The following contains spoilers for The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (Including novels 10/11) as well as Umineko no Naku Koro Ni. Both franchises are the properties of Nagaru Tanigawa and Ryukishi07 respectively. This is my first foray into fanfiction, so I hope that you will find my attempt entertaining.
This story is a direct sequel to "The Turn of Haruhi Suzumiya.
I woke up to the sounds of the seagulls crying.
I was in a strange room, with a strange ceiling. Wait, no. That's not right. I've been here before. This is the same bed I slept in at the Ushiromiya family mansion. Same room, same blankets, same light streaming through the windows. Huh. Weird, let's see.
The last thing I remember was charging straight into that army of goats. I don't think it ended well for me, but was it all just a dream? A dream within a dream? Hell, am I still dreaming now? No, that's probably not it. If one kid could get stuck inside a time loop, than I suppose it could happen to me. There's plenty of precedent, after all. I just need to make sure I don't end up the same way.
Damnit. I was really kind of banking on the last bit being a dream, and sacrificing myself like that would've sent me back home. Or to the island anyways. This is going to be a huge pain, I know it. I guess I just have to find Haruhi and get started all over again.
I leapt out of my bed as she came rushing back into my thoughts. Was she in the room with me? No. Last I saw her was when I closed the door… Did she get away? Maybe she was able to find a way out of this nightmare, or maybe Nagato and Koizumi were able to rescue her in time. Well, I suppose there's one way to check.
I made my way over to the door adjoining my room to Haruhi's, but before I could make it there, the door was thrown open and Haruhi dashed in.
"Kyon! Are you…?"
Her cry sputtered out when she caught sight of me, her face conveying a mix of worry and desperation, which slowly gave way to anger the longer she stared at me. Personally, I wasn't sure if should feel happy just seeing her here and knowing she's with me, or disappointed that she couldn't make it out, and leave me to deal with this on my own.
"Kyon you idiot! How could you do that back there? Telling me to run? Sacrificing yourself? What do you mean you're quitting the SOS Brigade? I can't believe that you… tell me…"
Haruhi rushed over to me, grabbing my collar roughly and shaking me, tears in her eyes, before she stopped with a choking sob, and tried to compose herself slightly.
What else could I say? I doubt such a short apology is really sufficient, but maybe I can make it up to you more when we get out of this thing. After all, I'm sure there's—
I set down the controller after pausing this "game" This really was too bizarre. I took a moment to stretch and yawn, before turning and voicing my complaints to Koizumi.
"You know, I've probably said something like this a lot, and maybe meant it then, but I mean it this time with 100% absolute conviction – This is the weirdest goddamn thing I have ever done. "
On the screen in front of me was a frozen image of myself and Haruhi, her distraught and angry," me" trying to weasel his way out of something. The game was paused, and I was "playing" myself. Haruhi sat next to me as Player 1, and the rest of the SOS brigade was here with me, observing.
"If I were to guess, I'd say the video game is just a visual metaphor, a representation of something you're familiar with. It would probably work equally well a chessboard."
A visual metaphor? You know that's not really the problem I have with this whole situation. I don't really care if it's Chess, Shogi, Go, Othello, Backgammon, or even freaking Monopoly. Or maybe Clue would be more appropriate for this. The point is, well…
What the hell, man?
"If you're asking what the purpose of all of this is, I'm afraid your guess is as good as mine. This space certainly is very unique compared to anything we've seen before. But in my opinion, something like this is better than getting crushed by chains again. Wouldn't you agree?"
I suppose you have a point there. But that doesn't mean I have to accept it so blindly. There has to be a purpose to this, right?
We were in some sort of large sitting room. The windows all opened into a lovely view of the dark and twisting maelstrom of energy we were stuck in. There was no real way in or out, so this room was the only place we could be in this purgatory. The location could be worse though - There were plenty of large, comfy chairs, the big screens in the center of the room, numerous end tables to put stuff on, and even a small kitchen on the other side of the room, in which both Nagato and Asahina-san were currently occupied.
"We took a pretty big risk coming in here like this. All of us knew it was possible that it could be a one way trip, but we all decided saving you was worth the risk. It seems we've failed, but fortunately "death" apparently doesn't mean the same thing here as it does elsewhere. But that still hurt."
Yeah yeah. I've died twice now already, you don't have to tell me.
"Kyon… I… this all just…"
Its okay, Haruhi. Look, I barely understand this situation myself. None of us are really sure what's going on now. For the sake of saying something, let's just say we're trapped in some sort of alternate reality where all the rules are different. But what I do know is this – The SOS Brigade is all here now. Do you really think we won't be able to find our way out of this?
Haruhi turned and gave me a weak smile. Whatever had happened was pretty rough on all of us, but Haruhi had nearly broken under it all. It's really not a sight I like seeing. My memory of what happened after our little "Tea Party" is a bit fuzzy, but I know it took considerable effort to calm her down, and at some point we found ourselves here instead, playing this "game".
"This might sound weird, but I'm kind of glad you don't know anything about this either, Kyon. I just… I guess I thought you knew more and just weren't telling me, but… I'm sorry, I guess."
Ah crap. Don't look guilty. Harder than it sounds, actually. Well, I suppose I'm being honest this time. Mostly. I really am still clueless about all of this.
"Ah, here you go, Suzumiya-san, Kyon-kun. I just used what they had in the cupboards, but I'm pretty sure it's regular tea."
Normally with her meek demeanor, I'd expect our lovely Asahina-san to b e taking this situation a lot worse, but the team mascot is in 100% fighting condition, ready to do the best she can.
