In my darkest moment, a voice spoke to me. It was strangely familiar, as if it came from a past that I had forgotten, but not completely.
"Your assistance is needed."
When I rose my eyes I saw something that wasn't of this world. On the surface she had the appearance of a young girl. She had beautiful silky long hair, and she wore a stylish black dress. Her almost childlike visage was betrayed by a most cold and cruel stare.
Her very existence there in that place defied rationality. Not only she was completely unaffected by the violent storm and the rain, she was literally levitating in front of me. The pleasure boat heaved and swayed, while I pathetically tried to keep my arms fastened around the railing, and yet that being didn't seem to move of an inch in relation to me.
Her unexpected appearance, her impossible revelation, filled my heart with awe. I was at the climax of my desperation, and even the smallest hint of an external help at that time would have seemed like a gift sent from the heavens. At that very moment she was my hope, my world, my life, my everything. Whatever she asked me to do, I would have accepted it without a second though. I was prepared to give her everything, if only she could rescue me from that hell. She could have easily fooled me into believing anything that she wanted, and yet she decided to be blunt and frank from the very beginning. She didn't even waste any time for introductions or kind words, she directly stated her own intentions. I was needed; in other words she needed me, my 'assistance'. I had already understood that she was no angel, she wasn't going to save me out of goodwill, and the way she kept staring at me with that blank expression told me everything about her cruelty, her disinterest for my pitiful existence. And yet I found that even more endearing, because that was something that I could trust completely. A smile is deceiving, kindness is double-faced, indifference is always honest.
Erika: "Who... are you?"
Bernkastel: "I am Bernkastel, I am the witch of miracles."
Erika: "A... witch?"
The usual me would have laughed at that claim, never I would have thought that I would be talking to a real witch before, but I had just gone through a period of my life where I couldn't really tell fantasy from reality anymore.
Bernkastel: "My opponent is also a witch and a very powerful one. I need you to assist me."
Erika: "Me? Against a witch? How?"
Bernkastel: "You need to join our ongoing game, as my piece. I need someone on the chessboard to act as my eyes, ears and hands."
I started to grow uneasy, I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about, and she kept making requests, when I was the one who was in a desperate need of help.
Erika: "Can you... save me?"
The witch of miracles eyed me with cruelty for a moment, and I could almost read despise in her stare.
Bernkastel: "As long as there's a chance for you to be saved, no matter how small, I can save you."
I rejoiced for a split second and then fell into despair again. How was I supposed to interpret that statement? Did that mean that she would save me, or did she just seal my fate? Was there even the smallest chance that I could survive that predicament? The more I looked around me, the less I thought it could be possible.
Erika: "How?! How can you save me from the certain death of this typhoon?!"
An almost imperceptible movement of the witch's brows told me that my question surprised her. Like that, she pierced me with her cold eyes for several interminable seconds.
Then she smirked, slightly. That was the biggest change in her facial expression that she showed since her appearance, and I felt like my heart was just ripped from my chest and thrown cruelly into a deep, dark abyss.
She wasn't there to save me from my impending demise, she never had the intention to, I was a fool for even thinking that. But then my mind started to work, frenetically. In the lapse of a few seconds I came to several realizations. The witch sneered at my own mortal stupidity, my blatant shortsightedness. I was in the need of help so much, and yet I didn't even realize what I really needed to be saved from. There was something worse than the typhoon I was in the middle of, my real plight was of an entirely different nature. What I really needed to be saved from was the very reason that brought me there in the first place.
As if the witch had followed my internal thoughts, she spoke.
Bernkastel: "I have the power to alter probabilities. No matter how small they are, I can elevate them to one hundred percent."
Something clicked inside my mind, a gear that for a long time was left unused and for the dust to cover it suddenly was put into motion.
Erika: "Then, can you turn doubts... into truth...?"
Bernkastel: "Yes, I can show you the way to reach the truth that you seek. That's what I need you for: expose the truth. That is the only way to defeat Beatrice, my enemy."
Bernkastel: "Indeed, an absolute truth definitely doesn't exist in the world of humans. However, the probability to reach a truth that will never be denied nor questioned isn't zero. As the witch of miracles I guarantee that."
And there I no longer had any doubts, she was a Goddess and she had chosen me to reveal herself to. Her words were imbued with a supernatural brilliance, and rapidly they dispersed the mists that had been clouding my judgment.
Erika: "If I become your pawn... I'll be saved from doubts and lies and I will reach the truth..."
Bernkastel: "Pledge yourself to me and you'll receive my blessing. You'll no longer know uncertainty and you'll find the answers that you seek. However, if you refuse, you'll be swallowed by the maelstrom of lies that surrounds you and you'll sink into the abyss of oblivion."
Erika: "You don't need to speak any further, there is no other choice for me and with joy I accept. You can use me as you please. I am your servant, Lady Bernkastel, my master!"
