I completely revised this story. If you have already read the past version, the new stuff begins in the middle of chapter 5, but given the type of story this is, a refresher on the details might be needed so reading from the start is recommended. The story is ready to end at 7 (longer than before) chapters so there won't be a big wait for the new stuff.
She wanted love and lacked empathy; he wanted truth and lacked proof. A falsely accused man takes shelter in the mansion of a difficult woman. He's at her mercy... and vice-versa?
Sanctuary: Valour, the Pursuit of Knowledge
Chapter One: Temperantia - Gula
The crash of thunder echoed in the night. The one and only inhabitant of the mansion couldn't sleep. It was not because of the weather, but because of an annoying bout of insomnia that assaulted her for three days in a row. She had not been able to fall asleep until sunrise and then it only lasted two or three hours. The floors of the mansion were covered in thick carpets, the walls lined with expensive paintings. The lights were off and she didn't care. Outside it was pitch black as the rain beat against the glass windows with all its might.
It had been three days since her cousin's wedding, an event to which she had not been invited. She huffed, what did she care? The woman was marrying such an unworthy man with nothing to his name but a dirty old farm. The groom could never pass for a man of high society and with the act of marrying him, neither could the bride.
Clair was not like that. Clair was a woman of status who would not marry unless it was to a man who could match her assets, or better yet surpass them. She laughed bitterly at the thought. Who could surpass her riches? Unlike her uncle who commanded a modest industrial empire, her father had been wiser in his investments leaving her as the heir to a conglomerate of corporate titans.
Her mother passed away when Clair was still quite young and she was raised by the maids since pre-adolescence. Her father saw her every morning before leaving for work and every evening during dinner. Their time spent together in a day amounted to an hour at most, but it was enough. Mr. Moon could assert that his daughter was alright and still projecting the aura of a fine young lady, while reminding her that she was better than the others around her.
Mr. Moon had not wanted young Clair to feel as less because she did not have a mother to guide her in the ways of being a lady of high society. He would not have anyone belittling his precious daughter. Clair firmly believed her father's words when he spoke them and still did after his passing.
It was then, when Mr. Moon's life came to an end, that Clair entered her solitude, or rather was exiled by her relatives and their friends, even the mansion staff quit. They owed a lot to her father but not to her, and when the man was no longer present, they felt their debt had been paid sufficiently. After all, they had humored his impossible daughter for years to keep him at ease.
Mr. Moon had married at a relatively mature age, so his passing came as no surprise to Clair, who clearly saw the age in his face. Mr. Moon was prepared as well, though some silently theorized that he was prepared to die since the day his wife passed away in that terrible accident that crushed her inside her car.
Clair made her way to the front door of her mansion leaving the large entrance open. She walked into the wet driveway wearing only a nightgown with a robe over it. The thin layers of fabric were not enough to keep the chill of the night away. It was fall, but winter was clearly on its way. She looked at the skies above as if challenging the forces of nature to strike her down and reveling against the world that refused to grant her much wanted sleep.
She walked on through the driveway, barefoot and soaked. She progressed slowly until she saw a most intriguing sight. She did not see this until she was right in front of the main gates that connected with the street a considerable distance away from her front door. Outside, a lamp post on the spacious sidewalk illuminated the moonless night enough for her to make out the shape of a human climbing over the bars of the tall gate.
The person lingered on top, struggling to get over the points unharmed. For a moment, Clair wondered what kind of sound would be made if that person fell. Perhaps the distance was enough for bones to break. To her disappointment, the person made it to the bottom safely. "Don't move!" She screeched.
The trespasser was a young man soaked to the bone. He turned around sharply, surprised by what he saw. He intended to hide in that mansion, taking refuge from the police until he could come up with a way to prove his innocence. He never thought he would run into someone once he lost the officers after him, especially not a young woman quite inappropriately dressed for the weather. The sight shocked him so much he stared, noting that she not only lacked a coat but also shoes. One should not be out in that weather at all, let along barefoot in clothing that offered basically no warmth.
Her cold blue eyes stared into his as she untied the crimson band of her robe, revealing the scarlet nightgown underneath, which clung to her body. He stood as if paralyzed as she lifted the hem of her nightgown to her thigh, revealing a black thing strapped to her leg. He couldn't see it clearly until she pulled the shiny object from it.
The silver gun was aimed right at him at point blank. His eyes widened and he lifted his hands, palms facing her. He wanted to speak but could not find his voice. His breaths were still labored from all the running he did to get there.
She grinned, it seemed she found herself a new toy, "inside," she commanded and he knew he had no choice.
