Winter Morning – Part 03
Dead leaves fluttered down, rustling mischievously around their feet.
“You sure bought a lot. Are you really going to use them all?”
Kazuya had left the village’s general merchandise store and was trudging along the snowy road. Avril was walking in front of him, empty-handed.
“Ah, I can’t wait for the human chess tournament!” she exclaimed, waving her hands around.
Kazuya, leaning backward, was carrying several boxes of goods, unable to see the road ahead of him. He walked very carefully so he wouldn’t drop even a single item on the snow.
“So what’s this tournament about? Why do you need so many costumes to play chess? You bought a warrior’s outfit, shoes, bow and arrows. You also bought a queen’s dress and tiara, a king’s crown and cloak. The store’s shelves had a completely different selection than usual. It doesn’t make any sense to me at all.”
“Well, you see.” Avril skipped back to him. “Human chess is a form of chess where we build a huge chessboard in the garden and each student plays as a rook, queen or king. It’s so much fun!”
“Oh, I see,” Kazuya said.
An old wagon rumbled past. He stopped to give way, then resumed walking.
“We have that back in my country, too. We call it human shogi. It’s been around for a long time, apparently. It’s entertainment for the lords. When they watch the cherry blossoms in the spring, everyone dresses up in uniforms from the Warring States period. Hey, are you listening?”
“We’ve got trouble, Kujou!”
“Whoa! Don’t push me! You’re gonna make me drop the boxes!”
“Look at those two!”
Kazuya and Avril had walked a long way and arrived near the entrance to the academy. Kazuya couldn’t really look at whatever Avril was pointing at because of the pile of boxes blocking his vision. Her insistence finally made him stop. He shifted his body and looked in the direction she was pointing.
A vast, snowy landscape.
Kazuya narrowed his eyes. “If I recall correctly, this was a bellflower plantation. I saw an old woman and a male servant tending to it from time to time. It’s all covered with snow, though.”
“A ghost story!”
“Take a good look, Kujou!”
Peering hard, he saw a familiar old lady and a young servant of mixed race, discussing something about the fields, pointing in all directions across the snowy landscape.
“Remember the story about the necrostone?” Avril sounded excited for some reason. “I believe it’s an African stone. A mixed-race servant loved his master so much that he made her drink it. After she died while giving birth, her ghost walked through the fields at night, singing as she held a baby in her arms. Kyaaah!”
“Hmm.” Kazuya let her words pass through his ear. “But it doesn’t look like the servant’s crushing a stone, and the lady doesn’t look like a ghost. I’ve been telling you, Avril. You should keep a calm mind. Whoa!”
A sturdy black carriage, as if carrying a messenger from hell, burst out of the main gate of St. Marguerite Academy. Kazuya quickly jumped out of the way. Avril also dodged with a squeal.
For a brief moment, a long, golden hair, like the tail of some mysterious, ancient creature, stirred through the window of the carriage as if calling for help. Then the carriaged moved further and further away, leaving thick, ominous ruts in the road.
It felt like a sudden gust of dark wind blowing in from the future.
Kazuya couldn’t see anything; the pile of boxes had obstructed his vision.
“That was close,” he sighed.
Shifting the boxes in his hands, he resumed walking. Behind him the huge black carriage quickly disappeared into the direction of Saubreme.
The winter morning sun glimmered softly.
Two jet-black horses were galloping, their black manes fluttering in the winter wind like black smoke. Hooves clattered on the snow. Wheels squealed like the screams of a man.
A large, black steel carriage drove out of the village along the snowy road and was advancing through the desolate woods. It was daytime, but the tall trees made it dark. It was ominously cold, as if the carriage was on its way to the underworld. Even the driver had his head ducked as he took soft breaths.
Inside the carriage, a girl who looked like a large pink rose—Victorique—was sitting with her golden hair spread out on the seat. Across from her was Inspector Blois. Both were resting their elbows on the window, looking at opposite directions. The eerily similar way their cheeks were puffed up in displeasure and the motion in which they smoked their pipes was enough to convince anyone that they were indeed siblings.
