chapter one — the magic ring
Summer had almost begun. Even in late afternoon, the sun was still beating down fiercely. On the village road, horses pulling a wagon trotted along, kicking up one cloud of dust after another.
The wagon left the bittersweet scent of hay in its wake, a tangible premonition of summer’s arrival. Kazuya Kujou was racing the other way down the village road to St. Marguerite’s School, but when he encountered that scent, he had to stop and look back, squinting his eyes against the brilliance of the sun.
The large, decrepit wagon disappeared further and further off into the distance, rocking wildly from side to side on the bumpy road. A few clumps of hay scattered to the ground with each jolt. On both sides of the road, vineyards stretched out across the rolling hills. Whenever the wind blew, the bright green ivies quivered all at once.
Kazuya started walking again, this time at a leisurely pace. He remembered that he still had a lot of time left until the school gates closed at curfew, and there was no need to be in such a hurry.
He was small and on the slender side for a boy. His short black hair had grown out slightly, and now half-covered his jet-black eyes. He wore the uniform of the famed St. Marguerite’s School, whose campus occupied a vast space at the foot of the Alps. His hat sat firmly upon his head as dictated by etiquette, and he carried a brown package in one hand.
As he strolled along, Kazuya opened the seal of the package and took out a letter with his other hand. Without stopping, he happily scanned the contents of the letter.
But soon enough, his face turned rueful.
How are you? It’s your big sis. Hey, listen to this! Daddy’s being mean to me. And your brothers are, too. Just how mean, you might ask….
Kazuya turned page after page of the letter as he walked. It took ten pages for her to explain “just how mean” their family was being to her. Meanwhile, he had traveled most of the way down the village road, and could already see the school gates in the distance.
While he was absorbed in his reading, a clattering wagon sped right by him. He jumped at the sensation of air rushing against his cheek.
The letter came from his sister, who was two years his senior. Outwardly, his seventeen-year-old sister looked as delicate as a wildflower fluttering in the wind, but in fact, she had a strong backbone. Although she was generally demure, she had a personality that allowed her to say what she wanted without mincing words, and that sometimes led to conflicts with their father and brothers. Kazuya privately thought that his sister with her strong disposition had far more in common with their father than he ever did.
Since she was about to graduate from her girls’ school later in the year, their father had urged her to find a “square-faced imperial soldier ten years older than her” to marry. But rather than let herself be married off who knows where, she had decided to become a teacher at the school she attended. And so she and their father and brothers had butted heads over this disagreement for days and nights on end.
Kazuya-san, you absolutely have to take my side.
When Kazuya came to the eleventh page and read this line, he thanked his lucky stars that he was currently in Sauvure. As the youngest of the family, he was by nature far too quiet to jump into the fray between his sister and the others. And as for his mother, she had a way of promptly taking whatever position was most advantageous to herself while hiding behind a smile. She was a gentle and graceful woman, and yet she was also utterly unreliable.
Kazuya was still in the middle of reading the letter when he arrived at the main gate of St. Marguerite’s School. The iron fence, so tall that it was dizzying to lay eyes on, was elaborately wrought into an arabesque pattern that glimmered with a few hints of gold ornamentation. Without lifting his eyes from the letter, he slipped through the gate and onto the school grounds.
The letter suddenly turned into a list of unfamiliar items.
I want three white cotton blouses, with cute collars on them. And a tartan collar, too. And leather shoes in dark brown with decorated tips. Embroidered socks, and a glass pen. Don’t forget the ink. Hmm, what else…
Apparently, she was asking Kazuya to send her some things from Sauvure that she would need for her work as a schoolteacher. And her shopping list was just getting started.
Bewildered, Kazuya came to a stop. He had no idea where or how to buy the things that his sister had in her list, much less what they even were.
He sighed heavily and looked up to the sky. At that moment…
“Look, it’s that boy! He’s the culprit. See, that’s the one I was telling you about!”
When Kazuya heard the words “he’s the culprit,” he turned around in surprise. It was already second nature to him by now, but whenever he happened across a mysterious crime or anything even slightly odd, he would quickly formulate a concise synopsis and run up a maze of stairs to deliver it to his beautiful but strange friend, who constantly assailed him with petulant cries of…
I’m bored! Bring me a mystery!
However, Kazuya recognized the voice yelling about the “culprit”—it belonged to his teacher, Miss Cécile. She was a woman who wore large round glasses and shoulder-length brunette hair that puffed out in the wind, and resembled a chubby puppy.
For some reason, Miss Cécile was pointing directly at Kazuya.
“…The culprit?” Kazuya turned around.
