Meanwhile, Kazuya was running around the town square, the cemetery, and everywhere in between, searching for Victorique who had become separated from him.
A day ago, they had been chased by wild wolves, had an unknown person slip an animal’s eyeball into their water pitcher, saw a mysterious lump hide underneath a quilt in the neighboring room in an attempt to threaten them, and on top of all that, a gruesome murder had occurred just a short time ago.
These images kept running through Kazuya’s mind, plunging him into anxiety.
He wandered around, asking villagers if they had seen the young girl who was with him, but they only shook their heads.
Kazuya sighed, then suddenly felt something poke the back of his skull—it was a strange sensation, like the tip of something sharp. When he turned around, a golden drill filled his field of vision. He instinctively shrank away, afraid of getting stabbed in the eye.
“You,” said a man’s voice, trembling with anger. “I believe your name was Kazuya Kujou?”
Inspector Gréville de Blois stood there, holding an enormous square travel suitcase. His face was twitching, and his hands were shaking violently. He seemed quite upset.
“That’s quite a large suitcase you’ve got there.”
“I wonder if that’s hereditary, too. Victorique’s suitcase was also awfully big….”
“You, you…” Several blue blood vessels bulged out on the inspector’s forehead. There was a pause, and then came an explosion of rage. “Why are you of all people here! And that, uh, that … that thing! That long-haired, disobedient, runty…”
Almost overcome by the anger pouring out of the inspector’s body, Kazuya answered, “Let’s see, might you be referring to your little sister?”
All Kazuya could hear in response was ragged breathing out of the inspector’s nose. Rather than reply, he simply stamped his foot again and again in vexation. Then he finally said in a small voice, “That thing is here too, right?”
“Kujou, there’s no reason for you to come to this village by yourself.”
“Apparently, her mother was born here.”
The inspector groaned exasperatedly and shook his head. “Where is that thing?! Where is it!?”
“Well, you see, I’m looking for her myself.”
“How can you say that so casually!? You know full well that she needs special permission to leave the school. That means she’s hardly left the school at all, and before that, she never left the tower at our family home. If word got out that she was going places on her own free will, then I’d end up in very serious trouble!” He stamped the ground querulously.
“In serious trouble…? Inspector, why isn’t Victorique allowed to leave? I think anyone should be allowed to take a trip on holidays or go shopping on the weekends at the very least….”
The inspector pretended not to hear that.
Kazuya sighed. “Anyway, inspector… You chased Victorique all the way over here, right? But it sure didn’t take you long to find out where she was.”
“Of course it didn’t. For her to sneak away from St. Marguerite’s School is an unprecedented event. In that case, there’s only one place she would choose to head to, isn’t there?”
While the two of them were arguing, a woman with curly red hair started to walk in their direction … then hurriedly went back the other way.
Kazuya saw her. “Oh, I just remembered! For some reason, the suspect from that Dresden plate incident at the bazaar also came with us. That nun … For someone who’s a nun, she really likes to gamble and drink alcohol, and she said that she loves money more than anything. Anyhow, she’s a strange one, that nun….”
The inspector once again pretended not to hear that.
Kazuya stopped talking, and stared closely at the inspector’s face. There’s something strange going on….
Now that he thought of it, the inspector was also behaving oddly during that time when Victorique solved the Dresden plate theft. Once he found out who the thief was, he left the library wearing a very perturbed look on his face, and didn’t even catch the culprit in the end. And just now, when Mildred saw the inspector, she seemed to be running away from him….
While Kazuya contemplated this, the front door to the manor opened, and Victorique came striding resolutely outside. The inspector made a startled squawk, and grabbed Kazuya by the shoulders, shaking him. “Listen here! Tell that thing to return to school immediately! Got that?!”
“Why don’t you tell her yourself?!”
Victorique heard the two of them arguing and looked up, but she appeared unsurprised.
Kazuya freed himself from the inspector and ran over to stand in front of her. “Where on earth have you been, Victorique? I was so worried. You’ve had me looking all over for you!” he cried out fretfully.
But Victorique ignored him, continuing to walk briskly ahead as if she had something on her mind.
