The grounds of St. Marguerite’s School at nighttime were as deathly still as the end of the world. A ring of gardens densely forested with trees cast dark shadows on the main building and dormitories, which were themselves quiet enough as to appear empty. Sometimes the pale moon would peek out from between branches and leaves, but it was soon obscured by puffs of dark blue clouds, plunging the scene back into darkness.
At this early evening hour—which happened to be after dinner, slightly past seven o’clock—the students would normally be in their rooms, occupied with schoolwork. The upperclassmen designated as prefects would make rounds on the younger students’ rooms, and the faculty member who served as housemaster was stationed at the entrance, checking the students in and out of the building.
The prefects were very much afraid of the rumors of the Grim Reaper, and they always made sure to skip Kazuya’s room. But there was never any need for them to check on him in the first place, as he was always engrossed in his thick textbooks, reviewing his lessons and preparing for the next day, pouring effort into his English, French, and especially his least favorite subject, Latin.
Tonight, Kazuya was again seated at his writing desk beside the window, mumbling Latin vocabulary under his breath.
The gas lamp mounted on the wall emitted a hiss.
Textbooks and stationery sat neatly arranged on top of his sturdy writing desk.
Kazuya’s face was the picture of concentration.
Then he happened to look up, and just as he was about to drop his gaze back down to his books … a look of suspicion crossed his face, and he again looked out the window.
It was dark outside.
The curtains of Gobelins lace were thrown open to capture the moonlight, and the French windows were ajar.
Outside… Kazuya thought he sensed something being dragged down the unlit walkway below.
What’s going on…?!
Feeling slightly spooked, Kazuya flung open the French window and peered outside. From his small room at the end of the second floor, he had a sweeping view, albeit a distant one, of the nearby grassy lawn, and then beyond it, the dim, winding path between the trees.
On that path … there was something slowly moving.
That something was…
…an enormous suitcase.
A large suitcase, the kind a traveler would take on a journey, was moving very, very slowly, even though there was no one around to carry it. It would move only slightly, perhaps no more than ten centimeters, then stop. Several seconds later, it would move another ten centimeters.
Stopping … and starting … stopping … and starting…
The bizarre sight of a suitcase fitfully sliding along a path far off into the distance, underneath the feeble moonlight in the midst of absolute silence, inflamed Kazuya’s imagination.
A suitcase, moving by itself…?
It seemed to be heading in the direction of the school gates.
For a minute, Kazuya stared at it, dumbfounded.
And then he collected himself, threw aside his textbooks and pencil, and stood up.
Kazuya carefully reached for a thick tree branch that hung near the window. He wasn’t particularly given to climbing trees, but when he was younger, his rambunctious, fun-loving older brothers would often laughingly abandon him in treetops or throw him into rivers. This wasn’t out of any malice on their part; they had simply assumed that all boys loved climbing trees or swimming in rivers, and thus engaged in this slightly rough way of playing with their much younger brother….
With skill unwillingly honed by past experience, Kazuya deftly walked along a tree limb, then shimmied down, all the while thinking of only one thing.
A mystery from the outside world… A suitcase, moving under the moonlight!
He decided to give this story to his eccentric friend, Victorique, as a present.
Kazuya jumped from branch to branch, then reached the final two meter drop. He felt some trepidation at the height, but jumped down without pausing to hesitate.
The branch bowed, creaking loudly.
Kazuya righted himself, then crossed the lawn, making sure to carefully muffle his footsteps as he inched closer to the dark path.
The suitcase was still stopping and starting … stopping and starting toward its destination, slowly but surely.
Kazuya’s excitement was steadily building. Finding out about this mystery would give him something to offer Victorique the next time he climbed up that staircase. His heart pounded in anticipation.
He started to turn toward the back of the suitcase to take a good look at it from behind. But as his viewing angle shifted, his expression gradually stiffened in bemusement, and at last turned to dismay.
Behind the suitcase… stopping and starting in time with its jerky rhythm… he glimpsed….
A pair of tiny feet.
Those feet were wearing lace-up leather shoes. Above them, the fringed hem of an elegant dress quivered with every push. A hat adorned with velvet ribbons fluttered in the nighttime breeze.
Wasn’t this in fact Victorique herself?