A breeze hissed past.
There was no one there.
He again looked at Cécile. As he thought, she was pointing in his direction.
Kazuya stared, mystified, at Cécile and her finger.
Then, at Cécile’s feet, the branches of the hedge started to stir. The rustling movement was so much like that of a large animal hiding in the bushes that Kazuya instinctively backed away from it.
A head popped out of the hedge. It belonged to a thickly-bearded, burly old man holding a large pair of gardening shears.
Still pointing at Kazuya, Cécile said, “Excuse me, mister! This boy is the culprit. He trampled on the violets and opened a hole in the hedge.“
“Ack!” Kazuya cried out. Just a few weeks before, he’d been forced to leave campus at a time long after curfew, and had exited through a hole in the hedge. Cécile had found out, and saw to it that Kazuya received a sound scolding.
This was presumably the gardener who had been asked to repair the hole. His sun-baked, leathery face twisted into a scowl, and he glared at Kazuya. “Well, well. So you’re the one who made a hole in the hedge! Do you have any idea how much work I’ve put into tending these plants? Get over here so I can snip off those naughty arms of yours!”
Anticipating that Kazuya would try to escape, the gardener waved his huge shears through the air to threaten him.
But Kazuya only paled and quickly bowed his head. “I’m sorry!”
The gardener was taken by surprise, and he stared down blankly at the back of Kazuya’s head. At last, he chuckled. “All right. Cécile must’ve bawled you out enough already. Just forget it.”
And with this, he rustled through the branches back into the hedge. Cécile giggled.
Just as Kazuya began to walk away, a thought occurred to him, and he returned. “Excuse me, Miss Cécile. I have a bit of a question….”
“Oh, what about?”
“Well…” Kazuya pointed at the letter he was holding. “Have you ever heard of a ‘blue rose’?”
The year was 1924 in the Kingdom of Sauvure, a small European country.
The Gulf of Lyon, known as a summer resort for the aristocracy, served as an elegant entrance on the Mediterranean Sea to this long and narrow land. From there it extended like a secret corridor up to the Alpine highlands in the interior of the European continent. In the heart of the mountains lay the boundary with Switzerland; the line with Italy was demarcated through picturesque countryside near the ocean; and the inland capital surrounding the royal palace abutted the French border. Despite standing in the midst of world powers, Sauvure boasted of an illustrious history that reached back to antiquity, and had survived the destruction of the Great War, earning it the nickname of the “Little Giant” of Western Europe.
In the foothills of the secret corridor that led to the Alps stood St. Marguerite’s School, which also bore a long and distinguished history, if not quite to the degree that the kingdom itself did. The school was known far and wide in the kingdom as the premier educational institution for the children of the aristocracy. The campus had been painstakingly constructed in the midst of a serene natural environment. The stately school building, built in the shape of a U if seen from the air, towered over vast gardens bursting with greenery, surrounded by a tall hedge. The school adhered to a strict policy of secrecy that decreed students and staff as the only ones allowed in or out.
But after the conclusion of the war that would someday be known as World War One, St. Marguerite’s School began to accept worthy students from select allied countries.
Among them was fifteen-year-old Kazuya Kujou. His grades were excellent, and his moral conduct impeccable. Given the fact that his father was a soldier of the empire, and that he had two older brothers who were naturally also successful, he received a recommendation to study abroad at St. Marguerite’s. But although Kazuya arrived bursting with expectations for his new life, what awaited him was only prejudice from the children of the nobility, linguistic and cultural barriers, and a craze for ghost stories that inexplicably raged all over campus….
And then he met Victorique de Blois: a girl who was beautiful, but odd, and in some ways cruel…
In the several months since he had begun his studies, Kazuya had gone through many strange trials, but now he was finally starting to feel more comfortable with his life in Sauvure.
“…A ‘blue rose’?” answered Cécile, cocking her head slightly.
Kazuya nodded. He sat down with his teacher on a wooden bench in the school gardens.
The campus contained the huge, U-shaped main building, luxurious student dormitories, a library, and a chapel. And filling the spaces between the paths that connected one building to another were enchantingly intricate gardens, replete with manicured flower beds, fountains, and inviting lawns.
As they sat on a bench strategically placed in a corner of the lawn, Kazuya showed Cécile the letter he had received. “My sister wants me to send her a bunch of stuff, like clothes, shoes, and stationary. But there’s this one thing on her list…”
At the end of her letter, she had written: And a blue rose, too. I’m counting on you! Kazuya didn’t have the foggiest notion what that meant, but what if…
“I wondered if this is one of those things only women know about.”
