chapter one — the traveler who comes in spring brings death to the school
Kazuya Kujou was a serious boy.
One could say that in itself was his strong suit, or at least not a handicap. He was serious and straight-laced, taciturn and prosaic, an altogether dour sort of man.
As the youngest child of four siblings, he had an expert in martial arts for an eldest brother, an accomplished amateur inventor as his second eldest brother, and a beautiful older sister who had graduated with a diploma in dance.
To compensate for having no special talents of his own, Kazuya was earnest to a fault, and always achieved top marks in school. For this reason—apart from the fact that as the third son, there would be no need for him to inherit the family headship, and therefore no problem in the unlikely event he were to encounter an early demise while abroad—his father decided to allow him to attend school in the kingdom of Sauvure, which had recently begun to accept foreign students from allied countries.
His father was a military man, and took every opportunity to lecture Kazuya on his duties as the third son of an imperial soldier. Accordingly, Kazuya made sure to remind himself constantly, so as to avoid making any mistakes, that the third son of an imperial soldier must behave with utmost seriousness….
It was slightly past seven in the morning.
By this time, Kazuya would normally already be awake in his room in the boys’ dormitory, having washed his face, combed his hair, and changed into his uniform. Then he would make his way down the stairs to the dining room, the even sound of his footsteps echoing stiffly down the hall.
Since his aristocratic classmates were accustomed to sleeping in until the last minute before the morning lessons began, Kazuya targeted his arrival at the dining room to occur while it was still empty. The voluptuous, red-headed housemother, who appeared to be slightly past twenty years old, was usually the only one in the room. He would find her sitting on a stool with her legs crossed, engrossed in the morning newspaper while smoking her cigarettes. Since there were few boys willing to accept Kazuya, who was not only Asian but a commoner, he had still made no close friends. Therefore, he had been forced to adjust his schedule to this earlier hour in order to ward off his loneliness.
But today would be different.
Kazuya was in the middle of washing his face when a sudden loud knocking on his door and the sound of a woman’s voice startled him. Already clad in his uniform, he opened the door.
Flaming red hair and a shapely figure came into view. The voluptuous housemother stood there with a drowsy expression on her face.
“…Good morning. Wh-what’s the matter?” said Kazuya.
“Great! I knew you would be awake. You can go buy some ham and cheese for me!”
The housemother unceremoniously dragged Kazuya out of his room, and stuffed something shaped like a sandwich into his breast pocket. This only confused him more.
“Wh-wh-wh-what are you doing? Ham and cheese? Me? Where? … And why?”
“To be exact, what I need is five hundred grams of ricotta cheese, and one kilo of ham. You can find them at the morning market in the village. I forgot to buy them yesterday,” answered the housemother in a rapid-fire prattle.
Kazuya shoved his necktie into his pocket. “Wh-why?”
“I had planned to go to the grocer’s, but I ran into a friend along the way, and got invited to a dance party. I danced and had a few glasses of wine, then I came home, empty-handed…. There, I’ve told you, now go, quickly! Otherwise I’ll have no breakfast to serve anyone! I’ll lose my job! Hurry along now!”
“Um, well, when I was asking ‘why,’ I meant ‘why me’….”
“Because you always wake up early. Not to mention what a weak—haha, I mean well-mannered, yes, that’s right, what a well-mannered young man you are!”
She dragged him downstairs and drove him outside with a merciless kick, the movement jostling her plump, womanly form.
“That sandwich will be your breakfast. I have to go slice some bread and boil some water now, so leave right away and make sure to hurry back!”
The door slammed shut.
Kazuya stared, dumbfounded, at the closed door, still not quite fully awake. At last he heaved a sigh.
He reluctantly set off toward the main gate.
Ever since he had been a boy living at home, Kazuya often experienced girls casually asking him for favors. He could remember his older sister telling him that it must mean he was very capable, but Kazuya never thought so. As an honorable soldier’s son, he should have been spared the indignity of having to carry out the requests of others, much less being treated as a mere errand boy.
