The Prisoner and the Auto-Memories Doll
Ashen snow danced about nimbly. It all started with a single flake, then many flocking together and eventually covering the ground. For villages that had not prepared for colder periods, for travelers crossing highways on foot, and for fields and mountains where vestiges of autumn still lingered, the manifestations of winter made its power known.
Why did the four seasons exist? There was no one that could possibly answer such question, yet it was unquestionable that said seasons were necessary as they repeatedly regulated life and death, as well as assisted the world’s cycle so that it would not be delayed.
In the middle of a certain battlefield, a girl observed the sky. As the white, cold substance slowly floated down, the girl asked the lord beside her, “What is that?”
“That’s snow, Violet.” taking off his gloves that smelled of gunpowder smoke, the lord held an open hand in front of her. A flake descended onto it and soon liquefied.
The girl let out a breath at the oddness of the sight. For the first time, she attempted saying the name of the substance that had dissolved in her lord’s hand, “Snow…” Hers was the intonation of a small infant that had just started to learn words.
“That’s right, ‘snow’.”
“Is there… a type of snow that melts… and one that doesn’t?” the girl turned towards a corpse on the ground that still held onto a weapon. Snow amassed over it like a coat of powdered sugar.
There was not only one dead body. Around the area the two found themselves in, countless soldiers’ bodies were all over the frigid soil, as if they had been abandoned there without so much as graves to reside in.
“The one on Major’s hand melted. The one on those corpses… did not.” she pointed at them with the battle axe in her hand.
Making no comment on her lighthearted attitude towards the deceased, the lord merely lowered the weapon down. “Snow fluxes when it touches warm things. When it falls onto cold things, it merely piles up. Give me your hand.”
The girl did exactly as told. As the lord removed her glove, which was of the same color as his own, her pale hand was exposed. Snow fell onto her porcelain-like skin as well, turning into water. For a second, the girl whose doll-like face lacked emotion widened her eyes.
“It melted…” She exhaled again with a “hooh”.
One could not discern the expression on the lord’s look as he watched her reaction from the side. He seemed just as aloof. Once he wiped the droplet on her hand with a finger, he said, “As it evidently would.”
“Is that so? I thought… it might not melt on my hand.”
The envoys of ice that cascaded from the sky continuously touched the girl’s hand and the lord’s one that grasped it, melting onto the two palms of different sizes.
“So I, too, am warm.” The girl stated the obvious with the tone of someone that had just witnessed a miracle.
“You’re… alive. That’s why you’re warm.”
“But… I was often told that… I seem to be made of ice.”
“Well… they might be amongst those that perished…”
With just a glance, it could be noted that, amongst the heaps of corpses lying around the prairie, some wore the same uniform as the girl and the lord. The girl displayed no signs of sorrow or pain at that fact. Winter wind blew strongly in the space between the two of them with a whistle.
“From now on, report to me whenever you are insulted.&r
Surely, the girl had not thought of it as an insult. Even now, it seemed she had not completely understood what exactly she was supposed to report, but nodded earnestly, then stared at the lord’s face the same way she had observed the snow melt. Upon noticing some of it accumulating on his shoulders, she automatically stretched a hand to dust it off.
“Snow… erases other colors when it piles up, doesn’t it?”
The lord caught her hand, putting the glove back on it. “Yes. Not just colors, but also sounds.”
The girl’s hand gradually grew warm. It was due to the heat granted from the glove. “Is that so?” She peeked into the emerald green orbs that meant everything to her. In them was reflected an expressionless, spectacularly beautiful girl soldier covered in blood. “If it snowed… in the whole world…” the girl paused for a moment, “it would become harder for people to kill each other.” She asked after examining the lord’s face, “Would that erase Major’s worries as well?”
“Violet,” the lord answered as though to lecture the innocent girl, “to erase something… means simply to hide it, not solve it.”
The Altair Prison was a facility built over a large piece of land, surrounded by an exceptionally tall fence and blanketed by grey skies. The current number of prisoners was of about 2,200. Approximately 400 staff members lived there, monitoring and guiding them towards rectification. It was claimed as the largest prison in the continent, but it was also commended for being so competently managed that not a single jailbreak had happened since its foundation.
The prison was located in a region named Cornwell at the northern part of the continent. It was an extremely cold territory, shrouded in snow all year round. The distances between cities were significant – even if one were able to leave the facility, it would take half a day by car to reach any neighboring town. Therefore, if a prisoner took as much as a step outside, nothing would be awaiting aside from the natural risk of a lonesome death by hypothermia. Regardless of how much one might want to escape, it could never be done easily, which was why the place was the most suitable possible for imprisonment.
