Back at St. Marguerite’s Library, a historical monument renowned throughout Europe for over three hundred years…
Each wall took the form of huge bookcases surrounding a square-shaped hall, beneath the solemn religious frescoes that were painted onto the ceiling far above. A narrow wooden staircase served as the only bridge connecting bookshelf to bookshelf. It was an unusual building constructed like an enormous labyrinth. The great library was said to have been built long ago in the form of a maze to allow a king to rendezvous in secret with his lover….
Kazuya ran up the steps of this labyrinthine staircase, as he did every morning, calling out the name of a certain girl.
“…You don’t have to shout so loudly.”
At the very top floor, a thin strand of white smoke drifted up to the ceiling. A girl with long, radiant blond hair, draping down to the floor like a turban come undone, sat there by herself, smoking a pipe. Smoke floated up from her pipe, straight to the skylights from which rained down bright sunlight. In this conservatory dense with foliage, the girl sat sprawled on the greenhouse floor, surrounded by books that radiated around her in all directions. She read them listlessly, but with incredible speed. Her body was slumped over the books like a broken doll.
Victorique idly glanced at Kazuya, who stood panting after having run all the way up to the top of the stairs. “Keep up the good work.”
“…Don’t you start again.”
“You’re spending your days taxing your circulatory system by running up the stairs, nearly losing consciousness when you look over the railing, sluggishly dragging your thighs back down the staircase, and shouting all the time. This study abroad experience must be very interesting for you.”
“Don’t say it like none of that has anything to do with you. After all, I’m coming here to see you, aren’t I?”
“I know that. It was a simple statement of fact.”
“I don’t think so! You’re just trying to make fun of me, aren’t you!”
“So what if I was?”
“Ugh… Never mind.”
After they had returned to school, Victorique went back to being the aloof, cynical girl he was thoroughly used to dealing with when she was in this library. Kazuya knew that he could never defeat her when it came to verbal sparring, so he chose to meekly back down. Then he presented her with the newspaper he had taken from Avril. “Anyway, take a look at this, Victorique.”
Trembling with anger, he awaited her response, but her face showed no change.
Victorique calmly skimmed the article, and nodded. “I see.”
“…Everything here comes from your deductions. The information you gave that allowed them to catch the criminal, and your explanation of the case that you gave afterwards in the police station are all here verbatim. Remember how Inspector de Blois was just staring at the birds outside the window during then? He had no idea what was going on; he wasn’t even paying attention. You know, I really hate—”
“Mmm.” Victorique yawned widely, and offhandedly said, “My brother has always been a vulgar man.”
“I know! That inspector is just so vulgar. …Wait a minute, Victorique, what did you just say?”
“That my brother is a vulgar man?”
“Maybe I misunderstood, but who’s your brother?”
Victorique stared at him, a look of surprise on her face. She removed the pipe from her lips and blew out smoke with her next words. “Gréville.”
“…Oh, your brother.”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“Hmm. …Whose brother?”
“Hmm. …Whaaaaat!?” shouted Kazuya. He stared hard at Victorique—she was lovely, as perfectly shaped as the most exquisite of dolls, but just a bit too small. And then he visualized Inspector de Blois—handsome, fashionable, but with that ludicrous hairstyle.
…It made no sense.
Kazuya put his head in his hands, utterly confused. Then his gaze happened to wander over to the notes from Miss Cécile that were now scattered across the floor. He delivered these to Victorique every day, but had never actually taken a close look at them before now.
Kazuya knew that Victorique came from a noble household. That was obvious enough just by her attitude and the way she carried herself. And there was also the fact that her name was Victorique de something-or-other….
He realized that Victorique’s full name was written on the papers.
Victorique de Blois.
Kazuya raised his vacant eyes and looked at her. She was staring back at him, her pipe still in her mouth.
“Kujou, are you all right? You have a strange look on your face.”
“I wonder why you and the inspector have the same last name?”
“Probably because we’re siblings?”
“Nooooooo!” cried out Kazuya.
But if he thought about it carefully, other than the fact that they were both nobles, Victorique and the inspector weren’t completely unalike—there was also their mutual devotion to pipe-smoking, along with the glee they both took in blowing smoke in people’s faces. However, physically and intellectually-speaking, they were otherwise absolutely dissimilar.
Kazuya’s face turned serious. “Why?”
“…Don’t blame me,” she said, turning away from him sullenly. But Kazuya kept circling her, constantly asking, “Why? Why?” and Victorique couldn’t get away from him no matter where she turned.
She finally relented. “Kujou, you mean you never knew?”
“You’re a strange one.”
“B-b-but Victorique. Did you ever tell me about this before?”
Victorique tilted her head, thinking to herself. Her sleek blond hair undulated to one side, like a shimmering silk curtain.
At last, she wearily yawned. “…No?”
“Then how should I know!”
“Oh, shut up, for goodness’ sake.”
This topic of conversation seemed to put Victorique in a bad mood, and she proceeded to ignore Kazuya, making a show of burying her head in the books that she had been reading earlier without much apparent interest.
But Kazuya continued to murmur exclamations to himself: “Oh!” “Ugh!” “Unbelievable…” until she could take no more, and lifted her head again.
