While the cat is away, the mice will play. That was why I have no qualms disobeying Marwin and slipping out to go after Lucius’s. Penny and Marwin had separated the brothers apart. They must have feared any…unusual aftermath—who knows if they might kill each other?
There was both good news and bad news. The good news was that Lucius was two rooms away from Sawney. The unpleasant news was that as soon as I opened the grim prison, I could hear slight sobs. I panicked. I dashed over and called his name.
‘Lucius. Luce. Are you...?’
No answer from Lucius. Struck into stone, his gaze wandered down. He seemed like he wished to disappear. Dried blood tainted the blindfold he wore, but the crimson deepened as his eyes began to water. ‘I’m sorry…I’m sorry, Sawney.’
‘What did you do?’
He didn’t respond. But his sobs faded; a step toward the better. I came closer and sat on the edge of the bed. I gave a warm, gentle grip on his shoulder. ‘Lucius…I’m here. It’s all okay now. I want to ask a few questions, alright?’
Lucius didn’t react. I continued.
‘If you don’t want to answer, that’s okay too. But I want you to tell me your last moments. What did you see? Who did you see? Tell me everything.’
Lucius went silent. He hesitated to answer, so I was about to repeat that not answering was fine. Before I did so, however, he looked down and mumbled something. I leant an ear.
‘We were…in an empty room. The cellar. Yes, the cellar…we’re finding a way out. We looked out a window there, and the next second…’
He was resisting with every inch of his body not to break down. He gulped and continued. ‘His face was there. Half of it. Sawney…I’m…’ He shook his head. ‘I turned back saw her. No, I’m not even sure if it’s a she...but she’s wearing a black robe, just like the figure on the stained glass. And then it’s my turn. Right at the temple. Everything kind of vanished...then I woke up again. Nothing’s there...Utterson? Is that you?’
‘Yes. Yes, I am right here. Now, why were you in the cellar?’
‘We wanted to find a way out. Until something told him to go there. He couldn’t believe it, either, but we gave in and followed.’
‘Right after he said magic isn’t real.’
He gave out a faint, shaky nod. ‘At first Sawney thought it was just Penny pulling a trick on us, but...’
Lucius gave me a surprised look. Then he said, ‘Yeah, I figured that too. She can’t just kill us because of some argument. But when Sawney started that fight…I wanted to apologise to her again. I retorted at Penny, but I didn’t mean it. I just wanted to support Sawney. Nothing more.’
A siblingly instinct. ’Tell me everything about Sawney,’ I was about to say, but I stopped myself. Sawney and Lucius had lived together for at least five years, not only as housemates but as brothers. They had developed this familial bond. But perhaps it wasn’t like that at all. Perhaps it was, what I would call, a ‘blind spot’.
A blind spot. I also had that, didn’t I? Like them, Normand and I have been living together for our entire lives. Knowing that I eventually needed to interrogate Normand, I tried recounting everything I know. Yet, nothing in my memory could piece together how he became the person I talk to every day. Who is Normand Chevalier? There was something I must have missed–something I failed to recognise. I chewed my lip for a minute. Something else surfaced in me, but I distracted myself before it could get the best of me.
‘I want you to tell me what you and Marwin talked about,’ said I.
‘About his dad? Well, um…I’m not sure if it’ll come out offensive or not.’
‘He told us he loved him, but he expected him to die.’
He began telling everything he remembered. According to him, Marwin probably loved his father; but he still expected him to die. ‘At first I defended him when Sawney became angry, but recalling it again, he was pretty insensitive about it, too,’ he said. It baffled me. How could a person–let alone a zealot–speak of death in such a nonchalant and disregarding way?
‘And when Sawney said he was sorry, he kind of brushed it off and said, “Yeah. I can visit his grave any day.” That’s when Sawney snapped. He left and slammed the door against us. After that it’s just me apologising in his stead and returning his phone. Sorry if it doesn’t make sense.’
Marwin is that kind of person, after all. Taking a slow, deep breath, I replied, ‘It does. We need to gather as much evidence from you as possible. Not even the necromancer, or the dead, is beyond suspicion. The question earlier doesn’t seem to have much relation to the murders, but it does.’
We sat there for around two minutes. So Lady Mason did exist...as an imposter. Unfortunately, Lucius didn’t seem to be able to grasp the murderer’s appearance. Perhaps the others like Patrizia could tell?
This time, Lucius started the conversation. ‘That moment when Sawney died…it’s like time had slowed down.’
‘No, it was like time had frozen. Even if it’s a few seconds. Everything rammed into my head all at once. Things like, “Why didn’t I save him?” “Is there something I could’ve done on the spot?”, “What could I have done?” And when I woke up again, those thoughts were like leftovers from a moth-eaten book. You gather it up and watch it crumble under your hands, thinking on how I could’ve done better to take care of it.’
I listened; and I, too, contemplated. Why haven’t I saved Normand? Had I been there for him in Gabriel’s stead, he wouldn’t have died. But with those thoughts came a strange euphoria. The mind space that couldn’t mourn anymore had been replaced with relief. Why was that? Were these the leftovers Lucius was talking about?
