Gosick I – 2.3

[3]

Kazuya was steadily recovering from his sedative-induced headache, and he stood up and began to investigate the lounge. He took a peek inside the bar counter, but found nothing of particular interest. While he looked upon the bottles of wine that were lined up inside, Victorique walked up to him, and surveyed the bottles with a single sweep of her eyes.

“So there’s wine here.”

“Yeah…”

Victorique removed the stopper from one of the bottles, and poured some wine into a nearby glass. The deep purple-red liquid sparkled, reflecting the light of the chandeliers. She looked closely at the label on the bottle, then picked up the glass and lifted it to her nose for a sniff.

“This is old and expensive wine.”

“Really?”

Victorique nodded. “At least, according to the label….”

While the two of them were talking softly, Ned wandered up to them, still holding a hand to his head. “What are you kids up to?”

“Well, we were just wondering if we could find some clues about what’s going on here….”

“Be careful where you touch.”

Kazuya looked up at him, surprised at the tone of his low voice.

Ned grimaced. “If they drugged our food, there’s no telling what else could be lying around.”

“You’re right…”

Ned scanned the rest of the room, then walked up to a table where a tennis racket and ball had been left behind. The table looked as if someone had just been sitting beside it only moments ago. A whiskey bottle, ice, and two glasses had been placed on top. The ice was still frozen solid. Atop a nearby table lay scattered cards, as if the person sitting there had been playing a card game and just now stepped away for a break.

On the other side of the room, Kazuya went around the bar counter, then came back out and started to roam in the direction of the stage. A book of sheet music had been left open to what appeared to be the middle of a classical piece, looking as though someone had been standing there and playing it just a minute ago.

At that moment, a man suddenly stood up and shouted, “Stop wandering around!”

Kazuya and Ned both turned around, startled by the sudden angry scream.

The man was smartly dressed in an expensive suit and glittering, jewel-studded cufflinks. His dark brown hair was carefully combed and parted on one side, and his freckled cheeks were twitching with rage.

“Y-you all know that this ship is dangerous! Sit down and be quiet! There’s no telling what might happen if you keep moving around!”

“…What do you mean by that?” Victorique’s murmur carried across the hushed lounge from her seat in the corner.

The man swung his head around, but couldn’t identify anyone who looked like they possessed an old woman’s husky voice. He stiffened in bewilderment. “Who said that?!”

“I did.” Victorique calmly raised her hand, and the entire room turned to look at her.

Everyone gasped when they laid eyes upon the lone girl sitting in the corner. Victorique returned their gaze, her green eyes shining.

A chorus of admiring sighs swelled through the room at the sight of the girl with golden hair spilling down her tiny body like a turban come undone. “What a knockout! She’s gorgeous!” they whispered. The men had been shocked when they first saw her, but now they proceeded to scrutinize Victorique’s exquisite doll-like visage with intense interest.

Kazuya instinctively ran in front of Victorique and blocked their view.

“What are you doing?” she asked suspiciously.

“Protecting you from their threatening stares.”

“…You’re in my way. I can’t see.”

Kazuya glumly returned to his original spot.

The man who had been shouting angrily was now glowering at Victorique. “Children shouldn’t speak out of turn!”

His words startled Kazuya, and just as he was about to protest, he sensed movement from behind him. He looked up to see the woman in the red dress, a fiery look of resolve in her eyes.

“But mister, this ship is strange.”

The man turned to her, a scowl on his face.

The young woman pointed at a nearby table. “Look at this table. There’s a tennis racket, a ball, and a glass of whiskey. The ice hasn’t even melted yet. It’s like someone was playing at the tennis courts and came to have a drink in the lounge just a few minutes ago. And there’s playing cards all over this other table. But there’s nobody here besides us.”

“Silence, woman!” shouted the man. “Shut your mouth!”

The woman in the red dress blinked, stunned.

Ned, who was standing next to her, tried to defuse the situation. “Hey, mister, calm down. You have to admit, she has a—”

“Be quiet, you worthless actor!”

“…the hell did you say?!” Ned burst into a rage and clenched his hands into fists. The woman cried out, “Stop it!” and held his arms back.

Kazuya hesitantly volunteered, “But still…”

The man turned around and glared at him. “No talking, Oriental!”

