotions began to run through his face, now that none could see him. If any could, though, they could tell as clear as day that that meeting just now, meeting Tora Ushiromiya, had stirred in him something that he couldn't let go as easily as all that.

Muttered words escaped his lips, so soft that even he could hardly hear them. But they were there.

“...what am I...” He muttered. “...supposed to do now?”

For a moment, he hung his head, and bit his lower lip. “...Nee-san?”

 


 (BGM: White shadow)

you're pretty sure people are laughing about you losing your head over kanon as you guys enter the guesthouse. this thing is new. of course this house has a guesthouse just, here. of course it does. literally why would it not? it's not like anything else here makes sense. you're a bit distracted as the olds begin chatting about whether japanese-style housing or western-style housing is better. oh god, who cares. why are olds like this?

when you learn all the rooms are two-person, though, a sigh of relief runs through you. you don't have to share a room with rudolf. thank god. you couldn't stand existing in the same space as him that long. “that's a nice look you have.” kyrie chuckles. “glad you won't have to be next to rudolf?”

“dearly.” you say. “it's basically the best thing that's happened today other than me meeting maria.”

rudolf sighs, and purses his lips. “whatever. play nice with dad and aniki and the rest, got it, tora? you're the guest of honor this year, so... play it safe. be careful. how's our family head doing these days, anyway?”

“eh. same as ever.” jessica shrugs. “staying in his room, three months to live, never leaves, does weird black magic and stinks up the house.”

“as usual, genji-san is the only one who can care for him.” kumasawa adds. “us small folk cannot even get an audience...”

you're the guest of honor at your asshole grandpa's conference. you remember kinzo ushiromiya alright. he has. he has a presence. he has a presence. and apparently, he was even worse to his kids. he beat aunt eva and aunt rosa with a wooden sword, for fuck's sake. what the hell. you couldn't even breathe when he was around six years ago.

and now, you're wearing a dress.

fuck fuck fuck. “yeah, things'll probably get pretty bad if i act up.” you say. “i'll, uh. try to make myself look small and ignorable.”

“ah, grandfather isn't that bad, tora.” george smiles. “he's never unfair. he's just quite the direct talker.”

“uh, yeah, says the family darling with the perfect grades.” jessica snorts, making a little blah-blah gesture with her hand. “maybe you don't get how it works for the people with normal brains, but i've had my maidenly, innocent ass smacked with a wooden sword, aniki!”

“that is rather unpleasant,” george says, his glasses glimmering, “but you know, it just shows how much he expects of you.” every day, you are glad you aren't the one inheriting this shit family, but jessica's the heiress. bummer.

“oh, well, gee, if you think that then do you want the headship?” jessica turns away and scoffs. “this is a heavy cross for me to carry.”

“uu?” maria chimes in. “jessica onee-chan, heavy? if maria holds it, will it get lighter?”

“huh? oh, ahahahaha, thanks, maria.” jessica chuckles and smiles again. “don't worry, it's not gonna get pushed on you. i'll bear it until my grave...!”

you honestly hate the ushiromiya family. just as a concept.

you wind up staying in the same room as george. jessica got you a bigger room for the sake of cousin hangouts, and you don't mind. maria likes it better here, but you kind of have to let her go for a bit to put her stuff down in their room.

“hey. kids. gonna just stay here and chat?” rudolf asks. huh. so, this time, you're allowed to not immediately come? they're going to the mansion for a bit first? huh. you lie back on a bed, and give him a thumbs up. maria imitates you on george's bed, with an 'uu, uu.' so, basically, the olds are going off on their own. aunt eva says something about george, but he is a young'un.

that said, just before everyone else books it, george goes and asks kumasawa something you're not privy to (and speaking of, this place has a nice privy, too. a great place for you to go, toodle-loo! haha! holy shit, shut the fuck up, tora!) “something up, aniki?”

“no, no.” george waves his hands as he re-enters the room. “i just wanted to ask something.”

(BGM: Comical)

“well, i just want to be told something!” you reply, regaining your swagger in time to smirk at him.

“uu! tell maria too!” maria says, shadowing you as usual. “tell maria too!”

“ohhh, yeah. whateeeever could it possibly be that george would want to ask kumasawa, and not me, with nobody else in to hear the question?” jessica laughs to herself about this inside joke. “what possible bit of nefarious covertness? i have noooo ideaaaa.” she's smirking.

“n-no, no, you're misunderstanding.” george throws up his hands. “i'm not sure how you're misunderstanding this, but i assure you it is in fact a misunderstanding.”

“well, maria,” you say, turning to look at george, and beginning to step forward, snapping your fingers threateningly at him, “it seems only us two are out of the loop, right? what is this all about, now? i want to know!”

maria snaps her fingers threateningly too. you are a wall against george and his low power level. “uu! tora and maria wanna know, too!” maria chants as you snap. “tora and maria wanna know, too!”

“uu!” maria chimes in.

“uu.” you join her.

“uu?” maria asks.

“uu!” you and maria nod solemnly at each other. this is a good way to calm down.

“no, i'm telling you, what i had to ask kumasawa is really no big deal.” george is chuckling nervously. he's frowning. he knows he's doomed.

you look down at maria. “maria. did you know that george is ticklish?” the fear of god is put into george's face. “you attack his right side. i'll get his left.”

“uu! maria right side, tora left! uu!” maria chimes in.

and thus do you begin your ferocious attack on your secret-holding aniki. he attempts to run from you and maria, rolling on the bed to escape, but no, he is far too weak to hold you off for long. you strike his weak point. you strike it repeatedly. he is struck, for massive damage. his hysterical laughter is bouncing off the walls.

“i swear, i swear, oh god, i swear it wasn't anything important, ahahahaha!” george dies.

“oh, yeah, what were you asking, georgie porgie?” jessica tilts her head from side to side, looking on coldly against the massacre of george ushiromiya. “it has been a year since you came, after all. i'm sure you just... wanted the chance to say hi to the servants, right...?”

“uu? say hi?” maria looks a bit put off! “maria will say hi, too!”

“you're right, maria!” you look down and nod at maria. “that's not anything to feel guilty about at all. i think he's got more to hide. i think we should continue attacking him, to get him to spill all of his secrets.

“s-stop it!” george continues dying. “stop it, aaaaah maria-chan, no, tora is a bad influence! you're a bad influence, tora!”

“i beg to differ!” you say. “i am in fact the best influence!” everyone laughs, but george doesn't actually want to. he's dying.

“they're all probably busy with cleaning or lunch or, you know, stuff.” jessica shrugs, smiling. “we'll go greet them later! i'm sure shannon's reception will be better than gohda being all gohda, right?” she laughs.

“yeah, shannon's reception will be.” you say. and then you stop.

(BGM: Stop)

huh.

your hands freeze. “shannon's... reception?” you murmur. maria looks up, curious as to why you've ceased your brutal murder of george.

“uh, yeah.” jessica nods. “shannon? she's still working here. you remember her, right?”

huh.

wait.

what.

okay but.

shannon's recep-

huh.

okay but wait hold on a

but how

huh

everything just got like ten times more complicated and you are very confused

Chapter Text

12:00 P.M.

 

what are you supposed to think? what are you supposed to say? you're inside your own head. you can tell what's going on around you, right now, but how are you supposed to understand? your heart is lurching. it's lurching and lurching and lurching. “uh, sorry.” you say. “i think i need to go use the... the restroom.” you hurriedly excuse yourself from the room. maria makes a concerned-sounding “uu-uu.” as you leave.

the restroom is locked. it's in use. by who?

(BGM: Manita)

you wait outside the door for a moment until the door opens. this is... someone you don't know. there's this tall guy in a blue coat standing in the door. his hair's a bit weird, it's mostly the same color but there's this one separate strand that's a different color. damn, what anime did this guy step out of? “...sorry. was i in the way.” he says.

you stare blankly at him. maybe meeting somebody new is a good way to get your mind off of this. “uh. who are you?” you say.

he blinks at you, then shakes his head. “i heard kumasawa explaining to your folks earlier that i was here. you weren't listening, huh.” you shake your head. you can't deny it. he looks at your hair. “you're battler ushiromiya. child of rudolf and asumu.”

“close enough.” you say.

he appraises you for a second. “will.” he says, nodding brusquely. for a guy named 'will', he doesn't have the slightest accent. “willard h. wright, if you're not into the whole brevity thing.”

“well. tora.” you nod. “mr. wright.”

he sees the unasked question in your eyes, and pushes his hair back. “there was a storm a few days ago. minor shock of the oncoming typhoon, still heavy. i was on a cruise and got washed up here when i fell off. the lord and lady were nice enough to let me stay for a bit until the whole storm clears up.”

“ah.” you say.

“not much of a talker.” he says.

“well. i mean. usually i'm actually pretty chatty.” you explain. “it's just that. sorry, i'm super shaken up right now.” it's odd. this guy isn't family, but that means you feel a lot more comfortable talking to him. “i mean, you've probably heard i haven't been back in-”

“six years.” he finishes.

“and all of a sudden i feel like my head's been thrown in a blender.” you pause. you probably shouldn't say anything about specifics.

about her. “and i'm just trying to get my bearings.”

“gonna splash yourself with water?” he asks, and you nod. “well, don't let me stop you.” he walks out of the doorway, putting his hands in his coat now that they've had time to completely air-dry. “good luck with kanon.”

you sputter for a second, and then put your hands on your hips, leaning in at him. “is it a habit of yours to eavesdrop, mr. wright?”

“yeah, but i swear i'm trying to kick it.” he snorts and smirks. “later.” and just like that, the guest on the island retreats back into his room.

 


 (BGM: Dread of the grave)

Beatrice revved up, smirking. “I've got you now, Gremory! Repea-”

(BGM: Stop)

“The man Tora just met, Willard H. Wright, does in fact exist on the island. He is not a fabrication. He has been previously observed by other humans on the island. He is a physical human being with his own body that is not possessed by any other humans on the island. He can be stabbed, and bleed, and die, and it results in the death of one human being, because only one human being owns his physical body, and he is that human being. He has a birth certificate, records of birth, schooling, a place in his family registry, and so on. He is even the sole owner of a cat named Diana, and I can bring Diana in for testimony if you're still unconvinced.”

The sheer rapidity with which Gremory spoke sent Beatrice's face from smug to downright gobsmacked at the number of angles. “Please, Bae. I'm not you.” Gremory snorted. “Do you need any more or are we good?”

Beatrice didn't look very satisfied by this outcome, but she grumbled, “Continue.”

 


 (BGM: The Past)

eventually, you get back to the room. you dried your face, but you're still a bit moist, and you had to re-apply your makeup. that's fine, though. you look fine. “so, hey, jessica.” you ask, when you're down. “you mean the same shannon who worked here six years ago?”

“yup.” jessica nods. “she's been here this whole time. crazy, huh?”

“you and shannon were quite good friends when you were here.” george smiles. “i'm sure she'll be glad to see you.”

neither of them know how insane and counter-factual that sounds. that completely counters your understanding of what you just saw. maria seems to understand that there's something you think is wrong about that, but naturally she doesn't know exactly what it is.

but anyway, they're both kind of curious about how you've been getting on. well, your mom's family let you exist in their houses. they didn't exactly like you, necessarily, but you weren't hurting anyone, so you were left to your own devices. it was lonely, you don't lie. ange always brightened up your day when you got to see her, but...

you stop for a moment. rudolf ushiromiya. what a piece of shit. you hate him. you hate every inch of him. his face. his body. his personality. for a while, you tried to say you weren't a lesbian- which you still think you are, even if kanon is a confusing subject right now- because you didn't want to be a womanizing piece of shit like him. it was just the dysphoria, you told yourself. you just admire the other girls, and the way they look, but no. you're a lesbian and there's nothing you can do about that, and sometimes, you hate it, because you think maybe it's just because you have his gross, vile blood running through your veins. sometimes you think if you got cut, your blood would spew out black because there's nothing good running in your veins because of him. he's toxic. a bag of sludge masquerading as a human.

every time you see some way you look like him- and there aren't too many, thankfully, but there are a few- you want to vomit. you wish you could tear all of those parts out of yourself. but you don't say that. you laugh and make it sound like a joke how much you hate him, laugh along with jessica complaining about her folks. kyrie is cool. you like kyrie. but you hate rudolf. so much. you hate him more than anyone else in the entire world. you wish you could've had someone, anyone, else as a dad.

but anyway, other than that, you do alright. you're nearly done with high school, after all. you aren't sure what you wanna do next, but you'll figure something out, there are things you're looking into and all. you are, you laugh, still into mystery novels. how could you not be?

an image flashes into your mind. an image of that patio. you, and the girl beside you, reading a christie. crooked house. you read it together. she guessed the culprit correctly. you were off, very off. but it was still so much fun, reading with her. that was a time when you were very happy.

not a day has gone by in the past six years when you haven't thought about her.

and, so, when you saw her- of course you remembered her.

“pardon me. your meal is prepared.” a voice calls through the door.

“shannon, come in!” jessica says.

a girl walks into the room.

(BGM: The Maid (Piano))

you rephrase. a girl about your age walks into the room. her hair? it's just like it was. her voice is higher, obviously, but it's the same voice she just spoke to you with a bit ago. and those are pads. you can tell. they're good pads. but they're pads. she's using pads. so... what does that...? “it's been quite some time since we last met, battler-sama. it's nice to see you after six years. i'm shannon.”

you want to scream. why were you just there? why were you also kanon? please, tell me! have i done something wrong? why are you introducing yourself to me again?! tell me tell me tell tell me tell me tell me tell me tell me

“shannon.” you say. you're blinking, and your face is blank. “i... hi.”

“er, have i done something wrong, battler-sama?” she just heard you say it was 'tora.' say tora. please. please, please. please, shannon, please! what have you done wrong?! what did you do wrong?!

“no. no, of course not.” you lie. you're lying. lie. just lie. lie, lie, lie. “so i... met this guy kanon earlier?”

“ah, kanon-kun is shannon's little brother.” george smiles. that's a lie, too. does he know it's a lie? maybe he doesn't. maybe everyone else is blind. maybe you're blind. maybe you're making things up.

“er, he's... not exactly my little brother.” shannon says. your throat is hoarse.

“no!” you call out. everyone looks at you weird. “i just... i know that we've... it's been six years, shannon!” you laugh. “how have you been doing? the rose garden looks great, doesn't it?!”

there's a slight twitch in her face. “yes, krauss-sama's sense of decoration is truly sublime.” she giggles.

“yeah, it's even... it's even better than when we were kids!” you say. there's hope behind your eyes. please, shannon, you plead, tell me what's going on. it's still me. it's still your friend. “maybe we can go run around in it later, like we used to! oh, i actually brought a few books if you'd like to-!”

“the typhoon is coming soon.” george cuts in. oh. right. no time for that right now. “and, er-”

“heh.” jessica smirks. “he probably doesn't want you hanging out with his girlfriend.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

oh.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

george and shannon are both looking away. they're blushing. so that's it.

ha. oh. okay. okay. of course. you're a fool. you've always been a fool. why did you ever think that you could ever. of course not. you stand up. “oh, geez. really? congratulations!” you close your eyes and smile. “i had no idea! you and shannon! wow!” you laugh in george's general direction. “wow!” you're smiling. hold your smile.

everyone else isn't entirely sure how to proceed, until george says, “er, you said our meal was ready, right?”

“eh?” shannon blinks. “ah, yes! i-i'm very sorry, preparations for the meal have been carried out, so... i shall be accompanying you all to the mansion.”

she has places to be. she has her own life. why would she want to hang out with you? you say something about food. other people do, too. you begin moving.

maria tugs on your sleeve, as you take up the back of the group. “uu. tora onee-chan... sad?”

you can't cry now. if you cried now you'd look like a fool. don't cry now. they aren't even talking about you now. jessica is laughing about george and shannon, who are in a romantic relationship. of course. “yeah.” you say. “i'm really sad.”

maria clings by you as you walk. george and jessica walk in, and shannon is holding the door for you and maria. but as you pass by her-

“though i'm busy right now...” shannon says. “...i would love to speak with you later, tora-sama.”

you turn to her. shannon is smiling as she was before, but there's something behind her eyes. her eyes before, you see, were practiced, a front. just like you were trying to do. just like she tried to teach you how to do.

nobody said 'tora-sama' in front of shannon.

she's acknowledging you.

“yeah.” you nod, and smile. “whenever you get a chance.”

with that, you're back with the group. even if your heart has been hammered into bits, little, tiny bits, you'll survive. no matter how much you're crushed.

you have to. you've been acknowledged.

 


(BGM: Suspicion)

you barely even register meeting genji. your mind is racing. something strange is happening in this mansion. at the center of it is shannon- your childhood friend, the girl who, at that time, meant more to you than anyone. the girl who helped you survive those dark years. even if it didn't mean as much to her, it meant a lot to you, and now something strange is happening in this mansion.

you carefully study genji's face. you exchange canned greetings with the old servant, who's been here so long he honestly seems like part of the furniture sometimes. does he know what's happening here? he would have to, right? maybe if you asked- but no, that'd be too easy.

what do you know? there are two servants now that are the same person. that's what you know. a boy named kanon, who's been working here for three years, and shannon, who's been working here for ages. is jessica in on it? no way, right? it's jessica.

okay. for now, act casual. this is lunch with your family, not going columbo. though, admittedly, you and she did read mystery books a lot.

“so, you and shannon, eh, aniki?” you say, putting on your swagger. “how's that going?”

“ah, well.” he chuckles nervously. you think he's probably glad you're back to normal. “our living situation has made it difficult, but i'm very glad to have her.”

he actually leans in to whisper to you. “please don't tell anyone this, tora.”

“you have my word, aniki.” you whisper back. jessica is snorting at the two of you.

“i was actually practicing... my proposal in the bathroom.” HOLY SHIT. WHAT. OKAY WAIT WHOA WHOA BACK THE FUCK UP. “i'm planning to propose to her tonight.”

“wow, really?” WHOA OKAY THAT IS A BOMB. JUST DROP THAT ON A GIRL HUH OKAY. “that's wild, man!”

“it is, isn't it?” he smiles. just as you're getting started thinking about that, though, you stop.

(BGM: Sukashiyuri)

in the main hall

there's a massive portrait now that you don't remember. a woman. blonde. in a dress. she's sitting there, staring down on everyone. “hey.” you ask, as everyone seems to realize you'd never seen it before. “who... is this?”

“uu!” maria chimes in. “beatrice!”

beatrice?

“like...” you stammer for a moment. “like, the witch of the forest? that beatrice?” maria nods excitedly.

“wow, you actually remember that?” jessica says, coming up beside you. “yeah, grandpa put this up about two years ago. raving about beatrice again. he had some artist paint it, right, genji?”

“that is correct.” genji nods. “in april of the year before last, as it had been arranged, the master ordered an artist to paint it and it was put on display here.”

beatrice. the witch of rokkenjima. the spirit who haunts rokkenjima. she makes keys go missing. causes inexplicable supernatural phenomena. even when you were a kid, you heard plenty about beatrice and her shenanigans, and were told that at night, if it rained, that it was beatrice, hunting down the souls of the living.

“maria.” you turn your head and ask. “is beatrice bringing the misfortune?”

maria fervently shakes her head. “uu-uu! beatrice is a good witch! not beatrice. something else.”

even so, you look up at the portrait of beatrice. so this is what she looks like. beatrice of rokkenjima. you look up at her face, that soft little smile. is she smiling at you, you wonder? maybe...

maybe this is all the witch's doing. maybe...

maybe you're playing with beatrice again.

Chapter Text

(BGM: Organ short #200 million in C minor)

“N-now you hold on just a second here!”

The sputtering voice which met Battler's ears belonged to Virgilia, who whisked herself into the parlor, one of her oft-closed eyes open in frustration. “Gremory! I thought it was you.”

“Hey, Gilly.” Gremory waved, and Virgilia sputtered. “What's happening?”

“Wha- what's happening?” Virgilia sputtered, slamming her butt down in a seat around the gameboard, next to Gremory, and pointing her finger. “All this red truth being thrown around like you own the place, is what's happening! What do you think you're doing?”

“Briiinging my gameboard so these two can play iiiit?” Gremory raised her eyebrow. She smirked and stuck out her tongue playfully. “Aww, are you jealous I didn't let you play first? Here I thought you were too much of an old, Gilly.”

“An- an old?!” Virgilia sputtered. Battler was basically completely lost, but continued listening in the vain hopes of understanding what they were talking about. “I'll have you know that that's Ms. Kumasawa's job, being an 'old!' Thinking you... just, argh!” Virgilia clutched her hands angrily, and turned to Beatrice. “Why did you invite her?!”

“I didn't!” Beatrice threw her hands up. “I absolutely did not!”

“You did.” Battler said. Then an anvil fell on his head and sent him to the floor. Ow.

After a moment to recover, Battler asked, “Okay, so I really have to know at this point.” He said, steepling his hands and leaning on the gameboard. “What is your deal, lady?”

The parlor cast became Banquet-complete with the appearance of Ronove, who chuckled. “Lord Battler, surely you don't mean to tell me you don't know of Gremory's particular purview.”

“Assume I'm stupid for a second, Ronove.” Battler crossed his arms.

Assume?” The rest of his posse said in unison.

Battler took a moment to look down at his hands and ponder for a moment what had just happened to him. Even Ronove had outright, openly insulted him. “Hey, Battler.” Gremory said. “Here's a little lingo tip for you. We in the business call this being 'owned.'”

“I've been owned.” Battler said. “Like that?” Gremory nodded. “Great. I love being owned. It's my favorite thing.”

“Mood.” Gremory smiled. “But, anyway.” She kicked back in her seat. “There's two things you need to know about what I do. First off, I 'tell of all things past and future.'” She held up one finger. “I've got a flawless memory for the past.” A second. “And I can predict the future. That's what that means.”

“Well, then do you know what I'm going to say before I say it?” Battler asked, and Gremory shook her head.

“Nah. It doesn't work that way.” She smirked. “Before humans roamed the earth so much, I could predict just about anything. But I can't predict humans, not with all their... y'know, the mojo.” She waved her hand a bit. “So, I know how the world will move. I knew for ages there'd be a typhoon that day, a long time before the humans did. And I know how animals will move, how plants will live and die, how seagulls, if'n you will, will cry.”

“But you humans, you're different.” Gremory said. Her face was a bit downcast, but she still had that smirk on. “I can't predict you. Even if you are a witch now, same with Bae, or Gilly, I can't predict a thing about you. So I'm pretty useless as a prognosticator now that there are so many of you. Just maybe, I can tell you when some bunnies are gonna hump in the brush, or something.”

“Maybe you should hang out with Dantalion.” Battler snorted. “I hear he knows the thoughts of all people, you know!”

“God, shoot me.” Gremory looked up to the ceiling and chuckled. “I'd rather burn away completely than hang out with that guy.”

That still left a second field for her, though, so Battler returned to serious. “And your second specialty?”

“Ah, now that's lit.” Gremory lurched forward to return his gaze. “I, Mr. Ushiromiya, am particularly skilled in procuring the love of maidens.”

(BGM: Ciao Carina)

“You are no such thing!” Virgilia sputtered, turning red.

Battler nodded. “See, now I understand.” He smiled and turned to Beatrice, who was currently in the process of attempting to wink out of existence. Unfortunately, she 'existed', so she wasn't able to do that. “You could've just told me she was your ex, honey.”

“That would be!” Her head popped out of her dress. “Giving this charlatan too much credit!”

“But you invited her.” Battler said. Beatrice was too busy being embarrassed to hurt him this time.

Ronove chuckled. “Ah, but surely Milady is just embarrassed of this showing of the earnestness of a maiden's pure love. It is quite at odds with her character of the cackling, remorseless witch of today, after all-”

If Ronove's sudden disappearance had been even a fraction of a second slower, he would've been sliced to bits by an almost ludicrous web of millions upon millions of lances appearing around him, ready to stab him to bits even after the slicing. “He's fired.” Beatrice said. “A worthless piece of furniture.”

“Gonna put him on Craigslist?” Gremory asked.

“A-anyway!” Virgilia's eyes were both open from shock. Had Battler known that such a dangerous demon existed among the seventy-two, he absolutely would've asked to meet her sooner. “You've always been irresponsible like this, so I-I bet you haven't even... even had this board tested for-!” She sputtered. “For logic errors!”

Gremory crossed her arms and blinked. “Logic errors?” She shrugged. “Why would I need that? I have a perfect memory. And nobody's-”

Beatrice interrupted. “Are you truly this much of a fool, Gremory?” She cackled. “Bringing to the Endless Witch Beatrice, a story of the Endless Witch Beatrice, without even consulting on whether it has any factual errors? Don't you knooooow, that a logic error is an eternal torture?”

Her wolfish grin didn't faze Gremory. “Fine, then just bring someone in to check it.” Gremory shrugged.

The three women looked to Battler, and Battler cleared his throat momentarily. “Well, let's see.” He paused. “Ronove isn't allowed back in here until Beato stops being mad...” Mentally, he took inventory. It was reasonably likely that any other 'maiden' who found their way in here would probably just start sputtering upon finding Gremory if the two witches' reactions were any indication. Perhaps not Bern, or Lambda, given their obvious devotion to each other, but Battler had no clue where they went, and perhaps didn't want to give Gremory ideas on what, exactly, procuring love of maidens meant, considering how exactly said devotion manifested itself.

“Say, Gremory.” Battler asked. “If you were to see a relationship and want to emulate it-?”

“You're thinking 'goals', my dude. Specifically, 'relationship goals' in that case.” Gremory shot a finger-gun gesture at him. He didn't want Gremory to go relationship goals at those two. Well, the Chiesters were women. The Seven Stakes were women. Gaap was a woman, and though Battler knew Gaap to be a rather unflappable sort, well, logic went out the window with Gremory around, by the look of it. He couldn't exactly call EVA-Beatrice in, and she was a maiden besides. All the officers of Eiserne Jungfrau he knew were women. Will was a piece in this game. Lion was unconfirmed, and had a badminton tournament today anyhow. He briefly considered Erika before realizing how bad of an idea that was. Zepar and Furfur, well, either one of them could not be a maiden, but he would rather not take a roll on the Devil's Roulette that dangerous. None of the eighteen humans besides himself had the authority to check a gameboard.

“...Why is Ronove the only confirmed non-maiden on our payroll or in our phone book, Beato?” Battler said, rubbing his head.

Beatrice turned from her cackling to ask simply, “Why would I have any more?” And, frankly, Battler couldn't argue against that.

“W-well.” Virgilia huffed, turning away from Gremory. “We could call Sakutaro.” Battler gave her a look.

(BGM: Sakutaro's adventure)

A few moments later, Battler, Beatrice, Virgilia, and Gremory were huddled around the phone, as Battler carefully put in Sakutaro's number. Ring ring ring, ring ring ring, phone call, phone call. “Uryu~?” The high-pitched voice of everyone's favorite vegetalion came through. “Hello?”

“Sakutaro!” Battler called. “How've you been?”

“Uryu! Battler-san!” Sakutaro yipped. “I heard about your party! Did you have fun?”

“Yeah, yeah, we're actually entertaining a houseguest right now.” Battler said. “Actually, that's why I called. Are you busy? I know you said you were a bit nervous about the whole, meeting these demons and all thing, but it's just one person, and she actually brought a gameboard, and we're looking for someone to referee.”

There was a pause. “Why can't Maria do it?” Sakutaro asked. “Or Miss Virgilia?”

“Well, because...” Battler put his hand on his head. “Because I need a guy, and Ronove's been temporarily fired.”

The little whine from the phone told Battler all he needed to know. “S-sorry, Battler-san. I... actually have a PR interview today. Uryu.”

Being friends with an actual media celebrity was neat and all, but it did unfortunately mean Sakutaro's availability was limited. Battler sighed. “No, it's fine. We'll find someone. Oh, but Maria made a new friend!” He smiled. “His name is Glasyalabolas, and she was really excited for him to meet you.”

Sakutaro yipped. “Oh, boy! If it's just one demon, I think I can handle it!” Battler inwardly genuflected and paid his emotional respects to Sakutaro. “Ah, I have to go now, though. Good luck! I hope you solve it!”

And then he hung up. “Well.” Battler said. “That didn't work.” He took a deep, deep breath in, and started lightly pounding his head on the table that held the phone. He groaned, loudly, and threw his hands up. “Uuuuuooooohhhhh. Beatriceeeeeeeeeeeee.”

“What.” Beatrice asked.

“Beatriceeeeeeeeeeee.” Battler repeated. “Uuuuuoooooooooooohhhhhhh.” He just wanted to watch more of the game board. Was that so wrong.

“Excuse me.” A new voice rang out, cutting in through Battler's misery like a ray of beautiful, masculine light. “Lord Ronove told me that his firing might result in an issue. May I be of assistance?”

(BGM: Peacekeeper)

Master of revealing and guarding hidden treasures, ranked third, the noble Prince Vassago was known as the demon prince with a 'good nature,' which placed him a fair bit above the rogue's gallery Beatrice regularly broke bread with. Evidently, he had previously been an angel before being ousted from Heaven as part of the rebellion which formed Hell to begin with, or something. Battler didn't ask much because frankly, asking about things like that when he had both Lucifer and Satan on his payroll as scantily-clad young girls seemed like an easy ticket to a headache.

Flowing, pure white hair with tresses Battler had to admit even he'd die for hung in a tight, functional ponytail. His face was smooth, androgynous, but severe, the face of a man who knew duty. Even to a party, he'd come in at least some armor, wearing blue and white pauldrons, greaves, and gauntlets, currently wielding a similarly-colored broom in both hands as though it were a deadly weapon. Beneath his armor, he'd come in a respectful black suit and kilt, though they were only visible from the front; perhaps the greatest facet of Vassago's look was the 'metal skirt' he wore around his waist, which hung low enough to cover most of his legs from every direction besides the front. It wasn't actually a skirt, though- it was a massive sheath for an incredible collection of blades and other such implements held within its pockets, several of whose hilts stuck out just a slight bit so you could tell that at a moment's notice, Vassago could go to war. Beatrice claimed he was a compulsive hoarder for things like legendary blades.

“Vassago!” Battler clapped. “Oh, let me tell you, buddy, you are a sight for sore eyes!”

“Are your eyes sore, Lord Battler?” Vassago asked. He holstered his mighty broom into his sheath. “I do hope you'd rest if that were the case. It has been quite a trying night for you, and it would be a shame if your health were negatively impacted.” Since, with the addition of this friendly face, her presence was no longer needed, Virgilia quietly excused herself.

Within instants, Battler and Beatrice had very forcibly moved Vassago into the referee's position. The prince blinked. “Er. Pardon, I'm not particularly familiar with this form of non-verbal communication. Could you perhaps ask for what you want?”

“Congratulations, Vassago!” Beatrice threw her arms wide. “You have the honor of serving as referee for Gremory's game board!”

Vassago blinked, and then turned his head and noticed Gremory. “Oh. Hello, Duchess. How are you this evening? I hadn't seen you come in.”

“I didn't 'come in', really.” Gremory shrugged. “Technically I'm still in the garden.”

“You, my friend,” Battler rubbed his hands, “have the amazing honor of being literally the only person we have access to who can do this! Congratulations!” He and Beatrice joined hands, and threw celebratory confetti on Vassago, calling, 'Congratulations! Congratulations!' repeatedly.

“I am very confused.” Vassago said, his face blank. Then he smiled. “At the very least, it's lovely to see the two of you in the same room again.”

Beatrice huffed and turned away. “I'm done congratulating him now.”

After a moment's more explanation, Vassago put on his reading spectacles to check the gameboard, which manifested in a 'zine', as Gremory called it. He nodded a few times, and made humming noises as he checked it. 'Ah, I see.' 'Oh, interesting.' 'Goodness!' Then he put it down. “I've concluded my check and can find no logic errors in Duchess Gremory's gameboard by itself, nor in the red truths she's given thus far.”

“Told you.” Gremory said, still kicking back in her seat. “Geez, Bae. Don't I get a little benefit of the doubt?”

No, you do not.” Beatrice huffed.

“Isn't this nice?” Vassago smiled. “Lord Battler, would you like to resume the game?”

Battler nodded. “Yeah. I would.”

 


 (BGM: Odonata)

Kanon's back slammed against a wall the instant Shannon entered the hall to speak. “Nee-san.” He said, shaking. “What are we doing?”

The always-demure Shannon smiled at her younger brother and said, “I was greeting our guests.”

“You know that's not what I meant!” Kanon roared. “Why- why are we pretending that everything is normal, that we've-?!” He cut himself off. “Nee-san, don't tell me you don't feel it too. Don't tell me that. You're the one always talking about how blue the world looks when you're with George-sama, don't you tell me-!”

“Kanon-kun.” Shannon chided. She closed her eyes. “Together with George-san, I've become human. You remember, don't you?”

How could he ever forget? The days that Shannon spent with George were- were- “He's a human, and we're furniture!” Kanon stomped his foot. “Just listen to me for one second.” He hissed, his eyes glaring holes in her. For once, his beloved Nee-san felt not like a sister, but like a cursed, horrible enemy. “Furniture... can understand furniture.”

“Together with George-san,” Shannon said, slightly more forcefully, “I've become human. Don't you remember the feelings you had for Jessica-sama?”

Kanon's blood ran cold, and he bent over, clutching his head, sweating and breathing heavily. He saw, for that briefest moment-

that smile that belonged

to the woman named Tora.

She had acknowledged him. He had seen it in her eyes, she knew that he was furniture, not a human, and yet she had acknowledged him. The two of them were-

“We were born to serve the Ushiromiya family.” Shannon said. “This family is a family of humans. We're furniture, Kanon-kun.”

“But what if,” Kanon breathed, “what if, she's furniture, too?”

Shannon shook her head at her poor, silly, hopeful little brother. “The Ushiromiya family could never produce furniture like us.” She smiled. “That's why, with George-san-”

“Shut up about George!” Kanon roared. “I don't want to hear about George!” Just- just-

-he had been so chaste thus far, not even asking for a kiss, but the thought of his hands on Shannon's body, aaa, aaaaaahhh-

'I'm Tora.'

“I love George-san.” Shannon said. “Kanon-kun...” She looked down at him, slumped against the wall, covered in sweat. “There's no need. You don't need to go speak to Tora-sama.”

“But I want to.” Kanon pleaded. He, who had always professed of the meaninglessness of Shannon's love, was now begging her for him to be allowed to try.

And then-

-golden butterflies filled the air-

(BGM: Golden sneer)

“Ooooohhhh?” Materializing before the two of them, the Golden Witch, Beatrice, appeared once more before the bickering furniture. “Is poor, dear Kanon-kun dissatisfied by something?”

“B-Beatrice-sama!” They both cried.

“I would ever so much hate for such close siblings to have to fight.” Beatrice smirked, tapping her pipe against the window, pointing at the oncoming storm clouds. “But if this 'Tora Ushiromiya' is so fascinating to you that it would cause even poor Kanon-kun to scream about how badly he deserves love...”

Beatrice leaned her head back, and cackled. “Then perhaps I shall be the one to mediate! Why don't I go meet her for myself?! Ihehehehahahahahehahyahahahahahehahehehehahahahaha!”

Kanon lay slumped against the wall, glaring at the witch. He- 'how badly he deserves'-

“E-even I-” He began.

“Kanon. Shannon.” Genji's voice cut in, calling from the hallway. “There is work to be done.”

With a smirk, Beatrice disappeared, and the two servants returned to their work.

 


(BGM: Vulpe)

But within the bowels of the Ushiromiya family

unbeknownst even to Beatrice

a demon stirred

It writhed against its chains, roaring soundlessly

It was a demon of the Ushiromiya family

that would feed on and kill the Ushiromiya family

and this demon looked out upon the conference and saw the girl looking up at the portrait of the witch

and when it looked at her

"the demon acknowledged Tora Ushiromiya”

Chapter Text

1:30 P.M.

(BGM: Novelette)

you remember the seating system of the ushiromiya family from when you were a kid, but now that you're eighteen, it makes you want to puke a bit inside. you've never talked too much with aunt natsuhi, but her, kyrie, and uncle hideyoshi being beneath you in the ranking is absolutely ridiculous. “ah, there you are.” kyrie says. “we're glad you're here.”

that isn't, of course, to say that you don't think aunt natsuhi seems cool or anything. like, she's clearly cool. she has rad hair and she puts up with uncle krauss, who is clearly a huge tool. you were just never sure how to talk to her as a kid or anything, and she sounds like a strict mom. “battler-san.” she nods to you as you sit down. “it's been quite a long time.”

“yeah, it has.” you smile and nod.

aaaaaaaaand that's it. bam. killed it. you are a conversational god.

there's four seats left open at the table. grandpa, uncle krauss, the theoretical seat left open for maria's dad who will never, ever show up, and a seat at the end for... uh, someone. you're so busy thinking about your game with beatrice that you barely even notice wacky old grandpa kinzo being absent until you note that the room feels strangely not oppressive. noticing the look on your face and your looking at the chair, aunt natsuhi is kind enough to say, “father is currently being requested from his study.”

“he's been holed up in his room for ages.” jessica snorts. “personally, i feel better without him.”

“jessica.” aunt natsuhi's face goes stern in an instant.

well, if that's the case, then there's nothing to do but wait. thankfully, you have plenty to think about.

realistically speaking, you kind of doubt gohda is in on whatever this is. he seems like a tool. he especially seems like a tool to kanon, and like, fuck that. kumasawa? ...probably. probably genji and kumasawa know what's going on. those two are this place's most loyal servants, there's no way they wouldn't know. genji in particular, you're pretty sure, manages all the servants himself.

aunt natsuhi, though... you don't know her well enough to say if she'd know. jessica wouldn't. there's no way any of your aunts and uncles other than the two who live here would, same with george. wait, well... george is dating shannon. maybe he knows? but- but if he doesn't, that might cause some issues bringing it up... oh, fuck that is such a thorny subject. god you want an explanation there. holy shit shannon what are you doing.

rudolf is grumbling on the far end of the table, leaning back. kyrie is giving him those looks that tell him not to start shit. aunt eva seems amused by something, looking at the group. maria is sitting patiently, waiting for the food, but you see her fidgeting and making glances at you and aunt rosa.

you remember something.

(BGM: Serie de Fragmento)

you're sitting in the rose garden's patio again. she's sitting next to you. you're sitting there, awkward as usual. you just said, 'sometimes, i feel like nothing is real. like i'm not real.'

'sometimes i feel the same way.' she says. 'like everything around me is a dream, and eventually, i'll wake up.' you nod.

you look down at the note in your hand again. it's a little riddle. you looked for your copy of ordeal by innocence earlier, but it wasn't there. there was just a note. a note from the witch, beatrice.

she tells you, 'when that happens, it's beatrice.' you raise your eyebrow and make a little noise. 'well, er... it helps me if... i pretend like when that happens, i'm the witch, beatrice. it's beatrice who makes things go missing.'

it was her who took it, of course. she just wanted to have fun. you had fun, too.

'so you're making magic by being beatrice?' you ask, and she nods. 'that's...' you smile so bright, you didn't even know you could. 'that's so cool.'

she blushes, and looks away. 'cool?'

'yeah!' you say. 'i just deal with it, but you... you make your own fun with it. that's so cool, shannon. you're so... creative!' you giggle a bit. 'you really are a witch. that's so cool.'

you don't even mind that she just made you run all around the manor on a wild goose chase for your own book. you were having fun playing with your friend. that's the truth. 'i won't tell anyone.' you say, smiling. you zip your lips. 'my lips are sealed.'

'...thank you.' she says.

(BGM: Novelette)

it occurs to you, as uncle krauss comes in, that maybe you should talk more to maria. uncle krauss looks the same as ever. square. very, uh. krauss-y. man, what the fuck are you even supposed to say about this guy. he's so krauss. “well, ladies and gentlemen. the head of the family is not in his best shape. all of you who have come together for this long awaited yearly meeting, it is a great shame that he won't be able to partake in lunch with us. gohda, let the lunch begin.”

“certainly. i will begin today's luncheon.” gohda says. thank god. you're actually pretty hungry.

and... uh... who is this guy. this... man. this very round sir. “doctor nanjo, is father's condition that bad?” aunt eva asks. uh, okay, apparently his name is nanjo. “it would have been nice if he at least showed his face, right?”

“...in this case, his mood is the issue.” doctor nanjo nanjos. “and there's nothing i can prescribe for that.”

“that's quite unfortunate.” kyrie says. “a shame that we couldn't even see father today.”

“at the very least, i was able to confirm his mood.” uncle krauss smirks. “i believe that's all any of us would like to do as far as that goes.”

“do you think his mood will improve before dinner?” rosa asks.

“i have no idea.” uncle krauss shrugs. “you could try and ask him directly, though i imagine it's likelier if we don't bother him.”

“genji's the only one who can manage it.” jessica mutters. “making the servants deal with your dad's bad mood sucks, though. geez.”

“jessica.” uncle krauss says. jessica has that 'oh fuck i thought you couldn't hear that' look. “don't speak out of turn.”

you hum to yourself, and turn to george. “is it really that bad? if he's angry enough to tell them to get out?”

“ah, they've been saying he has three months left since last year.” george says. he pushes his glasses up. “his willpower is great, but his body is another story. prolonging his life through willpower alone sounds like a cause for concern.”

“it sounds rad.” you say.

 


(BGM: Doorway of summer)

uncle krauss is chatting. jessica has turned away, so there's a sort of divide in the table. apparently, nanjo is grandpa's personal physician. well. good for him. frankly, right now, you don't actually give a shit, because it turns out that while gohda might be kind of a tool from what you've seen, oh

freakin

butt

is he good at cooking. oh MAN. this sashimi salad. oh god. ugh IT'S LIKE, THIS FOOD, IS HAVING A JUICY LOVE AFFAIR WITH YOUR TASTE BUDS. GUH. OH GOD YOU ARE WEAAAAAAK.

“hey, tora.” rudolf says, his face flat. “if you eat too much, you'll get fat.” you look at him, dead in the eyes, and proceed to place another piece of sashimi in your mouth, because you are a rebel and you don't give a shit about what he thinks. if fat will accumulate, let it accumulate. all the better to... uh... fuck you, dad.

that still sounds wrong but you didn't say it out loud so you win anyways. another flawless victory for tora ushiromiya.

in the background, you idly learn gohda's backstory. what a champ. “there's no need to thank me.” aunt natsuhi says. “the decision was purely objective. you were simply the most talented of the applicants.” fuckin' savage god damn.

kumasawa and- yup, and shannon, enter from the hallway with a serving cart. “please excuse us.” shannon says. oh. oh your god what is that. your eye twitches slightly at the sight of this thing. it's a white, pudding-y thing with two shades of red sauce, with some rose petals around the side. huh. huhhhh. hu- hey. hey. maria looks about ready to dig in.

“hold on, maria.” you put your finger out lightly. “we need to wait for gohda to tell us what he's made.” she makes a little noise. “after all, if he doesn't, it could turn out to be something gross, like kumasawa's mackerel.”

“oh ho ho ho.” kumasawa laughs. “ahh, the young don't understand the virtues of mackerel.”

after a moment to process, maria nods. “uu! wait for gohda-san! no mackerel!”

“no mackerel!” you laugh and nod.

“hoh?” uncle krauss says. “so battler has become an expert with children. you must be proud, rudolf.” he smirks at rudolf. you think there's probably something behind it, given these ushiromiya men, but you're too busy waiting with maria to really think about it.

“i remember one time, maria,” you say, “old kumasawa tried to trick me into thinking a mushroom was penguin meat!”

“ah, but tora-chan was far too smart for me.” kumasawa laughs, having somehow ninja'd around to pat you on the shoulder. “even after all this time she's an expert. it must be all the mackerel.”

“so, what is it you've prepared for us today, gohda-san?” aunt natsuhi asks. she's smiling a bit from your antics. aunt rosa looks a bit put off, as usual.

“well, then, allow me to introduce today's dessert.” gohda nods. “based on the rose garden everyone seemed to enjoy so much, i finished this panna cotta in a rose garden style. the rose petals scattered across were selected from the rose garden just now. the sauce is a combination of two reds, strawberry and rose hips. please, enjoy the mixture of the sweet strawberry and the sour rose hips. that said, the petals are simply decoration; please avoid them as you eat. with that said, please, enjoy.”

UGH FUCK IT'S GOOD. THIS IS SO GOOD. THIS IS A FOOD DISH. this COMBINATION of SWEET and SOUR is so GOOD. UGH. YOU ARE SO WEAK. YOU COULD EAT THIS FOREVER. you tell gohda as much as he passes your seat. “my good new friend gohda please make this forever.” you say. “you culinary genius you. i'm dying in my seat. my soul is ascending.”

“well, that's a problem!” uncle hideyoshi says. “don't wantcha dyin' on us now!”

“uu!” maria nods in agreement. “tora onee-chan, no dying!”

“oh, okay, i can't say no to you, maria.” you smile and laugh at each other. you briefly remember that aunt natsuhi suffers from headaches, and in recognition and apology for taking up so much of his time, you pass him a tip. “and doesn't rose hip work on headaches? so thoughtful, too!”

“ah, i had it specially prepared for the madam.” gohda bows, seeming please by someone noticing his deeply epic kindness and cool servantness. “however, if it assists you as well, battler-san, i would be deeply pleased.”

you realize you're in the middle of a game with beatrice, but you feel like you should ask, too. “do the servants get to try any of this?” you ask. you're looking at shannon.

shannon, her eyes closed, smiling, responds. “genji-san requested a test be made... so we were allowed a brief test.” you look at her, and the two of you nod. “thank you for your consideration, tora-sama. it is more than we deserve.” you're glad.

uncle hideyoshi is jokingly trying to recruit gohda. kumasawa is laughing, too. “hoh-hoh-hoh. in that case, if you'll please excuse me... prepare yourself for tonight's dinner! i'll be cooking plenty of mackerel dishes for you to eat, so look forward to it!”

“oh, that sounds lovely.” kyrie says, raising her finger in that gesture you totally didn't steal from her, shut up. “i'll be sure rudolf is properly dressed.”

“yeah, yeah.” rudolf rubs the back of his head. “will you have any sake?”

“how about some of our famous rokkenjima mackerel liquor?” kumasawa asks. everyone laughs. sitcom scene ending.

 


 

they're making some tea that aunt rosa brought, but you're being ejected. “tora-san, why don't we all go for a walk outside?” george asks.

you shrug. “sure, sounds alright by me.”

“uu!” maria grabs your hand. “maria wants the beach, wants the beach!!”

aunt eva makes a noise of appreciation. “going to the beach isn't something you get to do that often. isn't that great.”

“let's hit the beach, then!” jessica says, laughing.

“maria, be careful not to get your clothes wet. your shoes, too.” aunt rosa says.

“uu! won't get wet!” maria nods.

“isn't that cute?” kyrie chuckles. “tora, make sure you keep an eye out for maria, okay?”

“you got it.” you nod.

“wish she'd listen to me like that for once in her life.” rudolf grumbles.

“ha!” you laugh. “nope!”

 


(BGM: At death's door)

“Isn't your family close, Rudolf.” Krauss chuckled, taking a sip of his tea. “How lovely.”

Rudolf looked bitterly into his own tea, not taking a sip. “Yeah. Sure.”

“What a bunch of cute kids.” Eva said, tapping her fan. “Jessica's become darling. No doubt she has your training to thank, eh, Natsuhi?”

“...Thank you.” Natsuhi answered. And that was the end of the conversation for the moment. A silence began to fill the air in the parlor, a cold, deathly silence.

“Still,” Hideyoshi said, breaking the silence with an exaggerated gesture, “ain't it crazy how time flies? All these kids growin' up an' becoming adults. I barely even recognized Battler!”

Eva snorted. “Yes, well. Who's to say whether he's really an adult or not? With such an incompetent father, after all.”

Rudolf's hand twitched around the handle of his teacup. “Yes, I was certainly shocked.” Krauss chuckled. “Though I suppose he was always the black sheep. No surprise, coming from Rudolf.”

Rosa, who'd remained quiet until now, said, “I'd rather not discuss Battler any longer.” with an uncharacteristic harshness. “As always, Nii-san only wastes time.”

“Hoh?” Krauss laughed. “And I'm certain you mean Rudolf by that, no? If you didn't, then your sarcasm would be shockingly ill-timed, Rosa. Perhaps you are taking after Eva after all.”

“Oh, is that what you think?” Eva asked, her grip around her fan tightening. “I'd love to box those words and send them to a few years ago, see what you think of them back then.”

“Ah, perhaps the barbs can wait for later.” Kyrie cut in, ever cool as a cucumber. “While the children aren't around, we should move into a more intellectual discussion.”

Though she wasn't an Ushiromiya by blood, the three siblings of the other families acknowledged Kyrie's words as though she were a blood sister. “How is Father doing?” Eva asked. “I recall he had three months at this time last year, so surely a man with negative nine months left to live could die at any moment.”

“The head is in perfect health.” Natsuhi said, harshly rebuking Eva's question.

“Still, Natsuhi, if we don't discuss this til' he does get worse, it'll be too late.” Hideyoshi, as the mood-maker, stepped in. “We gotta figure somethin' out while we still got time. It's financial etiquette.”

“Why don't we consult the expert?” Krauss asked. He turned his head. “Doctor Nanjo, what is your opinion of Father's health?”

It took a moment for Nanjo to realize he'd been called. He awkwardly coughed. “Doctor Nanjo.” Rosa said. “How is Father's condition?”

“Well... my estimate last year obviously hasn't borne fruit.” Nanjo said. “If I may revise my position.”

“Remaining time is only ever an estimate, after all.” Kyrie said. “It's not a promise.”

“That's correct.” Nanjo nodded. “I can't... confirm when he'll pass. His mind is still making up for the lull in his body's condition.”

“So he's staying alive by pure willpower?” Rudolf said. He snorted. “Sounds nuts.”

Eva and Kyrie simultaneously turned to Rudolf. Kyrie's rebuke was quiet, but stern; “Rudolf, be quiet.”

Eva, on the other hand, sneered. “Who told you you could talk, Rudolf? Were you given permission?”

“...Nee-san, please.” Kyrie said, frowning lightly. “Allow me to handle him.”

“...Sorry.” Rudolf gritted his teeth, looking back into his tea. He still hadn't taken a single sip.

Of course, discussion of the head's health continued in a similar direction. Naturally, it was discussed that Kinzo Ushiromiya would not leave his room out of fear regarding the way they had attempted to force him out. Nanjo could only examine him, not have him hospitalized. As such, the 'three month estimate' was, as always, useless. Kinzo Ushiromiya's life teetered on the brink, but there was no knowing when the man would finally fall.

“In that case,” Kyrie said, “according to Doctor Nanjo, he could still perish at any time. In that case, it seems logical to consider the discussion of Father's fortune an open topic.”

“...Ridiculous.” Natsuhi muttered under her breath. Hatred and embitterment towards Kyrie was nothing new from her, but she did her best to hide it. Her word was not considered law.

“Several ten billion yen is the price tag I'd place, but of course it's not as easy as all that.” Eva said, smirking. A bit of it was aimed to Natsuhi and Rudolf, as always. “It's not as though it's a birthday cake.”

“Even a birthday cake can be adorned in a great number of ways.” Kyrie nodded. “With that said, it's best to think about how exactly to slice.”

“I don't understand this.” Natsuhi couldn't help herself. “Discussing this while the head is still alive, you make it sound as though he's already dead!”

“Hooooh?” Eva pounced on Natsuhi's moment of weakness. “Come now, don't you see how important this is? After all, when the time comes, the inheritance of his fortune must be carried out immediately, no? The Ushiromiya household's glorious fortune is vast, Natsuhi. A careful discussion is necessary beforehand- but perhaps you don't know that, with the difference between this fortune and your own family's.”

“M-my birth family has nothing to do with this.” Natsuhi said. Of course, there was another person actively participating in this discussion who was not from the Ushiromiya family by birth, but-

“Eva nee-san, there's no need to say that.” Kyrie smiled lightly, raising a finger. “Please, don't bully poor Natsuhi.”

-Kyrie Ushiromiya wore the One-Winged Eagle, after all. It was displayed, proudly, on her coat. Between her and the other two spouses, her and her husband, it was clear who was the most powerful. To Eva, Rosa, and Krauss, Kyrie was the head spokesperson of the third family, not pathetic, sniveling, incompetent Rudolf. And perhaps discussions were better for it. Without Rudolf's fool head in the discussions, the three younger sisters were able to more calculatedly plan their assault.

Rudolf... silently stared into his tea. He glared enviously at the back of Doctor Nanjo, who conveniently managed to excuse himself.

“It seems to me as though you are all quite impatient.” Krauss said. “Surely a careful, deliberate calculation would be better for all of us. Is something making you impatient, Rosa?”

“...We are not impatient.” Rosa said, a stony smile on her face. “However, a decision between siblings is essential. It doesn't matter when, but if the day Father's condition worsens is approaching, it doesn't seem to me to be impatient...”

“Oh? Is that how you feel?” Krauss asked, raising his eyebrow. “I didn't expect honest, pure-hearted Rosa to say something like that. Perhaps your sisters told you to say it?”

“Rosa has as much right to the inheritance as any of us, Nii-san.” Kyrie said, smiling. “And it is an important topic.” It was cold. “It almost seems as though you'd like nothing better than to turn the discussion away from the inheritance.”

“I-Is this your 'chessboard thinking' at work again?!” Natsuhi spat, clenching her fists. “Are you trying to accuse my husband of something?!”

“C-calm down, Natsuhi.” Hideyoshi pressed his hands down to try to calm the room. “Listen to what we have to say.”

...Discussion after that continued onto the discussion of Krauss's use of the capital, and the inspiration he took from the hit theme park, Delsney Land. The intention of Toraian, the guesthouse, as a resort, and not simply a lavish guesthouse. Krauss Ushiromiya's ongoing bleeding of funds in ventures that never seemed to pay out. The fact that nobody seemed to be lending him money any longer for these ventures.

“If I turn the chessboard around,” Kyrie said, coldly gazing at Krauss, “it seems that the only reason that would make sense regarding all of your behavior is embezzlement, Nii-san.” The heiress of a yakuza family smirked and said, “That's a serious crime.”

“Wha-?!” Natsuhi sputtered, standing up. “This is rudeness in the extreme! How can you even face the successor to the Ushiromiya head house and level these abusive accusations?!”

“Oh, they're not 'abusive', they're right on the mark, aren't they?” Eva cackled. “He wants to make his business succeed, but he keeps taking ever-larger gambles to try and cover up his losses. Naturally he'd use funds he had access to right here! Ah, but that's betraying our father. Surely you know the courts will settle this after the fact, but does that sort of person really have any business assuming the position of successor to the Ushiromiya head house?”

“Y-you... you can't say that, saying he's b-betraying the head isn't something that I can easily overlook, you- you have no right to straddle the threshold of the glorious Ushiromiya family!” Natsuhi sputtered. “Leave this place immediately! Alright?! Just get out!”

In a rage, Natsuhi pointed her finger from Eva to the hallway. Rudolf continued staring into his tea. She'd made a mistake, but it wasn't like it was his place to say anything anymore.

“Say... Natsuhi nee-san, who exactly do you think you're talking to?” Eva said, fanning herself, her smile curved into a crescent moon as she glared maliciously at Natsuhi. Rosa gulped.

“I am speaking to my husband's extremely impolite sister!” Natsuhi responded. “As the person in charge of the main family's kitchen, I cannot overlook any more of this!”

“In charge of the kitchen?” Eva began laughing, slowly at first, but then quite brazenly cackling into Natsuhi's face. “Shut up, you maidservant.”

Rising, and striking her fan shut, Eva radiated an aggression quite at odds with her elegance from before now. “I'm telling you now to bow down before Eva Ushiromiya, the third-ranked in the Ushiromiya family hierarchy, allowed to stand at the left shoulder of the head! Know your place, and look in a mirror at your shabby figure! Where on your clothes is the wing? Where are you permitted to wear the One-Winged Eagle? Aren't you nothing more than a borrowed womb-”

Shut up!” Rudolf slammed his fists on the table, snarling. He was taller than Eva, but of course, while sat, he was a dwarf as compared to her. And it wasn't as though he wanted to protect Natsuhi. Eva just really pissed him off. “What the hell are you doing? What does any of this have to do with the damned inheritance, Eva?”

In the background, as Natsuhi's throat was crushed by anger and sadness, Eva turned her face to Rudolf. If possible, she was even more enraged now, having seen a target even more full of blood for her to rip at. “Ohhhh?” She said, glaring at Rudolf. “And what do you have to add, you worm?”

“I'm just one step below you, god damn it.” Rudolf snarled.

Eva laughed in his face. “Look at your clothes, Rudolf! The One-Winged Eagle was so sick of you that it took alight on your wife instead! What right do you have for us to beg to talk about money when you can't even hold it yourself?” She cackled. “You hardly even have the right to stand in this room, you piece of trash!”

Rudolf gritted his teeth and glared, slamming his fist down by his tea. It was cold by now- a bit of it splashed on his fist this time. “I'm an Ushiromiya the same as the rest of you.” He shook. “I have as much right to this inheritance as any of you-!”

“A man so incompetent that his own son wishes him death has that same right?” Eva laughed in his face. “A businessman so worthless that his wife has to run his business for him? A father so disgraceful that his son, one of the heirs to the Ushiromiya family, threw away his manhood and moons over a servant boy?!”

Rudolf stood in one quick motion, his anger turning to outright fury. “Don't you talk about my daughter like that!” In his anger, he picked up his teacup and hurled it straight in Eva's face.

Eva, as he well knew, had better reflexes, and caught the teacup in the air, but the tea fell to the ground. If there was one thing she loved more than ensuring that lowly maidservants knew their place, it was driving her worthless younger brother under her heel. So, naturally, going along with his son's delusions and allowing him to toss away his manhood was all fine if it let Rudolf marinate in his worthlessness.

“Rudolf.” Kyrie said, her eyes closed, her breath even. “Leave your seat and cool your head outside.”

“You join him, Natsuhi.” Krauss said. And his eyes were closed.

Rudolf knew what was coming next, but he crinkled his nose, clenching his fists, and turned away. “D-dear, don't you understand what they're saying about you?!” Natsuhi yelled. “These people are baselessly calling you a traitor to Father! They are making light of the fact-”

The door slammed behind Rudolf as he shut it. He began walking down the stairs, hoping he wouldn't run into anyone. Maybe he passed Kumasawa, or something.

He lit up a smoke.

Today sucked.

Chapter Text

(BGM: Fishy aroma)

“Before we proceed.” Vassago cut in. He waved a checkered flag, like were waved in car races. “While no logic errors have been presented thus far, there is useful information which should be presented in the interest of creating a fair game.”

Battler was currently pondering, as he did. “I was wondering when that would come up. So, Kyrie's wearing the Eagle?” He turned to Beatrice and said, “Somehow I doubt that's anything good.”

“In my many, many years, I've learned a very important fact, Battler.” Beatrice said, pursing her lips at the gameboard. “Would you like to hear the endless wisdom from my golden archives?”

“I always want to scope your golden archives, babe.” Battler smirked.

One particularly harsh pinch to his cheek later, Beatrice said, “There is no situation in which anything good comes of any development in the Ushiromiya family.” Her wisdom concluded, she crossed her arms. “Especially not if this hooligan is involved.” She stuck her tongue out a bit at Gremory.

“This is, like, the only time I've interacted with this family.” Gremory said, but her words were unheeded by Beatrice's spite. She turned to Vassago. “And what do you mean, 'in the interest of creating a fair game?' I'm doing my best here, Vaz.”

“I'm sure.” Vassago nodded. “However, there are factors you may not be aware of in the procedure. For instance, you at no point specified the number of people on the island.”

Gremory blinked. “Uh... yeah. 'Cause they already know that. Aside from Wright.”

“Y'know, I appreciate wanting to un-complicate things,” Battler said, “but you have no idea how long we've spent arguing about numbers of people. Especially on account of my lovely wife here, after all. She's a special case.”

“That might be true, but that doesn't mean you should say it!” Beatrice shrieked.

Vassago raised his eyebrow. “Are we referring to the part of the proceedings where Lady Beatrice is actually three separate characters?”

“Aaaaaaagh!” Beatrice held her ears shut and screamed. “You can't just say that, morooooons! We spent that entire battle with Bernkastel and Erika and that army of goats trying to prevent that from being saaaaaid!” Among other things, Battler didn't add. Beatrice stood up and started pacing around frantically, waving her hands. “Idiots! Idiots! Idiots, all of you! Who invited you?!”

“You did.” Battler, Gremory, and Vassago said in unison.

“And, I mean, c'mon, Bae, Tora knows it by now.” Gremory said, leaning back in her chair. “It's not like it's a big secret.”

After a few more passes by and at least one punch to the back of Battler's head, Beatrice sat back down and crossed her arms, pouting. “Fine. Throw away my amazing trick.”

“Your amazing trick,” Battler raised his eyebrow. “that we all already know?” Ah, that was another punch to the back of the head.

Vassago looked on, his eyebrows furrowing slightly. “Is this violence a consensual part of your relationship?” Battler and Beatrice both gave him two thumbs up. “Ah, I see.” Vassago nodded.

“Lifestyle subbing runs in the family.” Gremory snorted. She levied a hand at the gameboard. “I mean, look at Rudolf!”

“Anyway, thanks for interrupting, Vassago. I actually had a few questions of my own.” Battler leaned forward and grinned, ready to make his move. “Give us your first shot.”

Vassago stood up and bowed. “At once, sir. I shall render the information for you as best I can.”

(BGM: Where)

Light began to rain down from the ceiling. As Battler looked up, he made a little noise, since this was new; a marble slab was appearing from it, hanging above the gameboard, wreathed in an aura of angelic light. Caressed in blades of light as it fell, the parlor took on an odd sheen as the slab came to rest. “Hoh.” Beatrice smirked. “Much as I am incensed by your impertinence, Vassago, I won't say I'm not delighted to see you in action once more.”

“This makes things easier.” Gremory nodded. “Do your thing, Vaz.”

“Lord Battler, as you know, my purview is the revelation and protection of hidden treasures.” Vassago's face grew serious, and from his sheath, a great many hilts began to rise. The sheath took on the telltale red glow of the language of truth. “Please, allow me to present to you one of my manners of revelation; a technique known as the Dramatis Personae.”

Battler stared in awe for a moment at the slab, and then grinned. “No wonder this guy wasn't around for your game, Beato. He would've ruined everything.”

“With this, I shall make clear the personage on this gameboard.” Vassago said, closing his eyes. “Let us begin!”

He drew the first red blade from his sheath, swinging it in a motion almost too fast for Battler's eyes to comprehend. The swing, though, was not even; it drew upon the slab a form, writing. The red blade shattered, and its pieces stuck to the slab as though a dartboard, forming words. “The protagonist of this tale, Tora Ushiromiya. Eighteen years old. The firstborn daughter of Rudolf Ushiromiya, she has returned to the island after a many-year absence. She has a forward, personable nature, but suffers from several anxieties.”

A second blade. Tora's blade had been rather plain, but this was edged, with several prongs. Vassago leapt into the air to make this attack. “Sayo Yasuda, current head of the Ushiromiya Family, serving the role of a servant under the guises of the servant girl Shannon and the servant boy Kanon. Nineteen years old. A creative, imaginative type, served faithfully by the two senior servants. She is the one behind the name 'Beatrice.'”

Above the slab now, his motions were swift, smooth, and graceful, bending in the air as though this were a show. He drew three blades now. “Krauss Ushiromiya, firstborn son of Kinzo and acting head of the Ushiromiya family. Fifty-two years old. A businessman who frequently takes poor gambles. Natsuhi Ushiromiya, wife of Krauss. Forty-seven years old. A cool, devoted wife who serves to limit Krauss's weaknesses in running the family. Jessica Ushiromiya, daughter of Krauss and Natsuhi. Eighteen years old. A well-meaning, but dense young woman.”

He stood atop the slab now, three more blades in his hands, dancing an intricate waltz with the eyes of his audience. The red glow of his many blades erupting from his zone of control lit a grand light show within the parlor to accompany the dance. “Eva Ushiromiya, firstborn daughter of Kinzo. Fifty years old. A shrewd, power-hungry woman who desires her son's inheritance of the head. Hideyoshi Ushiromiya, husband of Eva. Fifty-one years old. A mood-making, jovial man who tries to keep the peace. George Ushiromiya, son of Eva and Hideyoshi. Twenty-three years old. The eldest cousin of the four, he acts as a big brother figure, and is currently in a relationship with the servant Shannon.”

Vassago seemed almost to float in the air as he leapt across the blades of light that surrounded the slab to shatter two more blades on its surface. “Rudolf Ushiromiya, second son of Kinzo. Forty-four years old. A habitual womanizer, who is disgraced by his family and loathed by his daughter. Kyrie Ushiromiya, second wife of Rudolf. Thirty-nine years old. A cold, calculating woman who acts in Rudolf's place in family discussions, she originates from the Sumadera yakuza family.”

And again, two more, these spinning from interlocking sections on his greaves for the use of blades with his legs. “Rosa Ushiromiya, second daughter of Kinzo. Thirty-five years old. Owner of a fashion brand, she once had a good nature, but it has long since withered. Maria Ushiromiya, daughter of Rosa. Nine years old. An imaginative girl, enthusiastic about, and an expert on the subject of, magic.”

The slab's form, as a magic of truth, was rendered such that, despite him spinning around it, Vassago's writing was clearly visible from anywhere in the room; a potent magic, to perform such a trick, Battler imagined. “Genji Ronoue, eldest servant of the Ushiromiya household. His age is unknown. He has accompanied Kinzo his entire life, and accompanies Sayo after his death. Chiyo Kumasawa, the matronly maid. Eighty-three years old. A talkative, gossipy woman who makes several jokes, even in her advanged age. Toshiro Gohda, head chef of the household. Forty-five years old. The most recent hire of the head servants, an ostentatious man with a competitive streak.”

And Vassago finally, softly landed on the other side of the slab, slashing his blades into the slab. “Terumasa Nanjo, Kinzo's head physician. Seventy-six years old. The only one regularly allowed on Rokkenjima who is not a servant or a member of the family, he is a longtime friend of Kinzo's. Willard H. Wright, the guest who washed ashore. Largely an unknown, but though he has a gruff exterior, he has sharp eyes and a sharper sense for logic.”

With a loud clap from Vassago, the light surrounding the Dramatis Personae vanished, and a puff of smoke expelled the angelic energy from the floor of the room. The slab lost its glow, and Vassago spun around on his heel, grasping it in his hand as it shrunk to a readable size. “Other than these seventeen, no other humans exist on the island of Rokkenjima. Kinzo Ushiromiya perished in the same manner previously understood.”

A place next to the gameboard appeared on the table, and Vassago set the slab into it, rendering its writing clear for all to see. “Other than any differences relating to the existence of Tora Ushiromiya, the Ushiromiya family is the same as in Beatrice's gameboards. No differences, such as differences in heritage, marriage, background, or otherwise, exist outside of those relating to Tora Ushiromiya or the existence of Tora Ushiromiya.”

Three sets of hands politely applauded for Vassago's performance. For his part, he bowed. “Thank you, all. I hope that the revelation of these facts creates a fairer game for all.”

(BGM: Dammi una Sigaretta)

“Rad as always, Vaz.” Gremory said, raising her hand. “Sorry, my b' on not explaining that. I kinda just figured it went without saying?”

“Oh, like I'm certain you think many things go without saying, Gremory.” Beatrice spat. She was still clapping, but she was snarling really hard.

Battler looked down at the Dramatis Personae, and crossed his arms. “This is pretty handy, Vassago. You're a good referee. Haven't had too many of those.” He raised his arms and whined. “I get so many weird friends of Beato's, sometimes I forget she knows any decent people!”

“That's very rude, Lord Battler.” Vassago said, his face flat and stone.

“Well, that aside.” Battler waved his hand, because no matter how much he enjoyed prodding Beatrice, his head was starting to actually hurt. “So, Tora being born instead of me and Kyrie wearing the Eagle are part of the same chain of events, is what you're saying.”

Gremory nodded. “He put it better than I could.”

“I see.” Battler looked down to the gameboard again. The slow buildup of this particular gameboard had left him in the dark regarding one particular facet- he still didn't know what his goal was. “One more thing. That scene just now.” Gremory raised her eyebrow. “Repeat it in red! The scene displayed just now in the parlor occurred.”

“Acknowledged.” Gremory said. “No need to doubt that one, boss.” Battler and Gremory leaned forward to look at each other for a moment again. “Ready to start again?”

“Of course.” Battler nodded. “Keep going. Eventually, even an incompetent like me should be able to understand, right?”

 


2:30 P.M.

(BGM: Towering cloud in summer)

maria, who visits this island a lot, is big into magic. you don't think it's impossible that it's a coincidence, but as you're passing by the portrait again, you figure out what you want to ask. “hey, maria.” you say, stopping your three cousins. “so, this is beatrice, right?” maria nods. “did you learn your magic from beatrice?”

jessica makes this goofy-sounding “huuuuuuuuuuuh?” noise. “wait, what?”

on the other hand, maria lights up so much you think she's never been brighter. “uu! yeah, yeah! maria learned her magic from beatrice!” she's jumping up and down, she's so excited. “tora onee-chan believes?” you have the feeling that she's told people this before, but they haven't listened.

you nod. “yeah, actually! i do.” you turn and see george and jessica looking at you like you're crazy. “what.”

“i just wasn't expecting that, was all.” george pushes up his glasses nervously. he coughs a bit as you and maria go up to the portrait and inspect it together.

(BGM: Sukashiyuri)

at the bottom, in the inscription, there's not just the dedication. you know this one- 'beatrice' is the witch that ol' grandpa kinzo claimed gave him ten tons of gold. when you were pretty young, you actually went looking for the gold yourself. you enjoyed being lost. but there's also this thing here about, like, sweetfish rivers, gouging people, and stuff. “whaaat is this, though?”

“uu! maria knows!” maria chips in. “the place where the gold is hidden!”

you turn. “like, grandpa's ten tons?”

“ain't it something?” jessica whistles, crossing her arms. “grandpa had it written when he got the portrait done. he never said anything about it, but people say it's some kind of riddle that leads to the gold.” she shrugs. “i think it's bull, but whatever.”

“the rumor also says that whoever solves it will be made the head.” george says, his hands in his pockets. “isn't that something?”

“honestly, i wouldn't put it past grandpa.” you stand up again, and cross your arms. “ten tons, though.” you think for a second about that amount. like, two hundred million yen is like, a person's life. “say, aniki. how much do you think a single bar of gold would be valued at?”

“hm.” george rubs his chin. “well, it's an absurd number- humans have only ever mined about 100,000 kilograms of gold. a single kilogram would be... two million yen, i'd say?”

“so that'd be...” you count for a second in your head. “twenty billion yen, good god.” you grimace. that is a frightening amount of money.

“yeah, it's crazy.” jessica nods. “i can't even imagine it.”

“and he just left this number sitting here in his foyer for people to think about.” you snort and shake your head. “geez. that sounds like grandpa, alright. i bet the olds have lost their heads over this, huh?”

“oh, yeah. dad's gone nuts about it.” jessica says, pressing her fingers to her temples. “everyone has.”

“my parents have taken the odd swing at it as well.” george nods.

“but i mean, i know it's pretty unrealistic,” you say, turning to look at the portrait again, “but just think about what you could do with all that money.”

just looking at beatrice, you can see a few things you'd like to do with that much money. but you don't say that out loud.

“your childhood is showing, tora.” george chuckles, and you laugh back.

“but i'm sure beatrice probably wouldn't just up and give someone else ten tons.” you shrug. “i mean, even for a witch that's gotta be a pretty big financial deficit.” whether the witch beatrice really exists or not, there's probably a big question of how grandpa managed to do it in the first place, and who this portrait is really of. but you don't really care. you're not focused on 'that' beatrice. “still, if i see her, maybe i should thank her for being so generous. sure, grandpa had this portrait painted and all, but i'm sure that she, as a woman of taste, would enjoy thanks from a beautiful young maiden like myself.”

as you get back to walking, you grab maria's hand to lead her on, but she beckons you down to whisper. “tora onee-chan!” she whispers to you, her voice just so bright. “if you believe, you might get to meet beatrice! uu!”

you nod enthusiastically to her. “yeah, i really want to.” you've got a good feeling about this one.

(BGM: Towering cloud in summer)

and, speak of the devil and she shall appear, it's shannon at the bottom of the stairs. “oh, so this is where all of you are.” she says. “i was sure you had just left to go to the beach.”

the cousins seem a bit unsure until you smile, raise your arm, and say, “yeah, my bad. i was just gaping at beatrice.” you act casual. looking at her eyes, you can tell- this 'shannon' is just as much someone she's playing as she played beatrice, so there's no reason for you to be nervous around her.

even if she's still really hot. oh god. she's so cute. jesus christ. you wanna kiss that face. but hey. “she is quite fascinating.” shannon smiles. “i'm sure she captivated the master as well.”

“ahahahaha.” george says, getting that smile of his that tells you he's about to explain something you already figured out. “in addition to the patron theory, there's a theory that she was grandfather's first love as well.” you remember hearing at some point that grandma thought that he was cheating on her with a blonde. that checks out, so.

wait.

there's a smell. a kinda... vanilla-y smell. sniff, sniff sniff. maria's noticed it too, and she's heading towards a basket shannon is carrying. “uu? good smell! good smell coming from shannon!”

“ah, yes.” shannon brandishes her basket. “ms. kumasawa asked me to deliver them to you.”

“by jove.” you say, joining maria in your investigation of the basket. “she's got cookies.”

shannon titters a bit. “please, eat as much as you like... but, er...”

“ah, we're headed to the beach anyhow, shannon.” george smiles. “sorry, but could i ask you to grab us a blanket and some flasks of tea?”

“right! of course.” shannon bows, and begins walking off in the opposite direction from the cousin gang.

as she's leaving, you turn your head to her and say, “hey, shannon! see you there!” you wave.

she turns, and nods. “yes, of course, tora-sama. see you there.”

 


(BGM: Corridor of the sands of purgatory)

Eva and Rosa had led the discussion from there, largely, with Kyrie hanging back, biding her time. A discussion, as previously understood, occurred regarding an agreement to split the money. Kyrie herself had penned the contract, so she knew quite well what was on it.

This deal, as penned, was thus; Krauss would admit that he had found Kinzo's gold. He would then pay each of his three sisters 2.5 billion yen of the inheritance, as each sibling would obtain 12.5% and the head, Krauss, would obtain 50%. Ten percent of the sisters' inheritance would be produced and given to them before next March. This decision would take precedence over any will Kinzo penned.

Of course, this was little more than a threat towards Krauss, who had certainly been embezzling Kinzo's funds for his business ventures. That was undeniable. His king was in check.

“...Actually, in order to ensure this agreement is effective, I'd like to propose a single amendment.” Krauss said, smirking.

There was another undeniable fact in this discussion. Hideyoshi required a great deal of money to not lose his company, and Eva with him. And Rosa required a great deal of money to repay debts for co-signing her missing husband's agreements.

All three of them, more than anything, needed a lot of money, right now.

But Kyrie Ushiromiya did not.

Krauss believed that through dangling the carrot of the 750 million, he could control this debate, as the only one not requiring a great sum of money right now. Clearly, he believed he was in control of this debate. Eva-

“M-my husband's situation has nothing to do with this!”

