ALRIGHT! I've postponed it long enough! I need to finish this…NOW! LEROOOYYYY JJJEEENNNNKIIIINNNSSS!
The luscious blue sky was quickly fading into a light, warm orange hue. The time had come to four PM. Time for the afternoon to begin giving way to the cooling night. A horrible clap of skin struck through the air, startling birds from their perch on overhead chimneys. Angela cried out in pain, falling to the ground. A ripe red bruise tarnished her pale white skin, hissing in stinging pain. Angela, gritting her teeth, bore heated purple daggers into her attackers.
Ash meandered closer to his fallen comrade. He loomed over her with a flexing hand, glaring scornfully. "Your impatience is ruining my plans." He growled in monotone. "Your puppets were meant to be used to BREAK Alliahnna. Not for you to kill when you please!"
Angela spat blood from mouth, coughing dryly as she turned onto her hands and knees. "They were taking too long! They were going to side with her! Tell her everything!"
"Then you should have let them!" Angela flinched under his bark. "It would have made shattering her all the more delicious!" He roared impatiently. "Two men whom Alliahnna relies upon, two men who were in the dark of her secret until recently!" Angela shook her head, not seeing the point. "They chose to stay with her! Meaning their bond with her would have grown stronger!" Ash clamped a hand to her face, wrenching her halfway from the ground. "Had you left matters alone, those two soldiers and Phoebus would be in place! We could have killed them right in front of Alliahnna's eyes! She would have fallen apart!" Ash threw her back into the ground. "But now my plans to watch her break…have broken themselves!"
"I'm sorry." Angela whimpered, her breath shaking. "I'll…I'll make things right!" She pleaded for him to show mercy. "I promise!" She scrambled back, pressing her back against a wall.
"The one known as Carmichael is dead! How do you plan to reconcile this?"
"There is a third! Maes! Alliahnna relies upon him as well!"
"Fine! See to him!" Ash yanked Angela up by the scruff of her dress, bringing her close so she could see the rage in his eyes. "Do not fail me, Angela! Or you will be joining the young private."
"Hm…" Phoebus hummed pensively. He had returned to the site where he had last seen Carmichael and Taylor. The site where the three long term friends engaged in a heated disagreement. Phoebus let out a saddened sigh, unable to recall what even started the argument. It just seemed like one of those moments that was sparked by someone disagreeing on what color is the best. "It was probably something ridiculous anyway." He scolded himself loathingly. "All I wanted to do was take them out to eat." They were working hard trying to find a hotel to spend the night in. "Why did we have to-wait!" A thought came to mind. Something he was surprised he didn't think of sooner. Before they spilt up, Phoebus suggested a bistro around the corner he and his boys could go to for lunch. "Maybe…" He trailed off.
Phoebus dashed down the sidewalk, making a woman spin on her heels. He arrived to the bistro in a matter of minutes, panting heavily as his hopes brightened. Jingling the bell to announce his entry, he searched the little bistro fervently, disappointed to find no sign of Taylor or Carmichael. He asked the hostess if she had seen two men – one young, the other old…er. They would probably have had somber expressions.
A waitress who served them said she saw them leave a little over an hour ago. Phoebus asked if she knew where they were heading. All she knew was that they planned on apologizing to some Commander and Lieutenant. That's all Phoebus needed to hear. Looking at a grandfather clock, the time was nearing 4:00. They were going to the funeral!
"Thank you very much!" Phoebus, in a blur, burst from the bistro, letting the door slam so hard the bell fell off. Pushing past people, jumping over a couch workers we hauling, and diving under a piano, Phoebus sped through the streets of Toulouse, desperately hoping his friends were at the funeral. He needed to apologize for – if they were truly aware of Alliahnna's secret – keeping secrets from them, as well as learn what came over them. Everything was going to be brought out into the open. The air was going to be cleared. Phoebus cherished the loyalty and friendship of his fellow soldiers. He knew Alliahnna did too. He knew she would understand. Understand why her secret should be shared.
Grabbing hold of a street sign pole, Phoebus rounded a corner sharply, flying a foot off the ground. Before he had time to react, a powerful fist ran full force into his face, knocking the lieutenant back and onto the ground. Phoebus's back crashed to the ground with a painful thud. The sounds of his bones breaking filled his ears. Luckily nothing did break. But the wind was robbed from his lungs.
"Grr…" Phoebus flipped onto his stomach, choking in heaves as his breath slowly returned to his lungs. "Ugh…" He climbed to one knee, placing a hand to his whirled head. "What…hit me?" He turned around. Through his blurred vision, Phoebus made out an obscured figure hiding behind a corner. He wasn't sure if it was his mind playing tricks or the fact he had yet to eat lunch, but Phoebus could have sworn he saw the figure's eyes glowing red. "Hey…you!" Phoebus called to the figure. It retreat around the corner. "STOP!" Phoebus ran after it, stumbling a short ways before being able to run in a straight line. Phoebus darted around the corner. The figure was a few yards away, hovering around a random street corner. He watched and waited as Phoebus caught his breath. He wanted Phoebus to follow. Despite knowing this, Phoebus kept following after the figure.
The figure proceeded down the random street. Phoebus kept close to the wall, sliding along it carefully, not taking his eyes off the adjoining street for a second. He reached into his coat, drawing a colt. Clicking the hammer back, Phoebus dug his foot into the stone. He whipped around, aiming his gun. No one was there. It was just a large alleyway. Up ahead he could see there was another alleyway connected. He vaguely made out a shadow figure. Most likely the person he's been chasing.
