With a soft thump, she gently closed the book she had finished reading.
Shutting the thick, skillfully-bound book that rested on her knees, the girl let out a sigh that seemed incongruous with her child-like appearance, one that somehow carried the weight of years.
The girl sat atop an aged stepladder, constructed of wood. Wrapped in an elegant dress, with her pale, cream-colored hair in curls, she was a person with doll-like beauty.
The girl’s name was Beatrice – she was the librarian of this silence-filled library, known as the ‘Forbidden Library’, and a magic user of rare quality who had passed many a year here.
“No matter how many times I read it, ‘The Guillotine of Magritsa’ never loses its charm; just a masterpiece, you know.”
Whispering in satisfaction, Beatrice’s fingers traced the title of the book on her knees.
Countless shelves, and innumerable books collected on them. Story after story acclaimed as masterpieces, specialized treatises from the past that were now difficult to acquire, or even forbidden books that no one knew the history of; the ‘Wisdom’ that existed in the Forbidden Library in the form known as books was limitlessly vast.
In a sea of books that one couldn’t finish reading in a lifetime, it was no surprise that there were stories that Beatrice was fond of, and had read over and over. The book she had just finished reading, too, was one such story.
“What sort of book shall I read next, I suppose?”
The calm that fell over the Forbidden Library was, to Beatrice, who was both a librarian and a reader, the best possible environment.
Through Beatrice’s spell, known as ‘Door Crossing’, the Forbidden Library was entirely isolated from the outside world. Not only were light and darkness shut out, but even bothersome interpersonal relations could not be brought into this place. The only thing that made a sound in the room was herself, and there were countless books to read – truly a utopia that a book lover would drool over.
“Of course, after a tragedy, something that would ease the heart would be…”
“Mhmm, losing oneself in another tragedy while still carrying this feeling of melancholy would be…”
“Beatrice-sama? Where are you?”
“It might be amusing to read the same story again, once more from the start…”
“Aagh! Could you be any more noisy, annoying, and clamorous, you know!?”
Popping down off the stepladder, she ran towards the door of the library with the book still clasped under her arm. When she placed her hand on the knob and opened the door, for just a moment, a distortion formed in the space between the Forbidden Library and the outside world it was connecting to. Breaking through that thin, film-like sensation, Beatrice flew out into the mansion’s hallway. At the end of the hallway, facing the other direction, was a blue-haired girl; Beatrice glared at her back.
“You’ve been going on with this noisy bustle for a while now, I suppose! Exactly what business do you have with Betty this late at night, you know!?”
“My apologies, Beatrice-sama. But thank goodness. You were still awake, then.”
As the girl turned towards her, Beatrice still held the book to her chest as she frowned.
In the direction of Beatrice’s pouting gaze, a girl wearing a servant’s uniform approached. She was the younger of the servant sisters who were responsible both for the mansion and its inhabitants – the more capable one. Her name was Rem, wasn’t it?
When Rem stood before Beatrice, she politely bowed her head to one who outwardly looked far younger than herself, and said,
“As it happens, Beatrice-sama, Roswaal-sama is calling for you. It seems there is a matter that he simply must have your assistance with.”
“For him to be leaving it to a servant to summon me, he must be thinking quite highly of himself, I suppose. He seems to have forgotten that there is no hierarchical relationship between himself and Betty, you know.”
As Beatrice showed the poor mood she was in after having her reading time disturbed, Rem held her silence. Offering her opinion and incurring the displeasure of either Beatrice or Roswaal would be troublesome.
Seeing Rem tighten her cheeks and the corners of her eyes in an effort to remain expressionless, Beatrice sighed.
Even though she exceeded her older sister in capability, there was a part of her that was behind in mentality. It also felt to her like the older sister was simply far above average in that respect, but none of that mattered to Beatrice.
“…Aah. Hurry up and show Betty the way, before she changes her mind, I suppose.”
“…! Yes, thank you. Rem will guide you.”
When she agreed to compromise, Rem gave off an air of relief as she bowed her head again.
