A Bitter Pill to Swallow
"Are you sure?"
"I'm positive, Milady."
"This isn't one of your jokes?"
"I would never dream of lying about such an important subject," said Ronove- though the faintest trace of a smile crossed his lips.
"Hmn." Beatrice frowned, folding her arms. She let her head fall back against her chair, her eyes staring up at the ceiling. Piercing white stared back. She sighed softly; a horribly earnest, candid sound. It was worlds apart from her usual psychotic laughter. "I didn't expect him to be so upset about it. What a pain. How useless."
"May I remind you, Milady, that Battler isn't like you. He's only human. I thought that was common sense- however, you can be incredibly dense when it comes to other people's feelings."
"Y-you're overstepping the mark there, Ronove. Remember- you're only my butler. You exist to serve me tea, not lecture me like I'm an unruly child."
"Forgive me, Milady," said Ronove- though his smile didn't fade. He certainly didn't sound too apologetic. "I did not mean to put Virgilia out of a job."
"…Heh." Beatrice gave a small laugh. "Yes, that old woman does like to nag at me. But, please, Ronove, I couldn't bear it if you joined in, too. With you and Virgilia, it'd make me feel like a young girl living with her parents. I might end up killing you both accidentally~ Hmn~"
"I'll try to remember that next time, Milady."
"So, what were you saying about Battler?" Beatrice asked, tilting her head quizzically. "And try not to insult your oh-so-gracious lady this time, okay?"
"Certainly, Milady," Ronove bowed his head again. "Well, where to begin? …Hmn. Watching his family being murdered over and over again, with no way to physically stop it, must be upsetting- surely. However, I believe the finishing blow to Battler during the last game was your 'North Wind and the Sun' scheme. He had a brief glimmer of hope you'd reformed, and become slightly more… more…" Ronove paused, searching for the right word. "Ladylike?"
"Watch it, Ronove," Beatrice hissed.
"Pu ku ku~ 'Less like yourself', should I say, then?"
Beatrice's lower lip jutted out slightly; however, she nodded.
"Well. Battler hoped he'd gained an ally- or maybe he had hoped your vicious game was coming to a close. But that brief glimmer of hope was crushed in an instant. Even a demon like myself can sympathise with his feelings. And if he never recovered from your attack, I wouldn't be surprised."
"...Tch." Beatrice frowned. Then, her fingers tightened into fists. In a flurry of long skirts and golden curls, she pushed herself to her feet. "I-I don't understand! They're only pieces on a game board! You wouldn't feel bad sacrificing a pawn or two in chess- what's the problem?"
"They might be little more than pieces to you, Milady, but I presume Battler sees it rather differently. Pawns or not, they are still his family."
"Humph!" Beatrice made a noise of disgust and folded her arms, turning her back on Ronove. "What a troublesome child Ushiromiya Battler is."
"With all due respect, Milady, if you truly intend to end this game and force Battler to acknowledge your existance, now would be the perfect time. When I went to see him he was almost catatonic- staring straight ahead, not doing or saying anything. It would be easy to defeat him now."
Beatrice didn't even pause to think about it.
"Pu ku ku~ You're such a confusing person, Milady; you claim you wish to defeat him, yet you don't take any steps to ensure your victory. Why... it's almost as if you feel... remorse for what you've done. Surely not?"
Beatrice- the feared and much respected Golden Witch- didn't have an answer for that. Even so, her cheeks began to flush, ever so slightly, and the corners of her lips twitched into a small frown. At that moment, she didn't look so fearsome; instead, she looked like a young girl whose homemade chocolate had been forcefully handed back to her by her crush on Valentine's Day.
"Ah. The one thing that remains constant throughout history is the complexity of a woman's feelings. It seems even Milady is prone to sickness of the heart."
Beatrice did turn around at this, scowling. Her eyes burned with intensity.
If Beatrice had been a young girl whose homemade chocolate hadn't been accepted, she wouldn't have run off in tears. She would have stood her ground. More like, she would had pushed that chocolate into her crush's hands anyway- or maybe she would have tried to force it past their resisting lips.
And if that hadn't worked, she would have given them poison instead.
Beatrice was too prideful to give up.
"Ronove. What did I tell you?"
Still smiling, Ronove dipped his head in a bow, and said smoothly, "I apologise if I offended you, Milady. It was not my intention. I was merely commenting on the situation, as an objective third party observer."
Beatrice continued to scowl.
Then... her dark expression lightened, just slightly.
"Well, it can't be helped," she said, walking over to her chair. "No matter what happens, I can always rely on you to be your usual, ill-mannered self."
"I believe I'll take that as a compliment. Thank you, Milady- you are too kind."
