The next time Kazuya regained consciousness, he found himself laid out on a bed in an unfamiliar room. It was small and dimly lit, and the walls were lined with bottles of medicine. He got up and looked out of the window. Recognizing the sight of the school’s expansive campus, he deduced that he must be in the infirmary.
From the direction of the hallway, he heard an exclamation in a sweet soprano voice. “Inspector, wait! This is unjust!”
Upon hearing the familiar sound, Kazuya raised his head. The pitter-pat of footsteps quickly approached the room, and the owner of the voice opened the door.
A diminutive head peered into the room.
Drooping brown eyes behind large circular glasses. Shoulder-length brunette hair. These belonged to Kazuya’s homeroom teacher Miss Cécile. She was presumably in her early twenties, but appeared even more childish than her students. The impression she gave was that of a small, round puppy.
As she entered the room, she smiled, noticing that Kazuya had woken up. “Kujou, you finally came to? That’s a relief. How are you feeling?”
“Uh, I’m fine….”
“It’s unusual for you to be late, so I was getting worried about you. I contacted the dormitory, but the housemother just mumbled something I couldn’t quite make out….”
Kazuya recalled his mission to buy the ham and cheese, and wondered if the housemother had gotten angry, having to serve breakfast without any side dishes. As he gravely pondered this, he suddenly remembered the incident with the headless corpse, and blanched.
“And then we heard that this strange corpse was discovered on the road to the village, and you were lying unconscious next to it. So we had some men from the village carry you back here. Kujou… What on earth happened?”
Kazuya was taken aback by the sight of his teacher’s face clouded over with worry. He was just about to give her an explanation when he heard the door to the infirmary open with a loud rattle.
He looked over his shoulder at the door.
What he saw made him stiffen in shock.
Standing there was a very odd-looking man. He was young, tall and slender, with an aristocratic face as perfectly proportioned as that of an actor. He wore a well-tailored suit with burnished silver cufflinks, and looked every inch a dapper gentleman.
But there was one aspect of his appearance that was definitely off.
It was his hair.
His lustrous blond mane was, for some bizarre reason, swept forward and hardened into the shape of a drill. Kazuya stared at the golden drill, his mouth agape. The man looked back at him, and rested one hand on the wall and stretched one leg behind himself, arranging himself in the pose of a ballet dancer.
At last he spoke. “Sorry to keep you waiting.”
“…Huh?” This threw Kazuya off guard. Have I been waiting? Who exactly have I been waiting for? Next to him, he heard Miss Cécile inhale sharply. She seemed to be scowling at the man, who, for his part, merely ignored her.
“I’m Inspector Gréville de Blois.”
“I’m here to interview you about the case.”
“Very well,” Kazuya said, nodding. Oh, so it’s just a policeman.
Inspector de Blois snapped his fingers. Then Kazuya suddenly heard the sound of footsteps running down the hallways. Within moments, a pair of young men donning rabbit-skin hunting caps burst into the room. In contrast to the inspector, their faces reflected an unassuming demeanor that hinted at their working-class origins. Their cotton waistcoats and sturdy boots were similar to those typically worn in the village. Kazuya surmised that the two of them must be the inspector’s deputies.
But when they reached toward him, intending to drag him out of the infirmary, Kazuya noticed something strange.
For some reason, the two young deputies were holding hands very tightly.
Kazuya looked away, then after a moment looked back again.
…Yes, they were definitely holding hands.
Sensing the uneasy expression on Kazuya’s face as he stared at them, the two men responded as if offering an excuse, “We’re childhood friends, after all!”
“Ha, ha, ha!” they laughed in unison, their white teeth gleaming.
Kazuya, who had been growing more bewildered by the minute, found himself at a complete loss for words.
Inspector de Blois and his two unusual deputies ushered Kazuya into a room that was being used to store archives. The room possessed a gloomy, disquieting aura. Once inside, Kazuya spotted a faded brown globe, a huge Indian-style woodcarving of some scene he couldn’t quite identify, and a collection of strange-looking medieval weapons strewn in a pile, as if the last person to see them had been unsure whether to throw them away or not.
A lamp burned with a faltering flame, emitting a continuous sputtering sound that made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.
After forcing Kazuya to sit down on an old and awfully creaky wooden chair, Inspector Blois rested his own backside on the edge of a sturdy rectangular desk. He picked up the globe and lazily spun it around. Suddenly, he began to rattle off Kazuya’s particulars.
“Kazuya Kujou. Age: fifteen. Born in 1909. Grades: top-ranked. Friends: none.”
At the mention of “friends: none,” Kazuya hung his head dejectedly.
When he had been living in his home country, he had friends he could chat with at the military academy he attended, and friends among the boys he had grown up with in his neighborhood. But since coming to Sauvure, he could not fit in with the young aristocrats at school, no matter how hard he tried. The exclusionary atmosphere he was subjected to as an Asian foreigner caused him endless despair.
But the inspector paid no heed to Kazuya’s anguish. Instead, he suddenly burst into laughter.
“What a shame. Dealing with juvenile delinquency is never an easy task. I take no pleasure in sending promising young men to the gallows, but the law is the law, my boy.”
“…Huh?” The inspector’s words jarred him back to reality. Kazuya was starting to get a very bad feeling about all of this. He glanced at the door, but the two hand-holding deputies were planted in front of it, blocking any chance of escape.
