After hours without ventilation, the cellar was an absolute relief. At that point I no longer cared about the red graffiti on the floor and walls, the single broken chair on the centre, or the severed rope which hung suspiciously right above the chair. Since Gabriel had a lighter (and I later learnt that she was the one building the fire for Pierre), the only thing I had to do was try my best to help her break the chair and grow the fire.
Of course, it was a hassle when my shoulder hadn’t recovered completely. But that was the furthest of my concerns, and the wound had become more of static numbness than triggering pain.
Gabriel went out and came back with a clean kettle. She told me to hold it over the fire until the water began to fume. ‘I did what I could,’ she said. After a while, I poured the water over, and I didn’t realise how hungry I was until the smell of coffee wafted up. Without a second thought, I downed the coffee before choking on its bitterness.
Without a word she decided that she was ready to talk. From her denim flannel over her black hooded pullover, she dropped some kind of blade; a mix between a dagger and a rapier. Blood covered the entire blade, and some even caught on parts of the handle.
‘You found this in Penny’s room,’ I said. Gabriel turned to me, stumped on how I knew. Since Penny’s neck was open, I replied, it would only make sense if a weapon like this was around. Gabriel nodded. She had kept it with her, even though it turned out that the culprit was more creative than we thought.
From Penny’s case, we could narrow down into four suspects: Patrizia, Normand, Utterson, and Gabriel. So I asked her who the first to leave Penny’s room was. ‘That’s me,’ she said. ‘But I don’t see why it matters.’
‘Is there anyone telling the others to get out?’
‘Nope. We just knew we had to.’
‘Just knew,’ I repeated.
‘Yeah. Else we’d be soaked in Penny’s blood.’
She spread her arms, showing red staining blue. I asked her if there’s anything else she wanted to talk about, and she asked back if I had brought something like note scraps. They’re one of the things I had forgotten to take out from my schoolbag. When her expression asked me to elaborate, I explained that I was a messier person than she thought, ‘even though not as much as Patrizia.’ She stopped speaking. She got the message, so I further asked her for any idea the culprit might’ve killed Patrizia.
‘The last time we saw her was your fight, but that’s not enough,’ she said. ‘She has absolutely nothing...nothing worthy to kill her. Same goes to the rest. Sawney and Lucius have their guns, Penny has an occult issue, Normand is a hopeless romantic, but that doesn’t mean anything. So the culprit must’ve come across some ritual and is blaming you by chance.’
By chance, I repeated. It both made sense and no sense at the same time. But again, Arkham never runs out of legends, and the legends of Keziah Mason and the Necronomicon had made things either better or worse. It was almost as if my own existence was the cause of these murders. ‘No,’ said Gabriel. ‘It’s not that.’ I asked her what point she was trying to get across. ‘Your father lied to you.’
‘What do you mean?’
She began telling me she had done some research. Before she continued, though, she added, ‘Don’t ask. I was just curious one time.’ Then she revealed that the Necronomicon–the sole copy I’m holding–was sold not too long ago. ‘If I remember correctly, it’s around four years.’
‘So you’re telling me the culprit is closely related to the Necronomicon.’
‘Might even used to own it. Must’ve come from a rich family. You know how a one-of-a-kind thing can be.’
Except most of us came from rich families. She might be saying this to thwart her suspicion away. That said, her neutral yet menacing face stayed that way, before asking me how long I had the Necronomicon with me. Three years, I said. Gabriel was trying her worst to hide her uneasiness, before she stood up and opened the window even wider.
‘You need to leave,’ said Gabriel. ‘Forget about whodunit. Everyone’s going mad because of what you’ve done. It’s not a good reason at all, but we can’t change their minds.’
So it’s one against everyone, I said. She nodded. ‘Two. Or three, I don’t know.’ As the gust of wind began to dim the fire, I questioned her if she thought it was the right choice. She said yes. I made two more variations of the same question and the answer was the same. Thinking about it again, perhaps I’d gone mad for doing the same thing and expecting a different result.
‘Look,’ she said. ‘It won’t last very long. Peace always wins out. But for now you have to hide. I’ll deal with this.’