Lightly and carefully, Phoebus tiptoed through the alley, opening his senses to detect the slightest shift from a mile away. As he neared the corner the figure was seen vanishing around, Phoebus felt his breathing slow, welling unbearably in his chest. He pressed his back to the wall, counted in his head, One…two…THREE! Phoebus whipped around the corner, aiming his gun. His heart sank in horror.
A few feet away, lying in a pool of his own blood, was none other than Prescott Carmichael. "PRESCOTT!" Phoebus dropped his gun and dove to his knees. "NO! NO! PRESCOTT!" He cradled Carmichael in his arm. "Prescott…please…wake up!" Phoebus placed his ear to his chest. No heart beat…no breathing….nothing. He was gone. "No…" Phoebus's voice cracked. He held Prescott tightly, tears trickling onto the dead officer's uniform. His blood and body were still warm. His life only left him a short time ago. But his eyes…those loving black eyes…they were empty. Bleak. Grey. He was gone. But he couldn't be. Phoebus only saw him…an hour ago. Why…how… "Oh Prescott." Phoebus hugged him close. "I'm sorry." He whispered. "How could this have happened to you?"
"He chose a demon over the pure." Phoebus turned halfway around, wanting to rip apart whoever spoke. "He chose to follow the unclean darkness instead of the pure light." Never did Phoebus imagine he would be meeting the eyes of Taylor. "Just as you have lieutenant." Taylor was doused in blood. His hands, his shirt, his pants – everywhere. Clipped to both his sides were rapiers, making Phoebus nervous. "Now you too shall pay for your transgressions."
St Katherine's Memorial site – A voluminous green burial ground for the most revered and honorable of nobles to ever to rule over Toulouse. And now, after many years of faithful service to the city, Count D'Eon Monte Cristo will be buried alongside them. Able to rest in peace for the years to come.
Lydia, accompanied by Alliahnna and Sebastian, road to the memorial site in a horse drawn carriage following close behind the hearse carriage carrying her Uncle's dead body. Moments ago, courtesy of fine detective work and a bit more insight, the Marques made the horrific discovery that her uncle was, indeed, murdered. His death was no mere accident. Someone tainted his eyes drops, killing him slowly, then decided to finish the job on Thursday. Lydia was going to figure out who did this and why. And when she did, she will watch-no! She will perform the execution herself, and relish in every second fear, confusion, and desperation filled the murderer's heart and the light left his eyes.
Every member of the staff – butlers, maids, cooks – had already arrived to the memorial site. They had taken their seats from the third row and back. The first three rows were occupied by fellow noblemen – Schneizel and Druitt included – and close friends. Maes, Esmeralda, and the others from Paris joined the crowd. They may not have been close to the Late Count, but they felt it would be respectful to attend. A secret task force had surrounded the site. Not simply to provide cover, but also to mourn the loss of the one person they valued more than France itself. All in attendance had black clouds of sorrow hovering over their heads. The loss of their Count was a crushing blow to their souls. If ever a kind man were taken long before his time should have come, this was one of those moments. Everyone always wagered Monte Cristo would be the first man in Toulouse to live past the age of 100 given how healthy he was. Alas…
Lydia was the first to dismount from the carriage. A black, lacy shawl from her round feather in the cap hat his her rosy cheeks form he onlookers. Sebastian and Alliahnna trailed behind her. The coffin was carried by several men behind them.
Alliahnna searched the crowd of attendees, seeking any sign or hair of Phoebus, Taylor, or Carmichael. Alliahnna couldn't even find Maes. Yet she could see Hana and Esmeralda. He offered to take them on a tour of Toulouse. Why wouldn't he be at the funeral? She was worried.
As the coffin was carried up a ramp to the platform to present Monte Cristo in his final moments above ground, hurried footsteps were heard shuffling through the grass. "Commander…" Maes ran up to her. Alliahnna and Sebastian came to a halt, allowing Lydia and the ushers to pass onto the platform. "How was your day?"
"Fine, Maes." She bobbed her head, pleased to see one of them. "Have you seen Phoebus?"
Maes was taken aback by her question. "No." Maes cast his gaze over the crowd, seeing many of his friends…but not his brothers in arms. "I was hoping Taylor and Carmichael were with you."
"Not me." Alliahnna glanced back to Sebastian, wondering if he saw them during his outing. Sebastian shook his head regretfully. Alliahnna sighed somberly. Normally she wouldn't mind her men being out and about. But something odd was in the air. An unbearable pressure...like something big was coming.
"They must be enjoying the city a little more." Maes suggested, trying to ease his commander's mind. "They'll adjourn to the hotel Lord Schneizel told me about.
Alliahnna smiled warmly. She was just overreacting. She was sure her men were fine. "You're probably right." Sebastian smiled, pleased to see his lady relieved. Alliahnna glanced over to Lydia who was positioned on the edge of the platform and nodded. Lydia returned the nod and moved for a podium. "I need your help with something." Alliahnna announced. "You and Sebastian keep your eyes on the crowd. I'll be with the Marques."
"What are we to look for, My Lady?" Sebastian asked.
"Someone who isn't going to be too thrilled." Maes and Sebastian nod, understanding her request. "I will stay with the Marques. Go." She ordered. Sebastian and Maes began their round around the crowd of funeral attendees. Alliahnna took a position behind Lydia, Barreau, and the head commander of the task force. She had a good view of everyone's face, including those in the audience. Someone was going to give themselves away. Someone…who doesn't want the truth of the Count to be revealed.