-and Rosa both-

“T-that has nothing to do with you, Nii-san!”

-cried out, knowing that they had lost.

But Kyrie Ushiromiya did not.

If you simply reversed the chessboard, Krauss's play was completely obvious. She'd predicted as much the instant she'd penned the contract; never did she imagine that they would successfully wring even a cent out of him that easily. Krauss might have been a fool, but he was not that much of a fool.

What was the real loss condition for Krauss? The loss condition was Kinzo's death, and thus, the inheritance. And there was an obvious move that Krauss could take to put that off indefinitely, and stall, and stall.

But now, he had conceded an amendment. He had taken the opening feint.

“Alright.” Kyrie nodded, smiling. “I can accept those terms.”

“Wha-!?” Eva's eyes went wide. “How can you accept-?!”

If,” Kyrie raised her fingers, “I may be allowed to make another amendment.” And the room went cold. “I'll accept the loss of the money, but that does leave me still doubting your trustworthiness. However, there is one thing I can accept in return for that loss.”

Krauss frowned, his face furrowing, maintaining his confident smile but clearly slipping. “And what would that be?”

“Why, let me ask Father, of course.” Kyrie said.

(BGM: Eternal chains)

Krauss flinched slightly. Inwardly, Kyrie smirked. She had trusted Eva to be rid of Natsuhi somehow or another, on account of that ridiculous grudge, and be rid of Natsuhi, Eva did. Now, Krauss was alone in the room, without the woman who was clearly the sense behind him. “Surely you know Father doesn't wish to leave his room.” Krauss said, returning back onto the offensive.

“Well, I don't really care.” Kyrie closed her eyes and crossed her arms. “As we've all agreed, this agreement goes past Father's will. However, if we are distributing his inheritance, it's only right to inform him of that fact, no? He can have whatever opinion he wants, but in the interest of ensuring this goes off without a hitch, we siblings must be united against Father if he has a dissenting opinion. And if that dissenting opinion were to come down on only you, Nii-san, why, you'd have a much harder time of it.”

Krauss closed his eyes. He was sweating. “I will inform Fath-”

I will inform Father.” Kyrie said, smiling. “And, after I do, I will accept your amendment completely, and the deal will be agreed to.”

On the face of it, this would be a much easier deal. Allow Kyrie to speak with Kinzo, or pay 750 million yen? A simple conversation was clearly easier. There was absolutely no reason at all that Krauss would say no.

And yet.

If Krauss didn't agree to the deal, he would lose control of the investigation into Kinzo's future wealth due to allegations of embezzlement. This was unacceptable. So he had to agree somehow.

If Krauss agreed to the deal as set out by Eva and Rosa, he would have to pay 750 million yen immediately, and 6.75 billion yen at an undisclosed date in the future. This was unacceptable. So he could not agree to that.

So Krauss had presented an amendment. And Kyrie had agreed, but wished to confirm it with Kinzo. This would allow Krauss to maintain control and for no money to be changed hands at this very moment. This was, clearly, in plain and obvious terms, the best answer. There was no reason for him to say no! These were favorable conditions for him! Kyrie didn't even care about Father's permission, she just wanted to speak with him!

“I... hm.” Krauss said, closing his eyes. Kyrie knew what he was thinking. He was thinking that there had to be some way he could create a stipulation that would negate her advantage. But Krauss Ushiromiya was blind. He couldn't see the pawns for the rooks, none of the walls blocking him in. No matter which way he turned now, he was doomed, completely and utterly.

After all, he had sacrificed his own queen.

Krauss Ushiromiya was in check. And mate was one door, and one missing Kinzo, away.

Chapter Text

3:00 P.M.

(BGM: Hope)

turns out there's already someone chilling at the entrance to the beach. will is laying back, staring up at the sky. his coat is big enough that it basically serves as a blanket anyway. “eh? oh, it's will.” jessica says. “see, aniki? he's super tall, right?”

it's true. will is a pretty tall guy. “so he is.” george mutters, looking the guy laying on the beach, scanning him up and down.

“mr. wright?” shannon calls, leaning forward slightly in a particularly demure manner as you walk up. “we're sorry to disturb you, but the cousins would like to spend some time here for the conference.”

“well, i'm not exactly going to stop them.” will says, still laying down. he blows a puff of air at that one weird hair of his and sits up in a quick motion that's honestly a lot smoother than you could manage.

you shrug. “i wouldn't mind if you stayed. you seem cool and aniki would probably appreciate having another guy around.” leaning in to faux-whisper, you say, “he's terrible at talking to girls.”

“h-hey!” george sputters. “tora, please don't impugn my masculinity like that!” jessica laughs. shannon titters. that is such a weird noise coming out of her.

will snorts. “not like i have anything better to do, but i better get a cookie. my services don't come cheap.” maria, aspiring cookie baron, studies him suspiciously.

so you wind up hanging out with this random guy, who seems like better company than your family, who are all still olds. “so, 'willard h. wright', huh?” you ask. “don't tell me the h stands for 'huntington'?”

will sighs and nods. “mm.”

jessica blinks. “i'm missing some kind of tora thing here, aren't i.”

“willard huntington wright.” you say, raising your finger for miss tora's mystery lessons. “an american art critic who published mystery novels featuring the detective philo vance under his pseudonym, s.s. van dine. also, apparently, this guy right here.”

will rubs the back of his head and sighs. “look, i didn't give myself the name. frankly, i'd say philo vance needs a kick in the pants.”

shannon looks like she's going to say something, but is blushing and looking downward. you look at her, but george hops in. “shannon. do you have something to add.”

“ah, i-i am furniture, so...” shannon closes her eyes and puts her hand on her chest.

“tell us your honest opinion, shannon.” george says. “that's an order.”

“i-if you insist, george-sama.” shannon clears her throat, blushes more, and stares directly at will, smiling. “i think philo vance is a wonderful character. in fact, i've always been interested in experiencing more of van dine's work, like his short film collections, but i've never had the opportunity.”

“eh? really?!” jessica looks stunned. “i had no idea you were into this stuff, shannon!” shannon blushes even harder and looks back down.

“i mean, that was basically the entire basis of our friendship as kids.” you say, nodding in mystery-loving solidarity. george looks pensive. “i can remind you of this when we get back, george.”

“a-ah, thank you, tora.” george chuckles. “i'm not sure i could've remembered these names on my own.”

“uu?” maria looks a bit suspicious. “george onii-chan doesn't know?”

“i'd heard you two were dating.” will smirks. “c'mon, aren't you supposed to know these things?”

george laughs awkwardly. “well, you see... w-with our situations as they are... there's a lot about shannon i'd like to get to know further, of course.” he regains his swagger and bounces back. “in fact, her having cultivated these interests despite her working as a servant all this time is only proof of how wonderful she is.”

“g-george-sama...” shannon's eyes are wide. “i don't... deserve such compliments from you...”

jessica snorts and eats a cookie. “maybe now you'll even kiss or something.” george goes white as a sheet. wait. is she saying. you blink at jessica. she snorts and nods. then you turn back to george and shannon. then you turn to will, who has his head in his hand, and is shaking it.

“can you believe this?” you laugh almost unbelievingly. “will, i'm related to this guy!” he's just shaking his head more.

“l-l-l-l-l-l-listen, there's a perfectly reasonable explanation for this.” george says, his glasses beginning to fog up. “you see, i. as a... as a man, i've got responsibilities to-” now you're just straight up laughing. “t-tora! are you...” he's shocked at you! “would you kiss on the first date?! you wouldn't!”

“yeah actually i would.” you say, continuing to laugh. george deflates slightly.

will groans. “god. next you're going to say if you don't know if she's a dog or cat person.”

the line thrown lets george bounce back. “that i do know! she's a cat person.” he smiles. “and i personally have no preference, so i imagine i'll get to love any cats we might obtain.”

turning and nodding to shannon, will's narrow eyes gleam with a sort of respect. “i see.”

“you're one of those enthusiastic cat owners, huh.” you say, raising your eyebrow at will. will closes his eyes and nods sagely.

jessica laughs and clears her throat, then speaks in a deep voice to imitate will's rumble. “five years old, her name's diana, she's a scottish fold, the fluffiest cat you've ever seen, but she has a weak stomach so she can only drink warm milk. she scratches the furniture and then stares at me and i lose every time. the worst thing about being on this island is being worried that she's not being fed properly back at home.”

“well, gee.” will says, his face flat. “i'm glad you've been listening.”

“uu!” maria lights up. “maria wants to pet diana!”

will smirks. “well, maybe i'll bring her over to visit or something. she'd hate the water, though.” then he pauses. “though i bet gohda could make good enough food for her... maybe i'll have to actually consider that.” maria beams.

“alright, well, don't leave us hanging.” jessica says to you. “tora. dogs or cats?”

you pause for a moment. how best to own this question and say something super clever and cool? wait. wait that would be super killer. oh yeah you've got this. “i like birds.” haha! you are a conversational god!

“uu. tora onee-chan is a tiger.” maria says. “cat person.” everyone takes a moment to process.

“i can't really argue with her logic.” you say. “i guess i'm also a cat person.”

conversation continues like that for a while. cookies are had by the young'uns, and you even manage to get shannon to eat one despite her talk about being 'furniture', whatever that means. eventually you ask maria to take a look in her notebook again, and she smiles real wide. “what's she got in there?” will asks, as you two start curling around each other. the other four, thankfully, have other stuff they can entertain themselves doing.

“magic!” maria says. “learned it from beatrice!”

if she learned all this from her, then shannon... beatrice... uh... wait, how should you be...? oh god. she has a servant's name, yeah, but you never learned her real name while you were together. how the fuck is that going to work in your internal monologue. if shannon is a character she's playing right now, then you can't really say that 'shannon's' conception of magic improved... oh fuck this is complicated.

her. magic system has gotten a lot more intricate. it's actually kind of amazing, though maria probably should be given some of the credit, too. it's not just magic circles and details of spells and whatnot, there's even whole sketches of the appearance of some demons to invoke. “did beatrice draw these, or did you?” you ask.

“did it together!” maria says. she lights up. “beatrice's good at describing!”

it's a bit shaky, but dang, ronove has a killer mustache. the notebook obviously isn't particularly organized, though. this is all really interesting, and you're taking a fair bit of it to memory. when the wind starts blowing the pages, though, you say, “okay, we should probably stop for now.” maria nods, and closes her notebook.

“...and as the oldest of us, i think i have the most right,” george says, crossing his arms at will, “to say that while the sequels might be wonderful films in their own right, star wars is really the most landmark achievement in filmmaking.”

will blinks at him. “okay, but empire strikes back is a better movie.”

“in my opinion, its place as the middle installment of a trilogy which wasn't originally planned to be a trilogy-” george begins.

“hey, so that's great, what the hell are you guys talking about?” jessica says, her face very, very blank. “tora's off learning magic with maria and now you guys are talking about space.”

“star wars?” you ask, standing up and picking up the blankets from the wind. “i haven't seen return of the jedi yet. hope it comes out on tape soon, because i gotta see how it ends.”

“it's a solid movie.” will nods to himself. “damn good. not quite as good as empire strikes back.”

“tora, which of the first two do you prefer?” as the group prepares to leave, george looks hopefully at you.

“oh no, don't drag me into this, boys.” you raise your hands and snort. “i'm not taking sides here, settle this on your own.”

shannon leans her head over to jessica and tells her, “it's a movie trilogy that's been quite popular in the past ten years. george-sama is quite fond.”

“oh. what's it about?” jessica asks, putting her hands on her hips and looking around at you and the boys.

“well, the star wars trilogy tells the story of luke skywalker, a boy from the desert planet of tatooine, in a far-off galaxy.” george explains, as you begin walking back. “he's been kept on the planet his whole life, but a chance encounter with a pair of old droids-”

“robots.” will says to jessica's confused look. “they're robots.”

“-leads him to discover his destiny to become a member of the jedi, a nearly-extinct race of warrior monks in tune with a universal power called the 'force'. he's joined by obi-wan kenobi, an old jedi monk who knew luke's late father, a hotshot spaceship pilot named han solo, and han's assistant chewbacca, on a quest to save the galaxy from the machinations of the empire currently ruling it, especially the emperor's chief enforcer, darth vader.” george says. “you see-”

“and he's awesome.” you say, getting a big goofy grin on your face. “he's this heavy dude in all-black armor and he can choke people from a distance with his psychic powers because he's an evil jedi.”

“oh man, psychic choking?” jessica nods, grimacing. “that's scary as hell!”

“okay, but get this- he also has a laser sword.” you say. jessica's eyes go wide. “yeah, yeah, okay, but the jedi also have those, so there are sweet laser sword battles.”

“like, swords made out of lasers?” jessica asks, and you nod. “freaking sweet!”

“yeah, it's super rad!” you two are leaning in to each others' faces. “oh, but there's also these awesome spaceship battles too. and a cool princess, i can't believe you didn't mention princess leia, aniki! she's awesome!” and you'd totally kiss carrie fisher, you don't say.

shannon looks down at her watch, and bows to everyone. “for allowing me to enjoy some time together with everyone, thank you all very much.”

“tell kumasawa-san thanks for the cookies.” george says. shannon bows again once cleanup is finished, and hurries off to the rose garden.

you and the others get back to the rose garden. will looks up to the sky and mutters, “couldn't have picked a better time, huh?”

“no kidding.” you shake your head. “couldn't have waited just one more day?” he grunts, nods, and walks back to the guesthouse himself. “later, will!” maria is quiet. huh.

with him gone, jessica stretches. “well, it's a good thing you guys got here when you did.” she says. “at least the roses got a chance to greet you, right?” wait.

“we'll just have to burn the sight into our eyes.” george smiles, and looks to you and maria. “alright?” oh, shit.

“...uu-.” maria says, as you all enter the rose garden once more. she claps her hands. “...maria's rose. the typhoon will send it flying... uu!” she remembered, too. oh, shit. you and she run over at full speed to where that scene earlier took place-

and schtolteheim reinbach the third is gone. “wha-” you say, blinking. “where'd he go?”

(BGM: Fortitude)

“uh, it was somewhere around here, right?” jessica said. “that's the rose you marked, right, tora?” you nod.

you get down to looking around, even though you're certain of where that rose was. you know what you saw, you know what you remember, but he's gone. the winds are making the roses wave around, which almost feels like it's mocking you.

“maybe we should spread our search out a bit.” george suggests. “let's look for it somewhere else-”

“no.” you say, quickly noticing a look of hurt and frustration on maria's face. “it was definitely here. something happened to it.” but flowers don't just get up and move on their own, that doesn't make sense.

“uh, but what would've happened?” jessica says, crossing her arms and crowning in confusion. “i mean, it's not like anyone was gonna pick it. maybe it was just somewhere else.” you cross your arms and think, tapping your foot idly. why would a rose be missing? this is just a bit too much for you today. you already have the whole thing with... with her going on.

“maria's not wrong,” you say to george and jessica, “it was definitely here. i'm sure of it.” you hunker over and think. think, think, think. where could this rose have gone? where could-?

“mama! uu-uu!”

oh no. a cold feeling sinks into the put of your gut. maria's waving to aunt rosa, who's walking out of the manor. aunt rosa looks frustrated for a second, or maybe that's just the distance, or your imagination. but she walks over. “are you looking for something, everyone?” she puts on a smile.

“look!” maria says, still looking through the garden. she's angry and frustrated. “mama, you look for maria's rose too! uu-uu-uu!”

“maria's... rose?” aunt rosa frowns and turns to george.

“ah, earlier we found an unhealthy rose around here, and marked it.” george says. “but maria came to check on it, and hasn't found it around here.”

“uu-! it's here! it! is! here!” maria shouted, her fists balled. “george doesn't believe! uu-uu!!”

aunt rosa twitches. “how many times do I have to tell you to stop saying 'uu-uu' before you'll understand?! mama will look, so be quiet.”

she bends down to look, and you say, “well, something probably happened to it. i'm trying to figure out what-” and she shoots you a look. a look that tells you to keep your fucking mouth shut, tora. and she looks, and looks. you aren't sure exactly what to do but hold maria's hand as she cries, george and jessica awkwardly helping aunt rosa look.

“the rose,” aunt rosa says, wiping her hands, “isn't here. did you mistake this for somewhere else? there are plenty of roses here.” her hair is whipping in the wind.

“uu! uuuuu!” maria shakes her head. “that's wrong! it is here! mama doesn't believe! uu-uu-uu-uu!”

“didn't i believe you enough to look for it? it isn't here!” rosa sighs loudly, her hands growing slightly tense.

“uu-uu! but it is here!” maria cries back. your heart is clutching at itself. “it is here but it isn't! uu-uu-uu!”

“then someone must have pulled it out! and quit saying 'uu-uu!'” you can almost see it in slow motion.

“uu-uu-uu! who pulled out maria's rose, who?! give it back, give it back! uu-uu! uu-uu-uu-uu!” you know what's about to happen.

“how should i know! stop saying uu-uu!”

and she hits maria on the cheek.

george and jessica look bothered, but not abnormally so. maria goes silent for a second. just a second. then she starts again. “uu-uu! uu-uu-uu!” she's crying. “maria's rose! maria's rose! uu-uu-uu-uu!”

“didn't i tell you to stop making that noise?! that's why all the kids in your class make fun of you! cut it out!” you're still frozen as she hits maria again. maria starts choking as she sobs, but she doesn't go silent this time. rosa raises her hand again.

this time, the sound is different. there's pain. it takes you a second for your head to catch up to what your body just did, but you're between aunt rosa and maria now. aunt rosa's slap really hurt. but you took it instead. “t-tora?!” jessica shouts.

“stop hitting maria.” you say to a shocked aunt rosa. “don't do that.”

(BGM: Girlhood in Shambles)

“...battler-kun, the rest of you, go back to your room.” aunt rosa says after a moment of silence. “i need to have a talk with maria.”

you shake your head. “no. not unless you're not going to hit her. she doesn't deserve that. she's right, the rose was here.”

“uu-uu...” maria sobs. “o-only tora onee-chan believes...” she hiccups a bit. “it was here... it was here. look for it!”

“do you just not hear her?!” aunt rosa snarls at you. “the rose isn't here! what's the point of looking!”

“well, no, the rose isn't here, but there's no reason to hurt her!” you say, staying resolute. you stare aunt rosa in the eyes. “why are you doing that?”

aunt rosa grits her teeth. “because i'm her mother, and i have to discipline her! do you not hear her? do you have any girls in your school that mutter, 'uu-uu' like that?”

you sputter. what? “i mean, no, but-?”

“stop spouting all this nonsense! do you know how old maria is? she's nine! she's a fourth-grader, not a kindergartener, and she's still saying that 'uu-uu' during class! do you understand me?!” aunt rosa's face is wild as she glares at you, grabbing you by the collar. “this kid, do you know what they say about her when they bully her? do you know that she doesn't have a single friend because of that weird habit?! i'm thinking about her future! i'm facing reality!”

“the reality is that you're hurting her.” you respond, still glaring back at her. “maybe it is a problem, but doing this to her isn't the answer.”

“t-tora...” george steps forward, levying his hand. “this is a problem between parent and child. i know it's unpleasant to watch, but we should stay out of it-”

no.” you say, staring at him. “i'm not staying out of this while maria gets hurt-”

“you fucking coward!” aunt rosa roars, and she pushes you to the ground. you stumble, and fall flat on your butt. maria is still crying, making those noises aunt rosa hates. “of course you wouldn't understand. of course you wouldn't.”

your entire body feels cold, except for the parts lighting up with pain. but you keep your breath steady and look up. “why wouldn't i understand?”

“of course a freak who at eighteen years old wears dresses and calls himself a woman wouldn't understand that you can't grow up doing this!” aunt rosa is standing over you, stomping her feet. she leans down and grabs your collar again. you vaguely recognize george standing awkwardly, and jessica with her hands over her mouth, before aunt rosa slaps you again. “sick people like you are what happen when habits like that aren't disciplined properly! you shouldn't even be allowed on this island, you're making maria think it's okay to run away from reality like you!”

oh.

so that's what this is about. “wait, what?” jessica asks. her face is really confused. “aunt rosa, stop-”

“because battler-kun's parents didn't discipline him, this happened to him!” aunt rosa turns to jessica while still grabbing you. it's almost like she doesn't see maria anymore. “now he's a joke! a circus reject who threw away his ushiromiya name and wears dresses and pretends he's a woman when he knows very well he's not!”

you stare up. aunt rosa's face is framed by the clouds, dark, over you. behind you, maria is out of the line of fire. maybe that's alright, then. “i,” you say, “am a woman.”

“can you have children?!” aunt rosa shouts. “could a husband ever look at you and think that he wanted to stay with you? who could ever love someone like you?!” she strikes you again, and again. it hurts. really badly. but it's okay. it's fine. maria is okay.

“hey, cut it out!” jessica says, running over to catch aunt rosa's arm. “this isn't cool, quit hitting her- him- whatever!” she shakes her head. she'll probably have to ask later. aunt rosa struggles and then tosses her away. george catches her, and takes her off somewhere. good.

in aunt rosa's eyes, you can see something. something far away. you don't know aunt rosa all that well, but you take a guess, inside your mind. maybe she's hurting you because she's mad about her husband. maybe if she does this, she can prove that she's woman enough for her husband to come back. or maybe she's hurting herself. maybe she can't forgive the her that fell in love with him. you don't know. it hurts.

“why...” you say, rain beginning to fall. “does that matter? please... just stop hurting maria.”

“you think you can be a mother?!” she hits you again. your makeup isn't doing too hot. “you think someone like you can be a mother?! you think you can do it better than i can when you're not even a woman, battler?! you're just like that father of yours! useless! useless in every way!”

“i am nothing like him.” you say.

“what's different?!” she hits you again. “he's obsessed with being some stupid cowboy, and you're obsessed with trying to be a woman! you lunatic!” you hear maria's still crying, but you beg her to not say anything, and just go. aunt rosa just starts wordlessly screaming, and hits you another few times.

“mama...” maria is sobbing. “stop... stop hurting tora onee-chan. stop... uu-uu, mama, stop...”

“why are you crying for him and not for me?!” aunt rosa roars at maria, who chokes and sniffles. “are you really going to side with him?!”

maria quietly nods to her. “tora onee-chan believes.”

aunt rosa stops, stands up, and strikes maria one more time before storming off. “fine! enjoy looking for your rose forever if you have to!”

“uu!” maria shouts back. “look for it! maria and tora will look for it by ourselves! will look for it even if mama hates it! uu-uu-uu-uu-uu!”

“have it your way!” aunt rosa slams open the door to the mansion.

(BGM: Stop)

you and maria are alone now, standing in the rose garden. you're still on the ground. there's a bit of blood coming from your mouth, and there's probably marks on your face from being hit. your hands are stinging from the landing, too. there are raindrops beginning to fall on your head. but you're still alive. “maria...” you ask from the ground. “are you... okay?”

“tora onee-chan, hurt.” maria is crying again, kneeling over you. “um, don't need the rose... uu-uu. go inside?”

“no, we...” you try to get up, but you stagger back to the ground. “we should figure out... who took your rose...”

(BGM: La Meglio Gioventù)

the doors to the mansion fly open again. running down the stairs with an umbrella, it's... it's rudolf. “tora!” he shouts, his eyes wide, panting. “what the hell happened?!”

“what does it look like, old man?” you frown, actually managing to get up on your butt this time. “aunt rosa beat me up for being a freak and trying to help maria.”

running up behind him is... aunt natsuhi, carrying some bandages? do these two hang out? “battler- t-tora-san!” her eyes are wide. “are you alright to stand?”

“yeah, i'm getting there. thanks.” you say, and eventually, you manage to do just that. rain is beginning to fall on your head. “what are you two doing together? do you hang out regularly?”

rudolf shrugs. “just having a smoke among the family nobodies.”

“i don't smoke, rudolf.” natsuhi glared.

“well, okay, i had a smoke and we both complained.” rudolf grinned. “point is, just two family members shooting the shit.” you glare. “come on, don't glare at me like that.”

“tora onee-chan, okay?” maria is looking at you, tears in her eyes. you grab her little hand. “okay?”

“yeah, i'll be fine.” you kneel down again- ow- and hug her. “don't worry, maria.”

“christ, it almost warms my cold, dead heart.” rudolf snorts. “my daughter being cute with kids. ain't it a sight, natsuhi.”

“she does have a way about her that you lack, rudolf.” natsuhi says, smiling lightly in a sardonic sort of way. her eyes wander a bit, but rudolf nods, and she smiles a bit brighter. then she went back to serious, beginning to bandage your face a bit where there were marks. ow. “what did maria-chan need help with?”

“ah, there was this unhealthy rose in the garden we marked with a marker earlier.” you explain. “when we were coming in, i mean. maria wanted to take care of it, but it's gone now. i was the only person who believed her, and when she got sad about it, well, uh, y'know.”

“and you're doing your neighborhood sleuth thing?” rudolf snorts. “nothing wrong with that, but don't get too wet.” he hands you an umbrella. “here.”

you stare at it. “huh?”

“it's an umbrella, kid, it's not that complicated.” rudolf says, looking away with his eyes closed, smiling. “you hold it over your head and it makes you less wet.”

“he suggested we bring two when we saw you were still outside,” natsuhi says, “and i don't know why he isn't saying anything to that effect.”

you eye him suspiciously a bit, but you take the umbrella and use it to cover both maria and yourself. “thanks.” you say. “but anyway, don't worry about it. i was kind of expecting treatment like that more than being treated normal.”

natsuhi sighs in that sort of mom-y way and says, “where is jessica?”

you shrug. “george took her off. probably in the guesthouse.”

“alright.” natsuhi kneels down and hands maria an umbrella. maria's been a bit quiet, but natsuhi smiles, so maria smiles a bit back. “i should go talk with her while i have the chance. please don't stay out too much longer, tora-san. the rain is too heavy.”

you nod. “alright, i won't.” you nod to rudolf. “old man.”

“damn brat.” he says, and stretches. “i'm gonna go take a fucking nap.”

“quit swearing around the kid, rudolf.” you glare. he waves his hand and makes a noncommittal noise. the two of them walk off, and you hear natsuhi speaking to him about something, but it's too windy to make out.

once you and maria are alone again, well, you look back at the rose bush. “hey, maria.” you say. “let's go sit under the patio, okay? i do better thinking there.”

“uu.” maria nods.

the two of you head over to the rose garden's covered patio and sit together in silence for a bit. who would've picked the rose, and why? you think for a second. there's the possibility that it's all part of beatrice's game, but that doesn't seem likely. it doesn't really make any sense. the patio is much less windy, so you and she look through her notebook as you think.

you, george, jessica, and maria have been together this whole time. rudolf and kyrie don't have any reason to pick it. rosa obviously wouldn't... one of the servants, maybe? you snort a bit thinking about kanon picking a rose to give to you, but obviously that's unrealistic. and...

actually, wait. “maria.” you say. “come to think of it, do you remember the dessert we had at lunch?”

“uu!” maria nods. “was real good! one red was sour!”

“it had rose petals on it.” you say. she gives a little uu. “the rose petals on the dessert... what if gohda picked that rose, and used the petals for the dessert?”

“gohda picked the rose?” maria asks. “the petals... on the dessert...” she frowns. “can't get it back.”

“yeah, i think that must be it.” you say. you lean over and hold her a bit. “well, at least the rose swordsman helped us have an amazing dessert, right? that's great!”

maria's still sad, but she nods and smiles, too. “uu!” she flips to a page in her notebook and pulls out a little pen. “tora onee-chan, what was the rose's name?”

“huh? oh, 'schtolteheim reinbach the third'.” you say it one syllable at a time. hey, she's pretty good at this! “the rose swords...” you trail off.

(BGM: Never Hold Me)

on that page, there's a drawing of another demon, and a little blurb about her. this one's in color. it's a woman with long, red hair, kinda like yours. she's on a camel, and dressed like a crazy person. taller than you, though. but... something... “maria?” you ask. “which demon is this?”

maria lights up. “gremory! uu! ranked fifty-sixth of solomon's key, she tells of all things past, present, and future, as well as procuring the love of maidens!”

you blink at the drawing. maria is smiling at you.

and then, there's a voice. “hooooooh?” it lightly chuckles. “maria, have you begin without me? and even brought another into our circle?”

maria gasps, and then the two of you turn to the entrance of the pagoda. “beatrice!”

standing there is a woman. you've seen her before, plain as day, as she stands there with an umbrella above her head. this woman, here-

-she has the hair-

-she's in the dress-

-she's the witch of the portrait.

she's beatrice. your eyes are wide.

“ahhhh, but of all the people to find today.” beatrice lets herself into the podium and cackles softly, sitting down with the two of you. “you've brought an interesting friend with you, maria.”

“uu!” maria nods. “this is tora onee-chan!” she's smiling. “she believes! she's ange's older sister!”

“i know.” beatrice smiles at her. “but thank you, maria.” then she turns to you, and your heart stops. her eyes pierce into you. “hoh. but to think you'd come back like this... and in such a form... truly, fate is a curious thing, no?” she laughs. “i had many expectations for the future, but none such like this.”

“um...” you gulp. something about this is sending shivers down your spine. “thank you? is that a good thing?”

beatrice cackles. “whether it is a good thing or not depends on you.” she grows serious. “state your name, such that we might begin.”

you take a deep breath in. “my name is tora ushiromiya.”

“then, welcome, tora ushiromiya!” beatrice laughs, and throws her eyes wide, maria staring on enraptured. “today, we welcome back an old friend, who has come to reclaim her membership to the golden witch's inner circle.” the rain strikes against the patio, and the winds blow outside. the notebook has been closed. you, maria, and beatrice are about equidistant from each other, but you feel a bit small. “a member of a union from before your time, maria.”

“uu?” maria's eyes are wide. “before maria?!”

beatrice smiles and nods. “we welcome the human tora ushiromiya, whose magical power has laid dormant, to this meeting of witches, such that she might prove herself worthy of regaining what she has lost. we welcome her-”

you sweat. you can't turn away now.

“-to this meeting of mariage sorciere.”

Chapter Text

There was another sound, but this one was much closer. In the Golden Land, where violence so often took the form of fantastical magical battles, a simple slap carried quite a bit of impact.

Battler's train of thought stopped. By the look on his face, so had Vassago's. Beatrice had stood up, walked over, and with an angry, hateful look on her face, struck Gremory across the cheek.

(BGM: La Realtà Nella Nebbia)

Gremory didn't move from where Beatrice had slapped her face to. She just sat there, unmoving, waiting for Beatrice to say something. “Is this your idea of a game?” Beatrice hissed, her face snarling, spiteful, full of resentment. “Do you think I'm a joke? Something for you to play with?”

In response, Gremory's voice was quiet. She still didn't move. “I'd never think of you that way.”

“Liar!” Beatrice's hand came back around and struck Gremory's face back to its original position. “You think-” Smack. “I'd ever-” Smack. “Let you into-” Smack. “Mariage-” Smack. “Sorciere-” Smack. “So easily as that, you moroooon?!

Gremory was silent as the blows rained down. “Someone like you, who plays with hearts, who thinks she can be anything more than the basest sort of furniture, someone like you I'd never, never let into Mariage Sorciere, never! You're not even a witch, not really, all you are is furniture, that's right, furniture, furniture! A piece of furniture so useless you could never even be good enough to hold my maidenly, innocent aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaass!”

Turning on her heel, Beatrice's face twisted itself at Vassago. “You, Vassagoooooo! You say there aren't any logic errors here?! This piece isn't acting according to its nature!” She thrust her hands at the gameboard, and Vassago sunk away slightly. “I'd never accept this stupid-!” Smack. “Useless!” Smack. “Piece!” Smack. “Of!” Smack. “Worm-eaten!” Smack. “Rotten!” Smack. “Broken-down!” Smack. “FURNITURE!”

Gremory was silent, having fallen to the floor. Her eyes were closed. Battler had caught Beatrice's arm in mid-swing. “Beato... cool it.” He said, his face stern. “You're not acting like yourself.”

“Not acting like myseeeeelf?!” Beatrice spun towards him now, her eyes full of a pure sort of rage that he honestly hadn't often seen. “What do you know about acting like myself, you stupid, useless, incompetent, aaaaaaaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAARGH!”

As she roared, Beatrice vanished from the room in a puff of golden butterflies. “Er.” Vassago gulped. “D-Duchess?” He was looking towards Gremory, still on the floor. Bits of blood trickled from her mouth and nose.

(BGM: Olhos na Sala Esculo)

“...Big oof.” Gremory muttered. As Gremory staggered to her feet, righted her downed seat, and slumped back down, her dustcoat fell off her body. There were a few visible, but faded, marks on her arms. “Sorry... you had to see that, Battler.”

Battler pursed his lips a bit, and put his hand in his pocket. “Er... technically, we don't need Lady Beatrice here to continue the game.” Vassago said, sweating slightly. “Would you rather continue it without her?”

“No, I- I think I got the message.” Gremory said. She was still slumped, and her hair fell over her face, leaving Battler unable to see her eyes. “It's... it's no big deal, I get it. I'll just... go. I guess.”

“Did I say you could leave?” Battler piped up, crossing his arms. Gremory looked up at him. Her eyes were glistening a little. “I mean, I know how Beato and I act, but technically I'm in charge here, not her. And I'm having a good time here.” He smiled at her.

“You are, are you.” Gremory chuckled to herself. Her head slumped again. “Great. I'm glad. At least one of you is.” She sighed. “But what's the point if Beatrice doesn't want me here?”

“She invited you.” Battler said, his face flat. Gremory looked back up at him. “How many times do I have to keep saying that she literally invited you before it sinks in?” He groaned. “Ahhh, of all the times for Beato to be difficult, it has to be the one time I actually get to enjoy myself tonight.”

“Not having a good time?” Gremory chuckled.

“Oh yeah, I'm having a great time with my ruined house and my old man singing drunken showtunes with a pantsless goat.” Battler snorted, and the two of them laughed with each other for a moment.

The firestorm had died down. Evidently, Amy had fallen unconscious. Battler and Gremory appeared in the rose garden's patio. “Okay, so I think I can't calm her down if I don't know what's going on here.” Battler said. “What was up with you two?”

“What do you think?” Gremory said, her eyes sad, holding her arms. “God, you know what I mean, right? She's... a really amazing woman, Beatrice. I loved her more than I loved anything else. It's thanks to her that I'm who I am.”

She shook her head. “Hey, Battler... Why are demons demons, do you think?”

Battler blinked. “What?”

“Why are demons demons?” Gremory repeated. “What makes a demon a demon? I didn't ask to be Gremory. Bae got where she is through hard work and determination, but I'm... just me.”


(BGM: Planador)

Demons aren't all immortal. Some demons, those with shorter lifespans, can be bitter, cruel people. That was my father. The fifty-sixth, the first Gremory. When he died, all of his enemies wanted to take his place. There was a vacuum in the underworld, vying for control of the fifty-sixth title.

I didn't know that. I lived peacefully among the humans with my mother. I didn't know my father. I didn't even know I wasn't a human. But something always felt wrong.

When they called my name, it never felt like they were referring to me. It felt like they were referring to someone near me. Someone I couldn't see. The maidens of the village adored me. Their parents all wanted me to wed their children, said that someone with my talents and intuition would make a great parent.

But I didn't know how to respond to that, so I simply kept on. I kept on working, and not thinking, until one day, as I was working at my mother's bakery, two women entered, gold and silver.

“Ooh, Teacher, Teacher!” The golden woman- no, she was about my age, still a 'girl'- stared wide-eyed at all of our various breads. “Teacher, look! Look at all of this!” She clapped her hands, looking like she was about to grab what she could and book it.

“Now, now.” The silver woman- and I could tell, no doubt, that this woman was a witch, simply from how the air around her felt- chided. Her eyes kept closed. “It's only right that we serve them the listed price.”

Even as the silver witch spoke, my eyes were transfixed upon the golden girl. Was she in training to become a witch? It was a simple transaction with the silver witch, and yet the golden girl had a sort of energy coming from her that I couldn't deny.

I stood, stunned, as they left, but I couldn't stop myself from calling out. “You, with the golden hair.” I said. “What's your name?”

The witch and the girl turned around, and the golden girl turned her nose up and cackled. “You won't need it. Soon enough, I'll be the next Beatrice!”

“What have I told you about that pride of yours?” The silver witch said. 'Beatrice.' The name rang slightly familiar, but I wasn't sure about it.

As it turned out, she liked my mother's bakery best, so Beatrice frequented it. Watching her go to town on food was quite a sight. She was young, and sweet, but full of pride, and still a bit sheltered, it seemed to me. When she showed me those small bits of magic she'd mastered, it lit my eyes up like nothing else.

And so, eventually, though I didn't want to say it myself, I found myself becoming friends with Beatrice.

Which, of course, eventually led to us, under the cover of night, sneaking off into the woods one night for her first attempt at conjuring a demon. Why? “You're insurance, of course!” Beatrice cackled. “How could I just risk myself here, really?”

“Uh, sure.” I said, huddling myself against the nighttime winds. She flipped through a grimoire hunting for details. “What are you looking for?”

“Vepar, Crocell, Allocer, Murmur...” She murmured, before stopping on the page she was looking for. “Aha! Gremory!” She clapped, and began going about her work.

“Um, what does Gremory do?” I asked. The name scratched at something in my mind, but I wasn't sure.

“Tells of all things past, present, future, and procures the love of maidens.” Beatrice rattled off, waving her hand around as she worked. “I don't have anything in particular I need a witch's furniture for, but if you're here I thought maybe you might need some help, what with those looks the ladies give you.”

The fact that those looks were actually directed at her was something I chose not to address. Thankfully, I was able to help her find the exact right position of the moon, since I knew how it was going to move. The silver witch (who was also named Beatrice but the name had stuck for the golden in my mind) was evidently a great teacher, as Beatrice drew Gremory's seal and quickly began the summoning.

(BGM: Stop)

As she did, something clutched at my chest, tore at my heart, seared at my brain. The entire world seemed to fall away. All of my senses burned with a horrible, horrible agony, as though lines were being drawn in my flesh.

And then-

(BGM: The Past (Harp))

I was in the center of the seal, and dropped to the ground as though I were a puppet whose strings had been cut. Beatrice shouted in confusion, and then yelled my name. For all her ego, she was really quite kind when she had the chance. When she lifted me up by my shoulders, though, she gasped. “What?!”

With the pain fading, it didn't take long for me to figure out what was so surprising. My clothes weren't fitting quite right. My hair had grown a bit longer, for some reason. And my body-

I grabbed at the grimoire Beatrice held, and took it from her hands, flipping through the pages to find Gremory. And I did.

I found the page for Duke Gremory, the duke who despised men. When summoned, he took the form of a beautiful woman with a crown around her waist, riding atop a camel, on account of his distaste for men.

And now I, the second Gremory, had been summoned. And I, too, had taken a form unlike the body I'd used until now. As I looked up into the sky, and knew how the moon would move, how the birds would sing the next morning, how those trees would live and die, I had a moment of understanding.

Tears started to fall from my eyes. I was human, wasn't I? I knew I was human, not a demon. I wasn't an evil thing who would be conjured to toy with humans. But why, then, why did this form suddenly bring me such incredible relief? What was this feeling of sudden freedom, of correctness?

“Beatrice,” I gulped, “I don't... I don't know...” I sobbed.

For a second, there was a sensation as though I was falling. And then, as quick as it came, it was gone. I was slumped over the book, the same as I always looked. I turned back. Beatrice had cut Gremory's seal with her foot, ending the summoning. “That... wasn't what I expected.” She was grimacing.

“Beatrice...” I sniffled, I choked, I sobbed. My throat didn't know what to do. I barely stood, and collapsed again as I clung to her legs. “Beatrice... Beatrice!” I didn't know what else to say. I didn't know anything. All I could cling to was the girl in front of me.

And she didn't leave. She let me cling to her.


 (BGM: Voiceless)

“...So, you haven't forgotten, even about that far back?” Beatrice was there in the patio now, as well. “Here I had thought you had gone off and left to greener pastures, never once thinking about me.”

“Seriously?” Gremory chuckled. “I think about you every day of my life, Bae. How could I not?”

“With as much love as you no doubt obtain, who would need to think about me?” Beatrice glared.

Gremory took off her hat, and sat it down on the table. “It isn't like that for me. I don't...” She sighed. “Man, fuck, Beato, what do you want me to say? It's not like I'm here to try and...” She waved her hands a bit. “Steal you from your husband or something stupid like that. I'm really happy for you. I...” She slumped over and put her head in her hands. “God, why is adulting so fucking hard?”

“Take your time.” Battler said, giving her an unsteady thumbs up, considering he felt a bit like he was intruding.

“I just... Even if we aren't together anymore, I still wanna be friends, Beato.” Gremory lifted her head from her hands. “You're... really important to me, okay?”

(BGM: In the sun)

“...Then treat me as though I am important.” Beatrice huffed, turning away. “Your entrance was far too casual, and you treated me with far more levity than is appropriate for me, the Golden Witch Beatrice!”

“I mean, you were drunk, man.” Gremory shook her head and her hands, shrugging. “What's a girl gonna do when her married ex comes plastered off her ass charging out of her house like you haven't missed a day? I've never done this before!”

“Well, how can you blame me when thinking my ex is coming to my house to meet my husband?” Beatrice sputtered. “I think it's perfectly reasonable that I might want to be a bit intoxicated!”

“It still means I have no idea how to act! I'd been preparing for this all night and then suddenly, nope, that ain't it, chief!” Gremory threw up her hands. “Just, fuck, I'm sorry. Seriously. I just want to be friends again.”

“...You'd been preparing, had you?” Beatrice went calm, her eyes closed in a manner that resembled Virgilia's. “Hoh. Does it mean that much to you that I accept you again?”

Gremory went silent and nodded. Beatrice sighed. “Oh, very well. If I can marry the greatest sinner I know, then I can tolerate your presence.” She smirked. “There's no way you can be worse than Battler.”

“H-hey!” Battler said, feeling awfully put on the spot here. “What is that supposed to mean?”

With a long, loud sigh, Gremory's shoulders slumped. She took another deep breath in, and placed her hat back on her head, then leaned back in the patio. “Means you're a dope, dude.”

(BGM: Dammi una Sigaretta)

“He is indeed a dope!” Beatrice cackled. “A downright...” She groaned and trailed off, hiding her head in her sleeves. “I'm... sorry that I hurt you, Gremory.”

“Eh, it be like that sometimes.” Gremory shrugged. “I'm used to being hurt by pretty ladies. Donno that I enjoy it as much as this guy, but hey.”

“Used to it? Am I not the most vengeful ex you have?” Beatrice smiled, staring evilly at Gremory.

“I mean, I'm more talking about my dad's exes who think I'm him?” Gremory said, looking away at the carnage again. “Like, yikes, dude, how many ladies did you pump and dump. My reputation gets shot on the regular! I, for one, am much more the romantic dinner by candlelight preceding a nice six month period of struggling with bills because of an ever-struggling economy sort of girl.” There was a pause. “And hey. Beato. Let's be real here, okay? Just for a second here? It's not you and me we were talking about there-”

“Yes, yes, I know, it wasn't us us.” Beatrice waved her hand dismissively. “Fantasy-mystery duality and all that, I gave Battler the runaround about it ages ago now. Tora Ushiromiya is a legally distinct person from you. It's still a metaphor, Gremory!”

“Okay, just so we're clear on that.” Gremory nodded. “This isn't me, like. Doing... whatever that would imply, or... or something, I- I don't fucking know, man. Who even came up with this system? But anyway.” She crossed her arms. “So we're... good. Right?”

“I suppose I can come back and observe this little game you've put together.” Beatrice sighed. “Come along, Battler. We've places to be and a mystery to solve.”

“I don't even know what the mystery is yet.” Battler said. They were back in the parlor now, around the gameboard. Vassago hadn't moved an inch. “When do we get to that part?”

“Hakuna your tatas, Battler.” Gremory said, going and picking up her dustcoat and putting it back on. “Hakuna your tatas. Buildup is important. It's weak if you go right for the throat as soon as you start.”

“Yes, Battler, buildup is important. If you simply drop into already-developed characters with no explanation, it'll seem unrealistic, won't iiiiit?” Beatrice grinned, rubbing her chin and holding that cane of hers.

“Is this about the Halloween party again?” Battler frowned. “Are we still on about that? You were on board with that too, Beato, it's not all my fault Ange thought it was bad!”

“Compared to him, I'm much more enjoying Gremory's writing, unconventional as it may be.” Beatrice cackled softly. “It's really unique! Thank you for coming and bringing us this special treasure, Gremory.”

“Oh, no prob, Bae.” Gremory shrugged. “Happy to offer a bit of relief from your eternal boredom.”

“Should I continue again now?” Vassago asked. All three of them gave him simultaneous thumbs up.

Chapter Text

(BGM: Steady pace)

It was a simple thing to see that Natsuhi Ushiromiya was an unhappy woman. She took quite seriously her role as the head's wife, and yet at every turn she was rebuked and rebuffed from being able to fulfill her role. When this manor was filled with the family, it became full of enemies, enemies who strained at her mind, tore at her senses, shredded her dignity. And today had brought an unprecedented calamity upon her.

In a sense, this man was the worst of those enemies, and yet she couldn't fully bring herself to feel the same resentment for Rudolf Ushiromiya.

“Yo.” Rudolf waved, having a smoke in the entrance hall as usual. Her pleas to him that such a thing really needed the windows open always fell on deaf ears. “At least they kicked you out second, right?”

Natsuhi joined him against the wall, slumping slightly. “That doesn't make me feel better, and open a window, please.” That didn't mean she couldn't still try.

The disgraceful face of the third Ushiromiya sibling snorted, and, for once, Rudolf politely put out his cigarette and bagged it to throw away later. “Eh.” He said. “How's life?”

“As it ever is- in a state of collapsing.” Natsuhi said. “And yourself?”

“Ehhh, the whole daughter coming back thing is really throwing a wrench in my plans.” Rudolf smirked.

Natsuhi put her hand on her forehead. “Every time I think you can't bring more insanity into this house, you find a way. Was your mistress of nine years stealing your Ushiromiya crest not enough, Rudolf? Are you that fascinated with the idea of living dangerously?”

“I mean, that's just how I roll, Natsuhi.” Rudolf shrugged. “Madness follows me. Personally, I welcome her, 'cause she's a nice screw.”

“Vulgar as ever.” Natsuhi clicked her tongue.

There was a short pause as an unasked question hung in the air between the two. This year's particular brand of less catastrophic insanity had left Natsuhi rather surprised. As it ever was, she'd been informed in an off-hand comment by her husband the day before of... well, of Battler. Natsuhi's dignity prevented her from sputtering out a 'what the fuck is this, Rudolf', so she eventually settled on, “So, about Battler-”

“Search me, I don't fucking know.” A sort of desperation came onto Rudolf's face as he grimaced. “How do you think you'd deal if Jessica came home and started saying she was a man all of a sudden or something?” Then he paused, and snorted. “Well, you're a tight-ass, so.”

“I see.” Natsuhi crossed her arms. Certainly, that would be... bizarre. Jessica did speak brazenly, but she had her moments of maidenly innocence, Natsuhi thought. And yet, Battler always had been something of an odd child. If any of the four cousins were to do something odd like this, it would be Battler. “And yet you're humoring him.”

“I'm a shit dad, Natsuhi.” Rudolf snorted. “Maybe if I were a tightfisted sonnuvabitch like good ol' pop I wouldn't, but... you know, actually, fuck that.” He waved that away. “My kid's happy for once in her life. No, I don't have a goddamn clue how her being a woman works, but fuck it.” He threw up a hand. “Least I can do to make it up to her.”

There was an unasked plea in Rudolf's words, because he was far too proud to actually ask anything. “...She... does seem to be significantly more conversational.” Natsuhi said. “I'm sure that's pleasant to see.”

“Yeah, well, maybe if all the shit she said to me weren't about how much she wanted to kick my ass.” Rudolf snorted.

There was a pause.

“Thanks.” Rudolf said, staring up at the ceiling.

Natsuhi crossed her arms and stared up at the ceiling herself. “Of course.”

“Cute kid, ain't she?” Rudolf smirked. “Where'd she get that from? Must be me.”

“Certainly not.” Natsuhi grimaced. “You have a face that could wither the entire rose garden.”

“Brutal!” Rudolf leaned over and clutched his heart. “You wound me!”

“Only as much as you deserve, Rudolf.” Natsuhi responded, and Rudolf made a few more wheezing noises.

There was another pause. “You did good, Natsuhi. He's real lucky to have a woman like you in his court.” Rudolf said.

“Mm.” Natsuhi nodded.

She wasn't certain it could be called a friendship, and yet the commiseration of the 'family nobodies' was something that Natsuhi had come to rely on. Rudolf Ushiromiya was a damned fool, but he patiently took all the blows Natsuhi couldn't swing at anyone else but herself. Natsuhi couldn't bring herself to hate a fool for being manipulated, after all, even if he had brought her.

Kyrie Ushiromiya.

The woman who had taken her key.

 


(BGM: Novelette)

Jessica blinked. “...Huh?”

The air in the cousins' room now was rather strange, considering the lack of either Tora or Maria, but Jessica's brain was having a hard time keeping up anyhow. Dear, sweet George had just proceeded into a longwinded explanation of something, but Jessica's brain was still whirling from the fact that Aunt Rosa had just suddenly started beating the shit out of Tora and all that fun stuff.

“Well, you see, Jessica,” George said, pushing up his glasses, “it's a condition called 'gender identity disorder.' Essentially-”

“I just asked you if Tora's a guy or a girl!” Jessica threw her hands up. “What are you talking about?!”

“Well, in order to properly understand the issue, it's important to understand the factors that go into someone being transsexual- that is to say, not identifying with the gender they were assigned at birth.” George said, his hand in his pocket, smiling. “Resources on the matter are a bit difficult to come by, since that particular subculture hasn't been publicly researched much yet on account of societal stigmas, which is really a shame. Personally, I think that's quite unfortunate, and once I reach a high enough position that I can affect these things, you can be certain I'll attempt to break new grounds in-”

“What. The fuck. Are you talking about.” Jessica repeated. She bent down, put her head in her hands, and wailed. She just asked a question! What was so difficult about that?! The fact that Kanon had been so clearly attracted to Tora really didn't help. She hadn't said anything, of course, but pretending that that didn't sting was a fool's errand. It hadn't been too long ago that Jessica herself had thought she and Kanon had something, but, well, that hadn't exactly gone anywhere. So if Tora was a guy, then that made sense, it just meant Kanon liked dudes and they were gay, right? Which, like, Jessica could see the appeal, she guessed, whatever, you do you or something, but then Tora didn't call herself a guy, she didn't really act like one, she- she looked like a girl, but when she was younger she'd been Battler-kun, and Aunt Rosa said that he was a guy pretending to be a girl, but why would someone even do that?

George was still talking. “-the discrepancy between the mental sensations she experiences and the physical form of her body-”

There was a knock on the door. “Jessica?” Jessica had never been happier to hear her mother's voice. “Could I speak to you for a moment?”

“Hi yes definitely!” Jessica stood up quick as a wink and bolted out of the room, nearly clobbering her mother with the door. “Hey haha sorry Mom my bad hi!” She closed the door. “Hi!”

Natsuhi blinked a few times at her daughter's particular verve on this stormy evening. “You... seem disturbed, Jessica.”

Jessica pleaded to her mother, bowing her head, raising her hands, and hunching over slightly. “Is Tora a guy or a giiiirl.”

There was a moment of silence as Natsuhi pondered the question, her face stony, before she replied, “The situation seems rather complicated, but I believe it would be best to think of her as a woman.”

Thank you.” Jessica got down onto her knees and let loose a heaving sigh, then groaned a bit. Then she opened the door and called in to George, who had pulled out a little box and was muttering to himself, “Was that so hard, Aniki?!” Then she closed it again.

“Follow me, please.” Natsuhi promptly began walking off, and Jessica, stumbling a bit, began to follow her.

(BGM: Minute darkness)

The two of them stood now in the archive, the musty smell of books filling the air. “Uh, what's up, Mom?” Jessica blinked, standing just in front of the doorway.

Natsuhi, in the back of the room, idly reached out to touch one of the books' spines. She sighed. “...You're going to hear about this either way, now, I don't doubt.” She said. Jessica tilted her head, not that her mother could see that. “But I wanted you to hear it from me, not from anyone else. I believe that is my duty as your mother.”

“Uh...” Something felt strange in the air, and Jessica blinked a few times. “Mom, what's going on.”

Natsuhi turned her head back towards Jessica, but didn't turn around completely. “Father is dead.”

When one heard about the death of their grandfather, ordinarily, you would expect some great sorrow, a sadness to mourn his loss. Jessica just felt confused. She blinked a few times. “Uh... like, Grandpa? That 'Father?'” Natsuhi nodded. It was, of course, a shock, but one that Jessica didn't quite know how she should respond to. She hadn't even seen him in two years, after all. “Um... oh, gee, uh... that sucks?” Jessica kind of frowned.

“I'm not finished.” Natsuhi said, and turned properly. Her gaze was steely, the firm demeanor of the head's wife. “Not only is Father dead, but Father has been dead for the past two years.”

Huh? “Huh?” Huh? What? “What? Buh- but wait, what?”

“For the past two years, your father, myself, Genji, Ms. Kumasawa, and Dr. Nanjo have been complicit in a scheme to hide Father's death from the rest of the world.” Natsuhi continued. “Your father has sold the deed and power of attorney regarding his assets- in other words, Rokkenjima no longer belongs to us. In a short time- no, it's already been discovered. The three of us likely have very little time remaining on Rokkenjima. I don't know what will happen to us now.”

There was a lot Jessica didn't understand, but she understood the tone in her mother's voice, the meaning of her words. “...Mom, what the fuck?!” She sputtered, throwing her hands out. She wasn't sure what else there was to say at a time like this. “Wha- what?”

Natsuhi remained composed as ever, though. “...Please... No matter what happens, I want you to know that this was out of a desire to protect us. You can hate me however you please, but whatever happens, know that I would do anything to protect you, Jessica.”

And Jessica Ushiromiya fell to her knees.

What else could she do? All at once, her life had been thrown asunder. Nothing she owned belonged to her? Her family was- “We're screwed?” Jessica said, her eyes hollow. “Mom... are we... are we screwed? I- w-why did Dad sell the fucking house?!”

“To cover debts.” Natsuhi's eyes were closed.

There was silence in the archive. Jessica was gaping, and Natsuhi still as stone. Then, Jessica closed her mouth. Complicated situations like this had always just confused her, so she just knew she had to do something. She had to do something, or else her family would be ruined. That was what her mom meant. Their family was doomed. There had to be something Jessica could do, something to make this situation better.

(BGM: Rhythm-changer)

...This... probably wasn't the intended meaning of Natsuhi's words, what Jessica concluded. But she had never been very good at understanding her parents' words anyway. She turned around, and put her hand on the doorknob. “Jessica.” Natsuhi said. Whatever feeling had brought her to say this in the first place kept her rooted in place. “Where are you going?”

Jessica turned her head, and sighed. “So Grandpa's been dead for two years? And you've been doing that to protect us because Dad's in debt?” She gritted her teeth, and twisted the doorknob. “Well, you always tell me I have to be a better daughter, right? Fine!”

Natsuhi moved, putting her hand on Jessica's shoulder. “Don't do anything rash, Jessica. This isn't a game. Your life could be in danger!” As strange as that sounded, it was definitely serious.

“I don't care.” Jessica shook her mother's hand off, and booked it out of the guesthouse. “I'm gonna solve the riddle and find Grandpa's gold!” She hollered.

There wasn't any time to worry about Tora or Kanon or George or Aunt Rosa or Grandfather or anything like that. Jessica wasn't a multitasker. She understood the task in front of her- save her family. Nothing else.


 

5:30 P.M.

(BGM: The Maid (Effected))

okay, no, it's definitely more intricate now than it ever was. it actually genuinely took you a second, also, to realize that she was beatrice. not a long second? but a second. god she's cute YOU HAVE MORE IMPORTANT THINGS TO BE THINKING ABOUT.

“i was actually not planning to hold a proper meeting this year.” beatrice says, and maria makes a noise. “but your sudden arrival has led me to recalibrate my plans. i had expected someone else.”

okay. what? what does that even mean. how could she not have expected you. “but, like, you knew i was coming, right?” you say. “then how does... uh...” you shake your head, because maria is pouting at you for interrupting. “sorry. keep going.”

“you have been studying quite thoroughly with my apprentice here.” beatrice grins smugly. “and i am certain maria is a wonderful teacher, no?”

you nod. “oh, yeah, she's great. i recognize bits of it from before, but this is way different, she did a great job leading me through it. thanks, maria.”

“uu.” maria nods sternly. “it's important for apprentices.”

“and a good eye to note this remnant of a higher power, maria.” beatrice cackles softly. “even amidst the anti-magic toxin, it seems she stood out!” she leans forward, smirking. “tora ushiromiya. i understand,” she says, “that you had a desire to see me.”

you nod again. “yeah. i did.”

“and what desire would you have the witch of rokkenjima grant?” beatrice asks.

(BGM: Haruka (Distant))

you gulp, and take a deep breath in. “well, i came to see you today because...” you look her in the eyes. “there's a girl i played with, here on rokkenjima, when i was here before. she meant a lot to me... and it seems like she's still here, but i don't know how to find her.” you look down. “it probably sounds pretty stupid, at this point.”

“hoh.” beatrice is quiet, her face closed off. “procuring the love of maidens, then?” she then began cackling. “and what reason do you have to believe this girl would even wish to see you?”

“well, i mean.” you stammer. it is really weird for you to answer this question to her face, but then it's not, like, her face, it's beatrice's, but it's also her face. what are you doing? this is weird. “this, uh.” you rub the back of your head. “this is gonna sound kinda silly... or, uh, maybe it won't. i donno. but, uh, well, way back when, i, uh... i told her that i wanted to leave here together. on a... on a pony. a white pony. okay?” you sputter when maria smiles at you. “look, okay, i know it's silly, we're on an island, i was twelve, okay? and i-”

you take a deep breath in. “i like horses, okay?! i think they're really cool! really... majestic! and cute! they're good mounts, beatrice! i tried riding one once, actually, and i fell off like an idiot and hit my head! i still have a bit of a bump, you just can't see it under my hair, but that's. super embarrassing. ANYWAY SO LIKE. what i'm saying is- the- the horse is a metaphor, okay?” you lean your elbows on the patio table and grasp at beatrice a bit. “i mean, not the horse i fell off of, but the- the metaphorical white pony, you know? the- the- argh, heck!!!!” (you still don't swear because maria is here.)

there's a moment of silence. “uu. maria thinks tora onee-chan might need a moment.” maria offers.

“so...” beatrice's eyes are closed. “despite your time apart, you still feel strongly enough about this girl to desire to see her? you are dissatisfied with your lot as it stands?”

“yeah.” you take a deep breath in and get serious again. “what do i need to do? please, tell me, beatrice.”

“...you know, of course, that such a powerful magic does not come easily.” beatrice smirks. “the resurrection of a lost love... hahahaha!” she cackles. “you would aim quite high for your first bit of magic, tora ushiromiyaaaa!” she pauses, and rubs her chin. “but, of course, it is not impossible for me to grant your desire. there is a condition under which i may revive your love, but it hangs precariously in the balance as it stands. maria!”

“uu?” maria pipes up.

“i have determined this apprentice's condition of entry.” beatrice says, and maria listens intently. “present to her my epitaph.”

epitaph? oh, yeah. maria flips through her notebook to a page, and- yeah. it's that thing from beneath her portrait in the main hall.

'Behold the sweetfish river running through my beloved hometown.

You who seek the Golden Land, follow its path downstream in search of the key.

As you travel down it, you will see a village.

In that village, look for the shore the two will tell you of.

There sleeps the key to the Golden Land.

The one who obtains the key must then travel to the Golden Land in accordance with these rules.

On the first twilight, offer the six chosen by the key as sacrifices.

On the second twilight, those who remain shall tear apart the two who are close.

On the third twilight, those who remain shall praise my noble name.

On the fourth twilight, gouge the head and kill.

On the fifth twilight, gouge the chest and kill.

On the sixth twilight, gouge the stomach and kill.

On the seventh twilight, gouge the knee and kill.

On the eighth twilight, gouge the leg and kill.

On the ninth twilight, the witch shall revive, and none shall be left alive.

On the tenth twilight, the journey shall end, and you shall reach the capital where the gold dwells.

The witch will praise the wise, and should bestow four treasures.

One shall be, all the gold from the Golden Land.

One shall be, the resurrection of the souls of all the dead.

One shall be, even the resurrection of the lost love.

One shall be, to put the witch to sleep for all time.

Sleep peacefully, my most beloved witch, Beatrice.'

(BGM: Cidade)

“once, kinzo made a contract with me. i would now collect on his vast debt, now that his life has nearly come to an end.” beatrice says. “however, should a mortal solve this riddle, this contract would be solved in their favor. i keep my promises, tora ushiromiya. should you reach the golden land, i shall bestow upon you these treasures.”

this is... what? okay, so she's saying, solve the riddle. okay. so this is actually a solvable riddle, and- and that implies the gold is real. okay. yeah, okay, seems legit. “solve the riddle, reach the golden land.” you nod, even though you're mad confused, because like, this is kind of a whopper for talking to an old friend, isn't it? but whatever. it's fine. “okay.”

“however, my own magic is competing against you in this battle.” beatrice grins. “a magic to birth love between a human man and a furniture woman- and soon, that love shall bear fruit. you know this yourself, do you not?”

you gulp. you... you know what she means. you know who she means. george. “in deference to your determination, my magic shall delay your failure. my game to you, tora ushiromiya, is thus-”

beatrice stands, with a grand gesture. “mark this occasion, maria! should the apprentice tora ushiromiya solve the epitaph and reach the golden land before the clock strikes twelve, i shall bestow upon her the opportunity to restore her lost love, and accept her as a member of mariage sorciere! however, should she take even a moment longer, her love will be lost to the winds, and not even i can bring back such obliterated love!”

you pause. “so, wait. am i cinderella in this situation or is she?”

“uu-uu. both cinderella.” maria says. oh, yeah, that seems fair.

“this is a great task, of course.” beatrice cackles softly. “but one such as yourself should know that the greater the magic, the greater the risk, no?” she smirks. “however, even if it shall only lessen your odds of success to a comical number such as a quadrillion to one... perhaps you would enjoy a hint?”

you fervently nod. beatrice turns away. “kinzo's homeland is in taiwan.” and she begins to step out.

“beatrice, going already?” maria pouts.

“ahh, but with such an exciting game, how could i not watch from afar?” beatrice cackles. “my apologies, maria, but allow your golden witch this pleasure! i shall enjoy watching a human tear herself apart to solve a riddle that only a witch might!” and then she leans back and starts really cackling. “ihehehehahahahyahahahyahahahehehehahahaha, hahahahahyahahyahahahahahahehehehehe!

you take a deep breath, and close your eyes, as she leaves. center yourself, tora. center yourself, calmly. you just have to solve this riddle. it's the same sort of game as it ever was. it's the same sort of game... as it ever was.

there's a clenching anxiety squeezing your heart and clutching it tightly and it makes you feel cold.

you're afraid.

(BGM: Mogera)

you're afraid of this riddle. you're afraid of losing. you're afraid of losing your chance. you're afraid of... what are you afraid of...?

“...maria?” you ask, touching the notebook. “can i keep this for tonight?”

maria nods, smiling. “uu! good luck, tora onee-chan!”

“right.” you say. “um... go back to the guesthouse, please, maria. i think i need- i need to be alone for a bit.”

maria pauses, and then nods. “uu. alone.” and she does.

so now you're alone here in the patio. it's pouring down rain. you have a notebook with a riddle in it that leads to your grandfather's ten tons of gold. if you solve it, you even get to finally understand what's going on here. what's going on with the ushiromiya family.

you look around. the rose garden is all wet now. all... all wet, it's all so wet. it's covered in this pouring rain. now that this typhoon is here, it's like you're cut off from the rest of the world. like you're in some sort of other world, a world run by beatrice. by witches. you place the notebook in your purse, which you're carrying pretty much out of instinct, and pick up your umbrella.

and- you-

you start running. you start running, running, running. you're not running towards the guesthouse or the manor or anywhere, no, you're running out of the rose garden, on your way down to the beach again. the beach where just a bit ago everything seemed kinda normal, relatively, but nothing is normal, nothing is normal or sane on rokkenjima, why did you ever think anything could ever be normal and sane on rokkenjima?!

it's hard and you nearly slip a few times but you reach the beach where you just were where you were with your cousins and shannon and will and you were making jokes about star wars and suddenly everything is insane, it's like, it's like, it's like, what is it like, what is it liiiiiiiiiiike?!

and you vomit. the delicious lunch prepared by gohda, the panna cotta you'd adored so much, it all comes hurling up out of your stomach out of your mouth into the water at this miserable, windy, rainy beach, burning your throat, making you feel like your insides are being removed from inside your body, like your guts are being ripped out with a scythe! why are you here?! why did you come back to rokkenjima?! why?! why?! why?! why?!

the rain is pouring on your back, drenching you. you're absolutely soaking wet. you've dropped your umbrella. you're not sure where it even is anymore. ha, hahahaha, hahahahahahahahahahahahaahahahahaha you're so clumsy. why, why, why is this happening. and then, of course,

that horribly,

gory,

murderous,,

riddle,,,

keeps running around and around and around in your mind and it won't stop,

why is this happening, to you,

why, you're just, a normal girl, a normal girl, who wants love, who wants to be accepted, why, whyyyyYYYYYYY!? WHY?! WHY?! you POUND your HANDS into the FILTHY WET SAND, BeCAUsE YOU DON'T KNOW ANYTHING ANYTHING ANYTHING! you don't want to be here, anymore, in this family! you scream aaaa“aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!”

what are you supposed to do? you ask wordlessly to the sky. what are you supposed to do?

So, I responded. “Stand up, Tora. You need to get up. She's waiting for you.”

(BGM: Stop)

you slowly catch your breath, and fumble around, looking for your umbrella. it actually got caught on a rock over there, and you don't want it to get lost, so that's a good thing. no, it's alright. well, no it's not, it's no goddamned good, but nobody ever got anything done by just laying around. you have something to do. something important. you calm down your fear for the time being. you are an absolutely soaking wet mess right now. you're. you're gonna need a shower when you get back to the guesthouse.

looking up to the sky, you throw your arms out. “tomorrow is <hallelujah!> truly <I LOVE YOU!>, and i'll send it to you!" and you do a little twirl!

 

 

this is gonna be really fucking hard.

Chapter Text

(BGM: Close My World)

Eva Ushiromiya seethed. Her loyal husband, Hideyoshi, did his best to soothe her, but within the confines of the guest room they'd fled to, Eva's voice bounced off the walls even still.

“Who does that Kyrie think she is?!” Eva roared. “Treating the matter so flippantly, like she doesn't even think this is an important matter at all!”

“E-Eva, calm down.” Hideyoshi's hand was on her shoulder. Her moods were always tempestuous at the conference, but this conference of conferences had really stirred her up. “We got what we wanted, right?”

In that they'd obtained the upper hand on Krauss, this was true. The Ushiromiya family's enormous fortune was collapsing out of his hands. And yet, Eva couldn't be satisfied, not in the slightest. It had come about partially because of an agreement between Eva, Rosa, and Kyrie, yes, and yet-

-Eva had had no choice but to let Kyrie take control, because more than anything else, she needed a lot of money right now.

None of them had held any illusions that this alliance would last once Krauss had been taken out of the picture, but rather than entering this stage on even footing, Kyrie had taken a massive advantage. Kyrie was in charge. Now all Eva could do was trust in Kyrie.

Some part of Eva respected Kyrie, but respect, in the Ushiromiya family, carried with it a great deal of loathing, and Eva had a great deal of loathing to give. Someone like Kyrie, so young and yet carrying such force, would never understand the sort of suffering Eva had gone through for the sake of the headship, for the sake of ensuring that George could be a proper head to the family. She would never understand, and the words she'd said-

-as she stood framed by the windows, struck by pouring rain, looking up casually at a portrait of Beatrice-

'I don't really care. Maybe Eva nee-san's family can become the main family?'

“She goes through all this trouble and she casually throws away the title of main family?!” Eva roared. “That Kyrieeeeee! Doesn't she know what that means?! Doesn't she?!” Her arms were waving around frantically.

To someone who needed no money, to someone who treated the headship of the Ushiromiya family like something to be casually handed off, Eva's anger would probably make no sense. Krauss was ruined. Kyrie had collapsed him to his knees. And Rosa had left the scene for the time being, unable to handle the intense pressure. If Kyrie voluntarily gave up her claim to the headship while in Kinzo's room, then the only one who could remain to control the Ushiromiya family now that Kinzo was dead was Eva.

And it had happened because Eva had been taken advantage of, like a fool! By her! Her!! Her!!! 'I don't really care.' 'I don't really care.' 'I don't really care.' What right did she have not to care?! Eva kicked the wall violently. The chain on the door rattled. What- What-

“What was even the point?!” She shrieked. “What was even the point?!”

What was the point of Eva Ushiromiya

if this had all been so

goddamned

easy?!

 


(BGM: Comical)

Whistling casually to himself, Toshiro Gohda prepared his pear sherbet to accompany a decadent sachertorte. Granted, he'd only experienced two, but he greatly enjoyed family conference day. What better pleasure for a chef than to have his work enjoyed by an entire family?

Of course, it would be better if his help were here, but Shannon and Kanon were off doing whatever it was teenagers did rather than actually helping, because of course they were!

Actually, things had been rather relatively quiet- not something Gohda was used to on a day like this. He expected to hear things from his kitchen, and yet everyone else had been oddly silent. He hadn't even heard a peep from his employers yet. Perhaps something was happening.

Gohda shrugged. Oh well, all the more reason to do some damn good cooking!

...As soon as he said that, there was a knock on the door to the kitchen, and who else but Krauss walked in. “Ah, Krauss-sama.” Gohda turned and bowed when he had the chance. “How are you this evening, sir? The food is very nearly ready-”

“Uh. Well.” Krauss cleared his throat. He had the sort of unsure, befuddled face Gohda didn't often associate with his boss. Usually, he was smugger. “Gohda-kun.” He coughed into his hand. “I... hm.”

Then, the oddest thing happened. Krauss walked over and gave Gohda a pat on the back. “Keep up the good work. You're doing great, Gohda.”

?????????????? “Yes, thank you, Krauss-sama.” ????????????


 

6:00 P.M.

(BGM: Dammi una Sigaretta)

as you re-approach the rose garden, you actually see a few people standing there looking around, and over the rain, you can barely hear them calling your name. there's will, george, and the old man. will's the one who notices you first, and under his umbrella he casually points to you.

“hey.” you wave, walking back into the rose garden. “sorry, needed a moment to myself.”

“ah, tora.” george sweats a bit. “i don't think that now is... the best time to-”

“where the fuck have you been?!” rudolf runs up to you and grabs you by the arms. “you look like shit!”

“wha- get off of me!” you shake him off. “you're lucky maria's not here, you old fuck.”

“so are you, you little shit.” he responds. he grits his teeth, scoffs, and turns away. “for fuck's sake, damn brat doesn't even tell anyone when she runs off to the beach in the middle of a typhoon! listen, george, will, you're both young. when you find a good lady, you make sure she's nothing like this idiot.”

you blink. “what, was i really gone that long?”

“ah, maria came back without you, and uncle rudolf became very concerned.” george says, unfogging his glasses a bit. “when you weren't present in the patio-”

“the old man flipped his lid and ordered george to help look.” will says. “and me.”

“you weren't doing anything.” rudolf says. “and you have better taste in star wars than george.”

“he's not wrong.” will shrugs.

this is a bit of a weird group, though. “where's jessica? or- aunt natsuhi was at the guesthouse too, right?”

“jessica left.” george says, as you approach the guesthouse. “she shouted something about finding grandfather's gold. aunt natsuhi followed her, so it was just maria and i once maria returned. thankfully, kanon-kun arrived shortly after-”

speak of the devil and he shall exit the guesthouse with an umbrella, holding maria's hand like he has no idea what he's doing. maybe he doesn't. his worry turns to a wide-eyed look of surprise when he runs into you. “you're a bit late, kid.” rudolf snorts.

kanon just sort of stops in the doorway when he sees you. “uu! tora onee-chan, not alone anymore?” maria asks.

“yeah, i'm good, maria.” you smile and nod. then you look at kanon. “don't worry, i just needed a minute.”

“i see.” kanon says. he looks down at his shoes, awkwardly letting go of maria's hand. “well.” he pauses. “i'm. very glad. you're back. tora-sama.”

this sort of earnest embarrassment that he-she-they-atrice made you have this reaction is really, really, really, really, really cute. you snort and giggle a bit at him. he sliiides backwards into the guesthouse, closing his umbrella and standing awkwardly behind a wall.

 


 

alright. hair's dry. thankfully, you had the good sense not to pull out most of your best stuff on the way over, but the thigh-highs were wrecked, so you had to pull out another pair.

the dress you're wearing is actually one you and ange picked out together- it's kinda similar to one of hers and she likes matching. same dark green color, but yours has black trim where hers has white, and, well, obviously also you are not six years old. you think about ange for a second. dang she's cute. what a good kid. this is a bit frillier than you were necessarily comfortable with wearing on the boat, because, well, you are a mess on boats, but fuck it, look your best for solving the family riddle, right?

it's the same story with the gold hairband you put in. you're a bit bashful about your forehead, on account of you've got this little birthmark there, but if you don't, your hair does this thing where it... how the fuck do you even describe that thing your hair does. like, it's a parting thing, but your hair just-


 

“TL;DR,” Gremory said, “it Battlers.”

Battler looked up at his hair. “Yeah, makes sense.” Well, the second half did.


 

-but so anyway, ange picked that hairband out so you could 'match the family.' and, like, how can you say no to ange? you can't. you physically cannot. good kid... love that kid. you make sure your ascot's on properly. hides your neck pretty well. it's black, and it's the part of your outfit that holds your stupid eagle, but you keep the eagle hidden on the underside. black thigh-highs, black dress shoes, and your makeup's done. alright. boom. aside from still having a bandage or two on your face from getting rosa'd, you're dressed to kill. you lean back and give yourself a fingergun gesture in the mirror. lookin' good, tora!

you leave the bathroom to find george waiting outside. “ah, tora. you look wonderful.” he smiles.

“aww, thanks, aniki.” you smile back, and chuckle. “took a bit, though. i'm surprised nobody came in to bug me.”

“kanon-kun was kind enough to tell us that dinner would be a bit late.” george says. “apparently, there was a situation with the adults. i imagine he'll be back any minute to escort us, though- he promised to return.”

“in this weather?” you raise your eyebrow and look out the window, your hands on your hips. “couldn't he just call?”

george shrugs. “he's always seemed very dutiful. maybe it's a servant's duty to do such things even when it goes against common sense?”

“i just don't want him to get any wetter than he needs to.” you say, staring out the window. george chuckles. “yeah, yeah, yuk it up.”

“so you don't deny it!” he's smiling as he laughs.

“dude.” you stare at him, one arm on the windowsill. “i am, like, an open book. if i lied and said that that wasn't part of it, no way you'd believe me anyway, so what's the point?”

