Winter Morning – Part 02
At the back of the snowy French-style garden was a dark flowerbed maze that seemed to reject outsiders. Snow covered the trees, tangles of black and bare branches looming like skeletons.
Two Gray Wolves were hiding behind the branches of a large tree overlooking the flowerbeds.
One was small and pretty as a doll, her golden hair like an unfurled velvet turban, fluttering coldly in the winter wind. Sadness and anger lurked in her deep-green eyes, and her tiny lips, glossy as cherries, were tightly pursed.
She was wearing an elegant dress made of black silk and adorned with green torchon laces. A necklace of black pearls was wrapped a few times around her neck, and a headdress ornamented with black feathers sat on her head.
Sitting on a thick branch, she was wearing a stern look, though her feet, wrapped in rose-embossed boots, were swinging idly in contrast.
Her jade-green fur coat billowed out in the wind, flared like a large bird spreading its wings.
The mother wolf, Cordelia Gallo.
Standing beside her was Brian Roscoe, a tall and slim man with fiery-red hair and green eyes, upturned as a cat’s. He had odd features, possessing both the ferocity of a beast, and the delicateness of a young boy. Wearing a top hat and a tailcoat, he was huddled close to Cordelia as if protecting her.
The two Gray Wolves were watching the world below.
They spotted something sharp and golden walking along the snow-covered path, accompanied by the sound of hurried footsteps.
“Looks like we were right,” Cordelia murmured in a deep, rumbling voice that seemed to come from the bowels of the earth.
Brian nodded wordlessly.
The footsteps belonged to Inspector Grevil de Blois. Sporting his pointy hair, he was wearing white riding boots and a stylish, white sailor coat. He was dragging a huge suitcase with him.
Cordelia scowled. “Right on cue, Albert’s dog!”
“So it seems,” Brian grunted. “The storm must be close.” His canine teeth, sharp as a beast’s, glinted ominously.
Inspector Blois stepped into the maze of flowerbeds. His pointy, golden hair glittered under the winter morning sun.
Someone was following him, tripping and slipping along the way. Cordelia and Brian cocked their heads simultaneously.
A young woman with shoulder-length brown hair and droopy eyes dashed into the maze. She was wearing a coat over her nightgown, a woolen hat, and round glasses. She seemed furious.
“Who’s that?” Cordelia asked.
“No idea. Either way.” Brian cracked his neck. His eyes gleamed darkly. “The second storm is getting closer by the minute. For now, we should head to Saubreme. Get ahead of them. Cordelia.”
“Let’s see what your beloved daughter, the abominable pup Victorique can do.”
Cordelia stood up. A gust of wind blew, flaring her jade-green coat behind her like wings into the winter sky. The bottom of her dress rippled.
“Of course,” she said. “But know this. My daughter is strong. She will never give in, even if the world is rocked by a storm like never before.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure.”
“Her intellect and her kindness are unparalleled. I have faith in my daughter’s power.”
“It’s the only thing that’s given me strength to keep living a life that’s been filled with nothing but rage and humiliation.”
Brian looked away. “Let’s go.”
A strong wind gusted, then died down.
There was no one on the branches anymore, only a stark tree.
A chunk of snow fell to the ground.
Bare branches stirred, quiet and dreary.
The garden was as quiet as the calm before a storm.
“Wait, you dumb, pinheaded Inspector! Whatever you’re up to, I won’t let you do it!”
“I can excuse dumb, but pinhead is where I draw the line! No, wait. It’s the other way around. Who are you calling dumb, huh?! Ugh, let me go!”
After a number of twists and turns inside the maze of frozen, black-and-white flowerbeds, they finally arrived in front of a tiny building that looked like a candy house.
The piled-up snow looked like sprinkled white sugar, making it seem tastier than usual.
“Stop biting me!” Inspector Blois cried in pain. “Grown people don’t bite! Let go of me, weird lady!”
Ms. Cecile was biting Inspector Blois’s arm hard.
“I said let go! Ouch!”
“You’re not fooling me. What are you doing in the academy with a large suitcase on a Sunday morning? Headmaster, Chairman, I found someone suspicious! Call security quick!”
“Be quiet, you idiot!”
“Your swinging that suitcase around means it’s empty. You’re planning to take Victorique away again, aren’t you?! I’m her teacher. I know everything. But she’s not going anywhere. I don’t know why you’re doing this, but I won’t allow you to put her in danger!”
“Shut it, four-eyes!”
“Glasses, Inspector Pinhead. Can you keep it down? It’s too early for all this racket.”