When Kazuya tried speaking to her again, this time she seemed to finally take notice of him. “Oh, it’s you.”
“Of course it’s me. And your big brother’s here, too….”
“Ah, yes, Gréville. I was just thinking that it was about time for him to show up.”
“Really? How did you know?”
Victorique raised her head to stare at Kazuya’s face in surprise. “Did you really not notice?” she asked, profoundly baffled.
“…Never mind,” she said irritably, and started walking again.
Kazuya hastily caught up with her. “Anyway, how can you wander around by yourself after something so dreadful just happened? Victorique, I understand that you don’t want to go home, but I’m begging you, could you at least not leave my sight?”
“Because I’m worried!” Kazuya shouted angrily.
At first, Victorique stared up at his face in dazed wonder, but then her expression gradually hardened. “I see no need for that.”
“No need…? Victorique, I’m concerned about y—”
“Don’t waste your concern on me.”
Kazuya stared at her in shock.
“Just leave me alone. Why do you have to be such a busybody? Have you nothing better to do?”
“Excuse me?!” Kazuya’s face turned red with anger. His mouth flapped open and closed as if he wanted to retort, but then he heard the voice of someone calling out to them from afar.
They both looked back, and saw Ambrose at the front of the church, beckoning them.
Kazuya and Victorique turned to each other, silently agreeing to a truce, and headed toward the church.
A group of boys and girls near Ambrose’s age accompanied him. He looked haggard, but mustered his strength to cheerfully say, “Master Sergius decided that the festival would go on. That means…”
He went on to explain that on the evening of the summer festival, the children would gather in the church to have their fortunes told.
After the Summer Army had triumphed in the reenactment that afternoon, thus ensuring a good harvest, the church would be emptied later that evening. The ancestors would pass through the deserted church on their way to the town square, and at night, the villagers would put on a ritual display of the bounty of their soil for the perusal of the spirits.
But before these events, a ceremony would be held for each of the children to ask the ancestors, who were fast approaching, one question about the future. Sergius would act as the conduit for their words.
“Since you came all this way, why don’t the two of you take part? I’ll be assisting Master Sergius, so please go on ahead and line up.”
Victorique was uninterested, but Kazuya urged her to give it a try, and pulled her into the line.
Damp air filled the inside of the church. The ceiling was high, but the walls were narrow, and they tapered off even more as they reached the top. The stained glass windows shimmered, and sounds echoed inside, allowing even whispers to carry far.
The interior was submerged in darkness. The small flower-shaped openings in the rose windows split the pale sunlight into narrow beams, forming a constant flow of tiny white lights that spilled down to the floor like clusters of snowflakes dancing in the air.
On their side of the wide atrium, the pews had been arranged into five rows. Flowers were scattered on top of the stone pews, burying them in pink, orange, and cream-colored petals.
There was a small chapel at the very back of the church, like a secret room. But that room, covered by a pointed roof like a tiny house built inside of the church, was hidden in the pitch darkness, untouched by the radiance of either sunlight or flower petals.
A dim light glowed inside the chapel. It came from a small flame flickering on a candlestick, illuminating an antique vase that had been carefully placed at its side. Kazuya realized that this was the vase that had been dunked several times in the font of holy water.
Now that his eyes had grown accustomed to the darkness, he could make out the figures of Sergius and Ambrose sitting inside the chapel. Sergius’ body was swathed in a toga that made him look like a monk. His purple sash draped past the hem of his robe and down to the floor. His eyes were closed, and he was thirstily gulping down glasses of water. Each time he emptied a glass, Ambrose refilled it from a pitcher.
The children took turns going inside the chapel at the back, where they would then whisper something to Sergius. With each of them, Sergius would close his eyes, take a few moments of prayerful silence, then whisper back.
Sometimes his words were surprisingly long, and sometimes they were very brief. Some of the children left with satisfied smiles on their faces, but others were crying fearfully.
The atmosphere was quiet, almost solemn. In the beginning, Kazuya hadn’t taken it seriously, but as he witnessed the reactions of the village boys and girls one after the other, he began to contemplate it more soberly. So … something about the future. What should I ask…?
