Gosick I – 1.2

[2]

St. Marguerite’s Library, as one of Europe’s most renowned depositories of books, stood hidden in a corner of the campus. Three hundred years of history were etched into the substantially built structure, its stone façade impressive enough to make it a natural tourist attraction. But the official school policy of barring access to unauthorized individuals kept the library unsullied by the eyes of the public.

Kazuya’s shoes made a crunching sound as he walked on the dry ground toward the library. Once he reached the end of the path, he went inside.

Bookshelves lined every wall of the square, hollow library. An atrium occupied the center of the tower, and a sublime religious fresco gleamed on the distant ceiling. And winding precariously from bookshelf to bookshelf was a narrow wooden staircase, shaped like an enormous labyrinth.

When Kazuya lifted his eyes to the top floor, an unbidden sigh escaped his throat. He had seen something dangling near the ceiling that resembled a long golden belt.

“Victorique… Once again, you’re at the very top….”

Kazuya had no choice but to start climbing the maze of stairs. Throughout his ascent, he absentmindedly spoke his thoughts aloud. “It would be nice if she could come down a little lower once in a while. But I guess she climbs these stairs every day. That’s too much trouble….”

As he climbed the stairs, the floor below faded into the distance. Looking down would make him feel dizzy, so Kazuya made sure to look straight ahead, taking each step with a steady pace and his head held high, like the third son of an imperial soldier that he was.

His breath grew ragged along the way, but he kept on climbing.

“But still… Why did they have to build the library this way in the first place….”

Some said that this library had been constructed in the early seventeenth century by the king who founded St. Marguerite’s School. The king, who was constantly henpecked by his wife, had a secret room built on the very top floor so that he could indulge himself in trysts with a lover, and for this reason had the staircase built in the form of a maze.

In modern times, a hydraulic elevator had been installed as part of renovations, but it was limited to the use of staff, and not accessible to Kazuya.

So he climbed.

He climbed and climbed the labyrinthine staircase.

…And still climbed ever higher.

At last, he reached the very top floor, and halfheartedly called out, “Victorique…? Are you here…?”

There was no response. Kazuya continued, undiscouraged. “I know you’re here. I already saw your long hair. Hey!” He directed his voice toward the owner of the blond hair that hung down into the open space of the atrium like a belt.

A thin, white strand of smoke rose up to the ceiling.

Kazuya took a step forward.

There he found…

…a garden.

The secret room at the very top of the library was no longer a bedroom for the king and his lover, but had since been reconstructed as a lush greenhouse. Tropical trees and ferns abounded, and soft rays of sunlight shone brightly through skylights.

It was a brightly-lit, and yet empty, conservatory.

But someone had left a large porcelain doll sprawled out on the landing that led to the entrance of the greenhouse.

The doll’s height was close to life-size at around one hundred and forty centimeters tall. Its body was enveloped in luxurious clothing, lavishly bedecked in silk and lace. Splendidly long blond hair draped down to the floor like a turban come undone. Its face bore the detached coldness of porcelain. Pale, nearly transparent emerald-green eyes, ambiguous in whether they belonged to an adult or a child, glimmered with alertness.

This porcelain doll was puffing away at a pipe held in its mouth. A white wisp of smoke drifted up toward the ceiling.

Kazuya walked straight toward that porcelain doll—no, that girl, who was beautiful enough to be a doll.

“…You could at least answer me back, Victorique.”

The girl’s green eyes were rapidly shifting between the books lined up on the floor. The books, which radiated around her in all directions, included books of ancient history, the latest scientific discoveries, mechanics, witchcraft, alchemy…. They were also written in various languages, from English and French, to Latin and Chinese.

The girl casually skimming these books—Victorique—suddenly came back to her surroundings, and looked up. Faced with Kazuya’s look of displeasure, she spoke only briefly. “Oh, it’s you.” Her voice was low and husky, like that of an old woman. It was a voice far removed from the appearance of her small body and fairy-like beauty.

Kazuya felt miffed by her intolerably aloof attitude, a mark of her aristocratic background. But she was always like this. Every time he came to visit, Victorique would end up irritating him in some way.

Victorique fell silent, and once again turned her gaze back to her books. She read rapidly while flipping through pages, then spoke again. “What do you want from me, reaper?”

