My eyelids flutter open when I hear him—or it, more rather. I can't tell what's happening or what that thing really is. The hoarse, labored breaths it takes send chills up my spine, and the loud rattling of chains gives me a splitting headache. I attempt to sit up so I can defend myself, but the action proves to be too much for my weakened state. The combination of shaking chains and labored breathing soon gives way to a shrill ringing in my ears. My head throbs and I fall back onto the mattress as I lose consciousness again.
I reawake to silence.
"Ugh," I moan as I sit up. "Where am I?"
I was too busy worrying about the thing in the hall to really take a look at my surroundings before. I'm sitting on a dirty, flimsy mattress set upon a wooden bed frame in a jail cell. Straw litters the floor, which is dimly illuminated by an oil lamp that is suspended from the ceiling—unfortunately out of my reach. All the walls are erected out of gray stone, aside from the barred, metal door directly across from me. I guess if it weren't for this cell, that thing would have gotten me. Whatever it was, it's gone now.
I sit up and swing my legs over the wooden bed frame. A thousand questions swim in my head, but the most important one is why I'm here in the first place. I cross the room and try opening the door. I wrap my hands around the cool, metal surface of the bars and give a hearty tug. The door is locked—not exactly a shocker.
"Damn," I silently curse. I take another look around the cell and notice for the first time a brass phonograph resting in the corner. How did I not see that before? I walk over and turn the crank on the machine. A young, feminine voice with a French accent emanates from the brass flower. Its sound is soothing, yet also oddly unsettling at the same time.
"Bienvenue," the voice greets. "You are now listening to the sound of my disembodied voice. It will serve you no purpose to look for me, for this is a voice from the past."
I can already tell this isn't going to be good.
"I bid you welcome to my Cabinet of Perturbation! It is my study of the human psyche—specifically yours. A set of recordings have been prepared to chaperone you through the chambers ahead. There are a few parts to this study and it is up to you, not only to pass, but to figure out which elements are important."
I'm being tested? Why?
"Please go on, move into the next chamber. Just remember, they can all be saved. There is always a way."
The voice recording cuts out and a rope attached to the crank simultaneously pulls the door open. I step to the entrance of the room and stare out into the darkness. Whatever was trying to get into my cell earlier is surely out there. I draw in a deep breath and unclench the fists I didn't realize my hands had formed.
I step out of the light of my cell into the hallway's seemingly-eternal darkness. My boot thuds echo faintly through the halls as I walk. I gingerly run my hand along the wall to give myself a sense of security moving forward.
I wander the halls for a couple of minutes before finding a heavy, iron door. I test the knob and it turns. Mustering all my strength, I pull the door open and creep into the room.
The room is dimly illuminated with wall torches, revealing how large and spacious it is. Wooden barrels and boxes are littered around the floor. Cells almost identical to the one I was in line the walls on both sides. I cross to the closest one on my left and open the door with ease. It lets out a loud squeak when I move it.
The cell is mostly empty, besides a small bed—much like the one in my cell—and a wooden bedside table. A piece of paper with some writing on it catches my eye. I lift it to my face so I can read it and almost vomit upon coming to the realization that it is written in blood. Written on the table where the note once rested is the phrase: "forgive me"—also in blood.
I shake my head and take a deep breath to clear my mind before turning my attention back to the note. I grip the corners, taking care not to touch the bloody ink on the page:
"Justine, my love,
I know I'm not as talented as Malo or as strong as Basile, but I am certain my love is truer. Do my scars not tell you so? I will continue to cut myself as long as it pleases you. I would even kill Basile, if you wish. I know you say you like it, but he's hurting you. I will trick him to consume the Bromide. Poor Justine, I will help. Just ask me to help.
What's going on here? Who are all these people? This note must be part of the test, but what purpose could it possibly serve?
I glance up at the cell wall to notice a third message smeared on the stone in blood: "I'm sorry."
I stumble backwards out of the cell, terrified of finding any more messages. I fall onto the cold, stone floor and hug my knees to my chest, panting. Before I can recover from the shock, I hear the rattling chains and labored breaths again. Panic makes my chest tighten. I duck back into the cell and pull the door shut, careful to make as little sound as physically possible. The smell of blood sickens me, but I prefer it to any fate at the hands of that creature. I creep to the back of the cell, continuously glancing behind me. Whilst doing so, I bump into the bedside table, knocking it over. My heart stops and I freeze in my tracks.