Should I go? I debated with myself for some time until God decided my fate and extinguished the fire. Gabriel’s expression didn’t change. Instead, she stood there for a few seconds, before closing the window back ajar.
How long had I stayed there? I could no longer grasp this whole sense of time as I sat there, unmoving, staring at the charcoal in front of me.
‘Please. I need you to live,’ said Gabriel. I pointed out that she was acting like she was my lawyer, but that was because she believed I was innocent. ‘But with things are now, it’ll get very nasty for you,’ she said. Though I didn’t understand much, part of me seemed to agree with her. Those who misunderstood me, they’d blurred the line between the past and the present, and they’d forgotten that I’d offered everything to God. Once again my frustration returned; and so did the pressing of the cigarette. I watched the purplish smoke flow, tracing far-off memories, before I took it all in and downed the rest of the coffee.
She poured the last of her instant coffee grounds for Utterson. We both agreed that he wouldn’t wait for us any longer. But as soon as we came back, we saw Utterson crying. The coffee had become salt on his wound as he snatched it from her and poured it onto the floor. With a tearful glare, he began lashing out on why she had kept Normand’s death from him. Gabriel said nothing. The only things showing her responsiveness were her furrowed eyebrows and her tightened lips. This kept going on for a while until I got irritated. Since he was the type of person who needed emotional time, I offered him some help, so he’d become even more irritated and kick us out.
Frustrated, Gabriel asked me if there was a way to comfort Utterson. I told her to go ahead and try. Fortunately she got my message and didn’t, and once again I asked her about the dagger. This time she avoided the question and suggested that we get the rest in one place as soon as possible. That said, we went to Pierre’s, where the others were, making a mental note to get Utterson later on.
Only Sevrin was there. Pierre and Silvia were gone, so he and Neilan were taking turns finding them. I asked them if they had found anything important there. Sevrin shook his head and shrugged. Gabriel went on and scavenged the room.
‘And Silvia?’ I asked Sevrin.
‘Poof. Gone like Pete. No idea why.’
It had to be a joke. I told Sevrin we would regroup in the chapel as soon as Neilan got back. After Gabriel confirmed that there was nothing else she could find, she head straight on to ‘drag Neilan from the void’ while I went after Utterson. Though I doubted he was any better, leaving him would only make things more detrimental.
He was still in tears when I went in. My left shoulder began to hurt less, so I grasped his shoulder, set him up right again, and told him we no longer have time to mourn. He apologised to me. His physical intimacy made him seem like he wanted a hug, but I brushed him off and took him to the chapel without a word.
Only three of us were here: Sevrin, Utterson, and me. There was a lot to discuss, and everyone had views to put forward, suggestions to make, and theories to advance. Yet, the only thing we had spoken to each other was our agreement that no one would separate. Pierre and Silvia were on our suspect list. The last time we saw them was the advice before Penny’s death, and chances were they had slipped out before the gunners decided to check on them once again.
Sevrin began to worry where Neilan might have gone to. But when I pointed it out, he huffed and said he might as well trip on an ant’s leg and cry for half an hour with the thought that he might’ve killed the ant. I told him he would come back to Pierre’s if he was still alive, so for the meantime we decided to interrogate the revived victims. Utterson asked me how I knew they would cooperate. I didn’t know myself, but to keep my image I made out an hmph and told him it would be a test of luck.
Just as we went upstairs, Utterson halted me once again. In a suspicious voice, he asked me how we could know I wasn’t the murderer. I sighed. Unfastening the bookcase on my belt, I showed him the Necronomicon. 'Do you see this?' I said. 'If I were the killer, would I even revive them?'
‘A murderer’s wrath can be as sinister as the cosmos. We can never read each other’s minds, can we?’
This again. I played with him, saying that the mind is more like the world. It’s vast, but it still has its limits. ‘And me being the murderer isn’t one of them.’
