"So, are you sure you're not a witch?"
Beatrice flinched slightly at this question. She looked down at her lap, fingers picking at the white material of her flimsy, fluttery skirts. Was she a witch...? She didn't think she was. If that was true, surely she would have been able to use fearsome magic to escape from this prison. Maybe she would have liked to be a witch, if it meant she could leave Rokkenjima on the air as golden butterflies and never come back.
But she couldn't.
Escaping was... impossible...
Especially for a weak-willed girl like her.
She was far too pathetic to be a witch.
She couldn't be a princess, either, because nobody wanted to rescue her.
She was hardly even a real person.
People's personalities were defined by their interaction with others; she was sure she had read that somewhere before. How could she, who only ever interacted with three people in her whole life, possibly have developed a real personality? She'd never had a chance.
So... who was she?
Fortunately, the young boy answered his own question.
"Ihihi. Well, I guess you can't be a witch. You're too pretty. Heheh..."
Beatrice tipped her head to one side. It was a heavy, awkward movement, as though she didn't have perfect control of her limbs. Maybe her body really had frozen over after all. She was calcifying; turning into a doll- an eerie guingol with a far-too human face.
She wasn't very good at interacting with people, so every single one of her actions was weighted, deliberate and unnatural. It was an effort even doing this much.
It was effort just opening her mouth.
But she couldn't run away.
This was the first time she had interacted with somebody who existed beyond her prison, besides Nanjo, Genji and Kumasawa. She couldn't let this chance slip through her fingers, just because of the butterflies fluttering uncomfortably in her stomach and the rapid beating of her heart.
She had never spoken to another person her age before. She had almost begun to believe children were a myth, just like pixies and fairies. To Beatrice, this boy was almost as magical as a dryad or a kirin, and she couldn't help but be enthralled by him.
She had to swallow her shyness, which threatened to close up her throat forever, and at least try to talk to him.
She'd never forgive herself if she didn't.
If a human encountered a fairy, they would surely feel the same. Such an encounter would be a miracle, even more unlikely than adding one and one to make three. This human might hesitate from surprise and disbelief upon encountering such a fantastical creature- but they would force themselves to try and capture its' attention.
They would want to talk to them.
But, of course, they would talk very softly, for fear of scaring them away.
Beatrice, too, spoke to Battler very, very quietly, as though afraid he would vanish at any moment.
She didn't know what to say. She wasn't well-versed in conversation. So, feeling horribly embarrassed and inadequate, she could only repeat what he had previously said.
"You... t-think I'm pretty...?"
"Ahahaha, well...!" Battler laughed nervously (was he feeling as awkward as she was?), scratching his cheek with one finger. "I-I mean, um... Y-you're not pretty; well, ahhh- you are, but... Witches are usually drawn with big noses and warts and you're not like that, and, um... I-I'm not a pervert, okay? I don't care what Jessica says, I-I'm not; I hardly even know what that word means!"
"Ihihi. Don't worry about it too much- I don't even know what I'm saying. I'm just surprised, so I'm babbling... Aaah, Jessica would punch me if she was here."
"Who is Jessica?"
"My cousin. She's a girl, but she's taller than me, and she always beats me up."
Beatrice's eyes widened slightly. She had never been hit before in her whole life, so she could hardly imagine how much that would hurt. The idea frightened her.
Battler, sensing Beatrice's discomfort, offered her a small smile.
"Hey, don't worry. I'm not like my scary cousin. I'm really nice, and I don't hit people; especially not girls like you. If Jessica ever threatens you, I'll definitely protect you!"
Battler wasn't really sure what he was saying. He was just trying to show off. A normal person wouldn't have taken words like that to heart.
However, Beatrice wasn't a 'normal person'... so she couldn't help but feel incredibly flattered by his affections.
Nobody had ever told her they would 'protect' her before.
Could it be...?
Did he... really want to save her...?