Lydia removed the veil of her hat, allowing everyone in the audience to see the burning radiance of her emerald eyes. Were they to know the secret she uncovered, they would see and feel the fiery vengeance burning in her heart and soul. The justice she was eager to attain for her Uncle. "Greetings and Bienvenue to you all." Lydia addressed. "Zsank you for joining me and Earl Barreau De Caledon in zis time of mourning and loss. Ze loss of, possibly, one of ze most honorable, loved, and respected Noblemen to ever rule over Toulouse." Natalia lurched forward, holding her stomach sickly. Maes took note of this, curious of what ailed her. Barreau inched his head down slightly, clenching a trembling fist. Alliahnna noticed this. She raised an intrigued brow. "My Uncle, Count D'Eon Monte Cristo, passed on into ze clouds above on Zsurday night. Only a mere couple of days before ze gathering he cherished." The men and women leaned on each other's shoulders, saddened they will not be able to reminisce with their old friend. Schneizel especially. "Let us bestow our final wishes and blessings to my uncle before we dispatch his coffin to join zose who have passed before him." Lydia turned on her heels, standing before her passed uncle.
Many in the audience rose from their chairs, shuffling with mutters of woe. Maes and Sebastian backed away to give the people room to pass. In truth it was to watch and see who showed…inappropriate expressions. Alliahnna watched carefully as the nobles and a few of the servants passed her by. Schneizel sauntered to Alliahnna, putting his mouth to her ear, "I know this expression you bear. Something has happened."
"Yes." Alliahnna answered in a drone, not taking her eyes from the line of people. "And if I'm right…" Alliahnna took note of Barreau who was quickly followed by Natalia, "We should see something soon."
Schneizel smirked in anticipation. "Sounds exciting." He continued to the coffin, leaving Alliahnna with a smile. Her smile quickly faded when she saw Phoebus and the others had yet to arrive. Maes had come to notice this as well. The two grew worried. Where are you Phoebus?
Phoebus, in petrified horror, gazed upon his comrade and friend – Jonathan Taylor – as he stood before him in his blood soaked clothing. Two well-kept rapiers hung on his sides. His words, his eyes, his very being – everything was…empty…lifeless. Phoebus didn't understand. Why was Taylor just standing there? Why did he lead Phoebus to Carmichael?
Did…Did Taylor do this? Phoebus thought to himself in fright. He couldn't have. But what other explanation was there? Taylor just stood there looking on at Carmichael like he was staring at a hole in the ground. And he was covered in blood…Carmichael's blood. "Taylor…" Phoebus rumbled his name. "Jonathan…what is this?"
"Phoebus you are a fool." Taylor responded in a monotone harshness. "But then you always were, weren't you?" Phoebus was shocked to hear him speak to him in such a manner. "Bending over for the whims of the lecherous Count Schneizel, submitting to the orders of a child barely old enough to wed – you truly have fallen since Sumano abandoned his duties."
"Taylor?" Phoebus exclaimed, insulted by the accusation. "How can you say such a thing?"
"When Sumano was in charge we were fierce warriors! Now we buckle under the skirt of some Halfling!"
"WATCH YOUR TONE!" Phoebus snarled, gritting his teeth. "Do not speak of Alliahnna in such a manner!" Phoebus narrowed his eyes, feeling his whole body tremble. He called her Halfling. Does he know?
"Why?" Taylor challenged. "Don't want the entire country to learn," Taylor hardened his gaze defiantly, "That we take orders from a filthy demon?" Phoebus gaped in horror. He does know! Phoebus rasped. Was this the reason? Phoebus glanced back to Carmichael. Was this the reason they became aggravated. "I always did find it strange." Phoebus returned his attention to Taylor. "Everyone in the platoon did. How a girl like that became so strong and so powerful in such a short time, how she was able to sever the head of our former commander with ease! It made little sense!" He spat. Phoebus swallowed nervous lumps. "Then, last night, Prescott and I learn from two strangers what Alliahnna truly is. What her butler and his two friends truly are! DEMONS!" Taylor pointed a damning finger to the quaking Phoebus. "AND YOU AND LORD SHCNEIZEL KNEW ABOUT IT!"
"OF COURSE WE KNEW!" Phoebus blurted out, unable to contain his rage. "We knew because we discovered it on our own! Alliahnna didn't have to tell us!"
"Yet you thought not to tell the rest of us?"
"It wasn't my secret to tell."
"But it was hers! And obviously she didn't trust us enough to tell it!"
"TRUST has nothing to do with it!" Phoebus boomed back defensively. "Alliahnna had to keep her secret for good reasons! The less number of people that knew, the less dangerous it would be for us!"
"And what a danger you are in!" Taylor's eyes ignited into red with platinum crosses. Phoebus knew of those crosses. They were the same marks the people of Halnare bore. "If you had only kept yourself in the dark then none of this – Carmichael's death – would have happened!"
"What…" Phoebus's voice quaked.
"You, myself, Prescott, and Maes could go back to the way things were!"
"What did you mean?" Phoebus demanded with his shaking voice. "What happened to Prescott?"
"The woman who imbued me with this power – who also gave him the same power – plunged a dagger deep within his heart!" Tears gathered in the corners of Phoebus's eyes. He looked back at his fallen friend. It was Carmichael's blood on Taylor's clothing. "Prescott wanted to join her side! Show Alliahnna that he cared not for what she was, but rather who she was!" Taylor felt a strong pinch in his heart, making the crosses flicker for a split second. "But it could not be so! Mankind should follow the ways of god, angels, and pure beings! Not demons, devils, and filthy monsters!"