The girl wasn’t very good at concealing what she was feeling. As it was, it seemed unlikely she’d be able to hide her thoughts from anyone who wasn’t truly lacking in perception. There wouldn’t be that many people who were so unobservant, though.
While Beatrice was harboring that impression, a voice unexpectedly reached the back of her mind. It wasn’t a voice that maintained a distinct form, but due to it being a voice with ‘Power’, it’s intentions were conveyed clearly.
“Mm… I’ve received instructions from Bubby. It seems you should prepare hot water, a clean washcloth, and a single guest room, I suppose.”
“A guest room?”
“That’s right, you know. It seems that half-wit girl is bringing someone back with her, I suppose.”
With an air that suggested someone was bringing something bothersome for her, Beatrice let out a gloomy sigh.
While following the maid who was thinking over her instructions, Beatrice adjusted her grip on the book she was carrying.
“Good grief, this is honestly so much trouble.”
Looking back at it, Beatrice was completely shocked at how bad everyone aside from herself was at handling their responsibilities.
…That was setting aside for now how poorly she’d handled her own responsibilities and desire to meddle in the affairs of others, in that she’d forgotten to tidy up her books, and, unable to tolerate the noise outside what should have been a quiet Forbidden Library, she had rushed out of it.
“O~h my, you found her much faster than I had expe~cted. Was this a victory for Rem’s dogged determination… or perhaps simply a defeat for Beatrice’s will to fight on?”
When they arrived, guided by Rem, at the mansion’s entrance hall, a tall man who had already arrived turned to face them.
He was a strange fellow with long indigo hair, white makeup applied to his face, and eccentric clothing. This man with his nonsensical air was Roswaal L. Mathers, both the master of this mansion, and Beatrice’s long-time acquaintance.
As he gazed down at her cheerfully, Beatrice narrowed her eyes, and snorted softly.
“You must think quite highly of yourself to summon me like this, I suppose. You really shouldn’t be giving such cruel orders to your own servants, you know.”
“Despi~te that, I expected that you would be more likely to appear if I had Rem search for you than if I searched myse~lf. Su~rely, if I had started searching the mansion high and low, you’d have been so entertained by it that you wouldn’t have come out to see me, wouldn’t you sa~y?”
“…..Now that you mention it, that might be true, I suppose.”
The sight of Roswaal, who never lost his relaxed attitude, walking around the mansion searching for her would be a rare thing. Since it was Rem, she took pity on her and showed her face, but she couldn’t deny the possibility that if it had been Roswaal, she’d have taken some time to enjoy it.
“You see, isn’t it just like I sai~d?”
“Hmf, having you stand there looking like you’ve seen through everything isn’t much fun. So, is it still not time for the errand you called Betty for?”
“The errand itself should be calling momentarily. …Rem?”
After his pretentious reply, Roswaal called to Rem, who was standing at his side. The girl lightly lifted up her own blue hair, and placed a hand on her well-shaped ear.
“… Yes, the senses nee-sama is sharing are getting closer. It seems they should be reaching the gate soon. Would it be alright for Rem to go and greet them?”
“I’d be pleased if you wou~ld. Ah, I don’t think there will be a problem, but…… do be careful.”
Nodding to Roswaal’s instruction, and then bowing to Beatrice, Rem headed towards the entrance. When she opened the large doors and went outside, a cool evening breeze blew into the manor, and one could catch a glimpse of the mansion’s front grounds and front gate on the other side of the door. Near the iron gate, a dragon carriage raised a cloud of dust as it arrived.
In the carriage’s driver seat, a girl identical to Rem – her elder twin sister could be seen.
“The older of the sisters has returned as well; I’d like to see Bubby soon, you know.”
At the return of her only family, Beatrice’s expression had softened. The best outcome here would be for this to be simply rejoicing together at meeting again, but there was both the thoughts that were sent to her earlier, and Roswaal’s summons. There was no way it would end that easily.
“The return of your dear older brother…… bu~t, I’m a little jealous. You and I are old acquaintances, too, but you’ve never made that face for me.”
“You shouldn’t say such creepy things, I suppose. And you’re being far too obvious, you know. You aren’t interested in Betty, or anyone else, I suppose. There’s only ever been one person on your mind, you know.”
