With Inspector de Blois’ departure, the lush garden at the top floor of St. Marguerite’s Library once again returned to its original stillness.
Victorique yawned widely, then put her book back on her lap and began to read intently once again. With immense speed, she skimmed through the pages of the thick book written in impenetrable Latin.
Kazuya watched her in the corner of his eye, then finally gathered up the courage to interrupt her reading. “Say, Victorique.”
“Hmm?! Kujou, you’re still here?”
“Yes. I’ve been here the whole time, Victorique,” he said. “I can see that you have Maxim’s murder eight years ago all worked out. But there’s one thing you haven’t mentioned.”
“Now what?! You really are a pushy fellow!” exclaimed Victorique peevishly.
Taken aback by her outburst, Kazuya stuttered, “Wh-what are you getting so angry for? This is what I originally came to ask you about. Don’t tell me you forgot?”
“Hmph. I couldn’t possibly forget. It’s just that you keep getting more and more annoying.”
“If that’s the way it is, then give me back my kaminari-okoshi!”
They glared at each other.
Intense sunlight pierced through the skylights and shone brightly upon their faces.
“…My goodness, Kujou. You truly are a loudmouthed fellow.”
“And you, Victorique, are spiteful, capricious, and cruel.”
“This place is supposed to be a tranquil paradise filled with books, where one can indulge in knowledge and ennui without any intrusion. And here you are making a mess of things every time you climb up those stairs, shouting, making an absurd fuss over nothing. These past few days have been very bothersome for me.”
“B-but it’s just that … you’ve been a great help to me….” Kazuya’s voice trembled slightly.
Victorique merely snorted and turned away from him.
“And I even brought you candy, hoping you would enjoy it…” He was growing more dejected with every word.
Victorique took a quick glance at his face, and was silent for a moment. Then she said, “…Be that as it may, I haven’t been bored at all.”
Kazuya’s face brightened in a flash.
“Even so, though my greatest enemy may be tedium, my second greatest enemy is commotion.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“That would make you my second greatest enemy come to chase away my greatest enemy…. Enough, go home. I’m tired of this racket.”
“Wait, Victorique! Honestly!” snapped Kazuya, swelling with indignation.
At last Victorique grudgingly closed her book, a defeated expression on her face. “For God’s sake, what do you want from me?!”
“I said, there was something I wanted you to explain to me. About that purple book that Avril picked up in the crypt.” As he spoke, Kazuya relived the scene in his mind. The image of the sinister expression on Avril’s face vividly overlapped the split-second glimpse he caught of that haunting deep purple book.
That sinister purple book…
That book, resting among the bodies in the crypt…
“Was that book what Avril came here to look for? Why would it be at the scene of a murder that happened eight years ago, let alone on the floor of a crypt that no one should have entered? Is she really just an innocent bystander? What sort of book was that anyway?”
“…Is that all?”
“Yeah. Basically, it’s that book. That book was the issue all along. That book, that book, that book! And then Avril, too!”
With a note of true exasperation, Victorique replied, “If I solve this mystery, will you, my second greatest enemy, leave me be?”
Kazuya couldn’t help but feel glum when confronted with Victorique’s crystal clear irritation. Do you really hate me that much…? he wondered deep down. He nodded reluctantly, then said, “That reminds me…. Avril came to the library earlier. I wonder if she was looking for me?”
“What makes you think that?”
“Well, since I kind of … witnessed her take that book, maybe she realized that I saw her. So…”
“Still, Kujou, if you really suspect her that much, wouldn’t you tell Gréville about it? But you haven’t done that.”
Kazuya guardedly shook his head. “I know…. It feels like Avril is suspicious, and at the same time also not. I didn’t want to deliver her into the inspector’s clutches when I don’t really know what’s going on….”
“Hmm…?” Victorique snorted, and gave Kazuya a condescending look.
“Wh-why are you looking at me like that?”
“In other words, what you mean is that you stayed silent out of a sense of compassion.”
“W-well, you could put it that way.”
“It’s my personal opinion that concepts like compassion are where intelligence goes to die. And you, Kujou, are the perfect embodiment of that.”
“…What’s that supposed to mean?! I’ve never been insulted like that in my life!” Kazuya again burst into a rage, his face turning pink.
Victorique began to say something, but cut herself off before she uttered a word.