"Is that you, my love?"
I clap my hand over my mouth to suppress a gasp. That thing isn't a creature; it's a man!
"You came for me!" he exclaims in delight.
I feel a compelling sense of compassion for the man and peek out through the bars of the door. Upon seeing him, I conceal another horrified gasp and step back into the safety of the shadows.
If he was once a man, he certainly isn't anymore. His pale skin glows in the torchlight as he limps pitifully around the room. A single rope of chains snakes around his body. The sound of the metal scraping against the stone floor sends chills up my spine. His labored breathing is due to a large, wooden cartwheel that's clamped around his neck. Worse than all that is his face; burn marks surround his empty eye sockets and dried blood is caked around the edges.
"Where did you go? Come back!" the man wails, moving back the way he came. I listen to the sound of the rattling chains grow fainter and fainter. When the sound dies out completely, I decide to emerge from the dungeon cell. Brushing dust off the hem of my dress, I continue on investigating the room.
"Hello? Is anyone there?" a muffled voice calls from one of the adjacent cells.
I turn around and peer through the bars to find a medium-sized man strapped to a table with a burlap sack over his head. His wrists and ankles are bound to the framework with metal clasps, completely restricting his movement.
"Whoever you are, if you would help me, I would be much obliged," he says through the burlap.
He obviously knows I'm here, but I still don't respond right away. Instead, I test the door and find that it is locked; not exactly a shocker. I stand there for a while staring at the door, trying to find a way to help the man trapped behind it.
"Do you know where Justine is?" the man's voice calls me back to reality.
There's that name again: Justine…
Glancing at the cell door, I notice a lever on the wall adjacent to the cell. Maybe this will open the door. I reach out and feel my fingers close around the cool metal. I pull the lever down. There is a loud, clanking noise as a large, red spike is lowered from the ceiling and comes to a rest just above the man's chest.
"Please! You don't have to do this!" he cries out.
I gasp and release the lever immediately. Beads of sweat form on my forehead. I wipe them off with the back of my hand as I brush my thick, dark hair out of my face. I crouch down to compose myself and gaze at my own reflection in a puddle. My striking golden brown eyes are illuminated by the dim glow of the torches. My ruby lips part slightly as I draw in quick, shallow breaths. I lift a hand to the fair skin on my face. My cheek is smooth and the black polish on my nails is perfect. Judging by my condition, I haven't been in these chambers for very long at all.
"It's not too late to set things right!" the man's pleads snap me out of my daydream.
I reach up and push the lever back into its original position, hoping that the red spike will retract back into the ceiling. Instead, it drops and pierces the man's chest. He lets out a scream of agony before falling silent. I let my hand slip from the lever and turn away from the man's body. I watch as a ladder drops down, leading up to a passage in the ceiling. How clever.
What is this woman's game? Do I have to kill the sacrifices she provides in order to advance in her test? Is this supposed to be a test of my morality? How does that work if I don't have a choice when it comes to killing these people? What did her voice recording say earlier?
"Just remember, they can all be saved. There is always a way."
She said there is always a way. So, I can either sacrifice an innocent person to advance, or find a harder way on my own. What kind of sick mind game is this?
I ascend the ladder to find a dark passageway; actually, more of a crawlspace. There are a bunch of tunnels connected to it. I choose one to follow and creep along in the darkness. Eventually, I reach a hole in the floor of the stone. I peer down to check if it's safe. It seems okay so I lower myself out of through the hole and jump down, landing gracefully on my feet.
There is a dim light emanating from a room on my left. As I draw closer to the door, I realize that I am walking in a thick trail of blood. I suppress a gag and pull open the door to what seems like a torture chamber.
There are extremely detailed pictures of the man I had seen earlier hanging on the walls. Some of the drawings look like diagrams explaining the torture methods that had been used on him. Looking away, I see a small fire in an open hearth still burning in the back of the room. Long, iron rods dangle over the flames. Next to the fire is a large, wooden torture table with iron cuffs—presumably to secure the victims' wrists and ankles. Beside the table is another phonograph. I twist the crank to hear the woman giggling. She seems to be talking to someone else this time.