“I thought I told you not to call me that.” Kazuya hung his head, and leaned against the railing of the staircase.

“Reaper” happened to be Kazuya’s nickname, of which he wasn’t particularly fond. Its origin lay in the collective mania for ghost stories that had infected the student body. As a school with a long history, there was no lack of material for such tales. There was the so-called “traveler who comes in spring brings death to the school”, “a demon dwells in the thirteenth step of the staircase”, and so on….

With his dark hair and jet-black eyes, the taciturn traveler from the Orient, Kazuya Kujou, wound up becoming universally known as the “reaper who comes in spring”. The students who so adored their ghost stories wouldn’t dare go near him. He had his doubts as to how much they really believed in these stories, but the students clearly enjoyed them, as if the entire school had decided to engage in a single hobby en masse.

For this reason, Kazuya was unable to make close friends. And so Miss Cécile had arranged for him to end up in the position of liaison, or perhaps attendant, to the school’s resident misfit, Victorique.

It wasn’t that he really wanted to spend time with this arrogant beauty… or so he told himself. But before he knew it, he had fallen into the habit of climbing that labyrinthine staircase to meet her on a regular basis.

Victorique paid no mind to Kazuya as he brooded over his lot in life, and continued in her husky voice. “Kujou, I suppose you’ve come to see me once again because you’re still unable to make any friends. You just don’t learn, do you. Or is it that you simply enjoy climbing the stairs?”

“…Of course not. Here, take these.” Kazuya thrust the papers that the teacher had given him at Victorique.

She jutted out her chin at the floor as if to say, “Put them over there.” Then she said in a sing-song voice, “So, the weather was so nice that you decided to have a date in the garden?”

“No, it wasn’t a date, we were just chatting. She was telling me a story about this haunted unmanned luxury liner, the ‘Queen Berry,’ and—wait a second, Victorique.” Kazuya was in the process of promptly leaving the conservatory, but he rushed back inside, and peered at Victorique, who was burying her face in her books. “How did you know I was there? Did you see me?”

“No.”

“Then how did you know?”

“The way I always know things, Kujou.” Victorique spoke wearily, without lifting her head from her books. “An overflowing wellspring of wisdom told it to me.” Ignoring Kazuya who was waiting impatiently for her next words, she puffed on her pipe and went on nonchalantly in her sing-song tone. “Kujou, you are a methodical and damnably serious bookworm.”

“…Well, pardon me for that.”

“A person like you would scrupulously wear your hat when going out of doors in uniform. And so I see the marks on your hair of having worn your hat firmly about your head. And then there’s the pink flower petal stuck to your collar. That belongs to one of the pansies blooming in the gardens. Therefore, I may conclude that you were in the garden.”

“But as far as being a date goes… For all you know, I could’ve been by myself….”

“Kujou, you’re in high spirits this morning. I heard your enthusiastic footsteps while you were climbing the staircase.”

“Huh…?” Is that so? wondered Kazuya to himself. He thought he had climbed it the same way he always did…. With even footsteps, and his head held up high….

Victorique coldly spit out her next words. “Your responses to my utterances have also been unusually cheerful. It goes without saying that there can be only one reason for such exuberant behavior by the male of the species—that is, lust. Kujou, you were carried away by your unseemly lust and became excessively excited. But there would be no reason to feel lustful in the garden all by yourself. This implies that you were there with a woman. And it must be a woman that you are fond of. This is what the wellspring of wisdom has said to me.”

“No, Victorique… Please choose your words more carefully. I mean, ‘lust’… and the ‘unseemly’ and all that is really unnecessary, too….” Kazuya’s face turned bright red, and he sat down, hugging his knees. It wasn’t the first time that Victorique had deduced his behavior sight unseen, but today’s instance was particularly embarrassing. He stared resentfully at her profile. “You guessed it, huh…. I’ve got to hand it to you….”

At first, Victorique gave no response, and merely went on reading her books. But after a delay, Kazuya’s words finally seemed to reach her brain, and she nodded. “Yes. I have honed my senses so that I may take in the fragments of chaos in this world, and allow my ‘wellspring of wisdom’ to toy with them, and in this way, relieve my boredom. In other words, I reconstruct them. And when I feel like it, I may even articulate the process so that even a mediocre individual like yourself may understand. Well, generally that’s too much trouble, so usually I’d rather just stay silent.”