“We~ll, you’re not wrong about that. But that doesn’t mean that it’s a lie to say that I feel like I’d like to get along well with you. ……Although this matter is separate from that.”
“I can’t feel anything but worried about that, I suppose.”
Simultaneously, Beatrice’s face tightened at Roswaal’s words, and Rem met up with her older sister Ram in front of the gate. After the sisters had spoken together about something, they immediately moved to the carriage, and a silver-haired girl descended from it. …To Beatrice, it was someone who put her in a complicated state of mind.
But this time, there was someone who drew her attention more than the silver-haired girl. It was…
“It seems there was some sort of blackened, dingy-looking fellow riding with her, you know.”
“I’m not sure if you would say riding, or being carried along. I’m su~re you’ve realized it, but that’s the reason that I ca~lled for you.”
“You can’t be serious, I suppose.”
Realizing that her worries had been right on target, Beatrice furrowed her brow, and waited for the girls to arrive.
The boy being lowered from the carriage was unconscious, and the maid sisters were each lifting one end of his body, which swayed back and forth as they tried to move him.
“Um, um! That boy really helped me out, so…… I wish you’d carry him a little more gently…… Um, are you listening? That looks rea~lly painful, doesn’t it?”
Near the boy who was being carried, the silver-haired girl ran about, flustered and looking concerned. Neither her shoulder nor her silver hair showed any sign of the little shadow that Beatrice was seeking.
“……It seems I’ve drawn the short end of the stick, you know.”
Beatrice’s sigh reeked of age, completely at odds with her child-like appearance.
It seemed that the boy who had been carried in had made crucial efforts in overcoming a problem that occurred for the silver-haired girl – Emilia – during her journey in the capital.
From what was said, after Emilia carelessly had her precious emblem stolen, not only had he tenaciously determined its whereabouts in her stead, and struggled to do this and that to return it to Emilia, but he had gone on to risk his own life to protect Emilia’s.
“Ah, this is much too suspicious, I suppose. There’s no doubt that someone like that is a spy or something, you know. It would be best to make a clean break of things here and let him die naturally, I suppose.”
“Well, it’s certainly true that it’s far too convenient. What would you have us do, Emilia-sama? Shall we let him die?”
“Why are you saying such cruel things!? Please, help him.”
Flustered by the cold suggestion offered by Beatrice, who had listened to the explanation, and Ram, who had given the explanation, Emilia requested healing for the boy.
The unconscious boy had a fairly serious wound in his abdomen. Currently, the wound had only been closed by simply healing magic, and even if it was only left as it was now, he could be expected to recover if he rested quietly.
To be sure, this was speaking of only if he did absolutely nothing but rest in bed.
And, she got the feeling that this boy, left on his own, definitely would not remain in bed.
“There’s little choice so I’ll heal him, but… this is something that I normally absolutely wouldn’t do. I’m doing you a favor, so tomorrow, I’ll have you let me take Bubby all day, I suppose.”
“…! Very well. If that’s what you’d like, I’ll make sure to speak to Puck about it. Thank you, Beatrice. I am indebted to you.”
“……That’s an old-fashioned way of putting it, you know.”
Setting aside Emilia as she expressed surprise, Beatrice set right to healing the boy and getting it over with. Before the immense power of Beatrice, the maintainer of the Forbidden Library, it was a trivial task.
Despite that, she’d demanded a proper reward, so the terms weren’t bad for her. It would be troublesome if their relationship developed into one where she was called upon casually. Beatrice was no one’s errand girl.
Beatrice’s role was the librarian of the Forbidden Library, nothing more and nothing less – on that point, she would never budge.
“There now, I’ve healed him up, I suppose. Take care of the rest as you please, you know. Do make sure not to let him push himself, I suppose.”
“Mhmm, thank you, Beatrice. I’m indebt… I’m… I’m most grateful!”
“That’s old-fashioned talk, too, you know.”
As Emilia smiled openly, Beatrice pointed out the expression she’d used and turned her back.
