chapter four — a golden fairy inhabits the top of the library
On a quiet evening in springtime, in St. Marguerite’s Library…
The passage of many years was etched into the stone-hewn walls of this enormous repository of books, unrivaled in Western Europe. Beyond the leather-covered swing door, hammered through with round brass tacks, row after row of bookshelves encircled the central atrium. A feeling of absolute reverence permeated this space, as if wisdom, time, and stillness themselves had silently fallen upon the ground like a layer of heavy snow.
This was a sanctuary of knowledge hidden deep within the grounds of St. Marguerite’s School, a distinguished institution nestled among the mountains of the small European country of Sauvure. For every day of the past three hundred years, it sat in cultivation of wondrous repose … until now.
“Are you serious?! Maxim is Cuiaran?!”
Far away at the top of that quiet library, just underneath the solemn religious fresco painted on the ceiling, resounded the piercing shout of a boy overcome with surprise. The countless books stacked along the walls, roused from their long sleep, seemed to slowly blink open their wrinkled eyes and gaze up at the ceiling as the queer noise ricocheted around the tower.
A narrow wooden staircase constructed in the form of an enormous labyrinth snaked precariously upward from the atrium below. Close to the distant ceiling above was a verdant conservatory, overgrown with tropical vegetation and enticing flowers in full bloom. The boy’s voice seemed to be coming from somewhere around this conservatory, but…
“…Be quiet, Kujou!”
“B-but how is that possible?”
“How should I know?”
Alongside the innocent voice of the young boy, another voice rang out. It sounded husky, almost like that of an old woman, and yet was also strangely sonorous. That voice seemed to be savagely rebuffing the young boy. From the boy’s direction came the response of an “Oh…” and a “Hmm…?” followed by a groan, until at last silence filled the library once more.
There in the conservatory, an Asian boy of small build and warm countenance sat on the floor holding his knees. In front of him was a tiny, exquisite doll.
The doll, in the form of a girl, was constructed at nearly life size at around one hundred and forty centimeters. A lavishly cumbersome dress swallowed her body up in billowing layers of white ladder lace and pink velvet ribbons. Her magnificent long blond hair spilled down to the floor like a velvet turban come undone. And her cool green eyes, set within her small, astonishingly well-proportioned face, radiated a venom that was nearly breathtaking in its coldness.
Heavy books lay open on the doll’s lap, and yet more opened books sat scattered about her in all directions, spiraling around her small body like a ritualistic circle invoking some dark magic.
She took a puff from a ceramic pipe that she clenched in the delicate fingers of her pale hand, as a thin white strand of smoke lazily drifted toward the skylights….
“I was really shocked when you said that Avril is the second Cuiaran…. But why do you think Maxim was the first one?”
In response to Kazuya’s question, the doll Victorique—no, the girl, though she may have been petite enough and beautiful enough, not to mention impassive enough to be mistaken for a doll—gave her answer, albeit an impatiently stated one.
“The first Cuiaran disappeared all of a sudden seven or eight years ago. Maxim came back to the school every spring, but in the spring of eight years ago, was killed. And when Maxim’s body was discovered, only then did the second Cuiaran appear…. Can you honestly call this mere coincidence?”
“Most likely, each time Maxim, no, the first Cuiaran returned to the school, he hid his loot somewhere on campus, the same way a pirate hides his booty in a cave. The purple book was among these. But before he was able to hide it, he was locked along with it inside the crypt. Well, that’s what I think, at least.”
Victorique said no more, and once again retreated to her books, which she began to read at an astonishing speed. As soon as she turned a page, she had already finished reading it and was ready to flip to the next one. She would occasionally interrupt this routine by bringing her pipe to her lips and taking a puff from it.
Kazuya stared at her intently as she did this.
Then Victorique suddenly dropped her book onto the floor, opened her green eyes wide, and stared blankly into space.
“I read and I read, and I’m still bored! Hey, you foolish-looking man over there—um, I believe your name was Kujou—do something to surprise me.”
“Wh-who are you calling foolish?! Besides, I wouldn’t be able to think of anything….”
“For example…” Her face turned serious, and she got up and strode over to him, stopping uncomfortably close. Kazuya shrank away from her—he was starting to get a bad feeling about this.
“Why don’t you stick your head between your legs and give me a big grin, while balancing a pole on your belly with a plate spinning on it?”
“…I can’t do something like that!”
“Why not? You’re Oriental, aren’t you?”
“Th-th-that, that’s prejudiced!”
Kazuya leapt to his feet, now feeling genuinely angry. He knew that Victorique was a member of the aristocracy in Sauvure, a country known as “the little giant of Western Europe.” But he was still the third son of an imperial soldier, and he was determined to strongly object against such affronts. His expression hardening, he said, “Now look here, Victorique—”
“…Hold on. What did that ghost say to you when you were in the storehouse with Cécile?”
This punctured Kazuya’s momentary bravado, and he had to give up on what he had planned to say. “…Um, I believe it was, ‘save me’.”
“That’s serious, then. Perhaps you should go save her.”
“Save the ghost?”
“You’re a slow one, aren’t you?”
Once again, Kazuya boiled over with rage. But Victorique merely parted her glossy, cherry-red lips unconcernedly, and said, “That’s not a ghost in the storehouse. That’s a girl. I think you said she had short blond hair and blue eyes? Now that’s really serious!”
“Gréville is still on campus, right? If he is, then go take him to the storehouse with you. You wouldn’t know it from his funny hairstyle, but he still has police authority. Now, authority and the like may be nothing more than the excreta of civilization, but sometimes such things do come in handy.”
Kazuya was bewildered. “I don’t really mind…. But what do you want us to do there?”
Victorique opened her small hands and flapped them in an expression of disapproval. Then she said, with a look of dismay, “Do you still not understand? You are going to rescue that girl you saw with short blond hair and blue eyes. She is being held captive.”
“…Who is she?”
“That’s Avril Bradley. Now go immediately; there’s no time to waste. We’ll have to postpone sticking your head between your legs for another occasion. Go at once.”
Kazuya descended the stairs, shaking his head to himself. He was still completely in the dark when it came to following Victorique’s train of thought.
Now the very topic of the previous discussion appeared herself, running quickly up the maze of stairs. For some reason, she was holding a large suitcase in one hand, but judging from how easily she carried it, it seemed to be completely empty.
She looked up at the sound of his voice.
“What happened? What’s that suitcase for?”
“I found a doll made by the famous dollmaker Grafenstein—wait, you know what, never mind. I’m in a hurry here. …S-so what are you doing here, Kujou?”
Kazuya carefully stepped around Avril as they passed the same point on the narrow staircase. “I was chatting with Victorique. Now she’s kind of ordered me to go do something for her, you see….”
“…Victorique?” Avril watched Kazuya hurry down the stairs, a mystified look entering her eyes. “Kujou…” she whispered softly. “I wonder if he was being serious…? It’s not like there’s an actual human girl in the conservatory. There’s only that doll… The one with the evil spirit sealed inside of it, after that dollmaker made a deal with the devil. Is Kujou actually taking orders from it? What’s going on…?”
Shaking her head, Avril once again began to climb the labyrinthine stairs, empty suitcase in hand.