“Oh, Kujou, you didn’t know?”
Kazuya realized that Cécile was giving him an appalled look. He stammered, “N-no, I don’t. Huh? Is it that well-known?”
“I guess boys wouldn’t know much about these things.”
“I’m sorry…?” Kazuya had gotten into the habit of apologizing automatically thanks to his conversations with Victorique and Avril. Not that he believed for one second that he was at fault.
“The ‘Blue Rose’ is one of the biggest blue diamonds in the world.”
“Yeah. About thiiis big. It’s shaped like a rose, so they named it the ‘Blue Rose’ after the crest of the royal house of Sauvure, which is a big, light blue rose. It was the treasure of the royal family. Remember, there should be a picture of it in one of your textbooks.”
Kazuya recalled a photograph of a blue diamond in his fine arts textbook, and nodded. But a few moments later, his face turned doubtful. “If I were to send that to my sister, it’d cause an international incident.”
“Ha, ha, ha! Oh, Kujou. No, what your big sister is talking about is a glass replica that looks exactly like the Blue Rose. It’s a paperweight. Right now, it’s very popular among women. If I remember correctly, you can only buy it at Jeantan.”
“It’s a big department store in Sauvrème.”
Kazuya frowned. Sauvrème was the capital of Sauvure. It was a city on the plains bordering France, far away from the village where St. Marguerite’s School was located. He had once passed through the capital after first arriving in Sauvure, but since then he’d had no reason to travel to such a distant place.
“…I see. So I’ll have to buy it in Sauvrème.”
Cécile regarded him curiously. “Can’t you just tell her it’s too far for you?”
“Hmm. But I think she might be really looking forward to it,” Kazuya replied soberly.
Cécile stared at his face for a moment, then at last reached out her hand and began to stroke his hair.
“I, I, I beg your pardon!?”
“You’re such a nice little brother!”
“S-stop it!” Kazuya ducked away from her. “Anyway … for a moment there, I was really shocked. Because if you’re talking about that Blue Rose, I thought she might have meant the real thing.”
“Oh, no. But, you know, the real blue diamond isn’t around anymore.”
“In all the turbulence of the war, it disappeared from the royal treasury. There were a lot of other works of art that disappeared during the war, too. By now I’m sure they’ve already been taken out of the country and put on display in the mansion of some collector in the New World, even though they were part of Sauvure’s precious heritage….” Cécile murmured a little sadly. “The Blue Rose was cherished as a symbol of the country because it looked so much like the royal family crest. The diamond had been placed inside of the king’s throne for many generations, and losing it was said to be a huge blow to the royal family. There’s also a story about it that has to do with a beautiful former queen. That’s one reason why the girls in this country love it so much. And it’s a pretty color, and in a cute shape like a flower…. So it’s a great pity. I wonder where it could be right now….”
She stood up and started to walk away, then turned back. “Oh, yes, Kujou!”
“If you’re going to Jeantan to get a Blue Rose…”
“Yes, I know. I have to file the application for weekend leave, and be sure to go through the main entrance during daylight hours—”
“Buy one for me too.”
“I’ve always wanted one,” she continued jovially. “But it’s so much trouble to go all the way to Sauvrème.”
“Um, Miss Cécile… I don’t appreciate being made into an errand—”
“Please? And don’t skip your homework.” Cécile pretended not to hear Kazuya’s complaints, and walked away with a smile.
Kazuya felt vaguely stunned. “Why does it feel like ever since I came to Sauvure, women have been… Why is this happening? Are they looking down on me? I ought to put my foot down. Yes, at least once, put my foot down, upon my honor as a man…”
“…Kujou, buy one for me too!”
“Aaaah!” Kazuya shrieked and jumped up from the bench. Quavering, he turned around, and saw the familiar face of a girl appear from out of nowhere behind the bench.
She had short blond hair that shimmered under the sunlight, large blue eyes that always sparkled with life, and long slim legs—as if health and vivacity themselves had assumed physical shape as a young girl.
This was Avril Bradley, a foreign student from England. She had joined Kazuya’s class three months ago, and befriended him when they were both involved in the Case of the Purple Book.
For some reason, she was lounging on her elbows and knees on the lawn. Her skirt had hiked up a little over her long legs, which were robust despite their slimness, as they stretched out innocently across the grass.
Kazuya blushed slightly. “Wh-what are you doing?”
“Buy one for me too, Kujou.”
“A Blue Rose paperweight.”
Kazuya sighed, and sat back down on the bench.
Avril poked her head out from behind him, her face wreathed in smiles.
“How long have you been there, Avril?”