“It’s like this, basically.” Despite her profound reluctance to do so, Victorique began to explain. “He is Gréville de Blois, the heir to the House de Blois and the title of marquis. He may be a vulgar man who likes chasing after women and pretending to be a detective, but he is still the eldest son, my father’s legitimate successor. We are siblings related by blood, but we cannot acknowledge each other in public.”
“Well…” Victorique’s face darkened. “That’s because my mother was a mistress. Gréville’s mother was the legal wife, born of noble blood. So that makes us half-siblings.”
“But why does that mean…”
“And my mother was a dangerous figure. She worked as a dancing girl, but she also happened to be insane, and in the chaos of the Great War, she—well, never mind about that part.”
When she started to talk about her mother, for a moment Victorique’s tongue seemed to loosen. But she soon held it again.
Kazuya suddenly thought of the stories that circulated on campus, of which there were quite a few lurid rumors about Victorique: that she was the illegitimate child of a nobleman, and had been feared by the rest of her family, who sent her to this school so she wouldn’t be at home. That her mother was a famous dancer, and a madwoman. That she was an incarnation of the legendary Grey Wolf.
And even the mastermind of the Queen Berry incident, Julie Guile, had said that while in the sanatorium, she saw a beautiful adult woman who looked exactly like Victorique….
Victorique continued, albeit haltingly. “…Anyway, I was born with noble blood, but also with the blood of a dangerous individual. And because I behaved differently from normal children, I spent my childhood confined away from the rest of the de Blois household. And ever since I was sent to this school, I haven’t been allowed to leave.”
“I was only able to go out last week because my brother secured special permission for me, with the condition that he had to accompany me … although he ended up forgetting about me and leaving in the middle of things. But this means I don’t know when I’ll be allowed to leave this school again.”
“Victorique…” Kazuya was at a loss for words. He remembered when they had set off on their journey last week: how unused to the outside world Victorique seemed to be; how she had leaned out of the train and the carriage, staring at the scenery with such burning curiosity; how entranced she was by the morning sun rising above the ocean.
And when she told him that she didn’t dislike beautiful things, and he said they should go see the sun rise again, he remembered how lonely she looked when she smiled in response….
Victorique took a puff from her pipe, and joked, “I’m a captive princess. Doesn’t really suit me, does it?”
Stillness settled upon the greenhouse. Soft beams of springtime sunshine flowed in from the skylights, shining down on the two of them sitting quietly. A gentle breeze lightly rustled the leaves of the dense foliage. The world around them was filled with silence, in complete seclusion from the one below. They continued sitting there wordlessly, with nothing and no one else around to make a sound.
Victorique finally parted her lips. “…And so, the princess is now bored.”
“Oh. …Huh?” Kazuya stiffened, a feeling of uneasiness beginning to spread through him. Looking up, he saw Victorique with the expression she always wore when she was about to throw a tantrum. He was unable to describe exactly how he knew this, but it was a face that he recognized from experience.
“Ahh… So bored.”
“I’d better get going to my next class….” Kazuya tried to stand, but Victorique caught onto the hem of his trousers, and he tripped over. “Ouch!”
“I’m bored. Don’t you hear me I’m telling you that I’m bored?”
“I’m sorry…?” It wasn’t clear to Kazuya whether he should be apologizing at this point, so he ended it with a question mark.
Victorique began to flail her body against the floor. “I’m informing you that the princess is bored! A mystery! I require a mystery!”
“But it’s not like there’s anything particularly interesting going on right now.”
“Then, Kujou, go down to the underworld and bring me an interesting case.”
“Not gonna. There’s nothing to bring anyway.”
“Then you stir up something yourself. Go get mixed up in something dangerous, even if you have to die in the process!”
“Come on, stop being so unreasonable.”
Victorique was getting steadily more agitated; clearly, she was in a state of deep tedium. “Oh, it’s so boring. I’m bored, so bored I could die. I’ll surely die of it. Hey, Kujou! If that happens, then you’ll have one less friend, and it’s not like you can spare any to begin with.”
“…That’s going too far. Don’t make me get angry with you.”
“I’m … bored….”
She suddenly became quiet.
Huh? Kazuya peered into Victorique’s face, wondering what had happened. Then her small head suddenly fell forward onto him.
“H-hey, Victorique! Are you dead? Did you die of boredom? Wait, is it even possible to die of boredom? Hey!”
Her only response was the steady sound of her breathing.
“…Well, I guess she just fell asleep. Got me worried for a minute there.”
Victorique’s small, golden head leaned on Kazuya’s shoulder, fast asleep. She’d been yawning earlier, Kazuya remembered, so she must have been tired. After the adventure they had on the weekend, anyone would be sleepy the next morning. Although that was apparently something unusual for Victorique….
Kazuya gave up on going to his next class, and continued to lend Victorique his shoulder. Sitting here like this was indeed pretty boring, he thought to himself. He picked up one of the books that she had laying open on the floor, but it was a philosophy book written in difficult Latin, and he ended up tossing it aside before he could finish a single page.
He heard birds singing in the distance.
It was springtime.
A fine season.
As Kazuya sat, hugging his knees, he whispered softly to the slumbering Victorique. “Hey, Victorique. Someday, let’s…”
He blushed slightly. Figuring that she was asleep anyway, he continued. “Let’s go out again, just the two of us. And then we can go watch the sun rise over the sea again.”
Kazuya had assumed Victorique was sleeping, but she suddenly snapped her green eyes open.
“…It’s a promise.”
And then she silently closed them again.