Author's Note: Hey again, Fanfiction! Once again I am so, so sorry for the long wait in updating. I suffered a severe writer's block and then we got bombarded with so much homework from school that I literally couldn't find the time to write until weekends and holidays. Thank you ever so much for your patience and support. If there is anything that I can improve on please let me know. Anyway here's chapter 14. I apologise if this isn't as action packed as you expected but there are quite a few pairing moments in this chapter also. The next chapter will be up sooner and be more action packed, I promise. :D Until then enjoy and thank you for every ounce of your support! Plant peace for the planet, see you around and keep safe, well and happy! Abbie :D :D :D
Chapter 14-Night at the manor
Clark was barely aware of his son's penetrating, strident screams, even though he was standing right next to the boy and Luke was screaming so loud that even the tiniest spark of shock registered on Lily's intense features yet even the mournful screeches failed to galvanise her from her unbreakable concentration. Luke himself seemed oblivious to the professor's attempts to console him by pressing his tear stained face against his jacket and holding him close to avoid looking at the terrifying sight above them. Flora covered her mouth with her hands to stop her from regurgitating, speechless from horror, as she too dived against the safety of the professor's jacket and refused to release her grip. The others remained frozen to the spot, too shaken to even think about moving in the current scenario, although Connie was glaring ferociously at her sister.
"Clark…," Layton started, loud enough for the man to hear but unable to disguise the sadness and guilt in his voice as he struggled to comprehend the thoughts running through his friend's head at that moment, "Clark…"
Clark didn't even blink. He was aware of nothing at all; not the interminable, indissoluble shaking of his body. Not the enduring sense of terror as it flooded through every bone in his body and turned it into frozen ice. Not even the glistening tears forming in the corner of his eyelid, sliding down his suddenly aged cheeks but failing to obscure his vision from the haunting, diabolical sight in front of them. The only thing he could focus on during the unknown amount of time that was passing was the decaying, dying form of the woman who used to be his lovely, unselfish wife.
The woman to whom he was married and had started a family, who always made him smile whenever she was near and emitted her happiness and beauty to her surroundings. The woman who used to fill his every living moment with joy and relief, who always put others before herself and who used to embrace and joke with him constantly since the moment they'd laid eyes on each other. The woman whom he'd vowed to protect and love forever on their wedding day, who'd looked so stunningly and unnaturally enchanting in her pure white wedding dress as they shared the kiss that sealed their marriage-that woman seemed unreachable now.
As the memories flashed in front of his eyes and his wife was gradually pulled further away with every second that passed he felt his very existence crushed beyond repair with the steadily building guilt at how he'd failed to fulfil his vows—
Every head jerked upwards, relief and the smallest ray of hope inviting them to look up at Brenda's agonised face.
"M…M…Mum…," Luke sobbed as he dared himself to peer into those beckoning black eyes that still contained everlasting emotion, "Please…d…don't d…die…"
At the very sound of his wife's now choking, almost lifeless voice and his son's pained pleas, Clark was abruptly thrown back into reality and the demonic, scrawny face that belonged to her torturer engulfed his entire vision and invited a savage, deadly monster to possess his mind. Glaring viciously at the girl with blazing eyes and gnashing his teeth as if taking a bite out of her very flesh, he scrutinised her devilish form as he tried to decipher where the best target to strike his prey would be. He had scarcely sprung forward a few centimetres, a livid expression having dissolved his face with his burning rage, before Emmy had her arms around him, effectively pinning him to the spot.
"Let go, Emmy! Please! I have to reach her before it's too…just…PLEASE!"
Ceaseless weak demands spilled from his lips as he writhed feebly in Emmy's tight grasp. As much as it pained her, the woman refused to let go, instead pulling him further away from Lily.
"No! You'll get yourself killed as well!" Emmy yelled, her voice quivering with every word although the firmness was undeniable, "You can't!"
Clark briefly accepted his defeat as he once again stared at the malicious grin of pleasure on Lily's face as her chanting began to cease in volume, pouring all of his sheer loathing and fury into her soul with that single gesture.
"LET HER GO!" he bellowed, incensed, "PLEASE! SHE HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH YOU!"
Lily didn't take a single drop of notice as she continued to chant and mutter, acting as if the others didn't even exist. The colour in Clark's face varied greatly with every second that passed; icy pallid one moment due to his undying fear of losing his wife before rapidly deepening to a dark shade of scarlet as the wretched girl remained oblivious to his futile threats.
"YOU RELEASE MY WIFE THIS INSTANT, YOU…YOU…MONSTER!"
Emmy peered helplessly around her, her hold on the man slowly loosening. The professor also took a step forward to confront the deranged girl.
"Release Brenda immediately!" he ordered in a demanding tone, "Please stop whatever it is you are doing!"
Brenda tried to focus on the scene in front of her with all of the strength that she still possessed, as if it would vanish at any second, even though the effort seemed far too strenuous and draining for her as her life ebbed away.
"You…you can't leave us, Brenda!" Clark gasped as she struggled to keep her eyes open, "Please hold on for just a few more moments, my love!"
If she was going to die then she wanted to get a final glimpse of her loved ones and friends before she did so, so that she could cherish those happy memories that she'd shared with each of them during her final moments. It pained her heart especially that Luke had to witness this undoubtedly gruesome scene and she couldn't help worrying at how her family and friends would cope when she was gone. It was heart breaking to think that she would never again be able to hug her son and gently fondle his hair, that she wouldn't be able to caress her husband's soft and loving face and share a last passionate kiss. Even that she wouldn't be able to embrace and laugh with her friends anymore or hear any of the professor's countless puzzles-but any moment now, it would all be over—
'Just let me die!' the dying voice in her mind pleaded as the burning fire of sheer agony continued to grow inside of her, 'I want it to stop!'
She jerked her head fiercely to the side, despite the throbbing pain that made her whole mind suddenly feel numb. She couldn't think like this; she had to believe she could pull through it and willed herself to hang on for the sake of the others as they peered up at her form, trembling and terrified. It was their desperate faces that aided Brenda in her set mission.
"It is her wish that all trespassers are disposed of…and I as her follower will not rest until her wishes are fulfilled…," Lily answered in a high pitched and venomous tone, her gaze still on her victim as she refused to face the group, "I must…do as she wishes…and the woman's energy is so irresistibly…delicious…"
Clark roared in anguish and vehemence as he literally attempted to tear out of Emmy's weakening arms and force every impacting blow on the creature in front of him without blinking an eyelid of regret.
"It's too dangerous, Clark!" Layton called from somewhere behind him as Luke whimpered quietly, "There's nothing to be done!"
"H…Hershel…please…there…there has to be…no…I WON'T ACCEPT IT!"
Flora pressed herself even harder against the professor's jacket and screwed her eyes shut as she desperately tried to clear all thoughts from her mind and concentrate on the only thing she possessed that could be the only hope for survival in the situation-her powers. She dove deep inside of her mind as she frantically tried to concentrate on the powers that her family carried in their blood, but every attempt to pursue them left her feeling more empty and helpless with every second that passed. Clenching her fists tightly as she scoured her soul she began crying in desperation and exhaustion from her fruitless search.
"Why aren't my powers showing themselves?" she cried, fearful that she wouldn't get another chance to locate them, "I'm concentrating as hard as I can…and if I only could use them once then now would be the time! I'm too inexperienced! I'm…j…just…I'm weak!"
The word echoed through her mind in a mocking, piercing chorus of jeers. Weak. Weak. Weak. She felt herself swaying slightly and falling against the professor as he quickly lifted her back up, apprehension covering his face.
'Where are you?! Show yourself!' her mind hollered at no one in particular as tears stained her eyes.
She was exactly the same in their previous adventures; she'd always been left alone to avoid her getting in trouble, always been the one to get abducted by some shadowy villain or get into some form of trouble that delayed the professor from solving each mystery. All because she was weak and as much as she hated to admit it that fact was probably never going to—
This was no time to be feeling sorry for herself and her weakness in the current situation! How could she have been so selfish?
Flora's head jerked in surprise as Lily immediately wrenched her head towards the apprehensive group upon hearing the mixed content of undeniable anger and sadness in the familiar voice. Connie stepped in front of the professor assertively as she spoke, her eyebrows furrowed downwards in disappointment although the pure white shade in her cheeks seemed impossible to terminate. Folding her arms across her chest and clenching her fists to calm herself she proceeded to confront the girl.
"Lily, please! You have to stop this!" Connie shouted in fury, although her tone contained an unmistakable trace of desperation and pity, "I know you cannot help doing so but…this has to stop! Please! Let…let Brenda go!"
Lily looked back into her desperate eyes emotionlessly, wearing an invisible mask that concealed her expressions as she responded with a low hiss.
"Lily," she continued in a threatening tone, "I won't allow another innocent person fall foul to your powers, even though she did trespass in here in the first place. Myra will not accept it and neither shall I if I can do anything to stop you! I command you to stop right now! "
A growl issued from Lily's lips as she muttered something under her breath and Brenda let out a scream that was barely audible due to how drained she'd become. Connie clenched her fists even tighter and glared at the girl.
"This is your last chance, Lily! Don't make me have to force you!"
"You wouldn't dare! I must and will obey her orders!" she snarled as her eyes glowed dangerously, "I shall let nothing stop me! Not even you!"
"Do you want to bet, Lily-because I DO DARE!"
Layton instinctively and instantaneously threw his arms forward to grab the abruptly dangerously assertive girl but Connie appeared to have anticipated his movements and was already far out of reach in the matter of a few seconds. As the professor grasped helplessly at the empty air in his tight fist Luke and Flora found themselves thrown backwards by the impact, lying in an uncomfortable position on the stained scarlet floor boards as they both let out a feeble wavering moan of pain. Having finally come to his senses Clark wrenched himself free of Emmy's hold and tenderly pulled his son to his feet, wrapping his arms around his quivering body and holding the boy so close that both of them could hear the other's racing hearts pounding in an endless array of rapid thuds. Clive hurriedly and delicately helped Flora to stand as she quickly thanked him and watched Connie's blurred figure sprint even further out of their clutch with every tick of the clock.
"Connie, no! Please come back!" Flora called after her in a trembling voice as she tugged on the corner of the professor's jacket, "We have to stop her, Professor!"
Layton merely stared after her, focusing only on the disturbingly high pitched shriek of determination and fury flowing from Connie's vocal chords like an eerie melody of horror. She charged at Lily, plunging deeper and deeper into the zone that literally screamed definite danger. Fists curled and eyes narrowed to slits, she flew within metres of Lily's suddenly motionless form, not a single chant or word now escaping her lips, being forced to a halt against her own will as she collided with an invisible barrier that threw her painfully to the ground.
"Connie! Get away from there this instant!"
Oblivious to the professor's strident, desperate warnings, Connie shakily forced herself onto her feet, her limbs burning with a prickly sensation and a scorching flame from where they'd made contact with Lily's effective shield. She gritted her teeth tightly together to supress a scream of pain or trepidation, her white fists now uncurled and trembling fiercely. Her dark, emerald eyes broadened to the size of jade pools, staring bewilderedly at the creature on the other side of the barrier.
Connie's futile attempts to stop the wretched girl were rewarded with nothing apart from exceedingly enraging the monstrous pair of shadowed, beckoning eyes as they pierced Connie's soul with their unimaginable abrupt vehemence. Lily bared her seemingly jagged teeth, glinting like livid knives in the light, a low, deadly snarl issuing from her emaciated figure as her skeletal chest expanded outwards at irregular intervals, like an apprehensive balloon preparing to explode. Widening intensely before immediately narrowing to barely visible slits, Lily's eyes glared venomously at the group and she screwed her fists so tightly that they'd instantly crack if she forced any more pressure on them.
"That…was not wise…," she spat in a severely intimidating tone, "How dare you…go against her wishes!"