“it's just a touch surprising- though perhaps it's because you're so gregarious that you're attracted to a quiet young man like him?” george comes up and stares out the window too. you're not sure if he's looking at anything, but you're sure not. “still, love at first sight is really something, isn't it?” he laughs.

you are possessed, briefly, by the urge to turn your head and just stare at him, stare for a long few seconds as you attempt to comprehend the fact that he actually just said that. you don't, because then you might have to explain that, and that would be hard when you don't understand it yourself, but you have to acknowledge that you did, in fact, feel the urge.

wait.

nope, you're staring. blinking at him. “is something wrong, tora?” george asks. what the fuck, he- he doesn't know? how can he not know? isn't he going to- they've been- what- huh?!?!?! well, okay, maybe that would explain why beatrice said it was mag... magic what the fuck he DOESN'T KNOW? HOW DOES GEORGE NOT KNOW?!?! WHAT?!?!?!

blink. “huh what? no. no, actually, i'm fine.” you shake your head. “i kinda just got stunned you actually said something that cheesy.”

“if you insist.” george chuckles.


 (BGM: Olhos na Sala Esculo)

using your astonishing powers of basic logic, you can figure out a few things. beatrice said that your odds of success were 'a quadrillion to one', not 'zero.' you're stuck on rokkenjima for the entire game, which means you have to be able to solve the riddle and reach the golden land just from rokkenjima... whatever that means.

second. it seems like there's basically two parts to this riddle. finding 'the key', and using it. you can't really use the key until you find it, but 'the six chosen by the key' kind of implies that the key is somehow... like, six things? maybe? so that's something to keep in mind as you keep on going.

it's likely, you think, that... maybe she solved it, too. if she's waiting for you at the golden land, then that means she's gone to the golden land. so, maybe she's asking you to do the same thing she did. so-

you step into the archive.

everything you need to find the key... should be in here, right?

it smells musty, like old books. honestly, you like the smell pretty alright. it's kinda dim in here, but that's fine. there's still more books than you've probably ever read in your entire life. alright. taiwan, taiwan. taiwan. taiwan. boom! atlas of asia! sick. you pull it out. it's thick, and heavy. you start breathing real heavy when you look at the book, because oh god, you're actually doing this. rivers, rivers... um...

wait. you mutter aloud. “so where did he live, then?”

“where did who live?”

OH FUCKING HELL GOD. YOU JUMP. it's will. he's standing in the doorway, staring at you. “what, am i that scary?” he snorts.

(BGM: Manita)

“i mean, kinda, when you sneak up on me like that!” you sputter. “girl's just trying to look at an atlas here, man! you could at least knock!”

“i did.” will says.

...oh. “well.” you say, brushing past that. “uh, i was just wondering where my grandpa lived. i heard it was in taiwan, but taiwan's, uh.” you show him the map. “not exactly a small place.”

will takes in the map. “looking for his 'beloved hometown', huh.” ooh, he got you right on the money. you look down for a second, then look up and nod. “you hard up for cash?”

you shake your head. “no, it's not for the money. promise not to laugh?”

“nope.” he says.

“i wanna meet beatrice.” he doesn't laugh.

you're kinda surprised that you're even talking to this guy, but somehow, him being from outside the family just makes you feel like if you talk to anyone, right? might as well say it out loud, get it off your chest. “she's a real person, will. i used to play with her when i was a kid, and i just talked to her again. she exists, and she told me to solve the epitaph. i've, uh. i've been waiting for a while for the chance to see her again.”

he nods silently. ...no, actually, that's probably it. will's an impartial observer here, he's just some guy. he doesn't have any reason to be biased for or against you. and maybe that's a good thing. he looks like the kind of guy who'll tell it like it is. “does that make sense?”

“no.” will says. “but it's sweet.”

“well, good, at least i've got that going for me.” you say. you look back in the atlas. “she gave me a hint, that grandpa's hometown was in taiwan, but i don't know where in taiwan, and i'm trying to figure it out. what are you doing?”

“looking for a history book on taiwan.” will says. you look back up out of it at him. “what.”

what. “what?”

he sighs, and pats his head, pressing down that hair thing of his. “i've been stuck here listening to georgie boy up there hope i can't hear him. 'oh, shannon, will you accept this ring? no, no, she likes men with more traction. shannon, accept this ring. that's an order. no, no, that's not right, there's no free will involved.'”

“still eavesdropping, mr. wright?” you put your hands on your hips and lean forward a bit.

“it's been a few hours. bad habits take longer than that to kick.” he shrugs. “anyway, helping you reunite with a childhood friend sounds more noble than anything else i could do tonight, so screw it. two heads are better than one and i'm not using mine right now.”

(BGM: As time goes by)

oh fuck you're tearing up a bit. oh god no no you JUST did your makeup. nope. nope. we're not crying right now, body. okay. hoo. hoo. you nod, and smile. “...thanks, will. thank you. thank you!” you're jumping up and down a bit, hands on your chest. “thanks.”

“oh, come on.” he looks away awkwardly. “it's not that big of a deal.”

“it actually really is, holy shit!” you grab his hand, beaming at him. “man, we've got this! we've totally got this, right? we've got this!”

“i think you are putting entirely too much faith in me and you are setting yourself up for disappointment.” will says.

“well, fuck you! power of friendship!” you reply.

“sure.” will says. “so you're looking for somewhere japanese people might've lived back when the old man was born, right?” you nod. “got it.”

the two of you hunt around in silence for a bit, and you give thanks to all the stars above that will is here, because just two heads working on this makes this a ton easier. okay, so you're looking for sweetfish rivers. there's... there's over a hundred rivers. “how can you tell what rivers have sweetfish?”

“not with anything you've got here.” will shakes his head. “just about any river could have sweetfish, they're just freshwater fish.”

“uh. huh.” you murmur. “o... okay then. well, there's a hundred and twenty-nine rivers here in taiwan.” 'sweetfish river', yeah, that's stupid. any river could have sweetfish. maybe... maybe the sweetfish is... hm? hold on. “hey, will.” you say, after a bit's worth of talking.

“yo.” he says. he's got a book. good.

you murmur, 'following it downstream'... “look up the history of the town of taipei, would you?” you say, and he starts looking. “there's this river called the 'danshui river.' sweetfish are freshwater fish, you just said, right? so they could be in any river, but there's this river here that's just called 'freshwater river.' it might have something to do with it. it starts in taipei.”

“fair enough.” he says. the danshui river goes to a town called danshui, so... what would be the 'two', then?

(BGM: White shadow)

there's a knock on the door. “tora-sama. willard-sama.” it's kanon. he opens the door. he's wet, because he actually came out all this way.

the two of you stare at him, both of your faces buried in books. “okay, seriously, you could've just called the guesthouse.” you tell him. “you know that, right?”

kanon is silent. “maybe he just wanted to see you.” will says. kanon looks away awkwardly.

“i mean, there are easier ways to see my pretty face, y'know.” you wink at him. “i could see about getting a photo taken.”

“...that would be... improper.” kanon murmurs. “b-because i am... furniture.”

“what does that mean, anyway? 'furniture.'” you ask, tilting your head.

dinner has been completed and i have come to fetch you.” kanon says, very hurriedly changing the subject. “willard-sama, you have also been invited.”

“oh, really.” will says. “huh.” with one hand, he closes his taiwan history book and places it in his coat. “don't worry, i'm just borrowing this.”

“...it is not my place to tell you you can't.” kanon says.


 

everyone gets rounded up, you, george, will, maria (uu!) and the old man. you put on a raincoat to ensure your clothes don't get screwed up again. “tora onee-chan, alright?” maria asks. she's so... innocent. you love maria even if she is now party to this weird... weird weird. this weird.

you nod. “yeah. i think i'm doing alright, maria. thanks.”

“i'm sure you are if you get to hang around your boyfriend here.” rudolf snorts. god why is he here. kanon twitches slightly. rudolf laughs. “why don't you share an umbrella? it's the next best thing to holding hands.” he's laughing like an idiot. which he is. kanon grits his teeth a bit.

“uncle rudolf, let's not make fun of tora and kanon.” george is smiling, and chuckling good-naturedly.

(BGM: Wingless)

as you all exit the guesthouse, you pat kanon on the shoulder at the head of the group, and quietly say, “don't let him get to you. the old bastard is just like that. he's not worth thinking about.”

under your umbrellas, kanon looks even smaller. there's some bitterness there, too. “...noted.” he says.

“...are you seeing anyone, actually, kanon?” you ask. if there's a fourth person involved here, it would probably be good to know.

kanon shakes his head. “it's not the role of furniture to love humans.”

“and you and shannon are furniture.” you say. after a moment, he mutely nods. “but she's dating george.” you're trying really hard to be quiet, but george, rudolf, and will are arguing about star wars now (rudolf is on will's side.) so it's cool. “because of beatrice's magic.”

kanon looks away. he's definitely bitter. “...beatrice-sama can go to hell.”

“yeah, understandable.” you smile a bit. he doesn't react, so you decide to speak your mind. “i think you're worth loving, even if it does take magic.”

there's a bit of a flinch there. “...why?”

“you walk like a human, you talk like a human, you feel, think, see like a human, and all that stuff. just because you're furniture doesn't change that. it doesn't... make your feelings any less, you know? at least, i don't think. you've got... ionno, a heart, i guess. you've got a heart and that's fine. i think it's okay to still want love.” you smile at him. it's a bit of a melancholy smile, because it's a bit of a hard subject, but it's heartfelt.

the rain disguises it, but you can tell. tears have come to kanon's eyes, no matter how he tries to blink them away. you're at the door of the guesthouse, being led in. you want to reach out and embrace him, but... that isn't the right thing to do, is it? well, it seems like it, but... beatrice said exactly what it would take for that. plus, it would be super awkward to do it right here in front of everyone. but god, you want to.

(BGM: Monochrome clock)

“JUST KISS ALREADY” rudolf hollers from behind you two, closer to the dining room.

“UGH SHUT YOUR FACE PLEASE I AM TRYING TO HAVE IMPORTANT SERIOUS THOUGHTS, OLD MAN”

“UU-! MARIA CAN YELL TOO!”

“THAT'S GREAT MARIA!” you say. “BUT WE SHOULD PROBABLY STOP!”

kumasawa and dr. nanjo are in the hallway now staring at you. “should i be concerned?” dr. nanjo nanjos.

“NO SIRREE BOB.” you respond, and pump your fist enthusiastically. “NOTHING TO-” you cough. “nothing to worry about here, nope.” at some point, kanon awkwardly shuffled away during the crossfire. understandable. you hope he has a nice night. relatively speaking. inasmuch as he can. until you kiss him-her-them-atrice. ideally.

...george doesn't know?!?!

Chapter Text

Amidst the trees and rain, the demon butler Ronove, definitely and most certainly the most loyal of any furniture to the witch Beatrice, continued preparing his latest confections for whichever furniture his Lady would call today. Cooking in a forest was a bit unorthodox, sure, but-

“Sighhhhhhhhhhh.” Beatrice sighed.

(BGM: Organ short #200 million in C minor)

Whistling a jaunty tune, Ronove slightly nodded when he noticed Virgilia appear. Three more figures appeared in her wake. Blonde, blue, pink. “Lady Beatrice. Lord Ronove.” The ever-serious Chiester 00, leader of the Chiester Sisters Imperial Guard Corps, saluted. “It is an honor for us to serve you again.”

“And so I says to the guy, nyeh, what do you think a horse is?” Chiester 410's ears twitched, and her nose crinkled, as she smirked to herself. She was speaking not just to her cohort 45, but also to Gaap, who was currently popping in and out of holes in trees to entertain herself. “I just wanna go for a ride, man, what the nyeh is your problem?”

“Y-you can't just take a ride on horses in stables that aren't yours!” Chiester 45 yipped, pumping her fists. “That's illegal!”

Sighhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.” Beatrice sighed.

“Oh, come on, 45, lighten up a bit.” Gaap smirked at her, laying on a tree branch. “What's the fun of doing things if there isn't a bit of risk?”

Virgilia was trying her hardest not to snap, but her long-standing rivalry towards Gaap flared up again, and so she turned around and said, “Think of the horses' well-being! They startle easily!”

“That too!” Chiester 45 closed her eyes. Her voice was as shrill as it ever was. “That's just... n-no good!”

“Aw, but if I didnyeh't act out every once in a while, how could I get you to pay attention to me?” 410 gave a toothy grin. 45 wailed again. 00's brow furrowed.

Sighhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.” Beatrice sighed.

“Being mothered is one thing, but requiring that sort of smothering to not endanger lives is something else entirely.” Virgilia clicked her tongue and wagged her finger, mom. “That's the sort of thing young ladies need to grow out of-”

“Nyeh, and I'm sure you know all about growin' out of it, right, grandma?” 410's single fang glinted in the rain. Gaap cackled.

“G-g-g-g-g-g-g-g-g-g-g-g-grandma?!” Virgilia sputtered, falling backwards onto a tree. “I-I'm no grandma! I'm- I'm not old! Ronove! Someone! Tell them I'm not old, please!”

“As one who once held the title of Endless Witch, Lady Virgilia's age is irrelevant.” 00 turned. 45 stood at attention, even though 00 wasn't even talking to her. “You will show her, and the horses, proper respect.”

“Y-yes, ma'am!” 45 saluted. “Right away, ma'am! I'll endeavor to do better in the future, ma'am!”

“But horses are cool.” 410 pouted.

The rain flew away in a massive bubble around this menagerie as the Endless Witch, Beatrice, stood, ground quaking under her heels. Gritting her teeth, very nearly crushing her pipe in her hand from pure rage, with her voice echoing with the fury of a thousand years, she bellowed, “Quit talking about horses and pay attention to me!”

“Oh, goodness, have you been here this whole time, Milady?” Ronove chuckled. “I hardly noticed you.”

“You aren't nearly as funny as you think you are, Ronove!” Beatrice gritted her teeth. “I'm clearly sighing over here! All I'm asking is for someone to go, oh, Beatrice, our lovely lady, whatever is the matter? But nooooooo, instead you just talk about horses! Horses, horses, horses! I've had my fill of horse rants for the day, you hear me?”

“Ooh, sounds like someone's testy.” Gaap laughed a bit to herself. “Antsy for the stroke of midnight, are we?”

“L-listen, there's a very important matter going on here in this manor right now and I'm highly invested.” Beatrice sputtered. “I can't be interrupted, I need... I need to think about this. It's stressful! I'm trembling with anticipation!”

“Hot gossip straight off the press?” Chiester 410 hopped at attention. “Nyeh, I'm real curious, you hear? And I've got ears for listening!”

“Don't speak so casually to-” 00 began, but Beatrice pulled out a(n extremely magical) telescope for 410 to look into. 00 sighed and shook her head.

“Alright, so you see that one?” Beatrice said, as 410 looked into the telescope to get a look at the people of Rokkenjima she was staring at. “Okay, so these two are servants, right? The boy is Kanon, and the girl is Shannon. Right?”

“I might be a little familiar.” 410 said. “Girl gets good carrots.”

“Alright, so Shannon's gonna get proposed to by George-” Swing of the telescope. “Once the clock strikes twelve. And she's going to accept, because of course she is.”

“Nyeh, seems legit so far.” 410 replied.

“But that girl there, you see her, right? That's Tora.” Beatrice continued. “And Tora and Kanon just fell in love really hard! And so I just gave Tora the epitaph to see if she could make it to the Golden Land before twelve.”

“I thought furniture could only love humans with that brooch you used?” 410 asked, her ears twitching.

“Well, it turns out Tora is furniture too.” Beatrice said, her eyes wide. The two of them stared at each other and nodded fervently. “And so now I'm on tenterhooks seeing which of these pairings is going to win! I figured Tora would be a blithering incompetent, but she's actually making reasonable progress so far! It's thrilling!”

“What happened to the blonde?” 410 raised her eyebrow.

“Ah, Jessica's over there.” They looked together at Jessica, currently waving her fists at Genji and haranguing him about something. “I have no idea what she's doing.”

“If you'll pardon the interruption.” Virgilia raised her hand and leaned her head in between the two. “Where exactly does the planned sacrifice fit into this?”

There was a brief pause, with only the sound of the rain around them hitting their ears. “Ehhh, we can think about that later.” Beatrice shrugged.

“Lady Beatrice.” 00 called out. “An unknown presence has just landed on the island from the beach.”

“Ehhhh?” Beatrice called out, leaving 410 to scope things out with the telescope to her heart's content. “What do you mean, an 'unknown presence?'”

“Literally, it would imply a presence that is unknown.” Ronove chuckled. Beatrice attempted to tear his mustache off, but it was too powerful even for her.


 (BGM: Ciao Carina)

Description of the 'unknown presence' isn't particularly necessary; after all, you already know what she looks like. Gremory fastened her camel's harness to an illusory post on the cliffs next to her discarded rowboat, and turned to him. “Be good while I'm gone, Benny. Mama's got work to do. See you when I get home.” Benny didn't say anything, because he was a camel.

Fifty-sixth of the seventy-two demons of Solomon's Key, she who told of all things past, present, and future and procured the love of maidens, the Duchess Gremory streeeeetched. Rowing was hard work, especially when you had to row for a camel, too. And in this weather! What a crock. Surely the Ushiromiya family could've picked a slightly better location for their family retreat?

Gingerly stepping down the cliffs towards the beach, Gremory hummed and murmured a few lines of some song to herself. When she landed on the wet sand, though, she belted out a proper, “And I'm walking on sunshiiiine! Whoa-oh!

She turned towards the sea, put her hands on her waist, and belted out, “And it's time to feel good!” She clapped. “Hey!” Turning back towards the island, she came face to face with a certain Golden Witch. “Gah?!”

“The dramatic irony of your song is not lost on me, Gremory. You're singing 'Walking on Sunshine' by The Waves to the waves, and yet there's not a bit of sunshine to be found.” Beatrice said, her eyes wide with malicious intent, smiling brightly.

Gremory blinked a few times, attempting to regain her composure from the sudden shock. One, two, three. Bam. “Nah, that ain't it, chief. Well, okay, it's part of it. I couldn't resist. And-” Cocking her head to look behind Beatrice, Gremory couldn't help but notice three pantsless bunnygirls whisk themselves to the spot. Blonde, azure, pink. She recognized one of them. “Is that a Chiester Sisters Imperial Guard Corps you've got there or are you just happy to see me?”

“Take aim.” Beatrice responded, her smile not faltering.

The Chiester Sisters' divine arrows had a rather telltale firing windup, lots of glowing lights, text in foreign languages, so it was easy for Gremory to tell that absolutely none of that was currently happening. In particular, this was because Chiester 45 was currently stuck stammering on the beach. 410 wasn't looking too focused, either, but 45 was well more discombobulated.

00 let out a small sigh and furrowed her brow. “I see. Your abilities are as formidable as ever, Lady Gremory.” Ah, there it was. 00 had drawn her own bow. Her capabilities were weaker than those of her younger compatriots, Gremory had heard once, but you do what you have to do.

“N-nyeh? You're gonna shoot her?” 410 blinked a few times. Her cheeks were red. “You think I could get her to pat my head before you do?”

“No.” 00 said. (To those of you wondering why she was so composed, Chiester 00 was one of the many, many ladies whose hearts were stolen by the first Gremory. One can procure love all they want, but once a heart is broken, the difficulty of such a thing increases greatly- and the second Gremory wasn't trying very hard.)

“Al-right.” 410 looked a bit disappointed, but the arrow aimed directly for Gremory intensified greatly for her presence.

And so it was that Gremory found herself ducking her head out of the way of a blisteringly fast golden arrow. She could predict its movements, but that didn't stop the motions she had to perform to avoid it from being quite the difficult feat. She wasn't really sure what she'd been expecting, but this wasn't far off. Her hat got a bit singed at the edges a few times, and there was a hole in her coat now that she was going to have to mend later, but Gremory's choreographed dance with the Chiesters' magic arrow went on in roughly equal measure until the arrow's head suddenly stopped and exploded.

“C-ceasefire!” Chiester 45 had called off the shot, clasping it in between her hands. “Ceasefire!” Gremory stared, bewildered, as 45 grasped her hand enthusiastically. “Ma'am, I-I'm so sorry about my comrades, f-following letters to the order is one thing but I don't know what they think they're doing!” She turned her head to 410. “If this is some sort of payback about the horses then I think it's very immature! Shooting this important guest just because-”

There was a pause. Beatrice could be heard fuming. “H-h-h-hello! Chiester 45, reporting for duty, ma'am!” 45 let go of Gremory's hand and saluted.

“Oh, uh... hey there.” Gremory did her best to smile. “I'm Gremory. Good to meet you.” 45's already luminescent blush turned downright radiant, and she started tapping her foot rapidly on the wet sand.

“45.” 00's eye closed, and she sighed. “I did not give you authority to call a ceasefire.” She already knew the answer to this question, but she felt like she should ask anyhow. “Why have you gone against my orders?”

“H-how could we shoot someone who's just arrived here without giving her a chance to explain herself, ma'am?!” 45 yipped. “With all due respect, that seems unreasonable!”

00 put her head in her hand. It was a good thing that this wasn't an actual crisis situation. “We were ordered to take aim by our summoner,” she explained as calmly as she could muster. “It is our duty as the summoner's furniture to-”

“Oh, whatever!” Beatrice threw her hands up. “The only thing pissing me off more than Gremory's face is this stupid comedy routine. Dismissed.”

With a long, labored sigh, 00 nodded. “Understood. I recommend the two of you follow as soon as you no longer feel like insubordination.” Poof.

410 looked around, on account of being alone all of a sudden. “Nyeh? N-nyeh? H-hey, Boss?” She looked at 45, but 45 was far too busy looking at Gremory. “45? Hey, what's the big-”

45 glared daggers at 410. “I-if you're going to be so rude, I think you should go elsewhere!”

410's face fell. “B-but-” She pouted and groaned. “Boss, wait for meeee!” Poof.

(BGM: Dammi una Sigaretta)

“So.” Gremory said. “Bae. Hi.” 45 was still enthusiastically grasping Gremory's hand. “How's... it hanging. Things gucci?”

Beatrice leered at the demon once the nickname left her mouth. “Why are you even here?”

“I. Mean.” Gremory shrugged. “I heard you were trying to get off this rock and I thought I could try helping, you know? I mean, I know you've got a bunch of pals already, and I'm... what year is it?”

“1986!” 45 helpfully offered.

“About twenty-three Comikets late.” Gremory concluded with a nod. “But better late than never, right?”

“That's arguable.” Beatrice replied. She scoffed, glaring at Gremory. “Particularly in showing that you care. Here, I thought you'd made it quite clear you didn't.”

Gremory sighed, her shoulders heaving. “Oof. That smarts, Bae.” She wrung her hands for a moment, trying to grasp for the words she actually wanted to say, but she couldn't find them, so she just sighed again. “I... of course I still care about you. What kind of lady ever forgets her first real love, you know?”

That made Beatrice flinch, and grit her teeth. “The sort of woman who can procure any love she wants, no doubt! A senseless womanizer like yourself!”

“I am not-!” Gremory said, her face clearly pained. “I'm not. It's not... that's not how I...”

“You have a pantsless bunnygirl on your arm!” Beatrice shouted.

“You brought the pantsless bunnygirl!” Gremory responded. Then she paused, and turned to 45, whose hands were trembling slightly. “Hey, don't blame yourself for this, alright?”

The clearly distressed Chiester 45 replied, “Oh, I-I wasn't, not at all, ma'am.”

“You kinda clearly were.” Gremory chuckled a little, and dabbed at a tear that was welling up in 45's eye. “Don't worry about it. Something like this would've happened however the two of us ran into each other again, okay?” She smiled. “I'd really hate to make you cry.”

As 45's eyes glowed, Beatrice threw her hands up, proclaimed, “There you go again, making empty claims as usual!”, and turned away.

“It's not an empty claim.” Gremory sighed. “I never said I wouldn't make her cry, just that I'd hate it.”

“...I have no use for the demon Gremory.” Beatrice concluded, and began walking away. Walking away, when one can teleport, is a flawless way of showing a wayward conversationalist that there is something they must say or risk their standing.

“I didn't come here as the demon Gremory.” Gremory responded in kind.

Beatrice stopped. “...Then who, exactly, did you come here as?”

“Excuse me for a second, 45.” Gremory nodded to Chiester 45, who, after a brief stupor, yipped again and let go of Gremory's hand. One step crossed the distance of many steps, and Gremory stood now next to the Endless Witch. One hand in the pocket of her coat, Gremory leaned in to whisper into Beatrice's ear, a sound almost inaudible within the rain- and yet the telltale tone of the language of truth made it clearly audible to its target.

“...Is that right?” Beatrice asked, her voice flat.

“Are you going to doubt me when I spoke in red?” Gremory smiled.

With a long, theatrical sigh, throwing her hands up, Beatrice said, “Fine. If you're so insistent on it. I've got a game to observe, you do whatever it is you please. Maybe you'll be able to get Ronove to pay attention to you.”

“Bless your little tsundora heart.” Gremory snorted.

“I-I am not a 'tsundora!'” Beatrice sputtered. “Get thee hence to a nunnery!” Poof.

Gremory's sigh, in comparison, was heaving, the lifting of a massive burden, at least in part, that required no theatrics to be as large as it felt. She pumped her fist, though. “Nice. Foot in the door.” Then she remembered 45 was still there. “Not that, you know, this is like. I'm just trying to be friends with my ex here, you know? Clear the air a bit. It needs clearing, very stagnant.”

“O-o-oh, I understood v-very clearly, no need to worry!” As 45 hopped up, her foot still tapping, Gremory found herself wondering whether this nice young lady here ever chilled out. 45 grabbed Gremory's hand again. “Welcome to Rokkenjima, Lady Gremory! My deployments here in the past have been somewhat limited, but I will do my best to guide you through what you need to know!”

“Ah, thanks.” Gremory smiled. “I appreciate it. And- just so we're clear, it's not like the pantslessness bothers me. It was the flow of conversation, I actually- well, I actually think the uniform's pretty cute, not that I could ever work it.”

“Yes, ma'am! Understood, ma'am!” 45 was saluting. She was smiling. She had a really nice smile, actually. Very earnest.


 7:15 P.M.

(BGM: Lure)

the second you walk in the room, you notice that the tone of dinner really couldn't be any more different from lunch. kyrie is cool as a cucumber as usual, but aunt natsuhi's hair is still kind of wet, uncle krauss is clearly thrown off his game, uncle hideyoshi's faking a smile really hard, aunt eva has one of the darkest looks you've ever seen, aunt rosa- well, she isn't even looking at you, so that's a good start, and jessica looks dissatisfied and super antsy.

“geez, what crawled up your asses and died?” rudolf snorts.

“quit!” you say. “swearing! around the kid!” you make hand gestures at maria.

kyrie chuckles. “if you keep doing it, you might make tora burst a blood vessel.” she raises a finger. she's doing the cool thing. she's so cool. “you should stop, rudolf.”

“alright, alright.” rudolf says, rubbing the back of his head. will gets a seat next to nanjo.

“grandfather still doesn't feel up to coming down?” george turns to his parents and asks after he sits down.

“ah-heh, uhh, mm.” uncle hideyoshi mumbles.

kyrie comes in for the assist. “father is in a poor state to be coming down in. much as i'm sure he'd like to dine with us, we'll have to begin without him.” jessica's hands twitch for some reason. “what happened to your face, tora?”

“eh, hit myself on a banister.” you shrug. no need picking unnecessary fights. “no big deal.”

and the room is... quiet.

just utterly silent.

gohda.

(BGM: Towering cloud in summer)

“good evening, everyone.” you've actually been looking forward to this, on account of the fact that you no longer have any lunch in your stomach. food is passed out. steaaaak. a lot of people are slow to begin eating once dinner is served, but you are famished.

“gohda you're my new best friend.” you say, after swallowing your first bite of steak. you give him a big, goofy thumbs up. “this, right here, this is making my day something fie-” you blink. “jessica calm down.”

“hmrphf?” jessica looks up from vacuuming her steak like a woman possessed.

“jessica, chew your food.” aunt natsuhi chides. “you are eighteen years old. slow down, or you won't be able to taste it.”

“hrmlbrf.” jessica responds, before proceeding to ignore her mother's advice.

“i know the heimlich, if it comes to it.” will says, his eyes closed, shaking his head.

“thank you, mr. wright.” aunt natsuhi says. “your assistance is appreciated.”

“i do too, but he'd probably be better on it.” you say. “on account of.” you look at will. “you know, him.”

“he is a tall guy, ain't he?” uncle hideyoshi says. “guess he's made of the wright stuff!”

aunt eva moves for the first time this dinner to stare at her husband and say, “that wasn't even remotely funny.”

“aw, but i'm tryin', ain't i?” he laughs.

“out of curiosity, what is it that you do, mr. wright?” kyrie asks, idly playing at her steak. how are they not all just eating this steak, it's really good.

“i work at my family's business.” will shrugs. “it's a bit boring for the dinner table.”

“there's nothing wrong with that. i'm the same way.” george says, smiling.

“aren't you younger than george, too?” rudolf asks, and will nods. “getting shown up here, georgie boy! are you just gonna stand for this?”

“listen, uncle rudolf, it's really not about being 'shown up.' i'm glad for mr. wright's early entry into the business world.” george responds.

“a-heh-heh. a stunning answer as usual. you raised him real squeaky-clean, eh, nee-san?” rudolf laughs.

“...yes.” aunt eva says. there is no humor in her voice. “yes, i did. you'd do well to learn from my example, rudolf.”

“please. your kid might be successful, but at least my kids have good taste in movies.” rudolf grins crookedly.

“uncle rudolf, please, that's a low blow.” george pushes up his glasses. “my taste in movies is perfectly fine. i enjoy what i enjoy!” he turns to you. “tora, really-”

“i'm still not getting involved in this.” you shake your head and raise your hands, swallowing another bite of your dinner.

“...what in the world are you three talking about?” those are the first words uncle krauss has said this whole dinner.

“oh, well, these three,” you gesture widely at the boys, “have been arguing about star wars.”

“ah.” uncle krauss nods. he smirks. it looks a bit strained, but he tries. “personally, i'm quite fond of return of the jedi.”

“so we're still two in favor of empire strikes back.” rudolf smirks. “you and me, will. we're the ones with good taste. we're going places.”

“i'd rather not. i've had enough adventure in the past week for a lifetime.” will responds.

“metaphorically going places, kid. metaphorically going places!” rudolf laughs.

“you're really in your element talking to children, aren't you, rudolf.” aunt eva's tone is harsh. you know, you're loathe to agree with the old man, like, ever, but what did crawl up their asses and die?

“listen.” rudolf says. “i'm a man with particular tastes, and you know, it's just not the same going to movies with kyrie. i take her to see scary movies and she doesn't even flinch the whole time! even when they're high-grade heavy american stuff! john carpenter!”

“oh, the thing, you mean?” kyrie asks. she smiles a bit. “i heard that it was a box office bomb.”

“who cares if it bombed?! did you see the craftsmanship?!” rudolf says, his brow furrowed. “that's the stuff of nightmares, kyrie! how do you not think it's scary?!”

“the craftsmanship was quite something. the designs on the various monsters were really striking.” kyrie nods quietly.

“uu! monsters?” maria's ears perk up. “can maria see?”

“no.” rudolf says, uncharacteristically serious. “maybe when you're about tora's age.” maria uu-uu's disappointedly. aunt rosa looks too tired to say something aloud. good? maybe?

somehow, discussion of rudolf's taste in movies gets a decent din going at the table again, which lets you more comfortably feed yourself. jessica finishes fast, but since she's not allowed to get up from the table, she just looks lost in thought. you wind up a bit lost in thought, too. danshui river goes to danshui. sweetfish are freshwater fish that could be in any river, so it has to mean 'danshui', right? like, a word game. but what's the village? you feel like you have to be making progress, but you're not sure what that progress leads to. danshui. danshui, you mumble to yourself. dan-

“uu.” maria calls to you. “tora onee-chan, dessert.” eh? oh, snap. what is this? you were totally zoning out. oh crap.

kumasawa and shannon brought it into the room. hi, shannon. it's some kinda... this is sherbet, right? pear-flavored. and- ooh, cake. you like cake. mm. yeah. good. mmmmmmm this good. this good stuff. danshui, danshui...


 

you're headed back to the guesthouse with will, george, and maria- kyrie wants to talk to rudolf about something- when you notice jessica skulking around the entrance hall grunting to herself. “uh.” you mumble. “you guys head back, alright? i wanna make sure jessica doesn't pop a blood vessel.”

“of course.” george smiles and nods. you lock eyes with will and make sure he understands. danshui! danshui! you impress upon him the intensity of this sentiment. you're not sure what him scratching an itch on his upper back means but you're sure he got it!

“i'll be back later, okay, maria?” you tell her.

“uu!” maria says. and again, she wishes you, “good luck, tora onee-chan!”

“ahaha, i'm trying my best! thanks!” you say, and then the three of them are off.

(BGM: Cage)

okay. jessica. she's pacing around, holding... what is that? she's got a thing in her hand. is that a... it's got like a little spoke on it, is... “is that, like, a Q?”

jessica visibly jumps when she realizes you're there. “oh! oh, shit, tora. hey. hi. yeah. yeah, it's a Q. definitely a Q.” she waves the Q around a bit.

“why do you have a Q in your hand?” you ask.

looking down at the Q, you see jessica glare at it, as though she's trying to bully it into giving up its secrets. “i... don't know. i've been running around trying to stick it into doorknobs but nothing's working.”

“i, uh. okay.” you nod.

then jessica properly realizes that it's you, presumably, and says again, “oh! oh, shit, tora. hey. hi. yeah. uh.” she looks at your face. “are you. are you okay.”

“are you? you're gonna make yourself hoarse grunting that much.” you reply.

the olds are making themselves busy in the guest rooms and elsewhere around the house, so the parlor is free. you and jessica sit down there. you slouch because god damn you're tired. “uh.” jessica mumbles. “sorry about just. running off and leaving you there.”

“huh? oh, no, it's fine.” you shake your head. “i mean, i'd be pretty stunned, too.”

jessica looks like she's thinking about something for a bit, and then blurts out, “okay, i've gotta know. are you in love with kanon?”

you stop cold. your face is frozen in a half-smile because you were in the middle of smiling at her when she said that. you chuckle awkwardly. “um.” you chuckle again. “i mean.” honesty is the best policy when talking with your peers, tora. “y... yeaaaah? yeah. mmhm.” you nod a few more times than is necessary. “mmhm. yup. definitely am.”

“okay.” jessica nods, satisfied. “cool. just wanted to make sure of that.”

“why?” you tilt your head.

“uuugh, i mean, it's like.” jessica grunts again and holds head. “i guess i kinda like him too? i think? i mean, i think i definitely did. but he was like, man, i'm furniture, i can't love you back, and i don't even know what the fuck that means, tora! so it's been really confusing, okay?! i don't know! and i mean, i've seen how he looks at you, and that's like, an 'i wanna fuck that' look, you know, so if he's that into you i wish he'd just told me he wasn't that into me! would've made things a lot easier for me!”

she's tearing up. you put your arm around her. actually, both. you hug her. “that's... super awkward. i'm sorry.”

“not like it's your fault. i mean, i guess i still just don't know what it is about me that makes it so damn hard for me to find a boyfriend, right?” there's a bit of self-loathing in there. “tora, how do you do it?”

“um. well.” you stammer. “i've... never actually dated someone before, so...”

“wait.” jessica stops, and she looks up at you. “you haven't? you haven't.” she pounds her fist into her open palm. “hehehehe, tora's never gone on a date. at least i'm still doing better than someone!” she laughs to herself. then her voice becomes flat again. “oh, wait. kanon's really into you. but you're still older than me, you hear me?” she points at you.

“you've thought about this a lot, huh.” you ask. she groans and nods. “well, i can't really tell you how exactly to attract a guy. guys don't make a lick of sense to me.”

shifting the topic of conversation in her mind, jessica says, “okay, that reminds me.” she takes a deep breath in. “okay.” she puts her hands at you. “level with me here. why does aunt rosa think you're a guy?”

“because i was born a guy.” you reply.

jessica blinks. “like.” she gestures downwards. you nod. “seriously?”

“yeah.” you nod. “but, like, as i got older, i realized that, like, me, i'm not a guy. i don't fit in with any of the other guys, i don't want to be a man, i hate it when people call me a boy. made my skin crawl. so i realized i'd be better off as a woman.”

jessica is staring, wide-eyed at you. “...you can do that?”

“well, it's kinda hard, not gonna lie.” you shrug. “having a fucked-up body that doesn't fit how my brain works is a bummer.”

“dude, that sucks.” jessica nods. she clearly doesn't actually, like, get it, but that's a good thing. you wouldn't wish it on her. “but, like. you can do that?” there's a strange sort of awe in her eyes. “just... decide to live as a woman and try to get people to call you a woman?”

“yeah.” you smile. “there's people who think i shouldn't be able to, but i'm sure you'll agree, looking at me, that i am a stunning, flawless example of a yamato nadeshiko, no?”

“better than me.” jessica scoffs. “shit, you were born a guy and you're still prettier than me!”

“ehh, arguable. i'd say you're cuter.” you scoff back.

“what? are you kidding? you're shiny. you've got good fashion sense and all that crap. you've got that proper long hair going on.” jessica puts her hands on her hips.

“yeah, but the ponytail's really cute.” you smile. “and, uh. if you'll pardon my saying. you have a much better rack than i do.”

she blinks. “you want it?”

“i'd take it if i could!” you laugh. she laughs too. “ohh, man- you totally thought i was a girl as a kid, too, huh?”

“i did. i'm dumb!” jessica raises her hands. “i mean, c'mon, you know that.” then she stops. “wait. if it's because of your brain, then weren't you... kind of a girl to begin with?”

you pause, then turn to her, and speak completely frankly. “jessica. you've just achieved a level of understanding that many people never reach. i'm proud of you.”

“oh. cool.” jessica says.

conversation trails off a bit again.

“so what do you like about him, anyway?” she asks. “is it just that he's hot? cause i mean, he kinda is.”

“uhhhh, that's...” you trail off. holy shit that is a complicated question. “i mean, he is hot! definitely! but, uhhh...” you trail off again.

jessica is staring at you. “huh. is there a secret here.” she grins. “you don't wanna tell me. c'mon, he's not into me, so maybe if i learn why he's into you!”

“i don't think that's really gonna help, jess!” you respond, working up a bit of a sweat. she pokes your birthmark. “hey! poking me isn't gonna help, either!”

“why did tora and kanon get cozy so fast, huh?” jessica asks herself, while poking your forehead. “what makes cool, standoffish kanon-kun, who's all jaded and says he can't love anybody and that he's not human, suddenly fall in love with ms. frail and weak over here? what is it that... wait.”

jessica trails off. “wait.” she mumbles to herself again. “wait. wait. hold on. hold the fucking phone here.” you can almost hear the gears in her head turning. “hold the phone. hold- hold on.”

she's stood up now. “i've never seen him with even a bit of fuzz. and he's tiny, and he's got that high-pitched voice. and- and most of the fukuin house servants are girls, right? right! and- and furniture and ducks, and- holy shit! whoa!”

“...you okay there?” you ask.

“i'm having my mind fucking blown!” jessica shouts, holding her head. “it's straight up exploding! is- oh, fuck, is that it?!” she turns to you. “is it because you're both... like that?”

“i. mean.” you stammer. this was not how you expected this conversation to go, nope, no sirree. “that's also part of it?”

“so he is?!” she shouts.

“i mean, i think so? i'm pretty sure something like that is going on there.” you mumble. you trail off. “uh, try to be gentle, okay? i'm used to it, but he might freak if he finds out you know.”

“gentle, got it.” jessica nods fervently to herself. “okay. yeah, that makes sense. yeah, okay, 'cause you can, like, get him in a way i can't, i guess.” she crosses her arms. “okay. that's fine. cool. great! good for you two. good luck.”

“oh, what, are we, like. are we fine now?” you ask, pointing at yourself.

“ehhh, i'll cry about it some more later if i need to.” jessica smiles. “no big. good luck, tora!” she gives you a big ol' thumbs up.

“aww, thanks, jess.” you give her a thumbs up back.

she sits back down, puts her arms over the sofa, and reclines. “i'm just glad to have another girl around my age here, honestly. i mean, shannon's great, you know, but-”

“not the same.” you nod.

“not the same!” jessica nods back. “she made fun of me for not having a boyfriend last culture festival.” she scoffs. “then she was all, oh, what if you used kanon-kun as a fake boyfriend, and she set him up to go with me to the festival, and i was all-”

you start laughing to yourself. “what.” jessica asks. “what's so funny.” oh, you know, just the idea of setting your own male alter ego up as your best friend's fake date. “tora why are you laughing.” ohhh, geez. that's convoluted.

“well, did he like it?” you laugh.

“apparently he hated most of it.” jessica shrugs. “i don't think he likes people all that much.”

“okay, okay.” you nod to yourself. “got it. try to go for places that are less crowded. thanks muchly.” then you pause. “so, uh, what's with the Q?”

“the Q?” jessica blinks. “oh, yeah, this thing.” she pulls it out. “well, i was thinking, you know, grandpa built-”

then jessica stands up, suddenly straight at attention. “ohhhh shit i got distracted fuck sorry gotta run tora hey great talking to you later bye!” and she's just... out of the room. n... nyoom. nyoom.

you wave a little at the open doorway. “okay byeeee.”

shannon is actually standing there in the open doorway now, having just been blown past by jessica. her eyes are wide. she has cleaning supplies. “er...” she blinks.

“she's really enthusiastic about that Q for some reason.” you say. you both stare at where jessica ran off to, which is... where is she even going? “hey.”

“hello, tora-sama.” shannon mumbles. “please excuse me i didn't realize the two of you were in here.”

“oh, no, it's fine. you're good. i was getting going anyway, gotta think about danshui. danshui! danshui.” you laugh to yourself. “danshuiiii!”

shannon blinks. “i wish you luck in thinking about danshui, tora-sama.”

then you turn on your heel and say, “okay, but seriously though, you set kanon up as jessica's fake boyfriend for her school festival?” the speed at which shannon walks into the parlor and closes the door is really commendable.

Chapter Text

8:20 P.M.

(BGM: Serie de Fragmento)

you're sitting on the stairwell in the entrance hallway. you're afraid again, so you needed to take a look in the notebook to cool off.

fear is a feeling you've had a long time to get used to, but somehow you never do. you're afraid more often than you'd like to admit. the fact that it's flaring up really badly on rokkenjima is bad, but nothing really all that special.

you flip to the page where she is. she hasn't changed since the last time you saw this picture. 'gremory.' beatrice and maria made this character together, like the rest, right? this tall, cool, unflappable-looking woman? ...with your hair color? and eye color?

you study gremory, trying really hard to puzzle out why it is that this character exists. come to think of it...

...she kinda reminds you of kyrie. that's it. she has that same kind of coolness, like nothing could ever faze her. you can see it in her eyes.

'i wish i could be like kyrie.' you say. 'she's so... cool. i don't think she's ever afraid of anything.'

'...who?' she asks, tilting her head.

'oh. right.' you laugh awkwardly. 'uh, sorry, i guess you don't know her, huh. she's a friend of dad's. she's like that kind of person you call 'aunt' but isn't actually your family by blood. she's been coming around ever since i was a kid.'

'oh. i see.' she says.

'but it's just, she's so cool, and composed, and... and pretty, you know?' you say. 'like, she's just... the coolest.' you curl into yourself. 'i get afraid a lot and i don't like it. i wish i could be like her.'

'battler-san...' you still don't understand why, when she says your name, it grates on your ears.

'dad says that if i want that, i should marry a lady like her, but... that's not the same. it's not the same. i don't want that, i want to be that. what's the use in being a scaredy-cat all the time? i wish...' you sigh. 'i wish i could be like her.'

'i don't think that's impossible.' she says. 'er... i think you're already cool.'

'oh, come on, no i'm not.' you sputter and throw up your hands a little. 'i'm super not.'

...but if she remembered enough of that to make this character, then... why? why any of this? you look down at gremory. she's... cool. she's cool like kyrie. then you look up to the ceiling.

“are you... disappointed in me?” you ask her, even though you know she's not listening. “did you want her?” the woman who's strong enough to conquer her fears, who could come back earlier even though she'd hate it, who could come back even though her father is the kind of guy who thinks women are so disposable he can just-

“yes, she did want the mackerel!”

“AAAA” YOU JUMP OH FUCK IT'S kumasawa. “how do you do that?!”

(BGM: Comical)

“oh ho ho ho.” kumasawa laughs to herself. “i've still got it!” hoo. hoo. you breathe heavily to yourself for a few moments. “why so jumpy, tora-sama?”

“been having... kind of a jumpy night.” you say. you study her for a bit. she probably knows, right? she's gotta. “i was... just thinking maybe beatrice was disappointed it was me who showed up. long story.”

kumasawa laughs again, and pats you on the shoulder. “oh, i don't think there's much worry of that. unless you're disappointed it was you who came?”

“what?” you blink. “what does that even mean?”

“oh, what doesn't it mean?” she chuckles. “after all, you were the one who thought it, weren't you?”

“but you said it!” you say, your face scrunching up. “if i thought it, then how could you know i thought it?” the words are out of your mouth by the time you realize you already know the response.

kumasawa leans in, laughs to herself, and whispers, “it's because mackerel makes you psychic.”

“ugh. ugh!” you throw your hands up and go to get your raincoat. “ugh, kumasawa!”

“i got you again!” she laughs again.

“yeah, be real proud of yourself, grandma.” you point at her. “i might've given you this opportunity once, but it's not happening again! i swear! it's not!”

“don't underestimate me, tora-sama.” kumasawa says, before slinking back into the shadows. how does she do that. she's a ninja. she has to be.

 


 

“danshui.” will says to you, once you get back. “right?” you nod. “great. then we've got a hit.”

(BGM: Rhythm-changer)

you light up the second the words are out of his mouth. your eyes go wide. “a hit? you mean-?” you shut the door to the archive. “talk to me.”

“it's likely the old man lived in taishou, in taipei.” will says. you nod. “the river wasn't bringing anything up, so i went and looked for other things named 'danshui' to see if i'd find anything.”

the two of you both look down at the atlas, and you gasp. you touch it. “the danshui line. it's a train line?” your eyes are wide. “this has gotta be it, right? it starts in his hometown!” you grasp the book really, really tight. “you're a genius, will!” you launch over at him and give him a big ol' hug.

“wha- hey, hey, hands off.” he brushes you off after a moment, blushing. “i don't want makeup stains on it. this thing is my baby. and we're not done yet.”

“right.” you nod fervently. “okay. stops on the danshui line.” your motions are faster than they were before. this is progress. this is definitely progress, right? “what's the story?”

“looks like there are a total of seventeen stops that've been on this line.” he says.

“alright, so, as we travel down it we'll see a 'village.'” you mumble. “village. okay. that could mean a few things. are there any village characters on the stops?”

“not that jump out at me.” he says. there's a whirlwind of books around the two of you.

“okay, but it's grandpa. he's old. lemme see if any of them got renamed. you start from one end, i'll start from the other.” you mutter, flip flip flip flip flip. “that one did, okay, that one did, and-”

your heart stops. your hands start shaking. “will. will!” you nudge his shoulder. he's looking at another book. “will!”

“what.” he says.

you point. “kirigan!” your hand is shaking as you point at the village character in this station's name. “kirigan! it's got a village, and- and a shore!” you shout. your hands are trembling. oh fuck. holy shit. “and 'that', it's got that too- and this is a 'mouth' character, it's like it's telling of it, i guess?”

“what's the two, then?” he asks.

“uhh, ummm.” you snap your fingers a few times. “uhhhhh.” come on, this has to be it, right?! you can't have been going on this for a wild goose chase, right? ri-

“got it.” he says. you jerk your head to him. “it's named after a place.” he points to it. 'kirigan.' it has- it has two mouth characters. it has two mouth characters! the two are telling you of the village shore! yes!

will you're a genius.” you shout. you're- you're hyperventilating. okay. calm down tora. calm down. you're fine. it's fine. it's all- it's all fine, right? just peachy. right. you're just here, you just found another part of this riddle. you just- “wait.” you stop. “okay. but how do we turn that into six?”

there's a pause. will crosses his arm and hums. you do the same. six. it's like a word game, right? gotta be. so, how do you turn kirigan into six? there's three characters here, but you can't exactly split them into six. “WAIT” you shout. “WAIT. wait.” you say. you start scrabbling through the book again. it has to be in here somewhere, right? the way they read it in taiwan! because grandpa grew up in taiwan!

 


 

“Seeing her move so quickly,” Beatrice said, “makes me look like a fool.” She pouted a bit, but she was still smiling.

“Well, you know, love can move mountains, right?” Gremory laughed, leaning back. “That's just how it be sometimes.” She smirked. “And she's got help.”

“Ah, but you're right.” Beatrice cackled, throwing her arms wide. “I suppose she does have an unfair advantage! She should feel so gracious that I gave it to her. Isn't that right, Ba-”

Beatrice turned to her husband and stopped. Battler was leaning in very close to the gameboard, pumping his fists, muttering, 'c'mon, c'mon, c'mon.' under his breath. He had an intensity that hadn't graced his face in a long time, his forehead covered in sweat, a vein in his temple pulsing. “Come on, you're almost there. Come on.”

“...Hoh?” Beatrice tilted her head, and put her hand on his shoulder. “Are you that invested, Battleeeer?” She grinned. “If you'd like, I could try knocking you until the epitaph falls from your brain and have you solve it again!”

Silence. “...I don't think he's listening, Lady Beatrice.” Vassago said.

 


(BGM: The Maid (Effected))

Kanon's breath ran heavy in the parlor. He was slumped against the wall again, holding his head in his hands. “Stop,” he shuddered, “cleaning.”

The demure, angelic Shannon tilted her head as she looked over from cleaning the windowsill. “But it's our duty to clean.”

“Stop cleaning.” He said again, his fingers tight around his head. “Just stop.”

“But it's our duty to clean.” Shannon repeated again, a bit more forcefully. “Kanon-kun, you're too distracted. If you worry too much about this, it'll be you that Milady scolds, not me.”

“Shut up!” Kanon roared, standing up in a furious rush of energy. It didn't feel like there was a single bit of air in his chest, and yet somehow he could still shout. “Just shut up! Shut up, shut up, shut up! What's wrong with you?!” His hands flew about wildly. “What's wrong with you, Shannon?! Why are you acting like this?!”

“Why are you acting like that?” Shannon said.

danshui danshui danshui danshui danshui danshui danshui danshui danshui danshui danshui danshui danshui danshui danshui danshui danshui danshui

Kanon bit his lip again, this time more forcefully. There were tears coming to his eyes. Kanon didn't often cry, because he absolutely hated the sensation of it. The sticky, wet feeling on his face when he cried made his skin crawl. How much he'd love if he could simply cut out his tear ducts and stop crying.

“What are you going to do if someone comes in and sees you like this?” Shannon said. She knelt down and gently chided him. “It's the family conference, Kanon-kun.”

“I don't care about the family conference!” Kanon flung his arm. “The family conference can go to hell! I just-”

I want to believe.

That was the thought that was rising from Kanon's heart, the golden blade shredding him from within. I want to believe. I want to believe. I want to believe. “...Please.” His hair fell over his face. “Please.”

(BGM: Stop)

Her breaths were quiet. She began putting away her cleaning supplies. It was a simple enough task, one that was very quiet- oddly so, considering how noisy the manor often felt to her.

She produced a small key, one that she kept with her always, and exited the parlor. Genji stood there, waiting dutifully outside the room. “Genji.” She said. She handed him one of her two master keyrings. “I'm going.”

“...Indeed.” Genji bowed his head, and took the keyring. “I hope that this night brings you all you desire.”

“Mm.” She nodded.

 


(BGM: Far)

qilian.

your shoulders slump. your head falls into the pages of the book, and you laugh a bit, the air escaping your lungs in waves. qilian. this is it. this is it, isn't it. the key to the golden land.

“hey. you alright there?” will asks.

you slump over on the ground, still catching your breath. you have it. you have the key. this has to be it. this has to be it. you want to just stop here, say you did it, say you're done. you can't, but you can at least take a minute to celebrate. “i just.” you start. “god, i. i'm so...”

will's taking off his coat and hanging it on the door. “okay, fine, get up and bring it in.” he says.

you do.

it's been a long time since you've really been able to slump over into someone's arms in a hug, and will does a pretty good job of it. he's a tall guy, stiff. letting your strings be cut into someone else is a big deal, and it lets you really catch your breath in a way you haven't been able to all day. it's fine. you and will have the key. you're gonna do this. it's okay. everything's... alright.

he's tough, but it's comforting. “we do still have to figure out what to do with it, you know.” he says.

“yeah. i know.” you say back. “i really wish i could sleep first. i am so tired oh my god.”

“c'mon. we've just gotta figure out how to use this thing.” will says. you stand up again. “you good?”

“yeah. i'm good.” you nod, smiling. actually...

(BGM: Towering cloud in summer)

you head up to the guest room, and open the door. “heyyy!” you smile. “maria!”

“uu! tora onee-chan!” maria hops over from the tv to speak to you. “doing alright?”

“yeah!” you nod. you're beaming. “i'm doing pretty good! i have the key now!” maria gasps, her eyes wide. “oh, but will has been helping me. is that alright?”

maria has to take a second to think about that one. she crosses her arms. “...uu. think it's okay.”

you kneel down and hug maria. she hugs you back. “thank you, maria.” you say. “sorry i had to leave you to do this, it's just, you know.”

“uu. maria knows. have to prevent misfortune!” she yips. “doing great, tora onee-chan!”

“if i might ask?” george is here, too. hey, george. “what exactly have you been doing, tora?”

“ah, just kicking some butt the way i do, aniki.” you stand up, still hugging maria- oh she's actually pretty light- to talk to him. “will and i are giving solving grandpa's riddle a go.”

“really?” george raises his eyebrow. “that's a surprise. are you having financial issues?”

“nahhhhh.” you wave your hand dismissively. “it's an initiation ritual for apprentice witches, y'know. fun hangouts.”

“wait, wait.” will stops here. “i didn't say i wanted to be a witch, here.”

“then you can be, like, my familiar, or something!” you grin. “that's legal, right, maria?”

“uu!” maria seems pleased by this idea! “will, familiar! uu!”

“uu!” you agree. then you rub your chin. “oh, but you need some accessories to be a familiar. maybeeee... ooh! how about fox ears and a cute little tail?”

will is grimacing. “nope. vetoed. i refuse.”

“ah, well, we would need fox ears and a tail, then.” george says. “do you have those on you?”

“not yet.” you grin evilly, putting maria down because she's so cute it makes you look less evil. “not yet.”

“saying it twice doesn't make it make any more sense, tora.” george chuckles, pushing up his glasses.

“sure it does,” you nod. “sure it does.”

you laugh. george and maria laugh, too. you sort of like, bask in the sound of their laughter, and their smiles. you like them. even if george is technically your competition right now? it's complicated and it's not like you can blame him for it. maybe.

“ah, but tora.” george says. he has a serious look on his face. “it seems like you've been pushing yourself quite hard today. are you sure you're alright? if you need to talk about anything...” his brow is furrowed with concern.

“that's alright, aniki. thanks.” you smile, showing your teeth (pearly white! a strong point of yours.) “i'll be fine. don't worry about me.”

“if you're sure. come back whenever you like, though.” george nods. qilian, qilian. where do you use qilian? qilian.

you pace around the front hall of the guesthouse with will. “it has to be somewhere on rokkenjima, and i don't think she'd send me out to the middle of nowhere in the forest, so it has to be somewhere in ushiromiyaville, right?”

“checks out.” will nods. he crosses his arms. “it'd be easier if we had someone with home field advantage, then.”

“home field advantage. that'd be the servants, aunt natsuhi, uncle krauss, jessica...” you trail off. “jessica.” you clap. “jessica, jessica! Q! jessica! Q!”

you start throwing on your raincoat again. this thing has gotten a whole lot of exercise tonight. “you lost me.” will grumbles.

“we need to go find jessica.” you say. “this is gonna sound really stupid, but she was waving around a Q earlier? Q for qilian, perhaps?”

“...what do you mean, 'waving around a Q?'” will stares at you.

“exactly what it sounds like, my dear watson.” you put one hand on your waist and tilt yourself, satisfied. “exactly what it sounds like.”


 

“hey, genji, have you seen jessica?” you ask him, once you get into the manor.

“the last i saw lady jessica, she was in the process of attempting to unlock every door in the mansion. i believe she recently headed down to the boiler room.” he replies.

“thanks genji.” you give him a thumbs up.

 


 

well, she wasn't there. you pass by the entrance hall again. “she wasn't there, genji.” you say, sweating a little bit. “any better ideas.”

“perhaps try the master's study. she earlier complained of how complex the lock was.” he replies.

“thanks genji.” you give him two thumbs up.

 


 

wow okay you are really tired of all these stairs. even will, burly as he is, is getting a bit out of breath. “hey genji.” you say.

“she's just headed to the guesthouse.” he replies.

“thanks genji.” you say. you force will to give him a thumbs-up, too.

 


(BGM: Challenger)

“aaaaargh, where does this stupid Q go?!” when you finally get back to the entrance hall again, jessica is harassing genji, waving the Q in his face. “i've tried this thing in every door on rokkenjima and it doesn't work! it's a real crappy key, genji!” you breathe a heavy sigh of relief.

“lady jessica.” he replies. “lady tora and lord willard have requested your presence.” he gestures to the two of you.

“huh?” jessica turns to see you two. she's wheezing.

“okay, first off, cool down.” you say. you go up and put your hands on her shoulders. “chill your pills. you're gonna make yourself cough up a lung if you keep running around like this.”

“ugh, who cares about lungs?!” jessica says. “look, i'm busy here. doing important things.” then she notices will staring at the Q. “what? quit staring at my Q!” she clutches it possessively.

“well, i'll be damned. it's an actual Q.” will mutters.

“okay. jessica. actually. this is important.” you level with her. “like, please sit down with me and let's talk about this. okay? do you have an inhaler? you're wheezing really bad. i'm concerned.”

jessica grits her teeth and grunts. “i will fetch lady jessica's inhaler.” genji nods. and he's off.

“thanks genji.” four thumbs up! yeah!

you eventually decide on the dining hall, which is thankfully empty right now. like a rebel, you sit in grandpa's seat. heh. radical. you take a look at a clock on the wall. it's almost ten o' clock. okay. that's fine. you have two hours left. you're good. you're just. aces. “okay, what is it.” jessica is squirming in her seat like she has ants in her pants, once she's been inhaler'd.

“okay.” you say. “that Q. where'd you get it?”

jessica blinks. “huh? why?”

“because we've been trying to solve the epitaph, and i've got a feeling about it.” you tell her. jessica starts studying your face suspiciously, her brow furrowing. “what.”

“well, i'm trying to solve the epitaph!” she says, clutching the Q tightly. “so... you can't have it!”

“what? oh, really?” you blink. “cool, actually. i mean, that's fine. why are you trying to solve it?”

jessica's eyes dart between you and will a few times. she grunts. “okay, can you keep a secret?”

“can you?” will asks. you glare at him for a second, and then nod to her.

“i need money because dad's in debt.” jessica grunts. “didn't even bother telling me until a few hours ago, because why would anyone tell me anything, right.” her teeth are gritted. “he's screwed unless i do something-”

“oh!” you clap. “okay, good news then. i'm not doing it for the money. you can have it, sister.”

there's a moment of silence. “huh.” jessica mutters. “wha.”

“okay, this is kind of a long story.” you fiddle with your hairband a bit. there has to be some literal truth you can use here without having to stumble into this whole can of worms, because explaining what you know about that would take too much time. “uhh, okay, jessica. i know this is gonna sound ridiculous, but beatrice asked me to.”

there's a moment of silence.

“eh, not the craziest thing i've heard today.” jessica shrugs. (...then what was? you decide to ask her later.) then she turns to look at will. “what about you?”

“helping tora sounded like the best way to use my time tonight.” will shrugs back at her.

jessica's staring at both of you. “so i can keep the money.”

“yeah, girl, if your family needs it!” you raise your hands and smile. “i mean, it's twenty bil, so if you'll spot me a couple hundred thou if i need it sometime?” you're grinning now.

“once i'm done with it, maybe!” jessica laughs. she lets out a breath. she's used her inhaler, now, so it's calmer. phew. “i was worried i was gonna have to knock you out!”

“wow! i would've really hated that!” you reply. the two of you laugh and shake hands. “okay, so lay it on us. where'd you get that Q?”

“we're not supposed to go up there, but there's a chapel a bit behind the manor.” jessica says. “you always seemed like too good of a kid to go up there.” she snorts.

“yeah, i'd probably remember.” you nod.

“granddad had it built at the same time he had the mansion built.” jessica continues. “the servants keep it clean, but he never uses it for anything. that's weird, right? so i figured, probably something about the riddle, right? if he's got hidden gold anywhere! so, anyway, there's this plaque on the roof of the entrance that says something in english. the chapel was locked and i couldn't get a key to it, so i just messed with the plaque and the Q in one of the words came out!”

“you know what word it was part of?” will asks, raising his eyebrow.

“uhhh...” jessica crosses her arms and puffs her cheeks a bit. “...english is hard. beats me.”

“okay, that's fine.” you nod. “my english grades are pretty good. did you use a ladder, or?”

“yeah. should still be there, unless it blew away or something.” jessica says. then she looks at will. “we can just use him if it did.”

“first i'm a familiar, now i'm a stepstool?” will clicks his tongue. “glad i'm so appreciated.”

there's a chapel behind the manor and that's where jessica got the Q. okay. so that means that if this works out, if this is right, then you're almost there. “are you doing alright, or do you need a minute?” you ask jessica. “i don't want you to cough up a lung on my watch.”

jessica sighs and rolls her eyes. “i'm fine. if you're coming with, let's just get going.”

(BGM: Stop)

“actually, i've gotta do one thing before i go.” you say, standing up. “i'll meet you guys at the entrance hall if i'm not already there. i've gotta go talk to genji.”

“genji?” jessica asks, frowning a bit. “what's up with genji?”

“i've just gotta ask him something about beatrice.” you say, and turn out of the room.


(BGS: Rain)

genji is skulking around the servants' room when you find him again. “hey! genji!” you say, jogging up to him. “thanks for the help earlier, i really appreciate it.”

“...it is nothing.” the old man nods. he's been here for a long time, huh. apparently, he's been working for grandpa for basically forever.

“hey...” you trail off. “so, i donno exactly what's going on, but i just wanna say that will, jessica, and i are heading to the chapel here in a minute. will and i have the key to the golden land.”

he's silent as you continue. “and i'm gonna hear most of this from beatrice, i know. i don't need you to tell me any of this. i'm gonna ask her about it all once i get there. i just... wanna know one thing.”

you stare him dead in the eyes. “what's shannon's real name?”


 

As Tora left for the entrance hall, the hallway returned to silence. Genji's breaths were quiet as ever, silent noise befitting one who was meant to be seen, and not heard.

He closed his eyes. She had asked what she needed to ask, so his role of keeping his master's secret was still fulfilled.

Would his master share those secrets with Tora? Would this night bring his master all she desired?

...Such questions were not his role to wonder. Genji Ronoue, head butler of the Ushiromiya family, continued in his nightly work.


(BGM: Scar sound)

the rain is heavier now. you cling tight to your raincoat as you go, stepping out to behind the manor, into the forest. jessica and will are with you. “hey, jessica...” you say. “thanks.”

“huh? for what?” she asks.

“for this.” you reply. “i mean, i never would've guessed this. it's thanks to you that we're gonna get here.”

“aw, it's nothing. you two have been working hard too, right?” jessica smiles. “just dumb luck.”

you snort. “well, i don't care if it was luck, luck's a kind of skill!”

as you walk, the chapel starts coming into view. it's... kind of an imposing building, especially in the rain, and with things as dark as they are now. will brought a lantern, at least. it's tall, and it gives off this kind of air of being important, but maybe that's just you. “he really had this built and he never uses it?” you ask.

“yeah. he's had it redecorated a bunch, but it's super old.” jessica says.

“rich people.” will rolls his eyes.

once you're under the entrance (are those lion statues what), you're out of the rain, so you take your hood off and look up. the lantern lights up the plaque that jessica mentioned. you squint. “let's see... 'this door is opened only at probability of a Quadrillion to one. you will be blessed only at a probability of a...'” there's an empty space. “that's where you took the Q from, right, jessica?”

“yeah.” jessica says. she's got the ladder she used, good. “'quadrillion?'”

“mmhm.” you nod. “quadrillion.” you step up onto the ladder. “can you hand me the Q, just in case?”

she does so. “so what's this key you guys found?”

“it's a place.” will says. “in taiwan. you can get there from a train line from kinzo's 'beloved hometown.'”

“i thought his hometown was in odawara?” jessica blinks. she shrugs. “eh, whatever. what's the place?”

you reach the top of the ladder, and make it to the plaque. Q-u-a-d-r-i-l-l-i-o-n. the letters are all there. “it's called 'qilian.' q-i-l-i-a-n. six letters. and...” your heart is racing. “they're all here.” you touch the n at the end. and you pull on it.

and it comes out. there's a spoke on the end, too. this is a key.

(BGM: Core)

one by one, you start removing the letters. the Q is already gone. both i's go, so does the n, and the a. only one l, though. hm. 'tear apart the two that are close' is the next step. the only letters that are next to each other are the d and the r no matter which l you remove, but if you remove the one on the left, then all the letters that are left will be away from each other.

okay. u-d-r-l-o. 'praise my noble name on high...' what does that mean? it must mean kinzo's name, right? “okay, so i've got udrlo, now i've gotta praise grandpa's name, right?”

the sound of the rain is ratcheting up your tension. “do the letters go in other spots?” will asks. you try sticking the i in a different spot, and it works. you tell him as much. “try rearranging the letters.”

“for what?” jessica says. “uh, u, d, r, l, o. dorlu? rolud? dr. lou?” kinzo ushiromiya's noble name. mmm... maybe 'u' could stand for ushiromiya, or something? “oludr?” but then what do you get from drlo? that can't go into kinzo any way you can see. “droul?” ahh, think, think, tora. you've got this. you've got this. “lordu?”

lord ushiromiya!” you shout, and start rearranging the letters. “you're a genius, jessica!”

“uh, what?” jessica says. “i was just saying random stuff.”

“i don't care, still a genius!” okay! l-o-r-d-u! now... gouge and kill. that means... turning and removing the keys, maybe? so... english is read left to right. if they're keys, they won't turn if they're in the wrong place-

you turn the l and it twists. it works.

you can barely even tell that the rest of the world exists as you twist and remove the last four keys. they're clicking, and you feel a bit of resistance as you twist the u. when you do, jessica shouts. “w-what the hell?!”

you look down, and those lion statues have just turned. you're breathing really hard. you hurry down the ladder. the lion statues are like a guidepost, right? right? you put your hood up and start running. “slow down!” will shouts. “it's raining! you might hurt yourself!”

“i don't care!” you shout back.

jessica follows behind you pretty quick, and you hear will behind you, groaning, but he does too. there's brush, and wet, and wind, and it sucks out here. but whatever. follow the lions, follow the lions... and eventually, you get through a few bushes and stop cold.

(BGM: Stop)

“what- ah.” jessica stops, too. she's stunned.

will comes up, and he's a bit less stunned, but he snorts. “well, i'll be.”

there's an underground stairwell that the lion statues have been leading you to. it's sitting there, waiting for you, beckoning you inside.

on the tenth twilight, the journey will end, and you shall reach the capital where the gold dwells.

Chapter Text

10:30 P.M.

(BGM: Minute darkness)

you take a cautious step down into the underground passage. once you get under the ceiling, you take off your hood and make sure your hair isn't your hair-ing. “...uh, hey, will, you get in front.” jessica says.

“why.” will responds.

“uh, you're the tall, tough guy here.” jessica says. her voice is a bit shaky. “just in case anything jumps out.”

“tora's holding the lantern.” will points out. not that, as it turns out, you need it; there are lights. you turn on the lights. “she doesn't seem that scared.”

you recognize your name, so you start properly paying attention. “huh? oh, should i be? i'm more... uh, relieved, i guess. will, do you have a watch?”

“it's half past ten.” he responds.

“plenty of time, then.” it's kinda cold in here, sure, on account of how freaking wet you are, but hey. “don't worry, jess. if anything jumps out, i'll kick it or something.”

“excuse me?” jessica's fearful tone changes into a scoff as she comes up next to you on the stairs down. “who here is the 'weak and frail' one? i'm the one with brass knuckles!”

“...you have brass knuckles?” you blink.

“yeah. why wouldn't i?” jessica laughs a bit. yeah, she's still nervous.

“i mean, still, you can't put brass knuckles on your feet.” you respond. “what if it's something that's too low to the ground to punch?”

“then i'll step on it!” jessica says, pumping her fist.

will groans from behind you two, and you turn around to see his head in his hand. “nothing's going to jump out at us. it's just a stairwell.”

“a bit of... spooky hallway phobia is perfectly normal and often leads to delusions of monsters!” you say. “don't let him get you down, jessica. you have all the right in the world to be spooked.”

“damn right i do!” jessica shouts. the two of you high-five. will sighs.

you hear the dripping of water, not just from yourself, but from inside the passage. from the smell and the look of the walls, this is old. big-time old. and deep, too. the fact that good ol' granddad actually had something like this stuck in the bottom of this island is... or, wait. “do you think maybe he bought this island because this was here? i mean, that much gold sounds kinda hard to move.”

“it's a reasonable possibility.” will replies. “if there actually is gold down there.”

“what else would he hide like this?” you ask. then you shake your head. “oh, whatever.”

down and down you go, by a gutter that takes the rainwater from the cracks. eventually, the stairs stop, and you reach a massive, metal door. on it, in paint that unnervingly closely resembles blood, it says it. on the tenth twilight, the journey will end, and you shall reach the capital of gold. okay, staring at this, you are actually a bit nervous. you gulp. “okay.” you say. “i'm gonna. i'm gonna open the door. alright?”

“something's totally gonna jump out.” jessica says.

“nothing. nothing's gonna jump out.” you say. you take a deep breath. in, out. in, out. in. “okay. one... two...”

a light spills out from the door when you open it. your breath... is gone.

(BGM: Rain)

inside the door, there's a room that's the kind of thing you dreamed about having as a kid. a canopy bed, a rocking chair, the sofa, the carpet, walls with gold lining, such deep red curtains, it all gives off this air of opulence. it's... a pretty sizable room, too.

you and jessica gasp at the same time. jessica takes a step in another direction, though, going further into the back, so you don't think she's seen the same thing. “whoa.” jessica mumbles. “whoa!”

you're transfixed, but you hear will grunt. “...well. i'll be.” he says.

but you're not looking at whatever they're looking at. you take a step forward. on the bed, there, sitting, completely silently, not moving a muscle, is the golden witch beatrice. you take another step forward. “...hey.” you say.

quietly, she turns her head to look at the three of you. “congratulations.” she says it without any emotion in her voice.

jessica's head whips around, and so does will's. they both hadn't noticed her. jessica's downright gobsmacked when she sees beatrice. “wha- wha-wha-wha-wha-” she sputters. “y-y-y-you're-”

“beatrice, in the flesh.” will finishes.

“who the-” jessica's waving her hands around. “how the- but wha- how- huh?!”

“welcome to the room of the gold.” beatrice says. “having completed the riddle, i, as the golden witch, once again congratulate you.”

“b-b-beatrice?!” jessica shouts. “no way! but-” she is very clearly beatrice, so jessica trails off. “but who... how the...”

“...jessica ushiromiya.” beatrice says, stopping jessica's sputtering. “please allow me to explain.” jessica stops. “four treasures are offered upon the riddle's completion. the three of you have collectively solved the riddle; as such, a decision must be made as to who obtains which.”

“the gold, reviving the souls of the dead, resurrecting lost love, and to put the witch to sleep.” you rattle them off pretty quickly; you've got it memorized by now. “i cannot provide all four treasures each to the three of you.”

you take a breath out, and turn your head over to where jessica and will were looking. that's the gold, no doubt about it. it's... wow. that's a lot of gold. it honestly feels pretty surreal. “well, jessica came for the gold. so... it belongs to her.” you say.

“...huh?” jessica's been standing there stunned since beatrice started talking, so she suddenly jumps. “f-for real? you mean it?”

“i meant it before and i mean it now.” you say.

“...not to rain on anyone's parade, but exchanging this much gold for money is going to be a real pain in the ass.” will says, his hands in his pockets. “how are you going to manage that?”

“that will not be a problem.” beatrice says. she produces... a cash card? “i've converted a portion of the gold to cash. this card goes to the account within.”

“...w-well, how much is in it?” jessica asks.

“i have forgotten the exact number, but over a billion yen.” beatrice replies.

if you weren't completely locked on her, your jaw would be agape. jessica's certainly is. beatrice hands jessica the cash card, and jessica stares at it in her hand. “over... a billion.” jessica mumbles. “over a billion?”

“you may save your family. congratulations, jessica ushiromiya.” beatrice says. “you will, however, require this PIN. listen carefully.”

(BGM: In the sun)

“wha-?” jessica starts up again. you're about to take out maria's notebook, but will has a little notebook, too. he rips a page out of it and writes the number down as beatrice says it, then hands it to jessica. “...oh my god.” jessica holds the paper gently, because she doesn't want to rip it. “oh my god!” she laughs a little. “i... i win. i win?!”

you smile at her. “congrats, jessica! make sure your dad doesn't get into debt again after this, okay?”

“that would defeat the purpose, wouldn't it.” will sighs. he rubs the back of his head. “a billion yen cash card you just hand off? how rich are you?”

“...undoubtedly, that is the majority of my liquid assets.” beatrice says. “however-”

she's cut off by jessica launching over and hugging her. “i always thought you were a fairy tale but it turns out you're awesome, you're my new best pal beatrice, thank you, thank you, oh man thank you. thank you.” jessica's clearly squeezing her a bit too hard. beatrice, who's trying her best to remain stoic, gurgles a bit.

“uh, l-let go of her, jess? you might be killing her.” you say, reaching your hand out awkwardly.

jessica stops. “oh! uh.” then she backs away awkwardly. “sorry about that.”

“it's... perfectly fine.” beatrice blinks. “i'm... glad you're so pleased.”

“remember, just spot me a couple hundred thou if i need it, mm'kay?” you say, when jessica runs over to give you a hug, too. she's a bit softer this time. “i'm really happy for you!”

“this is the weirdest night of my life but okay!” jessica says. there are tears in her eyes. “c'mere, will!”

“no.” he says, backing away. “nope.”

“aww, c'mon.” you smile. “group hug! you get in here, too, beatrice.”

“...what.” beatrice says.

“group hug.” you say, again, a bit more insistently. so, to make a long story short, a group hug occurs. you and jessica are the most enthusiastic. will is grumbling about it. beatrice just looks kind of confused.

“i can think about what to do with the rest of the gold later, i guess.” jessica says. she rubs her chin. “uhh... do you just... stay down here, beatrice?”

beatrice looks a bit befuddled by the question. “...no.”

“ahh, dang it.” jessica snaps her fingers. “i mean, i don't know how to make gold money, but you obviously do. if we run into each other again can you, like, gimme the rundown?”

“...i... will certainly do so if it is necessary.” beatrice mumbles.

“alright, are you sticking around on rokkenjima? i mean, i guess you're a witch, so.” jessica says, pacing around.

“the answer to that question is... up in the air.” whatever beatrice was expecting tonight, it obviously wasn't jessica.