Don’t tell me….
The inspector beamed a bright smile at Kazuya, in jarring contrast to his words. And then he inexplicably raised one leg, swung his body around in an awkward pose, and pointed a finger at Kazuya with a snap.
“Kujou, you are the killer!”
Flabbergasted, Kazuya began to frantically protest. “I am not! I was just a bystander. This is highly uncalled for. I object. I strongly object. And I demand that you make a proper deduction based on a rigorous investigation. I, I—”
“Tsk, tsk, tsk!”
Inspector de Blois winked at him and wagged his index finger. His attitude was starting to get on Kazuya’s nerves. As Kazuya glared indignantly at the wagging finger, the inspector said something terrifying.
“I have no interest in your state of mind, Kujou—the mind of someone who goes abroad to commit murder, and spark an international incident!”
“A-an international incident?”
“The murdered man was a government worker on his holiday.”
Kazuya was speechless in shock, his face turning deathly pale.
The scenery of his homeland, his mother’s gentle smile, his father’s stern face, the sunlit view of the shoreline on the day that he left for Sauvure…
All of these memories flashed before his eyes like a kaleidoscope.
“…Kujou, I can’t see how the killer could be anyone but you.”
“Th-that’s absurd! How, how can you say such a thing…?”
“Bwa-ha-ha! If you really want to know…”
Inspector de Blois raised his leg in order to strike yet another pose. Before he could complete his move, someone knocked on the door.
But the inspector and his deputies pretended they didn’t hear it.
Again came the knocking at the door.
As the men continued to ignore the sound, someone forced the door open. Miss Cécile’s small, dainty face emerged from behind the two deputies. They attempted to block her way with their linked hands, but she merely smiled, and nimbly ducked underneath their outstretched arms. She walked up to Kazuya, who at that moment was about to burst into tears.
“Here you go!” she said, handing him two pieces of paper.
He took them without a second thought. They appeared to be class notes from this morning’s lessons. One paper had Kazuya’s name on it, and on the other one…
Another boy’s name was written there.
Miss Cécile regarded Kazuya with a smile that seemed to brook no dissent. Kazuya returned her gaze questioningly.
“See, these are notes from this morning’s class. One set is yours. The other one belongs to another student who was also absent,” she said.
Kazuya realized that he had heard this name “Victorique” somewhere before. In the classroom next to the windows, there was a seat that was always empty. The entire half-year that he had been studying here, he had never once seen the individual who should have been sitting in that seat.
All he knew was that student’s name. “Victorique.”
Actually, Kazuya had been wondering why he never once came to class….
Miss Cécile smiled. “Kujou, go back in the classroom as soon as possible. But first I want you to take these notes to this student. Can you do that for me?”
Kazuya nodded. “All right.”
Inspector de Blois promptly flew into a rage. “Out of the way, woman! You’re obstructing the investigation!”
“If I could have a word with you, inspector.”
Miss Cécile planted both feet firmly on the floor, and turned to look at the inspector. Unnerved by her fearlessness, he shut his mouth.
“If you intend to treat him as a criminal, then please obtain an arrest warrant first. Otherwise, this is simply an abuse of your police powers, and I must protest against it, as a representative of this school!”
The inspector stared at her with narrowed eyes.
At last he slowly nodded. Then he said pompously, “Hmph. If that’s how it’s going to be, then I’ll apply for the warrant and receive it tomorrow. I shall pay you another visit at that time. I understand your desire to protect your beloved students, but take care not to forget the fact that history is littered with the many who lost their lives for the sake of heroism, my dear, gallant teacher…!”
Miss Cécile tugged Kazuya outside. He tumbled out of the gloomy room into the hallway. “Miss Cécile, um, thank you very—”
“Don’t mention it. Make sure you take this.” Miss Cécile pushed the notes into Kazuya’s hands, and began to walk down the hall. “You’re going to the library.”
“Th-the … library?”
“Right.” Miss Cécile nodded.
Kazuya mulled this over. For some reason, this Victorique, who was a chronic truant and a failing student, spent lots of time in the library. But why would such a person be in that kind of place instead of coming to class?
In the back of Kazuya’s mind, he could recall the way his classmates kept their distance from that seat by the window, as if they were afraid of something.
But why? At any rate, the fact he had never seen this person’s face even once was unusual in itself.
Miss Cécile smiled cheerfully. “Go to the very top of the library. That child loves high places.”
“Is that right,” said Kazuya, his voice trailing off as he hung his head.
Now he felt slightly hurt. He had taken great pains to come to class every day, to prepare and revise his lessons, to frantically study French, which was the national language, and learn Latin for a deeper understanding of literature. In the process, he had risen to the top of his class. But he had never been praised for any of this. Seeing his teacher talk about this truant student with a smile on her face felt like a betrayal.
Only a few minutes ago the bizarre inspector had plunged him into the depths of terror, but now Kazuya felt himself sinking into an uncharacteristically sullen mood.
“There’s a saying in my homeland, that smoke and a certain you-know-what like high places.”*
“Oh, Kujou, don’t say that,” Miss Cécile said, showing no sign of taking offense. Instead, she merely gave a queer chuckle.
And then she said, almost dreamily, “Actually, that child is a genius, you know….”
*“Smoke and fools like high places” is a Japanese proverb that is used to refer to the dangers of people getting too carried away with thinking too highly of themselves.