Haruhi of course, downed her tea in a single gulp, probably not even tasting a single drop. Such a waste. After she put her teacup down, Haruhi fiddled with her controller for a bit longer, before asking yet another question.
"Say, Kyon, this is a co-op game, right? We're in this together?"
Well, it's not like this thing has an interface or an instruction manual, but yeah, I'd say that.
"So then what's the point? I mean, what's our objective? To solve the murders? Are we going to have to watch everyone die again? Are we playing against someone else here?"
"I suppose that would be my cue to enter, wouldn't it?"
An unknown voice filled the room, as a swish of movement caught my eye. There was a girl, slowly floating down from the ceiling. She was young, maybe early teens, but it was hard to put a definite age to her. Long, flowing blue hair, some sort of frilly black dress, and a dull, emotionless look that conveyed wisdom beyond her years. The way she slowly descended made me think she would be better accompanied by a spotlight and some ominous Latin chanting.
"Who the hell are you!"
Haruhi leapt and shouted angrily, looking like she might rush the stranger at the slightest provocation. Her nerves are still shot; we can't afford something like that, can we? This girl is probably important. I took the chance to step in front of Haruhi just in case – Asahina-san had already yelped and ducked behind us both as well. Koizumi and Nagato were also on edge.
"Well well. What a surprise. This is certainly an interesting turn of events. I didn't expect for it to be you. But I suppose there's precedent for you showing up where you don't belong."
Huh? What the hell is she talking about? She had landed now and her gaze was focused on me, but it felt more like she was talking at me, rather than actually trying to start a conversation. Still in the kitchen, I could see Nagato staring directly at the girl with a steely, serious expression. I guess most people wouldn't notice the difference, but the intensity of her gaze probably meant something like "Danger"
"Who are you and what are you doing here?"
I spoke a little more forcefully than I intended too – maybe that was too rude. She might be able to get us out after all.
"Oh? What happened to your manners? Is that any way to greet a lady? But I suppose I should introduce myself. I am Bernkastel, Witch of Miracles."
Bernkastel? I thought the witch was supposed to be Beatrice. What's going on here? She punctuated her greeting with a short and precise curtsy. Nobody said anything, and everyone just stared for a bit. Finally, Haruhi worked up the nerve to introduce us.
"Uh, you're a Witch, huh? Well, I'm Haruhi Suzumiya, and this is Kyon, Koizumi, Mikuru, and Yuki. So can you get us out of here?"
Straight to the point. Although Bernkastel had been almost as expressionless as Nagato until now, a slight smile began to ply at her lips with Haruhi's comment.
"Oh, I can get you out of here all right. Just a snap of my fingers and you would all find yourselves back on Rokkenjima in 2011, everything here would be nothing more than a bad dream. But will I? Where's the fun in that, after all? You all just got here after all, why leave before the festivities even start?"
Great. Well, it really would have been too easy, but I'm beginning to have a sneaking suspicion this "witch" isn't a very pleasant person.
"I see. If you allow me to make a guess, then I'd be willing to assume you expect us to do something before we can get out of here? Some task or service, or more likely, to play that game?"
"Wow Bern! They're smarter than I thought! And it really is a whole bunch of 'em too, you're so lucky! This is going to be so much fun!
With a flash of light, an explosion of multi-colored sparks, confetti, and what appeared to be candy, another girl appeared. She was the same apparent age as Bernkastel, blonde, and wearing enough pink and various decorations on her dress to give someone diabetes just by being in the same room. In the same instant she appeared, there was another flash of movement, and Nagato was standing in front of me, in between all of us and the two girls.
"Lifeform class: Voyager. Existence has been considered to be theoretical until now. A unique class of entity capable of crossing all dimensional barriers with access to every diverging point in all of space and time. Advanced data manipulation abilities is also suspected. Extreme danger."
"Aww, look Bern! It's one of the data puppets! I've always wanted to see one, but they're just so finicky and usually no fun! But we've got this one all to ourselves, and she's so cute too!"
"V-voyager? No way…"
Asahina-san whimpered at Nagato's explanation, and shrunk even further back behind everyone.
Hang on a second. You're saying these girls can travel between dimensions and parallel universes, right? Does that make them sliders?
"That is an applicable term."
Yes! Finally! I mean, this sucks and all, but now that I've finally seen the slider I can sleep easier at night knowing that final last thing won't be showing up unexpectedly. Just gotta get through this and it'll be smooth sailing from here on out.
"Sliders? And who are you supposed to be? Are you really saying you two just plan to keep us here until we play your stupid game?"
Haruhi shouted at the two girls, but they really didn't seem to care. With another *POP*, the blonde girl disappeared and reappeared behind Haruhi, hanging upside down in midair.
"Hiya! I'm Lambdadelta, the Witch of Certainty. And we're going to keep you here, and torture you, and do whatever we want because this is our game board and you were just unlucky enough to stumble on it. Unless of course, you can beat the both of us at this game. In which case, we will let you go. I'll guarantee it with certainty. But it won't be easy! Bern and I are really good, and we've had a lot of practice. You could say the odds are stacked against you, so you'll probably just end up screaming and crying and begging for mercy, just like Battler used to do!
So, do you have what it takes, little girl?"
Lambdadelta? That's Greek for 34, right? Haruhi's face slowly contorted with anger as Lambdadelta continued to taunt her, and almost seemed ready to take a swing at her when she disappeared with another *POP* and reappeared next to Bernkastel, giggling wildly."
"I can attempt to neutralize and brute force out of this space."
Attempt"? Does that mean if you fight them, you could lose?