"Speak into the phonograph, Basile, mon chéri!" she giggles.
"Ugh…What did you put into the wine?" a gruff man's voice answers back.
"Absinthe, silly Basile! Strong men like you don't drink wine! Wine is for helpless women, like myself."
"My head…What is this thing? Get me out! I'm not up for your games."
"No!" she giggles again. "You have to say it first! How beautiful am I?"
"Plenty. Now let me out of this thing!"
"No! That is not what you say!" her tone is firmer now.
"Your beauty is blinding," Basile replies in an exasperated manner. I hear a faint sizzle and Basile's scream of agony, followed by the sound of metal being dropped on the stone floor.
"My eyes!" he wails. "What have you done to my eyes?! Justine, this isn't funny! You've blinded me!"
"Ha ha! Can't catch me now!" the woman laughs with delight.
"I'll kill you, you whore!" the recording ends and there are a couple seconds of audio static before the room falls silent again.
That recoding definitely explains the burn marks and empty eye sockets. However, Basile's voice was deeper than that of the man's I encountered earlier. Is it possible that the woman had tortured and blinded two men—or maybe more? Besides that, Basile had addressed the woman as "Justine." She must be the same Justine that Aloïs had written his letter to and the one that the other man had asked about.
With that information in mind, I continue searching Justine's torture chamber for clues. I cross the room to a small, desk-like table. Sitting amid the drawings and diagrams is what appears to be a newspaper article. I pick it up and scan it. According to the date printed at the top, it had only been issued a little over two weeks ago.
"19 of March, 1858
'Travesty at the Conservatory'
Many Parisons had gathered last night to enjoy the performance of violin virtuoso, Malo de Vigny. It was to be the grand premier of several new arrangements of songs by fellow composer, George Bizet. But the evening took an unexpected turn.
Young Malo de Vigny turned up visibly intoxicated. His violin cried as the bow was jerked across the strings. The audience seemed forgiving at first, but started to boo the man offstage as he defaced the beloved song, 'La rose et l'abeille.' The stress apparently got the best of the young musician as he threw his bow into the audience and finally collapsed.
Mademoiselle Justine Florbelle, who is according to rumors romantically involved with Monsieur de Vigny, looked quite amused by the event and had two of her friends, Basile Giroux and Aloïs Racine, carry him off the stage.
The evening was saved by other musicians at the conservatory who were able to perform a most impromptu concerto in Malo de Vigny's absence. The audience showered their saviors with praise and calls for encore were awarded with spectacular pieces by Offenbach and Chopin."
I lower the article back onto the desk. According to the information I had gathered—the note, the recordings and the article—it seems like Justine was – or is—romantically involved with three different men. More specifically, Aloïs, Malo and Basile are her three suitors. I encountered one of them – most likely Aloïs, based on the blood messages in the cells – during the first trial. So I can safely assume there will be three trials, one for each suitor.
I turn to leave the torture chamber, noticing for the first time a second brass phonograph. Hoping it will provide me with even more information, I turn it on.
"Congratulations for coming this far. I'm so excited for you!" Justine's voice springs from the brass flower. "I do hope you managed to save Monsieur Fournier."
In other words, the man I accidentally murdered.
"He was a friend and a colleague of my papa, you know. A friendly fellow, but frail of mind. He puts up an impressive front, but it is all an act, I assure you. Please go on. We are just getting started."
So she actually knew that man? I guess I shouldn't be surprised, since he had asked about her. I shake my head and reenter the hallway.
There is only one other door for me to select. This one is wooden and, therefore, significantly less menacing. I listen to the hinges squeak as I push it open and enter a dimly-lit corridor with hardwood floors. There are two other doors on each side of the corridor, creating a total of four rooms for me to explore.
The first room on the left is basically just a storage area. Flimsy, wooden shelves line the side and back walls. Each one is stocked with random objects that have no relevance together. The only useful thing I can find is an old tinderbox. I take it with me, just in case. The room next to it is nearly identical. The only difference is that the wooden shelf on the back wall is completely bare.