Murmuring incantations rapidly under her ragged breath, the girl jerked one of her frail arms in Brenda's direction, her quivering hand hovering ominously over the woman's excruciated figure for a few moments as a bright light devoured her palms. Not taking her eyes off of Connie's gawping expression, Lily abruptly threw her arm behind her forcefully, oblivious to the resounding collision as Brenda's skeletal figure crashed against the sharp edge of the wall. The professor winced as a sickening crack instantly followed, glaring at Lily with narrowed eyes. A barely audible agonised cry forced its way through Brenda's surviving vocal chords after several strenuous movements and she immediately crumpled to the floor. Not another sound escaped her cracked lips as she lay frozen, curled tightly into an uncomfortable position, ostensibly lifeless and unmoving. Luke gripped his mentor's hand tighter and sobbed aloud once, almost cutting off Layton's circulation. Flora whimpered quietly and squeezed her eyes shut to block out the scene, vaguely making out Emmy's loud but seemingly consoling voice as she tried to address Clark. The man simply stared, speechless, at his wife, suddenly limp and motionless as he tried not to cry out in aguish at her suffering.
Lily didn't even acknowledge the barely breathing, still body of her victim behind her as she growled menacingly for the second time as she slowly stalked towards the desk to her immediate left with a ravenous expression. Her bony fingers groped around the surface for some time before they eventually curled possessively over a rather thin pointed object, the tip pointed downwards, the light casting shimmering rays of silver and crusted scarlet from its blade like structure. Ripped cloth had been wrapped repeatedly around the handle, also stained with the same substance that died the tip of the object. As the girl held it firmly in both hands, her eyes glimmering ominously as she steadily approached the group, a wave of trepidation washed over Connie and a hoarse gasp of realisation and horror escaped her lips. The professor also sensed the perilous situation and instinctively shielded Luke and Flora as Clive, Clark and Emmy all recoiled in fear.
No one in the room needed two guesses to identify the sinister tool grasped in the white palms of the demented demon.
"You…should know better than to interfere with her plans!" Lily hissed acridly as she deliberately rotated the knife so that its tip extended outwards in front of her tremoring form, "You're a traitor to the sect!"
No sooner had the last syllable been spat out before the girl's eyes shone brightly as they focused intently on the blade of the knife. Releasing her hold on its stained handle, the group saw with uttermost awe and horror that the knife was hovering in mid-air, animated into deadly life. Immediately averting her gaze to Connie's suddenly pallid face, she jerked her head forwards and released a high pitched, frenzied scream as the knife flew across the room, roaring manically with blood lust.
"Quickly, get down!" Layton ordered loudly in a voice that he was trying to keep steady despite the current situation, "Connie!"
The girl's knees quivered with intense terror but she did not drop to the floor in the same manner as the others had done.
'Why on earth would she do this?' Connie thought to herself as she closed her eyes and images began to swirl through her mind, 'I'll have to stop her somehow…'
Even now, as the silent scream for blood and agony issued through the air as the knife cut through it in its ceaseless attempts to reach her, she knew that the cruel blade would pierce her before she reached the ground. Her eyes widened in trepidation and she let out a strident, wavering shriek that seemed to freeze the professor's blood to ice in his veins, shielding her face with tremoring hands as if they'd offer some form of effective protection against the deadly, glimmering dagger, now a mere metre away from torturously scathing her, if it didn't cut the small thread that was her racing life first—
"NO, CONNIE! NO!"
Automatically spinning on her heel Connie's broadened eyes frantically flitted across the room, trying to locate where that desperate, piercing yet all too familiar voice had sounded from. The owner of the compassionate yet ringing voice hurled himself to his feet abruptly and lunged at the girl in a peculiarly graceful manner, a dove soaring through the sky, wings outstretched as the light illuminated an expression that was not one of peace or tranquillity, but of sheer determination and impulsiveness. Connie only watched, helpless and terrified, as he flew directly towards the ominous weapon, teeth gritted tight, tears welling in the corner of his dark eyes as he kept his gaze focused on nothing but the glimmering edge of the blade, inexplicably discerning its movements as if both he and the animated object were a single joined entity.
Before the girl could so much as breathe a barely audible scream of horror as her throat tightened in a terrifying convulsion an overpowering force slammed into her frail body, sending her sprawling to the floor and trying her hardest to ease the bruises already forming on her chest. Within a second her mouth dropped open in revulsion at her despicably egoistical actions as she groped frantically at the air around her where her saviour had stood just mere moments ago.
"No!" she cried frantically, tears beginning to stream down her cheeks, "NO!"
Similar pleas and resounding frantic hollers of apprehension echoed around the room repeatedly, being drowned out almost immediately as a harsh, excruciated howl instantly cut through the atmosphere, the agony and unmistakeable fear in his tone freezing each and every one of them to the core. Connie covered her mouth with her now fiercely quivering hands in trepidation, a steadily forming waterfall of despondency running down her pale cheeks as a scarlet shower erupted from close by and rapidly doused her leg, burning deeply into her flesh and running like lava. Completely oblivious to this fact, she watched in revulsion as a silver blade fell lifelessly to the floor, its tip dripping a crimson liquid. The grotesque object was quickly followed by a fairly tall youth as he sank to his knees, his now scarlet hand clutched tightly against his shoulder and his compassionate face now twisted with anguish as he screwed his eyes shut and gritted his teeth together hopelessly. As Lily slowly approached his reeling form, Connie's eyes rested on a dark marine cap, severed from its rightful place on its owners head. Only then was she dragged back to reality in simultaneous unison to the others.
"This can't be happening!" the professor breathed, leaping to his feet as the others followed suit, "This is madness!"
Connie began wringing her hands repeatedly, staring vulnerably at the boy's agonised form.
"Please…please stop it, Lily…," she whispered pleadingly as the tears continued to fall down her cheeks, "Please…"
"CLIVE!" Emmy yelled, the abrupt terror and excruciation in her voice more than identifiable as her feet instinctively pounded across the floor, "No! I won't lose you again!"
Clark instantly followed Emmy's example, lust for vengeance for his presumably dying wife flowing like blood through his veins. As the professor hopelessly held out a hand to stop them, making sure that Luke and Flora were still safely behind him, another pained cry shot across the room as the unmistakable form of the demonic girl edged closer towards her latest victim, eyes gleaming dangerously as she began chanting under her breath again. Clive's body immediately lost any signs of resistance as he felt the fiery energy that flowed through his veins immediately being torn from him with every passing second, feeding the creature as though it were a delicious beverage. Eyes screwed closed and face distorted with pain as he cried out helplessly to his surroundings.
"STOP THIS INSANITY THIS INSTANT!" Emmy bawled stridently as she tried to push past the obstructing figure of her mentor, before her voice abruptly became quieter with hoarseness and despair although the livid expression was still identifiable, "I…I don't want to hurt you…but I may find myself having to do so, for Clive and Brenda's sakes!"
Lily simply peered back at her, her palms trembling as her prey's energy coursed through her circulatory system.
"I will gladly die for her…if it would allow her to benefit then I would do so…gladly…," she hissed in response, her words now barely more than a whisper, "but not before I fulfil her wishes of ridding these vile treacherous—"
The girl unexpectedly found herself cut off as she gave a piercing shriek before abruptly collapsing to the ground, the eerie, vivid glow enveloping her body gradually ebbing away as her body fell flaccid and unconscious. Exceedingly relieved yet bewildered simultaneously, the professor cautiously peered up from her still form, feeling slightly piteous, allowing his eyes to rest on the rather flustered and heavily panting figure that stood directly behind the position where the girl had stood moments ago. Panting ceaselessly, Myra gingerly lowered the heavy, metal saucepan clutched tightly in her tremoring hand, her outfit presently creased and askew with several strands of her hair protruding stubbornly out of their original parting. Her cheeks glowed a deep, flushed crimson as her broadened eyes began scanning the room continuously, smouldering with endless questions and a fiery expression containing possible anger and betrayal, cutting into everything as if her gaze was a particularly dangerous dagger.
Upon acknowledging the presence of her guardian, Connie scrambled to her feet hastily, guilt adorning every inch of her face. Emmy immediately dodged past the professor and frantically ran straight for Clive's vigorously shaking form, caressing him in an impenetrable embrace before he could so much as breathe.
"M…M…Myra…," Connie began awkwardly, biting her lip as she spoke, "I…I'm terribly sorry…I…I should never have…"
Myra gave a curt nod but refused to utter a word to the girl as she witnessed the drained state of Clive with raised eyebrows. Layton forced a weak smile of reassurance to Clive before turning his attention to Myra.
"M…Myra…," he started hesitantly, pulling his hat down by the brim so that it obscured the current expression of sadness on his face, "we're…truly sorry…about—"
"Lucky I found you all before it was too late…," she interrupted in a voice that she was trying to keep neutral, but failed to hide the occasional wavers breaking through her words "I heard all of the commotion from downstairs and took the secret passage to this room without delay...it's such a good job that I did..."
She was silent for several moments as she knelt down next to Lily and tenderly laid a hand on her forehead as she flattened the stray parts of her hair that were insistent on protruding from her scalp. Her eyes were closed and her white hands positioned over her chest in a gesture that made her seem so tranquil and peaceful that her appearance of a few moments ago could've without a doubt been considered extremely ironic, a living paradox in the flesh. Myra sighed wistfully as she shakily got to her knees.
"She did it again then…," she murmured, refusing to take her eyes off of her daughter, "I just have no idea…how long this will go on for…"
Layton repositioned his hat and peered down at Clive, who was barely adjusting to reality after the terror he'd endured. After a few moments of hesitation Emmy picked up the blood-stained knife lying a few centimetres away from her, grimacing at the memory of its impact, using it to cut a scrap of material from her jacket and staunch the flow of the scarlet liquid oozing out of his shoulder. She murmured comforting words into his ear throughout the whole process as she repeatedly checked for any further minor injuries that the weapon could've inflicted.
"I…I…I…I'm fine, Emmy…really…I'm…okay…," he faltered, trying to assure her for the twelfth time that he was alright when technically he wasn't, wincing as a flare of agony shot through his body, "please…it's just a graze…it's Mrs Triton who should be getting all of the medical attention!"
Emmy's eyes instantly widened as she forced her gaze to the still woman several paces in front of her, her heart panging with guilt as she turned back apologetically to Clive. Luke and Flora both quickly embraced him, close to tears and gasping in immense relief, although the constant tremors of Luke's shaking arms wrapped around Clive's waist was a clear indication to the thoughts and memories flashing through the boy's mind.
"Flora, L…Luke," Clive whispered to them quietly as he smiled weakly at them and gently ran his smooth fingers across Luke's shoulders, "I…I appreciate your care for me but, Luke, please go and see to your mother…she and Mr Triton need you…"
Luke sniffed gratefully and after a few moments of hesitation disentangled himself from around Clive and turned to dash to the spot where his parents currently were, but not before whispering a response to his friend in a hoarse, wavering voice: "Th…thank you, Clive…"
Clive watched as the boy wasted no time in running to his mother, swallowing hard as a wave of empathy and sadness washed over him. Emmy looked uncertainly at Clive, receiving a sharp nod of response to indicate his demands, as she slowly approached the professor, murmuring ceaselessly under her breath and trying desperately to compose herself for the sight that awaited her. As her apprehensive form gradually shuffled out of sight Connie abruptly ran over to Clive, her face smothered in indescribable guilt.
"C…C…Clive…," she started hesitantly in a slightly awkward tone, her voice trembling fiercely, "you…you…you saved my l…life. You took that blade for…m…me…you…took that injury for—I…I owe you my life…I'm…ever so…exceedingly so sorry from the bottom of my heart…you didn't deserve any of—"
"C…Connie…," Clive gasped in surprise, blinking rapidly as he peered into her tearful eyes, "it…it was…nothing. I couldn't let her kill or harm you and…it…it is the duty of every gentleman to h…help a lady in need…"
Connie sniffed and wiped away the tears beginning to fall from her eyes as she half held out her arms, as if to embrace him, before quickly noticing Flora and pulling them back to her sides and coughing to cover up her gesture. She peered back up at Clive's youthful, amiable face and let a small, weak smile form on her lips.
"I…I swear from the bottom of my heart…that I will repay your actions...if I have to…give my soul to the Sect of Darkness themselves…I will repay you, Clive…"
The boy's eyes widened as he found his head nodding of its own will in response to the girl's words. A flush of red began to form in his cheeks, being twice as noticeable due to his pale complexion.