"Unknown. The extent of data manipulation they possess is currently unknown. Furthermore, I cannot access the Integrated Data Thought Entity from inside this space, and am limited to my own abilities."
"Oh? You want to fight? I'm sorry little puppet, but this space is my domain. Fighting won't even be allowed unless I permit it. But even if we were to step outside, I would crush you into oblivion and cast you into the darkest depths of the fragment sea, where even your precious Entity couldn't find you."
Bernkastel answered with the same, slightly amused, slightly bored tone she'd been using this entire time. The slightest hint of a smirk she still held was already getting to be infuriating, and I'd only known this girl for a couple of minutes.
"Nagato. Let's not do any fighting, okay? We can play their stupid game."
Nagato backed down slightly, but still kept her vigilance and guard in between us and them. These two witches seemed familiar with Nagato's "kind", and if they're actually willing to fight her, that's a pretty terrifying thought. Of course, they could also be bluffing.
"Argh! Kyon, these two are starting to piss me off! Fine, we'll play your stupid game! And if we win, we get to go home right? The SOS Brigade never loses at anything! Come on Kyon, let's kick the crap out of them!"
I'm going to assume you meant that metaphorically. And sure, we have a decent track record of winning, but just for the sake of knowing, what happens if we do lose?
"Hmm? A good question. It'd be easy to say you just die, or even get tortured forever. But I really just came here for nostalgia, and rose tinted goggles tend to be just that. I'm not sure if I really feel like playing more than one game, so you've only got one shot. If you lose… let's see. Ah. You'll all become our pieces, forced to serve us in whatever reality we see fit, for all eternity. How does that sound?"
Bernkastel answered again with her cold expression, sending Lambdadelta into another fit of giggles. What a pair. I'm not sure I caught all of that, but enough was clear to make sure losing was not an option. Koizumi took this chance to clear his throat, and offer his own insights.
"In the interest of clearing every option, what were to happen if we simply refused to play at all?"
"No way! Not a chance! I won't allow it! I hate quitters. Win or lose, you have to give it everything you've got. You're going to play even if we have to twist your arms a little, right Bern?"
Lambdadelta fumed, stamping her foot like a little kid throwing a tantrum. It would almost seem cute if not for everything else.
"That's right, Lamba. If they really don't want to cooperate, we are Voyager witches after all. It wouldn't be very hard to find the universe they come from. We could turn it into our playground, if we so chose."
What? No way in hell. I could feel my own anger boiling now. Although she left it vague and just threatened our world, the meaning of this bit of clichéd villainy was clear – We can hurt your family. I stepped forward, and was probably about to say something stupid when I felt a light touch on my arm. It was Nagato, looking up at me with an expression that seemed to say "Don't worry". Thanks, Nagato. Of course, not everyone got the message
"Okay, we get it! You're bad guys! We'll play your game. Unfortunately for you, the bad guys always lose! The SOS Brigade stands for truth, justice, and love, and we absolutely won't let villains like you get away!"
Haruhi stood and pointed dramatically, grinning, and without the slightest bit of shame. Come on, what are we, a Super Sentai squad now? Despite how corny it was, seeing Haruhi give such a bold dramatic declaration warmed my heart. Everything had been taking a heavy toll on her, but it seems with a common enemy to stand and unite against, Haruhi could return to being the brigade leader we all know and love.
Lambdadelta was guffawing now at Haruhi's proclamation, and even Bernkastel seemed to be laughing silently. Haruhi still stood up there alone in defiance, and their scorn and arrogance was definitely directed at her. Damn, that really pisses me off. Haruhi's resolve flickered for a second, giving way to uncertainty, until I stepped forward and put my hand on her shoulder.
"Yeah, she's right. I'm not really sure why you witches think you're so awesome, but quite frankly I've dealt with tougher enemies in between studying for finals. If you really can hop between dimensions, maybe you should just leave now. Haruhi is right. The SOS Brigade doesn't lose."
Even if it was a total bluff, the smile Haruhi turned and gave me for that was among the best I've ever seen from her.
"Excellent as always, commander. I suppose I should say something as vice-commander, but I think you two already put it beautifully. I'm afraid whatever you witches may think of us, we're not your ordinary group of high school students."
Koizumi came over to stand next to us, followed by Nagato who remained silent. Lambdadelta had stopped laughing by now, and her face was distorted into a sickening grin. Asahina-san, who was still behind, fidgeted for a moments, before dashing to our side, and taking a deep breath.
"U-um… V-voyagers are classified information, and it's true that they can classified information, but we also know how to classified information in response."
She actually managed to deliver that line with some boldness, although the censors kind of ruin the effect. I have a feeling that stuff might be important, too.
"Yes! That's it! Keep those fires burning all the way until the end! The harder you struggle, the fiercer you fight, it only makes it all the more satisfying when we grind your faces into the dirt and make you beg for mercy! This was definitely worth the trip. Alright then SOS Brigade. You face the beautiful and elegant Lady Lambdadelta, witch of Certainty, as well as the cruelest witch in the world, Lady Bernkastel. You fight for you freedom, and have put an eternity of servitude on the line as collateral. LET THE GAMES BEGIN!
What else could I say? I doubt such a short apology is really sufficient, but maybe I can make it up to you more when we get out of this thing. After all, I'm sure there's something better I can say, something I can do, to explain this, make it all right. But someone who could do that would be a better man than I.
