Shrugging, I looked to Chou. "Want to go talk to our host?"
She yawned. "Actually, if it's alright with you, sir, I might just head back to our rooms. It's been a long day, and I didn't get the benefit of a forced nap." She smiled. "Are you still feeling alright?"
"Mmhmm. You can go rest, Ms. Kaneko. I'll see you in the morning, likely when you wake me at some godawful hour." We laughed and parted ways at the stairway to the second floor, as I went to the office of our host, Mr. Minazuki.
"Very well. Please make sure the cellar is locked up tight. I don't want any more wine to go missing, understood? Your key, so you're responsible," I heard him say as I rounded the corner into his office. I saw him holding his walkie-talkie as it clicked in acknowledgement. He sighed tiredly, and then noticed me. In an instant the tired business owner was gone and the smiling host was back.
"Oh, Mr. Ushiromiya! My apologies, you caught me by surprise. It is good to see you up and about. Hopefully with your nurse's approval?" he asked, jokingly and laughing.
"Yes, yes," I smiled in reply. "Ms. Kaneko keeps me on a pretty slack leash, thankfully."
"Ah, very good. So, is there something I can help you with? I know the maids are cleaning right now but if it's urgent I could get one of them to assist you."
"No, it's alright, I don't have anything urgent. If I'm interrupting I could come back some other time, but I was hoping to talk to you."
His eyes widened in surprise. "Me? I am certainly willing to, but why me? I would have thought you'd be searching out more memories or talking with the other Miners."
"Well, I'm not sure my body is up for more hunting at the moment, sadly, and as for the Miners, I think you qualify, even involuntarily. After all, this resort was the backdrop of the tragedy, and your father was one of the supposed victims."
He looked down, failing to hide his sadness. "Yes, I suppose that is true, though I was just a boy at the time. Unlike the rest of you, however, I am content to let the dead rest in peace. What happened was a mysterious tragedy, but it happened, and the living must live on." Then he paused, registering everything I had said. Looking up, he gazed at me curiously. "Wait, what do you mean, 'supposedly'?"
I realized I'd made an error, but decided to press it since it was out in the open. "Mr. Minazuki, one of the memories I regained today, the ones that made me fall unconscious... I never found your father's body. His was one that was also never recovered by the police, correct?"
His eyes narrowed in annoyance. "And what exactly do you think that implies, Mr. Ushiromiya? That my father had some reason to go on a murderous rampage against guests he barely knew? Or that he caused a convenient avalanche to wipe away the thing he loved most in this world, even more than-?" He cut himself off, but he was still fuming.
"I am sorry, Mr. Minazuki. I merely meant to suggest that he might still be alive, is all." That was a lie, of course, and I'd clearly struck a nerve. I hid the thrill I felt as he digested my reply. Perhaps there was something in being an investigator, after all.
Mr. Minazuki sighed in a resigned fashion. "No, I should be apologizing, Mr. Ushiromiya. I've just had to deal with these questions myself for three decades now, as I believe you have. I've heard theory after theory about how my father was a serial killer struck down by God, or the consort of the Diamond Queen, or any other number of crackpot theories. What I know is that he was a good, hardworking man, who cared for his family and this resort, and he would never do anything to jeopardize either. Please, give me a chance to start this conversation again. Brandy?" he offered, which I readily accepted.
As he went into the back rooms, likely his living area, I asked, "Some people really say your father was the consort of the Diamond Queen?"
He laughed as he returned with two glasses of brandy. "They do. It's useless to explain to believers that there is no such thing as the Diamond Queen. You saw that girl this afternoon."
I sipped and sighed, letting the warmth of the alcohol beat back the imagined cold from the snow outside the windows. "Yet I would have thought you were a believer, what with the portrait, and the ice sculpture, and the Queen's Suite..."
He shrugged. "I may not believe, but if linking this resort to the Queen brings in some extra revenue, I won't distance myself from the legend."
"Or the murder?"
