Kazuya left the library and walked along the white pebbled path, his eyes downcast.
That Victorique… I can never seem to figure out what she’s thinking…. Are we on better terms with each other now? Is she seeing me as her friend a little bit more now? I just can’t tell at all….
It was another warm and sunny morning. Kazuya navigated his way around the white fountains, hedges, and flowerbeds neatly arranged throughout the French-style gardens that sprawled across campus. The merry laughter and light footsteps of uniformed students scurrying about echoed through the school grounds.
Kazuya heard a cheerful voice call out to him, accompanied by the pitter-pat of feet excitedly running toward him. Wondering who it was, he turned around, and found a familiar girl—Avril Bradley—fast approaching him, waving something clasped in her hand.
“Oh, it’s you,” said Kazuya.
“Heh-heh! I finally found you. I’ve been looking for you all over,” Avril said, sounding genuinely happy.
Kazuya felt himself cheer up slightly. “Are you feeling better?”
“Yeah! I start classes tomorrow. I can’t wait!”
Just a few days ago, Avril had been in dire straits after being kidnapped by the self-appointed successor to the infamous thief Cuiaran. Thanks to a tip from Victorique, Kazuya and Inspector de Blois had rushed to her rescue. Avril looked very frail when they had discovered her, but she now seemed to have made a full recovery. At that time, Kazuya had felt very happy when she asked him to be her friend. But the Avril now before his eyes revealed a buoyant personality that lacked a single trace of shyness.
“I’ve just been making a pilgrimage to all of the spots on campus that appear in the ghost stories. You should come with me!”
“Gh-ghost stories? Count me out!” Kazuya said, flinching away from her.
After all, it was the fault of those stories that Kazuya ended up getting dubbed the “Grim Reaper” just as soon as he arrived. And that caused him a lot of trouble even now….
But Avril, oblivious to his reaction, only continued smilingly, “Why not? It’s so fun! Guess what, something terrific just happened to me a little while ago!” She waved something purple at him—it appeared to be a necklace. “Do you know what this is? It’s from the ‘headless lady comes at three in the morning’ story.”
“Sorry, can’t say that I’m familiar with it!”
Avril pointed to one of the benches dotting the park. After the two of them sat down, she began toying with the purple necklace in her hand.
“There’s a ‘sealed reading room’ on campus. Inside of it, you can find the portrait of a noblewoman, the countess Ashenden. She poisoned a lot of people to death, and terrorized the Sauvure aristocracy in the Middle Ages.”
“Huh…” Kazuya was seized by a sudden attack of drowsiness. As he idly gazed at Avril fidgeting with the necklace, he could only manage some noncommittal noises in response.
“Countess Ashenden always wore an amethyst necklace. It was called the ‘Poison Flower’. That’s because she believed that amethyst was capable of changing its color in reaction to a poison. She was a wicked noblewoman who sought the king’s favor, and poisoned the women who stood in her way one by one. But she was always deathly afraid that someday someone would poison her, too. So she even welded the clasp on her necklace shut so it could never be removed. When she was finally sent to the gallows to answer for her crimes, the moment of her beheading was the first time that that necklace had fallen off her neck since she first put it on.”
Kazuya pondered for a moment. Wait a minute, haven’t I heard this story somewhere before…? The image of a golden drill arose in his mind for a split second. Did I already hear about this from someone else?
“So ever since then, people have reported seeing the ghost of a headless Countess Ashenden walking through campus every night. She got loose from her portrait in the Sealed Reading Room and now she wanders around. But no one knows when or why that portrait was hung in that room. One day it just suddenly appeared on the wall. I bet the countess’ ghost was looking for her place of eternal rest, and she decided to put it there herself!”
“Oh, Kujou, are you feeling bored? In that case, let’s get on to the main attraction! Ta-dah! Take a look at this! I found the countess’ necklace, the ‘Poison Flower’!”
Kazuya rubbed his eyes at the sight of the purple necklace in Avril’s hand, a look of shock slowly spreading across his face. “Avril, wh-wh-where did you find this?!”
“It was underneath an uneven section of floor in the hallway. I’m sure that her ghost must’ve accidentally dropped it there when she was on one of her walks. I mean, she is missing her head, you know.”
“Um… If it was underneath the floor, wouldn’t that mean someone deliberately hid it there rather than just dropped it? You know what, Avril, I saw that necklace on a list Inspector de Blois showed me earlier, of items stolen by Cuiaran—”
“Kujou!” Avril jumped enthusiastically to her feet.
Kazuya stood up from the bench with her. “Wh-what?”
“Let’s go to the Sealed Reading Room!”
“The reading room? But shouldn’t we go see the inspector fir—”
“I want to go look for Countess Ashenden’s portrait right now. If her ghost dropped the necklace while she was wandering around, then it should be missing from her neck on the portrait. And that’ll be the proof that her ghost came out from the picture to go roaming about. Let’s go!”
“Avril! But what about—” …the inspector, the list, and Cuiaran, Kazuya wanted to say. But Avril was already running gleefully toward the main building, dragging him along with her.