"I know. So kind it breaks my heart~ Fufufu~ Other witches wouldn't put up with your behaviour, you know. I only allow it because it doesn't bore me."
With a small laugh, Beatrice sunk back down into her chair. As she did so, a cup of tea materialised in her hands. Beatrice had not asked for the tea- however, the look on her face had been so pitiable Ronove felt she needed it. Her grandiose words couldn't hide the fact she was upset.
Giving Ronove a small nod of thanks and a barely-there smile, Beatrice took a sip of her tea.
Then, she began to speak.
"It would be no fun hitting Battler with the final blow when he's so close to collapse already. If I'm going to break him down, I want to do it when he's feeling his most confident- tear his hopes out from underneath him and shatter him until not an atom of his pride remains! Only then would that be a true, 100% perfect victory! I won't accept anything less! Seeing a strong, arrogant man being reduced to nothing with a single stake of red truth is a thing of beauty! But seeing a weak man being hurt more than necessary is a miserable sight... And not particularly entertaining... If he wants me to kill him, I won't give him the satisfaction. I'll only kill him… if he fights seriously. To the death. With everything he has."
"...Of course." Ronove smiled. Somehow, there was more warmth in it than before.
No matter how Beatrice's words sounded, this- whether she realised it or not- was a confession.
It was a confession most girls would be shy about making. They would have written their feelings in their neatest calligraphy on a piece of paper and put in somebody's shoe locker; but they would never have said it aloud.
'I care about you.'
"You don't think Battler will want to give up our game?" Beatrice asked Ronove. Worry crept into the corners of her voice. "It would be so anti-climatic for it to end this way!"
"That, I cannot say. You should ask Battler yourself."
Beatrice's mouth was half-open, and she was just about to say something, when a cloud of golden butterflies swarmed the room. After glowing for an instant, they merged together and took the form of a young girl.
"Milady! Milady!" squealed Beelzebub, inclining her head towards Beatrice. Her pigtails bounced as she did so. "I went to see Battler just now- and big sis Luci said he was sad about something, and I shouldn't bother him, but I did anyway, because Luci's not the boss of me, I mean, she's not even that amazing- and he was so weird! He was staring off into space, and he looked all miserable, and I thought seeing me would cheer him up because I'm so cute, but just... he didn't do anything... He didn't even tell me to go away. It was so totally weird and boring!"
Beatrice bit her lower lip slightly at this news. If she'd retained any second doubts that this was an elaborate joke by Ronove, they were gone now. Beelzebub wouldn't lie to her; Beatrice doubted she had the mental capacity to tell a half-decent, believable lie.
"That... That..." Beatrice struggled to find the right words. "He... He can't just give in. I won't allow it!"
"You always were a selfish child."
In a flickering of golden butterflies, the form of Virgilia appeared on the chair opposite Beatrice. Her hands were folded demurely in her lap, and her eyes were half-lidded, sleepy, as usual- but there was a strange intensity about her words. Virgilia normally acted sweet and- despite being a witch- harmless; but there was a reason she had previously held the title of 'Beatrice'. That much was evident behind her tone of voice.
"Teacher. It's nice to see you," said Beatrice, smirking. "It seems we have quite the ensemble here now."
"We're still missing the main character, though, aren't we?"
"True." Beatrice frowned. "But we can have a mature conversation without him, teacher! Fufufu. Would you care for some tea?"
"Beato. You should know I didn't come here for an impromptu tea party."
"Tea parties with witches are always the best kind."
"But there is no love in this atmosphere," said Virgilia levelly. "We can all see your real feelings beyond that smirk, child. We know you too well- and care about you too much."
"...Hmph. Have it your way. When did you become so boring, teacher?"
Scowling, Beatrice she turned her head, and took a defiant sip of tea.
"What?" Beatrice asked, glaring at Virgilia. "What do you want, teacher?"
"I have some vague inkling of what your plan is- and I must advise you against it. I, like Ronove and Beezlebub, went to talk to Battler, and I can only confirm what they said. He is very upset. Nothing at all like the energetic, over-enthusiastic person I spoke to during the earlier game. It was... upsetting. He was almost like a corpse."
"Ngh..." Beatrice winced, as though a needle had been driven through her skin. Virgilia's words had hit a weak point. However, she forced her expression into an uncaring one. "I-I fail to see how that concerns me."
"You foolish child," said Virgilia calmly. "If you want to defeat Ushiromiya Battler, do it now. I implore you. He has already suffered enough- do you mean to prolong his misery and force him into another a game, just to entertain yourself? You believe that will make you feel less guilty? Sometimes it's kinder to put a person out of their misery."
