Gosick II – 1.2

[2]

In a corner of the sprawling campus, which leisurely stretched out across the gently rolling hills of a mountain valley, stood a massive repository of books, famed throughout Europe—St. Marguerite’s Library. This tower of hollow stone, battered by wind and rain for over three hundred years, soared above the school like loftiness given form.

Kazuya walked briskly along the white pebbled path leading from the U-shaped main building to the library, holding the Indian turban in his hand.

“All that fuss back at the market made me much later than usual. I hope she isn’t too upset with me….” he murmured aloud.

Then he remembered that that friend of his in the library wouldn’t be waiting specifically for him anyway, and there was no point in him worrying about her reaction. And when he further considered that the only time she was ever in a good mood was once in a blue moon to begin with, he had to grimace for a moment.

Kazuya arrived at the entrance to the library. The large leather-covered door, hammered through with round brass rivets, towered imposingly before him. He wrapped both hands around the doorknob and pulled as hard as he could.

The damp, chilly air pervading the inside of the library coolly caressed his cheeks. Hanging in the air was the scent of dust, mildew, and knowledge. As he inhaled it, a feeling of reverence overcame him.

Kazuya lifted his gaze. The four walls of the library were completely covered in overflowing bookshelves. At a glance, they seemed to blend in with the walls, lending it a pattered appearance, but on closer look, the pattern was in fact made up of books. An atrium occupied the space between the walls, and far above it, sublime religious frescoes were painted on the ceiling. High in the distance, Kazuya caught a faint glimpse of large, bright green leaves. But most people would have dismissed it as an optical illusion, with nary an inkling that what they were seeing was in fact the beautiful green leaves of tropical trees at the very top of the library, almost to the ceiling.

The vaguely menacing shadows at the far end of the first floor atrium hid a hydraulic elevator, which had been installed within the past couple decades over the course of renovations. However, it was officially limited to staff use only, and there was only one member of the student body allowed to use it— for Kazuya, it was off-limits.

The only way for him to get to the top was by means of a narrow wooden staircase that stretched precariously between the enormous bookshelves on each wall. The thin staircase soared to the ceiling through a series of right angles, onward and upward like a huge vertical labyrinth.

A sigh escaped Kazuya’s lips. “It sure is far….”

As he peered up at the wooden railing that encircled the top floor, he could just barely make out the sight of something dangling over the side.

Something that shone like a golden belt.

A girl’s long hair…

“Well, at least she seems to be here. No choice but to keep on going.”

Kazuya straightened his posture and began to climb, the soles of his shoes tapping rhythmically against the steps of the cramped wooden staircase. If he were to look down, his head would spin, so he silently ordered himself to keep his eyes facing forward no matter what.

According to legend, this library was built in the early seventeenth century by a former king of Sauvure. In order to escape his wife’s henpecking, he had a secret room constructed at the top floor where he could engage in clandestine trysts with his young mistress. And to make sure that no one but the two lovers would ever go to the top, he had the staircase designed in the form of a maze.

There certainly couldn’t be many people willing to climb all the way to the top, thought Kazuya. Although if someone had a good enough reason, it’d be a different story….

Occupied with these thoughts, he climbed.

And climbed.

And climbed some more.

Still more stairs to go.

It wouldn’t be long now.

He was starting to get tired.

Finally, he reached the top. Slightly out of breath, he called out the name of the friend whom he expected to find.

“Victorique? You there?”

There was no response.

But it was always this way.

Kazuya took one more step. He was very familiar with what lay in store for him beyond that point.

For what awaited him was…

*****

…a garden.

The secret room at the topmost floor of the library was no longer the bedroom of a king and his lover, but had instead been repurposed as a lush conservatory. Tropical trees, ferns, and flowers in gaudy primary colors bloomed in green anarchy, softly swaying in the breeze that flowed in from opened skylights, accompanied by gentle rays of sunlight.

It was a tiny piece of paradise, awash in serenity.

On the landing that led from the conservatory, a exquisite porcelain doll lay sprawled on the ground. Its body, close to life-sized at around one hundred and forty centimeters, was enveloped in an elaborate gown, richly bedecked in silk and torchon lace. And yet its gloriously long blond hair was neither plaited nor piled up, but cascaded all the way down to the heels of a diminutive pair of leather shoes, twining about the doll’s body like a velvet turban come undone.

The expression on its bowed profile was as cool and dispassionate as sculpted porcelain. The eyes could have belonged to an adult or to a child; it was hard to say. The eyelids were heavy and the gaze unfixed, the eyes of someone dreaming at dawn.