Kazuya closed his mouth. Then he looked around the room; it seemed that the only ones fuming at the man’s outbursts besides Kazuya himself were Victorique, Ned, and the woman. The other seven people were men of middle age or slightly older. They huddled in their part of the room and kept the other four at a distance.

Ned and the woman approached Kazuya and Victorique. Ned grumbled quietly to Kazuya, “By his logic, the only ones allowed to talk here are old men like him.”

“Ugh…”

“What sort of reasoning is that. For God’s sake, what an arrogant bastard.” Ned continued to mumble complaints under his breath.

Victorique stood beside him. “This is chaos,” she said, her face somber.

The woman in the dress paced around the room, deep in thought. It seemed to be a habit of hers to walk exactly five steps, turn around and walk another five steps, then turn around again. Victorique watched this intently.

Among the twelve prisoners, the eight middle-aged men seemed to already know each other. Their complexions were ruddy, and all of them wore finely tailored suits, spit-shined leather shoes, and were meticulously groomed down to their trimmed mustaches. Apparently, they hadn’t seen each other in quite a while, and were exchanging news of their lives in low tones. According to the bits and pieces of their conversation that drifted across the room, the group included highly-ranked officials in the Sauvure government, a president of a major textile manufacturer, and veteran diplomats.

It may have been an ingrained habit on their part, but even at a time like this, they found it in themselves to trade stories bragging about their careers or the schools their children attended. But before long, the conversation ceased, and they leaned in close to one another with anxious expressions, whispering softly.

“Even so, this ship…”

“Yes. I didn’t notice it when I got on board, but it’s exactly like that box….”

“Impossible…”

The others listened to the men nervously whispering to each other. Ned cast circumspect glances at them from time to time, presumably wondering what they were talking about.

Kazuya kept silent, thinking to himself. A ship… Food that was still warm… Card games…

Uneasiness filled his chest at the thought of those words. He tried to remember what they meant, but nothing came to mind. Kazuya shook his head over and over again, trying to drive away that overpowering feeling of discomfort.

Victorique noticed his distress. “What’s wrong?”

“No, it’s nothing….” Kazuya looked down at Victorique’s searching expression. Then he slowly added, “It’s just that the name of this ship feels familiar. The Queen Berry, if I remember correctly. Plus…”

A feeling of apprehension gripped him as he spoke, and he frowned. The men in the lounge were now pinning him with a hard stare. Their faces, as pale as wax, were completely expressionless. Kazuya returned their gazes.

Why are they reacting like that…? he wondered to himself, his uneasiness growing deeper. Right… and then there was that other thing. That vase…

Kazuya turned his attention to the ornamental vase placed on a nearby antique shelf. Something was nagging him about this vase, but he would have to think about it some more before he could remember what it was.

He innocently reached out to touch that vase, and then…

The group of men gasped.

The well-dressed man from before stood up and shouted in horror, “Stop! Don’t touch that vase!”

Then a whistling sound sliced through the air.

The arrow of a crossbow shot past, narrowly missing the top of Kazuya’s head, and embedded itself into the wall.

The young woman clapped her hands over her mouth and stumbled backwards, her scream sticking in her throat. Ned Baxter made an odd squeak of astonishment. Even Victorique was stunned, and she stared up at the arrow with her emerald-green eyes opened wide.

For a moment, the room was silent.

Then the group of men started to shout all at once.

“I knew it!”

“This is the ship!”

They scrambled to their feet and rushed toward the door, some of them tripping over themselves while groaning aloud in fright.

Kazuya was frozen stiff, overcome with shock. Victorique and Ned grabbed him and shook him from side to side.

“Kid, are you all right?!”

“Hey! How does it feel to have a brush with death?”

Kazuya’s mouth flapped open, but no sound would come out.

…He remembered.

The tale of that ship, where the arrow flew through the air the second someone had touched a vase….

Who had told him that story?

…It was Avril.

Just the other day, they had sat behind the main building at St. Marguerite’s School, and she had playfully related that ghost story to him.

Yes, and on that ship…

…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…. The ship was completely empty….

And 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….

So it 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…!

But even though the Queen Berry sunk ten years ago, it’s sometimes sighted even now. 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 sink with the ship!

…Kazuya remembered.

