“…Well, you are the Grim Reaper.” Victorique sourly interrupted Kazuya’s story.
“Don’t call me that!”
“This candy is too hard…. I don’t want it!” She flung away the piece of kaminari-okoshi.
Kazuya picked it up and reluctantly took a nibble from it, then sighed. “…Listen to me. As I was saying.”
What had fallen on top of Kazuya was the waxen body of a dead man. His eye sockets had caved in and the flesh of his cheeks had dried up, the agony of his death forever preserved on his face.
The man wore a peculiar outfit. He was dressed in the full garb of a medieval knight, his breast adorned with a primrose corsage.
As the corpse tumbled down upon Kazuya, the bones of its skull, torso, and wrists detached and fell to the floor with a rattling sound. The dried primroses crumbled into dust and scattered into the wind.
Miss Cécile swooned.
The undertakers shouted in alarm.
“…Avril did something strange,” whispered Kazuya. “I think I’m the only one who saw it, though….”
Avril didn’t utter a single sound. Kazuya turned to Miss Cécile, but in that second, he caught a glimpse of fluid movement, as if a wild animal had darted across his peripheral vision. Startled, he followed Avril with his eyes, and saw her jump over the dismembered corpse. She landed gracefully in the center of the burial vault, then leaned over to pick something up from the floor.
“…She picked something up?”
Kazuya nodded. “It was a book. A thin book with a purple cover.”
“And she quickly hid it in her bag. Then I heard her muttering, ‘What’s this doing here?’”
“I thought so, too. Maybe that book’s the thing she said she was looking for. But why would it be there? And I wonder what kind of book it was?”
Victorique opened her mouth in a wide yawn. “Fascinating…”
“L-let’s be serious now. Isn’t that definitely strange behavior? And then you said that the killer from that murder case a few days ago would be a pretty blond girl with wounded fingers. It could just be a coincidence, but Avril fits that description, too….”
“You realize the killer in that case was already arrested,” said Victorique wearily.
“I know…. But I’ve been wondering. What if the ‘reaper who comes in spring’ is actually Avril….”
Victorique ignored his murmur. She took the bag of kaminari-okoshi away from him and started gnawing at the candy again, apparently finding it to her tastes despite her complaints. “In any case, the fact that the body fell just as the door was being opened indicates that he was alive when the door was locked. This means that someone locked him alive inside a dark crypt, and he died on his feet, having used the last of his strength to call for help.”
Kazuya gulped, thinking that what she said made a lot of sense. “You’re right…. Since he was wearing historical-looking clothing, I had thought that he must have died long ago. But would this mean he was locked inside the crypt when it was last opened eight years ago…?”
In that case, it wouldn’t be very long ago at all. Kazuya fell silent for a few moments, remembering the corpse’s face, frozen in an agonized scream.
“…Then, the murder must have occurred there eight years ago. But what could that possibly have to do with that purple book left behind at the scene of the crime, and that English girl who took it without telling anyone—”
He was interrupted by the sound of a loud rattle.
A discordant groan erupted from the direction of the hydraulic elevator. The vibrations from its ascent shook the branches on the trees in the conservatory.
The iron cage screeched, then halted. The metal latticed doors creaked open.
Leaning on the door with his arms folded, a fashionably dressed man stood inside, striking a pose.
He sported a three-piece suit with a flamboyant ascot tie at his neck and silver cufflinks at his wrists. And on his head, ruining the effect of his impeccable wardrobe, was that inscrutable hairstyle, swept forward and hardened into a point.
It was the inspector Gréville de Blois. Only a few days ago, he had attempted to arrest Kazuya as the suspect of a murder investigation. As far as Kazuya knew, he was a thoroughly odious man who had joined the police force on a whim, abusing his privilege as a nobleman.
Victorique needed only to glance at him for a second before swiftly averting her eyes. She thrust her face back into her books, and began to emphatically smoke her pipe.
Likewise, Inspector de Blois gave her no more than a brief look, and made no attempt to verbally acknowledge her. Instead, he unexpectedly turned to Kazuya and greeted him amiably, “Why, if it isn’t Kujou!”
“…Is there something you want?” said Kazuya, recoiling a step. The smile on the inspector’s face made him shudder.
“Thanks to my brilliant mind, you were able to escape the dishonor of being labeled a convicted murderer.”
“…Quite the opposite, in fact.”
“If you feel like repaying the favor, please don’t hesitate. But no, what I came to talk about is actually the case of the mummified knight from this morning….”
Apparently, the inspector had come to the school immediately after having been assigned to oversee the investigation. Kazuya furtively peeked over the side of the maze of stairs, and saw that the two deputies who had accompanied the inspector the other day were standing near the entrance to the library. They were holding hands once again, their heads cocked to the side as they looked up at him with uneasy expressions.
Kazuya remembered the time several days ago when the inspector had last come to the library. At first he assumed Kazuya to be the culprit and insisted on arresting him, but once he heard the truth that Victorique had pieced together from her “wellspring of wisdom”, he left to immediately apprehend the real killer. And now he had taken the credit for himself.