This porcelain doll was puffing away at a white ceramic pipe in its mouth. Hazy white smoke drifted up to the skylights.

For a moment, Kazuya paused, transfixed by that scene, like an illusion captured in a photograph. Then he assumed his usual composure and walked up to her, this girl who was as beautiful as a porcelain doll, and nearly every bit as tiny.

“I’ve been calling you all this time. You ought to answer me back, Victorique.”

“…Oh, it’s you.”

Her lips parted slightly, almost invisibly so. She spoke in a low voice that was husky like that of an old woman, in jarring contrast to the youthfulness of her body. The girl—Victorique—said only these three brief words, then sealed her lips again.

On the floor, opened books radiated around her in all directions. Among their various languages were books in Latin, German, and a wriggly, earthworm-like script which Kazuya guessed to be Arabic. All appeared to be difficult reading. The genres also ranged widely, including anything from witchcraft and alchemy to science, advanced mathematics, and ancient history.

“Of course it’s me. Who else is going to climb all the way up here?”

“…Sometimes Cécile used to come here, although she hasn’t stopped by lately. It looks like she’s leaving things to you now.”

“Huh.” Kazuya nodded.

“Cécile” referred to his homeroom teacher, who was also the teacher of Avril Bradley and Victorique de Blois. Ever since Kazuya came to study in Sauvure half a year ago, she had been concerned about his inability to find acceptance among his peers, who were children from aristocratic families. At some point, she had introduced him to Victorique, a problem child who had never attended classes in all the time she had been enrolled in this school, and she tasked him with relaying messages and looking after her. Kazuya reluctantly began to visit this strange girl in the library on a regular basis, and ended up getting pulled into various cases that she would then solve. In the process, the two of them had gradually come to know each other. However…

Whenever he visited the library, he would always get fed up with Victorique’s intolerably brusque manner, which she possessed by virtue of her upper crust background, and every time he would silently swear never to come again. But somehow he would always find himself back at this conservatory, over and over again.

Kazuya glanced at the floor next to Victorique. Whiskey bonbons and macarons were scattered all over the ground among stacks of books. He looked over at Victorique, but she was engrossed in her reading, seeming to have forgotten about the sweets that she had brought, as well as everything else around her.

“What a mess you’ve made here. You’re always leaving things lying around like this.” Kazuya started to gather up the scattered sweets into a single pile, muttering complaints under his breath.

But Victorique paid him no mind, and instead asked, “Kujou, do you believe in the existence of a ‘chosen people’?”

Kazuya jerked his head up, not expecting the sudden change of topic.

Victorique didn’t bother to wait for a response. “I refer to those god-like people who appear in myths. For example, the gods of Greek mythology or the Norse giants. In China, they pass down tales of celestial beings. I suppose your own country has such legends, too.”

“Yeah… Well, I guess so. But aren’t those just fables?”

“If there existed people with great powers who were feared as gods by other races… It would be at least slightly amusing, wouldn’t it?”

Ignoring Kazuya, who was occupied with organizing the candies on the floor, Victorique began to speak swiftly.

“If we look back into the history of Eastern Europe, there are many records of an ancient people known as the Seyrune, a legendary people who held a domain in the war-torn lands of Eastern Europe many centuries ago. They were uniformly small and weak, and few in number, but they controlled that land by means of their intelligence. They fought valiantly with the Khazars in the ninth century, with the Pechenegs in the tenth and eleventh centuries, and with the Kipchaks in the twelfth century, and endured Mongol invasions in the thirteenth century. Their race lived in glory for a long time. The Seyrune survived everything from yearly invaders on horseback in the springtime, to ferocious wolves who lived in the forests, and came to be known as legendary gods.

“But now they are nowhere to be found. There is no such thing as a Seyrune nation. In every book that I’ve read, all mentions of them abruptly cease in the fifteenth century. One day, they simply disappeared like a puff of smoke from the face of Eastern Europe; no, from the face of the earth. Whence did they come, and whither are they vanished? A hint may lie in the fact that the fifteenth century was the era of witch hunts and inquisitions. Kujou, you went to town earlier, didn’t you?”

Kazuya’s hands stilled in the act of scooping up stray candies, and he blinked in surprise. “What’s gotten into you all of a sudden. Wait, how did you know that?”

“Your behavior is an open book to me.”

“…Well, I guessed as much.”

