chapter one — the golden fairy
Ten years later, in a corner of an elegant stone building on the stately campus of Saint Marguerite’s School, tucked away in the Alpine foothills of the Kingdom of Sauvure, a small European country….
“…And by the time the coast guard got there, there was still warm food on the dinner plates of the ship, and the stoves were still burning, and card games were still in progress on the tables…. However! There was not a soul on board. All of the passengers and all of the crew members had vanished…. Several rooms showed signs of a bloody struggle, but the ship was completely empty….”
Two students were chatting enthusiastically in a flower garden behind the U-shaped school building. The small door that led from the building to the courtyard opened out onto a three-tiered stone landing, where the two of them sat on the middle step. As they leaned toward each other, drawn into the conversation, colorful flowers fluttered before their eyes, rocked by a pleasant spring breeze.
One student was a slight, serious-faced young Asian boy, and the other was a European girl with glossy blond hair.
The boy, by the name of Kazuya Kujou, was a foreign student from an island country in the Far East. The girl, Avril Bradley, was a foreign student from England. They hadn’t been in the same class for very long, but as fellow foreigners, they had become friends who could chat with each other without restraint.
Avril’s eyes had crossed together while in the middle of her animated storytelling, creating a slightly comical effect on her pretty face. Her short blond hair bounced in the wind. “So anyway,” she continued.
“I was just at the part when the rescue party came aboard the ship to investigate. When one of them accidentally touched a vase, an arrow came flying at him out of nowhere, and he nearly died….”
“…How did that happen? I guess maybe the vase was booby-trapped. Or maybe someone was hiding, and the moment that other person touched that vase just happened to be when he shot the arrow? Or maybe—”
As a solemn-faced Kazuya started to run down the list of possibilities, Avril’s face turned sulky. When he continued to prattle on, unaware of her change in mood, she slapped the palm of her pale hand against his mouth and stifled his words.
“Just be quiet and listen. I’m getting to the good part here. My goodness, Kujou. Sometimes you can be so serious that you turn into a complete bore!”
“…Sorry. Go on, Avril.” Kazuya didn’t quite understand what he was apologizing for, but since he was speaking to a girl, he automatically did so anyway.
“Okay? The search party contacted the coast guard, and they tried to search the boat. But the hull was taking on water, and there was no time to do a thorough investigation. So that passenger ship—the Queen Berry—ended up sinking to the bottom of the sea within minutes. With a huge splash of water, and an awful eerie moan, it sank to the depths of the dark, dark sea!”
“That’s not good.”
“Even so…” Avril, undaunted by Kazuya’s avuncular non-response, raised her voice in preparation for the clincher. “But even though the Queen Berry sunk ten years ago, it’s sometimes sighted even now.”
“Surely not. It sank, didn’t it?”
“Shut up. I’ve had enough out of you, Kazuya.”
Avril lowered her voice. “On stormy nights, that ship suddenly appears in the mist, with the people who should’ve died still on board. And they try to tempt the living into becoming sacrifices, so that they too may…”
Kazuya held his breath, waiting for her next words.
Then she suddenly popped her blue eyes open. “…sink with the ship! Aaaaaaaah!”
“Ha, ha, ha! Kujou, I got you! You screamed! Even though you’re a boy! The son of a soldier! You screamed at a ghost story. Ha, ha, ha!” Avril crowed over her victory.
Kazuya could only curse and hang his head, gnashing his teeth over having inadvertently let out a loud scream.
Avril stood up and patted the dust off her bottom. The pleated skirt of her uniform swayed, allowing a glimpse of her long, white legs. The sky was clear, raining down dazzling sunshine onto the stone landing where they sat behind the school. Kazuya squinted against the bright light.
“Time to get back to class, then! Well, well, Kujou; I never expected you would be such a scaredy-cat. You always act like you’re the model son of a military officer, what with those good grades of yours, and that serious expression you always wear on your face. Ha-ha, who’d have thought!” Avril cheerfully gloated, looking down on Kazuya with childish glee. He grew more and more disconsolate.
“I win! Yahoo!”