Beatrice clearly saw an image in her head (she'd always had an over-active imagination. It was the only thing that kept her company, besides Kumasawa). She was cowering before a hideous dragon called 'Jessica', and Battler was charging towards that monster, sword in hand.
It... i-it sounded pretty cool... ...
"Aah, it's a pain, though. It would've been awesome if you were a witch," he said. "Then, I could've boasted to my cousins, and they'd think I was really amazing, ihihi~"
Beatrice hung her head, eyes downcast.
"Hn? What for?"
"For disappointing you... because I'm not a witch."
"Huh?" Battler blinked in confusion. "I was just joking. Are you... seriously worried about that?"
Battler stared at her.
To be truthful, he was glad he hadn't found a witch, because he honestly had no idea how to defeat them. Cut off the head and stuff it with garlic? Wasn't that vampires? Um, to kill witches, didn't they throw them in ponds or burn them? Battler knew you could make a fire by rubbing sticks together, and there were a lot of sticks in the forest, but he'd never be able to light a fire on time before the witch got him.
He was far happier being with this girl- even if she was almost as incredible as a witch herself. She was so pale and ghostly, sat under the arbor in her own garden of roses, by her mansion that was an almost perfect double of the main mansion, but scaled down considerably. Battler could hardly believe she was a human at all, with her mechanical movements and stilted manner of speech that didn't suit a twelve year old. But she must have been a human.
She hadn't tried to curse him yet, so that was conclusive proof she wasn't an evil demon.
Battler doubted, just by looking at her fragile form, that she'd be capable of squashing a fly, let alone a human being.
Battler wasn't sure who she was, or what she was doing on Rokkenjima... but he was sure her blood was red, just like his. And no, he didn't want to slice open her wrist to prove it. He was content, for now, to sit by her side and talk to her.
"But..." she continued quietly, "I think I was named after a witch."
Battler would be lying if he said he hadn't already noticed; but he had no idea Beatrice herself knew of the connections of her name.
That was the name of the woman who roamed the forest of Rokkenjima. They had his grandfather had borrowed all of his money from her, and it was she who had helped the Ushiromiya eagle fly off into the distance.
That was a rather romantic interpretation of events Battler had learnt from his mother, Asumu, who had a penchant of spinning pretty fairytales- and Battler had always viewed it as such.
Surely this girl couldn't have been thatBeatrice. For a start, everything about her was wrong. The Beatrice everybody spoke of was a woman; an elegant lady. She must've been, to have so much gold. This girl was only about Battler's age. It was impossible to believe she could ever have amassed tons upon tons of gold. And didn't they say Beatrice, the Golden Witch, had golden hair, which matched her name? This Beatrice's hair was almost white.
"I don't think you're a witch," said Battler definitively, arms folded. "I mean, you don't look like a Beatrice."
"I... don't think I'm a Beatrice either," Beatrice said, sounding quite lost and confused; voice tremulous, whole body shivering. "But... it's my name. And it's what people call me. But... I... I-I... I don't want to be called that. B-because I'm not a witch..."
She hung her head, eyelids fluttering shut, fingers clenching into fists, as she poured her little heart out- words spilling from her lips in a torrent.
But, just because she was sharing her feelings, it didn't mean she thought Battler would understand. Their situations were very different, surely. Her name had been stolen from the witch. It didn't belong to her- she didn't deserve a grand name like that.
But Battler's name only belonged to him. Beatrice had never heard of anybody else being called Battler; not in any of her fairytales, or any of tales Kumasawa had told her. Battler was free to be himself. He wasn't chained to a stolen title like she was.
So... she didn't think he would reach out.
She didn't think he would take her hand.
And she certainly didn't think he would say- confusion evident on his face, but voice firm and resolute, "Hey. Don't cry. You're not the only one who hates your name."
Beatrice looked up in surprise, cheeks flushing light pink, as his fingers squeezed her.
S-she... had never been this close to somebody before...
Her hot tears continued to trickle slowly down her cold cheeks. She couldn't move her hands to wipe them away. She had frozen.