I repeated myself again, still at a loss for words as Haruhi sobbed softly into my shoulder. I put my arms around her and held her close for a time, but even that felt like a forced gesture. Damnit. I'm such a loser. I've been a really shitty friend up until this point, haven't I? Maybe you can forgive me someday? I'll do as many punishment games as you want, no questions asked. I'll be the SOS Brigade's pack mule; every cent of my allowance will continue to treat everyone to lunch. When I graduate and get a job, I'll devote most of my paycheck to the funding of the clubs descendents who follow after us.
"Excuse me. I'm sorry for intruding, but—Ah, I see you two are already awake, and up. That says good things for your health. Oh, I'm Dr. Nanjo by the way. And you are?"
Dr. Nanjo entered into the room and greeted the two of us. Haruhi backed away and began wiping her tears away. I turned to greet the doctor, but froze. That's right—we time looped, right? For him, this is the first time we've met. Damn, this is going to be a pain. Is this what Battler had to go through at first? But after so many repetitions's, he obviously got used to it. We won't reach that point someday, will we? No way, don't even think about it. I refuse to let things get that bad.
"Uh, hello there. I'm Haruhi Suzumiya, and this is Kyon. I think that we washed up on the shore, right?"
Another chance to properly introduce myself robbed. Oh well, it'll never actually happen. At least Haruhi seemed to be on top of our situation. Dr. Nanjo confirmed that once again, we washed up half drowned, let somehow completely uninjured. We went through the same lies, the same medical examinations. Genji came in just like before. We got dressed in Jessica and George's spare clothes, respectively. I decided to wear something different, just to spite this repetition.
Next up, we had to be introduced to the whole family again. It went pretty much the same, although they didn't repeat themselves exactly. Rudolf's pickup line was much cornier, but Haruhi was ready for it this time around. Still, once we got to the end…
"Yo! Kyon, Haruhi, long time no see! Really a surprise you two showing up like this!"
"Whaaat! Battler-kun, don't tell me you already know both of them?"
Huh? What the hell are you doing! You're going to break the masquerade! Well, I don't really suppose it's that much of one; I mean nobody would even believe you right?
"Ihihihihi. Oh yeah. We're all good friends; we go to the same school together, y'know? Even if them happening to wash up on this island feels like too much of a coincidence. Say, you two didn't follow me here just because you missed me so much, did you?"
I see. I suppose that would make sense. Even rich kids have to go to school, and if he claims that he's met us before, nobody can really deny it, even if we haven't been born yet.
"Uh, yeah. I mean, yeah right. Why would we want to follow you just to intrude on your family gathering? Sorry, but no matter how you look at it, it's just an unfortunate accident."
"Oh come on, how come you didn't tell us you know these guys beforehand?"
"Because it's a lot more interesting and dramatic to say it when everyone's gathered around like this, don't you think?"
Battler was certainly in high spirits. I guess that ending before didn't affect him as much as it did me. To be expected. Everyone was laughing, joking around and generally in a good mood. This jovial atmosphere… It's nice, but somehow it feels wrong, in direct contrast to all the horror's I had already been through. And most likely, were still yet to come. Was it really okay just to smile and pretend everything is fine?
The gathering continued on for just a bit longer, quite a bit of awkward conversations and nervous missteps on whom or what we already knew. After awhile, it was time for the adults to start talking amongst themselves again, and the cousins were left to their own devices. Since we were "old friends", Haruhi and I finally found ourselves alone in one of the side hallways with Battler, presumably to "catch up".
"Honestly, I'm really glad to see you two back here. You still remember everything, right?" Had you only appeared once, and then never shown up again, it would've been too easy to write you off as just another delusion, or a painful dream. But you're back… right?"
Uh, yeah. I can see where you're coming from, but I can't say I'm really that thrilled on my end that I have to be here again.
"Hey, that's right. I ran into the forest at the end, but I ended up blacking out. But you guys saw the culprit, right? Who was it? Was it somebody on the island, or some unknown person who hasn't shown their face yet?"
Uh-oh. Haruhi just had to ask a question I didn't really want to answer. Would "I didn't really get a good look at them" work as an excuse? Wait, those goats were closing in all around us at the end. She probably at least caught a glimpse of one, right?
"Like I said before, the culprit isn't really something you can catch in the act. I mean, Kyon and I were torn apart by an endless army of goat demons, but knowing that doesn't really solve any mysteries. Just a load of crap. "
Damnit Battler, I thought I told you not to tell her!
"Goat demons? Kyon, what the hell is he talking about?"
"Yeah Kyon. What is he talking about?"
Damnit videogame-Battler. You've failed me!
"Well, I suppose we're already sitting in purgatory playing videogame versions of ourselves in some twisted game against witches. I can tell you that much. Yeah, all the murders were pretty much done by magic. I was attacked by some weird stake-girl demon. A bunch of goat-minotaur things. It was all pretty ridiculous. I'm sorry I lied; I just wanted you to think this was still a mystery we could solve. The point of this game is probably to find a way to level grind and beat all these things."
Well, cat's out of the box now. Haruhi just stared at me in disbelief, looking somewhat hurt. A long, awkward silence ensued. Luckily, the witches had taken their leave to "prepare", otherwise I'm sure they'd be laughing rudely right now.
"Excuse me, Suzumiya-san. But I think Kyon may have stopped thinking a little too early. I've been giving this all some thought myself, and I may have come up with a better answer. First, let's show you."
Koizumi broke the silence, and then picked up what appeared to be the TV remote and pressed a few buttons. The scene shifted, and suddenly we were all watching me from yesterday. I met Kinzo in the hallway, overheard that he was apparently dead, saw Jessica's death (Gee, it wasn't traumatic enough the first time.), and then was attacked by Belphegor. Man, I can't believe I said something so corny. It looks totally different when you're watching from an outside perspective. Whatever omnipresent device was recording this, it apparently came with multiple camera angles, special effects, super-slow mo, sound effects, music, and even eye catches. It was like someone had decided to edit me into an action movie.
