Gosick III – 1.2

Deep within the expanses of the school, looming imposingly from a high perch in the rolling hills, stood St. Marguerite’s Library, a palace of knowledge renowned throughout Europe for over three hundred years. Centuries of exposure to the elements had taken their toll on the hollow stone of the tower that gazed down upon the vast campus like a wordless giant.

The tower’s exterior was featureless to the point that Kazuya had some trouble locating the entrance. But soon enough, a leather-covered door pounded through with round brass tacks came into view. And when he gently turned the knob to open it…

…He stepped into an atrium that soared all the way up to a vertigo-inducing ceiling. Bookshelves covered every wall. Who could count the myriads of volumes they contained? Thick, leather-bound books jostled for space on the shelves.

When Kazuya looked up, he saw the distant image of the solemn religious fresco painted on the ceiling. But what leapt out to his eyes above all was the peculiar form of the narrow wooden staircase.

The labyrinthine staircase…

According to legend, during the construction of the tower in the early seventeenth century, the king of Sauvure had included strict specifications for a sky-scraping labyrinth. The king was dreadfully henpecked, and when he could not find a suitable location for his secret trysts with his beautiful young lover, he had a small room built at the very top of the tower. And so that no one but the two of them would be able to find their way to the top, the staircase was to be built in the form of a maze.

Of course, by the present time, it had already undergone renovations, and a hydraulic elevator had been installed at the back of the atrium. However, that elevator was reserved for the use of staff, and a certain “special” student.

And that special student was once again at the top of the library, abandoning herself to her books, her long blond hair dangling down like Rapunzel, the same way she spent every day.

That room at the very top, once a boudoir for the king to abandon himself to his lover, had been completely remodeled into a small and cozy conservatory. Tropical trees and large, gaudily-colored flowers basked in the intense sunlight that streamed in from the skylights above.

In between the garden and the top landing of the labyrinthine staircase, someone had left an exquisite porcelain doll sprawled across the floor.

The doll, close to life-sized at a height of one hundred and forty centimeters, wore an aqua-blue satin dress, the top layered with rows of fine black lace like a chic flower bouquet. Floral-patterned boots encased her tiny feet, and her splendid mane of long golden hair spilled down to the floor like a turban come undone.

An unreadable expression on her profile, she leaned down over her books. Clear emerald-green eyes gazed out hazily, as if fixed on something in the distance. To Kazuya, that face was more beautiful than any he had ever seen, but at the same time, it was also colder than any other.

That porcelain doll—no, that young girl, small and delicate enough to be mistaken for a porcelain doll—was busily puffing away at a ceramic pipe held to her lips.

A thin white wisp of smoke lazily meandered up to the ceiling. From time to time, a passing breeze fluttered the line of smoke aimlessly.

The girl was Victorique de Blois.

The “captive princess” of St. Marguerite’s School.

For reasons unknown to Kazuya, she was not allowed to set foot outside of the school. Perhaps as a form of protest, she also refused to attend classes, and whiled away her days reading in this conservatory. She was profoundly lovely, and profoundly mysterious.

As usual, rows of heavy books sat open on the floor, radiating all around her. Smoking her pipe, she read these books with incredible speed.

Like a scene out of some vivid painting, Victorique stretched out her unoccupied hand to turn a page, softly rustling her clothes. Other than the whisper of her resplendent satin dress, there was no other sound—no voices, no noises, nothing at all. Silence dominated the scene, and it felt startlingly unreal, as if she had been sitting like this, reading her books, for centuries on end.

However…

*****

An intruder had now come to obliterate her wonderfully silent tableau.

Sensing a presence, Victorique jerked up her head. It was an animalistic movement. Like a fish feeling the first stirrings of an earthquake. A small animal sniffing out a predator. A migratory bird anticipating the winter.

Her brow knitted slightly.

That same moment, a banging came from far below in the atrium. Someone had opened the door and entered the library.

Victorique felt a questioning gaze drift up to her from the bottom. And then came a small, shy voice…

“Victori-ique? Are you there?”

