(Toggle Theme) (Size Up) (Size Down)
Chapter 7: The Library
The Butler and I returned to the living room and went out into the hallway. Opening the door in front of us on the backside of the grand stairs and heading down a short stairwell, we entered the semi-underground wine cellar.
Three sides of the small, chilly room had wine bottles lined up with hardly any space between. When I took one out, something strange happened: the liquid in the bottle didn't move at all. While I was at a loss for words, the Butler explained.
"This world is
just a play, strictly speaking. Plays contain many things which have no purpose beyond being mere background elements, and they remain so here... They need not fulfill any greater purpose than that."
That made me suddenly recall something. When I was searching the study with the Master, I casually tested the fountain pen on the desk, and despite there clearly being ink on the tip, it didn't put any ink on my hands. I thought that just meant it didn't work anymore and didn't dwell on it.
But in truth, it didn't function at all because it was just scenery for the play... If I'd tried to write something with it on a piece of paper, it wouldn't have fulfilled its normal purpose as a pen. In fact, if the paper also only existed as scenery, maybe neither of them would fulfill their usual purposes.
Yet there were definitely items like tea and pots that worked as expected... I asked what the difference was, and the Butler said there were objects which could only be used by those who would "naturally" use them, as well as inaccessible rooms. This wine cellar, for instance, could normally only be entered by the Butler, and not by anyone else without good reason.
So the characters did
have certain principles acting on them to preserve order in the play. And perhaps I too, as the lead role, had limits on my thoughts and actions that I couldn't even perceive. Though for right now, it seemed like I could help the others out and move around freely, moreso than they could...
I looked to the Butler beside me and saw him carrying a single one of the many bottles, with only about a single glass's worth of wine left in it. I noticed the liquid in it was moving.
"Oh, that wine..."
"This is the remainder from last night's party. There's a bit extra, but I know the mistress would be angry if I threw it out... It is quite a fine age. What do you think? Do you like wine?"
"I've never actually had wine before... But the people who like it really seem to love it."
"Yes... That's true."
Naturally, there was a limited amount of wine to be used in the play. Wine to be used specifically for the party in act one. So they did have actual, functional wine, like the bottle he was holding now.
We searched carefully through all the little holes the wine bottles existing only as props were put in, but of course found nothing. The play's time was still passing as we worked. I'd started to neglect it while focusing on helping in the search for the page, but I had to think about Burlet's... the person who sealed us in here's objective at the same time.
While I tried to keep that in my head, at times I found myself momentarily forgetting that I was Miku. Maybe it was because everyone had slipped so naturally into this artificial world. Maybe with my tendency to daydream, I lacked a clear distinction between reality and fiction. Besides, it was easy to go along with the surrounding atmosphere. Even with the knowledge that this world was fake, I went along with everything as if it were reality.
For no particular reason, I looked at the mostly-empty wine bottle the Butler was carefully holding. The label was very faded, and that alone told me it was rather old.
"Has something caught your eye? This wine is quite vintage. It may be rare, as well. In fact, everything in this cellar is very old and high-quality."
"I know wine has a reputation of being more valuable the older it is, but is wine that's been left to ferment for decades really tastier...? I mean... than the newer stuff...?" I aired my naïve doubts to the Butler.
"Who can say? People's tastes will differ. There are a wealth of kinds, with different flavors, dryness and sweetness, even smell and kick. But, I suppose that's not much of an answer. Well... Many will say that wine fermented for longer has that much more of a depth to its taste... The same as with people. With the passing of time, life experience will show on their character, and as if not satisfied with "plain"... they will form habits, like a hidden taste. Whether they're desirable or not, though, is a matter of preference.
"And not to mention, time is always moving forward. Wine can be made with the greatest technology of its time and then fermented for decades, but once it comes time to open... Often times, in that advanced future, it will be easier to make more delicious wine than that without spending any time for it to ferment."
The explanation reminded me of my conversation with the Master in the collection room. He said he dedicated himself to protecting the wonderful relics left by great ancestors of the past.
"...Mr. Butler, which do you prefer?"
"Wine made with the diligent effort of past masters, ripened to the ultimate vintage over long years of fermentation... Or wine that can be easily be made in no time at all with future advancements, but is still perfectly tasty...?"
"...That's a rather difficult question."