"Of…of course, Connie…"
Giving his hand a discreet affectionate squeeze, she glanced apologetically at him once again before hastily scurrying off after Myra's apoplectic form, head lowered and trembling every second. Clive stared after her, heart pounding in his chest, entranced by her kind words, her mesmerising face, her gentle, compassionate manner—
Flora gripped Clive's hand exceedingly tight, causing him to let out a cry of pain and instantly return back to reality. She immediately loosened her hold, gasping as Clive's pained, grateful yet questioning eyes met her helpless, sorrowful gaze.
"You're such a good friend, Flora," he whispered soothingly to her as he gently ran his hand through her hair, being careful not to put extra pressure on his injury, "I'm so lucky to have you by my side…"
"N…no…I'm not, Clive," she stammered in response, averting her gaze to a patch of still fresh blood on the floor and sighing dolefully, "I…I couldn't find my powers…I was useless…If…if only I'd used my power…then…I could've prevented all of this from happening! Your injuries, Mrs Triton…I don't…even know if she's alive!"
Clive frowned in concern as he warmly took her face in his hands, intentionally forcing her to look into his now fiery eyes and pay her full attention to the words he had to say. The girl fell silent as she peered distressfully into his instantly consoling eyes, letting out a brief gasp of surprise as his finger caught the silver tear that had fallen from her eye.
"Listen to me now, Flora," he spoke, his voice having taken on a sincere tone, "you are not useless, or helpless. There was nothing that anyone could do…but it was stopped before things got any worse. That's all that matters now; the past is the past. Please, Flora, never, ever doubt yourself. Overcome that and you will find that you can do absolutely anything."
Blinking rapidly, letting the boy's words melt into her brain to stay there permanently, she bit her lip and looked gratefully at Clive, a smile still refusing to envelope her face as the seconds passed.
"B…but..," she persisted, "what if Myra hadn't have come? What would've happened then? I couldn't use my powers. Emmy and Mr Triton almost assaulted Lily and it wouldn't have been long before she'd harmed them also. You and Mrs Triton…would you still be here now?"
Clive closed his eyes, not knowing how to respond, being interrupted by the frantic crying issuing from around him.
"Mum…p…p…please…open your eyes! PLEASE!"
The two teenagers stared at each other in shock and immediately ran over to the others, trembling fingers interlocked as they eventually approached the pitiful scene in front of them.
Quivering and sobbing hysterically, Luke clung to his mother's icy, rigid arm with a sharp grip, tears spilling down his cheeks as he remained oblivious to the pair of compassionate, tender hands perched consolingly on his shoulders. Emmy had bent down behind him and was presently trying her hardest to comfort the boy but to no avail, fighting valiantly to ignore the shaking of her limbs and the pounding of her heart as she stared helplessly below her. The scene was unnaturally similar to one she'd endured several months ago and the memory that she hadn't been able to console Luke in that situation either was exceedingly disturbing to her. Only this time it was his mother, not his father, that was in an extremely dire situation. The professor, in the meantime, was currently kneeling next to his friend, his heart aching at the piteous state of him. He simply watched with a saddened, guilt-ridden expression as he pulled the brim of his hat over his face, knowing that no form of comforting words of consoling gestures would be able to bring his friend back to reality for the time being.
If Luke had looked dreadfully grief-stricken then the course of terrifying events that had occurred only minutes ago had completely and utterly destroyed and broken his father. Clark was kneeling haphazardly across the floor, the frozen, motionless body of his wife lying lifelessly in his almost limp arms. His head was bowed low respectfully the entire time, ceaseless tears of torment flowing down his suddenly aged face and dripping down Brenda's colourless neck as he cradled her delicate head affectionately in a serene gesture. Several times a minute his vigorously shuddering hand solicitously traced the various strands of his wife's eternally beautiful hair, running his hand dotingly through the now stiffened ends. Her eyes remained closed, her face now sunken, seemingly emaciated to the brink of becoming a skeleton. Interminable sobs racked his body as he stared at her ghastly face, still just as beautiful as she ever had been in his own eyes, waiting desperately to see breath escaping her lips.
His own hair, now lank with undying sorrow, simply fell unevenly down his face as he crouched over Brenda's body and buried his face in her hair, weeping heartbreakingly as his every emotion was absorbed into his wife's carcass.
"B…B…B…Bren…da…," he choked, his words muffled by her thick hair, "P…p…please…my darling…please…be alive…"
He held her close to his racing heart, caressing every limb of her body as he continued to cry bitterly until it seemed as if he possessed no more tears to shed, or no longer carried the energy to mourn. Luke watched his father with wide eyes, more frightened than ever as he hesitantly shuffled towards the suddenly languished form of his mentor and allowed himself to be hidden in his amiable, sympathetic embrace. The professor held his apprentice close to his chest and murmured consolingly to him, feeling his abruptly frail body shaking with the sobs coursing through him. Flora found herself unable to bear the scene in front of her and had to be concealed in Emmy's jacket as she held onto Clive's and Flora's hands as if their very lives depended on it. Layton gently stroked Brenda's lifeless hand, cautiously letting it rest on his friend's shoulder after a few moments.
"Clark…," he began, swallowing hard as his heart morphed into lead, "Is…is there anything that I can do?"
His friend was at first oblivious to the comforting presence of his other friend as he continued to cradle Brenda's light, icy body against his chest, overwhelming emotions of intolerable trauma, crushing culpability and despairing dejection smothering his consciousness until his very soul shattered into myriad shreds of the unforgettable loving memories that they'd both shared together.
"I…I failed…to protect...her…," he stated in a quivering voice, his trembling palms feeling the smooth texture of her frozen cheeks, "Brenda…please…forgive me…"
The professor dug his fingers into his shoulder after a moment's hesitation, causing his friend to turn his head a fraction of an inch so that their eyes met for a brief amount of time. The tear streaks were still identifiable on the man's face, more tears steadily seeping from the corner of his eyes. Layton's own eyes remained sincere as he peered with concern at his friend, heart aching at the mere sensation of those around him suffering unnecessary emotions that they in no way deserved.
"Clark, you mustn't blame yourself for this. No one is to blame, really, but you certainly cannot pile any of the guilt or negative emotions onto your shoulders. Please, it should've been my responsibility to try to save her but I also failed in those aspects."
Clark looked back at his friend with bold, black eyes that glistened like marbles from the glazed tears that hadn't ceased to fall. He sighed despondently and removed one of his hands from around his wife and placed it on the professor's shoulder.
"H…Hershel…," he began, lips tremoring as he spoke, "you're a good friend…you really are…but…she was my wife…it was my responsibility to protect her. I…I promised her…that is the purpose of taking those life-abiding vows on the day that the two of us became joined as one. To protect her was one…for…better or for worse, in sickness and in health..."
He instinctively turned back to his wife and gently kissed her forehead, his next words barely audible.
"Until…until death did us…part…"
His words were lost as he began caressing the one whom he'd failed to protect, tears still running down his cheeks although they were no longer in such quantities anymore. The professor removed his hand from his friend's shoulder but remained behind him in a protective stance, staying by his side like a genuine best friend. He didn't dare utter another word though, as he peered at the delicate beautiful woman, still so fragile and innocent in her current position, defenceless against the macabre horrors that had impaled her soul. The sobs from the small boy caught in the professor's embrace ceased to resound across the room, although his eyes were red and sore from the countless tears he'd shed when he eventually emerged from his mentor's jacket. Emmy bowed her head respectfully and glanced sadly at Clive and Flora, both clinging to the other as the girl fought valiantly to keep her grief and self-pity locked deep inside of her. Connie covered her mouth with her hand, completely speechless as she glanced uncertainly at Lily's unconscious form, trying valiantly to ignore the vicious shaking of her limbs. Peering up at Clive, Emmy noticed that his face was becoming steadily paler and that he was gritting his teeth as if to keep from screaming out in agony, but she refused to say anything for the time being, didn't want to disturb the respectful, solemn silence that had descended upon every inhabitant of the room, didn't want to witness the conflicting expressions of sorrow, anger and betrayal on both Myra and Connie's faces as the girl clasped her hands together in a gesture of—
An abrupt rush of warm air tickled Clark's exposed neck, causing him to let out a sharp breath of astonishment as his gaze immediately shot towards the emaciated body he held pleadingly in adoration to his pounding heart. Another warm breath greeted him as Brenda's seemingly skeletal chest began to steadily rise and fall at irregular intervals, her breathing unusually ragged and hollow. Even though it was only an extremely weak gesture it had definitely had the desired effect; Clark jerked bolt upright, taking short ceaseless breaths of immeasurable relief, appearing to have been sparked by an invisible lightning bolt. Absorbing and being rejuvenated by her gradual breaths like the purest, freshest air the man let his head fall against his wife's as he clung to her even tighter, tears still falling down his cheeks although now they were dissolved with incalculable relief and gratification.
"Oh, Brenda!" he exclaimed, unaware that his body was still shaking, "Thank...thank goodness you're…"
Having heard the unusually abrupt change of tone in his father's voice and the unmistakable exhalation of his mentor as he patted the boy's back soothingly, Luke hesitantly emerged from the professor's jacket and stumbled towards his father, a small smile of relief and pleasure beginning to form on his lips. He wiped away the remnants of his tears and breathed heavily, clutching his mother's hand lovingly as Clark's free arm encircled his son and pulled him close in a tight embrace. Emmy, Clive, Flora and Connie immediately relaxed at seeing the discreet signs of life in the woman, placing their hands to their hearts with relief. Connie closed her eyes tightly and began twirling a strand of her sleek hair around her trembling finger, conflicting emotions bubbling inside of her.
"S…so…," Luke began, breaking the hushed silence that had fallen other than the occasional deep sigh of consolation from the others, "Mum's…Mum's going to be alright then? She's alive?"
The professor smiled gently at his apprentice as he placed both of his arms tenderly on both Clark's and Luke's shoulders.
"I believe that she's currently unconscious, which is certainly to be expected. She'll be fine though. I give you my word on that," he told them both in an amiable, quiet voice, "I know as well as you do that Brenda is immensely strong willed and will recover, hopefully, very soon. Probably exceedingly shaken from the current ordeal but after some rest and attention she should begin to come around. I guess…it could've been worse…"
The professor trailed off slowly as Myra silently approached him, her eyebrows knitted with sincerity. She had her hands firmly folded and the flushed shade of sheer anger and betrayal had faded very slightly but her eyes now cast remorse and pity as she peered hard at Brenda's seemingly serene posture. Emmy bit her lip savagely as she, Flora and Clive quickly stepped out of Myra's way, eyes cast apologetically to the ground. The professor pulled the brim of his hat further down his face, Luke and Clark having not altered their current positions but having sensed the unease around them, as he waited silently for her cutting words to dig deep into him like Lily's blade about betrayal accompanied with several statements of 'I told you this would happen'.
Swallowing her searing emotions for the time being and fighting to keep the expression of identifiable betrayal off of her face as her breathing came short and rapid, Myra simply sighed dolefully and placed a hand to her chest. Closing her eyes in relief and allowing her fingers to curl fiercely around the delicate fabric of her dress, she finally averted her gaze from Brenda to the professor and Clark before stating in a hoarse voice which was barely more than a strained whisper, "Thank heavens she's alive…"
Connie finally forced herself to look at Myra, eyes wide with veiled emotions, shakily stepping towards Clive and coughing lightly into her palm. Myra regarded her weak attempts with a fiery gaze that burned with questions.
"What happened in here, Connie?" she demanded in a suddenly rasping voice, "What did Lily do? Was there anything different in the way she acted?"
Connie nodded immediately, a solid lump forming in her throat.
"She-Lily that is-well…she was doing the…consumption ritual again…but…she tried to throw a …blade at me when I tried to stop her…she's…never done that before—"
"I see," she interrupted, "It was such a good thing that she was stopped in—she threw a blade at you?!" she exclaimed incredulously, having only just acknowledged her timid words, "What happened? Did she hurt you in any way?!"
"She called me a traitor to the s…sect…," Connie stammered hesitantly as her eyes flickered to the girl's still motionless form, "why—"
"Did she hurt you?" Myra asked again, concern in her tone, "Are you injured?"
"N…no…Clive took the blade for m…me…," she faltered, choking on the bile rising in her throat at the mere memory of it, "I…I couldn't do anything to—Clive are you alright?!"