The voice of a boy.

Victorique frowned slightly. “Of course I’m here,” she whispered back.

Her voice was a strange one—it was husky, more like the voice of an old woman. Moreover, the light in her eyes was as fathomless as the eyes of one who had lived a very long time, and strangely distant from reality. These, combined with her exquisitely small doll-like body, created an impression of jarring imbalance.

If judging by the echo of rhythmical footsteps, the boy who had entered the atrium, Kazuya Kujou, had apparently begun to climb the maze-like staircase. They advanced at a steady, unfaltering pace, as solemn as the studious boy to whom they belonged.

As Victorique smoked her pipe, she idly listened to the sound of those footsteps.

Tap, tap, tap, tap…

“…Ack!?”

She heard the faint sound of a strange, short cry; perhaps it was more of a scream. Then she heard a furious thumping as something rolled down the stairs. Startled, Victorique leaned over the railing and looked down.

Kazuya was nowhere to be seen. He had apparently lost his footing along the way and fallen down.

“Victorique, help me! …Wait, what am I saying. Of course you wouldn’t; I know that much. I’ll try to manage on my own, so wait for me!”

Victorique shrugged, then returned to her reading as if nothing had happened.

*****

Several minutes later…

Kazuya finally arrived at the entrance to the conservatory, breathing heavily. As he wiped sweat from his brow, he happily, albeit wearily, walked up to where his tiny friend sat surrounded by rows of books. “I fell on the way up,” he said, plunking himself down in his usual spot next to her. “I’ve climbed that staircase so many times that I let down my guard for a moment. One can never be too careful. If I fell off those stairs, I’d die for sure.”

Victorique snorted disdainfully.

Kazuya smiled briefly, gazing at the frosty expression on his friend’s face as she ignored him in favor of her books. A few moments later, he straightened himself up again. “Oh, yes…”

He rose and started busily picking up the candy wrappers and other detritus that Victorique had left on the floor. She tilted her head up slightly to glance at him peevishly, then returned her gaze to her books.

After this, she softly muttered, “A letter from your sister?”

Kazuya stuffed the loose wrappers into the pockets of his uniform. “Yeah. I picked up a letter at the post office. And it’s a pretty long one, too… Hmm? Hold on. How did you know that?”

“A wellspring of wisdom. The same way I always know,” Victorique replied dismissively. She reached out to turn a page … then, for some reason, she drew her arm back, and squeezed her hands together. “Nothing is impossible for my overflowing wellspring of wisdom. Even if I’m just sitting here without seeing anything, I still know everything. I am honing my senses by taking in fragments of chaos from this world for my amusement. Yes, I toy with them. I reconstruct the fragments with my wellspring of wisdom, and all that’s left is the cold, hard truth. I spend my days enjoying myself in this fashion, and when I am so inclined, I may even undertake the task of articulating the process to a dull and mediocre person like you. But that would be too much trouble, so I’d generally rather stay silent…”

“…Tch!”

“It’s a very simple thing, you know. In other words, I can tell you went to the post office because of the package you are holding. If it were a letter from your father or brothers, then you would be dragging yourself here with a pathetic look on your face. But today you are cheerful. Therefore, I know that the letter isn’t from them.”

“Well, when you put it that way, it does sound rather simple.” Kazuya sighed, and wrapped his arms around his knees. He plucked a candy from the floor, peeled it away from the polka-dotted wrapping, and tossed it into his mouth. The candy was bigger than it first appeared, and while he took time to munch on it, he surreptitiously regarded the face of his small and very eccentric friend.

Victorique de Blois.

This mysterious girl insulted him as mediocre, even though he was a scholar from a Far Eastern island and considered brilliant by all of his teachers. Had any other student called him such things, he naturally would have never stood for it. He had come to Sauvure intending to represent his nation, and his grades and conduct were above reproach.

But despite all this, whenever the tiny Victorique de Blois let loose one of her insults at him—while flying through difficult books one after another despite never attending class—he somehow found himself unable to retort.

