At Jeantan, the ceilings were high, and the spacious interior was all in white. Stacks of boxes towered over the vast sales floor. Many items, such as expensive jewelry, teddy bears, or ladies’ lingerie, occupied their own individual shop spaces within departments, while other shops were partitioned off by glass doors.
Youthful and attractive men and women staffed the counters. They included a diverse and colorful array of nationalities, representing everyone from young Northern European men with chiseled good looks, to girls with exotic olive complexions.
Kazuya walked up to a Nordic-looking male clerk and asked where he could find a Blue Rose. The clerk directed him in broken French to a location far from the main shopping area. Kazuya boarded an elevator to the top floor and headed down a hallway, all the while thinking to himself how odd it was that such a popular item would be kept in such an out-of-the-way place.
The higher he went, the more glass-partitioned luxury shops he saw. The white hallway stretched on, and the occasional shop sign sparkled glamorously, but there were few customers.
“Is this where it is…?” Kazuya stopped in front of one of the doors. It did appear to be the door that the salesman had described to him—but there weren’t any signs on it, and the door wasn’t glass, but made of heavy oak. Unsure if he was in the right place, Kazuya cautiously opened the door.
The door opened into a shop. Black and white checkerboard tile lined the floor between brown walls. A chandelier in the shape of a flower glittered from the ceiling, providing an accent to the tastefully refined decor.
In the middle of the room stood rows of glass cases. Among others, they displayed wristwatches studded with sparkling jewels, decorative crowns, and ornamental daggers.
Kazuya hesitantly entered the room, puzzled by the absence of any store clerks. Then he cried out, “There it is!”
Sitting ever so casually on top of one of the glass cases was the Blue Rose paperweight. For a mere glass copy of a blue diamond, it possessed a translucent glow, and Kazuya could see how beautifully it resembled the shape of a large rose. It fit perfectly in his palm. Had it been a real diamond, it would have been worth a fortune.
Elsewhere in the room, there were many other items on display: fine china, a brooch, and a delicately fashioned comb. Kazuya picked each one up and peered at them closely.
All of a sudden, a loud voice rang out. “Who’s there?!”
Overcome by surprise, Kazuya dropped everything he was holding. He managed to catch the china in time, but the paperweight, brooch, and comb fell to the floor. Despite the loud crash they made, none of them broke. Kazuya breathed a sigh of relief. “I-I’m sorry! Please forgive me.” As he gathered up the things he had dropped, he looked up at the three people standing before him.
One of them was a large man in an elegantly tailored suit. He looked to be around his mid-thirties, and had tanned skin and a toned body. His eyes were strangely sharp.
A man and woman wearing the purple uniform of Jeantan’s clerks hovered behind him. The man aimed a penetrating glare at Kazuya. But the woman only seemed bemused.
The large man glowered at Kazuya accusingly. “What were you doing here?”
“Huh? Um, I came to buy a Blue Rose….”
The two men exchanged a look. “Come back tonight,” the older man said.
“T-tonight…?” Kazuya frowned doubtfully. Wasn’t the store open all day? “Why tonight?”
“You came to buy the Blue Rose, didn’t you?”
“Yes. Three Blue Roses.”
The two men slowly turned to look at each other. Finally, the female clerk whispered to the two men in front of her. They nodded.
“Three Blue Rose paperweights?”
“In that case, you can go to the stationery counter on the second floor.”
With a niggling feeling in the back of his mind telling him that something was not quite right, Kazuya headed out of the room…
And soon became lost.
By the time Kazuya noticed it, he had already taken a clattering, poorly lit elevator to the first floor and walked a distance down a gloomy corridor. He turned around and backtracked down the corridor, but then realized what had happened. After leaving that strange room with the glass cases to go back downstairs, he had inadvertently entered a different elevator from the one he had taken before. He guessed that this elevator must have been for staff use. The lighting was very weak, the floor was stained with unidentifiable reddish-brown spots, and there was an odd fishy smell lingering inside….
And this first floor corridor where he had come out of the elevator was also dark, and oppressively narrow. Starkly unornamented gas lamps dangled like the heads of snakes perched unnaturally high up on the walls, shining their faint bluish light down on Kazuya. There were wide intervals between each lamp, which plunged the spaces between the pale lights into opaque darkness, leaving a murky boundary where the wall ended and the floor began.
The hissing gas lamps swayed unsteadily, as if they would go out at any moment. Kazuya felt uneasy, and decided to hurry back down the corridor.
Kazuya heard a voice. He froze, and immediately looked down—it felt like the voice came from beneath the floorboards.
He pricked his ears, but heard nothing.
