Each traveler had been prepared a guest bedroom near the back of the third floor. All were spacious, and had large canopy beds planted squarely in their center. A mirror was built into the wall at around chest height. Heavy, lustrous velvet curtains hung on the opposite wall.
Everyone filed into their rooms, starting with Victorique, Kazuya, Mildred, Alain, Derek, and ending with Raoul. Kazuya carried Victorique’s suitcase into her room. She was being very quiet. All she did was rest her pale chin thoughtfully on her small hand, not even bothering to look at him.
Victorique put her pipe in her mouth and lit the fire. Then she stood on her tiptoes, reached out to a string hanging on the edge of the window, and pulled hard. The curtains slowly rippled open, revealing a view of a stone balcony and a dense forest of oak trees.
Victorique carefully observed the scenery below with narrowed eyes.
Kazuya paused what he was doing and walked up to her. “What’s wrong?”
Between the trees, a rundown cemetery peeked out from behind the old church.
For a few moments, Victorique said nothing. Then she suddenly left the room.
Kazuya scrambled to catch up. “Where are you going?”
“On a walk.”
Victorique gave him no answer. She rested a hand on the polished bronze railing, then slowly descended the marble staircase.
Harminia, who had been cleaning with a brass bucket and a white cloth, followed the small girl with her eyes, twisting her head around like a snake slithering upright.
After Victorique left the building, she slowed down to a more leisurely pace. Kazuya caught up to her and joined at her side.
They passed by several villagers on the cobblestone path. No one made any attempt to look at them. Victorique walked on past them, ignoring them.
“…Where might you be headed to?”
They suddenly heard a voice. Kazuya turned around and saw a young man standing behind him, as if he had materialized out of the fog.
The young man was instantly recognizable as one of the villagers in his medieval-looking clothes, like a costume out of a Shakespeare play. His long blond hair was carefully tied back, and his white, almost translucent skin was as smooth as a young girl’s. He had the same deep green eyes that Victorique did, but there was no expression in them. It was a cold and unreadable face, like a Noh mask….
Kazuya remembered who he was. This was the young person who had been standing at Sergius’ side: his assistant. The same one who was so astonished by the sight of Alain’s and his companions’ wristwatches, clothing, and everything else they showed him….
“Allow me to guide you. Oh, and my name is Ambrose. Pleased to meet you.”
The boy, Ambrose, introduced himself to Kazuya and Victorique. Kazuya raised his eyebrows; his impression of the young man had changed in an instant. The moment Ambrose smiled and started to speak, he began looking like a vivacious and cheerful boy. Even his cheeks turned rosy with life. His beautiful face, like the finely carved features of a noblewoman, became warm and merry.
“We haven’t had any guests from the outside in quite a while, so, well, I’m just happy. But I’ll try not to get too carried away….”
“Are you here to welcome us?” asked Kazuya, surprised.
Ambrose looked perturbed, and was silent for a moment. “The people who live here don’t like change. They don’t think contact with people from other cultures is a positive thing. Master Sergius always says that people in the outside world lead bad lifestyles….”
“Oh…? Is that what you think, too?”
“Well, me, I don’t really….” Ambrose trailed off.
And then he began to scrutinize Kazuya’s face and body. When Kazuya started to feel uneasy from the eyes boring into him, Ambrose hesitantly reached out his hand. He looked so much like a aristocratic lady that Kazuya felt himself automatically freeze shyly. Ambrose began stroking and rubbing his face, and grabbing and pulling on his hair.
Kazuya endured it briefly, but soon he had to yell, “…I beg your pardon!”
“Oh, I was just wondering why your hair and skin color are so different. I do know that people in the outside world aren’t all blond, but still….”
Apparently, this was his first time looking at a person from the Far East. As Kazuya tried to pull himself away, Ambrose peered into his eyes and ran his fingers over his face, examining his bone structure.
Finally, Kazuya cried out, “Victorique, help me!”
Victorique’s only reaction was a bored snort. Then she looked up at Ambrose. “There’s a place I want you to show me.”
