GosickS I – 3.5

[5]

Meanwhile, in St. Marguerite’s Library…

“And there’s supposedly a girl who comes here…?” Avril stood looking up from the bottom floor of the atrium in the strange square-shaped tower, rich with the scent of dust, decay, and knowledge.

“No girl would want to spend her time in a place like this. Maybe just old men would like it here. Or maybe … ghosts.” She giggled at her own words. “It’s certainly a cozy place for a ghost. Millie Marle should come haunt this library, not that musty old storehouse.” The thought prompted Avril to throw her head back in laughter.

Then she suddenly stopped laughing, her face assuming a look of concentration as she began to climb the narrow wooden staircase. As she ascended higher and higher through the maze of stairs, her lively, nimble footsteps echoed through the tower, at odds with the gloomy atmosphere. The enormous bookshelves that wrapped around the walls of the library rattled in time with the vibration of each footfall.

*****

About ten minutes later…

Avril had started running up the steps with boundless energy, but the labyrinthine stairs were far longer than she anticipated, seeming to go on forever. After several minutes, her stamina had reached its limit. She climbed the last few flights with her hands on her hips, almost crawling up the stairs as she doubled over, panting.

“And Kujou … climbs up these … these monstrous stairs, like they’re nothing… I can’t imagine what he’s thinking….”

Avril took a quick glance over the side of the staircase, and found the floor of the atrium so far below her that she felt dizzy just from the sight of it. She tried to trace the maze of stairs from bottom to top, but it seemed to stretch endlessly upward, like the writhing torso of an unearthly creature, before she could finally locate the step upon which she stood.

She felt a shudder run through her body. The labyrinthine stairs looked as if they were about to start moving any second, grabbing hold of her like something out of a nightmare….

“…This place is giving me the creeps,” Avril whispered to herself.

She dashed up the stairs as fast as she could, at last setting foot upon the white floor at the very top of the staircase. And then she cried out in surprise, for there she found…

…a garden.

*****

Tropical trees and garishly-colored flowers bedecked the lush, green conservatory. Sunlight peeked out furtively from rectangular skylights.

Avril took stock of her surroundings. “But there’s no one…” She raised her voice in incredulity. “Is no one here…?”

There was not a soul in sight.

Avril scanned the vicinity, losing count of how many times she swiveled her eyes back and forth.

Between the conservatory and the staircase, there was a small, dimly lit space about the size of a closet. An antique-looking glass lamp, stacks of heavy books, and an old ceramic pipe lay scattered on the floor.

Avril inspected the area, frowning.

Everything was covered in a layer of dust. She felt as if she could almost see time and stillness themselves blanketing the floor in the form of white dust. It was a desolate place.

“There’s no one here,” Avril murmured again. “If there was anyone, it’d be a ghost.” Trying to squelch her fear, she deliberately called out in a loud voice, “Hey, ghost!”

She hesitantly began creeping forward, step by step, her eyes nervously darting to and fro. But just as she was about to enter the conservatory…

“Eek…!?” Avril emitted a brief shriek, this time in genuine fear.

Then her tense expression slowly relaxed into a smile of relief.

What she saw was an elegant porcelain doll, casually placed against the railing.

…It somehow looked very lonely.

The doll was much smaller than life size, but looked much heavier and sturdier than most dolls. It wore a dress made of Gobelins tapestry, and upon the small head, a crocheted lace bonnet veiled long, flowing blond hair.

Its eyes were wide open, frozen and unblinking.

Avril suddenly broke into a smile. She reached out to the doll and gently lifted it, then hugged it tightly. After peering closely at the porcelain doll’s exquisite face, and seeing the way each individual strand of its long eyelashes had been painstakingly applied, she exclaimed, “Why, how adorable!”

Noticing how much dust had accumulated upon its elaborate clothing and headdress, Avril realized that the doll must have been placed there a very long time ago. She sat the doll upon the floor and carefully brushed off the dust, then began talking to herself absentmindedly. “This must be a very expensive doll. It might even be…”

Her face suddenly changed into a cold and strangely mature expression, one that belied the guise of the cheerful young girl whom Kazuya and Miss Cécile knew.

“This doll must’ve been designed by Grafenstein, that brilliant 19th century dollmaker from Germany. Look, there’s even his signature here.”

Avril gently lifted up the doll’s long blond hair, exposing the mark of a decorative letter G on the back of its neck. Then she nodded in satisfaction. “They say he made a deal with the devil so that he could put souls in the dolls he created. Those dolls were possessed by evil spirits and went roaming about at nighttime. His handiwork ought to fetch a pretty penny…. Well, well, what do you know! I came all the way to these mountains in the middle of nowhere to look for Sir Bradley’s secret family heirloom, and now I’ve stumbled across this marvelous find. Only the second Cuiaran could pull something like this off! All right, maybe I’m getting a little ahead of myself here. At least I seem to be well on my way to becoming a fine thief, maybe even one who could measure up to the likes of the first Cuiaran. Now, little lady, why don’t we…”

Now Avril unceremoniously picked up the doll and looked around for a place to hide it. She spotted a small chest, and was just about to open it when a sudden thought gave her pause. Then she decided to hide the doll behind the chest instead.

“If I carry the doll out of the library, someone might see me. After all, I thought I hid that purple book so carefully, but it didn’t take long for someone to snatch it out from under me. And I’d spent so much time looking for it, too. So, someone was definitely watching me. I’ll see if I can track that down again, but for now I’ll take this—oh, I know. I’ll bring my satchel here and use that to carry it away. It’s not like anyone will notice a doll going missing from this dusty old place anyway. This is truly, honestly, a marvelous find.” Avril stood up, nodding contentedly.

All of a sudden, a thought occurred to her, and she frowned. “Wait a sec…. I remember when Kujou told me about this place, he mentioned that a girl named Victorique spends her time here. But so far I haven’t seen anyone like that….” A mystified expression crossed her face.

Avril sized up her surroundings.

There was an old pipe.

A mountain of thick, heavy books.

A lamp.

…All of these began to take on a surreal feeling, as if they had been already sitting there for hundreds of years, suspended in a dreamlike silence.

Gathering up her bravado, Avril said jokingly to the doll, “Hey, little lady, surely you aren’t the girl Kujou was talking about, are you? That can’t possibly be true, right?”

Naturally, a porcelain doll could not reply. Its large eyes, frozen wide open, stared at her vacantly.

“That can’t be it….”

There was no one to respond to her.

Then, suddenly, Avril felt a chill run through her body.

“’The golden fairy inhabits the top of the library’….” she whispered to herself, as if remembering something.

Avril turned to the chest where she had hidden the golden-haired doll, and said in a ghoulish tone, “’The fairy demands souls in exchange for her assistance’….”

She thought she sensed something, and drew back.

“A doll created by Grafenstein, with a soul granted to it by the devil!”

A cool wind blew in from the skylights.

“Don’t tell me that you’ve bewitched Kujou in order to steal his soul…?”

The pale, sculpted lips of the doll seemed to form a whisper….

Avril shrieked, then stumbled backwards until she reached the landing of the stairs, nearly losing her balance and falling down the steps. She gave a worldly click of her tongue that didn’t suit her lovely face in the least, and cried out in a quavering voice, “Tch! You’ve got to be kidding me! There’s no way that could happen!”

Avril proceeded to run down the maze-like stairs in such a hurry that she nearly tripped over her own feet….

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