The Butler fell into silent thought, putting his hand to his mouth. The cramped stone wine cellar was filled with fermenting bottles of wine, awaiting the day they would be opened. Though they couldn't speak, I could imagine them anticipating a sommelier's judgement. After a while, the Butler breathed out and spoke.
"At times, people will say even the most well-aged wine is too fermented for their tastes. Just too old for them. Indeed, the majority will say it shouldn't ferment for too
long. And also..."
"Ages pass, people grow old, and values are ever-changing. What was regarded as supreme in the past will not necessarily merit the same opinion in the present. It is for those who live in the current age to pass that judgement. To become so seized with protecting past relics that you forgo living in the present is but nonsense... So some think."
"Yes. However, I... look gladly upon that nonsense. If those great people of the past knew that I did so, would it not please them tremendously? Of course, it can go too far... If their descendents live for their ancestors, and sacrifice their own lives for it, that would surely be a sad thing for them both."
A sad thing for them both... Somehow, I felt like he was talking directly to me. We, the company, were all big fans of Burlet, and felt it our mission to carry his legacy to future generations. But what would Burlet say if he saw the struggling troupe of the present? Would he say thank you for finding his lost play, and performing it as he always desired?
It was no exaggeration to say that the huge amount of publicity that came from the discovery of Crazy ∞ nighT allowed the troupe to temporarily evade bankruptcy. The support from our longtime sponsor company, Kaito's dad, and the gentleman who was a fan of Len were allowing us to endure through our many debts, as Ia had told me. But in a changing era with a booming new entertainment industry, even if Crazy ∞ nighT were a runaway success, it was unclear if we could continue performing only Burlet's works without any changes.
I believed the reason we were trapped in this world now was because I'd messed up his perfect play, was cursed for it, and he wanted me to redo the performance of his ultimate script. No mistake in acting out his scripts would be tolerated, and the acting and sets had to be perfect, or Burlet would never forgive it; so went the anecdote passed down in the troupe.
Thus, I came under the impression that Burlet himself was a very strict and unrelenting man. But I wonder, was that really true? I began to question my conjecture a little.
"When great relics of the past are brought to the present, and extended into the future... Does that really make the creators of those things happy? If something seems ready to crumble at any moment, but you want to protect it at any cost..."
I grabbed the bracelet on my left wrist - a relic from that legendary playwright passed on via my grandmother. Though the Butler likely didn't understand what in the world I... what the Villager was asking, he still heard me out. He stared down at my wrist and quietly waited for the next words to come.
"Someone told me that all things with a form will eventually decay. But, what if what you want to protect is formless... like a story, or a play? Even things that don't have a form to begin with can easily be changed from their original forms. But maybe, because of these changes... Even as the times and people change, if the work changes along with them, it can survive without decaying..."
"...You have some rather interesting thoughts... I think that's magnificent. There are so many different kinds of people in the world that there's also an infinite variety of people who create such great works. Whether they would unconditionally be pleased or not... I can't answer with any certainty. However, speaking for myself, in a sense... I would likely give my applause, and a heartful word of praise."
The Butler kindly smiled at me.
Finishing with the wine cellar, we proceeded to do the guest rooms on the south side. The Butler had already checked his own room and guest room #4 by himself, so we went to guest room #1.
"Huh...? Was I here before...?"
My hand stopped before opening the door to the guest room. Finding this to be a familiar sight, I took a look around, and noticed the layout was just like the south side of the second floor which I explored with the Master. Both floors had the exact same carpets, walls, and even ceiling ornaments in their hallways, so I was briefly uncertain which floor I was on.
"Ah, so you were searching upstairs with the master. Yes, this is right underneath. The layout of the first and second floors is largely identical. We often do get lost. Certainly, a visitor who only just arrived would... But yes, even we do quite often."
He was right, the layout was so similar that I couldn't immediately answer whether this was the first or second floor. While looking around, my eyes stopped on a certain point, and my legs brought me over. Though I'd seen it on the second floor, too... A "forbidden room," next to guest room #1. And on the north side of it was a huge, wall-covering painting. A painting of a girl dancing alone in a dimly-lit forest... Was this the exact same as the one hanging outside the forbidden room up above? As I stared closely at it, the Butler came over to me.