Ambrose answered with a smile. “It would be an honor. In exchange, may I please touch this person a little longer?”
“As you like.”
Victorique snorted again and turned away from him. And then she softly said, “Bring me to the house where Cordelia lived.”
Ambrose’s fingers suddenly turned cold. His pulled his hands away from Kazuya’s face, and glared at Victorique. His face was no longer lively, and his eyes had become cloudy again like the rest of the villagers, leaving behind only a chilly expression.
Cordelia’s home stood by itself on the corner of a row of rectangular stone houses like a lonely island that had drifted away from the rest, its very existence treated as taboo. Painfully desolate, it had been left to the elements, and the water stains between the withered, twisted ivies painted dry, cracked patterns on the outer walls.
After leading them there, Ambrose made his escape, vanishing into the mist.
Kazuya’s thumping heart was threatening to burst out of his chest, but Victorique looked utterly relaxed as she turned the doorknob. The door was unlocked. Dirt had accumulated on the knob over a long period of time, and it stained the palm of Victorique’s small, soft hand coal black. Kazuya pulled out a handkerchief and tried to wipe her hand, but Victorique irritatedly shook him off, and entered the small house.
The room was old, and startlingly cramped.
Were all of the houses in this village like this? The room, partitioned by a bare stone wall, contained only a small kitchen, bedroom, and a box-like space that was too crude to call a fireplace, gathering dust along the wall. There was a well-worn desk and chair. A small wood-framed bed covered in a tattered cotton sheet. Every piece of furniture in the dim room was old and shabby.
The sight only compounded Kazuya’s image of the villagers’ dull eyes and lifeless expressions. Realizing the difference between this room and the headman’s luxurious mansion, he felt quietly amazed. It’s like it’s not even the same village…!
But as his eyes adjusted to the room where Cordelia Gallo had once lived by herself, he began to notice delicately girlish touches here and there. A glass jar for storing jam seemed to have been decorated with wildflowers, of which remnants were displayed on the windowsill. The curtains were frayed, but also festooned with daintily patterned hand-sewn lace.
A girl had lived in this room twenty years ago; of this Kazuya felt acutely sure. He suddenly felt a rich, feminine presence emanating from the room—even though she was no longer there, he could feel her drawing close, ever so sweetly.
That photograph that Victorique cherished so much…
She looked so much like Victorique, but that face belonged to an mysterious adult woman whose glamorous makeup was unfamiliar to him, who stared out at him with such grace…
He knew that Cordelia Gallo had once lived here.
Victorique scanned the room, saying not a word. Biting down tightly on her delicately red lips, she walked around the room, continuing her inspection.
“What are you doing?”
“I don’t know. I’m looking for something.”
Victorique turned around. Her expression was so frantic, with such deeply furrowed eyebrows, that Kazuya’s face also turned serious.
“We can only stay in this village until tomorrow night. Once the festival is over, they’ll have us leave. So I must find something by then…”
Victorique searched through the room. With each passing second, her hands moved faster and faster. Dust flew into the air, and Kazuya broke into a coughing fit. At last, Victorique stopped herself, discouraged.
“…There’s nothing here.”
“Looks that way…”
“My mother left some kind of message. Something, in this village… I can’t shake this feeling. But I can’t find anything….” Victorique bit her lip fiercely. And then she crouched down, formed her small hand into a fist, and began to tap the floor, sending up white dust.
Kazuya started coughing again. “What are you doing?”
“I’m tapping the floor.”
“Well, I can see that….”
“If I find an area where the sound of the floor changes, that means there’s a cavity underneath.”
“…Then let me do it. You stand up.”
Kazuya knelt down and resumed Victorique’s tapping, starting from a corner of the room and working systematically across. When he finished the kitchen floor, he moved to the bedroom. Before long, he discovered a spot where the sound echoed loudly. Victorique scampered to his side.
Together, they lifted up the floorboard. A cloud of dust whirled into the air.
