Disclaimer: Nothing is mine. Inspiration for this came from two sources: 1) a beautiful fan painting of Beato as the tragic Ophelia, and 2) when I was watching the Kenneth Branagh adaptation of "Hamlet" last night for an English assignment, and I was reminded of the aforementioned painting. I eventually decided "what the heck". Takes place after Ep3, then a bit of a "jump" at the end (you'll see; it contains a SPOILER, though; thanks to J the Drafter for pointing it out).
"Pardon me for the interruption, but what would you happen to be reading at this moment?"
Battler closed the book shut at the sound of Ronove's voice. He was sitting in a comfortable chair in the den of Kuwadorian, simply trying to treat himself to a good book in between the next game being set up. Now, for some reason he could not figure out, Ronove made it his business to come in and have a chat.
"Oh, it's this play we started studying at my school right before my family and I left for Rokkenjima," said Battler. "It's very interesting…it's called 'Hamlet'."
"Hamlet," mused Ronove. "Even a demon such as myself is familiar with the arts, particularly great literature, pukuku. But would you care to refresh my memory on what it's about?"
Battler flinched as Ronove moved in a bit too close for comfort. Ronove was good for company, but he did not appear to know the meaning of 'personal space'. "Oh, um," said Battler, thinking of the right way to summarize the play as he was still in the process of reading it, "it's about this prince…his name is Hamlet, hence the title…and his father is murdered by his uncle, who also marries Hamlet's mother. Hamlet then decides to seek revenge on his uncle, and, well, all hell breaks loose. Right now, at the part I am at, his girlfriend just died and the two gravediggers are preparing her grave and wondering if her drowning was a suicide, and if she is fit for a Christian burial if this is the case."
Ronove nodded. "Ah yes, I remember now: Her name was Ophelia. Ah, poor Ophelia…such a tragic figure…had her whole life ahead of her…threw it away in a moment of sheer madness…"
"Yes, it is quite sad," nodded Battler. "Well, anyway, I figured that since I'm going to be in Purgatorio for a while, and since I just discovered that Beato does indeed have this play on her shelves, I might as well get caught up on my homework before the next game."
"Wise choice," said Ronove. Then, "You know, milady does feel just a tad guilty over how she tricked you in the last game."
"Yeah right," scoffed Battler, still feeling a touch of anger over how he had been tricked. "Where is she right now? Gloating over how she had me in the palm of her hand? Cackling over how we sat with our backs together in the dark, making me think there was even something there?"
"Actually, milady has gone out for a walk right now," said Ronove. "She tells me she is too excited to concentrate on the next game, and needs a bit of air to clear her head."
"Like there'd be anything to clear up in the first place," scoffed Battler.
Ronove lightly chuckled at this before saying, "My apologies for interrupting your reading, Battler-san. Allow me to take leave."
"Good night Ronove," said Battler right before Ronove vanished in a burst of gold. He tried to go back to reading, but realized only now how tired he was…and how late it was…
Battler closed his eyes. To him, it felt as though he hadn't been asleep for more than a second when he felt something shake him, hissing, "Battler!"
Battler blinked his eyes open and yawned. Sunlight was now pouring in through the windows. It was now morning and standing just above him was Lucifer, her ebony hair shining in the morning sun.
"Good morning, Lucifer," said Battler cheerfully. "How's my most attractive ass nee-chan doing this morning, ihihi?"
Lucifer did not smile or laugh. She said, "Lady Beatrice is missing. She went out for a walk last night and has not returned."
"Are you sure?" said Battler, leaning forward in the chair, feeling an odd sense of alarm. Surely, there was no reason to be frightened; she was probably somewhere in Kuwadorian; perhaps she was in the kitchen sneaking a few croissants for herself. Yes, it would be very much in-character for a sneaky devil like her, all right…
"She was not in her bed this morning," said Lucifer hastily. "My sisters and I have searched everywhere in the mansion and she is nowhere to be found!"
"You sure about that?" said Battler, now standing up. "You sure she's not hiding somewhere?"