“well, just lemme know, okay?” jessica says. “i mean, not like i'm moving out before the week's up or anything if i've got this baby!”

“was the debt that bad?” you sputter.

“apparently!” jessica says, her eyes wide. “at least, that's what mom told me. oh! gimme a phone number or something later, okay? you're a witch, you probably have one of those weird phones you can carry, right?”

“i think you're breaking beatrice.” will smirks. beatrice really just doesn't know what to do here, by the look on her face.

“oh. uh. sorry.” jessica chuckles awkwardly.

“...ask a servant if you cannot locate me.” beatrice finishes.

“got it.” jessica gives her a thumbs up. she looks at you and will. “uhh... i don't... need anything else. whatever else, you guys can have. gonna. i'm gonna go to bed.”

“understandable. have a nice night.” you say.

“wait.” will says. jessica stops and turns to him. “jessica. word of advice. don't tell anyone about the cash card until the family conference is over.”

jessica blinks. “uhh... why not?”

“your folks are kind of cutthroat, from what i can tell. don't want to run the risk of anyone stealing it.” will says. “honestly, the fact that we solved the riddle should probably stay in this room completely.”

you wish that didn't make sense, but it kinda does. “i'm with will here, now that he says it.” you say. “once we're all gone, go hog wild, though.”

“got it. our little secret.” jessica smiles mischievously. “thanks again, you two! seriously!” then she runs out of the room whooping and hollering.

“real heartwarming.” will says, once she's gone. “then let's say i get to revive the souls of the dead and be done with that.”

(BGM: Manita)

“huh?” you blink.

“this is reality, so it's not like you can actually do that.” will shrugs. “but it's a nice thought, so i'll just keep it with me.”

“your decision is noted.” beatrice is calmer again now that jessica's left the room. “willard h. wright. thank you for your assistance.”

“yeah, not a problem.” will says. he turns away and waves his hand. “just don't take too long catching up on old times, or whatever you're doing. it's late enough and you've got a perfectly fine bed right there.”

you look at will and think for a second about how this random stranger was cool enough to help you with this. “you're sure? the rest can go to me?” you ask.

“i'm good.” will says. “i'm an outsider, anyway. this is your family thing, right? i shouldn't hog all the glory.”

“thanks, will.” you smile. “thanks a lot. you're a really cool guy.”

“eh. not really. but if you say so.” will shrugs, and plays with that one weird strand of his hair for a second. then he turns away and waves. “see you.”

“see you.”

and then he's out, too. once the door shuts, it's just you and... and her.

it's...

...It's just... me and her. It's just me and her.

(BGM: Cicio)

I did it... right? I did it? I really, really did it? I finally made it here? This person who's made it all the way here, who actually managed to solve the riddle- well, I had help, but... it's me? I did this? I actually did something like this?

Stunned, I start chuckling to myself, looking at her. She's sitting on the edge of the bed, waiting for me to say something. “Sorry.” I say. “Sorry, I just... I don't really...” I mumble. “I mean, it's kind of hard to believe that this is happening, you know? I just...”

“...How do you feel?” Beatrice asks me.

“How do I feel?” I laugh again, just a little bit. “Um... well, proud of myself, I guess. It's like, I... god, how do I put this... it's like I've done something I can really be proud of for once in my life, like... like I'm someone I can be proud of for once.”

...That little rose in her hair is really cute, actually. “Hoh.” Beatrice says. “Congratulations, Tora. Though it didn't quite fit my intentions, your methods were valid.” She's grinning a bit, like she's actually enjoying herself.

...I'm tired of this. I'm tired of waiting. So I'm not gonna anymore. “Hey...” I say, walking closer to the bed. I sit down on another side of it. “Um...”

I look at her. “Sayo... can you take off the wig? And, um. I guess you're allowed to take off the pads too, if you. If you don't want them. I mean. You know, it's. It's your choice. Do you have multiple sets of pads? Those are smaller than Shannon's, right? Where do you get those, can you let me know later- I'll ask you later. Anyway, I just, now that we're here and I did the thing I'd like to talk to you and not anyone else, you know, and... and I mean. Um.”

At some point I totally stopped looking at her. Damn iiiit. Why are you such a mess, Tora?! For god's sake, you're always like this. She's taken the wig off! Hi!! And the pads. They're... they're somewhere. I didn't see where she threw them. I donno. The dress doesn't quite fit her right without the pads, because she's kinda tiny, myyyy mouth is really dry, oh shit. “You! Look lovely!” I shout, sitting completely and utterly still in absolutely the same place without moving a singular bit. Even if my high levels of fluster make me kind of want to back away.

“...Do you mean that?” Sayo asks me. My heart skips a beat. There's no affectations here anymore. That's- that's her voice. Her real voice. “Can you honestly say you mean that?”

“I'm going to be completely real with you here.” I squeak. “Are you looking at me right now?”

She cranes her head to take me in, and says, “You know, that's fair.”

“Because I mean, I am an open book.” I continue, for some reason. “And girl. Girl.” Wait. “Wait. Uhh...”

“That's fine.” She says.

“Okay, thanks, because I was actually getting pretty tripped up there. I mean, obviously I wouldn't have really, like, had a problem if you were a guy, or... were a guy full-time, I guess, but, okay, so you, like, you're a girl even if Kanon is a guy? That's how this works? Sorry, I should probably be more. On top of this, I'm just. Kind of.” You're babbling, Tora! Stop babbling!

“Overwhelmed for lack of proper communication?” She asks.

“You know, that's a good way to put it! Yeah! Very overwhelmed for lack of proper communication! I mean, I can tell you've... obviously had a lot going on, because, like.” I throw my arms out wide to gesture at the whole of Ushiromiyaville. “Yeah. And...” I trail off, because this is kind of awkward. “...I still can't believe Aniki doesn't know. Like, seriously? How do you not figure out at some point that your girlfriend's little brother is actually also your girlfriend? Oh my god, please say something so I can stop embarrassing myself by going full motor mouth here.”

So it turns out, she might be smaller and weaker than me but she has quite a force when she wants something, and now she's got me pinned under her. My heart is going a mile a minute. I think my hairband might fall off at this rate. The look she's giving me is... Wow. And I thought I probably looked horny. “I'm going to kiss you now.”

I gulp, and steady myself. Sure, I've never kissed anyone before, but she doesn't necessarily need to know that. Putting on my most ready-steadiest face, I say, “Awesome. <Bring it on.>”

WHOA OKAY THIS IS HAPPENING. Okay I- NOPE NOPE OKAY WE ARE NOT OVER THIS YET. HOLY SHIT. I-

-you twist and turn and writhe under her grasp, even though she isn't even touching your body yet-

-She's kissing me. She's kissing me. She's kissing me and I'm kissing her back and oh god I've been waiting for this for so long-

-her breath is heavy and so is yours and it's a feeling like you've never even felt before, it's better than you've ever dreamed-

-I love her, I love her, I love her! I love her! I've always loved her! And, and she, and I, oh my god-

-for the first time in the entire day her eyes look like she's here, right here, in the moment, and you don't want them to ever go anywhere else again-

-it's over it's over okay it's over now I'm- she's rolling over beside me and I'm just sort of. Um. Bwuh. Guh. Nnnuh? “Whoa.” I say, after taking a moment to catch my breath. I'm sweaty. “That was. That was nice.”

“You know... I think you're right.” Sayo says back. “That was nice.”

I turn my head over to take her in again. There, laying next to me, right there, is Sayo Yasuda. The girl who made my trips to Rokkenjima as a child worth it. The girl who taught me how to survive myself. The girl who I've been wanting to see for the past six years.

We just made out. And it was really nice. Like, awkward, because I don't think she's ever kissed anyone before either, Aniki, but hey.

“Man. Aniki was gonna propose to you tonight.” I say.

“He was.” She says.

“Does this count as stealing his girlfriend? Because I mean, like, Shannon's not you you but.” I trail off.

“Probably.” She says.

“You seriously had Shannon set up Kanon as Jessica's fake date for the culture festival?” I say.

“It was horrible.” She replies. “But she's a wonderful singer.”

“Giving teen sexual tension a try as a boy?” I ask.

“Something like that.” She says.

“Complicated?” I ask. She nods. “Okay.” There's a moment of silence. “Hey, um. Sayo?”

“Mm?” She turns her head.

“Um, I love you.” I sputter. Now I'm blushing all over again, shit! “For... uh, long. Long time. I know we just saw each other again today, and all, but. I love you.”

“Mm.” She sets her head back to staring up at the canopy. “Really.”

“Yeah.” I say.

Sayo sits up. Her movements are sluggish, on account of the workout we both just got. She's sat over onto herself, looking away. “I've been waiting six years to hear that from you.”

“So. Um.” I blush. “I can't really bring a pony to the island. It's.”

“A metaphorical white pony.” She says.

“Yeah.” I nod.

“...But anyhow, I was under the impression that this was Cinderella now.” She says. “And you are now attempting to present to me the glass slipper that has missed my foot so.”

“I mean, I am. Yeah. Cinderella sounds nicer, and...” I trail off, and sigh. “Hey... Sayo. Um... listen. I can... I just... God, I donno. I love you. I've loved you ever since we were kids, and I only love you more now. And nothing you say is going to change that, if that's what you're worried about. I mean... look at me.” I laugh. “If it's about your body or about your gender, I don't care. It's fine. I have a broken body, too, so... it's not like I have any ground to say you're not good enough. Not that I would, or anything, I just...”

She's quiet. When she used to get like this, it meant I was missing what I had to say. “Okay, look, I- I just want to hear you say it. You never would've given me this chance otherwise, but hearing it from you would help.”

Sayo turns her head back to me and stares me right in the eyes. She's crying. “Tora. I... I love you.” She sniffles and gasps. “I'm so glad you came back.”

Now I'm holding her. I can sort of feel some of the loneliness she must've felt from feeling her shiver and sob in my arms. “Yeah. Me too.” I say. It comes out as a little whisper into her ear.

We stay like that for a bit. I'm not sure how long. But we do. Eventually, she stops crying for a bit. The two of us sit across from each other on the bed, now, and I ask, “So... can we talk now? I'd like to hear about... what's been going on these past six years.”

“...Where do you want me to start?” Sayo's breathing is heavy.

“Well, I mean, I guess the first question I have is, why didn't you respond to my letter?” I ask.

(BGM: Stop)

There's a moment of awkward silence as she sort of just registers what I said. “...What?”

“Uh, y'know. My... letter. Three years ago?” I tilt my head. “I, uh. I put a lot of thought into it.”

There's another moment of awkward silence. “...What?”

“Oh.” I say, blinking, as the implication hits me. “Oh! Oh, uh. You know, that. That would... that'd explain a lot, wouldn't it.”

Well then.

How about that.

Chapter Text

“...But now,” Vassago stood and said, producing a weathervane with a butterfly atop it from his sheath, “we must return to an earlier point in the story.”

(BGM: MAPPING MODE)

Battler shook his head awake and muttered a 'huh?' before actually looking at Gremory and Vassago. “What?”

“Say it with me, Vaz.” Gremory stood up, and put her arm around Vassago's shoulders. It took a moment for Vassago to visibly get it, but then they hunched over, and in time, clapped their hands and chanted 'Flash! Back! Arc! Flash! Back! Arc!' “Great job.” Gremory patted Vassago on the back.

“Oh, I try my hardest.” Vassago smiled downright angelically.

“A flashback aaaaarc?!” Beatrice grimaced. “But when I had a flashback arc, everyone hated it! They kept telling me, get to the murders already! We don't caaaaare about George and Shaaaannoooooon.” Beatrice curled up her nose and made a stupid idiot voice for dumb idiots.

“Actually, I seem to remember telling you the exact opposite.” Battler chipped in, now that he was back into the swing of things.

“Your opinion doesn't count, you're incompetent.” Without skipping a beat, Beatrice laid down the smack.

“Ooh, right off the rebound.” Battler made a hissing noise, then returned to business. “Now, what was that about 'jumping in with already-developed characters' you were giving me guff about earlier, you two?”

“Aww, can it.” Gremory smiled, returning to her seat. “I mean, telling the first act of a story second is key, yeah? It's all the rage. Arriving fashionably late is in these days. I've left you trembling with antici... pation for the backstory and now arrive to grant you the life-giving backstory waters you've desired for so long, to answer these burning questions of yours.”

“That's oddly grandiose for you, Duchess.” Vassago blinked, still holding his weathervane. “I was under the impression that your character was more the disaffected cool-kid type.”

“My character can be whatever I want it to be, man.” Gremory leaned back in her seat and put her arms behind her head. “Though if you just want to sit here and watch those two talk to each other for ages...”

Battler actually had to take a second, but he put his hands up. “Six years?”

“Indeed.” Vassago said. Into the center of the VIP room, he implanted the weathervane, and struck it with his left hand, spinning it counter-clockwise. Flashing through the room at an incredible rate, six years' worth of time spun back in instants- at first it was the witch and Genji who left and entered the room, but soon the witch was replaced by the face of Kinzo, frowning at the grandfather clock. On and on and on, the weathervane spun, until-


(BGM: REVIVED SHIBUYA -another-)

1980

“No. I am your father.”

I gasp. I hear Dad gasp next to me, too. We don't always see eye to eye on everything, but we turn to look at each other and confirm, yeah, we just heard that! Luke seems pretty gobsmacked, too.

As we leave the theater, Dad and I babble excitedly at each other. “Okay, but he has to be bullshitting, right? No way!”

“I mean, if it's true, it does kind of explain a lot.” I say, crossing my arms. “But I can't believe Obi-Wan never told Luke! Do you think he was lying, or did he not know, or what?”

“Look, Alec Guinness's never lied to me before.” Dad grunts, as we get in the car. Then he grips the steering wheel and puts his head down on the wheel. “Oh, shit, do you think Han's dead?! They've gotta rescue him, right?”

“Right!” I nod. “They've gotta!”

Together, we say, “You can't have this series without Han Solo!” and nod at each other. Then we both throw our heads back and go, “Good movie!”

“Good present?” Dad asks, cocking his head to the side. He already knows it was, is what that smirk of his means, but I smile and nod. “Good stuff.”

“Thanks, Dad.” I say, closing my eyes and smiling brighter at him.

“You know, kid, you don't smile like that too often.” Dad chuckles to himself and shakes his head. “But when you do, you're damn cute, you know that?” As he turns on the car, he adds, “Happy birthday, Battler.”

there's something about that phrase that spoils the happiness just a little bit for you, but you don't notice it all that much. “thanks, dad.” you're still smiling. “i love you.”

“geez, isn't that a bit forward for a kid your age?” he snorts, looks away, and rubs the back of his head.


(BGM: The Bollinger House)

And time passed as it did for any child.

The feelings within Battler Ushiromiya's heart come the family conference of the Ushiromiyas were something he had never been sure how to put a name to. On the one hand, he utterly despised Rokkenjima. He clung to his mother's side on the boat for as long as he could, but the staring eyes of his relatives, asking how he'd been, asking his parents what sort of man he was growing up to be, were like a horrible poison to him.

'Battler-kun's really grown, hasn't he?' 'Still a bit short, but he's getting manlier, I can tell.' 'Got any crushes yet, kiddo? I bet, bein' Rudolf's son, you get all the ladies, huh?'

stop it, Battler begged. stop. i'm not. Not what? The thought evaded him, the name to put to what he wasn't, but he simply wasn't, and he wished that he understood. He wished that they understood. He wished that he was not here, under the loving, hateful eyes of his family.

Of the cousins, he was the odd duck out. He didn't often speak, and when he did, he lacked a sense of conversational awareness when speaking to most people. His head would much rather be buried in a mystery novel than to play outside or study. But, still, everyone seemed to believe he'd grow up to become a paragon of manliness of some sort or another.

leave me alone, Battler begged. i hate this. i hate this. i hate this. i hate this. i hate this. stop hurting me! stop hurting me!

But then part of him called him a coward, a simpering little coward who couldn't even handle his own family. You weakling. You'll never get anywhere in this world if you aren't strong enough to handle your own family. Get out there. Get hurt. (You deserve it, anyway.) Get hurt because that's what cool people do. That's what Kyrie would do.

So Battler tried his best, he tried his very, very best to be a good son, but all the jokes he tried to tell were wrong place, wrong time, wrong audience. Nobody laughed with Battler. They all laughed at him for being such an odd child.

at least your cousins are okay. actually, you like them pretty well. sometimes, there's a strange pit of resentment in your stomach for jessica, but you honestly have absolutely no idea why. you've learned to ignore it pretty well. being with them is always such a breath of fresh air, getting to sit around, laugh about gossip, and stuff like that.

and it's all better because she's there.

(BGM: Song for the Sunrise)

her name is shannon. you've seen her for quite a few years here, but it was when jessica properly introduced her to you and george that things became really painless with them. she's been working here for years, even though she's about your age- she was sent from the fukuin house at a really young age, apparently. you hit it off with her pretty fast. she's sweet, but you can tell from how she reacts when jessica talks about people kissing that she's actually kind of a perv. it's cute. she's smart, too, and puts a lot of thought into books she's read.

what you two find that you have in common is your love of mystery novels. george tells you he's never seen you smile brighter as when you can chat a good christie with her, and your heart kind of feels it. this girl, you can tell from the look in her eyes, she's a creative, imaginative type (and she's so cute). the kind of friend you really want to have.

the two of you start going off together on your own when you see each other, separate from the rest of the cousins. sure, you hang out with them, all of you together, under the covers. but it's your time with shannon, about the rose garden, on the cliffs, all those places unsullied by the adults, that you really look forward to.

at first, you just trade her novels that you've finished and talk about them with her. she takes a bit to accept it, but she clearly wants to, so it lights up your heart like nothing else when she takes them, and even better when she thanks you for the chance to read them.

over the years you know shannon, though, you start to come to rely on her a bit more. you tell her about your fear. you don't say about 'battler', necessarily- how it feels like battler ushiromiya is someone different from you, someone who you have to get to pilot your body. but you tell her about how it feels like your body isn't your own sometimes. you tell her things you've never told anyone else, not even your parents, because you trust her. you're pretty sure shannon is your favorite person in the entire world.

then you learn about beatrice. about shannon's magic. about how she's created this whole narrative for her similar issue (and she knows what you mean! she knows what you mean!!) and you can't help but be awed at how amazing she is, that she's working in this horrible place and still doing alright and has even become stronger and stronger for it. she really is a witch, working magic. you want to learn better how to do it, so you listen very, very closely to everything she says, even when it's just casual conversation.

but you're still just you. this person whose body isn't even their own. you've tried, and you've tried, and your mental processes have found something, found a way to loop past 'battler', but you're still

just

you.

(BGM: THE AIR OF TERROR -another-)

surly, lonely, miserable, cowardly, useless, stupid you. you wish you were good like her. how does she enjoy spending time with you? that's what you've started to wonder at night these days, when your mind is dark.

the last time you saw her, you remember noticing a bra strap visible under the shoulder of her summer clothes, and you couldn't stop thinking about it. you turned into even more of a stammering mess for a bit, because you couldn't stop thinking about it. george noticed, because people notice these things, and he set you aside to talk to you about the differences in how boys and girls grow up.

the differences in how boys and girls grow up.

during the whole conversation, there's this horrible, horrible feeling in your stomach that you aren't sure how to describe. it's like nothing he's saying makes sense, even though you've seen for yourself the truth in it. but he tells you it's natural for boys and girls to start seeing each other that way as they get a bit older.

when he says that, something about your entire body just starts feeling slimy. you're disappointed in yourself for looking at shannon that way. she deserves a better friend who doesn't look at her that way. (how dare you be an ordinary boy.)

as they get older, boys and girls fall in love, get married, have children. you know how it works. you know how the world works. in a fleeting dream, once, after reading a wedding catalog before bed, your mind conjures up the image of shannon in a wedding dress. it doesn't make sense, but it's a dream, and that feeling is comfortable, nice.

it's when your mind creates battler in a matching groom's suit, going down the aisle, that it becomes a horrible nightmare. you don't want to be a father! you don't want to be a husband! you don't want that! you don't want that! go away! go away go away go AWAY STOP IT STOP IT STOP IT STOP IT

you wake up in the middle of the night, covered in sweat.

even so, though, those thoughts still disappear when you're with her, because just being with her makes the pain go away. you run, beaming, up to her in the rose garden patio while everyone else is otherwise occupied. “shannon!” you cry, hopping up. “i brought you the book i promised!”

(BGM: Serie de Fragmento)

“oh.” the first time you gave her a book that you'd finished instead of just letting her borrow it, she had a hard time accepting it, but by now it's become commonplace. “another one? you're so generous. it's such a nice-looking book, though... you didn't spend too much on it?”

“what? no. i got it for like, 300 yen.” you smile and shake your head. “but it's super quality! a nice quality ellery queen! oh, i really hope you like it!”

she giggles. “when have i ever not liked a book you've given me?”

“that's true, i guess, but it's a good book for heart, you know?” you say. “i mean, it's a book where you really can reason out the motive, and it matters a lot, and i like that. it always kinda depresses me when books ignore that. it feels incomplete, y'know?”

“...that's true, isn't it.” she says.

“yeah, right?” you say, excited that she's validating an idea of yours. “like, we read these books so easily, but murder's a big deal, it takes a really strong force of will to be able to do it, and sometimes that's even more interesting than the tricks they use. i wanna know why!”

you talk a lot about this, because you're a blathering mess. she listens, because she's cool like that. she takes your ideas into consideration, stuff like that. this is fun! talking about mysteries is fun! it's fun talking about things like this with someone else who gets it! reading mysteries with a friend is just so much fun. you wish you had more friends. you wish-

“i wish i could be like kyrie.” you say, eventually, once your conversation has transitioned to elsewhere to keep away from watchful eyes.

“...who?” she asks, tilting her head.

“oh. right.” you laugh awkwardly, like a dope. moron. “uh, sorry, i guess you don't know her, huh? she's a friend of dad's who comes around a lot. she's like that kind of person you call 'aunt' but isn't actually related to you.”

“oh, i see.” she nods. “and you admire her?”

“yeah, i mean, it's just, she's so cool, and composed, and pretty, and she's just so cool.” you say, moving your hands around a bit. “she's just... the coolest.” you curl into yourself a bit. “i'm such a fraidycat. i get afraid so often and i hate it. i wish i could be like her.”

“...battler-san.” why does that grate on your ears so much.

“and dad said if i want that, i should marry a woman like kyrie, but that's- that's just not the same.” you sputter. “it's not the same, i don't want her, i want to be her. why do i have to be so scared all the time? it's not fair. i wish-” you let out a defeated sigh. “i wish i could be like her.”

“well, i don't think that's impossible.” shannon says. “i think you're already cool.”

“what? oh, come on, no i'm not.” you put your hands up. “i'm super not.”

then shannon looks down a bit at the ocean below you two, and says, “but if you want to be like her-” she pauses when she sees the intensity you're suddenly listening with. “battler-san, i'm not that smart.”

“yeah you are.” you say, nodding decisively.

“well.” she sighs. “when i first came to rokkenjima to be a servant, i was so much younger than any of the other servants i didn't know what to do. do... you remember about beatrice?” you nod. “there's a second person, 'shannon.' she was a senior servant, always kind, always respected, she always did the right thing. she was always with me, someone for me to look up to and try to be.”

you stop a bit to process. “so you made who you wanted to be, and that helped you try to be that person?” it's a bit complex for you, but that's how you understand it. the voice of shannon, spurring her on to be the best person she could be. “maybe- maybe i should try that.” make that cool, composed lady. that cool, composed lady who isn't afraid of anything, who's always composed, always cool, never lets her emotions take over, who's so much better than you. maybe then you can try to be like her. maybe maybe then maybe then you can be maybe then you can be maybe then you can be

she's holding you gently when you come down from that. “thank you.” she gives you an 'mmhm' and nods. she's good to you. she's the only person who understands. thank you, shannon.

after those hiccups, you two talk like normal again. sometimes that just happens. why is it mysteries that the two of you bonded over? it could've been something dumber, like trains. huh. that's an existential thought. eventually, though, you sigh. “i think we have to go back now.”

“time does fly when we're together, doesn't it.” shannon says to the sun. “i hate clocks.”

“yeah.” you say. “i wish we could talk like this forever. this is the best part of coming here.”

shannon sighs wistfully towards the sun. “if only i could leave this place, i could read so much more...”

(BGM: Springtime Tears)

...huh? what's this feeling? that's a statement. that's a statement you need to respond to. it's something you need to- you're feeling something. something you haven't felt before. “hey, um, shannon.” you say, suddenly. “are you... planning to stay a servant forever?”

“i, er... i don't know.” shannon stammers, looking a bit surprised.

“well, um, if you ever... if you ever quit.” you say, grabbing her hand, holding it tightly. “you should- you should come over to my house, and- and stay with me.”

there's an awkward pause for a bit, as she takes in your goofily earnest face. “that...” she's blushing. “that would certainly mean we would have more time.”

“yeah. yeah!” you say. “i mean, not if you didn't want to. it's, i mean, it's your life. it's not like- it's a big thing, deciding what you want to do. and it's not something you can say so soon, but... well...” you trail off. “um... maybe it's bad of me, but i kind of want to take you away from here. i think you're so much better than this house. even if it's not with me, i want you to be somewhere better, because- and i- uuugh.” you groan, putting your head in your hands.

“um. hm. you- you really mean that?” she says. she looks oddly vulnerable.

“yeah! yeah, i do.” you say, smiling through your hands. “you just- i mean, like i said, you know, you can do whatever you want, you don't have to. but-” you gulp. “i want-”

what do you want?

“i want to conquer my fears so i can take you off this island.” no. no, that's not it. “no, i will. i promise. i'm going to conquer my fears so i can take you off this island. and, well, when you quit, if you want, i'll- i'll come for you. i'll come for you, riding a white horse and take you off this island!”

then you realize what you just said and curl up into yourself a bit. god you are SUCH A NERD. GOD. she's just stunned. “a-ah. well. i see.” she sputters. you can't see her face but you can hear her blush. “oh, i. i see.”

“w-whenever you want. no matter when. i'll. i'll respect your decision. i'm cool like that.” you say.

“o-okay. thank you. mm.” shannon says. “yes.”

“yes.” you respond.

the rest of the conference that year passes in a blur. you have absolutely no idea what you're doing until your last meeting for the year. “thank you... for giving me time.” shannon says.

“oh, yeah, take as long as you need. really.” you say. it's big words for a kid.

“but, i'd feel bad if i kept you waiting too long.” shannon is in shy mode at this point. understandably. “so... i'll prepare myself, too. i'll conquer my own fears. ...one year, yes, one year. i'll make my decision, right here, in one year.”

“you sure? that's- well, i mean, a whole year is plenty of time to think about it, i guess. gives me time too. heh. yeah. good plan.” you say, nodding, blushing.

“s-so... next year-?” she says.

“yeah.” you nod. “mmhm. i'll be waiting. a lot.”

“yes. i'll be waiting too.” shannon nods. “...make sure... you come here, alright?”

“yeah! definitely!”

“don't forget.” shannon says. “come here next year, okay?”

“yeah. i'll definitely come. i'll meet you here.” you say.

definitely.


(BGM: GIRLISH -piano-)

“For being two different people,” Beatrice said, staring pensively at the two young girls, “the two of you are amazingly similar.”

“You think?” Battler asked, crossing his arms. “I'm just seeing a bunch of differences, over here.”

“Only people as foolish as you, Battler, could make such a promise.” Beatrice smirked. “Though you were much cooler about it, to be fair.”

“She's never had a lick of composure.” Gremory said, leaning forward and looking down. Then she looked up. “Tora, I mean. Not you, Bae.”

“Well, to be fair to you, I lack the virtue myself.” Beatrice smiled, leaning to the side, placing her elbow on Battler's thigh.

“I think it's rather charming.” Vassago added, his hands placed on his lap over one another. Very demure. “All three of you lack composure. You fit well together.”

“Wha- hey, you hold on here.” Gremory frowned, her head whipping toward Vassago. “'Scuse me? I'm cool as a cucumber, perhaps too cool. Composed as hell. Unreadable as heck. Don't harsh my vibe.”

“Oh, so you'd like to be a disaffected cool-kid character again?” Vassago tilted his head. “Please forgive me. I'm not familiar with that particular form of non-verbal communication, so I was too slow on the uptake.”

Battler leaned down to Beatrice's head, which was basically resting on his thigh, and muttered, “I can't tell if he's serious or not.”

“Neither can I.” Beatrice's teeth were gritted. She sat back up in an instant. “If we're looking for someone cool and composed, clearly we have him right here.”

“Oh, no.” Vassago shook his head. “I'm far too emotional to fit Lady Tora's specifications, and my feminine aspects are not a strong enough aspect of my gender. Only Lady Kyrie could manage such a feat, I believe.” He stood up. “At any rate...”

With another spin, time began again to advance.

Chapter Text

1981

I stand in the rain, underneath an umbrella that I insisted on carrying myself. Some part of me wants to insist that it's almost comical for a day like this to have such bad weather- it's such an obvious cliché. There are people talking around me, but I can barely hear them.

I'm strong. I have to be. I'm strong because that's the kind of person I am. Someone puts their hand on my shoulder. I don't react. I'm strong.

People are starting to leave. The funeral is over. Sooner or later, they're going to get back home and move on with their lives, throwing Asumu Ushiromiya out of their lives like she never existed.

There's someone next to me. “Battler.” Dad says. Then, he stops. It seems like he doesn't know how to go further.

I'm never going to see my mom again. you'll never see your mom again. But it's fine. I'm going to stay strong. No matter how much her smiling face flashes into my mind as I'm standing here, staring at where her remains were laid to rest. don't you cry, Battler. you're not allowed to cry. Kyrie wouldn't.

who cares? mom is dead.

I have to be strong. Otherwise, I'm a liar. I'm going to move on from this. It's fine. I'm not hurt.

mom is dead.

Dad rubs the back of his head and says, “Jesus, kid... it's okay to cry.” Don't you dare. Don't you dare. Don't you-

aaaaah, aaaaaAAAAAAAAHH. you break down sobbing, because mom is dead. you fall into dad and just cry and cry and cry, because mom is dead. it barely feels wet in all the rain, because mom is dead. you don't even have any words for it, because mom is dead. you're just screaming into your dad, because mom is dead.

...You coward. If you can't let me get past this-

everything is horrible, because mom is dead. nothing makes sense, because mom is dead. you wish you were dead too.


(BGM: The March of Time)

“Come on, Battler, get up and do your homework.” I chide him, sitting on the bed next to you. “Just do it. It's not that hard.”

“mom is dead.” you mumble. you're laying on the bed just like you have been for the last few days. you've barely eaten, but you're not very hungry, because mom is dead.

“Sooner or later, you're going to have to go back to school, and nobody likes a crybaby who doesn't do his homework because he's depressed.” I roll my eyes at you. “Get over yourself.”

“mom is dead.” you mumble again. you haven't taken a bath in a few days, either.

“What would Shannon think?” I ask, glaring at you and sighing. “What would Shannon think if she knew you were already breaking your promise?”

“...fine.” you mumble. “you don't have to get so angry at me.”

We look at Battler in the bathroom mirror for a second. He looks terrible. “i look terrible.”

I sigh, and put my hand on your shoulder. “Look. You're going to need to learn to get past things like this if you ever want to be like Kyrie. So, clean yourself up a bit and go downstairs and get something to eat. Talk to Dad or something, if he's around.”

when you finish making yourself look anywhere close to presentable, you hear something from downstairs. it's a woman's shouting. it's actually vaguely familiar- not just in the past few days, but you've heard it before, too. it's a woman dad calls one of his 'old flames'. she comes by about once a month, but since mom died she's been bugging him a lot. you've never seen her straight on, just from a distance, but you recognize her voice. you don't feel like getting involved is the right thing to do, so you stay upstairs until you hear the door slam. you don't catch much about the discussion. something about money.

you slump downstairs and find dad in a chair. “figures.” he groans. “fuck me, am i-” he looks up and his eyes go a bit wide. “battler. you're up.”

“mmhm.” you nod, and look at the door. “your 'old flame' again?”

“not the only vulture coming around.” dad leans back in the chair and grunts. “it's a pain in the ass being an adult, kid. i don't envy you having to grow up.”

“what does she even want?” you ask.

dad frowns, sighs, and closes his eyes. “money. adult stuff.”

“something you'd rather tell me about when i'm older?” you ask. he nods. “okay. i got it.”

since the two of you are both up, you wind up eating something. you barely even recognize what it is, but food definitely goes inside of you. “you... doing alright, kiddo?” there's a bit of hesitation in his voice. you've known rudolf ushiromiya for your whole life, so you know he's not great at this whole connecting with his kids thing. “well, okay, you haven't been out of bed in days.”

“Tell him you're doing well.” I say.

“i'm okay.” you say.

“sure you don't wanna, uh... go tell your friends you're okay, or something?” he asks.

“Tell him you'll go out and do that.” I say.

“i don't really have friends, dad.” you say. he doesn't really know how to respond to that, by the look on his face.

“uhhh...” he rubs the back of his head. “you- what, like... none? seriously? that's fucked up, kid, who the hell is passing you up? you're cool, right? you like explosions!”

“that doesn't mean i have friends, dad.” you say, rolling your eyes. “people just like other people better than me. it's fine.” ('battler-kun is a weirdo.' 'why won't he talk to anyone?' 'haha, he doesn't even talk back if you steal things from him.')

you had friends once. elementary school was good. you think to yourself sometimes that maybe that as kids get older, they become more like their parents. adults scare you sometimes, so that would explain why. but maybe it's because something's wrong with you. something is wrong that you can't put your finger on. something is wrong. something is wrong. something is wrong. something is wrong. something is wrong. something is-

“Listen to Dad. Don't freak out. Focus.” I grab your hand.

you shake awake with a bite of whatever in your mouth. “i miss mom.” you say.

“...yeah.” dad nods. “me too, kid.”

“...i guess there are people that i talk to.” you say. it's not quite honest to say that nobody likes Battler Ushiromiya. “but nobody really outside of school. i'll show up to school like normal at some point and it'll be fine.”

“that's a bummer.” dad says, fiddling with his chopsticks. “when i was your age, i was out-”

“chasing skirts?” you say.

he laughs. it's the first time you've heard him laugh since mom died. “i mean, i was gonna say something about hanging out with the boys, but yeah, that too! i guess that's not your style, though.”

“hanging with the boys, or chasing skirts?” you ask.

dad thinks for a second. “i mean, i do see you with the ladies pretty often.”

“that's...” you trail off. it is true that most of the friends you've historically had are girls. “um... i-i'm not trying to-!”

he laughs again. “i know, i know.” he pats your shoulder. “i'm just screwing with you.”

rudolf ushiromiya is a skirt-chaser. he always has been. this is something you know about him. he really did love your mom, though- even if you don't agree with all of the choices he's made, you know he does. you've seen it in his eyes, the kind of honest affection you think is impossible to fake, based on what you know about love.

but still. you don't want to do that. you want to be faithful to whoever you wind up falling for. you're going to be faithful. you know that. and so does dad, but his humor is off-color sometimes, so... yeah. that's how that happened.

“it's fine.” you say, brushing off your nervousness. but suddenly, there's a cold pit of fear in your chest. “hey... dad?” he raises his eyebrow. “you... loved mom, right?”

he looks down, somber. “...yeah.” he nods. “i did.”

“okay.” you say. you don't have the courage to ask what you really want to ask.


 (BGM: Stay Here, My Weary)

so there's no reason you should be surprised when it happens, some time later.

no reason at all.

no- reason- at-

“battler. we need to talk.”

he shows up all of a sudden at your school, interrupting your reading time at lunch with some other quiet girls at the front of the school. (you've managed to get a few of them to try out the whole detective fiction thing, but, of course, none so enthusiastically as shannon.) you blink. “uh... dad?”

“get in the car.” he says.

someone around you remarks on how you don't look that much like your father. it's true. he has much narrower eyes, for one thing. you get up. “am i coming back?”

“probably not.” he says.

when you get in the car, you see that his brow is super furrowed. his head is leaned on the steering wheel. his eyes are closed. “...dad?” you ask. “are you okay?”

he drives for a few minutes before he says anything. just aimless driving, wandering around the city. he likes driving because it makes him feel like a badass, is the way your mother always put it. “battler.” he says. “i need to... agh, fuck.” he spits.

“what's wrong, dad?” you put your hand on his shoulder.

“don't!” he raises his hand. “don't... don't look at me like that right now. you're too- fuck. you look too sweet. i can't do this while you're looking at me like that.”

sometimes, when he's really stressed out, he can't bear to have you look at him. he says you have your mother's eyes. you... don't, really. but okay.

“battler.” he says, finally letting go of the steering wheel once you're... somewhere. it's a nice, shiny day this time. “i have news. it's important.”

“is grandpa dead?” you ask. he laughs again. “it was worth asking.”

after he stops laughing, his face grows stern and serious as he stares out the front window. “battler,” he says, “i'm getting married again.”

 

 

 

 

what?

“to kyrie.” he says.

“Stay calm.” I say, shaking you a little.

“to... to kyrie?” you repeat. “you're getting... but...”

“because,” he continues, “she's pregnant.”


 (BGM: Never Hold Me)

when you see her around the house next, well... kyrie's always been kind of thin, so it is honestly noticeable. she's definitely pregnant. pregnant with your father's child. she's the same as ever, though, earnestly discussing business with him.

you're in your room hyperventilating because why why why why why why why why why why why is she here why why why why why why why why is she

“Battler. You already knew this.” I say.

but it's not the same it's not the same because i didn't see it it wasn't real yet. i see it now and i can see that it's real it's real and dad's marrying kyrie he said he loved mom he said he loved-

“You've known for a long time that he's carried a torch for Kyrie.” I tell you. “This isn't a surprise. It'd be more surprising if he didn't-”

BUT WHAT

ABOUT MOM

“She's dead.” I say. “He did his best while she was alive, but you know how he is. It's fine. This is nothing new. You can live through this. It's fine. You love Kyrie, don't you?”

you don't even want to face her right now. none of this makes sense. why would he do this if he loved mom. “Because he loved Kyrie, too.” but that's not okay. that's not okay. nothing about that is okay. why would he be doing that. why would he be doing that.

eventually you wind up downstairs. “i understand this is probably a bit difficult for you right now, battler-kun.” kyrie says. she's cool as usual. “but i certainly hope we can make this work.”

your brain feels like it's vomiting.

“the kid's due in june, so enjoy your time as an only child, i guess.” rudolf shrugs.

the kid's due in june.

june.

nine months before that, it was still 1980.

mom was still alive. 


(BGM: AH TOKYO GENERAL HOSPITAL -another-)

you toss and turn in your bed because hatehatehatehatehate you hate him you hate him you hate him you hate him you hate him you hate him you hate him you hate him you hate him you hate him you hate him you hate him you hate him you hate him you hate him you hate him you hate him you hate him you hate him you hate him

“Battler!” I grab onto your shoulders to keep you from rolling off the bed. “Will you please just calm down?”

mom was still alive. he was having this kid while mom was still alive. liar. liar! liar! he never loved her he didn't love her he was just using her while she was alive he's probably using kyrie too somehow he's probably just using every woman he meets because he's a pile of sludge a useless horrible monster you scratch at your HEAD trying to TEAR OUT YOUR HAIR because aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

“Why are you so surprised about this? It's nothing new. It's nothing to be so worked up about.” I say.

you grit your teeth and you punch at the air. “go to hell.” you spit. “go to hell!” you're shouting it at the old man, of course. he should go to hell for what he's done. you want out of here. you want out of here.

“If you go, you can't fulfill your promise to Shannon. You promised.” I say.

shannon. her smile fills your head for just a moment and maybe just for that moment you feel a little better. but it's no goddamned good at all. you're still just here in this house owned by a man who just abandoned your mother the instant that she died. you're still here. what are you even doing here? why do you even exist? you're just his spawn. you're going to wind up just like him.

for just a second, your eyes pass across a pair of scissors you keep on your desk.

you scream into a pillow, scream until your voice is hoarse. you're crying. you can't stay here. you hate him. you hate him so much. how could he do this. how could he?! HOW COULD HE?!

“You have to, for Shannon!” I shout.

shut UP! you roar at the voice to whom you still haven't given a name. she's silent. you're alone with your thoughts. it really- you do- you still love your father, even if you also hate him. and you admire kyrie so much. but you just can't stand for this. this isn't okay. you have to do something. you have to-

you have to leave. you have to go. you can't be his child anymore. you. can't. stand for this. you can't live if you don't do this.

(BGM: Stop)

you're leaving.


 

“...you aren't changing your mind?” kyrie asks.

“no.” you shake your head, carrying your suitcase. “i'm leaving.” you trail off for a second before continuing. “it's not that i blame you, or your child, or anything like that. i just can't stand for how dad is acting.”

“well, i'm not going to stop you.” kyrie's little smile never falters. “in that case, farewell, battler-kun. at least come visit for your father's sake once in a while.”

you roll your eyes, but it's sort of a defense mechanism against the fact that you know you're going to have to. “yeah, sure, alright.” you don't say goodbye to rudolf. you don't want to right now.


(BGM: Serie de Fragmento)

Dear Shannon,

I'm sorry I haven't contacted you in all this time. I know you've probably felt kind of betrayed, because I broke my promise to come back, and I'm really, really sorry. The truth is, at first, I was ashamed of myself. When I left my dad's house, I thought you'd never want to look at me again, because I betrayed you, and so I couldn't work up the courage to contact you.

When I wrote this letter, Kyrie asked that I also write to everyone else. So, I did, but you're the only one I really wanted to write to. You're the only one who's gotten a real letter, because you're still the only person I can really talk to.

I don't know if it meant as much to you as it did to me, but the time we spent together on Rokkenjima is something I've cherished all this time. I still want to take you off that island. I still lo You don't have to wait for me, but if you're still there

I'm rambling sorry. I told myself I'd only give myself one shot at writing this letter because it'd be more honest that way or something. So at first it was just because I thought you'd feel betrayed and you probably do but it didn't really stay that way.

There's so I'm There's something really important I have to tell you. Something I trust you with, and only you. Please keep this a secret. I don't want anyone else calling me up out of the blue to shout about this.

(BGM: Peacekeeper)

“Thus is the first half of Lady Tora's letter to Lady Sayo.” Vassago concluded, placing his hands back in his lap. “No doubt you can imagine how a great deal of the remainder goes, but it is the opinion of the game's master that it should be left for a later point. Shortly thereafter, Lord Rudolf remarries, and Lady Ange is born on July 17th.”

“Okay.” Battler said, clapping his hands and pointing at the gameboard. “That was similar. Maybe I was a bit less angsty about it, but that was definitely similar.”

“I doubt, though,” Beatrice began, pursing her lips and raising her eyebrow at Battler, “that such loathing for your father was engendered in your heart just by that.”

“Hey, that's valid.” Gremory put her hands up. “This whole playful hating each other thing Battler and Rudolf have? Valid. I'm not here to tell them they can't.”

Vassago raised his finger. “I believe what Lady Beatrice meant to imply was that she doubts that this is the whole story behind Lady Tora's particularly strong loathing for Rudolf.”

“Aren't you a good boy, Vassagooooo?” Poofing over to stand above him, Beatrice began petting Vassago's head as one would pet a tame household creature. “Such a sweet child, ensuring my meaning is spelled out in obvious detail. Who's a good booooy.”

“Oh. Is it me?” Vassago's foot was tapping a little bit. “Am I the good boy? Not to intrude, but I think you might be implying that I am the good boy, and I very much like that idea.”

“Hey!” Battler said, standing up out of his seat. “You never pet me like that!”

“When have you ever done anything to deserve it?” Beatrice cackled, and accompanied the moment with a few bits of her favorite canned laughter.

“I-I did plenty! I revived you! I had that master plan to revive you!” Battler retorted, pointing his finger.

Suuuuure you did, Battler. Congratulatioooooons!” Beatrice responded, launching into a fresh round of cackling.

“You're not even drunk this time! You can't say that!” Battler whined.

A vein on Gremory's temple was beginning to throb. “Hey, I love you both and all that good stuff, but quit flirting and sit down, please. I still have a lot left here.”

In the next instant, Battler and Beatrice were both in their seats, clearing their throats very loudly to return to business. “M-my apologies, Duchess.” Vassago bowed repeatedly. “I should not have let myself get distracted so.”

“We're chill, we're chill.” Gremory laid back in her seat.

“So, this voice of Tora's. Is this you?” Battler asked.

To that, Gremory shrugged. “I donno, Battler Ushiromiya. What's that line of yours, Bae... Right!” She snapped her fingers and put on an air of faux importance. “Whooooo... aaaaaam I?”

“I don't know why I expected anything else.” Battler sighed and shook his head. “I can never get a straight answer out of you people.”

At the same time that Beatrice responded, 'But that's half the fun!', Gremory snorted and said, “Oh, I never give straight answers, good sir.”


(BGM: GIRLISH -another-)

if there's one thing you have to thank the ushiromiya family for, it's the bizarrely small amount of facial hair you have. it took grandpa like thirty years to grow what he had and he's the hairiest face in the family. considering your hair's pretty light to begin with, it makes it very, very easy to have a smooth-ass face. hell yeah.

“Proper self-care is important.” I say, leaning on the counter of the bathroom. “You're lucky it's easy.”

you roll your eyes. yeah, you know that pretty well. yeah! you look good! you're a cute kid! ...your hair's pretty stupid, though. maybe you should wear a hairband or something.

“It'd look good on you, but who knows what they'd say at school.” I say, wringing my hand around.

that's true, you are already kind of a feminine kid. thanks, mia.

“Always here to help.” I say.

you've been doing better since you got out of your dad's house, for some reason. at some point you gave that voice a name- she's 'mia'. since then it's gotten easier to strive towards this ideal. you probably should've done that before. mia why didn't you name yourself or something. geez.

“Did Shannon name herself?” I ask.

okay that's fair. anyway, moving to a new school district has been good for you. sure you're not as high-end as you were with the ushiromiyas, but you've got a fresh start and a bunch of faces who didn't already know you somehow, which made it weirdly easier for you.

“Nobody there knew you yet, so it was easier to not worry about embarrassing yourself.” I say.

yeah that's a good point. good point mia. thanks. anyway, you're pretty cool, you like to think, even if you are a bit of a weird kid still. you have friends, and all. people seem to like you. your mom's family mostly just lets you do your own thing. you-

you still haven't talked to shannon. you feel a pang of pain in your heart as you remember that fact. it's... really scary, the idea of facing her again. the only thing you did is to ask kyrie, when she went to the conference this year, to please tell shannon that you're sorry. hopefully she does. but that's not important right now! you're working on it! you're conquering your fears!!

“You're doing well.” I say. And we high-five.

there's nothing wrong, as you go out to hit up the school bus. there's nothing wrong. it's just another day. there's nothing wrong with you.

Battler walks onto the school bus. and something feels wrong about that. but maybe it's just you.

Chapter Text

1982

(BGM: NEUTRALS)

“b-battler-san...” your classmate, yukine, blushes as she speaks. the sun is beginning to set, and you two are the last people in the classroom. you kind of need to be getting home.

“what's up?” you ask. usually, you're the one who initiates conversation with her.

“u-um.” yukine stammers. her glasses are getting a bit fogged up, and she plays with one of her twintails. that's a habit she has when she's nervous. “f-first, here's your book back.” she nervously hands you back your copy of tokyo zodiac murders.

“oh!” your face lights up. “how'd you like it? it's great, right?” you're beaming. aw, yeah. nailed it.

“oh, yes, it- it was very interesting.” yukine's a bit startled when she sees the enthusiasm you're shooting her, because you are a 100% weirdo about this. but, hey, she's talked to you about anime before, this is basically the same thing, right? her bent towards sci-fi is a bit beyond your ken, but hey.

“shimada-sensei released his second book a bit ago.” you say, clutching your book tightly before putting it in your bag. “i haven't finished it yet, but i think he's going places! a real master of the craft, you know? zodiac murders even got nominated for the ranpo award. the ranpo award, yukine!” have you even explained to her what the ranpo award is. does she even know? maybe you should-

“battler-san, i have something important to say!” yukine says, her face bright red. “i... er... you see...”

“take your time.” you say.

“well, i couldn't help but notice- er. you see, i-” eventually, she sputters, before suddenly shoving a tightly wrapped white box into your hands, shrieking, and running away.

(BGM: Stop)

you're stuck there for a second. “You know what just happened, right?” I say. “We both know what just happened.” no, no, there's gotta be another explanation.

(BGM: GAG)

there's chocolates inside the box. normal. “It's Valentine's, Battler.” I say, putting my head on my fist. “And she just gave you chocolate.” no it's not, it's the day after “It's celebrated Valentine's.” it's just normal friend chocolate. “She just ran away screaming.” a normal thing to do when you have friends. totally normal. i've run away screaming from people a number of times in my life. “That was a government agent and you thought he was coming to kidnap you from school.” oh yeah. why did i think that again? “Because you were a stupid kid.” right, right.

you sort of just stop and take in this box. the chocolate inside is clearly hand-made. yukine's always had kinda shaky hands, and there's a lack of finesse here that was probably caused by, well, her shaky hands. hold up, no, you can calculate this. you decide to do some social math, which you're very good at because you're cool and composed. there's clearly another explanation here. maybe she's trying to assassinate you for some reason? that seems more likely. yeah. maybe yukine is a government assassin come to kill you for a treasure map hidden inside your dna that leads to the location of the sunken imperial treasures.

oooohhhhhh GOD YOU JUST GOT VALENTINE'S CHOCOLATE. HONMEI. THE HEAVY KIND. THE KIND THAT SAYS SHE LIKES YOU. OH GOD.

you head home in a very cool and composed manner that doesn't involve you freaking out and tripping over yourself multiple times as you leave the school and give completely composed greetings to your grandparents, who have never particularly been interested in your day-to-day life but they took you in and that's fine. mmhm. everything's cool here A GIRL LIKES YOU. WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT THIS DISASTER.

flipping into your covers you just sort of start rolling around like an idiot in your bed like some kind of weird worm. some kind of weird, bizarre worm that has just received the date chocolates. you should have seen this coming, right? it's not like you haven't spoken to yukine in a while or anything. you see her every day, she's in your classes. you loaned her that book. how long as she been planning this. why you? what in the world is your appeal. why you? how did you miss this. how do you respond to this? what are you going to do. WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO.

“Calm down, and let's take inventory.” I say, sitting on the side of the bed.

okay. okay. this isn't as complicated as you're making it. this girl... likes... you. that happened. so now you need to... calculate for a bit how to respond to this. option one would be to walk up and shout whyyyyYYYYyyYYYYYYYyyyyYYYYY do you like me which seems a bit lacking in finesse so maybe you shouldn't do that. option two is run away and become a hermit in the mountains which seems a bit unrealistic. is there an option three. you're not sure there's an option three.

“The worst-case scenario is that you have a month to respond.” I say. “White Day isn't for another month.”

you cannot live with this until white day. you need to do something immediately or your brain is going to tear itself apart. but your brain is also very stupid so you don't know what to do.

“Just go talk to an adult, then.” I say. MIA YOU'RE A GENIUS. tomorrow. you're doing it tomorrow.


(BGM: Individualist)

“hoshizaki-senseiiii.” you scoot yourself into her office and geeeently close the door behind yourself, being sure not to make any noise in case untoward people have been spying on you. your face is bright red, right? it totally is. you are a disaster. oh god.

“oh, battler-kun.” sensei has always had really nice hair. it's a nice, light brown, falls nicely on her shoulders, reflects the light in a way that it always looks kind of glittery. she's a bit glamorous, like a model, but maybe that's just you being stupid or something. she's a guidance counselor. that's not a model. she looks up from her files at her desk to look at you. “something the matter?”

you've gone to see mrs. hoshizaki quite a lot since you came to this school. there weren't a lot of other people you could really talk to about the whole mom dying situation, but she was happy to talk with you about it. she said once that she understands that there are kids who don't have anyone else to talk to, and if they can't talk to anybody, then they'll grow up to be very bitter adults. you, of course, wish to be an adult who's sweet like milk.

“yes? um... sensei... oh geez this is awkward.” you say, putting yourself in one of the chairs in her office and just sort of reddening.

“i'm sure it's not the only awkward thing you've told me.” she laughs.

“so, you know how we were holding valentine's yesterday, right?” you sputter. “and how that whole thing works and stuff. so, um, what happened! is!” oh, she's smiling, she knows where this is going. “i kind of. got. the thing. from one of my classmates.”

“well, that's wonderful, battler!” she's still smiling. “who from? or is that too scandalous?”

“er, it was yukine akaneno. the one with the glasses and the shaky hands. have i mentioned her before?” you mumble that last bit. “yeah, i have.”

“i'm glad she finally worked up the courage to say something.” sensei snickers to herself, and your jaw opens. who else knew. did everyone else know? are you the dope here? are you a socially maladjusted dope? well, yes, but still! sensei's face grows serious, though. “i imagine you have some mixed feelings, though.”

you nod. “yeah. a lot. i donno how to feel at all. i mean, for one thing, i can't see what she'd like about me at all.”

“well, i think there's a lot to like about you, battler-kun.” sensei says. “if i were to put myself in her shoes, you're a kind, engaging boy who puts a lot more effort into his appearance, and his studies, than many other boys in this school. you're enthusiastic about your passions, you're humble, and the birthmark's cute.” you blush.

“what? nuh uh, i am not.” you mumble. “you're crazy, sensei.”

“that might be, but i'm also right.” sensei smiles at you. argh! that's a really strong power move! one of these days, you want to hit her with a power move like that! you're going to be the cool one, here! “it's not like that's all that's troubling you, though.”

“well, yeah.” you nod.

“how do you feel about akaneno?” sensei asks. “she's your friend, right?”

“i mean, yeah, she is.” you say. “i mean, nobody i've traded novels with isn't my friend, really, that's- that's a bonding experience. she's definitely not a bad person. always kind of timid, in my experience.”

“but...?” sensei asks.

(BGM: HER WORRIES)

“...but it doesn't... something about this doesn't feel right.” you say. “i had this weird feeling in my chest that day. i didn't really get any other chocolates, all my friends said, 'oh, battler-kun, i forgot you counted.' hers was the only chocolate i got, and it was... it... it just...” you sigh. “it's confusing, sensei. it's supposed to be a good thing, right? why does it make me feel so... awful? it screws me up inside.”

“i can think of at least one reason.” sensei says, leaning onto her desk, taking a closer look at you. “shannon-chan, right?”

you're quiet for a second before you nod. “...yeah. it's stupid, right? i mean, it's not like she was ever actually my girlfriend... i was twelve. and it's... not like i ever said anything like that. but i just... i promised, sensei.”

“you wouldn't be so torn up about it if you didn't still have those feelings, battler-kun.” sensei says. “you know, i don't think i've ever seen someone take a childhood promise like that so seriously. have i told you recently that you have a good heart?”

“...yeah.” you sigh. “i know.”

“well, here's what i'd do if i were in your shoes.” sensei says, after a moment of closed-eyes introspection. “i think you should talk to akaneno. ask her what you asked me- why exactly does she like you? try and feel out these feelings a bit more, because it seems to me like you're a bit paralyzed by indecision.”

“...okay. yeah.” you nod. “that's a good idea. thanks, sensei.”


 

(BGM: NEUTRALS -another-)

“yukine!” you call, as school's letting out for the day. (doing anything before then was waaaaay too awkward.)

she stops in her tracks and jerkily turns around. “b-b-b-b-battler-san.” she mutters, attempting very hard to keep her glasses on her face. “g-good day. how are you. doing. today.”

“can i speak to you for a bit?” you say.

to make a long story short- you are allowed to. the two of you are now at the back of the school, away from prying ears. “okay.” you say. “so. first off. let me just make sure i'm not grossly misinterpreting this situation. you just... well, you know, yesterday you...”

“...yes.” she says. her face is bright red. you can only imagine how bright yours is.

“okay! yeah! right! not misinterpreting that.” you nod.

“i-i'm very sorry i...” yukine looks like she wants to curl up into a little ball. “i-it's just i've... never done that before, so i wasn't sure... of proper procedure...”

“no, no, don't worry, i think you did fine?” you choke the words out. “i just. want to. talk about that. a bit.” you take a deep breath in. “why me?”

that doesn't seem like the response she was expecting. her eyes widen. “eh?” she says. “...what do you mean?”

“like i said. why me?” you say. “i know we're friends and all, but there's a bunch of people at this school and out of all of them... me? what is it you like about me, exactly?”

“...oh.” yukine's eyes dart away a little. “well... you're... um... you're not like the other boys, battler-san. i've- i've never liked a boy until you. you're... kind, well-read, caring...” she mutters something about you having really nice hands, and then trails off quiet enough that you can't hear the next word.

“what was that?” you ask.

“...you're beautiful.” yukine mutters.

(BGM: GIRLISH -piano-)

beautiful. beautiful beautiful, beautiful? beautiful. beautiful beautiful. beautiful. beautiful beautiful beautiful beautiful, beautiful beautiful beau. tiful. beautiful, beautiful beautiful beautiful. you dumbly point at yourself and she nods. beautiful beautiful? beautiful you? are beautiful?

the word... feels good in your mind. beautiful. she thinks you are beautiful. (but that's not normal. boys are supposed to be handsome. to be strong, to be-) you! are beautiful! you're beautiful! you're beautiful, you're beautiful! just like kyrie, or shannon, or- or if you're being honest hoshizaki-sensei! you're beautiful! (no. stop. stop being happy. why are you happy. stop it. this isn't normal.) your friend thinks you're beautiful! this is amazing! she said it! you're beautiful! you're a beautiful-

“r-really?” you stutter out, stopping your train of thought in its tracks. not that you had a train of thought to begin with. “beautiful?”

“p-please don't make me say it twice.” yukine stammers.

“well.” well. “well. i, um.” this feeling in your chest won't go away. this beautiful beautiful feeling beautiful beautiful beautiful beautiful. “i-i-i'm sorry. i need a- i need to go home and- and ponder this.”

“oh.” yukine says. “i-i'm sorry, did i say something wrong?”

“no? no. no! definitely not, no.” you wave your hands. “i just. it's a lot, i- i just- i need- brain- not working.”


 

“You embarrassed yourself there.” I say. “That was an embarrassment. You goofball.” beautiful beautiful beautiful beautiful beautiful. “Are you?”

you go and look at yourself in the mirror. you're- no, you're... but... who could... “She's not wrong.” I say.

'you're not like the other boys', she said. what does that mean? why would you...

I'm standing there as you look at me, your eyes looking over my body. “...This sort of introspection is unlike you.” I say. there's a question that comes to your mind about mia, but it vanishes as soon as it's gone... or maybe it's stuffed into the back of your mind. maybe you don't want to ask that question. “Battler, are you alright?”

“...is it alright...” you mutter into the mirror. “...for me to like being called beautiful?”

“Of course it's alright.” I say, without hesitation. “That's the sort of person you've always wanted to be, isn't it? Own it. Own your beauty.”

you look at your hair, the strange, bird-like thing it does on its front. ...why should you have to wear it short like this, anyhow? you'd look prettier if it was longer, like... like mia's is. “...i know what i have to tell her.” you say, and you rub your face with a bit of water. “but it's hard.”

“It's okay, Battler.” I say. “Just do your best.” live up to you, right, mia?


(BGM: REVIVED SHIBUYA)

It's a few days later when I work up the courage to speak to Yukine again. We meet in the same place, though this time the weather is overcast, preparing to rain. That feels like a bit of a cliché, but then, I also feel like I've had that thought before.

“Battler-san.” Yukine says, as she arrives. She twiddles her fingers. “Um... what did you have to tell me?”

I give her my best smile. I can't deny the pain in my chest as I say what I have to, but I know who I am. I'm not going to go back on my promise. “Yukine.” I say. “Thank you for saying what you did, and for thinking so highly of me. I haven't heard things like that before, and I think what you said helped me, as weird as that sounds.”

“Eh?” She gasps a bit. By the look in her eyes, she's probably stunned by the way I'm holding myself. Cool, composed. I know what I'm doing.

“But... the truth is, my heart already belongs to someone else.” I say. I put my hand on my heart. “Not someone at this school. She's a girl who lives far away from here. To be honest, I love her, and I have for a long time now. You're a good friend, and I really am flattered- but, I'm sorry. I made her a promise that we'd be together, and I can't go back on that.”

Yukine's eyes widen a bit as I talk. If I had to guess, I'd say she's probably a bit stunned by the seriousness of my feelings. Eventually, she manages to ask, “...What's her name?”

“I don't know her real name, I don't think. She's a servant at a manor my old family owns, and I knew her by her servant name, 'Shannon'.” I say. “She's a very important person to me. I think about her every day. I-”

“You really do...” Yukine starts sniffling. “...have a good heart...”

I, uh... wasn't expecting that reaction. “What?”

(BGM: Words of Healing)

“You're... you really... aren't like the other boys. Nobody else here would say something like that.” She says, her eyes beginning to tear up. “An-anyone e-else, they'd... s-say no because they d-didn't like me, or- or make up an excuse to n-never have to... answer me...” She takes off her glasses. “...but you say something that sounds so crazy, like a-a-a fairy tale, and say it with this straight f-face that means you really are being h-honest, I...” Her trembling hands drop her glasses. You reach out to catch them as quick as you can to keep them from getting dirty, and the sight of it just makes her start crying more. “S-she's... she's... r-really l-lucky... I-I'm jealous o-of her, finding s-someone like that even, even before, even aaahhh, aaaaaaaaahhhhhh.”

oh god oh god yukine's on her knees she's crying oh god oh god what do you do what do you do “Stay calm. This is probably normal.” stay calm i'm making her cry she is crying this person is a good person and i am making her cry “It's normal. Just be a good friend like usual.” is she even going to be satisfied with that after that “I-I don't know, okay, just do it!”

“i-i'm sorry, yukine.” you kneel down and hug her. “i'm so sorry. you deserve better. i'm sorry.”

“d-don't... don't you cry too!” she pounds her shaking fists into your shoulders. “y-you're not... a-a-allowed after you... just said that before...”

“j-just because my promise to shannon is important to me doesn't mean i can't feel bad about letting you down!” you say. “yukine, you- you know, you deserve someone better than me, who isn't taken up by a promise, okay? and- and you're- and you're gonna find that special someone eventually and i believe in you and please keep being my friend i know maybe it's kind of a jerk move of me to say that after i just rejected you but i really just-”

“why are you blubbering?!” yukine shouts. “you're the one with a girlfriend!”

“i haven't seen her in a year and a half and i miss her so muuuuuch!” you sob. “i said i was gonna come back that year but then my mom died and my dad was a jerk and i left the family and i donno how to do anything about that!”

“w-well, i'm sure... i'm sure things will work out!” yukine says, grabbing you by the shoulders. “you're a... a very good person and i think that she'll understand that!”

“okay!” you sob. “thank you, yukine!”

“you're welcome!” she says. “i'm shouting more than i've shouted in my entire life thanks to you! thanks!”

“oh no!” you shout. “please don't exaggerate your asthma!”

“how do you even remember i have asthma, i mentioned it maybe once to you!” the both of you are crying.

“i have a very good memoryyyyyyy.” you blubber.


 

“so, everything worked out fine?” sensei asks. “no problems?”

“none.” you shake your head. “i'm looking up some recipes for chocolates to return it. white day's coming up fast, y'know! gotta be prepared!” you pat your bicep and smile brightly.

“oh?” sensei tilts her head a little. “you're going to return it?”

“of course.” you nod. “she gave me chocolate, and white day is when you return that.” you get what she's driving at- valentine's day felt weird and uncomfortable, so why wouldn't white day, right? “that's my job as the person who got her chocolate.” it has nothing to do with ge- anyway yeah so you're going to do it.

“alright, but don't push yourself.” she's smiling. “i'm sure akaneno will understand if you can't bring yourself to return it. you're devoted to shannon-chan, after all.”

“yeah.” you smile, sigh, and close your eyes, clasping your hands together. “and then, when we're together, we'll give each other chocolates on valentine's day and then maybe we'll hold hands and even kiss and we'll talk about mystery novels together and-” OH GOD YOU WERE SAYING THAT OUT LOUD. YOU JUMP UP. SENSEI IS CHUCKLING DID SHE PLAN FOR THIS.


(BGM: Sunshine (Requiem pour un split 7/10)

“...And thus was the story of the first and last honmei chocolate Lady Tora ever received.” Vassago said. He lightly clapped.

Battler was a bit put off, crossing his arms and pouting in his seat, so Beatrice leaned in. “Hooooh, what's wrooong, my incompetent little puppy?”

“Akaneno-chan never gave me any chocolate!” Battler huffed.

Gremory snorted. “Man, I bet you didn't even remember she existed until a few minutes ago.”

“I didn't, but it's the principle of the thing!” Battler gritted his teeth and wailed. “Ahhhh, it's no good, it's no goddamn good at all!”

“And after we have such a romantic arrangement for Valentine's and White Day!” Beatrice's face twisted into a snarl, and she stood up and put her foot on the nape of Battler's neck. “Can you believe this moron, Gremory, Vassagooooo?! Surely you've never seen a man as foolish as this in your entire liiiives?!”

“Aww, a nice, romantic, chill-” Gremory stopped herself. “These two are anti-chill. A nice, romantic, insane Valentine's-to-White time with your spouse. Donno about you, Vaz, but I'm kinda jealous.”

“Hmm... I don't believe I've ever considered the idea.” Vassago rubbed his chin. “I am, however, reasonably skilled in the art of making chocolates, so I believe I could do an adequate job. Perhaps I should see about visiting Zepar and Furfur come next February to see about asking the masters if I should be presenting chocolates to anyone in particular.”

“That's chill, dude.” Gremory nodded, closing her eyes. “Just don't give me any.”

“Oh, I would never dare to tread on Lady Jojo's feet.” Vassago said, closing his eyes and steepling his hands. Gremory started, and Battler and Beatrice stopped their violent, violent flirting for a moment. “At least in part because I believe she might attempt to harm me if I did so, and I would rather not be harmed.”

“Did you hear that?” Battler asked. Beatrice silently nodded. Both of them started up a low 'hoooooh' noise that slowly increased in pitch as they stood up and began to advance towards Gremory.

“Vassago.” Gremory gritted her teeth. “Did you... have to mention that.”

“I'm sorry, is mentioning Lady Jojo verboten?” Vassago asked. “I should hardly see why. You hold a great deal of affection for her-”

(BGM: Dread of the grave)

So, Gremory.” Beatrice said, the married couple here forming a united gossip force shoving Gremory deep into her chair. “Tell us about your ladyfriend.”

“D-do I have to?” Gremory squeaked.

“Does she have to, Battler?” Beatrice turned her head.

“Oh, I wanna know.” Battler grinned.

“Well, see, the thing about that is BENNY, ATTACK!” With Gremory's shout, a dimensional portal opened up, and a camel lazily charged through, blindsiding Battler and Beatrice both before disappearing again. Gremory let out a heavy breath, stood up, and dusted herself off. “Phew. Mm'kay.”

With a few grunts of exertion, Battler removed his wife's head from beneath the crack of the chair that Benny the camel had blasted her into. There was a little 'pop' as Beatrice was freed, pouting. “You don't have to be so violent about it.” She huffed.

“Even from over here, I bet I can get a bit in edgewise.” Battler smirked. He turned and dramatically shoved his finger in Gremory's direction. “Deny it in red, Gremory! I bet this Lady Jojo is blonde, isn't she?!

The flinch on Gremory's face, almost as though she'd been physically struck, told Battler he was right on the money. “Y-you don't have to blue truth me!” Gremory sputtered. “God! It's not that important!” She blushed and turned away. “So what if I have a girlfriend? What's it to you?”

“This is important information, Gremory.” Beatrice cackled. “If I don't know this, how am I to needle you about her?”

“She's just this girl I met after you got flesh cage'd.” Gremory rolled her eyes. “We- we hit it off. She's, uh... she's sweet. A bit clingy, but in a way I like. Has... has this way of showing up in unexpected places.” Gremory was growing brighter and brighter the longer she talked, and was twiddling her fingers. “Look, I just- can we talk about this later please thanks.”

“Vassago, could you write a reminder down?” Battler asked. Vassago did so, and Battler pointed a fingergun at him and gave him a clicking noise in return.


(BGM: Stop)

“but i don't want to be partnered with battler.” you're in gym class for team dodgeball. you don't honestly know this guy's name. he's some guy. you had a pretty good idea of your class last year, but now that you're in eighth grade you aren't sure.

“miyano-kun...” the teacher sighs and shakes his head. you see a sort of 'god damn it, not this kid again' look in his eyes. this does seem a bit immature for a thirteen-year-old, but maybe he's had some trouble adjusting. “why not?”

miyano throws his arm to the side and gestures at you. “battler throws like a girl!”

'battler throws like a girl.' 'battler throws like a girl.' 'battler... throws like a girl?'

what... does that mean?

Chapter Text

(BGM: Individualist)

Battler throws like a girl.

that's the remark that's just been whirling around and around in your head for days now, not able to get out. obviously, his meaning is clear- you have a weak throw. and it's true, you... kinda do. you're afraid of hurting people on the field when you do sports, and you're kinda scrawny besides, so you tend to limit yourself a bit. you can throw things pretty far when you need to, and you've got a good eye for aiming, but the fact is miyano's meaning was, in fact, correct.

it's not like you're even offended. you're in eighth grade, closer to fourteen now than you are thirteen. you're old enough not to let people insulting you bother you that much. if you hadn't gotten past that a while ago, you'd have been dead before elementary school was over. it's just stuck in your head. battler throws like a girl. not like the other boys.

“...and so i've just been thinking and thinking and thinking about it and i donno why.” you say to sensei, the next time you see her. “it's- it's weird.”

“that is... rather odd.” hoshizaki-sensei leans back in her chair and rubs her chin. “and you don't have any idea why it is it would be stuck in your head like that?”

“no, i really don't.” you shake your head. “i mean, i understand it, i'm not offended, it's not like i want him to apologize or something like that... i just...” you sigh. “it feels like i'm right on the verge of having this big, eureka! moment and it's nudging me there but i have no idea how it could be.”

“that's a hard situation to be in.” sensei says. you see her eyes dart down to a photo of her and a young girl. she keeps photos of her family on her desk. “and i'm... not certain how i can help.”

“it's alright, sensei.” you nod. “i kind of just wanted to say this out loud to somebody.”

“...alright.” she nods back, though her eyes are downcast, and she looks a bit uncertain. “please come back if you figure anything out.”

“i will.” you say.


 (BGM: Towering cloud in summer)

june 17th, 1982. she has red hair, like you. that's a bit odd, but you suppose maybe it's a recessive trait in the old man's line. still, that oddity aside, you can't help but be happy with this. “hey, ange!” you smile brightly, brighter than you ever thought you would coming back to your old man's house. “heeey!” babies are cute. you like babies.

“can you believe this kid.” rudolf rolls his eyes at kyrie. it seemed like they were intending on doing introductions there, but you sort of just charged in ahead of them. “he stomps out so dramatically and then he just comes in and starts making goo-goo eyes at the baby like nothing's wrong.”

oh man! look at this special kid! she is having a good time and so are you! “you can't say it was unexpected.” kyrie chuckles. “you know very well how battler is.”

“here i thought-” rudolf turns around and shrugs. “-here i thought, that if i had a son i'd be able to shoot the shit with him about-”

“hey.” you say. not too loud. don't wanna scare ange. it's her birthday! she's one! “no swearing around the baby.”

rudolf sighs heavily and slumps. “-you see? here i thought i'd be able to shoot the... side of a barn or something, i don't know, with the kid about real solid essence of manliness stuff! instead i've got battler to contend with.”

“you shouldn't poison ange's pure ears with such meaningless drivel, old man.” you say. “you're lucky i showed up for her.”

“'you're lucky i showed up for her'.” rudolf puts on a higher voice to mock you. “you know, you really pi- you really grind my gears sometimes, kid! you hear him, kyrie? thinking he's all high and mighty. he's thirteen!”

“well, you can't deny he resembles his mother.” kyrie, cool as ever, does the finger thing. rudolf grimaces. “it's almost charming.”

“almost?” you snort. “excuse you, i'm super charming.”

“you do seem to be much livelier now.” kyrie observes, rubbing her chin. “some time out of your father's house did you well, hm?” well, you don't mention that you've been vaguely trying to emulate her the whole time, either, but you nod. it's true. you honestly are a happier person now, and you're not quite sure why, yet.

(BGM: Stop)

all of a sudden, there's a heavy knock on the door. ange's room is on the first floor, so it's a lot more audible than from your room. rudolf grimaces. “...is it the seventeenth already?” he grits his teeth and starts slowly walking out as the knock intensifies.

“what's going on?” you ask. “get yourself in trouble again, old man?”

“...you stay here.” rudolf's face is oddly serious. “don't leave this room. and you,” he points at kyrie, “stay here with them. i don't want you out there, either.”

kyrie smiles and laughs a bit to herself. “of course. you always have to be the hero.”

“oh, you know damn well it's not about-” rudolf cuts himself off. “where's my damn checkbook.”

the loud knocking is frightening ange, who's crying. you sit down and begin singing a little tune to her to lull it out. you've been working on this, in case you need to. akai hana tsun de... ano hito ni age yo...

rudolf opens the door, and you can hear it. “here's your money. leave. it's my daughter's birthday.” ano hito no kami ni... kono hana sashite age yo...

“oh, it's your daughter's birthday, is it.” that's a woman's voice- it's rudolf's 'old flame'. “then, really, maybe i should pay my respects to dearest kyrie's child. that's the honorable thing for me to do, right?” akai hana, akai hana... ano hito kami ni~

“...what do you want?” rudolf sighs. saite yureru darou...

“oh, speaking of birthdays.” the woman says, and you can almost hear the smile in her voice. “one's coming up next month, isn't it?” ohisama no you ni...

“how much do you want.” rudolf says. there's resignation in his voice. “i'll give it to you, just get out.” shiroi hana tsun de... ano hito no age yo...

the woman sounds like she's going to answer for a second, but then she makes a little noise. “...saaay. who's that girl singing?” keep singing keep singing “that's not kyrie's voice, she can't sing at all. don't tell me you've found someone else already? or do you secretly have another child?” ...a-ano hito no mune ni... kono hana sashite age yo...

rudolf doesn't know how to react for a few seconds, and you can tell because he's quiet. leave. leave, please. stop. “h-how much do you want.” sh-shiroi hana, shiroi hana... ano hito no kami ni~...

saite (why isn't) yureru (anyone saying) darou... (anything?) otsukisan (and who's) no you (that girl) ni... (singing?) ange is quiet as your voice, shaky, dies out.

“what a lovely song.” the woman says. she laughs a little to herself. “i didn't want to interrupt. give my regards to the singer.”

“...well, if you're done ogling, could you tell your boys to back up if you want to take this outside?” rudolf snorts. “i've got a baby in here, and it's hard enough getting her to shut up without you around. i'll give you however much you want.”

(BGM: FLASHBACK)

...your heart feels like it's in your throat when you hear the door close behind them. rudolf and his 'old flame' are outside now. “not even any haggling...” kyrie sighs. she must've been listening, too. she shakes her head, a little disappointed frown. “i swear.” then she's smiling again. “he can't do anything without me.”

you're not sure why you're sweating so much as you stand up from where ange's now fallen asleep, but you are. you feel like you've just run a marathon, like your entire body is heaving. who's that girl singing? battler throws like a girl. that girl singing. you- you fall to your knees.

kyrie kneels down and offers you her hand. “was it that tiring?”