A tiny yawn slipped out of Victorique’s mouth, and she absentmindedly buried a hand into the pile of sweets that Kazuya had carefully arranged, carelessly rummaging through them until she located a whiskey bonbon. She tore off the wrapping, shoved the bonbon into her mouth, and started chewing, her cheeks pulsating as if they were an independent living creature unattached to the rest of her small face.

Kazuya picked up the wrapping that she had thrown on the floor and searched for a waste bin. When he was unable to locate one, he was forced to resort to depositing the wrapper into his own pocket.

Chewing vigorously, Victorique continued. “For one thing, the leaf stuck to your hair doesn’t belong to any of the trees on the school grounds. More importantly, I can see an envelope in the breast pocket of your uniform. And once I saw you in such a rush to get here at this late hour, I knew that you must have gone somewhere after your afternoon classes. That’s all. It’s an exceedingly simple thing.”

“…Yeah. When you put it that way, sure. But you always give me such a start. It’s like you can guess everything I do, even when you aren’t watching me.”

Victorique suddenly looked up, and with her sparkling green eyes, the color of tropical oceans, she pinned Kazuya with a wide-eyed stare.

“It’s very simple. An overflowing wellspring of wisdom told it to me. I am honing my senses by taking in fragments of chaos from the world around me, and letting the wellspring of wisdom inside of me toy with them to pass the time. In other words, I reconstruct them. And when the mood strikes me, I may even articulate the process so that a dull and mediocre person like you may understand. …Although doing so is much too troublesome, so the times when I would rather not articulate things far outnumber the times when I would. You understand, don’t you?”

“There you go again, mocking me, calling me mediocre….”

“Am I not allowed to?” Victorique asked with a flash of her emerald eyes, sounding deeply mystified.

Kazuya shrugged. “Well, I’m pretty much used to it by now.”

“Oh, no, we can’t have that. Getting used to things leads to where the intellect goes to die. I order you to reflect on your sins.”

“Reflect on my sins? Me? Why did this conversation lead to me being the one who has to reflect on his sins?” Kazuya replied crossly. Still, he knew he could never truly lose his temper with her.

In the world outside of the top floor of the library tower, Kazuya happened to be an elite student who had been selected as his country’s representative, and normally would never have allowed anyone to call him mediocre of all things. But when it came to this eccentric, half-mad little girl who never attended school, and yet read through the most abstruse of tomes in the blink of an eye, somehow he could never quite come up with the words to defend himself.

In fact, Kazuya still knew little about who Victorique was. Some said that she was the illegitimate daughter of a nobleman, and was somehow feared by the rest of her family, and therefore had been sent to this school to avoid leaving her at home. Others said that her mother was a famous dancer, but was not of sound mind. Yet others said that she was the incarnation of a grey wolf. …There were numerous rumors of dubious veracity spread about her at school, many of them lurid tales of the supernatural, but Kazuya himself had never directly asked Victorique about any of them. This was partly because he believed that viewing a person with such base curiosity was reprehensible, but it was also because Victorique, despite being so very small, possessed such a imperturbably quiet and yet ferocious air that simply being in her presence was intimidating enough.

Over the past few months, Kazuya felt as if he was spending his days slowly getting closer to a miniature wild animal that was unaccustomed to human contact. Although it was the source of much vexation for him, he somehow always ended up taking the effort to climb up that labyrinth of stairs day after day for the sake of that peculiar young girl…. Such was the life he experienced as a foreign student.

*****

Victorique was still single-mindedly reading her books and chewing her whiskey bonbons. But this was no deterrent to Kazuya, who went on speaking. “Anyway, Victorique. I wanted to ask you about something that happened when I went to the village….”

“You had planned to go to the post office to pick up your mail, I suppose?”

“Yeah. Actually, I had asked my eldest brother to send me a certain book, but it seems like he didn’t get my letter in time, so I ended up getting sent pocket money instead. Apparently, it’s his first paycheck since he started working in the university, so he set aside a little for me, too.”

“Hmm.”

“So, since it’s a special occasion and all, I thought I’d get you a present.”

Victorique wearily lifted her head to glance briefly at the Indian hat that Kazuya was proudly presenting to her. She lowered her eyes back to her books, but then a second later, she did a double take, this time in shock.

“What the devil is that?!”

“What is it? It’s a hat.”

“A hat!? That thing?!”

She seemed to find it more interesting than he had expected. Still, her reaction was more akin to alarm rather than pleasure, which was not exactly what he had had in mind.