Then she suddenly pushed herself against the railing, and stood up straight.
Kazuya, still feeling angry, stood up with her.
Victorique appeared to be of indeterminate age—she was surely older than her youthful face suggested, and yet her eyes were as sorrowful as those of an old person reaching the end of a life lived for too long. Once she stood up, Kazuya was shocked by the sight of her small head far below him. Even in comparison to a boy of short stature as he was, her head still came no further than his chest or abdomen.
In that moment, he realized that this was the first time he had seen Victorique on her feet.
Her body was much smaller than what he had imagined while she was still sitting. She looked more like an exquisitely crafted doll made of fine porcelain. Kazuya felt his astonishment absorb the anger smoldering in his chest, dissipating it with a gentle hiss. What was left was only his surprise as he carefully observed Victorique’s strikingly small form.
Then his gaze fell upon the mountain of tremendously abstruse books she had scattered across the floor.
She had skimmed through these with incredible speed while speaking of her “wellspring of wisdom” in that husky voice, like that of an old woman, as she effortlessly solved outlandish cases. And yet that mind was contained in such a small body, as if belonging to some sublimely made doll…
Kazuya found this to be an entirely marvelous thing.
Just who exactly was this girl…?
He was suddenly reminded of the attitude the inspector took toward her, cringing in terror and refusing to even look at her, despite the fact that he relied on her intelligence to assist him.
And Kazuya also remembered those mysterious words of his…
Damned grey wolf…!
What was the meaning of those words, and why did his voice tremble so?
Who was Victorique really?
Kazuya thought of the strange cases that had occurred in the village and on campus in just a few days’ time. These were certainly baffling mysteries. And yet…
He came to the sudden realization that Victorique herself was a greater mystery than any other.
Kazuya continued to carefully observe her, this enigmatic girl, her small body engulfed in lace and ribbons.
However, Victorique herself showed no indication of perceiving Kazuya’s inner turmoil. Her tiny form stirred, and began to quickly descend the labyrinthine staircase. The large pink velvet ribbon pinned to the back of her dress flapped like the wings of a small bird about to fly, fluttering dreamily in time with her steps. The white ladder lace adorning her hemline quivered invitingly as she disappeared from sight.
Kazuya hurriedly chased after Victorique, who was swiftly flying away, like a bird emblazoned in white and pink, in ribbons and in lace. “Where are you going?”
Her voice rang out from a distance, its huskiness a sharp contrast to her appearance. “I am providing balm for your aching soul. That book, that book, that book! And that suspicious transfer student! For now, I shall find that book of yours. You could thank me at the very least!”
“I meant, why are you going downstairs? And how would you know where the book is? You’ve just been sitting up at the top of the library smoking your pipe all this time, and you haven’t seen anything at all… Hey, be careful! You wouldn’t want to slip and fall….”
Kazuya looked over the side of the staircase, and blanched. The bottom floor was so far below that he might as well have been peering into hell. The narrow stairs twisted further in and deeper down like a maze in a nightmare. If someone were to carelessly lose his footing, it would be his first and last time.
Oblivious to Kazuya’s concern, Victorique continued down the stairs, her feet almost floating in an unusual gait. As she descended, she addressed Kazuya in a sing-song voice. “That suspicious transfer student came because she had something to do inside the library. And it wasn’t to look for you.”
“…What do you mean?”
“Look around you. It should be obvious. What is inside a library? What does someone come to do in a library?”
“What’s inside a library? Books, of course? And someone comes to a library … to read them?”
And maybe also to see you… added Kazuya silently.
At last they had both reached the foot of the staircase. Standing in the atrium at the very bottom, they lifted their eyes to survey the interior of the four-sided building.
Each wall was completely covered in books. Apart from the marble floor and the fresco on the ceiling, every other surface was composed entirely of books, forming a sanctuary of books as far as the eye could see. An aura of dust, the past, and of knowledge glittered as it wafted through the air.
Victorique murmured, “That girl came to hide a tree in the forest.”
Realization dawning on him, Kazuya blurted out, “Oh!”
Victorique smugly nodded as if agreeing with herself. “Right. When she picked the book up from the floor of the crypt, she probably noticed that you saw her. And there was a possibility that someone else may have seen her, too. So she made sure to hide that purple book, which was what she had come here to look for. Where else to hide a book other than a library? After all, the walls are full of them. Locating the one book she had hidden among all the others would equate to looking for a needle in a haystack.”