The boy staggered as his head lurched forward, his knees threatening to crumple as a rush of agony tore through his mind. He let out a hiss of excruciation and discomfort as white flooded into his face yet again. Connie cried out in anguish and wrapped both of her arms around him in suit to Flora, apprehension etched onto their faces.
"Ngh…I'm…not feeling too…brill…iant," he faltered through gritted teeth in a voice that was drained of life, "Just a little…funny that's all…"
"Wh…what's wrong?" Emmy asked uncertainly as every head jerked to his staggering form, "Clive you look completely exhausted!"
"It's…it's just a headache…"
"No, Clive, it's not just a mere headache!" Connie fretted anxiously as she brushed her hand against his forehead, "Lily tried to perform her consumption ritual on you—"
"Pardon me for the interruption but what exactly is this consumption ritual that you keep speaking of? What does it do?"
Both Myra and Connie turned to face the serious, questioning glance of the professor, shock registering on their faces. Myra peered back at him and began wringing her hands together as Flora stared at Clive in terror.
"It's…one of the most advanced necromantic rituals known in the dark arts and…Lily has mastered its use as well as the other members of the sect," she began in explanation, trying to keep her voice calm, "If…if Lily can keep the ritual going for a certain amount of time…no hope of survival or recovery exists for her victim because…because…Lily is so powerful that she can…drain the life energy from her victims…"
The professor let out a gasp of horror as both Clark and Luke shot upwards in shock, mouths gaping open in a similar stance to the other inhabitants of the room, with the exception of Connie.
"She…she can really do that?" Clark spluttered, "Why?"
"I believe that once the ritual is complete and the person's life energy has been completely drained then…she consumes the energy…increasing her own life force and powers. It is…a common fate for those who tangle with those gifted in the dark arts…the Sorceress of Darkness is no exception, I presume. The energy that they take…is then given to those higher in their sect when the others offer some of their blood to them…to increase their powers…"
The professor turned back to Brenda, disgust steadily coursing through him at the thought of the fate that could've met her had they not been there to distract the monstrous girl. Connie gripped Clive's arm even tighter, effectively keeping him on his feet, as she murmured reassuring things into his pounding ears before turning again to her guardian with an uncertain expression.
"What…what are we going to do, Myra?" she asked in a tremoring voice, cheeks as white as marble, "There has to be something that can be done to help her…and Clive…"
Myra nodded in response, being met with the pleading expressions of the room's inhabitants.
"I'll…I'll be able to help, certainly," she stated calmly, despite the situation, "It will take the night…but I should be able to heal them. My…parents taught me how to deal with remedies such as this and I can assure you that I am very well advanced in the area of apothecary. With the correct herbs and potions I should be able to produce a healing concoction that will cure them completely."
Clark, Luke, Flora and Emmy exhaled deeply as Clive tried to force a weak grateful smile of gratitude to the woman. The professor's eyes however had immediately averted to Connie; the girl had abruptly stiffened to the spot and her face appeared even paler than it had been several moments ago. Frowning thoughtfully, he absorbed her restless gestures intently. A dreaded expression briefly flickered across Connie's wide eyes and an emotion that resembled fearful conscience creased the corners of her pallid face as she bit her lip so viciously that blood oozed from a deep crack in her scarlet lips. He shook his head in confusion, believing that his imagination was overpowering him at this dreaded late hour. He'd only managed to get an hour's worth of sleep at the most before he was roused by his friends petrified piercing screams—
Connie instinctively took a deep breath to compose herself before hesitantly speaking up over her guardian.
"Myra…please…," she began in an almost pleading tone, "please reconsider that method…"
Myra shot the girl a gaze that only she could discern, causing her to cough lightly and avert her gaze to the floor.
"I know how you feel about it, Connie dear, but it is the kindest method…," she reminded her before turning to explain to the professor, "This method of treatment is effective but…there are specific ingredients in it that remove the most recent memories from the consumer's mind, thus leaving them with no recollection of the ordeal they've endured. I…feel that it is the kindest option…"
The professor paused for a moment before nodding in response along with his friend.
"Of course, Myra. If it will cure them then that is all that matters…and at least they won't suffer from remembering the…ordeal with Lily…"
Emmy and Flora gave Clive's arm a sympathetic squeeze as he nodded in a confused manner, oblivious to the irritated expression in Myra's eye as she glared at Brenda.
"She isn't entirely blameless in the situation though," she started in a tone of aggravation that made Luke wince and Clark's body tense, "She came in this room knowing full well of the danger it posed. She should've known that nothing positive would come from opening the door. Although she was lucky enough to survive I am still disgusted by her actions, even if it was only to have one overly curious peek! She may not have been so lucky!"
Emmy coughed loudly when the woman paused for breath, frowning a little at her words.
"Last I saw of her she was heading to the bathroom," she explained quickly in defence of the usually kind-hearted woman, "Brenda would never usually break any rules or conditions. She must have wandered in here for some kind of purpose…"
Flora and Clive instantly nodded to back up the woman's words as Luke and Clark looked at each other with apprehensive expressions. Layton placed a hand to his chin in thought, his stomach tightening at the sudden sharpness that had surfaced in the woman's tone.
"Emmy is right; Brenda would never do such a thing without good intention," he mused quietly, "There must be some logical explanation to this…"
He trailed off as Luke let out an abrupt gasp of astonishment, pulling a torn, tattered item from his mother's belt. He held it up, somewhat secretly triumphant, as Clark frowned in distaste as he ran his smooth fingers along the item's frayed surface. The professor's eyes widened as his gaze fell on the item in Luke's hands. Emmy and Flora squinted to get a better look, Clive barely managing to stay on his feet in between them. A flicker of surprise registered on Connie's face as she raised her eyebrows questioningly.
"What…what is it?" she asked curiously as Myra's eyes narrowed.
Scrutinising the object thoroughly, Layton was able to deduce that the item that Brenda had had on her possession resembled some ancient scroll of some sort, the yellowing edges of the parchment rather ragged in certain areas. A slender cleaved ribbon secured the scroll in place, having loosened considerably so that the parchment could easily be accessed. Clark placed a hand to his chin in confusion as he watched the boy roll it repeatedly in his hands.
"It…looks like some scroll of some sort…," he observed, a tone of slight interest failing to remain hidden in his words, "It seems…rather...unnerving. Why…why would Brenda have something like that on her?"
"Why indeed...," Layton murmured, more to himself than to Clark, "Perhaps she picked it up somewhere, but why she'd bring it in here of all places…"
Luke turned over the parchment for the twelfth time with quivering hands, staring uncertainly at the professor.
"What…what do you suppose it says, Professor?" he asked curiously as he quickly glanced at his mother's face, "Do you think it could contain some instructions or a clue?"
"I honestly don't know, my boy," he replied gently, "Why don't you do the honours of unrolling it?"
After a few seconds of hesitation the boy nodded slowly and with trembling fingers began to loosen the string binding the paper and prised the furled parchment from its rightful place. Blowing off a gown of dust that had gradually settled on its decaying surface, he wrinkled his nose to supress the steadily growing urge to sneeze and cautiously unrolled the parchment to its full length, squinting at the smudged, scarlet ink and symbols that ran down every inch of the page. The writing was barely discernible from its current condition but Luke decided not to let this phase him as he pursued the perplexing text.
"Well?" Emmy pressed gently, feeling slightly guilty as excitement rose inside of her; she forcibly put an end to it by biting her tongue painfully.
"What does it say?" Flora asked, anxiety creeping into her voice, "Is it…of any use?"
The professor examined his apprentice carefully as his eyes widened as he read in lingering silence.
"Um…I can't make out that much…but it does seem hastily written," he mumbled apologetically as he glanced at the professor, "but it seems to be addressed to—"
"Let me see that, boy," Myra interrupted abruptly as she whisked the parchment out of the boy's flailing empty hands before scanning it feverishly herself.
Her lips moved rapidly as she read the contents of the parchment, eyes broadening and her lips becoming pursued as she neared its end. Sweat seemed to break out on her brow before a suddenly outraged expression enveloped her features and she hastened to roll the parchment back up as several pairs of questioning eyes peered hungrily back at her.
"Myra, what does it say?" the professor asked in a confused manner as Luke peered at the woman with a slightly hurt expression, "Does it have any bearing on our investigation?"
Myra jerked her head upwards in reply as she clenched her fists and glanced towards the door meaningfully.
"I'm afraid not…but by now it's extremely late and I doubt any of you have had a wink of sleep." she responded boldly "Please go back to your rooms and try to get some rest. I must revive Lily and prepare the remedy for these two as soon as possible. Connie, if you could assist me I'd be extremely grateful."
Connie nodded, biting her lip apprehensively. Myra gestured again towards the door, a hint of impatience in her expression which the professor easily detected. He knew that the course of events must have been rather stressful for both her and Connie as well as for themselves. Inclining his head slowly, he patted Luke's shoulder gently and nodded to his assistants as he made his way across the room.
"Of course, Myra. We'll retire to our rooms now…I am exceedingly sorry…," he apologised quietly as he led his daughter and apprentice out of the room by the hand, "Emmy, Clark, let's retire for the night."
The two adults peered back apprehensively at Brenda and Clive, who Connie had now laid tenderly on the floor and was presently running her hand through his coarse, bloodied hair in admiration. Clark seemed as reluctant to leave his wife as Emmy was to leave Clive, the guilt-ridden expression that she had failed to protect him once again clearly printed on her face.
"They'll be in safe hands, I promise," the woman whispered softly as she glanced at Flora, "Just lock your doors securely and sleep soundly until the morning. Good night to you all…"
The professor stumbled slightly as she ushered them out of the door, refusing to let go of Flora's hand.
"Goodnight to you both—" he began before being interrupted by the sight of the wooden door swiftly closing in his face.
Flora peered at the professor worriedly, thoughts racing through her mind, as the resounding echo of its forceful slam resonated around the walls of the now silent manor…
"Do…do you really think that they'll be alright, Professor?"
The professor swallowed hard, his gaze averted to the carpeted floor, hands resting firmly on his knees yet tremoring continuously as he let out a doleful sigh. He closed his eyes gently and his mind throbbed painfully as his adopted daughter's agonising question resounded across the sleek walls for what had to be the twelfth time in an hour.
"Flora," he began, finally forcing himself to look into her frantic, apprehensive eyes, "I can honestly say that I do not know…"
The girl nodded quickly and let her gaze fall to the floor below, her eyelids drooping as her vision blurred, although she had no idea whether it was from fatigue, pain or apprehension. Emmy was sat directly in between Flora and a currently quivering Luke, an arm embracing each of their shoulders in the consoling presence of nurturing benevolence and ceaseless support. She was fighting valiantly to keep a calm expression and posture for their sakes but there was no mistaking the occasional shiver creeping through her legs and the trembles of trepidation in her arms as they vibrated in repeated rhythms against their shaking shoulders. Her ankles were positioned in the formation of a flawless cross as the tips of her sturdy boots brushed against the smooth fibres of the carpet as they steadily swung back and forth like a sharp pendulum blade. Her hair hung unevenly down her face, its dark colour heavily illuminated amongst her icy complexion. The professor watched her closely, sighing as her pupils kept flickering towards the door to their room and a reflection of anxiety greeted him as the woman's ghastly appearance glinted in a nearby mirror. Occasionally he'd see her fingers twitch sharply and her lips allow a doleful exhalation pass; it truly made his heart ache to see his friends in such a pitiful state, even though it was a sight that he'd gradually adjusted to accept.
"I'm sure that everything will…be alright by the morning," Emmy stated reassuringly with a convincing smile as she squeezed Flora's shoulder upliftingly, "Myra knows what she's doing-they're in good hands."
Her smile seemed to spark a ray of hope in the girl's heart, for her eyes gradually rested on Emmy's face and the flames of a hopeful expression flickered across her features.
"You…really think so?" she asked as if for confirmation, "I just…I wish…I wish that I could've done something back then…with my powers…I feel…I feel that I could've stopped what was happening to poor Mrs Triton and Clive!"
"Flora, no one would've been expecting you to perform such a feat single handed. That would just be inhumanly possible-especially against Lily in that demonic state."