Kazuya’s shoulders slumped. “…Is it weird?”

“Yes, it’s weird!”

“O-oh… If you don’t want it, I can go return it.”

As Kazuya was dejectedly reaching out to take back the hat, Victorique twisted her body all the way around from her books and snatched the hat away from him, then twisted herself back to her original position and hid the hat on the floor behind her, out of his reach.

Kazuya gave her a dubious frown. “You still want it?”

“I only said it was weird. I never said I didn’t want it.”

“But … if it’s weird, then I can just go exchange it for something you actually like instead. …I knew I should’ve gotten that lace collar, or that pretty ring. Maybe she tricked me. Thinking back, that nun didn’t seem quite right in the head….”

While Kazuya was musing out loud, he looked up to find Victorique hunched over the Indian hat, examining it with intense interest like a cat that had found a new toy to play with—he had to admit she looked kind of cute when she did that. But after a minute, she suddenly threw the hat to the side.

“…Sick of it.”

“Hold on just a minute. Hats aren’t for playing with; they’re for wearing. Don’t get sick of it when you haven’t even tried it on yet.”

“I’m bored.”

“So like I said—huh? Did you just say you’re bored?”

Kazuya felt instantly uneasy, and began making preparations for his escape. He stood up, and started to bid Victorique goodbye, saying, “Well, I guess it’s time to get back to the dormitory now…”

Victorique gave him a sidelong glance. As he started to walk away, she yanked hard on his trouser cuff.

Kazuya tripped and fell flat on his face. “Ouch!”

“I said I’m bored.”

“I heard you! But what do you expect me to do about it? …Oh, I know!” Kazuya scrambled upright. “I completely forgot about the other present I brought you. While I was buying that hat at the village flea market, a strange theft occurred….”

After Kazuya bought his hat and was about to depart, the nun working at the church bazaar recommended buying a small music box. The moment that Avril picked it up, much to her surprise, the music box fell apart, and a dove flew out. While everyone was watching the dove fly away, an expensive plate on display at the bazaar disappeared into thin air.

The policemen who rushed to the scene naturally proceeded to search all of the customers present, Kazuya and Avril included, but they were proven innocent. The nun cried and begged the police to look for the plate, but in the end, they weren’t able to locate it anywhere in the vicinity.

The commotion caused Kazuya and Avril to be late getting back to school. By the time they returned, it was already after curfew, and they were reduced to standing helplessly in front of the locked iron gates.

When Kazuya suggested finding someone who would let them explain their situation, Avril said, “Let’s go in this way!” and guided him to a hidden passageway that had been secretly opened through the hedge. She had also been locked out after curfew last weekend, and so she had taken a saw and cut several thick branches from the hedge in case it ever happened again. Kazuya protested to her that they shouldn’t be doing this, but she went on to yank him through the hole, back inside the school.

And that was how a leaf that didn’t belong to any tree on campus—because it belonged to the hedge—ended up stuck to Kazuya’s hair.

“So it’s a pretty strange case, huh? The music box was so small that it could fit in the palm of your hand, certainly not big enough for a dove to fit inside. But the second it fell apart, that white dove came flying out. And then that expensive plate disappeared. No one fled the scene, but the plate was still gone….”

“Oh, is that all?” Victorique yawned widely.

Kazuya blinked.

Victorique’s weariness was too great for a yawn to suffice, so she added a stretch, and again began to play with the hat.

“What do you mean?”

“There’s only one person it could be, Kujou. It was someone right next to you.”

“Really?!”

“What simple fragments these are. I can’t even call this chaos. Oh, I’m so bored, I could die. That’s just how bored I am. Stupid Kujou.”

“…Ugh.” Kazuya was starting to get irritated, and snapped, “Then how about putting on that hat?”

“Mmm.”

Victorique put on the Indian turban. The crown-shaped hat sat snugly on her head, and her long blond hair flowed out from the back. The size was just right for her small head, and when she wore it, Kazuya thought she looked just like the princess of some faraway desert tribe. He wanted to compliment her on how nice she looked wearing it, but while he was wondering to himself whether that would only get him into trouble, he heard the jarring sound of loud footsteps entering the world below—the footsteps of large feet wearing leather shoes.

Kazuya looked over the railing to the bottom floor. That same instant, the man in the first floor atrium stopped and locked eyes with him.

Kazuya turned to face Victorique. “He’s back.”

“…Mm?” A slight frown crossed her brow.

With a heavy clank, the hydraulic elevator began to move.