I held Lucius’s hand and squeezed a little. ‘Do you want to come along?’
Lucius looked at me, as if I was the most ridiculous person ever. ‘Whaaat?’ I said in a sarcastic tone. ‘Are you thinking, “Utterson? Helping me? Of all people?”’
This time Lucius snorted: a positive sign. ‘I guess it is magic. Or maybe it’s something like a blind-spot.’
‘You can’t just say that now!’
We both laughed. Even if it was just a few seconds, the tension came undone. ‘So, are you coming or not?’
‘…I guess so. I think I’ll be able to help.’
With that, and I guided him. The relief from earlier had dissipated again. Somehow, perhaps as an illusion, I could feel his pulse pounding in his hand. His heels and knees were clumsy. Despite how tight we held onto one another, he feared he might trip.
At the same time, I heard more rushed footsteps and sounds of panting. Neilan had come back. From a distance, I could see his face lacking its flushed cheeks, and his dull green ryes with a round of red. His red hair was messy, like he had oiled each tip, lit them on fire, and regretted it right after.
The moment Neilan saw Lucius, he stopped to process whether the person in front of him wasn’t a mere delusion. Then, as if time itself was holding him back, he rushed over and held Lucius into an embrace.
Neilan gulped. His voice trembled. ‘How horrible…Look at you now…’
Lucius didn’t know how to react. Though the culprit had stripped his eyesight away, he couldn’t deny that the warmth he was feeling was indeed Neilan’s. Thus, he only needed a few seconds before he returned the embrace. They stayed for a minute.
With slight guilt, I broke their reunion. ‘Neilan? Are you okay?’
Neilan jolted upright. ‘Huh? Yes, yes, I’m fine. Why?’
‘Don’t lie to me, Christmas lights. Where have you been?’
‘Everywhere. I can’t find Pierre anywhere.’
‘Gabriel went out to find you, and now she’s gone.’
‘What? We can’t just leave her like that! What if she–’
‘Chances are, they got her…’
Neilan gave an uneasy face, while Lucius hung his head low. A taste of iron surfaced over my mouth. ‘I’m sorry. I–’
‘Why are you apologising?’ Neilan interrupted.
I didn’t even know myself. There’s an indescribable urge to care about people for the sake of conversation. Though the absence of small talk doesn’t bother me, the awkwardness of it all tends to get on my nerves.
‘I won’t continue, then. You’ll only take it badly,’ I said.
Since Lucius had joined the group, I began recounting on everything he had missed so far. Lucius listened in silence. Neilan watched for any oddities while fingering his shotgun like a toy. When I finished, Lucius said, ‘Right…’ but from the tone of his voice I could tell he only said that because he had nothing to say.
I began drumming my fingers on the wall. Lucius asked me if we had anything to eat. ‘No,’ I said. ‘Even if we do, I wouldn’t have the time to think about it.’
‘Is it because of Normand?’
With increasing rage, the drumming of my fingers gradually became frantic hits. I ended with a single, bold punch in the wall. The echo faded. But instead of going outward, it came back inward. It delved into this starving, gaping hole in my heart, which yearned to be filled with tears of sympathy.
I recognised this pain. It was the pain whenever I see Normand whenever he has fun with others. Somehow, I could see an aura of magic surround him whenever he does so. What kind of magic is this? Even though he is irrational and emotional, spending days on end mulling over Patrizia, he still manages to get an ‘Are you alright?’ out of someone.
So when Lucius asked me that, I felt even more frustrated. How dare he? What does he want? Doesn’t he know that I’m a normal person with the same fears and desires as everyone else? Doesn’t he realise that a question like this–which was far too late–would worsen my panic?
It’s because I also want to be accepted and respected, even though I don’t owe anything to anyone. Why do I need that, I wonder? I waste my time trying to be right, ending things with a grand finale and expecting applause from the bottom of the stage. I’ve tied myself into this stone ocean and expected it to float; though deep down I know it’s impossible.
I couldn’t cry. I wanted this to stop.
Marwin and Sevrin came back. As soon as Sevrin saw Neilan and Lucius, he rushed to slap their sides to check if he was hurt. With an aggressive yet shaky voice, he then demanded, ‘Don’t you ever fucking do that again…’
Lucius tightened his lip and gulped. ‘I won’t. I promise.’
Meanwhile, Marwin seemed furious; though his restraint took over him with ease. He sighed and mumbled, ‘Good Lord. Now let’s go find Pierre. Or Gabriel. If they’re still hiding somewhere, I’ll leave them to die.’
I would have smirked and ridiculed his words, but I couldn’t help but worry that he might do so. ‘If the police arrest you, do not seek help from me,’ I said.
‘Like you’re helpful in anything.’
‘Must we engage in a family fight? Especially at this moment?’
‘I’m not fighting with you. I want you to stay in the line.’
‘Just say that you don’t give a shit.’
‘So you know you’re thwarting our investigation.’
‘I never said I do.’
‘I never said you’re not.’