Maintaining the facility in its best condition and rectifying its prisoners generated abundant capital. Entering from the main gate with high spires that towered over the surroundings, what could be seen was a factory divided into countless sections. It produced a huge variety of goods, most of them being manufactured ones consigned to private companies. It was a wide range of industrialization, from clothes to soap and detergents. The prisoners had a diverse assortment of labor that was deemed as an economic activity necessary not only for the facility’s preservation, but also for getting stable jobs in their return to society after the end of their sentence. Whatever the reason, it prominently contributed to lowering the prisoners’ primary criminal aptitude as well. In fact, the number of prisoners in custody was actually small.
However, that applied solely to the first section, which housed those who committed low-level crimes. In the second, third and fourth, the control system over the prisoners was increasingly severe in accordance to their charges and the atrocities practiced by them, with no such thing as being given manual work, simply being supervised. Those who resided in these sections were considered too dangerous to be granted any form of work, regardless of what it was.
To house criminals that could absolutely not be allowed to run away was a given for any prison, but Altair had a plus of “no matter what”, “definitely” and “unquestionably” to the word “absolutely”. It was an individual that would cause an enormous impact on society if he ever, by any chance, managed to escape. Thus, he was kept hidden.
Those who entered the place were normally surprised at how impeccable it was. The thoroughly cleaned corridors’ walls were decorated with replicas of famous paintings. It was an atmosphere that resembled the waiting room of a hospital.
No matter who came from the entryway, or what they wore, they would be announced right away, so the people sitting in rows on the benches of the waiting room would never have to wait for too long for interview procedures to start. The data written in detail about the ones they had come to see, the purpose of their visit, even their hospitalization records and presence or absence of medical history were lined up in lists, obligatorily registering everything about each visitor without omitting a single factor. Meanwhile, their identities would be confirmed with their ID cards being presented.
If no problems were found during the interview, meetings would be permitted afterwards in a room with compartments divided by thin walls, which could accommodate a large amount of people. Bringing in food was also tolerable as long as it passed through examination. Pies were not recommended, as the contents of containers would be churned. After going through inspection, the visitors were finally allowed their meetings.
The fact that the people being visited were cherished by others did not change the reality that they had sinned. However, amongst the visitors, one had come strictly for work. A lone Auto-Memories Doll was dispatched to the prison standing firm and silently in a world of resilient silver snow. Receiving special treatment as a visitor, the woman was on stand-by in a private room. It was a room for important people, who were allowed past the inspection period.
She looked as if a prison was not suitable for her. Her blue irises that resembled star sapphires held a mysterious charm. The dark red ribbon wrapping her braided, outstanding golden hair that seemed to be enveloped in the gleam of constellations, and the emerald-green brooch clasped over the center of her Prussian-blue jacket that was no more than an accessory were her trademarks. Inside of her cocoa-brown knitted boots, her legs tilted diagonally in a lovely manner as she remained seated on a chair. She was a beauty that would not normally be found in the interior of a penitentiary, consistently stealing the gazes of every staff member in the silent room while undertaking her surveillance and escorting.
The young woman that did not make visible movements, much like a doll, flickered her eyes at the clock placed on one of the room’s walls. It seemed it would take some time and willpower for her to finally meet the one she had come to see. She displayed no hints of frustration towards that fact, but only a little while before, the air about her appeared to reveal unrest. A knock then echoed in the room with no sounds other than the ticktack of the clock’s needle and sighs of admiration for the woman’s attractiveness coming from the staff members.
“Miss Violet Evergarden, the preparations for the meeting have been completed.” A chubby woman with a hoarse voice called. Her dark green security uniform seemed a little too tight, the buttons almost jumping off on the chest area.
As the one named Violet stood up swiftly while grabbing her travel bag and stripped umbrella that had been left on the floor, one of the other female staff members widened her eyes with a somewhat astonished expression. It then morphed into one of jealously and envy at the person who had called for the name of the girl with slender built and stunning facial features. The staff member ogled at Violet with a stupidly dazed stare before glaring daggers at the one supposed to show her around. The latter then proceeded to guide Violet through an exclusive-use passage limited to authorized personnel.
“I’m Chaser. It’s just for a bit, but I’ll show you around.” Chaser’s thick voice echoed obnoxiously through the otherwise quiet corridors along with the clicking of hers and Violet’s shoe soles.
Outside the corridor’s windows, what could be seen was the growingly accumulating snow and the world of white covered in it.
“So… you’re famous in the amanuensis business, Violet Evergarden? I was shocked at this, but the protagonist of ‘Ice Rose Princess’ was based off of you, right? You know, that one stage play… by the scriptwriter Oscar… My colleague was really jealous of me just now because I’d be the one escorting you today. That tale is popular amongst Oscar’s fans, after all. I haven’t seen the play, but she commended it for the really good story.” Chaser talked on while peeking at Violet’s profile every now and then.
Violet merely nodded in assertion, not showing much sociability.
——What’s with that? So pretentious. Besides… she might be pretty, but it’s too much and ends up being creepy.