Victorique stirred slightly.

The iron cage clanged to a loud stop at the small elevator alcove at the front of the conservatory. There was a silhouette of a young man behind the thin metal bars.

The cage opened with a brief screech, revealing a man with a strange hairstyle, standing there in a dramatic pose with one hand in the air and the other hand resting on his hip. He wore a finely tailored three-piece suit and a loud ascot tie. Silver cufflinks gleamed at his wrists. His entire outfit was impeccable, save for the inexplicable exception of his hair. His glossy blond hair was hardened and swept forward like the tip of a drill, as if he was prepared to use it as a deadly weapon.

“I suppose he’s here to ask you about that very case,” Kazuya murmured softly.

Victorique’s response was to open her mouth in a wide yawn of abject disinterest.

The man—Victorique’s half-brother, Gréville de Blois, who had abused his position as a nobleman to enter the police force on a whim—strode inside with sprightly steps, his leather shoes clacking loudly against the floor. He faced the two youngsters and said, in a voice brimming with confidence, “Hello, kids, I just wanted to ask you a few…”

His voice trailed off. The assured look on his face slowly turned pale as his mouth dropped open, his eyes bulged out, and his fingers started to tremble as if he had just seen a ghost.

Kazuya looked around in confusion. But all he saw was his petite friend Victorique, now wearing the Indian hat; the piles of books that surrounded her; the candies scattered on the floor; and the conservatory itself. Everything was in its usual place. There was nothing to startle the inspector into such a ghastly expression.

Inspector de Blois’ face was as white as a sheet, his mouth soundlessly flapping open and shut. Finally, he managed to squeak out, “Cordelia Gallo!? What the hell are you doing here?!”

“No, Gréville. It’s me,” Victorique replied calmly. She took off the Indian hat, letting her silky blond hair tumble down her back.

The inspector’s pallid face gradually turned an apoplectic red. “Th-that’s a dirty trick!” he hissed, as if indignant at having let his fear show in his voice.

“Hey, who’s Cordelia Gallo?” asked Kazuya.

These siblings, who otherwise shared nothing in common, ignored his question simultaneously.

Kazuya’s head drooped. “Fine, I won’t ask. Tch…”

Victorique continued to puff away on her pipe, paying no attention to Kazuya in his sulk. The inspector pulled out his own pipe and lit the fire.

Two strands of smoke slowly rose to the skylights.

At last, the inspector began to speak in his usual tone of voice.

*****

The light flowing in from the conservatory’s skylights slowly darkened, as if a cloud borne on the wind had hidden the sun for a fleeting moment. And then a ray of warm sunlight once again pierced through the gloom, shining on the three below. A delicate breeze wafted inside, briefly swaying the large, heavy leaves of the tropical trees.

“…And that’s how the Dresden plate vanished into thin air at the church bazaar. The police searched all of the customers at the scene, but they came up empty-handed. Of course, that plate is the size of a man’s head, so it’s not exactly something that anyone could easily hide under his clothes in the first place,” said the inspector smoothly, while keeping his gaze directed at Kazuya.

“I was there, so I already know all of that,” murmured Kazuya. “Why do you always have to tell me instead of Victorique?”

“What’s that? I simply came to hear the testimony of one of the witnesses. There seems to be one other person here, but I can’t quite see who it is. Anyway…”

Inspector de Blois reseated himself with his left ear facing Victorique, seemingly preparing himself to listen in case she had anything to say. Sunlight from the skylights glinted off his pointed hair, accentuating its radiant golden color.

Victorique was still absorbed by her reading. Kazuya glanced at the titles; they appeared to be histories of Eastern Europe from antiquity to the Middle Ages, the same topic that she had been expounding on earlier. She busily flipped the pages that were filled with tiny, cramped print.

Then she happened to raise her head and let out an extremely bored yawn. “It’s like I told you before, Kujou. The thief is someone who was very close to you.”

“Who do you mean?” asked Kazuya, stumped.

Inspector de Blois leaned forward, pushing him aside. “I’ve got it! You mean that English girl, don’t you?!”

“…Why would Kujou’s companion be the one to steal the plate? And she submitted to the same search that he did. I’m not talking about her. Someone else was there, right? The only person who didn’t undergo a search. Think about it.”

After saying her piece, Victorique returned to burying her face in her books. Kazuya and the inspector shared a look, pondering to themselves.

“Someone else… Do you mean the nun?”

“That’s right.” Victorique nodded, then immersed herself back into the world of books, seeming to forget all about the other two people in her presence.