The deafening roar of a thunder sealed the Faustian pact.
Bernkastel: "Very well, Erika Furudo, I hereby bestow upon you my blessing. You are now under the protection of the witch of miracles."
Erika: "I am most grateful, Lady Bernkastel! However... what am I supposed to do now?"
The witch giggled sardonically.
Bernkastel: "You don't need to worry about pointless matters. I'm a voyager witch, I've traveled an enormous multitude of universes before finally reaching this fragment. Your fate is a harsh one, but I've seen worse. In almost every universe that I visited you eventually sink into the ocean and disappear. However, I wouldn't have bothered to show myself to the you of this world if that was going to happen here as well."
Erika: "Then, I'll survive..."
Bernkastel: "Don't get the wrong idea. That doesn't mean that you'll be magically saved. I merely chose this world among the infinite possibilities. The rest is up to you."
Erika: "Yes, master..."
Bernkastel: "Listen carefully, Erika. You'll soon reach the shores of Rokkenjima, that is the chessboard of a series of games that I've been playing against Beatrice. The rules are simple, she will move her pawn and commit several murders in overly complicated and apparently impossible ways. Your objective is to explain who did it, how the culprit did it, and why. She will claim that the crimes could only be perpetrated by a witch through her magic; that is the source of her own existence and power. You'll destroy her illusions by showing the truth behind them. You'll bring to light the real culprit, and in doing so you'll slay the witch."
Erika: "This witch... Beatrice... is she trying to hide the truth... with her lies?"
Bernkastel: "That's correct."
Erika: "With a preposterous claim no less? A witch did it? Is that so? She wants to replace the truth with a fantasy that only an idiot would believe in?"
Bernkastel: "Yes... that is the nature of the golden witch Beatrice."
Erika: "Aha... ahaha..."
I almost couldn't believe it. The more my master described the one that I was asked to defeat, the more she appeared to me as the very personification of what I hated the most. I hadn't even met her and yet I was already feeling an irresistible desire to confront her, fight her, and in the end crush her mercilessly under my feet. In spite of the cold rain that relentlessly kept falling on me, I felt my whole body burning with a growing excitement, the rush of the predator.
Until then I had been always thinking that I was at the mercy of an invisible enemy, an immaterial law of the universe that I couldn't oppose in any way. Everything changed at that very instant. I suddenly realized that there was a way for me to fight back and to exact my eagerly sought revenge.
To the world that denied me the truth that I wanted to know, I would show it the worst possible truth that I could find! Bernkastel, my savior, just offered me the weapon that I needed, she showed me the path. As a way to repay my debt, and for my own amusement and enjoyment, I swore that I would make use of my newly found abilities against Beatrice, the golden witch.
Erika: "I want to fight her! I want to destroy her! Bring me to her, my master! This is no longer something that I'll do for your sake, this is something that I desire!"
Bernkastel: "How endearing! My little piece is so eager to fight! I knew that choosing you was the right decision. However don't underestimate Beatrice. She knows many clever tricks in spite of her dumb outlook, don't let her fool you."
Erika: "It won't happen! I promise you, my master!"
Bernkastel: "Good, because failure isn't an option. If you disappoint me, I'll throw you back to the abyss I salvaged you from."
Erika: "I understand... I won't fail..."
She was indeed a most cruel being, and yet I couldn't help but loving even that side of her. The uneasiness that her threat brought was a surprisingly pleasant ache in my heart.
Bernkastel: "Funny that you're so confident, considering that you know nothing of Beatrice and her games!"
Erika: "I'll find out... I'll definitely learn everything about her and the truth that she hides!"
Bernkastel: "You're showing the right attitude, but that isn't enough. I want you to absolutely crush Beatrice and I don't want to wait until you figure out how. That's why I'm going to tell you everything that I already know about her and her games."
Erika: "Master! I would never dream to ask so much from you! Even without that advantage..."
Bernkastel: "Silence! I don't care about how much you want to prove your worth to me. You will win the next game, and you will make use of any advantages at your disposal. Our enemy does not value sportsmanship, and neither should you."
Erika: "As you desire... master... I will gladly accept your gift..."
Bernkastel: "Very well, it's time to show you the sea."
Erika: "The... sea?"
I could only be puzzled by such statement, because as far as my eyes could see there was absolutely nothing but the vastness of the ocean around me, and it wasn't a soothing sight.
The witch of miracles giggled.
Bernkastel: "Not this one, the sea where we're going is not of this world. It's the sea of infinite possibilities, the sea of fragments."
And before I could make sense of those words, my soul was snatched away from my reality. That was my first travel to that zone that lies beyond the physical realm: the metaworld. However the witch of miracles had a different perspective on that matter. Reality is only real and worthwhile for those who belong to it, but for my master who exists between the many possible worlds, reality is as relevant as a passing thought. She had no reasons to treat me differently from a character of a fictional story.