The young man stepped out of the rainfall and through the mansion's front entrance. Clair stepped in after him, her gun still aimed at his head. She closed the doors with one hand, not turning her back on him for a second. She reached for the light switch and turned it on. A blindingly bright light invaded the room, decorated in white and gold. The man blinked and waited for his eyes to adjust to the brightness. He kept his hands up, palms open the entire time and was certainly not in the mood to notice the expensive paintings that lined the walls.
"I know who you are," Clair finally broke the deafening silence. A crash of thunder echoed near by. "You're the chef who works for my aunt and uncle," she spoke into the darkness, "what was your name?"
"Kai," he choked out that one word wondering how it was possible for the thunder not to have startled her in any visible way. Then again, she wasn't the one who had been running for her life after being falsely accused and almost arrested with no hopes of ever leaving jail. She was the one who held all the cards, and most importantly, the gun. No one would ever dare to accuse her of any crimes, not the rich heir, not the elegant Miss Moon. She was feared by some, scorned by many and envied by most. "You're Clair Moon," he didn't know what else to say to break the tense silence than to state he recognized her too.
"Why did you break into my property?" Clair cut to the chase and demanded to know.
"I wasn't trying to steal anything. I just wanted... I needed... I'm innocent!" The stress and drama of the night was too much to bear. "I didn't do it; I swear I didn't do it."
"What did you not do?" Clair asked coolly.
"I didn't kill Jack," Kai confessed.
Clair's blue eyes widened in shock, "Jack is dead?" Her grip on the gun tightened, her trembling index finger resting dangerously on the trigger. "Jack Harvest is dead?"
Bang! Kai's heart stopped and he had to take a deep breath to assure himself that he was still alive. His purple bandana was hanging off the side of his head, almost on his shoulder before. It was now on the floor with a bullet hole in it. As he realized what had happened Kai's shock grew and he wondered if Clair's aim was very good or very bad. "I'm innocent..." he whispered, as if his voice had almost completely disappeared.
"If not you, then who did it?" Clair's calm demeanor was gone; she was clearly enraged, almost desperate.
"I don't know!" Kai's voice returned as he defended. "That's what I want to find out. I was set up, if they arrest me now, they'll just assume I'm guilty. I need to prove my innocence somehow!"
"I'll give you the benefit of the doubt..." Clair took deep breaths as she tried to calm herself.
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Clair and Kai had first met a few months ago when she had gone for her last visit to her aunt and uncle. The visit had ended with an argument when Clair became enraged upon hearing of her cousin's engagement to Jack. Before that, a somewhat civil meal had taken place. She had intruded into the kitchen soon after, slipping away from her relatives with the excuse of complimenting the chef.
"Did you make the meal?" Clair, dressed in an evening gown as if she were attending a ball, looked out of place in the kitchen, no matter how fancy the spacious kitchen was.
"Yes, miss," Kai smiled cheerfully, "and the dessert as well." He wasn't sure if she was there to compliment him or criticize him, her look was hard to read.
"How much do they pay you?" Clair sounded serious and neutral, her tone flat.
"Excuse me?" Kai was taken aback.
"How much?" Clair insisted, knowing full well he had heard her question before.
After a moment's pause, Kai revealed the extent of his salary, mentioning that he was also given a room to live in at the mansion.
Clair laughed, which didn't please Kai. Then she gave him a look of absolute superiority, "I'll double it."
"What?" Kai didn't know what to think about the sudden offer.
Clair gave him a mocking laugh, "are you always this eloquent? I said I would double your salary if you work for me. I will give you a room to live in bigger than what you have here. Of course, you'd have to quit your current job."
Kai shook his head, "I can't just leave."
"Triple," Clair offered firmly.
Kai stared at her for a few moments. Was his food that good, or was Clair just trying to cause trouble for her cousin's family? It was easy to see that they didn't really get along and the hypocrisy was about to fall apart. The offer was very tempting even if there was a rumor going around that all of Clair's employees got fed up with her and quit. Kai really wanted to save up and open his own restaurant one day. He imagined a sea side restaurant in a tropical town. Then he snapped back into reality, he couldn't leave and he had a good reason not to. "I'm sorry, as generous as your offer is; I have my own personal reasons to stay here."
If looks could kill, Clair would have murdered Kai there and then.
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Clair laughed bitterly at the memory of her job offer being rejected. "I bet you're regretting not taking my offer. If you had been working for me you wouldn't have gotten into this mess."
Kai offered no reply, he knew it wouldn't do him any good to think of the what ifs. If he had left it wouldn't have stopped the murder. The culprit would have just found another scapegoat. "I would rather focus on the future."