After that, Koizumi skipped forward to the end, when I faced off with Belphegor again, the goats came, chased me down the halls, I met up with Haruhi, we ran, I threw her outside. Wow, I look like a real jerk. Then, Battler made his entrance and we made our final stand, which thankfully cut right before the part where I lost, and the credits rolled. Huh.
"So… is that it then? This island is just a playground for demons and witches? Then what the hell is the point?"
Sorry Haruhi, but I'm afraid that's true. But was there really a point to showing her this, Koizumi?
"Actually yes, I was getting to that. You see, I'm not really convinced any of that was true."
What? Are you calling me a liar? I mean, we just watched it, right?
"Correct. We just watched was essentially a movie from your perspective of what happened. A movie with a lot of special effects and great action sequences, if you ask me. They were even kind enough to add sound effects. "
Just what are you getting at? And who is "they?"
"Whoever made the movie, of course. Probably those two from earlier, if I had to guess. It'd be easy to just assume that some sort of magical camera followed you around and recorded what you saw and did, like a documentary. But I have a theory that this "movie" was instead written this way, with a director and screenplay and everything that goes into creating a work of fiction. "
Okay, now you've lost me. Haruhi looked just as puzzled as I did. Look, I remember the whole thing as clear as day.
"But how reliable is your memory? After all, consider the place we are, and what seems to be possible here. Then consider that it's relatively easy to make someone believe in a false memory using just mundane methods."
That's a pretty terrifying thought.
"Wait, I don't get it. Koizumi-kun, did that happen or not? Was that whole thing just a lie?"
"I believe that you two were on Rokkenjima once before, and that the murders took place. But I also believe that this "movie", and Kyon's role in it, has been painted over with the "Illusion of the Witch". Not to mention, not once did Suzumiya-san witness anything remotely supernatural, am I correct?"
"I… no I didn't see anything. So I guess you're saying that to solve the mystery, we not only have to figure out the culprit, but we have to somehow see through the illusion as well?"
"Excellent deduction as always, Suzumiya-san. I don't believe this will be easy, and my theory could be totally incorrect, but I think it's a good place to start, don't you?"
Hmm. Interesting. I certainly never thought of that. You're making me look bad here, Koizumi. Whatever. Still, the thought that I can't even trust my own memories is very disconcerting. If I consider all the weird stuff I saw an illusion, what clues were there that would point to a human culprit? This definitely warrants further thought. I can even review what "happened" to me, right? Man, I wish I had a magic TV like that in real life. Replay particular moments in life, look up the answers to the test, and re-write my story whenever something embarrassing happens.
Yeah right. Something that crazy deserves to stay in a crazy world like this. I stood up, and walked around the room a bit, just to stretch my legs. Haruhi continued talking the situation over with Koizumi. I guess she doesn't get to listen to his long winded exposition nearly as much as I do.
"Hey, Nagato. What do you think about all this?"
Nagato paused for a very long time. I guess it wasn't an easy answer for her? Or maybe she wasn't sure how to dumb it down for me.
"I do not know."
Well, that was straightforward, if ultimately unhelpful. Even the great Nagato gets stumped sometimes, I guess.
"This space is very… alien. Itsuki Koizumi's theory is within the realm of possibility."
So what then? Do you think all my memories have been tampered with?
"Human memory is fallible – it is very difficult to objectively analyze whether any given memory is the truth or not."
So what then? If I doubt this, what else can I not trust? Should I begin to doubt my entire life? Isn't that a bit much?
"Although it is impossible to confirm with 100% accuracy, that line of thought leads nowhere but in circles."
I guess that makes sense. I mean, you can never really say for sure whether you're real, right? We could all just be a part of a computer simulation (Okay that might literally be true in this case but) or just the dream of some god or actually a brain in a jar somewhere. But, speculating on these things is ultimately pointless and better left to first year philosophy students who want to seem deep.
In any case, even if I don't doubt my home reality, if Koizumi's theory is correct, than this place is full of lying liars, and I should take things with a grain of salt.
With that, I made my way back to Haruhi and Koizumi. She seemed to be deep in thought, and he greeted me with a friendly wave.
"Well, I believe we have a direction to approach this now. Are the two of you ready to continue?"
Yeah, I suppose. No time like the present. I took the controller back in hand, and pressed the start button.
"Yeah, goat demons, pretty much. I'm not sure if that's really what happened, though. I might've been hallucinating, who knows? "
Haruhi snorted, crossed her arms, and turned her nose into the air. It just looked so stereotypical; I exchanged a look with Battler, and the two of us burst out laughing. This in turn made Haruhi even angrier, which for all her glares just made us laugh harder. At some point this endless cycle was broken when Haruhi cracked a smile, and began laughing herself.
I'm not really even sure if it was that funny, but laughter is infectious, in addition to being the best medicine. At some point Battler just stopped laughing abruptly, a look of sudden awe on his face.
"I… That's the first time I've laughed in…"
What? Come on, you were laughing just earlier, something about an "Ihihihi". And before that, I'm pretty sure you were laughing at me when you were slouched in that chair like a villain.
"If I've learned anything in all this time, it's how to put up an act. But that… y'know, I kind of had you pegged for a douchebag at first, Kyon, but I'm starting to think you're actually a decent guy. "
Hey, screw you too buddy. And wait, was douchebag even slang in the 80s? It's still so hard to follow Battler's personality. A broken, shattered man who's lived a thousand lives. But I guess, even if it sounds corny, we just saw something honest and whole still in him. For some reason, I felt just a tiny bit better about all of this.
