[PART 1 – DAY 1]
The lizard and the kikimora stood at each side of a closed door, waiting. The lizard waited with her hands behind her, dressed in the old uniform of a soldier, with a rifle hanging by her waist, while the kikimora waited with her hands in front, dressed in her maid outfit.
In due time, the door opened and an old man left. The lizard then walked in, followed by the kikimora. Inside the room, the lord of the manor sat on the chair by the table, with yet another empty chair remaining where the old man had been. He stared aimlessly, hunched over, with his hand over his mouth and resting his elbows on his legs, silent and unreacting. The lizard and the kikimora waited for any reaction or order from the young lord, whose age coincided with that of the kikimora, yet remained older than the lizard. However, a minute passed, and he still did not react.
“…Excuse me, sir?” The lizard asked.
“Hm?” He answered, as if snapping awake from a thought that blinded him to his surroundings.
“Has something occured? This silence is unusual, coming from you.”
“No, no, just thinking about a few things.” He answered, standing up.
“Would you like something to drink?” The kikimora asked.
The lord looked at her in the eyes for a second from the corner of his eye. “No, thanks.” He said, then walked past her out the room. The lizard followed, and soon the kikimora walked behind.
“Head Butler Arthur wishes to have a word with you at a later time,” the lizard spoke as she walked with the lord through one of the manor’s hallways, “but apart from that, nothing has happened.”
“Has he told you what about?”
Soon, the lord entered one of the rooms that lined the hallway, one he routinely visited at the same hour nearly every day; a study room of sorts with bookcases adorning the walls. She followed, and closed the door behind her. The kikimora waited for him inside, next to a small metallic cart with a kettle and cup over it. The lord immediately headed to the desk, a small one at the end of the room which pointed to the door, and sat. The lizard followed and walked to the wall behind the desk, then stood behind the lord a little to the side, careful not to block the windows that let the light sneak in and illuminate the room.
The kikimora quickly began serving tea on the procelain cup from the kettle, then afterwards put it on a thin metallic tray, along with another cup of sugar with a spoon by the side. Afterwards, she began walking to the desk to serve it to him.
The lizard couldn’t help but notice from where she was an unusual sight. Just as the kikimora was about to reach the desk, the lord extended his foot slightly towards where she’d step. One of her steps then hit his foot, which caused her to slightly stumble forward, losing balance of the tray and sending the teacup his way. The boiling tea hit his clothes, making him grunt of pain as he moved back.
“I-I’m sorry, my lord! I’m sorry!” The kikimora panicked, trying her hardest to find something to clean off the tea off his chest, or at least something to cool it down.
“Don’t.” The lord interrupted her, grabbing his clothes and pulling so that it did not touch his skin. “Leave.”
The kikimora stood motionless with shock, staring at him, but a gesture of his hand towards the door along with a frown only made it apparent that she had heard right, much to her misfortune. Her expression soon sunk, narrowing her eyes in guilt and unable to stare at him in the eyes. With a lowered head, she silently picked the cups that fell, put them on the tray, and left the room with the metallic cart, closing the door behind her, though not before saying ‘I’m sorry, my lord’ one last time.
The lizard still did not react. From what she saw, it was difficult to believe an accident like this would have happened, since the same accident-less situation had occurred almost every day for years to the point of him almost memorizing her steps. Still, she found no answer as to why he would do that, so the idea of an accident stuck in her mind; a very strange accident.
[PART 3 – Day 2]
The lizard walked behind the lord through the hallway, same as yesterday, though at the early hours of the morning. After a bit of walking, they both saw the kikimora waiting at where the hallway intersected with another, standing with the small cart next to her, waiting with her hands together in front of her and her head slightly lowered. However, once she saw the lord, she raised her head to him.
“My lord.” She greeted him, who stopped in front.
“I won’t be needing your services today. You can take a rest.”
“M-…My lord, is something wrong?” She asked, visibly shaken.
“What happened yesterday… I’m disappointed.” He said.
The kikimora’s eyes sparked wide open in disbelief, with a heart-broken expression that could almost be pinpointed in the exact moment he said those words. Even the lizard could see how her spirit had been shattered. Just a second after the lord said those words, he left, prompting the lizard to follow. The lizard couldn’t help but look as she walked away, but the kikimora couldn’t move, let alone change her expression or speak. It was as if time had stopped only for her.
During her free hours, the lizard walked through the various hallways of the manor. No matter how many times she saw it, the architecture always caught her eye, though only at these free hours could she find the leisure to admire the finer details.
“Lucia.” A voice called, snapping her awake from her thoughts. When she turned to the source, she saw the kikimora sporting a worried look.
“Kate?” The lizard, Lucia, asked. “I thought you’d be resting.”