"Mhmm…I know, Emmy…I just can't help but worry about them…"
Emmy responded by hugging the girl even tighter.
"I know, Flora. Everyone here is exceedingly worried and anxious, but by the morning everything will be resolved. Just you wait!"
"O...Okay…," she stammered uncertainly, breathing deeply as the professor peered gratefully at his assistant with an expression of gratitude.
Luke remained silent, continuously tracing invisible patterns adorning his palms self-consciously, gaze unbreakable, focused, into a void of nothingness. His fringe drooped, languishing, untidily down his face, not even close to its usual position. He still bore a pallid complexion although his cheeks were beginning to regain some of their natural flushed colour, tears prickling the corners of his eyelids as they threatened to spill. His legs hung limply over the side of the bed, unbroken emotions of mounting unease, prominent terror and extreme exhaustion reeling in his dark irises. His cap remained askew on his bed of smooth hair, teetering dangerously close to the top of his skull. Emmy, immediately sensing his distress, removed her arm from around him and let her fingers lock onto his hand, effectively halting the production of his delicate finger art.
"Your mother will be fine, Luke. You know that better than anyone," she told him gently in an attempt to lift his spirits, "She's very brave and immensely strong willed. She'll pull through…as will Clive…"
She swallowed at the mention of his name but quickly dismissed her action.
"Y…yes, she will…Mum always will," he spoke hoarsely in reply as he latched onto her wrist tightly, "Thank you, Emmy…Clive will recover as well. It's just…terrifying to think what would've happened if—"
"Fate prevented that from happening, Luke, so that is…that is all that is certain. What's done is done and…besides…the worst wouldn't have happened in the first place."
Flora smiled kindly at Luke as she spoke, her previous fears presently dissolved, as she also reached her arm across to brush against his palm.
"We must think positive and remain optimistic whilst the sun shines brightly over the meadows-that's what Papa told me when I was little."
The teenager let a tiny grin crease the corners of his lips as he gratefully took her hand, forming a bond that was currently inseparable.
"That's a really nice thing to say...as to be expected from an even nicer person."
The girl's cheeks flushed as she held onto Luke and Emmy thankfully, comfort and revitalising feelings instantly flowing through her veins. Layton's hand brushed the brim of his hat in response, smiling gently to himself as his panging worry subsided, if for a few moments' at least. His eyes felt heavy and lethargic, but the ceaseless thoughts and queries whirling through his mind refused to allow him to simply sleep when they were involved in matters that could've easily been ones of life and death. He folded his arms across his chest and allowed his fingers to intertwine as he couldn't help but let his thoughts drift to his two friends and companions just a few doors away. They had to be alright after Myra's specialist healing process. They simply had to. If they weren't or were still affected in any way or form…then Layton had no idea what he would do.
A hoarse cough from about a metre away pulled the professor out of his current thoughts as he turned his head towards his friend with a gentle expression.
"You should really get some sleep, Hershel," Clark stated wearily as he rested his chin on one of his hands, "You're not going to think you'll be of use if you can't even solve a simple puzzle."
The professor released a light laugh and pulled himself into a more comfortable position on the bed.
"I could say exactly the same thing to you, Clark," he responded considerably as he discreetly rubbed his left eye tiredly, "I find, however, that I cannot sleep, not with everything that's happening. This whole case…has truly made me baffled."
A small smile crept upon Clark's lips.
"Baffled? You, Hershel? I truly find that hard to comprehend. I think that you must be exhausted to come out with a claim like that."
Layton's smiled widened; Clark truly did know when to make one feel better. How he could still do that at the current moment when he was literally wracked with apprehension himself was even more perplexing in the professor's eyes.
"I take it that you cannot sleep either?" he asked quietly as he forced a glance at the door, "I can completely understand why…but it would probably be the best remedy for the time being."
Clark raised his head slightly to get a clearer view of his friend, his vision blurry from exhaustion and still existent tears although he appeared to be oblivious to their presence as if he was now used to them and treated them as a normal feature belonging to his body. Part of his face was half obscured by his palms, his now aged hands quivering with imperceptible shivers with each second that passed. The tear streaks and dark rings under his eyes truly left his face in a pitiful state, even though he was smiling gratefully at his friend. His golden, sleek hair had inexplicably seemed to darken with the analogous emotions currently coursing through his circulation and stuck up unevenly in various positions. Currently the man was positioned in a way that made his spine appear painfully arched in an almost perfectly curved angle, although he showed no signs of afflict or discomfort from this uncomfortable posture. His legs, in contrast, comfortably settled over the edge of the mattress, enabling him to swing his foot back and forth in an oscillating motion with no signs of disconsolation. A unusually wide smile abruptly curved the edges of his cracked lips, illuminating the ceaseless lines firmly set into his skin.
"Perhaps, I just…have too much on my mind," he answered quietly, still smiling warmly, "you're…a really good friend, Hershel-no, the best friend anyone could ask for. I am exceedingly fortunate to feel the presence of your amiable company, as are rest of us I'm sure."
The professor inclined his head gently but he couldn't help but notice Clark's surprisingly pleasant and friendly mannerisms; having known his friend for so long it would be almost impossible to notice the almost discreet heart-breaking emotions of overwhelming anxiety, apprehension and guilt repeatedly flickering across his pupils. Being able to read his friend almost effortlessly like one might read a rather interesting open book, he was quickly able to deduce that there was only one reason for the man's cheerful mask, with the aim of concealing his true emotions. That reason came in the form of a now smiling boy, revitalised with energy and giggling elatedly at a rather weak attempt at banter and barely humorous jokes from Emmy, clinging to his light blue cap as if it could fall off at any second.
'Of course,' Layton thought to himself as he watched the two teenagers gradually return to their usual selves, 'Clark doesn't wish to force any further worry on his son and is trying to maintain a calm demeanour.'
He responded by smiling back reassuringly and admiringly, to which his friend gave an almost imperceptible nod in reply, his ersatz smile refusing to leave his face.
"Really, Emmy? Is that true?" Flora's sweet, gentle voice flowed like a soothing river into the professor's eyes, almost as effective as an antidote, "I can't imagine the professor would ever look like that!"
"Well, Professor, I'm rather ashamed that you didn't tell your daughter about your famous 'fro'!" Emmy laughed, pointing a finger accusingly at the professor.
Clark immediately burst out laughing, trying to stifle his peals of laughter in his hand at the mere mention of the 'fro'. Layton's cheeks immediately reddened but he managed a small smile.
"Ah…yes that was true, Flora dear. That was in my…ah…high school years…before I attended Gressenheller," he explained before turning his gaze to Clark, "I take it that you remember it well?"
"Remember it well? It was rather unforgettable, Hershel, even though you only kept it for a month after moving to London!" he chortled, "I bet you'd have been able to breed birds in it if you'd tried! You'd be the walking home for wildlife!"
"Mhmm…and I rather adored my hair style-until Pa told me it was too old fashioned and Ma fussed that I needed something more 'hip' so that I could 'date my little sweetheart'."
"I think Claire was actually rather fond of your old hairstyle, Hershel," he stated, still failing to hide his grin, "Brenda thought it was 'cute' and at one point even considered entering you into the Gressenheller Records for having the largest hairstyle!"
"Oh really?" Layton asked, rather surprised, "I never heard about that one, Clark."
Flora continued to giggle at the situation, still trying to imagine the professor with his 'fro', regrettably unable to hide her overly obvious laughter.
"Tee hee! Oh, Professor! Can you try to grow your hair like that again? Please? I bet you'd look so adorable!"
The professor now appeared as if he'd severely scalded his cheeks.
"Um…I'm not sure that it would suit me now, Flora dear…but I just might consider it, if it would please you."
The girl nodded until her head was on the verge of snapping off of her neck, clapping her hands together like a delighted child at Christmas.
"Oooh! Yes! Yes please, Professor!" she squealed happily as Emmy continued to snigger, "You'd look so cute! Wait till I tell Clive about your previous hair style!"
"Well! I'm sure he'll have something to say about—"
The smile rapidly faded from Emmy's face as she stared wistfully and apprehensively at the door once again, hands now clasped together and occasionally mouthing barely audible words that the professor was able to discern. Seeing the tears forming a glittering haze across her dark eyes and her teeth sink into her upper lip to free a single drop of blood, the professor averted his gaze onto her suddenly guilt-ridden face and spoke in the gentlest and most optimistic tone that one could humanely produce.
"Emmy…they'll both be alright. Trust me. Both Clive and Brenda are strong; you've seen it in Clive yourself."
Emmy sniffed and inhaled deeply to try and halt the production of the steadily forming tears.
"Mm…Mhmm…but…I…couldn't save him then either," she whispered as she brushed her cheek with a long, suddenly white finger, "Back with the Death Dogs, I was near enough useless…I couldn't save him. True, we did find him afterwards mainly unharmed but…for it to happen a second time…"
She bowed her head low, allowing it to sink into her palms. Luke hastily jumped off of his position on the bed next to her and watched her sadly with large, despondent eyes. Flora gave the woman a similar sympathetic look and placed her gentle hand delicately on her back in a consoling manner.
"Emmy," Luke began, "it wasn't your—"
"What kind of a guardian am I?"
"His move was unanticipated; he leapt in front of Connie to protect her from the knife blade. No one could've known that he'd do so. Besides we were still trying desperately to get Lily to release Brenda," he explained considerably as he also peered towards the door and finished with a quiet, "I do wonder how they're all faring at the moment…"
Emmy coughed lightly but manages the smallest nod to tell the professor that she understood and sniffed gratefully to Flora as she perched herself next to the professor and leaned against his shoulder.
"I…I understand," she murmured quietly, "Th…thank you."
The professor smiled softly and tenderly wrapped his arm around his daughter, caressing her in a shield of loving protection, using his other arm to wipe a stray strand of hair out of her eyelids as they steadily began to close. Luke cautiously shuffled across to where his father was presently sitting and positioned himself a few centimetres away from him, winding one of his thin arms around his waist in a craving for tender affection. Greatly surprised but secretly extremely delighted at his son's unanticipated actions, Clark also wrapped his arm around Luke in a similar gesture and pulled his son closer towards him, straightening his cap in a manner that could only have been of pure adoration. The smiles on both of their faces broadened to their maximum length as each felt the other's close, doting presence. After the events of about an hour ago, both needed each other for support, the true bonding of a father and son, making the professor smile tenderly at his friends.
"Mum and Clive will be alright, I just know they will," the boy spoke into his father's jacket, fingers groping around the soft fabric in an identical way to how he'd grip a soft blanket as an infant, "You think that too don't you, Dad?"
Clark responded with a nod as he began to stroke Luke's hair comfortingly.
"Of course, Luke. Everything will be fine eventually," he answered quietly, "Your mother and Clive will both be fine once Myra has dealt with the cure."
The boy looked up, a strange desire accompanied by questions reflected in his eyes.
"Dad?" he asked gently in an interested tone, "What was…what was it like back at Gressenheller? When you met Mum?"
A look of elated surprise flashed across Clark's face for a second; Luke had never asked him about the private details of his or Brenda's past lives back when they used to attend Gressenheller. Nonetheless he smiled in reply, pleasantly pleased.
"It was…rather interesting to say the least," he answered, letting all of the past memories envelope his mind, "Classes were very interesting but rather stressful at the best of times, but Brenda always remained unfazed. She was always punctual, put one hundred and eleven per cent effort into everything she did and she was always polite, incredibly studious and aspired to achieve her best. However she was never too busy to help out a passing student with a dilemma or to spend time with her friends and family."
Luke smiled lightly, having expected nothing less from his mother, but hearing his father talk about her like this made his heart swell with admiration for both of his parents. He blinked repeatedly, drinking in his father's detailed descriptions with an intrigued expression. Clark patted his head gently before continuing.
"She was often sought out, having caught the eye of many of the boys at the university. However she chose me-even now I think how I must've been born under a lucky star to be privileged with such a benevolent, selfless woman as my wife. During the Gressenheller days though we'd always complete our studies on time before spending the rest of the evenings together, though Claire and Hershel were never left out. We mainly went around as the 'Awesome Four-some'. The 'Gressenheller Gang' I believe we called ourselves."
"Ah, I've only just remembered that now, Clark!" the professor laughed, "I should've easily remembered that, since it was you and I who came up with the name."