"Hey Kyon… is this really okay? I mean, after everything we've been through and that it might just happen again, why are we sitting here laughing?"
Haruhi's tone didn't match her words. Her laughter hadn't quite subsided, so she was struggling to force her smile into a more somber expression, and what should've been a serious reprisal was interrupted by several snickers. I almost started laughing again myself.
"Haruhi…. We've still got some time to waste, right? Isn't this okay too?"
I gave her what I hoped was a reassuring smile. She pondered it for a moment, and seemed ready to respond when Battler forced himself between us, putting his arm around each of our shoulders. Hey, butt out!
"Ihihihi. Yeah, you heard him. This is okay too. Say… I heard you guys talking about something called "The SOS Brigade" at some point or another. Tell me about it."
Even though we had plenty of spirit, the three of us were still at a loss as for what to do. There weren't really any clues yet, I don't think. Still not 100% on this even being a mystery. Last time we were able to kill time with all of the cousins, but now… It's really hard to act casual with someone whom you know, but it's the first time they've met you. Worse, every time I look at Jessica, I imagine the light going out in her eyes again.
Luckily, Battler's lie about us all being old friends give us a convenient excuse to all do our own thing. He decided to give us a guided, more thorough tour of the mansion. Might come in handy if I have to run screaming through it again.
"Yeah, this is the old man's study. Pretty impressive in there. I could get the key if you really want, but it'd probably be a waste of time. "
Kinzo Ushiromiya… I had met the man (Or maybe not), but I had also heard a confession about his lack of mortality.
"Hmm, yeah. I'm pretty sure he's been dead for awhile now. I mean, I've never really seen the body myself, but I've heard Aunt Natsuhi confess to his death before."
Last time I was here, this room was filled with dead bodies, goat demons, and a bandaged up babe who really wanted to get inside of me. Of course, the door was closed and locked now. For all I know, it could still look like that inside, can't know until I check. Highly unlikely, though.
"Hmm, dead all along huh? I thought it was fishy we never got to meet the master of the house. I guess that means including us, there are 19 people on the island. So Kyon, that means there are 16 possible suspects, right? That's definitely a lot more than most murder mysteries."
Or, you know. Some unknown person who we just haven't seen yet.
"I guess it's possible, but that doesn't really seem right, you know?"
Maybe, maybe not. Whatever, let's move on, shall we?
Wow, they even have a western styled chapel here.
Battler had taken us outside, around the side of the mansion, to what was definitely a chapel. Pews, and altar, everything. Almost seemed kind of out of place, but on the other hand, everything else about the mansion was decidedly western, why not this?
"Ihihihi. Wait here a second, I'm going to show you guys something awesome."
Battler ran off, coming back after a few minutes with a short ladder. He propped it up in front of the door, and I held it steady. After fiddling around with something up there for a few minutes, he came back down, hid the ladder in some bushes, and then motioned for us to follow him around the back of the church.
There was an odd looking door back there, which lead to stairs down, through a damp tunnel, and finally to a large door. I was starting to have a sneaking suspicion as to where Battler might be taking us.
But my foresight in no way prepared me for the actual sight of ten tons of gold.
Glorious! Amazing! Beautiful! Radiant! Divine! I'm not really a greedy person or anything, but right now if I was told I had to choose between this pile of gold and the eternal love and devotion of Asahina-san, I might actually have to give it some thought. I found myself with one of the bars in hand, just to feel its weight and heft, to show myself this was real.
Haruhi was left equally as speechless, the glitter of the gold clearly reflected in her eyes. I figure she's imagining what the SOS Brigade could do with something like this. Surely something to bring doom and destruction upon all of Japan. Battler stood back, wearing a satisfied grin.
"Yep. This is Grandfather's legendary hidden gold. I told you I've found it before. I mean, there's really no point, it's not like you can use the gold unless you get off the island. But well, it sure is an impressive sight. "
Yeah, no kidding. I managed to calm down a bit, and took a second look at my surroundings. The pile of gold was stacked almost to the ceiling, but the room itself was also lavishly furnished, and there was a fancy double bed in one corner, next to a clock and a table. Maybe someone liked to come down here and sleep next to all the gold?
"Hey Kyon, that's not a bad idea. Hey, check this out."
Haruhi reached onto the bed and pulled something off the pillow, holding it up for everyone to see. It was a single, long strand of blonde hair.
Huh. Does that mean it belongs to Jessica?
"I'm not sure. I don't think her hair is quite this long… What do you think Battler? I mean, nobody else knows about this place, right?"
Battler frowned, and inspected the hair.
"Well, I mean I've never seen anyone else down here. The witch of the portrait is blonde too, could be hers."
"Ugh. We're just a bunch of highschool kids! I mean, real detectives would be able to test this for DNA, or dust for fingerprints or something, right?"
Haruhi dropped the hair in frustration and sighed. Hey, it's alright. That stuff usually takes weeks to complete, and isn't nearly as reliable as TV makes it out to be. The real great detectives don't need to rely on tools like that anyways.
"I guess you've got a point."
"That sure is an impressive sight, don't you think?"
Yeah, I suppose. But somehow, watching it from afar like this doesn't really seem as impressive. "I'm" not nearly excited as the "me" down there.
Haruhi thought for a few moments before voicing a concern that had been bugging me this whole time as well.
"Hey, you guys. I mean, sure, we're playing a game, but… The "Us" down there… Are they real?"