I head back to the first room on the right side of the corridor. This one seems much more promising. It houses a large study desk, a few portraits of people I don't recognize, a life-sized statue of a man with his head bowed and another phonograph. I turn the crank and wait for Justine's latest message.
"On this next piece, you'll be looking for some divine inspiration. Time to delve into your spiritual side! What do you see? Is the man begging for mercy or is he being blessed?"
I glance up at the statue I assume she's referring to.
"Perhaps both! Father used to say there were no right answers. Have the light guide you."
That was brief. The recording didn't give me any clues, so I decide to search the desk. All I manage to find are a couple projection slides and a handwritten report. I pocket the four slides and hold the report up to the light so I can read it.
"The tests have been going quite well. The most long-term and in a sense the most promising one is the Light Box. Having Justine choose a slide, essentially a mood, for each day is a great way to see the larger overall development of her mind. She definitely reads things into the slides I had not foreseen. Her remarkable imagination turns the characters into just about anything and she is able to effortlessly reduce all her experiences into one of four character slides.
Using the Puzzle Lock has proven more difficult as she tends to always choose two slides with characters facing the same way. I have asked her why this is, but she doesn't seem to fully understand what I am asking."
The person who had written the report signed the foot of the paper "Monsieur Florbelle." That means he must have some relation to Justine; most likely her father. The tests he was performing on her might have a connection to the tests she's performing on me.
As I'm turning to exit the room, I notice a stack of papers on one of the decorative tables. Upon closer inspection, it appears to be a disheveled diary of some sort. Each page is labeled "Soul Journal" at the top. I rummage through the pile, but only manage to find four legible entries. All the others are too water-damaged to decipher. The first one reads:
"Justine, age 8
Today I played outside with Clarice. We saw a bird pick at a snail. It carried it off and landed on the lawn fence. The snail had a shell and it cracked. Clarice cried and I comforted her. The new maid heard us and scolded Clarice for playing with me. The bird took off into the air.
Today I was the one with open arms."
What's the significance in that entry? It seems like just an average childhood diary to me. I shrug and flip to the second entry.
"Justine, age 9
Today I played with the slides from Father's Light Box. Above all, I like the man standing to the right. Father asked why. I said he sees things he likes.
Today I was the right one."
That's the second time the Light Box has been mentioned. I am already familiar with how the test worked from Monsieur Florbelle's records. The last sentence written at the bottom of each entry must be referring to which slide Justine had chosen for that day. I turn to the third entry and continue reading:
"Justine, age 10
Father said I picked the wrong slide yesterday when I made the chambermaid cry. He wanted me to pick the one with the sword, while I picked the one on the right. I never pick the one with the sword.
Today I was the one kneeling."
I flip through to the fourth slide.
"Justine, age 11
Today Father came for me in my room. I still couldn't look him in the eyes. He said I shouldn't feel ashamed and that I was only trying to fill the void left by Mother. When he wasn't looking, I took the star stone from his collection.
Today I was the one with the sword."
Didn't she just say in her previous entry that she never chose the one with the sword? Coincidentally, that entry isn't just the last legible one; it is the last one in the pile. Something must have happened to put an end to Monsieur Florbelle's studies, but what?
I enter the next and final room. It is almost completely empty, aside from a metal box attached to the far wall. My footsteps echo hollowly as I cross the room.
"W-who are you?! Who's there?!" a deep, man's voice reverberates from the metal box.
I take another step closer to the metal box. There is a bared window in the upper left corner, like a window in a jail cell. Aside from that, there is a lever and four narrow slots. I realize that the metal box is some kind of locking mechanism and the second hostage is being kept behind the window. Could this be the Puzzle Lock Monsieur Florbelle spoke of in his report?
I peer through the window on the box. In the darkness, I can barely make out the outline of a torture table—much like the one in the previous room. Strapped to the table is another man with a burlap sack over his head. Each of his wrists and ankles are strapped to a corner of the table.
"Sick, twisted child," the man murmurs.
He must slowly be going insane, but who wouldn't in a place like this? I'm not sure how I am supposed to save him yet, so I leave the room to look for more hints.
I walk down the corridor and eventually reach a gray screen across from what looks like a slide projection box. I take the slides from my pocket and insert one into the slide holder. I then use the tinderbox I found earlier to light the candle in the projection box. An image of a silhouetted man standing upright with a sword in his hand appeared on the gray screen in front of me.