Below it was a small cavity; a shallow, square hole about the depth of two or three books. At first, it seemed to be empty, but when they took a closer look, they found a single photograph hidden beneath the dust.
The two of them exchanged a look.
Victorique reached out and picked up the old photograph. She wiped away the accumulated dust with her small white index finger.
…It was the picture of a noblewoman.
Her piled up hair glittered with pearl ornaments, and she wore a dress open at the bosom. She cradled something in her arms—a baby, wrapped in a soft blanket fringed with silk and lace.
The picture of a mother and child—
And the lady’s face was none other than that of Cordelia Gallo.
The same person in the photograph affixed to Victorique’s gold coin pendant.
Was this a picture of Cordelia Gallo as an adult, taken with her child…?
“…Why would this picture be here?” murmured Victorique. “There’s something strange here, Kujou. Cordelia Gallo was banished from the village when she was fifteen years old, and she never returned … or so I thought. And then a long twenty years went by. But she’s already an adult in this picture, and if that infant is me, then this photograph would have been taken a bit more than ten years ago. Kujou…” She frowned. “What is the significance of this fragment? Where is this chaos heading?”
“Someone came here. Several years after Cordelia was driven away. And that someone came to this house, presumably to remove something that had been left in this hiding place. Moreover, that person left this picture of an adult Cordelia to serve as a secret message. Who was that person? How was he connected to Cordelia? And what did he take away from here?”
Victorique shook her head. “All I have are unknowns. But nevertheless, I’ve discovered one more fragment. One more!”
The two of them exited Cordelia’s house and quietly closed the door.
Victorique was engrossed in her thoughts and increasingly less willing to explain anything to Kazuya. She simply stood in front of the door, pensive and motionless.
Kazuya took out his handkerchief to brush away dust from Victorique’s hair and clothes and wipe off the dirt clinging to her cheeks and palms. Then she started walking, and he followed after her, grumbling over his own dirty clothes. “Both of us are completely covered in dust now. And it’s not like I brought a change of clothes, you know? And whose fault is that? Because last night you wouldn’t tell me a thing about where we were going. …Are you listening?”
Victorique merely snorted at him. She continued heading straight for the graveyard at the back of the church, her footsteps gradually quickening.
“Where are you going?”
“To see the grave of the man who was killed.”
Kazuya grimaced, but reluctantly went on following her.
Once they entered the graveyard, passing through a veil of mist as thick as smoke, the air felt suddenly cooler. There were rows and rows of crumbling gravestones, entangled with dark green ivy. Visibility was poor in the heavy fog, and as Kazuya pursued Victorique, he had to rely on the fringe that peeped out from the hem of her billowing skirts and the long velvet ribbons that dangled from her hat to guide his way.
I guess I have no choice. Ugh! There’s no way I could leave Victorique by herself in a weird place like this. I can’t let her trip and fall into a hole or something…. I have to hang onto her….
At last, Victorique came to a stop, her lace-up leather shoes crunching over gravel.
Kazuya’s eyes were drawn to a moss-covered stone cross that stood in front of them. Victorique’s gaze bore into the cross, and her lips pulled into a taut line.
Kazuya read aloud the name etched into the gravestone. “…Thé … o … dore.”
That was the name of the headman who had been murdered twenty years ago. The inscription, written in archaic-sounding language, mentioned how he had been wise since his youth, that he had been a fine headman, that he had met an untimely end, etc. Kazuya was attempting to stumble through the grammar when suddenly Victorique cried out, “Oh!”
“Kujou, look at this.”
As she pointed, her finger seemed to tremble slightly.
And there he saw…
At the bottom of a cross jutting out of the soft soil of the graveyard, there was something half-buried by a mound of dirt—tiny handwritten letters, gouged into the cross with perhaps a sharp rock. Only the faint trace of a single letter was still visible. Victorique started to dig away the dirt with her small hands, like a small animal digging a hole to bury nuts. Kazuya hastily reached out to stop her, then dug with his own hands, working black dirt into his fingernails.