Such a straightforward gaze was difficult for her to deal with, but Beatrice lacked the will to tell Emilia that directly.
With the boy’s healing taken care of, Beatrice retired quickly to the Forbidden Library.
Most likely, the boy would wake up sometime in the morning. Although his body had been restored, it would take time for his stamina and such to recover after being so exhausted. Having said that, Beatrice’s healing magic was even capable of producing results in restoring said stamina and the like, so it was unlikely that any significant problems would remain.
“It seems that those girls have returned to their room as well; with that, we should be able to get back to a peaceful night.”
Seating herself on a stepladder in the center of the room, she sighed as she brushed at her knees.
The Forbidden Library was essentially safe from the influence of the outside world, but Beatrice’s perception was wide-ranging, and it was that indeed that allowed her to grasp what was going on inside the mansion. In the end, the serenity that Beatrice truly loved would only come when all the residents of the mansion were sound asleep.
However, there had been a few too many fusses tonight. Somehow, she couldn’t even work up the urge to reread the book she was carrying.
“It was such a nice night, and now look what’s become of it, you know. Bubby is out of mana and resting, and I can’t see him until morning; what a day, I suppose. If it was going to turn out like this, why did Betty…… Hmhm.”
Just as the day was reluctantly drawing to a close, Beatrice hummed softly to herself at the tail end of it.
Just as was stated earlier, Beatrice knew what was going on inside the mansion like the back of her hand. Something was nagging at her perception. It was…
“That injured boy’s room. He’s woken up, I suppose.”
Paying special attention to his situation, just in case of sudden changes, had yielded results. Sensing the boy get up off his bed and move around, Beatrice pursed her lips.
That was quick, was her first thought. Of course, her healing had been perfect. She was confident that she had restored the boy completely, without so much as a scar. She was confident, but he had gotten used to the healing magic oddly quickly. For this to be possible, either there was something peculiar about the nature of his body, or he had good compatibility with Beatrice’s magic.
“Ah, ew, ew…… what a revolting thing to imagine, you know.”
Repulsed by what she’d thought up by herself, Beatrice felt like she was nauseous in her chest. In the same moment, a plot sprouted in her heart to use this boy to clear up the nausea.
“Now that it’s decided, I’ll just play with him a little bit, I suppose.”
While still seated on the stepladder, Beatrice fully mobilized the power of her own shadow magic, she “remade” the space of one floor of the mansion – a corner of it that included the guest room that the boy was in.
Originating from the guest room he was in, she connected the space of the end of the hallway to the other end, forming an endless corridor. An illusion made it impossible to see where the corridors met, and she chose a perpetual darkness for the outside of the windows, with no sign of light.
With this, she had completed the trap. With no way to tell which way to go, and no way out, the boy would be psychologically cornered.
“On top of that, any door except the correct door…… the door to the first room, will have a special gimmick, you know. Your body will forget about gravity, your consciousness and awareness of reality will be exactly opposite, and there will even be upside-down rooms, I suppose.”
It felt like she might have gone a bit overboard with her control and alteration of her territory, but she was satisfied with the result.
Incidentally, this prank used many different shadow magic spells that had been lost to time, and some researchers into magic would faint if they saw it mis-used this way, but Beatrice wasn’t concerned about that.
“Now, do a grand dance in the palm of Betty’s hand, you know!”
This, that, and all of it was solely for the purpose of seeing the boy running about frantically, snot dribbling from his nose. She was simply letting off steam after being unable to meet with her brother, so although he had saved someone’s life, he could at least entertain her for a little…
“…Or perhaps, the possibility that the first door is the goal, as it tends to be.”
The Forbidden Library’s door opened with a click, and a foolish face peered inside.
Snap judgement, an instant choice, an immediate breakthrough – feeling a sense of wasted effort that wasn’t suitable compensation for the amount of work she’d expended, Beatrice put on her sourest face.
“……What a profoundly aggravating man you are, I suppose.”
And so, for the first time, she tasted a sensation she would repeat time and time again in the days to come.
It was the beginning of the end of the quiet days she had spent in the Forbidden Library.