“…Then why don’t you stay silent in front of me?”

“I suppose that’s because the mere sight of you makes me want to tease you.” With this, Victorique said no more, and only plunged her face deeper and deeper into her books.

Kazuya gazed at Victorique’s profile, his shoulders slumping.

Kazuya Kujou, as a student bright enough to be sent abroad as a representative for his country, would normally never allow himself to be called a “mediocre individual”. But when it came to Victorique, this strange noble-born girl who had never shown up for class even once, for some reason he couldn’t find it in himself to come up with a retort.

In fact, Kazuya didn’t know much at all about Victorique’s upbringing or what sort of girl she was.

This girl was absolutely beautiful, absolutely tiny, absolutely intelligent, and completely unapproachable. She had been given a boy’s name for some reason, and was slightly mad, but she may very well have been a genius. According to several informed sources, he had heard that she was an illegitimate daughter from an aristocratic family; that her relatives inexplicably feared her and hadn’t wanted to leave her in their mansion, and so had sent her to this school; that her mother was a famous dancer, and was insane; that she was the incarnation of a legendary grey wolf, and had been seen devouring raw meat…. True to the reputation of a school riddled with ghost stories, the rumors about her had gotten steadily more dubious.

Kazuya had never asked Victorique about these things. As the son of an imperial soldier, it would be unacceptable for him to look at a person with such base curiosity. Furthermore, Victorique herself was such a bizarre person that he had no idea where to begin with his questions.

And so, despite knowing nothing about her, he continued to go through the trouble of climbing the stairs to this conservatory, where he would get angry with Victorique and her sharp tongue. This was Kazuya’s … well, how shall we put it … daily life for now.

*****

“Anyway, Victorique. You sure read a lot of books every day,” said Kazuya, still undeterred.

Victorique gave no response other than a slight nod.

“Do you intend to read every book in this library?”

He had meant it in jest, but Victorique lifted her head, and casually pointed below the railing of the staircase. “I’ve just about finished reading everything on this wall. …Oh? Kujou, your eyeballs look as if they’re going to pop out of your head. What’s the matter?”

“No… I was just surprised. What are you reading right now?”

“Lots of things.” Victorique yawned, then stretched like a cat, arching her back in the shape of a bow. “Oh, I’m so bored. There isn’t enough chaos to reconstruct. No matter how much I read, it still isn’t enough, Kujou.”

“…I think normally someone’s head would burst from just reading one of these,” Kazuya said, pointing at the book in Latin that lay opened in front of her.

Victorique had been opening her mouth wide in one yawn after another, but now her expression suddenly brightened. “I know, Kujou. Let me explain something to you.”

“Explain what?”

“About this book. You know, this book … this one is about ancient methods of fortune-telling.”

“Fortune-telling? Not interested.”

“Makes no difference to me.”

“Huh… Why tell me, then?”

“Because I’m bored,” Victorique said with a nod, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.

Then she launched into a monologue, forcing Kazuya to stay put and listen just as he was about to escape out of disinterest. “According to this book, fortune-telling has gone hand in hand with human desires ever since ancient times. For example, in the ancient Roman empire, people would burn animal intestines and scapulae, then divine omens in the cracks that formed. This seems to have persisted up until the eleventh century, but one of the Christian ecumenical councils put a stop to it. And then there’s book divination, which is opening books and divining based on whatever is written on that particular page, which is another method that persisted from ancient times. The ancients would use the books of Homer, but the Christians began using the Bible. But the Church once again put a stop to it. …Hey, don’t fall asleep, Kujou. I’m dying of boredom here.”

“…Yes, sorry.”

“Therefore, fortune-telling became a heresy. But even though governments and the church prohibited it, people still continued to do it. Over the centuries, there were even many cases of clergymen secretly performing it in churches. Do you know why that is?”

“Well…”

Victorique removed the pipe from her mouth and exhaled a mouthful of smoke. Then she wearily declared, “Because it worked.”

“…Surely not.”

