chapter one — Victorique de Blois is a Grey Wolf
On a sunny afternoon, a gentle spring breeze fluttered the bright green leaves of the ivies that twined around the wood-framed houses lining the road. It was close to the beginning of summer, said to be the most pleasant time of year in this region, and the sky was clear as far as the eye could see.
It was that kind of idyllic day.
The door of a small, ivy-wreathed post office on a village street corner swung open, and a young Asian boy of slight build bounded outside. He was dressed in the uniform—complete with hat worn dutifully upon his head—of St. Marguerite’s School, an elite institution patronized by aristocratic families, established at the foot of the mountains nearby.
With lips pursed in a solemn expression, and his head held up high, the boy—Kazuya Kujou—walked through the village, muttering under his breath. “…I asked for a book, not money. I wonder why he sent me pocket money? Maybe he missed my last letter. Hmm…”
He was holding an envelope stamped with international postage.
“What should I do with this… Oh, well. I should just go back to school in the meantime….”
As Kazuya walked along, brooding to himself, the door to a small general store opened onto the road. A tall girl wearing the same uniform of St. Marguerite’s School slowly walked outside, carrying a shopping bag. She was an attractive young girl with short blond hair and long slim legs, and looked grown-up for her age. When she spotted Kazuya walking ahead of her, a smile lit up her face.
Spooked by the sudden loud voice, Kazuya jumped into the air, yelping. His cry startled the girl in turn, and she gave a yelp of her own and jumped back. Then she puffed her cheeks up in a pout and glared at him.
“Geez! Don’t shout like that. You scared me.”
“Oh, Avril, it’s you…”
The girl—Avril Bradley—continued to pout, clearly displeased by Kazuya’s reaction. But before long, her smile returned, and she asked, “What’s that you have there? A letter?”
“Yeah. You know—whoa, Avril!”
Avril snatched the envelope from Kazuya’s hand, and casually peeked inside. “Ooh, pocket money!”
“Yeah… My brother sent it to me.”
“Lucky you! My parents are awfully stingy. Even though I’m a girl, and have so many things to buy.”
“Huh… Hmm?” Kazuya grunted noncommittally, inwardly baffled by her mysterious words—what did being a girl have to do with it?
Avril held onto the envelope for a few more moments, an envious look on her face, then finally handed it back to Kazuya reluctantly. After this, she smiled again. “Say, what are you going to buy with that?”
“Huh? I, I don’t know. I already have my textbooks, and I brought my clothes, my daily necessities, and everything else I need from home. And besides… Hey? What’s wrong, Avril?” Kazuya asked nervously. She was glaring at him for some reason.
Avril put both hands on her hips. “But there’s a difference between what someone needs and what someone wants, right?”
“Oh, Kujou, you are such a stick in the mud.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Time for Auntie Avril to impart a little bit of wisdom. I shouldn’t have to say this, but the joy of shopping comes from looking at everything and trying to decide what to buy!”
“I don’t know about that. Isn’t it enough just to buy what I need and get in and out as quickly as possible?”
“You’ve got it all wrong. Shopping is supposed to be fun!”
“You think so?” Kazuya tilted his head doubtfully.
Avril was getting progressively more irritated by his non-responses. In a firm tone, she said, “That reminds me. There’s a place I want to bring you. Come on!”
“What’s this? Why aren’t you moving? You had better come along, or I’ll be cross with you.”
“…I apologize, ma’am.”
Kazuya was starting to get a bad feeling about this, but Avril wasn’t about to take no for an answer, and she proceeded to drag him unwillingly in the opposite direction from the school.
The year was 1924 in the Kingdom of Sauvure, a small European country proud of their ancient traditions. Despite its tiny size, Sauvure had emerged victorious from the Great War at the start of the century, and had come to be known as the “Little Giant” of Western Europe. Stretching from north to south in a long shape reminiscent of a tower, its border with France lay next to bountiful vineyards; the Gulf of Lyon, famous as a playground for the rich, sat astride the Italian border; and gently rolling highlands next to a tall mountain range surrounded the border with Switzerland.
If the Gulf of Lyon was the elegant entrance to this small but wealthy nation, then the Alps could be called its secret attic room nestled in the deepest recesses of the country. And it was this secret place that had been chosen as the inconspicuous location for a certain school.