The tables that looked as if they had people sitting there just moments before.

The warm plates of food.

The scattered playing cards.

The arrow that came flying at him when he touched the vase…

And the name of the ship itself—the name that Avril had mentioned, the Queen Berry, was definitely the same one written on the hull of this ship!

“What’s wrong, Kujou?”

“V-V-Victorique, please listen calmly to what I’m about to say. This ship that we’re on, basically, it’s … now, don’t panic when I tell you.”

“What are you talking about?”

“And, and don’t laugh either. Because this is absolutely true. Promise me you won’t laugh.”

“Very well.”

“This is a ghost ship!”

“….”

Victorique’s mouth popped open, and with a completely straight face, she laughed, “Ha, ha, ha!”

Kazuya’s shoulders slumped dejectedly.

Victorique looked down at him curiously. “You’re an amusing fellow.”

“At least hear me out. I do have reason to think so.”

Kazuya took a deep breath, and began to retell Avril’s story to Victorique. This attracted the attention of the well-dressed man from before, who broke off from the group of men who were crowded in front of the door. As he keenly listened in on their conversation, his face started to twitch, and his expression gradually turned to one of terror.

But Victorique only stared at Kazuya, appalled. “A ghost ship? Kujou, don’t tell me you were actually being serious?”

“Well, I’m just saying, what if…”

“You’re referring to this ship?” Now Victorique started to mumble crossly, “I was sure you were joking, and I even laughed for you. For goodness’ sake, you are an odd man….”

Then she went to the bar counter, and came back carrying a bottle of wine and the glass that she had previously filled with the purple-red liquid. “Look carefully at this wine.”

“Why?”

“See how bright the color is, although the label on the bottle says that it’s an old vintage.”

“…What about it?”

Victorique pursed her lips irritatedly.

But then, all of a sudden…

The lights went out.

The lighting, until now so painfully bright, was extinguished, plunging the lounge into darkness. The men who were elbowing each other in their stampede toward the door fell into a panic and began to let out shouts of rage, along with shrieks of fear.

Surrounded by the disembodied voices in the darkness, Kazuya too was suddenly seized by a powerful dread. Despite his violently quivering legs, he reached out his hands to try to shield Victorique, who should have been standing nearby.

But there was no one there. He groped for her in the dark, calling out her name softly. His dread, and feelings of worry for Victorique, were growing rapidly out of control.

…But the blackout lasted for only an instant. The lights came back on without warning, and the room was once again bathed in blinding light. Victorique was standing in the corner, and she glanced over at Kazuya, who was bent over, reaching his arms toward thin air. “What are you trying to do over there?” she asked, sounding surprised.

Kazuya hastily drew his arms back.

Now the lounge fell dead silent. The shouting men shut their mouths as if waking up in the middle of a dream, and bashfully hung their heads. Perhaps they had calmed down, or simply had not yet recovered from their shock, but regardless of the reason, no one dared make a sound.

Ned abruptly let out a shriek.

A roomful of startled eyes turned to him.

Ned was staring at the wall on the side of the bar counter. The woman in the red dress stood next to it, and stared back at him in surprise.

In a single exaggerated movement, likely perfected by years of performing on stage, Ned raised one hand and pointed at the wall. The woman, who had been leaning against the bar counter, slowly turned in the direction he was pointing.

And gasped.

Then she released a high-pitched, disconsolate wail, like a tearful howl.

The rest of the men reacted a moment later with cries of their own.

…There was something on the wall that had not been there a few seconds ago—large words written in what looked like blood.

The bloody words formed a message.

It read…

{Ten years have passed.
It feels like only yesterday.
This time, it’s your turn.
The box has been prepared.
Now…

Run, my hares!}

The well-dressed man screamed.

This threw the heavy-set man beside him into a panic, and he shouted, “That invitation!”

“The garden box evening!”

“The main dish was hare!”

“We’re not here to enjoy the running of the hares. We are the hares!”

Some of the eight men sank down to the floor, while some covered their faces, and others exploded into rage.

As Kazuya and the other young people looked on in bewilderment, the man who had read the mysterious words aloud screamed in terror, “The ghosts of those children came back, to turn us into sacrifices!”

“The message in blood is proof enough of that!”