Chaser turned away with a blunt tongue click. It seemed that Violet’s well-structured appearance, which could be considered a cool beauty, was one of the determining factors of why her uncommunicativeness could sometimes hurt people. The other party would never guess the reason behind her scarce use of words.
In order to reach their destination, it was necessary to use the stairway. It seemed the one Violet was supposed to meet lived underground. Even without Violet asking why there were no elevators, Chaser explained it.
“Down there is… haah… full of criminals with really heavy charges and psychotic disorders… haah, haah… so, to diminish the number of escape routes in the unlikely case there’s ever a jailbreak, there are… only stairs. It’s a pain… for staff members… like me, though…”
Whether it was due to lack of exercise or an excess of weight, Chaser descended the stairs with much difficulty. As she sweated and wheezed, Violet glanced at her repeatedly with worry, and when it seemed she would slip, Violet reached her hand out to her. With a speed that could not be registered by human eyes, she grasped Chaser’s collar, holding her still in midair.
“Oeh… Ueh…” while choking, Chaser was overcome with fear as she confirmed that she was being lifted by the neck. “L-L-L-Let me dooown!”
Violet slowly put her in a position in which she would no longer miss a step, quietly whispering from behind her, “My apologies. Forgive me for the rough treatment, Young Lady.”
Chaser’s face was painted red at her striking voice. “D-Drop this ‘Young Lady’! I already have a husband and a child!”
“Is that so? Forgive me once again, Milady.”
“Ah, no, it’s not that…”
——How rude of me, not expressing a single word of gratitude even though I was saved…
“It’s not about the honorific!”
“It seems I have made you go through an unpleasant experience. Would you like to point out my gaffe? I will try to improve as much as possible.”
Chaser was dumbfounded. Were she in Violet’s place, she would express how affronted she was with a closed-up face. However, Violet herself had no changes in attitude. Rather than being icy, Chaser realized, she was simply less impersonal.
“That’s not it… I wanted to say it was my bad. Do you get it? I yelled at you even though you helped me out, and I am… heavy… so thank you.” Chaser said with slightly pursed lips.
Violet shook her head. “A lady or two do not really count as weighty. Compared to a tank, you are like a feather.”
“What kind of comparison is that? You could lift me pretty easily with that tiny body of yours… you have a lot of strength. What a weird Auto-Memories Doll. Also… do you act like that with everyone?”
“I have always been… stronger than normal people. This partly has to do with my prosthetics. This was made by Estark Inc., so the durability level is quite high. It’s possible to use force and movements that normally cannot be achieved by a human body, so it’s extremely convenient. But by ‘act like that’, you mean…?”
As Violet removed one of her black gloves without hesitation, Chaser was a little skeptical, yet convinced herself that there must have been circumstances regarding the matter and answered without prying any further, “Like, you know… speaking with people as if they’re nobility. Well, it does seem like your business has a lot of rich clients, so it must be your operating standard…”
“I have used formal speech with everyone since forever. However, if my words have made you uncomfortable, I apologize.”
“I didn’t think of it as unpleasant, just surprising. But I was… well, a little happy. I’m usually not referred to as ‘Young Lady’ because of my age.”
“Is that so?”
In that instant, for the first time, Chaser noticed a bit of facial manifestation in Violet. It was a faint resemblance of what could or not be called a smile.
“A certain someone… taught me how to speak as politely as I do now. Being praised for it is an honor… because I consider the things I learned a treasure.”
At the glimpse of Violet’s humane side, Chaser could feel her annoyance subsiding a little.
“Let’s move on slowly. It would be terrible if Madam slipped again.”
“You don’t need to use such an imposing honorific on me. Just ‘Chaser’ is fine.”
After being corrected with a reprehending tone, Violet blinked a few times and tested the name on her tongue, “Chaser… then, please just call me Violet as well.”
Chaser’s breath unwittingly caught in her throat at Violet’s expression and gestures, which could make one want to paint a portrait of her.
——Being referred to without formalities by this woman… gives off an unexpectedly special feeling.
With her stomach tickling slightly, Chaser replied, “That’s better.”
Descending the entire stairway took quite a while. Once they finally arrived at its end, the two found themselves in yet another corridor. It had enough space for about two horse carriages to easily pass through at once. The walls were filled with room doors that had small windows to peek from. Each room was supplied with the exact same furnishing, the sole difference between them being the people inside. There were old men, young girls, and even small children. Everyone wore the same white-and-black jumpsuit – the uniform of a prisoner. It was impossible to believe right away that all of them had felony charges, for they led quiet lifestyles, not particularly causing any ruckus.
“Astounding, isn’t it? Doesn’t it remind you much more of a mental hospital?” As Violet nodded silently, Chaser went on, “There are some guys here without any sense of guilt. In normal circumstances, you’d actually think they’re regular people. Even I have thought that when I first came here. Well, when they speak, you can tell little by little that they’re crazy, but on the outside, they’re no different from ordinary humans. Scary, huh?” Chaser laughed.