Finally, it was Kazuya and Victorique’s turn. She pushed him forward. “You go first.”
“Huh, me? F-fine…” He quietly walked up to Sergius. “Uh, let’s see…”
Sergius closed his eyes. Kazuya quickly ran through the possibilities. I guess I should ask whether I can become an accomplished adult who can serve my country, and by extension, the world, or something like that. Ask what the future holds in store…
“…Actually, I have this friend.” His mouth moved on its own, and began to utter something entirely different from what he had been thinking. And yet, once he began to speak, he found himself unable to stop.
“Well, she’s a girl, and anyway, she’s very smart and very sharp-tongued, and I guess you could say I have no idea what to do with her. I strongly believe that it’s not my fault; it’s only because she’s so queer. She always makes a fool out of me and orders me around, and at the same time treats me like a nuisance.”
“Yes. I’ve had nothing but one hardship after another; she really infuriates me.”
“…I can see that.”
“She really infuriates me so much that I just can’t take it anymore.”
“So basically, what I’m trying to say is…”
“Can I, um…” Kazuya hesitated, then poured out what was in his heart without looking back. “Can I be with Victorique forever?”
His face reddened. And then suddenly, he felt an unbearable sadness, coupled with intense regret over having asked such a question. Indignation, hope, and some other emotion he couldn’t identify welled up in his chest. But he stubbornly pushed those feelings away. He suspected that there was nothing manly about such emotions.
Silence engulfed the dark chapel.
And then, somewhere in the shadows, he thought he saw something shining above Sergius, who sat with his eyes closed—something like a fragment of sunlight. It glittered just for an instant, then fell, vanishing like mist.
Then it seemed to get even darker than before. Kazuya bit his lip, waiting.
At last, Sergius murmured hoarsely, “You will not die together.”
Kazuya raised his head.
Sergius slowly opened his eyes. The pupils and irises had disappeared, leaving only the muddy yellow whites of his eyes gaping in his head. He opened his mouth and groaned aloud.
At first his voice was too soft to hear, but gradually Kazuya was able to piece the sounds into words.
“… It will come to pass… years from now… a wind great enough to shake the world shall blow.”
“Your bodies are light. No matter how strong your desires, they cannot fight the wind.”
Kazuya was silent.
“That great wind will separate the two of you.”
He could feel the blood draining from his face.
“But fear not.”
“For your hearts shall never be apart.”
“Our … hearts…?”
“Yes, that’s right.” Sergius’ eyes abruptly turned back to normal. He grabbed the water pitcher and drank directly from it. Thin rivulets of water flowed from his mouth to his chin, then down to his toga. “You may go now,” he murmured to Kazuya, then called Victorique next.
As Kazuya walked away, at his back he heard Sergius warn her, “Don’t ask about your mother.”
Kazuya ran out of the church, away from the raucous cries of the other children.
It was still a sunny afternoon.
He ran, almost twisting his ankle, and only stopped when he was finally outside.
Thick, milky white fog again hung thickly in the air. Kazuya stood there by himself, no sign of anyone else’s presence ahead or behind him.
Sergius’ voice echoed through his mind.
Your hearts … shall never be apart….
That wind will separate the two of you….
A wind great enough to shake the world….
Years from now…
Kazuya shook his head firmly. “I don’t believe in it. I don’t believe in fortune telling….”
It wasn’t like him for his voice to tremble so anxiously. And he couldn’t understand why he had asked such a question in the first place.
Kazuya dejectedly stared down at his shoes for a while, but then noticed a figure approaching from beyond the milky veil of mist, its footsteps making no sound. Before long, a small head with golden hair plaited into small braids assumed form out of the mist.
She stared wide-eyed at Kazuya.
It was Harminia.
“Uh, I just came for the fortune telling…” Kazuya explained briefly.
“Oh.” Harminia nodded knowingly. Her voice sounded low and mannish. Then it suddenly turned high-pitched like a young girl. “Did you receive a bad outcome?”
Kazuya sighed. “Well … yeah, I guess.”
“The outcome always comes to pass.”
“I don’t particularly believe in things like fortune telling myself….”