“Do you want to know her secret? And the secret of that book she hid?”
“Well, of course I do. But there’s no way. No one saw where she hid it….”
Victorique shook her head so firmly he thought it might snap off, then looked up into his eyes.
Those ancient eyes of hers had never before gazed at Kazuya from such close proximity. Guileless curiosity and the pleasure of solving a puzzle caused them to glitter like jewels. In the midst of experiencing a moment of release from a lifetime of unbearable tedium, her eyes were almost dancing with the simple joy of being alive. Until moments ago, her body resembled an inanimate doll, with a cold and emotionless face submerged under a sea of ennui and aloofness. But now her entire being came to life, as if she had transformed into an entirely different person.
For an instant Kazuya felt that he had brushed against the true nature of this girl, who possessed a keen and wonderful mind that required mysteries as sustenance. He sensed something shining deep inside her, buried alongside interminable weariness and deep despair.
But he instinctively felt that he must never let her know what he had discovered. For this extraordinary girl, like a mythical gilt-winged bird, surely kept it as her carefully guarded secret….
Keeping silent, Kazuya watched her curiously.
“That book, that book, that book!” muttered Victorique to herself, abruptly switching directions. Kazuya scrambled to keep up.
Victorique placed a tiny foot on the first step of the labyrinthine staircase, and called out in a loud voice, “Un!” She looked over her shoulder at Kazuya, and beckoned him with her hand. Then, taking another step, she again called out, “Deux!”
“…What are you doing?”
Ignoring Kazuya’s confusion, she ascended another step. “Trois! Quatre! Cinq!” she continued loudly. Kazuya followed a few paces behind her, regarding her with wonder.
Victorique slowly made her way up the stairs, shouting out a number with each step. “Onze! Douze! Treize! …Treize?”
She turned around. Her eyes were glittering fiercely, the color of blazing emerald. Kazuya had never laid eyes on such a fiery sight. He felt as if he would be scalded by the green glow, which was incandescent and yet chilled him to the bone.
Her eyes sparkled as she asked Kazuya, “Do you remember how they say that an ill fate befalls you if you stand on the thirteenth step? Something about being dragged into hell?”
“Yeah, I’ve heard that story.”
“The students at this school are extremely superstitious. It’s as if the entire student body agreed to walk in lockstep with each other; as if everyone decided to stage a practical joke en masse. When foreigners such as you and that transfer student arrived one day, you couldn’t help but appear out of the ordinary.”
“Yeah, I guess so…”
“Which means there won’t be a single student in this school who would dare set foot upon the thirteenth step of this staircase, right?”
“This is likely what that girl was thinking. Even if you hid a book on a random bookshelf in a huge library, there is still a chance it would be discovered by someone accidentally. But the bookshelf located at around eye-level when you stand on the thirteenth step would surely be the only safe place. Therefore…”
Victorique’s face turned jubilant. She gently placed her delicate, childlike hand on the bookshelf, then wrapped it around an eerie-looking book with a purple cover, and slowly withdrew her hand from the shelf.
“Her only choice was to hide that purple book in the bookshelf on the thirteenth stair. Just as the ‘wellspring of wisdom’ told me!”
Dumbfounded, Kazuya looked at the purple book in Victorique’s hand, then back at her. After a few moments, he finally regained his ability to speak, and murmured, “No wonder.”
Victorique nodded, beaming. Her face was suddenly wreathed in an innocent and unclouded smile, like a small child who had just been praised. The unexpected change did not escape Kazuya’s notice, but for now his mind remained occupied with more immediate matters.
That book, that book, that book!
And now they began to pore over that book together, their faces drawing close.
A book dropped at the scene of a murder committed eight years ago. A book discovered and then hidden in the library by Avril, the peculiar transfer student who had come all the way from England in search of something. A book clad in dark purple, imbued with the same sinister darkness that saturated Avril herself….
Kazuya would later come to wonder whether subsequent events would have occurred in the same way had they not discovered the book. The quiet Grey Wolf Victorique would also be entangled in a new case connected to that sinister book, and would end up taking action at Kazuya’s side. But that is an entirely different story….