chapter six — I’ll never let go of your hand
Back at the police station, Julie had finished with her long testimony.
The room fell silent.
Two slender stalks of white smoke wound their way up to the ceiling from the ceramic pipes held in Victorique’s and Inspector de Blois’ hands. No one spoke a word.
Finally, Julie said in a low voice, “I never understood it. I agonized over it. But you, Victorique, dear little detective girl. You understand, don’t you?”
Kazuya looked up at Julie. She was biting her lip, staring straight at Victorique. Then he glanced at Victorique. It looked like she had completed her reconstruction of chaos, and was pondering how to articulate it.
Inspector de Blois, on the other hand, had apparently reached the limits of his brain capacity, and was gazing idly at some sparrows flying outside the window. The pointed tip of his spiraled blond hair gleamed golden in the pale morning light. He took the pipe from his mouth and started absentmindedly flicking the strand of white smoke to and fro, as if his mind had flown far away.
Victorique parted her lips and began to speak in slow, deliberate tones. “It was likely meant to be an act of divination performed on a massive scale.”
“…Divination?!” cried out Julie. She shook her head. “But so many people died. And the ship sank. What on earth do you mean? What were they trying to divine? How? It must have cost a fortune to do something like that.”
“Kujou, I believe I’ve explained this to you before.”
Finding himself suddenly called upon, Kazuya jumped up in his seat. “Wh-what?”
“About ancient fortune-telling. The staff divination performed by the prophet Moses.”
“Oh… I think I remember you telling me something like that.”
“In order to divine which tribe the next leader of the Israelites would come from, he arranged twelve staffs, each written with the name of one of the tribes. The fate of each staff foretold the fate of that tribe.”
“So the fortune-teller Roxane raised hares in her garden. But she sometimes gave them to her hound for hunting. Some hares died, and some survived. The surviving ones were fattened up and carefully tended to.” Victorique paused.
Julie’s expression was growing steadily darker.
“Roxane was probably using the hares for her fortune-telling. Each one was labeled with the name of a person or thing whose fate it was supposed to represent, and then they were released together with the hound. Whichever hare survived would be a prediction of the future.”
“Are you saying that we were those hares…?”
“But why? We’re human!”
“I suppose they determined that they would need a prediction of the future on a far greater scale than any fortune-telling they had ever attempted before. …Now, here we have several fragments of chaos to use as our ingredients. The orphans taken from eleven countries around the world. Roxane’s words: ‘A youth will soon die. That shall be the beginning of everything. The world will tumble like a falling stone.’ And the words of the man who asked, ‘Who are your allies?’ And also what Huey said: ‘What happens here is the future.’ ‘What’s important is your nationality.’” Victorique lowered her voice. “And the fact that this happened ten years ago—in the spring of 1914.”
“Oh!” Kazuya cried out.
Everyone turned to look at him.
Kazuya stuttered, “Uh, no… Sorry. It’s just that when you mentioned how it happened ten years ago, I remembered that the Sarajevo Incident happened that year in June, and that’s when the Great War started. But I guess it’s just a coincidence.”
“No, it isn’t. That’s your answer.”
“What do you mean?!” Julie shouted.
At the end of June in the year 1914, the heir to the Austrian throne was assassinated in Sarajevo. When Austria requested the extradition of the suspects, the Serbian government refused, and other countries pledged their support. Austria, Hungary, and Germany joined forces, and the war began. Italy, America, and other countries also stepped up to fight them, until finally the war had spread over the entire face of the earth….
Victorique softly continued, “I can only guess at the events that took place. Officials in the government probably sensed a certain portentous mood running through the current of the times, and decided to ask a famous fortune-teller to look into the future. They set up a grand stage—the box known to us as the Queen Berry—filled it with traps, and set loose hares gathered from the corners of the world. They also unleashed an English boy to play the role of hunting dog. In that box, each child shouldered the burden of his own nation’s future.”
“And the divination came true.” Victorique ran her fingers through her golden hair. “Think back to the time of the Great War. Hey, Kujou, you half-witted savant.”
“…Don’t call me that!”
“Tell us the result of the war.”
Unsure of where this was going, Kazuya began haltingly, “The Great War started between the Central Powers and the Allies, and, um, it ended with an Allied victory. The Central Powers consisted of … Germany, Austria, Hungary, also the Ottoman Empire…”
“What countries were on the Allied side, Kujou?”
“Um… France, Italy, England, America, plus Sauvure….”
