"As I said, my Master was very good at getting people's attention. She didn't just want people to know she killed Beatrice, she wanted to know she was going to erase every trace of Beatrice. There a great deal of 'neutral' witches around Beatrice's lair. --That's right, newbie. The one we're inside, right now," says Erika.
...You nod. At some time in the past, Beatrice and Bernkastel fought here.
"My Master entered Beatrice's manor. She would let the observers know when Beatrice was dead because the house would crumble to dust. She wasn't going to be accused of stealing Beatrice's research."
"So, they waited."
"And started to become bored, but waited anyway."
"Then... they became worried. Perhaps my Master and Beatrice had somehow killed each other? Or any other possibility."
Erika wasn't present?
She shrugs. "I wasn't invited. Probably she didn't think I'd be 'impartial.'"
Hmm... you think that must be more projection, but you don't have time to think about it.
"Anyway, as I'm sure you can guess, Beatrice... eventually... came out."
"She announced she had killed Bernkastel, my Master."
"All hell broke loose."
Erika describes how the utter shock that Beatrice had killed Bernkastel went through the whole community.
"For some, there was relief... the cowards. For some, there was awe. Here she was, Beatrice, killer of two very powerful witches. And then there were those of use who were... incredulous. I was in that category."
Erika crosses her legs and leans back in the chair sideways, so much her headpiece slides off her head and falls eyes-first onto the floor.
"Beatrice? Beatrice, killing my Master, the great Witch of MIracles, in what was ostensibly a fair fight? Even if it was on her territory, on her terms, it was impossible!"
...Yet it happened.
Erika hears your words and takes on a grimace like she wants to strangle something. At the same time, the wooden statue she had set up makes a sound of splitting wood, then tears itself in two. A shower of splinters flies everywhere nearby.
"It... just... couldn't... be!" She sits up and stomps her feet. You realize after the first stamp of shoe on ground that she's deliberately stomping on King Vlad's eyes, which ooze viscera and muck all over the floor. "Lambdadelta? Okay. She was distracted and it was a sneak attack. That made sense. My Master? ...How!?"
She scoots her chair back with a very loud squeak of wood against stone and stares you right in the eyes, practically frothing at the mouth.
"Foul play. Trickery. Underhandedness... something! We accosted her. We had one simple request." She takes a breath, calming down. "...just one."
"Use the red. Say how my Master, Bernkastel, died. Exactly how Beatrice won the fight. What happened in there."
"Did my Master fall into a trap? Doubtful. She's not stupid. She'd be prepared for that. Did Beatrice make some alliance with a witch-hunter? Again, doubtful. No witch-hunter would do something like that. What about a random mortal? That makes even less sense. That left several options."
She pushes her chair away fully and begins pacing. Slowly.
"Number one... there was another witch helping her, inside. Which makes no sense. Why would anyone want to help Beatrice? Why didn't the so-called 'observing' witches see her? Remember, after my Master died, we all met to discuss what to do about the situation. A witch inside would've had to get out."
Well... hm. You don't think that one is impossible, strictly speaking, but it does sound unlikely that, if their duel was to the death and everyone expected Bernkastel to win, that someone would help Beatrice. You'll rule that out completely.
"Number two... my Master just made some stupid mistake. Tripped on a piece of furniture, I don't know. A completely undeliberate error on my Master's part might be explainable, but that's just stupid. My Master was not stupid."
--You have to admit. The idea of a very powerful witch being so dumb as to just stumble during the middle of a death duel seems unlikely.
"Number three... foul play. Of a kind we don't know what. Maybe she just kicked her?"
A fight between witches is supposed to be done through witchcraft. That goes without saying. Where's the fun in just throwing aside all the power you're supposed to have built up and just punching each other?
"That one... that one had legs. But, was it as simple as that? A hard kick and then burning her book? ...It would need deliberate planning."
Erika explains there are ways to stop a book from being harmed, even when it's not being held by you.
"Call them 'emergency spells' or whatever you want."