“Yes, that is right.”
Chaser failed to hear what exactly Violet’s statement agreed with, for the two of them had just stopped in front of the last room.
“We’re here. It’s the cell your client is in. The suite this king of crime is staying in our ‘hotel’.”
Two guards stood by each side of the door without hiding their guns. The sturdy men seemed stunned upon looking at Violet’s beauty, but did not take long to return to their stern positions without unbecomingly losing their composure.
“From this point on, you can only keep authorized items with yourself. Since there’s a possibility that he could steal something and try to use it as weapon. Of course, we’d restrain him, but we can’t give him a single opening. Or else, you might be influenced by his persuasiveness. We normally don’t allow people to bring even pens in, but… that would make your work impossible. Please leave with us everything that is sharp or could be a potential weapon… aside from your work tools.”
Being told so by the guards, Violet was thoughtful for a moment, before responding with an “all right” and handing over her luggage. Her umbrella was her travel comrade along with her worn-out trolley bag. The guard that received them staggered a bit at the bag’s weight. She then deliberately took off her cocoa-brown boots and peeled their insoles, pulling knives from within them.
“Hey, what were the inspectors doing during her turn?” one of them grumbled.
As she also took off her Prussian-blue jacket and inversed it, she pulled a handgun out of the puffed sleeve. Next, she rolled her skirt up just a little. A garter belt with spare bullets was fastened around her tight, and upon reaching further up with her hand, she took out a holster with a ballistic knife as well. Lastly, she raised her hands towards her diligent and complexly braided golden hair. Said braid was rolled into a bun and ended on the dark red ribbon that decorated it, and from that spot was where Violet swiftly took out one thin, needle-like golden object. Then two, then three.
“What… do you use these for?” Chaser inquired, terrified by Violet’s hidden weapons.
“They’re concealed devices used for piercing the carotid artery.”
All present, with the exception of Violet, sucked in a breath.
“What… are you?”
“Rather than being for frequent use, they’re for protection. I hear it’s unsafe for women to travel alone. Still, I am nothing other than the amanuensis Violet Evergarden.” She said as though proclaiming, merely taking a fountain pen and a letter set that shone silver from the trolley bag.
“Are there really… no more weapons?”
Being asked for confirmation, Violet seemed thoughtful once again before nodding. “None. The sole thing left is the fact that I myself am a living weapon, yet I cannot do my job if I am not allowed to pass, so is this all right?”
That could have been a joke. However, after having seen the hidden weapons, no one laughed.
The lock was removed and the robust door opened with a dull sound.
Inside was considerably more spacious than what could be imagined from outside. It was twice as bigger than what she had observed from the cells of the other inmates when passing them by. With the room being so large, the scarce furniture stood out – a bed with only a mattress and leg blanks, a sink without a mirror, and though there was a toilet bowl and a bathtub, both were separated from the rest by thin, see-through curtains and nothing else. Other than that, numerous books lay scattered around the floor and a table with two chairs was placed in the center of the room. The furniture and wallpaper were completely white. It was almost like the interior of a dollhouse. Similar to a temple or shrine, it was empty and lonely.
“Hey, Violet Evergarden.”
A man sat on one of the chairs. Iron cuffs restrained his neck, wrists and ankles. His distinctive voice overflowed with the gallantry of a gentleman. Frosty-grey hair neatly combed, wax-like skin perhaps lacking contact with sunlight. His paleness was all the more outstanding given that he wore a white-and-black jumpsuit, and the mole under one of his foxy hazel eyes was his most remarkable trait. No hints of viciousness could be sensed in his kind smile, to the point one would not believe he was Altair’s most tightly secured prisoner.
“Pleased to make your acquaintance. I rush anywhere to provide any service a client might wish for. I am from the automated dolls service, Violet Evergarden.”
As Violet bowed elegantly, the man motioned towards the vacant chair. The cuffs made a disturbing sound as he gestured. “Well, sit down.”
Violet’s prosthetic shrieked as she put a hand on the chair. It seemed the object had been glued to the floor as to not be a potential weapon.
“Do you know about me?”
“I know what I read in the documents from the company that dispatched me.”
“Yeah? Then try reciting my criminal record.”
As though Violet had it flawlessly memorized, she immediately replied, “Firstly, you were wanted as a first-degree war criminal in the previous Great War. After your desertion, you repeatedly committed assault, rape and murder by arson, and after a while of being in the news, you established yourself as the leader of a religious cult. You are also at fault for the deaths of this cult’s devotees. Approximately four hundred believers poisoned themselves in a mass suicide on your command, Master. You also mangled these people’s bodies and made a tower with their parts. That amongst other things.”
