The next morning, Nate walked into the dining room, excited for the lounge party today, to find only a couple people there so far: Bruce, Greg, Leroy, and Josh.
“Hey, Nate...” Josh greeted.
“Uh, hey...what’s wrong?” Nate asked concernedly.
Bruce pointed to the stage. Nate followed Bruce’s gaze, and it took him a moment to realize what Bruce was pointing at.
The paper was back.
“What?!” Nate exclaimed. “The paper...was returned?!”
Greg nodded fearfully. “S-someone must have taken it!”
“I’m guessing you didn’t see who returned it?” Nate asked. Leroy shook his head helplessly. “It was there when I came in this morning.”
“Were you the first to arrive?” Nate questioned.
“No, I was,” Bruce said. Greg threw him a nervous glance. Bruce glared at Greg. “Hey, don’t think I’m suspicious just because I happened to be there first! It was there when I came in. Anyone could’ve returned it overnight!” Bruce said with a hint of annoyance.
“We’ll have to all discuss this once everyone gets here,” Josh said. Everyone nodded in agreement.
“Was it returned overnight, or sometime yesterday?” Nate wondered.
“Well, we don’t know for sure, we stopped taking shifts after the paper disappeared,” Josh admitted.
Nate raised an eyebrow.
“What’s the point in guarding something that’s not even there?” Greg asked.
Nate sighed. “Well, we know one thing for certain: someone took the paper, and now two of us know about the fourth floor.”
Leroy blinked. “Aren’t there three? The two people who knew already-one dead and one alive-and then whoever took the paper?”
Nate nodded. “I meant, um, people alive in the mansion right now.”
“I have an idea,” Josh said thoughtfully.
“We politely ask whoever took the paper to raise their hand?” Greg muttered sarcastically.
“Uh, no...why don’t we ask Malcolm?” Josh suggested.
Bruce brightened at the idea of Malcolm. “Yeah, maybe he knows about the fourth floor, or maybe Seto was the one who knew about it!”
“Let’s go, then!” Leroy declared.
The five of them headed down to the Alchemy Room, not passing anyone when they walked past the bedrooms. No one else was up yet, obviously.
When they got to the Alchemy Room, it was dark and Malcolm was nowhere to be found. Greg flicked on the lights, and they saw that the Alchemy desk’s book was closed.
As Nate walked over to it, the liquids on the table began to glow light purple. They all shot beams towards the center of the table and met with a flash of light right above the book. The light soon took the small, familiar form of Malcolm.
“Hello there, Master Nate!” Malcolm greeted cheerfully in his slightly muffled voice.
“Heh, you don’t need to call me Master...” Nate explained to the AI.
Malcolm looked up at Nate with wide, pale lavender eyes. “Okay, Master Nate!”
“Malcolm, have you found any information from the books to share with us?” Josh asked.
Malcolm nodded. “Oh, I found something you might consider good information, Master Josh!”
Malcolm stepped to the side, and a lavender square that was part of the hologram appeared. It was filled with Latin words. The words slowly started to disappear and reappear in their English form, and soon the entire square was readable in English.
“‘Despair Taking its Toll; America Dying’?” Bruce read.
Nate didn’t like the sound of this article.
“’Dimitris has been spreading what seems like a contagious disease all over America, something that has been classified as Despair. Despair is gaining followers at an alarming rate, causing the usually flourishing creativity and innovative ideas in America to weaken. Companies are being shut down due to Despairing customers stealing, destroying property, and spreading Despair. Builders cannot make buildings because people are either too scared of Despair, or are already in Despair and want to abuse the place.
The government has declared martial law, and residents are advised to stay inside and lock all doors and windows. People nowadays are unsure of America’s future, but can only hope for the best.’“
“W-WHAT?!” Greg exclaimed.
Bruce stared at the square, scanning the words again. “Despair...it’s not just some silly thing inside this mansion,” he said.
“It’s...it’s taking over the outside world,” Leroy muttered fearfully.