More letters were starting to appear. But there was still soil in the way, and it was hard to make them out.
Kazuya wiped the cross with his handkerchief. Little by little, the handkerchief turned black, and more letters gradually emergeed into view—as if some strange power was bringing the past into the present….
As Victorique gazed at the words, her eyes filled with tears.
The words read…
I am not a criminal
The handwriting was small and shaky.
Victorique stared at the words for a long while, then stood up. She kicked the ground in an explosion of anger. Her leather shoe sank into the gravel.
Perhaps it was the sound she made, or perhaps it was her anger itself that vibrated the air—but something startled a flock of birds beyond the mist, and they took flight. The flapping of their wings seemed to go on without end, but then it finally faded into the distance.
From the dense, milky fog above them, a single white feather slowly drifted to the ground. Kazuya tracked it with his eyes until it came to a fluttering stop on top of the gravel.
The wind stirred up the fog.
Somewhere out of sight…
Kazuya thought he heard the faint sound of laughter.
The voice was very soft. It was a strange laugh, high-pitched and yet ice-cold, like a murmur from beyond the grave.
Kazuya immediately ran to Victorique’s side. She was rooted to the ground as if she had heard nothing at all. “Cordelia wrote this,” she whispered quietly.
“Victorique, let’s get out of here.”
“My mother was expelled from the village because of a false charge, just as I thought….”
“But then, where is the real murderer?” Victorique suddenly raised her head and looked at Kazuya. Reflected fog quivered in her emerald-green eyes, clouding them white. “Wouldn’t it mean the culprit is still in this village?”
Again, out of nowhere, echoed that faint laughter.
Victorique’s eyes mirrored the scene behind Kazuya. For a split second, as a gust of wind dispersed the thick, milky white fog, he thought he saw something in the form of a large black lump. He gasped and turned around, shielding Victorique behind himself.
This time, he heard it clearly.
The growl of a wild animal.
A low voice, resonating deep in the throat.
The growl became louder.
A certain familiar stench appeared in the air. When Kazuya realized where he knew it from, he felt his chest constrict around his heart.
The zoo. It was the smell filling the zoo that he had visited with his family. The stench that emanated from the bodies of wild animals…
“Victorique, something’s there!”
Kazuya took hold of her small hand. The fog was amassing ever more thickly over the cemetery, like a suffocatingly heavy blanket pinning them down from above. He started to run with his hands outstretched, trying to fling off the weight of the blanket.
“I said, there’s something there! Run, Victorique!”
Victorique turned around. Her hat threatened to fly off her head, and she reached for it. Kazuya was quicker to notice, and he grabbed onto it, then started running with her again.
By now, it felt as if the animals’ exhalations, agonized growls, and stinking breath were closing in on the two of them. After emerging onto a cobblestone road, they heard not only the sound of their own running footsteps as they nearly tripped over themselves, but also the dry clatter of what sounded like hooves right behind them, the sound of four-legged feet slamming against the cobblestones over and over again.
Kazuya and Victorique ran to the front of the mansion. A fierce wind howled, and Victorique’s long blond hair, like a velvet belt, swirled up into the air.
The fog was dissipating.
They opened the front door. Kazuya pushed Victorique’s small body inside and then tumbled in after her.
He shut the door.
Outside, the growling continued. He could hear groans and ragged panting, and also loud scratching sounds, as if something was trying to pry the door open.
Kazuya stood perfectly still, holding Victorique tightly in his arms. She was breathing heavily, her eyes wide open, shrinking in on herself.
Several minutes passed.
The sounds and the presence disappeared.
Kazuya slowly opened the door, keeping Victorique safely behind him.
It was deserted outside, and the mist had vanished like a dream. The rain had also completely stopped, and the sun was shining down its hazy warmth.
Kazuya was just about to smile in relief…
…when he drew in his breath sharply, his gaze dropping down.
The bottom of the front door was streaked with several white claw marks, as if an animal had tried to break through to the other side.
