A Madness with Gold: Chapter One

PART ONE: THE GAMBLER

The giant creature in front of him resembled a frog: crouching back legs, stumpy front ones, the silvery skin in a color of greenish-yellow. Only it was probably several times mangled into a more hideous form with bulbous warts that seem more like blisters. One would be overwhelmed with disgust at first sight.

It was what Mordred felt, towards the demon that sat – or stood, but the back legs made her look as though she was sitting – in the middle of the alleyway leading towards the hotel.

“Greed… that is my title,” the demon chuckled in a low woman’s voice. It sent a chill through the air. “The one that people say is the most repulsive of all Sins. You, Mordred Reid, seem to fit my title quite well.”

And just a couple of hours ago, he’d been standing at the reception desk of Hotel Mariposa, musing over an important question…

+ + +

If a dice were thrown, what are the odds that I get the number five repeatedly? Mordred wondered, running a dice over his fingers. He tossed it with a sharp flick of his wrist; it bounced across the small table he sat at from his armchair, spun a bit before landing on the four. He turned it back onto the number five, picked it up, then tossed it again, this time loosely. The number five rolled up.

“But a loose toss would be considered partly cheating since I’m basically pretending to throw it,” he muttered to himself.

“We were supposed to be doing our homework,” complained Annika Thatcher across him, throwing down her pen in frustration, causing Mordred to flinch as he realized that he was sitting at a table with his friends. “We’re going nowhere.”

“Sorry,” Mordred muttered, snatching the dice up and putting it back into his jacket.

“This happens every time, though,” Annika scoffed. “Last week, you were trying to figure out how fast you can put back a Rubix cube, which you didn’t manage to do, but you still spent three hours doing it. Trent, say something!”

“Hi,” Trent Kearn replied, looking up from his textbook, which, now that Mordred, and then Annika as well, noticed, was not what he was reading, but the stapled notes he slipped between the pages.

“You’re not studying either!” Annika pulled away his textbook and frowned at his notes, which turned out not to be a written script.

“Hey, give that back! I need to memorize the words for the stage play on Sunday!” Trent snatched it back.

“You guys!” Annika sat back in her chair with a huff. “So I was the only one doing schoolwork, huh?”

“Sorry,” Mordred and Trent muttered at the same time. Trent returned to staring at his script. Mordred stared down at his textbooks. He looked up to Alexis again.

“Okay, so what did you want my help with?” he frowned, and Annika leaned forward back towards their books.

CHANGE ALEXIS TO ANNIKA

“I’ve got an essay to turn in tomorrow,” she muttered, spreading her notes out. “I’m basing it on why I plan to be a lawyer next year when I enter university, so I’ve got to make it convincing.”

“So a life story?” Mordred frowned. “You already researched on the work? You know it’ll be expensive.”

“Which is why I’m going to get a scholarship, and I need you to help me out with the essay I have to pass into the university,” said Annika. “This one will work for both. You’re good at writing, right?”

“I – I guess?” Mordred muttered uncertainly.

“Says the guy who won three essay competitions in a row in middle school on magic spells when he used to be in the Academy’s cram school.” Trent looked up from his script.

“I haven’t won any essay trophies in high school, so I don’t know what that part ammounts to these days!” Mordred huffed. “Anyway, you can just write it how you feel works, Annika. The basic pattern is just introductory paragraph, story-telling paragraphs, and then the conclusion.”

“Yeah, you told me that before, but how do I make it work?” Annika frowned at him. “You look at the drafts I made and tell me which ones suit it.”

“You finished how many?”

“I wrote five. If I have to write another one, then I’ll be done for.”

Mordred dragged her notes over to him, skimmed his eyes over it, then put them down. “Your voice is too robotic and long as usual. Grapple the reader with the first paragraphs; read a novel while you’re at it. You can jump straight into the reason you wanted to become a lawyer. From there, you keep the whole thing short.”

Alexis fumbled with her pen. “That’s it?”

“For now. You write your sixth draft with that, then I’ll-” Mordred looked up as a wiry middle-aged man with graying hair approached their table. He wore a stiff black suit with a striped blue and white tie, and bowed his head to them. “Hello, Albert. What’s up?”

“Mr. Mordred, I brought you a letter,” the man called Albert searched his jacket pockets until he pulled out a cream-colored envelope, with a printed address on the front, as well as his father’s name. “However, there is the urgent stamp on the front. Shall I forward it to him, or do you wish to open it today?”

“I’ll open it,” Mordred flipped the letter to the back, saw said urgent stamp on the back.
he wondered.

He slipped it into his jeans pockets. “When did it come?”

“This morning, sir.”

“I can make up for time later, then. By the way, how is the wedding setup happening? Any trouble?”

“None, except the client calling up today to tell us to change the menu options; his daughter’s fiance didn’t like eggs apparently, so anything with egg had to be changed to something else. But – trouble is somewhere else, Mordred. The casino, if you will.”

“What’s wrong there?”

“Seiden called up earlier saying that a drunk woman’s going berserk at the poker table.

Since thirty minutes ago, and security can’t get close to her to throw her out. I was about to head there.”

“I’ll deal with it, you continue the work with the planners,” Mordred turned to his friends. “Annika, send the draft through email and I’ll check on it more.”

“Thanks, Mor,” said Annika, relieved.

Mordred turned and rushed off through the hotel.

The heir of the billionaire, William Abasscia-Reid, the third richest man in the world, that was what Mordred was known as. It was understandable that his father’s employees kept some distance away from him as he walked rushed through the hotel. He sometimes wondered if they imagined him to be a pompous prat – it was a stereotype of kids his age through their eyes, apparently, and he’d been greeted by people who thought him that way several times and gave him sarcasm when the only exchange between them was a greeting.

Mordred stepped into a wide hallway that took him straight towards a large wooden double-door that he pushed into the noisy openness of the casino.

Hotel Mariposa’s casino. A noisy place where rumors are that millions are gambled here every day, and that strange people were usually the ones that betted highest. On equal rank in fame as the casinos in Las Vegas or Monte Carlo, the employees hired to watch over the gambling that took part here had to be strong-minded or physically able.

From the front, the slot machines greeted him as he entered, and then abruptly changed to a mix of roulette tables, billiards table, the poker tables, leading towards the bar at the back of the place. Nowhere was the casino empty in its 24/7 timeslot; it was only on holidays that the place would shut down.

Mordred made his way to the poker tables, all of which were occupied; then again, it was a rare occasion that he would ever see on unoccupied, especially in this casino. The gamblers that played here were always a wicked sort, the ones desperate for something, be it money, fun, or a high.

But desperate people were the chaotic sort. There had been instances of such incidents where some damage has been caused somewhere there, and it was a fight to get them to take responsibility for it. Not to mention, big name people who came here to kill time; they were usually accompanied by personal bodyguards and the type to cause trouble if displeased with some service.

So he was surprised when he saw that one of these tables has just one woman sitting at it, her legs swinging underneath her chair. Her face was of simple structures: straight, sharp, nose, cheeks, eyes. Her hair was dark brown and curly, with flecks of gold in the lighting of the casino. The yellow dress she wore was short, its straps wrapped around her shoulders so the tattoo on her left arm of a gun and a frog stood out on her skin. She wore no jewelry, much less makeup. There were people nearby who stared at her, as though mesmerized by her studying of a deck of cards on the table; even passerbys glanced at her with curiously on their way around the casino.

“Mr. Mordred? You’re here?” a voice emerged from the crowd, and Mordred jumped and spun around to see Luke Seiden standing by him as though he had been here the whole time.

“D-don’t scare me like that!” Mordred gasped.

Luke chuckled. “Apologies. I rang up Mr. Griffin earlier, so I had not expected you to come here personally.”

“Albert told me what’s going on. That person there hogging a whole table to herself, she’s asking me to show up?”

