Miyoko no Naku Koro ni
Escape Chapter (4th Arc)
Episode 6: New Rules
Miyo sat naked but for her underwear in a tub of cold water that reached to her chest level. If she could move, it would be easy to bend her neck, lower her head, and drink some of the water. But she couldn’t move her head and neck at all, as they were tied with leather bonds to an iron stake just outside the tub. Plus, she was unspeakably stiff and sore and only half-conscious, so moving was impossible regardless.
This was inside the chapel, where nobody but Kashima came except on Sundays. Miyo was in the fancy tub used for children’s baptisms. She’d been there for a full day. She felt so thirsty she thought she might die. It was agonizing not being able to reach the water to drink it. By this time, Miyo most likely had hypothermia, as her legs and hands were completely numb, and the rest of her was still shivering weakly. Breathing was difficult, since Miyo’s throat and neck were swollen and in pain.
It started a day ago. Ebina gave Miyo to the Master of Penalties, Kashima, and quickly left. The man bound her legs together so she couldn’t stand or run away easily, and then he paced back and forth in front of her, considering aloud what he should do to her. Miyo already felt sick with fearful anticipation. But she kept up a facade of defiance.
“You bastard,” said the little girl. “I thought the goddamn Witch said you weren’t supposed to interfere with the game anymore.”
“Oh, that.” Kashima nodded, smiling. “I can’t receive any new orders from Lady Bernkastel once the game has begun, you see. It’s a new rule. But I can — and in fact, I must — operate on my usual orders given at the start of the game. Punish children but don’t cause life-threatening injury or complications, and do not kill them. There are only two exceptions, Lady Bernkastel told me. One is if you, Miyo-chan, seriously insult, harm, or rebel against Ebina-sama. I have a ‘thing’ for her, you see. The other exception is this: I am allowed to kill you in the event that you are recaptured after an attempted escape.”
“I don’t suppose you’ll let me die quickly,” Miyo said in a low voice, remembering the Penalties that Fumie told her about.
“Why, of course not, my dear,” replied Kashima with a laugh. “Where’s the fun in that?”
Then the long hours of torture began. First she forced to move from one corner of the chapel to the other while wrapped in heavy iron chains. Anytime she stopped for too long or tried to give up, she was struck with a bullwhip. So many blows with the whip would have killed her if not for the chains taking half the force. Even still, the pain was more severe than anything Miyo had experienced so far, and her skin was torn off in several small places along her back, arms, and legs. This was the Workman’s Ox Penalty.
There were many other penalties and tortures, such as the Goose penalty, which was so bad she peed herself. Kashima was slowly and steadily choked Miyo until she passed out. When she woke up, Kashima repeated it. He did it so many times, and each time Miyo was convinced she was dying. Eventually, Kashima had to stop, or the swelling of the child’s neck might worsen enough to block her windpipe. Or worse, her heart might fail from the struggle of going so long with so little breath. Miyo didn’t even know when she was put in the tub. But she felt she must have been in it for at least a full 24 hours, freezing and becoming so thirsty she wanted to die.
At some point that morning, Kashima came along and saw that Miyo was completely unresponsive even when struck in the face. He decided she’d had enough. Untying the bonds around her neck and chest, Kashima let the child fall face-forward into the water. He held her head down and drowned her.
Lambda woke up in chains again. She was in the witches’ tea room: a white room with a rounded ceiling and many windows, with a tile floor. In the middle of it was a round iron table and several iron chairs fashioned with purplish-blue seat cushions. Frederica sat in one of the chairs, watching as a heavy-set Witch in red and blue robes prepared a pot of tea. Lambda could see that she had a semi-transparent form now, but she couldn’t move, since magical silver chains held her standing in place against one of the walls.
“Greetings, little being,” said Frederica casually.
Lambda wondered what to say. The memories of being tortured were still floating around in her mind. They threatened to shut down her thinking completely and make her give up and/or lose sanity. Her existence as Lambda would be erased if she did gave up, though. Miyo would go back to being a new Miyo with no memories at the start of each new world. That couldn’t be allowed to happen. Lambda decided not to give up. But what could she do to show this? She considered throwing a slew of insults at Frederica and that other Witch, but that felt simply childish. So the time being, Lambda said nothing.
A cat suddenly appeared in the room, and purred as it rubbed its head and shoulders against Frederica’s legs. Presently, the fully black feline looked up at Lambda and snickered with a nasty grin. Yes, that’s right. The cat had human expressions. His eyes looked somehow familiar.
“Did you enjoy our super-fun and educational torture sessions?” the cat asked.
Lambda recognized the cat’s voice. It was Kashima. Oh yes, she remembered; Frederica had mentioned once that Kashima could only manifest himself here as a cat. With seeing and hearing her tormentor again, Lambda would have thrown up, if she was human. But she was still a fragile existence with no real body. Something deeper than hatred and despair arose in Lambda at that point. It was something like a mix of bitterness, acceptance, and a dark thirst for enjoyment. She found that she could give a derisive, demeaning smile, so she did so, looking at Kashima.