Kazuya and Victorique were slowly climbing the staircase on their way back to their guest rooms when they heard loud voices from the other end of the hallway.
Kazuya quietly walked up to the door to knock. I think this room belongs to Alain, the bearded man who talks a lot…
A voice answered, and when Kazuya peeked inside, he saw Alain, Derek, Raoul, and an unfamiliar woman.
They each had a hand of cards in a game of poker. Derek was in the middle of a losing streak; apparently, the woman found him to be an easy mark. He was loudly lamenting his defeat in his shrill voice, but Alain and Raoul merely watched him with jubilant smiles on their faces. Alain half-jokingly shouted advice at him, while Raoul grinned, his hulking body slouching. It was clear that neither of them cared a whit about the fate of Derek’s wallet.
“…Where’d you go?” The strange woman raised her head and called out to Kazuya in an overly familiar tone. He stared at her blankly.
She was a young woman with flaming red hair. The ends of her hair spiraled into baby doll-like curls, carrot-red in intensity, as puffy as brightly colored cotton candy. But her eyes were a lonely blue-grey that Kazuya thought he had seen somewhere before.
A spectacular bosom peeked out from the square neckline of her simple white summer dress—it was large and round, and could almost be mistaken for a pair of buttocks. Her cleavage was dotted by tiny freckles the same color as those on her cheeks, in the shape of a charming red floral pattern.
When the woman noticed Kazuya staring at her with a troubled expression, she snapped exasperatedly, “Oh, please. Look, it’s me!” She grabbed a nearby sheet and wrapped it around her head.
Kazuya was shocked. “What, is that you, Miss Mildred?!”
Sure enough, that face belonged to none other than Mildred, the nun with blue-grey eyes. But her entire aura had changed as if she had transformed into a different person. The moment she shed the stuffy, ill-suited nun’s habit that she normally wore, her original sunny nature, radiant to the point of vulgarity, shone through in its full glory.
Mildred threw her head back and laughed uproariously. Waving her arms gaily in the air, she said, “All I did was change my hairstyle, and now you don’t even recognize me anymore? What a gauche little boy!”
The three young men burst out laughing. Kazuya turned red.
While Kazuya and Victorique rested in the room, each of the six guests began to share what had happened to them in the meantime. Since the weather was poor and the villagers were unfriendly, the young men had holed themselves up indoors all day playing poker. At some point, Mildred had joined in, livening up the party.
“…We were chased by wolves.” When Kazuya told them about how he and Victorique had run away from the cemetery, Mildred winced fearfully, but the men were rather excited.
“That sounds like fun!” shouted Alain, tugging on his beard. At this, Derek let out a squeaky laugh. Raoul quietly grinned.
Kazuya scowled, in no mood to be laughed at. “It wasn’t fun at all.”
“I remember the headman going on and on about the wolves around here.”
“…Well, yes, he did.”
“I guess we better be careful too, eh?” said Alain loudly. Derek laughed in his high-pitched voice again. Only Raoul seemed frightened, and he hunched over his large body in fear, creaking in his elegant, albeit old, wooden chair.
Alain turned to Mildred. “Forgot to ask, sister. What happened with the phone?”
Mildred shook her head.
Alain’s words caught Kazuya’s ear, and he asked, “The phone…?”
“Yeah. The sister kept moaning about how she wanted to use the phone earlier, so she asked the headman. I hear they have electricity, and we thought maybe they have a phone, too.”
Kazuya suddenly remembered something. “That reminds me; I heard Miss Mildred calling someone on the phone at the inn last night, too…”
Mildred launched pointedly into a coughing fit. Kazuya let it drop.
Victorique, who had been silent all this time, suddenly spoke. “So they do have electricity?”
Kazuya caught her meaning, and raised his voice in surprise. “I know! In the middle of the mountains, with no contact with civilization, and yet they have electricity…?”