“That’s right. She’s spent the past thirty minutes there without moving, only telling us to get you to come. What she wants is to play a game with you, a bet included.”

“A bet?”

“A game of cards.” Here, Luke glanced at him with an unreadable expression. “As you’re my employer, I’d like you to sensibly refuse, but… you wouldn’t do that, would you?”

Luke had one particular trait that annoyed people around him: his lack of expression and response to the world, or even if he wore one, you still couldn’t tell what he was thinking. But to Mordred, Luke was Employee of the Year ever since they hired him three years ago that sometimes he wondered if Luke actually had a life outside of work; he was in charge of the gym and had two jobs outside of the hotel as coach for two volleyball clubs.

Mordred started to speak, but instead felt his chest pierce with shock when the young woman jumped to her feet with a bright smile and yelled loudly, “The person I wanted to bet with!” She pointed excitedly towards him.

He winced, as those nearby her or who had been watching her, turned towards him with surprise.

The girl was ignorant of her surroundings, as she went on breathlessly, “Mordred Reid, play a game of cards with me, with a bet on who wins!”

“W-why?” Mordred yelped, but she had rushed up to him.

“It’ll be short! We both draw three cards and whoever has the bigger hand wins!” She didn’t seem to have heard him as she tugged him towards the table. “Three rounds, by the way! Today’s a good day, so I’m definitely going to win against you!”

Mordred found himself dragged over to the table. “B-but I don’t think I can play! I mean-”

“Play!” the young woman whipped around to him with a snap, and Mordred flinched. If strange people playing in the casino was troublesome, a woman was worse.

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The Castle of Gears: Chapter 006

Isaiah opened his eyes and saw a handful of orange lights over his head. Recognizing it as the lamps from the room he shared with Ethaon, he looked around himself.

A dull pain rattled his head, and he hissed in pain.

“Stay still, you hit your head there,” a sharp voice ordered, and Isaiah noticed that Lindon was sitting in a chair beside him. His tone made it clear that the order was not to be disobeyed. Holding a thick book entitled The Medical Journal for FirstAid, he was the only person with him in the room.

Isaiah tensed. “What happened? Where is Master?”

“You mean, Ethaon?” Lindon frowned. “He said he had to go somewhere after he made sure your injury was alright. You were lucky, the accordion only barely hit you full in the head.”

“Accordion?” Isaiah repeated.

“A ninnyhammer thought to hang the accordion up on a chandelier to test gravity the same way Newton did, but with a heavier weight, and did not expect you to come out at that time. That ninny, by the way, is Ethaon himself.”

“Oh,” Isaiah frowned, then grimaced. “I’m not surprised, somehow.”

“When you get used to his antics, you stop finding them surprising, more bizarre, and rather troublesome. I agree.” Lindon closed the book. “You might have gotten a concussion…or so he said, but I’m no doctor. And it looks unsafe to call for help or go to the city at this time.”

Isaiah threw a glance out the window; the rain was still coming down. As he took the moment of silence to study the rain, he began to have an uneasy feeling that it was actually heavier right now.

Lindon frowned. “Right after he checked your injury, he hurried out. I don’t know where he went, but the castle is big.”

Isaiah could see that the lights of the airship was out. He’d thought that Ethaon might have been there if he were to study something – an accident wouldn’t stop him, even if he probably felt remorse if he caused it – but there seemed to be no one in there.

And it was still raining. How long will it be until the Enforcers came up?

“May I ask you something?” Lindon’s question interrupted him, and Isaiah felt a little surprise by the tone of the voice; it was puzzled and hesitant. Maybe Lindon was not the sort to ask questions but search for answers quietly? “Are you…hired by Ethaon as his assistant or his friend? He called you his friend when he told me that he would bring you, but…a friend would not call him ‘Master’.”

Isaiah thought for a moment before answering. “About half a year ago, I was a thief. I was justified in stealing from the rich if it meant I could bring food to my younger siblings.” He noted Lindon narrowing his eyes, then chuckled. “My wages as Master’s assistant and a bounty hunter are enough for me, so I don’t need to do that anymore.”

“So you do work for him? And as a bounty hunter, you say? Why?” Lindon leaned forward with a sparking interest in his eyes. Suddenly, he didn’t seem the stern person he usually was, but a young man curious about something. It obliged Isaiah to continue.

“A few debts, I guess. Mainly, saving my sisters before they were sold to noble houses. I grew up in an orphanage in the middle of a drabby poor town; women who couldn’t care for children would abandon them on the doorstep.”

“Oh. So this was why you stole from others,” Lindon muttered.

“Slowly, day by day, the orphanage started to run out of money, become unable to afford enough food for all the children. There were seven at first, but then, last year, I counted fifty-four. The nurses began to abandon the ill kids because we couldn’t afford medicine. Terrible things back, then, you know. The orphanage began to consider selling the children to survive. The boys would be servants, the girls would be courtesans…” His eyes went to the window, to see the rain coming down harder still. “Master didn’t allow it to happen. I’m still thankful for him.”

Lindon chuckled. “Even if he dropped an accordion on your head?”

Isaiah grimaced. “Aye, that one, not so, but I found out after a long time that one must ignore what he does to be able to live peacefully.” A thought struck him and he sat up abruptly. “Master couldn’t have gone out in the rain, could he?” he gasped.

“Take it easy!” Lindon looked out the window now. “He shouldn’t be outside. Even he would know such a rain makes our grounds dangerous, especially with his troublesome sense of direction.”

“But if he had an idea about the forest, he might just go there.” Isaiah got to his feet, just as Amelia rushed in.

“Lindon, Mr. Ethaon just returned from outside!” she gasped.

Lindon whirled to Isaiah, then cursed. “Is he alright?”

“Endured a slight mudslide, he said,” Amelia gasped. “I will go run the bath, but he demanded to have Isaiah down right now.”

Isaiah slipped past Amelia immediately and found his way back to the foyer, where he saw Ethaon in a raincoat, covered head to toe with mud and drenched through.

“Master, what are you doing?” Isaiah demanded, and stopped approaching when he saw Ethaon’s expression; it was grim and harsh, with reluctance.

Ethaon became slightly relieved when he saw Isaiah. “So you woke up already? Sorry about that. I wanted to test what would fall apart in the accordion if I dropped it from that high.”

“I know your random experiments,” Isaiah huffed. “But why are you out in the rain at this time?”

“This,” Ethaon shed the raincoat and removed a package from his coat, which he wore underneath. The package was wrapped in several layers of brown paper, and Isaiah took it. “Listen carefully, you have to do this.” He muttered something and finished just as Lindon and Amelia came down the stairs to join them.

“Why should I do that?” Isaiah gasped indignantly.

“What’s going on?” Lindon asked, obviously annoyed to have been left out.

“Isaiah, this is important,” Ethaon waved dismissively at Lindon. “Please.”

Isaiah relented in the end; what he’d heard indeed troubled him, but Ethaon did not seem pleased with himself either. “Fine, alright.”

 

The Castle of Gears: Chapter 005

When we left him later, stuffed full with hot chocolate and cookies that Wilden gave us, we were in a good mood. After cutting away from the topic of murder earlier, Isaiah and Wilden had gone off on a discussion of what it was like being a friend of Grandfather and Uncle Marcel, both of whom were, no doubt, famous in Moorwalk.

“But you weren’t listening to us, were you?” he asked as we walked away from the clock tower. The rain had finally stopped, but the yard had shallow puddles of water quite large that I was nearly compelled to jump in them. “The whole time you were studying the clocks. What exactly are you looking for around them?”

“It’s a secret,” I chuckled.

“A secret? Must it be that way?” Isaiah glanced at me disapprovingly.

“Looking for fingerprints that might have been left behind,” I muttered.