"You let…Prescott die?" Phoebus trembled, the tears falling down his cheek. "You became…a puppet?"
The cross flickered again. Taylor gritted his teeth. "I DIDN'T ALLOW ANYTHING!" He roared hoarsely. "Angela had already put the dagger into his heart!" Taylor looked at his hand. "I sat there…holding him in my arms, I watched the light leave Prescott's eyes! I watched as he was punished for his transgressions!"
"BUT WHY WOULD YOU SIDE WITH HER?" Phoebus may not have known Angela personally, but he knew enough to know she caused hundreds of deaths in Halnare. "WHY WOULD YOU ALLY YOURSELF WITH SOMEONE WHO CAUSED THE DEATHS OF INNOCENTS?"
"You can ask me that?" Taylor questioned in insult. "After how Alliahnna lied to us? After she had her own friend's memories erased?" Phoebus knew of whom he spoke. Alliahnna may not have said anything, but he surmised Elizabeth's memories were somehow altered. "After she had us all dragged into her own personal war?"
"What do you mean?" Phoebus asked in confusion. "What war?"
"Did she not tell you?" Taylor cooed. "Sebastian came to Alliahnna in her moment of desperation. Made her demon in exchange for her humanity!"
"What?" Phoebus trembled.
"She craved vengeance against those who took her parents and brother from her! Alliahnna agreed to surrender her human essence once this tale of vengeance has reached its conclusion!" Taylor clenched an enraged fist. "And each day that has passed since that night five years ago, her human half has been dissipating! She becomes more and more demon as the days pass!"
"She does?" Phoebus lowered his head, trying to convince himself otherwise. But, lately, it would explain her growing rage and flaring temper. Phoebus sighed heavily. Though he shouldn't be too surprised. Every gift of power comes with a price. Even someone as selfless as Alliahnna must succumb to terms of power. But to lose her humanity for something as fleeting as vengeance? It made Phoebus wonder what inner demons truly lie beneath Alliahnna's porcelain skin.
"Alliahnna and Sebastian shared a bed last night." Taylor snuck in slyly.
"WHAT!" Phoebus blurted.
"Indeed. Lady Alliahnna is no longer of Mary's Council."
"I…I can't…" Phoebus staggered back, "This is…wow." Phoebus mind was whirling in absolute confusion. What was he supposed to think? Someone whom he revered as a sister was no longer a…it was overwhelming. Should he not be happy Alliahnna lost something so precious to a demon…someone she loves? Or…should he be…infuriated? But infuriated about what?
"Will you still stand by her knowing all of this?" Taylor quizzed ominously. "Will you still stay loyal to Alliahnna, despite knowing the crimes she has committed?"
Phoebus dropped his head in shame. "Desiring power for vengeance is as great a sin as adultery. I know this." He began monotonously. "Abandoning her humanity to attain that vengeance – that is a crime equitable for the punishment of death." Phoebus shot his head up, glaring his glossy eyes to Taylor. "But faulting Lady Alliahnna for consummating her love to a relationship she consented to…" Phoebus growled through gritted teeth, stepping forward defiantly, "A relationship – after years of pain and deception – she opened her heart to, would be an even worse crime! One for which I will sever my head for committing!"
Taylor lowered his head, sinking his shoulders. The crosses in his eyes flickered violently. Tears spilled over his cheeks. A warm smile graced his lips for a second. Lieutenant… "Very well then." Taylor rumbled, touching his hands to the swords on his sides. "If you are not my ally then you are my enemy!" Taylor drew the sword. The stainless steel glistened in the sun. "And any enemy of mine, IS AN ENEMY OF FRANCE!"
The guests returned to their seats. Alliahnna kept her place behind Lydia and Barreau. Sebastian and Maes continued to circle the audience. They had informed the task force surrounding the site to be on the lookout for anyone suspicious. So far, Barreau and Natalia were top on that list.
"My Uncle, Ze Count of Zis great city, was a fair a just noblemen!" Lydia announced with strong conviction, her voice breaking with her sorrow. "In just a few weeks of his first ascension as Count he weeded out ze corrupt and vile who would see zis city turned upside down on its head!" The police chief who attended bobbed his head, honored she remembered how his until was cleaned of its filth. "Pruning ze tainted leaves in both ze noble council and law enforcement zat dare cling to ze tree of Toulouse people like you, myself, and future generations have worked so hard to cultivate and care for since ze days of old!" Noblemen and Women nodded their heads in pride. "Even zoh he is gone in body, let not his spirit leave us! Let his ideals, his heart, his soul, his very essence live on wizsin us! Zen, and only zen, will we continue to build Toulouse into the land our founding fathers and my uncle have dreamed!" Roars of applause and cheers suddenly erupted from the audience. Tear filled eyes and joyfully sad smiles glistened in the faces of all.
Alliahnna too found herself moved by the words. It's how she felt towards Schneizel. The man she has known as a father since she came to Paris eight years ago. She would do anything to ensure his legacy lived on should he ever part. To her – not too – surprise. Barreau and Natalia continued to act oddly. Lydia had glanced back to Alliahnna, wondering if she should proceed with the plan. With a confident nod from Alliahnna, Lydia raised her hands, motioning for the crowd to die down.