I take the Soul Journal entries out of my pocket. Four journal entries, four slides—there must be a connection somewhere. Monsieur Florbelle's report had mentioned that Justine couldn't solve the Puzzle Lock because she always picked slides with characters that were facing the same way. Could I free the man trapped behind the lock if I choose slides depicting characters facing opposite directions?
I remove the sword slide from the Light Box and set it aside away from the other three. I then select another slide from my hand and fit it into the slot on the box. An image of a man standing tall with his hands on his hips appears. He is facing in the same direction as the sword man. I take the slide out and fit another one into the slot. An image of a man kneeling down with his hands over his head pops onto the screen. He is facing in the opposite direction as the man with the sword. I take the slide out of the box and pick the one depicting the man with the sword off of the ground. Disregarding the other two slides, I make my way back to the room with the Puzzle Lock.
"You'll burn for this…You'll BURN for this!" I hear the sonorous echo of the man's ramblings through the metal box.
I insert the two slides into the slots, double checking to make sure they fit correctly. My hands quiver and a cold sweat forms on my forehead as I reach for the lever on the Puzzle Lock. Pulling down slowly, I hear chains behind the box rattle and metal cuffs snap.
"Watch out for Justine. That demon—she may still be close," the man warns me. I then hear footsteps and the sound of a door opening. Good, at least someone's getting out of here alive.
Walking back to the main corridor, I hear the sound of wood scraping together across the hall. I go to the room it seems to be originating from and notice one of the bookshelves has been pulled out, revealing a passageway. I travel through the passage and down the wooden staircase behind it. Luckily for me, there is another brass phonograph at the bottom. I turn the crank so I can hear what Justine has to say.
"I wonder, is Father David with his God now? Maybe you helped him there. Don't you worry, I'm sure he didn't have a family. He probably wasn't even all that well-liked. With the current political climate, I'm surprised someone hasn't killed him already. We can't all be saved. Some don't even want to be saved. Yes, that is a comforting thought; saves us from trying."
It is hard to tell if she's trying to comfort me for possibly killing the priest, or simply stating her opinion on the matter. Most likely the latter; Justine doesn't seem like the kind of person who would take the time to spare someone's feelings.
I continue down the hall until I find a heavy, steel door. Swallowing my fear, I open it and step into the room. It is unbearably dark, but not so much so that I can't see my immediate vicinities. What really sets me on edge are the wheezing and rattling chains echoing from the depths of the room.
"I have you now," a familiar voice rasps through the darkness.
I freeze in my tracks. There is no mistaking it; that's Basile's voice!
I glance up and see him for the first time. Despite his withered state, I can tell that he was once a very robust and muscular man. He managed to retain some of the muscle mass in his arms and legs, but every other part of his body more closely resembles a corpse. I know he is blind because of the recordings in the torture chamber and the hollow, blood-encrusted eye sockets. The chains rattle and the cartwheel squeaks as he hunts through the basement. Basile must think that I'm Justine!
I duck against a wall, brushing aside some potatoes on the floor with my foot as I do so. Basile's head turns in my direction, flashing his decaying eye sockets.
"Yes, keep making those sounds," he hisses with a smile.
I slowly kneel down and pick up a potato. I make sure my elbow doesn't hit the wall during the execution and throw the potato across the room. It makes contact with a stack of boxes, knocking them over.
"You thought you would get away, didn't you?" Basile snarls, walking in the direction of the crash.
I take the opportunity to sprint across the room and open the door to the exit.
"Get over here!" Basile rages as he chases me towards the door, realizing that he's been tricked. "I'll rip your head off!"
I close the door behind me, snapping an iron padlock in place. Basile pounds on the door, cursing Justine's name. I take a deep breath. I barely escaped that trial with my life. Who knows how much longer my luck will last?
I continue down the hallway, eventually coming to the next phonograph. It rests right before a downward leading staircase. The stairs stretch down into a flooded area with water that comes up to around my ankles. A little further through the flooded hallway is another door. Sighing at the thought of splashing through the dirty water, I turn the crank to hear Justine's hints for the third trial.