His disapproval only grew. “That is…disgusting.”

“Is it not?” I simply smirked. “But we are working on a case that I no doubt may not receive a reward out of except permanent friendship from an otherwise tough-to-please friend.”

“Are you talking about Mr. Lindon?”

I frowned. “Well, he is an important person to me, as a brotherly figure. I grew up around him often before Grandfather died.”

“I’m sorry, but I fear him.” Isaiah dropped his head, observing his nails. “He rather appears controlling, was my first impression, so I’ve been trying to avoid him. Do you think he could have…killed…”

“Lindon a killer?” I scoffed sarcastically. “Sure, of course he’s got enough motive. And emotion to do so. But I do admit that Lindon is a bit strict and uptight. You might call him a douche, an arse, at a first impression. He wasn’t like this back when I was a kid when Grandfather was alive, you know. Hot-headed and foolish, maybe, but he was freer.”

Isaiah looked up and raised his eyebrows. “I find that hard to believe.”

“You would since you don’t know what he was like. Part of that change might have been because he got married too early. It was a social meeting where Lindon was looking for someone to get a loan from for a business project, a shipping company. The person who accepted it was Emily’s father, under the condition that they get married. A business wedding, then.”

“Is it…alright for you to just tell me about it without Mr. Lindon’s permission?”

“Of course it is. It’s a lesson, Isaiah: do not accept such a proposition if anyone ever tells you, even if it’s to take care of your siblings. A decision based on supporting your desires no matter the consequences sometimes doesn’t work out, in the same manner as what has happened today. Once Emily’s family hears of this story, Lindon will get into trouble. Especially for bringing his mistress over while his current wife was still alive.”

“That’s true…but do I really need that lesson?”

“You’re quite hot-headed yourself. How else would you end up with a string of robberies at your age? You’re even a few years younger than me, an age that someone like you should be in school.”

Isaiah made a sound that was a cross between a gasp of shock and a grunt of annoyance. Then again, his entire childhood had been spent robbing houses to provide for his family; frankly, no one was going to accept a boy with such criminal talent anywhere.

“Uncle Marcel is no different either, though,” I added thoughtfully. “He might be a wrinkled old man at this time, but he is still quite energetic. You just don’t see it.”

“Really?”

“You know, the reason he doesn’t want to know who the killer is is the same as mine.” When Isaiah looked at me, puzzled, I continued, “The people who live here, who are our suspects, are people who we care for: the servants, Wilden included. On the other hand, Lindon only cares to clear Amanda’s name. Dr. Jennings on the other hand, even if he is lying, is only an outsider. If I have to find out the killer, this means that someone we trust will be gone. Lindon will do the same like Uncle Marcel did with Aunt Kamillia: he’ll do his damnest to side with the woman he loves.”

“So where do we go from here?” he asked finally, as we reached the front porch of the mansion.

“Do me a favor and start preparing a lunch with the cook,” I replied.

“You’re going to investigate alone? Do you need my help?”

“No need. I’ll be fine. I’ll call you if I need anything.” I dug my hands into my pockets and pulled out the Spider Clock.

Seeing it, there seemed to be a look of understanding on Isaiah’s face. “Alright! I’ll go and help with the cooking.  Yesterday’s dinner was delicious, and now that I think about it, thanks to the incident, we haven’t eaten breakfast yet, have we? Except for the snacks that Mr. Wilden gave us, which were great, but let’s have something filling for today!”

I watched as he eagerly went in the direction of the kitchen and marveled at how he somehow got used to the mansion’s interior while I was still get lost in corridors that didn’t lead to my usual guest room. And I have lived here frequently for a break out of the city.

When he was gone, I went up to the second floor. What I was going to do right now would be seen as absolute rudeness to the Lorrens, especially since it’s one of the things I remember being scolded for in my childhood: snooping around the house. Back then, I used to dig through people’s closets and then run around the mansion in an expensive coat – mostly one of Lindon’s – until someone caught and spanked me.

Still, the older they get, the more secretive my acquaintances seemingly get that the fight to stop looking through their rooms while they weren’t looking got harder. I doubt that Lindon would be happy if he found me in his room despite asking me to find out how Emily died.

There were many empty rooms in the house, except for the wing where the servants sleep when they weren’t here for work, like today. Guest rooms were plenty, but they would only be cleaned if there were guests present.

I passed through the many corridors I found myself on, starting from the row of guest rooms that included mine and Isaiah’s, then came to the servants’ wing, which was empty and quiet, cleaned rather well despite that all except the cook had gone to visit their homes.

Somehow or other, I came to a part of the house that was rarely approached. I’d been led here when I found the floor, thick with dust because no one was supposed to come here, decorated with footprints. They led to a particular room with massive wooden double doors with a carving of birds and roses, which were swung wide open, as were the windows, possible to air it out.

The furniture that used to be in the master bedroom here were all gone, except for the bed, unlike last summer when I came, and were replaced with newer sofas, a walnut dresser, and an elaborately carved room divider behind which was a stand with a pile of clothes.

The bed wasn’t the last of what remained of the previous room; the portrait of Mrs. Marcel Lorren, or Aunt Kamelia to me when she was alive, was one of two around the mansion, with this one showing her in a standing posture with a tea cup. The painting was done at a distance, so her full silhouette was seen in a blood-red dress. Her expression was indistinguishable, but she looked as proud as she always did. It was free of the cobwebs I had seen collecting on it from last year. The silver frame it was fitted in, which I brushed lightly with my fingers now, were polished.

Someone had either been cleaning this room out, and it was probably Lindon. Now that I think about it, Lindon moves the most around the house. Was he planning to move his things here? It would make sense since this was the bedroom of the owner of the castle, and it used to belong to Marcel – when Aunt Kamelia was still alive, that is. Uncle didn’t like coming here alone when she went with the stars.

I clicked open my pocket watch and light shone up as dots, like constellations. The constellations took on the shape of squares and a rough blueprint of the Castle appeared, with one dot standing out, which was my location.  How I got here from my intention to reach Lindon’s current bedroom, I do not know, but then again, I never quite know why I always end up far away from my intended location.

For a moment, I felt a bit of resentment; if it was Lindon who killed Emily, then his motive was obvious. But that’s if she was actually really killed. But if she was killed, then this case would stink of some meticulous planning. For Lindon, who hid nothing when he lost his mood, a premeditated murder was impossible. If he killed her, it would be an accident, and remain an accident. And he definitely would not lie through it…

Or would he? Presently, he was planning to divorce Emily in order to marry Amelia, right? So is that not enough motive to lie? And in front of me, a frequent consultant to the Moorwalk Enforcers.

And then if I considered Amelia’s motives, were she the killer, she could share the same thoughts as Lindon, but Lindon could have told her of my reputation in Moorwalk. Was she the sort who would dare risk my revealing her as culprit as we never met before?

How irritating. Will this be the first time I start doubting my grandfather’s friend’s family?

In this manner?

Trash had been heaped in a corner, and I approached it out of curiosity. I wonder if I could ask Lindon later if I could take all this and bring it back to the airship. But what interested me more was the accordion sticking out of the mess, which I pulled out now.

The air bags were already eaten through by termites, so it was technically useless, except for the weight and the tiny trinkets I could salvage from the inside, so Lindon probably won’t want it. He was the sort that threw the rubbish out when he didn’t need it.

It gave me an idea, suddenly, and I jumped to my feet. Scouring through the rubbish again, I could a thin string and made my way to the foyer – yes, following my pocket watch lest I lose my way again – and reached the top landing of the grand staircase.

I tied the string to the accordion and then, with a strong swing of my arm, I lobbed it upwards and watched as the accordion dangled by the string on the chandelier. I loosely tied the string to the railing, then searched my pocket for a scrap of paper and pen.

“Master, where are you?”

