Bad∞End∞Night - novelonlinefull.com
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On the empty stage, I picked up a suspicious letter that I’d seen glow and read it. Something very startling was written there. My hands trembled, and my pulse pounded loudly. By the time I’d finished reading, the uplifting feelings I’d had were blown clean away. If someone else were here, it would probably look to them like I was practicing for act two tomorrow.
“…No… This isn’t true, is it…?”
Everyone deeply admired that magnificent playwright, and surely became actors in the Burlet Company to perform his works. Everyone’s pa.s.sion was the real deal… surely. And yet…
If what this letter said was the truth, couldn’t this be considered betrayal, sacrilege against Burlet? Not to mention, I… to them, I was only…! Sadness, anger, despair, hate - newly-budded emotions suddenly took root in my heart. Before I knew it, I was running with the intensity of those emotions.
I have to find out the truth quickly! I need them to tell me this letter is just a lie…!! I went off the stage, ran from the hall to the grand stairs, went up them and turned right, toward green room #1 at the far end. The backstage staff had all gone home to prepare for tomorrow, so no one was around but us, the cast. The only lights in the hallway were faint foot lights. I strained my eyes running through the dim halls, and forcefully opened the door to the green room emitting a slight light.
Slam - with the loud sound of me opening the door, the merrymaking people within the room slowly turned to face it. Meiko with beer mugs in both hands, redfaced but still drinking; Kaito engaging with her; Meg engrossed in conversation, eyes shining with excitement; Len pretending to listen to her; Rin singing, and Luka dancing; and lastly, Gack quietly tilting his gla.s.s.
Everyone was celebrating the wonderful success of tonight’s play in their own way. No one had even changed yet; they still wore their costumes. I could even see it as a continuation of the highly enjoyable party in act one of the play.
Gack, nearest to the door, who had been relaxing and sipping wine on a three-seater sofa all to himself, noticed my arrival and stood up to greet me.
“You’re late. Well, how about a toast to our first day? We’ve all already started, you see?”
I couldn’t get my thoughts in order on what to say, so I stood there silently, saying not a word. Gack thoughtfully filled an empty gla.s.s on the table with wine from the bottle, and urged me to come in.
“Perfectly expected for the lead role to arrive fashionably late. Here’s a drink for you. Come, let’s have a toast.”
The gla.s.s I received was full of delicious red wine. I faintly gazed into the red liquid wavering in my hand. My first words would be crucial. They would set the tone of things. But no good lines came to mind. Something concise, that wouldn’t shake them, and would take initiative in the following conversation… I desperately thought, but nothing popped up.
As I silently stood there merely holding the gla.s.s, noticing my odd behavior, the rest of the group came to stare in my direction. Their kind gazes, filled with antic.i.p.ation and optimism, stuck in my heart and dulled my resolve. But I had to say it. I firmly shut my eyes, resolutely tipped the gla.s.s, and gulped down the swaying redness all at once. My nose was filled with a smell like fresh roses.
“Ahh, here comes our lead role, everyone! Come on over. Why, you down your drinks quick!”
Finding no fault in me emptying the gla.s.s before the toast, Kaito approached me with a drunken red face and a good-natured smile.
“Can we get a word from the lead role, too?”
Everyone turned toward me and gathered around. Act one had only just ended, but everyone was br.i.m.m.i.n.g with joy like they had the blessing of the Muses of the arts themselves, and had faces of relief. Not a hint of doubt, deep relief and delight… I would have to bring ruin to their fabricated happiness.
“…Won’t you tell me the truth?”
My first line, after much agonizing. No beating around the bush. I would get right into it.
Happy drunken Kaito smiling at me opened his eyes slightly, then blinked two or three times.
“This letter… tells about the truth of this play.”
As I said this, bringing the letter in my left hand up beside my face, the air in the room froze. Keeping the exact same smiles they’d had moments ago on their faces, everyone in the room stared at me. Not changing emotion, not even blinking, just holding their breaths, they remained still and questioned what my next action would be. After a considerable silence, Meiko slowly put her beer mugs down on the table and spoke.
“Tell me, whatever do you mean by… the truth?”
In contrast to the casual nature of her words, her lips stiffened slightly.
“It has to do with us… making this script into a play.”
“And? What exactly would this be?”
“…Please, don’t play dumb. It’s all written in this letter.”
I suddenly turned left to glance at the white letter I held in my hand.
“Where exactly did you get it?”
“It was left on the stage.”
“Well, then… Just what does it say? May I see that for a second?”
Kaito took on a stern look quite unlike before, put down his mug, and slowly approached me.
“I believe you’re familiar with it, so I shouldn’t need to show it to you! …If what this letter says is true, then isn’t this production considered "sacrilege” against him?“
The moment I spoke the word "sacrilege,” everyone but me trembled with nervous looks. Seeing this reaction, I knew what the letter said was true. I hadn’t had a doubt in my mind that this was paradise, yet I felt like the ground I thought so solid was giving out from under me. Despair… a feeling of being tossed down into the pits.
Unable to bear it, I felt something coming up my throat. I brought my hand to cover my mouth and keep it in. Not wanting to look any of them in the eye, I slowly averted my gaze and hung my head.
“…So it was true… I feel… so horrible. And why did…”
Why did… you trick me, and try to pin the crime you committed on me…?
I couldn’t voice that line. In my head, I knew I should have asked them that right away, but I was afraid of saying it and having it confirmed as the truth. The truth that from the very beginning, they never thought of me as anything more than a convenient, disposable p.a.w.n…
It was written in the letter. It spoke of their intent to put all the responsibility - the sin of this play, this sacrilege against Burlet - on the lead actress, Miku, to say it was all done by her. They’d say that it was a plot to escalate myself as an actress in the troupe - to profane his script, keep silent about the truth, deceive them and the world, and rise as a breakout star. That was their fallback if the truth about the sacrilege became known: to say it was all plotted by me alone.