His face darkened again, but then he visibly relaxed. "Or the murder. I'm not as proud a man as my father, I will admit that. He had plenty of opportunities to make money that he passed on because he felt they were beneath him. As a result, this resort was always on the edge of bankruptcy. The sordid history of this rebuilt resort draws in its own group of tourists, so I cater to them. Plenty of other hotels and resorts around the world do it as well, after all. Look at the Stanley in Colorado."
I frowned and took another sip. "I can't say I approve, but I understand."
He smiled bitterly. "Then we're of the same opinion. I'm simply a businessman, Mr. Ushiromiya." He sipped from his glass as well, then tried to change the subject. "Of course, the other reason it'd be ridiculous to have my father be the consort of the Queen is that, according to legend, it'd be incest."
I very nearly spit out my brandy in surprise, and he laughed. "Incest? Why?"
"Oh it's an old family legend. Supposedly my ancestor many centuries ago was wandering these mountains and found a woman trapped within a giant block of ice. So he hacked and hacked at it, never stopping to rest or eat, until finally one day the ice split and revealed her. She was a spirit of the mountain who had been imprisoned in ancient times, you see, as punishment for being foolish enough to court Susano-o. In gratitude she swore to love and obey my ancestor as a daughter to a father. My how times have changed," he paused, chuckling. "So he adopted her, but being a spirit of the mountain she could not leave it. Rather than leave his new daughter in her solitude, my ancestor built a home on the mountainside, and even moved his family there when he grew too old to make the trek up from the village below. As the decades and centuries past, that home became the Snowspring Resort, and yes, the Diamond Queen is my great-something-aunt."
"I see," I said. "That's quite a tale. But...if she came from ice, why is she called the Diamond Queen?"
"Ah! That varies depending on the legend you listen to. The way it was told to me is that nobles from all around, even across the seas, came to court her, for she was such a marvelous beauty. Each came with precious items and gems, giving them to her just so that she would favor them with a smile. Yet in the end she turned them all down and they left with their riches. Then one day a noble came from across the seas, with hair made of woven gold and skin of alabaster. He came bearing a huge diamond as a dowry, along with many treasures of his homeland. It was the diamond which caught her, though, as it sparkled just as much as the snow she loved. At her acceptance, he sailed home to gather his retinue and make the proper arrangements. The day before the wedding, he crossed the sea once more, yet Susano-o had one more punishment for the Diamond Queen, and he created a great storm which floundered the noble's fleet. All were lost. The Queen went mad with grief, casting away her adopted family and isolating herself from the world she now cursed. Forevermore she weeps, surrounded by the cold treasures of her love and staring at the harsh edges of the diamond."
Silence filled the room for a moment, but it was finally broken by Mr. Minazuki's self-conscious laugh. "Ah, I used to love hearing my father tell me that story on dark nights. I didn't realize how much I'd remembered." He finished off his glass of brandy and yawned.
I yawned as well, and took my own last sip. "It's an interesting story. I wonder what the truth of it is. After all, they always say legends have a kernel of truth to them."
"Well, if there's a pile of treasure lying around anywhere, I'd sure like to know," he said, stretching.
"I can understand that. Well, thank you very much for the tale, Mr. Minazuki. I'm off to bed, and I shall see you in the morning."
We said our goodbyes, and I exited the office as he shut and locked the door behind me. I really was tired, and the building seemed quiet, yet as I looked up to the second floor landing my gaze fell upon the larger-than-life portrait of the Diamond Queen. It looked like she was smiling at me, daring me to let my guard down.
Freedom in death...
For the first time in a very long time, I felt afraid to fall asleep. I didn't know what I could accomplish by staying up, and I'd be very tired the next day, but at least I could be sure no mountain spirit would steal my breath...
A. Continue to wander the first floor
B. Wander the second floor
C. Approach the portrait and resolve my fear
D. Push it to the back of my mind and go to sleep
Last edited at 16/06/03(Fri)21:20:38