The five survivors made their way back to the lounge, trudging down the hallway to the opened door. But just as the woman walking in front was about to step foot inside…
Her eyes opened wide. She slowly raised her hands to cover her mouth, a scream catching in her throat.
Kazuya, following closely behind, gave her a strange look. “What’s wrong?”
The woman whimpered and closed her eyes. Then she screamed.
Ned rushed up from the end of the hallway, shouting, “What the hell’s the matter!?”
The woman started to cry loudly. She lifted a thin, trembling arm and pointed inside the lounge. “This room, this room…”
“I can’t take it anymore!”
Kazuya poked his head inside—and found himself speechless.
The lounge had completely changed from before. The walls, the ceiling, and the floor… In the space of just a few minutes, the entire lounge had been flooded to a spectacular degree. The bar counter, the tables, and the wine bottles were still in place, but looked as though they had spent years in a sunken ship at the bottom of the sea. The walls were rotting, stained with moisture, and muddy water dripped steadily from the ceiling.
The lamps burned dimly in the flooded lounge.
The woman began to weep hysterically. Ned stood at her side, grasping for the right words to calm her down. But to his dismay, she only wept harder, crying out, “What happened here?! Somebody do something!”
Ned looked around the room in bewilderment. “How could the lounge end up like this? Those words are still on the wall, but….”
The same blood-stained words from before were scrawled on the wall, eerily illuminated in the pale lamplight. Ned walked past a rotting table and kicked it lightly, and it crumbled to pieces. The ruins were impregnated with the smell of seawater. The floor felt soft, as if it were disintegrating. An uncomfortable squishing sensation traveled up their legs with every step they took.
“Hey,” Ned called out, turning around from his position in the center of the room. With a dumbfounded look, he slowly raised his hand to point at the floor next to the door, and stared at Kazuya and the others with an expression of entreaty in his eyes. Then he asked, in a trembling voice, “Hey… What happened to that body, of the man who was shot by the arrow?”
The woman abruptly stopped crying.
Kazuya surveyed the room, startled.
But the body had disappeared. There was nothing left of it inside the flooded lounge. The spattered blood and brain tissue had also vanished cleanly without any traces.
The woman started to wail, “There’s something fishy about that man. He must have something to do with all of this! He locked us in here, and pretended to be dead to scare us, and now he’s laughing at us. Hey, get in here! Where are you!?” She crossed the lounge, peeking under tables and calling out for him.
Ned snapped at her, “Calm down. He was definitely dead. I made sure of it, and that’s the truth!”
“Does that mean you’re in on it, too?!”
Ned scowled. “Just shut your mouth already!”
They glared at each other.
Then the well-dressed man who had chosen not to flee in the lifeboat stepped between them. “Stop fighting with each other; it’s pointless.”
“What do you mean, pointless?!”
“At any rate, let’s sit down. I’m tired….”
The five people exchanged looks.
Each person selected one of the relatively less soaked seats for themselves and sat down.
Ned tapped his foot nervously, unable to calm down from his agitation. Each time his foot moved, the floor made a squelching sound from the absorbed seawater. The young woman sat down heavily, holding her head in both hands, her face pale. Her glossy black hair spilled down over her lap. Meanwhile, the well-dressed man was unusually quiet. His face was stricken with fear, and his lips were tinged purple.
Only Victorique sat serenely and gracefully in her chair, looking the same way she always did. Kazuya turned his gaze to her, and with the sight of her face, started to feel his anxiety dissipating.
The five people introduced themselves one by one.
The well-dressed man spoke first. “I’m Maurice. I’m a senior diplomat with the Sauvure foreign affairs ministry.” He didn’t seem willing to elaborate any further.
The woman introduced herself next. “I’m Julie Guile. I … have no occupation. My father owns a coal mine.” She apparently came from a rich family.
Maurice gave a snort.
“What’s your problem? So I don’t have to work to live. There’s nothing wrong with that,” Julie snapped back petulantly.
Ned Baxter, who had apparently struggled his way to the top as a stage actor, frowned slightly at her words.
Kazuya and Victorique introduced themselves. When Maurice heard Victorique’s name, his demeanor suddenly shifted, as if he had heard that name somewhere before. But when it came to the other three people, his attitude was just as haughty as ever.
The five of them sat down, fatigued, and stared at each other.
The woman, Julie Guile, now seemed slightly calmer than before. “What on earth is going on here? Where are we? Why is this happening?” she whispered.
“I haven’t the foggiest notion…” said Ned.
“I don’t know, either,” replied Kazuya.
Maurice kept silent and looked down at the floor. The other three spoke on, sharing their misgivings, but one by one, they began to direct their attention toward Maurice, who was being extremely quiet, and Victorique, who was observing him very closely.
A quiet tension filled the room. And when that tension reached its peak…
Victorique had been silent all this time, but now she suddenly opened her mouth. In her husky, but resonant voice, she said, “Maurice.”
The man shuddered at the sound of his own name.
The others watched the two of them carefully.
Maurice stiffened, like a frog being stared down by a snake, as he awaited Victorique’s next words.
She opened her mouth and spoke again. “You gave my friend a warning earlier when he was about to touch the vase.”
“How did you know it was a trap?”
Maurice bit his lip.
Julie and Ned gasped softly.
Silence descended upon the gloomy, flooded lounge.
The disquieting sound of dripping water echoed through the stillness.
When Maurice didn’t respond, Victorique continued, “You seem to have known something that we—the four of us young people—didn’t. The eight older men spoke of things that we didn’t understand. From among them, you, Maurice, are the only survivor. Don’t you owe an explanation to the young people on this ship?”
Maurice bit his lip ever more tightly.
There was no sound but the dripping of water.
At last, Maurice resignedly lifted his gaze, and muttered in a low voice, “Because it’s the same.”
“As back then, ten years ago. That’s how I knew.”
The face that he slowly raised up was as bloodless as a corpse. He parted his bruised lips, and said, “This ship is the Queen Berry that sank in the Mediterranean ten years ago. That means it’s starting over again. That’s how I knew.”