I opened my mouth, wanting to confirm it, but hesitated to speak the words. I was afraid to hear it from their mouths.
“…It simply happened this way. Please understand… We -”
“I don’t want your excuses! I don’t think it’s too late yet. Please, you have to announce the truth to the world! If we do it now, it might not be too late. I’m sure… No, I’m certain we can do it over!”
“What are you talking about?! On what basis? The moment we revealed the truth, don’t you see it would be the end of us and this troupe?” Meiko approached me, face filling with anger.
She was the most tenured of the group, so she was surely the most concerned about the troupe’s future. Still, I was shocked that she had immediately denied me, and turned away from her blaming gaze.
“Who could’ve written a letter like that? Must be one of us, right…?”
Len, lounging on a single-seat sofa, looked around the room as if conducting a search. But no one confessed. As Len opened his mouth to continue the search for the culprit, Meiko interrupted to continue where she left off.
“That doesn’t matter right now. What’s important is that we can’t allow the truth in that letter to be made public. You understand?”
“…Really, won’t you reconsider? We’re all friends in this together, aren’t we? You’re no exception.”
Friends… To them, it was half a year at most. To me, it was an irreplaceable six months in the troupe and with the cast I had aspired to for so long as a fan. To stand on the same stage as them… Until just now, I thought a longtime dream had come true. But it was all make-believe, as this letter made me realize. I was little more than a marionette convenient for prolonging the company. I was scared to see Kaito’s face as he said “friends”… I remained silent, unable to look at them.
“Yeah! If you do something like that, it’ll be real bad… Hey, reconsider! Pleeease!”
Rin, worriedly looking between me and her friends speaking, spoke with a whine. Tears were faintly welling up in her eyes. The happy party mood was completely gone, and amid savage tension, attacks on me flew left and right. It rained terribly outside, and the heavy sound of raindrops echoed. I remained silent for a time, staring at the back window, listening but not listening to both the heavy rain and the conflict.
The storm of words pa.s.sed, and silence drifted in. Everyone had fallen silent, determining that I had no response to their attacks and now pondering their next move. Even as they showered me with criticisms, I still wanted to believe in them. Surely they were just confused about this sudden situation… As was I. So if we could just talk it out, we’d understand how we felt. Having the tiniest hope it wasn’t too late, I started up another battle with them.
“Um… Please, listen! This is really… I really mean it, this will be for the good of the troupe. I thought of the perfect way to go about this! But there are reasons why I can’t tell you the details yet. But still… It’ll definitely work out okay!”
“There can’t be any recovering once the world knows about what’s in that letter you picked up. All our dreams, all our hopes, gone. It’ll be the end of us all…”
“That’s not true! Please just believe me… Please!”
Kaito, still looking concerned, folded his arms in thought and looked away from me.
“Weeell, can’t you tell us those details or whatnot? I wanna know, y'know, the chances of success.”
Meg went to push up her gla.s.ses, then blinking as she remembered she wasn’t wearing them currently, let her gaze waver around the room to hide her mistake.
“Well, I… I can’t do that yet…”
I gripped the bracelet on my left wrist with my hand. If this were really an antique of Burlet’s, like my grandmother said… maybe I could make do by selling it. It was one of Burlet’s possessions, and while the color had decayed over a century, it was one of his favorite accessories which he wore all the time. Even in the surviving portraits of him, this once-beautiful bracelet was depicted in a way that demonstrated its former brilliance. So no doubt, it would sell for quite a large amount.
But on the off chance it was a fake… I didn’t want to doubt my grandmother, but the bracelet I wore was very old, and I had no decisive proof of it really being Burlet’s. I couldn’t claim with certainty whether it was real or not until I had an expert on antiques examine it.
Besides, could I really let go of such an important memento of my grandmother…? No, I couldn’t afford to hesitate over that. I had to make up for the crime of profaning Burlet and deceiving the world. I had a duty to protect his history, too. On her deathbed, my grandmother left me this bracelet and a mission to preserve his legacy - at first, her parting words merely surprised me. But if they were true, then as one who carried his blood, I had to protect the history of my great predecessor.
My grandmother told me to use the bracelet whenever I was troubled. All right… this must be the real thing. But more importantly, I had to negotiate with the theater managers and sponsors to see if they would accept this plan I’d thought up. How would that fare, I wondered… I might be able to make it work on the money side, but it likely wouldn’t be happen overnight. At worst, it could take months.
Still, I had to take the risk. As long as we believed in the strength which got us this far, then this would be the only way to protect the Burlet Company in any truesense.
“Yet… So you mean, you’ll be able to someday?”, Gack questioned pointedly as I hectically pondered.
“Just give me some time. Then…”
“Just a little time and you’re sure you’ll manage, eh?”
Meg added on another question. Her eyes told me they wouldn’t accept any answer without it being “certain.”
“W-Well… I won’t know until I try… I need to confirm some things… I can’t say it’s certain right now, but!”
Meg twisted her neck. “Uhh…” She looked doubtful of my answer.
“Well then, you can’t possibly ask us to believe you without reservation…”
“But I… why…”
Meiko, who I thought would be the one most on my side, kept denying everything I was saying, and it pained me every time. I hung my head sadly, and this time Luka, who had been silently watching us converse, sighed, stood up, and glared at me with a piercing gaze.