“no... n-not really.” you take her hand to stand up, and look at the wall in the direction where the front door would be. “you know her?”

there's a pause as kyrie smiles to herself. “yes, we're acquainted. though i resent saying i can't sing, considering she's worse.” you catch your breath.

the two of you properly sit down, mostly for your sake. there's a window, but it's in the opposite direction, so you can't really see any of what rudolf is doing. there's a burning question in your mind. who's that gi- “hey, kyrie... why do you love him?” yeah that's the one.

for once, kyrie actually looks a bit genuinely surprised at the question. “hm.” her smile comes back pretty quickly, though, and she rubs her chin. “i suppose it's just that same childishness.” you tilt your head to urge her to go further. “the way he just does whatever he wants, devil may care, and gets himself into trouble... it's adorable. he's the sort of man who never really grows up. on the inside, he's still just a child playing with his toys.”

“yeah.” you snort. “i hear that. but, i mean... how can anyone love a guy like him, who they know might betray them and break their hearts?”

“love is a game, battler.” kyrie does the finger thing. “it's a game to ensure that he'll never run away, and i'm rather good at games. if he runs away, it'll be his heart that's broken.”

that's cool, but... man. the world of middle-aged dating is way beyond you. that's something good to ponder on- kyrie's attitude towards dating. maybe not something you agree with, but that's fine, because obviously she's more of an example rather than an actual goal.

eventually, rudolf comes back in the house, and he's sweating, and looks kind of disheveled, but he kneels down and hugs you either way. he doesn't say anything.

who's that girl singing?

(and whose birthday was that woman here about?)


 (BGM: NEUTRALS)

“happy birthday, battler-san!” yukine's one of the first people to come up to you on your birthday. pretty quickly she hands you a book- it's a fresh copy of one of her absolute favorites, the dirty pair's great adventure.

“oh, no way.” you take it out of her hands. “you actually bought this for me?”

“well, of course. it's your birthday.” she says. “why wouldn't i?”

you look awkwardly down at a few other books and things- some gift-wrapped, some unadorned. “it's just weird. i'm not used to getting this many presents on my birthday.”

“...that's...” yukine frowns. “a little depressing.”

“is it?” you ask.

that's not the weird present you get that day, though. the weird present you get that day is a bit later. as you're rounding the corner in a hallway during lunch, who should charge up to you but miyano-kun, the kid who said you threw like a girl threw like a girl threw like a girl threw like a girl with something in his arms. he shoves it into your hands, and he's lucky your bag isn't that big. “wha-?” you say, sputtering.

“you like stupid crap like this, right?” he says. he's gotten blonde highlights since that day in gym class, and is one of those kids who looks plain at first but clearly enters his rebellious phase halfway through high school. “happy birthday or something.”

after a moment to look at the thing in his hands, you see it's a copy of the murder at crooked house, shimada-sensei's second work. you blink. “oh! um!” you'd been saving up for a bit to get this, but now you suppose you can spend that on something else. “thank you, miyano-kun! i... really appreciate it.” you're utterly baffled, but you smile at him.

he sputters and blushes. “w-whatever.” after a bit of awkward standing there, he books it away. since when does miyano remember your birthday? do you... do you even talk to him?


 

“since when does miyano remember my birthday?” you say, when you're in sensei's office after school. you've accumulated quite the little pile, but thankfully most of it managed to fit in your backpack.

“well, that sounds to me like he has a crush.” sensei laughs to herself. “around that age, boys can be so awkward.”

another crush? seriously? boys. bo- “wait, but sensei... aren't we both boys?” you ask.

sensei's eyes dart down to that photo again for a second. “ah, right.” she chuckles. “sometimes it's easy to forget, you know.” she looks at your hair. “have i told you that longer hair looks good on you?”

oh! “oh!” you blush and sort of awkwardly touch the back of your head. it is longer now and you also think that it looks good on you and that it is very good and it makes you happy. your 'bangs' are still kind of ridiculous, but you do your best to comb them down in the morning, at least. you have long hair and it's pretty and you're pretty and you're not like the other boys and you throw like a girl and who's that girl singing and- (bgm this mutilated body) YOU STOP YOURSELF WITH A GRAB AT YOUR HEAD AND TAKE A HEAVY BREATH what were you thinking about? (a voice in the back of your head mocks one two three strikes you're out, three strikes you're out, three strikes you're out, no no shut up) “sorry sensei i think i should go home” you say mumbling “i feel kind of sick all of a sudden i donno why i'm sorry”

“battler-kun are you okay” she says who is she talking to she's talking to battler-kun “do you need me to ask the nurse for-”

“no no please dont waste your time ill be fine in the morning” you say and you leave the office and you start staggering home haha happy birthday the sun is setting and there are birds in the sky and stop stop stop the world feels like its falling out from under you youre holding your birthday presents you got presents from people who care about you you have friends but do you really deserve friends youre a boy who doesnt keep his promises shannon shannon what would shannon think what would shannon think of _____ what would shannon think of that huh whats wrong with you you dont deserve to be happy you never deserved to be happy youre a bad person youre a terrible person you should just die right here and make everyone happier maybe even dad would be better off if you were dead

“Battler.” I say. Somehow, we've wandered to an old swingset. It might not be safe to sit on, but it's good enough. “Calm down. You're not... a terrible person. You know that.” youre not worth anything youre useless youre just a useless boy why does EVERYTHING HURT SO MUCH YOU JUST-

(BGM: La Realtà Nella Nebbia)

“mia.” you say. “i think there's something wrong with me.”

You stare at me, just barely not able to ask the question that you want to ask so badly about me, the woman who looks an awful lot like you, but taller, more glamorous, better in your eyes. “You need to stay calm, Battler. Freaking out about little things isn't-”

“it's not cool or composed but i think there's something wrong with me.” you say. “there's something wrong with my brain. i think i might be broken somehow and i'm not sure how.” (three strikes you're out. three strikes you're out.)

“That's not true. You're not broken.” I say. “You have to survive. I know you can do it. You can do it, Battler.”

“no i can't.” you say, putting your head in your hands. “i don't even know what 'it' is. what am i doing? what am i doing? i just want someone to tell me, mia. i just want someone to tell me what it is i'm supposed to be doing. what-” you grit your teeth. you're crying. “why do i hurt so much? i don't understand why i hurt so much. i'm not supposed to hurt so much. i'm not-”

'i think you're already cool.'

shannon's face pops into your head. isn't this that same feeling you had that night when george explained to you the differences in how boys and girls grow up. shannon believes in you. shannon believes in you she's still waiting for you. shannon believes in you. shannon believes you aren't broken. shannon shannon shannon. shannon gave you-

mia.

(BGM: Stop)

(not yet. i'm not... ready yet.) “i'm just... gonna go home now.” you say. “i'm gonna... go home... and take a breath... and read one of these books.”


 (BGM: NEUTRALS)

months pass. august. (miyano keeps giving you looks. is this how boys work? your hair is longer and stuff. is this how boys work? of course. you're a boy, right?) september. (it's getting colder. you still want a skirt or something like that, something other than this uniform's pants.) october. (the family conference has passed again. and you still weren't there. liar.) hoshizaki-sensei is a bit concerned when you come in next but you assure her it's nothing.

it's november now. “career guidance again.” yukine sighs. “i still don't have an answer.”

right. so, this is the point where you sit down with your homeroom teacher and they ask you what you want to be when you grow up. in... older terms now that you're fourteen. but still. “i'm sure you'll be fine.” you say. “maybe astrophysics, or something?”

“...well, that's one idea.” yukine laughs a little. she has a nice little laugh. her hands are trembling a bit, though.

eventually, it happens that you're sat down with your homeroom teacher. “so, battler-kun.” he smiles. “one of my best students, you know. you're a smart cookie!”

“oh, no, sir.” you shake your head. “i'm just doing my best. really.”

“well, i still have a good feeling about you. so.” he clears his throat. “when you graduate, what is it you want to be?”

that's easy. you want to be ______.

(BGM: Stop)

your eyes go a bit unfocused. huh? what is that? shouldn't you have an answer to this question? it's not like you're not smart. this is a simple question. just say something. what you want to be is ______. and not just when you graduate. you want it right now. you want it more than you've ever wanted anything in your entire life. you want it right now! give it here! why do all the other _____ get to be _____ and not you?!

“...battler-kun? are you alright?” your teacher asks you.

(BGM: SUMO SEAL -another-)

“yeah, i'm-” ______. that's what you are. you spent three months after that trying to hobble yourself together and you've limped here but now it feels like it's all coming back all of a sudden. that feeling of being broken. “what i want to be is-” ______. hahaha. dad would hate you so much for this. so would kyrie, wouldn't she? think about ange, even. think about ange looking at her big ______ and knowing that she was related to something like you. “what i... want to be is...”

what you

want to be is

a ____. three strikes you were out. three strikes you were out. three strikes you were out and now somebody's found out and now you're off the pitch and you're going to break. you're going to break. you can't-

I take a deep breath in. “I'm sorry, Sensei.” I wipe my tears for a second. “I've just been having some trouble thinking about that lately because of, er...”

“...Ah. Your family situation?” He asks, and you nod.

“But, I have had some considerations.” I say, and that is honest of me. “Though, honestly, I'm not sure how well I'd cut it as a full-fledged author... I'm a bit too knuckleheaded for that sometimes.”

“Oh, I'm sure people much dumber than you have written bestsellers, Battler-kun.” He laughs.

“...I'm sorry, Sensei, but would it be alright if I used the restroom now?” I ask. “I'm feeling a bit disheveled. I'd like a moment, please.”

“Of course, Battler-kun.” Your teacher smiles. “Take as much time as you need. It's not as though we're doing much else for the rest of the period.”

You step out of the room and into the hallways. Your steps are loud in your ears, but the rest of the hallways are quiet- just the sounds of other kids in class, doing the same thing you were just doing. ...For being such a good student, you actually have a fairly good idea of what's behind several of the doors you're told not to enter, and in particular, you know one that's frequently left unlocked that leads to a private single restroom for the staff to use. You slip in while nobody's looking- or at least, nobody who will care- and lock the door, and you take a deep, deep breath.

I'm standing there as you look at your reflection, and you finally ask that question.

“why is mia...” you mumble. “why... are you... a woman?”


 (BGM: Stop)

“Sensei.”

“Oh! Battler-kun!” Sensei's been working on something. “How are you? Sit down, please.”

“You've been worried about me, haven't you.”

“...Am I that obvious?” She laughs. “It's hard not to be. You push yourself too hard.”

“Today was career guidance.”

“...Yes?” She blinks. “And what happened?”

“My teacher asked me what I wanted to be.” She's urging for more with her hands. “And I answered a bit. They weren't lies. But-” Don't cry yet. “Sensei. I think something is wrong with me.”

“There's... nothing wrong with you, Battler-kun.” Sensei says.

“I hate the way other people look at me, sometimes. I hate not feeling normal. I hate not feeling like I fit in. I hate- what I hate about myself-” Gasp. Not... yet. “I hate... that I'm a boy. That I have to be put into the same category as people like Miyano. That isn't... where I belong.”

(BGM: DUSK)

...Alright. It's alright to cry now, right? “Sensei...” I... start crying. That's right... this is me. Nobody else. “What I want to be... is a girl.” I sniffle. “I don't want to be a boy anymore. I hate this. When people treat me like a girl, it makes me happier than anything else. I don't know who I am. I don't know who I was ever supposed to be. Please...” I bend over onto her desk. “Please just tell me if there's something wrong with me. Everything hurts so much, Sensei.”

After the initial look of concern, Sensei looks more serious than I've ever seen her look as she stands up and... hugs me. “There is nothing wrong with you.” She says. “If that's how you feel... then you're already a girl.” She smiles, and looks at you. She's tearing up a bit. “Don't feel ashamed of being who you are, Battler-chan.”

When she calls me that, it stabs somewhere deep in my heart and makes me grit my teeth. I start crying more. “So... it's okay?” I sob. “It's okay for me to... be a girl?” I rock back and forth in her arms. “It's okay for me to feel this way?”

“There is absolutely nothing wrong with you feeling this way.” Sensei says. “You are you.”

I...

...am me. I've finally found... 'me'. “...You figured this out a long time ago, didn't you?” I can't help but laugh a little through my tears as she nods. “Figures. God, I can be dense sometimes.”

“It happens to the best of us.” Sensei sniffles a little. “I'm just glad you've finally caught up.”

When I've finally calmed down, I sit in the chair again. Sensei looks me in the eyes, her face serious. “Battler-chan.” She says. I can't help but get the strangest sense of euphoria in my heart when she says that. “I want you to understand something.”

“What?” I ask.

“This world of ours... isn't always kind to those like you.” Once again, her eyes dart down to that one photo. Suddenly, I feel like I understand just a little bit more about her. “To... well, ah, the scientific term is 'transexuals', or those with 'Gender Identity Disorder'.”

“...That's a bit gross-sounding.” I grimace.

“Exactly.” Sensei nods. “People like you aren't something that our world has quite learned how to accept completely yet. I know you're a girl, and as real a girl as they come. I've known you for quite some time now, and it's impossible to say you're anything else. Not everyone...” She takes a breath. “Not everyone is going to be as kind. Not everyone is going to see it the way I do. People will deny you. Some may even try to hurt you. This life will not be as easy for you as it is for those who are born the right gender.”

There are chills running down my spine. I can't help it- I'm scared. That's a scary thought. “If you choose to live life as a woman, there will be challenges you face that many others will never understand. It will not be an easy thing for you to do, to make everyone see you the way you see yourself.” Sensei pauses. “Do you want to try to live as a woman even despite that?”

I'm scared... but I've spent too long running from this fear of mine to not know what the answer is. “...Yes.” I nod. “I do.”

“Then I'll do my absolute best to help you in any way I can.” Sensei smiles. She probably knew you were going to answer that. “Go home, Battler-chan. Think on yourself. And remember- no matter what anyone else thinks, I know that you are a girl.”

“...Thanks, Sensei.” I nod. My eyes are still red, but I'm nodding. “I will!”

(BGM: GIRLISH)

It's like there's a massive weight off my shoulders as I walk out of her office and to the front of the school for the end of the day. The sky is blue, it's a bit chilly, and there's a thrill in my chest I've never even imagined before. I look up at the sky, at the sun- I wonder if they know who I am?

“B-Battler-san are you okay.” I turn around and it's Yukine. “You usually don't smile that wide, and- well, I heard you got a bit weird during career guidance-”

“Oh, yeah, actually. Totally.” I say. “I feel great. Hey, by the waaaay, just curious- have you ever watched Star Wars?”

“That movie?” Yukine shakes her head. “No, actually. It was a bit too... loud-seeming for me back then.”

“Huh. I think you'd like it, maybe I should get you that on tape sometime.” I nod to myself, smiling. “Well, as wonderful as your company is, I do have to be getting home sometime.” She still looks a bit concerned. “Hey, don't worry. I'm fine. Really. Honestly, I'm better than I've been in... a long time. I'll see you tomorrow, okay?”

“...Okay.” She still looks a bit doubtful, but hey, to be fair, from her perspective I'm acting super weird. I idly wonder if she can see me when I start skipping down the sidewalk to start my trip home.

It might be hard, and I might get hurt, but... that's the future. What I know right now is that I feel happier than I've felt in a long, long time- and that's all that really matters.


 

After a moment of silence, Battler smiled. “Congratulations.” He decided to mark the occasion with a light bit of applause. “I never knew Mrs. Hoshizaki was so cool. Man, now I kinda wish I'd talked to her more.”

Beatrice was a bit more somber. “So this sort of possibility exists as well, hm?” She stared, dully, down at the gameboard.

“...She got lucky.” Gremory said, quiet herself. “If Mrs. Hoshizaki hadn't been there- if it had been anyone else in her place- who knows how it would've gone.”

“That may be true, but I believe that this still marks a moment of celebration.” Vassago, too, began to clap. “Let us congratulate Lady Tora. Congratulations!”

“...Yeah.” Gremory smiled an oddly honest smile. “Congratulations.”

Beatrice gritted her teeth, then stood up. “Fine, you idiots! If you're going to try and show me up then I'll do you one better!” Suddenly, ten goats materialized in the room and all began clapping on beat with Beatrice, who began jumping around the room to the tune of some folk song, presumably, that was entirely in her head. “Congratulatioooooooons!”

And so, as time began again to pass, the parlor which held the game boards over which humans and witches battled in deadly games of life and death was, for just a short moment, united in celebration.

...Congratulations.

Congratulations, to this young girl who has just been born.

Chapter Text

1983

(BGM: REVIVED SHIBUYA)

The thought I had here was that maybe if I stared at a guy long enough, I'd figure out the whole attraction thing. I'd talked to Sensei about this a few times, but like, what are the odds I'd be trans and a lesbian, right? That just seemed unlikely, even though she just smiled that knowing smile at me like she knew me better than I know myself- which in many ways she did, but still! So just... undress Miyano with my eyes and try and figure out what it is that anyone sees in the male form.

How the hell did I get him to agree to just let me stare at him here? Because he is- he's just standing here grunting and blushing like a dork as I give him a once, twice, thrice-over. I know he's got a crush on me, but geez, man, figure out a better way to spend your time! But let's see. I like blonde hair and all, but his is too bleach-y and too... too short, too. His face just looks... weird. It just looks weird. And, like, he's bearing his midriff because of course he is, he's some dork on a Sunday, and that's supposed to be cute, right?

“Aaaargh!” I cry, at last, getting up onto my feet and throwing up my hands. “I give up.”

“Y-you give up what?” Miyano sputters. “The fuck was that about?”

“Do you want me to let you down easy or to be blunt with you?” I ask, tilting my head. He blinks.

“Uhhh... be... blunt with me, I guess.” He raises his eyebrow.

“I was trying to figure out if there was any earthly way I could be attracted to you.” I shrug, and he sputters really loudly. “The answer, unfortunately enough, is no. Sorry to let you down hard, man. It's nothing personal, really, more power to whatever girl it is you eventually pick up.”

“Wha- the fuck?” Miyano's eyes go ridiculously wide and I have to stop myself from snickering a bit. “Who- y-you thought I was- you thought I was into you?!” He's blushing.

“Were you not?” I raise my eyebrow.

“Who the hell would- I mean, you're- shut up!” Miyano huffs and crosses his arms, turning away. “Don't be so conceited, asshole!” It takes me a minute to realize that I think he genuinely didn't realize until now. Wow. If boys can be this dense, then no wonder it took me so long to realize I was a girl (societal factors aside, and all.) ...Though I can't help but notice that the obvious-to-him counterpoint of 'that'd be gay' hasn't come out of his mouth, so maybe there's something pleasant about that density too.

“Sure thing, bud.” I give him a thumbs up. “Anyway, you don't say anything I don't say anything, see you at school tomorrow, we're all good, right, champ? Here, I'll buy you something nice. What do you like? Baseball cards? Some nice Tezuka manga or something?” He's looking at me like I've grown a third eyeball. “What?”

“...Seeing you in a good mood is... weird.” Miyano says. He proceeds to shuffle off as fast as he can, presumably assaulted by my good mood aura, or something.

I take a moment to think, and ask out loud, “Is it that weird?”


(BGM: REVIVED SHIBUYA -another-)

I frown at the posters for a good few minutes before I decide, no, I guess I don't really want to see a movie today. It seemed like a nice idea, but nothing is really grabbing me. That new Jim Henson one, The Dark Crystal, that isn't out yet. Those lucky jerks over in America already have it. What am I craving? Spaghetti. Where's that good Italian place near here?

Sundays are the best days of the week, and there's a pretty simple reason for that. I walk into that good Italian place, and I get that phrase- “What would you like today, miss?”

On Sunday, I'm not constrained by that damn uniform, so people call me as they see me. You'd think more people would recognize me, even if I do tend to avoid my usual haunts on Sundays, but it turns out wearing my bangs differently, dressing as a girl, and having a bit of different body language goes a long way. Even if it doesn't always go perfectly, Sundays are my safe havens from the world.

I wonder how Shannon feels about Sundays? If I remember correctly, she goes to school with Jessica, right? (oh god. oh god. what is shannon going to say.) Bet she has great grades, she's a smart cookie. Mm... mm. Tomato sauce. That's the good stuff. (eventually she's going to find out. you can't hide it forev-)

you sigh and slump your forehead on the table for a second. no, brain. it's fine. shannon's cool. it's cool. stop worrying about this, it's not worth worrying about right now. please let yourself start being a person again.

Okay, I think I'm good. The wind is a bit chilly today, which is to be expected since it's winter and all, but still. I don't feel like going home yet, so I just wander aimlessly, luxuriating in the feeling of being genuinely free as the sun begins to set. Eventually, as I walk along the city streets, I find myself back at somewhere I find oddly familiar- it's an old swingset I sat at a few months ago, July, I think.

(BGM: Assento Dele)

The odd thing is, though, there's someone sitting there. A boy, with silver hair, in a black turtleneck and jeans. He's about my size, but a touch more masculine than me, I guess. His eyes are a bit downcast, but like, in a hollow-looking kind of way.

He gives off this air like he could probably use someone to talk to, so I sit down next to him on the swingset and we just sit there for a bit. It's a bit awkward and out of my usual purview, so I'm just sort of sitting there for a bit waiting for him to say something.

This strategy does not work, so eventually I say, “Hey there.” and wave to him from right next to him like a dork.

“Hey.” He responds. His voice is a bit high-pitched. He turns his head. “There something you needed?”

“Huh? No.” I blink and shake my head. “Not really, I just... I donno.” I shrug.

“If I'm getting in the way of you talking to yourself, I can leave.” He says, and raises his eyebrow a little. “How's the chronic pain?”

“Huh?” I blink.

“And I quote. 'Why do I hurt so much? I don't understand why I hurt so much. I'm not supposed to hurt so much. I'm not,' then a few deep breaths and moments to sob, 'I'm just gonna go home now.'” This weird guy rattles off a couple of sentences that it genuinely takes me a moment to place.

I jump up off the swing and sputter a bit. “Were you listening to me?!”

“Was I not supposed to?” He shrugs.

“That- that was months ago! You were- were you here?” I continue sputtering as he lazily cranes his head to the corner and mutters an 'around there somewhere.' “And you didn't say anything?!”

“Was I supposed to?” He shrugs.

“Well, no, but that's- that's a- aaargh!” I throw my hands in the air, then cross them again and huff back down onto the swing. “I can't believe this. My innermost thoughts, broadcast to some weird guy I don't even know!”

“That's what happens when you talk to yourself in public.” He says.

“I was having a moment, okay?!” I huff. He snorts and smiles a little. “Well, I'm so glad you're taking pleasure in my suffering!”

“You're weird, lady.” He says. Then he pauses. “You got a name?”

I stop in my conversational tracks the instant he says that. Oh, shit. A name? Well, I can't say 'Battler'. That's- well, for one thing it's false, and for another thing it sounds stupid, but I hadn't managed to figure out anything yet! Craaaap! Okay, think. Think. Does 'Mia' work? No, no, that doesn't- hm. Maybe that's something to keep under my hat? Or- well, okay, that'd be kinda weird. Granted only I would know that, but. “Isn't it? Conversational etiquette? To introduce yourself first?” I laugh awkwardly.

The guy raises his eyebrow, then shrugs. “Mitsuru.” Okay, think, think. Battler is a weird name, so think, maybe you could get something out of that? Ba-to-ra. Ba-to-ra.

I smile at him, awkwardness gone. “Tora.”

“You don't look like much of a tiger.” Mitsuru says, staring blankly at me.

“Blame my folks, okay?” I shrug. “Especially the old man. He's a real pain.”

“Mm.” Mitsuru nods.

After a bit of silence, taking in the fact that we are now no longer strangers to each other, I ask, “So, Mitsuru, what brings a strapping young lad like yourself out here on a Sunday evening?”

“Just tired of being at home. I come out here to clear my head sometimes.” Mitsuru says. “You?”

“Sundays are my heaven, man.” I lean back in the swing and, well, swing a bit. “Sundays are a treasure that shouldn't be underestimated.”

“Mm.” Mitsuru nods again.

“Nobody really cares when I come back, see, so I can stay out as long as I want as long as I get my key back in the house by midnight or so.” I put my arms behind my head.

“Sounds nice.” Mitsuru says. He clasps his hands. “My 'old lady' is a real pain about these things.”

“That sucks.” I say.

After a moment or so of thinking, something hits me. If Mitsuru saw me back then, then he saw me in my school uniform, obviously. That's what I was wearing then. But... 'You're weird, lady.' I mean, maybe his memory just isn't as good as mine or something, but... “Got any hobbies? I'm into mystery novels.” I say.

“Mm. Going in for a fencing lesson tomorrow morning.” Mitsuru says. “Then I've gotta go out and get a new cat brush. The odd game of tennis... Corporate espionage.”

I can't help starting to snicker at that last one. “Sure, sure. Gotta get all those nasty secrets, right?”

“Yup.” Mitsuru nods.

There's a pause. “See any good movies lately?” I ask.

“Nope.” Mitsuru says. “You got any recommendations?” I lean in to urge him onward. “Something sci-fi, that I can get on tape. Some explosions.”

“Well, I can give you some hoity-toity recommendations, but first thing that comes to mind? Star Wars.” I smile and nod. “They haven't released the sequel on tape yet, but I think you might be able to find the first one if you can stomach English. That's a great series.”

Mitsuru registers my recommendation. “Okay.” He stands up, and turns away. “I should be getting back.”

“Uh, wait, so do you, like, go to school around here?” I ask. “I mean, I think we're buds now that I've given you a movie rec, so-”

“Just come back here next Sunday if you wanna see me again.” Mitsuru says. I blink. He stops in his tracks, then turns his head. He's smiling a bit. “Hey. Thanks for the chat.”

“Er, no problem.” I say. “But my goodness, asking me on a date right after we've met? Surely you jest, sir!”

Mitsuru rolls his eyes. “As if. Tigers aren't the kinds of cats I like.” He turns back around and waves his hand. “Later.”

...Tora. I look down at my hand as Mitsuru leaves. 'Tora'.


 

“So, any fond recollections of this young man?” Beatrice smirked at Battler. “Perhaps a time you ran into him and bested him at some idiotic contest of frail masculinity?”

For once, Battler was stumped, though, so he shook his head. “No, I've never met him. Huh.” He smirked. “Here I thought I had all the friends in the world around that time!”

“Ell emm ay oh, my man.” Gremory snickered. Battler... had no idea what that meant.


 (BGM: Planador)

When I ask her, Sensei tells me that there are a few Mitsurus at my school, but none that matched his description. Wherever he goes, it definitely isn't my school. (maybe that's good. you're starting to hear whispers in the halls sometimes.) Mitsuru tends to wear mostly the same things, even as the weather gets a bit warmer. “So, it was good.” He says, one time. “Could've used a bit more punch, maybe another lightsaber duel or two, but it was a solid movie.”

Another time, I get him to borrow Christie's Crooked House, and he comes back the next week and says he solved it. “Good yarn.” He says.

“What? Aww, how does everyone but me get this one!?” I groan and put my head in my hands. “Am I just stupid?!”

“No.” Mitsuru says. “You're a bit dense sometimes.”

“Oh, because that makes me feel so much better.” I snort and shove him playfully. “You have no idea how to treat a lady, kid.”

“Nope.” Mitsuru says, giving me the flattest look. God! Doesn't he know he's supposed to talk back to me? Geez!

We keep meeting at the swingset, Sundays, in the evenings. In a way, it kind of reminds me of my meetings with Shannon on the island, though Mitsuru isn't exactly as personable as she was. It goes by quickly, but it's a nice part of my regular routine. I tell him things about school, or I shove another mystery novel into his hands, and even though he's a terse, stony son of a gun, he actually smiles a bit, lights up just a touch, when I do.

One time, he shows up with a few bruises on his face. “Uh, h-hey, are you alright?” I ask him, rushing over. “Those... look pretty gnarly.” Different stages of healing, too, so they weren't all inflicted at once.

“I'm fine.” Mitsuru says, gritting his teeth.

“Uh, you're clearly not fine.” I say, sitting down next to him, furrowing my brow. “How'd you get those?”

Mitsuru sighs. “Hey, Tora.” I perk up. “What kind of person is your father?”

It takes me a second before I register the question, and I blink a few times. “Dad?” I mumble. “Uhh... well, he's an idiot, and a cheater, and the kind of guy you shouldn't trust with money. He's like- it's like he never really grew up, like he's a child still playing with his toys. He really...” You grip your hands. “He's so stupid. He really pisses me off.”

“Mm.” Mitsuru purses his lips. He doesn't talk about his home life all that much, but I've gathered from a few passing comments that he doesn't see his father... well, pretty much ever. “And that's why you don't live with him?”

“Huh?” I blink. “Oh, um... well, see...” It's a bit awkward, but I explain to him the whole thing with Mom and Kyrie and Dad and my leaving. His face doesn't move all that much as he listens, but he's listening pretty intently. As I say the words, it's odd, but it actually feels a bit cathartic. “...and I mean, how could he have done that while Mom was still alive? Even if we knew she wasn't that healthy, she was still there, damn it!”

“Yeah.” Mitsuru nods.

“And like, I've known Kyrie since I was three, right? Three-ish.” I wave my hand around. “But it's not like I'm going to turn around and just accept that she's my mom now, Mom was my mom.”

“...Adults.” Mitsuru groans. “Tora, if I ever become a pain in the ass like them, just shoot me, will you?” I blink as that comes out of his mouth. It's possibly one of the most sincere statements he's ever given me. “Just do me that favor.”

“Do I have to? I like you.” I smirk. We both laugh a bit.


 

“...Hey, uh... Mitsuru.” I say, twiddling my fingers. Deep breath in, deep breath out, Tora. It's fine. It's... it's going to be...

'I want him to know, Sensei. I've known him long enough.' “Mm?” He turns his head.

“Hey, listen.” I say. I'm sweating a bit. “There's... something I... have to tell you.” I hold my hand at the back of my head. “I, um... I haven't told very many people this, but I- I trust you, okay? Please, um... It's going- it's gonna sound weird, but please, believe me, I'm being serious.”

Mitsuru's brow furrows a bit in concern. “Something wrong?” He asks.

“I'm... um... I'm not really...” I trail off, and mumble. I want to find a nicer way to word this, but nothing comes to mind. “...I'm not really... a real... girl.”

There's a moment where Mitsuru silently takes a drink of a canned juice he brought with him, and I swear I can hear him gulping the liquid down. He takes it off of his lips, and says, “Yeah. You have a boy's uniform.”

“...O-oh. So, um...” I twiddle my fingers a bit more. “You do remember that.” I play with my hair a little, and grab at this one part of my forearm that used to have a pretty nasty bruise on it.

“Was I not supposed to?” Mitsuru asks.

“Well, I mean... you know, you just...” I chuckle a bit. “Uhh... other people around my age haven't taken the whole thing... um, great... when they've... y'know.” I say.

“Why?” Mitsuru asks. I grit my teeth a bit. “No. Why do you dress like a woman?”

“Um... well, because I...” I wring my hands a bit. How do I explain this. “Because I want... to be a woman. Basically. That's how I feel inside myself. I think there might be some kind of mismatch between my brain and my body? I just want people to see me like a woman and- and think of me that way, you know? Because it's- it's what I want to be. It's-” I sniffle a little. “It's complicated.”

Mitsuru shrugs. “Okay. Why are you telling me this?”

“I, uh... I donno.” I say, looking away. “I just wanted you to know, I guess.”

“That's fine.” Mitsuru says. “I don't really care. You've always seemed like a woman to me. Sounds tough, though. Sorry you've gotta deal with that.”

As I turn my head to look at Mitsuru's ever-flat face, I can hear a rush of voices in the back of my head. It's replaying things I've already heard- the moments when my Sunday routine did break down, or someone did get curious at school. It all flies by me at once, because this guy here just said that he thought it was fine. I start sniffling. “...You're a good guy, Mitsuru.” I say. “You're a... r-really good guy...”

“Oh, god.” Mitsuru grumbles, putting his head in his hands.


(BGM: Quiet Days of Rokumei City) 

“Battler-san?” Yukine asks, after school one day in late May. She's started wearing contacts instead of glasses. Those things have always seemed uncomfortable to me, but whatever. “Er... are you okay?”

“Uhh...” I blink, turning my head up from my book. “Yeah, as far as I know. Well, I mean, got some family stuff coming up soon and that's a pain, but other than that...”

“Well, it's just that-” Yukine sits down at her seat next to me. “It seems like fewer people have been spending time with you since we started eighth grade.”

“Huh.” I blink. “Really? I hadn't noticed.” That's a lie. Of course I've noticed. It's hard not to- A lot of people have just up and stopped talking to me entirely. It's pretty easy to figure out why- some of them must've caught wind of something or another.

Yukine's hands are trembling a bit as she grits her teeth. “I just... want to make sure you're okay, is all.” She mumbles.

“You're sweet, Nene.” I smile. (You get it? Yukine Akaneno? It's cute. I like it.) She blushes. “I really am alright, though. Even if the entire world does turn against me, there's always a silver lining to any dark cloud.” I rub my wrist. I hurt it the other day. “So, I'll just keep going like I always have, as they say.”

She can't help but laugh at that one, and I think I've made my point.


 

“Rudolf asked that I do the talking because he, and I quote, 'can't talk to that damn brat.'” Kyrie says over the phone. “If you're feeling up to it, there's a movie he'd like to see with you in July, for your birthday. Unfortunately, I've forgotten the title.”

Honestly, I can take a guess. “Return of the Jedi, right?”

“That's it.” Kyrie says. “He's probably going to make a big show of asking you when he sees you anyhow.”

“I'll consider it.” I say.


 

“Hey!” Oh. It's Miyano, coming- coming up to me at my locker, right at the end of the day. Over the course of our awkward meetings, I've decided that despite his lack of emotional maturity and inability to be forward, he does seem to mean alright. He's looking weirdly sweaty, though. “You. Battler.”

“Present.” I say, leaning on my locker. “To what do I owe the pleasure, my bud?”

Miyano's gritting his teeth. To make a long story short, a huddle happens in that private staff restroom I take advantage of more often these days. “Okay, so someone told me- someone told me they saw you dressing like a girl last Sunday.” He shakes his head a bit, a vein in his temple pulsing. “So- so what's the deal.”

I weigh my options here. If it were anyone I hadn't had several awkward conversations with already, I'd probably change the subject, but screw it. “It's true.” I say, having locked the door behind me. I lean on the door and watch his eyes go wide as dinner plates. “What about it?”

Poor Miyano is sputtering, at a complete loss for words. “W-when I said you- you threw like a girl I didn't mean you had to take it literally!” He says.

“Well, Miyano, here's the deal. I do do that, and I do it every Sunday, because I hate being a boy and it's not what I'm meant for.” I say. “Clearly, you're well aware looking at me that I'm not particularly cut out for boyhood anyhow.”

Miyano's face is scrunching up, just completely and utterly baffled. “Wha... huh? So... it's not a sex thing?”

“Why would it be a sex thing?” I blink. “Naw, man, I was just born kinda fucked up and I'm trying to un-fuck my life.”

There's a dawning realization on Miyano's face as he presumably comes to the realization that he is, in fact, not gay, and never has been. “Ohhh, man.” He bends over and sighs, putting his head in his hands. “That makes so much more sense.” He pauses. “I think... kinda?”

“Congrats on liking girls, my man.” I pat him on the shoulder. His relief is so thick I could cut it with a knife. I don't, though, because I don't have one on me.


 (BGM: Stop)

This is a bad idea. this is a bad idea. this is a really bad idea. what are you doing. what do you think you're doing. what do you- Nope. Okay. I'm doing this. I've got my hair in a cute little ponytail, got my bangs all fluffed so they look less bird-y, I am doing this.

(BGM: Moonlit night)

I shuffle through my purse for my key to Dad's house, which I still have for the once a year I come over here. It's easy, just a simple click, and I open the door. I hear Dad yelp from behind the door. What was he even doing?

“Oh, Battler.” Kyrie says as I open the door. “It's good to...” She blinks a little as I open the door. Dad is turned around staring at the wall. “Perhaps I should leave you to it, then.” Kyrie does the finger thing, and then strolls off, nodding at me. What does that mean? Are we... are we cool? Is that what that means?

“...Okay.” Dad lets out a deep breath. “Listen. Battler. Now, I know I'm a bit of a piece of shit- and Ange's in her room so don't bitch at me about swearing. I know, we may have had a few disagreements in the past.” He's pacing around, doing something like he's karate-chopping the air. He's not even looking at me. “I'm even gonna man up and admit, hey, most of them were my fault. I haven't been the easiest dad. I get it. Really.”

“Uh... huh.” I blink a few times, sitting down in a chair. “And?”

“But, listen. Even if you aren't staying in my house or whatever, you know, you're still my son, and maybe I wanna spend some time with my kid. I mean, shit, Ange shouldn't grow up seeing her big brother just once a year, that's- that's no way to live.” Dad is still pacing around. “So it's fine. Really.”

“You're being uncharacteristically sincere.” I say.

“I can be sincere if I want to!” Dad spins on his feet and turns to me. “Damn brat, I'm gonna show you since- what the fuck are you wearing.” His face turns from annoyed disgruntlement to complete befuddlement in a second.

(BGM: Witch in gold (cembalo))

I lean back in the chair. “This?” I gesture downwards. “This is a dress, Father dearest. Don't tell me you don't recognize one. How often do you chase skirts, again?”

Dad shakes his head for a bit, then chuckles and puts his hands on his waist. “Okay, okay. Yeah. I had that one coming. Zing. Better question, why the hell are you wearing a dress.”

“Because I thought it looked nice, and I'm coming to visit my younger sister, of course.” I say. Inwardly, I grit my teeth. Damn it, why do I always get so on edge around Dad? This isn't the time for jabbing at him.

Dad throws his hands around a bit again, and sits down next to me. “Okay. Battler. Didn't your mother and I have this talk with you, what, ten years ago now? Boys don't wear dresses.”

“I don't give a damn what boys don't do.” I spit. “I don't- fuck.” I swear, standing up. “Great, now you doing the pacing thing is making me feel awkward. Thanks. No, no, that's not what I meant to say, shit.”

Dad and I stare frustratedly at each other for a bit before I let out a quick sigh and throw up my hands. “Damn it, I was hoping this would go better.”

(BGM: Soul of soul)

“Hoping what would go better? What is this.” Dad gestures at me. “What- what the fuck is this, Battler. You're my son, what the hell are you doing prancing around in a dress? Ohhhh, no no no.” He holds his head. “You've gotta be kidding me. Is this some kind of joke? Are- are you pranking me? Is this your idea of a funny gag?!”

“Will you shut up and listen to me?!” I sigh and stomp my feet.

There's a moment of really, really awkward silence. I mean, like, really awkward. I kind of just want to walk out the door and leave. “So, what, you're coming in to tell me you wanna screw men now?” Dad says.

“What? No.” I sputter. “Transsexuality is a completely different beast.”

“Ohhh, great.” Dad sits back down in the chair and groans. “First you leave the family register all of a sudden, now you're dropping some term I've barely even heard in my lap. For-” He shouts. “For fuck's sake, Battler, I just wanted an ordinary kid, is that too much to ask?! What the hell did I do to you?!”

“This isn't about you!” I shout back.

“I thought when I had a son I was gonna be able to shoot the shit about being a man, teach my kid what it means to be a man, instead I get a kid who gets on my ass and acts like a nanny and now he's coming in my house wearing a dress and trying to tell me, what, he thinks he's a girl or something?” Dad throws his hands up.

“Yeah, that's about the size of it!” I huff back.

“Well, fuck you, what the hell is that even supposed to mean?” Dad shouts. “What- what are you talking about?!”

“I can leave if you're fed up with me, old man!” I walk towards the door again. “I can leave!”

“If you're gonna be such a brat, then maybe you should leave!” He's frowning and gritting his teeth at me. “Get the fuck out of my house!”

“Fine, I will!” I slam the door behind me.


 

“...and I quote.” Kyrie says over the phone the next day. “'Tell Battler I don't have a clue what he's talking about, but I'm sorry I snapped at him.'”

“Well, that's great. Real dandy.” I say, rolling my eyes at the phone. “Not like I needed his approval anyway. Asshole.” I sigh. “...Tell him I'm sorry I snapped at him too.”

“I'm not particularly familiar with the idea myself, so I doubt a boy like him has ever given a single thought to the idea of your new... lifestyle.” Kyrie hesitates on the last word. “But I'm sure if you talk it over like adults, you'll come to an understanding.” She pauses. “So, should I refer to you differently somehow?”

“Huh?” The question is so unexpected that I have to take a moment to process it. “Oh, um... I've been going by 'Tora' when I can these days. So, if you could call me that instead.”

“'Tora', hm?” Kyrie hums to herself for a moment. “I see. I'll certainly try my best, but you'll have to forgive me if I make a mistake or two.”

I blink at the phone. “Um... wow.” I can't help but be taken aback, even though I know Kyrie's totally rad and all. “I... thank you, Kyrie.”

“I'm sure he's just confused and scared for your well-being.” Kyrie chuckles.

“Well, yeah.” I say. “I mean, it's understandable, I guess. It's pretty much like I just threw a checker onto the chessboard, right?”

Kyrie pauses for a moment. “I'm flattered you listen to me enough to make that metaphor, Tora.”


 

“I don't know your father, but from the sound of it he does seem to just have trouble adjusting his thinking rather than outright rejecting you.” Sensei nods as she talks.

“I mean, now that I'm a day out, honestly that's better than I expected it to go.” I shrug. “I guess maybe the old man isn't all bad, even if he's a cheating bastard.”

“...Tora.” Sensei says, looking seriously at me. “Are you alright here?” I look up questioningly at her. “You don't have to hide it. I know you're injured.”

My hand goes to a bruise on my side and my eyes widen. Sensei frowns and looks downcast. “Oh, no, did you just bluff me?” I say. She nods. “Dang it.” I don't like talking about this. I don't...

you sigh. “sensei... i just... i want to go somewhere where nobody knows me anymore. a new school, where i can just be a girl. i know i can do it if i just have a fresh slate, but people here...” that's not the only bruise you have. it's just the worst. “i just... want to leave battler ushiromiya behind. i don't know-”

your voice cracks.


(BGM: SUMO SEAL)

god damn it. god damn it. god damn it. it doesn't matter how far you run it doesn't matter. it doesn't matter. sooner or later you're going to-

you can't help it. you hurry right next to a river so you can vomit. you vomit. this is the kind of thing you've felt like you should do so many times in your life but for some reason, some odd reason, this is the first time you've ever actually vomited from stress. your birthday is less than a month away. you're going to be fifteen.

there's a noise by your side, someone walking down the steps to the riverside and sitting next to you. it takes you a few seconds to look up and see mitsuru. “h... huh?” you mumble. “mitsuru, what... it's not sunday.”

“shockingly, i exist the other six days of the week, too.” mitsuru says. he's holding an umbrella. oh... it is pretty cloudy, isn't it. “tora.” you make a vague noise. “you want to be a girl, right?”

“h...huh?” you ask him. “yeah, but...” but your body is going to betray that and you can't deny that anymore. “but i-”

“how much do you want to be a girl?” mitsuru asks. his voice is flat, but it carries a sense of urgency that you haven't heard in it before. “if i told you i could help you do it, would you go with me right now?”

“w-what?” you blink at him as the rain begins to fall. “what are you talking about?”

“tora.” mitsuru says. “i want to help you.”


(BGM: NEUTRALS -another-)

“Here.” Mitsuru says, as I'm trying on my new uniform. He hands me a letter. “It's from some student at your last school. 'Akaneno'.”

“Huh?” I blink. Maybe it's a bit selfish of me, but I haven't thought about anyone from back then in... well, since June, basically. “Oh, Nene. Good kid, that one, she'll go places. How'd she learn my address?”

“She didn't.” Mitsuru snorts. “I had to go grab the letter myself from your old folks. Thank me.”

“Thank you, Mitsuru.” I smile at him. Y'know, he's been getting a bit taller lately, putting on a bit more definition on his muscles. The letter, as it turns out, is mostly concern- Nene, naturally, is kind of freaking that I just suddenly disappeared, and whatnot. She is also, of course, curious about rumors that finally managed to reach her ears. “If I penned something back, could I get it delivered to her?” Mitsuru nods.

So I get to work writing her a response. It's not that in-depth because there's not all that much detail I wanna give, but I assure her I'm fine and that I'm just going to a different school now, and oh yeah, all of those rumors are true (except the ones about kissing Miyano, he's not anywhere close to my type,) and I'm a girl and anyone who says otherwise can kiss my ass, thanks for being a pal this whole time, sweetie, you're a peach, tell Hoshizaki-sensei I said hi. “You write like a weirdo.” Mitsuru says, staring over my shoulder.

“Yeah, well, I can write however I want, nerd.” I smirk at him. “I'm a modern girl for a modern age. Keep with the times.”

“...what are you talking about?” Mitsuru blinks. Once I seal the letter, he takes it and leaves the apartment. I lean back in my chair and I sigh. Huh. Writing letters is surprisingly cathartic.

All things considered, there's still one face that keeps popping into my mind now. She's... three years older now, or so, so she probably looks pretty different, but... you know, maybe I should write a letter. (she's still not going to accept y-) Yeah. I'll write a letter.


(BGM: GIRLISH)

To an unfamiliar crowd, I bow as the teacher stands to the side, having written my name. It's the beginning of second term, so it's a good time for it. “I'm Kurogane Tora.” I wink a little as I put my head up. “Hope we'll all get along!” The uniform here's pretty good! It fits my complexion pretty well as I go and take my seat. Crossing my legs is still a bit uncomfortable for me to manage, but I have good enough posture as it stands.


 

“Hooooh.” Beatrice stared, raising her eyebrow, down at the classroom of an unfamiliar school. Despite her usual vocal ministrations, she actually looked genuinely impressed. “That's quite the sudden shift.” She turned her head to look at Battler, who was, similarly, befuddled. “Surely you have something to add, Battleeeer?”

Battler, too, stared. “...Nope.” He shook his head. “Don't recognize this classroom at all.”

“Of course you wouldn't, man.” Gremory snorted. “You stayed in the same school district the whole time...” She waved her hand around. “Like a sponge.”

There was a moment of silence. “Okay.” Battler said. He nodded. “Got it.”

(BGM: Ding-Dong March!!)

“Gimme the rest of the letter already, Gremory!” Beatrice went from flat to enraged in a moment, as she was wont to do. “I've been waiting this whole time because I wanna see it, gimme, gimme! Useless Battler! You're supposed to ask about the letter!” She roared, standing up and stomping her foot.

“Y'know, I could write you a letter if you want one that bad!” Battler harrumphed, putting his hands on his hips.

“The statute of limitations on your useless human writings is long since past, Ushiromiya Bat-to-raaaaaaaaa!!” Beatrice cackled, probably out of reflex or something. “Now I have to live vicariously using Tora's letter!”

“Live vica- We're married!” Battler shouted.

“It's the principle of the matter!!!” Beatrice hollered.

Vassago couldn't help but laugh a little, which caused the two of them to stop in their tracks from this strange married spat and stare at him. “Ah, I'm quite sorry.” He giggled. “I just find the two of you very cute.”

“Ehhhh?!” The two of them simultaneously anime'd at Vassago.

“N-Now you listen here, buddy.” Battler gritted his teeth, looking pained. “Beato might be the cutest woman I've ever met but I'm not cute, I'm manly as hell.”

At the exact same time, Beatrice gritted her teeth, looking pained, and said, “Battler's the cute one here! I'm imperious! The Golden Witch who has lived a thousand years! You can't even comprehend my power!”

When the two of them realized that they had just performed a pitch-perfect romantic comedy move and turned to sputter at each other, Vassago began laughing harder.

As the Endless Sorcerer and the Golden Witch sputtered at each other like a pair of children, Gremory sat there, quietly smiling, doing her best not to grit her teeth. At a lull in the not-even-a-conversation, she said, “Hey, fam. I know we're having fun here and all, but I could answer your question if you'd shut up, sit your asses down in that chair, and drink your goddamned TEA!!” She turned her head towards an invisible camera, winked, and said, “George, eat your heart out.”

Beatrice did her best to remain impartial. Her best wasn't very good- she was clearly bouncing a bit in her seat. “So?” She said. “Come on, come on.”

(BGM: Stop)

“We aren't there yet, Bae.” Gremory said. “That letter gets penned and delivered in October. I've still got one more important thing to cover before we get there. If I showed you the rest of the letter now, it'd still be a spoiler.” Her face fell a bit, and she sighed. “Alright.” Her face was stone cold, and completely serious. “Vassago. September 30th, 1983, 12:07 P.M.”

“Yes, Duchess.” Vassago nodded.


(BGM: NEUTRALS)

I stretch in my desk and sigh to myself, then bend over and slump my head into my hand. It's a bright day outside, but god if I'm not exhausted. Living by myself, as it turns out, is kinda tough! I bid a few salutations to people in the halls as I pass through, looking for a proper place to feed myself. At the very least, having my winning personality makes me at least reasonably likable.

Eventually I wind up in the school's courtyard. Fresh air's always nice. I'm sitting by myself, but I hear some mumblings from a group gossiping a bit away from me. '...she was a big-shot yakuza, right? Probably a good thing...' 'I've heard of that group!' 'Oh, Mom knows that address, she says it was probably the owner... some guy named Ushiromiya?'

“What's this about an Ushiromiya?” I casually sidle up, my interest having been piqued. It's three boys and one girl. I don't know any of their names, I don't think I even have any classes with any of them.

One of the boys hands me his newspaper. “Just take a look for yourself.”

I'm never one to turn down free reading, so I do. Oh, how grisly, it's a story about a dead body. Turned up dead in the river, but probably died about twelve days ago, on the seventeenth. Last seen... oh, yeah, that is near where Dad works, isn't it. There's a photo of the deceased here. Her name's-

 

(BGM: Stop)

 

 

“can i keep this?” you ask. your palms are sweaty, your hands are shaking. the guy nods and they get back to gossiping by themselves. okay. good.


(BGM: THE AIR OF TERROR)

I feel like my key is going to slip out of my hands as I unlock the door and slam it open. “Old man, where are you?!” I shout, my voice trembling. “Where are you?!”

“Christ, can you be any louder?” Rudolf grumbles as he gets out of his room and walks down the stairs. He just got home. He's still dressed for work. “What do you-” He sees me trembling in shock, and his eyes go wide. “You look like shit, kiddo.”

“Shut up.” I say. I pull the newspaper out of my purse. I can see his face begin to fall as I do so. Maybe he didn't see today's paper, I don't know, but he knows what I'm about to say. “Rudolf. I want answers, and I want them right now.” I grit my teeth.

“...About?” Rudolf snorts. “Kyrie's the smart one here, you know that.”

“Shut up. Quit joking around.” I grumble. I open the paper, and flip it towards him, pointing towards the article. “Rudolf. This is her, isn't it?” I tap at the photo. “Your 'old flame.'” He grunts a bit, but he nods. “She's dead.”

“...I know.” Rudolf sighs.

The article says it all. 'The body was later identified-'

“So.” I say, my hands trembling, my breath shallow. “Rudolf. Why does this woman- who's been coming around for so long-” I'd never seen her from up close before, so I never noticed. “Why does this woman-”

I flip up my bangs, and point to my birthmark. “Why does Kyrie's sister have the same birthmark as me?!”

'-as belonging to Kasumi Sumadera, current head of the Sumadera family.'

Chapter Text

There's a moment of silence that seems to stretch on into an infinity until Rudolf says, “You know, I never noticed. Huh.” As amazing as it is, he seems genuinely surprised.

(BGM: Psychological Warfare)

“I asked you a question.” I grit my teeth.

“Yeah, I heard you.” Rudolf sighs. “Well, here I was hoping to have this talk with you when you were an adult, but screw it, no better time than the present, right?” He crosses his arms, opens his eyes, and says, “That's your mother right there.”

I'd already had a pretty good idea, but hearing it straight from his mouth still manages to make me feel like the world is tumbling around me. “What?”

Rudolf sits down in his favorite recliner. “So,” he says, shrugging, “Asumu and Kasumi were due to give birth right around the same time. Yeah, yeah, I know, I'm a cheating bastard, I've heard it all before. It doesn't go too well, though. Asumu's kid, I guess you could say the 'real' Battler Ushiromiya, he dies right after he comes out, and you, well, obviously you're fine.”

My jaw is agape as he continues. “In the family's opinion, they'd probably just have me marry Kasumi and be done with it. But...” Rudolf sighs. “Well, it was, what, fifteen years ago now? Who knows what I was thinking. I'd say I did it because I loved Asumu too much to let her get thrown by the wayside like that, but you can think whatever you want. To make a long story short, though, I switched you and Asumu's kid and nobody was any the wiser.”

“You switched-” I blink repeatedly. “You-” He says it with a cavalier tone, like he's already long since come to terms with it. “Then I-” I tap my own chest. “I'm- Kyrie is actually my aunt.”

“Yup.” Rudolf nods.

I clench my fists. They're trembling. I've dropped the newspaper. It's almost funny- I've never even met the woman myself, but, you know... “That's two.” I say. “That's two of my mothers you've thrown away like they're nothing.”

“...Don't you act like you understand, kid.” Rudolf glares.

“How old was she, Rudolf?” I spit. “Says here she's thirty-three, so she couldn't have been more than eighteen when I was born, right? A girl fresh into adulthood who you just throw away like she's nothing when you're done with her?” My nails are digging into my palms. “You started seeing Kyrie when I was three, right? Did you just decide you wanted the older sister more? Is that it?”

The stricken look on Rudolf's face tells me that's a sore point. “I-”

“Kasumi's been coming around every month since I was a kid, the same day, every time. You've been giving her money.” I say. “Last year, she mentioned a birthday in July. She was talking about mine, wasn't she? It wasn't 'adult stuff', it was 'kid stuff', right?”

“...Yeah, it was kid stuff alright.” Rudolf grimaces.

“What's next, old man? Are you just going to throw Kyrie away eventually, too, when you find someone younger and prettier?” I say. My eyes are closed, and my breathing is shallow. “Throw away Ange when you have another kid and you don't feel like dealing with her anymore? Just toss them both by the wayside because you're Rudolf Ushiromiya and women don't matter to you?” Despite myself, I let out a barking laugh, and start pacing around. “You know, no wonder you don't get me! I'm sure high and mighty Rudolf Ushiromiya could never even comprehend why someone would want to be a woman!”

“Wha-!?” Rudolf sputters before standing up out of his recliner and pointing at me. “Don't you make this about... that. Whatever that is, we can talk about that-”

“Did you kill her?” I ask.

The room goes cold. There's silence for long enough that I turn around to see Rudolf slump back into his recliner, his brow furrowed, the lines of aging beginning to take their toll on his forehead. “She was last seen near your business on the seventeenth, Rudolf.” I say. “She was taking money from you every month. Did you kill Kasumi Sumadera? Did you dump her body in the river like she was just a piece of trash?”

After a long pause, Rudolf sighs. “You know, you've never even met the lady. You're projecting like a movie screen, kid.”

Answer the goddamned question, old man!” I slam my fist down on the coffee table next to us.

“Yeah.” Rudolf says.

 

(BGM: Stop)

 

“What?” I blink.

(BGM: Portrait of White)

“I answered your question.” Rudolf's teeth are gritted. “Hell, I'll repeat myself. Kasumi Sumadera is dead because of me. I watched her slump onto the floor like she was some kind of puppet with her strings cut.”

My father is a murderer.

My father is a murderer.

My father? Are you even? Is he even?

“There. You got the answer you wanted, right?” Rudolf snorts. “Happy now? What, you think I wanted things to turn out this way?” He raises his hands and waves them at me mockingly. “Ooh, you're a big-shot neighborhood sleuth now, rubbing it in my face that a woman I used to love is dead and it's my fault.”

Are you- Is he- “Are you- are you trying to make me feel sorry for you?” I say. I laugh again. “You- you are, aren't you?”

“Well, I feel like shit about the whole affair either way. If you wanna punish me, don't bother- I'm sure whatever righteous judgment that the law or the family strikes down on my ass will be far worse than whatever it is a fifteen-year-old girl could do to me.” Rudolf snorts again. “I'm an Ushiromiya, kid. Little person like you, you can't touch me. That's just how the world works.” He smirks.

you're done.

you can't do this anymore.

you stand up and you turn around and you start walking out. “where are you going” that horrible horrible murderer says.

“im going home” you say. “i dont want to be around you anymore”

“understandable” that sickening devil man says with his forked tongue. “you know, it really isnt your fault, though, kid”

you slam yourself into a wall in a nearby alley to prove to yourself you can still feel something. that your body still works. it hurts a lot but thats fine. maybe it should hurt more? maybe youre numb because youre the spawn of a fucking murderer.

youve shed blood before but it doesnt help. you know, no matter how much of your cursed blood you shed itll still be his blood running in your veins. you sickening beast. because of you hes killed someone. hes killed the woman who birthed you. haHAhahaha. maybe if you just jumped in front of one of these cars itd be over soon and you wouldnt have to

what about shannon. well what about shannon. tch. shannon doesnt run my life. shut up about shannon for a second and let me contemplate suicide for goodness sake. you know, maybe you think about shannon too much, ever think about that? maybe its unhealthy for you to keep this torch for a girl you met once a year for so long after the last time you saw her, does she even remember you exist i mean cmon. besides would she even be happy with the son of a murderer DAUGHTER. DAUGHTER. DAUGHTER. DAUGHTER. it doesnt matter. your gender might as well be mud considering youre going to turn out just like rudolf anyway hahahahaha maybe shannon would be okay with dying? do you think shed be okay with dying?? maybe if she was okay with dying???

you arent a real girl. youre just trying to run away from being like him. youre never going to be worth anything. youre the son of a murderer. youre the. youre the. youre.

when did you get home? huh. maybe this would be okay. lets see. theres a bedsheet. youre not terrible with your hands, you could make a noose out of that or something. ohhh but not if you just keep crying like that. youre gonna make the bedsheet too wet or something! oh fine maybe a pen or something? just shove it into your carotid and bleed out? thatd work. ohhh but you cant do that if youre just crying and crying and ooh, yeah, your trusty knife! thatd work. no no dont just do that cmon quit it that isnt going to help anything

(BGM: Stop)

theres?! a knock at the door?!

and you squeak a little because the jolt from it makes the knife cut you a bit on your arm. ahh, shit. shit, shit, shit. ow. “just a second!” you say, and pamby around with your stupid hands a bit to look for a bandage. ow. ow. okay there we go, phew. got it. maybe you can look at it more properly later, who knows. you look through the peephole. it's-

it's sensei. satomi hoshizaki, your guidance counselor at your previous school. isn't it a friday? she'd have work tomorrow, right? what's she doing out here? doesn't she have kids to take care of or something?

hesitantly you open the door. “uhh, sensei.” you say, blinking. “heya.”

it doesn't take long for sensei to lurch in and hug you. “do you know how worried i was?!” she says, looking around your apartment as she does. “i'm so glad you're alright.”

“um, why would you be worried about me?” you blink a few times, not sure how to return the hug. “and- how did you even find my address?”

“oh, well.” sensei stands up and clears her throat. “a young man with white hair came by a few days ago and tipped me off. he was... rather terse and mysterious about it, though.”

you snort, almost cross your arms before you remember you've been cut and also slammed yourself against a wall and are still bruised, and shake your head. “that boy, i swear. sorry, sensei, mitsuru's always like that.”

“was that the mysterious mitsuru?” sensei asks. “he's a bit of a dashing young man, isn't he?”

“has that cool, disaffected look going for him, yeah. he's a good guy.” i say.

“tora.” sensei says. she's pretty serious now. “why is there blood on your sleeve?”

(BGM: Springtime Tears (In-Game))

oh shit. you look down and oh shit there it is a bit of blood got on it oh shit shit. “i was. cutting open a package! yeah.”

sensei frowns, her eyes fraught with concern. “tora.” she says. “you don't have to hide it from me if you're not alright. i am still your teacher, after all.”

“hide it? what am i hiding?” you sniffle.

“you're crying, tora.” sensei says.

ha. hahaha, what? “whaaaat?” you wipe away your tears. “whaaat, am i crying? oh man, how did that happen? that's weird. i mean, it didn't hurt that much. who cries about a little paper cut, am i right, haha.” you're trembling. sensei closes the door. “hey, you know, don't you have other people to go see? you have kids, right?”

“they'll forgive me if i come home late one night, i'm sure.” sensei says. “they would understand.”

she's not going to leave, is she. she's not going anywhere until you say something. she's not going anywhere untiiiiiilllllllohhhhgod oh god “oh god oh god sensei” you're hyperventilating again you can't do it you can't do it your father is a murderer how is this REAL it CAN'T be REAL IT JUST CAN'T BE THIS ISN'T THE KIND OF THING THAT SHOULD BE HAPPENING TO YOU AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

your father is a murderer and he killed your biological mother and he threw away your adoptive mother like she was nothing. that's the kind of life you live. sensei quietly listens as you blubber and hiss and quake and hiccup through this whole ridiculous story. “i'm trash.” you say. “i'm such trash. i don't deserve to be alive.”

“tora.” sensei says. she, understandably, looks a little baffled at the whole thing, because who even thinks about ridiculous ideas like this nonsense. “you are not your father. you are a beautiful, likable, caring young woman. i know you.”

“i'm going to destroy everything i touch.” you sob. “why am i like this? i-i'm no good. i'm no goddamn good at all!” hiccup. “i wish battler was here instead of me. then maybe people would be happier. then maybe this wouldn't all have happened.”

“don't-”

“Don't you dare say that!” Battler shouted, clenching his fists. The world paused ever so briefly as Battler gritted his teeth. “...Don't you dare.”

Of course, Tora couldn't hear him. He was above the board, and she was a piece. Gremory's eyes widened at her host's sudden outburst. “Huh?” She stammered.

“It doesn't matter how a person was born.” Battler said. His voice was low, crackling with a heavy intensity. “It doesn't matter why, either. There are things only you can do. Don't forget that.” He urged to his sister. “You...” His voice got even lower. “You solved that riddle with Will and Jessica, Tora.”

“...That... has yet to occur, milord.” Vassago awkwardly raised his hand.

Battler grunted, sat back down, gritted his teeth, and said, “Why the hell did the old man have to go and get wrapped up in something like that? It's hurting her!”

“...So like you, isn't it,” Beatrice said, her voice barely more than a whisper, “to say something like that.”

“that's so like you, sensei.” you sniff. “you're- you're better than i- oh, god...” sob sob sob sob sob sniff sniff sob sob sniff hiccup. “sensei... why is this happening to me why, why is this happening to me. whyyyyyYYY. why, why, why-” you're hyperventilating. “i don't want this i don't want anything like this. i hate myself. help. sensei, please, i don't want this.”

“tora.” sensei asks. “are you enjoying school?”

“h-huh? yeah.” you nod.

“that's good.” sensei says. she lets out a light sigh. “i'll... i'll try to find you someone to talk to on a regular basis, alright? a therapist. i'll find you someone. for the meantime, please... enjoy your life.”

“sensei...” you say, your voice hoarse. “what do you mean?”

“you're not part of the ushiromiya family anymore, tora.” sensei says. “that man is no longer your father. you're your own woman, tora. go to school. make friends. this is my professional opinion, inasmuch as i can have one given my level of expertise.” she takes a deep breath in. “leave battler ushiromiya behind. he's only going to hurt you.”

“but...” you choke a bit on your own tears. “but sensei... shannon. ange. oh, god, ange...” you curl inwards and put your hand on your forehead. “she's going to grow up with a murderer for a father. she's-”

tora.” sensei puts her hand on yours, and she purses her lips. “you can't save everyone, dear. you need to think about yourself.”

“but i... i broke my...” you blubber. “i... shannon... i...” you take a second to breathe in. “...the... the family conference is soon. i should- i should write her a letter. i'll write her a letter. is that okay? i don't-” I tremble. “I don't want her to... be there.”

“I think that's very alright, sweetie.” Sensei nods.


(BGM: FAR DAYS)

“Hey, Kyrie.” I say, a few days later, over the phone. “The family conference is soon. I wanna write a letter to Shannon- can you deliver it?”

“...To Shannon-chan?” Kyrie hums. “Why her?”

“Cause I have stuff I want to say to her.” I tell her. I twiddle a pen in between my fingers. I've chewed on the nib a few times, but it still works. “I haven't seen her in three years.”

“If you're writing to the younger group, I would think you should write to your cousins as well.” Kyrie chuckles.

“Ugh, do I have to?” I roll my eyes, not that she can see that. “How am I supposed to figure out what to say to George?”

“I'm sure you can figure out something.” Kyrie says. “Jessica seems like she's the kind of girl who would be put out if she didn't get anything.”

“Alright, alright.” I sigh and shake my head. This is the first time I've spoken with Kyrie since... then, and... well, I have some questions. “Hey... Kyrie.”

“Hm?” She makes a little noise.

“Your sister's dead.” I say.

“So she is.” Kyrie's voice is as level as ever.

“...How... how can you stand the sight of him?” I ask. My hand is trembling a bit. I can't do anything about it- I shouldn't. It'll hurt me. But I have to ask.

“Ah, well. Kasumi and I never got along very well.” Kyrie chuckles. “It might seem a bit bizarre to you, but things simply work differently in my family. Rudolf was a contest.”

“Have... have you known- this whole time, that she was my mother?” I ask.

“That you were Kasumi's, you mean?” Kyrie asks. “Of course. Rudolf wasn't very tight-lipped about it when we got together.”

Two sisters who loved the same man. It's almost like some kind of stupid fairy tale. “'Love is a game', huh?” I ask. “Even if he's trash?”

“Even if. The heart is a questionable thing, Tora. If you live as a woman, you'll understand soon enough.” Kyrie chuckles again. That... makes me vaguely nervous, but I swallow those nerves.

“So, you've won now. Rudolf chose you over her.” I say. My brow furrows a bit. “I... can't say I like it, but okay. What are you playing now?”

“Mm, the noble game of revenge.” Kyrie laughs. “One of my favorites, to tell you the truth.” ...Revenge? Who against? (a bit in your heart wonders- rudolf? maybe she- could she actually care?) “Ah, but I'll tell you more about that some time later. Write your letters and I'll deliver them, as long as you can stand to visit long enough to deliver them.”

“Seeing Ange will be lovely.” I spit. “...One last thing. Uhh... It's okay to just keep calling you Kyrie, right? Calling you 'Aunt Kyrie' would be weird.”

“Hm? Oh, I suppose that would make you my niece, wouldn't it.” Kyrie says, as though the idea was novel to her. “Being called an aunt is a bizarre idea, so continue on as you have been.”

“Right. Okay.” I nod. “Got it.”


 (BGM: Serie de Fragmento)

This is going to sound weird, Shannon, but I swear to you, it's true. I'm a I'm not The truth is, I'm not really a boy. I know how I was born, but my body wasn't right- I have the heart of a girl. My counselor has been telling me to say I am a girl more often, says it's affirming, so that's what I'll say. I was born wrong, but I am a girl, and that's how I'm living now.

It's thanks to you that my heart survived for long enough to get that point. The happiness I have now, it's kind of thanks to you. If I hadn't had you, had your magic, I never would've gotten this far. I

I love you, Shannon. I've been grappling with these feelings for three long years. I love you. I've loved you for a long time. I know we're both girls or maybe you don't even think I'm really a girl but either way I know it's weird for me to say that I love you but I really, really do. I've been tearing myself up inside about not coming back for you. I want to see you again. I want to talk about mystery novels and magic again. I want to go to school with you and just be a pair of normal girls.

I'm writing you this letter to tell you this because I can't come to see you myself. I can't come back to the Ushiromiya family. You probably heard why I left, but I can't come back. Not now, not ever.

Rudolf Ushiromiya is a murderer. I left the family when he cheated on my mother, but he's done worse- I'm not even really Asumu's child, the 'real' Battler Ushiromiya. I'm the child of a woman named Kasumi Sumadera. She's Kyrie's sister. Rudolf murdered her just a few weeks ago. She'd been asking him for money, probably about me. He confessed to it.

That family isn't good, Shannon. If they're still letting him come back when he's done that, when he's thrown away two mothers to his children now, thrown one of them away to be a corpse in a river, then nothing good can come from it. I'm scared for you. I know you were able to leave back then, and you wanted to wait until I came back, but I'm asking you for your own sake- please, get off of that island.

And if you need a place just make if you I if you don't already have anywhere else to go, I'm here. I was never kidding when I said I wanted you to live with me, and I still do. I've got the address, and my phone number, written on the back of the letter. My name now is Tora Kurogane, and I'm the sole resident of this apartment. I have room. Just think it over, alright? And let me know somehow what you do. Just please get off the island. I'm begging you. I love you, Shannon, and I don't want you to get hurt.

I'm sorry I broke my promise, but please know that I still remember those days. They were very special to me.

Tora

There's a few tearstains near the bottom, smudging the ink, but it's legible enough, I guess. Now I just need to scribble down some nonsense for George and Jessica, and... does Maria even remember me? Would I even need to? Gooood, I don't care.


(BGM: Hope)

“Heading out?” I ask. They're getting in the car right about now. Ange waves. Is she three already? Wow. They grow up so fast. I hand a packet of letters to Kyrie. “Here you go.”

“I'll be sure to deliver these.” Kyrie nods. Rudolf is grimacing. I don't care. This- this is going to be it. After this, I'm done.

They drive off. Now- now I just need to wait, right? I did my job. I'm going to help Shannon. And maybe, just maybe-

No. No, that's putting too much stock in things, but... At least she'll hear me. At least I haven't completely broken my promise. Yeah. It'll be okay.

It's gonna be okay.

 

Chapter Text

(BGM: Rain)

“...so then I spent a while trying to, uh, figure out a way to word the fact that I was begging you to get off the island and come stay with me, struck through a few more lines.” I say, accompanying this story with awkward hand motions because I'm, as usual, a complete dork. She's- she's laughing. Like she's really laughing, she is wheezing. “Sayo.” I put my hand on her back. “Sayo are you- are you okay.”

Ohhh, that's definitely a cackle. Pretty witchy. She's probably had practice. Sayo has to take a few long breaths before she cools down and says, “Let me describe a sensation to you.” Despite the tears in her eyes, her expression is completely flat. “You hear something that's so funny, it's not even really funny anymore. But you keep laughing, because that's all you can manage to do, because you have to react somehow. So you laugh, and you laugh, and eventually you feel like if you keep laughing then everything inside your body is going to completely exit you and finally you can stop laughing at this joke that really wasn't even funny to begin with, because all you know how to do is laugh.”

“Wow, that bad?” I blink.

Sayo starts cackling again. “Worse.” She says through gritted teeth. “Isn't that the perfect punchline.”

As she's laughing, it hits me again, oh hey, I just yoinked George's girlfriend. I put my head in my hands and groan. “Ohhhh god.” I say. “What am I gonna tell Aniki?”

With a sudden stop to the cackling, Sayo stops in her tracks. “That's a good question.” She says. Have I mentioned lately, by the way, that she's super cute? Because she has this look on her face as she turns around where she's biting her lower lip a little that is really cute. “How about I just have Shannon mysteriously disappear?”

“Okay, no, that would raise way too many questions.” I wave my hands. “I think you do kind of have to talk to him. Or. Or we do, maybe?”

This bounces off her face. Sayo groans and says, “This is not how I expected to spend tonight.”

“Well, how did you expect to spend tonight?” I ask.

Sayo snorts, and she gets that disgruntled witch look on her face. “Yet another meaningless night wallowing in my own self-loathing as incompetent, bumbling he-man Battler Ushiromiya tromped about having forgotten entirely that he was supposed to come back for me, that's how.”

“Well, uh... hm.” I kind of don't really know how to respond to that. “Wow.” I nod. “That's... pretty off, but it's... not like you... had... warning, I guess.” She never read the letter. She never even got the letter. She'd been waiting for three years- I'd been waiting for three years, heck- and she just never even got the letter! How about that. Wow! Man!

“Now all of my righteous indignation is completely deflated, because I just never got your letter where you not only confessed your love to me-” Sayo cuts herself off, plants herself face-first on the bed again and screams.

This looks vaguely familiar to me, so I say, “Man, you haven't felt much in ages, huh?” Sayo lets out a vague mumble with her head planted on the covers still that reads to me like it means, 'These human emotions are frustrating and confusing.' I've been there. That rush of pent-up emotion is really something, especially when your situation is as, uh... complicated as hers turned out to be. Because it is. It's really... wow it's complicated. Hoo boy. Thankfully, whatever she decides to be in the end, she's still really hot, so that's cool. Holy shit, stop being horny! What the fuck even! You are legally an adult, Tora!

so. let's recap. family conference, first time back in six years. turns out the girl you've been pining for the whole time actually was pining for you the whole time too and just never got the letter where you came out to her and was also (some form of) trans so all of your worrying that she was going to think you were a freak was absolutely meaningless, mixed blessing.

also, she's the- so it turns out she's actually secretly the head of the ushiromiya family and just hasn't said anything about it, and- and grandpa's dead, wow, that... you know, it's really weird how little you care about that, isn't it. and so she's been languishing in rokkenjima hell trying to figure out how the fuck to make gender work while also being... that, and so now she's become three separate people, one of whom is george's girlfriend.

and uh... now you've... done... this, fuck you stole george's girlfriend. he was going to propose to her- No, he was going to propose to Shannon, that's different. It honestly is better for both of them that that doesn't happen. Seriously. You're gonna be fine, you're fine. Honestly. George isn't the kind of guy who'd want to take revenge or anything like that and you're gonna get out of here with a better outcome than you ever dreamed. It's fine. Seriously.

Oh my god what the FUCK IS GOING ON?!” You plant your face into the bed too. “Oh my godddd.” You mumble. “Nooo oh my goddd why did I come here oh my god I'm losing my mind.”

Sayo takes a deep breath in, sits up, stares at me, and then stammers for a bit before saying, “I'm- I'm sorry.” She takes a few more breaths before continuing. “I'm sure that it's not... how do I put this... the easiest set of ideas to wrap your head around.”

“Please tell me I'm not going to have to do this every time I want to talk to you.” I say into a pillow I've planted my head into. “If it's a one-time thing, honestly I'll survive, like it was hard and very stressful but you know, I'll look back and say it was worth it because I... I really like you.” Shockingly, blushing into a pillow makes my face even warmer. “And I-”

I swing up off the bed and throw my hands up. “How is this real? So my childhood friend who I've been in love with the whole time has been facing crippling angst that's not even too far off from my own weird angst? Are you real?”

“That's a question I've struggled with many times in the past.” Sayo says, her face completely flat. “I could ask the same question of you.”

(BGM: Thanks for being born)

as you look back into sayo's eyes, you admit to yourself, there's no way that's everything. even that traumatic tumble off a cliff, even being a miserable child servant unsure of her own gender, you know very well that's not everything behind her eyes. you can see it. but, this sudden urge overcomes you, and you speak seriously. “Sayo.” You say. “I... can I... get your answer now?”

Sayo blinks at me, probably a bit stunned. “I...”

“Listen.” I put my hands on her shoulders. “This place is horrible for you. I don't want that and I never have. So, let's- let's leave together. I want to leave together with you. I couldn't stand it if you spent one more day on this island.”