“I can’t rest like this. Listen, has anything happened to lord Henry lately?”
“Is it related to what happened earlier today?”
“…Yes. He’s disappointed in me, but… I don’t know if it was over the tea spill or something else. Maybe I did something wrong another time, or did so multiple times without realizing to the point he-“
“You’re getting paranoid.”
Kate sighed and raised her hand to hold her head. At the same time, Lucia brought he hand to her jaw to think.
“I can’t think of anything.” Lucia said, though the way Henry had put his foot in front of Kate’s steps kept circling in her head, along with the outcome of his meeting with the old man. “It’s strange even for me. I don’t know what to tell you.”
“Thanks either way. It’s just that… if it’s not the tea, then I fear I’ll do it again and again, since I wouldn’t know what I might have done to anger him. He’s an understanding man, but if I don’t know what I did wrong… Or maybe-“
“I’ll keep an eye out, but I can’t promise anything.”
“Thank you, Lucia.”
[PART 5 – Day 4]
Her break had come again in the late afternoon, and so Lucia walked around the manor to her leisure, though Kate’s situation could never leave her head. The situation seemed to worsen day past day. She remembered what happened just yesterday, the way lord Henry had passed Kate by. If only judging by Kate’s reaction, Henry had either frowned at her or ignored her altogether; Lucia did not see his face, but saw Kate’s spirit sinking lower and lower every time she saw him. She also remembered how earlier today another similar event happened, though this time Henry seemed to ignore she existed at all, worsened by how at the end of the second day he had given her rest until further notice, a notice which had never arrived. Now, she couldn’t find Kate anywhere she looked at, except for one place she had not checked.
She almost arrived to Kate’s room, but from afar she already noticed something. The door to her room wasn’t fully closed. Curious, she walked closer and closer, though at a certain distance she began hearing noises coming from within. Once she walked up to the slightly-open door and looked inside, she saw Kate curled up on her bed, still fully clothed, hugging a pillow and lying with her back to the door. The noises Lucia had heard were her sobs and whimpers, muffled by the pillow she pressed her head against. However, recognizing that part of the sobbing sounded strange, she paid more attention, at which point she realized she was repeating something to herself over and over again.
“Master doesn’t love me anymore… Master doesn’t love me anymore… Master doesn’t love me anymore…”
Though Lucia wanted to do something about the situation, she could not. She knew she had no idea about how to treat a person going through such situation, and she had no right to intervene, for she was purely a bodyguard. Any situation concerning lord Henry had to be resolved by him, not her. Reluctantly, she stepped away from the door and left Kate be.
[PART 6 – Day 5]
“I need you to come with me for a few minutes.” Henry told Kate in a commanding voice, the first words he had said to her since days ago. As Henry left, Kate exchanged a confused glare with Lucia before both followed.
Henry took them both through a lengthy hallway till they reached a specific room at the end, one that didn’t have much importance to neither Kate nor Lucia till now, which only made them even more confused. Then, when Henry reached for the door handle, instead of oppening it, he turned to Lucia.
“Leave us.” He said.
Lucia stood for a second, surprised by the order. She gazed over at Kate, and found her visibly scared over not knowing what was going to happen, made worse by how she’d be alone. Yet, the sheer pressure of Henry waiting forced her to leave, left only with wonder over what would happen to Kate.
Just minutes later, Lucia arrived to Kate’s room. She stepped in, opening the door with a simple push, for it had not even been fully closed, just like before. Most of the room seemed clean, save for the bed which remained a mess. In an instant, Lucia figured that the contrast was due to the clean parts remaining as they were since days ago, which gave way to the idea that Kate had given up on her duties while she shut herself in her room. The sheets of the bed were unkept and wrinkled, though at the same time still kept together; Kate had most likely just thrown herself over the bed to sleep for those long days rather than cover herself with the blankets. The pillow had a weird texture, though upon closer inspection it became obvious that it was due to dried tears.
“I believe they should be finished by now.” A voice from outside spoke, frightening her enough to almost unconsciously reach for her gun. “Either now, or by the time you get there.”
Lucia walked outside the room, only to find the head butler Arthur outside leaning against the wall, staring at her. An ancient man with white hair, dressed in his elegant suit.
“You are curious over what happened. You can go check that room if you wish. You have my permission.”
Before Lucia could say anything, Arthur walked away. However, she couldn’t disregard Arthur’s words so easily, not when her curiosity ate her inside out. If the worst happened, she figured that she had the excuse of Arthur giving her the permission, and she would later on regret not taking the chance.
She reached the room and crossed the door. Inside, she couldn’t find much that’d point to anything. She stepped further inside, trying to find something, though soon saw something on the floor. She crouched and inspected it, and soon realized those were just recent tears. Standing back up, she looked at the center of the room, where two chairs and a table stood.