Perhaps part of the reason for that stemmed from their first meeting, when she had rescued him by correctly deducing the truth behind a case that had imperiled him. After that, they had experienced several more cases together, and each time, with logic and clarity, she would swiftly articulate the reconstruction of chaos using her wellspring of wisdom.

And yet, in some ways, she could be surprisingly helpless, to the point that she had to grit her teeth in exertion just to lift a single chair.

Although Kazuya was thoroughly astonished at her uncanny intelligence and deeply hurt by her abusive words, he would find himself startled by her weakness, and never failed to lend her a helping hand.

His pride, his common sense, and the hidden feelings of tenderness that lay inside of him—in the few months since he had first met her, all of these things had been taxed to capacity and were on the verge of burning out. Even now, he vacillated between leaving in a huff over her intolerably brusque attitude or staying with her, while munching on the chunk of candy, simply gazing at her delicate, icy profile…

*****

“I think ghost stories are just a huge form of mass delusion,” Victorique suddenly said.

As Kazuya’s piece of candy dissolved and he wondered whether to chew the last remnant or suck on it a little more, he looked up at her in surprise. “C-come again?”

“I was contemplating the factor known as the ‘ghost story’ that has permeated the fabric of this school.”

“May I ask why?”

“…Because I’m bored.”

Kazuya grimaced.

Victorique popped the pipe out of her mouth and gave him a strangely disapproving glare. Her emerald-green eyes gleamed ominously. “Since you haven’t brought me a single mystery from the outside world, I’ve been completely, utterly bored. Even though I continue to endlessly complain that I am endlessly bored, you haven’t brought a single interesting case to me, nor have you had the decency to stir one up yourself.”

“If I stirred one up myself, that would make me a criminal. I’d be put on a ship and deported in no time flat. For goodness’ sake, you can be really unreasonable…”

“Kujou, this is an order from the princess.” Victorique raised her head, quite unconcerned with Kazuya’s exasperated reaction. “I give you until tomorrow to get mixed up into some strange case, even if you have to die in the process.”

“Why should I? No, thank you!”

“There is nothing to fear. If I’m in the mood, then I’ll solve it for you quickly enough.”

“Heaven help me if you’re not in the mood!” Kazuya turned his back to her.

Victorique snorted disagreeably, and reached out to turn the page of her book. Then she yelped and quickly pulled her hand back. She again squeezed her hands together and worriedly looked at Kazuya, afraid that he had seen her just now.

But Kazuya was still facing the other direction. She breathed a sigh of relief.

And then she languidly stretched, like a cat would, her body lengthening to an unexpected degree. Her blue satin dress and its layers of heavy black lace rustled softly.

“So?”

“Hmm?”

“What about ghost stories?”

“Oh, that.” Victorique completed her stretch, and brought her pipe back up to her lips for a puff. “Do you realize that we are currently in the age of an unprecedented boom in ghost stories? Occult anthologies are flying off the shelves, and mansions rumored to house ghosts are being swamped with tourists.”

“Huh… Well, there is someone in my class who loves those stories. Not that I have any interest in them.”

“Have you noticed that this fad is mainly centered around the cities?”

Kazuya shook his head. “Nope.” But he thought back to the stories he had just heard from Avril earlier, all of them set in an urban department store or on the street, then felt he had an idea of what she meant.

“You know, these things started getting popular at the turn of the century. Rapid modernization causes the darkness of the world to fade away. When rationally unexplainable phenomena and other curiosities are analyzed according to science, mysteries lose their mystery. However, humans don’t live their lives solely based on what they can see and comprehend. Hence, the boom in ghost stories. It all stems from desire, you see.”

“From desire…?”

“Yes. That most basic human desire—to be one with the unseeable and unknowable. Some seek it in religion. Because no one has ever seen God. Some seek it in romance. Because love is also intangible. And now others have begun to seek it in ghost stories.”

“Religion and love, sure, but including ghost stories is weird.”

“The only thing weird around here would be those presents you give me.”