“…Just what do you think you’re doing?” Kazuya called out to the distant path across the lawn.
Stopping … and …
The suitcase froze. Victorique’s shoulders jumped at the sudden sound of a boy’s ringing voice.
Once Kazuya received a full view of the back of the suitcase, he finally understood what was going on—that she was, inexplicably enough, sliding a huge suitcase forward with her small hands, pushing it ever so slowly.
Seeing that Victorique wasn’t about give him a reply, Kazuya ran across the lawn toward the path. Upon getting closer, he saw that the suitcase was indeed quite large. If they arranged themselves carefully enough, both of them could probably fit inside of it with room to spare.
“What are you up to?” Kazuya asked again.
“Mmm….” Victorique started to say something, but instead kept her lips firmly pressed together. She turned away from him and went back to pushing the suitcase.
“Where are you going?”
“You’re not supposed to leave the school, right? You told me yourself. And the gates are locked, so you can’t open them.”
The students of St. Marguerite’s School were not permitted to leave the campus after curfew, when the gates were locked shut. In the event that a student decided to force his way out of the campus, as punishment he would be forbidden from going out on the weekends, and also risked having his parents notified of the infraction.
But in Victorique’s case…
Kazuya didn’t know the full story. Apparently, she wasn’t allowed to leave the campus at any point. The only exception was the time that Gréville de Blois applied somewhere to get special permission for her to go outside, under his supervision….
But Victorique gave no answer to Kazuya’s questions.
The trunk was slowly making its way toward the school gates at a speed of around fifteen centimeters per minute.
“Wh-why aren’t you saying anything?”
Until this moment, Victorique had been ignoring him, but now she shot a startled look at him over her shoulder. Shock and disbelief were written all over her face.
Kazuya was taken aback. “Wh-what?”
Her expression only intensified.
“You can’t talk? Oh, I know. You must have a toothache.”
Frustration filled Victorique’s eyes.
“I just noticed how swollen your cheek is. The right one… oh, the left one, too.”
The crease between her brows and the gnashing of her teeth seemed to quietly shout: They’re always like that!
But Kazuya took no notice of this. “Are you going to the dentist? You don’t need such a big suitcase to do that. Let me open it up. Whoa, what the heck is this? You have clothes, a huge mirror, a chair?! A tea set for ten, a vase big enough for you to hide inside, and then, what’s this… a cot?! Where on earth do you think you’re going? Are you a family trying to immigrate to the New World? You have even more luggage here than last time. Gosh, you really are hopeless!”
Grumbling to himself, Kazuya began to take the liberty of removing items from the suitcase. Victorique protested soundlessly beside him, stamping her feet and waving her hands.
As Kazuya took more and more things out, he admonished her, “If you have a toothache, you’d better wait there quietly.”
Victorique pressed both hands to her round cheeks, tears welling up in her eyes.
“Okay? After you visit the dentist, we’re coming straight back. And be sure to keep this passageway an absolute secret, or else you’ll make problems for Avril… I mean, the student who made it.”
A few moments later.
Kazuya had taken a mini-suitcase out of the much larger one and filled it with a smaller quantity of luggage. This he carried in one hand, while his other held onto Victorique, who was struggling violently, trying to disengage herself as they crept through the hole in the hedge that Avril had shown to Kazuya.
After hiding Victorique’s excess luggage among the trees, he had gone back to his room to get his wallet and coat, then returned to guide her through the secret passageway.
Kazuya turned to Victorique, who was looking profoundly unhappy. “Oh, no. I forgot!”
Victorique’s face assumed a look of expectation; surely now he had finally remembered what she wanted him to remember. But Kazuya instead proceeded to point at her feet, clad in their tiny lace-up leather shoes. Right next to them, violet buds trembled silently, glistening in evening dew.
“Try not to step on the flowers, or you’ll upset Miss Cécile.”
Victorique’s shoulders slumped.
Once they had left the campus, Kazuya tightly gripped her small hand so that she wouldn’t wander off on her own. The heaviness of her suitcase made it harder to hold on than he had expected. But regardless of Victorique’s keen intellect and acid tongue, she actually had very little experience going outside the school, and if he let go of her, he couldn’t imagine where she might end up. She could get lost, and end up crying on the side of the road, unable to navigate public transportation, or even fall into an abandoned well or animal trap, and be unable to get herself out.