"This painting also hangs in the hall outside the second floor's forbidden room, as well."
"Exactly the same one...?"
"No, technically they are different. The painting on the second floor depicts dusk... the time just before sunset. And this painting shows dawn; a scene set just before sunrise. The two of them together are considered one work. The title is Twilight ∞ nighT."
"Twilight ∞ nighT... Dusk and dawn...?"
"Let's say you were blindfolded and taken to witness the two scenes depicted in these paintings. Which one is dusk, and which is dawn...? Do you think you would know?"
"Myself, I don't think anyone would know the difference. And from what my former master told me about this painting... in truth, no one knew. It illustrates how we have no way to determine whether the reality we see before us is real... or just a fake."
Reality...?! Was the Butler aware that this world was a fake, and that his real self existed in a separate one? Though when I called everyone's names in the living room earlier, no one showed any reaction at all...
"The world is made by our awareness. And that is a highly fragile and ambiguous thing. The thought of being
makes the world aware of your existence. The existence of something other than you is what allows you to be aware of yourself. To be cognizant of the past, there is the present and future. You think you are alive, so you live... Thus, people can only live in the world they recognize. Because "living" can be said to be when you recognize your existence here and now. If you deny that, it's the same as death..."
"The same as death...?"
So did that mean everyone, having forgotten their true selves, was effectively dead? Their memories lost, living in the play's world. Their pasts and the lives they led all died... Was that it? And I alone was just barely living still...?
"So tell me, which twilight do you prefer?"
I took a close look at the painting here.
"I... can't really tell the difference at all yet. I guess I like both...?"
"The artist painted the girl within almost exactly the same way... But if you take repeated close looks at the colors, you'll start to notice slight differences."
"Dusk and dawn... They look similar, but they're completely different. One's about to get darker, and one's about to get lighter... Their following scenes are complete opposites. Is the similar layout of the two floors meant to say that similar-looking things can be completely different, too...?"
"Oh, um...! I just had that hunch. I imagined the person who built this house having that kind of aim..."
"...That may be so. Similar-looking, but very different in actuality. Perhaps nothing exists in this world that is exactly the same. Even the word "same" is little more than a concept created by people..."
"So it's used more as a measure...?"
"Yes, precisely. Language is no more than a tool to communicate ideas. Well, at least that was how it originated. At times, we mistakenly think that language came first. We believe that, behind the words a person speaks, we can see every aspect of their true intent expressed in those words."
"That's also the epitome of theater."
"Depending on the performers, the same script can create entirely different worlds. And even with the same people performing, the conditions, mental states, and bodies of the actors will always differ. So plays can be enjoyed again and again. Some fans call that the epitome of theater."
"That's very true..."
Indeed, some customers would repeatedly buy special seats for long-running plays by the Burlet Company. Like the Butler said, they could watch the same story repeated over and over, and enjoy them as new worlds brought about by slight differences in the performance.
"Now then... I've gone on rather long. We should return to our search of guest room #1."
We carefully searched all of guest room #1, but didn't find the page. I put my hand to my chest and checked the time. Half our performance time had already passed. I knew we couldn't hurry, but it certainly made me feel hasty imagining it running out on us. All this searching, and still nothing... not even a clue.
The Butler told me there were probably people having more trouble than he was, so I left guest room #1 to help someone else. The hallways were just like the second floor ones, and similar paintings, though different if I looked closely, hung on the walls. For instance, a painting of thick and lively roses in a vase on the second floor was matched by one with withered petals on the first floor. The same composition, but at different times... It seemed as if all of the paintings were like that.
As I reached the hall, I heard a beautiful melody. The Doll Girl was playing piano. That's right; she did play piano in a scene in act one.
Rin and Len were geniuses who could do just about anything. In addition to the lute Len played in act one, he was also skilled with string instruments like guitar and violin. I think it was Meiko who told me both of them had professional-level piano and violin skills, and often had sessions at home. However, Rin herself told me she didn't like piano very much anymore. She'd only play it to soothe herself when something sad or painful happened... So when she learned she had to play it as the Doll Girl in act one, she let it slip that she didn't really want to.
Just what song was this...? The piano was somewhat out of tune; it seemed a little too low. As a result, the slow waltz in major key sounded like it was minor key, giving it a sorrowful tone. I forgot myself and listened to the odd mix of sadness and cheerfulness for a while.