“It always comes to pass,” Harminia repeated, giggling.
As Kazuya stared at her, dumbfounded, Victorique came from behind him. Harminia eyed the two of them, then spoke, this time in a husky voice like an old person. “And yet there was one time it didn’t….”
Leaving it at that, she departed, her form quickly disappearing back into the thick, foggy veil.
“What was that all about? To be or not to be. Victorique … Ack! What’s wrong?” He paused his own grumbling to look down at her face beside him, and was shocked at what he saw.
Victorique was clearly in a state of deep displeasure judging by her swollen cheeks, which were as round as a squirrel’s when gathering nuts. And her eyes brimmed with tears.
It looks like he told her something really bad….
They set off toward the manor. “What the heck did he tell you?” Kazuya asked her.
“What’s it got to do with you?” Victorique replied belligerently. She was in as foul a mood as she had ever been.
Kazuya responded with considerable exasperation. “Well, nothing.” But he knew that he wouldn’t want to be asked what his question was either, and so he chose not to press her. What if Victorique asked a really serious question that she can’t tell anyone about…. In that case, I can’t exactly force her to tell me….
Then Victorique mumbled something in an exceedingly sullen voice. “…I asked if I’d grow.”
“As in my height.”
“…Your height!?” Kazuya stopped and looked down at her.
Her small head came up to his chest, and he was already considered short for a boy. For age fifteen, she was very petite. And this seemed to be a sore point with her.
Kazuya couldn’t help bursting into a guffaw, even though he knew he was being impolite. “Ha, so you asked about your height…”
So that’s what it was. For her fortune, she asked if she would get any taller, he added internally. He felt sorry for her, but then had to hold back his laughter again.
His earlier feelings of anger and hazy sadness disappeared, carefree, into the ether. But Kazuya was never much given to endlessly worrying over things anyway—except when he felt truly hurt, such as the times he had conflicts with his father or brothers.
However, as Victorique stared up at Kazuya’s sunny face, she wasn’t in any mood to tolerate his carefree smile, and she glared at him with quiet, dangerous eyes. “Is that funny, Kujou?”
Victorique’s expression suddenly crumpled sadly. “You always do this. You don’t understand me at all. And yet you talk so easily, like you think you know the first thing about me,” she spat out cryptically.
These weren’t the kind of words Kazuya was used to hearing from her. The tone of her voice had turned uncharacteristically plaintive, as if she was on the verge of crying. Startled, he opened his mouth to respond.
But a second later…
Victorique kicked his shin with the tip of her lace-up leather boot as roughly as she could. She hadn’t used much force, but her tiny shoes were very hard, and Kazuya jumped up. “Ow!”
Victorique stared at him, a hint of tears in her eyes.
“Hey … Victorique? That hurt. I’m telling you, that hurt! What’d you do that for?!”
She said nothing, and instead went on ahead through the entrance of the manor into the hallway….
Kazuya wanted to run after her, but Inspector de Blois had caught up to him and was calling out his name. Kazuya halted in his tracks, still thinking about Victorique.
“Hey, Kujou. So, is that, uh … thing of mine going home yet? It’s a problem if she’s not at school. A problem for me. So I want her to hear it from you—”
“No, Inspector…” Still feeling disconcerted, Kazuya stressed to the inspector that Victorique had no intention of going home, and that he was going to stay with her.
The inspector snorted contemptuously. “Kujou, what does you staying with her have to do with anything? I realize that you two are close, but the issue has nothing to do with your relationship.”
“What do you mean?”
Inspector de Blois looked down at Kazuya with narrowed eyes. “That thing is not allowed to go outside. Cordelia Gallo did something in the Great War that she should not have done. That thing is not an ordinary human being. It’s dangerous. You still don’t understand that, Kujou.”
The inspector’s expression was suffused with fear and loathing. Kazuya silently stared up at him. He wanted to ask him something, but he didn’t know where to begin. The fact that he didn’t know anything about Victorique was becoming acutely clear to him, and when he thought of this, sorrow and anger welled up inside of him.