“Y-you have a point there. Sorry about that…” Kazuya’s shoulders slumped. He glanced at the candy holder sitting on the floor at Victorique’s side. It was originally an exotic hat that he had given to her as a gift, but she had rechristened it as a candy holder, and it was now turned upside down and stuffed with candies. And as for the fist-sized golden skull inside of the hat, even now Kazuya couldn’t think of any use for it, although he had been the one to bring it here.

Kazuya popped a second piece of candy into his mouth. “I still don’t believe in ghost stories. I mean, aren’t they all made up? There’s nothing in this world that can’t be explained with logic. There are plenty of reasons behind everything, just plenty—even for God, even for love. So I’d never believe in the supernatural, no matter what.”

“And whenever something happens that can’t be explained, people like you are always the first ones to cave in,” Victorique declared, snorting contemptuously.

Kazuya frowned. “Th-that’s not true…” He fell into an aggrieved silence.

Victorique gazed up at him curiously. “Nothing else to say? Why are you just sitting there looking stupid?”

“…P-pardon me for looking stupid. It’s the face I was born with.”

“So, you’re perfectly confident that you would never fall for it. Then how about a little test? Allow me to prove to you that you’re a fool, a scoundrel, and a beast,” Victorique said, oddly cheerful. And then, in a very unusual gesture, she turned toward Kazuya and faced him head on. Kazuya watched her uncomfortably out of the corner of his eye.

Seeing Victorique from this angle made it clear to him just how astonishingly tiny she really was. She looked more like an exquisite doll that someone had placed on the floor. Even the motion of her hand as she smoked her pipe resembled the slow movement of a marionette. Only those deep green eyes, with their indescribable, arresting radiance, spoke of the conscious will inside of her.

“…What?”

“Look at this, Kujou.”

“Hmm?” Kazuya leaned over.

Victorique promptly presented him with the fist that she had earlier kept clenched. He couldn’t help feeling a little surprised at how small her hand was. Something sparkled on her right fist—a ring. It was inlaid with a dull olive-colored gemstone mounted on a thin golden bezel in the shape of a snake.

“This is a magic ring.”

Kazuya stared at Victorique blankly. Her face was perfectly straight. She didn’t seem to be kidding, but her eyes were smiling. She was definitely up to something.

”It’s a magic ring,” she repeated, in the tone of an insistent child.

Kazuya scratched his head in dismay. “You know, you can be really childish sometimes!”

“Shut up. So, what sort of magic ring is it? It has the power, Kujou, to determine when you are lying.”

“…Victorique, that’s quite enough. There’s no way it can do that.”

“It can tell if you’re lying. Scared yet?”

“O-of course not!”

“Now, prick up those stupid ears of yours and listen carefully. This ring will glow red if you are telling the truth. However, if you tell a lie, it will glow green. That is because it’s a magic ring. You understand, don’t you? Nod your head even if you don’t understand.”

“…Fine.”

“Now, let us begin the questioning.” Victorique gave an exaggerated nod.

Her behavior seemed oddly juvenile in comparison to her usual sagacious demeanor, and it bewildered Kazuya. But since he couldn’t think of any way to extricate himself from the situation, he resigned himself to playing along, and turned to face her. Just when I thought I’d escaped from Avril’s ghost stories… He had to sigh.

“Are you ready?”

“Yes, but…”

“Kazuya Kujou is a moron.”

“…Now wait a minute!”

“This is where you answer.”

“I’m not a moron,” Kazuya sullenly replied. “I’m just normal. No, maybe a little cleverer than normal.”

“That is a lie.”

“Oh, come on!”

But the look on Victorique’s face was so smug that he started to feel uncertain. And then he dropped his gaze to her hand and saw that, incredibly enough…

The ring had turned dark green.

Suspicion furrowed Kazuya’s brow. “You just switched the ring without me noticing, didn’t you?”

“I did not. If you don’t believe me, then keep your eyes on the ring.”

“O-okay…” Kazuya looked down at the ring.

Victorique launched into her next question. “Kujou is a womanizer.”

“….”

“A lecher.”

“…That’s going too far.”