Between them was a large suitcase.
A sinister forest slid past outside. A black bird made a choking cry as it slowly flew by. There were no other signs of life nearby. A grave silence lay heavy on the land.
“Say something,” the sister commanded in a low, husky voice. “I’m bored to death.”
“Why don’t you dance, then?” the brother swiftly replied. “Your mother is a dancer. How about entertaining your brother with some sensual moves?”
“You want me to dance here?” Victorique said wearily, removing the pipe from her cherry lips. “Do you want to lose your feet?”
Inspector Blois glanced at her polished pink shoes’ heels, sharp as a weapon. He shuddered and fell silent.
The carriage rocked; it seemed to have run over a large stone.
The suitcase let out a faint grunt… or at least, it sounded like it did. Inspector Blois stared at it suspiciously, then looked away.
Hooves clattered along the road.
Inspector Blois placed his feet on the suitcase. “I don’t care about you or your mother.”
“You’re the one who brought her up.”
“Hrngh… Anyway, let’s talk about the murder of Coco Rose.”
“I’m sure you know about it. Twenty-seven years ago, Coco Rose, the young and lovely queen, came from France to marry into the Sauville royal family. It was 1897, almost at the turn of the century.”
“I don’t know much. I wasn’t born yet, after all.”
Inspector Blois exhaled sharply. “I’m sure you know about some trivial incident that happened in a corner of Europe centuries before you were even born. Like a demon, you use your cursed brain and eerie green eyes… But that’s beside the point.”
“Stop bringing up irrelevant things, then.”
“Hgnh… Anyway, back to Coco Rose.” Inspector Blois frowned deeply. “The lovely queen, in her blue dress, instantly captivated the people of Sauville. Her elegant appearance as she stood beside the young king, His Majesty Rupert de Gilet, was so breathtaking that she seemed descended from the heavens. She was particularly popular among young women. Her photographs, writing papers and envelopes with her liking, the queen’s favorite French hairstyle and hat, were all the rage. But despite her popularity, she was said to be terribly lonely.”
Victorique nodded solemnly. “She had married young, was unable to get accustomed to Sauville, had no friends, and was constantly depressed.” She took a puff. “Her only friend was the maid that accompanied her from France who looked just like her. They spent many evenings together in her bedroom, reminiscing about their lives back in France.”
“Perhaps to relieve her anxiety, she gradually immersed herself in the occult. In 1897 she met the alchemist Leviathan. While His Majesty Rupert de Gillet deepened his ties with the Academy of Science, led by Jupiter Roget, Queen Coco, through the alchemist Leviathan, strengthened her ties with our father, Marquis Albert de Blois, and the Ministry of the Occult. Her power in the court rapidly increased, but some say that this caused her relationship with the king to grow even colder. Her relationship with Leviathan was also scrutinized.”
“That’s right.” Inspector Blois put down his pipe and rubbed his chin several times.
The landscape outside had changed from an eerie forest to a frozen canyon. The carriage, like a black spot, was running down a gentle slope from the Alps to Saubreme.
“But Leviathan vanished in the year 1900,” the inspector continued. “As to why, you solved that mystery yourself. He had been hiding as a corpse in a secret room in St. Marguerite Academy’s clock tower for a long time, hiding the dark skin under his mask and the mountain of gold he brought from the scorching land across the sea.”
“From then on, Queen Coco began missing more and more official functions because of her illness. She had a lovely country house built in the suburbs and moved out of the luxurious royal palace. Apparently, the king rarely visited her. According to one version of the story, her belly had grown big, but no baby was born. Rumors abounded that she had a miscarriage, which caused her mental suffering. The people took pity on the lonely Queen Coco and accused His Majesty Rupert of being a cold-hearted man.”
Victorique blew her pipe. “But there was a different rumor as well.”
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