For several seconds of silence, she smoked her pipe. Then she suddenly looked up.

Kazuya and the inspector had been gazing at her with questioning looks, waiting for her to take notice of them. Victorique withdrew the pipe from her mouth, and with her other hand, picked up a macaron lying on the floor, tore off the wrapping, and popped it into her small mouth. She chewed it, rested for a moment, then spoke.

“Why are you staring at me like that?”

“I was waiting for your explanation.”

“You mean you still don’t understand?!” Victorique stared at them in profound shock. Then she took a drag from her pipe, withdrew the pipe to exhale smoke, and reached out to toss another macaron into her mouth. With food still in her mouth, she said, “You two are truly … idiots.”

“Enough!” yelled Kazuya angrily. Startled, Victorique widened her eyes. As for Inspector de Blois, he was silent, his face purple in rage.

But Victorique was unbothered, and said, “It’s impossible for the thief to be anyone but the nun. At least, according to what you told me, Kujou. Now pay attention. That nun recommended the music box to your companion, and the moment she picked it up, it noisily fell apart. The music box was meant to do that. And at the same time, a white dove flew out of it, distracting all of the townspeople in the plaza so that they would look up at the flying dove in the sky. But it didn’t come from the music box.”

“Then where did it come from?”

“It flew out from the nun’s skirts.”

“H-her skirts…?”

“You said it yourself, Kujou. A nun, who is supposed to behave modestly, was sitting with her legs spread like a man. You found that strange. But she had a reason to be sitting that way. She was hiding something between her legs.”

Kazuya remembered the scene vividly. The nun sat with her legs wide open, her heavy, dark blue habit cloaking her body all the way down to her ankles….

“She most likely had a rack of some sort set up between her legs, where she secreted the dove inside. If a customer were to pick up the music box, she would lift her skirt and release the dove. And if she timed it right to the moment when the music box fell apart, then it would appear as if the dove had flown out from the music box itself. This would distract the townspeople into looking up at the dove, and at that point, she would hide the plate underneath her skirt, then scream, ‘The plate is missing!’”

Kazuya looked at Victorique and the inspector in surprise. “But even so… She was the one managing the bazaar. Why would she steal a plate that she was trying to sell?”

“You would have to ask her that. Still, according to what you said, she was smelling of liquor in the middle of the day. Doesn’t sound like your average, everyday nun, does she? And since those goods were property of the church, she wouldn’t have been able to keep any money she earned from selling them. In that case, it isn’t very strange for her to be a suspect. So, as for what you should do next…”

“Yeah.”

“Check that nun’s habit and shoes very, very carefully. Kujou said that he saw some white spots spattered on her black shoes. From this I can speculate that those were the droppings of the dove that she hid in her skirts. Why else would bird droppings be on her shoes, when they should have been hidden underneath her long habit? I doubt she’ll have a convincing excuse for that.”

Now having said all she needed to say, Victorique yawned listlessly. Then she stretched, prompting tears to spring to the corners of her eyes, and went back once again to the land of books.

Kazuya glanced furtively at the inspector next to him. By now, he would normally be in the process of leaving after getting the answers he wanted, but this time he was sitting with his arms crossed and a grim expression on his face, apparently contemplating something.

“…Inspector? What’s wrong?”

“You win.”

“Huh?”

“Uh, no… Never mind!” the inspector said nervously. He stood up and slowly began walking to the elevator.

Then he turned around and began to say something. But he seemed to reconsider and closed his mouth, vanishing into the bowels of the iron cage.

“Inspector?”

He didn’t reply.

The elevator jerked into motion with a metallic clang, and began to descend to the floors below.

A few minutes later, Kazuya heard the sound of Inspector de Blois’ footsteps quickly departing from the first floor atrium. When the sound grew softer and finally faded away into silence, he turned to Victorique. “By the way.”

“…Mm?”

“Who is Cordelia Gallo? That name gave the inspector such a fright. But why?”

Victorique promptly turned her back to him and thrust her face into a book. Kazuya sucked his teeth, then picked up a stray macaron and threw it into his mouth.

The sun was slowly setting. The wind had stopped blowing, and the quiet sounds of rustling leaves had stilled.

A thin white wisp of smoke trailed up from the pipe in Victorique’s mouth to the skylights.

Kazuya sat quietly, letting the tranquil silence, which permeated the conservatory on the top floor like that of a heavenly plane for the past three hundred years, wash through him….

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