Sevrin was about to say something, but he stopped when Utterson bumped his elbow. Utterson whispered something into Sevrin’s ear. Whatever he’d said made Sevrin give up on what he was about to say, instead volunteering to go with me. ‘Fine,’ I said. Utterson could’ve gone with us too, but at that time I had a plan. I no longer remember what it was, but it was a pretty useless one.
Whilst walking I felt a block in the right pocket of my shorts. I slid it out to take a brief look. It was a pocket notebook, with Gabriel’s handwriting inside. She must’ve slid it in before she disappeared. I made a mental note to take a look somewhere alone, with an indescribable gut feeling that the culprit was threatening me with eyes a millimetre too wide.
At first, when I opened the door, I saw nothing but a hollow void. It was two in the afternoon–eighteen hours since we had arrived–but no light had entered the monotone room. Nothing was out of place. Before we began the interrogation, I asked Sevrin what Utterson had whispered to him. He answered, 'Nothing much. Just that he's suspicious of you, blah blah blah, the usual.'
'..."Don't leave him alone. Shoot him if you need to. I'll stay with Neilan."'
I processed the information before I looked at Sawney. To my surprise, he was fully recovered. It was as if he'd simply run out of hair gel when he lay there, with brown hair in a tangled mess and half-open hazel eyes.
To test his consciousness, I told Sawney to stay grounded. I explained what happened to him. ‘You don’t have to remind me,’ he said. I nodded. He was still responsive.
I started by asking him where he was before he had died. In the cellar, he said, because ‘The Lady came to me.’ I was already confused. I could only imagine this lady to be Keziah Mason, but to think that Sawney had seen her—in the flesh and bone—was more than bizarre. So I jotted everything down until Sevrin made a ‘pst!’ next to me. ‘He’s been talking about this for a while,’ whispered Sevrin. ‘He’s been talking about this to Luce for a few months. I just happened to overhear him.’
I nodded. I supposed that he had been dreaming about this for quite some time, and hadn’t realised that they weren’t the only dreams he had. It would've been much easier if I concluded that Penny killed them out of spite; except Penny was also murdered. Unless Penny had another accomplice to kill the rest for her, while she hid suspicions of her by killing herself, it was impossible to say that Penny was the culprit.
So I asked Sawney what he had argued with Penny about. He pointed at me. Then he dug his fingers onto the bed sheets and sprawled toward me. He tried to snatch the Necronomicon away until I grabbed his wrist in time and shoved it back at his face. Sevrin came to break the fight, but his attempts didn’t last long as at last Sawney took hold of me with widened, horrific eyes.
‘At first I didn’t believe in her, Marwin. I didn’t believe in her, so the she came to me. She chose me as the first sacrifice…and it’s all thanks to you, Marwin. Through you, she’ll open the gates to space and other spaces beyond. Someday you’ll see the prefecture made by her omnipotent will, while I can only subject myself to fear and kneel under her reign…’
My breath hitched. I stumbled backward, jamming my heel onto Sevrin’s. All of a sudden, as if he'd realised a little too late what he'd done, Sawney dropped his butt onto the bed and apologised for scaring me. I took my moment to calm down before asking what the Lady looked like. ‘Huh? What the Lady looked like? Thinking about it again, I can’t seem to remember. Sorry about that. All I saw was a hooded, night robe, with gold ornated on the edges. Yes, that’s right. The same robe on the stained glass.’
From there, I let Sevrin take the wheel, so he asked if Sawney had any history with Penny beforehand. ‘Nuh-uh.’ No one really bothers with Penny, don’t know why. Never had a word with her, though.’
I ended it there. But before we could leave, Sawney asked me, in a heartfelt voice, to ‘apologise to Luce.’ We questioned why, but before Sevrin could ask, I simply nodded and left.
So Sawney and Lucius were on the cellar when they were shot. Mentioning the cellar, the only other person knowing about the place seemed to be Gabriel. I flipped the notepad over and started a new page, jotting that down along with Lucius’s name. It was only then Sevrin asked me where I had gotten it from. Once again I debated with myself whether to lie, but I found no purpose in that and told the truth. Flipping the pad shut and sliding it inside my pocket, I raised my head to see Utterson and a pale Neilan.