Beatrice's fingers clenched around her teacup, so tightly her knuckles went whiter than the porcelain. Her hands trembled.
"I agreed to help you earlier, believing it would bring an end to this cruel game. I didn't realise you could be so... Well." Virgilia laughed softly, without humor. "I thought you respected- no... cared- about Battler more than that. If he was an opponent worthy of your time, then he is also worthy of a gentle death. At this point, he can't muster the energy to deny your existence; you've almost won."
"Almost isn't enough! It isn't... Teacher, you don't understand!" Beatrice snapped. "It's because he's a worthy opponent that I refuse to let him to be defeated so easily!"
"So you'll prolong this torture. Is that right? Is that he deserves?"
"It's not like that. That's not what I want!"
"It's what you'll do."
"With all due regards, teacher," Beatrice spat the word viciously, as a coralsnake spewed venom, "you no longer hold any power over me! I'm not entitled to listen to your opinion anymore; I'm stronger than you. So don't try to tell the rules of my own game!"
"...How tragic." Virgilia sighed. "Even though your magical powers are stronger than mine, I see you are still little more than a petulant child."
"Remember who you're talking to! I am the Golden Witch, Beatrice- who are you? You don't even have a name anymore, teacher!"
"I may not have a name. But at least I have a heart."
"You can continue your game if you want. You can play with Ushiromiya Battler- the man you claim to care about so much- until he falls apart and can't even argue back anymore. Take him apart. Break his heart. Do what you will. But I will no longer have a role in it."
"Fine then! Leave! Go on- I don't need your help anymore! You're a piece that's already been removed from this game board! Nothing more! So I won't make the mistake of turning to you for advice again!"
And Virgilia vanished, in a spray of golden butterflies.
"T-that irritating old woman..." Beatrice growled, leaning back in her chair. She placed a finger against her temple, massaging, as though she had a headache. Then, she grit her teeth together, scowling. "I'm not a child! I know what I'm doing!"
"I understand your feelings on the matter, Milady."
"A-ah..." Beatrice turned to fix Ronove with a thankful look. "You'll still... stand by me? Even if you disagree with what I'm doing?"
"Until the end, Milady."
"A-and I'll stand by you, too!" said Beezlebub, saluting; it seemed very much like she didn't want to be left out of the conversation. "And all my sisters, I'm sure of it!"
Beatrice's eyes widened at this sign of support.
It was Beatrice's unguarded, innocent expressions that made her seem so very human. She was not just a cruel witch. She was a person with feelings, too. She still had a heart.
And her emotions really did show up so brilliantly on her face.
Ronove had to wonder how much of her 'North Wind and the Sun' strategy had been a lie, and how much had been true.
"Thank you. I... appreciate it..."
"We're just doing our duty, Milady."
"Yes! It's what we're expected to do~ Hehehe~"
"O-of course." Beatrice's cheeks flushed light pink slightly. She took another sip of tea, draining her cup; it was probably so she could hide her face, until she'd schooled her expression into some more fitting for the Golden Witch Beatrice.
The cup exploded into golden butterflies. At the same time, Beatrice got to her feet, throwing her arms akimbo in an overly-theatrical gesture.
She grinned- a grin that could freeze the blood in the veins. It looked like she had too many teeth, and her eyes were narrowed into piercing blue slits, and her shoulders were shaking. A sight like that would have been enough to drive even hellish, nightmare-born monsters back into the dark lairs they crawled out of.
Beatrice's pipe appeared in her fingers, and she gripped it tightly. Then, she tilted her head to one side, and grinned with her mouthful of sharp, serrated teeth.
"Alright! I realise the next move in this game will be a gamble, but doesn't that make it more fun? I'll ensure Battler can't surrender- I'll make sure he won't! I won't allow him to! He'll stay around and entertain me until I'm sick of him! Ihihihihihi!"
Then, grinning sheepishly, Beatrice turned to look at Beezlebub and Ronove.
"How was that? Do I sound like my usual self?"
"As you would say, 'it's perfect', Milady."
"Yeah! It was enough to scare even me! Pretty awesome, you know? You go, Beato!"
"Right. Well then. Let's hope this works."
Beatrice turned, skirts billowing about her, and twisted her pipe round in her hand. Then, she mumbled something under her breath; some kind of incantation. She tapped her pipe in the air three times.
And, almost instantaneously, another cloud of butterflies filled the room.
Battler was slumped on the table underneath the arbour. It was the same place George had proposed to Shannon.
And the same place Virgilia had told him about the 'cat box' theory.
…That was when Battler thought he had an ally.
Now, he realised he was foolish to trust anyone.
Everybody in the witches' game was his enemy.
Even his own family members.