As Kazuya watched Avril skip inside the building, he made a firm vow in his heart: Ugh. I swear I’ll find an even scarier story and tell it to Avril. I have to make her scream even louder. I’ll make her pay for this, or I’m not the third son of an imperial soldier!
Seething with frustration, Kazuya followed Avril back into the building.
Kazuya entered the classroom, which was filled as always with fifteen-year-old children of white, aristocratic families.
Luxuriously-crafted desks of fine oak were arranged in rows, and at each desk sat a boy with gleaming, elegant cufflinks and necktie pins, or a girl with carefully coiffed hair and nails. Their complexions were pale, their limbs long and slim, and their faces uniformly cold and aloof.
Kazuya Kujou, as a particularly serious young boy of Asian descent, made a stark contrast against the rest of them. In fact, the second he reentered the classroom, his classmates looked at him askance and began whispering among themselves.
“It’s the Grim Reaper…”
When Kazuya heard them exchanging whispers in their refined French, he fell into an even greater sulk.
It was the year 1924 in the Kingdom of Sauvure, a small European country.
At the border with Switzerland, rolling foothills met smooth plains. Bucolic vineyards sprawled beside the border with France. The border with Italy featured a bustling port that faced the Mediterranean sea. One end of the long and narrow country led to the heart of the Alps, rich in natural beauty, and the other end overlooked the Gulf of Lyon, famous as a playground of the aristocracy. The Kingdom of Sauvure had survived the Great War despite its location surrounded by world powers. Blessed by a mild climate and bountiful soil, the nation boasted of a long and august history.
If the Gulf of Lyon was this kingdom’s majestic entrance, then the Alps, as its most secluded region, could be called its secret room in the attic. At the foot of the mountains stood St. Marguerite’s School, which maintained a long history, albeit not quite as long as that of the kingdom itself, as a distinguished institution built to educate the children of the aristocracy. Its reputation rang far and wide across the kingdom, but a closed-door policy prevented the general public from entering the campus. Only students and teachers were allowed to go in or out of the stately stone main building, which would appear in the shape of the letter U if viewed from above, comfortably surrounded by a lush natural environment.
However, after the conclusion of the previous war—which would later be regarded as the first world war that left no nation untouched—St. Marguerite’s School began to admit worthy students from allied countries.
Kazuya Kujou, a fifteen-year-old boy from an island country in the Far East, was an honors student and the youngest son of a military family. His two older brothers were far removed from him in age—one was an academic, and the other was actively engaged in a nascent political career. Their status had been taken into account when Kazuya was chosen for the study abroad program.
And so he had come to Sauvure by himself half a year ago. But contrary to the hopes and dreams swelling in his heart, what awaited him was prejudice from the children of aristocrats, and the mysterious ghost stories that circulated throughout the campus.
Kazuya’s stony-faced air may have naturally arisen from his serious and conscientious nature, but it had somehow ended up becoming the subject of one of these ghost stories, and he had for that reason suffered many trials over the past half year. …But we shall leave that story for another occasion.
A bell rang out, signaling the start of the class period. After Kazuya took his seat along with the rest of the students, his eyes drifted automatically to an empty seat by the window.
For all of the months he had been a student here, he had never seen the occupant of that seat actually attend class. It was always guaranteed to be empty. And yet it seemed as though everyone had come to a mutual decision to never sit in that seat, go near it, or put anything on it. It was as if they were afraid of something.
But Kazuya now knew what it was that they feared.
The homeroom teacher entered the classroom. She was a petite, baby-faced woman with large round glasses and wavy brunette hair, who always clutched her books and reference books to her chest with both hands, and cocked her head to the side like a confused puppy.
That teacher—Miss Cécile—stood at the podium, and sighed.
…Oh? Kazuya noticed that Miss Cécile was looking out of sorts.
At that moment, someone sitting behind him threw a balled-up piece of paper at the back of his head. He retrieved it and opened it up, and saw a message written in flowing English: “Dear Scaredy-Cat Kujou: Will you be able to go to the bathroom by yourself tonight? From Avril.”
He turned around and saw Avril waving her hand at him and smiling. She seemed cheerful enough. …Was this her way of showing affection?