“You are a bloodthirsty and altogether worthless beast that satisfies its lustful cravings regardless of the time or place.”

“That’s mean… You don’t have to keep piling on like that…”

“Kujou.”

“No, ma’am! Oh, for heaven’s sake! Wait, what…?”

Kazuya cocked his head. The ring had again turned dark green.

As he held his breath and kept a close watch, Victorique laughed mercilessly. “Like I said, it’s a magic ring.”

“Very well. I’m a bloodthirsty and altogether worthless beast. So be it. Stupid Victorique…”

“Be quiet. Final question. Kujou, you are dull and mediocre.”

“Fine. Yes, I am apparently dull and mediocre.”

Victorique held her hand up toward Kazuya, a grin filling her face.

As if in a bad dream, the ring changed color.

To a deep, sinister, blood-red.

*****

Kazuya’s mouth dropped open. A dry, early summer wind flowed in from the skylights, ruffling his bangs as he stared at the ring, which gleamed evilly red. The blooming tropical plants and the large, garishly-colored flowers of the conservatory murmured in the breeze.

Suddenly, Victorique turned her back on Kazuya and immersed herself once again into the world of books. Kazuya waited for a minute, but she made no attempt to speak. He was consequently forced to address her tiny back.

“…So?”

No response.

“How does it work? Victorique, you made a big fuss about wanting to show me that ring, so there must be some trick to it, right? Tell me.”

Silence.

“Hey, Victorique. Tell me!”

Victorique lifted her head and looked over her shoulder at him in surprise. “Kujou, you’re still there?”

“Yes, I’m still here! And if you’re wondering why I’m still here, I’ve been waiting for you to give me an explanation.”

Victorique stared at Kazuya in bewilderment. “I am reading a book, so could you keep it down, please?”

“Victorique!”

Startled by Kazuya’s sudden shout, Victorique’s eyes widened, and then her cheeks puffed out in an annoyed pout. “Kujou, you are being … really loud.”

“Because I want to know the answer.”

“But I’m already tired of teasing you.”

“Y-you are really trying my patience, you know that? Why!?”

“I suppose it’s your fault for being so mediocre.”

“…Victorique, I’m angry with you. Sometimes it gets really hard for me to take your insults. I end up lying awake at night, wondering if you might actually hate me…”

As Victorique sat facing away from him, her expression shifted slightly. Was she wondering if she had said too much? But the slight change was unseen to Kazuya behind her.

Nevertheless, she wasn’t ready to relent. She pursed her lips into a stubborn line and snorted through her dainty little nose. “I am in the middle of reading something, and I would prefer not to be disturbed.”

Kazuya lapsed into an aggrieved silence.

The wind gusted again. The brilliant sunshine of early summer poured through the skylights. Victorique’s blond hair, like an unfurled velvet turban, sparkled under the sunlight. On the other side of her tiny head, Kazuya could see a white tendril of smoke rise up to the ceiling.

At last, softly and without raising her head, Victorique spoke. “Kujou. Left-hand bookshelves, seventeenth row from the top and exactly twenty books from the left.”

“…Yes?”

“It’s a book. Just go get it.”

Morosely silent, Kazuya rose to his feet. The sound of his rhythmically echoing footsteps descended the narrow wooden staircase. He retrieved the book from the bookshelves and walked back upstairs.

“Page seven hundred, seventh line from the top,” snapped Victorique.

“…Okay?” Kazuya sat down beside her and began to flip through the pages of the heavy tome.

The subject of the book was rare gemstones. The seventh line of page seven hundred concerned a gemstone known as alexandrite.

As Kazuya read, understanding dawned on him, and he nodded his head.

Alexandrite was a gemstone that turned dark green under artificial light and dark red under natural light, as if by magic. This special property led it to be used by fortune-tellers for divination since the time of the ancients. The book further mentioned that both the devil worshiping cults that had swept through Europe at the end of the last century, and those who had promoted indigenous religions from the colonies, had also used the stone for black magic at some point…

Now Kazuya recalled that when Victorique was trying to frighten him with the stone, she had nonchalantly held her hand up to the sunlight streaming in from the skylights when it changed to dark red. And when it changed to dark green, her hand was facing the bright lamps that lit up the conservatory.