“Why, you ask…? Are you trying to claim you’re in the right here? You’ve seen all that we put into getting this far, haven’t you? How badly do you think we’ve sought this chance? "I can’t say anything now, but we can try it again someday” - what a dream. No one would believe such a selfish claim.“
”…True. It’s unfortunate, but if you can’t offer us anything worth trusting, there’s no way. We didn’t get this far on half-hearted resolve… This isn’t a game, you know?“
Meiko added on to Luka’s cross-examination, and I was overwhelmed by their threats. But I had to build up a tiny bit of courage and reply to them; I couldn’t lose here.
”…I understand. But I keep telling you, all I can say right now is to believe me!“
"It just figures a girl like you who’s hardly struggled in her life doesn’t know the meaning of "being cooperative.” No experience, ignorant to the true harshness of the world… What a pathetic softy!“
"I… I never meant… It’s true, I don’t have much of a track record, but I’m doing my best…”
Luka’s words cut deep into my heart like a knife. What she was saying… was all true. I was still a know-nothing novice, always causing trouble for the rest. Even in tonight’s show… If it weren’t for them carrying the weight, I would have ruined everything. I didn’t intend to dispute that fact. But I did intend to try my best to catch up to them. By no means was I trying to disrupt everyone’s teamwork and get in an argument here.
Maybe these were Luka’s usual methods. Like earlier… Her words were harsh and cutting, but she always left a path to her heart. I gently grabbed the top of my skirt, so that no one would realize I was squeezing the handkerchief Luka had just given me.
“Can’t you think it over once more…? Please! There’s still…”
“We keep telling you, we’re not going to believe anything if all we have is your feelings! You’re a real blockhead, aren’t you?! Sounds like you just want to abandon us right at the end, hm? Traitor!!”
I’d desperately tried to conceal how effective their harsh attacks were, how hurt I was. For myself, and for them. Yet the moment I heard the word “traitor,” my last little foothold crumbled, I plummeted into dark despair, and I hit the bottom.
In the eerie silence, rolling thunder roared, and lightning illuminated the others’ stiff, angry faces. I closed my eyes and focused my thoughts. My battle with them wasn’t over yet. I encouraged myself, telling myself it had only just begun.
Not to worry; I’m not alone. The will Burlet left behind flows in my body. He absolutely wouldn’t want this. If he saw this situation, he would certainly grieve. I had to do something. After a short contemplation, I slowly opened my eyes, then my mouth.
“I understand. Then I’ll send this letter to the tabloids.”
Sharp glares fixated on me. Their mouths hung open in surprise.
“At first, I thought I could just wait until after all the performances, and present it at the final curtain call. Because I thought that might still be in time. But, no… It’s too bad. And I asked you to believe me, but none of you would. I have nothing more to say to you. Thank you for everything. Goodbye!”
I quickly turned around and made a break for the door behind me. The others shortly followed after me, shouting things to make me stop, giving chase. I didn’t look back, running as fast as I could through the dark, unlit building. The tears I’d been holding in now flowed like a waterfall, blurring my vision.
“Wait! Hey, wait!”
“You two, take the east stairs and cover the front and back entrances! The rest of you, split up and search the second floor. Call the others when you find her. The lights are down, so she couldn’t have gotten far!”
“We’ll go down!”
With Kaito’s directions, the chasers scattered. From the voices, it seemed Rin and Len were going down. If I went downstairs now, I’d surely be quickly caught by them, with their smarts and good reflexes. Everyone shouted my name loudly. Rin’s voice was slightly cracked; maybe she was crying. Even though I was the one who should have been pained and hurt. I glanced outside, and saw the light rain had become a torrential storm.
I opened the door to the storeroom on the edge of the second floor, went inside, and carefully shut it to not make any sound. My rapid breathing caused by the crying was hard to get back to normal. Holding in tears, I slid my hand down to my pocket, gripping the handkerchief tightly. I felt the soft cloth, and a hard metal.
Tap, tap. I sensed someone walking close to me. They came right up near the door.
“…Say, are you there?”
It was Meiko’s voice. Maybe she’d heard my sobbing. It would be bad to stay here… I took my chances and quietly stepped toward the door… Okay, no one right behind it. I swung the door open and sped down the hall again, going right past stunned Meiko.
“Hey! She was up here! The second floor foyer! She’s headed for the grand stairs!”
I heard the others, heeding Meiko, heading toward the grand stairs one by one. Going down the stairs would take me right to the hall… but in no time, the hallways surrounding the stairs were filled, and my escape routes all around were blocked. I was alone on the landing, keeping my distance like an animal surrounded by hunters. A wall behind me, the stairs in front - Rin and Len downstairs, Kaito, Meiko, and Gack on my left, Meg and Luka on my right. I couldn’t escape.
“Now… Enough running. We haven’t finished talking yet. Let’s go backstage.”
Kaito took a step toward me.
“Stay away…! I’m serious. Don’t come near me!”
The moonlight from the large window in behind made the beautiful gold knife glint, and I squinted my eyes from its radiance. The rain had now stopped. I thrust out my left arm with the knife - the hour hand of the clock I myself had broken - turning to point it at Kaito. Gasping echoed through the hall. Kaito stared, and his Adam’s apple twitched. The clock hand’s sharp edge shined eerily in the moonlight. To think I would have to turn to this… I really was like a cornered animal. I noticed those tears that had flowed from my eyes had stopped.
While Kaito seemed frightened of my desperate threat, quicking regaining his composure, and demonstrating that such a thing wouldn’t scare him, he slowly took a step… then another toward me, closing the distance. His c.o.c.ky gait was almost predator-like.