I could feel piercing looks toward me, even if I wasn’t looking at anyone in particular. They were waiting for me to admit that I did something wrong, even though I myself hadn’t a clue what I had done.
‘I think I figured something out,’ Marwin changed topics.
‘By now, we know how Sawney and Lucius died…in the cellar, that is. Anyone else knows about the cellar as an exit?’
No one answered.
‘As I thought. The only person who seems to know is Gabriel. And since Sawney told us “The witch came to them,” this “witch” couldn’t be anyone other than Gabriel–’
‘Now hold on a minute,’ I interrupted. ‘If Gabriel is the witch, then why didn’t she kill you when she brought you to the cellar?’
Marwin stopped for a moment. He entered a brief trance, before answering, ‘That time, she wanted me to leave this place and forget about all of this, but that’s it. She was reckoning me to jump through a window which she said, “isn’t that much of a fall.” She might’ve been thinking of luring me into a faked suicide.’
‘But don’t you think it’ll raise her suspicion even more?’
‘She probably had other plans, but I thwarted them.’ He continued, ’Of course, there has to be an accomplice; and it’s most likely the people who “tried opening the doors to the chapel”.
‘Sevrin and Neilan. Since you went back to investigate Sawney’s room after I revived their corpses, there’s no chance you could’ve hidden yourselves in Penny’s room. But what took you so long?’
‘It’s…a long story,’ answered Sevrin.
‘Tell the truth or be a suspect?’
Sevrin grit his teeth in response. ‘So that time we’re playing slave, I’d stolen some of the cards because I was sick of that cheating cunt Normand–’
‘So it was you…’ mumbled Lucius. I thought back to those missing cards.
‘Yeah, it’s me. So I went back to return those cards, because…y’know…’
‘That’ll do,’ said Marwin. ’So Sevrin and Neilan were together the whole time. I can confirm that. Right after that, they were with me. And since Pierre and Silvia were still talking to me, there’s no chance they could’ve slipped out to kill Penny, either.
‘In that case, someone who joined Penny’s Ouija game must’ve killed Penny! And by now, there are only two people left from the game!’
‘Are you suspecting me?’ I questioned.
Marwin gave a glare of certainty. ‘Think for yourself,’ was the message I got.
‘Marwin…you don’t mean it’s Normand?’ Lucius uttered.
‘What do you think?’
‘B–But he’s dead...It can’t be, right?’ Neilan exclaimed.
Sevrin had a similar reaction. ‘I fucking knew it…’
Lucius went blank.
I gave out a nervous smirk. ‘Why Normand?’
‘It might not be Normand–it can be Gabriel too–but you see his overreaction on Patrizia’s death?’
I bit my lip. ‘So what’s wrong with losing someone you love? Why did you leave Patrizia alone, then? If only you’d talked to her, something like this wouldn’t–’
‘Shut up, Aristide.’ Sevrin interrupted.
I blinked for a second, before I faked a smile. ‘Hmph. Calling by my first name, I see. I apologise for babbling. What do you have to offer again?’
Marwin sighed again. ‘Good Lord…now I can’t remember what I was saying…Neilan? Did you do something?’
Neilan was biting his lip, while his arms were embracing himself. We waited for an answer. Some of us gave a gaze of worry, while others–like Marwin and I–struck peer pressure toward him.
At last, he said, ‘I was thinking about Normand…’
‘What?’ spouted Marwin.
‘At first I thought it’s Sevrin who shot him…but don’t you think it’s strange that there’s no bullet?’
‘The culprit might’ve removed the bullet.’
‘But I was the one getting Normand out, and Sevrin stayed with you, right? And Gabriel was the first to react and leave. When I looked at Normand…I saw that deep wound. Utterson, you must’ve seen that, right?’
I didn’t oppose. Neilan gave me a pitiful gaze. ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t have the heart to tell you…’
‘Say what you need to say,’ I spat.
‘…So the person who killed Normand is among the witnesses of Patrizia’s death. Telling from how things were that time, there’s no way Normand’s death could’ve been on the list. Besides, now that Gabriel’s missing…’
‘There’s no way to tell she’s dead,’ said Marwin.
‘I think I know where this is going. I’ll continue from there,’ said Marwin. ‘The moment Sevrin fired and Utterson was grazed, Gabriel was the first to react. She was probably trying to get away. And when she took me to the cellar, she showed me this blade she found in Penny’s room.’
He took something out of his pocket: a thick rapier, ornate with oxidised gold. Blood covered the entire blade.
‘I took this thing away from Gabriel while she’s not looking. She spoke to me on the cellar that she got it from Penny’s room. So why did she confess to me? Maybe she didn’t mean to do it, but that doesn’t erase the action. What do you think?’
No one answered. Even if someone argued back, they would have to offer another name. No one had the heart to do so. And with Marwin’s reasoning, there’s no way Pierre or Silvia could’ve gone out, either. With this, Marwin concluded:
’I can’t say that Gabriel is a victim until we find her corpse. But being a victim doesn’t mean that she’s a suspect, either…
‘So even if Gabriel isn’t the prime culprit, there’s no doubt that she killed Normand!’