chapter two — the dark supper
Darkness enveloped the luxury liner. An usher, whose dark complexion hinted at his foreign origins, wordlessly led Kazuya and Victorique on board, with lamp in hand to light the way.
The ship began to navigate through the water, sloshing through rolling waves in the quietude of the night.
When Kazuya happened to look up at the sky, he realized that the stars twinkling in the darkness appeared to suddenly cut off at a certain point. A black wall stood against the sky, as if it had dropped down from above. He squinted at the dark space until he was able to make out the shape of a imposingly large smokestack.
That smokestack rose into the air like an ebony tower. It looked somehow far too thick for the size of the ship, throwing it off balance.
“Let’s go, Kujou.”
Kazuya hastily quickened his steps to catch up with the sound of Victorique’s voice. They descended rapidly down a staircase. He thought that the interior would be more brightly lit, but for some reason it was just as gloomy as the rest of the ship, with the usher’s lamp their only light just as before.
They were brought to a dining room with a long, narrow table and a sparkling chandelier. But the chandelier emitted no light, and the room was dim… no, completely darkened. Plate settings for ten diners were laid out on the long table, already piled high with steaming hot food. A candle burned beside each set of plates, but the ten faltering flames in the darkness were barely bright enough to light up their immediate vicinity.
There were no servers. Normally, each dish should have been served one by one in courses, but here they were already set on the table for each diner, from the hors d’oeurves to the main dish.
Nine adults sat at their seats in the shadows, and had apparently started on their dinners, their activities narrated by the clattering noises of their knives and forks.
A seat in the corner sat empty and alone. Kazuya guessed that this was the seat that belonged to the murdered Roxane. He turned to the usher and asked, “Since there’s two of us, could you bring another—huh?”
There was no one there. Kazuya opened the door and peeked down the hallway. The orange glow of the usher’s lamp flickered and faded away at the other end.
“Um, excuse me…?”
He was still close enough that he should have been able to hear Kazuya’s voice, but he made no attempt to look back.
A feeling of unease gripped Kazuya. He hurried down the dark hallway in pursuit. But the light of the usher’s lamp swayed from side to side, and grew smaller and smaller, as if he had broken into a run….
Why is he running away from me…?
Kazuya emerged onto the darkened deck of the ship, but the usher was nowhere to be found. He searched around himself in bewilderment.
How bizarre…. He couldn’t have just vanished. He had to have come this way!
Then Kazuya heard the sound of something plunging into the water in the distance.
He ran across the deck and leaned over the railing.
The orange lamplight was already disappearing into the dark sea, accompanied by the faint sounds of splashing water. After the usher guided on board the last passengers—Kazuya and Victorique—he had jumped into a rowboat and escaped. It was too dark outside to see if there was a silhouette in the small boat, but Kazuya could guess who it would be. He leaned over the railing and watched the boat go, dumbfounded.
What the…?! What on earth is going on here?
He stood immobile for a few minutes. Then his eyes drifted to the side of the ship, where some words in small, unassuming print jumped out at him.
The Queen Berry.
It was definitely a name that he had heard somewhere before, he thought to himself. Kazuya searched his memories.
…But came up with nothing. He gave up on following the man who had disappeared in the boat, and walked across the deck back to the dining room.
“Hey, Victo— …rique…?”
The guests were eating their dinner in the gloomy dining room, the candles beside their plates serving as their only source of illumination. The empty seat in the corner … was now occupied by Victorique’s small form, as she shoveled forkfuls of her luxurious dinner into her mouth. Her delicate hands manipulated knife and fork to transfer food into her dainty mouth with graceful, but swift movements. She was also chewing quickly, and the meal on her plate was rapidly disappearing.
Kazuya approached her in dismay. “H-hey, Victorique, wait!”
“Munch, munch… What do you want, Kujou? I’m busy eating here. Be quiet.”
“But I’m here, too.”
“…And?” replied Victorique, sounding mystified. She finished the last bite of hors d’oeurves and moved her knife and fork to the fish course.
“I’m hungry, too!”
“But Kujou, that invitation was addressed to Roxane.”
“Roxane is one person. Therefore, this dinner that we obtained through her invitation is also only enough for one.”
“…I get it. I should’ve known you were that kind of person. Say, do you have any cookies or something in your bag? I can try to manage with those.”
Victorique looked up at him as she used a knife to smoothly peel away the bones from her fish. A peculiar smile appeared on her face. At a glance, the expression on her undeniably beautiful face seemed to be a cheerful one, but the edges of her mouth were tense, and a muscle was twitching in one of her cheeks.