“I was rolling around on the grass over there. The weather’s so nice and comfortable now that summer’s almost here.”
“And then you and Miss Cécile came by. You two seemed to be having such a good time that I didn’t want to interrupt you.”
“What good time?! The gardener threatened me with his shears, and then Miss Cécile sent me to do her shopping!”
“Ha, ha, ha! Kujou, you’re such a weakling.”
She said this lightly, but Kazuya found her words deeply hurtful. Stubbornly trying to keep his composure, he turned away from her. He felt a slap on his shoulder, and sullenly looked back at her, only to run his cheek right into her waiting index finger.
“Ha, ha, ha! You fell for it, you fell for it!” Avril crowed gleefully.
“…Avril, what the heck were you doing on the lawn?”
“Oh, right.” Avril withdrew her finger from Kazuya’s cheek and stood up. As nimbly as ever, she ran out to the lawn, skirt flying, and came back hugging something protectively to her chest. “Look, look!” She sat down beside Kazuya. “Ta-dah!”
It was a book, with lots of pictures and large print … obviously, a children’s book. But Avril showed it to him very proudly.
“I ordered it from the village bookshop. Yesterday it finally came, so I stayed up all night reading it. Now I’m suffering from a lack of sleep. See how red my eyes are?” She pulled down her lower eyelid with a fingertip. But this was the ever-healthy Avril; she may have claimed sleep deprivation, but she certainly didn’t show any signs of it.
Kazuya took the book from her. The title was simply “Ghost Stories.” He immediately tried to hand it back.
Avril clasped both of her hands behind her back and refused to accept it. “Come on, it’s fun! You should read it, too!”
“I’ve already told you that I’m not interested in this sort of thing. Besides, isn’t this a children’s book?”
“Really? But I thought it was rather advanced.” Avril took the book from Kazuya and opened to a page. “There was this noblewoman who went inside a department store dressing room. But when the attendant opened the door, there was nothing but a bloody severed head inside! Aaaaah!”
“…I’m not falling for that one anymore.”
“How about this one: a little girl in a pretty dress was crying, and anyone who talked to her, thinking she was an orphan, would disappear. They turned a corner and vanished, leaving only their clothes behind … because they were pulled down to hell by a spirit taking the form of a little girl!”
Kazuya tuned out Avril’s voice and turned his attention to the package he had received from his sister.
Huh…? He had been thinking that it felt a little too heavy to just contain a letter, but apparently something else was inside. He spied a glimpse of light blue fabric.
“Then there’s this bloodthirsty murderer who dresses like a vagabond. She hangs the corpses of countless children beneath layers of old clothes. Actually, she’s a wicked devil worshiper who practices rituals that came from some colonial land. The husks of dead children jiggle underneath her clothes with every step she takes! Hey, what’s that?”
“Uh, nothing… This came in the package…” Kazuya took out the turquoise-blue cloth. When he unfolded it, he had to sigh in admiration. Avril gasped from beside him.
The cloth was made of silk. The sight of it jogged something in Kazuya’s memory. It was a small, elegant turquoise-blue kimono, decorated with delicate white brushstrokes that traced the shapes of fresh lilies floating on water.
It was his sister’s finest and most cherished kimono from when she was a child.
A short note slipped down into Kazuya’s lap, and he picked it up.
A little present in exchange for your shopping. Kazuya-san, you wrote before that you made friends with a little girl, right? Do give this to her, pretty please.
—your big sis.
Friends with a little girl…?
Kazuya narrowed his eyes.
Indeed, he had written to his family previously about his new friend. But friends with a little girl…
Apparently, his sister had the mistaken impression that this actually referred to a small … child. The kimono was certainly gorgeous enough to evoke a sigh from him and take Avril’s breath away, but it was child-sized.
And Victorique’s the same age as me…
However, the more Kazuya thought about it, he realized that it might just be perfect for Victorique’s undersized body. Because other than her bizarrely huge brain that could outmatch several adults put together, she herself was as small as a child. Take away the heaps of lace and frills, and there really wasn’t much left at all.
Kazuya smiled, and jumped up in excitement, eager to show this kimono to Victorique.
“Huh? Kujou?” Avril called out curiously in response to Kazuya’s abrupt departure. She tried to get up to follow him, but she was still too drowsy, and lolled back down on the bench, where she watched Kazuya fade into the distance.
“I guess he’s going over there again … Auntie Avril knows that much,” Avril murmured softly to herself. She sleepily rubbed her blue eyes, then slowly closed them. “Because he always goes there in the end…”
The pages of the child’s picture book in her hands flapped in the early summer breeze….