chapter three — the ghost of Millie Marle haunts the abandoned storehouse
It was a warm, sunny spring afternoon.
St. Marguerite’s Library was housed within a stately tower that had been standing since the seventeenth century. Within its central atrium, surrounded by walls covered in huge bookshelves, a narrow labyrinthine staircase rose endlessly to the ceiling.
Hidden within a mountain valley in the small Western European country of Sauvure was St. Marguerite’s School, an august institution dedicated to educating the children of the aristocracy. That library stood deep within the campus, and for hundreds of years, the scent of dust, decay, and knowledge had softly drifted from the distant ceiling to settle upon the floor below, filling the tower with a tranquil atmosphere that no one dared disturb.
The remnants of winter blanketed the spring afternoon in a humid air that was still cool enough to be comfortable.
And for the first time that anyone could remember, the lively voices of a boy and girl rang out in the atrium of the library.
“Her only choice was to hide that purple book in the bookshelf on the thirteenth stair. Just as the ‘wellspring of wisdom’ told me!”
“See, here it is.”
“Whoa! You’re right. That’s the book I saw, Victorique. And you actually found it! You’re amazing. Even if you are weird.”
The impact of a hard object emitted a dull thump.
The small girl, who spoke in a husky voice like that of an old woman, slowly stepped down from the wooden staircase. Someone looking at her would have been reminded of an exquisitely-crafted porcelain doll. Long, splendid blond hair spilled down her back like an unfurled velvet turban, and her green eyes shone with an ominous light. Her tiny, well-proportioned limbs, moving as if she were a doll come to life, were engulfed in as sumptuous a dress as anyone could dream up, which billowed out in countless layers of ladder lace and velvet ribbons.
She gripped the old purple book with one hand.
A small Asian boy alighted the staircase, tears in his eyes as he rubbed the side of his head. His black eyes reflected a gentle, good-natured spirit, but his lips were pulled into a slightly stubborn line. It appeared that the girl—Victorique—had just struck him with the edge of the book.
“That really hurt. I’m telling you, it hurt!”
“…Hmph.” Victorique snorted defiantly at the boy—Kazuya Kujou—and his complaint.
“…You could at least pretend you care.”
“But I don’t. Now, let’s get back to this book.” Victorique opened the book. Then she frowned, realizing that the atrium was too dimly lit for her to read.
From beside her, Kazuya grumbled, “This is the first time I’ve ever been hit by a girl. I strongly object, upon my honor as the third son of an imperial soldier. Women should walk three paces behind men, and not take a second husband*—wait a second, I’m getting mixed up. Hmm, now how did that go again….”
“…S-sorry.” Kazuya hung his head. Then he gave up on protesting, or saying anything else for that matter, as he followed the tiny, terrifying Victorique outside through the library’s swing door. They sat down together on the sunlit stone landing.
His mood brightening, Kazuya lifted his bowed head and smiled cheerfully. “Let’s read it, Victorique.”
“…Mmm.” A disgruntled look appeared on her face, but despite her reluctance, she opened the purple book so that he also could see it. Victorique flipped the pages of the book faster and faster, making periodic grunts as she read with remarkable speed.
She was turning the pages too fast for Kazuya to finish them. In an effort to keep up, he placed his head next to hers and peered more closely into the book. This action elicited an annoyed grimace from Victorique. His head was casting a shadow on the pages and making it difficult for her to read.
However, Kazuya was by now fully engrossed in the book, and did not notice the dangerous expression starting to emerge on Victorique’s small face.
The purple book was in fact a manual of witchcraft, detailing the spell that wandering Gypsies used in the Middle Ages to resurrect the dead. Kazuya began to read aloud. “Fourteen dove hearts. Seven owl eyes. Three drams of blood taken from a human child—how much is a dram again? This is some disturbing stuff…. Oww!” He suddenly clutched at his head, crying out in pain.
Victorique had hit Kazuya’s head with the corner of the book as hard as she could. It made an impressive thud. As he held his head and moaned in agony, she glanced at him and snorted. Then she turned her back to him and started to read rapidly by herself.
Standing up, Kazuya shouted, “What’s wrong with you?! And what is this grudge you have against my head?!”
“Your head was in the way of my reading,” replied Victorique, her tone clipped.
“In the way?! How? Hasn’t it ever crossed your mind that it might be possible to read together with someone in a friendly way?”
Victorique looked up at him, a look of pure wonderment spreading across her face. Then she parted her small, strawberry-red lips, and said, “No?”
“…That’s what I thought.” Kazuya sullenly plopped back down onto the landing.
Suddenly, a loose leaf of paper fluttered out of the purple book.
It was a postcard. The picture on the front was of a street scene that looked vaguely Mediterranean. The addressee was listed as Avril Bradley, and the name of the sender was Sir Bradley.
“That’s Avril’s grandfather. He was a famous explorer from England. Although he ended up disappearing in a hot air balloon over the Atlantic ocean…” Kazuya said, still rubbing his head.
Victorique pointed at the postcard. “There’s a stamp on it, but no postmark.”
Kazuya cocked his head to the side in bemusement. “You’re right…. Then does that mean it was never delivered to Avril? I mean, it was stuck between the pages of this book and left on the floor of the crypt for so long.”
“Perhaps.” Victorique abruptly stood up, carelessly deposited the book into Kazuya’s lap, and walked away without saying a word. She leaned her tiny hands against the heavy doors of the library and pushed them open with all her might, then disappeared into the atrium, still gripping the postcard in one hand.
He received no answer.
“Hey, what happened? Are you done with this book now?”
The door slammed shut.
Victorique’s behavior was far too unpredictable to handle, and Kazuya couldn’t help but feel infuriated. “You’re really too much, Victorique…. Wait, where are you?” Just as he was about to mutter another complaint, he opened the door to the library to follow her. But once inside, he stared around in dismay. “Victorique…? Where did you take off to?”
That mysterious girl, enveloped in lace and frills, had vanished into thin air like a puff of smoke.
Kazuya ran to the foot of the long staircase and looked up.
But there was not a soul to be seen. Moreover, the only other chamber within the atrium was the elevator, but that was reserved only for the use of staff, so she was unlikely to be there either.
“Hey, Victorique… Where are you, you weird, smart, mean little girl…?”
There was only silence.
He stood in place for a minute, reluctant to leave. Then, finally giving up, he trudged away from the library, his eyes downcast….
*Kazuya is conflating two separate proverbs here: “Women should walk three paces behind their master lest they step on his shadow” and “Loyal subjects cannot serve two kings, and chaste women cannot take a second husband.”