This was St. Marguerite’s School. Built in a relaxing environment, surrounded by greenery, the school was housed in a stately stone building that would appear shaped like the letter U if seen from the air. Here they boasted of their own traditions, which while not as old as those of the country itself, were nonetheless very old indeed. Admissions were restricted to the children of nobles, and the school maintained a policy of absolute secrecy, allowing no outsiders to step foot on the premises.
However, after the close of the Great War, St. Marguerite’s School began to allow worthy students from allied countries to enroll.
Kazuya Kujou, from an island country in the Far East, had distinguished himself both academically and in his irreproachable moral conduct. The youngest son of a military man, his two older brothers also led successful lives: his eldest brother was a scholar, and his second eldest brother was pursuing a career in government. And since Kazuya was himself an excellent student as well as exceedingly sober-minded for a boy his age, his recommendation into the program was all but guaranteed.
But although Kazuya left his country bursting with hopes and dreams, what awaited him in Sauvure were only the prejudices of his privileged classmates, and the craze for ghost stories that infested the school. Unable to fit into his new school, he instead ended up embroiled in strange cases and making strange friends, and had spent the past half year undergoing many trials in his life as a foreign student….
“…So this couple was driving their car late at night through a forest, and some shiny, silvery thing passed them. When they looked out of the window, they saw … a suit of armor running at full speed!”
“And what’s more, the moment it overtook their car, it slowly turned back to look at them. But the suit of armor was…”
“Anyway, sure is nice weather today.”
“…completely empty, with no one inside! Aaaaaaaaaah!”
“Ha, ha, ha! You screamed again, Kujou! Scaredy-cat! Kujou’s a scaredy-cat! Ha, ha, ha!” Avril laughed gleefully.
Kazuya walked beside her, grumbling in chagrin. “I told you, it’s not because of your story, but only because you startled me by screaming all of a sudden.”
“There you go again!”
“It’s the truth! Besides, you should know there’s no such thing as ghosts.”
“Whaaat? Yes, there are!”
“Then, have you ever seen one?”
“Well, no, but I heard from a friend of a friend of a friend…”
As they chatted together enthusiastically, a wagon drawn by a shaggy-maned horse slowly passed the two of them.
Rows of wooden houses lined both sides of the road, their white walls overgrown with coils of dark green ivy. Geraniums decorated the windowsills, appearing from afar like blazing red dots that swayed in the calm breeze. The gentle scent of earth and grass lingered in the air, likely from the sprawling vineyards on the outskirts of the village.
It was a season filled with quiet and contentment.
The townspeople were gradually starting to fill the road with afternoon traffic. Kazuya and Avril continued walking leisurely, arguing about the existence of ghosts.
Just when Avril was nearing defeat by an unusually fierce Kazuya, she sulkily added, “But … it would be so much more fun if ghosts really did exist.”
“That’s not the point. Anyway—”
“That friend of yours, what’s her name, Vi … Victorique, right? I heard a rumor that she’s not actually human, but a legendary grey wolf. If you thought of your friend as a legendary grey wolf, wouldn’t that just fill you with excitement?”
“Not in the least! And what’s wrong with those people, spreading rumors like that? That’s disrespectful.”
Kazuya had reason to protest. Thanks to the rumors that had labeled him the “Grim Reaper,” he had spent these past several months mostly unable to make friends, and facing one trial after another. No matter how popular these stories were at school, there was no way he could ever bring himself to enjoy them.
Avril pouted. “Gosh, Kujou. You take everything so seriously.”
“Ugh…” Kazuya had opened his mouth, about to retort, but ended up dejectedly closing it again.
In the Far Eastern island country where he had been born and raised, boys were taught to keep silent rather than prattle on unnecessarily. Kazuya agreed with this, and had endeavored to follow this discipline even if he sometimes had to force himself to do so. But since he came to Sauvure, he found that the expectations here could be quite different. Avril Bradley, the transfer student from England whom he had befriended, would often mock him for being too serious and inflexible. And his other friend—who also happened to be a girl—would abuse him on a daily basis, calling him a half-witted savant and a mediocre person. He found none of this remotely amusing.
“Oh, Kujou. We’re here!”
Avril cheerfully pointed ahead, utterly oblivious to the torment and outrage seething inside of Kazuya.
He looked up at the crowds gathered in the public square at the intersection of the two roads that crisscrossed the village. The area had been transformed into an open-air market, overflowing with wares and jam-packed with shoppers.
“Today is the monthly flea market. I’ve been saving up my money just to come here.”