I jumped when I heard Isaiah’s voice. He had exited the entrance from the dining room. “Lunch is finished! Come now!”

“Wait, wait!” I gasped. The dear boy blindly walked beneath the chandelier. “Run, Isaiah!”

By such bad luck, Isaiah did not run but instead turned to my voice, just as the string beside me snapped with a sharp twang. I felt my stomach clench as the accordion fell – and scuffed him in the head.

And he lay on the ground, comatose as a rock.

 

The Castle of Gears: Chapter 004

And we’re back to our Castle of Gears.


The clock tower had two entrances: one from inside the Castle on the third floor, which is a shortcut, and the second being the front door of the tower on the ground outside. Not far from where Emily died, that is.

Wilden, Isaiah, and I entered through the front door, wielding umbrellas to hide from the rain. I walked behind the other two as they talked about whatever it was – something about roses and stakes – but their knowledge of such things sound alien to me. Apparently, anything besides machines and mysteries is alien to me; I can never follow such things. Sometimes I wonder if I give Isaiah trouble with it since I hired him.

I glanced at the Castle. And there is the matter of the murder. Visiting the Castle to clean the tower clock was only just an excuse to check on Marcel and to tease Lindon and Emily, who, in their own way, raised me despite the latter not being that fond of it.

“I haven’t got the fire on so it may be a bit cold,” Wilden mused, walking over to his fireplace. Isaiah, having folded his umbrella, offered to do it. I looked over the room; it appeared the same as it always did since Wilden received his job as the gardener and keeper of the clock: a coffee table surrounded by a sofa and an armchair, a kitchenette in one corner of the room, a chest of drawers that no doubt contained clothes, and then boxes of books. Photographs lined the mantelpiece of the fireplace, pictures of a group that included both Uncle Marcel and Wilden himself, as well as Grandfather von Hald. In a corner opposite the kitchenette, there was a wooden cubicle with a simple yet neat network of ropes and pulleys. The walls were decorated with brass pipes whose beginnings came out of the floor, then ended up into the ceiling.

I figure we won’t be cleaning the tower at this time, not when someone’s died. I have the habit of screeching opera hymns while cleaning, out of the tediousness of the chore, but humor would not be accepted by anyone in the presence of death, would it?

“The storm’s gotten strong, didn’ it?” Wilden said thoughtfully as the fire sprung up and I hung the umbrellas on the coat stand.

“It seems like it will only be for today,” I said, listening to the loud rain outside.

“What’s that sound?” Isaiah had been twisting his head wildly, looking around. “Don’t you feel the tower – uh – breathing? I feel like it’s shaking.”

The brass pipes hissed and shook, with the sound of faint chugging.

“You remember that steam engine I told you about?” I reminded him. When he nodded, I pointed to the wooden cubicle in the corner. “There is a basement here that you can enter, and there is the steam machine. There used to be a staircase where the elevator is now, all the way up to the top floor, but Wilden rarely goes up there these days.”

“Bad knees, it hurts to climb,” huffed Wilden. “I can walk, but not climb. I had my fair share already in my youth.”

“The elevator…it looks relatively new,” muttered Isaiah thoughtfully.

“Last year, when I took  Sinclair here,” I laughed. Isaiah looked pale for a brief moment; he’s had scrapes with Sinclair Wright, a friend of mine whose calculus and algebra abilities are beyond a normal person’s comprehension, and they weren’t his favorite times. “Sinclair built that, several nights working out a plan so Wilden doesn’t need to climb stairs anymore. It’s only up to the next floor above, or down into the basement; there are still the stairs from two floors and up to the clock room.”

“And that’s where I’d like you fellows to go to with me,” said Wilden with a laugh. “The elevator makes it so easy these days. I had expected it to fail shortly after you and Mr. Wright left, but it never broke down.”

“You shouldn’t expect less of Sinclair, though,” I chuckled. “What is it that you want us to come here to see?”

“I recently received a pocketwatch,” said Wilden as he trudged towards it. “I say, it feels as though they are cursing me! Come, let us go!” He laughed again.

“I’ll just wait down here,” Isaiah muttered.

“It’s only one floor,” I said. “Also, you don’t get airsick up there.”

“The floor may give way beneath me,” said Isaiah. “So, no.”

“Well, you’ve never seen how much there is up there,” chuckled Wilden. “And look at me! I think I’m heavier than you are! Come along, Isaiah. I’d like you to see it, too.”

Isaiah groaned, but in the end, he joined us on the elevator, clutching onto the railing. As it began to move upwards, it seemed as though all the blood left his face and what stood beside me was a corpse. Once the elevator stopped, Isaiah sprang off and into the room before giving a cry of surprise at the sight here.

An overwhelming number of clocks furnished this room, which was as large as the living quarters below. They ranged from rusting alarm clocks lining the shelves to cuckoo clocks crowding another wall, to two or three elegantly carved grandfather clocks. Not all were working, but those that did tick-tocked in a quiet symphony. There was only a single desk and chair, and Wilden began to light the gas lights, brightening the room. A large window looked over the rose garden, but it was blurred by fog and raindrops from the storm outside, making it hard to see anything there.

“W-what is this?” gasped Isaiah, staggering into the chair beside the desk, which, further, was littered with tiny gears and springs. “Clocks! Everywhere! It’s just like Master’s house!”

“I recall I told you not to call me ‘Master’,” I grumbled in offense. “And my house is a machine on its own, not a clock collection.”

“I used to be Dr. von Hald, Mr. Ethaon’s grandfather’s, assistant in my youth,” Wilden was approaching a shelf. “Aside from my reckless habit of climbing walls, I tinkered with clocks a lot. Mr. Ethaon, come here for a moment.” He reached over and picked up a tiny pocket watch.

I obliged and took the watch from him, startled. Scratches were evident on it, but it showed signs of having the bronze lid and bottom being polished frequently, but not recently. Wilden’s restoration of the collected clocks was only up to fixing them so they worked like brand new, not by looks. Had one been able to take a closer look, all these clocks are old, with signs of being dropped, broken apart, or grazed.

“The story behind that isn’t that bad like some of these here,” chuckled Wilden as he pulled a bottle of whiskey from a box underneath the desk and popped the cork. “The owner, Mr. Flemming, is a friend of mine at the bar in the city; he died three months ago, though. I bought the watch in memory of him.”

“I see,” I replied, squinting at the Roman numerals on the watch face. “Don’t drink too much tonight. It’s not a celebratory event.”

“I need this! A death on one of the days you pay a visit! It is distressing indeed!” Throwing his head back, Wilder downed a whole half of the bottle before bringing it to the table with a bang. “Care to have some, younguns?”

“No,” I replied.

“No, thank you,” said Isaiah. “I don’t like the taste. It burns my throat.”

“Why, but that’s exactly what I enjoy! I’ve never felt more alive than when I drink!” Wilden laughed whole-heartedly. He tipped back his head and drank another gulp. I was returning to observing the pocketwatch when he said, “Ethaon, I’m old right now, aren’t I?”

I raised an eyebrow, bemused. He was staring out the blurred window, but looking closely, one of his eyes was becoming clouded. “What do you mean?” I set down the watch.

“Well, look at me and the master of the House. We’ve lived beyond the age that your grandfather died at. We are living past the average age a man. I feel as though I might soon follow him.” He turned to me, and the supposed clouded eye became clear so he now looked earnest. “Listen here, if something happens to me, I’d like you to keep my collection.”

I returned the stare before sputtering, “T-the clocks? Is something wrong?”

“I don’t know, but I am quite aware that I do not have much time left.” Wilden heaved a sigh and carefully sat himself in his chair. “I’ve spent years tinkering with clocks that I can no longer part with them easily unless I die.”

“The one who will have to clean them will be Isaiah, since he does my housework,” I replied pointedly, and Isaiah pulled a face.