“...You understand,” Sayo says, “that with Kinzo's death it's likely the infighting will only become worse.”

Sensei's words from a long time ago ring in my ears. “I... I don't care.” I shake my head. “The Ushiromiya family can do whatever the hell it wants. I'm not part of it anymore. Let the olds tear each other apart- I just- I don't care. All I care about is you. I... I came back for you.”

The rush of emotion on Sayo's face is even more torrential than the last. I can't imagine how it must feel, to finally be told that after so long by... me. The person she was waiting for. Her cries as she grabs onto my dress and pulls her head to my chest aren't even sobs, anymore. They're more like screams- anguished, pained screams from years of suffering in silence, years I still don't know the full depths of, years I might never be able to know the full depths of.

But... I want to. I want to hold her, and help her. I want Sayo to find happiness, real happiness, and to know that no matter what, I'll be here. I'll hold her.

“I'm sick of these islands.” Sayo murmurs. “Do you... really mean that? That you'll-”

“I've always meant it.” I say, smiling. “I actually got myself a bed that's big enough for two, like, a year or two ago? I thought, you know, if she shows up then I can sleep on the floor or something, but no worries there!”

She lets go, and slumps against me. “...Yes. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes,” oh dear, “get me out of here, get me out of here!”

“You know what? You and me both!” I say.

Sayo's eyes turn quickly to a door leading further in. She's cackling a bit under her breath, her eyes wide with a sort of manic energy. “No, no... We're in a typhoon. The speedboat won't work until that's done.”

“You have a speedboat down here?” I blink.

“This room connects to a military base from the Great War.” Sayo explains, and frankly, at this point that's downright mundane. “We could use the speedboat to reach another island if the weather weren't in its current state.”

“...What else is down here?” I ask. “I mean, I know you've got the gold and all, but like... a military base?”

“There's quite a lot in there, actually.” Sayo responds. “The passage to Kuwadorian, the room with the skeletons-” Whoa whoa whoa whoa, skeleton room? Did Grandpa literally have skeletons in his (weird underground) closet? “-the explo...sives...” She trails off.

(BGM: Scar sound)

I have to take a second to process that Word she just said. 'Explosives.' I'm familiar with the word in theory, but hearing it in actual conversation is another matter entirely. My sense of shock is going to catch up with me any second n “The what.”

“...Tora.” Sayo speaks slowly, raising her finger to my face. “Please stay calm. We can figure this out.”

“Okay, but, the what.” I blink.

Sayo stands up and moves over to the grandfather clock that's standing in the room, and I follow her. There's... a little switch on it. “So,” Sayo says, “you see this switch, of course.” I nod. “There are many, many powerful explosives under this room. I tested a small fraction of them- on that shrine that Jessica finally noticed went missing today- when I inherited the room myself.”

“...Uh-huh.” I nod.

“This switch,” Sayo says, “will detonate all of said explosives if it's turned on, at the stroke of midnight.”

I stare at the clock. Okay. So the switch on the clock is connected to a bunch of bombs that'll blow up the island and us if it's on at midnight tomorrow, since it's past midnight now. Mmhm. I nod. “Okay. So, I have some questions here.”

“I... don't know.” Sayo says, through her teeth. We're both staring, befuddled, at the clock, even though she's... apparently known about this for, uh, two years, wow. “But I assure you that it is very true.”

“Oh, I believe you.” I nod. “I mean, honestly I have no reason not to believe you. There are bombs under the island. Okay.” I proceed to very calmly and reasonably scream at the top of my lungs, back away, point at the clock, and holler out a “WHAT THE HELL?!”

“Ah, yes.” Sayo nods. “That... that's a very... normal reaction. I believe.”

“What do you mean there's bombs under the island?!” I sputter, waving my hands around. “There can't be bombs under the island! I mean- I mean, there can be, but- Come on, can't a girl just have enough insanity for one day?! Is everything on this fucking island experimenting with postmodern approaches to reality?!”

“Hoooh.” Sayo nods. “Using big words to work through your emotions... a classic.”

“Yeah, it's just gosh-darn splendiferous, sweetie!” Then I have to take a moment and stop and realize oh god I just called her sweetie. Welp, time to melt into the floor. Even if there are bombs under the island, this is the larger catastrophe. Haha, not like I needed that dignity or composure. It's fiiiine, it's fine it's fine.

Sayo breathes out a harsh sigh through her nose, picks me up off the floor, and levels with me. Y'know, she's not too much shorter than me. No need to bend for a kiss or anything. “I can see you're flagging for the night.” She says, and I nod. “If you are serious about this, though, we need to have a discussion regarding our plans for tomorrow.”

(BGM: Minute darkness)

“Oh- oh, yeah.” I nod. I put my coat back on. “So, talk while we walk?”

“Hm. That assumes we're walking.” Sayo says. I tilt my head, and she purses her lips. “It's not an impossible decision to simply stay here until the typhoon clears and leave by the speedboat.”

“Um, but we'd freak out the rest of the family.” I say. “That seems like a bad idea.”

“Alright. In that case...” Sayo stops in her tracks, trembling a bit. “Could you...”

I blink for a few seconds before it consciously occurs to me that her walking around, in the rain, with the Beatrice dress, might be a little off-putting for anyone to discover. “Ohhh, gotta change?” I put my hands up and laugh. “No no, don't worry, I getcha. One sec.”

Hustling into the door further into the military base, I tap my feet and listen to the sounds of water dripping from above until a knock on the door signals me to be able to come back in... and see that she apparently brought the Kanon wig with her, then, too. And the beret. She's Kanon now.

“Forgive me my... impertinence.” Kanon says, huffing a bit as he does, sitting on the edge of the bed. “Y-you understand that-”

“I really, seriously do.” I say, giving him a thumbs up. “For real.”

“...While the idea of walking and talking is sound, I don't think that this discussion should leave this room.” Kanon says. We sit down together on the bed again, and he crosses his arms. “This chamber is a sensitive subject in and of itself.”

“Well, yeah.” I say, nodding. “That's, what, still eighteen and a half bil's worth of gold, right? And... uh...” I nod to the clock. “Bombs.”

“There's one other facet, as well.” Kanon says, reaching his arm over to a nightstand and opening a drawer to produuuuce a fucking rifle?! “These belonged to the Master.”

“So it has guns, bombs, a massive pile of gold, but not even, like, I donno, a TV or something?” I say. Haha, cracking wise because you're scared. A classic.

“I don't want to frighten you, necessarily...” Kanon sighs. “But, having known of this room's existence for this long, I've come to an unfortunate conclusion.” I turn my head to him. “This room contains all of the tools necessary to flawlessly get away with murder.”

Since I am, after all, a mystery novel nut, it doesn't take me long to get what he means. “You... could clean up the evidence... by blowing up Rokkenjima, you mean.” A shiver runs down my back. “Because the bombs would get rid of any trace you'd done anything.”

“There is a second mansion far in the forest, known as 'Kuwadorian', which is accessible from this room and outside of the blast radius.” Kanon nods.

“Okay, but blowing up the island would get rid of the gold, too, right?” I say. “That kind of defeats the...”

Jessica has that cash card Jessica has that cash card Jessica has that cash card. “Ohhh my god.” Um. Is this real? This can't be real, right? This is, like, a dream? “Oh my god. Okay, but- hold on, hold on.” I stand up and wave my hands. “Okay! Wait! Wait, wait, wait! You're... logic erroring here!”

(BGM: Dancing pipe)

“Hold on a second.” Sayo removes the beret and the wig and her actual hair flops out again. Wow, she can do that pretty fast. “How am I logic erroring?”

“So, okay, first off, you need to solve the riddle in the first place to get in here, right?” I say. “And that's not exactly easy. I mean, it took me, Jessica, and Will together to do it, and you still had to give me that hint- by the way,” I stop to satisfy my curiosity, “why that hint in particular?”

“Ah.” Sayo purses her lips. “Genji gave me the same hint once upon a time.”

“-but so, first off, that's assuming anyone solves the riddle, which, I mean, gold, yeah, but nobody has any real reason to do that in particular.” I say.

“Hoooh?” Sayo witches at me and raises her eyebrow, smirking. “Isn't that quaint. If you'll recall, though, a certain young heiress to the Ushiromiya Family has been running around with a detached Q for some time now! It's not impossible that someone could find that suspicious and be led on a logical trail, or that Jessica or Will could inform them of the necessary steps!”

“Okay, but that leads me to my second point.” I cross my arms and smirk back at her. “The whole premise rides on the fact that you can use the bombs to cover up the evidence, but I only know about that because you told me. Even if someone were to get down here, and find the bombs wherever they are back there, how could they know that they could, one, detonate them exactly at midnight using that switch, and two, get out of the blast radius at Kuwadorian?”

Sayo revs up to counter, but then she stops. There's a moment where she just blinks a few times, and then her eyes widen. She rubs her head a little, scratching at her hair. “...How would they know that?” She mutters. “If... I'm not here to tell them...” She begins pacing around, breathing heavily. “They... wouldn't know that, because I wouldn't be here, because I'm leaving.”

(BGM: Stop)

“Yes. Exactly!” I say, walking up to her and putting my hand on her shoulder. “And so if they couldn't get away with it by blowing up the island, they'd have no reason to commit murder, which means that I think the odds of someone murdering us are slim enough that I'm going to proceed to ignore them.”

“I won't be here.” Sayo says again, a bit breathless. “I won't... be here.”

“You sure won't.” I nod and smile. One last time, I lean back and sigh. “God, though. All this because a letter got lost.” Sayo is broken from her 'I won't be here' trance and turns her head to stare at me blankly. “What?”

“...'Lost'?” Sayo repeats.

(BGM: La Realtà Nella Nebbia)

“Yeah. Lost. Like, I guess it just must've slipped off the boat or something? Which sucks, I mean, like, it big time sucks, but hey, we're here now.” I smile and nod.

Fwip. Wig on. Oh, hello, Kanon. “If I may be given permission to speak freely?” He asks.

“Well, sure.” I say.

Kanon lets out a little sigh, then huffs out, “Are you an idiot?”

“I mean, yeah.” I shrug. “I thought we'd established this already?”

“The likeliest explanation to me,” Kanon says, gritting his teeth for a second and sucking air in, “would be that Lady Kyrie stole your letter to intentionally prevent you from reaching me and sabotage your 'game of love'.”

“Whaaaat?” I sputter. “Kyrie? No way. Kyrie's cool. She's, like, my hero! And my aunt!”

“Believe what you will, but I don't trust her.” Kanon says, closing his eyes and crossing his arms. “Please at least recognize that in this situation, she could be quite dangerous.”

I sigh, and put my head in my hands. “Yeah, I know.” My fingers clench a bit. “I- I know. I shouldn't talk about this to anyone else, and that includes her, right?” didn't you just say you were done with this family? why does this feel so strange and bad to you? “I'm- I'm sorry. I know I- I'm sorry.”

“...I just... don't want you to get hurt.” Oh, she must've taken the wig off again. Sayo awkwardly places her hand on my leg. what is this horrible feeling you have in your head? why is this all so scary? why are you afraid? why are you-?

“it's no good... it's no good, it's no good, it's no good, it's no good, it's no good, it's no good, it's no goddamned good at all.” you say, breathing deeply. sayo looks pretty concerned, but in a way that tells you she isn't quite sure what exactly it is she should be saying at this point. “um... sorry. it's kind of... it's a lot.”

“mm.” she says.

“but... it's...” you look at the clock.

12:45 A.M.

(BGM: Sakura)

“it's not too long now, right? i think the boat comes at nine the day after tomorrow.” you say. sayo nods. “so let's just... i think i just wanna get back to the guesthouse and sleep. um- y'know, maria's gonna need somebody to keep her company if the olds are going to keep arguing about who inherits the money, or anything like that, so...” sigh. “actually, yeah. that sounds great! i think i'll spend some time with maria tomorrow. she's a good kid.”

“she's...” sayo nods and closes her eyes. “she's a very good kid.”

“and you know, she clearly looks up to you a lot.” you say, putting your arm around... your... girlfriend. hey. you know, maybe that's not so bad to say. maybe that's not so bad! your girlfriend. “let's just spend some time with maria tomorrow. and, you know, maybe george and jessica. i mean, i know talking to george will be kind of awkward, but he doesn't really strike me as the type who'd get really angry jealous. i think if we explained it to him, he really would understand. you know?”

“i'm... not so sure.” sayo says. she runs her fingers through her hair. “i've been lying to him for years now.”

“you haven't been lying.” you put your hands on your hips. “or, okay, maybe you've been lying a bit. it's- it's complicated. look, the point is-” you sigh. “i mean, whatever happens in these weird, awkward conversations you might wind up having, i'll be here. okay?” that's right! give her a beaming smile! “let's just worry about it after we've both gotten some sleep. worrying about it while everyone else is still asleep isn't really gonna get us anywhere. i think either way, our best course of action is to just... y'know, go back out there and act natural. er, or i guess as natural as we can act after we, uh, kissed, like, a lot. well, everyone kind of already knew i was into you, i guess, but-”

“whatever happens, hm?” sayo raises her eyebrow.

“yeah.” you nod. “whatever happens.”

“many things could happen.” sayo says. she's getting that witch voice again. “are you cer-”

“sayo, please, for the love of god, can i please just try and be a good, supportive girlfriend for ten seconds.” you groan. “i understand that you probably have enough self-worth issues to fill multiple books if i'm any indication, but i really, really, really like you and that isn't going to suddenly stop being the case if you ask me if i'm sure about it again, so pleeeeease just trust me when i say that whatever happens means whatever happensmmmppphhhh!” you're kissing her now! oh god, that's happening! suddenly, you are on the side of the giving the smooches! permeable reality? WHY ARE YOU SO GAY. FUCK. FUUUUCK.

“okay, fine, i suppose maybe i can try it your way for the evening.” sayo says once you stop making a dork out of yourself. “if you're... going to be... so persuasive.” she grumbles.

“right. okay.” you slump onto her shoulder. “thank you. oh my god i'm so tired. but- phew. god. i just- okay.” deep breath in. “i think i finally get a pretty good amount of what's going on here. and, y'know, that's a good feeling.”

(BGM: Vulpe)

But as Tora understood

so too did the demon

perhaps even more than the girl it acknowledged

And as it slunk from the truth

its chains shuddered and cracked-

not yet shattered, but soon-

with the knowledge that perhaps

the demon was the greatest fool of all


 

“E-eh...?” Battler stammered. “Wait, what are you saying?”

“Well, geez, bro, I just told you what I was saying.” Gremory smirked.

A drop of sweat began to roll down Battler's neck.

 


(BGM: Ciao Carina)

“So, we've got you three...” Gremory said, taking inventory. “Ronove, Gaap, Gilly... those seven sisters, somewhere, too, right?”

“Y-yes, ma'am!” 45 saluted. The light in her eyes was goofily enthusiastic. “T-though I am uncertain how many of them will actively listen to you given that you aren't Lady Beatrice herself!”

Gremory sat back in the chair which once belonged to the late head, sipping a cup of tea Ronove had stirred for her. Heavy rain pelted against the window. “Alright. So, a no-scoper, an ironsight sniper, a tactician, a ranged DPS, a shield monk, a dodgetank, seven-part melee DPS, and me.”

“...E-er.” 45's ears twitched. “I-I'm sorry, Lady Gremory, I d-don't think I completely understand what you mean!”

“Huh? Party roles.” Gremory shrugged. “We're outnumbered here, so I've gotta take this into account. Life is a game, right? What's Kyrie say- flipping the chessboard? Well, I've always been more into RPGs myself rather than those bland old board games. Roll a nat 20 and you can do whatever you want at a quadrillion to one, right?” The eccentric duchess's face grew serious as she leaned forward onto the desk, steepling her hands. “When we make the first move tonight, we'll take out a third of their number. Kyrie did the work for me for number one, so we'll want to take out important members of their team...”

“My, Duchess.” Skulking out of the shadows came Ronove, who chuckled his little chuckle, and refilled her tea. “You seem to be taking this quite seriously.”

“Huh? When have I ever not taken things seriously, man?” Gremory tapped her temple and pointed a single finger up, much like, say, Kyrie. “Sure, I've got my air of nonchalance, but underneath I'm a real spitfire... unlike a certain Bae I could mention.” Her smirk was catlike. “Says here that there was supposed to be a letter delivered!” In Gremory's hand appeared a manuscript. Ah, a classic. Legend of the Golden Witch. “Now nobody's gonna believe it's actually the Golden Witch doing the killings. Geez, I've got my work cut out for me.” She shrugged.

Six sacrifices. Two who are close. Gouge the head. Gouge the neck. Gouge the chest. Gouge the leg. Gouge the foot. In full, thirteen.

Krauss. Natsuhi. Jessica. Eva. Hideyoshi. George. Rudolf. Kyrie. Tora. Rosa. Maria. Shannon. Kanon. Genji. Nanjo. Kumasawa. Gohda. Will. In full, eighteen.

“Gremory.”

(BGM: Olhos na Sala Esculo)

In a storm of butterflies, the Golden Witch herself, too, was present in the study, looking forlornly towards the painting of herself. Her eyes were hollow. “I'm done. I don't care.”

“...Huh?” Gremory raised her eyebrow.

“I'm done.” Beatrice said again. “There's no need for me to be revived any longer. The lot of you may begone.”

“Large words, Lady Beatrice.” Ronove said, a brief sweatdrop rolling down his forehead. “Is the Duchess's presence truly that disturbing?”

Beatrice pursed her lips. “It's not you. There's no longer any purpose for me to be revived. You, bunny. I've already dismissed your superior.” 45 squeaked. “Go.”

“Ah, I see.” Gremory threw her arm out in front of 45 to stop her from responding, stood up, sighed, and said, “This is about that girl. Tora. Didn't turn out the way you hoped, huh?”

“...There's no longer any purpose for me to be revived.” Beatrice repeated. “Go.”

Gremory placed her fingers on her forehead, and pushed in. “Quit- quit making those noises.” She said to 45, who was still squeaking. The bunny in question did her best to cover her mouth. “You know, you're always like this, Beato.”

(BGM: Haruka)

“E-excuse you?” A bit of Beatrice's verve returned as she turned around. “Like what?”

“For an Endless Witch, you sure are quick to admit defeat.” Gremory said. “Who cares if some girl's taken away a bunch of your mojo? She knows the secrets of Beatrice- who cares? You can still pull off this ritual if people don't believe in you.”

In an instant, Gremory placed her finger on Beatrice's lips, silencing a counterattack in the making from the witch. “It doesn't matter if anyone believes in you. You 'exist'. We 'exist'. Don't let humans tell you we don't.” She smirked. “After all, don't you remember those long, salacious nights-?”

Beatrice turned bright red, sputtering. “I try to relieve you and this is what you give me?!”

“No, relieving me would be reliving those long, salacious nights.” Gremory snorted. Ronove couldn't help but chuckle, too. “Where's the confident young lady I loved, huh? C'mon. If you don't feel up to doing it yourself-”

A devilish smirk came upon Gremory's face. “Then let me handle it. I am a demon, after all- not like I mind shedding a bit of human blood.”

“...To what end.” Beatrice grunted. “What's in it for you, you ridiculous woman?”

“Well, first off, because it's important for you.” Gremory said, raising her first finger. “You're still stuck here because of that old man, and how's that fair to you? You deserve to be free as much as anyone. Don't- you- dare-” and she tapped Beatrice on the forehead with each word- “say you don't just because of some human girl spoiling you. You 'exist', Beatrice the Golden.”

45 continued squeaking in the background. ...Kind of annoying, but she shot well, so she'd do good work, probably. “...Hooooh?” Beatrice smirked. “Then show me just how much you care, Gremory. We shall make it a game between the two of us- You have these two,” she cocked her head at Chiester 45 and Ronove, “and let us say you may call in, let us call them a 'ringer' of your choice. You will not be operating with my assistance.”

“Pu ku ku.” Ronove chuckled, patting the quaking bunny on the back. “It seems we've got quite a lot of work to do, Ms. Forty-Five.”

“E-e-e-e-e-e-er.” 45, who was clearly not used to actually being singled out, twiddled her fingers, breaking from her ever-present salute. “Y-yes sir, er, ma'am, sir? T-this isn't in p-protocol. Are you-” She trailed off, mumbling something about this maybe being some sort of very delayed hazing ritual.

“Ooh, interesting terms.” Gremory nodded. “Tough, too... Not to brag or anything, but my friends list is enormous. How's a girl gonna decide between the whole thing?”

“Don't flex your online presence at me, Duchess.” Beatrice sneered. “Just get to work, if you're so determined.”

“As you say, milady.” Gremory bowed, and spun towards the window. In a moment of self-satisfaction, she threw open the window and laughed to herself, just a little, letting herself bask in the rain. “Take a siesta. Let your faithful servant, Gremory, handle proceedings.”

“If you must.” Beatrice said. To 45 and Ronove, she muttered, “Ensure things go smoothly.” before disappearing the same way she came.

The stunned 45, placed now on her first solo mission, sputtered for a moment longer before proclaiming, “D-Duchess Gremory! Permission to speak, ma'am?”

“Huh?” Gremory basked for a moment longer. “Yeah...? Don't harsh my vibe too much...”

“What was the second reason?” 45 asked. “You said 'first off', but, er, t-that implies there's more of a reason.”

“Oh... that.” Gremory laughed a bit more. “I guess you could call it, the 'noble game of revenge'?”

...Ah.

And with that, a sudden insight flashed into Gremory's mind. “I've got my gameplan, lady and gentleman.” Gremory said. Perhaps this move would be a proper opener. “Let's begin our game.”

(BGM: Left Behind)

---and unhearing, unknowing, another little rabbit skulked through the forest, grumbling to herself, shivering in the rain. “Why can't we wear some fucking pants, nyeh?!” 410 proclaimed. She then stubbed her toe on a rock. “Ahhh, shit! Nyeh! Nyehhhh!” She hopped around on the wet ground.

Sitting down on this evil rock, 410 grumbled further, her ears drooping from the heavy moisture. “Goes off and leaves me for some old floozy cause she's all uptight... then the Commander says the game's off, what's even the point of me showing up then, nyeh? Fine, not like I needed them anyway, I can have a good time by my self. Stupid 45. Stupid 00.”

It wasn't as though anyone would ever care about the feelings of one half of a duo act, after all. So it was that Chiester 410 decided to bury herself a pit in the ground and stay there, because it wasn't like she couldn't have a good time by her own self. “Whatever.” The pathetic little bunny mumbled to herself. “Whatever!” Her tail shook. “...whatever... whatever.” She spat out a little 'nyeh.'

 


 (BGM: Witch of the Painting)

“...Stop it.” Battler gritted his teeth. “What- what do you think you're doing?”

“What does it look like I'm doing, huh, Battler?” Gremory snickered, giggling into her wrist. “Geez, man, keep up. Use your eyes! Don't know what you're gonna be doing in thirty-four years 'cause you don't have 2020 vision, right?”

“This- this isn't right.” Battler's hand clenched in his pocket, and he stomped his foot. “This isn't- the riddle was solved, the- there was no letter, no- there's no reason for anything to happen! You-” He frantically gestured to the two leaving the underground shelter. “They're- they have a chance, they can be-”

(BGM: Bianco o Nero)

“Listen, Battler.” Gremory said, snorting. “I know you don't have the best memory, but keep up. Don't you remember what kind of story this is?”

“Stop it!” Battler shouted, tears beginning to come to his eyes. He made to grab at Gremory, but she dodged out of the way. “You stop it, you stop it right now!”

Looking down upon the two girls, Gremory smiled, and then let out a whooping cackle- one truly befitting of a demon. “You're naive, Battler Ushiromiya! This is still Rokkenjima!”

“I'll stop you, I'll, u, uwooooohhhh!!” Battler pointed his finger. “I'll stop you, I'll-! Gremoryyyyyyyyyyy!” He roared, and a certain energy flared up that hadn't in quite some time.

“Sit back and enjoy patiently, Battler.” Gremory grinned a toothy grin at him. “And please- hold your applause 'til the end. Enjoy the game of this demon with no power but procuring love and remembering faults!”

“Fine then, bring it on! For Tora and Sayo's sakes both, I'll tear you down from that high horse you're in, you're gonna wish you'd never even met me, u, uwoooooooooooooooooooaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrgh!!!!!!” And with that-

Battler stood to meet his opponent over the skies of Rokkenjima.

(“Excellent work getting him to actually pay attention.” Said the now-ignored Beatrice, sitting by the board cackling. “I even find myself getting a bit perturbed.”

“Let nobody say that the Duchess is not good at theatrics when she needs to be.” Vassago said. “No murders have even occurred yet, we're not even quite there.”

“Hopefully he doesn't burst a blood vessel with all of his shouting before then.” Beatrice snorted.)

Chapter Text

1:15 A.M.

(BGM: La Meglio Gioventù)

holy cow you are tired when you get back to the guesthouse. you and kanon spent the time getting back talking about stupid stuff, basically. it was a nice, scintillating talk about mystery novels for a while walking back in the pouring rain. “my hair is gonna be a mess tomorrow.” you groan, patting at your head as you take your soaking coat off and hang it on the wet coat rack. thankfully, at least one other coat here is also still wet, so nooooobody will notice~.

“mm.” kanon mumbles. “i don't see the use in fussing about it.”

“ahh, but it's important.” you say. you are, for the record, keeping your voice down because that is the polite thing to do this late. “my hair's a big... thing. man, i miss wearing a ponytail. i worked ponytails.”

“why don't you, then?” kanon asks.

that gives you a pretty fair amount of pause. “um.” you have to think about it before it comes to you. “oh, because my self-worth is in the pits.” kanon nods with a little 'ah'. he gets it. of course he gets it. “maybe after this i'll get back into ponytails. yeah, that sounds good. cover up this freaking birthmark.”

“it is quite noticeable.” kanon agrees.

“i don't like it. geez. stupid random chance genetic aberrations. they keep getting me down, kanon. genes don't like me!” you wave your finger a bit. “jeans, though, jeans i look good in. they accentuate my butt.”

“...i can... imagine.” kanon croaks.

you turn around, snickering, to see the look on his face, and it turns out he's still holding both of your umbrellas. “kanon.” you say. “put- put the umbrellas down. there is a place for those.”

kanon has to take a second to realize he's holding the umbrellas. his eyes widen a bit, and he awkwardly places the now-less-dripping-wet umbrellas in the designated umbrella zone. “m-my apologies. force of habit.”

“servant thing?” you ask.

“servant thing.” he nods.

now that you're back in regular clothes, you go and lightly knock on will's door just to see if he's awake. you hear a jump of surprise from inside the room- it is pretty late, so- but he does come to the door. “who's there.”

(BGM: Manita)

“uh, just tora.” you say, giving the door a thumbs up even though that doesn't make any sense. will opens the door. his coat's off, and that one weird strand of his hair is drooping. you have to wonder, what's with that? that is the weirdest dye job you've ever seen. “wanted to let you know i got back okay. i figured you probably cared, since you're a nice guy.”

“well, you're not wrong.” will grimaces. a lamp is still on in his room, and you see a book open on the guest room's nightstand. he must be a night owl. “now go the hell to sleep. it is one in the morning, tora.”

“that's the plan, my man.” fingergunssss.

“good.” will nods. to kanon, who has skulked in behind you, he nods, and says, “congrats on the girlfriend, kanon.” then he closes the door, leaving kanon trembling and clutching the air.

in a manner most ill-suited to a servant of the ushiromiya family, kanon utters out a, “fuck,,,” and his fingers repeatedly clench.

“guess he's pretty good with faces, huh?” you observe. “makes sense to me. he's a smart guy, you know. real smart.”

evidently.” kanon says through gritted teeth.

you head into the room you're sharing with george. wait. you're sharing a bedroom with george. oh shit, you're sharing a bedroom with george. YOU'RE SHARING A BEDROOM WITH GEORGE. OH GOD. PLEASE LET HIM BE ASLEEP. okay. it looks like he's asleep. tiptoe. very carefullyyyy THAT WAS ENTIRELY TOO LOUD OF A CREAK.

(BGM: Voiceless)

“...hm?” george stirs, awkwardly paws around for his glasses on the nightstand, and then sits up and looks at you. “tora? ...kanon-kun?” HE'S STILL HERE TOO. george smiles. “ah, were you still working on solving the riddle?”

“oh. uh, yeah.” you blink. man, he wakes up fast. “yeah, i was. sorry to disturb you, aniki.”

“ah, that's alright.” george chuckles. it's that sort of self-defeating chuckle that tells you he is having a bad night. because, uh, because of you. “shannon didn't come. i think that means i've been rejected. you'd know a girl's heart better, right? that's a rejection?”

“...yyyeah.” you nod, and sit down on the bed, and stare very strongly at kanon to perhaps leave the room? he skulks out of there. “yeah, that- that sounds like a rejection. i, uh.” you stammer. “i'm... i'm really- i'm really sorry, aniki. that- that is really- that fucking sucks, man.” and that's true! it does! oh god! YOU ARE SO SORRY! IT PROBABLY WOULDN'T HAVE WORKED OUT BETWEEN THEM BUT YOU STILL FEEL REALLY BAD ABOUT IT AAAAA

“oh, well.” george sighs. “i'm glad to be able to put a period on it, then. i'm sure...” he's been crying. “you know, i'm sure i'll find someone else. i'm a... reasonably not unattractive young man in the prime of his life, after all.”

“yeah!” you say, hoping very hard that your rapidly cracking confidence does not give away that YOU JUST STOLE HIS GIRLFRIEND AAAAAAAAAAAAA. you really wish that you had not just stolen his girlfriend. you really wish that... ohhh god... “um, aniki...” oh god don't make this come out of your mouth. come on. just keep it silent it's so late oh god. “a-about that.” STOP IT. STOP YOUR MOUTH YOU FUCKING BAD CHILD. STOP IT STOP IT STOP IT.

“aha, i gathered.” george says. “you and kanon, right?” TAKE THIS LIFELINE. TAKE THIS LIFELINE. HE IS GIVING YOU A LIFELINE PLEASE TAKE IT.

“um... y-yeah. that happened.” you rub the back of your head and chuckle, looking away and blushing bright red.

“well, at least one of us had a good night!” george laughs. he leans over, pats you on the shoulder, and nods. “i'm happy for you, tora. really. don't feel bad for my sake.”

“r-right.” you say. it was obvious, wasn't it. “i'm sorry.”

“don't apologize.” george shakes his head. “just, please go to sleep if you've been out in the rain. i think we're both quite tired.”

“yeah. right.” you nod. after george curls back up into bed to nurse his rejection, you

well, you grab your sleep clothes and you

walk out to the restroom on the first floor to change because you still don't feel comfortable changing in the same room as george even if you trust him and like him a lot and you don't really want to sleep in this dress because it didn't get very wet but it would be bad for you and the clothes to do that so

(BGM: Stop)

anyway the point is you're turning into the restroom when fuck fuck FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK WHY ARE ALL THE MEN AWAKE INCLUDING HIM

rudolf raises his eyebrow. he's alone as he leaves his room. “you're up late, brat. stay up making out with the hubby?”

(BGM: Mystic forest)

“shut up.” you say. you remind yourself, very strongly, that this man is a murderer and nothing is going to change that, even if he pretends he cares. “why are you awake.”

“adult business.” rudolf says. he's still dressed. he grits his teeth for a bit. “hey. tora.”

“i don't wanna hear it.” you say. (then why are you still standing here?)

“yeah, well, give a prisoner his phone call.” rudolf snorts. “i know you hate me, kid. trust me. boy, do i know it. but just give me the chance to act like a dad for one second, will you?”

you stand there, shaking a bit. “what.” you say.

rudolf sighs, and his face becomes uncharacteristically serious. “this might be the last chance i ever get to say this.” he says. “so... just want you to know, you're a good kid, tora. i'm proud of you. live happy once you get off this rock, alright?”

h u h ? “...what?” you say, your eyes wide.

“you're smart, i've seen your grades. got a way with kids. real nice smile. so live nice, maybe... raise some kids somehow, i don't fucking know how that works for you. however it works out, you're gonna make some lucky guy a lot happier than i've ever made anyone. so you just... . and...” he sighs again. “i'm sorry i was a shit dad.”

you're stuck standing there, still holding your sleep clothes in your arms. you're stunned. that's- no, you can't-

“yeah.” you say, after you take a moment to process. “you better be.” you tear up a bit. “you really screwed up with me, old man. treat ange better.”

“...right.” rudolf nods. “i'll try.”

(BGM: SUMO SEAL -another-)

you finally get to walk into the restroom and aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa what just happened? wasn't he supposed to be a bad person? wasn't he? he is, right? but maybe he can feel bad anyway? does he really care? maybe he- does he feel bad after all? does he at least feel bad about it? can he feel things? have you-

NO. YOU CAN'T GROW UP TO BE LIKE HIM. YOU HAVE TO HATE HIM AS MUCH AS YOU CAN SO YOU DON'T. but aren't you already? you just stole george's- RUDOLF IS A LIAR AND A CHEAT AND YOU DID THE RIGHT THING, THEY'RE BOTH GOING TO WIND UP HAPPIER FOR IT, YOU DID THE RIGHT THING, YOU DID THE RIGHT THING

you sob and hyperventilate and hold your arms and you just wish this didn't feel so bad you wish you could feel completely good about this and not afraid that george is going to absolutely hate you for this and that you did such an awful thing to him and why are you even here everyone would be happier if you weren't-

the faucet has been running this whole time and you're almost naked except for your underwear and you can see scars on your arms and you don't like seeing those and you try to splash your face and it doesn't work and it just makes you feel worse and you need something more and you just curl up in the shower and-

“Quit hurting heeeeeer!” Battler roared.

(BGM: GIRLISH -piano-)

-in a moment of surprising clarity, you turn the shower on, and your face is blasted with water so cold it makes you yelp, and jump up, wet, again, in the shower, frantically turning the knob to put it at a better temperature because cold cold cold. oh geez. oh- ohhhhh oh that's better. oh that's so much better. oh you needed a shower. ohhhhh that's good. bless this rain.

the old man is a human and he can feel however he wants. it's fine. there's no reason to freak out about that. you honestly shouldn't feel so bad about george and shannon, either. their relationship was built on a lie. george didn't know! it's gonna be awkward explaining it, but it was going to be awkward anyway. he'd never even kissed her- like wow, man. geez. who doesn't kiss their girlfriend? wack. quit worrying so much, tora. you're fine. for serious, girl.

you dry yourself off and just let your hair do its thing. you're going to sleep, anyway. you put your nightgown on like a badass, and then- then you leave the restroom. and you're fine.

what time even is it at this point? how much did you miss during that episode? you're not sure. you're- god, you really do not want to go back upstairs, even, you rapidly shuffle up there and drop your clothes off with your other stuff and then go to-

you're not going to bed next to george because that would still be really weird and you're not sure you're ready for that. instead, your legs are apparently bringing you to the servants' room. you can hear some snoring that, given its air of intruding on the scene, probably belongs to gohda, but his bed is behind a door, by the look of it. kanon, on the other hand, is in his bed, not awake but not quite asleep. he's still got his wig on, but otherwise he's completely out of servant clothes. shannon's bed is obviously empty- man, getting two beds? luck~y~- and it doesn't sound like genji or kumasawa are here, they must be in the manor.

you awkwardly shuffle in next to kanon, who stirs slightly. “eh.” he mumbles. “tora-s'ma.”

“hey. mind if i sleep here?” you ask.

“mm. go'head.” he mumbles, as you curl up next to him. in a half-asleep gesture he puts his arm around you and pulls you a little closer. he is warm. oh dear. you're in bed, sleeping (completely chastely) next to your boyfriend. he clutches you close like you're a stuffed doll.

this is too comfortable. oh no. he's so warm. you are going to sleep entirely too well. oh dear, you're putting your arm around him too. it's almost like you love him or something. ohhh oh goddd you're cuddling with your boyfriend this is guh'reat this is life. you are living. oh man. he's breathing just a little right next to you and you can feel his breath right around your collarbone. this was the best decision ever. THIS IS BETTER THAN YOU EVER FANTASIZED ABOUT BECAUSE YOU CAN ACTUALLY FEEL IT. FEEL THIS COMPLEX PERSON WITH HIS AND ALSO HER OWN THOUGHTS AND EMOTIONS AND STUFF. UGH. YOU ARE IN LOVE.


 (BGM: Suspicion)

“At this crossroads, it would be pertinent to make clear the division between the houses.” Vassago said. With a wave of his hand, the Dramatis Personae floated up from the table, and he swiped down upon it, causing two smaller tablets to rocket out from beneath it.

Tora, Kanon, Gohda, George, Maria, Will, Kyrie, and Rudolf were the eight present in the guest house that night.” Vassago swiped onto one tablet repeatedly, etching those eight names. “Eva, Hideyoshi, Rosa, and Nanjo stayed in the manor to discuss further the matter of Kinzo's death. Genji, Kumasawa, and Shannon were on duty in the manor that night. And, naturally, Krauss, Natsuhi, and Jessica lived in the manor, so they were there, as well.

“Thanks, Vaz.” Gremory nodded.

“I certainly do try.” Vassago smiled.

“Tch.” Beatrice clicked her tongue, and waved her pipe at Gremory. “Is that the best you've got? Simply claiming a servant is on duty does not mean they are actually in that location. Either Genji or Kumasawa could easily be elsewhere!

“Nice catch, Beato!” Battler pumped his fist, and the two of them high-fived.

“A fair rebuttal, Duchess.” Vassago waved a checkered flag in his right hand, to Gremory's side. “How do you reply?”

At 1:15, when Tora and Kanon entered the guesthouse, all eighteen people were right where they were supposed to be, as per Vassago's earlier truth.” Gremory said, and crossed her legs. “Past that, no go.”

“Good enough.” Battler said. The Endless Sorcerer had his game face on, frowning. He glared at Gremory. “Let's get on with it.”


 

10 A.M.

(BGM: Comical)

“K-K-K-K-K-K-K-KANON-KUN WHAT ON EARTH ARE YOU DOING?!”

you start awake at the sound of that shout and of kanon jumping awake. gohda is standing there, looking just as square as ever, staring in shock at the two of you in the same bed. kanon, too, has just jumped out of bed, gritting his teeth and looking very, very caught in the headlights. “a-a-ah. g-gohda-san.” he says. “i-i assure you-”

OH FUCK IS THAT GOHDA?! “hey! hey gohda!” you jump up. “heya, buddy! listen, i swear it was completely chaste.”

“don't say that!” kanon turns to you and clenches his hands. “saying that makes it sound worse!”

“what? but it's the truth!” you say.

“well, that doesn't mean gohda is going to believe you!” kanon says, as though gohda isn't still standing there, his face having fallen from shock to now just blank confusion. “now he's probably cooking up all sorts of stories in that head of his!”

“e-excuse me!” gohda stomps into the conversation. “i will have you know, kanon-kun, that i don't 'cook up all sorts of stories'. why, if i were to write a story, it would be artisinally prepared cuisine of gossip- n-not that i'm even doing that! why is tora-sama in your bed?!”

“i didn't feel up to sleeping next to george because it felt kind of awkward in there last night.” you shrug. “kanon let me into his bed.”

pause.

“...also he's really cute-” you say, and watch as kanon turns bright red and sputters.

gohda, given that it is probably still morning, has not managed to put on his servant face yet, so he sighs, frowns, and says, “teenagers.”

(BGM: None)

that aside, though, it looks like it's ten in the morning. that's a bit oddly late. you check the servant shifts- gohda's morning shift is crossed out. 'inclement weather', it says, in handwriting that seems like genji's considering how neat it is. apparently, shannon was supposed to wake people up a bit earlier today, but, uh, well, at the moment kanon is currently sputtering into servant wear, so that happened. “where is shannon-san?” gohda grumbles outside in the hallway, probably thinking you can't hear him. “don't tell me she's slacking off too. argh, teenagers.”

“i'll go wake up george and maria if they need it.” you raise a hand to kanon, who's still getting dressed again.

“appreciated.” he answers back.

when you get into your and george's room, george is combing his hair on front of the mirror. “ah, tora.” he says. he's not alone- maria is in there, looking glum.

you gasp a little and kneel next to maria, who's tearing up. “hey. hey, maria. what's wrong?” you hold her gently.

“uu-uu. mama.” maria says. “said she'd 'be here in the morning'. promised. isn't here. uu-uu.”

“aunt rosa isn't here?” you say. you turn your head to george.

“i haven't seen her either.” george says, shaking his head. “i suppose she must have gotten stuck up in the mansion.” he doesn't look entirely sure of that, though, by the look on his face.

“uu-uu. mama promised.” maria sniffles. “tora onee-chan...”

“don't worry, maria, it's alright.” you say, stroking her hair. “well... that isn't great, but... it's okay. i'm here, and it's okay to cry.” you look up at george. “hey, is it cool if you step out for a bit?”

“ah, of course.” george nods. he seems basically done, so he steps out.

when he leaves, you smile at maria. “hey, i know it's not the same, but guess what?” you grin. “we solved the riddle!”

(BGM: Doorway of summer)

it takes her a second to register it, but maria's face lights up from loneliness and sadness to absolute glee. “uu! tora onee-chan solved the riddle?!”

“yeah!” you nod. “and we met beatrice! oh, but don't tell anyone, okay? it's our secret.”

maria nods, making a few happy 'uu's. “witches of mariage sorciere don't tell each others' secrets!”

“right! i knew i could trust you, sweetie.” you hug maria. “i'll see if i can get beatrice to show up later so we can talk about it properly. it shouldn't be too hard, since we're friends now, and all.”

maria looks on in awe. “tora onee-chan... friends with beatrice?”

“heh, heck yeah. she's really pretty cool when you get to know her.” you beam.

so, to make a long story short, you do eventually manage to get dressed and all. (maria says your nightgown is nice. that lights your face up real nice and stupid.) the two of you hold hands as you walk down, and there's one, two, three, four. kanon, will, george, and kyrie are all standing in the lobby. “gohda go off to the mansion?” you ask.

“yup.” will nods. “said he had to go get ready for work or something.”

(BGM: FAIRY'S DANCE)

“...tora.” kyrie says. her arms are crossed, and she has a very serious look on her face. “have you seen rudolf?”

it takes you a second to realize- oh, yeah, the old man is missing from this crowd, isn't he. “not since last night.” you shake your head, and look around to everyone else. kanon shakes his head. will shrugs. george, too. “so he's not just oversleeping?”

“he wasn't there when i woke up.” kyrie says. “none of us seem to have seen him.”

“kanon-kun.” george says, and kanon starts a bit. “gohda-san mentioned something about shannon. was she supposed to be here?”

“e-er, yes.” kanon diverts his eyes. “nee-san was to wake the guests in the guesthouse and bring them to the mansion, this morning.”

“so, rudolf, shannon-chan, and-” kyrie looks at maria, holding your hand. “rosa, too?” she closes her eyes. “strange.”

well, one of those three people literally doesn't physically exist, but the old man and aunt rosa both not showing up is a bit odd, yeah. it doesn't really strike you as that odd, though, until the door suddenly swings open, gohda looking deeply, deeply unsettled, that you start being a bit actually worried. “i. need my key. i forgot it.” he mumbles. “i-” he gulps, frowns, and sighs. “er. there appears to, ah. be something... very, uh. very strange. on the door to the manor. which is locked, so i need my key.”

“'something strange'?” will asks. “what do you mean.”

“ah, well, it's very, em.” gohda awkwardly stammers for a bit. “it is a very... very strange and odd- not supposed to be there? definitely not. it, er-”

“gohda-kun.” kyrie says. “take a breath. kanon-kun, do you have a key?” kanon brandishes his key and nods. “please show us.”

“...uu-uu.” maria makes a little noise of unhappiness.

to make a long story short, the six of you follow gohda out once he's composed himself to go find this very strange thing that he is in such a tizzy about. you're not sure what you're expecting him to show you, but, er, well...

“...what on earth?” george blinks.

(BGM: RORSCHACH TEST -another-)

so, er... the front door of the mansion is... painted. like, not whole painted, it's- like spray paint, red, kind of drippy, unfortunately blood-shaded? it's not blood- you're, uh, you're pretty sure it's not blood. it's almost a full circle, and actually you vaguely recognize the design? around the edge of the circle, there are you thiiink hebrew characters, right? and inside, there's the shape of a sleeved arm, pointing at a series of hebrew characters you can't read. there's kind of a shape of a scepter in the middle of the characters? what... what in the.

“hm.” kyrie nods. “what is that.” kanon breaks into a cold sweat next to you.

“it's very strange,” gohda says again, “very- very strange, very deeply strange.”

“well.” will says, raising his eyebrow. “it wasn't there yesterday.”

you're standing there, tapping your foot. it's on the tip of your tongue as george says, “who on earth would do this? why these obscene scribbles?”

“oh!” you say, pointing your finger at it. maria was revving up next to you, but she beams with pride when she sees you start up. “that's the fifth circle of the moon. well, most of it, anyway. it's a solomonic magic thing.”

smiling, satisfied, maria nods. she's putting on the magic voice. “that's right, onee-chan. he who invokes this circle may vanquish and dispel any creatures of the night... or to glean answers in one's sleep, if perhaps you have less of a grudge.”

gohda yelps at maria powering up. “that's also extremely strange!”

“...i'm surprised, tora.” kyrie smiles, raising her eyebrow. “when did you start studying magic?”

“ah, maria's a bit of an enthusiast.” you laugh and rub the back of your hood. “i've been reading along with her.”

“one day's worth of study and you remembered it?” will whistles. “impressive.”

“all the moon circles have that pointing arm, so it's down to what's inscribed there in the middle and the words in the circle itself.” you say. you cross your arms. “so, uh... someone painted most of a magic circle for vanquishing evil spirits on the front door of the manor.”

there's a pause as you all stand in the rain for a moment. “but why-?” george asks.

well, i don't know!” you shrug. “it's really weird and kind of creepy!” you turn to kanon, who is frowning very deeply and breathing kind of heavily. “hey, kanon, you alright?”

“...ah.” kanon mumbles, kind of glaring at the magic circle. he brandishes his key and walks up to the door. “i'll... unlock the door now.”

“a-ah, yes.” george nods, frowning. “please do.”

you're not sure what you expect when kanon opens the door. you really aren't. this is a really freaking weird situation to begin with, and at this point you're beginning to think you might accept anything, because nothing makes sense on rokkenjima. sure, most of a magic circle's painted on the door. that's fine.

 

(BGM: Stop)

 

here's one thing you most certainly weren't expecting.

kanon opens the door, and there's an armoire, for some reason, standing right smack dab in the middle of the double doors. one half of the armoire door opens with the door to the mansion, and the sickening scent of blood immediately makes itself evident. but first, you see the armoire's contents. some of it falls out, and the armoire's contents awkwardly partially slide out.

oh. that's a human arm. pretty old, by the look of it. and oh. it connects to a human shoulder. oh, and that connects to a human neck. and that used to connect to a human head. but the human head is still there, too. it's just not completely on the neck anymore. because the neck has been cut.

is that all? that's all that was in there. just one thing inside the armoire. just kumasawa, her neck slit, her blood covering the inside of the armoire, is all. that's all. it's just kumasawa. and she's just a little dead, is all.

it's just kumasawa

and she is just a teensy bit dead, is all.

Chapter Text

(BGM: SHADY AMBIENCE)

it takes you a second before you actually hear anything again, but you get back to it surprisingly quickly. it's because maria steps forward, a bit unsettled but clearly not entirely sure what this means. “k... kumasawa-san.” kanon says. he's blinking.

“...uu?” maria frowns. she's frowning at kumasawa like kumasawa is playing some kind of joke.

“k-k-k-kumasawa-san!” george shouts, the first person to actually properly shout upon finding a dead body. “w-we need to- we need to call the police, find doctor nanjo, find-”

“does that look like a person that a medic could save to you?” will's teeth are gritted as he glares at the old woman falling pathetically out of one half of an armoire.

“kuma... kumasawa-san.” kanon says. his arms are draped to his sides.

an ear-piercing shriek from gohda finally brings the situation into the slightest bit of normalcy. “THIS IS EXTREMELY ABNORMAL,” he says, “AND I DON'T THINK I LIKE IT ONE BIT, PLEASE STOP, KUMASAWA-SAN.”

but she's not going to stop. because she's dead.

maria touches her hand. you can tell from the way she grimaces that it's cold. cold flesh. kumasawa is already gone- long gone. there's a sort of bubbling realization in maria's face- it's probably the first time she's ever seen a person dead.

you take a deep breath in- and you don't scream, amazingly. “well- well don't just stand there, you guys, we need to- we can't just leave her hanging there.”

“i agree.” kyrie nods. “get to it, boys.”

will sighs. he's pretty calm about all this. “well, alright then. c'mere, old lady.” he opens up the door and armoire further, and coolly picks up kumasawa's corpse. the way her body just sort of ragdolls in his arms is perhaps the most unsettling part of it? or rather, maybe it's the way that it's not 'her' anymore, it's 'her body'. it's an 'it'. not kumasawa. that's not kumasawa any more, is it.

you are absolutely covered in sweat. “why on earth is kumasawa-san...?” george mutters. “this- this doesn't make any sense, why is she...”

babbling, gohda helps will move the armoire out of the way, and for lack of anything better to do with the body, they take her to a couch in the foyer, draping a sheet over her. and just like that, kumasawa is now gone. “maria.” you kneel down and hug maria, who's still just standing still. you're shaking. “maria?”

“...uu-uu.” maria is frowning. “no... no good. no good at all.” she's shaking her head. you think it's likely that she is feeling a lot right now, but can't quite find the words... or figure out what it is she's feeling.

you remember- you were the first person to find your mom (well, one of them? the one who raised you. asumu) dead. she'd been in kind of poor health for a while, but you remember just seeing her slumped over on the couch when you got home from school, smiling like she was taking a nap, and then you touched her hand and it was cold. you kept pleading with her to wake up, wake up, because you knew what was happening but you didn't want to believe it, you didn't want to believe that she could just be gone as soon as that. that your mom who had said goodbye to you that morning was dead and just gone forever and well maybe it seems like it seems like kumasawa who just last night was probably rooting for you to solve the epitaph and making stupid mackerel jokes well she's dead too now and she's never coming back.

how strange. that's just downright bizarre. that's just so very- you should be staying strong for maria, right? right? she needs someone to be strong for her, because there's a dead body over there. you need to stay strong. you need to-

your chest shudders a bit. why is kumasawa dead. why would kumasawa be dead? why? why? why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why?

kanon is trembling, his hands shaking, his palms sweaty. he hasn't moved. he's just staring at the draped-over object that was once kumasawa. there's little noises coming out of his throat, but no actual words. “...why?” he mutters. “why- why, why, why- kumasawa-san!”

(BGM: MORE GRIEF)

with a sudden shout, kanon dashes over to kumasawa and grabs her hand under the sheet. “kumasawa, no, this can't be happening to you, please, no, i don't want this, i didn't want this. this isn't fair, why is this happening?! god, no, please, kumasawa-san tell me it's just a joke, tell me it's just another one of your stupid, stupid jokes, please, anything but this, please!” the chill ones- that is, will and kyrie- seem a bit surprised at kanon showing so much open emotion.

...that's right. yeah... that's right, isn't it. sayo's lived on this island for so long... even if kumasawa had been part of the lies told about her body, she would still be like a mother to her. kanon is crying, holding kumasawa's hand. “this isn't fair, i don't want this.” he says.

“k-kanon-kun...” george stammers, tearing up a little himself. the sight of kanon being so sad probably reminded him- this was a person, too. a person with people who cared about her. and george was one of those people.

“kumasawa-san, this. this is. a-a horrible, tragedy.” gohda says, sputtering a few words because that's all he can really do.

you go over and you hug kanon. just last night, he'd been telling you about how this island had everything you needed for murder, almost cold and resigned to the idea, but now... whatever. you just hug him. he's trembling, too. you hope maria understands.

a set of rapid footsteps down a hallway heralds the arrival of someone else. jessica. she's gritting her teeth, sweating. “oh. oh thank god, it's you guys.” she's sweating, too. she pants a bit. “i thought you were--” then she sees kanon crying. “kanon-kun?!”

the two of you are both by kanon now, as he's hunched over, crying, looking just painfully small. “i didn't want this,” kanon says, “please. please.” jessica looks at you. you mouth- kumasawa. her face goes pale for a second.

“...jessica-chan.” kyrie says. she's cold as ice, completely unperturbed. “why were you running? has something else happened?”

“uh, well...” jessica frowns. “this- why does it have to be me, ugh. just... follow me.”

 


(BGM: Golden sneer)

“And with that,” Ronove raised his hand, angling the armoire such that it left Kumasawa a demented little treasure chest, “our first sacrifice is complete.” He chuckled. “I suppose that this was to your liking, Duchess?”

“Just as I asked!” Gremory clapped, walking over and patting Ronove on the shoulder. “Good work, friendo.” She gestured widely to the armoire. “Check that out. A barrier between the manor and the outside. I'm pretty smart, if I do say so myself.”

---Kumasawa had begged for her life, of course. But, unfortunately for her, the witch Virgilia was not here to put up a fight in her stead. So she died- pitifully and without incident.

 


(BGM: RORSCHACH TEST)

you mindlessly hold maria's hand as jessica urges you on towards... the boiler room. gohda's off to go... find uncle krauss, you guess, because he was not prepared. “uhh, maybe maria shouldn't see this...” jessica says, then sidles towards the boiler room door and opens it.

kyrie, will, you, kanon, and george all look inside at once, and- haha. of course. okay. so there, at the bottom of the stairs, is doctor nanjo. he's lying face-down on the ground in a pool of blood, a bunch of bruises and injuries, especially to his head. there's bits of blood and gore on the stairs leading down. he must've fallen, you chuckle to yourself. haha. man, that's like something out of a sitcom or something.

“h-he was...” jessica says. “we couldn't find him around, and when dad went to go open the boiler room, the door was blocked.” she grits her teeth. “me and him opened it together, and-”

“the doc took a tumble down the stairs.” will finishes.

amazingly, kyrie just starts walking down the stairs. “what what where are you-” you start.

“a-aunt kyrie, maybe that's not-” george starts.

“i'm curious.” she says. she reaches the bottom of the stairs and starts prodding nanjo's body a little. “...ah. yes, his neck is slit as well, in the same method.”

“really.” will says. he crosses his arms at the top of the stairs. “in that case, he was probably already dead when he was blocking the door.”

“so- so you're saying-” you start.

“someone murdered doctor nanjo, then left his body at the top of the stairs to block it?” george finishes. he's trembling. “why... why on earth would-?!”

george!” a mom shriek from another hall erupts that can only be aunt eva. kanon grits his teeth, still a bit shaken from both of these corpses, and sidles close to you and maria. “george, george!” aunt eva is sobbing. she runs forward and hugs him, tears pouring down her face.

“oh, thank god, george!” uncle hideyoshi is right behind her- and he notices you all. he sighs heavily. “thank goodness you're all alright.”

george visibly slumps in relief that his parents are alright, and leans into his mother's hug. kyrie comes up the stairs. “eva, hideyoshi.” she nods. “what happened?”

“well, uh.” uncle hideyoshi gulps and clears his throat. “w-we all woke up a bit late- well, 'cept natsuhi- 'cause genji wasn't there to wake us, for some reason.”

“...genji?” kanon turns his head, his entire face pale. he's sweating. “you haven't... seen him?”

“a-ah-” uncle hideyoshi stammers when he sees the look on kanon's face. “well, we-”

“he's dead too, isn't he.” kanon says, completely flat.

 


 

Nanjo, as it turned out, had been playing around in Kinzo's barren study. He'd been at the chessboard, playing a game all by himself. It was probably the first time he'd ever won a chess game. Unfortunately for him-

“P-please!” He'd begged. “I-I have a sick grandchild, I-!”

“Who cares?” Gremory had then clapped.

And thus was Terumasa Nanjo slain as well. Thankfully, since the gang was magic and all, it was easy as pie to just transport his body to the boiler room.

 


(BGM: AH TOKYO GENERAL HOSPITAL)

his body's out back, on top of what looks like a well. genji's dead, too.

genji's laying down on the well, face-down. when kyrie touches his body, the neck isn't slit- instead, he's been stabbed a bunch of times in the torso by some bladed object. you can't see what it was.

“...gh.” even in the pouring rain, you can hear kanon sob. “gh-hhhkk. ggghhhh.” his teeth are gritted.

“that's three now.” will grunts, and his eyebrow raises. he's frowning pretty hard. “why the hell would someone do this?”

“...three more.”

the group turns to maria, who's staring impassively at genji's body. she's smirking. “i see, i see. then it's alright. there should be three more, then. the circle wasn't completed.”

“...huh?” you get a bit of a chill down your spine.

“er, m-maria.” george says. he's a bit stunned- reasonably so, really. “maria, you see-”

“there's no need to stammer and talk about things of which you have no clue, george.” maria says. her eyes are closed, and she's nodding to herself.

---oh. oh, suddenly, you-

“...hey...” you start up. jessica's here. “so, everyone that was supposed to be in the manor, you guys have found, right?”

“that's true.” george nods. “there isn't anyone missing now, is there? aunt natsuhi and uncle krauss are alright?”

jessica nods unsteadily. “yeah... they're fine. they're just off looking around and-”

“have you guys seen anyone else?” you ask.

“huh?” jessica asks.

“ah, yes. aunt rosa, or uncle rudolf. o-or shannon.” george says, his brow sweating. “we haven't been able to find them, either.”

 


(BGM: Dance of the moon rabbits)

---Ronoue Genji stared his death in the face. His death, which came in the form of a very pink bunny girl. “I-I-I-” 45 trembled, drawing her bow. “P-prepare yourself, sir!”

“...I am quite prepared.” Genji nodded his head. It came as something of a relief- his long tour of servitude finally over. “Please, continue whenever you might like.”

Even though the old butler could reasonably do absolutely nothing to Chiester 45, he was still an imposing man, and she was not used to solo operations. Her bow was far weaker than 410's in a direct confrontation, as her primary expertise was in reconnaissance.

Standing in the hallway awkwardly, Genji bowed his head. “...Whenever you might like.”

“I-I'm getting there!” 45 said, her eyes widening. “I'm- I'm going to kill you, sir!”

“So you are.” Genji nodded.

A nearby clock ticked on. The rain continued to pour down. “I!” 45 shouted. “Am going to v-very much... end your life!” Her voice was... very, very high-pitched, almost a squeak by this point.

“...Would you require some assistance?” Genji asked.

“No! Are you saying I'm not good enough? Because I am!” 45's ears twitched. “I very much am, siiiiir!”

“Very well. I believe you.” Genji shrugged.

(BGM: Stop)

--- “Eh?” A light from a hand-held candle in the hallway caused 45 to start. Her trigger finger twitched, releasing her ordinarily very precise arrow in a spread-shot pattern. Each of its arms ran Genji through in a different portion of his torso, but on account of the dispersion, none pierced. Still, he was very unquestionably dead. “W-who are-?!”

45 spun on her heels. There, in bed clothes, standing in shock in the hallway, was Rosa Ushiromiya, staggering backwards.

 


 (BGM: Stupefaction)

“aunt natsuhi!” you shout, when you find her milling about the hallways, near the guest rooms. she's got her head in her hand- probably a symptom of her migraines, which you can't blame her for. you ran off to look for her yourself. “hey! aunt natsuhi!”

“b- t-tora!” she sputters. there's a maternal instinct in those eyes that you can see. she heaves out a sigh of relief. “thank goodness.”

“uh, don't party just yet, aunt natsuhi, but i need to ask you something.” you say. “we came from the guesthouse- you, uh, you heard?”

“about... kumasawa, yes?” aunt natsuhi looks away, distraught. “yes, it's- a horrible tragedy. why?”

“we're, uh...” you rub the back of your head. “we're still looking for a few people. not everyone was in the guesthouse.”

aunt natsuhi goes pale. “i-i see. i-” she gulps. “oh, dear. little maria-”

“there's no need to worry.” maria is walking up behind the two of you, smiling. kanon skids into the hallway behind her. “we need simply find the other three.”

“listen, maria.” kanon says. he's clearly super distraught, but he's trying his hardest to hold it together. “this notion you have, i don't think-”

you know that kind of look, that maria has. maria is trying to convince herself that this is okay. that everything is fine. she can believe it as long as she thinks this is part of- part of the epitaph.

everything is not fine. everything is not okay. three people are dead. kumasawa is dead. genji is dead, too. just last night you were talking to him. just last night he helped you by catching jessica. just last night. just last night

just last night he was looking out for his daughter. for sayo. and now he's gone.

“d-don't tell me.” aunt natsuhi's brow furrows. “maria has been-”

“onee-chan,” maria says, smiling and walking up to you. “why don't you take a guess? try to predict the future. let's find the fourth together.”

“predict the-?” maria is looking up at you, expecting you to lead. you turn to aunt natsuhi, take a few rapid breaths, and then say, “okay, um... h-have you checked... have you checked-?”

come to think of it, the guest rooms aren't the only rooms in this manor, are they? no- no, there'd have to have been rooms where the kids stayed. krauss still uses his room, right? “have you checked the siblings' old rooms?” you ask.

“oh, an interesting choice.” maria cackles before anyone else can say anything.

“...why is maria here?!” aunt natsuhi's understanding of reality suddenly catches up. “kanon, don't tell me-!”

“i-i'm sorry, madam.” kanon flinches. “i-”

“no, no, it's my fault.” you say, bowing your head to aunt natsuhi. “i should've been keeping an eye on maria. i- just- look, you know, it's-”

“was she there when you opened the door?” aunt natsuhi asks. the two of them both nod their head. aunt natsuhi lets out this frustrated sigh. “...alright. i understand. maria-chan, please stay back. we don't know what we might find.”

the siblings' rooms on the second floor are a wing of the house you've never personally visited. you, kanon, aunt natsuhi, and- well, maria is still following you, you all head over there. this- kanon is still trembling, looking really, really pale. aunt natsuhi even looks a bit concerned for him. “hey, if you need to go sit down-” you tell him.

“no. i-” kanon grits his teeth. “i should- i have to-”

inside rudolf's room is nothing.

“what do you have to?” you ask. you want to shout, you just lost the closest thing you had to parents and you're still trundling up around here looking for more corpses? “c'mon, seriously, you don't look so good.”

“from where i'm standing, neither of the two of you seem all that well.” aunt natsuhi says. you blink. “you're quaking like a leaf, tora.”

oh. so you are. inside eva's room is nothing.

“i- d-don't worry.” your teeth are chattering a little, even though it's not cold at all. “i'm gonna be-”

(BGM: Endless Hallway (Stuck))

oh.

oh.

oh.

oh.

oh.

oh.

oh.

oh.

hello aunt rosa.

wow you came back to your room that's funny. maria had been worried about you you know. you should really be more considerate.

haha, maybe we didnt get off on the right foot but hey listen, i think maybe we can be friends. i know that youre not a bad person at heart, im sure of it. listen, maria is worried about you and so am i and so we should just go back and laugh it off. you look pretty sad, aunt rosa. whats wrong.

say, maybe if you punch me that might make it okay again, right? that seemed to satisfy you a bit last time you did it. maybe thats fine right? do you just want to get up and punch me? hit me? thats okay. thats fine.

wow, you look really surprised its like your eyes are bulging out of your head just a little bit hahaha wow did you always have such big eyes? man is it hot in here? it smells weird. haha. you should turn on the fan. no not like that aunt rosa. no. now the fan is bent. now the fan is bent because you're hanging from it hahahaha no aunt rosa thats not how you do it you have to pull the switch to turn on the fan

now the fan is broken because youre hanging from it

oh wait whats that you say you didnt do this? you say someone hung you to the fan? thats weird. why would anyone do that? oh does it hurt? your fingernails look a little bloody from scratching at the rope. you look blue too. maybe we should get you some help. maybe we should get you some help.

maybe if i yell for help it will come. whats the word for help. how do you say it. oh yeah. now i remember. scream. just scream. scream scream scream scream scream scream.

you slump to your knees. there's some muted noises beside you. oh, is that aunt natsuhi screaming? maybe that's also you screaming. maria is right there behind you. she can see aunt rosa who is hanging from the ceiling fan. dead.

your aunt rosa is dead. she's been hung from the ceiling fan.

(BGM: Endless Hallway (Enoch))

she's been hung from the ceiling fan. in her own room. the room looks like it's barely been touched in years. did she even move some of this stuff out to begin with. this is a young girl's room, without a doubt. hm. so aunt rosa was a girl too, once.

“kihihihihi.” maria cackles behind you. “don't worry, onee-chan. everyone will be reunited in the golden land.”

nobody is going to be reunited in the golden land.

the golden land is a cellar under this island.

rosa is dead.

maria's mother has been murdered.

hung from the ceiling fan

and left to die

and n o w s h e ' s d e a d

you can't help yourself. you collapse onto kanon and aunt natsuhi, sobbing. “no no no no this isn't okay this isn't okay what's going on why is this happening why why WHY why WHY WHY WHY WHY WHY WOULD ANYONE DO THIS

“c-come on, you two.” aunt natsuhi says. she and kanon start shifting you out of the room. this time, kanon is the strong one, because haha, you're broken. you're completely broken. everything is terrible. “maria. maria, you come with us, too.” maria looks so pleased. every death brings her closer to number six. she doesn't have to be afraid. she doesn't have to be terrified.

“it's okay, onee-chan.” maria is smiling. “all the lost lives will be revived in the golden land.”

 


(BGM: The candles dance)

Rosa Ushiromiya ran. There was a clearly strange person here who had just murdered the faithful servant Genji- why would she not run? But where was she running? Running to wake someone up? What would that do against someone with such a bizarre power? Those golden spears of light, what- what were those, how, how could Genji have died from such a light show, aah, ahh, it didn't make any sense---!!!

“D-Duchess!” The high-pitched voice of the... bunny girl... rang out. “Duchess, I'm so sorry, she's-!”

“That's fine.” That was a second voice. There were more than one, more than one of these unbelievable intruders, and yet Rosa didn't dare turn around, she just ran, ran through the halls, away, away to find something to fight back with-!

Oh. This was where their old rooms were. Why had she come here? She didn't know. She didn't know anything. Rosa Ushiromiya knew nothing.

So, when she opened the door to find the red-headed woman sitting on the windowsill, it couldn't be a surprise if she knew nothing. “Took you long enough.” That clearly bizarre, strange woman said.

It was at that moment that a thought formed in Rosa's mind- 'I'm going to die here.' Not that she might die, or that this woman might want to kill her- it was a certainty that death was imminent. And here Rosa was, in her bed clothes, with a candle as her only weapon, staring down this clearly odd, clearly unreasonable woman who was sitting in her childhood room.

The last thing she wished was that she could apologize to Maria again, for hurting her, again. She had acted rashly, again. Maria was hurt, again.

--- “You're thinking about Maria again, huh, champ?”

“Eh?” That was the first noise Rosa had made, and her hand trembled, the candle shaking.

“Y'know,” the bizarre intruder said, “people like you really... you just bug me. You say you're just worried about your kids, but you're really just worried about yourself. Even if you did apologize to Maria, who's to say you wouldn't just hurt her again the next day?”

Even in the face of the utter certainty that her death was imminent, something in Rosa flared up at that. She gritted her teeth and snarled. “You order your flunky over there to murder Genji and chase me in here to say you think you know how to be a mother better than I do? Tha- that's completely ridiculous!”

“Do I know how to?” The baffling invader adjusted her hat a bit. “I mean, I donno if I know how to. I just know people like you bug me. Never thinking about what kind of effect you're going to have on your kids, just going off and doing whatever it is you want... But, well, what's done is done. Not like I can do anything for that poor kid now.” She shrugged.

“You don't-!” Rosa began.

Those were the last words Rosa Ushiromiya said. Right behind her, the golden snake of the rabbit entered through the open door, and wrapped itself like a noose around Rosa's neck.

–And so it was that Rosa Ushiromiya, too, perished.

“D-Duchess I am so sorry oh please forgive me please don't think I'm incompetent I-!” 45 babbled into the room, making it seem almost like it wasn't a murder scene through sheer incongruence. “You didn't have to run that sort of interference work, I-!”

“I just wanted to say my piece, is all.” Gremory stood up, smiled, and ruffled 45's hair. “You did a good job, 45. Thank you.” 45's cheeks lit up a particularly fluorescent shade of red as she squeaked a few times, hopping out of the room and mumbling something about needing a carrot.

 


(BGM: Corridor of the sands of purgatory)

eventually, you regain your senses in the parlor. kanon is sitting next to you, huddled close. maria is watching tv in the corner. george's family, will, kyrie, and gohda, are here, too. “what the hell is going on?” you tune in to aunt eva saying. “why on earth is- and that scribble on the door-!”

“calm down.” kyrie says, her arms crossed. “there's no reason to start screaming until we know our situation completely.”

“no reason to start screaming?!” eva shrieks, standing up. “four people have just up and been murdered in the night and you think that's no reason to start screaming!”

“h-hey, eva, listen, maybe not where the kid can hear you?” hideyoshi vainly attempts to appeal to the fact that there's a child over there.

“who cares about the kid?!” eva stomps. “there's been a murder!”

“and is screaming going to do anything until we know exactly what it is we're dealing with?” kyrie says, not even flinching in the face of eva's force. sitting nearer you and kanon, aunt natsuhi looks... just a bit disgruntled at this, like she really wants to say something.

“a-a-a-a-a-ah.” gohda is just sort of sitting in the corner, hyperventilating a bit. which is understandable.

you look up at the clock in here, which is the first real movement you've made. it's 12:30. kanon jumps a bit when you move. “hey.” you say. “sorry.”

“...are you alright?” he says, studying your face. eva is still bickering with kyrie in the background there. “i-”

“yeah, i'm...” you shudder. you shudder a lot. four people are dead. “i think- i think i'll- i'll live.” you curl in a bit closer to him. his warmth still feels so nice, but everything besides that has such a horrific tinge to it that you can't even bear it.

even will looks a bit uncomfortable, skulking in the corner like he's wont to do. “will. are you alright?” george asks. he's putting on his best adulting face for this.

“...real happy family, isn't it?” will snorts. “four people just died and those adults over there aren't even mourning.”

“there will be time for mourning once the situation is resolved.” aunt natsuhi sighs. she furrows her brow and puts her head in her hand again. her head must be killing her.

the door to the parlor opens, and jessica and uncle krauss come in. “we've checked the rest of the manor.” uncle krauss says. “there were only the-” he stops briefly in his tracks when he sees you and kanon together, but apparently decides to ignore it for the time being.

“'only' four corpses, huh.” will says. “great.”

jessica's the first to notice of the two of them. “...hey.” she says, staring around at the crowd. you. jessica. krauss. kanon. will. george. eva. hideyoshi. gohda. kyrie. natsuhi. maria. twelve people. “where-” she grits her teeth. “you didn't... find uncle rudolf or shannon?”

“they're not with you?” aunt natsuhi stands up. “i was hoping you'd found them.”

“not that we particularly looked for either of the two of them...” krauss nervously adjusts his tie. “but neither of them appear to be in the manor. perhaps rudolf is just taking an overly long trip to the restroom in the guesthouse.” he smirks.

“...six.” maria says, from over by the tv. “it's the six chosen by the key.”

“what the hell is that kid babbling about?!” eva stands up. “that's not normal!”

“hey!” george rears up, but you shout first. “no- no swearing around the kid. and she just-” gulp. “she just lost her mom, be gentle. no need to get mad at her.”

“...hooooh.” there's a look in aunt eva's face that you haven't seen before now. she's displeased, and her actual displeasure is scary. “is that right.”

“e-eva, i'm sure battler-kun didn't mean anything by it!” uncle hideyoshi says. “he's- we're all very nervous! just calm down.”

...hm.

well. you know. ordinarily, you'd be disappointed. and you are, a little bit. but four people are dead. so that's really the least of your issues.

“s-seriously.” jessica steps in. “shut up for a second, where- where's shannon? and where's uncle rudolf? we can't just-!”

--what are these feelings in your chest? when you think about this idea, you're--

(BGM: PEAK LEVEL)

“they aren't in the mansion?” kyrie said. she shakes her head. “neither of them are in the guest house, either. we wouldn't have just missed them.”

a sudden bolt strikes your mind, and you stand up and start walking out of the room very, very fast. you aren't running. you aren't strong enough to run right now. “h-hey, tora!” jessica says. “wait, where- where are you going?!”

“outside.” you say. “rose garden. haven't checked there.”

you have to see.

he can't be-

 


 

“Four down.” Gremory said, wiping her hands. She sighed, and put her hands on her hips. “Alright. That's it for the manor.”

The duchess who procured love grew pensive, standing again in the foyer, flanked by her two assistants. “What is your plan from here, Duchess?” Ronove asked. “I'm sure I have two more murders in me if need be.”

“...Nah.” Gremory said. “45. Come with me. We've got places to be.”

“E-eh? Me, again? Y-you're sure?” 45 yiped.

Gremory's face grew drawn, and she took a deep breath in. “Yeah. Remember, I'm pretty weak on my own. I can only do so much... but I've gotta do this next one myself.”

“Good luck, Duchess.” Ronove chuckled, before melting into the shadows as he did.

“...Let's go, then.” Gremory smirked, and stepped out past Kumasawa's resting place into the rain, a single member of the Chiester Sisters Imperial Guard Corps flanking her.

 


 

there's no way. there's just no way. even as other people die, you think, there's no way. there's just no way- none. no way. this cannot happen. this- can't-

that smug son of a bitch can't just go and-

you fling open the doors to the outside, and run out into the rain.

Chapter Text

--- “Ah, yeah. That's the stuff.” Rudolf said, standing amidst the rain. He didn't have a coat on, so the rain poured down on his head in a rather satisfying manner. Sure, his suit was all messed up by now, and he might catch cold, but that didn't seem all that important.

'You really screwed up with me, old man. Treat Ange better.'

(BGM: The Wretched King)

That was what his older daughter had left him with, just before she'd gone into the restroom, no doubt to pretty herself up to spend the night with her new boyfriend, or something like that. If there was one thing Rudolf knew, it was that he knew roughly jack and shit about how women thought.

“The only thing I know-- is that I know nothing, huh?” Rudolf laughed to himself. “Hey, look at me. I'm starting to sound pretty cool.”

That sort of outright admission of idiocy wasn't the sort of thing Rudolf was particularly prone to, but it came out nonetheless- the mood felt right, about right for a moment of self-reflection. When you were an alien on your own childhood home, that was just bizarre enough that perhaps the impossible could happen.

A snort erupted from his nose. “Ahh, maybe if I'd said that a bit earlier.”

It was long past the point where self-reflection could truly help Rudolf Ushiromiya. No amount of self-awareness now, in 1986, could keep him from having made the mistakes he'd made over the past... oh, how long now? Actually, had he ever really done anything right?

–When Rudolf had been quite young, there was one thing that he learned very early. It was a simple lesson, and one that held true. The lesson was thus-

NOBODY CARES ABOUT ANYTHING YOU DO.

No matter if Rudolf tried his hardest, he could never be anything but a child in the eyes of his father, and his siblings. Even after Rosa had been born, he was still just a forgettable middle child. He was a son of the Ushiromiya family, but as the second-born son, and a man who could not bear any heirs after the first-born son had been born, it was a simple matter to understand that the life of Rudolf Ushiromiya bore no significance to anyone or anything.