A husky voice, deep as if echoing from the depths of hell, came from somewhere close. Inspector Blois and Ms. Cecile froze. Locked in a grapple, they turned to the candy house.
But there was no one there.
“I understand what’s going on. I’m leaving again, aren’t I?”
The voice, soft and sinister, felt like the dead’s cold hands touching the heart, capable of robbing one’s humanity and body heat in an instant.
They swallowed and glanced down. Ms. Cecile still had her teeth in the inspector’s arm, while Inspector Blois’ tight grip remained on her brown hair.
The owner of the voice barely reached their chest.
A girl as small as a porcelain doll, lovely and terrifying at the same time, was standing there, blowing a ceramic pipe.
Her long, magnificent golden hair, just like her mother’s, hung to the ground like the golden tail of a mystic, prehistoric creature. Her upturned, emerald eyes were calm and melancholic, yet terribly cold, like someone who’d lived for a hundred years.
She was wearing a red-and-white taffeta dress with plenty of ruffles and gathers, its wide sleeves puffed up like rosebuds. The bottom of the dress billowed out like a rose on the verge of blooming. The large ribbon on her neck, the flower-shaped mini hat on her tiny head, the shiny lace brooch on her chest, and her shoes, sparkling like glass, were all different shades of pink. Her glamorous attire, a soft mixture of red, white, and pink, belied her sad expression.
She looked up at Inspector Blois. “Is this Father’s… the Ministry of the Occult’s orders?”
“How do you know?”
“My Wellspring of Wisdom,” the girl—Victorique de Blois—answered curtly, keeping the same expression. Her deep-green eyes glinted dreadfully.
A dry wind blew.
Anxious, Ms. Cecile glanced at them both.
A moment later, Inspector Blois exhaled sharply and gave his sister a hateful glare. He took his hand off Ms. Cecile’s cheek, and, dragging the suitcase, strode up to the house. “There’s a case I’d like you to solve. But it’s not something that happened recently. It’s an unsolved murder that made headlines ten years ago. Does Saubreme’s most infamous murder case ring a bell?”
“Saubreme’s most infamous murder case?” Victorique’s face remained blank. “Wait, you mean that case?!”
Ms. Cecile quietly followed them, listening to the siblings’ conversation as they entered the candy house. She seemed more serious than ever, her large eyes opened wide.
A cute little hare appeared, hopping through the snow. It approached Ms. Cecile and tried to get on her lap and pull the pom-pom on the tip of her woolen hat.
“Please don’t bother me, little bunny,” she said as she dodged the hare. “The little Gray Wolf is in trouble.” Then realizing something, she looked back. “Wait. You’re the rabbit that was playing with Kujou just now. So you’re his friend, huh? Good. In that case…”
Ms. Cecile produced a note and started writing a letter. “Let’s see… ‘It looks like Inspector Pinhead is taking Victorique away again.’ As to where… um, there we go. I’m really worried, though. I wanna go too. What to do, what to do… Wait, I got it!” She glanced at the large suitcase left at the front door and nodded gravely.
While listening to the voices coming from inside the house, Ms. Cecile wrote, ‘I heard Saubreme’s theather! Come quick, Kujou!’ When she finished writing, she tied the letter around the rabbit’s pure-white ears and let it go. Furrowing her brows, she listened closely again.
“Did you say ‘Phantom’?” Victorique asked in a low, shaky voice.
“I did,” Inspector Blois said. “I hear they’re performing ‘The Blue Rose of Saubreme.’ But that’s irrelevant. The theater’s basement is actually being used by the Ministry… Actually, I’ll share the details on our way to Saubreme.”
“So I’m going to Phantom?” Victorique’s voice still quivered.
“What is this Phantom they’re talking about?” Ms. Cecile whispered to herself.
Inspector Blois sniffed audibly. “It might be a special theater to you, but it has nothing to do with the case. What you will solve is—”
“I already know.”
Hearing their grumpy footsteps coming closer, Ms. Cecile quickly bent down. A knot twisted in her gut, and her face turned grim.
She opened the large suitcase that was lying around, silently slipped inside, and closed it. The two brown pom-poms on her wool hat peeked out a little through the gap.
The siblings exited the house in sullen silence. Victorique was now wearing a pink cotton cloak over her red-and-white dress and silk gloves adorned with pearls.
Inspector Blois looked around. “Hmm? Looks like the fussy teacher is gone,” he said with relief. Then he took a deep breath. “You are to solve the biggest unsolved case in our kingdom that took place ten years ago in 1914. The murder of Sauvile’s Queen, Coco Rose.”
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