“Do you not suspect me of killing Lady Emily?” Wilden asked suddenly.

Isaiah snorted out a laugh. “But aren’t both you and Mr. Lorren not even counted as suspects? You both are old, like you say. I wouldn’t think you two can do anything.”

“When it comes to a planned murder, they’re both capable, even if their bodies aren’t.” I raised my voice a little as a warning, and Isaiah stopped.

“R-really?”

“Grandfather aren’t friends with many normal people, otherwise he wouldn’t be called eccentric.” I shrugged. “If only I could turn it down.”

“You still could, since Mr. Lorren doesn’t want to know anything,” Wilden suggested.

“Lindon won’t let me go.” I chuckled wryly. “Uncle doesn’t care to know, but Lindon definitely will not let it go because of Amanda’s presence here. I don’t doubt that he hopes to clear her name because she seems to have the most motive to kill Emily. If returning home means he won’t mind going all the way into the city to pester me to solve this case, then it can’t be helped. I’ll solve it.”

“But you have not answered my question,” said Wilden pointedly.

“You’ve been hard of hearing recently, so I thought you might have thought that the sound of Emily falling to her death was your imagination,” I said. “But I do find it hard to believe that you’re her killer. I can’t imagine you being that type of person. And the fact that you would kill her in front of the place you live in is more a ploy to misdirect if the killer is smart.”

“If I were the killer, I would lie to you.” Wilden’s voice became soft, thoughtful.

The Castle of Gears: Chapter 003

“Amelia is not the killer,” growled Lindon.

“I have a little interest in the science of photography, but I’m not being suspicious yet,” I retorted in sarcasm. “I’ll find out the murderer and what not, but I should tell you, I’m on the side of suicide as well.”

Lindon’s eyes widened, and for a moment, there was silence, until he sputtered with, “I thought you said earlier that it may be a murder?”

“I would prefer if it was suicide,” I said, then turned to Wilden. “You, by the way, live in the clock tower, since you aren’t just the gardener, but also it’s caretaker. Could you not have noticed anything during the night?”

“In my defense, if she was murdered, it was not I!” Wilden gasped in alarm. “Also, I could not have noticed anything! My eyes have lost some vision, and my hearing is not that good either, sir!” His voice became a tinge frantic when he noted Lindon frowning at him.

I laughed. “Then again, you’re too nice to think about killing another person. Would you three like to see Emily?”

“No, I don’t need to,” said Lindon abruptly.

“Um – likewise.” Amelia sounded hesitant.

“I will go and check on the master of the house and see if he is fine,” said Wilden thoughtfully, “so I will be passing by the foyer. In which case, I have no doubt that I will see her.”

With that, I left towards the foyer with Wilden, leaving Amelia and Lindon in the parlor.

Jennings was bent over the body of Emily when we came out, his eyes focussed while Isaiah leaned over the doctor with equally attentive eyes. The sight of Isaiah reminds me of the times when he shows a rogue side when he would sharpen his glance and study a subject as if he was in a trace. That rogue side, built from a rough childhood of thievery, at least gave him a quick mind.

“My word, although I’ve known you to have dealt with mysterious circumstances of deaths, it is very disturbing that there would be such a thing in this household,” Wilden muttered. “And not far from the clock tower as well.”

“I have a question, Dr. Jennings,” said Isaiah suddenly, startling me and Wilden; he did not seem to have noticed us both yet, still with his eyes over the dead. “I saw you in the middle of the night, in the mansion’s courtyard, where my room faces. Doesn’t the household lock the doors before midnight?”

Dr. Jennings’ hands froze, his fingertips brushing Emily’s neck. Slowly, he managed to reply: “I occasionally sneak out of the house at night to take a walk. How did you know? If I recall rightly, you retired early last night.”

dsc_0172
Isaiah: “I see a walking lamp. Oh, wait, it’s a man with a bag.”

“It happens at the most ungodly hours, but I wake up in the middle of the night every day at least once,” said Isaiah. “I stay up for a bit before going back to sleep.”

The doctor laughed in relief. “I have always been under the assumption that Gremlins are I have met a few who speak what later turn out to be nonsense.” He pulled a blanket over Emily. “But my job in this castle is only as Sir Lorren’s personal physician, so I am a guest in this house until he gets better. I must admit, though, this household is filled with stubborn ones.”

“I think the same oftentimes,” laughed Wilden. “Why, I’ve told Mr. Lorren that he must take Dr. Jennings’ advice and leave the castle to the country to recover, but he refused. And then the recent conflict of the wedding ring had Mr. Lindon in foul moods in his determination to not lose it. Their actions always make people think that the stories the city people in the metropolis tell about Kamillia Castle are true.”

“Like the rumors that the castle’s clock tower is alive?” Isaiah asked.

“Why, Isaiah, my boy, you believe in that?” Wilden burst out laughing as I cracked a smile; such rumors used to make the both of us, who knew the Lorren family well, laugh so hard.

“Forgive me, but I actually find that quite believable, if I must say so,” said Dr. Jennings suddenly, sheepishly. “I…have seen the rumored orbs of fire dancing through the top floors of the house, not from far away in the metropolis of Moorwalk, but even in the courtyard. I – never had the courage to ask, but – I have no been seeing things, have I, Mr. Wilden?”

“Huh? So it is true?” Isaiah gasped.

“No,” Wilden and I replied at the same time.

“You’re not half wrong about it being alive, though,” Wilden said. “The clock. Do you know why Ethaon comes here every year to check on the clock, Isaiah? This is a question for you as well, Dr. Jennings, since you’ve been among us for a while.”

“I…have been told by the master of the house that it is because of the maintanence of the clock, to clean dust away as well as to check on the gears,” Dr. Jennings muttered. “I must say, however that it was a vague answer.”

“The clock runs on steam power, not like the turret clocks we have in the city,” I replied. “What I’m supposed to do was make sure the engine runs well, and that the fires of the house haven’t clogged any pipes with soot, among other things. If you walked into the clock tower, you would notice a quiet hum. The orbs of fire you see have something to do with his function, as gaslights.”

“It is?” Isaiah’s eyes were wide with surprise.

“Grandfather loved steam engines.” I glanced at Emily’s body. “That aside, Dr. Jennings? Have you an idea how long the Lady  has been dead?”

The doctor’s eyes narrowed, but he also looked down at the Lady for a moment, contemplating. Finally, he said, “Possibly two hours, roughly estimating it. It must have been after I went indoors from my walk.”

I nodded. “I see. Thank you.”

“I will go and check on the Sir right now,” said Wilden. “Dr. Jennings, please accompany me. He may need your assistance.”

“Ah, yes.” With that, the two went up the stairs, pardoning themselves from me and Isaiah.

When they had gone and were out of earshot, Isaiah suddenly spoke, “Master, you do not think that it is a suicide, do you?”

“I would wish it was a suicide, as much as I feel bad, for this concerns someone who is like family,” I replied with a scowl. “Lindon, however, guessed correctly: it is a murder, Isaiah.”

“Then-!”

“But I am reluctant to find out who it is,” I sighed.

“Why?” Isaiah frowned, puzzled. “Lady Emily does seem distraught over herself and she said nothing at dinner as well.”

“You’d be wrong if you thought Lady Emily was the simple wife of Lindon Lorren,” I shrugged. “She has powerful friends, a rich family, and lives in extravagance. She had enough to spend for her lifetime. She’s a socialite with a lot of influential friends. Even a divorce won’t break her, though I don’t doubt she is petty enough to hold a grudge through it. Suicide won’t be in her head, but murder – for her – is possible.”

“That’s scary!” Isaiah gawked. Then he chewed his lip nervously. “For the record, I think Dr. Jennings is lying about going for a walk.”

“Why so?”