Once the lesson was over, Miss Cécile started toward the exit, but suddenly paused. “Kujou, can you come here for a moment?”
Kazuya rose from his seat and followed the teacher out into the hallway. He fretted to himself, wondering if she was singling him out to tell him that his grades had done the unthinkable and slipped.
“I hoped you would take care of these for me. Here.” She handed him a set of notes from the lesson that they had just covered in class, then pointed back inside the classroom at the seat by the window that was always empty. “Sorry for always asking you to do this, but could you deliver these to Miss Victorique?”
“I see…. All right.”
As Kazuya nodded, a shadow smoothly popped up beside him. He looked up and saw Avril’s lovely face. Her short blond hair twinkled in the sunlight from the window.
She took a peek at the notes. “Ooh. Miss Cécile, is Victorique that kid who never comes to class?”
“Yes. But that’s not the same as not coming to school at all. Right, Kujou?”
Kazuya nodded cautiously.
Avril tilted her head, her expression inquisitive. “What does that mean? Where else could he be?”
“Huh? A conservatory? This school has one of those…?”
“Yeah, it does.” Kazuya’s face clouded over. “It’s in a really high place….”
Avril gave him a curious look. “How come? Say, are you friends with this Victorique person?”
Miss Cécile nodded happily when she heard her question, but Kazuya only inclined his head doubtfully.
Avril was becoming increasingly confused. “Well?”
“It’s just that even I don’t really know….”
“Stop being so vague. Then, what kind of boy is he?”
“You could say terrifying… or maybe surly… or cruel….”
Avril gave him a bewildered look, then muttered, “Oh, well,” and skipped back inside the classroom.
“Excuse me, Miss Cécile.” Kazuya stopped the teacher before she left.
“Hmm? What is it?”
“You seemed to be feeling a bit down today. I was just wondering….”
Miss Cécile’s large eyes widened. “Very perceptive of you. Actually… Well, it’s not anything school-related. But a strange incident happened in the village where I’m staying. This morning was rather hectic, what with the policemen going door to door questioning people…”
Miss Cécile lowered her voice, and a shadow passed over her face, perhaps anxious about the incident occurring so close by. “Well… It’s a very bizarre case. But all I know is what I heard from a policeman, plus the rumors that have been going around the neighborhood.”
“What kind of case is it?”
“This old woman who lived on the outskirts of town was murdered. And in a very strange way, too….”
“An old woman…?”
“I heard that she was retired now, but she used to be a famous fortuneteller. If I remember correctly, her name was Roxane. She would get visited by a lot of politicians and businessmen. They said she had the ability to see the future.”
“Miss Cécile, fortunetelling is nothing but…” …superstition, Kazuya wanted to say, but seeing how tired she looked, he decided against it.
“They say the killer still hasn’t been caught. So it’s scary. Anyway, it was a strange way to kill someone. How could someone do something like that….”
Miss Cécile went on to tell Kazuya some of what she had heard from the policemen and the rumors floating around her neighborhood. Taking together the parts that the stories had in common, it sounded as if that fortuneteller had been shot to death inside a locked room. But the weapon was nowhere to be found, and the killer was also unknown.
“I’m scared, but I guess we just have to be patient a little longer. Because that inspector Gréville de Blois, who’s been getting famous lately, made such a big fuss about conducting the investigation. He took along two deputies and he’s searching the whole village.”
“That’s a bad sign….” Kazuya murmured under his breath.
Miss Cécile gave him a puzzled look. “And that old woman who was murdered seems off, too. Her mansion was overrun with hares, and apparently she used to have dogs hunt them down and kill them. Poor things… That must’ve been scary for them….” she murmured, a dark look in her eyes.
She seemed fearful of the gloomy, sinister atmosphere surrounding this case. But when she caught sight of Kazuya’s worried expression, the smile quickly returned to her face, and she pointed at the papers in his hands. “Well, Kujou. I’ll leave these to you. Although… It is a little high…. So, good luck with that climb.”
“Yes, ma’am… I’m used to it.” Kazuya nodded, and chuckled dryly.