"Yeah," Battler continued, smiling comfortingly, "I hatemy name. All the kids at school tease me because of it. They say it sounds weird. 'Battler' isn't a normal Japanese name, so I just stand out and look like a weirdo! Aaah, I hate my old man for calling me 'Battler'- he's totally at the top of my 'to kill' list!"
"Y-you mean... other people hate their names too...?"
"'Course they do. Compared to 'Battler'- which isn't even a real Westernname, I checked- 'Beatrice' is really pretty. You have a nice name! I think it suits you. And more than one person can be called 'Beatrice'." Battler smiled at the look of wide-eyed surprise on Beato's face. "There are, like, three kids called Keiichi in my grade at school. It's normal for names to be used more than once. Maybe not with 'Beatrice' in Japan, but I bet, if you went to England or Italy, you'd find lotsa people with that name- not just the witch on Rokkenjima! If she wants to say Rokkenjima's hers' that's really greedy, but it'd be even worse if she tried to say the name 'Beatrice' belonged to her! You can't put copyright on somethin' like that!"
"Um, I'm not sure, ihihi- but my dad was talking about it. He runs a big company. He uses words like that," said Battler, shrugging. "Buuuut I'm the only 'Battler'. Bleh." Battler stuck out his tongue. "It's such a pain, being this 'special'... Ihihi..."
Beatrice continued to stare at Battler in surprise; now unable to blink. Her tears had stopped, but her cheeks were still wet. With a small sniff, she wiped the moisture off her cheeks with her hand.
She... had never thought of it like that before.
Names didn't define a person.
Just because the witch of Rokkenjima was called 'Beatrice', that didn't mean she had to become a witch, too.
It felt a little like a light bulb had suddenly turned itself on inside her head.
Maybe you would call that light 'hope'.
Battler... had given her hope.
"It's fine if you still hate your name, though," said Battler, in tones far more mature than those he used with Jessica.
When he was with Jessica he liked to joke around and pull her hair and tease her- but Beatrice was different. She wasn't a rough kind of girl who'd climb trees and return his insults with even meaner ones or physical blows. Battler couldn't make fun of a girl like her.
He only wanted to make her smile.
In his slightly simplistic, twelve-year-old view of life, the world was much more fun when everybody was smiling. But, even if his opinion was simplistic, it didn't change the fact he truly wanted this girl to be happy.
"Most people at school misread the characters in my name as 'Sento', so I let them call me that. People don't tease me as much if they think my name's 'Sento'. So, although 'Sento' and 'Battler' are the same person, I can go by two different names! If you hate being called 'Beatrice', why don't you just give yourself a new name?"
"A... new name...?"
"Sure. That makes sense, right? If you hate something, try and change it so you do like it. Is there any way to read the characters in 'Beatrice' so it sounds like another name?"
"I don't know, I never thought to check. U-um..." Beatrice's face flushed light pink, as she looked up nervously under her eyelashes at Battler. His wide smile was so infectious it made her own lips twitch, too, even though she had felt so hollow and empty just seconds before. "I-is it really alright... to change my name?"
"Sure. As long as you're happy, I don't think anything else matters!"
"Happiness...? U-um, I've... never really felt that... s-so I don't know."
"Well, that's no good!"
"Nope! I'll have to change that! I want to see a smile on that gloomy face!"
Beatrice prodded her lips with her fingers. They twitched slightly- but she quickly felt self-conscious (she only ever tried to smile alone, in front of mirrors), and it quickly fell from her face. It seemed, no matter how Battler tried to comfort her, she couldn't smile freely after all. I-it was... too difficult. I-it was too embarrassing.
Battler sighed; but he was still smiling. "Well, I guess you were half-way there."
Beatrice's face set with determination. Eyes narrowed, she said firmly, "I will... try."
Smiling, Battler gave Beatrice an enthusiastic thumbs up. Slowly, awkwardly, Beatrice returned it- and Battler started to laugh.