The man gave Violet an ovation. “You’ve studied me well. I’m happy, Violet. You don’t have to refer to me as ‘Master’, just call me by my name.” he said,
so lightheartedly that one could think the list of charges against him was not real. Yet bizarre hints of insanity constantly showed here and there as he did so. After all, he enjoyed listening to someone else talk about his countless sins.
Violet obeyed him without hesitation. “Sir Edward Jones.” The whispered name spilled icily from her lips. “Then, Sir Edward, this is a little rude of me since we have barely met, but I would like to start working as soon as possible. Who do you wish to write for?”
“Already? Let’s talk more.”
“The time I was given is limited.”
“I… do want you to write a letter, but it’s just one sentence, so it’ll be over soon. And then Violet will be gone, right? So let’s chat until the last minute.”
“The time I was given by the higher-ups is thirteen minutes.”
“They were pretty stingy. It’s because you’re expensive. You’re like a high-class courtesan, right? You’ll do anything you’re told after the fee is paid.”
“I do not offer sexual services. I am an Auto-Memories Doll.”
“Haha, I was meant that you sell yourself. You… really… don’t change. In the past, when I saw you in the battlefield, you looked like a cold porcelain doll. That was my first impression of you.”
Violet’s eyebrows twitched at Edwards words. A small change happened in the face of the cold porcelain doll.
“Ah, this expression. You really don’t remember me. I’m also a former soldier. Even if we had never talked, we were part of the same strategy… see, back at the Gate Ghost battle when you had a temporary arrangement with this country. You were often selected to be in the special forces, right? You were always clinging to one of the superiors so it never felt like there was any opportunity to get ahold of you. That time, even the guys in my corps would comment non-stop on how cute you were. There was actually one that set off to make a move on you, but he didn’t come back before the strategy commenced… hey, did you do something to him?”
Violet did not answer Edward, who blathered on like cascading water. As though wanting to say something, she stood stiff with her mouth agape.
“Or maybe that superior officer took care of him? Does that mean you had hooked up with him? You two didn’t feel like that back then… either way, you were like a mad dog and her owner. Or could it be that you bred at night? I’m really curious about that… aah, don’t make that face, it’s scary. Women become stronger when they’re angry and it makes me nervous. But, Violet, I’m your Master right now so you can’t bite me.”
“You know… about my past.”
As he finally earned a reaction from Violet, Edward swung his head left and right, just like a child. “Yeah, I know… that you were a girl soldier who was recruited because of your strength. Also, that you threw your past away and now work as an amanuensis. I investigated a lot. That’s information I acquired before being brought here, though. Violet, have you ever been arrested? No? You’re treated as a hero after all… being an ex-soldier of a victorious country sure is nice… prisoners can only bathe once in every three days. Horrible, right? The food tastes bad too, it’s the worst. Because I am not given any forced labor, I have no choice but to indulge in daydream all day long. And I end up thinking about you a lot, so I wonder if this isn’t love.” Edward’s gaze drifted from Violet’s face to her chest. He observed the woman who was obligatorily in a submissive position as if wanting to lick her.
“Sir Edward, did you not hire me to write a letter?” Violet asked, not losing her voice at the intensely sexual stare.
At her attitude, which could be considered rebellious, Edward smiled while flailing his cuffed arms against the table. They clanked cripplingly. “I will have you write a letter. I told you so, right?” at that, he stopped smiling. As once did not seem to satisfy him, he continued to hit the table over and over, without caring if it hurt his hands.
Clatter, clatter, clatter. The unpleasant sound hurt in the ears.
Clatter, clatter, clatter. His skin peeled off, blood splattering from his wounds. It was a petrifying self-harming behavior.
“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!” Edward suddenly howled loudly like a wolf. The horrid sound reverberated through the whole room.
The door was soon banged from outside. As Violet turned backwards, she could see the guards peeking into the door’s window to check on the situation with wary eyes. However, they refrained from going inside as Violet raised a hand with an “it is fine”.
“I wonder… why no one properly listens to what I say.” Edward moved his neck in circles. He then glared as though there were someone other than Violet near him. “It’s so troublesome… Hey, Violet… you have it good, don’t you? Even though we did the same things, you’re treated with honor. People also listen more to what you say, right? Not my case. Once you’re marked as inadequate, it’s over.” He trembled slightly as he firmly balled his fists. “Isn’t that right? I mean, what’s the difference between us? If it’s the amount of people we killed, you’re the one with a bigger number, right? I dunno why… but I’m a war criminal. War criminal. Do you know what that is? Someone who commits crimes during war. My country lost the last Great War, and the one that won – in other words, the allied nations led by your country – decreed that I am ‘a mass murderer who killed too many people’. When the time to return to the majestic hands of my motherland that praised me for my strength came… our order was shelved and I became a live sacrifice. It’s weird. It’s really weird. It pisses me off. I killed a lot because my country told me to… so you think I could forgive them for suddenly being like, ‘those actions were depraved’? I can’t forgive… I merely ate the bait as I was told to. If what they gave me to eat was rotten, the one to blame shouldn’t be me, but the higher-ups, right? Even so, those guys… tried to judge me before running away. I was just trying to make a place for myself in my country and lead a joyful life… but no matter where I went, I would be punished. I don’t like punishment, it’s scary… Hey, is there no country where you can do whatever you want without it being labeled as a crime?”