“The ancient Roman emperor Valens felt insecure over his own position, so he called a fortune teller to divine the name of the person who was threatening him. That is, he wrote out the alphabet on a level surface using animal feed, then released chickens to eat it. The outcome was that the chickens ate the feed on the letters that read, ‘T’, ‘H’, ‘E’, ‘O’, ‘D’. The emperor interpreted that as a reference to the name ‘Theodorus’, and had everyone in the empire bearing that name put to death. However, the name of the next person who would go on to rule the empire happened to be Theodosius. That means he had the wrong person.”

“…That’s a disturbing story.”

“Listen to me seriously. I’m about to fall asleep out of boredom.”

“Sorry.”

“Various reports attest that the most reliable method of divination uses an object known as the ‘magic mirror’. This mirror, also depicted in Leonardo Da Vinci’s painting ‘Witch Using a Magic Mirror’, is the predecessor to the crystal ball. One prepares a silver jar filled with wine, a copper one filled with oil, and a glass one filled with water, then performs the divination for three days and three nights. The copper jar represents the past, the glass jar the present, and the silver jar the future, and these are then reflected in the magic mirror.”

Victorique swiftly opened a book to a page with a diagram of a woman clad head to toe in a red cloth, holding a golden mirror, and with three jars in front of her. White-cloaked men bowed before her with their foreheads to the ground.

Victorique turned the page, all while continuing to speak without pause.

Kazuya listened to her quietly, afraid of provoking her. He remembered how in the country where he had been born and raised, women would obediently walk three paces behind men. Kazuya himself still couldn’t quite get used to dealing with the type of girl who would walk three paces ahead of him, and turn around yelling, “Hurry up!”

Everything was for the sake of his studies, he thought to himself. The pursuit of knowledge was a difficult thing. And he was getting sleepy.

“And then, the description of staff divination used by the prophet Moses, as depicted in the Book of Numbers, is also very interesting. In order to find out which tribe the leader of the Israelites would come from, they prepared twelve staffs with the names of each tribe written on them, and divined from those.”

“…Huh. Anyway, I’m pretty surprised.”

“About what?”

“I didn’t think you would believe in fortune-telling.”

“I never said I believed in it.”

“Oh?”

Victorique pulled out yet another book from the mountain of opened books radiating around her. She opened it up and showed it to Kazuya, but he immediately shrunk away from it when he saw that it was written in difficult-looking German. Victorique reached out her small hands and shoved the book at him.

Kazuya gave up on trying to run away. “…What’s that book?”

“It’s on psychology. Now I suppose I owe a block-headed, half-witted savant like you an explanation. ‘Why do people believe in fortune-telling?’”

“Huh…”

“Because it works. Not in the objective sense, of course. It works in the subjective sense. That means one feels as if it works. That is the innate power of the superstition known as fortune-telling, and that is why it’s persisted ever since the premodern era. That means it’s supported by the psychology of the masses of people who want it to work. …In other words, the craze for ghost stories that infests this school follows the same principle. Everyone is an unconscious accomplice, operating in tandem.”

“Yeah…”

“And so, this points to three possible causes for correct instances of divination. The first one is that only the occasions where it has worked are the ones left in the historical record. The countless times that it was off are left sleeping in the shadow of the times that it was accurate. The second one is that it works depending on the skill of the fortune-teller to guess the wishes of the supplicant by reading his facial expressions. And the third one is when any answer may do.”

“Mmm…”

“For example, Kujou, let’s say that before you came to study in this country, you had your fortune read to predict what sort of life you would lead as a foreign student. If it came out favorable, then if you ended up doing well in school after you arrived here, you would think it was accurate. If it came out unfavorable, then whenever something unpleasant happened, you would still think it was accurate.”

“Uh-huh…”

“…This is what happened with the emperor Valens, whom I mentioned previously. The five letters that the chickens chose could have been combined into any number of combinations. But the emperor personally suspected a young man by the name of Theodorus, and that’s why he combined the resulting letters into that name. This meant that fortune-telling was simply a superstition that he used to support his preexisting psychological state, a shove on the back to push him into something that he had already set his heart on doing. It was nothing more than a mere device in order to duck responsibility for his—argh!”

“Wh-wh-what happened?!”

Victorique, who until now had been engaged in a lively monologue, had suddenly plunged her small, golden-haired head into her hands and groaned. Kazuya jumped up, concerned that she had finally gone completely mad.

But she only glared at him balefully. “Explaining this to a mediocre person like you only made me even more bored!”