“Malcolm...when was this written?” Nate asked.
Malcolm tilted his head to the side as if he were thinking. It was hard to believe this was an AI.
“The date this was written...was about a year ago,” Malcolm told Nate.
“A-a year?!” Josh exclaimed.
“This Despair thing...it’s not recent?!” Greg exclaimed.
“We...we wouldn’t even remember it...” Bruce muttered.
“It mentioned Dimitris started this. Do you have any other information on Dimitris?” Nate asked Malcolm.
“There’s a Dimitris biography!” Malcolm said.
“Besides those, anything recent?” Leroy asked.
Malcolm nodded. “There’s more from the same book that the first excerpt came from!” He stepped to the side again and the square popped up, and the Latin slowly turned into English.
“‘Rumors are going around amongst the few not yet infected with despair that Dimitris is not behind this alone’,” Josh read from the square. “’People say that he helps spread Despair, but never started it in the first place. They say that, rather, he has an accomplice that spreads the true Despair, and controls the Despair, like a mastermind. The identity of the Mastermind is unknown, and these rumors could just be despair toying with everyone’s minds...’“
“Does that mean...Dimitris isn’t doing this alone?” Greg asked cautiously.
Josh nodded. “I think so.”
“Thank you, Malcolm,” Bruce nodded to the AI.
“Of course, Master Bruce!” Malcolm said happily. “Anything to help my Masters!”
“You can continue to search for information?” Josh asked. Malcolm nodded.
Josh grinned. “Thanks!”
The five left the Alchemy Room, the book closing, and Malcolm fading as they walked away.
“Oh, Seto,” Bruce muttered. “You have no idea how much you’ve helped us...”
“Uh, I didn’t have breakfast yet, and I’m starving,” Leroy informed everyone. Josh laughed. “We’d better hurry to the Dining Hall, then.”
When they got there, sure enough, everyone was there and distraught by the paper.
“Where’ve you been?” Brayden demanded.
Bruce put his hands up. “Geez, we all just went to see if Malcolm had any new information.”
“You think all five of us going off at once is suspicious?” Nate asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Sorry...so, you noticed the paper’s back then, huh?” Brayden asked.
Josh nodded. “It was gone when we first got there. It must have been put back overnight, or yesterday after dinner. We would have noticed if it was back at dinner.”
“Anyways, what did you learn from Malcolm?” Mike asked.
They all explained the Despair disease from the year-old passage, and about Dimitris.
“You mean...Dimitris might have someone working with him?!” Randy asked.
Bruce nodded grimly. “He’s called the Mastermind. If what these rumors say are true, and Dimitris did create this mansion...then wouldn’t the Mastermind have basically created this place and send us here, too?”
“Then that would mean the Mastermind’s our real enemy here,” Brayden said ominously.
“Hey, is someone missing?” Nate asked, looking around.
“Hm?” Brayden said, glancing around. “Yeah...Casey and Mark. We assumed they either had gone with you, which they hadn’t, or went to the Lounge early, or even slept late. We all know Casey’s a late sleeper.”
Josh nodded. “Oh yeah, the lounge party! We should get going, right?”
“Yeah, let’s go now!” Randy declared.
“Sure!” Brayden agreed.
“But...I didn’t get my food...” Leroy trailed, then sighed, following everyone else.
“I bet Mark’s already waiting in the lounge, being the creepy little thing he is,” Randy muttered.
“And Casey probably is sleeping, forgot, or both,” Bruce added.
When they arrived at the lounge, the room was completely dark.
“Ugh, the whole ‘no windows’ thing in this mansion makes everything so dark,” Leroy complained.
“I guess no one’s here yet, then,” Mike muttered.
“Someone turn on the lights?” Brayden asked.
Someone did just as Brayden asked and the lights turned on.
But, something wasn’t right here… No, no... there was something...something that did not belong here. Something that made everyone freeze when they saw it.
Because that something was…