Luke laughed awkwardly, trying to imagine the professor and his father as 'awesome' in a 'gang'.
"It sounds like you had loads of fun back then! I bet you were cute as a scholar, Dad!" he exclaimed before sniggering a little, "Did you have a 'fro' too or that terrible old-fashioned hairstyle that adults had back then?"
"Thankfully not-they were never…my style," he confessed, running a hand through his own hair proudly before pretending to look offended, "and I'll have you know, Luke Triton, that the 'old fashioned' hairstyle back then was the height of fashion actually!"
Luke bit his lip to suppress a laugh; it was clear that Clark was also since he was trying his hardest to not allow his lips to crease into a smile and was failing terribly in the process.
"I swear, Luke, that I'd never known any two souls more bound together than your father and your mother," Layton told him softly, "I could notice the way your father peered at her in classes, almost intoxicated by her beauty. The simple gesture of them holding hands as they walked from class to class and laughing together made me smile with pleasure. They'd each put the other first and Clark would always treat Brenda like a royal queen. When it came to birthdays and special events Brenda would literally pour her heart and soul into finding the perfect gifts to express her emotions-but when your parents were courting they'd constantly go out and buy the perfect gifts for each other to show their love. How they could afford everything was quite a puzzle."
Clark peered at his friend and gave a grateful smile at his attempts to take Luke's mind off of the current situation.
"I agree entirely, Hershel. Perhaps it has reminded you of yet another puzzle."
Luke's ears pricked up and he sat upright against his father, a starving expression glinting in his eyelids.
"You can count on me to solve it, Professor!"
The professor laughed, immensely pleased to see his apprentice's enthusiasm as Clark seemed to relax, allowing his friend's riddle to act as an antidote for his currently troubled feelings.
"Very well," he began with a considerate and thoughtful smile, "I believe that one scenario went something like this…"
Puzzle 22- Present pyramids (35 picarats)
Back in the days when Clark and Brenda were trying to win the other's heart, the two of them would often go shopping to buy the perfect presents for each other. In one incident, it was insisted that the presents that they'd bought should be stacked into small pyramids; one containing all of the presents that Brenda had bought for Clark and the other containing all of the presents that Clark had bought for Brenda.
The presents were bought from two different shops, Shop A and Shop B. The prices on three of their main products are stated:
Shop A charges £12 for one ring, allowing 50% off of the price of a second ring if bought with one ring. Shop B charges 20% less than Shop A for rings but does not offer a 50% discount off of another ring.
Shop B charges £5 for a soft toy, with Shop A charging 50% more. Neither shop has any special offers on soft toys.
Luxury cakes are not sold by Shop A but are priced at £3 for a set of two by Shop B.
Brenda's pile consists of 2 rings, 1 soft toy and 6 cakes for Clark and Clark's pile consists of 2 rings, 3 soft toys and 1 cake for Brenda.
Clark bought all of his items from Shop B. Brenda bought only 6 items from Shop B and the rest from Shop A.
Who spent the most money: Clark or Brenda?
(This is a pretty tough one unless you do some easy calculations! Get this right though and you'll have 1005 picarats)
"Um…well…you've made it rather confusing with all of the figures and numbers in there, Professor," Luke murmured thoughtfully as a variety of muddled sums whirred through his mind, "but…there has to be some kind of easy calculation that can be done to work out the answer…"
The professor smiled at his apprentice, a little surprised but secretly extremely pleased and grateful as Clark's expression also twisted into one of thought and he began tapping his finger-tips delicately against the surface of his cheek. Even Emmy and Flora fell silent for the time being and observed the two puzzle solvers intently, not wishing to distract them from for a single second. Eyebrows furrowed, Luke screwed his eyes shut as he pursued the answer to the puzzle, noticing his father going through a similar process and murmuring certain numerical phrases under his breath.
"It's easier than you think, keep trying and you will get it eventually," he told them gently as Clark began gnawing on his lower lip without quite realising it, "I know that you can."
Guided by his mentor's benevolent words of encouragement, Luke placed a hand to his chin determinedly and quickly tapped each of his tremoring fingers to check that his final calculation had been accurate. Pausing dramatically on his middle finger for a few seconds a smile lit up his face like a beacon and he thrust it outwards triumphantly as if in an accusatory gesture.
"It was Clark-um…I mean Dad!" he declared abruptly, "Dad spent the most!"
Clark clicked his long fingers almost immediately afterwards, beaming and fortified.
"Aha! Very clever, Hershel!" he congratulated in an tone bursting with admiration, "Brenda could only have bought the six cakes from Shop B and the rest from Shop A. Therefore after some simple calculations you can deduce that Brenda spent £34.50 and I spent £35.70, hence meaning that I spent the most. However Brenda was more of a bookworm and peculiar souvenir hunter than a collector of teddy bears back then, although she did find certain types rather cute."
"Then…who did I inherit my intense adoration of teddies from?" Luke asked suspiciously with a raised eyebrow.
Clark coughed into his palm, a sheepish grin betraying him.
"Well…ahem…I may have collected the odd teddy here and there in my youth…," he muttered, as if ashamed of his interest, "My mother used to have a vast collection and I sometimes…felt like playing around with them when I was a child."
The professor looked at his friend in surprise, Luke following suit. Emmy had to turn away so that neither of them saw the wide grin that had smothered her face at the thought of Clark as a young gentleman playing with cuddly toys. Flora giggled softly under her breath and curled against the professor exhaustedly.
"I…never knew that, Clark," he commented with a weak smile, "There is absolutely nothing to be ashamed about collecting stuffed toys. I used to have a fondness for them when I was a child, although not as much as toy cars."
"What a lot of interesting things we're learning tonight," Emmy stated with a broadened smile as she spared another glance at the door, eyes betraying her true emotions.
Luke folded his arms across his chest and grinned even more at his father. It was Clark's turn to have his cheeks resemble ripe, scarlet strawberries.
"I could never picture you playing with teddy bears, Dad!" he chuckled as Clark poked him playfully in the shoulder, "Did you give them any names? I'll bet that you named them after Mum and the professor!"
Thankfully, before Clark could bring himself any more humiliation, the door to their room abruptly creaked open, instantly causing Flora and Luke to let out a faint cry of apprehension and Emmy to shoot upright, muscles tensed. The professor's hands clasped together lightly in his lap as Connie quietly crept into the room, cautiously closing the door behind her and removing her hands from the frozen knob with trembling fingers. Several strands of her hair protruded from irregular angles and dangled frustratingly in front of her drained eyelids, although she showed no signs of acknowledging something so trivial. Her skirts brushed tenderly across the carpet, ceaseless creases climbing towards her waist, splatters of a discernible mauve substance adorning random areas of her outfit. Rouge flushed her cheeks and her hands hung limply by her sides, her emerald eyes glistening vividly in the lamplight. Indiscernible emotions fluttered through her irises but the corners of her mouth puckered into a smile that revealed no lack of confidence.
Layton instinctively rose to his feet, adjusting the rim of his top hat and carefully helping his daughter to her feet. Clark, Luke and Emmy followed almost immediately, eyes broadened with abrupt hope, countless questions resting on their lips. Luke clung to his father's hand as he and Emmy positioned themselves on either side of the professor, wearing expressions that were identical from the desperateness adorning their faces to the inconsistent inhalations and exhalations of their swelling chests. Connie vigilantly crossed the room towards them, eyes focused on their hopeful faces.
"They're fine!" she announced confidently in an immensely cheered tone, without the others needing to enquire, "Myra has completed the treatment and they are steadily improving! Brenda will still be rather thin and both of them fairly shaky but by the morning they should've made an ideal recovery!"
Clark exhaled deeply, head bowing low with infinite consolation as he buried his head in his palms to prevent himself from weeping with relief. Emmy plummeted onto the bed, gasping loudly and throwing a hand to her chest as her racing heart began to lower in velocity. A smile that travelled across the whole of Luke's face immediately took over his entire demeanour as he squeezed his father's hand until his circulation seemed to be cut off by the simple affectionate gesture. Flora let herself drop next to Emmy, rubbing her back soothingly with an exceedingly relieved smile. The professor sighed heavily and considerably placed a supportive hand on his friend's shoulder as propitious images flashed through his mind.
Brenda and Clive were alright. They were going to be fine. That was all that mattered to the professor, relief smothering him like an avalanche at the news that his two assistants were improving.
"B…Brenda…," Clark gasped, thoughts clouding his mind, "She's really…"
"M…Mum's alright? She's going to recover with Clive?" Luke demanded instantly, eyes shining with tears of relief.
Emmy abruptly began laughing softly to herself, gasping out Clive's name several times in the span of a few seconds as Flora held her hand tightly and peered gratefully at Connie.
"Oh thank goodness!" she exclaimed in an incredibly comforted tone, "I was certain that-oh, thank you so much, Connie!"
The girl responded with a small nod as a somewhat relieved and exultant smile washed over her features at seeing the responses that erupted back and forth in a continuous wave. Stroking the smooth surfaces of her hands, she peered in a half pitying, half perplexed manner at the dark rings under the eyes of the room's occupants and at the way their bodies quivered with a mixture of jubilance, relief and exhaustion.
"Have…have any of you had even a single second of sleep?" she asked, biting her lip cautiously, "The five of you look terribly drained and are barely standing on your feet…"
The professor had to jerk himself back to reality suddenly; his vision had started to blur like an unfocused camera lens. He was far more tired than he'd realised.
"None of us could…get any sleep," he answered simply, trying to stop his words from slurring into an indiscernible sentence, "not in the current situation of…what had happened and…we were waiting in apprehension to hear the outcome…"
Connie nodded in understanding, scarlet strands of her hair tickling the sides of her face.
"I…I understand, Professor. I…I found it terribly difficult to get to sleep also…after…what happened back then…"
Her eyes began to shimmer in the light from the films of tears that had quickly formed in the span of a few seconds; not wishing to worry the others any further Connie quickly brushed them away and smoothed out her dress.
"Anyway…you have been given the good news and everything will be alright," she assured them with a convincing smile, "However I would really suggest that you get some sleep now. All…all I can say is that…you'll need as much as you can get for tomorrow…"
A shiver ran through Flora's spine at the reminder of the ominous, diabolical task that awaited them the following day. What with all of the events that had occurred in the past few hours the last thing on her mind had been the terrifying thoughts of what might ambush them the moment they set foot into the Sorceress of Darkness's territory, if she really was there. Having been abruptly reminded renewed trepidation smashed into her heart like a gargantuan, straying asteroid, the impact having a much powerful grip on her than it had before. As if immediately sensing her distress, her altered breathing and the tenseness of her anatomy, Emmy felt for Flora's hand and gave it an encouraging squeeze. The professor peered at her with concern, somewhat apprehensively, before returning Connie's glance.
"Of course, Connie. We shall now retire for the night, as I trust, you shall do also?"
The girl nodded in response, clearly trying desperately to supress a yawn as she answered.
"Yes…Myra and I are both quite…exhausted…," she breathed, placing a hand to her forehead as she let out a drained sigh, "Myra will have breakfast ready for about ten o clock but please don't feel pressurised into arriving dead on time. All of you need rest after all..."
Layton nodded in response as Emmy rubbed her eyes and let herself drop onto the bed, scarcely keeping her eyes open.
"Will…will we see them tomorrow?" Flora asked quietly, her white hands clasped together.
"I…I should think so…the effects of the remedy should've worked their magic by then," Connie answered as she tucked her hair behind her ear, "Myra's sure that they'll be fine by tomorrow."
"And Lily?" Layton persisted, hoping that she hadn't been harmed and knowing that she really wasn't completely responsible for her actions that evening.
Connie bit her lip apprehensively but gave the tiniest of nods to confirm that she'd be alright. Understanding her weak gesture Layton nodded in response. There were still so many things he wanted to ask her, but he believed that to keep her on her feet for another moment after everything that she'd been through would be utterly heartless. Not befitting of a gentleman in the slightest. Instead he smiled gently at her and placed a hand on the brim of his hat.
"Very well then, Connie. We shall see you in the morning," he told her kindly as she nodded briefly and advanced towards the door, "and once again thank you."
"…It's my pleasure, Professor."