“I… have traveled to various places, but as of now, I don’t think so.” Violet’s voice tone did not change.
Edward’s smile grew as he kicked the underside of the table with his knees, as if to show her his indignation. The cuffs attached to his ankles squeaked. “AAAAAAAAAH, AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!” again, he screamed exorbitantly, “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH, AAAAH! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!”
People sometimes attempt to control others with shouting and violence.
“Haah, haah… haah…”
As it is an effective and easy method.
“I can’t… stand this anymore…”
However, there are times when it works and times when it does not.
“Aah, I can’t… stand this anymore… a lot of things… are pretty disgusting, huh?”
Violet did not make a single visible movement.
“Why do people… not listen to what I say, as if they’re corpses?”
Apathetically, Violet simply watched him with her blue orbs, bearing the expression of a lifeless doll.
“Hey, hey, Violet… it’s not like I killed without thinking. I have lots of reasons… do you have time to listen to each of them? The first one is about my home… ah, about that religious cult. The followers died saying they’d use their lives to give me strength. They wanted to become a part of me rather than perish; something like that. I was moved by their passion and ended up saying, ‘then prove it’. What’s bad about that? And it’s my right to play around with the dead bodies of those who became a part of me, isn’t it? What problem would I cause anyone if I played around with cutting my wrists? Only the fact it would dirty the floor. But I could clean-up on my own. It’s my business. Yes, it’s our business. Whatever my relationship with them was, the fact that dying was for them their utmost act of altruism, and the fact I was very happy about it… is our business. This form of love also exists. Even so, whenever I was in trial, I’d always be told that I was guilty… I wanted people to properly listen to me. Aah, I’m so envious of you, Violet. You’re pretty regardless of the passage of time. Pretty, pretty… and not treated like filth or stigmatized as disgraceful like me, right? But it’s exactly because… you’re pretty that… Violet… I wanna mess you up. I wanna push you down, rip your clothes off, take your crying face into my hands, make holes in your body and fiddle with it. Hey, Violet Evergarden…”
After having spoken so much, Edward had recovered his cheerfulness, hazel eyes narrowing softly. It was a gentle look. Although his current state could make one forget about what had just happened, the blood remained splattered around the table before them as proof of his rampage.
“She and myself… what’s the difference… between us?” he murmured a question, apparently to a third party, while turning to the opposite direction from Violet.
Edward had said that his feelings for Violet were hardly describable. To him, nothing could be defined right away. His curiosity, libido, murderous intent and anger blended, and so he could not choose one. Similarly, Edward himself could not be described with only one characteristic as a man.
Violet put a hand inside her jacket and slowly took out a handkerchief. She was the kind of woman to have something hidden within her person no matter what. Reaching out to Edward, she gave him the handkerchief.
“It doesn’t hurt.”
“But it’s bleeding.”
“I kinda… can’t understand… you that well. Hey, you can tell just by looking at these cuffs, right? Instead of giving me a handkerchief when won’t be able to wipe this blood properly, wipe it for me.”
Upon being requested so, Violet put the kerchief over his arms. “Please unfold your hands. The blood can’t be wiped if your nails are covering it.”
Edward had been clutching his hands so strongly that his nails bit into his skin. Violet wrapped the kerchief around them as though to warm them up. Edward’s strength gradually dissipated at that.
“It’s been long since the last time a girl touched me.” Edward’s voice huskily spilled from his lips.
“I am not a girl.”
“What’s with that…? It’s not like you’re a man either, right?”
“Nevertheless, that is not it.”
“Then what are you?”
At Edward’s silent question, Violet closed her eyes, golden lashes shining. She was quiet for a moment, as if unable to organize her ideas. Even that action was beautiful. As Edward had commented, everything about her was attractive to others.
“As I thought, that is not it.”
On the surface, that was how things were.
An ex-militant and girl soldier.
A young lady with a beautiful body.
And said beauty, much like the snow, concealed something.
“…some sort of… remnant.” Violet defined herself as neither woman nor man, or even as a person.
“Yes. I am not what could be called… a ‘girl’. As Sir Edward said, I killed many as a soldier. I am an assassin. Except, the title bestowed upon me… was not this… that is all. In reality, I am one of the people that were supposed to be in here. The only difference… is what people… call us.”