I stepped back toward the center of the corridor with each of his steps forward, but I had nowhere to run. Looking back, I saw Luka and Gack furrowing their brows and blocking the path. As for going downstairs, I looked down the grand stairs to my right, and saw Rin and Len already in wait at the foot of them. My hand began to tremble slightly.
In a moment of negligence, the letter in my right hand, perhaps slipping away from the sweat, went fluttering down the stairs. Down below, Len carefully watching the others in silence snapped it up.
“We’ve got the letter!”
“I… It’s pointless! Disposing of that letter won’t change the truth!”
I tightened my grip on the knife by putting my empty right hand on it as well. No choice. I had to use this threat and run down there. Rin and Len… If I made a feint of pointing the knife at Rin, Len would likely panic and protect her… I’d use that opportunity. I turned the sharp point straight toward Rin downstairs. Her eyes widened, and she shuddered with fear.
“…!! Wait! Calm down! We can talk this out!”
Realizing my expectation, Kaito suddenly broke into a run and lept toward me. I was too slow to thrust the knife out, and he grabbed it in his large hands. But I couldn’t have the knife, my last defense, stolen from me now.
“Drop the knife!”
I desperately shook my hands left and right to shake him off. Slowly, the others on the upper floor began to enclose on the two of us. Kaito yelled at them not to come any closer, as it would be dangerous if the knife flew off in the struggle.
“Let go! Somebody…! Help!”, I shouted frantically.
Maybe the audience members were still waiting outside. If someone heard the clamor and came inside…
“Ooh, this isn’t good. If someone comes by…”
“Come now, just calm down!”
“No! Somebody, HEEELP!”
“It’s too dark to see a thing! Please, enough of this dangerous nonsense!”
He’s going to push me down at this rate! I temporarily weakened my struggles and stopped resisting. At the same time, Kaito slightly weakened his grip on me. I took the chance to forcefully swung my body left. Unintentionally released from my hand, the knife sliced through his right arm, spewing a parabolic line of fresh blood. His face contorted in pain, and he faltered. I shook him away -
Rin down below screamed. I turned to my right and looked down, and saw Len desperately holding to the hand of Rin trying to run up the stairs and help Kaito. Len was busy holding back a panicked Rin… Now was my only chance. I put out my right leg to run down the stairs, but a moment later, Kaito grabbed both my wrists. With only his unhurt left hand, he tried to again immobilize me.
The stairs behind, and Kaito in front one-handedly holding both my wrists, I couldn’t even budge my hands gripping the knife. We had a tug-of-war, but I found myself being slowly brought closer to Kaito. I saw Gack, Meg, Luka, and Meiko tensely and carefully approach Kaito from behind to provide him a.s.sistance.
“Give up… Come with us!”
“Why?! Let’s just talk… Then we’ll…”
Even after I’d pointed a knife at him and wounded him, those eyes I looked at head-on seemed to still trust me, and have deep sympathy. My heart raced. Why was he making such a face at a time like this…? Was this just another convincing act to tame me? I knew I couldn’t be swayed and tricked, but for some reason, once again I… My closed tear ducts flowed again.
“…Who’s the real traitor here?! I… I don’t want to trust any of you anymore!”
Kaito shook with surprise. For a moment, the force in his hands slackened. And my hands desperately pulling backward were left with nothing to be pulling back against.
His large hand reached out in front of me. Four more hands reached from behind.
I met eyes with Kaito, whose couldn’t be opened any wider. Reflexively, I thrust my hands, still holding the knife, out toward him. But I came just short of slicing anything but empty s.p.a.ce.
The brief moment of falling down the stairs seemed to play out in slow motion, like being eternally subjected to a scene from an everlasting nightmare. I don’t know if I felt any pain or such. As my senses faded, I only heard the sound of applause.
She lay face-up at the bottom of the stairs. Her eyes were hollow, and the tears around them gleamed in the moonlight pouring through the window above her. Plunged deep in her chest was the golden knife she wouldn’t let go of to the very end.
Applause seemed to echo from somewhere, like it were a scene from a tragic play. Everyone stared at the horrible sight dumbfounded. There was a silence like the world had come to a halt around Miku’s unmoving body. The moment felt like eternity.
“NOOOOO! W… What is this…? Tell me, what is this…?!”
The silence that could have gone forever was broken by a scream from Rin, followed by half-mad shouting from Luka.
“I-It can’t be… Miss Miku…”
Meiko and Meg, followed by Kaito, came running down the stairs. Meiko got down on her knees near the fainted girl and took her wrist.
“Her pulse has stopped…”
Kaito looked at her frozen, at a loss for words. Behind them, Gack supported trembling Luka as they slowly went down the stairs.
“Quickly, we have to take her to a hospital! Her heart may be stopped, but maybe there’s still time!”
Rin’s head snapped up in response to Meiko, and she ran to the front door.
“I want to try CPR, but who knows what will happen when this knife is removed… But we have to try… It’s too dark in here!! Someone, turn on the lights! And someone help me stop the blood!!”
Len briskly nodded to Meiko’s instruction and ran down the hall. There was only the moonlight to go on in the dimly-lit building. Meg sat down beside Meiko, faltering slightly.
“It’s not your fault, Kaito… She lost balance… It was an accident…”
“And we can’t give up yet! Meg, there’s a handkerchief I don’t use in my pocket. When I pull the knife out, hold that firmly to the wound. I’ll take over right after.”
Meiko, who claimed to have a little bit of medical knowledge, nervously touched the knife in Miku’s chest. She took a deep breath and slowly removed it. Meg stooped over the body, averted her eyes slightly, and prepared for the blood that would pour out.