"As such…" Her voice echoed throughout the site, "As the heavens and my uncle as my witness, I will perform one final act of retribution in my Uncle's name and in the justice Toulouse so rightfully deserves." To Lydia they were one in the same. D'Eon was Toulouse and Toulouse was D'Eon. Both will receive their justice. "Courtesy of an individual and her well attentive butler, I have discovered information…news of my Uncle's death that must not be allowed to remain as is!" Mutters of intrigue sparked throughout the audience. Here we go…Alliahnna thought excitedly. "My uncle was not the victim of a pour unfortunate accident as it was attested!" Lydia stepped forward, boring her dagger filled gaze into the crowd of onlookers. "Due to the discovery of new evidence, As Marques of Toulouse, I do hereby reopen my Uncle's case…as a Murder Investigation!" The crowd boomed in an uproar of horror, unable to believe the Count was killed. The rumor was his own slip of the fingers got him killed.
Barreau hissed through gritted teeth and quickly dismissed himself from the platform. Lydia watched him closely, smirking hungrily. "Zsanks to an experiment done by ze Lady Commander of Count Schneizel de Paris, Alliahnna P. Britannia, and her butler, Sebastian Michaelis, I have come to ze startling conclusion zat my uncle was murdered in his home. Being killed slowly by ze one item he relied upon more than anything." Everyone knew of what she spoke. She meant the eye drops. Someone killed their Count through his eyes drops? "Let it be known," Lydia cast a hand over her subjects, "Zat even if I fall, ze truth behind my uncle's murder will be revealed." She narrowed her green eyes like daggers. "And I will bring zat person down with me to ze depths of Hell where I shall watch them burn!"
Natalia finally shot from her seat, running in the same direction as Barreau. Alliahnna had seen enough. She and Sebastian met their gazes, agreeing with firm nods to give chase. Alliahnna meandered to Maes, whispering in his ears to remain with the crowd and report to Schneizel. He nodded and went for his Count. Sebastian and Lydia ran across the memorial site. Lydia caught sight of the fleeing two, curious if they discovered something. "Now please, before we send my Uncle beneath, reminisce and speak of your times. I shall return shortly." Lydia dashed off the platform and ran after them.
Maes had filled Schneizel in on Alliahnna's plan. It made sense as to why they ran off all of a sudden. Maes returned to skulking out the crowd. Perhaps others were hidden amongst the audience of grievers. Little did Maes know, a woman with snow white hair was gazing upon him.
Taylor launched himself forward, swords crossed before him. Phoebus scooped his gun up. Taylor lashed his swords out, grazing the chest of soon-to-be former lieutenant. Phoebus hissed in pain, staggering back. The swords only nicked the skin enough the break it. No blood was spilled. Taylor lashed out with his swords once more, failing wildly left, right, down, and up. Phoebus dodged and evaded each strike, parrying with the gun if he had to.
I have to stop him! Phoebus told himself. But how? Phoebus ducked to the side and rolled out of Taylor's reach. He heard the gun scrape along the ground, reminding him he had the option of – NO! He hissed at himself. I can't do that! He bit his lip. There has to be another way. Phoebus ducked down again, feeling strands of his hair be cut as the width of the swords clashed with the wall.
No…This…this isn't right! Taylor screamed within himself as he lunged for Phoebus. I need to stop! His thoughts betrayed his actions. Taylor laughed crazily, frothing at the mouth like a rabid animal. THIS HAS TO STOP! The two swords lunged forward. Phoebus gaped in horror as they neared his neck. LIEUTENANT! Phoebus bent all the way back, feeling the breeze of the blades as they grazed over him. Touching his hands to the ground, Phoebus flipped his feet, kicking one of the swords from Taylor's grip. Phoebus quickly rolled to his feet, caught the sword, then leapt forward.
Taylor quickly shifted his stance, meeting Phoebus head on with his sword. The two became deadlocked, struggling in an intense grudge match to overpower one another. Taylor slid an inch, but gained it back. Phoebus seethed in pain, feeling his shoulder ready to burst in white hot pain.
"Grr…" Phoebus's shoulder sparked in a sharp pain. Taylor swooped in, curling his legs behind his Lieutenant's, and pushed him back. Phoebus and Taylor fell to the ground. Taylor put his sword to Phoebus's face, subduing his superior.
Phoebus gazed upon the sword tip, unable to believe this was how he was going to die. By the hand of his own subordinate…his friend.
"NO…" Taylor hissed through gritted teeth. "No…" He squeezed his eyes closed. The sword began to tremble in his hands. "This…it won't end like this!" Taylor's eyes flared open. One eye bore the cross, the other was his normal hazel hue.
"Taylor?" Phoebus called to him.
"Li…lieutenant…" Taylor struggled, "Listen to me!" He choked. "You must…find Alliahnna! Warn her!"
"Warn her? Of what?"
"Two people…Angela and Ash…they killed her parents and her brother!" Phoebus's eyes widened in horror. "They seek Alliahnna…seek to kill her! They're using everyone around her!"
"That's why Carmichael's dead?"
"Yes! They intended…to kill you and Elizabeth! But they want her to suffer slowly!" Taylor bit his lip, piercing the skin. "They're killing us off first!"
"Maes?!" Phoebus gasped.
"Yes. He's next!" Taylor winced in pain, feeling the power within him corrupting him again. "Please…" Taylor staggered back stiffly, "Get to him…GAAHHH!"
"Taylor!" Phoebus cried, climbing to his feet. Taylor clenched his hands to his head, writhing in agony. "TAYLOR!" Phoebus clamped his hands to his shoulders.
"PLEASE PHOEBUS!" Taylor barked, shoving Phoebus away. "GET TO THE FUNERAL!" Taylor roared. He turned his sword around, placing the tip to his neck.