Lucifer nodded fervently. "Trust me, we considered that possibility, too, but she isn't in any of the cupboards, or corners, or under the tables, or in the pantry…you get the idea."
"Have you searched outside?" asked Battler. "Maybe she, I don't know, fell asleep under a tree or something?"
"We are currently searching outdoors, and so far, nothing," said Lucifer with a shake of her head.
Battler was beginning to wonder if this was just another cruel trick played on him, if the Stakes were in on it, too…
No. The look of concern on Lucifer's face did appear to be genuine.
"Have Virgilia and Ronove been alerted yet?" asked Battler.
"Belphegor is on her way now to tell them," said Lucifer. Then, "Battler…do you think you could help us?"
"Perhaps," said Battler slowly. As much as he tried to dismiss his concern over the witch, he just had to find her. If she was just playing a practical joke on him, then he would give her a piece of his mind the minute he found her.
"Where you have you looked so far?" asked Battler. "Outside, I mean."
"In the gardens," said Lucifer.
"Hmm," said Battler thoughtfully, "maybe I could look outside the gardens…maybe during her walk, she decided to venture out for a bit…"
He chuckled, "Oh Beato, when I find you, I am going to slap you senseless!"
Battler found a gap in the iron gate. It was in the same place as Rosa had described in her flashback. He squeezed right through it. As he did, he looked down and noticed something: A tiny scrap of Beato's gown, having been caught on the gate.
"So I was right," murmured Battler. "She did go this way…" He called out, "Everyone! Over here!"
No one seemed to be paying any particular attention to Battler. They were all searching the gardens, still a bit of distance away from him. Deciding to search for Beato himself, Battler began to take the long walk through the forest of Rokkenjima.
He thought back to their third game…he remembered the rush of joy he felt in having a good, long, hard clapping competition with her, seeing the laughs and smiles on her face and in her eyes…the chance to laugh with her…
Then he remembered the laughs and smiles on her face during an entirely different occasion…when at last she revealed her true intentions. When she showed that yes, she had tricked him; yes, she was capable of blinding his heart to the truth…what hurt the most was that he had actually thought there was something between them…when really, it was all a lie…
Damn her, thought Battler angrily, making his way through the forest. To hell with her. She can just die for all I care.
Battler stopped. There was a sound…a soft breathing with a hiccup in it…it took him half a minute to realize it was a sob.
"Someone's crying?" he muttered out loud. Curious now, he followed the sob…it was quiet at first, from his distance…then, it gradually grew louder…it sounded almost…eerie…and haunting…he thought for a minute it was a banshee of sorts, temporarily discarding his scepticism to believe in the supernatural. Then he shook his head, scolding himself for thinking something so ridiculous.
Yet this did not stop the feeling that an omen of death was hanging in the air…
Then Battler heard it…that familiar "uu" whine…
"Maria?" muttered Battler. He turned to the sound of it and began to walk down the path where it grew the loudest, the path leading on a downhill slant. As he did, he couldn't shake off a growing feeling of dread, that whatever was at the end of the path he did not wish to see.
He stopped just a few feet from the ground and leaned with one hand against a nearby tree. From where he was, he could see the remaining path leading out to the edge of what appeared to be a riverbank…or was it the edge of a pond, Battler wondered. In any event, Maria was sitting on the grass (particularly green in this area more than the rest of the forest, Battler silently noted) with her head bowed, sobbing uncontrollably to the point where her body was almost shaken.
Battler was curious as to what Maria was doing here…this was only the meta-world…had she been accepted as one of Beato's pieces now? Yet he was also curious as to what was making her cry. Her mother was nowhere to be seen, and even though Maria would understandably be upset over the abuse she endured it wouldn't be like her to run away. No, she would rather stay right where she was and cry before moving on.
Battler edged a bit further down the rest of the path and walked right up to Maria, his eyes focused solely on his sobbing cousin. He said softly, "Maria?"
Maria sniffed, "Uu…" and looked right up at Battler. Her eyes were red and puffy and her cheeks were stained with tears.
"Maria," said Battler gently, "what is the matter?"