The knife smoothly came out all the way. But strangely, no blood came out of the left side of Miku’s chest. In fact, once the knife was fully removed, there wasn’t even a trace of the wound, nor her clothes being cut through.
“What’s going on…? No blood came out… Her clothes aren’t even damaged… This isn’t just a toy knife, is it?”
Kaito stood there stunned, and timidly grabbed the removed knife. To test, he touched the end of his pinky to the blade, and it faintly bled fresh blood.
“…Did we see it wrong? I’m sure I saw it stabbed near Miss Miku’s heart…”
“It certainly was… I have good eyes. I couldn’t have mistaken… that…” Luka spoke weakly from behind Meg, still shaking.
“…! Her heart?! ………It’s stopped!!”
Meiko tried CPR and artificial respiration. Kaito, Meg, Luka, and Gack watched blankly. Meiko attempted CPR again and again, but Miku lied there totally unmoving.
“Please, please!! Miku, wake up!!”
The remainder of them could only tensely watch Meiko’s desperation. Then Rin, who had run to the front door, for some reason appeared on the second floor and called to everyone downstairs. Her expression had changed; her eyes were open wide, and her face was stiff.
“Pant, pant…! Hey, something’s weird here! There’s no front door! And I thought this was the theater, but… It’s not!!”
Having been distracted by the attempts to resuscitate Miku, everyone finally took a calmer look at their surroundings.
“Strange… Surely we were in the theater when we left the green room to go after Miss Miku…”, Gack muttered with a sullen look.
“The lights in the hallway were out, so it was hard to see, but there’s no mistaking we’re in the theater! I could close my eyes and still make it to the room I was headed for!”, Luka yelled, her unrest very evident.
“So then when…?”, Kaito asked, regaining some of his composure and looking all around and behind.
“Well… I don’t know, but I’m sure that this isn’t the theater. Just look out the windows! The theater’s smack dab in the middle of West End, right? There’s noforest around it!”
Meg made everyone simultaneously look toward the large window above the landing. Outside, the wind howled through a dark forest of thick trees.
“Well, then where in the world are we…?”
“Hey, I brought a lamp! You’ve probably already noticed, but… This isn’t the theater, and I couldn’t find any light switches… in fact, there’s no electricity. So for now, we’ll use this…”
Len returned carrying a small lamp, and approached Meiko still performing CPR on Miku. Meg, helping out beside her, saw Len’s legs illuminated by the faint light of the lamp, and after a beat, fell on her back with a yelp.
“W-What’s the matter with you…?”
“M-M… Mr. Len, y-your, legs…!”
Len looked down at his legs. His knees, which had been trained up by lots of soccer playing, had beautiful round ball joints.
“Len! What’s wrong?!”
“What the… What the h.e.l.l…! M-My body…!!” He was too shocked to finish the sentence.
“No way…! You turned into an actual doll…”
Rin hurried down the stairs and unsteadily approached Len.
“It’s you, right?! You’re Len?!”
Len just kept shaking his head, still not able to talk from the shock. Rin started to put her hand to her chest like she was relieved, but her little hand stopped in air, and she slowly rolled up her black dress. The color visibly left her face.
“Even Rin…? No…”
Rin’s scream echoed through the hall again. Rin and Len, both in bodily construction and in size, had been turned into dolls. The same size which they appeared to be via the trick of perspective used in act one… They reached up to about the hips of a normal-sized person. But everyone was too disoriented by Miku’s death to notice it right away. Once Miku fell, Rin and Len quickly ran off, and when they were upstairs, a similar perspective trick induced the illusion of them being normal size.
“Miss Rin! Calm down!”
“No, no, NOOOOO!”
“Could, could this be a dream…? Is it the curse of Crazy ∞ nighT? Because of what we did…”
Everyone went silent at Luka’s words. “What we did”…
“Because of us… Rin and Len turned into dolls… And we were taken to this strange mansion in the woods… A mansion just like the play describes. And Miku, who tried to condemn us for what we did, died…”
All fell silent. Even Meiko’s hands repeatedly attempting CPR had stopped. Just then, something shined in the dark hall. From on top of an old wooden table, placed beside a clock right at the edge of the hall after coming down the stairs.
Kaito slowly approached the suspiciously-glowing object.
He delicately picked the object up in his hands and turned around. His large hands were holding a book.
“Crazy ∞ nighT…”
The cover indeed said, in faded letters, “Crazy ∞ nighT.” A faint pale light like a crescent moon poured out from it. Kaito slowly opened the book. And he read the contents aloud for the others to hear.
”“What a strange thing! They were inside the play, and made to act it out!”“
Now, we find ourselves at the entrance to a certain story’s world.
Let this narrator tell you a tale.
In a quiet, rural village, there lived a girl.
She lived together with her grandmother. From a young age, she had no father nor mother.
She distracted herself from her loneliness by filling her thoughts with imaginary worlds.
Her grandmother, seeing her do this, one day took her to see a play.
There, the dream worlds she had imagined all alone appeared before her with such realism.
Beginning that day, she became entranced by theater.
And soon enough, she came to dream of becoming an actress herself.
When the girl was fifteen, her grandmother pa.s.sed away.
Now, she was left without a single relative.
No sooner had sadness come upon her than she left the village.
To fulfill her promise made with her grandmother… to realize her dream of becoming an actress.
Throwing herself into bustle of the big city, the girl toiled away.
In the time between work, she daily went to the theater… to see the Burlet Company she so aspired to.
One day, a miracle happened in that troupe.
A script that had much historical value to the troupe was found.
It was Crazy ∞ nighT, the script referred to as Burlet’s lost libretto.
The news spread like wildfire around the world, and an audition was held for the lead part.