Avril yanked Kazuya’s hand, leading him into the center of the flea market.
He saw rows upon rows of stalls displaying a huge variety of products. Quite a few secondhand vendors had made the trip especially for this occasion, selling everything from antique dolls that looked like they had been made in the previous century, to charming tableware sets. Local girls who seemed to be around the same age as Kazuya and Avril giggled amongst themselves as they hawked handmade herbal soap and bouquets of potpourri. Elderly saleswomen wearing warm smiles looked after shops selling colorful scarves tinted with natural dyes.
While Kazuya was in the middle of reeling from the vast array of goods, he felt a tug on the hem of his uniform.
“Hey, honey, come here! Come look at what I got! Hey, honey!” called out a flirtatious voice.
When Kazuya turned around, sitting there was a young nun wearing a cumbersome-looking habit—not at all the type of person he was expecting to see when he heard that voice.
“Come on, hon! Take a look!”
Avril, who had been striding purposefully through the market, realized that Kazuya was no longer following behind her, and quickly turned around. When she recognized the stall that was in front of him, her expression turned joyful. “Oh! That’s the church bazaar!” she cried out.
“Yeah. Let’s buy something here, Kujou. I heard that the church bazaars resell stuff that the parishioners donate, so their prices are lower than the other stalls. And just look at all the cute stuff in this one!”
True to Avril’s words, the wares spread out before the nun included delicate handmade lace, sparkling glass bowls, and antique rings—items that looked a little old-fashioned, but were lovely enough for even a boy to appreciate.
Kazuya gravely surveyed the display, until at last an idea seemed to strike him.
“…Okay, I’ll do it.”
“Huh, really?” replied Avril, slightly surprised.
Kazuya eyed the goods for sale with a look of utmost concentration. “Mm-hmm… Although I don’t really know what I should get…”
He looked up at the nun who was acting as the shop-girl. She seemed to be around eighteen or nineteen years old. Kazuya couldn’t guess the color of her hair underneath her habit, but her narrowed, alert eyes were an unusual shade of blue-grey that he had never seen before. They were lonely eyes. Looking into them felt like he had been wandering in the desert and happened to look up at the sky, and yet they also bore an arresting radiance.
But with that forbidding nun’s habit and those clear eyes, along with the overly familiar way she called out to customers, not to mention the manner in which she was sitting on the wooden box she used as a chair, with her legs spread wide like a man, the overall impression she gave was decidedly incongruous.
And then there was the way she had been very noticeably scratching her head and snorting irritably through her nose. Those behaviors didn’t suit her nun’s habit in the least. And her face—fair-complexioned and dotted with tiny freckles—was the kind that could be called either beautiful or homely depending on the observer, something which only added to her uniqueness.
“Excuse me….” When Kazuya ventured to speak to the nun, he noticed a odd saccharine smell wafting from her. It was an strange smell not quite the same as perfume….
Oh! Now he knew what it was. This is the smell of wine. But … why would a Catholic nun smell like alcohol?
Moreover, the tips of the leather shoes that peeked out from under the hem of her habit were dappled with white stains. He didn’t know what to make of this nun, who should have been living an austere lifestyle, but instead was smelling like alcohol in the middle of the day, and hadn’t even polished her shoes.
“Whaddya want?” she snapped.
Kazuya stuttered, “Uh, well, it’s just that… I was wondering if you had anything that would make a nice present for a girl….”
“Y-yes,” said Kazuya, now feeling slightly embarrassed. While he fretted to himself, thinking that maybe he should just give up, Avril’s face lit up from beside him.
Kazuya picked up a lace collar. “How does this look? I don’t really know myself…. Avril, can you stand still for a moment? Oh, and bend down a little. Hmm… A little bit more. Lower. Okay, right about there. She’s always sitting down, so I can’t really say for sure…. Hmm…”
When Kazuya held the dainty collar up to Avril’s neck, at first she couldn’t contain her delight. But each time he told her to bend down just a little more, the look on her face began to shift further and further into doubt, until her cheeks were sticking out in a sullen pout. The nun, squatting down in a masculine pose, stared up at her, open-mouthed. But when she at last realized what was going on, she had to stifle her laughter.
Kazuya picked up a small, girlish-looking handbag to examine carefully, then an old-fashioned, but still elegantly-designed ring. But Avril snatched them out of his hands.
“These won’t do at all!”