And just as he began to walk again…
“… e … vils.”
“I knew it! I heard a voice … a girl’s voice.” Kazuya stopped again. He slowly looked up at the ceiling. This time, it felt like the voice was coming from above. But of course there was no one there; he could only see the reddish-brown stains of some liquid on the ceiling, in a pattern vaguely reminiscent of a human face.
Suddenly, someone shouted next to Kazuya’s ear. He shrieked and whirled around. No one was there. Down the corridor, he saw only pale bluish shadows, wriggling and hissing under the gas lamps.
The gas lamps suddenly hissed. For a second, blue flames jumped up to the ceiling. They lit up the other end of the dark corridor, and there he saw what looked like several thin white sticks tangled up together. “A body?!” Kazuya blurted out.
Large opened eyes gazed at him vacantly. The thin white sticks were arms and legs. They were twisted, jumbled up into a position impossible for a human body, forming a gnarled lump out of which countless pairs of opened eyes glared at him resentfully.
Kazuya gingerly crept toward them. Then he breathed a sigh of relief. “Oh … so that’s what they are.” At first they looked like a hill of fresh corpses, but on closer inspection, they were mannequins. As they lay on the floor, some still in the pose they had assumed to model dresses, while others had their arms and legs torn off and scattered nearby, now reduced to nothing but torsos…
Underneath the pile of mannequins, several wooden boxes were strewn across the floor. More mannequin limbs peeked out of the partially opened boxes.
The same strange reddish stains that were in the elevator covered the floor. They were dry, and cotton-like balls of dust collected on top of them; presumably they were years old.
Kazuya suddenly felt very curious about the one box with a closed lid at the very back. He moved closer, and carefully reached out to open it.
But as he had suspected, there was only another mannequin inside. This one was curled up in the fetal position. Long sandy-colored hair veiled its body. Kazuya began to close the lid, but then a thought suddenly occurred to him.
I wonder … why is this the only mannequin with its eyes closed?
It felt as if a cold hand had touched Kazuya’s back, and he shuddered.
And then the mannequin opened its eyes.
Kazuya screamed and jumped away.
The sandy-haired girl in the box cried out, “There are devils here!”
At first, he didn’t catch what she had said in her thick Russian accent. Her jewel-like eyes were a deep violet, and cloudy, like a pool of water tainted with a drop of milk. She rose from the box as if she were made of gears and springs, and grabbed Kazuya’s wrist with both hands to prevent him from escaping. The force of her grip was so fearsomely strong that it didn’t seem to belong to a girl….
But her hands were trembling violently, and her small, pearly white teeth chattered. “Devils! Devils!” she repeated over and over in her thickly accented French, twisting her head around farther than seemed humanly possible. Each time she jerked her head, her sandy hair flew up into the nightmarish darkness, whipping against Kazuya’s face.
Kazuya gasped. “S-stop! What’s wrong?!” he asked frantically.
But the girl didn’t listen to him. She only screamed again and again in her heavy Russian accent, rolling her Rs so strongly that she could barely be understood. “There are devils here! There are devils here!”
And then she yanked on Kazuya with terrifying strength and parted her thin, colorless lips. Inside her gaping mouth, her two small but sharply pointed canine teeth reflected the pale light of the gas lamps. “Call—call police! There are devils here! A lot of devils! They kill us!”
“What?! Did you witness a crime? I should tell an employee what—”
“No, no. Police, call police!”
The girl released Kazuya’s wrist, then buried her head in her hands and wheezed loudly and painfully. He instinctively backed away from her.
The lamps hissed again. The flames shuddered, and abruptly went out.
“H-hey…?” Kazuya called out in the darkness.
There was no answer.
Kazuya felt himself start to run. He didn’t have the faintest idea what was going on, but he had to do something…
Kazuya stumbled out of Jeantan and whistled for a carriage. A small one-horse carriage driven by an old coachman came to a stop. A large scar ran from right to left across the coachman’s face.
Kazuya dashed toward the carriage and jumped on board. “Sauvrème Police Headquarters, in front of Charles de Gilet Station!”
A grimace spread across the coachman’s scarred face. He nodded, and cracked the whip. The horse began to gallop across the cobblestones.
Kazuya looked up at the eight-sided building. As he wiped cold sweat from his brow, he noticed a pair of blue eyes staring at him from the shadows underneath the building’s façade.
Small eyes. A child’s eyes. It was that boy from before … that strange street urchin who had tricked him.
Kazuya suddenly remembered when that boy had blurted out “nine-hundred fifty-seven”. What on earth could that have meant? For now, no answer came to mind.
The boy gazed steadily at Kazuya. His lips were curved into a smile….