"NO TAYLOR!" Phoebus begged. "WHAT ARE YOU-"
"Phoebus…" Tears fell down Taylor's face, "It's truly been an honor to serve under you." His voice cracked. "That is what Prescott said, and it is what I say."
"Tell Alliahnna and Maes…even if we are not there…that we will fight beside them."
Phoebus wanted to protest. He wanted to fall to his knees and beg for Taylor not to do this. But he could see in his comrade's eye…that wasn't going to be the case. "I will…" Phoebus backed away, his mind screaming for him to stay. "Taylor…please forgive me!" Phoebus turned on his heels and dashed from the alleyway, eyes squeezed closed as he made it out to the main street.
"No…Phoebus…" Taylor raised his head high, the sword along with it, "Forgive me...and thank you." Taylor plunged the sword into his neck, falling beside his dead friend with a smile on his face and his hand on his friend's chest.
Phoebus ran as fast as his legs would carry him. His heart sank as he felt the breeze carry the life of his friend into the great unknown. Unknown to Phoebus, a shadow followed after him on the roof tops, keeping pace with him.
Taylor's face flashed in Phoebus's mind. "Jonathan…" Phoebus hissed in sorrow. "Don't worry…We'll make things right." All of the good and bad times they shared, and how they seemed to pull through no matter how awful situations became. Now it seems as if the fortune hanging above their heads had gone. Taylor and Carmichael were gone. Now Maes was next. And for what? Because someone has a vendetta against Alliahnna. Well this wasn't going to stand. Vendetta or no vendetta, none of this will be left unpunished. "They use others to get the attention of Alliahnna! They hide in the shadows!" He roared. "Now it's our turn to draw them out!"
"There's no need, my dear Lieutenant." A voice called out to Phoebus. The lieutenant came to a screeching halt, whipping his attention around to a white haired man in a white suit. "I'm already here." Ash chuckled. "My friend, on the other hand, is busy with the final member of your trio."
Maes watched from the back of the crowd as the next five people gave speeches on the wondrous times they've had with the Count. The white haired woman from earlier watched him from behind a tree, grinning like a hungry wolf stalking its prey.
"Too easy." She purred, clenching a gun in her hand.
"No…no…no…NO!" Natalia screeched fervently, stomping underneath a bridge arch. Barreau stood off to the side, leaning against a wall. "This…this can't be!" She clawed her fingers into her head. "They know, Lloyd!" Natalia panicked, ripping at her hair in front of the Earl. "They must know!" She shrieked.
"How could they?" Barreau challenged. "Nothing was left! There was no evidence, the witnesses were minimal!"
"For Lydia! Not for that British-Parisian cop!" She spat resentfully. "You might have convinced the police to back off," She rumbled ominously, "But you never anticipated someone like the Count's Second to come! Someone who blatantly questions all and seeks answers until satisfied!"
"Even she knows when to back down." Barreau assured his frantic lady love. "Just watch. I'll convince Count Schneizel to ask her to stand down. Then she'll leave the matter alone."
"SHE MAY!" Barreau and Natalia jumped in fright, hugging each other closely. Lydia stood before them with a glaring Alliahnna behind her. "But after what I've heard, I most certainly will not!" Natalia and Barreau turned on their heels trying to run.
Sebastian leapt down from atop the bridge, stopping the fleeing couple dead in their tracks with his blood red eyes. "Why wherever do you think you're going Madam and Sir?" He cooed. Natalia and Barreau backed away in fright. "Things were just getting interesting." He purred.
"That was quite the little stunt, Earl." Alliahnna commended scathingly. "You and Natalia must have worked on it for a while." A dark grin graced her lips.
"W-What do you mean?" Natalia stammered, trying to hide behind Barreau. "We didn't do anything! We just left for a walk!"
"A walk?" Sebastian challenged. "Or an attempt to escape?" He questioned narrowing his eyes.
"We discussed this on our way to the funeral." Alliahnna announced before Natalia and Barreau could comment. "Actually what we did was narrow down the suspects." Their top people on their list of suspects were as follows: The Head Butler Antoine, the Chef Marcus, Natalia – the one who found the Count dead, "And you Lord Barreau."
"WHAT?!" Barreau scoffed aloud. Natalia swallowed nervously. "This…is…" He trailed off, huffing and puffing as he backed himself into a corner, "Utterly preposterous!" He blurted, glaring to Alliahnna. "Why am I a suspect?"
"We did a little more digging before we came to the funeral." Alliahnna announced, avoiding his question to kill him with suspense. "The plan was to expose the culprit – or culprits – by announcing the case was reopened with new evidence."
"To our eternal delights," Sebastian touched a hand to Natalia and Barreau's shoulders, "You both took the bait."
"Bait?" Natalia trembled.
"Barreau the physician and Natalia the lovely maid." Sebastian mocked them. "Quite the entertaining couple. Neither of which have an alibi for their whereabouts!"
"M-My Lady…" Barreau swallowed nervously, wanting to plead to the lady in charge and not some lowly butler, "I did give an alibi."
"Not necessarily." Lydia reviewed the statements. "According to ze officer in charge, your alibi was Natalia and she was yours."
"Then what's the problem?"
"Ze problem is ze Count was pronounced dead at 9:00 at night. Ze same time Natalia had discovered him." She reminded the maid. "Zat is when I recollected somezsing. Somezsing very important." She threw the statement portfolio at him. An extra slip of paper flew out. The Earl's schedule for the week. "You were not even supposed to be home!" Barreau turned pale as the moon. Natalia felt her stomach tie into knots. "Every night at precisely 8:30 at night you would leave ze manor for a meeting in my Uncle's stead because he was sick. I watched you leave!"