“…Th-that’s a rude thing to say.”

“Ugh, my chest hurts. This boredom is getting painful. …Now, how will you take responsibility for this?”

“Excuse me?!” Kazuya burst into indignation, but then suddenly remembered something. “That reminds me. Say, Victorique. Speaking of fortune-telling…”

He thought of the case that Miss Cécile had mentioned to him, about an old woman in the neighboring village who had been murdered in a unusual way, having been shot to death in a locked room, and the police being unable to locate the murder weapon. The victim was a woman named Roxane, and her profession was…

“A fortune-teller was murdered yesterday in the village nearby.”

The moment he mentioned this, Victorique’s thin shoulders twitched. She lifted her face, and for the first time that morning, stared directly at Kazuya.

The fine strands of her hair gleamed golden, painting a pale wave as they spilled down to the floor. Her skin was so white that her blood vessels were visible. And her two emerald-green eyes, which had been focused on some distant, unknown landscape, turned to him, their gaze melancholy, like that of an old woman who had lived for far too long.

Kazuya unconsciously drew back from her stare.

And then Victorique quietly parted her lips, and whispered, “So this is chaos.” Then she blew a mouthful of smoke into Kazuya’s face.

“Well, I don’t know all the details yet….” Kazuya sat down beside Victorique, coughing violently at the smoke, wiping tears from his eyes. “I just heard a little bit about it when I was chatting with Miss Cécile earlier. And all she knew was what she had heard from a policeman, and from the rumors going around the neighborhood. …Well, anyway, it sounds like that old woman bought a small, cozy manor to live in around the time when the Great War began….”

The fortune-teller Roxane was a wrinkled old woman, rumored to be around the age of eighty or ninety, and lived in her mansion with an Indian butler and an Arab maid. The incident had apparently occurred the previous evening, when her granddaughter had come to visit.

“…Hold on, Kujou. Why was her butler an Indian and her maid an Arab?”

“They said that she liked to have exotic servants. And that she was very learned, and knew Hindi and Arabic at a conversational level, so she didn’t have any problems communicating with them. Oh, and the maid can only speak Arabic, but the butler seems to be fluent in English and French, too.”

Roxane had been shot to death in her own room that night. The bullet had pierced her left eye, and she died instantly. The culprit was unknown. It appeared to be either her butler, maid, or granddaughter, who were the only other ones present in the mansion that night, but the investigation was at an impasse.

“Why is that?”

“Well… The door and the window were locked from the inside, and they couldn’t even find the pistol that shot her. The three of them seem to be denying they had anything to do with it.”

“Hmm…” Victorique looked up at him, as if trying to goad him forward.

Kazuya squirmed nervously under her gaze. He had reached the limit of the information that he had stored from his chat with Miss Cécile. And even Miss Cécile herself wouldn’t know anything more than that. He would find himself in a bind if Victorique were to press him for more.

Just as that thought had crossed his mind, he heard the footsteps of someone entering the library. He looked over the railing, and saw Inspector Gréville de Blois, the one that Miss Cécile had earlier referred to as a famous detective, rush inside.

Not again… An expression of disgust on his face, Kazuya nudged Victorique’s shoulder. “I’ll leave the rest of the story to that fellow with the weird hairstyle.”

“…Mmm?” Victorique’s face grew almost imperceptibly darker.

They heard the sound of Inspector de Blois boarding the hydraulic staff elevator.

The iron cage rose with a coarse clang.

Next, Kazuya saw the inspector’s deputies, two young men who wore rabbit-skin hunting caps, skip inside the library, amiably holding hands. Apparently, they would be waiting below on standby. They looked up and cheerfully waved their unoccupied hands at him.

Gréville de Blois, a young aristocrat with an interest in crime, had forced his way into the position of inspector at the local police station. The two long-suffering deputies were thoroughly used to the inspector taking advantage of them to conduct investigations at his whim.

Kazuya glanced away from the two men waiting below, and heard a loud clunk as the elevator arrived at the top floor. Inspector de Blois emerged into a small alcove on the side of the conservatory.

Across the lush greenery, and beneath the mellow sunlight shining in from the skylights, stood a man of peculiar appearance. He wore a three-piece suit and a garish ascot tie. Expensive silver cufflinks glittered at his wrists. He was the prototypical fashionable young nobleman, and yet there was one thing amiss.