On top of the table lied an empty, already opened thin box, which she walked up to and grabbed. The box opened by its half, but had no markings nor anything to point to what it was. The inside was lined with foam, but what it had contained was beyond her, and so she left it on the table again. However, it looked exceptionally new, as if it had been recently made, and the foam had no signs of decay or use.
Then, she heard footsteps behind her. She turned her head, and found Arthur walking in.
“Have you found anything?” He asked.
“Only more questions. Perhaps you know the answer to most of them.”
“You might as well be lord Henry’s right hand. Things don’t add up, unless they were forced to add up.”
Arthur smiled. “Keen senses. Sometimes I forget I mentored you.”
“So I was not mistaken. What was happening with Kate? It’s all unnatural. I’m figuring it doesn’t involve me, because lord Henry even told me to leave the two of them alone. You even encouraged me to come here, as if you wanted me to figure something out on my own.”
“Maybe.” He said as he picked up the empty box, then turned around and slowly walked away, though Lucia soon followed behind where he went. “Henry is a peculiar individual, isn’t he?”
“I never saw anything weird with him, which makes his sudden attitude with Kate all the more strange.”
“When did it start?”
“I saw how he put his foot in Kate’s path when she spilled tea on him, even though he’d need to do that on purpose after this long to cause an accident. The chances of that happening by accident are near zero.”
“Indeed it was on purpose. I guess that’s how he did it.”
“On purpose? But… why?”
Soon, after walking past the hallways, they reached a staircase which they walked up.
“Today is a special day for Kate, though Henry has a peculiar way of preparing things.” He explained. “He has this idea about contrasting emotion, a theory that says that one would experience happiness far more vigorously after sorrow than one who experiences it without, even though both situations would carry the same joy. In short, if one were to be gifted someone after being depressed, the person would be happier than with the same gift out of the blue in a normal day. At least, that’s what he thinks.”
“…He made Kate depressed on purpose?”
“I’m afraid you’re correct. I do not agree with his views, but I know that Kate won’t take it too hard. I should know, I raised her.”
The staircase ended, and they began walking on the upper floor of the manor.
“For what purpose?” She asked.
“Today is Kate’s twentieth anniversary of working for lord Henry. Unofficially, at least, since Kate has been with him ever since they were both six. Officially, she started working full-time after finishing her studies at eighteen, so it would be her eighth anniversary in a few days. We go with the former.”
“Were you alright with this? You raised her like a daughter, and yet I saw her depressed these days. She was crying on her bed.”
“I was entirely against this, but Henry seemed to have a few points here and there. The only favor I asked for was that this would be the only time he does something like this with her.”
“And what was her gift?”
“See for yourself.”
Just as he finished his words, he crossed the glass doors that led to one of the balconies. Lucia, after stepping forward with him, followed Arthur’s eyes and found both Henry and Kate in the garden. Henry had Kate embraced in a hug, spinning her with him, till he gently let go. At that point, Kate noticed Lucia’s presence, and raised a shining silver necklace towards her to show her, along with a smile that went from ear to ear, and tears that ran down her cheeck, of joy instead of sorrow. Henry too had noticed Arthur and Lucia, and raised his hand to greet them.
“A necklace…” Lucia answered, waving her hand back with Arthur. “Wait, then that old man from a few days ago-“
“An old contact of mine. I presented him to Henry, since he was stressed over not knowing what gift to give her.” He answered before stepping back in, raising the empty box he held at the same time for her to notice. Lucia followed. “And… I think something is owed to you.”
From under his jacket, Arthur took of a small, thin box, and handed it to Lucia. She stared perplexed as she took it, which looked almost exactly like the one which had Kate’s necklace, but soon opened it, and found a knife inside. A finely engraved ornamental knife in its sheath, with the insignia of Henry’s manor engraved at the pommel.
“Your old knife is rusting, isn’t it?” He asked with a smile. “Perhaps that can be of use.”
“I… I am honored. What’s the occasion?”
“Have you forgotten? It’s been five years since you started working here.”
“Already? Time flies so fast… I don’t keep track anymore.”
“Indeed it does. It almost feels like yesterday when I was in Rhodesia with Henry’s father, before he came here and I started working for him. Back when I used the old trusty gun that you have.”
Lucia couldn’t help but look at her gun again once he said that, Arthur’s old FAL which she was taught how to use and maintain, along with everything Arthur had learned in his days.
“Are you fine with Kate and Henry being so close?” She asked, changing the topic.
Arthur chuckled to himself. “I am regretful over the choice of gift. I would have wished he had given her a special ring. Can’t wait for the day I can call him son-in-law, you know.”