Alain grinned. “Exactly. It might surprise you, but the lights in this inn are powered not by oil or gas, but electricity. Yeah, this may be the middle of nowhere, but without a lot of houses to get in the way, it’s easy to set up. It’ll cost you, though! But I hear even the resorts on the Swiss side of the mountains are getting it these days.”
“But a place like this…”
“Right. It’s no tourist spot.” Alain nodded. And then he peered into Victorique’s face. “But from what you said, little girl. Did you already know about it?”
“To some extent, yes.” Victorique nodded.
Everyone turned to stare at the girl’s tiny form. In an instant, the room fell dead silent. Only Victorique herself looked perfectly calm.
She parted her small lips and began speaking swiftly. “The headman Sergius said earlier that the village is almost self-sufficient. Do all of you really think that’s possible? How would they acquire metals? Do they produce their own tea leaves and wine? That would be impossible. Besides, Sergius said that Théodore collected gold coins. And when he himself exiled Cordelia, he said that he gave her a single gold coin. This means that they possessed the same gold coins used in the outside world, and that they understood their value.”
“Yeah…” Kazuya and Alain both nodded.
“So they must interact with the outside world to a certain extent. Even if they don’t step outside of their village for the most part, the headman at the very least will still have that knowledge and that information. That’s how they were able to send out that newspaper advertisement. And even though the coachman who drove our carriage here was afraid of this village, he seemed to have experience climbing up this mountain. He probably brings them their tea, wine, and also newspapers and magazines to this day.”
Victorique abruptly halted her torrent of words.
Silence settled over the room.
Mildred had been busy shuffling cards, her mind elsewhere, but now she lifted her head. “You know, I asked that weird maid about that earlier. I found it odd that they had electricity here. And she said that they had a sponsor or something like that.”
“A sponsor?” asked Kazuya.
“Yeah. What was his name again… Brian. Yeah, some man named Brian Roscoe. Sounds like he’s a descendant of someone who left the village and lived on the outside. But no one seems to know much about him except that he’s young and rich. They said that he found out about the village about ten years ago and donated some money. Must be an eccentric fellow, to want to bring electricity to a single village way up here in the mountains.”
“…I see.” Victorique nodded.
When Kazuya gave her a questioning look, she said, “I’ve been wondering the whole time for what possible purpose they would want to place an advertisement calling back descendants. But I suppose that they were only using the festival as a pretext to look for another descendant who would become their sponsor, much the way this Brian Roscoe did.”
“It’s for this reason that Sergius showed particular interest when he heard my noble surname. That’s why he went against the villagers who opposed my presence as Cordelia’s daughter, and invited us to his estate.”
“…Huh. You’re a noble? You got money?” asked Mildred, her face suddenly lighting up.
Victorique narrowed her eyes into a thin line. “There are absolutely no funds that I can operate under my own will.”
“…Huh.” Mildred threw her losing cards onto the table.
Victorique looked up at Kazuya expectantly. When Kazuya leaned over to her, wondering what she wanted to say, she whispered in his ear, low enough that no one else would be able to hear.
“…Ten years ago, a single descendant came to this village. Brian Roscoe came here with some objective in mind.”
“Some objective… To install electricity, right?”
“Somebody went into Cordelia’s house and removed something. That person left a photograph of Cordelia as an adult. Only someone who came to the village from the outside within the past twenty years could have done this. That would make the man known as Brian Roscoe the only candidate. But who is he? Where and how did he meet Cordelia, and for what purpose? What was the object that he removed from Cordelia’s hiding place under the floor?”
“Ten years ago, Kujou, would be around the time that the Great War began. That’s a fairly chaotic time to bring electricity to a mountain village, by my reckoning….” Victorique abruptly fell silent.
After this, she seemed to be mulling over something that only she knew. Kazuya couldn’t guess what she was pondering behind her somber eyes.
The card game seemed to be over. The quiet Raoul stood up and looked at the rest of the group.
“Sh-shall we listen to the radio?”
“…The radio?” asked Kazuya.