He sat by her side idly for a few minutes more, talking nineteen to the dozen about anything and everything; mostly about his cousins, and his family, and the servants, and how delicious the chef's food was...
And, at the mention of food, his eyes widened.
He'd been so engrossed talking to Beatrice he'd completely forgotten he needed to be back at the main mansion for dinner.
It was getting dark now, and Battler wasn't sure he'd be able to find his way back on time. If he didn't get back to the main mansion, what would happen to him? His mom and dad would scold him... or, worse yet, they'd scold George for letting him wander off, even though it wasn't George's fault.
Guilt welled up inside Battler's chest.
Even though he was only twelve, he had a strong sense of honor, and he didn't want to let George get in trouble.
But he wanted to stay and talk to Beatrice some more, too. He wanted to know more about her. Why was she locked up on the island like a bird in a cage? Had she been on Rokkenjima all her life? Who was she, and why was she named after Beatrice?
Maybe asking wouldn't help. She didn't seem to know herself.
Most importantly of all, she looked so lost and lonely- and he still hadn't seen her smile properly. He was sure, if he kept talking to her, he'd be able to bring a real smile to her lips. That had become his new mission.
But it would have to wait for later.
He simply couldn't sit in this fairytale garden, under the marble arbor, anymore.
"I'm sorry, Beatrice," he said apologetically, getting to his feet. "I need to go back now."
Beatrice's eyes became downcast, and she bit her lower lip- but, ultimately, she didn't do anything. She couldn't. All she could do was nod her head, resigned to her fate she couldn't change.
She was sure he wouldn't come back.
It would be selfish to expect he would.
After all, he was so bright, just like a star- and she was a lonely asteroid, floating around in space by itself. She didn't deserve to have her pitiful form illuminated by somebody like him.
She still didn't know who she was.
Battler hadn't liked his name, so he used a new one- but she was sure she couldn't do the same.
After all, she wasn't even human.
But Battler's voice cut through her sadness like a knife through butter. He was still smiling.
"Hey... Don't be sad. I'll come back, okay? I promise."
"Y-you... you will...?"
"Mmhmm. After all, I like talking to you!" Battler grinned a gap-toothed grin; giving Beatrice a small salute. "So make sure you've thought up a brand new name next time I come, okay? I want to know what to call my brand new friend."
W-was she really...?
Even when Battler left, the seed of warmth that had sprouted in her heart didn't. It continued to grow.
She had never felt so happy.
It took her a while to think of a new name- but she was resolute that she would, because now a title seemed to matter. Names only mattered if you had other people in your life to define you by them; but hadn't he said he would come back? He said he was her friend. So... now, for the first time in her life, she felt like she had a right to have a name.
She was becoming a human.
Lying in bed, dressed in her nightgown and listening to the falling rain outside her dark window, she clutched a pad of paper to her chest and thought. She tried to rearrange the characters that made up 'Beatrice', but she couldn't think of any suitable combinations she liked.
That was when she had turned to books; all of her own favorites. She had read extensively, given there was little else to do, so her reading comprehension was very high for her age.
It took her a few hours, but she finally found a name she liked.
Dante's Divine Comedy.
Bernard of Clairvaux.
The one who lead Dante to Beatrice- and if she thought about it, the name also related to that pale hair and ghostly complexion she had hated so much. 'Clair de lune'.
'Clair' still had a connection with 'Beatrice', just as 'Sento' was a different reading of 'Battler'- but she no longer had to be tied down by the title of that witch. With a new name, she could become a real person.
She... would call herself Clair.
She didn't need to be a 'Beatrice' anymore.
Meanwhile, the witch of Rokkenjima howled furiously; rain splattering violently against the ground, wind howling through the trees- but Clair paid it no heed.
She was nestled up under her blankets in her safe, warm, bed- separated from the storm by the glass windowpanes.
A faint light still burnt inside her heart, like a flickering candle.
The witch could not hurt her now.