“The time I saw him on his ‘walk’ was three hours before dawn, when you wake up. Having gone for a walk around the castle yesterday, I found that it takes about thirty minutes to circle it, yet the doctor returned in another half-hour longer than that. If that’s so, he should have seen the Lady die. he would be the one to raise the alarm, not the Master.”

When he finished, the overhead thunder rolled as we fell silent.

“I need not tell you to stop calling me ‘Master’, do I?” I groaned. “I know he lied. Most likely, it was less than two hours since Emily died.”

“So you already know? Then what was the point of asking the doctor to give his guess?”

“To see if he, too, is a liar.” I ran a hand through my hair. “Heavens, in the year since I last visited, this Castle has picked up more secrets than it just being alive. At this rate, I may become as bald as our dear friendly investigator, Rathbone.”


It’s a little longer than a couple of weeks late, but I only reached halfway through my NaNoWriMo word count.  Ahh – well, there’s always…next year? T_T. Yep, I’m definitely going to try redeeming it in the next Camp NaNo.

And, lookie! I tried my hand drawing an illustration because I thought a picture would liven it up a bit. I’m heavily influenced by manga, though, so it’s not that realistic. I had a lot of trouble inking it, but a drawing made in an hour and a half is not even my toughest job.

The Castle of Gears: Chapter 002

Solving crimes are like drugs to me, fun, enjoyable. The thrill of chasing someone, to run into questions and find the answers to them.

Although I do agree, like those with common sense, that it’s probably better off seen as unpleasant.

But because of that, I couldn’t have imagined it would hit close to home. Certainly not in front of Grandpa von Hald’s prized creation, the clock tower of Kamillia Castle; had he still been alive, Grandpa would come flying this way on a hurricane.

The clock tower of Kamillia Castle is famous all over Moorwalk, but not with the nicest reasons. At times, there were sightings of orbs of light dancing around it. Rumors were that the Lorrens were wizards, or that the Castle and clock tower itself were alive. A person dying on its grounds would catch sooner be gossip in the city.

Out of Emily’s hand, I found a piece of paper with these words written out,

To the household of the Lorrens,

I am disgusted by the way you must want me off the house so badly! In return, I have hidden the ring and you will never find it, not even the one they call the Horologii Gremlin. I hope misfortune shall fall on you accursed people!

Emily

At first glance, it looks like a suicide. But could she really have chosen this? Maybe, since her marriage to Lindon wasn’t out of love. Uncle Marcel was only polite to her. From an outsider’s point of view, they weren’t like family.

“Master, I’ve brought the things you asked for!” Isaiah called, and I turned to see that he certainly brought a blanket and two brooms. “What will we do with these?”

“It’s about to rain,” I replied. “I wanted to create a stretcher to carry her to shelter. We will bring Lady Emily into the Helios and leave her there until the police arrives.”

“The airship? Why? Shouldn’t we call the police first?”

“The rain looks as though it will be a storm, so they will no doubt delay it in the end. As for why the airship, I get the feeling that no one may want her body in the house.”

When we had done exactly that, the sky had begun to pour into a thin drizzle. Isaiah and I crossed the courtyard and reached the door into the Castle before barring the doors. Just in time to hear Lindon’s voice snap, “It’s going to take a long time to hail the police up here and wait until they reach us! Just what happened to that woman?”

“Lindon, sit and calm down!” Uncle Marcel ordered,  but his ragged voice didn’t let him speak clearly. “Ethaon, my boy! What shall we do?” His wrinkles seemed to sag in despair.

A meeting seemed to have commenced in the parlor while I had been gone. Lindon had seated himself in his favorite red chair, with Amelia standing beside him with a pale face. Uncle Marcel was in the sofa with his cane in hand, the doctor in another chair. On the coffee table in the middle of the room, there was a steaming pot of tea and teacups. I glanced at the mantelpiece above the hearth where a fire blazed; there were a few photographs here as well, of a group that Uncle Marcel and Grandpa von Hald used be part of in their prime.

“Well?” Lindon asked curtly, bringing my attention back to this room.

“A lot of things will move and be revealed,” I said. “On the poor Lady, I found that her neck broke. She may have fallen from the clock tower. It’s possible to be a suicide, too. Here is a letter that she wrote.” I handed her handwritten letter to him.

When he had read it, he slammed it onto the coffee table. “And she hid the damned ring? Not just suicide, but also the ring is gone?”

“Could it be a killer?” asked Amelia suddenly, and turned all eyes onto her in surprise. “I – just thought that it may be that because of Lady Emily’s position.”

“That may be true,” said Lindon, sitting up. “She’s popular in the city and attends a lot of parties and also invites a lot of friends over to this place from time to time-“

“No, Lindon! I wish not to know!” Uncle Marcel suddenly snapped, and even I winced at his voice.

“Father, what are you-” gasped Lindon, but he was cut off again.

“I say no! If the killer is one of the people in this room, I wish not to know. If it was an outside person, that would be better. But I do not want to know who it was. Your mother died by murder as well, and by the most unlikely person I ever imagined to be the killer. This is my answer. I will return to my room now, and I would like to be alone, Dr. Jennings.” Uncle Marcel began to wheeze as he hobbled to his feet and he seemed smaller than he did earlier. Dr. Jennings seemed reluctant to let him go, but remained in his seat.

“Even so, I’m not on that side,” Lindon grunted. “Nevertheless, find out how she died, whether it’s suicide or murder, Ethaon.”

“Does that mean you’ll tell me now who Miss Amelia is?” I asked, and smiled. “You will, won’t you? I’ll need it if I am to find out the answer to Lady Emily’s death.”

“Master, your smile is evil,” Isaiah remarked quietly as Lindon’s eyes flared.

“Amelia has nothing to do with this,” he said curtly.

“I thought you would say that,” I chuckled. “So it will be fine if I ask the servants since when you brought her here, and whatever gossip they might have spread amongst themselves, won’t it? Dr. Jennings, do you have experience with examining dead bodies?”

“O-only a little,” Dr. Jennings stuttered.

“If possible, please do so. Isaiah, accompany him, will you?”

When Dr. Jennings and Isaiah had gone, Amelia suddenly spoke: “I beg your pardon, but…what is this they call the Horologii Gremlin?” She frowned at me. “I heard rumors of this name and the importance of the titles of the Gremlins and their fame, but – what exactly is it?”

I looked at her blankly. “You never asked Lindon?”

Amelia turned red as Lindon immediately countered me with, “The upper-ranked Gremlins are not supposed to have their true names revealed, and I was about to ask you about it. So it’s not like I ever told her that you are the Horologii Gremlin.”

“What?” Amelia gasped. “Mr. Haldeir is Moorwalk’s Horologii Gremlin?”

“Allow me to explain, miss,” offered Wilder, and we all jolted when we realized that he was still in this room. Though the fact that he had been standing beside an indoor orange tree until his presence was erased didn’t reassure us, I chuckled. He dismissed that with ease as he continued on, “Since you are aware of the title of Gremlins, tell me what you know.”

“Um – in Pallin, those titles are given to people who are gifted in a specific area of study,” Amelia said slowly. “The title is at the same rank as a Knight or a Dame.”

“That’s partly true, though their official name is Clauditis Gremlin, and of all those with this title, there are five in particular who stand out.  Our Ethaon here contributes to helping the Democracy capture dangerous villains and takes part in espionage missions. In return, those five receive unlimited assistance from the Democracy.”

“Is that even contributing?” Amelia muttered.

“Let’s just say, I earned my Gremlin title by being something similar to a mind reader,” I said with a smile. “For the record, may I have your statements for what you were doing after dinner yesterday?”

“Why?” asked Lindon.

“Natural procedures if you want me to see if she died because of someone. That includes you, so just do me that as a favor.”