"I'm sure you have figured out how it all works by now. Are you enjoying my quips? I think they are quite clever. Not that I was ever much of a conversationalist. Poetry has always been my forte. But I digress. You should press on. It will all be over soon. Also, the police are here. Maybe they can help you."
Something about the way she said that makes me think that the police aren't going to be of much help to me.
Sighing, I lift up my dress skirt and step into the sewer water. The cold water sends a chill up my spine and I involuntarily shiver. Moving forward, I pull open the wooden door. The water causes some resistance on the door as I yank on the knocker.
The bowels of the sewer are huge. On either end, there are two open doorways and a closed wooden door on the far side. My feet splash loudly as I cross the room to the closed door. I notice that there is no handle or knocker. It doesn't even have any hinges. Next to the door is some kind of mechanism. It appears to be some kind of lever-pulley system, except the lever is missing. Justine must have snapped it off and hidden it somewhere.
I splash across to one of the rooms and find some kind of flooded office. There are books floating around in the water. Toppled shelves and desks are sunken to the shallow bottom, not even completely concealed by the water. On the far side of the room, there is a table supported by some sunken boxes. I walk across and pick up the silver lever resting on the table.
Returning to the door's mechanism, I snap the lever back into place. I grasp the handle with both hands and give a firm tug downwards. The inner workings of the door's locking mechanism loudly start grinding together and the wooden barrier begins to ascend out of the water. I start to duck under the door when I hear the unthinkable:
"Bonjour!" followed by demonic laughter and a long, rasping wheeze.
It's Malo, the third suitor! I have to move, and fast. I look to the left and find another lever on the wall. I quickly pull it and run for the other side of the room. The door slams down with a large splash. I hear the rasps and chains as Malo pounds viciously on the woodwork.
The door on the other side of the chamber is shut too. There is no locking apparatus on the door, so I quickly run off to investigate. I have no idea how much time I have until Malo gets past the door.
There is a gear sitting on a table in one room, so I pick it up and dart across the chamber to the next room. Malo is still brutally attacking the door as I pass. Some of the boards are starting to give way. I panic and run even faster.
This room houses a gear system with one missing piece. I quickly jam the gear into the empty spot and pull the lever next to the machine. The device starts grinding, but I don't have time to stop and watch. I sprint back as the door begins to open. At the same time, Malo has broken a hole in the wooden door. I quickly make my way through the door and yank the lever as Malo busts down the first door and lunges across the room. His speed is incredible considering his condition.
"Hey, you!" a voice calls out. I look over to find a man secured to the wall with metal clasps. He's dressed in a policeman's cap and uniform. This is what Justine must have meant when she said the police are here.
"Help me out of here and I'll call my men to get us out of this hellhole!" he shouts after me.
I quickly glance back to find that Malo has already broken down the door and is clumsily stepping through the shattered woodwork. His chains rattle loudly as they are dragged over the broken fragments of the door.
I lock eyes with the imprisoned policeman for about one full second before darting off and leaving him.
My feet create thunderous splashes in the water as I run. Even though Malo is blind, the sound of the water is obviously alerting him to my whereabouts. I don't dare turn around for fear that he will be on my trail.
"Justine, let me taste you!" I hear the insane suitor taunting me as I run. Like Basile, Malo must believe that I am Justine.
I approach a four-step staircase and dart up out of the water. Now that my steps aren't as loud, it will be easier to hide. I am quickly running out of breath, so I turn down the only open corridor and duck behind a crate. Soon enough, Malo appears from around the corner and starts heading down the narrow hallway. His chains scrape the stone floor as he searches for me.
"Hide and seek…hide and seek…" Malo mumbles as he bumps around in the dark.
I tense up as he draws closer to my hiding spot. I didn't notice it before, but he seems to have bites taken out of his arms and legs. He carries quite a repulsive stench too.
"I grow tired…of my own flesh…" he sighs to himself.
Oh my God! Has this man been driven so insane that he practices cannibalism?! That explains what he had said earlier while chasing me through the sewers.
I wait a little longer until he wanders back towards the water.
"Come out. You'll like what I have planned," Malo calls out menacingly as he walks down the corridor.