Maria tried to speak, but her voice would get caught. She gulped and whispered, "Beatrice…"
"You've seen her?" said Battler, feeling both hope and dread, not even realizing how possible that was. "Where is she?"
Maria opened and closed her mouth repeatedly before going back to sobbing, unable to respond. Feeling helpless, Battler sighed and turned to look out at the pond.
What he saw made him feel as though he had been splashed with cold water.
Beato was floating in the pond, her eyes closed, her dress almost seeming to carry her in the water…but she did not look asleep, or that she was merely resting. Her skin was quite pale, and there were no movements of her chest, or anything to suggest she was even alive. She did not look as though she was floating with her own free will, either.
She looked as though she had drowned, her body now floating adrift…she looked like a sleeping angel who no longer walked this sinful Earth.
She looked exactly as Battler had pictured Ophelia to look upon her death.
Battler could only stand there in shock. Any tears he longed to spill over were locked inside, frozen. He felt his heart slowly being ripped apart at this tragic sight. To think that only a minute ago, he had been thinking how he would not care if she were dead.
Now…now that she was dead…his entire world came crashing down.
Did…did I…did I do this to her? he thought. Was it an accident, or did she drown herself? I think she would be a good swimmer…if so, then…why? Was it because of me? After the third game was over…I made a point of avoiding her…I deliberately snubbed her when she chirped "good night"…
He heard the sound of footsteps. He did not turn around to see who it was. His senses were being shut down, bit by bit, and he could only gaze on at the beauty in the water. He wanted to say something…he wanted to scream her name, to tell her this wasn't funny and she needed to wake up now. Otherwise…he just wanted to let out a cry of anguish.
But all the things he longed to say got caught in his throat. Part of him was hoping, no, praying, that she was not truly dead, that she had simply gone for a swim.
But he knew deep down that she was truly dead.
He heard the cries of "Beatrice-sama!" from behind him, recognizing the voices of each Stake. They all ran up to the bank and stood there, every bit as shocked by the sight as Battler.
"You…you'd never think she'd kill herself," said Beelzebub, clearly quite shaken up. "She loved sweets…especially ice cream with some black tea…"
"She enjoyed playing with Battler," spoke up Asmodeus. "I think she even loved Battler. She'd always talk about him, about how he made her laugh, how he was fun to be around. And she looked really hurt when he ignored her last night. When I asked her about it, she claimed to take it as a sign of victory over making Battler mad at her…I never even saw through to her real emotions…"
Battler felt himself tremble. He tried to speak, he tried to say he was sorry, but once again, the words caught in his throat and he remained mute.
More footsteps. Battler still did not turn. It did not take long for him to figure out it was Virgilia and Ronove. He heard them gasp: "Beatrice!" and "Milady!"
They ran over to where Battler was, each standing on either side of him. They, too, were moved by the tragic sight. Ronove pulled out a handkerchief and lightly dabbed at his eyes, sighing, "What a very tragic person…"
"My…my student," whispered Virgilia, blinking and allowing two teardrops to roll down her cheeks. "To think, there were times where I wished to have someone other than her as my disciple…I wouldn't have had anyone else but Beato and her fun-filled ways."
Virgilia then whispered a familiar passage: "There is a willow that grows aslant a brook, that shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream; there, with fantastic garlands did she come…"
These words began to bring Battler out of his stupor. Now, at least, he felt the hot tears sting his eyes and pour over. "Beato," he whispered, not paying attention to the rest of Virgilia's speech, which was rudely interrupted by a sudden cry in the background. Within seconds, Battler was rudely pushed to the ground by Kinzo, who stood above him and mourned for his beloved "Beatoriiicheeee!"
This sparked a flame of anger within Battler. What right did this man have to barge in at such a solemn moment? He was no longer a part of Beato's life, and considering how he trapped her in a human body, she had never intended to take him back. He had even been a good source for her misery.
Yet here he stood, sobbing as though he and Beato were still lovers. Battler remembered that of course Kinzo would be upset if he still loved Beato, and would have every right to be upset.