And by pure chance, the girl was chosen in the audition.
What a miracle… She joined the troupe, and began practicing furiously.
After much difficult practice, it was finally time for the main event.
She a.s.sumed her lead role, became the Villager who wandered into an eerie forest one night…
She was “appraised” by the strange inhabitants of a mansion, and enjoyed a “party.”
A play that made a magnificent, celebratory night come true.
Act one was received superbly.
And then, intermission.
The girl picked up a letter left on stage after the show ended.
It was addressed to her.
There, it said something truly horrifying.
Unbelievably, the lost libretto had been profaned by the seven actors.
Naturally, this was an unforgivable act, a stain upon the company’s history, reputation, and dignity.
She felt resentment, sadness, anger, and despair.
And at the end of the letter…
In the event that the seven’s sacrilege were to be revealed to the world…
It was written that they would pin the crime on the lead role alone.
“Every part of it was all her scheme…
She did it all to ensure her name would echo across the globe as a miraculous breakout star.”
…When she finished reading the letter, she was deeply hurt by her friends’ betrayal.
And she thought… How can I right this crime they’ve committed against Burlet?
The answer she came to was: an apology.
After they performed the play to the end… They would earnestly apologize to the audience.
And her bracelet, a memento of her grandmother…
She would sell the Burlet-related antique, which she treasured nearly as much as her life.
She thought they might be able to raise money for the vast expenses spent on the play, and pay back all those who bought tickets.
But she couldn’t know right away whether her idea would work.
She tried to propose the plan to the actors, but they wouldn’t hear it, lashing out with attacks on her.
She couldn’t fully believe in them… And they couldn’t fully believe in her…
They were unable to search inside each other… And thus never exchanged their respective truths…
And it became the trigger to set fate awry.
Failing to convince the seven, the girl was branded as a traitor.
Her meager hope crushed, in the depths of despair, her love and trust became hate and disgust…
She solidified her resolve to fight against them.
The girl died.
Just like that… in the blink of an eye, the final curtain fell on the play she starred in.
The play would no longer be able to go on.
Because the lead was dead…
The seven actors grieved the unhappy death of the lead actress.
And they wished: let her death be buried away.
Yes, if only this tragedy were just a scene in a play.
…And then, something strange happened.
Her bleeding stopped, and even the wound had completely vanished…
Was her death stopped…? No.
The scene of her death was excised from reality.
At the same time, they noticed they were now in an entirely different world, one not their own.
Their bodies were no longer their real ones, transformed into those of the characters in the play.
The human roles became human… but the dolls became real living dolls.
The group was in a panic.
Then they saw a glowing script… yes, the one they…
No, the book you are reading now.
This is a fictional world born from the event that took place on this night, “her death,” being buried away from reality.
A play world, where “her death” will be repeated over and over for eternity.
The world inside the script of Crazy ∞ nighT which they profaned…
Oh, the cruelty…!
We want to escape this crazed world as soon as possible!
We must get back to reality…!
…However, it suddenly occurred to them.
If they returned to reality, then that scene which dodged into a world of fiction in order to vanish from reality…
Would the buried moment of “Miku’s death” not re-awaken and occur?
Time resuming would mean reverting the scene’s excision from reality.
Upon all returning to reality, the next moment that arrived would be her death… that tragic instant.
Ah, what a conundrum.
If they stayed in this fictional world, the poor girl would escape the reality of her death.
By living in a world where the instant of her death repeatedly circled around…
But she wouldn’t know of this repet.i.tion.
The memory of her death was contrary to this world where she was alive.
In this world, she would repeatedly be reborn without her memories.
Freed not only from her death in reality, but also from the fear of wandering this world’s eternal moment…
She could likely be appreciative for her fabricated life.
But if they returned to reality…
A strict two choices.
Do the actors return to reality, and accept the moment of her death?
Or do they stay in the fictional world, and perform Crazy ∞ nighT for eternity alongside the lead role saddled with the fate of death?
Which will you choose?
Faced with such harsh choices, your faces must be stricken with fear. Poor you.
You must choose one or the other…
But is there really no other option…?
No one knows the answer to that.
But searching for one could be a bit of amus.e.m.e.nt.
After all, you do have plenty of time.
Even if a mind-numbing eternity pa.s.ses in this fictional world…
In real time, it is only a brief moment.
When one writes “They spent an eternity there” in a book…
For the author, there is only that one moment of finishing the sentence.
But in the world of the book, it causes that “eternity in a moment” to exist.
Do you understand, now?
An eternally-lasting fiction… It’s possible its repet.i.tions could have interference on the real world instant.
This is a play world made from a single moment in reality.
All things… the world is bound by laws of cause and effect.
The connection between reality and fiction is not easily broken.
Even in this world, in lack of anything else, she will be drawn to her coffin.
She is influenced by the reality… guided to the EndinG of death.
But can that influence be obstructed?
There’s a possibility.
Because this is fiction; a world of lies.
Here, time in the play will pa.s.s.
You, the players in this instantaneous world…
You make the time of this play, where she dies in an accident eternally.
But even if a play follows the exact same lines and actions…
It won’t turn out exactly the same way.
By the acc.u.mulation of repeating EndinGs, irregularities are born, and it exerts an influence on the real world…
For this to be the case… is not inconceivable.
However, it may be a very, very distant dream…
Until, with the pa.s.sing of ∞ time in the fictional world, a distortion is made in reality…
For how enormous a quant.i.ty of time must the same thing be repeated?
And all this repet.i.tion can change only a single moment of reality…
Just giving real thought to that hair-raising terror makes me feel like I’m going mad.