He slipped out of the main gate to walk along a gravel road that led to the village, and sighed.
For someone as reserved and inflexible as Kazuya Kujou was, and exceedingly timid when it came to women, he had an unexpected side of himself that he never showed to anyone. Although he took great pains to keep it a secret from family or friends, he was, in fact, a considerable romantic.
Hidden behind the stiff and serious mask he always wore, he harbored fantasies of an ideal encounter with a beautiful stranger of the opposite sex. He privately believed that every boy was fated to meet his very own girl—a girl so perfectly compatible that it would be as if God had brought them together, someone who would be his kindred spirit, not to mention be very lovely….
…And if his father were to ever find out that he pondered such things, Kazuya would not only be severely embarrassed, but would be slapped across the face for his unmanly behavior. And if his brothers were to ever find out, they would surely laugh for three days straight. Consequently, he made absolutely sure that his family would never know his secret.
But the girl for me…
“Has to exist somewhere,” he murmured. He increased his pace on the country road, and sighed once again.
Let’s say, one morning… Yes, a morning like this….
Kazuya began to daydream.
Say I’m walking along like this, and I bump right into a cute girl who’s headed my way. I would ask her, “Ça va?,” and she would shyly respond, “Ça va bien, merci.” The moment our eyes meet, she falls in love with me….
His thoughts having wandered thus far, Kazuya suddenly returned to his senses. Thinking over his uncharacteristically clichéd fantasy, he shrugged his shoulders and chuckled.
…Yeah, right. That never happens in real life. Anyway, after I buy that ham and cheese, I have to hurry back to school. In the half year I’ve been here, I’ve never been late once. The third son of an imperial soldier must never be late. So I better be quick….
Something moved in the corner of his vision, and he guessed that someone else must have passed nearby. Although it was unusual for anyone else to be walking on this deserted country road so early in the morning….
But … as for that “girl of mine”….
Even as he quickened his footsteps, somehow Kazuya’s thoughts again returned to the world of his daydreams.
If I could, I would want a blond girl. It’s such a pretty color after all. A dazzling hair color that doesn’t exist in my own country….
Suddenly, he heard the squeal of brakes.
It was a peculiar sound. While Kazuya was solemnly ruminating on the issue of blondes, he inattentively turned the corner without looking. Not a second later, he heard the sound of a large object making an impact, followed by total silence. He snapped back to reality, blurting out a note of surprise.
A smoothly polished German motorbike had slammed into the low stone wall that divided the road from an adjacent vineyard. It appeared to have crashed at a high speed after not fully clearing the corner. Upon realizing that he had been only seconds away from being hit himself, Kazuya’s face tightened.
A large man wearing a black helmet was still seated on the motorbike, seemingly frozen from the shock of the accident. Kazuya opened his mouth, about to give the rider a piece of his mind, but out of a concern to avoid agitating the man too much, thought better of it. Instead he asked, “Um, excuse me…. Are you all right?”
There was no answer. He peered into the helmet, and saw that the man’s eyes were wide open, fixed and unblinking.
No matter how much I was wishing I could bump into some cute girl, instead I’ve just bumped into this big man on a motorbike, thought Kazuya. What dreadful luck! There can’t be anything worse than this.
The second he finished his thought and exhaled another sigh…
Something worse happened.
An object tumbled to the ground.
It was the man’s head.
The head, still wearing a helmet, rolled forward until reaching a stop squarely at Kazuya’s feet, its frozen facial expression staring up at him. In uncomprehending shock, he faced the head and repeated, “Are you all right?!”
At that moment…
Kazuya heard a strange sound, like water streaming from a fountain. Looking upward, he saw blood spouting from the headless neck, staining the body and the motorbike in deep red.
He screamed again.
Beyond the spraying blood, he contemplated the radiance of the morning sun and the lush, green vineyard. It was still a fine day.
So I bumped into a headless corpse instead of a girl, he said to himself with knitted brows, his expression as solemn as ever.
…I never should’ve gone abroad.
Kazuya heaved a great sigh. And then…