Forcing a final amiable beam her fingers locked around the doorknob as she twisted it gently and silently crept out of the room, drawing the door closed noiselessly behind her. Satisfied that she could make her own way around the manor in the ominous darkness the professor turned to his assistants and managed a drained sigh.
"I believe we ought to retire now. It is awfully late," he explained seriously, "Connie's right: we'll need every ounce of energy that we can get for the investigation tomorrow. However I believe that in light of these events there are some things it would be prudent to do before we begin to locate the Sorceress of Darkness's whereabouts. Besides…I have a feeling that there are some other things that Myra and Connie aren't particularly keen to share with us yet…"
Emmy frowned thoughtfully, pinching her arm fiercely to keep her eyes open.
"What do you mean, Professor?" she enquired with raised eyebrows.
"I'll explain tomorrow, Emmy. However I think that for tonight you and Flora will be more comfortable in your own room," he added benevolently before peering carefully at his daughter, "Flora dear, if you feel that you need some extra sleep in the morning then please do so. Don't worry about sleeping in, dear, I'll wake you just before we're due to set off if you're still asleep."
He sighed tiredly before continuing, his tone much lower as he placed his hands on her shoulders.
"If you are too frightened or worried about investigating the Sect of Darkness then you can stay at the village until we return if it will make you feel better. In fact, I would recommend it highly due to the potential danger of the situation. I'd imagine that Brenda and Clive would stay with you, due to their current condition. Luke, the same goes for you—"
"I don't think he can hear you, Hershel," Clark smirked in a hushed voice.
The professor turned around, smiling as he noticed that Luke had already collapsed on his bed and was snoring quietly, trying to get into a position that would offer the most comfort. Emmy bit her lip to stop herself from laughing and pulling out her camera, finding the urge somewhat difficult to merely ignore.
"Very well then…I'll ask him in the morning when he's awake. Flora dear, how about you? I don't want any harm to come to you at all and would never forgive myself should anything happen to you—"
"I'll…I'll come," she stammered, trying to make her voice sound brave, "It feels wrong to let you suffer from the Sorceress of Darkness's hands when it's me she wants. I'm…I'm a little frightened but I'd feel wrong to be cowering in a corner whilst you risk your lives!"
"I've seen what she's does to my village, I've seen what she does to citizens of St Mystere and I've seen what she does to the people I care about. As the heiress of the Reinhold fortune and St Mystere I will not let her get away with any of her tricks! I owe it to the robots and citizens! I owe it to Dahlia and I owe it to Seryna!"
The professor fell silent at her bold exclamation, going over her words in his head. Eventually he sighed in a defeated tone and looked at her carefully.
"Very well, since there is no dissuading you. Come along if you must, but if you change your mind in the morning please don't hesitate to let me know-and we will find the truth, for you, for the village and for your sister…"
The corners of her mouth lifted as she flung her arms around the professor and kissed him.
"Thank you!" she cried as he ran his fingers through her tangled hair.
"You're welcome, Flora. Emmy will take you back to your room and we'll reconvene in the morning. Sleep well, dear."
"No nightmares," Clark added as he stretched his arms and lay down on the bed, finding himself almost on the edge since Luke had been adamant to take up the majority of the space.
"None at all," she answered quietly as she staggered after Emmy, rubbing her eyes, "Goodnight."
As she trailed across the landing after Emmy's fatigued form, Flora shed a single tear as the distant soothing words of her father from countless past memories echoed through her mind.
"Sweet dreams, my little flower."
"So…you're still going to go there? Even after all that happened last night?"
Myra's apprehensive question hung heavily in the air for several silent moments, being terminated by the professor's assertive but serious tone.
"Especially after what happened last night," he replied gravely as he gently set his cutlery down next to his now empty plate, "It is our best lead at this current moment in time. If it will provide us with some of the answers that we're looking for then I am prepared to take that risk."
Their host fell silent, head bowed in defeat as she merely nodded sadly. Her hair hung in a dark blanket around her face, almost obscuring the dark shadows under her glazed eyes and the sudden creases adorning her cheeks, her face taut with concern. Layton couldn't help but notice that Myra's lips were pursed together for the duration of what little conversation the group had managed to create and her smooth skinned hands repeatedly traced the frilled lace patterns on the neckline of her satin dress, its colour as drab as a stormy sky, barely managing to lighten the dismal atmosphere that surrounded them. Closing her eyes as distorted thoughts flashed through her mind, Myra almost immediately turned down the unusually tempting offer of breakfast for the twelfth time that morning.
"Myra, please," Connie almost pleaded worriedly as her eyebrows arched fretfully as her guardian declined her previous offer, "You have to get some food into you. Nothing good comes from panicking and…you'll need it as much as they do."
In contrast to her guardian, Connie's eyes remained untouched by fatigue or trepidation, although they still flitted continuously around her in a manner that was more apprehensive than usual. This had to be expected, considering what she'd been through the previous night. The pale lavender dress that she'd hastily slipped on before coming down that morning seemed to be plastered to her skin with sweat as the girl's trembling hands weakly smoothed the countless creases adorning the fabric.
"I'm not hungry, Connie. Really," she persisted in protest, eyebrows knitting into a frown, "Please refrain from pestering me. I'm alright, seriously.
Merely nodding, her green eyes displaying traces of pain and helplessness, Connie resolved to add another spoonful of succulent, dark berries into her silver bowl as she tried to hide her emotions.
"If…if you're sure, Myra…"
"Quite, dear, but I do appreciate your concern," Myra answered, forcing a small smile to envelope her face.
Connie smiled back, brushing her high ponytail behind her white neck as it brushed against her precious necklace. She'd brushed it into the style that she'd worn the day before, secured with a frayed green ribbon, although judging by the dozens of strands that hung in thin wisps around her pallid face she'd obviously been in a hurry when she'd attempted the familiar style.
"What are your plans for this morning?" the professor asked in order to change the subject, carefully sipping his tea from an expertly crafted china cup.
He peered questioningly at Connie, positioned opposite the apprehensive girl, observing the expressions that crossed her youthful face. Emmy and Luke sat on either side of him, Clark having taken the seat next to Luke at the end of the table. On either side of Connie were two hauntingly empty seats, a third on Myra's left side being occupied by an invisible being. The lack of three occupants at the table greatly affected the general mood and atmosphere at the table; a heavy hollowness hung over their heads ominously, sending frequent shivers of a strange sense of loneliness down each of their spines. The sense appeared to drain the majority of what little life there appeared to be in that very room, leaving a depressing emptiness in place.
"Well if you're still considering about entering the Sect of Darkness then Myra and I will take Lily away somewhere for a while, so that you can enter the sect at your discretion, safe with the knowledge that she will not report you or organise an ambush upon your arrival," she explained anxiously as she forced a glance at the empty seat next to Myra, "It is the least we can do without becoming fully involved in the sect's dealings. It…isn't something that we wish to get occupied with…"
Layton nodded in understanding.
"Of course, Connie. It would be unbefitting of me to expect you to actually venture into the sect with us."
Several tantalising dishes had been hurriedly prepared for breakfast: bowls of ripe, juicy fruits of opposite colours; thick slices of buttered smooth surfaced toast; sweetly spiced creamy porridge heated to the perfect temperature and steaming fried eggs with non-viscous yolks, golden delicious rivers flowing from their white centres. Accompanying the large array of food were a variety of delicious beverages, ranging from piping hot tea that made the professor's tongue tingle uncontrollably, sleek glasses of orange and cranberry juice, freshly ground coffee which had an unfortunate bitter taste and many countless pots of flavoured jam and coagulated honey just waiting to be spread upon the still warm loaves. Despite this however, none of the group showed much of a desire to eat any of the provisions before them.
"How is Lily this morning?" Emmy asked quietly after some hesitation, using a napkin to wipe berry juice form her chin, "Is she…recovering?"
Connie nodded slowly.
"Yes. I doubt that she'll have any recollection of what happened, the same as Brenda and Clive, but she's used to these possessions. I just…why her of all people? She did nothing to deserve this!"
Myra remained silent, her long newly painted nails digging into her palms painfully.
"What about Mum and Clive?" Luke enquired in an apprehensive voice, "Are they alright?"
"As good as new," the woman answered without looking up, "I saw to them again this morning. They have no memory of what transpired but you should expect some small change in demeanour and appearance. They have both been through quite an ordeal after all."
"Yes and…I still cannot think how I can ever repay Clive for sacrificing himself for me," Connie whispered as she closed her eyes, "Unfortunately they are not fit to be investigating at the present time due their current condition, but you're more than welcome to see them when you're ready."
Layton carefully placed down his cup and sighed.
"Thank you, Connie. However before we enter the Sect of Darkness there are a few queries that I would like to clear up first. Therefore once we've had breakfast we shall proceed to the village to put an end to a few doubts I have. Once those have been cleared we shall then go on to search for the Sect of Darkness. Your distracting Lily should prove very useful in our investigation. Again I must thank you for that."
"Oh, it's nothing, Professor," Connie responded mildly as she took a swig of cranberry juice to end the conversation.
The professor surveyed the table, his eyes being attracted to the abruptly perplexed and concerned expression on Clark's face. Curious, he followed his friend's gaze until his eyes landed on his young apprentice, whose eyes were staring vacantly down at his plate as if searching for something unreachable. Clark's expression of deep concern was almost instantly reflected on Layton's face as he observed the boy carefully. Luke had barely uttered a word at breakfast other than to enquire about the condition of his mother and Clive, rings similar to those under Myra's eyelids adorning his face.
"Are you alright, my boy?" he asked, trying to keep the worry out of his tone, "You've hardly touched any of your food when on a normal day you'd devour every morsel on your plate. Is something bothering you?"
Luke raised his head with what seemed like a superhuman effort, spearing his now cold eggs with his fork, like a trident impaling an unfortunate fish, as he spoke.
"I'm fine, Professor. I just…," he paused, searching for the correct words in the depths of his mind, "I just had a really freaky nightmare last night. It was…horrible…"
He shuddered in response, causing his father to instinctively place a loving hand on his son's shoulder and close his eyes with a pained expression.
"Luke…," he began in a quiet tone, his emotions never leaving his face for a second.
Emmy also peered across at Luke in a puzzled manner, her hair in danger of dangling into her porridge.
"Another nightmare?" she repeated, pity identifiable in her voice, "You didn't have any of that water did you? Was it…the usual?"
She didn't have to go into detail to describe what Luke's 'usual nightmare' was, since she could take a perfectly accurate guess due to past experience.
"No…it was…different," he answered in a barely audible voice, "It seemed…so real. It…concerned Flora and the Sect of Darkness..."
The professor placed a hand on his apprentice's other shoulder, his expression of worry increasing, his eyes gradually widening with renewed trepidation.
"What happened, Luke? Did anything terrible happen?"
Before his apprentice could answer Connie pulled out her chair and stood up shakily, carefully rearranging it neatly in its ordinary position.
"I think I'm finished," she announced as she turned to look at Myra, "I'd better take some provisions up for Brenda and Clive, as well as Flora," she stated, swallowing hard, "The poor dear, being at the centre of this very mystery. I um… take it she's in her room?"
"I couldn't bear to rouse her from sleep when she was sleeping so soundly and peacefully," Emmy replied, smirking, "She'll be in her room still lost in blissful dreams. You know where it is don't you, Connie?."
Connie nodded, meeting her guardian's eyes for confirmation as Myra gave her an almost imperceptible nod. Head bowed, Connie smoothed out her skirts and hurried to the kitchen, the occasional clatter of plates and cutlery being prepared resounding through the main hall.
"I'm so glad that Clive and Brenda will be alright," Emmy breathed, placing a hand to her chest in relief as Clark smiled warmly.
"We will see them before we venture out to St Mystere," Layton told her with a reassuring smile, "If that is quite okay, Myra."
The woman managed a small nod in reply as she scraped several strands of her hair out of her face and clasped her hands together. Connie shuffled past her carrying a tray laden with a several pieces of fruit and three glasses, two containing a multi-coloured juice and the third bearing a sweet orange liquid. Emmy watched her with a small smile of secret admiration as she carefully made her way up the stairs without spilling a single drop of the glasses' contents.