"OH...? Miss VILlager. How LONG have YOU been there?"
The Doll Girl noticed me and stopped playing to face me.
"Um... It was such a wonderful song, I got engrossed in listening..."
"Well, THANK you."
"Er... What is it called? The song you were just playing."
"...THIS is Dolly's DREAMing and AwaKENING. The PERfect song for ME, right?"
"...SAY, Miss VillaGER, do you DREAM?"
I flashed back to the dream I'd had this morning. A woman... Maybe an actress, dying at a theater.
"I do, sometimes..."
"HMM. Dolls DON'T dream. Do you KNOW why?"
"BeCAUSE, dolls don't SLEEP!"
"Funny, ISN'T it! YahahaHA! Hey... Do you WANT to hear MORE? I'll PLAY lots for YOU."
As she said this, the Doll Girl's eyes seemed to turn a bit lonely.
"Umm... But I still need to help everyone look for the page..."
"It's FINE, just for a LITtle while!"
Out of the blue, she hugged me. It was too sudden for me to make a sound. As much as I understood that she was formerly Rin, I couldn't get rid of the fear I had of these dolls.
"I'm sorry! But I really need to help the others. I mean, if we don't find the page..."
"But you CAN just STAY here..."
"It's oKAY. ToDAY will go ON, so..."
"Today will go on...?"
What did that mean? If the performance ran out of time without the page being found, wouldn't this world disappear? In what way would "today go on"...?
"This SONG goes ON, too... In fact, THIS is the MAIN part... The SLOWly turnING waltz turns inTO fierce four-FOUR time. Yes, it's DOLly's awakenING..."
She grinned creepily, looking up at me from around my waist. I jumped back in terror, and in doing so, something flew out onto the floor. It was an envelope; I picked it up.
"Oh, this is..."
Wasn't it the letter I'd had in my pocket? The one I used in act one... It was addressed to "Miss Miku." This wasn't the play prop. It was the letter I picked up on stage before being sucked into this world. I fearfully turned it over, and found written on the back: "Until the End roLL has lost its color... ∞"
I slowly opened it up. But inside, there was only a blank sheet of paper folded in two. The Doll Girl had come up near my feet again. I supposed I dropped the letter while leaping away from her.
"Hey, what's THAT letTER...?"
"...Well, I don't know either..."
I was so certain this was the letter I picked up then, but nothing was written on it. I definitely remembered reading that letter. It was just the important part - what it said - that I couldn't remember anything about. I had definitely read an actual message then.
So what was this letter, then? It must have been the prop I used in act one, wasn't it? So it had a use sometime after the start of act two. But currently, the next page of the script was missing, so everyone forgot everything from the next scene on. Unfortunately, I'd completely forgotten what this letter had written on it, and what role it played.
This letter was a prop that would later be essential in the play. But was it lacking its contents because of the missing next page...? I looked closely at the neatly-folded paper, and it was just paper. The color was greatly faded from it.
"AH! This is ABOUT the same SIZE as the SCRIPT!"
"But THERE's no TEAR on it... Too BAD!"
I'd have to check to be sure, but my rough judgement was that yes, it was the same size as the script pages. But also the paper was perfectly clean, no signs of any tearing.
"UnTIL the End roLL has LOST its coLOR... ∞?"
Perhaps this was the "End roLL" - in other words, the ending - the last page of the script. If that were the case, then I could understand why this would be blank. The removal of the next page made the story unable to progress. So the conclusion was undecided, thus a blank page; that seemed plausible.
If the missing page and the following scenes remained unfound... would it be possible to skip right past them to the ending using this page, I wonder? If that were doable, then we could make the story end. But right now, it was still just a blank page. I threw around all sorts of ideas and suppositions to myself, but I couldn't get my thoughts in order. They were all nothing more than predictions. No point in going in circles with myself; I would discuss it with the others.
"I think I'll show this letter to everyone later, and ask their opinion..."
"...I SEE! That SOUNDS good!"
The Doll Girl seemed to agree. If she'd been wise Rin, I probably would have discussed it with her right away. But as much as this doll looked like Rin, she was just a doll. I felt a little bit of relief having finally found one thing that could be a relevant clue.