Edward blinked a few times, as if astounded. “You admit you’re a murderer?”
“It is the truth. It is not as if… I had forgotten about this. And also not as if I had not acknowledged it. I still have weapons… inside my bag, despite the war being over.”
“That’s surprising… what, so this is how it is? I was completely under the impression… that you were living by re-creating yourself as something lovely and pretending your past had never happened. I mean, you…”
Edward’s hollow eyes seized Violet. The single figure reflected in those pupils – golden hair, irises of a blue even more crystalline than the sea’s, rose-colored lips. No matter from what perspective, she had been born loved by the Gods.
At that sentence, Violet thinly smiled at him for the first time. It was a taut smile that could almost make a sound as it spread. “People mostly see… what appears in front of their eyes. Even though it is not as if monsters are only those with horns.”
Violet’s hands were warm as they held onto Edward’s, but her words entered his ears coated in ice. A heavy silence fell between the two.
“It would be better if the sweet numbness I’m feeling now could be transmitted to you…”
More blood stained the handkerchief. It was due to Edward grasping her hands tightly.
“Hey,” the gaze he directed at Violet was alight with heat, “what do you think of killing?”
“I later learned that it is not something one should do.”
“What did you feel when killing?”
“The urge to… close my eyes.”
“Do you think of yourself… the same as other human beings?”
“As in you consider yourself special?”
“No, I believe I am something dreadful.”
“Are you happy that the war ended?”
“There is a sense of accomplishment from completing my mission.”
“Were you happy when the war started?”
“But the battlefield calls for you, right?”
“I will not return… to the army… ever again.”
“Why? Even if you don’t wish for that, your country does. Besides, the fact you haven’t yet re-enlisted is already weird. People of authority would be following behind your back, though. You can’t keep this ‘play’ on for long.”
“If he wanted so, I could return. I am in my current job because I was ordered to.”
“By that man… who was always by your side?”
“Is that so? What a pity. Hey, what has been the most agonizing thing for you until now?”
“I do not understand agony very well.”
“Then, the saddest thing?”
“I do not understand this very well either.”
“Do you have someone you hate?”
“I do not… understand hatred very well.”
“Someone you love?”
“I do not… understand love very well.”
“Do you not have emotions?”
“I do not know.”
“What do you live for?”
“Since I was born, all that is left for me to do is live until I die.”
“Ever wanted to die?”
“Hey, what would you do if I told you to never again wield a weapon in your life?”
“I would not accept it.”
“Do you like weapons?”
“Do you like hurting people?”
“No… maybe… most likely.”
“You’re… wicked, huh?”
Only that question had to be answered after Violet chewed on her lip. “Probably.”
Edward could not suppress his grin. “What do I do?” he muttered curtly. “What do I do, Violet?”
“Is something the matter, Sir Edward?”
“I might really… end up falling madly in love with you.”
“Are you not just mistaken?”
“Mistaken about what?”
“Since I and Sir Edward… are alike, you are merely identifying with me and remembering the feeling of familiarity.”
“We’re not alike. I seek enjoyment in killing, but aren’t you different? Y’know, you’re… like a machine. Isn’t just the name of Auto-Memories Dolls perfect for you? The most beautifully corrupted doll in the world. But I… am a former murderer that killed people with a clear state of mind. Not someone magnificent like you.”
“But I…” She continued after sucking in a breath, “will not hesitate to kill if I am ordered.” Her words did not sound fake or made-up. “I will not hesitate if my ‘Master’ orders me. I believe we are as similar as can be. That is why… you… called me, is it not? I am similar to you, so you wanted to see another version of yourself walk a different path from yours, is that not it? Sir Edward… I think that… you did something regrettable… by using me to fulfill your one wish.”
Edward shook his head at Violet’s words. His pale cheeks flushed and his previously narrowed eyes were wide open. “I have no regrets.” His dark orbs twinkled. “I have… no regrets, Violet Evergarden!” he laughed shrilly, knocking his knees. “What, so this is it? This is how it was? You were always much closer to me than I thought, and you still are even now. I see, I see… aah, what is this? Sorry for getting irritated all on my own. My… you’re wonderful. Wonderful, Violet. That has just been concretely proved. This time that I spent talking with you like this was splendid to me. Truly a great time. We should have seen each other sooner. And not… inside this hard rock fort, but in a place more appropriate for two people to meet.”
“No, meeting in a place like this… suits us.”
“Is that so?”
“Yes… it is. Now, Sir Edward, it seems time is almost up. Who will you write a letter for? Let us make use of any possible word. Allow me to fulfill my role. I am here… because you wished so.”
That did not awaken Edward’s enthusiasm. He merely watched Violet holding the pen and paper with a resentful look. “Hey, can I touch the shoulder of the arm you don’t use to write?”
“I cannot satisfy that request.”
“So stingy… isn’t it okay to do me a small favor?”