Because ∞ is not something humans can understand easily with just a glance at that symbol.
Indeed, it is more than their imaginations can even handle.
That is what makes it so beautiful…
For you to be taken by the madness of this everlasting night, despair, and abandon her to return to reality…
That, too, would be a perfect finish to this magnificent tragedy.
As long as the lead role exists, ∞ many EndinGs can be made to the story.
But “crazy” has a second meaning, does it not?
I am a member of the audience, hopeful that Crazy ∞ nighT will be a magnificent, outrageous night.
I will always kindly watch over your performances.
The scene of her death takes place, in reality, during the intermission between acts one and two.
The PagE describing it has already been ripped out, and sleeps in the coffins underground, along with your real bodies.
And this world was created at the same time that sleep began.
Your reality, too, is in an eternal sleep in the coffins.
To return to reality requires waking from that sleep and ending this world stopped in time.
To write on the blank End roLL the EndinG moment, to take the stopped, lost reality out of the coffins…
And to take back the buried scene of her death.
And fundamentally, it is the duty of the lead role to guide the story to an EndinG.
So at the start of act two, let us make the End roLL a blank letter, and leave it with her.
Of course, it is entirely up to you what will you do with her letter afterward.
Perhaps this too is an effect from the scene in reality…
To make time tick once more, you must use the clock hands.
There are two hands… Bright ones like yourselves should quickly realize their usage.
Now, I have a piece of advice.
To make this play more interesting… ahem, excuse me.
To better reward you for your brave will to put on this play for her… a suggestion from the playwright.
This is not an instruction, only advice, so you need not follow it exactly.
It would likely be better not to speak of the truth while she is around.
If she remembered the moment of her death from reality… that would be a very dangerous thing for this world.
She would notice the oddity of being alive when she recalls already dying…
And she would lose sight of her “life” in this world that keeps her alive.
This world is unstable, kept up by a balance of her simultaneous life and death.
Her becoming aware of her death would cause it to be confirmed as reality.
That would cause the absence of the lead from the story.
A story can’t do without a lead, now can it?
With order lost, the world would crumble…
Yes, the laws of cause and effect are very delicate.
Terribly ambiguous, brittle, and easy to destroy.
The world is propped up by that single support known as cognizance.
So please, take care that doesn’t come to be.
Now, as for your memories of the nights you’re about to perform.
They will be stored as past performances, each a book in the library.
Among the many shelves, at present, there is currently only one book.
The events of tonight… First nighT.
This lost play that I never wrote…
Yes, I’m very much looking forward to seeing what kind of story you’ll make it.
I’ll be gladly observing, each and every night, to see what Crazy ∞ nighTs you put on.
Currently, we’re still in the waiting room during the intermission.
Soon, the buzzer for act two will sound.
Have you come to an answer…?
Oh my, don’t you hear that applause, coming from nowhere?
Well, open up that invitation and take a look.
I invite you, the cast, to a strange world where a moment lasts for eternity.
As soon as you open my invitation, into the ∞ play world you will go… ∞
- from the Mastermind
Kaito finished reading the Prologue. Everyone’s mouths hung open, frozen like time had stopped. Meg was the first to recover from the shock.
“The "lost play that I never wrote”… the Mastermind…“
"Yes… Indeed, what we did was none other than sacrilege against him… against Burlet…”
After muttering self-derisively, Kaito faltered slightly. Gack quickly came to support him. Kaito only said “sorry,” and fell silent with a gloomy look.
“A fictional world where that event a moment ago was excised from reality to be repeated eternally… And… it’s also the world inside the play of Crazy ∞ nighT… right? And… it hasn’t started just yet, huh…”
Since Kaito was still bewildered and in shock, Meg took his place and began to timidly summarize and a.n.a.lyze the situation, taking control.
“Yes… I can’t imagine what kind of power he used, but… it seems he saved Miku, keeping her away from the reality we didn’t want. That’s why her chest is completely unharmed after being stabbed with a knife… isn’t it?”
Meiko spoke with slight relief that Miku, lying down in front of her, was not necessarily dead.
“But this is a fictional world. We’ve been sealed here forever. And we have to perform as the cast of this play where she’s the lead role, fated to die. While the Mastermind watches the nights we put on from who knows where…”
“Then… Then will we have to act in this play until we die?!”, Luka shouted in terror upon processing Rin’s line.
“…I don’t think that’s right. As long as we interpret this Prologue just the way it reads… Even our deaths in this world won’t end the play.”
“Huh…? What do you… mean by that, Len…?”
“I mean it won’t end no matter who dies. It says it’ll just keep repeating. It also said that time in the play keeps pa.s.sing, right…? So there’s a fixed amount of time to perform the play in. In that time, we have to act as the characters of Crazy ∞ nighT. Then when that time runs out, the next performance will start. And we’ll act out the same story again… That’s gotta be how it repeats. And the seven of us will remember all of that. But Miku will forget it each time…”
Len slowly put together his words with eyes shut. Luka went pale as she heard it.
“Act it out…? But what are we even supposed to do? And… if Miku happens to remember falling down those stairs… that she died… this world’ll end…”
The way Rin aired her doubts was just the same as Len: closing off her vision and focusing on her thoughts.
Everyone went silent to think. They were trying to grasp the situation and determine what to do next.
“So what we did was sacrilege against him… Burlet… the Mastermind. And he was angered… Yes, that’s it, isn’t it…” Luka spoke absent-mindedly, with empty eyes.
“Because we fabricated a lie about finding his lost script… and made a fake lost play of Burlet’s.”
Rin hung her head and balled her fists up tight. Her right arm shook slightly. Gently holding her hand, Len spoke, seeming like he was trying to keep something in.
