The square gradually quieted down.
The darkness grew heavier, and soon there was only an eerie silence filling the square. The starry sky suddenly seemed to lift, and the stars began to twinkle.
I stood there very still, a torch clutched in my hand.
The masked man continued mumbling something.
The villagers assembled in the square watched the two of us, holding their breath.
The flame of the torch popped.
The masked man’s voice was getting louder.
But despite the loudness of his voice, I couldn’t understand what he was saying…
I realized that this was what the dead sounded like. Those weren’t words we knew from our world. That unearthly voice droned on, slowly and with unfamiliar intonation. Each time the man stumbled toward me in his queer gait, those words grew louder, and the mask he wore on his head, with its dark, blankly warped expression, swung wildly to and fro.
I looked around, and caught sight of Ambrose staring at me strangely. I too found it strange. If Ambrose was there, then he wasn’t the man in the mask. So who on earth was that!?
For a split second, everything before me went black…
And then it came to me.
Who this dead person was.
There was a whisper in my ear.
That’s right. It’s the man you killed, Harminia!
My legs trembled.
Little by little, as if merging with the present world, I began to understand the masked man’s words. He was already standing right in front of me. He hunched his back, stooping over, and groaned, “I found you…. The girl who killed me!”
I screamed. The voice that finally emerged from me sounded so peculiar, like an animal’s howl. I shrank away from him.
In a trembling voice, I called out the dead man’s name. “…M-Master Théodore.”
“You killed me!” the masked man shouted, in a voice shaking with anger. “You killed this proud man so easily with your youthful hands. And you dare live a carefree life for the past twenty years? Harminia… You foolish child!”
I fell back another step. “No. It wasn’t me!”
“The gold coins fell to the floor.”
The man laughed underneath his mask. “How they glittered as they fell. I remember it like yesterday, Harminia. Those coins, falling from the grandfather clock like stars…. Yes, I remember it so very well. It was my last memory, Harminia. O youthful murderer!”
“Y-you know about—”
…Only the dead could know about it. No one else besides me knew the reason those coins fell to the floor….
“Master Théodore!” I sobbed. “Don’t do this. Please, go back to your world!”
“Will you confess, Harminia?”
“I’ll confess. I’ll confess. I…” I cried out, waving the torch. Fine embers from the flame danced into the night sky, raining down on me like orange powder. “…I killed you!”
The square was completely silent.
In the center, huge torches were crackling. A bone-chillingly cold wind blew, sending a flow of milky white mist between me and the dead man.
All of the villagers—and the visitors, too—stared at my face in shock. Fear and disgust began to mingle in their cloudy green eyes. They drew away from me.
“I had no choice,” I moaned. In my heart, something murmured, Is that really so…? But by that time, I couldn’t hear anything at all. I was all alone. Seized by terror, I yelled out, “But … I was just a child!”
“So you killed him.” All of a sudden, the masked man spoke with perfectly ordinary inflection. “You killed him after all. …Just as you deduced, Victorique.”
From the shadows of the great torches, that young girl appeared, walking up with tiny steps.
It was Cordelia’s daughter. Her clear green eyes were wide open and staring straight at me.
I was dumbstruck. I strode up to the masked man, reached out, and ripped the mask from his face.
Behind the mask was one of the guests—the remorseful face of the Oriental boy.
There was nothing terrifying about him at all. He was small and slender, a completely ordinary boy with a face that seemed kind, and yet bore a trace of stubbornness. This wasn’t the type of person to inspire fear in anyone.
His expression was apologetic, but he held his ground. He opened his mouth and said in a soft and reserved voice, “Miss Harminia, I put on a performance to see what you would say.”
“Victorique said that you were the one who killed Théodore.”
I took another look at Cordelia’s daughter.
Our eyes met.
A strong will was hidden in the girl’s eyes; she too held her ground. She stared unwaveringly back at me.
I was motionless.
Like oil catching flame, my eyeballs were suddenly seized with a burning itch.