But at the same time, I realized something that I couldn't believe I'd been overlooking. If someone stole the page, shouldn't the first thing to do have been conduct a body search of everyone? If one of the seven had stolen the page, then just like I found this letter in my own pocket, it was highly likely they were hiding the next page in their pockets, clothes, or possessions. Absolutely, doing a search of everyone should have come first. Since we hadn't found it in any of the rooms yet, the probability of that seemed greater still.
Now that I'd noticed it, I couldn't linger around. I headed for the second floor to let the Master know and have him gather everyone.
The corridor going up the second floor stairs. On a high-reaching wall extending up to the ceiling of the surrounding hallways was a large painting, depicting many angels flying in front of a gate to heaven. As I hurried up the stairs one step at a time, I became entranced by the austere mood given off by the painting, and soon noticed the backside of the Doll Boy. Right as I climbed up the final step, he grinned and approached with his stiff gait.
"I've BEEN waitING, miss VILLager."
Without waiting for a reply from me, he took my hand and led me in the opposite direction of where I wanted to go, to the north side of the second floor. He stopped in front of a door, then turned around to face me.
"Do YOU know where THIS is?"
The door was shut fast, so I didn't know what kind of room was inside. I told him that I didn't know, and he replied that he'd show me and took me in. The power relationship was just the same as in reality; once again, he had me in his hands. Even though I had to hurry to the Master and tell him about this letter... I heard the Doll Boy shut the door behind me.
It was a library filled to the brim with books. With an exception made only for the door, every wall had bookshelves along it reaching up to the ceiling. Four small chandeliers hung from the ceiling, bathing the room in light. Around the middle of the room were three tables, and beside them were sofas and armchairs of varying size. It was an orderly, refined, and peaceful room which readers would surely love.
However, for some reason, large teddy bears sat in the chairs, and there was a toy teaset on the table, as if put there for the bears. It was made to look like they were relaxing while reading books. Whose hobby was this, I wonder? Though a bizarre sight, the fancy stuffed animals helped add a bit of relief to the crushing feeling from the sheer amount of books.
"Wow... There are so many books..."
I didn't necessarily like reading that much, but I loved calm and quiet places like libraries. I'd often go to the library on my days off to bask in that mood ideal for thinking, open up a favorite script, and imagine the play in my head.
"Do you LIKE it? These SHELVES are the BEST part, right?"
"Y-Yes... It's a very wonderful room."
But, yes... I couldn't be here. The Doll Boy had suddenly dragged me here, but I had to go talk to the Master. As far as I could see, it was unlikely the boy had found the next page.
"If you READ the BOOKS here, you NEver KNOW what you MIGHT find..."
The books here...? I glanced over the shelves. There were too many to know where to start. And checking all the shelves now would no doubt use up all the remaining performance time.
"Don't you WANT to KNOW? The SEcrets of THIS world?"
"Then READing the BOOKS here will BE fastEST, I think..."
Secrets of this world? Maybe such things as the reason we had been trapped here, and a way to get out, were written in these books? But the Doll Boy had forgotten his past of "being Len" and became a doll here, hadn't he? And he was a cruel, prank-loving doll. Maybe he had simply seen me hurrying in the corridor and decided to stop me to play a prank.
For the time being, I decided I'd pretend to pick out a random book and read it, and watch for my chance to get out of here. As I reached for a book on the nearest shelf, he said "Not THAT; the FIRST shelf is HERE," indicating the top-left book of the bookcase to the left upon entering. It was high up toward the ceiling... I couldn't even tell how many of myself would need to be stacked to go that high, and I couldn't reach it no matter what I did. Then the Doll Boy, demonstrating unexpected strength, brought over a long, worn stepladder from the corner.
"SurPRISED? If you THOUGHT I was WEAK because I'm a DOLL, you're VERY wrong! AhaHAHA!"
With a cocky laugh and boast, he grinned. I'd underestimated his small doll body. But now I was shown how if he put his mind to it... no, without really even having to do that, he had strength on part with a human. The doll laughing in front of me without budging an eyebrow was scarier than ever.
"I'll HOLD it from BELOW... Be CAREful, it's HIGH!"
He claimed he'd hold the stepladder, but I felt unsure considering his size. And this was quite long looking at it up close... About five meters, at least... Leaning it against the shelf, I slowly went up step by step. It creaked with each step, making me anxious about its age.