The rose garden surrounding the arbour was breath-taking; rows upon rows of beautiful flowers, ranging from blood-red to salmon pink, so pretty it could make the eyes widen and heart stop beating. No wonder George chose this place to propose; it had exactly the right ambiance.
At least, it did, when everything had been in full color.
Now, everything was grey.
Such a beautiful place didn't deserve to be ruined by Beatrice's destructive magic.
Battler scowled- but there was nobody there to see him, and he didn't really have the energy to keep doing it. What the point, anyway? It was useless- all of it useless. So, after a few seconds, his expression of anger faded into some more apathetic. He sighed.
How foolish had he been, to truly believe Beatrice had reformed? Wasn't there an aphorism that went with that? A leopard could never change its something-or-other?
George would have known. He knew all sorts of useless information.
But Battler couldn't ask George now, as he had done so many times in the past when he was in a pinch. Because George was dead. How had he died in that universe- the third game- though?
Battler could hardly remember.
That was probably the worst thing.
It doesn't matter how many games I play with Beato. They're always going to end the same way; and I'm always going to be confused. In the dark. Watching my family die over and over again.
And Beato will watch it with me, drinking tea, laughing , with that horrible expression on her face.
...I thought maybe she felt guilty.
But I was wrong.
She doesn't have a heart.
And she'll keep this game going over and over until one of us goes insane. Then again- maybe she already is.
So I'm the only one with something left to lose.
And my family.
...What does it matter if a witch did it or not?
All that matters is the final outcome; and, in all cases, it'll be this.
Battler felt his eyes begin to sting. He closed them tightly, shaking his head. Without realising it, he began to run his fingers through his hair, trying to keep his head together- or maybe trying to pull it apart.
Trying to escape this 'game' which wasn't a game, in any sense of the word. Rather, it was torture. An endless torture created by a woman he didn't even believe in; but did it matter if she existed or not, when all the emotions running through his mind and clenching at his heart were 100% real?
If the culprit was a human, he would have felt exactly the same.
Battler's mind shifted through the scenarios. The answer was horribly clear.
X = The human is a culprit.
Y = A witch is the culprit.
But if the final result was the same for both scenarios then- if there was truly no way to save his family, or save his own happiness- in the long run:
They were exactly the same.
So what was the point in denying one possibility? What was the point in arguing for the other? It was meaningless.
In that case:
Battler tried to blink back tears.
Then, he wondered why he was bothering.
Shuddering, his breaths coming out in gasps, he banged his head against the table top.
"D-damnit... Damn... T-this is... such a waste of time... No good… I-it's no good at all!"
"I couldn't agree more."
Battler's head jerked upwards at the sound of this new voice. His eyes widened. Mouth fell open.
"What's the matter? Did I surprise you? I'm sorry; I seem to get that a lot, even in my own world. I should have been more considerate. Hehe~"
Battler could barely spit out the words. It felt like his throat had swelled up.
A young girl was sat across from him. She looked about the same age as Jessica- although there was something very childish about her. She had long blonde hair, yellow eyes, and a rather pretty face.
But that wasn't the strangest thing about her.
Her skin was...
It wasn't right.
It had been sewn together. Like a rag doll, or some kind of Frankenstein's monster- a failed lab experiment- suture lines ran across both her cheeks, ending at the corners of her lips. More stitches ran across her forehead, neck, collarbone, hands and fingers. To make matters worse, two bolts seemed to be fixed into either side of her skull- maybe to keep her all together?
And she was sat there, smiling, as though she'd been there the whole time.
As though she was perfectly normal.
As though she wasn't a complete monster.
"Let me introduce myself," the monster smiled, proffering her sewn-up hand so Battler could shake it. "My name is Madaraki Fran, and I serve as Ushiromiya Eva's personal physician some twelve years in the future. It's a pleasure to meet you."
a/n: Huh. This was one of those ideas that came to me, that just wouldn't go out of my head, so I decided to write it down, even if it's a bit... weirrdd. Yeah. A crossover between Umineko and Franken Fran? XD That's just... bizarre.
But I thought, as there are so many odd characters in the Uminekoverse anyway, Fran might actually be right at home there XD
You don't actually need to have any knowledge of the manga Franken Fan to read this fic, I think- the only aspect of the Fran manga I've taken is her character herself. Oh, and a few of Fran's assistants. But you don't need the 'story' in the manga or anything.
I'd recommend you reading it, though, because it's a very good manga XD If you like body horror and the like XD
Um, yeah, about this fic.
It's Beato/Battler, but that's not the main focus of the fic.
It'll get pretty dark and horrible and gruesome.
Battler will be abused a whole bunch.
And Fran will play a pretty large part in it.