Barreau felt himself shrinking in his lies. The pressure on his shoulders grew unbearably. "Fine. Fine." He raised his hands in mock surrender. "I stayed home." He smirked. "But that doesn't mean I killed him."
"Maybe not." Alliahnna agreed. "But there is a reason why you both killed him."
"WE DIDN'T KILL HIM!" Natalia screeched, holding her stomach and head.
"And why would we?" Barreau challenged.
Sebastian chuckled menacingly, touching a hand to his chin. "You both truly do make a lovely couple." Natalia and Barreau froze. "Of course not as lovely as the companionship My Lady is in." Alliahnna grumbled under her breath. "But not even she is expecting."
"Expecting what?" Natalia questioned, growing more nervous as the seconds passed.
"Don't play coy, Natalia!" Lydia ordered. "Everyone in ze manor knew about you and ze earl!" Lydia motioned a commending hand to Alliahnna. "But it was Alliahnna who noticed the signs."
"Sweating, nausea, back problems, chronic stomach pain, and your feet are swelling." Natalia wrapped her arms around herself, feeling exposed. "You're pregnant Natalia. But not with Barreau's baby."
Natalia lowered her head in shame, able to feel Barreau's disappointment hanging over her. "That still doesn't prove anything." Natalia growled under her breath. "It doesn't prove what you're accusing us of!"
"Actually it does." Lydia corrected the maid sharply. "Allow us to walk you zsrough ze scenario."
Lydia – Monday morning. My Uncle awakens to a beautiful morning, prepared to eat, work, and enjoy his life when he could. To his astonishment and expected dread, his eye drop bottle was vide - empty. So he needed to get some more. Luckily, realizing he would run out soon, he put in an order for more and zey would be ready in ze afternoon. Zat is when you, Earl Lloyd Barreau, volunteered to go and retrieve zem.
Alliahnna – As an Earl and Count Monte Cristo's best friend, the doctors thought nothing of it when you volunteered to retrieve his medicine. And, purely by guess, you inspected the contents to ensure they weren't tampered with or a false medicinal liquid. An idea which sparked your interest greatly.
Sebastian – Though we are unsure how you discovered her secret, you became aware some time before that Natalia had been blessed with a baby within her. But it was not yours. How could it have been? You and Natalia hadn't made love in quite some time. Yet here she was, exhibiting the symptoms of an expecting mother. How could this be? You knew something was amiss.
Lydia –Especially since you saw Natalia exiting from my Uncle's room a while ago. After, of course, he asked to speak with her on an urgent matter.
Barreau gritted his teeth. His clenched fist trembled with rage as he thought about it. Natalia had come from the Count's room, disheveled and unkempt. Natalia wrapped her arms around herself, sinking into her shame. "It was only two times." Her voice shook with guilt. Barreau flashed a glare over to her. Natalia gazed at him with pleading eyes. "We only met two times!" She shrieked. "A moment of weakness, I swear!"
"His weakness as well." Lydia admitted with a dreary sigh. "My Uncle always got weak kneed when it came to beautiful women." Barreau growled through gritted teeth, sickened by the testimony. "Let us continue."
Alliahnna – You're a licensed Physician. You earned that degree so you could tend to those living with on such short notice. As a physician You're trained to have a steady hand and nerves of steel. Thanks to the small hole in the top of the bottle, you couldn't insert the juice normally or without someone noticing something was off.
Sebastian – So you used one of your syringes. A syringe we found the smallest bit of carrot stuck inside the little needle tip. After you slipped the carrot juice into the bottle with the syringe, you gave the bottle to the Count and waited.
Lydia - Zsanks to my Uncle's horribly dry eyes, he needed to use zose drops every couple of hours or so. Normally, even with an allergy, such small doses ze carrot juice would not have taken such…drastic effects so soon. But because my uncle worked so hard and incessantly, his eyes would dry faster, forcing him to use more of ze drops.
Sebastian – Giving the carrot juice just the current it needed to traverse and soak into his eyes and head. Hence the headache and lack of appetite. All allergy reactions vary, depending on the person. Because the count was in such good shape and the carrot juice zest was so small, it ran its course slowly. First was the headache. Working with a headache – not a good idea. Working on an empty stomach – an even worse idea.
Alliahnna – But because the Count was so dedicated to his work, he fought through his famine and migraine. But he used so many eyes drops it was only making him worse. Then he acquired that head cold. He was a mess. Leading to his falling over on Wednesday and his lack of appetite for two days.
Sebastian – But something happened. Something you two didn't anticipate.
'And what might that have been?' Barreau challenged defiantly.
Lydia – A shower! My Uncle, feeling so tense and disoriented, took a shower late at night on Wednesday, flushing ze tainted drops from his eyes and relieving the tension within him. He forgot all about his eye drops.
Alliahnna – Then on Thursday, just as he was about to try and make himself eat, he dropped his drops into a pot of cooking stew. He wasn't going to use them afterward. So he used normal water.
Sebastian – Water, by the way, that made him feel better than he had in days. Had he gotten new drops and pressed on flushing his eyes out, the Count would have recovered in a matter of days.
"But you two couldn't allow that." Alliahnna continued to accuse harshly. "And all because of the baby Natalia is carrying."
"And because she does not wish to terminate it, you were stuck." Sebastian added.