“…Tell me, Kujou. Is this a present for that Vi-whatever her name is?”
“Yes, it is. She isn’t allowed to set foot outside of the school…. I mean, she doesn’t feel like leaving the school. Wait, do you know Victorique?”
“I’ve never actually met her…. but, well…” Avril testily kicked a pebble near her feet. Then she looked up at him, and said, “This would be perfect!”
Avril was holding up a golden skull about the size of her fist.
Before Kazuya had a chance to react, the nun who was watching them gave a startled gasp.
“Wh-what the heck is that? How do you use that?” said Kazuya.
“Like this.” With a completely straight face, Avril placed the skull on top of her head.
“I’m serious! And this one, too.”
Avril pushed aside some village girls who were eying a stack of postcards, and began to briskly rummage through the pile, until she found a postcard decorated with a swarming horde of mice and held it up.
“…I don’t think so.”
“Then how about this?” Avril picked up a glittering Indian-style turban shaped like a crown. Kazuya couldn’t imagine what it would look like if someone actually wore it, but it was certainly pretty to look at, like a finely carved sugar sculpture.
While he hesitated, Avril waved it in front of him. “See, it’s pretty. I’m sure she’ll love it.”
The nun watched Avril getting closer and closer to tears. Finally, out of a sense of pity, or perhaps mischief, she decided to lend her assistance.
“She’s right; that’s a really nice one. I wanted it, too. Too bad I have to sell it.”
Avril and the nun exchanged a look. Then they simultaneously turned to Kazuya and nodded emphatically.
Kazuya wavered for several seconds.
But he at last ended up buying the strange Indian hat.
There were other, more expensive items at the nun’s church bazaar. The most eye-catching one was a beautiful plate made of Dresden porcelain. A wizened old man in a felt cap spotted the plate, sitting in the position of honor at the back of the stall, and asked the nun how much it was.
Proudly jutting out her chin, she gave her answer. It was such an unexpectedly large number that Kazuya and Avril immediately shot a glance at each other when they heard it. The old man grunted and left, shaking his head.
The village girls who had been looking over the postcards looked up at the nun. “Why is that plate so expensive?”
The nun again answered preeningly, “I’m not completely sure myself, but it seems to be a really old plate. It’s got a pedigree to it, so that makes it valuable. A parishioner’s wife donated it to the church. It’s the main attraction for today.”
The girls each bought a postcard with a winsome flower and fruit motif, then left, the sounds of their loudly chattering voices gradually fading into the distance. “That plate’s so expensive! Who’d want such an old thing like that?”
The old man who had previously asked about the plate apparently wasn’t ready to give up, and kept glancing hungrily over at it from afar. He had taken off his felt cap and put it under his arm, and was carrying a small vase that he had bought from one of the other stalls.
“…Hey, kids, how ’bout this?” called out the nun.
When Kazuya and Avril turned around, she was pointing to another one of her goods for sale.
“This is my special recommendation. It’s really cute, and the price is right.”
It was a rectangular box about the size of one’s palm—a music box. Avril reached out to touch it curiously.
“You put cards with sheet music inside it, and then it’ll play all sorts of songs when you wind it up. See that lever?”
“This one?” Avril rested the music box in her left hand, and turned the lever with her right.
But the very next moment, there was a loud bang and a flash of white, and the music box fell into pieces.
A large white dove had flown out, flapping its wings, soaring into the blue sky.
Avril cried out and fell back several paces, then looked at Kazuya. “Wh-what was that?”
The surrounding townspeople turned startled looks on the two of them. The freed dove flew a couple leisurely laps above the market, then cooed and escaped to parts unknown.
The nun screamed.
All eyes moved to her.
“The plate!” she screeched, holding her hands to her face, her blue-grey eyes wide open.
Kazuya and Avril gasped.
The nun pointed a trembling finger at the spot where the plate had been … but it was empty. The high-priced plate had vanished into thin air.
The nun staggered back into her chair as if her legs had given out. Avril’s lips quivered from the fright she had received.
Kazuya looked around the market. The girls who had bought the postcards were huddled together a short distance away, squealing to each other. The old man who had expressed interest in the plate was staring over at the stall, looking dumbfounded.
From somewhere, a voice whispered, “Somebody call the police….”
Kazuya was no less stunned than the rest of them, but in the back of his mind, he considered to himself, although it may not have been the most appropriate of thoughts for the situation: Now this’ll make the perfect present for Victorique….