The heavy-set man stood up and rushed to the door. He gripped the doorknob and turned it with all his might. Although the door had been locked earlier, for some reason it now opened easily.

Once the door flew open, the man took a step outside.

A dark streak flew inside from the hallway. To Kazuya, it looked like someone had painted a black line through the air with a thick paintbrush.

That line pierced between the man’s brows and ran through his head, ending up sticking out slightly from the back of his skull. The tip of the black line was stained scarlet, as if inked over by a red pen.

But this was no line of ink. It was an arrow shot from a crossbow in the hallway.

The entire room watched the scene in shocked silence. No one moved an inch.

An arrow had effortlessly run through the man’s head, as if penetrating through the softest of materials. The tip of the arrow poked out from the back of his head, smeared in blood and brain tissue. The man froze in place for a mere second, then fell flat on his back with a thud.

After that momentary stillness, the woman screamed, sounding like she was about to burst into tears. Then she nervously started to babble excuses. “I, I tried to open that door just a few minutes ago! But it wouldn’t open! Trust me, it really wouldn’t. But if I had been the one to open it, then…!”

Victorique narrowed her eyes and stared hard at the woman’s fear-stricken face.

But the other seven men paid no attention at all to her words. After a moment of stunned silence, they all made a mad dash toward the hallway, all while uttering a series of strange exclamations.

“That door is secure! The trap has already been triggered!”

“Get to the deck!”

“Run! The ship is trying to kill us!”

They stepped over the corpse and fled through the hallway, then broke into a run down the stairs, elbowing each other in their panic to escape to the deck of the ship.

Victorique and the others left behind looked at one another.

Consternation and wariness strained Ned’s face. “I guess … we should escape too, then?”

Kazuya, Victorique, Ned, and the young woman cautiously crept into the elegantly decorated hallway. Lamps on either side of them illuminated their way with flickering light. Their every footstep sank into the comfortably soft crimson carpet. After some time, they located the stairwell, and climbed up to the deck. Ned was the first one to emerge outside.

“It’s raining. Looks like a storm…” he murmured, sighing.

The cramped deck was located at the stern of the ship. Torrents of rain pounded down upon it, walling it in with the darkness of the sea and the claps of thunder that reverberated through the night sky. The deck was slippery with rain, making it easy to slip and fall if one were careless.

The black sky, absent of stars, was instead cloaked by a blanket of dark, oppressive clouds. Rough, murky waves swept over the surface of the sea, which was imbued with a foreboding darkness that seemed as though it could swallow up anyone who laid eyes on it. The breaking waves crashed with a deafening boom.

“It’s pouring down….” said the woman, scowling.

Ned looked back at her. “I suppose taking out the lifeboats is a bad idea, then…?”

“Of course it is. It would be suicide in this kind of weather. You’d sink in no time.”

The men turned around at the sound of her voice, and one shouted, “Then what should we do?!”

“Well…”

Ned yelled out from next to her, “I’ve got it! We can get to the bridge, and steer the ship back to shore!”

Once the men heard this, they took off in a hurry, but the soaked deck was too slick, and they slid and tripped across it. Each time one of them fell down, he let out a furious bellow.

They found the bridge, but the door was locked. Ned slammed his body against the wooden door and broke it down. He jumped inside, but soon came back out, his face grim.

“It’s not going to work.”

“Why not?!” the men shouted angrily.

Ned replied in an equally irate tone. “The rudder is broken. This ship isn’t going anywhere.”

“You lie!”

They pushed him aside and piled into the room. Ned was knocked off balance and nearly fell. Then the men came back out, muttering in chagrin, “It’s true. It is broken!”

“…That’s what I said.”

But they ignored him and simply stood on the deck, at a loss for what to do next.

By all appearances, the Queen Berry had been left aimlessly adrift in the middle of a storm. With no one navigating the ship, it merely floated in the water, its destination unknown.

The men began to loudly question Ned, since he seemed to be the one most knowledgeable about the ship. But Ned gave them a dismayed look. “What else can we do? I don’t know any more than you do. …All right, I’ve thought of something. Why don’t we use the radio to call for help? The coast guard ought to come for us.”

“Then hurry up and do it! Don’t just stand there!” several men shouted.