"You couldn't let ze baby be born." Lydia explained, trying to sympathize with them with a hint of resentment. "Not only would it damage my Uncle's reputation, but you didn't want to hurt Barreau."
Natalia sank into herself. "It was only twice!" She cursed herself in sobs. "A moment of weakness!" She repeated, trying to ease her guilt. "I never imagined this would happen!"
"You approached the count, didn't you?" Alliahnna sighed somberly. "The night he died?"
"I told him about the baby and said we couldn't keep it! Especially since I wasn't going to be here much longer!" She stressed, pleading for Lydia, Alliahnna – for everyone to understand. "It was then he proposed to me." Barreau tensed. "He tried to convince me to stay! I told him I couldn't. I loved Barreau."
"That's when he got out of his chair." Sebastian assumed.
"He got up so fast he couldn't stand straight. He stumbled forward and fell!" Lydia tried to imagine the scenario in her mind. It was possible. That's why he was originally a couple feet away. "He was still woozy! His head hit the ground hard!"
"Zat's when ze blood started to come from his ear?" Lydia questioned curiously.
"I didn't know what else to do!" She lowered her head, not wanting Lydia to see her face. "I ran out of the parlor!"
"Not before you delivered ze death blow to his head!" Lydia screamed. "My Uncle was pushed back onto ze floor, his head stomped on!"
"I didn't deliver anything, My Lady!" Natalia shrieked. "I promise."
"She's right." Alliahnna concurred. "It wasn't her. It was him." She pointed to Barreau who shied back, moving away from Natalia. "I'll wager you overheard their conversation."
"He never could keep his hands to himself!" Barreau snapped, starling Lydia. "He always had to touch that which wasn't his!" Barreau glared hurtfully to Natalia, "I knew something was wrong when I saw you leave his room one night! My suspicions were confirmed when you vomited on Monday morning!" Natalia felt the urge to vomit filled her stomach. "Thursday I saw you go into his parlor and told him what was going on! After you left, I entered the room. I saw him lying there." Barreau fell into his memories, seeing the dark hue of his actions taking shape. "As he got up, I pressed his head back into the floor. I yanked him by the feet a small ways so he couldn't regain his footing. I told him Natalia was mine! He said he was sorry, that he couldn't help himself. I didn't care!" He squeezed his eyes closed, tears falling over his cheek. "But I didn't kill him! He was still awake!"
"Awake, yes. But not knowingly conscious." Alliahnna corrected. Barreau and Natalia arched their brows, unsure of what she meant. "You stomped on his head. The stress caused his brain to burst. He was in a daze which led to death."
"I didn't mean to kill him!" Barreau swore up and down. Lydia and Alliahnna believed him, but the facts were still the same. "I just…I just…needed him to stop! I didn't think a kick to the head would kill him!"
"Probably not." Sebastian shrugged. "A single blow to the head would render someone unconscious or disorient them – depending on the person. But because D'Eon wasn't fully recuperated and had a head cold, a flick would have put him into a coma."
Natalia and Barreau shook their heads, unable to believe this was happening. "Be that as it may," Alliahnna snapped, "Neither one of you intended to help him! You left a bleeding, unconscious man on the ground. Had he gotten help, he would possibly be alive!"
"We're sorry." Natalia rasped.
"Truly." Barreau croaked. "We didn't mean for this to happen."
"TOO LATE!" Lydia screeched shrilly, tears rolling over her rosy cheeks. "FAR…TOO…LATE!" Alliahnna held Lydia by the shoulders, urging her not to lash out. "My Uncle's actions may have been questionable, BUT THAT GAVE YOU NO RIGHT TO TAKE HIM FROM ME!" Natalia and Barreau fell to their knees, no longer able to defend their actions. "Earl Barreau De Caledon and Natalia Harlow, you are under arrest for ze death of Count D'Eon Monte Cristo of Toulouse!" Alliahnna motioned her hand. Four guards emerged from the shadows, hoisting the guilty party to their feet. "GET ZEM OUT OF MY SIGHT!" Lydia ordered. The guards escorted the two away from Lydia. Alliahnna and Sebastian watched as Barreau and Natalia were carted off, their disgrace hanging over their heads for the rest of their possibly short lives. "Zis investigation was simply…" Lydia's voice shook, "But one of the hardest I've ever been involved with."
"The one's involving friends always are." Alliahnna droned, standing by the Marques's side.
"How do I recover from zis day?" Lydia held her hands to her heart. "I've lost two more people I admire." She looked to Alliahnna. "How do I overcome this?"
"By seeing the light through the dark." Alliahnna answered. "I lost my entire family many years ago," Alliahnna glanced back lovingly to Sebastian, "But I gained a new one practically overnight." Sebastian smiled gratefully, flattered she thought of him so highly. "And its thanks to them I can live each day to the fullest."
"You're right." Lydia smiled, wiping the tears from her face. "You're absolutely right. You're quite ze interesting girl, Commander Britannia."
"Call me Alliahnna." She offered. "All of my friends do."
"Zen call me Lydia."
"Merci Lydia." Alliahnna giggled.
Sebastian stood behind the two girls, marveling at his master as she made another friend. "That warm and loving glow." He whispered to himself. "It never dims."
POW! A gunshot echoed throughout the cemetery. Crows and ravens retreated into the air, cawing frantically as they flew. Lydia, Alliahnna, and Sebastian immediately shot their gazes toward the direction of the funeral precession.
Ugh. I'm in a rut. I'll be back with another chapter soon.