Inspector de Blois continued. “At any rate, that thing must return to St. Marguerite’s School at once. Her enrollment in school was arranged based on that condition. Afterwards, I suppose … father will decide.”
“By father, you mean the Marquis de Blois…?”
“Yes! And that thing, and I myself, will likely be reprimanded. Because I was the one in our family given the responsibility of managing it….”
Kazuya shook his head, unable to understand.
A human figure appeared out of the mist, approaching the quarreling pair. Kazuya turned around at the sound of loud footsteps; a moment later, the inspector did the same.
The person pushing his way through the heavy mist was Ambrose. He had just sprinted from the church, and stopped when he noticed the two of them.
He looked like someone from the past who had lost his way in the depths of the mist, and only now reappeared in the present. The long-outdated style of his stiff, shaggy woolen shirt, leather vest, and knee-length culotte, along with the pointed wooden clogs that clattered against the ground as he walked, gave off the impression of the ghost of a medieval peasant who had materialized out of the fog.
But his face—accented by long blond hair, green eyes, cheeks as rosy as those of a young girl, and above all, an expression sparkling with lively curiosity—overflowed with that youthful charisma unique to boys on the cusp of manhood.
He smiled at Kazuya, then noticed the new guest, and greeted him politely. “I received word from the watchman, that a new … guest … had….”
Ambrose’s voice gradually trailed off, his shining eyes zeroing in on the drill-shaped form sitting atop Gréville’s aristocratically supercilious face.
A vestige of the innocent child still deep inside of him reemerged, and forgetting all about his position as assistant to the headman, he stared with naked curiosity at the new visitor. And then, in a very unadult way, he suddenly began to pelt him with questions. “Sir, is that hairstyle popular among young people? What is it supposed to symbolize? And your shirt … It’s made of silk, isn’t it? Do men also wear silk shirts? And the shiny silvery things at your cuffs…? You have those instead of buttons. They’re very pretty…. Are they made from silver? Also…”
“…Ambrose!” A threatening voice boomed from the depths of the mist.
Ambrose snapped back to awareness and shut his mouth. Inspector de Blois was unfazed despite the onslaught of questions he had just been subjected to, and had just been about to give a discourse on his fashions, but was startled by the sight of an old man clad like a medieval monk appearing from beyond the fog. He went quiet, and hid behind Kazuya’s small form. “Who is that?” he whispered in his ear.
“That’s the headman.”
Sergius was shaking with anger, glowering hard enough at his young assistant that his beard nearly stood on end. Ambrose bit his lip in chagrin, and bowed his head deeply.
“Ambrose. Do you still have interest in such things? Even though you’re the one who must protect this village as the next headman? And here I was, thinking that you had such promise.”
“Whenever visitors come from the outside world, you work yourself up into such a lather. It was the same when you were a child. When that descendant, Brian Roscoe, suddenly paid us a brief visit, and spent a vast fortune to bring electricity to the village, you clung to him too, and asked him for stories of the city all day long. What foolish curiosity. For months after Brian left, you would do nothing but go up the watchtower and gaze across the mountains. Am I to believe that you haven’t changed a bit from that foolish child, even now that you’ve grown up into such a fine lad?”
“My most humble apologies…” Ambrose’s head drooped more and more.
“Another thing, Ambrose… Your hair is undone. You must tie it back properly, lest your heart become as disorderly as your hair.”
Ambrose’s hand shot up to his hair. It didn’t look very disheveled, but a couple strands of golden hair had come loose and dangled against his neck.
Sergius briefly scowled at the youngster as he retied his hair, then finally turned his gaze to the strange, flamboyant man hiding behind Kazuya. “And you are?”
Ambrose explained that a new visitor had arrived. When Kazuya added that he was Victorique’s half-brother, Sergius’ eyebrows furrowed almost imperceptibly.
The inspector proudly introduced himself. “Gréville de Blois: famous inspector. But I jest…. Is something the matter?”
As soon as the inspector mentioned his profession, Sergius’ expression changed. “You’re an inspector…?”
“Yes. Uh, is there a problem?”
“If that’s so,” Sergius looked Inspector de Blois directly into his eyes. “Then I have a case that I’d like you to solve.”