Generally they exist in the form of making the book try to 'crawl' its way back to you. Or snap shut so it can't be opened. Or become so hot that anyone who touches it is burnt as if touching burning iron.
"But those take a lot of work, and you have to set them to trigger when the book leaves your hands, so unless you're the type of witch who always carries your book in your hands at all times, you risk losing the spell if you just set it down on a table while you work with some physical research material."
Come to think of it, a spell like that would have been useful when Beatrice held you upside down. Something to make the book 'jump' to you... you could have healed yourself and kept fighting.
The idea of Beatrice landing some chance blow against Bernkastel, or even just kicking her, then taking her book from her and trying everything she could to destroy it...
Erika turns her head toward you and smiles.
"Thinking out loud? That's what we thought was the most likely scenario. Oh, it'd really label Beatrice a terrible specimen... perhaps one worthy of her own punishment... if she's really trying to just slap you to try to get your book away from you, like she's some vile witch-hunter, then what won't she do?"
...The comparison to a witch-hunter's action sinks it in.
You were about to object that it would certainly be 'unsporting,' but didn't making it a duel to the death mean everything nothing was off limits?
But... Beatrice acting like Daniella in some fashion...
No, you won't believe it. Erika's leaving out another possibility.
Erika blinks her eyes, turning toward you. "Oh yeah? What's that?"
...Beatrice just won. And she won fairly.
Erika snorts, holding back a laugh, until she lets loose a wild guffaw. Rolling her neck back and staring at the ceiling as the giggles overwhelm her. Her hand moves to her eyes to wipe away tears.
"Good one, newbie! No chance in hell...!"
You're getting just as exasperated. You finally start yelling back, overcome with emotions.
Well, Beatrice can't prove it, can she!? There's no way she can just tell...
The Red Truth, you say.
The red truth would solve everything.
Erika stops what she's doing, and smiles as if she were a teacher addressing a student.
...And she hasn't?
Erika's smile dissolves into one of indignation. "No. First we asked. Then we demanded. Then... some... pleaded. Then idle threats were made. Then potential real threats. Each time. 'Oh, that's against my dignity!' she said."
She flares her nostrils.
"Was that against my dignity when she demanded I use it back in the castle? She was trying to make sure I didn't pluck it from Maria's corpse, or steal it from her library, or anything else. The red truth is absolute... there's no weaseling out of it. There's no 'hidden meaning.' There's no 'exact words.' ...It's just the truth."
"And the truth would solve everything." And the truth would solve everything.
You speak the words at the same time.
...Erika smiles. A real, genuine, fond smile.
"Yes. The truth solves everything. It forces you to look at yourself and see your flaws. It's only doing that when you can really start to fix them. ...But the truth is unforgiving. It gets in your face and never leaves. No one likes seeing the ugly parts of themselves."
...Therefore, Erika, the Witch of Truth.
For the first time... you think you're beginning to really understand. The dramatics... they were to make you remember what she was saying. --And release steam, surely, for a sensitive topic.
Erika waits patiently as you experience your epiphany until you nod to her. Simple and understated, but... there.
Erika looks back at you with an expression of calm, if not serenity. Her face is stone cold.
"So, Edwys, Witch of Fecundity... tell me? Why has this Beatrice, the Infinite Golden Witch, refused to use the red truth to settle the matter of how she defeated and killed my Master, Bernkastel, the Witch of Miracles, in a duel to the death? Which occurred in her manor, on her terms and conditions?"
...She's hiding something.
"That is correct. And that something is...?"
...You can't say for sure.
"Oh, of course! But... what is most likely?"
1. Undetermined foul play, used against Bernkastel. Foul play that if revealed, would further destroy Beatrice's reputation as a witch.
2. She's hiding whatever magic research she accomplished that was able to overpower Bernkastel. She doesn't need to explain what spells she used.
3. Bernkastel committed some error and Beatrice doesn't want to admit she won from some complete fluke. She doesn't want to admit she only won because Bernkastel tripped over her shoelaces or something stupid.
4. It's for the sake of the witch community and making sure the wounds end and people can move on.