Ned looked put out for a moment, but quickly recovered himself and pointed across the deck at the ship’s fore. “The radio room is at the bow of the ship. Let’s go!”

“Hurry up!”

Raindrops struck their skin with painful force.

The deck seemed to be around twenty meters wide. The bow was on the far side, and was completely invisible in the dark.

Ned ran ahead, but then stopped, and turned back.

“What’s wrong?”

“It’s no use….”

Right behind him, the woman shouted, “That decorative smokestack is in the way. It’s too big, unnatural for the design of the ship. It means we can’t get to the other side….”

It melted into the darkness and was difficult to see, but in front of them was a huge, black smokestack. Their view of the bow was completely obscured, not because it was nighttime, but because that dark shape blocked their line of sight. This was the smokestack that Kazuya had noticed when he first boarded the ship.

It was a decorative smokestack of the kind often used in passenger ships that emphasized style over function. But it was so large that it threw the rest of the ship off balance, and partitioned off the front half of the deck from the back. It was also far too short and thick for a smokestack.

Kazuya and Ned ran to either side, only to confirm that there was no way to get past it. The path between bow and stern was completely cut off by that strange smokestack jutting out of the deck of the ship.

The young woman turned to the group of men. Heavy rain soaked her black hair, and her wet dress clung to her white skin. “We won’t be able to get there while we’re on the deck. We need to try going through the inside of the ship.”

“No!” shouted the men.

Then one added, his voice trembling, “If we go back inside, we’ll become hares! We can’t let that happen!”

“Hares?! What are you talking about?” the woman shouted back in exasperation.

Ned walked up beside her. “She’s right. We don’t have any idea what you old men have been talking about all this time, or what those words written in blood mean, either. But all of you know what it means, don’t you? If you do, then you should explain it to us! That’s your responsibility! Uh, hey…”

The well-dressed man shouted, pointing to a lifeboat. The other men dragged the lifeboat and began to lower it down. But the waves were too rough, and the heavy rain savagely whipped it against the side of the ship. It was no situation to be launching a lifeboat.

Ned, the woman, and Kazuya tried frantically to stop them.

“If you leave the ship in this kind of weather, you’ll capsize and die!” shouted Kazuya.

“Shut up!”

The men jumped onto the lifeboat one by one in their effort to escape, ignoring the cries of Ned and the others.

But the moment the well-dressed man was about to step in the boat, his expression suddenly turned anxious, and he looked back at the others still left on the ship.

The woman cried out to him, “It’s dangerous! Come back!”

The well-dressed man’s blood-shot eyes darted back and forth apprehensively. Several seconds of silence passed.

“…Fine.” He looked at the raging sea, then the boat, and the faces of the remaining young people. The men in the boat paid no attention to him, not even bothering to look back. Hesitation and irritation welled up in his eyes as he watched them prepare to leave.

The lifeboat was lowered off the side of the ship, its six occupants heedless of the woman’s relentless pleading. It fell onto the surface of the water.

Kazuya and the others leaned over the railing and watched it float.

But within moments, the lifeboat was jolted by a wave, and then an enormous surge of water swept it onto its side, capsizing it.

Kazuya screamed, helpless but to watch the men disappear to the bottom of the sea.

They had no time to cry out as they were dragged underwater. Only white foam remained floating on top of the waves—but the boat itself was nowhere to be found.

It all happened in an instant.

Rain violently pounded the bodies of the people left behind on the deck.

Kazuya looked up at the faces of Ned and the woman standing beside him. Ned had gone stark white, and was trembling visibly. His lips were bloodless, and he had fallen mute.

And as for the woman…

As she looked down on the sinking boat, a peculiar smile of satisfaction appeared on her face. Her eyes were cold enough to send chills down Kazuya’s spine.

The woman’s red lips moved, whispering something. These were not words meant for anyone to hear. But their faint sound drifted to his ears.

“I told you. I even warned you.”

The woman suddenly noticed Kazuya looking at her. This time she turned to him and muttered disdainfully, “Adults are always such fools. Full of ego, doing things that make no sense.” She shrugged, and walked back to the staircase that led to the inside of the ship.

“Hey! It’s not right to say something like that, not after what just happened!”

But Kazuya’s voice didn’t reach her. With a mixture of anger and alarm, he watched her slender form disappear below the deck.

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