Derek replied with a little pride, “I’ve brought one. I thought I’d try connecting it since I heard they have electricity. But this is the middle of nowhere, so it might be hard to get a signal….”
“You brought a radio in your luggage?” Kazuya asked in amazement.
Derek walked up to a square radio that had been set on top of a chest. Next to the radio was a statue of the Virgin Mary and a decorative compass. He enthusiastically tinkered with the controls. The dial turned creakily, and a scratchy noise came out of the speakers.
The sound of a trumpet pierced through the cacophony.
Derek carefully adjusted the dial in search of that signal.
At last there was a break in the static, and slowly…
A jaunty melody began to flow from the speakers. It would occasionally drift into static, but they were still able to make out a melody. Derek raised the volume. The shrill sound of a trumpet boomed out. He looked up and grinned. “See?”
Kazuya smiled back. The lively music seemed to push away the sinister atmosphere in the village, and he felt his spirits rising. Alain whistled. Even Raoul was getting into a cheerful mood despite his reserved nature, and he began swaying his shoulders.
Mildred jumped happily to her feet and whistled, following Alain’s lead. “Perfect! It’s been so gloomy here; this will warm us right up. Someone dance with me!”
“…Say, are you really a nun?” Derek muttered, taken aback. Mildred ignored him, instead pulling on the arm of a bashfully resisting Raoul and forcing him to dance with her. The music gradually grew louder.
Apparently, Mildred’s dancing also involved a lot of stomping about. She was clearly having fun. She twirled, and her red hair made a swishing sound, fanning out into the air.
Kazuya gazed idly at the dancing nun and the embarrassed Raoul.
He couldn’t quite put his finger on it… but he was starting to get an uneasy feeling.
As if the walls were receding bit by bit, growing larger, making the whole room shake…
And he heard an earsplitting squeal.
With the increase in the radio’s volume came a loud, uncomfortable screeching sound from the speakers. Frowning, Derek began manipulating the dial.
Then the radio suddenly made a strange shuddering noise, and shut off.
“Huh?” muttered Derek.
The room fell completely silent. Everyone turned to each other.
Derek fumbled with the radio, scowling. But no matter what he tried, it wouldn’t turn back on.
“Is it broken?” Alain asked, sounding bored.
Derek’s shoulders trembled. Then he irritatedly raised his high-pitched voice and said, “Can’t be. It’s the latest model.” He continued experimenting with the controls in his frustration, trying every trick he had.
Outside the window, a cloud passed in front of the sun, and the light in the room suddenly dimmed.
Everyone quietly looked at one another. Mildred roughly plunked her backside down into a chair.
Victorique abruptly yawned. She gave her small body a good stretch, got up, and walked briskly out of the room. Kazuya also scrambled to his feet.
“Are you going back to your room?”
“Mmm. I need to unpack.”
“Oh. Then I should go back to my room, too….”
“No, you’re going to my room, to unpack my luggage.”
“Huh? That so?”
“That is so, Kujou.”
As they bickered, they walked down the hallway. The door closed after them.
Mildred lifted her head, and with her blue-grey eyes clouded with anxiety, she gave the closed door a long stare.
After the two of them returned to Victorique’s room, they occupied themselves with their own activities.
Kazuya knelt down on the floor and took Victorique’s belongings out of the small suitcase so that he could put them away inside the room. He hung her dresses in the wardrobe of unfinished wood and neatly organized her various accessories on top of the mantelpiece. When he passed in front of the mirror built into the wall, his eyes happened to meet Victorique’s in the reflection.
As for Victorique, she was sitting in a large rocking chair next to the window, puffing away at her pipe. The adult-sized rocking chair was unsurprisingly too big for her, swallowing up most of her body into the cushion of Gobelins tapestry. She had been steadily gazing out of the opened curtains of the window, where the stone balcony and tall oak trees disappeared and reappeared in the mist…. But she eventually directed her gaze back inside the room.
She was staring intently at Kazuya in the mirror.
“You are fastidious to an abnormal degree.”