“Has no one in this prison ever done it?”
At the question that seemed to attempt convincing him, Edward nodded with a child-like, innocent smile, “Yeah. Since, if it’s within the possibilities… prisoners on death row will end up making one selfish wish before they have to die.”
At that, Violet closed her eyes, and then averted her gaze to her own fingers grasping the pen. “Yes, that is right.” her words sounded the same as when she had answered Chaser. “Sir Edward, I ask you again.”
“Aah, sorry. I was ignoring your question, right?”
“Yes. Who is the letter’s addressee and what will its contents be?”
“I don’t want anyone else to hear who the addressee is so I will whisper it. I’m sending this to… only one person. Someone I seriously want to kill, but haven’t been able to.” Edward pointed to the ceiling. “To God.”
Upon hearing so, Violet did not say that letters could not be delivered to such place. She looked at the direction Edward pointed to and blinked as if it was too bright. As she did so, Edward brought himself near her, his face next to her ear.
“…write Him that.” Only Violet heard the words he breathed out. After having whispered to her, he placed a kiss on her temple. “Goodbye. See ya, Violet.”
As if the time was precisely measured, a buzzer that marked the end of visiting period rang. Violet exited the room with a sealed letter in hands. She bowed her head to the staff members that asked for safety as to whether everything was all right. Chaser thought that the lack of change in her expression ever since the moment she had gone inside was much too artificial and therefore alarming.
Same as before, the two of them walked together around the prison. They made their way up the stairs that almost seemed like a road to heaven, arriving outside. Violet did not hear Chaser say that, even if she rejected the offer, the latter would accompany her to the main gate, which was the only exit.
Perhaps because it was snowing, the footsteps Violet had left on the ground were no longer in sight, and a new pure white path lay in their stead. Snow really did hide everything. Smells, sounds, and everything in its way.
About to enter the carriage prepared by the prison’s directorship, Violet turned on her heels upon being called by Chaser.
“Where… are you going now?”
“I will return to where my head office is located for a little while. It is… my current home.”
“Is that so…?” It was not what she had actually wanted to ask. “Hey, who will you deliver that psychopath’s letter to?”
The words Violet let out along with a white breath sounded bitter, “I cannot speak of my exchanges with clients.”
“I heard it. While you were in there, I was monitoring your conversation in a separate room. That was my other task for today. Hey, you can’t deliver things… to God. Just throw away… that rascal’s letter.”
“No.” Violet shook her head. “He is someone that I, too, will meet someday after all.”
The way Violet tightly gripped the handle of the bag where the letter had been put in somehow pierced Chaser’s chest.
——For some reason… for some reason, I want to talk to this woman. She’s… different from me. She’s terribly beautiful and mysterious. Surely, she also has a very frightening side. Still…
“The Gods that you and he will meet… are different.”
Looking closely, Violet was but a girl, with only the appearance of an adult. She was a mere girl, just a little older than Chaser’s children. Although she gave the impression of being a ‘woman’, her frame as she stood under the snow seeming cold was small.
“Is that so?”
“It is. That’s… what I think. I don’t know anything about you, but you… are the woman who watched over me to an annoying extent so that I wouldn’t slip on the stairs as you came down with me. Since I am… the kind of person that thinks everything is okay as long as the people I care about are fine… when… the time of meeting God comes… I will definitely meet him first. And if it’s all right for me to complain about a lot of things when that happens… I will properly tell him… that you cared for me. That you’re a good fellow, so He shouldn’t forget you. I’ll tell Him.” Chaser said cheekily, puffing out her ample bosom.
Would Violet smile or nod silently at that? As it turned out, her response was neither.
“Chaser…” was only for a matter of seconds, but she showed an expression similar to the cry-laughter of a child that had just found her mother. “Thank you.” Her voice sounded young.
After lifting her skirt graciously and bowing while facing down, Violet turned back. She hopped onto the carriage and closed the door.
Chaser’s call, bordered on farewells, reverberated strongly amidst the world of snow, “Violet!”
The carriage’s figure grew tinier, unnoticeably merging with the falling snow.
“Violet! I’ll ask you to write a letter for me one day! Hey, you continue that job until then!”
Chaser did not leave the spot even after the carriage was gone from sight. Even a heart that did not know what to say would also be buried in white by the snow. The world which the carriage Chaser was watching disappeared into was simply beautiful.
Inside said carriage, Violet wiped off the little bit of snow that had fallen on top of her head. It melted at the touch of her hand. “Major…” she called for the honorific of her most irreplaceable person, “Major…”
“I want to see you. Where are you now?” she did not whisper such things.
“Please give me an order.” Such was what she yearned for more than anything else.
The doll ceased observing the landscape outside the window, deep in thought as she closed her eyes. She had the impression of hearing the far-off, nostalgic sounds of a battlefield.