So, one day, Rudolf had decided two simple words- 'fuck it'. Perhaps the devil might care eventually, but if nobody cared, nobody would hold him accountable if he never got anywhere near his siblings. He was dirt in the eyes of his father, and less than that in the eyes of Krauss and Eva, but even a worm crawling in dirt can do whatever it wants without even thinking. So, fuck it. He would do whatever he wanted and just see where it took him. He'd half-ass it.

Eventually, he half-assed his way into graduating, half-assed his way into several womens' pants, half-assed his way into love, half-assed his way into marriage, half-assed his way into love again, half-assed his way into two simultaneous pregnancies, and decided then and only then would he full-ass it. Full-assing that worked out oh so fantastically for him, so he continued to half-ass his way into parenthood, half-ass his way into business, half-ass his way into love a third time, half-ass his way into... what else had he half-assed his way into? Death, perhaps? The death of one of those loves? That was sure a half-ass on his part.

Oh, yes. Another half-assed parenthood, half-assing his relationship with his son who turned out to be a daughter, half-assing bothering to even try and understand what was going on with that (and he'd admit to himself he still didn't really get it but it felt like something he'd probably half-assed either way,) half-assing even showing up to these conferences, half-assing keeping his older daughter off the damn island when she decided all of a sudden she really needed to come just to spite him or something, half-assing acting like a dad for once in his life...

“Do I even have two butt cheeks?” Rudolf wondered aloud. “Hah, 'course I do. Gotta be something about me that keeps the ladies coming back, right?”

He was a half-ass of a villain, too. But that was nothing new. And now, here he was- but was this another half-ass or one of those once-in-a-lifetime full-asses?

–“Heh.” Rudolf snorted again. “Nope, I'm a half-ass to the end, huh.”

There was a slight sound of leaves being crushed underfoot behind him, so Rudolf stretched a bit and said, “Heya, kiddo.”

“Kiddo? Who do you think you're talking to, old man?” Huh. That wasn't the kind of voice he was expecting to hear.

Turning around to see this mysterious figure, Rudolf had to both appreciate this woman's pretty smokin' bod and raise an eyebrow at her fashion choices. “Nice boots, lady. Sure they're not gonna get dirty out here?”

“Eh, I can just clean 'em later. I didn't bring any others.” She shrugged.

“And here I thought all ladies thought about were shoes.” Rudolf smirked.

The boots lady whistled. “That's pretty sexist, old man.”

“Well, sure it is. I never learned how not to be, or something.” Rudolf shrugged. “Search me, I half-assed that part of my little introspective monologue there just now.”

“Sounds like you, alright.” Boots over here seemed to find that pretty amusing, so she chuckled and gave him a shrug.

“Listen, if you're out for some kinda midnight rendezvous, no can do over here, Boots.” Rudolf said. “You look a bit too much like my wife for comfort, and I think my daughter'd kill me.”

“Oh, no worries here, man.” Boots raised her hands up. “I'm gay and you're butt-ugly anyway.”

“Zing! Nice shot there, kiddo.” Rudolf nodded. “Got some bite in you.”

“I'm older than you by a long shot, bucko.” Boots crossed her arms.

“Got some pretty killer skin care, then, huh?” Rudolf rubbed the back of his sopping-wet head. “You should give some of that to Eva, she's got some wrinkles coming in.”

“Not sure she'd like it. Or that she'd take it from me.” Boots said. “I hear I look a bit too much like your wife for comfort.”

“That's fair.” Rudolf said. “So, you got a name or am I gonna have to keep thinking of you as footwear?”

“Call me Gremory.” Gremory said. “I'm a pretty important lady, fifty-sixth of the seventy-two demons of the Lesser Key of Solomon, notorious procurer of the love of maidens and washed-up prognosticator.”

At that, Rudolf couldn't help but laugh out loud. “Oh ho, so the devil does care now, huh? At least he sent a beautiful lady to give me my due.”

“Well, I donno that the devil gives a shit about you, but I sure do.” Gremory said. She reached into her coat, and tossed something at Rudolf real quickly- girl had a damn good throwing arm, that's for sure.

Thankfully, Rudolf had a pretty good catching arm, so he picked it up out of the air. A pistol- if Rudolf knew anything about guns, this was probably an M1911, standard-issue sidearm of the United States Armed Forces. He whistled. “Packing heat and you're just giving it to me?”

“You know what you're out here for, don't you?” Gremory said. “Isn't much of a duel if we don't both have weapons.”

“Ah, damn. If only you were a bit later, we coulda had a shootout at high noon.” Rudolf snorted.

“Just how you like it, right? Like in all your old Westerns.” Gremory laughed. “Predictable as ever, old man.” She raised her hand.

(BGM: Dance of the moon rabbits)

“On it, Duchess!” And from there... ha, oh man. Oh lordy lordy Rudolf. That, right there? That was a pantsless girl with bunny ears. Rudolf couldn't help but burst out laughing at that one. “D-don't you- s-sir, p-please don't laugh at me!” Bunny Girl said.

“How can I not?!” Rudolf said, guffawing. “Now, I'm all for sexy outfits, lady, but that's the stupidest fuckin' thing I've ever seen. You got any dignity at all?”

“This is- THIS is the N-NOBLE UNIFORM,,” Bunny Girl squeaked, “of, the CHIESTER SISTERS im-PERIAL GUARD C-c-c-c-c-”

Rudolf's laughter redoubled. “Uniform? That? That's a uniform? Alright, alright, where's the camera? Who's screwing with me?”

“Cool it, 45.” Gremory commanded. 45 ceased shouting, though she seemed to be trembling a bit.

“V-very well, ma'am! Allow me to serve as your firearm, please!” 45 responded.

At such an absurd turn of phrase, Rudolf just shrugged and said, “Yeah, sure. What, does she fire bullets out of her mouth? Is Pinky there gonna hock up a cannonball out of her mouth?”

There was a twitch in Gremory's eye as 45 began sputtering again. “I-I will have you know-!”

“Actually, you know what?” Gremory said, cutting in. Her nose curled a bit. “Go back to the manor, 45.”

(BGM: Seething Darkness)

“E-eh?” 45 yelped. “D-Duchess, I can still-!”

“Go back to the manor. You did enough.” Gremory said. Her eyes were hidden under the brim of her hat. “I don't... want you here.”

“I-I-I-I-I-!” 45 sputtered, her eyes looking a bit hollow at this sudden rejection.

“...I have to do this myself. Bringing you was a mistake.” Gremory continued, her voice low. “I don't care what Beato wanted, I can't deal with your chatter right now.”

As Gremory pulled from her coat a second gun, Chiester 45 gave her a crestfallen look that reminded Rudolf of nothing more so than a sad puppy. “Duchess... I-I swear I'm good enough, I-I know I'm useless on my own but-”

With an ugly snarl on her face, Gremory gritted her teeth and said, “Shut up! You're being annoying.” At 45's even further fallen crest, she continued, “If you wanna complain, do it later. I'm doing this myself. Get back in the manor.”

Sent blubbering away in a storm of golden butterflies, 45 disappeared. “Geez, what was even the point of that?” Rudolf asked. “Not real kind to your little ladyfriend, there.”

“...Listen.” Gremory said, her face again hidden behind the brim of her hat. “Don't mistake me for you, here. I don't feel a thing romantically for that girl, and I don't want to give her any illusions that whatever she's stirring up in her own head could be reciprocated. If she keeps fawning over me after that, well...” Shrug. “I'll figure something out.”

Rudolf whistled. “You break a lot of hearts, Gremmie?”

“More than I'd like.” Gremory breathed in, and out. “It's... huh... what's a good line for this?”

“You know, my daughter- I've got two, my older daughter- she's got this thing she says, she says it's 'no goddamn good at all'.” Rudolf chuckled. “Donno if you know her or not. She's a real pain in the ass. Think she wants to be a mystery novelist or something when she grows up? Has the grades for something brainy like that, but sometimes she gets these ideas in her head and then she just charges off like a dumbass.”

“Yeah, that's a good line for it. It's no goddamn good at all. I'm not too fond of it.” Gremory shook her head. “Whatever they do, it's hopeless for them. I'm already beholden to one girl.”

“Big words!” Rudolf whistled again.

“I'm beholden to one girl. Even if my actions have hurt her, I'd do anything for her, because I love her. She's special to me in an irreplaceable way, that nobody else could ever be. And it's nothing like your 'love', old man.” The words Gremory spoke took on an undeniable air of truth, that hung, crimson and glowing, in the air.

“...So that's something you 'demons' can do, huh? Speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?” Rudolf's ever-present smirk still hadn't fallen, as he shook his head and shrugged. “Seems useful, but I'd never get any use out of it. I'm a liar through and through.”

“So you are.” Gremory nodded.

“Really, it's kind of a pain in my ass, but telling the truth's just as bad. Maybe I should just keep my mouth shut, huh?” Rudolf laughed.

“That'd be better for everyone involved.” Gremory responded.

“But I've got a case of motormouth, 'cause nobody ever cared enough to teach me how to shut up. Real shame.” Rudolf said. His stance changed just slightly enough for him to notice it, as he went from holding the gun he'd been offered to wielding it, spinning it in his hand like a real pistolero. “Damn, this makes me feel like a badass.”

“If you're half-assing everything, wouldn't you just be 'bad'?” Gremory snorted.

(BGM: Stop)

“That's a point.” Rudolf said, aiming his gun right at Gremory's head.

Gremory aimed her own gun in kind. “Well, seems like pleasantries are over, huh, old man.”

“Heh.” Rudolf snorted back at her. “You know, saying that, you sound like my daughter. Doesn't matter how old you are- you look like a damn brat to me.”

“If that's the case...” Gremory's trigger finger twitched, and as it did, her face twisted from a disaffected smile to an enraged snarl. “Then show me just how much of a brat I am, Rudolf Ushiromiyaaaaaaaaaa!”

(BGM: Dirà "Minchia!")

--The first shot went to Gremory. The pop of the gun was dulled somewhat by the storm, but Rudolf still felt it whiz past him as he ducked down, dodging it a bit too close for comfort. His suit was dirty as hell anyway, so his first move was to duck and roll behind a nearby tree. The worst thing he could do was flee to the nearby rose garden- that was nothing but open space, and offered him no cover against his assailant.

Ducking his head out from behind the tree for a moment, Rudolf laughed, “All those bright colors make you real easy to see, lady!” For some reason, Gremory was just standing there- waiting. “What's wrong? Too busy thinking about your life choices, or something?”

With a sudden flash of light, and a great 'crack'!-

“WHOA!” Rudolf jumped back. The tree he'd just been behind lit up as a lightning bolt struck it from above, lighting it aflame, though the rain quickly prevented an actual fire. There was a moment of hesitation as he took it in, and then--

“What's wrong?” Behind him, Gremory again, laughing. “You had to have seen that coming, right?”

Swinging around, Rudolf's arm met Gremory's arm, and two shots were discharged- both firing askew as their gun arms threw off each others' aim. “Two to one, kiddo.” Rudolf said. “Five left. Think you can still get me?”

“Think you can get me in six?” Gremory responded. It was common knowledge among any Western hero, after all, that an M1911 held seven bullets. The ringing in his ears reminded Rudolf of how close he'd just come to getting his head blown off, but the adrenaline kept him from being particularly worried. Their arms continued to interlock, striking at each other, but the guns didn't fire again. One instant, Rudolf realized again that she was moving a bit too slow, and it seemed like she was guiding him-

“Gh!” Rudolf ducked out of the way, away from Gremory's gun, and just in time. A tree branch, blown off by the wind, stabbed itself into the ground right where he'd been standing. “So, some kinda fortune-teller, huh?”

“You could say that.” Gremory said, clicking her tongue to Rudolf catching on. “Lucky dodge. You won't be so lucky next time.”

“There won't be-!” Rudolf grunted, his smirk finally falling, as he jumped from the tree he'd hidden behind this time to launch a shot at Gremory- but she'd ducked out of the way already, and was off somewhere else in their wooded arena. Rudolf clicked his tongue.

“Now we're even.” Gremory said. The rain continued to pour down, and down, and down, drenching everything in a layer of wet. At least Gremory, Rudolf thought, had that hat of hers on.

Skulking out from behind cover, Rudolf looked about in the darkness of the forest, watching closely for any sign of the elusive Duchess. He held his gun in both hands, breathing quietly, ready for anything.

Then-- he gritted his teeth, and took a breath in. Quick as a wink, he raised his gun and fired at the telltale white of Gremory's hat, which he'd caught out of the corner of his eye.

“---huh?” But then, he noticed that it was just her hat- not that telltale mane of red hair. Damn it, she'd tricked him! And then-

“Gotcha.”

Rudolf's turn to avoid that one was so close some of his hair felt a bit singed by the shot. Three to three. Each of them had four bullets left, as he turned to face the now hatless Gremory. “You really are a cute kid, lady.” He snorted. “Actually, you've got those Sumadera eyes, too. You some kinda distant relation?”

Gremory snarled. “Quit slipping away.”

“Nah, think I'm good.” Rudolf said, ducking down. He was in close quarters now, so the natural thing to do was to go for a cool-as-hell leg sweep that'd knock Gremory on her ass. It wasn't like he was nearly as nimble as, say, Eva still was, but- ah, well, she dodged backwards. Soon enough, the two were in a deadlock.

“You,” Gremory said, “are a real pain in my ass, old man.” She sighed. “You're a-” With a sudden jolt, she dodged out of the way as a fourth bullet from Rudolf's gun ripped through the air, impacting and breaking a tree branch.

“Gettin' sloppy there, kiddo.” Rudolf said. “If you didn't have whatever mystical mumbo jumbo it is you demons have, I'd'a gotten you, there.” He laughed. “And wouldn't that have been sa-?”

Eye for an eye. A shot was made during a moment of posturing. Four shots to four shots, but this should have been the end- a shot made directly at Rudolf's head while he was unprepared from mouthing off.

(BGM: Stop)

...'Should have', as it turned out, meant nothing- thus did the red glow between the two bounce the bullet away to who knew where. “Please... do not harm one of our cherished guests.” The maid- Shannon- said.

(BGM: Life)

Rudolf blinked. “Wha- Shannon-chan...?” Then he burst out in a guffaw. “Well, I'll be damned! How about that?”

“My apologies for not arriving sooner, Rudolf-sama.” Shannon said, still turned away from him.

“What the hell...?” Gremory murmured. “You... I already had Kinzo. Why would you throw yourself away like that?”

“I've heard that the only thing you can't predict is the thoughts of humans, Lady Gremory.” Shannon said. From angling a bit, Rudolf could see an uncharacteristically harsh look on her face. “The Devil's Roulette might be a place of death, yes... but it is also a place where one can fight with all their strength. Kanon... has taught me that much.”

Gremory had to use one of her arms to stand up off of the ground quickly enough to be back in position. “So, what, you're emulating King Jobber now? Real good guy to emulate, huh.”

Shannon shook her head, though, her posture not wavering an inch. “Kanon is stronger than you think he is. You're unlucky- I don't think you could beat him if you tried.”

“Why are we talking about Kanon now?” Rudolf asked. He rubbed the back of his head. “Not that I mind the... vote of confidence for, well I guess he's gonna be my son-in-law or something now.”

“Oh, geez.” Gremory rolled her eyes.

Giggling, Shannon turned her head slightly. “Yes, they do make a lovely couple, don't they? Tora-sama and Kanon. In a certain sense, you could say that they're probably much better than George-san and I would've been. For my younger brother, I am nothing but proud.”

Just as quickly, though, Shannon returned to fighting posture. “But that does not mean that I don't deserve to exist as well. I... want to see the blue oceans one more time, for myself.”

“Wait, what happened with you and George exactly?” Rudolf asked. “What, did he break up with you?”

The scene paused for a long moment as both Shannon and Gremory pondered this statement. “Let us just say it's a long story,” Shannon said as calmly as she could, “and hopefully I might explain it to you later.”

“Things aren't going so hot for you, huh, Gremory?” Rudolf laughed.

“...That's always how it is for you, huh?” The grimacing Duchess hissed. “Always that the ladies wind up doing your work for you. You can't do a thing on your own.”

“Hey, I'm out here, aren't I?” Rudolf placed his pistol over his shoulder, gangster-style. “Gimme at least a little credit, Your Duchessness.”

---A fifth shot was fired. But, again, it bounced off. The strength of Shannon's shield was formidable, and could easily dwarf that of a simple gun, especially one fired by a demon. “One more miss, and you will not have enough bullets to kill both of us.” Shannon said. “You should give up now. No one will blame you, Lady Gremory.”

Whatever Shannon was expecting, it probably wasn't the low chuckle that started to force itself out of Gremory's throat. “No one will blame me, huh? Yeah... you're probably right. It's too late for that. What am I even doing here, right?” She laughed to herself some more. “I'm not supposed to be here.”

(BGM: Stop)

The sixth shot was fired into the sky. Gremory stood there and just... fired a bullet into the sky. It didn't come down there, obviously- the wind was far too strong for that. “This was a one-on-one duel.” Gremory said. “You get a second, I get a second. Only fair, right?”

Rudolf dodged out of the way of Shannon's shield to fire a bullet through Gremory's head once he registered what was probably about to happen, but-

-a flash of white, a flash of bright light, and the bullet sat there, in the air, sliced cleanly in two, a cut made with such precision that it defied imagination. “...Such are the laws of honorable combat. Your gesture is no doubt appreciated, Lady Shannon, but it was foolish.”

(BGM: Hurricane Swordsman)

A silver-haired... was that a boy, or a girl? Rudolf wasn't quite sure until Shannon gasped, “Prince Vassago!” Ponytail, tresses, shining with a glowing light and with a huge metallic skirt, fully armored, even, this Vassago guy had an air to him that Gremory didn't- of a trained combatant, no, no, not just trained, but terrifying. A katana in his hand sliced the rain drops as they fell, being sharp enough to casually slice in two a .45 bullet...!

Vassago stood from his position on the ground to stand. “And to Lord Rudolf Ushiromiya, my salutations.” He bowed. “I am Vassago. My condolences on your imminent death- I am sure you deserve better.”

“W-who the...?” Rudolf couldn't help a shiver quaking through his body. Gremory, she was just a human, who'd just walked up to him, and though that bunny girl from earlier had gone poof, she'd been a big sputtering moron who could easily be japed with, but this guy- the air around him was- clearly inhuman!

“Just in time, Vassago.” Gremory said. There was a smirk. “It's been a long time.”

“So it has, Lady Gremory.” Vassago nodded. “It is my honor to have been the one you chose to call. Perhaps to assist in Lady Beatrice's revival shall make up for my previous inability to assist you.”

“...I-” Shannon gulped. “I will not falter.”

“Your spirit is respectable thus.” Vassago said. He took a breath out, and readied his katana, casually holding the blade, which required such dexterity, in a single hand- no, he- he raised his leg behind himself, and slotted that katana into his greaves...?! And then he, from his skirt, no, it was a sheath, he pulled out another one, still in its scabbard-?! “I am prepared. Lady Shannon, do you have any final words?”

(BGM: Stop)

“I will not...” Shannon said, raising her shield. “I-I will never-!”

-love you.

A wave of sound from so long ago, and yet, from when did it come?

From the first this shield ever faltered-

-it rang out, for the last time it would ever be raised-

-to complete the truth that would obliterate its wielder.

“'Let their eyes grow too dim to see, and their bodies to quake continuously.'”

Vassago sheathed his blade-

-and Shannon's eyes grew hollow-

-as once and for all, she shattered.

The flash of the blades' light was the only way Rudolf could tell that anything had happened. Just as Shannon raised her shield, Vassago seemed almost to teleport behind it, and just slightly touched his blade-

-red, blue, purple, black, hand, foot, iron, steel, platinum, silver, gold, long, short, one-handed, two-handed, slight cuts, massive cuts-

-blood spewed from the inscription ritually carved on Shannon's chest by over a hundred individual slices, as though her body were highly pressurized, and then she fell-

-and her body was

it was gone.

(BGM: DID YOU ENJOY?)

Shannon's uniform was just... lying there, covered in blood, with that... circle thing... carved into it by Vassago's hundreds of blades. So many slices, so many little inscriptions to it, and yet he'd done it all within such a short time.

And he had remained spotless. None but Shannon had been dirtied by Vassago's attack. No, was that even an attack? That was a slaughter- a ritualistic sacrifice performed with the precision of one who went beyond an expert.

Rudolf's instincts to run, to mouth off, all paled and shorted out before the sight of this man. He fell to his knees, seeing Shannon suddenly vanish after being sliced up like a succulent ham. He couldn't speak. He couldn't-

“I think... I think you got him.” Gremory laughed. “I don't think the old man can speak any more. Sucks to be him.”

“Lady Shannon fought valiantly. I shall remember her effort.” Vassago nodded. That... was a 'valiant fight' to this freak...?! “Shall I eliminate Lord Rudolf as well?”

“...Nah.” Gremory shrugged. She walked up to Rudolf and placed her pistol against his forehead. “Any last words, old man?”

Rudolf Ushiromiya was about to die. He knew that. Even if he fought back against Gremory, that freakish killing machine Vassago would slice him into pieces before he could even blink.

So he laughed.

Rudolf laughed and laughed and laughed. He laughed about it all. He laughed harder than he'd laughed in a long time. The two demons politely stood and let him laugh, too. “Ahh... man. Tora's gonna kick my ass for this one.” He smirked. “Well, fuck it. Take the shot, Gremory. Put me outta my misery, or something. I mean, who wants to hear a washed-up has-been half-asser rattle on for any longer than he has t-”

 


(BGM: RORSCHACH TEST)

“...what is...”

in the rose garden patio, you find something even more baffling. it's... it's shannon's uniform, covered in blood, sliced up. the cuts in the fabric aren't just random, though- they're...

“oh, god.” jessica's here. she shakes, trembling and shuddering. “oh god oh god no not shannon, c'mon, no. no no no. no- what is that. what is that thing.”

you turn and look at kanon, who looks as baffled as you do, then take a moment to recognize it. “this one... it's... the sixth circle of the sun.” you mumble. “for- for invisibility.” maria cackles a little bit.

“so, the culprit would have us believe they murdered shannon-chan, then... rendered her invisible?” aunt natsuhi says, glaring. “...this is... ridiculous!”

“shannon, no.” jessica walks up and grabs onto the discarded uniform, carved to bits. “oh my god, shannon, no, no, come on. not you too, come on, just- are you pranking me? is this a prank? come on-!”

“jessica-sama.” kanon puts his hand on jessica's shoulder. “i-”

“how can you be calm?!” jessica shouts. she's crying, but it gets eaten by the rain. “you, and- and george, weren't you-?!” oh, yeah. george is here.

“a-a-ah. well.” george stammers. “y-you see, i... shannon...” he gulps. “i-i... meant to... propose to her last night, and yet she didn't- didn't even show. i-” he's running out of breath. “i've had a feeling for- a while now, i suppose.”

“a feeling for-?!” jessica shouts, holding her head. “aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaugh, aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaagh!” that, in your estimation, is a 'i cannot words right now' scream.

as aunt natsuhi tries her best to calm her daughter down, words you really, really don't want to hear ring out. “UM,” it's gohda, “EXCUSE ME, I SEEM TO HAVE FOUND,”

(BGM: Stop)

you bolt.

it's at the edge of the rose garden, right near the trees in the woods. gohda is there. aunt eva and uncle krauss are there. kyrie is there. they're surrounding

you stagger forward

slumped there on the tree is

rudolf ushiromiya

with a bullet hole through his head

and you can see inside his head just a little bit

but it's just normal blood and bone like anyone else's.

slowly, people start to gather there. you stagger forward.

“u-uncle rudolf...!” jessica was already crying, but now she's outright sobbing. will just closes his eyes and sighs.

“tora,” kyrie says. she's still as cool as ever.

you slump down onto your knees on the stone right in front of your father's corpse.

“...why?” you ask.

(BGM: Worldend (solo))

“after all this...”

“you're just gone? dead like that?”

“you... you stupid...”

“stupid, stupid, stupid...”

“...fucking stupid old man, you... you never think about what anyone else wants, do you?! you just go off and do whatever it is you want, you've always been like that, haven't you?! go around and half-ass being a dad and you just run around partying and doing whatever and who cares, right?! you dumb, stupid asshole, you useless idiot piece of shit, why are you like this, every time it seems like things might be okay for a bit you turn around and make everything worse again, why can't you do anything right, why can't you just be my dad if you care that much, why do you just have to bullshit around and be an asshole all the time, why are you like this?! you think i wanted you to die, you think ange would've wanted that, you think kyrie, you think mom, you think anyone, anyone would've wanted you to just up and die in the middle of the night without ever actually fixing anything you stupid, you, you coward, you're just running away from your problems you're not fixing anything, you're just leaving it to me again, you're leaving me behind with your problems again, i hate you, i hate you!! it's all your fault again isn't it?! somehow this is all your fault again and you're just leaving everyone else to deal with your problems because you never do anything right, you stupid asshole, you pigheaded old man, you useless, stupid, stupid idiot, just for once in your life come back and actually solve all these problems you've caused, make someone other than yourself happy for once in your stupid life, you think you can just go off and die and nobody would care, it wouldn't bother anyone, is that what you thought, i care! you're my dad and unlike my moms because i've got plenty of those because you're a stupid asshole piece of shit, i've only got one dad, and it's you and you think you can just take that away from me and it's not going to hurt, you think that's okay, DO YOU THINK THAT'S OKAY YOU STUPID MORON IDIOT ASSHOLE I HATE YOU! FUCK YOU! i hope you burn in hell you stupid immature stubborn cowboy-headed pig-brained butt-ugly washed-up... half-assing... has-been... son of a bitch. you... you... i... i hate you, i... i hate you. come back so i can tell you how much i hate you, i... i...”

you're crying.

“for god's sake, dad...”

it's still raining.

Chapter Text

“Six people are unquestionably dead. Kumasawa, Nanjo, Genji, Rosa, Shannon, and Rudolf have all perished. All of their deaths occurred between 1:15, when Tora and Kanon entered the guesthouse, and 10:00, when Tora awoke in Kanon's bed.” 

 

(BGM: Scar sound)

The evil spirit was not quite vanquished, so she paid the price for her transgressions. Too bad, so sad. You were almost an innocent.

The first twilight is here. No amount of begging could save a sinner like him.

In a way, he died two years ago, too. Goodnight, faithful servant.

Perhaps to understand motherhood, she had to return to her own childhood.

She was the shining treasure of George's eye, and hiding treasures is within Vassago's domain.

How surprising. It seems someone mourned you after all.

Onto Vassago's tablet were etched the epitaphs of the deceased. Beatrice probably couldn't help herself- she politely clapped. “Quite a show- though I must say, it paints a poor picture of your capabilities that you wrote yourself in losing to Rudolf.” She snorted.

“What can I say, Bae?” Gremory cracked her neck. “I prefer to remain, y'know, coolly aware of my own actual capabilities. No good lying about it, right?”

Battler, meanwhile, pursed his lips, staring down at the gameboard. True to her word, Gremory had brought on the first twilight. “...Hey, Gremory.” He said. The Duchess in question tilted her head and made a little noise of questioning. “I've got a question- actually, no. Two. First question. What were you planning on doing if Vassago didn't show up here?”

“I knew he was going to show up here.” Gremory shrugged.

“But you can't-?” Battler raised his eyebrow.

“Ah, I tweeted about it, Lord Battler.” Vassago said, bowing his head. At Battler's blank stare of confusion, Vassago said, “Twitter? It's something of an... An online messaging board that anyone in the world might access? I sent-”

“He sent an email to all his friends and I'm one of them.” Gremory said.

“I... uh, okay. Gotcha.” Battler nodded. He actually didn't get it at all, of course, but no need to give that away. Beatrice was cackling at him. “So, uh, back to my second question.” As decreed by the Endless Sorcerer, the room grew serious. “What are you doing?”

“What's my angle?” Gremory asked. She wasn't responding to Battler- she was looking up at the ceiling, shrugging, staring off into the distance.

“Each game up to this point has had a purpose, I believe he's saying.” Beatrice chimed in. “Mine, Lambdadelta's, his, Bernkastel's. All who have controlled my gameboard have had a grander purpose in doing so. There's no way one such as yourself would do this simply to entertain, not with such an... intricately told tale- and yet this most definitely is a crime that a human could commit.”

“...Battler... and Beatrice.”

Gremory's voice was low, taking on a sort of quiet intensity that was unlike her. “What do you think... that this means? Not just this game... but the fact that the four of us are here, talking with each other, challenging each other? Myself and Vassago, we outsiders, against you two, the king and queen of Rokkenjima. Why am I telling you this story?”

“E-er, Duchess?” Vassago stammered.

(BGM: Drittes Auge Nehmen)

Who... aaaaaaam I?

“Battler Ushiromiya... do we exist?” Gremory asked.

“You're both very important people to me.” Gremory said.

“Of course. Without a doubt.” Call, and response. Battler responded.

“What, exactly, makes the two of us so important?” Call, and response. Beatrice asked.

“Does this world exist?” Gremory asked, again.

“It's you two who can finally lift the weight on my back.” Gremory said, again.

“No doubt about it.” Call, and response. Battler responded, again.

“And what weight, perchance, could that possibly be?” Call, and response. Beatrice asked, again.

“In that case...”

“The weight on my back is...”

“My Rule Z.” “My Rule Z.”

Please, ____________ me.

“This is the form of 'Gremory'.” “This form tells you nothing about who is underneath.”

“Gremory. The duchess who remembers faults.” “Gremory. The duchess who procures love.”

“To you two, an old friend, returning at last.” “To you two, an outsider, intruding upon your story.”

“So, please... will you fight me? Battler Ushiromiya, and Beatrice? Accept that I have my point, and that I want you to find it? I-”

“You didn't have to give all the theatrics.” Battler said, rolling his eyes and smirking. “I was just wondering aloud. I still don't like you hurting Tora like this, but of course I believe you.”

(BGM: Stop)

Gremory stopped in her tracks. “Oh yeah well, uh, you know, aheh. I guess that's just how it be sometimes.”

Vassago, meanwhile, was stuck sitting in his chair, blankly staring, mumbling, “Huh?”

(BGM: GAG)

“What sort of person do you think we take you for, that we might believe you would torture not just the Ushiromiyas, but a wholly new character simply for the fun of it?” Beatrice snorted. “You're not me, Gremory, though you'd probably be much more attractive if you were! Hah!”

Staring blankly, her face pale, Gremory stammered, “Well, y'know, I just. Haha, not like I. You know.”

“Ohhhh, is this about Duchess Gremory's tendency to become deeply awkward when her lack of self-confidence is hit upon?” Vassago nodded.

“V-Vassago!” Gremory stood up and threw her hands out. “Come on! I'm trying my best here, okay? And- and maybe I would be hotter if I were you, Beato, but w-well unfortunately I'm not, and... blaaaagh!” Beatrice continued cackling as Gremory grumbled into her hands, her face bright red.

“You are doing a very good job, all told, Duchess.” Vassago assured her, patting her on the back.

“Can it your fucking face!” Gremory said... whatever that meant. “Ugh! Fermez your bouche, Vaz, and- and you two quit laughing!”

Battler, decidedly not quitting laughing, said, “See, now I can really see how you two got together!”

“I'M GONNA DIE OVER HERE AND YOU TWO ARE JUST OKAY WITH THAT, HUH. I AM FEELING SO ATTACKED RIGHT NOW, YOU DON'T EVEN KNOW.” Gremory wailed. Then she said the letter F a few times.

(BGM: Core)

After a bit to re-orient the conversation, Gremory kicked her feet up. “Alright. Do your think, lady and gentleman.”

“The first subject of discussion is the barricades created by Lady Kumasawa and Lord Nanjo.” Vassago said, waving his flag. “How could the culprit kill all of them, when the way into the manor and in through the boiler room were both blocked?”

“Easy.” Battler smiled. “The murders were presented in the order that Tora discovered them, but that doesn't mean that's actually the order they were killed.

“Might I ask for a clarification?” Vassago asked.

Battler crossed his arms and hummed. “Well, say... Say it was... Uncle Krauss, for instance.” Battler said. “Not that I'm accusing him- it's just possible. Assuming there was a discarded uniform for Shannon in the manor somewhere, here's what he'd have to do- while he's in the manor, he kills Kumasawa, Aunt Rosa, Genji, and Nanjo. He puts Kumasawa in the armoire, Aunt Rosa in her room, and then takes Genji and Nanjo into the boiler room. He puts Nanjo in front of the door, leaves through the boiler room, places Genji on the well- wait.”

“Krauss couldn't do that.” Gremory said. “He'd be locked out of the house, and people observed him being there when they woke up.”

“So Nanjo and Kumasawa's bodies truly do create a closed room, in your estimation?” Beatrice asked.

“Once both Nanjo and Kumasawa's bodies are set, it's impossible to get back into the manor.” Gremory nodded.

“In that case, the people who could have done this hypothetical are the ones in the guesthouse...” Battler hummed. “Oh! George! Let's say it was George. Since Tora doesn't stay in that room, she doesn't notice he's gone when he leaves to the manor. Since the servants' room in the guesthouse is also open, he'd definitely have a way to get one of Shannon's uniforms... actually, then he could even kill Rudolf before going to the mansion, go in, do everything I just said, put Genji down on the well, and then go back to the guesthouse after painting the magic circle on the door.”

“Bottom-line it for me?” Gremory asked.

“The culprit who set the barricades did not return to the manor once the barricades were set. That means anyone in the guesthouse is a valid suspect.” Battler spoke his blue, lashing from his outstretched finger.

“Ah, 'anyone'?” Vassago raised his eyebrow.

“Battler.” Beatrice stared at her foolish, foolish husband. “Maria is in the guesthouse.”

“Oh! Duh.” Battler struck himself on the head. “Maria couldn't have moved those bodies on her own.”

“Anyone who performed this crime would at least need to be capable of moving the body of Dr. Nanjo, who was...” Beatrice paused and pursed Battler's lips. “Not a small man.” She concluded.

“In the interest of utmost fairness, neither was Lord Genji.” Vassago cut in.

Gremory rolled her eyes. “You know, I'm sure someone out there thinks a Maria culprit board would be real rad or something, but that just sounds stupid to me. Maria Ushiromiya is not a culprit, nor is she an accomplice. She does not have a hand in these murders.

Anyone in the guesthouse, except Maria, is a valid suspect.” Battler said. “How's that?”

Acknowledged.” Gremory nodded. “That is a true statement, no doubt.”

“Well, that's all well and good, Battler,” Beatrice huffed, “but I fail to see how this assists us with our primary problem.”

“...What primary problem.” Battler blinked.

“The-” Beatrice sputtered. “You moron!” She flicked him in the face. “The magic circle, you dope! And using Shannon as one of the six victims for the first twilight?”

Blink. “Oh, oh yeah! That primary problem.” Battler grinned. “That's a pretty big primary problem, yeah.”

“If it was small, it wouldn't be primary! Do I have to do all the thinking around here?!” Beatrice clutched her hands and seethed very loudly at Battler.

Battler raised his hands. “Hey, you were the one who said I was incompetent.”

“Since six victims were slain, and the magic circles drawn, this is undoubtedly the work of one imitating the epitaph in my stead. However, Genji, Kumasawa, and Nanjo, my three erstwhile accomplices, are unquestionably deceased.” Beatrice said, tapping her pipe a bit on the arm of her chair. “Shannon- without a corpse- was left as one of the six victims, so the culprit of this incident must be one who is aware of her existence as furniture; the three who knew of this existence are similarly deceased.”

“There wasn't even a letter this time.” Battler said, putting his hand in his pocket and fidgeting with a bit of pesky lint. “Who would even have the idea?”

“In fact, these particular victims are especially baffling.” Beatrice continued. “Assuming that there was a financial motive, why in the world would the culprit murder Rudolf and the servants? I could easily see someone attempting to frame murders of financial gain on myself, but the six victims offered nothing- no inheritance, no stake in the family, nothing. Rosa, perhaps, some to her siblings, but it could not have been, say, her spouse, for obvious reasons.”

“I mean, if that was the case, I'd think the culprit was Kyrie.” Battler said. He furrowed his brow. “But then, why would Rudolf die? There's no way Kyrie would kill Rudolf.”

“Are we certain of that?” Beatrice asked.

“Look at Tora.” Battler said. “If Kyrie didn't have affection for Rudolf at all, there's no way she'd treat her younger sister's daughter so kindly. It's Kyrie.”

“...A fair point.” Beatrice said. Her foot tapped a little. “I, for one, am concluding that a financial motive seems unlikely.”

“Yeah.” Battler nodded. “But if Sayo's Rule Z has been fulfilled, and there are these murders that can't really be financially motivated... where does that leave us?”

“I believe we should pay closer attention to the truth the piece Gremory used during her battle with Rudolf-sama.” Kanon said.

“Oh, I figured she was just showing off.” Battler said, blinking.

“She always has been a bit of a showboater.” Beatrice nodded in agreement.

“That'd be a weird flex, but okay.” Gremory said.

Pause. (BGM: Stop). Unpause.

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA” Battler, Beatrice, and Gremory all jumped up and huddled together at the sudden appearance of Kanon, casually sitting on a small ottoman to the side of the game board.

(BGM: LABO Security Lv. 2)

“When did you get there?!” Beatrice frantically pointed her finger at Kanon. Battler flapped his lips like a dead fish.

“...I've been here the entire time.” Kanon said, raising his eyebrow. “It's not as though Lord Battler sent me away.”

“It's true, he has been.” Vassago said, as though nothing was strange about this.

“And you knew and you didn't tell us!?” Gremory shrieked.

“I assumed you all knew.” Vassago blinked. “My apologies.”

“Well, uh...” Gremory adjusted her hat a bit. “Sorry, man, if you were here I'd have said hi. Maybe, uh, maybe not have called you a jobber.”

Kanon sighed. “I don't actually even know exactly what that word means.” '...but I'm still offended', he no doubt thought.

“Who knows what anything means with this woman, am I right, Kanon?” Beatrice said. She frowned. “Am I right?”

“Ah, a 'jobber' is a term that originated from pro wrestling.” Vassago smiled, and put on his teaching glasses. “It means a fighter who continually loses despite stated skill, such that they might make their opponent look more powerful.”

There was a long, awkward pause. “...Ouch.” Battler sucked some air in through his teeth.

“I-isn't that a bit harsh on the poor boy?” Beatrice said, doing similarly.

“It was in-character for my piece to say, okay?” Gremory gritted her teeth. “I mean, all due respect! I like the guy- uh, I like you plenty, Kanon!” She sputtered a bit. “It's just, I-!”

“I have lost several times.” Kanon said, looking away. “You're not wrong. To Asmodeus, to the Seven Stakes, to the Chiester Sisters... to Nee-san.” There was a slight air of bitterness to his voice, because it was Kanon, so of course there was. “...But this is not open combat. This is deduction. If I am allowed to be at the table, I will do my best...” He glared. “to show you who the real jobber here is.”

“Ohhhh, it's ooooon.” Battler pumped his fists in glee. “You see that, Beato, it's on.”

“Yeah, yeah, it's so on.” Beatrice had just the same sort of glee in her little cackle. “He's gonna beat her maidenly ass so bad. It's gonna be great.”

“Hey, uh, Thing 1 and Thing 2, you mind cooling your jets a bit?” Gremory backed away somewhat in her seat. “I need my ass.”

“She does. Lady Jojo is quite fond of it.” Vassago said, and then clapped his hand up to his mouth as Gremory squeaked aloud.

Kanon cleared his throat. “...As I was saying. Forgive me if I'm somewhat new to the usage of these truths. The piece Gremory's statement that she was 'beholden to one girl' seems odd.”

“Oh ho.” Gremory smirked.

“This red truth would not be spoken unless it had a meaning. Your piece's red truth, if the culprit who killed Rudolf Ushiromiya were to say it, would be valid.” The blade on Kanon's right arm flared blue for a moment.

“Your response, Duchess?” Vassago said. He pulled out two flags, one red, one blue, and waved the blue over to Gremory's side of the board.

Gremory, in response, bent over and laughed to herself, having to take a moment after to catch her breath. “Ahhh... Nice. Acknowledged.”

“Nice job, Kanon!” Battler pumped one fist, and went for a high-five with his other hand.

“...Celebrating at this point would be in poor taste.” Kanon left him hanging. “It's an important truth, and one necessary to know- but at the moment, it leaves our side in a poor position.”

(BGM: Divulgation)

“Eh?” Battler anime'd.

Beatrice came to whatever conclusion Kanon was angling at first, and gasped, her eyes going wide. “Oh... Oh ho ho ho. Interesting... interesting, Gremory! You truly were never a boring woman!”

“I feel like I'm a bit behind here.” Battler said, crossing his arms.

Kanon sighed a little bit. “If we assume a single culprit behind these incidents, then with the evidence that has been laid out, one person in particular becomes quite suspicious. It's not hard to construct a theory for this person, considering everything.”

“Eh?” Battler blinked. “So... there's someone who'd say something like that, who knows about magic and Shannon and all of that, who could do all those things, and could have a reason to kill those five specific people?”

The twelve survivors, now, had gathered in the parlor again. “It's cute how dumb you are, but use your brain, Battler.” Beatrice said. Gremory kept on her quiet, satisfied smile.

Battler crossed his arms, and looked down towards the board. “Then, the obvious culprit here would be...?”

Chapter Text

(BGM: None)

there's a few things you learn as you're gathering in the parlor again, now that everything's sorted. the first thing: shannon, genji, and kumasawa's master keys are gone. nowhere to be found. the only master keys left are with kanon and gohda.

the second thing you learn is that you're surprisingly with it at this point. you were expecting yourself to be completely catatonic after finding your dad's body, but here you are. you can't feel anything worth a damn, but you are paying attention.

third thing you learn is pretty important. you learn, or rather, realize-

“is it possible there's someone else on the island, without our knowledge?” george asks, frowning.

“i doubt it.” kyrie says, crossing her arms. “the gruesome nature of the murders would seem like an effective deterrent towards suspecting one of one's own family members, no? and the magic circles-”

“yeah. they're pretty much just in maria's notebook.” you nod. “why would some random person hiding out here think to put those up?” maria is in the corner watching something on tv. “well, i mean. not that i really know why they'd put them up to begin with, because, well yeah, but it just seems really... off?”

“so, what?” jessica says, frowning. “you're saying someone in this room-?”

-probably killed genji, kumasawa, nanjo, rosa, and your dad. yes. that is what you've realized.

(BGM: Suspicion)

“h-hold on.” uncle krauss stammers into the conversation. “isn't it more reasonable to think that the culprit is shannon?”

“e-eh?” kanon sputters. “what?”

“i do see your logic.” kyrie nods. “that bloody uniform could easily be staged, and nobody has seen shannon-chan since last night. that's right, isn't it, george?”

“a-ah.” george says, awkwardly pushing up his glasses. “s-so it is.”

“so, what?” aunt eva barges in, flicking her fan around. “you're saying that the servant girl killed those five and then disappeared to make us think she was dead, too?”

“well.” uncle krauss puffs up his chest. “yes. yes, that is what i'm saying!”

that is, uh, literally impossible. because the person who calls themselves shannon, or did, at least, is sitting right next to you frowning very loudly. “quit suspecting shannon!” jessica stands up and shouts at her dad. “she's dead and you're just-!”

“i understand you have some emotional attachment, but we need to consider the idea!” krauss suddenly gets very loud.

“er, for what it's worth!” gohda chimes in. “i agree with jessica-sama, i don't think that shannon-san is the sort of person to-”

“shut up, gohda!” krauss, eva, and jessica all shout at once.

“oh okay, i'll just be in the corner.” gohda mumbles and proceeds to make himself look very small.

“that's ridiculous.” eva swings open her fan. “what would be her motive? shannon was just a servant girl! it's not as though she stood to gain anything by killing any of them.”

“well, uh, who did?” hideyoshi asks, rubbing his chin. “i mean... why rudolf?”

“it is strange.” kyrie says. “rudolf's financial worth was essentially zero, as were the servants'. had eva, krauss, or i been among the victims, it would be a simple board to flip- murdering the other siblings to obtain a greater share of the inheritance.”

“u-uh, aunt kyrie, isn't it kind of weird to have that thought come out so easily?” jessica grimaces.

“well, jessica, i believe that one day, you'll understand what it means to be a woman.” kyrie does the finger gesture. jessica looks over at you. you shrug, because, like, it's not like you know.

“a-anyway.” krauss says, and looks over at eva. “you say that like you have an idea, eva.”

eva stares at krauss like he's stupid. “i say it like i have an idea. of course i have an idea! i don't even know why we're standing around here arguing when the culprit is clearly battler!” oh, yeah, of course, the culprit is clearly ba

wait


 

"I- aaaargh!" Battler gritted his teeth. "There's no way! I don't believe it for a second!"

"Nor do I, but it is the most obvious possibility." Kanon said. "...and from the way Duchess Gremory is laughing, I would imagine she intended this."

"Ahhh..." Gremory breathed out. "Keep going, Vaz."


 (BGM: Closed my heart)

“wait, what?!” you sputter, your head suddenly swirling on its axis to stare blankly at eva. “h-hey, hold on, what are you-?!”

“who else would want to kill rudolf?” eva snorts, sneering at you. “you're the only one here dumb enough to care about him.”

at the same time, though- 'that's ridiculous!' 'mother, what are you talking about?!' 'shut the hell up!' 'that's completely out of line!' kanon, george, jessica, and aunt natsuhi (wow!) all shout over each other to... stand up for you?

“i'm sorry.” eva gets this little smile on her face. you don't like it. she's looking at aunt natsuhi. “did you just call me 'out of line', natsuhiii?”

“yes, i did.” aunt natsuhi says, standing her ground and clenching her fists. “suspecting tora of the murder of her own father is completely out of line! what would father think of-”

father is currently a corpse, so i don't really give a damn what he thinks.” eva smirks. “battler hated his father! who else would have a motive to kill him? and-”

“mother, i'm sorry, but i think that that's completely ridiculous.” george says, and eva looks flabbergasted to hear him say that. “even if i thought tora was the sort of person who could kill uncle rudolf, that doesn't explain why she'd then go on to murder the others.”

“...george.” eva frowns and purses her lips. “sit down.”

“i'm not going to sit down.” george pushes his glasses up. “i'm not going to let you accuse my cousin of patricide without a very good case.”

“l-listen, george.” hideyoshi says, pushing his hands down in a sort of calming gesture. “i get yer a bit upset, but maybe there's some hills that ain't worth-”

“see, i told you the servant girl wasn't good for you.” eva smirks. “she's dead and you're defending her murderer! this-”

“what the hell, aunt eva?!” jessica shouts.

“battler's the only one who pays attention to that freak child's magic ramblings- who else would make those disgusting scribbles?” eva says. there's a vein throbbing in her temple. “and we all know what happened with battler and rosa just yesterday!”

“she was completely catatonic after we discovered rosa's corpse!” aunt natsuhi says, stomping her foot. “and you know what you just saw, when she discovered rudolf!”

“yeah, you think she can just fake something like that?!” jessica shouts. kanon is holding your hand. his hand is trembling in rage.

“oh, so you want me to understand the mind of someone like him, who pretends to be a woman and acts like his family should go along with it?” eva says. kanon bites his lip. you're... hm.

“wait, what?” gohda says from the corner. oh, geez.

“he's clearly disturbed! just look at him!” eva throws her hands up at you. “of course someone like him would do something so ridiculous! he acts like a woman, he seduces a servant boy-”

kanon pounds his fist on the nearest flat surface, and eva turns on him like a hawk. “what? what's wrong, kanon-kuuun? feeling spiteful about the fact that you were tricked? i bet you didn't even-”

“you don't know the slightest thing about tora, so shut your mouth.” kanon says.

there's a very frightening quiet to the room for a few moments. “oh.” eva says. “shut my mouth. did you just give me an order, kanon-kun?”

“eva, listen, kanon-kun isn't at fault here!” hideyoshi stands up and waves his hands. “i-”

“kanon-kun's right!” jessica puts her hand on kanon's shoulder. “quit mouthing off just because you're older, aunt eva! that's bull!”

“i-i also don't think, that that, sounds quite right.” people are visibly surprised when gohda actually pipes up a bit. “in fact, i would say that that sounds very silly!”

“gohda-kun.” krauss speaks up again. “why on earth-”

“i mean, maybe i've just had a great deal of very confusing information dropped in my lap, but t-to say that kanon-kun would be so easily 'tricked' is ridiculous!” gohda says, his voice becoming a bit more confident as he speaks. “and... genji-san and kumasawa-san were like parents to shannon-chan and kanon-kun! why would tora-sama murder them if she- he- er, um, was trying to seduce kanon-kun? and shannon-chan, too! that doesn't make any sense!”

“...gohda-san.” kanon's gone from angry to genuinely kind of stunned.

“as the eldest servant still alive, i-i believe it's my duty to protect kanon-kun's honor!” gohda actually steps forward into the discussion. “your conclusion... contradicts the evidence, eva-sama! you can't claim that tora-sama committed the murders just because she's 'disturbed' if that clearly goes against even the logic of what you're calling a 'disturbance'!”

eva's stunned, too. “a-and ange-sama spoke very highly of her elder sister, and if there's one thing i learned about ange-sama during last year's conference, it's that she is a child who i don't think would be so easily swayed by someone who was simply 'disturbed'! she's frighteningly perceptive, much like her mother! and shannon-chan agreed when the subject came up that battler-sama, tora-sama, that- that person right there was the sort who would probably rather let a mosquito suck their blood than swat it off their arm!”

closing her eyes, eva takes a deep breath in through her nose, smiles, and says, “you know, gohda-kun, i'm feeling generous today. i'll give you a chance to take back everything you just said. how's-”

(BGM: Core)

“actually, you know what, i'm gonna say something now.” you raise your hand. “hi, yes. just got accused of murdering a bunch of people? love you all. i think i'm gonna say something now.” gohda looks kind of thankful that eva's ire immediately switches to you. “first off, if you think that way about me, why'd you treat me the way you did yesterday?”

“to spite rudolf, if i had to guess.” kyrie says. she's been staying quiet through this discussion.

“yeah, okay. fair. so, what? i murdered them because of the way i dress?” you cross your arms. “that's pretty bullshit reasoning, aunt eva, but anyway. why would i do this in this way that clearly calls attention to me? you're right that i paid attention to maria, but if i did it like this then you'd all know it was me, and your reasoning falls apart for everyone who's not rudolf or aunt rosa. you wanna tell me to my face i'm a crazy murderer, you'd better have a pretty good case. frankly, it makes you seem pretty suspicious.”

“oh, so now you're going to try and turn it around on me, hm, battler-kun?” eva laughs. “kumasawa and nanjo's bodies-!”

“i donno about anyone else, but from my point of view, the first time i saw you two was after kumasawa's seal had already been broken.” you're keeping flat and calm. “you could've left the mansion through the boiler room after placing nanjo, followed us in, and then pretended to have found genji. in fact, the seals do a lot more to make you two suspicious than it does me-” aunt eva looks like she's revving up to shout, but you continue. “-because when you found us, you'd discovered genji's body, right? nobody else had told us about genji's body then, so you'd have to leave the mansion through the boiler room after jessica and uncle krauss unsealed it, go and find genji, come back in without looking for anyone else out there, and then come back in and find us.”

“i- wha-” eva sputters.

“we- we did!” hideyoshi cuts in. “i tell you, we went out, found genji-san, then we swung around to the guesthouse to try and find george, and he wasn't there!”

“i believe you.” you say. “but if you're going to act like i'm the only person who could've done it when you two- and might i note that eva pretended to respect me specifically to spite rudolf, and would've stood to gain from rosa's death by getting a larger share of the inheritance- actually have a reason to be suspected in terms of actual physical events rather than just calling you crazy people, then, well, i think you should go to hell, because my dad just died and you're standing there with your family completely fine and non-murdered, you histrionic bitch. and you too, uncle hideyoshi, but i don't have anything snappy to call you.”

eva's face twists a bit in several different directions, running through all sorts of expressions where she's trying to figure out how she can get a leg up on you socially at this point. she starts gritting her teeth, her eyes darting every which way. eventually, she sighs angrily and huffs back into her seat. “thank you.” you say, glaring. you turn and smile and nod to gohda, who is sort of just standing there.

(BGM: Le 4 Octobre)

where before, eva was commanding the room, now a bunch of people, including her own son, are sort of inching away from her. “you really haven't been listening to anything i've been trying to tell you, have you.” george says.

“we will discuss this later, young man.” eva grunts. krauss is over there, looking like he's not sure what to think.

“...if you're all good on the whole family drama thing, i've got something to add.” will chimes in from over by the corner. he's been watching tv with maria, but standing on the wall like a cool kid.

“o-oh, right, mr. wright.” krauss says. “i... remembered you were here.” he smirks.

“genji was a pretty tough guy, and from my understanding he was on duty in the mansion even up that late. under her clothes, tora's actually pretty scrawny- and genji wasn't just stabbed once, he was stabbed repeatedly. even after just one stab, the culprit would've had to yank the blade out of him and stab him again. none of those wounds were in places that'd immediately disable someone, so genji would've still been able to fight back at that point, and even if he'd been stabbed, he could beat tora into paste. it's not completely impossible for tora to kill him that way, but i'd have to be pretty desperate to put money on odds that long.” will says. uh.

“...that's pretty rad for just eyeballing the corpse, will.” jessica flaps her gums a bit.

“i know a thing or two about corpses. like i said, the family business isn't something you talk about at the dinner table.” will shrugs. “for instance, i can tell you what kind of bullet got put in rudolf's head- it was a .45, the kind you find in pistols.”

“...huh.” hideyoshi seems kind of stunned.

“...you could tell that just from looking?” kanon looks vaguely awed.

“a pistol...” krauss says. “t-there aren't any of those on the island. the only guns here are father's collection of rifles.”

“way too big.” will says. his hands are in his pockets. “it's likely the culprit brought the gun with them, then, if it came from off the island- which would've meant they were already planning something when they came. tora didn't know about the magic circles or any of that until she met maria- right, kid?”

“certainly not. divorced as she was from her own nature, onee-chan's eyes were like those of a neophyte when first she began to learn.” maria says. she cackles a little bit.

“right. well, with that said.” will closes his eyes. “we can't point fingers until we have a better idea of what happened. i still haven't gotten a good look at rosa's corpse. you said she was hanging from her ceiling fan?”

“...indeed.” aunt natsuhi nods. “her hands were bloody, as i recall. it seemed as though she was trying to escape her rope.”

“that's pretty strange.” will says, raising his eyebrow. “think about it. you can't just up and hang someone without them fighting back. if she got manhandled over to her old room, she'd wake up, and if she was knocked unconscious after waking up in the middle of the night, she'd have a wound on her head or something. a corpse tells us a lot, even if it's been manhandled.”

“w-well, what do the corpses... tell us?” george asks, sweating a bit.

“rudolf saw his attacker coming head on. the bullet was coming right from his front and he was shot a single time.” will said. “the cuts made to kumasawa and nanjo's necks were precise- intentional. it's possible the culprit snuck up on kumasawa from behind, but we can't know about nanjo because his body took a fall down the stairs- the culprit hid a tree in a forest. i already talked about genji earlier. shannon's uniform was bloodied after it was cut- the specific way the bloodstains seeped through to the back showed me that, so if she is dead, that doesn't tell us much about how she actually died.”

“astute observations, mr. wright.” kyrie smiles and says.

“...though, if we can all make it until tomorrow, the police will be able to say pretty much anything i just said.” will says. “the issue is, if there is someone around who'd do that, how do we know they won't do anything more?”

(BGM: Voiceless)

“in that case, the adults need to protect the children.” kyrie says, crossing her arms. “would you agree? krauss, natsuhi?”

“mm.” natsuhi nods. “i agree.”

“...y-yes. right.” krauss nods. “gohda. food.”

“a-a-ah, right, of course. yes sir.” gohda nods.

“tora, george, jessica, maria.” kyrie says. “you all stay here for the time being.” eva snarls a little bit, but, well, fuck her. “kanon-kun and will, too.”

“you're willing to have me stay?” will raises an eyebrow.

“if you are the culprit, you won't try anything with george and jessica around, i'm sure.” kyrie smiles. “and your insight is fascinating. i do want to know who killed rudolf, you know.”

“so you can kill them?” will asks.

“you're learning. good job, mr. wright.” kyrie continues smiling, and does the finger thing. well. it's a good thing it wasn't you, then.

eventually, the olds and gohda all leave the room (though you do tell gohda seriously thanks holy shit you're a pal man before he leaves.) once everyone under the age of however-old-george-is-again leaves, you slump into your chair and breathe a heavy sigh. “ohhhhh god.” you say. “oh my god.” you curl inward and put your head in your hands. “oh my god, you guys, oh my god.”

(BGM: Fall)

“i'm... i'm so sorry, tora.” george says, awkwardly putting his hand on your shoulder. “i- that was- unbelievably cruel of them. i'm...”

“i don't think i'm ever gonna be able to look at them the same way again. your dad just died, geez.” jessica grumbles.

“eva-sama can go to hell.” kanon spits. george looks kinda stunned. “how dare she? speaking like she has the right to say anything when she hasn't lost anything today- it's easy for her to say, isn't it, acting like she knows everything about what anyone must be feeling.” he's grinding his teeth.

“...it's okay, kanon-kun.” maria smiles, having walked over. “everyone is going to be revived in the golden land.”

“...ah.” will suddenly lights up a bit. “maria. when you say that, you're talking about the riddle?” maria nods. “i see.”

“wait. grandpa's riddle? but we-” jessica clamps her mouth shut.

you sigh. “it's fine, alright? honestly, i trust everyone in this room, and the door's locked- i don't think anyone could be listening in. full disclosure, last night, will, jessica and i wound up solving the riddle together.”

“...wait!” jessica pounds her fist into her open palm. “there is a nineteenth person- beatrice!” maria happily uu's, because jessica is getting it! aha.

“um, no, there's-” you clear your throat.

“milady.” kanon says, frowning very, very loudly. “i. have. a confession. to make. to you.” jessica tilts her head. kanon very loudly clears his throat. he's sweating.

“you know you don't, like, have to, right?” you ask.

“no. no. i do. it. it's important.” kanon says. he stands up and takes a deep breath in through his nose. “alright. so. i-” he loses control of his tongue for a second.

“would it help if i said it?” will asks. “'cause i already figured it out.”

“no! no.” kanon waggles his finger. “no, that's- not necessary. thank you.” he clears his throat again. “i. was beatrice.”

(BGM: Stop)

there's a few moments' silence.

yup, still going.

still no- “what.” jessica blinks.

(BGM: Fishy aroma)

“that. that was me. down there. i was beatrice. that person was me.” kanon says.

jessica flaps her gums a bit. “ohh.” george smiles. “so when maria-chan said that 'beatrice' taught her magic-?”

kanon takes a deep breath in, purses his lips, and nods. “mmhm. that was me, too. if i- if i had my wig and dress i could show you, but i don't.”

“...boobs?” jessica tilts her head.

“i was using pads, milady.” kanon says.

“so the... and the...” jessica says, her eyes slowly going out of focus like she's losing touch with reality, which, you know, is pretty relatable. “so the... and you were... so tora was... and that was like... but wait... nn... nuh?” oh, poor jessica. “so you were... and so you... but when we... so, but... i... huh...? you... beatrice... so you were... you're, like... so you're... i mean... what?” she looks down at her hands. “thank... you?????” she squeaks.

“there's this cellar underneath the chapel,” you explain to george, “and kanon was waiting for us under there in his beatrice outfit. and, uh, that's where i was that night.”

“spending time with kanon-kun in an underground cellar.” george says.

“yeah, basically.” you nod. “lots of productive conversation. we spewed some backstory at each other. i think i did more of it.”

“i see.” george says. “well. so, kanon-kun, you've been playing the role of beatrice?”

“...uu-uu.” maria says. she has a bit of a strange look on her face. “not 'playing the role of'.”

“maria.” suddenly, out of kanon's throat comes the beatrice voice, which startles george and jessica. and even you, a bit. he's steepling his hands, but his body language does change a bit. “my greatest apprentice no doubt recognizes me when she sees me, even in this human guise, no?”

“uu!” maria lights up. “beatrice!”

“with that said, maria.” kan- beatrice, beatrice says. “this is a more serious situation than i had anticipated. i need you to pay close attention to me when i say, be careful. do not find yourself alone- always stay with at least one of us. do you understand?”

“...uu-uu...?” maria says. she looks down. “beatrice... the six chosen by-”

“i have already resurrected as much as i need to.” beatrice says. she looks over at you. “tora, jessica, and will saw to that- they solved my epitaph. i... i cannot tell who yet, but... someone is doubtless attempting to pretend that they are solving my riddle, when in fact they're just committing the lowest of human atrocities.”

it takes a second for it to sink in for maria- this isn't beatrice's doing. even beatrice doesn't know what's happening. “uu... uu.” maria says. you come over and hug her. “mis... fortune?”

“i suppose the destroyed shrine was an omen after all.” george frowns.

“hey, maria... it's okay. i'm gonna keep you safe.” you say. “i promise. i swear i'll keep you safe, no matter what happens.”

“...tora... onee-chan. uu-uu.” maria's face is trembling a little bit. you think she probably still doesn't fully understand that her mother really, honestly is never coming back, but... “it's... okay.” she says. she's got little tears in her eyes. “beatrice and tora onee-chan will protect us.”

“right!” you nod. “right, right!”

“that's my apprentice. i knew that the witch of origins couldn't be so easily swayed.” beatrice smiles. then kanon clears his throat. “...so. that.”

(BGM: Steady pace)

“man, that's, uh. kinda creepy.” jessica says. “but. yup. i guess you, uh. you're beatrice. okay.”

“my apologies if i frightened you, milady.” kanon says.

“well, kanon-kun, this is about the fifth time in the last twenty-four hours that everything i know has gone topsy-turvy, so, you know, i think i should adjust to it pretty soon here.” jessica gives him an awkward thumbs up.

“...regarding this underground cellar.” george says. “would it be possible for the girls- er, and kanon-kun- to hide in there until the issue is resolved or the boat comes?”

“huh?” you blink.

“call it me being overprotective, but i don't think i'm quite comfortable with you four being out and about the manor.” george says.

“...it... would be possible.” kanon says.

“wha- i'm not just gonna leave my mom and dad if there's a murderer running around!” jessica throws her hand out. “dude, aniki, you know i-!”

“i know that aunt natsuhi and uncle krauss would be glad to know you were safe.” george says, a serious look on his face. “as the eldest here, it's my duty to protect you all. kanon-kun, in the cellar, is there anything you could use to protect yourselves?”

kanon nods. “a number of the master's rifles were kept down there as well. and... i am practiced in their use.”

(BGM: INSPECTION)

“good.” george pats him on the shoulder. “i need you to keep them safe if it comes down to it, okay?”

...but... “but what about gohda? and aunt natsuhi?” you say.

“i won't let them die if i can help it.” george smiles reassuringly. “and will seems like a reliable sort. i think i can trust him to get things done.”

“well, whatever floats your boat, man.” will snorts.

“c'mon, will. you're a tough young man. i'm sure you want to protect them as much as i do.” george laughs. “put some oomph into it. you're a cat person, aren't you?”

“as if.” will rolls his eyes. “tigers aren't the kind of cats i like.”

jessica clicks her tongue. “this... doesn't feel good. it just doesn't.”

“i... agree with george.” kanon says. “whether it feels good or not, we need to do what we must in order to survive, milady.”

you, of course, are not going to complain about having the chance to just rest, because god. “...okay.” you say. you sigh. “fine. if- if any of you die, i swear to god, guys.”

“yeah, seriously!” jessica says, clenching her fist. “if you're just gonna sit me on the bench here, then whatever, but you better not get yourselves killed!”

“alright. once the adults return, we'll figure out a way to get you four in there.” george says. “and then we strapping young men can have a round of bonding time. i can teach will the ins and outs of being an adult!”

“if it means acting like you, i'll pass.” will says.

“that hurts, will. i'm really trying my best here.” george smiles and laughs.

“honestly, sometimes looking at you two i forget will is younger than you.” jessica snorts. “he's a lot cooler, no offense.”

“is it the coat?” george sputters, pushing his glasses up. “i bet it's the coat, isn't it.”

“you wouldn't work it, aniki.” you laugh.

“uu-uu.” maria adds. “not at all.”

there's a knock on the door. you can hear eva and aunt natsuhi arguing. they're back. and... it's gonna be okay. you can trust george and will. you know you can.

 


 

“---Gh, hhhghhhhhaaaagh---!”

(BGM: Das Absuchen)

“B-Beatrice-sama, nyeh?!” What Chiester 410 had least expected to see was the Endless Witch herself stumbling around in the forest- no, that wasn't the least expected part of it. When Beatrice's scream awoke 410 from her pathetic little hovel, what was most surprising-

-was that Beatrice was currently missing an arm.

“W-what the heck happened?!” 410 rushed over on instinct, to take a look. The stump was cut finely, but the stump of her arm wasn't just bleeding, it was steaming, her wound already beginning to cauterize itself from the sheer heat of whatever had caused her arm to be torn off.

“What does it look like happened, you stupid bunny?!” Beatrice swore under her breath. “Damn it, damn it, damn it-! My arm's been cut off! THAT'S what happened, you useless, blind, idiot furniture, ghhhaghh!”

“Nyeh-t way, Jose! You're Beatrice, how could someone cut off your arm?” 410 jumped back. “Are you North Wind and the Sunning again?”

No!” Beatrice gritted her teeth. “Where is that little bitch, I'll kill her, I'll kill her-!” She started waving her head around. “How dare she remove my arm?!”

410 might have been a mischievous, incompetent sort, but she knew her way around a battlefield when it came down to it. So, when, in the rain, a glint of light flickered right near where Beatrice was stepping- “Hold it!” She fired directly into the dirt, to pound whatever that was into dust!

An annoyed sigh, that told 410 that whoever this was was probably rolling her eyes, rang out. “You've got a nice eye, little lady. Better than this washed-up old hag, that's for certain. Honestly, I have to wonder what Gremmie sees in her, but there's no accounting for taste, I guess.”

“Say that to my face!” Beatrice roared, and then almost stumbled into the crater 410 had created.

“You're one of the Chiester Sisters Imperial Guard Corps, right?” The voice was that of a young woman, and she sounded oddly excited about this fact. “God, I've been curious for so long how your weapons work. Are you free? Can I take a look after this? I really really wanna take a look.”

“Let this little shit look at your weapon and you're fired!” Beatrice shouted.

“What kind of OS do you run? Is it Windows? Ooh, what's your processing speed? You have no idea how long I've been interested in this, oh man everything's coming up nice for Mama today, whee-hoo!”

410 took a moment to look down in the crater at what she'd just shot. It was a long, almost invisible wire, by the look of it, pale white- no, 'wire?' It was a thread-

-a thread of spider silk.

“Seriously!” Suddenly a noise from above heralded a person falling, upside-down, to hang in 410's radius. 410 yelped and jumped back. “Oh, sorry, sorry. I know, personal space, right? Trust me, don't worry, I'm learning, I swear.”

Combat scan, as this woman dropped down onto the ground, enraging Beatrice, who shouted something or another. Beatrice's opponent was a young lady, kind of pale complexion, definitely didn't look local to Rokkenjima. Her eyes were pretty dark, but she had a mane of wavy, platinum blonde hair that even put 00 to shame, falling wide down her back- the small thread of silk that she'd fallen down on seemed to retract into its ends. Now, as far as an aesthetic went, this woman had an aesthetic- little spider decal earrings, a black-and-grey tiered dress with white, spiderweb-pattern ruffles (and a nice rack if 410 did say so herself, whistle whistle,) grey thigh-high socks with- oh, were those rose vines? That was new. But the black spiderweb-pattern heels made up for it.

“Oh, appreciating my fashion sense? I heard strong character design, something that really pops!, was a must in this part of town, so I tried my hardest. How'd I do?” Spiderwoman here babbled.

“Well, uh... You've definitely got a theme going, nyeh. Heck, me and the rest of my troop just have the same uniform, so you pop better than we do.” 410 shrugged.

“Uniforms always seem so stuffy. You know, the thought of wearing a uniform is so, aaaaaa! I just wanna dig a hole and hide in it!- which I saw you did over there, nice hole, great form.” Spiderwoman got more and more hunched into herself the more she talked, grinning and pointing over to 410's hovel like a small child.

(BGM: Drittes Auge)

“You get over here-!” Beatrice roared, rushing towards Spiderwoman here for some form of attack- but from within Spiderwoman's mane of hair a few retracted inward, and her hand on Beatrice's side trailed through the air at incredible speed, rapidly creating a thin, but deadly, wall of the witch's anathema.

“Hey, can you wait?” Spiderwoman said as Beatrice recoiled from just a slight brush with the deadly webbing. “I know we were fighting, but I have to introduce myself, and if I don't do that now then I'm going to forget later and that'll be such a huge pain and everyone will feel all awkward.”

“I'll kill you, I'll kill you!” Beatrice roared. “This is my island-!”

With a burst of rage, a wave of golden butterflies tore through the platinum webbing long enough for Beatrice to strike at Spiderwoman's face, hitting her in the face and sending both of them tumbling down through sheer momentum.

“This... is my island...” Beatrice panted, her voice heavy with animosity. “And you have no place here! Jorogumoooooooo!”

Just as she was about to have her head slammed directly into the mud of the forest of Rokkenjima, a strand of web shot out from through the soles of Jorogumo's heels, latching onto a tree branch and allowing her to gracefully tumble away from Beatrice's grasp- and by gracefully, 410 meant that it left her more than a little disheveled when she landed on the ground. “Oh, so do you do have some bite to you.” Jorogumo said, snickering a little to herself.

“I... am the Endless Witch Beatrice.” Beatrice hissed. “No upstart like you... is going to defeat me as easily as that!”

“Then I hope you're more impressive than you sound, Endless Witch!” Jorogumo laughed.

 


 

“Old...” Beatrice, staring down at this particular scene, clenched her fists. “...hag...?”

(BGM: Weißer Hund)

...And, true to form, another insane character appeared in the parlor. The woman who called herself Jorogumo, during the fight, had spun herself a seat and was now kicking back, legs crossed, showing off those rosy socks of hers. “Seriously though- no accounting for taste, Gremmie, but I just don't get it. 'Endless' magic? Yeah, just because the 'Endless Witches' haven't let anyone take a good look at it. I could give you a Fifth Law of Beatrice's Thermodynamics, easy!”

“Hey, it is pretty impressive.” Gremory put her hands on her hips. “You don't have to try and one-up her.”

Old hag...?!” Beatrice was trembling.

“...Lord Battler.” Kanon said. “What do we do?”

“H-hey, uh... hi there, nice to meet you, please quit offending my wife.” Battler waved his hands. “She offends easy and then bad things happen.”

Jorogumo tilted her head. “Wasn't it the piece me who said that? I don't get the problem.”

Old hag?!” Beatrice roared, the room beginning to tremble.

“Sorry, sorry.” Gremory waved her hands and laughed. “I just kinda thought it was what she'd say at a point like that. Blame me if you're gonna blame anyone, Bae.”

As soon as Beatrice's rage came, it dissipated. “Fine. Yes. I can be an adult.” She cleared her throat. “It's fine. With greater age comes greater experience.”

“That's the spirit, Lady Beatrice.” Vassago smiled and pumped his fist.

“Still, though, this parlor is neat, very nicely decorated- and oh!” Jorogumo clapped. “It's one of Vassago's tablets, I love when he does that! You know the light show with it is actually at least partially a chemical reaction of phlogiston? I was so excited when I found out, because all those stuffy old whozits said it wasn't even real, but here it is! I've taken so. many. samples!

“So she has.” Vassago nodded.

“Ooh, and you're Battler Ushiromiya, right? He whose head is hard as stone? I hear you have the power of Endless Nine, can I study you later? Maybe it's something in your brain. Can I look at your brain?” Jorogumo babbled.

“Sure, as long as you're gentle about it.” Battler smirked. “The touch of a lovely young lady such as yourself is among life's greatest pleasures.” Where the piece Jorogumo had evaded getting faceplanted, Battler willingly accepted his wife's punishment.

“Now you,” Beatrice said, pointing her pipe at Jorogumo, “so long as you pay me your proper diligence as queen of this island, we won't have a problem, Ms. Jorogumo-” She stopped.

“...Lady Beatrice?” Kanon asked.

“Jo...rogumo.” Beatrice said, rolling the name in her mouth, the expression of slow realization crawling onto her face. “Jo- jo, Jorogumo, you're this mysterious 'Lady Jojo'!” Beatrice pointed her finger in shock.

“Have you two been talking about me?” Jorogumo said. “Not that I mind or anything, I just like to know what was said-”

“You're dating a SPIDER?!” Beatrice shrieked at Gremory. Gremory, for her part, just had a bashful chuckle and a shrug to offer.

Chapter Text

(BGM: Weißer Hund)

Once Beatrice's spider-hating ministrations had calmed down a bit, Vassago, seeming slightly awkward as he did in this sort of situation, said, “Er, Lady Jojo, perhaps you should introduce yourself more properly?”

“Why?” Jorogumo raised her eyebrow. “Don't they know who I am already?”

“They know your name, certainly, but that is not a proper introduction.” Vassago responded.

After a few blinks, Jorogumo's mouth went wide and she raised her index finger up into the air. “Ohhhh, this is one of those social niceties things, isn't it?” Gremory gave a gay little snort into her sleeve. Vassago nodded.

Jorogumo turned back around in her chair with a fluid motion, some of the silk in her hair assisting by fine-tuning her posture once she'd sat back down again, and smiled, unabashed, at the Endless Sorcerer and Golden Witch. “Hiiiii. I'm Jojo.” She gave a little wave, and chuckled. “Practicing magiophysicist, and, you know, other stuff in that vein. I'm a Pisces, born in the year of the Ox under a waxing crescent moon. My interests include urban exploration, sewing, Gremory...”

Gremory, ever the cool cucumber, loudly squeaked and turned red in her already-red sleeve, which just made it all the redder. “...the odd bit of mountain-climbing and skydiving- ooh! Do you think that if we convinced Battler that the ground was magic, he could survive a straight fall off of Mount Fuji or a mountain of comparable height? You're death-resistant, right, Mr. Ushiromiya, you can handle another splatter or two in the name of scientific progress?” Jorogumo continued.

“Unless it's Beato dropping me, I'd really rather not.” Battler chuckled, sweating slightly.

And,” Beatrice grumbled, “you're a spider.”

“I mean, yeah, and you're a witch, crazy how these things work, right?” Jorogumo laughed. The earnestness of her laugh told Battler that she probably didn't quite get the undertones. “Specifically an adult Nephila clavata, if you must know, though my threads are a bit lighter than my breed's particularly, call it a quirk of my elevation to yokai status if you've gotta, I just prefer to think of it as a character quirk that sets me apart from other members of my breed, it's better for stealthy fighting if I've gotta, too, as Gremmie so aptly demonstrated with that piece's arm, also if I wrap her up while I'm sleeping on reflex then I can see her better in the morning and I like looking at her while I'm waking up.”

GOD,” Gremory exclaimed.

“I'm so glad that you're having a good time over there, Gremory.” Beatrice spat.

Battler turned his head to his wife, raised his eyebrow, smirked, and said, “She's dating a spider, Beato, get over it.”

No! Spiders are anathema to the witch! One touch from her might kill me!” Beatrice made a few huffy grunts and flung her hand at Battler after she finished saying that, and turned back to her seat only to see Jorogumo grabbing at her other hand.