For some reason, he was acclaimed as a great detective, but by all appearances, he didn’t seem to be remotely deserving of the epithet. Could it be that this was in fact the way he solved all of his cases?
But although this mysterious inspector and Victorique seemed to already be acquainted, they clearly couldn’t stand each other. Reenacting their behavior from several days ago, they refused to even look at one another, much less exchange any words. The situation deeply baffled Kazuya, who was stuck in the middle.
He carefully observed Victorique for her reaction. Her expression seemed to be frostier than ever.
She removed the pipe from her mouth. “Why don’t you listen to what he has to say, Kujou. I’ll just be here reading my books. It doesn’t mean that I have be the one to listen to him.”
Inspector de Blois twitched.
“…Well, if I do happen to overhear anything, Kujou, perhaps I’ll give you my personal opinion. We can leave Gréville out of it.”
“Um, okay… Well…”
Kazuya looked at her, then at the inspector. They were both facing away from each other.
What on earth is going on here…?! he thought to himself, bewildered.
Ignoring Kazuya’s state of confusion, Inspector de Blois said, “In that case, Kujou, you and I just happen to be here having a chat. I’ll begin, then.”
Keeping his gaze firmly directed toward Kazuya, the inspector began to speak. But when Kazuya glanced at Victorique, he could tell from looking at her small, dainty ears that she too was secretly paying attention, even while her face was glued to her books….
“We have determined that that corpse that fell out of the mausoleum appears to belong to an enigmatic man by the name of Maxim. After graduating from this school, he developed the habit of materializing out of nowhere every spring, coming back here to stay for a time, then taking off again. Since this man was rumored to engage in fraud, extortion, burglary, and various other crimes, he had made a lot of enemies in various places, and was presumably murdered by one of them. The reports of his physical appearance and last known location match up perfectly with this corpse. Apparently, he was quite the handsome fellow. Well, anyhow, it seems that eight years ago in the springtime, he came back to the school for a few weeks, but suddenly vanished without a trace, with his personal belongings still left behind in his room.”
The inspector paused, then sighed.
“But there are still questions left unanswered. Who killed him? Why was he killed in such a place? The mausoleum was last opened eight years ago. That teacher, Cécile or whatever her name was, said that a female student who died after a long illness was laid to rest there, and that the door hadn’t been opened since. Although apparently the key was stolen shortly before her funeral. Afterwards, the lock was changed, and the new key was placed under strict safekeeping. But even supposing anyone wanted to sneak into the crypt, it isn’t as if they would find anything valuable there. After all, there’s nothing but dead bodies inside….”
The inspector smiled to himself. Then his face turned serious.
“In fact, the key seems to have rusted through. By the way, I found out the undertakers who worked on the funeral eight years ago are the same ones working this time, so I had a chat with them. They said that, obviously, they hadn’t seen Maxim at the last funeral, whether inside or outside of the crypt. The undertakers entered the crypt themselves, so I take their word for it. After they inspected the area, they interred the girl’s body, then left and locked the door. In the past eight years, no one has opened that door. Now, that being said, how the devil could Maxim have gotten inside? And for what purpose?”
His face twisted in disgust, and then he continued, “Why would Maxim be wearing the costume of a medieval knight at the time of his death eight years ago? What’s the meaning of the primrose corsage pinned to his chest?”
He paused, then lowered his voice. “The biggest issue is, if Maxim didn’t willingly enter the crypt, then of course that would make this a murder case. Because that would mean someone shut him inside while he was still alive. A murder that occurred eight years ago—and I have no doubt the killer is still somewhere in this school, living a carefree existence under all of our noses. This is an unpardonable crime, my boy!”
As Inspector de Blois finished speaking, he glowered at nothing in particular. The rays of the sun shining in from the skylights glistened upon his pointed hair, highlighting it in shimmering gold.
“…Hmm.” Victorique looked up from her books.
Kazuya raised his eyebrows. He saw a faint blush appear on Victorique’s face. A small spark of energy seemed to replace the boredom and weariness that had previously filled her expression. Perhaps she was starting to feel interested.
“What are you thinking?” he asked her.
“This is some considerable chaos. Although, it isn’t such a complicated matter after all.” Victorique reached out to take some candy. She lifted it to her mouth with her two small hands, then spoke while chewing. “Munch, munch… The truth is actually very simple. Munch, munch. In order to relieve my boredom, this ‘wellspring of wisdom’ of mine has attempted to amuse itself by reconstructing these fragments of chaos. It’s an extremely straightforward thing.”
Victorique yawned sleepily. Then, noticing Kazuya and Inspector de Blois waiting impatiently for her next words, she added irritably, “Still, there is one fragment left. Naturally, this is the result of your carelessness, Gréville.”
“If you want to know the truth, assemble the fragments and bring them to me.” She turned away from them. “The two of you shall go to the undertakers and ask them this question. Pay attention to what I am about to say. Ask them, ‘Is there a corpse missing from the crypt?’”
Kazuya and the inspector exchanged looks.