“…Look at this, the letter Miku picked up. It lies… it says that if the world found out about our deception, we were going to pin all the blame on Miku. Why Burlet would want Miku to see a letter like this, and include a lie that aims to push us apart, I don’t know… but it’s clear as day it was set up so that Miku wouldn’t be able to trust us. But even then, she… she still believed in us, and tried to persuade us. And we… didn’t even lend her an ear.”
“It’s all our fault… Miku didn’t know, she had nothing to do with it, she did nothing wrong…! I’m sorry, Miku… I’m sorry…!”
Meiko held Miku’s head, still on her lap, with trembling hands and screamed. The unending stream of tears from her eyes wetted Miku’s immobile pale cheeks. Behind her, Luka standing there in a daze collapsed to the floor. Her hollow gaze looking out into s.p.a.ce, she spoke through large tears.
“Ahaha… It’s my fault… I was heartless to her, called her a traitor… I…”
The air was heavy with sadness, regret, and repentance, and there was only the sound of wailing and the intense rain outside. After some time, Meg again managed to be the first to open her mouth and move things forward.
“…Um. So this is a fictional world, not reality, right? Even Miss Miku in front of us is in the play… so then, if reality starts up again…”
Everyone gasped. Gack continued on in a pained voice.
“Miss Miku and we have both been sealed in this world forever. However, if everything written in this book is the truth, then all of us can return to reality at any time. But when we do…”
Gack hesitated, and the Doll Girl tried to continue from there.
“When we return to reality, Miku will…”
…However, neither of them could bear to say the next word.
Some looked down with dark, pale faces. Some shut their eyes to focus on their thoughts. Some appeared emotionless, like they weren’t thinking about anything. The oppressive silence may have gone on for a minute, an hour, an eternity.
A neutral alto broke the silence. It came out listlessly, but with a hint of cheer. Len, who had been disoriented by the fact of becoming a doll, opened his mouth.
“Finally… we can perform the real Crazy ∞ nighT. The dream we always dreamt… as a genuine play made by Burlet himself.”
The others thought about it and looked up toward him. As their gazes landed on him one by one, he wore an intrepid grin. There was no trace of fear or despair left in his eyes.
“Ahh, geeeeez… Len always beating me to it again!”
Rin puffed her cheeks, like a little animal who had them stuffed full of food, and continued.
“It’s kind of embarra.s.sing… But I’ve always really looked up to dolls. In this world, I can be a cute little girl forever! Isn’t that pretty great? I mean, anti-aging is an eternal problem for women. Oh, and miss crybaby Lady? You better stop worrying so much. The stress might add to your wrinkles.”
Rin winked at Luka with plenty of playfulness. Her lively voice called up a wind that blew away the heavy mood, and the despair slowly vanished from everyone’s faces.
Luka, sobbing on the floor, quickly swept her hand to wipe her tears, and hid her eyes behind long eyelashes. Rin watched her closely with eyes of strong intent. Luka slowly stood up, put her right hand on her hip, and bending her head back slightly, looked down on her - her usual pose. With a bewitching smile on her lips, she shot a challenging gaze at Rin.
“Dear, isn’t it a bit too soon for a little doll to be speaking about anti-aging? Especially such a childish one who’s flat all over.”
“Wha…! And here I thought you’d cheered up, but there you go again, Luka!!”
“What’s that? Well, isn’t it true? And I don’t have a single wrinkle yet!!”
Meg intervened between Rin and Luka as they slid back into their usual att.i.tudes.
“Aheeem, Miss Rin! I’ve always had the role of being the droll one who cheers the rest up! I feel like you keep s.n.a.t.c.hing up the scenes where I’d have a chance to shine!”
“Huh?! Well, that’s because… You’re taking over Kaito’s job!”
“Be quiet, Meg! So annoying…”
“You two are just right back to normal, huh… How mean! Look, Mr. Kaito seems pretty glum right now, so I figured I had to be the one to seriously move things along! …In fact, I’ve been thinking, aren’t I the more charming character?”
Meg a.s.sumed a pose of slumped shoulders.
“We’ve returned to the usual hierarchy… Ah, this speedy recovery is truly magnificent!”
“Heehee… It’s good you can cheer up so quickly. Yes, it’s no good to wallow forever… We must be positive now more than ever.”
Gack and Meiko smiled peacefully seeing the three girls back to their ordinary interactions.
“Well, I know what you’re saying, Meg. I mean, somebody’s just being such a downer, so I can figure he’s not in the mood.”
Rin folded her arms and turned toward Kaito with her eyes still closed, then turned to Len. Len sighed a little, then scratched his head and spoke.
“…We’ve basically made our lives on performing Burlet’s plays. For the Crazy ∞ nighT we created… we researched everything about where he lived, came up with an undeniably interesting script… thought of a perfectly dramatic way for it to be "found”… and almost miraculously, were able to select a lead that would paint it like a Cinderella story. We spared no expense creating a truly dramatic tale. We had regrets about it being sacrilege, and intended to carry the weight of that sin our whole lives… So we can’t regret this perfect story on which the troupe’s revival is riding. Except for one point… that we let her die.“
Len shot an aggressive glance, like an animal ready to jump at any moment, toward Kaito, whose eyes were still closed.
Kaito slowly opened his eyes and spoke.
"Miku… our dear friend… won’t be left to die.”
The leader, who was nearest and felt most responsibility for failing to prevent her death, accepted his mistake and was determined to atone for it.
“You know, Kaito… None of us think you’re at fault. We chased after her in the first place because of that quarrel in the green room. And if you trace it back, it’s rooted in our forgi