“Th-that’s a rude thing to say. I’m just being normal.”
Victorique didn’t reply. She swiftly reached over to pull out the cushion from the rocking chair, and threw it on the floor. Kazuya automatically ran over to pick up the cushion, then wiped it off and returned it to her.
“Mmm. Well done.”
“…What was that for?”
“Just confirming the fact that you are abnormally fastidious. That’s enough proof for me. Once you’ve finished putting things away, you can go back to your own room.”
“Okay… Hey, wait a minute. Why was I making such an effort to organize your luggage just now?”
“I could come up with a way to answer that mystery too, but sadly, it would be too much trouble. Now get out.”
“Tch…” Kazuya hung his head.
Victorique averted her eyes from him, and with her pipe in one hand, returned to gazing lethargically at the dense fog outside of the window. Then she looked back at Kazuya. Seeing that he was about to leave the room, she called out his name to stop him.
“I suppose no one in the village is aware of that message. The one Cordelia carved onto Théodore’s gravestone. ‘I am not a criminal. C’…”
“…I guess not. If anyone had noticed it, then they probably would have erased it.”
“I’m the one who found it, twenty years later.”
Victorique closed her mouth. She bit her lip tightly, and said no more.
Kazuya stood still, hesitating at the unyielding strength of resolve he sensed from her. He had the distinct impression that there would be no way to persuade her to go home at this rate.
And then he remembered how whenever her half-brother, Gréville de Blois, made one of his frequent visits to the conservatory of St. Marguerite’s School, he absolutely refused to make eye contact with his brilliant sister, as tiny and lovely as a doll.
And thought of the lurid rumor that circulated the school—”Victorique de Blois is a Grey Wolf”….
And the sparkling eyes of his classmate, Avril Bradley, as she animatedly spoke of Victorique in mixed tones of fear and reverence…
No matter how close they had become, his small and beautiful friend was very much a mystery to him.
While he brooded to himself, a small, hard object thudded against the back of his head.
He put a hand to his head and turned around, only to find that small and beautiful friend of his, Victorique de Blois, sitting on the rocking chair, preparing to throw something else. He looked down at the floor, and saw it strewn with round, gold leaf-wrapped macarons that she had apparently been throwing for quite some time.
“What are you doing? Gosh! Stop making such a mess!”
“It took a while before I could get one to hit you.”
“Who’s going to pick them up?”
“You, of course.”
“…I don’t think so!”
Kazuya picked up every single macaron that lay on the floor and delivered them to Victorique, complaining all the while.
His concern for this strange girl, his irritation at being disrespected by her, and other unknown feelings that he found impossible to comprehend all tumbled together in his mind. When he tried to put them into words, all he could come up with was this.
“…I’m worried, Victorique. I want us to get out of here and go back to school as soon as possible.”
She didn’t reply.
“I’m worried about you. Nothing in this village makes any sense, and there’s even wolves roaming around….”
No answer came.
Kazuya picked up a pitcher and poured water into a red frosted glass. “…Getting this upset makes me ragingly thirsty.”
“…I don’t need to hear that! You’re the one who’s making me upset!”
Victorique pretended not to hear him.
Feeling his anger rising, Kazuya glanced down at the glass in his hands. He expected water to come out out of the pitcher, but he heard the sound of something else plop into the glass. When he peered inside, a shout almost escaped his lips. Victorique narrowed her eyes at him skeptically.
A small amount of water filled the glass, but there was also something round that floated on top…
Something with a black spot right in the center…
Kazuya felt a strange chill, as if the temperature in the room had suddenly dropped.
It was smaller than a human eye, more like an animal’s….
The floating orb rolled around in the water, and the black pupil turned to face him. They stared at each other. Kazuya was ready to shriek, but he realized that Victorique was watching him, and somehow managed to wrest himself into a calm enough state to put down the glass.
“No, nothing… J-just a bug. Later on I’ll go ask Miss Harminia to change the water.”
Kazuya returned the pitcher to the table.
His heart was pounding wildly.