Finally, I reached for the dusty book in the top-left. Just as I did, I saw the book give off a pale light. Surprised, my right foot went a step back, and my weight shifted to one side. The wood under my feet creaked.
I threw my right foot back forward to re-establish my balance and placed it down on the step. A moment later, I heard a cracking sound, and my footing lowered. Oh no - I felt myself slowly falling back. Bracing for an impact, I closed my eyes.
- the impact was much softer than I expected, and didn't hurt at all.
"...Are you oKAY?"
The Doll Boy spoke. But where did he go? He said he would hold up the stepladder, but all of a sudden hadn't been there. Splintered wood fragments laid around the floor. It had looked worn-out, surely, but I hadn't expected it to break now
I heard the voice from right under me, beneath something soft. I looked down and saw a large teddy bear... and the Doll Boy crushed underneath?! I quickly pulled the bear away, and the fallen Doll Boy crawled out. So I'd used the teddy bear and him to break my fall...
"I-I'm sorry! Are you all right?!"
"...I'm FINE. Dolls ARE STURdier than HUmans. You're JUST kind of HEAVY..."
I was a little hurt by that, but I was glad he was okay. The little silk hat he wore had fallen off, so I handed it to him, and he awkwardly put it back on his pretty blond hair.
Still, when did he move the teddy bear? The bear was a little bigger than the boy, and was doing just fine in spite of me falling on it. If the Doll Boy hadn't put this soft friend here... The ceiling was high enough that I had to stretch from the top of the stepladder to reach it. So I nearly fell backward about five meters... Not to mention...
The library had high-quality Persian carpet, but for some reason, it was absent in front of this bookcase alone, revealing the marble floor underneath. If I'd landed in just the wrong place, then...
"You ALmost DIED there! CAREful, careFUL!"
The Doll Boy lifted up his hands slightly and shook his head exasperatedly. Yes... I had come close to dying, again
. I was always very clumsy and mistake-prone, but since coming to this bizarre world, there'd already been three dangerous occasions where one wrong step would have spelled doom. Were these all coincidental accidents, or...?
"Looks LIKE you got THE book, THOUGH!"
"Oh, you're right..."
The book I'd risked my life to get lay near my feet. There was no title on the binding. I picked it up and looked at the cover; there was something written on it, but thick dust covered it, so I couldn't make it out.
"How incredibly dusty... Is this a rather old book?"
I blew on the cover and the dust flew up. So much dust scattered that it got in my nose and throat. I started coughing, and the Doll Boy sighed with disgust.
The moment I spoke the title that finally appeared from behind all the dust, I felt a strange unease coming up from my feet, like an unknown darkness enveloping me. You shouldn't read this book - a warning from another self seemed to echo in the back of my subconscious. My hands, prepared to open the book, froze in place. Was this intuition...? Or was it the odd causality of this strange world acting on me? There was no doubt that something
important was written in this book.
A worst-case scenario crossed my mind. What if this book said that once we were trapped in the world of Crazy ∞ nighT's script, we would never be able to leave for all eternity...? Just imagining it made me sweat. But on the other hand, what if it had a hint to solving the mysteries of this world...? Maybe it could guide us to a way back to reality. Equal parts hope and unease began to swirl around in my head.
If only, when presented with a strict two choices, I had the chance to try again if I messed up; then I'd be able to advance without hesitation... But I was always unable to actively advance with such decisions. I'd immediately start thinking about what if it was the wrong one, cowardly refusing to muster up any courage. Even the reason I left the village, and the circumstances of joining the troupe... When faced with important choices, I had to have someone pushing me ahead to move forward.
Suddenly, a small right hand touched my left, frozen on the book's cover. I looked down and to my left in surrpise. I only saw the back of his head wearing a little silk hat; he wasn't looking at me. What kind of expression did he have? His doll hands were cold as ceramic. But in that cold warmth, I thought I found the awkward kindness of the real him, Len. I had to return him to normal - and I wasn't alone here, so I wasn't scared.
I took a deep breath to calm myself. Feeling slowly returned to my left hand. Like opening an iron door, I lifted open the heavy cover, and put my hand on the first page.
[End of Volume 1.]