Yeah, that thought is really starting to bug me too. I mean, this wouldn't be the first time I've been split into two halves in weird parallel dimensions, but… the "me" down there. He looks like me, talks like me, thinks like me, and does what I would do in that situation. So if we win this game and get free, what happens to him? Does he go to some alternate version of home? Does he cease to exist? Does he keep time looping without me? Do we merge together and share conflicting memories?
What if it's the other way around? Will I cease to be while that "me" escapes and gets free?
"I'm afraid I really don't know. It could be anything, right? Maybe that you is a clone. Or a doppelganger, or a robot that looks like you. Or, if we follow our previous "movie" theory, well. Consider that I could write a novel starring you as the main character, which looks like you, thinks like you, and does the same things you would do. But would that character be you?"
I guess not. But if you put it like that, it seems kind of creepy. Please don't tell me you've actually done something like that, okay?
"Okay, I won't tell you."
"I'm just kidding, of course."
Koizumi's ever present grin was mocking me again, but I kind of walked right into that one. Still, the whole situation didn't feel right.
"Okay, I think I can follow that. So what about Battler? I mean, we can remember what happened, and so can he, but why isn't he up here with us?"
"That's because he's just a worthless piece."
Bernkastel and Lambdadelta explosively re-entered the room. Great, I was already starting to enjoy their absence.
"Say, you've used that term "Piece" before. Would you mind clarifying that for us?"
Totally unfazed by the witch's entrance, Koizumi asked what was probably an important question.
"Haha Bern I almost forgot, these guys are total newbs! Come on, think about it! Pieces are pieces, you're the players, and the pieces are what get moved around the game board. Duh."
I guess the other me would be my piece? As well as piece-Haruhi? So what, you control everyone else? What about Battler? How come he's the only one who can remember?
"You're right – We move all the other pieces around. But Battler is a special case – I gave that piece the gift of sentience a long time ago. Battler really is even more incompetent than I thought. I was sure he'd have found a miracle and escaped by now. To think of how low he's sunken trying to escape. It was worth coming here just to see that."
Bernkastel punctuated her explanation with a short, cruel laugh. Haruhi was already grinding her teeth together, getting angrier by the second. I put my hand on her shoulder, but it was honestly more to try and calm myself down.
"Aww, poor wittle Battler. Actually, I'd rather just make fun of him in person."
With a snap of her fingers and a flash of light, Battler disappeared from the screen, and appeared in front of us, looking bewildered.
"What the hell!"
"Hello, my little piece. Just giving you a taste of the higher plane, that's all"
Upon catching sight of Bernkastel, Battler's face immediately contorted into a murderous rage, and he lunged for her, screaming. Unsurprisingly, she simply vanished before his fist could connect, reappearing in the air above as both her and Lambdadelta continued to laugh.
"Aww, what's the matter. Are you mad? You know, I'm not the only one here. Perhaps you should look over there."
Battler spun to face us, his eyes alight with fire. As soon as he caught sight of Haruhi and I though, his face fell with sudden recognition, disappointment, and… betrayal?"
"I see. So that's how it is. I should've expected as much if she's involved again. You guys really are just players. Fucking with mine and everyone else's lives just for your own amusement, huh? It was too good to be true."
"Huh, Battler, wait a second…"
Yeah, just calm down a second. We're all trapped here too, okay? None of us want this.
"Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!"
Battler burst into a fit of maniacal laughter, shifting into that face of madness I had seen on him once already.
"Fine! Battler Ushiromiya Battler Is here! Play your damned game, witches. But I'm ready for you. Even a lowly pawn can advance if it makes it across the chessboard, and I've been playing far, far too much chess in my spare time. Ha ha ha ha ha ha!"
With a snap of Lambdadelta's fingers, Battler vanished again, and took his place back on the game board, frozen in time.
"How annoying. That wasn't nearly as funny as I thought it'd be, Bern. He's just kind of annoying. I mean, what right does a piece have to get so uppity?"
"You know, I was honestly hoping he would have escaped by now. He'd make a fine voyager himself, and having Battler trying to hunt me down through various realities would've been a lot of fun."
"Ooh, Bern, that's so devious! That's why I love you so much! You never told me though, but I guess it would've made an awesome surprise too."
Watching one complete monster nibble affectionately on the ear of another complete monster really isn't something you see every day. Hey, how about we cut the crap and get on with this already?
"Impatient now? You might wish you had more time to slack off once the game gets started. But we have finished preparing everything. You're the players though. Hurry up and get to the good part.
"Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!"
Huh? Battler, what's so funny? I mean, yeah, the gold is awesome and we've got a crappy strand of hair "clue", but that laugh is a little much, don't you think?
"Huh? Oh, I … Uh, never mind that, it was just a thing. Anyway, we should probably get out of here. If anyone catches us down here, there will be a huge uproar and it's all huge pain in the ass, trust me."
Yeah, I guess you have a point. It was hard to tear myself away from the gold, but really just seeing something like that is enough for me. We all left the room, but after I started to climb the stairs, I noticed Battler had stopped for some reason. He was looking up towards the ceiling, as if there were someone there, and mouthing some words I couldn't hear. Hey man, are you coming?
We made our way out of the underground tunnel, making sure to close everything up behind us. After we got out, and made sure to check that the coast was clear, Battler climbed back up the chapel and reset whatever contraption was up there. The storms clouds were starting to gather by now, so I'm glad we didn't have to do this in the rain.
"There, that should take care of that. Hey guys, there's something I need to go do for a bit. You go on ahead, I'll catch up."