Lindon glared at me, but I didn’t budge. He relented in the end, “I was in my room the whole time, doing some cleaning. I had a lot of things I didn’t think I collected over the last few years, so when I found some things, I thought I’d throw them out.”He glanced at Amelia, and she seemed to seem something before she spoke.

He glanced at Amelia, and she seemed to seem something before she spoke. “Um…I was in my room the whole night as well. I took some pictures of the garden and darkened the room to form the images. I have the photographs, if you would like to see.”

“I guess that’s fine,” I said.

The Castle of Gears: Chapter 001

 

And thus begins the story! I will later update the chapter to link it to the second chapter when I’ve finished it. 🙂


The Lady lay on the ground in a mess, her hair and limbs splayed out, broken and dirty.

“I should have more observant yesterday so as to not miss this,” I sighed as I knelt at the body.

“It’s not your fault, Master,” Isaiah insisted. “We were enjoying ourselves yesterday in a way that we couldn’t have noticed.”

“Isaiah. I run a detective agency and am an inventor. If I cannot understand a human, both occupations could cease being my pride.”

The dead Lady had been discovered not longer than fifteen minutes ago by me myself, but by now, all who live in Kamillia Castle should know already.

I wonder if I should have kept it quiet, though; the servants of this household are not going to keep quiet, are they? Women gossip, as my mentor always complained.

But I admit that we have jumped too far ahead in this story. Let us go back to yesterday to begin the story. That way, it would be easier to understand, won’t it?

***

Kamillia Castle sat among rocky hills, a grand and majestic residence that looked down at the city of Moorwalk in the distance, as a bird from its nest. Although anyone could visit it from the metropolitan of Moorwalk on foot, it would take an hour just to leave it, and a further two hours to hike and navigate the forest and hills that surround the Castle. A car or horseback would work better.

Me, being who I am, I decided the best way to reach it: my newest project: Helios the airship.

“I apologize, Master! I feel sick!” Isaiah groaned, lying flat on the ground of the cockpit.

“Hopeless!” I laughed as I manned the controls.

“There’s a reason I’m afraid of heights, sir!”

“Don’t worry, we’re nearly there now! Hold on a little longer.”

Isaiah groaned again and flattened himself to the floor as I turned the airship into the Castle’s courtyard. It landed with a light thud, and I turned to the boiler and tossed water to kill the fire.

“We landed safely!” I went to the door and threw it open.

“T-thank goodness!” Isaiah gasped, staggering up with much difficulty. “I thought I might die!” When he looked through the door, though, his eyes widened. “This castle is huge!”

Though we call it Kamillia Castle, in truth, it was more a chateau than a fort. Back ten years ago, I remembered there being a fountain in the middle of the courtyard, but what replaced where it had been was now a neatly clipped croquet lawn. Croquet was the Lady of the house’s hobby, so that was the reason.

Maybe I should have been more considerate and landed Helios on one of the nearby hills. The Lady will be angry.

While Isaiah gawped at the castle, I pulled out my pocket watch to check the time. Rather – I call it a pocket watch, but it’s too big to even be called one that I prefer to wear it around my neck like a stone medallion. Made of bronze and walnut, a present from my senile grandfather, I called it the Spider Clock. That’s because of the spider motif on the lid.

Ten o’clock, thirty minutes since Isaiah and I left the city of Moorwalk. The ride in an airship may have been pleasant, but I may need to up the speed a bit.

“Mr. Ethaon! Is that you? Welcome back!” a voice called, and I looked out the airship to see a man in overalls approaching cautiously. He had on a straw hat over his head and gardening gloves over his hands. This man’s face brightened when he saw me as I jumped out of the airship.

“Hello, Wilden,” I said, pushing the Spider Clock back under my vest. “You look fine today, though dare I say, your hair has gotten whiter.”

“Oh, I am quite fine. Ah – let me help with the luggage, son. Are you alright?” He peered into the ship, and I noted that Isaiah was still struggling to walk, despite still looking green.

They nearly jumped when a loud voice said, “Ethaon! This belongs to you? What are you doing?”

“Ah, Lindon! This is my latest project!” I turned towards the voice. I didn’t miss how Isaiah winced, but anyone would be scared of Lindon Lorren’s loud voice. “Your bellows haven’t changed since last year!”

“Last time it was a mechanical horse, and now this?” Lindon Lorren frowned as he walked over to us. “And you’re going to destroy the courtyard.”

Though Lindon looks to be a cold-looking man who seemed to be born out of fire, with deep brown hair brushed back from his forehead and fierce blue eyes.

“I hope that Lady Emily isn’t going to be angry about it,” I sighed.

“What is this mess? Hey, get that thing off my yard! How will I play my games if you leave it here?” a third voice shouted, this one a woman with a sharp tongue.

“Ah, the Lady herself,” I groaned as a woman in a bright red dress stormed out the Castle. “I beg your pardon, Lady Emily, but there’s at least still some space left. I made sure it fit only half the courtyard, so it’ll be fine.”

Emily Lorren, her eyes flashing with rage, started to storm towards me. “I would appreciate it if you -” She stopped abruptly, then, with a scowl, turned away again and stormed back to the house.

“Is she fine?” I asked Lindon, and now noted that he had dark shadows under his eyes. “What’s wrong? Missed a night of sleep?”

Lindon clicked his tongue. “You are not a doctor, yet your guess is correct. Last night was tiring.”

“Work?”

“No. Not – exactly,” muttered Lindon. “May we change the subject?”

I smiled. “Alright, then.”

“M-Master!” groaned Isaiah as he dragged out a suitcase.

“Don’t call me ‘Master.'” I pulled out a bottle of tiny orange baubles and tossed it to his hand. “That may ease you a bit. You should have told me about your airsickness when I worked on the airship.”

“I apologize, but I didn’t think you would force me on board just to meet the people here.” Isaiah  straightened himself. “But I have told you I dislike heights before.”

“Ah, I should have picked up the hint back then,” I chuckled. Isaiah threw a few pills into his mouth and the color of his face began to return to normal.

“What is that?” Lindon asked in a low voice.

“Homemade candy I made myself,” I replied, also quietly so Isaiah doesn’t hear. “He won’t know, but he doesn’t notice that he recovers faster if I trick him with something he thinks is medicine.”

“That’s deception!”

“But it eases his mind. If it works, it works.”

Lindon sighed. “I shall never understand that mind of yours.”

“So you are Isaiah, then?” Wilden dragged out a second suitcase with more ease compared to Isaiah. “Welcome to Kamillia Castle and thank you for taking care of Mr. Ethaon here.”

“Is he a bit of a prick to you?” asked Lindon.

“If I must be honest, yes, he is!” said Isaiah abruptly. “But my position is only as a less-than-noble character. Please take no notice of me and treat me as if I don’t exist.”

Lindon turned back to me. “Another weird person?”

“Compared to me, he’s normal,” I said.

“Come, come, now, Mr. Lindon! You’re forgetting your manners!” Wilden chided as he started to carry the suitcase towards the Castle. “Why don’t you go inside to have a talk?”

“Please let me take the suitcase,” Isaiah insisted.

“No, no, in this estate, this is my job. Let me help.”

Upon our entry to the Castle in the grand foyer where a large staircase led up to the second floor, a woman hurried to greet us. Clearly not a housekeeper or cook, for she was dressed in a pale brown dress, her long dark hair streaming down her shoulders in a smooth sweep. Her features made her beautiful and bright. She smiled at our entrance.

“Hello,” she said, squeezing her arms against herself. Her accent was clearly British.

“Pleased to meet you,” I replied politely, taken aback by this guest. “You are?”

“This is Amelia Bailey, a photographer visiting from an abroad country,” said Lindon abruptly. “Amelia, this is the grandson of my father’s friend, who is here yearly to wind the clock tower, Ethaon Haldeir.”