…This was how Victorique looked when she was angry.
“…I did have some.”
“Yay! Let me have them, then.”
“They’re in my suitcase.”
“Along with all of the other equipment that my brain determined to be necessary. I also had a set of tableware, chairs, and emergency rations.”
“…But you don’t need the tableware or chairs, do you?”
“Right now, they’re inside my suitcase, I suppose in Cécile’s room. You get what you deserve.” Victorique snorted and turned away from Kazuya.
Then she continued in a soft voice. “Kujou, you may have come here from the Orient because of your excellent grades, and you may come from a strict military background, but don’t think you’re fooling anyone with your arrogant nit-pickings. Because you’re just pigheaded and full of yourself. I have no cookies to share with such a person. Hmph!”
Kazuya choked in shock. I know I’m too inflexible and serious, and these are faults of mine, but still….
Victorique ignored him and moved onto her meat course in a sulk. Her pride was clearly still hurt from the time Kazuya took charge while they were setting off for their trip.
So I’m pigheaded, and full of myself, and I fool people with my arrogant nit-pickings…. Victorique is absolutely the last person I want to hear that from!
As Kazuya silently balled his hands into fists, he felt something behind him poke him on his bottom. He turned around in surprise, and saw a young white man looking up at him from a seat nearby.
“Oh, pardon me…. I must have been too loud.”
“Not at all… Do sit down.”
But there were no empty chairs. When Kazuya looked puzzled, the man gave him a warm smile and patted his own lap.
“You can sit right here.”
“I’m sorry?! No, thank—”
“Sit down, Kujou,” Victorique muttered sourly in a low voice. Kazuya resigned himself to sitting down on this stranger’s lap. He looked over his shoulder at the man’s face, which was wreathed in a friendly smile.
He had seen this face before, thought Kazuya. It was an attractive one, but because of his good-natured smile, the impression he gave was more that of a kind person rather than a handsome one. He seemed to be an Englishman, and the vaguely stiff accent of his Queen’s English brought to mind that charming exchange student, Avril.
And speaking of Avril…
“Sir, might you be a stage actor from England?”
As soon as Kazuya asked this, the man’s face lit up. “Have you heard of me?”
“A girl in my class had a photograph of you. She said your name was Ned Baxter.”
“My, I’m so happy to hear that. Why don’t you have some of my meat? Go on, don’t be shy.”
He cut off a large chunk of meat and lifted his fork to Kazuya’s mouth. Kazuya gave a startled blink and ate it in one bite. The meat was so delicious that it seemed to melt in his mouth. This Ned Baxter seemed to be a light eater, and had left most of his food on the plate. He eagerly continued to feed Kazuya by hand.
Victorique gave them a sidelong glance, and remarked in a derisive tone, “…You make a cute couple.”
“That’s enough, Victorique.”
“Come on, have some more,” said Ned.
“Uh, thank you very much….”
Ned Baxter began reminiscing about the English drama scene and expounding on Shakespeare’s plays. His jovial voice echoed through the dining room, which was otherwise still enough to hear a pin drop.
The other guests continued to eat their dinners in silence.
And ten or so minutes later…
The sounds of clinking silverware had faded away, and Ned’s voice had also gone quiet.
In the dark dining room, the only light was the weak flame of the candles, flickering dully and rhythmically before each of the ten seats. And as for each guest who had been sitting at those seats…
Some were collapsed bonelessly upon the table, or were leaning deeply against their chairs with mouths wide open. Faint breaths that resembled snores trickled from their lips, and quickly evaporated.
Every guest had fallen fast asleep. Kazuya tumbled from Ned’s lap and crashed to the floor face first.
The dining room descended into dead silence.
There was no other sound but the hiss of the candlelight.
The door quietly opened, and someone walked inside.
A twelfth person carefully peered into the faces of each guest, rounding the table with soft footsteps to confirm that everyone was asleep. The intruder stumbled over Kazuya’s fallen body and yelped aloud in surprise, then looked down at the boy in curiosity. Sleeping in the seat next to him was Victorique, her long blond hair spilling down like a sash, riveting the observer with her refined beauty. The intruder stared at the two of them, Kazuya on the floor and Victorique in the chair, with a look of suspicion.
Then the twelfth guest double-checked the nameplate in front of Victorique’s seat. It read “Madame Roxane”. …And yet, unexpectedly, a young girl was sitting in this chair.
The eleven guests blissfully slept on, unaware of the silent intruder….