“I get it,” Kazuya said, nodding. “The gemstone on your ring is alexandrite.”

“…You thought it was magic, didn’t you?”

“D-did not! Certainly, I was a little … no, very alarmed, but still…”

Victorique looked up. Her small face wore a devilish grin. “When I was small, I used to terrorize Gréville with this ring.”

“Inspector de Blois?”

“Yes. For some reason, Gréville used to come every day to silently observe me in the tower where I was imprisoned, and I found that very unsettling. So I would discern information using my wellspring of wisdom, but pretended I had done so with the ring. Gréville was so scared that all he could do was blubber.”

“Now I feel kind of sorry for him…”

Upon hearing Kazuya’s expression of pity, Victorique’s expression tightened slightly, and she leaned over with a deadly serious look in her eyes. “That’s not all. I had a messenger from hell glow in the dark and run around the tower room. Gréville is such a fool; he really seemed to think that I was an actual demon. Then I was finally able to drive him away.”

“A messenger from hell?”

“A glowing rat.”

“Huh? What’s that?”

“Do you have to pipe up at every little thing, Kujou?!”

Kazuya fumed, and fell silent. Victorique ignored his reaction, and impatiently continued, “Go to page two thousand in the same book, fifth line down.”

“O-okay…?” Kazuya turned to the page.

This section concerned an unusual variety of fluorite called Blue John, formed from crystallized limestone found in a cave in England. Because it emitted a pale phosphorescent light, it had been used for a long time to manufacture wine cups and buildings … and had also been used by spiritualists in the previous century to fool participants of seances into seeing spirits.

Amazed, Kazuya asked, “Victorique, does that mean you used this?”

Victorique nodded wearily. “Mmm-hmm. I ground it into powder and put it on a rat. Stupid Gréville, he was terrified out of his wits, and gave me such a dirty look.”

“But wasn’t he angry when he found out you tricked him?”

“When he found out…?” Victorique repeated, mystified.

A gust of wind again blew past. The bell at the campus chapel tolled in the distance. The sky grew slightly darker, and evening mist began to dampen the air of the conservatory.

Victorique stared up at Kazuya’s face, momentarily dumbstruck. At last she said, as if the thought had never occurred to her before, “I never told him it was a trick.”

“Wh-why not?!”

“B-because, Gréville ran away before I could, and also, um…” Victorique pouted slightly. “It would’ve been too much trouble.”

Kazuya buried his face in his hands.

Victorique was always so cold and fiendish, and at the same time childish and vulnerable. Sometimes her excessive viciousness left Kazuya genuinely offended. And yet he couldn’t bring himself to hate her, because he was also beginning to realize that the way she treated him was entirely different from how she behaved towards others. Victorique never used the kind of abusive language she spoke against Kazuya with any other person. This was not out of any sense of politeness or friendliness—no, she simply didn’t care enough about anyone else to do so.

The words once spoken to him by her biological brother, Inspector Gréville de Blois, lingered in his mind. Kujou, you may not realize this yourself, but the favors you receive from her are truly unusual and marvelous things, like constantly getting handed wads of cash by a rapacious loan shark, no strings attached.

Even the explanation she had just given of the magic ring was something she would have never bothered to do for anyone besides him.

And once he had finally come to understand all this, he found that he could never truly come to hate her.

*****

“Oh, I just remembered!” said Kazuya suddenly, after standing up to leave.

Victorique was absorbed in her reading, still squeezing her hands together.

Kazuya couldn’t tell whether or not she was listening, but he didn’t let this deter him. He opened the package he had received in the mail, and a pale blue silk kimono spilled out of it, rustling breezily.

Victorique glanced at the kimono and the fluffy pink obi spread out on the floor like a huge flower, then went back to her reading.