With all of these dangerous possibilities swirling around in his head, Kazuya’s face turned pale. He squeezed his grip on her hand even more strongly.
As if in rejection of those feelings of his, Victorique savagely yanked his hand up and down and side to side, trying to free herself.
“Ow, ow, ow. Victorique, you’re going to dislocate my shoulder!”
“Where’s the dentist? Victorique?”
She began walking silently.
Kazuya had no choice but to follow her lead.
At last, Victorique arrived at a place that she had already visited with Kazuya once before—the train station, the only one in the village. A clock gleamed in the center of the small, triangle-shaped roof, displaying the time: half past seven.
Kazuya was flabbergasted. “The station?! Don’t tell me you’re getting on a train? Where could you possibly be going? Not the dentist … after all…?”
Victorique ignored his question, and entered the station building to buy a ticket. She wrenched herself away from Kazuya, and once both hands were freed, told the station attendant her destination in a soft voice. Kazuya anxiously tugged on her hand.
“You mustn’t. If you go too far, they’ll find out that you left the school!”
“And all I brought with me is my wallet….”
“Let’s go back, Victorique. What on earth’s gotten into you?”
Victorique shook him loose and walked away.
Kazuya quickly said to the attendant, “I’ll have a ticket to the same destination as that girl!”
“…Going to Horowitz, then?”
“Horowitz…?” Kazuya nodded distractedly, took his ticket, and paid the fare, then chased after Victorique. Spotting her small form halfway across the platform, he ran up to her.
But she still refused to say a word.
Kazuya felt strong vibrations through the planks underneath his feet; the steam locomotive was about to pull into the platform of the small station. Stars twinkled in the night sky above.
Further down the platform, he dimly made out the form of another passenger emerging from the ticket gate.
The black steam engine arrived, huffing and puffing smoke.
The conductor jumped off, pulled a brass lever, and opened the door.
When Victorique climbed on board, Kazuya could do nothing but climb on after her, despite his bewilderment….
The conductor blew a whistle, and the door creaked shut.
Horowitz… That’s the name of the village in that advertisement….
Kazuya thought of the classified ad he saw in the newspaper. If he remembered correctly, it had a mysterious message that read, “To the children of the Grey Wolf: The midsummer festival is approaching. All descendants are welcome.”
It mentioned the name of a tiny village called Horowitz close to the Swiss border, and included a simple map. That village is much further into the foothills than here…. But why would Victorique want to go to a place like that…?
Kazuya gazed at her worriedly. She evaded his eyes, uttering not a single sound.
There was no sign that he remembered her reason for not speaking to him.
I remember… Victorique turned so pale for some reason when she saw that advertisement. And then there’s that rumor about her that I heard from Avril: ‘Victorique de Blois is a legendary Grey Wolf’…. And what about that mysterious name that Inspector de Blois shouted: “Cordelia Gallo”…. There are so many things I don’t understand. And Victorique won’t say a word, he thought to himself. Jeez, I’m at my wits’ end here….
As for Victorique, she was sitting on one side of the booth, a small puff of lace and frills occupying two seats at once. She was completely motionless, like a doll that had been placed there for decoration, displaying no signs of life save for the periodic blinking of her emerald-green eyes. Her expression was morose, far less energetic than her usual self. But her round cheeks were the same as ever, warm and rosy as if she had painted herself with rouge.
“Oh, is someone in here?”
The door suddenly opened, and the face of a young woman peeked into the booth where Kazuya and Victorique were sitting. Kazuya jumped up, startled.
She was presumably the other passenger who had entered the platform earlier.
“Sure is empty this time of night. I’m feeling kinda lonely. Can I sit here with you, dearie?” Her voice was sweet like lilac perfume, but also somehow throaty and coquettish.
Kazuya thought he remembered that voice from somewhere. “Please do,” he said, looking up at her.
She looked back at him, and raised her eyebrows in recognition. “Oh. It’s you.”
Melancholy blue-grey eyes, like a parched desert sky, shrouded by a heavy nun’s habit.
It was the young nun who had stolen the Dresden plate at the bazaar.