It was his hair. His thick blond hair was inexplicably swept forward and tapered into a hard point. Depending on how he used it, it was enough to turn his head into a weapon.

He struck a pose, leaning against the doorframe with his arms folded, and called out, “Hey, Kujou!”

“…Hello.”

Inspector de Blois approached Kazuya in a jaunty manner and affably greeted him, and only him. He didn’t bother to look at Victorique at all. She, for her part, faced another direction and continued smoking away on her pipe.

“It’s a good thing that I was able to save your life thanks to this exceptional intellect of mine. My, that certainly was a difficult case! I remember it like yesterday….”

“Even though Victorique was the one who solved it….”

“So, I thought I would tell you about another case. Somehow, whenever I talk to you, my mind suddenly gets sharper. That’s the brain of a famous inspector for you!”

Kazuya had once been eyewitness to a murder case that had taken place on the road to school, and was arrested by Inspector de Blois. He had agonized over the possibility of being deported back to his home country, or being tried for murder, but instead he was saved by Victorique, an eccentric beauty whom he had met in this conservatory.

Needless to say, Victorique had not rescued Kazuya out of any particular sense of concern for his well-being. She used something that she called her “wellspring of wisdom” to interpret the fragments of chaos that required reconstruction, and so arrive at the truth. In fact, even after she solved the case, Victorique made no attempt to help prove Kazuya’s innocence. He had been forced instead to explain Victorique’s reasoning to the inspector himself and plead on his own behalf.

Remembering that case caused Kazuya to break out into a cold sweat even now.

But after having tasted victory, ever since then Inspector de Blois would show up to the conservatory every time he encountered a new case, and would end up relating the specifics to Kazuya. Then Victorique, listening alongside him, would “reconstruct the fragments of chaos”, thus allowing the inspector to return to the outside world and solve the case.

In other words, he was far from the accomplished inspector that he proclaimed himself to be. He was more akin to someone relying on a cheat sheet in human form….

“Inspector, please ask Victorique. I won’t be able to help you no matter how much you tell me.”

“I didn’t quite catch your meaning. There’s no one else here but you and me.”

Kazuya silently eyed the two people before him in exasperation.

Apparently, Victorique and Inspector de Blois had known each other since before the first case with Kazuya. But the two of them categorically refused to acknowledge each others’ presence, and the inspector seemed to deeply resent having to ask Victorique for her help. Kazuya thought the inspector could have chosen not to rely on Victorique if he disliked her so much, but this was nevertheless the state of affairs in which they found themselves.

Victorique abruptly looked up, and turned to Kazuya. “It’s all right, Kujou. I’ll just be here reading my books. You two can go on talking. I may mumble a bit to myself from time to time, but you needn’t mind me. Even if I happen to drop some hints now and then, just pretend I’m not here.”

“No, but really…”

“OK, I’ll begin. Now, then—hey, look at me!” Inspector de Blois enthusiastically rolled up his sleeves.

Kazuya resigned himself to listening.

*****

Inspector de Blois took a pipe from his bag, and with a single smooth, showy movement, placed it into his mouth. Kazuya absentmindedly watched white smoke rise from the pipe, disappearing into the inspector’s upswept hair.

Victorique sat facing away from them as usual, smoking her own pipe.

The inspector exhaled a mouthful of smoke, then began to speak. “This fortune-teller, Roxane, was killed last night. After the others staying at her home finished their dinner, they each retired to their rooms. She went to rest in her own room on the first floor. Her butler was outside standing below her window at the time, and claims that he was taking the hares that had been released into the garden back into their hutches.”

“…Hares?” asked Victorique.

The inspector shuddered at her sudden question, then he nodded at Kujou. “This fortune-teller owned a lot of hares, and one hunting dog. She would sometimes release the hares and let the dog hunt them down. We’re not sure why, but she had them separated into different groups of hares for hunting, and hares that were allowed to live out their lives, but we don’t know the reason behind it. She seems to have been an eccentric old woman.”

“I see,” Victorique interjected again, as if participating in the conversation. But she still didn’t bother to look at the face of the person to whom she was speaking, and Kazuya was still stuck in between. …But then it was always this way.