This in mind, he resisted the urge to knock the old man down. Instead, he stood up to his feet and jumped into the pond, which came up just past his elbows. Nonetheless, he swam right through the shimmering water, over to where his opponent now lay dead. He scooped her up in his arms and grabbed onto a nearby branch for support, dragging himself to a more shallow section.
He held her in his arms and looked onto her face. He shook her softly and said, "Beato? Beato?"
"…when down the weedy trophies and herself fell in the weeping brook," recited Virgilia as Battler desperately tried to wake Beato up through shaking her, caressing her cheeks, anything, "Her clothes spread wide, and mermaid-like a while they bore her up; which time she chanted snatches of old tunes as one incapable of her own distress, or like a creature native and indued unto that element: but long it could not be, till that her garments, heavy with their drink, pull'd the poor wretch from her melodious lay to muddy death."
At last, Battler stopped. He gently pried her eyelids open…her eyes, once full of mirth, showed no sign of life…accepting this heavy truth, he closed them back. He held her close to him and sobbed, realizing only too late how he truly felt for such an opponent. He sobbed that he forgave her, wishing she could wake up and see he no longer resented her for anything she had done to him.
"Do you wish this was not happening?" the voice of Virgilia reverberating in his ears. "Do you wish this was just a nightmare you could wake up from?"
"Y, yes," choked Battler, still hanging onto the Golden Witch's lifeless body.
"Then close your eyes…let go of her…and this, all of this, will be but a dream…"
Not questioning the logic behind these words, Battler sobbed, closed his eyes, and allowed her body to drift out of his arms…softly…gently…slowly…
"Should we wake him up?"
"Nah, let's let him sleep a bit longer."
"He looks sooo dreamy in his sleep!"
Battler's eyelids felt heavy. He blinked and slowly opened them to find three of the seven stakes standing before him: Belphegor, Lucifer, and Asmodeus, each giggling softly.
He realized only then where he was: He was back in the den. It was still night time…he was still in his chair with the book in his hands…
In a flash, Battler remembered what had just happened. He sat up straight in his seat and said sharply, "Where's Beato?"
"She went out for a walk a while ago," said Belphegor. "She should be back any minute now."
"She…she's alive?" said Battler hoarsely, feeling an immense sense of relief. It was a dream…it was all just a dream…
"Erm…of course," said Lucifer slowly. "She is the Endless Witch, after all. Nothing can kill her. At least, not in the meta-world."
A sudden thought struck Battler: If it wasn't a dream, then what if it was a vision? A vision of what was to come…
Battler leapt right out of his seat and nearly pushed right past the Stakes as he went running out the door and down the hall. He had only made it a few steps out when the door opened. And in stepped the one person he never thought he'd be so happy to see in his life…
"Ah, good evening, Battler," said Beato with her usual smirk. "Are we still in tears over my triumph over you, hmm?"
Battler had to compose himself, to prevent himself from collapsing into a blubbering mess. He gulped and said, "It's…really you…"
Beato rolled her eyes. "Of course it's me, dummy. Who did you think I was? Ophelia from Hamlet?"
She let out a witchy cackle. It was a cackle that was like a sheet of music to Battler's ears. He still couldn't get over the intensity of his nightmare. It felt so vivid, so real…
Part of him wondered if it really had been a dream after all. He wondered if everything he had just witnessed had in fact happened, and if Virgilia had given him another chance. Or if Beato had somehow planted the dream in his head as a devious ploy to make him realize how much he felt for her.
He wouldn't put it past her, but for now, he was not going to question the nature of it. For now, he just shrugged, "Don't think I'll fall for the same trick twice, Beato."
Three games later
The newlyweds lay in bed in the moonlight bathing them, having recently consummated their marriage after the defeat of Erika Furudo.
"Do you remember," said Battler slowly, "my coming to greet you after taking a walk outside, and you taunting me about thinking you were Ophelia?"
"Barely," said Beato slowly. "Why do you ask?"
Battler lightly kissed her head. "Because, in light of recent events, I think dreams can foreshadow what is to come, sometimes not quite getting the details right…but hitting the core right on mark."