“Oh, it was loads of fun,” Lambda said. “But I think I’ll enjoy myself more when I finally win this game and get to do whatever I want with you. I once heard of a terrible game some fucked up boys played. They captured a cat and buried it alive in sand. I think I’d like to try that with you. Or else skin you alive.”
“Scary, scary,” said Kashima, with a smile. “But do you really think you can ever win? My lady Bernkastel is quite determined.”
“That I am,” said the Witch, without even looking over at Lambda and the cat. “The pets are swatting their claws at each other,” Frederica said to Omoikane. “Shall the two of us further evolved beings have a proper discussion?”
“We shall,” Kaneko answered. “Here is your tea, now. It’s green tea with fruit.”
Frederica took a dainty sip. “This is good, Kaneko. What did you use? Strawberry and pear? That’s a great combination.”
“Thank you.” Omoikane, Witch of Intellect, took her seat. “I was entertained by a good handful of things in the game this time around,” she said. “I had guessed Fumie was Ebina’s daughter, and having it confirmed this time felt delightful. I do love being right. I don’t enjoy torture scenes, but I did think it was all well-done. What truly surprised me was Kashima’s ‘mercy’ there at the end. I’m sure he had many more penalties and forms of torment he could have used. Yet he decided to go ahead and kill her after only a short while.”
“The ending seemed fitting,” Frederica added. “Though she impressed me with using a bit of magic to acquire the birdcage key, Miyo succumbed in the end to the natural body of a child. My little puppy was too weak on the night of escape, and fell asleep once sheltered. What a predictable little puppy.”
Lambda knew they were making fun of her by ignoring her existence, and referring to her as a pet, but somehow, she kept calm. There was no rage in her at present. Still, she had to say something to get Bernkastel’s attention.
“So that poem Sayuri wrote really did have some magic in it,” Lambda began. Bernkastel looked at her with her usual empty expression, which inspired Lambda to continue. “You know, as a Witch, you have all the magic you could ever want at your disposal. But I don’t even know how I used that little bit of magic, and I couldn’t have done without Sayuri’s words. Isn’t that unfair? Doesn’t it make things somewhat boring? The game would be more entertaining if I had coaching with magic. That way, I’d stand more of a chance against you, you goddamn Witch.”
“Nice try, but that isn’t an accurate conclusion,” Frederica replied. “I haven’t been using my magic for anything except transferring you, Lambda, into the new world’s Miyo, and setting up Kashi as my piece. I’ve deliberately interfered with nothing else. If anything, it’s unfair that now you have some magic ability and I’m not allowed to use my magic. It’s time to make the game a little more difficult. Lambda, you did so well in the fourth world that you came too close to the condition that lets you win. Do you know what that condition is?”
“No,” Lambda admitted. “Wait,” she added. “Wouldn’t it be meeting Dr. Takano?”
“You don’t even have to meet him to win,” the Witch told her prisoner. “All you have to do is contact Dr. Takano. Of course, it has to be after you’ve been admitted into Sky House. There’s no point in trying to reach him from the phone at your house at the beginning of the world. I won’t count that as a win.”
Knowing how close she had been made Lambda want to try again, after all. This time, she could do it. She felt sure of it.
“Don’t get overconfident,” warned Frederica. “I’m hereby setting a rule for the game. I am allowed to use magic to interfere with any one thing I wish on the night of your escape. If you make it that far. For instance, I can control the lightning during the thunderstorm and try to strike you. I can make Hosoda wake up and run after you. Anything like that. However, I promise not to make it so the phone doesn’t work.”
“My dear Bernkastel,” Kaneko objected. “This rule is too one-sided.”
“I know. I’ll add a new rule for Miyoko, as well.” Frederica looked at the prisoner more intensely than usual. “You may try to learn magic on your own. And in addition to the chant that you learned from Sayuri, you may also use one spell with the potential to alter the game’s outcome. That is probably too generous of me. On the other hand, how will a clueless girl like you ever learn or put power into a single weak spell? I’m certain that you can’t win.”
“Still,” said Lambda. “I believe I have a chance. Send me to the next world now… you goddamn witch.”
To Be Continued
Episode 1: Sudden Tragedy
Episode 2: Sky House
Episode 3: Mistake
Episode 4: Witches’ Tea Party
Episode 1: Companions
Episode 2: Their Plan
Episode 3: Eriko
Episode 4: Fumie
Episode 5: A Nameless Penalty
Episode 1: Hope
Episode 2: Memories
Episode 3: Lambda
Episode 1: Sky House Staff
Episode 2: Let’s Talk
Episode 3: The Spy
Episode 4: Magic
Episode 5: So Close