GosickS I – 2.2

[2]

That morning, Kazuya exited the boys’ dormitory at exactly his usual time and headed toward the classroom building, walking with perfectly straight posture.

It was a sunny day. A sweet scent wafted from the riotously colorful flower beds that dotted the campus, which was built in the style of a French garden. Normally, Kazuya would have rushed straight to class, but this morning he couldn’t help but slow his steps and admire the flowers and green-leafed trees.

As Kazuya approached the front of the building, a feminine voice called out to him. “Um, excuse me…. You must be the boy who sits next to me; Kujou, I think it was?”

He turned around and saw a familiar figure standing there. It was his classmate, Avril Bradley, who had just arrived from England a few days ago. She was a beautiful, vivacious young girl with short blond hair and long, sturdy legs.

“Hey, let’s go inside together!” Avril ran up alongside Kazuya, taking no heed of his shy body language. A jovial, unclouded smile beamed across her distinctly mature-looking face. “So you’re a foreign student too, Kujou?”

Kazuya nodded, feeling slightly tense. “Y-yeah…”

Walking next to Kazuya, Avril looked very tall for a girl. She was as tall as he was, and bore a robust physique that seemed more suitable for an adult woman than a girl.

Kazuya suddenly felt suspicious of whether this girl was really fifteen years old. But Avril was oblivious to his silence, and instead continued talking on cheerfully.

“You know, this school is pretty weird. It’s been around for a long time, so the buildings, the gardens, and the dorm all look really old. The school I went to in England was newly built, so I find this a pretty refreshing change. Hey, did you know that the students here have a bunch of ghost stories about this place?”

“…Are you referring to the ‘reaper who comes in spring’?”

“What’s that? No, the one I heard was called, ‘don’t step on the thirteenth stair’. They said that there’s a teacher who hanged herself on the thirteenth step, and she tries to drag people into hell. Ha, ha, ha!” Avril’s lovely face dissolved into laughter. “Why would a spirit still be hanging around the world of the living? That’s so stupid; who could possibly believe that?”

Apparently, this girl was not the sort who believed in ghost stories or superstitions.

“But it’s still kind of fun, you know? I get excited. This is where Avril starts her adventure, ’cause my grandpa was an adventurer, too. Have you ever heard of Sir Bradley? He traveled across Africa in a jeep, and crossed the Atlantic in a hot-air balloon.”

The name sounded somehow familiar to Kazuya. Perhaps he had read it in a newspaper article before.

“Although, he did end up disappearing somewhere with that balloon….”

Right, that was the article.

“My dream is to become an incredible adventurer just like my grandpa. Right now, what I want is a license to fly a plane, plus a motorbike, although I could use some new dresses, too….”

The image of Avril floating away in a hot-air balloon, screaming, rose unbidden in Kazuya’s mind.

Then, in a flash, her expression turned serious. Now she seemed like a completely different person from the cute, bubbly schoolgirl she was before. An ominous cloud passed over her features as she lowered her voice. “Actually… I came to this school to look for something. Something very important to me.”

“What would that be?”

“It’s … a secret!”

“Oh…?”

As he chatted with Avril, Kazuya took a careful look at her hand.

The fingers on her right hand were wrapped in a white bandage.

A murder case had occurred nearby only a few days before. Kazuya had been mistaken for the culprit, but thanks to Victorique, the tiny genius detective, the case had been solved and the real killer arrested … or so he thought.

But there was one issue that refused to leave Kazuya’s mind—namely, a certain characteristic of the killer. According to Victorique, the culprit was a pretty blond-haired girl with injured fingers. Sure enough, a girl matching that description was later apprehended, and she confessed to her crime.

But Avril, who had enrolled in school immediately afterward, also happened to be a pretty blond-haired girl with injured fingers….

Was this truly just coincidence? Or could the real killer still be on the loose?

“…Avril, what happened to your hand?” Kazuya asked, his gaze still on her fingers.

Avril’s smile vanished. “…Nothing happened.”

“Oh? Is that right?”

Avril was silent.

Kazuya surveyed her stony demeanor, his suspicions mounting. She was definitely hiding something behind her menacing expression, which was completely different from the one she had previously worn as a lively, innocent girl.

There’s something strange about her….

The next moment, they saw Miss Cécile rush out of the building. She caught sight of the two of them, and waved.

Miss Cécile was Victorique’s teacher in addition to being their own teacher. She was a petite young woman with shoulder-length brown hair, her sweet, slightly babyish face hidden behind large, round glasses.

“Just in time. Can you two help me with something after class?” she said cheerily.

Avril smiled and nodded, then went on to tell the teacher how much she was enjoying the school. Kazuya kept a careful eye on her expression, wondering if what he saw was just his imagination. He was beginning to feel embarrassed with himself for thinking too much about such morbid things.

Miss Cécile said that she wanted the two of them to attend a funeral service with her. An elderly man who had worked for many years as a caretaker for the school had died of an illness, and a simple funeral would be held for him after class in the cemetery of the small chapel on campus.

*****

Consequently, after class ended, Kazuya and Avril accompanied Miss Cécile to the cemetery, which was opposite the school library.

St. Marguerite’s School was a majestically built institution occupying a large plot of land at the base of a mountain range. Sprawling across gently sloping terrain, the campus was cut off from the outside world by a tall hedge encircling the premises like the wall of a fort. With the help of the gardeners, the shapes of animals and castles were lovingly pruned into the sides of the hedge to mark each season.

And in the center of the grounds, a large, stately building in the shape of the letter U towered over the rest of the campus, which was laid out in imitation of a French-style garden. The student dormitories, cafeterias, school library, and the chapel jutted out from the landscape. Flower gardens, lawns, ponds, and water fountains dotted the expansive campus, the spaces between them forming a beautiful and spacious park-like path.

Kazuya was familiar with the chapel, but it seemed to be Avril’s first time encountering it. She exclaimed in delight at the sight of the old chapel, built in imposing Gothic style, and the dilapidated mausoleum, as if she had seen something extraordinary. “How marvelous!”

But Kazuya didn’t think so. As far as he was concerned, the chapel only exuded a gloomy atmosphere that made him want to avoid going anywhere near it.

The mausoleum in question was erected squarely in the middle of the cemetery. Under a huge cross stood an iron door, and beyond it lay a vast, dark chamber built in the manner of a maze, where numerous corpses rested upon slabs.

Avril said that the setting reminded her of the location of the final scene in “Romeo and Juliet,” where the two lovers had poisoned themselves and died. It was an apt comparison.

Miss Cécile commented, “It’s been a long time since anyone’s come here, ever since a student died eight years ago. That was the last time it was opened. Fortunately, in the meantime we haven’t had any more deaths of anyone connected to the school.”

She handed a key to the burly men who had come from the undertaker’s, and they attempted to open the iron door to the mausoleum. But the key was rusted and refused to fit into the lock.

A strong breeze blew through the cemetery, rustling Avril’s and Miss Cécile’s hair.

Finally, the key turned, but this time the door itself was too stiff and wouldn’t budge. One of the undertakers looked over his shoulder and beckoned for Kazuya’s assistance. Kazuya joined them in their struggle to pull open the door.

The door gave a loud creak, and at last began to move. The smell of rusted iron assailed their noses.

And the moment the door opened, an object directly facing Kazuya slowly tipped forward….

It was a corpse.

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