“The maid was cleaning the room next door. The granddaughter was in a room right on top of them, dancing and playing a record with the volume up. Then came the sound of a gunshot, and everyone was startled and went to gather in the hallway. The maid was concerned for the fortune-teller, and knocked on her door and called out to her in a loud voice, but there was no response. The door was locked. The butler panicked, and suggested that he bring an axe to break it down. The door was made of a thin and light material so that the wheelchair-bound old woman could easily open and close it, and the butler thought he could easily break it open with one swing. But at this point, the granddaughter screamed, and strongly demurred to this plan. Her shameful reasoning was that if the old woman was dead, then the house would be hers, so she refused to allow him to damage it.

“The butler stood down, but the maid, who was a foreigner, didn’t understand what the granddaughter was saying, and she grabbed a pistol that the old woman kept for self-defense in the next room, and shot at the keyhole of the door before anyone could stop her. This enraged the granddaughter, and she attacked the maid, and the two of them exchanged blows. Meanwhile, the Indian butler entered the room by himself. Then he said he saw … the fortune-teller, unconscious, about to fall from the wheelchair that she always sat in. She had been shot through her left eye, and had died instantly. But the window was locked from the inside, and no one could locate the murder weapon.”

“Hmm.”

“I haven’t the foggiest idea how to explain any of it….” murmured the inspector.

Victorique opened her mouth wide in a yawn of sincere boredom, extended out both of her thin arms like the stretch of a sluggish cat, and said, “Oh, so that’s how it is.” And then she yawned again.

Inspector de Blois glared at Victorique’s profile with a startlingly visceral hostility, then turned his eyes away. “Well, I know who the killer is. There’s certainly something suspicious about the butler standing below the window. But I have no proof….”

“…The maid is the killer, Gréville.” Victorique’s voice came out slightly muffled in mid-yawn.

The inspector stiffened, and shot her a look of surprise. Then he hastily averted his eyes from her, and faced Kazuya. “Well, now, Kujou. I believe you owe me an explanation!”

“How should I know?! And throttling my neck like that will do you no good, either!”

Now Victorique uttered in a soft voice, “You said that the maid can only speak Arabic, and the fortune-teller was the only one who could understand her.”

“Huh…?” Kazuya and the inspector, still in their fighting stances, turned to look at Victorique. “What do you mean, Victorique?”

“It’s very simple. It doesn’t even rise to the level of chaos. Now listen carefully. The maid knocked on the door, and shouted something in Arabic. When there was no response, she went to the next room to retrieve a pistol, then returned to the hallway. She shot the lock off the door, and broke it.”

“Right.”

“The only ones who understood what the maid shouted were the maid herself, and the fortune-teller.”

Kazuya leaned toward Victorique to listen to her quiet voice. “What did she shout?”

“She probably said the following, although I don’t know which person she wanted to implicate as the enemy, the granddaughter or the butler. ‘Madame, your life is in danger. Did you hear that gunshot? Move away from the window, and come closer to the door. I’ll come help you.’”

Kazuya and the inspector exchanged a look.

“What? Why? Ugh…” The inspector buried his head in his hands in confusion.

Kazuya asked on his behalf, “So … at the time, the fortune-teller was still … alive, then?”

“Of course.” Victorique nodded calmly. She was about to bury her head back into her books again when a thought seemed to suddenly cross her mind, causing her to look up.

Kazuya and the inspector stared at her silently, their heads cocked in bemusement. Sunlight flowed in from the skylights, illuminating the tops of their heads. A gentle breeze rustled the tree branches in the overgrown greenhouse and the hair of Inspector de Blois.

After a few moments of silence, Victorique yawned widely. Realizing that no one had understood what she had said, she asked in a tone of extreme vexation, “My method of articulation isn’t enough for you, is it?”

“Not at all. Please, Victorique.”

“Basically, then. What killed the fortune-teller wasn’t the first gunshot. That was just a decoy. The maid brazenly shot her to death in front of the eyewitnesses, who had rushed to the door to see what was the matter. She shouted in Arabic to fool the fortune-teller into believing that it was safe, and convince her to go in front of the door. So when the maid shot the lock, she hit the fortune-teller along with it. The reason she was shot through the left eye was likely because she was trying to peek outside. But what she saw on the other end was only the muzzle of a gun.”