"Good, because you're going to help me find the culprit," Clair had calmed down in comparison to her recent outburst, but she looked like she was holding back tears. "Until the real culprit is found, you're still my main suspect, but if you're truly innocent you should have nothing to fear. I don't just want to blame someone; I want to get to the bottom of this. Until the truth is revealed you'll stay here. Don't even think of running off, I have more resources to track you down than the police." Another crash of thunder shook Clair's mansion. "It's late," Clair stated with a grave expression, she was clearly still shaken by the news of Jack's death. Her strong reaction puzzled Kai. "We will begin the investigation tomorrow. For now, I will show you to your room."
Kai silently nodded and picked up his bandana from the floor as Clair flicked a switch and a series of lights illuminated the mansion much brighter than the electric storm in the windows. He shuddered as he looked at the bullet hole in the purple fabric, which he tugged into his pocket. It had been dark, what if Clair didn't miss? Had she truly missed on purpose? Did her finger slip on the trigger and his survival was just fate's grace? As such questions flooded his already overwhelmed mind; he walked down the halls of the mansion next to Clair.
Though she was leading the way around a structure that was unknown to him, she maintained a relatively slow pace. It was as if she was telling him with her body language to walk next to her, not behind her. Kai quickened his pace and so did Clair. He could feel her icy glare on the side of his face and tried not to look at her too much. She almost looked as if she was deliberating if he deserved the benefit of the doubt or if she should just end his life with a bullet.
Clair stopped in front of a door and opened it. Kai stepped inside the room automatically reaching for the light switch. The sight he found once the room lit up was most unpleasant. The polished dark wood furniture and blue walls were littered with bullet holes. Random broken items were scattered all over the floor. A butler dark gray tuxedo style uniform hung from the lopsided blue crystal chandelier and looked as if it had been used for target practice with a gun.
"This isn't your room," Clair walked past Kai nonchalant while he stood frozen near the door. "I just thought you needed something to wear, since it's obvious you can't go back to your previous place of residence to fetch your things. My butler quit, alive, in case you're curious." She opened the closet with her left hand, still holding her shiny silver gun on her right hand. "I think these clothes will fit you." Two more uniforms similar to the one on the chandelier, but without any damage, were inside the closet, along with a pair of shiny black shoes. "Come here."
In a split second, Kai was next to her, not daring to question her orders. Clearly, this woman was... troubled. He certainly didn't want to trouble her further. He needed to upset her just as much as he needed a bullet through the brain.
Clair placed the uniforms and shoes in a pile in Kai's arms and walked across the room again. Slightly disturbed by her own memories, she stepped on a piece of glass from a broken base. The sharp clear shard cut through the expose skin of her bare right foot. She automatically let out a sound of pain in protest and stumbled to sit on the bed. The bed was covered in ragged blue sheets, with several bullet holes adorning the mattress and pillows.
"You're hurt," Kai quickly dumped the pile of clothes he carried into the bed next to her, kneeling over to have a better look at the injury.
"It's nothing," Clair dismissed it; she had enough of being in that room and didn't want to sit there any longer.
"At least let me get the glass out," Kai offered, "just keep your foot still," he carefully began to pull out the shard that was stuck to the bottom of her foot. Even when the glass was out she was still bleeding a little. He took the bandana from his pocket and tied it around her foot. It was obvious that she was uneasy. Kai assumed he was to blame for her unrest, though it was more so the room.
"You'll ruin it," Clair pointed out, referring to the already battered purple bandana.
"It already has a bullet hole in it," Kai pointed out as nonchalant and casual as he could manage. He didn't want to think too much about that incident. He looked up, his brown eyes meeting her blue ones. Her icy glare was gone and in those endless blue orbs he saw sadness. It was as if her very soul had been bleeding for days without rest, days that felt like years. Or perhaps her soul had been injured long ago and it was only recently that she noticed it.
She broke eye contact and gripped the base of her silver gun, her right index finger gently resting on the trigger. "Let's go," she stood carefully, as if testing her balance and walked to the door. Kai picked up the uniforms and shoes, following Clair. She turned the light off as soon as she reached the switch near the door. She didn't want to look at that room anymore and was secretly thankful that Kai didn't ask about it.
They walked in silence down more long elegant hallways lined with various paintings with a small expensive sculpture or base here and there. As they walked, the atmosphere turned fancier with predominant decorations of gold. Finally, Clair stopped in front of a door. Keep your friends close and your suspects closer, his room would be right next to hers. "This is your room. Stay in there until morning. I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt; don't betray my trust and you'll be fine," she reminded.
"I understand," Kai ascertained in all seriousness. He entered the room to find a grand suite adorned in gold and purple. He didn't even hear Clair close the door behind him. He didn't hear her returned a couple of minutes later and quietly open the door just to make sure he was still there. Then the door was closed and locked for the night. The entire time Kai couldn't help it but to contemplate the irony. Clair Moon had everything and yet her eyes looked as if she had nothing.
To be Continued
Disclaimer, I don't own Harvest Moon.
xoxox xox xoxox
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