Victorique stared intently at Julie, her eyes completely devoid of expression. Julie was biting her lip tightly, seemingly beset by violently conflicting emotions. “My God…”
“The fortune came true.”
Julie was silent.
“The children on that ship were divided into two groups: the Central Powers, and the Allies. First, the Hungarian girl died in a trap, and then the Turkish boy was shot to death. And the English boy deceived you all so he could survive. Yes, England played the role of a trickster in the war. The German and Austrian boys both died, and the Chinese boy was also shot and killed. And the Arab girl…”
“The Ottoman Empire was dragged into the war, lost its territory, and was torn apart.”
Victorique watched her, a slightly perturbed expression on her face. She took a clearly expensive-looking handkerchief from her pocket, and timidly handed it to Julie.
Julie accepted it, and dabbed at her tears. Victorique’s face took on a faintly relieved look.
Through her sniffles, Julie said, “Then you’re saying … they used our actions as a basis for their political decisions.”
“Yes.” Victorique nodded. “Sauvure participated in the Great War on the side of the Allies. This changed the course of history. I don’t know how much of it was coincidence, and how much was inevitable. Now that Roxane and the others involved are dead, we’ll never know. But it still came true. Of course, I don’t mean in an objective sense, but rather in a subjective one. It is very clear to me that they… the politicians, the elites, and the diplomats, all of them used the result of their grand divination, the ‘running of the hares,’ as a device to shirk responsibility for their actions.”
Julie raised her head. “How cruel.”
And then she slowly began to describe what had happened to her next. Unable to recover from the shock, she spent a long time in a sanatorium. Once she’d finally recuperated, she left the hospital and began trying to investigate what had taken place.
After that night on the ship, Julie never got the chance to see the others alive again. One of the surviving children had committed suicide, and another became a murderer and had been executed. She didn’t know if Ree was alive or dead, and could only assume that she had died on board the ship.
But one of the children, Huey, had changed his name to Ned Baxter, and was leading a carefree life. When Julie found a newspaper article about his activities as an actor on the stage, she decided to include him among her targets for revenge.
And now, ten years later…
Julie was wealthy thanks to the command to “fatten the hares.” She exhausted her resources to construct the replica of the box, the Queen Berry, then sent the invitations.
All of the characters were assembled, save for Roxane, who had already been killed.
Despite the grim nature of the story being told, the atmosphere in the room was remarkably calm and quiet. Perhaps it was because of how silently Julie herself sat in her chair as she spoke.
She looked up at Victorique. “Hey… When did you realize that I was the one behind everything?”
For a moment, Victorique was silent. Then she said, “I confirmed it when you shot Maurice. But I first started suspecting you when we woke up in the lounge.”
Julie was dumbfounded. “Why?”
“You were right next to the door of the lounge. And when you tried to open the door, you made a big show of rattling the doorknob and announcing that it was locked. But later on when another man tried to open the door, it opened for him effortlessly. And then he was shot by the arrow and killed.”
“That door was never locked in the first place. You only made a fuss about it being locked because you were trying to keep us inside the room. You wanted to rip off the wallpaper and show us that message, so that everyone would know exactly what sort of ritual you were trying to perform. And only afterwards were you planning to kill them, right?”
“…That’s right.” Julie stared closely at Victorique’s small face.
Victorique looked away. “But I had no proof. At that point, all I had was a hunch.”
“Oh.” Julie giggled, then pointed at Kazuya. “Hey, little detective girl. Now I know why you held onto this boy’s hand so tightly. It’s because you saw him acting friendly with me, not knowing that I was the culprit.”
“No matter how many mean things you said to him, you never let go of his hand. You must’ve been worried sick about him.”
Victorique pretended not to hear this.
Kazuya stared in surprise at Julie and Victorique, and thought about the time when they were fleeing through the ship. He’d held onto Victorique’s hand out of a desire to protect her, but maybe Victorique had been concerned about him too, in her own way….
Finally, when it came time for them to leave the room, Julie murmured, “Hey, little detective girl.”
“…Stop calling me that.”
“There’s no harm in it. Say … when I first saw you, I had a feeling like I had seen you somewhere before.” Julie looked carefully at Victorique’s face. “Now I remember where…”
Next to her, Inspector de Blois’ shoulders suddenly twitched.
“It was at the sanatorium where I was staying. There I met a woman who looked exactly like you. That’s where I remembered your face from. But who was that…?”
Victorique’s green eyes widened for a split second. Then she shook her head. “Who knows?”
“Was it your sister? Or maybe…”
Victorique didn’t answer. Instead, she merely waved goodbye at her.