“Lindon has told me a lot about you,” the woman spoke politely.

“Pity I heard nothing about such a lady,” I chuckled. “Where is Uncle Marcel?”

“My apologies on not telling you about here,” said Lindon with a small smile. “Father is in his quarters as usual.”

“You must see him, Mr. Ethaon,” said Wilden urgently. “Sir Marcel is ill at the moment and there is a doctor present as another guest. Young man, if you’re feeling better, I shall lead you to your master’s usual rooms.” He turned to Isaiah.

“I feel better already, sir!” Isaiah said with relief. “Master, are you going to be alright?”

“Are you questioning me about my navigation through a place I’ve been through several times before?” I demanded. “Also, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, do not call me ‘master.'”

Isaiah smiled. Now that he looked better, the brat had the guts to smirk. “Yes, Master.” Wilden laughed as they went up the grand stairway, and I went through the second doorway from the foyer, leaving the lady Amelia and Lindon alone.

I have already begun picking up unusual signs in this house. Lady Emily, who is Lindon’s wife by arranged marriage, and her strange behavior; she is easily hostile. Lindon, a straightforward, honest man, with no reason to fear truths, wishes to hide a secret. And then Amelia’s presence; no doubting she is the cause of whatever is happening now.

Perhaps it would be better to be involved with whatever their problem is because I am a detective, yet I feel as though I will only worsen the subject if I were to interfere.

The doorway led to a large corridor that opened was also in a way an art gallery, exhibiting several paintings by many different hands. Most were landscapes and art of the Castle itself, but there were a few portraits of Lindon and Sir Marcel Lorren, the landowner. A few were photographs, all of them groups of people.

After the gallery came a smaller corridor with floor-to-ceiling windows that let in plenty of light. They showed an expansive view of the forest outside. Here, there was another door that was the bedroom quarters of the landowner.

I approached and knocked on the door.

“Come in,” an unfamiliar voice called out, and I pushed the door open to see two men sitting at a table, one in a divan, the other in a chair. The bed was not neatly arranged as if its owner had kicked off the covers and no one bothered to clean it. Natural light streamed into the room through the windows.

“Ethaon, my boy! Welcome! Don’t just stand there, enter!” A ragged voice came from the wizened man who sat in the divan, weak one second ago, but now energetic. He leaned on a walking cane, and the man in the chair, who was younger with graying hair, hurried to help him up. “How have you been? Ah – I must introduce you! This is Dr. Jennings, my current doctor who is staying here to watch over my condition. Doctor, this is-“

“Yes, your friend’s grandson, but also a son to you,” the doctor chuckled. “You have told me several times.”

“Doctor, do you mind if I talk to Ethaon privately? A favor, may I ask?”

“As you wish,” said Dr. Jennings, and he helped the old man sit back down in the divan.

When we were alone, I looked at Uncle Marcel up and down. Despite being Lindon’s father, the old man is water to Lindon’s hot-headedness; pale hair, cool green eyes, calmer features. He did seem to have changed somewhat – by height, I suppose? But it is strange that Uncle Marcel would have fathered a son at the age of sixty. Grandfather, whose name was Rudolf von Hald, received me as a grandson at that same age.

The relationship between Grandfather and Mr. Marcel was well-known in the city of Moorwalk and their hometown of New Tompa to the north of the Democracy of Pallin. Whereas Grandpa von Hald gained renown as a scientist, eccentric clock making hobbyist, and a bunch of other things, Uncle was a General, gaining his knighthood a decade after his retirement. The clock tower of Kamillia Castle was one of the few landmarks that indicated that friendship.

“So that airship was yours, I assume?” said Marcel. “You’re just like your grandfather! Tell what have you been up to recently!”

“Nothing much! I just spent a lot of time on a new project – ah, an airship, that is.” I glanced at the door, then turned back to the old man. “By the way, what’s happening in this house?”

Uncle frowned. “So you noticed in the end. As expected of the one we call the Horologii Gremlin, no?”

“Lindon being nice to anyone other than family is weird as him smiling twenty-four hours non-stop. Strangers are not allowed in the castle as guests unless they are approved by Lindon himself. And Emily is apparently angered? I thought I’d get an earful for taking up half the space of her courtyard.”

“Lindon and Emily are in the process of a divorce. Amelia is currently the woman Lindon is courting. I told him that it’s unwise to bring the woman he’s not married to yet into the castle, but he did in the end. That boy is stubborn. I wish he would be more considerate of his mother’s holy grounds.”

Marcel, you’re the only one who considers this castle your wife’s holy grounds, but that’s still romantic.

“The problem is that Emily refuses to hand over her wedding ring.”

That is a problem.

“And doesn’t Miss Amelia seem a mild person? I advise you to prepare to face a strict young lady, Ethaon. I lost count of times she chided me on taking a walk.”

“Those are very serious problems,” I blurted.

“Also, please don’t get involved. You will make it worse, so please just stay and only handle the clock tower. Do not think about this.”

I laughed. “Forgetting about it is the easiest, so don’t worry.”

“Oh, yes, my boy! I know your short-term memory problems, but yes, let us avoid it!” The old man burst out laughing too. “Heavens, I would like to see that airship of yours as soon as that doctor and Miss Amelia let me take a walk outdoors.”

“You should! This worked better than the clockwork horse I rode up here last year!”

Uncle Marcel started to cough, and I patiently waited, holding his hand until he stopped.

“What kind of illness is it?” I asked.

“Dr. Jennings told me that it is the early stages of a flu, and for an old man like me, it may get serious. Tell me a story of your last adventure. If I don’t hear a story of the outside, I will want to go out again.”

I spend the next hour telling the old man of the last adventure I had, in Narr, an old, now long abandoned city that supposedly had strange happenings. I had just finished telling the story when in walked Dr. Jennings again, announcing to perform another checkup on Uncle Marcel’s health, which also requires me to let them sit alone again.

After saying goodbye to Uncle and the Doctor, I left and returned to the grand foyer where I found Emily Lorren rushing out the door. She wore an expensive gown, which was just her usual style, and a bonnet loaded with flowers.

“Lady Emily? Are you going out?” I called after her, but either she didn’t hear me, or just outright ignored me. She was gone out, and I pushed the door open a little to peer out. I could see Isaiah and Wilden in the distant rose garden, a treasure of Kamillia Castle, both armed with a pair of sheaves, singing something as they trimmed the bushes. It’s not surprising, since Isaiah knows plenty of songs that come from the old peoples’ childhood.

On the other hand, Emily turned around the Castle on the other side. There were three places she could have gone to in that direction: the Lorren House’s graveyard, where she couldn’t have had any sentimental feeling towards anyone there; the second fountain with a statue depicting Niobe that she couldn’t have any interest in; and then a rough slope down the hill that may end up crumpling her body if she was careless.

With a shrug, I closed the door and passed myself into the family living room of the house where I sat down into a chair, avioding the larger, more comfortable red armchair that was Lindon’s.

***

If I could bet that this short vacation and visit to Grandpa von Hald’s best friend’s house was going to be fun, I would only be half wrong, in that the kind of fun I expected was going to be different.

For example, the next morning – that is, today – I thought that the dawn sky looked awfully heavy as I stepped out of the house and started my way towards the Castle’s clock tower. Perhaps it will rain today. No, no doubt it will rain.

As I passed through the rose bushes, I caught a faint hint of a smell. No, my nose is perfectly normal, but the amount of perfume that Lady Emily wears is enough to make my eyes water at times, and my nose sting.

But why would her perfume be here? Is she here?

Lying at the end of the rose garden and in front of the clock tower, I saw her. Face down, splayed against the ground on the path between both. Her head bled profusely.

Emily Lorren is the sad victim of this tragedy.

And I could only mutter, “Well.”