“My big sister sent this to me. I know my presents tend to be weird, but this ought to be acceptable. If you’d like, maybe you could wear it as a nightgown. Want it?”

“….”

“…Okay. If you don’t want it, then I’ll just have to take it back—”

“I want it!”

“You do? Really? Then, do you like it? You sure make it hard to tell with that attitude of yours!” Kazuya had been disappointed at first, but the moment she said she wanted it, his face brightened into a smile. He quickly began to demonstrate to her how to wear it. “See, the way you tie the obi goes like this, and then like this… Hey, Victorique, pay attention!”

Victorique turned her back to Kazuya irritably, then said curtly, “Nothing is impossible for my wellspring of wisdom.”

“…Uh-huh?”

“I don’t need you to explain something so trivial as how to tie a sash. Go away. I’m tired of your constant nagging.”

“Excuse me?!” Kazuya indignantly untied the obi that he had wrapped around his waist, and gently set it down on top of the kimono.

Victorique ignored him as usual.

Kazuya sighed. “I’m leaving, then. See you later, Victorique.”

When she didn’t respond, he slowly turned to head toward the wooden stairs, slightly crestfallen.

*****

Victorique smoked her pipe and absentmindedly listened to the sound of even footsteps marching away. Before long, the footsteps had faded away into silence, and moments later, she heard the door to the library open, and Kazuya step outside. When the door slowly closed after him, the flow of air within the library seemed to come to a complete halt, and silence reigned once more, just as it had for the past hundreds of years.

The walls of bookshelves rising up to the ceiling, the solemn religious fresco on the distant ceiling, and the labyrinthine staircase stretching up at right angles … everything in the tower fell in thrall to stillness, and the only movement came from the girl in the sumptuous dress, sitting by herself in the high conservatory with pipe in hand.

She languidly brought the pipe to her mouth, and took a puff.

Now she was all alone. A faint shadow of loneliness crossed her face. And then she slowly opened the fists that she had kept clenched the entire time that Kazuya was there. She had tiny palms, like those of a carefully crafted doll. Even the fingernails were as small as a child’s, and the fingers were startlingly thin. The palms of both her hands were bright red and painfully swollen.

Although Victorique was forbidden to set foot outside of St. Marguerite’s, not long ago she had stolen away from school and headed to a mysterious village deep in the mountains. Kazuya had witnessed her escape, and insisted on coming along to stay by her side. He helped her in crucial ways, but in the process she had nearly lost him, and desperately tried to save him with her tiny hands that had never carried heavy things nor had ever exerted any force. Hence the flesh of her hands was very delicate, and even now they were puffy, red, and painful to the touch.

After they had returned, Victorique naturally continued to pummel Kazuya with her usual mean-spirited, fiendish abuse, and he therefore hadn’t noticed that she was gripping her hands into fists to hide the wounds on their palms….

For a long moment, Victorique stared at her swollen palms as if they were something foreign to her. She tilted her head dazedly, unable to understand the state of her hands no matter how hard she tried.

With a troubled look still on her face, she at last dropped her hands down to her lap.

And then she slowly turned toward the beautiful kimono laid out on the floor.

She had restrained herself while Kazuya was there, but in fact that kimono had bewitched her with its clear ocean-blue color and exotic Far Eastern design. The fog around her heart—formed of a deep sense of lethargy, boredom, and grey feelings with no outlet, something akin to sadness and akin to anger—had lifted away from her.

Victorique reached out her trembling hand toward the mysterious cloth to touch it for the first time. The sensation of silk felt much rougher than the Western dresses that Victorique was used to wearing. The water lilies carefully drawn onto the fabric with a brush dipped in white ink were an unfamiliar type of flower to her.

She then gently extended her hand toward the obi. The pink, fluffy-looking obi felt starchy and unexpectedly stiff.

Victorique cradled the beautiful kimono and obi softly to herself, and let out a soft sigh. “Oh … how pretty!” she murmured, her voice vanishingly tiny.

Wearing an innocent and blissful smile that she never let anyone else see, Victorique rubbed her face against the kimono and obi over and over again….

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