“Hold on… Then who shot the gun the first time, Kujou?”

“Inspector, I’m not the one solving the case; Victorique is.”

“The first shot…” Victorique again opened her mouth in a wide yawn. “…came from the neighboring room. The object was to frighten the fortune-teller, and summon the rest of the people in the mansion. Now, I still don’t know where she was trying to shoot. You can inspect that room later. You should discover a fresh bullet hole there.”

“…I see.” Inspector de Blois stood up. He smoothed out his three-piece suit and ran his hand over his pointed head like nothing had happened, then made a quick dash toward the elevator, almost as if he were trying to escape.

Behind him, Kazuya called out in righteous indignation. “Inspector!”

“…What?”

“You ought to thank Victorique. She helped you with your investigation, after all.”

“What on earth are you talking about?” The inspector turned around, his face brimming with haughtiness. He stiffened his shoulders, rose his chin into the air, and glared at Kazuya. Then he slowly removed the pipe from his mouth, and blew smoke into Kazuya’s face.

Kazuya coughed violently.

The inspector babbled on nervously as he made a hasty exit. “Kujou, you know, I merely came here to check up on the Oriental boy whom I rescued out of concern for his well-being. I’m glad to see you hale and hearty, but you’re baffling me with this bizarre line of questioning….”

“…Gréville.” Victorique looked up and addressed him in a soft voice.

Inspector de Blois, who had already entered the iron cage of the elevator, turned to look at her with a pensive expression. He stared at her small form as if he were gazing upon something huge and terrifying. In that instant, adult and child seemed to switch places with an almost palpable ringing sound…. It was a peculiar sight.

Kazuya watched them silently.

“The mystery of the culprit’s motive is hidden in what exactly she shot with the first bullet.”

“…What do you mean?!”

“Figure out the rest yourself, Gréville.”

The elevator began to move with a harsh clang.

Inspector de Blois’ handsome face twisted in chagrin, then disappeared beneath the floor as the iron cage descended.

Victorique yawned loudly. Then she flopped onto the floor in the manner of a cat, and rolled around in a tantrum. “It ended in mere moments. Now I’m bored again. Oh, ohh….” she moaned.

“Say, Victorique,” Kazuya said darkly, the very picture of deep disapproval.

Naturally, Victorique paid no attention to Kazuya’s tone. She continued to roll around on top of the opened books.

“That inspector with the weird hairstyle plans to claim your deductions as his own again. Even though the truth is that you’re the one who always gives him the answers.”

“…Does it bother you?” asked Victorique abruptly.

Kazuya nodded vehemently. “I can’t stand such unseemly behavior. Besides, isn’t his attitude rather ungrateful for someone asking a favor?”

Victorique listlessly rolled around and around.

Kazuya added suddenly, “That reminds me…. Say, did you already know the inspector from somewhere? The two of you seem to be on … awfully bad terms with each other….”

Victorique did not respond.

Kazuya shrugged, and gave up on asking anything more.

Then Victorique suddenly rose upright. “Kujou, why don’t you give me a little dance?”

“…What?!”

“Don’t dawdle; get up and dance for me right now.”

“May I ask why?!”

Victorique answered with a nod, as if her request were a most eminently reasonable one. “To relieve my boredom.”

“…Well, I’m not going to. I’m leaving! Looks like afternoon classes will be starting soon, so….”

“Kujou.” Victorique gazed at him unwaveringly with her green eyes.

Kazuya found himself unable to move, feeling much like a frog caught in the sights of a snake. Victorique blew out a puff of smoke, causing him to burst into a fit of coughing yet again. “Come on, Victorique.”

“Kujou, hurry up…” Victorique pinned him with an unyielding stare. “…and dance.”

“….Yes, ma’am.”

Kazuya groped the distant reaches of his memory, and began to perform a dance from the summer festival of his hometown. As the son of a military family, he had never before allowed himself to indulge in such frivolous pastimes as dancing or singing.

“…Hmm. What do you call this sort of dance?”

“It’s a Bon festival dance. Do you want to try?”

“Of course not. Oh… I’m so bored.”

“You really are a cruel person, aren’t you.”

“I think I’ll take a nap….” Victorique’s sighs echoed throughout the conservatory.

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