Without even waiting for a response, Battler ran off, leaving us alone in the garden. With a shrug, Haruhi and I headed towards the guesthouse.
We ended up spending our time with the rest of the cousins. Despite my initial fears of time-loop related faux pas, after a bit of initial awkwardness we soon found ourselves playing games and trying to enjoy ourselves. It was just like my first night here, but instead of a vague suspicion there might be murders based on conjecture, it was now a dread certainty. Someone like Koizumi would be much better suited for this I think. He's much better at the whole poker face thing.
We didn't see Battler again until dinner time. I wanted to ask him what he was doing, but he was sitting too far across the table for a private discussion. The family head was absent again, for reasons that are probably obvious. Surprisingly, this time there was no letter from Beatrice. I never got what was the point of that the first time around. She'll give everything up if someone solves the riddle? But Battler's already done that, and nothing changed, right? We even saw the gold. It must just be a red herring. I think even Beatrice might be one – She got mentioned a lot, but I only saw demons working for her, never any evidence of the witch herself.
Man that sounds stupid even in my head.
Since there was no letter, dinner ended peacefully, with everyone going their own way. Including Battler; he ran off again before we could catch up and we didn't see him again. Should I be worried?
After a few more hours of game time with the cousins, we began to make our way back to the mansion, Haruhi stopped me in the hall.
"Kyon… I don't like this. Do we really have to do this? Just wait for everyone to be killed again?"
I don't know, okay? What other choice do we have?
"Maybe try to stop the killer in the act? We talked about it last time, and I'd be willing to risk it. Or maybe… What would happen if we just got everyone into the same room and made them stay there the whole time?"
Do you really think that would work? I mean, we're still outsiders here. Nobody would listen to us. And even if they did, I doubt they would be able to stay all cramped in a room for what, 36 hours?
"But… I guess you're right. But… Can we at least try to save Jessica and George and Maria? I don't want to see… Oh, and Battler, of course, but he said he doesn't die first anyway, didn't he?"
Well, if it's just them we might be able to pull it off, but what did you have in mind?
"How about we bring them all to our room, and call it some kind of group sleepover party? And keep all those doors locked at night like we did last time."
It certainly wasn't a bad idea. I mean, we didn't die the first night, even though somebody bothered to mark Haruhi's door with a weird magic circle. Now how to frame it to everyone so it doesn't look like we're trying to protect them from murder…
"Hmm. Actually that does sound like a fun idea. If you don't mind, I'd like to invite Shannon as well, if she can take the time off."
Oh right, Shannon. I had barely even seen the maid or her little brother this time around. But sure thing George, the more the merrier, right?
"Uuuuu! Halloween sleepover party! Maria will go ask Mama!"
"Ah, do you think we should ask Battler-kun too? I'm kind of jealous - I haven't seen him in 6 years, but you guys are good friends."
Eh, not quite, Jessica. I've really only known him for two days now. I suppose every time for you is the first time you've seen Battler in 6 years, too.
It took a bit more discussion than that, and George had to try a bit to convince Rosa that it would be okay, but we eventually all made our way up to our shared room. Try as we might, Battler was nowhere to be found. Lots of people said they had caught glimpses of him, or bumped into him in places, but we couldn't pinpoint his location. I hope he's okay and everything, but tearing apart the mansion looking for him would be going a bit too far at this point.
Shannon did end up joining us, and with my brilliant deduction skills, I noticed the ring on her finger, the way her and George kept looking at each other, and figured out that they must be a couple. Bringing up would probably be rude though.
"Ahahaha! Do you idiots really think this is going to change anything? Try as hard as you can to save a few people, huh? But I guess its okay if everyone else gets murdered, you barely even know them! Bern you were so right! The game can be different with different players!"
Lambdadelta was in yet another fit of giggling. Hey, this is hard enough to keep this whole meta/piece thing straight without your obnoxious laughter interrupting constantly.
"Hey! My laughter isn't obnoxious! It's cute and pretty like the adorable little girl I am!"
"Is this it then? This is your opening move? It's the only one you get to make before everything gets started for real. Is this really all?"
Yeah, so what if it is. And by the way, what did you do with Battler?
"Nothing at all. He's not our piece, like I said, I gave him sentience. That means he can do what he wants."
I probably shouldn't trust anything Bernkastel says, but I guess there's nothing we can really do about it from here. I turned to Haruhi. She mirrored my own look of bitterness – one stemming just from extreme dislike of our captors.
"Kyon… I'm ready. Let's do this. We can beat them."
Yeah. It's going to be rough from here on out, but we're the SOS Brigade. We can handle it all together.
Koizumi. Nagato. Even Asahina-san. Last time through it was just me and Haruhi, but now we've got 3 of the best allies a guy could ask for. Well, 2 allies and 1 mascot. No offense Asahina-san, but you can just stay back and let the rest of us handle this one. Unless Asahina-san (Big) decides to show up, anyways.
Even if I suck at the whole mystery solving thing, Koizumi is great at mysteries. He's set up several murder mysteries in the past for us, even if they were fake. And I've got reason to believe he reads mystery novels in his spare time. And with Nagato… well, it's Nagato for one. There's very little she can't do. And this whole meta-thing we're doing here is definitely related to her powers in some way, and I'm sure she can find a way to make it work for us.
And of course, I still have Haruhi at my side. Koizumi said her powers weren't working correctly here before, but I'm not sure if that still holds true. It's just another obstacle in front of her, and Haruhi never lets anything get in her way. Haruhi gets what Haruhi wants. Even if we didn't bend over backwards trying to get it for her, things would find a way for it to happen anyways.
And right now, Haruhi wants to win.