I jump out from behind the crate and sprint down the dark hall. I hear Malo exhale an angry-sounding wheeze and the smacks of his bare feet on the stone as he starts to chase me again. Not daring to look back, I sprint until I reach a heavy iron door. I quickly yank it open and run through, locking it behind me. Malo angrily bangs his mangled fists on the other side, but it is to no avail. The deranged cannibal can't break down this door.
Sure enough, Justine has a phonograph set out for me. I activate it and listen as her voice flows from the machine.
"Inspector Marot, are you still with us? I'm looking forward to seeing if you managed to save him or not. I know very little about him, but surely he had a family, don't you think? Poor, poor fatherless children; but he falls on his own sword. His kind aren't meant to come for people like me. Laws are made for cretins! The aristocracy doesn't need to know right from wrong. We are always right."
If anything, that message reveals a lot more about Justine's personal beliefs. If she truly believes that she isn't doing anything wrong by issuing these tests and murdering so many innocent people, then there really isn't anything to stop her from doing what she is doing.
I turn and continue down the hall until I reach another open room. Surprisingly, the floor seems to be made of dirt. As I explore a bit, I find that is actually a small graveyard. There are six holes, each wide and deep enough to hold a body. None of the graves in the center of the room had headstones.
Off in the corner of the room, I discover an expansion. I find a grave that already has someone resting in it and a large, elegant statue of an angel.
I run my hand across the headstone, brushing some of the dust off. The inscription reads "Lucie Florbelle," presumably Justine's mother. Why is her grave down here in the basement? If I recall correctly, it was mentioned in Justine's childhood Soul Journal that he mother passed away when Justine was very young. I still don't get why she would be buried here, though; this seems too disorganized to be housing one of Justine's loved ones.
I gaze up at the angel statue. It was probably erected in the likeness of Justine's mother. The statue's long, straight hair covers its face, hiding its features. Its arms are outstretched, as if it is welcoming me into a warm embrace. I feel compelled to accept the offer until I remember that it is an inanimate object. I walk around to the back of the statue, running my fingers over each individually carved feather on its wings. The statue itself stirs up some powerful emotions of longing inside of me, though I don't understand why. As I stare at it, I faintly recall familiar-sounding voices in the back of my mind:
"What was Mother like?"
"She was the most beautiful creature ever to grace this world."
"I can't remember what she looked like, no matter how hard I try."
"Her beauty was blinding, Justine. We could never hope to chain such memory to our minds. It would be too much to bear."
I blindly wander away from the statue, crossing to a second groove in the room's overall shape. This outcropping also holds a filled grave and a headstone.
The inscription on the headstone is very brief; it simply reads "Father." I walk around behind the grave. A little inscription is carved into the back of the headstone. I crouch down, bringing my face closer to the words so I can make them out in the dark.
"It all made sense, he thought. We all appreciate symmetry. Everyone is comforted by the casuality of logic. It gives the impression of a grand plan and that we may be able to grasp the inner workings of this perfect universe.
You see, his wife died giving birth to his daughter. That is why he was able to forgive. His family was just giving in to the symmetry."
The words make it seem that her father's character is defined by his wife's death. Monsieur Florbelle must have cared very deeply for his wife.
I walk back around to the front of the grave to find a piece of paper half-buried in the dirt. I carefully pick it up and brush it off. By the looks of it, it is an un-mailed letter. I hold it up to my face and begin to read.
I have contacted the consulate and they said they will send you the permits you need for visiting Algeria. I wish you good luck on your search and that your findings will come at a lower price than mine.
I am at a loss with my studies. My daughter has become distraught and distant. I did little to control her behavior, yet I believe the very notion of my observation has made her this way. My scientific indifference to our tests has not left her with an indifferent opinion. She finds my lack of reaction disappointing. She judges me, and most importantly herself, but the results of the tests.
The reason I have had trouble finding any consistency within her character is because she tries different approaches to provoke me and her efforts only become more and more disturbing. Yesterday I lost myself and scolded her. She was terrified and humiliated.
It saddens me greatly to bring my studies to a close without seeing it to the end, but I can no longer justify my research. I have to mend my relationship with my daughter.
It seems odd that this letter was never mailed out and even stranger that it is half-buried here in Monsieur Florbelle's grave. It could hint to his time of death, but there is no date at the top.