"Certainly, Professor. In the meantime I'd advise you to eat as much as you can to get your strength up. Fatigue is the last thing you need for your…mission."
Any form of conversation was cut off as if with an invisible sharp blade, as the group reluctantly finished the contents of their plates, the eerie and all too familiar silence only succeeding in unnerving them further.
"Many years have we waited; many years have we prepared for this precise moment in our history; many years have we craved its arrival with a gargantuan yearning for vengeance—"
Flora's vision immediately weakened, the grotesque cavernous shapes and snarling jeering faces around her becoming a distorted intense mass of sheer trepidation and terror. Their cutting cackles and banshee cries for bloodlust echoing around her made her very ear drums feel as if they were about to explode with the petrifying scenario that was currently playing in that precise place. However, as to where she was, that was a different matter entirely. Whoever it was who had 'collected' her from her cell in the chamber below had immediately blindfolded her and ruthlessly dragged her into this strange place up a flight of crumbling stone steps, removing it only once their preparations had been complete. Now she assumed that she was in some deep dark cavern dozens of metres below the ground, being illuminated only by the blazing torches bearing beacons of smouldering fires that irradiated the grim, malicious expressions adorning the features of every living creature present. As her mind swam into focus, the girl acknowledged that she was lying on her back on an uncomfortable, firm surface that cut into her delicate spine painfully, her thin arms being help down by iron chains attached to the sides of the surface that she was on. They bit into her wrists with gleaming metal teeth, leaving livid red marks of raw skin beneath their surface. Her legs dangled helplessly over the end of what she assumed were a large stone block, being fastened securely to it in a similar fashion. Adorning her emaciated body was a glimmering golden gown, preciously crafted, every stitch carefully embroidered to make an outfit that shone as bright as the sun, only now illuminating the frightful expression covering the girl's face. Its short sleeves wrapped unexpectedly tightly around her arms, the neckline falling to reveal her birthmark, which was now glowing brighter than a supernova in the skies, burning her flesh pitilessly.
Flora let out a weak, trembling cry of pain, her eyes welling up with tears as she attempted to twist her head to the side to get a clearer glimpse of her surroundings. If what she'd sensed earlier had been terrifying then her heart turned into solid, frozen stone in her chest and her entire body quivered with fear at the sight that greeted her: the block that she was bound to was indeed a large stone, surrounded by a scarlet rounded shape created from freshly shed blood, smears evident on two other shapes that extended outwards to form the complete image, presumably in preference to a dark pentagram.
Her gasp was barely audible as the realisation finally came to her: she was restrained to an altar, the dress she wore obviously symbolic for the event, awaiting a horrendous fate whilst the dozens of faces, many of them obscured by dark blood spattered hoods, urged on her murderer.
"—and the blood of the Reinholds!"
The jeers and mockery was immediately replaced by ear-splitting shrieks of elation and nauseating delight, causing Flora's heart to thunder against her ribs, literally on the verge of leaping out of her chest and tears to roll down her cheeks as the piercing screams continued. She wriggled uncomfortably and desperately struggled against the chains, but they held their ensnared prey firmly in place. All that Flora could do was watch helplessly in sheer terror as a tall woman with flowing fiery hair held up her hands, instantly silencing the watching crowd.
"Once the blood of the Reinhold child is shed the Sect of Darkness will be indestructible. St Mystere shall be ours-and the world will cower at the feet of the dark magic!"
As Flora watched in tremendous apprehension another figure, clothed in a scarlet, flowing cape and a deep purple dress weighed down with dozens of dark symbols, approached the other woman and bowed her head, her face blank of emotions. The woman turned to her, a cruel smile curling upon her scarlet lips.
"The honour goes to our leader!" she exclaimed in a high-pitched cackle, drawing out a glinting, curved blade from her belt, embodied with jewels and a black stone the exact shape of the symbol below Flora, before handing it to the leader, "The rest is up to you, dear."
After a moment's hesitation, the leader snatched the blade with a tremoring hand, wrapping her fingers around it protectively as she peered at the altar where her victim lay, conflicting emotions crossing her face as she began to stalk towards Flora. The crowd held its breath, eyes bulging out of their sockets as the leader continued to approach her imprisoned victim until she was mere paces away. Flora thrashed hopelessly against her bindings, finding her efforts futile as well as exceedingly exhausting, pupils dilating in horror, her breathing irregular and rapid as the leader paused next to her so that their eyes met. There was a strange sense of guilt and sadness mixed in them, mainly masked by the undeniable forms of excitement, bloodlust and overwhelming malignance crossing Flora's potential slayer's cruel lips. Tears began to stream from Flora's eyes as she stared helplessly into her killer's emerald eyes as she raised the knife with trembling hands, directly above Flora's pounding selfless heart.
"Please…," the girl croaked in a barely audible voice that quivered with ceaseless trepidation, "Please…don't…"
The figure above her paused, the knife held only by her quivering fingers as a single tear fell down her cheek. Flora opened her mouth, about to continue pleading to her potential slayer, whom she knew from somewhere she had no recollection of, being cut off only by her evil snarl as she regained her grip on the knife and plunged it downwards with sheer force. As its bloodied tip shimmered in the blazing light whilst it slashed its way downwards, Flora let out a piercing, strident scream that echoed in her ears even as the knife made contact with her pallid skin...
The scream continued to resound through her pulsing ear drums as the girl viciously tore herself awake. Her heart was pounding furiously, drumming a rhythm identical to that of an accelerated resonating drum beat announcing a gruesome execution against her suddenly prominent rib cage. Flora's eyes broadened immensely with icy fear, her breathing similar to how she'd acted mere moments ago in what had turned out to be nothing more than a cruel, taunting nightmare. A white cotton nightgown embroidered with silk flowers and pearl buttons covered her figure in a comfortable fit, in contrast to the heavy golden gown that had barely left her any room to breathe. Swishing her head frantically from side to side, her ponytail whipping the back of her bare neck, she thoroughly examined every corner of the room to be sure that there wasn't a huge mob of hooded and demonic creatures preparing to drag her off to an altar and relish the sound of her blood being spilt. After what seemed like several minutes Flora's breathing gradually returned to its normal state and she buried her head in hands with intense relief, her hair plastered to her forehead with perspiration.
Shakily and hesitantly she forced herself upright into a sitting position, wiping her face with the corner of her soft sleeve. It was alright. Everything was fine. She'd merely been dreaming, experiencing a horrible nightmare, as the events of the previous night and Lily's twisted demonic face had ceaselessly haunted her mind as she'd finally been dragged into sleep. The horrors she'd witnessed in her dream were simply figments of her own imprudent, reckless over-active imagination. She yawned widely and stretched her arms behind her back, letting them hang limpy in front of her. Flora secretly abhorred herself for believing such images were true and the whole scenario was playing out right there in her very bedroom. Nonetheless anyone would've thought them true, due to how genuinely petrifying and sickening the images were and how terrifyingly real the whole situation appeared, including the Sect of Darkness, the very place they'd be investigating in a few short hours—
A pang of horror hit her abruptly as her hands began trembling slightly in fear. She swallowed her renewed trepidation, forcing it to stay down deep inside of her chest, letting out a choked gasp of realisation. Everything that had occurred in her dream had seemed so real, so undeniably real, not like some strange nightmare where furniture morphed into monstrous creatures and vowed to devour her when she knew it wasn't real. Another thought flashed through her: the dream she'd had what seemed like several days ago, of St Mystere burning to the ground when she hadn't even arrived at the village. She'd brushed it off as a horrible nightmare, but upon arriving in St Mystere it was revealed to be terrifying reality. That was a vision, a power that her family possessed. The events in her previous nightmare had not occurred-yet. What if…she'd been witnessing a vision of what the future had to hold? What if everything that had happened- the sect gathering to watch her sacrifice, the apple occult symbol of smeared blood, the beautiful leader snarling viciously as she plunged the knife into her still beating heart-was destined to happen in the future, that she was destined to suffer such a cruel fate and be pulled from those dearest to her. Her hair was now dripping with sweat as Flora let out a sound that could've been a cross between a hoarse gasp of horror and a choke and threw her hands to her racing heart, wondering how much longer she'd be able to hear its beat.
They'd be investigating the Sect of Darkness in a few hours, perhaps the very path to her foretold fate. The professor had told her that she could stay at the inn whilst they investigated to keep her safe from potential harm and serious danger and having experienced a sickening vision including that very sect his considerate offer was overwhelmingly tempting. Heavy guilt almost crushed her as she considered the professor's earlier offer; it took all of the strength the girl possessed to jerk her head sharply in denial. She was the one whom the sorceress was after. She was the one who had the powers to protect her, if she knew how to use them, who had to be courageous and strong through the dark times. She was the one who'd promised Dahlia and the townspeople that she would try her hardest to solve the mystery and put an end with the professor to the sorceress's work. Since Dahlia was gone and probably being put to tortures too horrific to describe, Flora knew that if she abandoned the others and went to hide in fear in the safety of the inn whilst they risked their lives she would be the greatest sinner in existence. No, she owed it to them. She would go with them, no matter what the consequences were. Besides the professor would look out for her, protect her if the need arose. Although she willed that the professor wouldn't be put in danger to protect herself his comforting protective presence calmed her greatly and gave her courage she didn't know she even possessed. He would protect her as well as the others. Flora couldn't bear to think that because of her harm could come to Clive and Emmy, who always treated her as a younger sibling, or Luke, the boy she loved deep in her heart and hated to see suffer. Even the thought of Luke's parents being put in danger was too much for her to handle. It was too late to think that though, since both Brenda and Clive had been harmed the night before.
Eventually managing to surface from the safety of her palms, Flora squinted at the bright light shining into her room, shivered at the breeze breathing down her back from the open window near to the bed. Cautiously, Flora slid gracefully off of the side of the bed and tentatively shuffled towards the window to close it-freezing in her tracks as her eyes adjusted to the scene around her. Her pupils expanded until they resembled shimmering dark pebbles, her breathing quickening as she caught a glimpse of the images: the body sprawled disrespectfully across the floor, the scarlet lines joining together on the wall, paint still dripping from the crimson letters causing bile to rise in her throat. She let out a deafening, piercing shriek of terror, every limb quivering as the sound reverberated across the entire floor. As her eyes remained fixed to the writing, mouth gaping open in horror, she was oblivious to the sudden clatters of abandoned plates, the thundering of several pairs of feet up the stairs, the strident, desperate reassurances and pleas as her door flew open. The professor raced inside as the others stumbled after him, as if rather dazed and bemused. She saw the professor's eyes widen as he examined her for any form of injury, the expression of what could only be terror locked deep into his face. Luke and Emmy skidded to a halt behind the professor, panting breathlessly with identical emotions displayed in their eyes. Clark and Myra sprinted in a few seconds later, cheeks rather flushed from the unprecedented exercise.
"Flora!" Layton cried, relief and apprehension in his voice at the same time, "Are you alright? Whatever happened—"
He was instantly silenced as Luke let out a distressed shriek and extended a shaking arm to the familiar figure lying unresponsive and face down on the floor, her hair flowing around her shoulders, where she'd fallen being marked by various pieces of fruit with the bowl broken beside her. Myra's face paled and she threw her hands to her mouth in terror.
Layton gasped and immediately knelt by her side to check her for injuries, his eyes instantly being averted to the all too familiar dark, odorous and foreboding item resting gently in Connie's white upturned palm, soaking her hand in the black substance.
"The…the sorceress!" Emmy exclaimed frightfully, a shudder running down her spine as she tried to wrench her gaze away from the repulsive item, "What is she—"
"The…w…writing…," Flora stammered, weakly gesturing to the leftmost wall as her vision swam back and forth before her eyes, "is written in…blood…"
Jerking his head to the side, Layton leapt to his feet and turned to examine the wall, his index finger tracing the scarlet letters precisely, leaving a dark spot of the substance on its tip as he drew it backwards in repulsion, unable to ignore the continuous shaking of his finger as he absorbed each word with increasing dread and terrifying trepidation.
"P…Professor?" Luke asked uncertainly, tremors in his voice, "Wh…what does it say?"
Reluctantly the professor shakily stumbled aside, revealing the threatening words to the assembled party, oblivious as the 'ink' continued to drip unnervingly onto the already dyed carpet: