Ch 8: Skeletons in the Basement
A pair of ravens called to each other as they flew through the murky sky, likely discussing the evening's menu.
Right now, Saber just wished they'd shut up.
He was kneeling on the ground, trying to light a lantern - an accomplishment that had thus far eluded him for over half an hour. Ordinarily, the task would have been completed within a few seconds; but the musty, dank air and general miasma of the marshes surrounding the Grey House had thus far made it impossible.
He looked around again, convinced that something in the stable walls was watching him. Of course, that was why he was here.
He'd determined that it was time to seek out more information on Elvira Grey's past. The rumors had suggested she'd killed her sister to usurp the Mayorship, but no one had any proof.
At the time, he had dismissed the information; but now, the seed had sprouted, urging him to learn more about Bowerstone's dark mistress. Unfortunately, the only actual witnesses were Elvira... and Amanda.
The alleged murderess would certainly not be confessing voluntarily. Which left the murdered. And while Saber didn't normally consult such witnesses for affairs such as this, something about this unnatural place suggested he might have better fortune with interrogating the deceased.
His discussion with Rhodri had included how the young lovers had coordinated their trysts. Rhodri had mentioned shining a lantern from the stables three times. A single answering flash would signal to come ahead, while two flashes would mean to hide or leave.
Which explained Saber's attempts to light a soggy lantern.
Finally, the light began to glow. He waited a moment to ensure it would hold, then quickly snapped it up and stepped to the window facing the old decrepit dwelling. Feeling more than a little ridiculous, and more than a lot uneasy, he raised and lowered the lantern three times in rapid succession. The light choked out as he awaited a response. He was just considering how ludricrous this venture was when a bluish-white glow flickered on briefly, then vanished.
Well, I'm either about to speak with the ghost of Amanda Grey, or someone is in for a very quick end. He thought before stepping out into the murk and muck. The mud and slime on what had once been the pathway to the door was thick enough that he almost waded into the deeper water nearby. Then something large surface from beneath the mire to spit out an Undead head. Going where one could find Undead, much less something that could - and would - eat them was rather far from his plans at the moment.
Some more Undead, led be a Revenant Commander, wandered about further into the marsh, but Saber was only going sa gar as the house. He looked about for some sign of the ghost.
A snippet of his earlier conversation popped into mind then. Rhodri had mentioned that the would meet in or near the cellar. Saber headed around, eventually finding the doors covered in moss and ivy. The weeds seemed almost to try to loop their slick tendrils around him, as though they meant to keep him here forever. He pulled the plants loose and slipped the bolt locking the access down.
As he reached the floor of the subterranean chamber, a misty presence coalesced in front of a weird pile of cloth. The presence became distinct as that of a beautiful young woman who, though not identical to Elvira, looked near enough that she must be Amanda Grey.
"Rhodri, is that you?"
She turned to face the stairs, stopping sharply as Saber came into view. "Wait...you're not him."
She looked about the room in confusion.
Then her eyes settled on the pile of cloth. "Oh. Right."
The air seemed to become gloomier as she became melancholy. Saber hazarded a step closer. As he did so, the pile resolved itself into an exquisite dress, that matched the incorporeal one in which the ghost was attired; it was clothing a skeleton that he could only assume was hers.
The dim light made it difficult to see details, but the Hero could just make out the skeleton's awkward repose, suggesting a collapse followed by an inability to move. Under the tip of one extended skeletal finger lay a piece of stained paper with some writing and a large inkblot at the bottom corner, where the finger rested.
He heard a slight sob and returned his attention to the ghost. She was clearly upset, for obvious reasons. Finally, she broke the eerie quiet.
"I was preparing for a rendezvous with Rhodri when my sister burst into the room, acting distraught. She stammered something about some strange peasant man sneaking into the cellar. My first thought was that Rhodri was early and trying to surprise me, so I made my way there. As I neared the doors, doubts reminded me that Rhodri would never try such a thing; he would wait for my reply. If he didn't get it, he would leave. That was, after all, our arrangement.
"Still, I began to enter the cellar. About halfway down, I felt my sister's hand on my back just before I was pushed down the stairs. I managed to rise, though dazed and shaken. Then I felt...this."
She gestured to the stabbing dart Saber could now see protruding from the corpse's midsection.
"I fell in shock and pain. I rolled over and saw Elvira sauntering back up the stairs, closing and locking the doors behind her. I hoped Rhodri would come rescue me; but, as I said, he would never approach the house without my signal. I could feel my life slipping away; I was already too weak to call out or even stand. So I wrote everything there on that paper."
Saber retrieved the document and brought nearer to a lamp. As he examined it, he asked, "So then, this is..."
"My account of my murder, written in my own hand. Literally."
The way she'd said that made Saber suspicious of something . He re-examined the document, paying special attention to the finger's position compared to the inkblot, pointing at its center, and to the reddish tint of the ink...
"Then...this was written in-" He stopped short, too horrified to give voice to his own thoughts.
Amanda frowned back. "I didn't exactly have a pen available."
Saber looked back at the macabre testimonial in his hand as she continued. "Go. Show the world the power-hungry monster that is the real Lady Elvira Grey."
She stopped, suddenly appearing weary and frail. "Perhaps then, I can finally be at peace."
The ghost dissipated as the Hero watched, dumbstruck. He could scarcely believe what he'd seen and heard tonight.
The Sheriff! He must be made aware of this! Saber turned to leave and found a shadowy figure in his way.
"It would seem that you have quite the bargaining chip there, Handsome." Elvira stepped a couple of steps lower.
The Oakvale warrior's voice returned. "How could - you ki- Your own sister?!" He sputtered in shock.
Elvira rolled her eyes. "Oh, come off it! She would have turned Bowerstone into an egalitarian slum. Can you imagine?! She would have squandered her power and wealth! MY wealth!"
She took a breath to continue, but Saber cut her off. "She would've helped those in need! Widows! Orphans! People like Sophia Ednow would have been less likely to fall so far with that kind of champion!"
Elvira's eyes narrowed for a moment at Sophia's name. "If you come against me, I will win. And I will bathe the streets in your blood."
He scoffed. "So, now the true Elvira comes out."
She started for a second, then switched tactics. "You know, it's not too late for us. You could still have me. A one-time offer. No more pretense or delay. You destroy that charming little note; and by this time tomorrow, you and I are husband and wife, and Bowerstone has a new mayor.
"The choice is simple. And it's yours."
Saber considered now. That choice had been given in barest bones. He could avenger Amanda by exposing Elvira. The only reward, however, was "justice", a concept that had always seemed rather elusive to him.
Conversely, he could destroy the evidence and acquire power and wealth about which few could even dream.
In his mind, he heard Sophia's voice. So, will you make the smart choice...or the right one?
He made his mind up and turned to tell Elvira Grey his choice.