I decide that I've had enough of the graveyard and make my way to the door on the far side. Next to the large, wooden double doors is what I assume to be the last phonograph. I grip the crank and turn it in a clockwise motion. Justine's familiar voice floats out of the dull, brass flower.
"Well done! You have triumphed; conquered my Cabinet. I wish I could tell you how you did, but alas, this is just a recording. You will have to figure it out all by yourself. Did anyone survive? The doctor? The priest? Or perhaps the policeman? Who was allowed to live? Why? You should really reflect on these past events and consider what they meant to you—what you have learned about your true nature."
There is a pause in the recording. Assuming she is done, I begin to walk away. However, the sound of her voice brings me back again.
"Father never knew me. He thought he did, but then he was frightened. And nothing was ever the same again. I can still see him lying there on the floor. He looked so…surprised."
There is another brief pause before Justine begins to recite a short, four-line stanza.
"The star-shaped soapstone stained by his blood
Fell to the floor with a sonorous thud
Blame me not, for I was but a child
With careful ambition, I slowly smiled – rest in peace, Papa."
Let me get this straight: not only did Justine murder her own father; she doesn't even seem to feel guilty about it. If what she said in her poem is true, she was also a child when she committed the act. I thought she was sadistic before, but this is just too much.
I push open the doors and enter some long, winding passages. The scent of the air is repulsive – more overwhelming than Malo's body. Upon further investigation, I find that the walls are covered with messages, all written in blood. Everywhere I turn, there is a different message. I don't stop to read any of them. I'm not sure if it is from the smell or the thought of the messages being in blood, but I begin to feel extremely nauseated. Tears stream from my eyes as I half stumble, half sprint through the passages. Pure desperation almost drives me to insanity as I strive for the salvation at the end of the tunnels.
It takes what feels like an eternity, but I finally find a small door. I can't get it open fast enough. I almost fall into the stone chamber, gasping for fresh air. I slam the door shut behind me, hoping to trap any memories of that place back in the tunnels.
"And so it comes to an end," the voice of Justine startles me in my jittery state.
I glance up to find the brass speaker of the phonograph, along with the inner workings of the machine looped around a dead man suspended from the ceiling. A very large burlap sack conceals his body and a smaller one is slipped over his head and secured at his neck.
"Now that you have seen what you truly are, you are able to face eternity without fear – without doubt."
With that, the walls begin to close in on me. I panic and run back to the door only to find that it is locked from the other side. I spin around and notice some gears rotating in a machine mostly concealed by stone blocks. I pick up a rock on the ground and try shoving it between the gears. The stone glances off the metal framework and shoots back towards me. I duck, narrowly dodging it. The walls still pushing towards am and I am out of ideas. My thoughts muddle and I begin hyperventilating and collapse to the floor. The darkness creeps over my eyes and I loose consciousness.
My eyelids flutter open and I draw in a single deep. I watch the walls recede back into their proper place as I brush my dark hair away from my face.
"This…This was the best one yet," I say aloud. "So elaborate; it's just too much."
I blink and shake my head.
"Enough of this. Get up, Justine," I mentally kick myself and clamber to my feet.
The door leading back into the Cabinet begins to shake and rattle as someone struggles with the lock. I walk over and lower the crossbar to secure it.
"It's already locked, but you can never be too certain," I remind myself with a slight smile.
"No! Stay!" Aloïs weeps on the other side of the door.
"I found you once, I'll find you again," Basile's voice accompanies Aloïs's.
I giggle at their silly threats and pleading before crossing to the stair door on the other side of the room. I make sure the door is locked tight behind me before exiting the basement.
"Don't want any of the guests coming in here," I say before ascending the staircase leading to my parlor room.
"Mademoiselle Justine, are you down there? Is everything all right?" my housekeeper and friend, Clarice, calls down.
"Of course, Clarice, I'm quite all right," I answer back. "Is everything ready for tonight?"
"Yes, the goose will be ready any minute now. The guests should be arriving within the hour."
I reach the top and lock the basement door. I will have to bathe before my guests arrive. Traversing the Cabinet has left me quite dirty.
"Did I hear voices from downstairs?" Clarice asks me.
"I certainly hope not," I reply.
"Oh, silly me!"
"Yes, silly Clarice."