“Anathema, I haven't heard that one before.” Jorogumo said.

Beatrice shrieked and grabbed her hand away, jumping up and fussily flinging her arm around to get the spider cooties off of it. “Nyehhhhhh no they're icky and the webs get everywhere and nooooooooOOOOooo! No!” Like a mature adult, Beatrice went and sat in the corner, grumping. “No!”

Jorogumo blinked at the sulking witch and turned her head to Gremory. “Was it something I said?”

“No, no, I-” Gremory rubbed the bridge of her nose. “Bae's been like this for a while.”

“And you brought a spider with you!” Beatrice threw her hands up in the corner. “Brought a spider with her! This is completely unacceptable!”

“Actually, I came on my own.” Jorogumo said, sitting back down in her self-spun seat.

“Lady Jojo's habit of showing up in unexpected places is quite marvelous to behold.” Vassago said, smiling.

“Well, these fantasy people love showing up the instant someone puts them to use, so I'm not surprised.” Battler smiled. “I'd give you a more proper welcome, but, you know.”

“Oh, that's no problem.” Jorogumo smiled, tilting her head. Her smile was pure, very unabashed. She scooted her seat slightly closer to Gremory, reached over, and clasped Gremory's hand, laying them both on Gremory's thigh. “If I wasn't interested in how this turned out for her, I would've never agreed to be a villain in it! I only agree to be a villain for very important occasions!”

“Aw, c'mon, Jojo.” Gremory blushed a bit more softly this time and looked away. “You're gonna kill me, here.”

“...To be fair,” Kanon said, “Lord Battler and Lady Beatrice have been flirting a significant amount, so I imagine you're allowed some in return.” The crooning, somewhat nasally, intensely gynephilic noises emanating from Jorogumo as she scooted even closer, nudged up beside Gremory, and put her head on Gremory's shoulder, beaming, put a little smile on even the young servant's stony, stolid face.

“Oh, fine.” Gremory's smile betrayed her own happiness, as she wrapped her arm around Jojo, and the two of them sat in the embrace of love for a moment.

“Wait.” Battler said, his train of thought suddenly stopping. “Wait, wait. Is this...” His eyes slowly grew wide. “Kanon. Kanon, are you seeing this?”

“...Yes, but I doubt I understand your meaning.” Kanon replied.

“A relationship... between supernatural beings... where affection is expressed through reasonable methods that don't involve murder to any degree?!” Battler, flabbergasted, began flapping his lips like a fish. “Those can happen?!”

“What?” Beatrice said, popping back in, apparently over her spider hatred now. “Oh come on, I'm sure there's at least one. Will and Lion-”

“Lion's a human. Pretty sure Will is, too.” Battler said.

“Er...” Beatrice blinked. “Dlanor's perfectly-” She couldn't even finish that one without throwing her hands up.

“Those two's relationship is the opposite of reasonable.” Battler said. “And don't say You-Know-Who's name out loud or she might show up.” Jorogumo looked quizzically at Gremory, who mumbled that she'd explain later.

“T-the... are 45 and 410 a couple? They aren't, are they?” Beatrice sputtered.

“Even if they were, could anything involving those two be considered 'reasonable'?” Kanon snorted. Then there were Bernkastel and Lambdadelta, which was obviously not reasonable in any sense of the word.

“...do you think Gertrude or Cornelia are seeing anyone?” Beatrice squeaked, at last.

“You see?” Battler gestured at those two lesbians who were snuggling in front of him. “I mean, even George and Shannon have that weird 'order' dynamic. And, I mean, you violently maim me and I get off on it.”

“I told you he was like that.” Gremory said. Jorogumo made a little noise of appraisal.

Clearing his throat, it still took a moment for everyone's heads to turn and look at Kanon. “Not to impose, but I am still involved with Lady Jessica.”

Battler blinked. “Y-You are?” One. Two. Three. Lightbulb. “Oh yeah, you are! You are, aren't you! He is, isn't he!”

“I.” Beatrice said, her jaw hanging agape. “So you are, Kanon. So- so there, Battleeeeeer! You see? Proof! They do exist! Technically!”

Vassago frowned a bit. “Er, Milady Beatrice, Lord Kanon is sufficiently human for this to essentially exactly prove the point-”

“La la la la, I can't hear youuuuu!” Beatrice shouted over him.

Jorogumo looked up at Gremory and asked, “Have they been doing this all night?”

“Ehhh, this is about the worst it's been since Ronove left.” Gremory responded. She shrugged.

“So, if I'm arriving at an opportune moment like I always do, that means that the twenty-three-and-under crowd have just delegated, right?” One sapphic decoupling later, Jorogumo sat separately again, her hands steepled to properly focus on the board. “After the first twilight?”

“That is correct.” Vassago nodded. “Six have perished.”

“Awww.” Jorogumo frowned, pouting a bit. “I missed the Valentine's part. I like that part.”

“Don't worry, honey, we can make up for it when Valentine's comes around for us.” Gremory smiled. She turned to the human side and pointed her thumb at Jorogumo. “Jojo makes killer chocolates. I savor them dearly.”

“...” Beatrice glared. “...Make me some sometime?”

“Oh, sure, I don't see why not. Not Valentine's chocolate, of course, but maybe I could just spin you a platter of assorted fudge if you like that. Any allergies?” Jorogumo pulled out a notepad, and one of her threads removed a frilly little spider-themed pen from somewhere or another.

“I am the Golden Witch Beatrice.” Beatrice said.

“Avoid gold leaf, then. Got it! Not that I would put any in, the last time I tried that was a disaster.” Jorogumo snorted a little. “Gremmie likes her chocolate pretty plain most of the time, but Shax came around and you know how he is, all money money money money money, so I thought I'd make him something to fit, tasted horrible and he took the plate with the rest of the gold leaf on it, threw off all my ratios anyway so I just hope he got a decent amount back for baked gold leaf-”

“So you agree to make me chocolate.” Beatrice said, raising her hand.

“Of course, no reason I wouldn't, really. I can do that easy while I'm catching up on whatever scientific journals I've been missing lately or something like that, cause I've got this-” and Jorogumo gestured to her hair- “and I think we're friends now, that's how that works, right?, so it's a reasonable thing for me to do.” Gremory, for her part, was staring lovingly, her head laying in one of her hands.

“...Very well.” Beatrice smiled, and flicked her pipe a touch. “In that case, I suppose we certainly are friends, aren't we. Ihehehahyahahahahahaaaaahahahahaaaaa, you hear that, Battleeeeer? I get fudge! Fudge, Battler!”

“You sure do, Beato.” Battler nodded, smiling. “You sure do.”


 (BGM: INSPECTION -another-)

3:00 P.M.

everyone eats. it's uncomfortable. five people are dead. some people here believe it's six people. should you say something about it being five people? would that just confuse things more? you don't know. nothing makes sense. your dad is dead.

“...maria.” you say. she isn't eating whatever it is she has in front of her. you're sitting by her, holding her gently. you can't even imagine what it is she must be feeling.

“i've confirmed the situation.” krauss says, clearing his throat. “none of the phone lines work. we are trapped here until the storm clears tomorrow morning.”

jessica's looking kind of spacey. “well, uh... whaddya think we should do?” hideyoshi asks.

“hm.” kyrie's arms are crossed. “whoever the killer is, they can't act while overly observed. were we to all stay in this room until the storm cleared, that could eliminate some of the risk-”

“that's not a perfect solution.” will shakes his head. “first off, we'd all have to spend an entire day in the same room as each other, and if earlier conversation is any indication, that'd cause a murder by itself. and what about cases when people need to leave the room to take care of business, for instance?”

krauss frowns at will for some reason as kyrie nods. “that's fair.” she takes a moment, then snaps her fingers. “ah. how about groups of three, then? if we keep in parties of that size, then if the culprit does make a move, we'll have a much better chance of knowing.”

“w-what if there's-?” gohda starts up, then shakes his head. “no. no, what am i saying.”

“you raise an astute point, gohda-kun.” kyrie nods. “let's see... ah. krauss, hideyoshi, you two can come with me. gohda, you can go with eva and natsuhi.” eva loudly protested, but whatever. “will, george, kanon-kun, you three can stay together. and tora, maria, and jessica can form the fourth group.”

you see the logic here- keeping krauss and natsuhi apart, and hideyoshi and eva, prevents the possibility of those two pairs working together, if they are in on it together. if you're being mercenary about it, the same is true of you and kanon. “er.” krauss stammers. “n-not to say you're wrong, necessarily, but- will jessica, and maria-chan-”

“jessica-chan has brass knuckles, and if i know tora at all- which i do- she won't be leaving maria's side for the foreseeable future.” kyrie says. “right?” she looks at the two of you. jessica vaguely nods.

“right.” you say. “of course.” you feel maria's confusion and sadness radiating off of her. she's hardly said a word.

“good.” kyrie nods.

so... that happens. kyrie is the first to leave, taking krauss and hideyoshi off with her. both of them look kind of uncomfortable, but kyrie has a spring in her step. the air is tense. “...please, all of you, be careful.” aunt natsuhi says as she's also preparing to leave. “i...” she trails off. “mm.” eva is still quiet, steaming over, god, what is she even mad about. fuck you, eva. go away.

the instant the six of you are alone again, will looks at everyone else. “we need to go, now. come on.”

(BGM: THE THIRD MELT)

to make a long story short, you do, the six of you hurrying out of the manor into the cold rain once again. george lets kanon lead the way- he's been here the most often. jessica's still kind of stumbling a bit behind, still looking kind of off-beat, but you have to keep maria in mind as you go, so you've got enough to deal with.

“to think...” george says, once you all find the passage into the cellar again. “that grandfather had all of this here.”

“yeah, it's pretty nuts.” you agree. “i think the old man had some issues.”

it's all sort of passing by in a blur, as this happens. you can't help it- as much as you try to stay with it- and god knows you're trying so hard- because of the unreality of all this your brain is constantly on the verge of going right back into a completely horrific place where you'll lose track of multiple hours, and you can't let that happen right now, because, well, you don't want to die.

kanon, once you're all in the room with the gold- which causes maria and george to gasp a little even in the heavy situation- produces six rifles. they're kinda small, but it's obvious that they're deadly weapons. “these are all that are present.”

george picks one up, and kanon takes a moment to instruct him in its use. “alright.” george nods. he puts the gun down for another moment, and takes a few deep breaths. “will?”

“thanks, but i'm good.” will shakes his head. “don't think your folks would appreciate a random stranger running around with a rifle in his hands. you can handle it if someone tries to ice me, right, george?”

“i'll certainly do my best.” george says.

with five guns remaining on the table there, you can't help but feel kind of awkward about it. “hold on.” you say. “we only need one, right? if someone does come into the cellar, it wouldn't be good if we just had a pile of guns lying around for them to shoot us with.”

“astute.” will says. “what do you suggest?”

“hm.” you mumble, and then your eyes turn to the door you entered to give sayo the time to change earlier. “oh, there's a whole big thing back there. i'll go back there and drop four of these guns off... somewhere in there, i'll find something, it's big.” kanon begins to say that he'll go with you, but you throw your hand up. “no, no you won't. you need to be out here because you and jessica are the ones who can actually do anything here, lest you forget i'm not very strong and maria is nine.”

“...just-” kanon starts for a moment, then sighs. “don't go in the fourth door on your right.” that's probably the skeleton room.

“got it.” you give him a thumbs up, and then sit down on the bed with maria. everyone's got their coats off by now but her, so you help her get it off, because she could use the help right now. will and george are getting ready to leave, and as you see them edge towards the door you have a feeling in your chest. “um... hey. you two?” will turns his head over his shoulder, and george actually turns around. “please... be careful, okay?”

“of course, tora.” george smiles.

(BGM: Manita)

will, on the other hand, smirks. “you're always so headstrong. it's weird seeing you act like this.”

“what is that supposed to mean?” you ask, scrunching up your nose.

“...two things.” will says, turning his head back around and rubbing its back. “the first thing, i'm saying because you can be real dense sometimes.” he raises one finger. “i know you looked up to her for a while and all, but do not trust kyrie.”

“eh?” you blink. you weren't expecting her name to come up at a moment like this.

“wait, what's this about aunt kyrie?” jessica tunes back into the conversation.

“kyrie sumadera is not a woman you can trust- especially not you, tora.” will says. he's deathly serious- you can tell by the way his shoulders are tense as he says this. “and not because of these murders- i don't know whether she did it or not, but either way, do not trust her. she isn't looking out for you. she's the kind of woman who'll destroy anything she thinks is in her way. do you hear me?”

“...turn around and look me in the eyes as you say that, please.” you say.

will does. his nostrils are flared- he cares a lot about saying this. you study him for a bit. the way his eyes move, little facial tics, that one weird strand of hair. “...you done?” he asks.

(BGM: Assento Dele)

“yeah. alright.” you say. you close your eyes, nod, and smile. “i can listen to you for once, i guess.”

“for what it's worth,” george adds, “i agree. i find something about the way aunt kyrie is acting in this situation suspicious, but i can't place my finger on what.”

“good to see you've got eyes.” will says. “we should quit stalling, though. any longer and 'the olds' will get suspicious.”

“ah, that's true.” george laughs. “we'll be back, everyone. i promise.”

and they're gone.

now, you, kanon, jessica, and maria are in the cellar, by yourselves. the clock is ticking away. you pick up the rifles. “alright, i'll be in back.” you say, but maria won't let go of your leg. “huh? um... maria?”

“...uu-uu.” she says.

“oh, alright, c'mon.” you smile, shift the four rifles into using your coat as a bag, and hold her hand. “you wanna come with, sweetie?”

“uu.” she says. it's still a quiet noise, but her hand is gripping tightly to yours. she doesn't want to leave.

“take care not to fall.” kanon frowns. “it does tend to drip at times like these.”

“noted, thanks.” you nod.

 


 

In this gaudy chamber where nearly nineteen billion yen's worth of gold sat, two people- a girl and a boy- remained. The boy held a gun, and the girl was packing some brass knuckles essentially out of instinct.

“Kanon-kun.” Jessica said. She'd been keeping herself quiet for some time and attempting to process the information she'd just learned- the earth-shaking truth she'd just learned about a boy she'd, at one point, loved, or at least thought she did. But...

“...Yes?” Kanon said. He'd just gone to re-lock this cellar after Will and George, and was now inspecting the room's grandfather clock, for some reason.

“So, uh, about-” Jessica loudly forced a laugh and a smile for just a moment, but it faltered as quickly as it came. “God, no. I can't do that. What- what were- was that you?”

“...Was what me, Milady?” Kanon asked, still not facing her.

“That thing with the doll in the VIP room.” Jessica said, and the way he stopped dead in his tracks told her everything. “...So it was you. You were the one who came up with that.”

(BGM: Acherontia Styx)

“I-” Kanon started.

“You know, I wondered for a really long time. I wondered how something like that could've possibly happened, y'know, because I don't know which was scarier- a bunch of the servants coming together to scare me, or it actually being a witch.” Jessica said. Her voice was low. She wasn't sure how she should be feeling at this moment. “But now I get it. You were down here, with the gold- it must've been your idea, right? You're 'Beatrice'.”

Kanon was still quiet, not facing her. “You weren't there that day, so what? Did Shannon rat me out, or Kumasawa-san, or Gohda-san?” Jessica said. “And you just- decided to screw with me like that because you thought I was getting too uppity, or something? Do you- do you even know how bad you scared me? Is that it, do you just think I'm fun to mess with?”

“No, I-!” Kanon turned around, his voice cracking a little bit. “I-I. I don't-”

“People say servants get into accidents a lot around here if they badmouth Beatrice, is that you? Do you have this little... this little network of haunting people, is that it? Is that- what the hell is that, Kanon? Did you just decide to start doing that when you started coming here, or were you here the whole time doing that, or what?”

“I-I-I. I just.” Kanon stammered. Jessica had always thought he was composed, the type who was pretty unflappable, but here he was stammering up a storm.

“Who are you?” Jessica was shouting, now. “Who the hell did I-? Tora said Beatrice asked her to solve the riddle, did you even do it to her?”

“She thought it was cool, okay?!” Kanon shouted back, and that stopped Jessica. “She always thought it was cool when she was here before and I didn't know how else to do it, okay?!”

Jessica blinked. “Wha... Tora?”

“It's not like it was just her I was doing it to, I pulled tricks on a lot of people and said it was Beatrice, but I- I couldn't just talk to her, what was I supposed to do?” Kanon was starting, for the first time Jessica had ever seen, to cry. “I- I can't just- I'm- you see, I'm-”

That sort of sad desperation Jessica saw on Kanon's face told her a lot. Jessica was, self-admittedly, not the smartest tool in the shed, but she knew the face of longing. She knew the face of... “You... you were in love with her the whole time, huh.” She crossed her arms. The look of shock and fear on Kanon's face sprung her into speaking further. “And- and Shannon setting you on that date, was- was that her trying to help you... get over Tora, or something?”

Kanon sniffled, and nodded. “I- I wanted to see if... if I could-”

“Love as a guy, or something?” Jessica asked, and Kanon jumped again. “Yeah, uh, don't worry, I kinda- I kinda figured that part out while I was talking to Tora, and all.”

After a moment's pause, Kanon sighed. “...Yeah. I-I'm sorry. I wanted to see if... if loving as a man would get rid of my feelings for her.”

“And they didn't.” Jessica said.

“...No. No, they...” Kanon frowned, his eyes closed, his brow furrowed. “No, they didn't. It's not-” He stammered. “Jessica... I- I know I don't have the right to say this to you, but- but I- you really are- a good person. And I-”

“Ugh, geez, what's with the platitudes?” Jessica said. She sat down onto the floor, against the foot of the bed. “I mean, I guess- I don't even know if I really even liked you in the first place. Maybe- maybe I was just- in love with the idea of being in love, or something.”

Kanon joined her, and looked up at the ceiling. “I... I know how that feels.”

“So... Genji, Kumasawa, Shannon... they all knew about this?” Jessica said, turning to look at him. It was weird- all of a sudden, the stoic, standoffish Kanon felt like he was much closer than he really ever had been. “And they helped?” He nodded. “Why? Uh, I mean... why the whole Beatrice thing?”

“It... started when I was young.” Kanon said. “I was... clumsy, as a child, and I made many mistakes that older children from the Fukuin House tended to mock. It frustrated me, and Kumasawa-san- she taught me that if, say, a key went missing, then a witch had played a trick on me.”

“...Yeah, that sounds like something she'd say.” Jessica nodded.

“I was... never very popular, and the others never liked me. Eventually, I- over the years, I got good enough at the little things, the little ways to deceive people, that if someone made me angry, I could trick them and blame it on Beatrice.” Kanon said. He was in a little ball, his rifle by his side. “It... escalated, over time. I won't pretend like I didn't do bad things to people, but eventually, it felt like I really was the witch, like I was the one who had control, not the people who were above me.”

“And then you, uh... found the gold, or something?” Jessica asked.

“...Technically, I've been the head of the Ushiromiya family for two years now- since Kinzo died.” Kanon said.

“So why didn't you... do anything?” Jessica asked. “Why'd you keep it a secret?”

“Keeping Kinzo's death a secret wasn't my idea, originally. Your parents come up with the idea, and I followed along on my own- they've never known about me.” Kanon said. He pressed two fingers into his forehead and bit his lip. “In a sense, I could've solved this dispute between the family members a long time ago.”

“Well, I mean... You keeping it secret gave you time to build up this money, right?” Jessica said, and produced the cash card, which she was still keeping on her person for lack of anywhere better to put it. “So, I guess I kinda have to thank you.”

“...No. It was selfish.” Kanon shook his head. “I- the only reason I did is because I... still wanted... to wait.” He said, and looked towards the door. “You don't have anything to thank me for.”

“Ugh, okay, so maybe you're actually a weird pranking ghost person who's been freaking me out every time I hear the name 'Beatrice' for the past however long, and you were actually into Tora the whole time and I never had a shot-” Jessica said, shrugging and shaking her head.

“I-I wouldn't say you never had a shot.” Kanon cut in, raising his hand. “Er, or. Or maybe you didn't. I-”

“You've got a lot going on up there, huh.” Jessica said.

“My life is an endless font of confusion, misery, and frustration.” Kanon said. “It tends to spiral.”

“Sounds rough.” Jessica nodded.

“God, you have no idea.” Kanon shook his head and spoke through his teeth.

(BGM: Cage)

“As far as that whole, uh, 'furniture' thing goes, though, I still don't really get it, I don't think, but you're a pretty cute guy, Kanon.” Jessica was back on form, so she winked and grinned at him. Kanon sputtered. “You're actually kind of a dork, huh?”

“Well, I mean... maybe.” Kanon grunted.

“Can't believe I was ever scared of you.” Jessica laughed. Her eyes widened as she continued. “Though, man, you pulled some pretty crazy stuff. Maybe you've got a future in special effects or something?”

“...You aren't... mad?” Kanon blinked, a frown still on his face.

“Eh. I mean, I was, but whatever. It doesn't matter. Besides, if I was wasting time on being mad at you after people have been murdered, then I'd really be stupid!” Jessica chuckled.

After a moment, Kanon nodded, smiled a little, and said, “True.”

With that said, Jessica slumped back and sighed. “God, all of this was happening in my own house and I had no idea. I really am dumb, aren't I, Ka-” She stopped. “Actually. That's your servant name, right? Or...” She thought. He said he'd known Tora before, so he must've been a servant before or something. “Well, do you have an actual name? It's not 'Beatrice', right? You're a guy.”

“Eh?” Kanon blinked.

“Like, Tora isn't 'Battler', right?” Jessica raised her eyebrow and pursed her lips. “Or- wait! Oh, 'Tora', Ba-to-ra, duh. So is it like a nickname thing, or-?”

“...Uh... Let me get back to you on that.” Kanon looked away. “For now- Kanon is alright.”

There was an awkward pause. “...Milady- er... Jessica.” Kanon said. The referral still made him look away in awkwardness. “Can I be honest with you for a moment? I don't think I can voice this thought to anyone else except you, right now.”

“Shoot.” Jessica nodded.

“...She has a very attractive butt.” Kanon said through gritted teeth. “I find it unfair.” The sound of Kanon, of all people, frankly commenting on a woman's attractive ass was enough to cause Jessica to start laughing like an idiot. “W-what? Come on!”

“Oh my god, is that it? So you're an ass man, are you, Kanon-kun?” Jessica grinned.

“I- why did I say that?” Kanon said, blushing like he was a tomato. “Why did I say that to you?! That was one of the worst decisions I've ever made.”

“Kanon-kun's an ass maaaaan~” Jessica sang, causing Kanon to retreat deeper into the pits of his beret.

 


 (BGM: Murk)

let's see here... this tunnel is bigger than you thought it was, and the fact that you have four deadly weapons hung over your shoulder does lend an air of strangeness to the whole thing, but at least you have maria with you. the rain isn't audible from down here, but a bit of it drips through the bedrock and drops down from above. this place is old.

that's the third door on the right. you've only been checking doors on the left so far, just to make sure you haven't lost count and bungled into the skeleton room, or whatever. at one point you found a bunch of strange objects that were probably all those bombs that could blow the island to smithereens, so that was great, and by great you mean kind of terrifying.

maria has been quiet until now, but you hear her start to mutter something under her breath. “...to remember...”

“what's that, maria?” you turn around and squat down to get on her level. “what's wrong?” maria goes silent again. “...alright. well, just stay with me.”

as you've been holding her and helping her around, you've been noticing more marks. aunt rosa was smart. she'd hit maria a lot, but it was always in places that were hard to see- under her hair, or beneath where her clothes held. at least, you're pretty sure it was aunt rosa- she has a history, after all. you saw that first-hand. so... maria's mom really did hurt her regularly. and maria doesn't have anyone else... not really.

this bright, beautiful child- whose mind, you can tell, does work a bit differently from other kids', though you're not sure how- this poor girl has been suffering by her lonesome all this time. and she's so sweet, she really is, she has that shining quality to her, you can tell this girl is so good at heart. it kills you. it kills you to see this.

and, like, is that bad of you to think? rosa was still her mom, and... and rosa is dead now. and that's so horrible, that maria is now without her mother. and even if that is the case, she was still maria's mom, and you know maria loved her, and maybe rosa really did love maria somehow, too, and even if it was horrible then it's still going to hurt her so bad. it's still hurting her so bad. and you...

what can you do? what can you do for her? that's your first thought, right now. you want to do something for maria. you want to help her somehow. you want to help maria. you cannot let this girl suffer on her own.

“...member... form.” maria mumbles something again, but the urge for conversation apparently passes.

there's the fourth door on the right, so you're good there now. you wonder how jessica and kanon are doing back there. hope they're getting along alright. come to think of it, sayo said there was a hidden second mansion in the woods you could get to from here, right? maybe you could just go hide there and wait out the night, or something.

you shake your head. nah. that'd be a good idea if there was just one or two of you, but there's too many to fit into the speedboat, and then things would get all complicated, too. “...come,”

thinking about who could've done it just makes your head hurt. nothing about this whole thing makes any sense. this wasn't supposed to happen to you, or anyone here. was this some kind of punishment? “try to remember”

and the way dad was being a cryptic prick on the night before... was something up with that? was it possible he knew he was going to die, or something? but how could that be? how- “the form you once had.”

what? “what?” you tune back into the sounds around you.

(BGM: Mystic forest)

“come, try to remember the form you once had.” maria says. she's using a weak, frail version of the magic voice. “come, try closing your eyes. try to remember, what form did you have?”

“is that a spell?” you ask. you tilt your head. “what are you trying to do?”

“...uu-uu.” maria mumbles. “it doesn't seem to be working.”

“well, what are you trying to do, maria?” you ask again.

“tora onee-chan.” maria says. she's suddenly looking quite seriously at you. “try to remember the form you once had.”

“maria, there's a lot of forms i once had, and i didn't really like any of them.” you say. “which form do you mean specifically? i-” wait wait wait wait wait. use your brain, tora. you can brain this. let's see. what was maria- there was that- “are you talking about the demon gremory?” you take a shot in the dark.

(BGM: La Meglio Gioventù)

maria smiles, though it's a sadder smile. “you're her spitting image, tora onee-chan. perhaps in his absence from this island, this 'battler-kun' person was possessed by gremory, and you were the result. beatrice was quite fond of gremory in times past, and perhaps gremory wished to return to her after her unjust imprisonment.”

actually, you can see how she'd get that impression. you remember she said gremory had, what, the power of procuring love- which you did- and a perfect recall of all things past, present, and future, and you do have a good memory- “oh, that's right. you told me to predict the future, earlier, right?” you ask, and maria nods. so, battler ushiromiya- whoever he was- got possessed by the demon gremory, and you, tora, were the result? “and so you're trying to cast a magic spell to... what, turn me back into gremory or something like that?”

“attempting to unlock whatever sealed demonic powers you might have lost in the process of the possession.” maria says.

“right. okay.” you say. you actually can't help but laugh a little. god, if only it were that easy. if only you could say you really were some kind of weird amalgamate of battler and this demon. you- “wait, so this demon who is a hot lady has a perfect memory, procures love, has red hair, and beatrice used to be 'fond of' her? fond how?”

“they were in love!” maria says. this is cheering her up, at least.

you can't help but snort. “wow. that's not subtle at all, no ma'am. why would gremory choose me, though? wouldn't a woman be better, in that case?”

“ah, gremory was a duchess in the form of a duke originally, and early demonic texts referred to her as a duke.” maria says. ...so she just had this idea of the transsexual demoness independently, okay. sure. please, you ask past sayo, fantasize about me more. it really just flatters you.

you laugh a bit more. “hoo... oh man, that'd be great if i did have demonic powers. telling the future would be real nice right about now. then i could have this whole situation solved in a second.” then you sadly shake your head. “i'm sorry to disappoint you, maria, but i don't think i'm a demon. i think i'm just a plain old human with a good memory, is all.”

“...uu-uu.” maria shakes her head. “tora onee-chan is good either way. human or demon.” she smiles.

you stop when she says that, and you break out into a really genuine smile. “that's... that's one of the sweetest things anyone's ever said to me, maria.” you're tearing up a little. oh geez. “you're such a good kid. i love you, maria.”

“uu. maria loves tora onee-chan, too.” having her actually hug you back is a calming feeling, and it makes you feel safe.

(...oh, and it turns out fifth door on the right is pretty much empty, just a few drawers and cabinets in there, so it's a good place to put the other four rifles. nice and clear. mission complete.)

Chapter Text

Flipping to an unused page in his notebook, Will scribbled down a few observations. George had a bit of a shaky gait now; Jessica was clearly out of it when they left, so that was probably going to cause some sort of awkward conversation or another; it didn't seem like he should say anything about the Shannon/Kanon situation other than what the man himself had already said at the moment; Tora...

He went back to an earlier page in his notebook and did something he should've done physically a long while ago now- he marked out 'Battler Ushiromiya' completely, leaving that little bit a black smudge on the page, then flipped back to his unused page. “Oh? What're you doing, Will?” George asked, as he opened the switch to open up the cellar again so they could actually leave.

“I'm a note-taker.” Will responded. “Force of habit.”

“So that little book has a great deal of insight into the thoughts of our favorite Mr. Wright, is that it?” George smiled. “Now I'm curious.”

“...I'm sure that you've got your own black books you'd rather not people look in.” Will responded, his face remaining straight.

“Me? No, of course not!” George chuckled. “I've only ever had one lover, you know.”

“And those maid fetish manga in your suitcase?” Will raised an eyebrow. This caused George's eyes to widen drastically, and for him to begin wildly sputtering.

“T-those are reference material,” George sputtered, waving his hand, “f-f-for, you know I was going to p-propose to Shannon last night, and, w-w-well I always just think perhaps that I should-! How did you even know about those?!”

“I didn't.” Will said, as he stepped out into the rain. George audibly wilted behind him. “When you're done, you mind doing the talking to your folks when we run into them? I've got the bedside manner of a brick.”

“W-well I,” George said, plastering a smile onto his face, presumably to attempt to get past his bungle just now, “I'm certain it's not as bad as all that, but of course.”

“Good.” Will said.

Thankfully, Kanon had the key to the cellar, so he had agreed to lock the door after the two of them left. Will waited a moment, then turned around and tried to open the cellar. Locked again- the riddle would need to be re-solved in order to open it again. Will nodded to himself- that was good. It wasn't a perfect precaution, but it was a lot better than nothing.

“First order of business- I'm gonna go take a look at Rosa's body.” Will said, beginning to walk back toward the manor. “Gotta check something.”

“And what might that be?” George asked.

“That whole thing stinks of something being off.” Will said. If he were a bit more emotive, this was where he'd rub his chin like a detective, or something. “What's your first thought if you see someone died by hanging in their own room, George?”

“Eh?” George blinked. “How do you mean?”

“Your first thought,” Will said, “is suicide. Hanging's a popular method of suicide- not murder. You can't go on the offensive by hanging someone. It's almost entirely out of the question, and even if you want to frame up a suicide, you have to kill them another way unless you're the state. Tora, Natsuhi, and Kanon didn't see any other wounds, but they did see blood on Rosa's hands, which would also imply suicide.”

“Er, how?” George blinked.

“If a hanging fails to immediately snap the neck and result in instant death, it's not uncommon to see people try to free themselves from the rope before they die.” Will said. George visibly grimaced, as the two of them approached the manor. “So, Rosa's body resembles a suicide. But then we get into expectations- to enter the manor after everyone's dead, you've got to go through Kumasawa or Nanjo's bodies, so there's a pretty solid chance Rosa won't be the first body discovered. That's why people jumped to 'murder', not 'suicide'- those bodies were clearly murders.”

“So, you're saying Aunt Rosa... committed suicide?” George said. He shook his head. “No, but that doesn't make sense. Aunt Rosa-”

“I don't know about the woman's mental state, I'm just saying that's how the body looks.” Will said. Admittedly, the idea of a murder disguised as a suicide disguised as a murder did sound pretty ridiculous, but he had a feeling. “I'll need to take her out of the rope to check. You know where those rooms are?”

“Ahh, only vaguely.” George shook his head. “I can do my best to lead you there, though.”

“Appreciated.” Will nodded. The two of them passed old Genji, laying on the well. Will raised his eyebrow at the old man, who was most decidedly dead, so this was a rather odd thing to do, he admitted, but he'd probably be back around to take another look at him at some point.

“You know, it really is very appropriate that a Mr. 'Willard Wright' would wash up on this island.” George said, moving on quickly from the visual subject of the dead butler. “You've, ah, probably noticed, but Grandfather had a great deal of fascination with the West.”

“...Hence the names.” Will said. “I could see a 'Johji' running around on the street, but a Krauss or a Rudolf, not so much.”

“And, er, well, perhaps I'm missing my mark here, but you are Japanese, aren't you?” George asked. Wasn't any point in denying that- Will shrugged and gave the affirmative. “How did you wind up here, anyhow?”

“I was on this cruise ship. Something about an eternal maid, so you'd probably have liked it.” Will shrugged. George sputtered. “I was brooding, as I do, on the deck when a storm rolled on and blew me off. Unfortunately enough, I washed up on Rokkenjima.”

“Was it 'unfortunate?'” George said, frowning. “Certainly you've been wrapped up in... questionable circumstances now, but you would've died otherwise, wouldn't you?”

“...I guess.” Will said.

Speaking of misfortune, as they got to the entrance of the manor, they had the misfortune of running into another party- Kyrie, Krauss, and Hideyoshi, after Kyrie's inspection of Rudolf's body or something like that. “Eh? Oh, George.” Hideyoshi said. He put on his best smile.

“I see George and Mr. Wright, but no Kanon-kun.” Krauss said. He put his hand on his chin. “Where might he be?” Given that he asked her question for him, Kyrie just stood in the back and raised her eyebrow as well.

...Great, Will grunted to himself. The one person he wanted to run into least. Kyrie Sumadera was an intensely threatening woman, and one misstep could cause disaster when she was involved. Naturally, this meant it was a great time for George to puff up his chest and say, “We took the initiative and safeguarded Kanon-kun and the girls.” George said. “Sorry about the insubordination, Aunt Kyrie.”

“Oh, that's alright.” Kyrie smiled. “I don't mind.”

“...So...” Krauss blinked. “Where's Battler-kun?”

There was a pause in the air. “...We took the initiative and safeguarded Kanon-kun and the girls.” George repeated.

“You left Battler alone with-?!” Krauss began to sputter, but Hideyoshi loudly laughed to cut him off.

“Ahh, Krauss, this isn't a fight you wanna get into.” Hideyoshi smiled. “It really ain't.” That was the strained smile of someone who knew well the consequences. “Trust me.”

“I'm glad you understand.” George closed his eyes and smiled. “And don't worry. If Will tries anything funny, I obtained one of Grandfather's rifles from his study, so I'll just shoot him. Alright?”

“...Thanks for your glowing vote of confidence.” Will snorted.

This declaration stunned Hideyoshi enough that, stunned, he blinked a few times and then burst out laughing. “Ahhh, y'know, George, it's times like these I'm reminded you really are your own man these days, ain't you?”

“Quite respectable.” Kyrie did that finger gesture that Tora picked up. “Now, the question is, do we have you or Eva to thank for that?”

“...Find anything interesting on Rudolf's body?” Will raised his eyebrow.

“Funny you should ask, we did.” Kyrie nodded. “Underneath Rudolf's body, we found a pistol with a single shot missing that matched your theoretical description, Mr. Wright.”

“Really.” Will said. His face was flat.

“Perhaps the culprit was trying to make it look like Rudolf committed suicide?” Kyrie said, her ever-present smile still on her face. “Of course, that doesn't make sense. Rudolf didn't bring that gun.”

“Because you looked through his things before you came?” Will raised an eyebrow.

“Of course. Who do you take me for?” Kyrie chuckled. “Anyhow, we left it there, so don't go thinking about going and picking it up to use it, eh, Mr. Wright?”

“...I can assure you I would never be so stupid as to think I could do that and not get caught.” Will responded.

Thankfully, that painfully awkward conversation then ended, as the two young men were allowed to go off and do no doubt untoward things. “Having a bit of trouble at home?” Will asked.

“Ah, the two of them just never listen to me, is all.” George said. “I won't lie and say it's not frustrating at times, but, parents. What can you do?”

“...Mm.” Will nodded. He and George were two very different people, but he could still relate- and that was probably best right now, because if Will actually pointed out that George was clearly on the verge of tears right now, that might just send him spiraling, or something.

 


 

“So, does Will possess the detective's authority?” Battler asked.

“Nope.” Gremory responded.

“...Does anyone?” Battler asked, chuckling weakly.

“Nuh-uh.” Gremory shook her head. “His narration won't contain falsehoods, though.”

“I assure you, Lord Battler, I would have informed you had such been relevant.” Vassago smiled.

“'Eternal maid'... I suppose that's the same Eternal Maid II that You-Know-Who fell off of?” Beatrice levied her pipe at Gremory.

“I have no doubt that Lord Willard had a number of altercations with the woman in question during his time on the boat, with a name such as 'Willard Huntington Wright'.” Vassago said, nodding his head seriously.

Jorogumo, meanwhile, was looking around confused. “Who are we talking about and why can't we say her name?”

“If they invoke her she's about thirty times more likely to show up,” Gremory said, “and I've never met the lady personally, but I understand that that would be bad.”

“We're skirting the line hard enough by even talking about her.” Battler said, sweating. Sure, they were friends, but she was a very particular woman for a very particular sort of time.

“That's a fascinating ability, you don't even have to say it three times into a mirror!” Jorogumo smiled brightly, her eyes beaming. “You think this mysterious individual would let me look at her ears? I bet it's something to do with whatever sort of audio receptors she's got.”

“If you did it with chopsticks, maybe.” Battler shrugged.

 


 

“you dressed up in what?” you sputter, ungracefully laughing out loud.

“i'll have you know i looked like a total idol. a queen, tora! my maidenly, innocent form-!” jessica laughs back.

“as if you get to talk about being 'maidenly' or 'innocent' after you beat your friends for making fun of you about your younger boyfriend.” kanon rolls his eyes.

“HEY! hey. hey.” jessica waggles her finger at him. “don't just jump to conclusions, kanon. there wasn't any beating there going on at all. just a friendly chat between high school girls.”

“wait, 'younger boyfriend'?” you ask. you look between jessica and kanon. “what?”

“i do look the part.” kanon nods solemnly.

you blink a few times. “oh... oh yeah, i guess you do, huh.”

“huh?” jessica frowns and shakes her head. “wait, aren't you sixteen?”

“i'm. i'm nineteen, actually.” kanon says, biting his lip.

“you're older than me?!” jessica wails, throwing her hands out. “oh come on! my entire world is getting thrown on its head here!”

“i just sort of assumed you were always, like, a year older than me or something like that.” you shrug. “you know.” apparently while you and maria were off on your gunventure, jessica and kanon had a nice chat that resulted in kanon attempting to absorb himself into his beret while jessica laughed at him, so that seems like bonding.

“to think i would be so easily seen through.” kanon smiles. “truly, you are an amazing wit.”

“oh, don't you smarm at me.” you scoff and wave your finger.

when you're stuck in here, listening to the clock, there's not much to do but think. you're pretty sure, at this point, that your dad probably really did know he was going to die, somehow. that'd line up with the way he died, too, based on what will said. the possibility of suicide floats through your head briefly, but you shake it away. there's no way- he wouldn't. rudolf wouldn't. he wouldn't do that to you, or ange.

...ange's probably going to be destroyed, huh. you're not sure what on earth can possibly be done to make any of this any better for her. hopefully kyrie is a good enough mom for that. after the incident with kasumi's death in '83, you actually started coming over there more often to bullheadedly check on ange and make sure she was doing okay and not being too poisoned by rudolf's murderness. but... can you manage that now?

did kyrie... really steal your letter to sayo? that's what sayo thinks, and will doesn't trust her either. does kyrie... are those smiles really all fake? but she's-

-she's always been good to you, always been kind and personal and chill about the whole you thing. you don't like the thought of her being untrustworthy. you don't like it. you don't don't don't don't like it one bit. it's no good.

but you're not fooling yourself. kyrie's a yakuza. you know how cutthroat she is- she's told you. if... if rudolf really did care that much, then-?

-why does crime have to run in your veins so thickly? one half ushiromiya, one half sumadera- you're spawn of monstrous families. it isn't fair. you just want to be yourself.

maria's wounds are making your mind wander. “i wonder why i'm like this.” you say, once. you stare at your hand. “you know, like... this.”

“as opposed to?” mitsuru asks.

“well, battler ushiromiya. i just have to wonder, who... who is he? who's battler and why am i here and not him? does he really exist? did he ever? did i... do you think maybe i killed him somehow, or-?”

“that's ridiculous.” mitsuru shakes his head. he lazily swings himself forward a bit on the swing, amazingly actually using it for its intended purpose. “who cares about battler ushiromiya?”

“it seems like a lot of people do.” you say, steepling your fingers. “i just... i wish i could know who i'm here instead of, you know? would people be happier that way, if they had him instead of me?”

“...tora.” mitsuru says, holding his hands together. there's a mark on his cheek- it's a scratch from his cat that he got today while she was complaining about food or something. “this 'battler ushiromiya'... he could never be you, either. maybe he'd never have to think about it, but if he was born, there'd be things that could never have happened because he was born and not you.”

“you're wordy today.” you raise your eyebrow.

“it's your fault.” mitsuru takes a swig of some canned juice or another.

“when i look down at ange, i...” your hands shake a bit. “i get... i get jealous, mitsuru. some little part of me wants to scream that this should be happening to me. what she has should be mine. i think i'm a bad big sister that way.”

mitsuru nods, makes a little noise, and then says, “nobody's ever really wanted me either, you know.” with the same sullen, flat tone he says most things in.

“that's...” you pause. well, it's quite a thing to drop in your lap. and... a bit of a weird thing to follow up with. “that's a bummer, man.”

“mmhm.” he nods. an absentee father, an abusive mother if you don't miss your mark. geez.

“what, are you the kind of kid whose parents tell them they're an accident?” you ask. “because that's total bull.”

“nah.” mitsuru shakes his head. “twins. i came out second.”

“t-there's another mitsuru?!” you sputter. “you can flout knox's tenth?!”

“fraternal. she doesn't look like me.” mitsuru glares. “mom cares a lot more about her than she does about me. i donno if it's love, exactly. i don't get my old lady.” that phrasing was something he picked up from you. “she's nuts.”

“...wish you could've met my mom.” you say. “my mom was great. a really good woman. she didn't deserve what my old man did to her.”

“probably not.” mitsuru says.

you never did get active confirmation that mitsuru's mother hit him, but you know enough about these things from research and also asking sensei a billion times that you're basically certain- especially since it got worse for a bit after-

-after you moved. so- god. get out of your head, tora. “man...” you mumble. “this sucks.”

“i mean, i think it sucks and i wasn't just accused of murder.” jessica says, pacing around the room a bit. kanon and maria are playing go fish or something. “so i guess it must really suck for you.”

“sure feels like i'm doing a bad job of 'protecting us from misfortune'.” you say. “sorry, ma-”

“that's incorrect.” kanon cuts in. “you're doing much more than you think you are.”

“uu.” maria nods. “tora onee-chan is doing a good job.”

“if you two say so.” you shrug and lie flat on the ground. “hey, maria. he's got a-” kanon shoves his hand onto your mouth to keep you from talking.

 


 

“...Alright.” With a bit of exertion, Will untied the rope around Rosa's neck and lowered her corpse onto the floor. Rigor mortis had set in, but that was no surprise- Rosa had been murdered during the night, so it could've been twelve or more hours since she'd died.

It didn't take Will long to find what he'd suspected he'd find. “F-f-find anything?” George was smiling, but he was visibly shaking, and if Will had slightly weaker nerves that would make him nervous.

“Yup.” Will nodded. He would spare George the issue of looking that closely at the body of his deceased aunt, but sure enough, hidden behind the rope was a small, fatal slash to Rosa's neck as well. “The neck- it's slit, too, just like Kumasawa and Nanjo.” Will said. “Same method.”

The blood on her hands, therefore, couldn't have been from when she was hung- doubtless she was already dead. ...Bingo, Will saw. On her left flank was another wound- a glancing wound relatively, but enough to debilitate. “Working theory- Before they could ambush her, Rosa stumbled onto the culprit in the middle of the deed, and managed to steal away their weapon and hit them with it when they attacked her. Then they stole it back, killed her with two strikes, and hung up the body to disguise the actual cause of death.”

“I-I- She could've shouted for help!” George said, grimacing. That seemed to get his goat a bit.

“Maybe she did, but we'll never know now.” Will shrugged. He stood up, and turned away, out of the room. That left the question- why the neck? Two deaths was a pattern, but three meant that the culprit was definitely intentionally sticking to pattern. Kumasawa, Nanjo, and Rosa were all slit in the neck, even if Rosa was actively wounded otherwise.

This incident had a lot of adherence to style, to be sure. “That whole thing with Kumasawa and Nanjo- it's a lot of pomp for not much substance.” Will said, causing George to make a little noise. “Think about it. It blocks the door, but you could just shove the armoire into place and then go back to your room is in the manor.”

“T-to be honest, Will, you're a bit beyond me right now.” George rubbed the back of his head.

“Mm. That's fine.” Will said. He sighed. “If you didn't have the gun, I'd tell you to go take a nap or something.”

“What? I'm older than you.” George chuckled, probably hoping Will couldn't see the slight crookedness of his grin. “I-”

“George,” Will said, “I've known you for a day now. I'm not the kind of guy for these long speeches, but you have had one of the worst nights and following mornings I've ever seen. Once this is solved you've got to take a load off and let yourself cry, you're gonna snap at this rate.”

It took a moment before George responded, as the rain pounded against the hallway window. “With... all due respect, Will.” George took a deep breath in. “I- I think it would be undignified of me to- to cry in front of you.”

“Okay.” Will shrugged. ...There was a theory that came to mind with all this, but it'd require a pretty damn good motive, and for that one he'd have to ask Kanon, if anyone would know. “Hey, George. You wouldn't happen to know if there's any... big secret Kumasawa, Nanjo, and Rosa were all in on?”

“You don't skip a beat, do you?” George said. He was still a bit thrown off by Will's earlier comments, but he caught up quickly. “None that I know of. You're thinking that the neck slices-?”

“I'm thinking they were a metaphor, yeah. To 'keep them quiet', or something.” Will said. The elderly matron, the doctor, and the youngest sibling. What in the world did they have in common?

“E-Eva-sama!” A voice interrupted Will from his thoughts. Around a corner were Gohda and Natsuhi. Natsuhi, by the look of her, was dealing with another one of her headaches, whereas Gohda was pleading with a closed door. “Kyrie-sama told us to say in threes-!”

“I'm not spending another second with you people!” Eva shouted from within the room. “I'm done!”

“...You're incorrigible.” Natsuhi sighed, snarling at the closed door.

“Like you're one to talk!” Eva spat back. “You glorified scullery maid!”

“For the love of god, Mom, will you please stop for one second?!” Surprising the rest of the people in the hallway, George, with raised eyebrow, and furrowed brow, shouted at the door to the guest room his mother had locked herself in. “We're out here trying to be as composed as we can be when there've been murders and you just keep making an ass of yourself!”

There was a long pause. “...George?” Eva said, and Will could hear the blinking from back there. “G-George?”

“That is my name, yes.” George slowly, deeply breathed through his nose. “Hello. Everything's going well, thank you.”

“Well, I-I'm glad.” Eva still needed to take a second to figure out how to respond- Will knew this kind of mother. “I- if it's going that well, are you sure you shouldn't get your father and we spend the night in the same room? I understand your feelings, I really do, but I can't help but be nervous about you being out there-”

“I appreciate the consideration, but Aunt Rosa and Uncle Rudolf have been murdered.” George said. He was back to unnervingly calm. “I-”

Ah, there it was. That was Will's last whit of really caring about this particular conversation going poof. He rubbed the bridge of his nose, and headed over to the befuddled chef. “Gohda.” He said, while George and Eva blathered about something or another. “You have a master key to the manor, right? All five of the servants did?”

“E-er, yes.” Gohda nodded. With fumbling hands, he reached into his pockets and produced a simple metal key. “Why do you ask, sir?”

“So that'd be Shannon, Kanon, you, Genji, and Kumasawa.” Will said. “And Shannon, Genji, and Kumasawa's are missing.”

“Mr. Wright, with all due respect, what are you getting at?” Natsuhi asked. She rubbed her head for a moment. Having headaches with Eva Ushiromiya around seemed pretty brutal.

“...Hm. Remind me where the boiler room is?” Will asked. He looked down in Natsuhi's hands- she was armed, too. “George, I'm heading to the boiler room. You stay with your mother until I come back.”

“Eh? Alright.” George said, turning around. He'd been bickering with his mom about something or another. “Be careful.”

With the careful guidance of these two, Will stepped down the stairs to the boiler room. They were a bit dirtied with dried viscera, which was nice and pleasant to step in, but whatever. “Afternoon, Doc.” He said, stepping past the mangled corpse of Dr. Nanjo and into the room itself.

“So, why have you led us down here?” Natsuhi asked. “Was there something about Dr. Nanjo's corpse that you needed us for?”

“No. It's just dark down here.” Will said. “I didn't wanna trip. There's an exit out to the outside of the manor from in this room, right?”

“A-ah, yes.” Gohda nodded. Stepping gingerly around the corpse, Gohda tenderly stepped through the room and guided Will to the back entrance. Will tested it, and it was as he thought- this door was also locked. “Eh?”

“The front door and this boiler room door were locked.” Will said, nodding to himself. “That'd be easy to do from the inside, but if the culprit was on the outside, they'd need a master key. ...Right. That lines up.”

“Mr. Wright, may I say something?” Natsuhi asked, from the entrance of the room.

“Shoot.” Will said.

“You seem to have a habit of assuming we can all follow your train of thought perfectly.” Natsuhi said. “Would it be much trouble for you to attempt to do otherwise?”

“...Well, I'm just full of bad habits, aren't I.” Will snorted.

 


 

“Do you feel like helping any time soon, you useless rabbit?!” Beatrice roared, as countless raindrops evaporated into steam in a trail left by Jorogumo's sweeping hand. The grimace on her face, through the pain of having lost an arm, twisted itself in anger at the spite of Jorogumo daring to attack her with her hands.

Those hands being artifices for the deployment of her red-hot webs didn't make it much better for Beatrice. “Ooh, nice dodge! You're pretty spry for an old hag. What kind of cardio routine do you use?” Jorogumo laughed, smiling as though this were a fun night out. A hand-to-hand battle wasn't Beatrice's forte by any means, but such close quarters let Jorogumo's, well, spider-like dexterity shine. As soon as Beatrice dodged past her sideways chop, she smoothly transitioned into a leg sweep that caught Beatrice off-guard.

But then-- Jorogumo didn't capitalize on the opportunity. Rather, she dodged out of the way of a golden blast that pounded into the ground right behind where she was standing, that would've easily caught her had she not moved. Beatrice flopped to the ground pathetically.

“It's been a while since I've been deployed solo.” 410, out of her funk for the time being, smirked toothily as she did, and cracked her knuckles. “Treat me right, nyeh, Jojo?”

“Ooh, neat!” Jorogumo said, hanging onto the side of a tree at the conclusion of her nimble dodge. “I was hoping I'd get to see you in action.”

“Good lord you're sluggish!” Beatrice grunted from the ground. “Don't you know whose payroll you're on, you stupid rabbit? You better be worth the wait!”

“Nyehchnically, you dismissed me, so this is overtime.” 410 winked. Heh. Worth the wait? She was famed in the Corps for her massive power! It wasn't as though she actually needed 45. She could calculate well enough on her own- it wasn't like she even ever paid attention to 45's data!

So, a second shot was launched- a hail of golden arrows at the tree, pounding it into smithereens. Jorogumo whistled from up above, in the canopy of another. “Your stopping power is immense! Haha, wow, if you hit me with a full burst of those I'd probably die!”

“That's the idea.” 410 looked up into the sky. Which canopy was Jorogumo in? ...Eh, screw it. She just aimed another burst up into the sky. It had enough of a range that that was likely to at least graze her. Blam! Ah, it always made such a satisfying noise.

Several branches fell in the forest around 410, but there was no Jorogumo to be found, of course. The arrows fell to the ground, smaller for striking the branches, but did not dissipate until hitting the ground, leaving small holes. “Ahh, I see, I see.” Jorogumo said- oh geez, 410 spun around to find her right behind! “So they stop quite stoppily, but they stop when they stop.”

“...Uh, what?” 410 raised an eyebrow and cocked an ear, heavy with rainwater.

“I mean the stopping capacity-!” Jorogumo began. Aha! Her blathering had caught her- for one of 410's many shots had not in fact completely dissipated, but had actually burrowed below the earth, and just come up behind her for a strike! Like the legendary Chiester Corps alumnus Foo-Foo, she would scoop up this field spider and bop her on the head! “Homing capacities! Amazing!”

But then- Jorogumo spun, threw her hand up, and generated a block of her web, and stopped the arrow, as it ground to a halt and dissipated in her hands. “I see! Without constant supervision, they just automatically track their target, but the algorithm doesn't know how to distinguish between me or extensions of myself!” She jumped up and down, giddy, and squealed. “That's so neat!”

410 blinked. God, she had such weird feelings about this. Who the hell was this lady, even, and- what was she doing? ...What was she doing? Did the golden arrow of the Chiester Sisters blah blah just grind to a halt? Well, no- it had plowed through several tree branches, dirt, rainwater, and then torn through a great deal of layers of Jorogumo's web before dissipating, that was still quite a lot, but- “Huh?” 410 mumbled. “N-nyeh?”

--Come on. This was ridiculous. She was Chiester 410. She was certified Golden Fantastic! She wasn't going to lose to some rando who'd just shown up god knew how many iterations in! “Ghh-!!”

Another shot. This one, more focused, more directly aiming- but the nimble Jorogumo just left trails of her own web spun behind her as she danced around it, slowly dissipating it as it 'hit its target'. Eventually, it plastered into a tree trunk and didn't even blow it up. The whole time, the spider was smiling and laughing, seemingly delighted by the chance to experiment with such a neat toy, but 410 was not a toy, damn it! She wasn't! She-

--But all the power in the world didn't make a difference against some foes.

Shut up!” 410 plowed shot after shot into the area around her, blowing over tree after tree in a chaotic cacophony of splintering wood. When she opened her eyes, panting, after what must've been over a dozen volleys, she opened her eyes to find herself surrounded by a moat of dirt and shattered trees, the valley from her explosive blasts covered in the rainclouds' tears. “Will you quit laughing!?”

The stupid spider was just over here oohing and aahing over the destruction. “Wow, this is such an incredible thing to witness! Could you take a few more before I get back to finding Beatrice?”

It was almost like

this stupid bitch

didn't even think

410 was worth

worrying about

in the slightest

by her lonesome

and there was nothing

in the world

that made 410 angrier

than something like that

so she fired

and fired

and fired

and fired and fired and fired

but Jorogumo never even fought back. ALL SHE DID WAS DODGE. ALL SHE DID-

--This time, the explosion didn't come from 410. A scatter-shot hail of explosives rained from the side, blowing both 410 and Jorogumo's vision into a show of light. “Got my arm back!”

Newly re-armed, the Golden Witch Beatrice stood there, grinning like a maniac, with two miniature Shoulder Towers on her, well, shoulders, hefted as though they were, oh, let's say rocket launchers. 410 blinked. “Are. What?”

“I'm rearmed, reloaded, and dangerous!” Beatrice cackled. “Web this, you stupid bug!”

-More divine arrows or something. Then...

Why was 410 even here...?

Chapter Text

--A thought occurred to Will all of a sudden. Curiosity had struck and driven a pick into the mind of the cat. “Natsuhi.” He said, as they were returning. “You were friends with Rudolf, right?”

“...Inasmuch as anyone would be, I suppose.” Natsuhi responded, a pensive look on her face.

“What kind of person was he?” Will asked. “In general.”

It took Natsuhi a second to ponder the question. Gohda stood there looking rather awkward as she did. “I'd describe him as... crass. Bull-headed, stubborn, cowardly, an absolute idiot of a man.” Will couldn't help but snort- given Natsuhi's put-on politeness towards the rest of the family before, this was a treat. “He was direly incapable of controlling his own lust, but at the same time...” Natsuhi sighed and closed her eyes. “He did seem to genuinely love the women who bore him children. I always found him quite confusing.”

“And his kids?” Will asked, turning away.

“You're asking about Tora.” Natsuhi said. She took a deep breath in. “He loved her, as well. Of that, I have no doubt.”

An old fart who caused nothing but problems for the people he loved, huh. That was about right. “One other thing.” Will said, turning back around. His curiosity was definitely killing his cat- not Diana, his metaphorical cat. “Your old man's dead or I'd ask him myself. How'd Kyrie get Rudolf's position?”

“...Hm.” Natsuhi raised an eyebrow. No doubt she was keen to know exactly why Will was suddenly so curious about that branch of the family.

“You and Kyrie should be in the same position, but Eva doesn't respect you at all.” Will said, leaning against the wall and crossing his arms. “The current head of the Sumadera family also basically runs the Ushiromiya family? Your husband's been the acting head, but he doesn't say anything against her. Seems like she pretty much runs the place these days.”

“That is... a misconception.” Natsuhi shook her head. “It would be more correct to say that Kyrie Sumadera has been a cloud over the head of the Ushiromiya family for the past three years. She was granted the Eagle by Father himself, yes, but... please take no offense, but the fine details of the matter are not something I believe you should be privy to.”

...What the hell kind of man was Kinzo Ushiromiya that he'd apparently just hand over his son's right to his second wife, and Kyrie Sumadera, at that? Such an idea boggled Will's mind- he'd been imagining some sort of subterfuge, to be honest, but she obtained it wholly legally?

He'd heard from his mother once upon a time that Kinzo Ushiromiya was apparently such a genius that he'd brought back the Ushiromiya family from the brink of complete financial ruin all on his own, but any idiot could see that granting Kyrie Sumadera a stake in your family was clearly an incredibly idiotic idea. Was this man truly so chaotic that he could just... do both?

Then Will was reminded of the fact that, oh yeah, the guy had a contraption to an underground cellar hidden with moving lion statues and a riddle underneath a portrait of some lady inside a chapel on his private island. Fucking rich people, he swore in his brain. Extravagance was a good way to try and hide brain-rotting amounts of lacking any and all common sense, apparently.

Or was it just that the men of the Ushiromiya family were lacking in sense? Rudolf was obvious, George was teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown and was still doing whatever it was he was doing and also couldn't tell his girlfriend was also the servant boy and was also in love with his cousin, and Krauss just seemed really thick. He briefly thought to himself of the prospect of an actual Battler Ushiromiya and shuddered- no doubt such a person would be the absolute biggest moron Will had ever met.

“Regardless, the sway she holds is that of fear- and not ruling with an iron fist, but simply the absolute certainty that any sane person would have that crossing her is a mistake that, at best, could cost you your life.” Ever solemn and stoic, Natsuhi remained standing, her face impassive. The fear of retaliation- of being 'taken care of'. It made sense. “...I don't suppose you suspect her?”

“...It's possible, just like anyone, but I've got a likelier suspect in mind.” Will said. “Once I get something confirmed with Kanon, at least.”

“Wait, what are you confirming with Kanon-kun?” Gohda finally saw fit to speak. “I-I sincerely hope you don't think-!”

“Nope.” Will said, staring the burly chef in the face. “But you've only worked here for a year, so Kanon's the only one I can ask.”

...Actually, staring at Gohda suddenly made something occur to him. They'd been talking about Kyrie, but he'd been preoccupied with ensuring Tora was safe, so a certain thought had yet to occur to him. Just because he didn't suspect Kyrie as being guilty here didn't mean she wasn't up to anything- and a Sumadera woman was always up to something.

“Oh, Will. You're back.” There was George. His eyes were clearly red- perhaps he'd done some crying on his own, since the door to Eva's room was still closed. Maybe an emotional mother-son conversation? Who knew with mothers. “Do you-?”

“Gohda.” Will said, cutting George off. “I can trust you to make sure nobody messes around over here, right?”

“E-eh?” Gohda blinked. He was real jumpy- no surprise, considering he was basically a normal guy thrust into a horribly nightmarish scenario. Will pitied him. “Well, of course, I- a-as the eldest remaining servant of the Ushiromiya family, I, Gohda-!”

“Gohda-kun, you don't need such theatrics right now.” Natsuhi smiled a little. Gohda shut up and just sort of stood by Eva's door. This was the guest rooms, so Natsuhi, after a bit of no doubt inward sighing about having to stay near Eva, entered a room neighboring it so Gohda could do the burly guy thing and stand guard. “I'm choosing to trust you, Mr. Wright. I sincerely hope that isn't a mistake.”

“Same here.” Will said.


 

Chiester 45 sat by herself in the forgotten boiler room, huffing and puffing and generally just full of aimless aggression that she couldn't get out. She had- she had been doing her best, and Duchess Gremory just dismissed her so rudely, she- how could she do something like that, did she really just hate her all along and want to humiliate her, was that it? Could 45 never be good enough on her own, was that it?

And then that flashy jerk, Vassago, showed up. He was so sparkly and so much better than 45, defeating Shannon in an instant, and so pretty and generally just much more appealing in every way than plain old boring 45! Was that it? Did she just want to upgrade, was that it? Sure, 45 wasn't certified Golden Fantastic like 410 was, but she did things! Why couldn't anyone see that she did things?

In short, she felt profoundly attacked right now. Ahh, but then the romantic in her told her, it was fine, she only hurts you because there's something blooming, but oh that's just ridiculous, we met today and it's not like anyone would ever actually want to hang out with boring little 45! Even 410 just always ignored all the data she spewed out anyway, so the world probably just wanted to tell 45 that nobody wanted her there, right?!

---Ah.

But wait. Wait, wait wait. That wasn't the case, that wasn't the case at all. Poof, poof, she was still a magical being, after all, and 45 was there to the site of her conquest. Rosa Ushiromiya still hung. And- ahhhh. Relief. Beautiful, wonderful relief, catharsis, even.

“Who's... the weak one now, Black Witch?” 45 grinned a crooked sort of grin, one that would've been more at home on 410's face, at the pathetic, dangling corpse. This reminded her. This reminded her of what she'd done. She- not anyone else, she, actually, she, she had done it, she had killed Rosa Ushiromiya, she, haha, hahahahaha!!!

45 smirked at the hanging corpse and gave her cold hand a little swing, and inwardly lamented that she couldn't shatter. this corpse. into pathetic. little. pieces. Ahh, Rosa Ushiromiya, Black Witch Rosa Ushiromiya, you hang dead from the ceiling fan, your neck sliced by the divine arrow of Chiester 45, who only ever watched from afar, who was never even allowed to mourn in the role that was rightfully hers to mourn, who, who!!

How liberating it was to be without 410, that stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid bunny, who was so great she needed a training weight like 45's precise data to discard and actually do anything! Look here! Chiester 45, and none other, slew the beast which had blown a hole in both their lives! She claimed that vengeance, not 410! And now-

But wait. Wait. Wait wait wait. Wasn't there something

she should do now. If the game was off- (ah, but these were the thoughts one could have when she was alone, but then maybe really nobody would need her then, but then, who cared, who cared,)

Four treasures were granted to the victors. Jessica obtained the fortune. Tora revived her lost love. The witch, perhaps she would be put to sleep-

but there was Will, the interloper, and he must not know what he had. So all that 45 had to do, whenever Will's turn came around-

“Duchess Gremory!” 45 said, poofing onto the roof of the manor where Gremory and Vassago sat. Vassago had an umbrella, but Gremory was once again placing herself under the rain. “Regarding the second twilight- were you planning to move soon? Though Prince Vassago might be present, please allow me to assist as well!”

Gremory sighed heavily. “Oh, god.”


 

Will swore to himself, and his feet picked up the pace. Of course. They'd been outside, heading- heading to the guesthouse. That was a red flag, of course that was a red flag. Damn it, Jessica, damn it. “Whoa, wait! Will!” George said, running up behind him, doing his best to keep up. “Why are you hurrying?”

---Of course any of the books they'd been using would've been easily found through the patterns of dust, Kyrie would know that, and if anyone would know where Kinzo's hometown was---!

He hadn't had time. He hadn't had time, he hadn't had time. This was the worst-case scenario. He pleaded with whatever gods would listen that he was wrong, that he was-!

“Guesthouse. Need to find Kyrie's group.” Will said, keeping his words as short as he could. “George.”

“E-eh?” George blinked. “What is it?”

“Thanks.” Will said. “You're an alright guy.”

“Er, but we haven't exactly done all that much- and, hold on, why do you sound like you're trying to send yourself off?” George hurried behind as the two of them exited the manor and entered the garden.

It took Will several moments to respond- by the time George finished, he was already close enough to enter the guesthouse and charge over to the archive. He threw open the door, and found where he'd placed the books he and Tora had used-

The book had been disturbed.

“To be honest, George?” Will looked at that

and he laughed, the young man who didn't belong on this island just laughed. A little chuckle, under his breath, at the absolute worst-case scenario.

“I'm scared shitless.” Will said, with a wry, joyless smile on his face.

Fear like this hadn't entered his heart in quite some time. Fear, in fact, had not entered his heart in quite some time at all- until just that moment he'd wondered if he'd forgotten how to feel it. His hand entered his coat and fidgeted around a little, edging to be ready for danger.

–Right. Kanon had a gun. Kanon would listen. Wouldn't he? No matter what, if Kyrie had only just now disturbed the books, she couldn't know for certain that there were rifles remaining in the cellar-

unless perhaps they'd taken all of them already and Kyrie knew that and George's lie didn't fool her at all - - -

-But even then, Kyrie would have to get through Kanon, who was poised to shoot, who knew how to fire, and that wasn't nothing, and if she knew there were guns down there then she'd know that they were probably armed, and there was only one entrance from Rokkenjima. Right. Only one entrance from Rokkenjima.

–unless.

Unless unless unless unless unless unless unless unless unless unless unless unless unless unless.

Stress like Will hadn't felt in ages, fear, despair, a sort of deep, chilling self-loathing for not thinking of these ideas beforehand, for not assuming the absolute absolute absolute worst-case scenario, coursed through his veins like the thickest ice. That was a possibility, stupid. Don't you know that's a possibility? Kyrie Sumadera is a woman who will take risks to get what she wants. She will make plans. She will. What do you even think you're doing? What sort of ridiculous ridiculous ideas did you get in your head you fool?

Will!” George shouted, and Will came just the slightest bit back to reality.

“George.” Will said, keeping his breath steady. It took some effort. “The well Genji was on. Where does it lead?”

“The- the well?” George's concern was dumbstruck into a look of confusion. “I... I don't know. I've never seen it opened.”

A constantly-locked passage into the underground built on the premises of Kinzo Ushiromiya's mansion. It didn't need a well. This mansion didn't need a well.

Well, by the well, over by the well, which was still well closed- “Ah, George, Will. How's it goin'?”

Hideyoshi stood by his lonesome. “W-where's Uncle Krauss?” George blinked.

“Ahh, Kyrie told him to go-”

And that was all Will could hear as he pounded through the rain, his legs taking him as fast as he could move them.

The interloper who called himself Willard Huntington Wright could only do one thing at this juncture.

For the sin of existing on this island-

the 'uninvited guest' ran.

 


 

“...No.” Battler said, shaking his head. “No, no, that's no good, it's no goddamn good. Quit it.” He gritted his teeth, sweating, his entire body going rigid. “Don't... please.” Tears began coming to his eyes.

“Wow, you've really got your hooks in him, huh?” Jorogumo whistled.

“He's always like this.” Beatrice said, attempting very hard to pretend she wasn't also very tense.


 

5:00 P.M.

you're still down here. maria, bless her heart, has decided to take a nap, and you don't blame her. if you didn't feel a responsibility to remain awake, you'd probably be doing the same. you've spent two hours down here with not very much to do, and there's been no word from will or george. you keep nervously peeking out the door out into kinzo's spooky cave, but there's nothing. of course there's not.

“...this sucks.” jessica's got her head in her hands. “this suuuuucks.”

kanon's looking pretty downhearted himself. you've laughed and joked around, sure, but you've been on high alert this whole time, and it gets exhausting. “hey, kanon, do you wanna sleep, too?” you ask. “one of us could hold the gun.”

shakes his head. “i... have a responsibility.” kanon says, his eyes downcast.

this isn't how it was supposed to go. you don't know how it was supposed to go, but it wasn't supposed to go like this. this is horrible. everything about this is horrible. god, you hate everything about this and why is this happening to you and NOPE. NOPE. you're not doing that. your brain can shatter when your brain can shatter. your brain can shatter when your brain can shatter.

you don't feel good. you feel like you're dying. you feel like your mind is leaving your body and has been in that process for hours now. your dad is dead and so is aunt rosa and so are genji and kumasawa and nanjo and five people are dead. no no keep it together

something inside you wishes that whoever the culprit really is, that they'd just come in and please just end you already so you can stop being so scared. you hate the feeling of fear. you have so much of it and you hate it. you shouldn't be afraid. you're such-

battler-kun's such a sissy!

-no. no. stop it. stop it. you've left that behind, you've, you've put it in the 'that' box and you shoved it away and now it should be gone. why can't you just let anything go? why does everything bad have to remind you of everything bad beforehand? why isn't it you out there protecting them? shouldn't it be? why are you so weak? that's a man's role, to be strong, to protect the weak, like will and george are doing-

you aren't a man

you're not a man you're not a man you're not a man you're not a man you're not a man you're a woman and nobody can change that you aren't a man you don't want to be a man you're not a man. you're not a man. you're-

'tora'? what, you think shortening your name makes it a girl's name, battler-kun?

it's not good enough. why couldn't you have just really left battler ushiromiya behind? why? why, why, why? this is your own fault, isn't it? this is your own fault. if you weren't here, none of this would've happened. you don't know how, but it's probably true. you're just another ushiromiya nothing makes you different.

was this, all this, all this, was this-

was it really worth coming back? was it worth it? if you truly wanted to break free-

but the child of a murderer doesn't deserve to break free. that's why you're here, isn't it? this is what you deserve. a horrific fate where you die just like the woman that's dead because you exist.

oh.

kanon's here, next to you, isn't he. you fall onto his shoulder. right. the girl you love is right there. she's there and you're going to be okay and. and it's okay because she's there and it's going to be okay, right? you can handle yourselves after this. you've got tears in your eyes that you wipe on her shoulder.

“t-tora...” sayo blushes as you hug her and do that, still kind of befuddled by the idea of this whole physical affection thing or something.

“oh, geez, get a room, lovebirds.” jessica snorts, smirking at you.

“this is my room.” sayo retorts, awkwardly biting her lip. “get your own underground cellar if you're that bothered.” she's blushing. “you've got money now.”

“screw underground cellars, i think i'll buy myself a little strip of beach land. underground cellars are weirding me out.” jessica nods sagely.

that's right, she's- she's right here, and you- you should probably be calling her kanon in your head and all but you just can't right now. you apologize in your mind. maybe once she puts the gun down. maybe once you can stop looking at the guns. or maybe once you can hold the gun.

god, what the hell is with your brain right now?! your skull is just all over the place! cool your jets, tora! you don't even want to hold a gun, it's a symbol! geez! a symbol of- what, triumphing over sexism? wait, wait. is that what's bothering you about this? is it the sexism? because that's kinda sexist! like, george probably didn't mean to do that but it's kinda sexist to just- huh. yeah. actually, maybe it is that.

though, on the other hand, that means you get lumped in with the girls, which is a good thing, but it still doesn't feel right. it bugs you. you- you'd really like to just fucking groan up a storm but maria is sleeping. oh god you're going stir crazy.

there's a sound.

kanon whips his head around towards the door. not the front door- the door that leads deeper inwards. he stands up. “i heard something.” he says, holding his gun. you did, too. it sounded like a gunshot.

quick as a wink, kanon's up against the door holding the gun like a professional, sweat pouring down his forehead. you and jessica are standing up, too, but after what feels like forever waiting there, nothing comes through the door. “...could we have, uh, imagined it?” jessica asks.

kanon shakes his head, and his trembling hand moves towards the doorknob. “i... i'll go investigate. the- there's a chance the sound carried in from above somehow, through the well. if the tunnel's been compromised, i-”

“i'm going with.” jessica says, gritting her teeth. when kanon clicks his tongue, she responds, “hey, if i can't punch 'em in the nuts i can at least try to run back if you get shot and warn tora and maria.”

“'tora and maria'?” you ask.

“well yeah, you're staying here for maria, right?” jessica says, looking at you like you just said the sky was made of pasta.

you purse your lips and think for a second. “okay, you're not wrong, but still.”

“tora. two things.” kanon speaks up and you look at him. “the first thing is that i'm in agreement that you should stay here, though in the interest of full disclosure it's largely out of a desire to protect both you and maria.” he smirks. it's slightly unsteady given the tension, but it's there.

“...whoa.” jessica's jaw is agape. “where's that coming from?”

“that's, uh.” you blink. “really romantic and all, but what's the second thing?”

“those gold bars are quite thick.” kanon says. “that's the second thing.”

and they're off. they go through the door. it's just you and a sleeping maria, who stayed asleep even through that faint gunshot. you sidle back over to the bed, with the sudden silence overwhelming you. you feel just so much exhaustion sliding down your shoulders, fuck. you almost manage to fall asleep in the seconds before anything happens.

almost.

the front door to the VIP room opens. “hm, so this is what's down here.” and kyrie struts in through the front door. then she sees you. “oh, tora. so this is where you were.”

you put a finger up to your mouth and point at maria. kyrie nods and continues smiling, as she does. she is obligingly quieter as she comes over and sits down on the bed next to you. “lovely room.” she says. “hiding out here isn't the worst idea.”

“yeah, well.” you say. your brain is at war with itself. will warned you about her, and you trust him. you really do. but... but it's... it's kyrie. she's not- she's- it's kyrie. “it happens. uh, why are you here?”

“i thought i should come see where you were when will and george mentioned they'd squirreled you away.” kyrie says. “one thing led to another.”

you can't help but laugh a little. “god, you're smart. it took us all day to solve that riddle.” you smile.

“oh, did will help you?” kyrie asks. you nod. “how nice of him.” then her eyes finally land on, you know, the gold. “...oh my.” she blinks.

“yeah, it's.” you mumble. “it's a lot, alright.”

“to think it really was real...” kyrie purses her lips, closes her eyes, and ponders. “truly, father was quite a man.”

“i can hardly believe it's all real.” you say. “i- i can hardly believe any of this is real. i... i find this, and then- and then- and then dad dies, you know? and... fuck, kyrie.” wait, you swore! you really hope maria wasn't awake!! “i just... i just want everything to stop. i just wanna go home.” you start. “uh, did you close the entrance behind you?”

“i did.” kyrie nods.

“oh, phew.” you wipe your forehead of sweat. then you put your head down. no, there's no way this woman stole your letter, or- or- it's kyrie, she's always- “hey, um... kyrie?” you put your hand on your arm. “you don't... think i did it, do you?”

“no, i don't.” kyrie shakes her head.

you start sniffling again, and put your face in your hands. “god, i- i shouldn't be crying so much, i- i'm sorry. i know it- i'm just so tired.”

kyrie puts her hand on your shoulder, takes a deep breath in, and nods, her eyes closed but her smile present as ever. “it's fine to cry. i promise it won't make me think any less of you, battler-kun.”