Author's Note: I know, I know, I'm getting slower. But this story is almost over, so please bear with me for a little while longer.
That single thought continued to run through Luke's mind as he desperately tried to come up with a plan. He had promised Tear he would take care of everything, but in truth he had no idea where to start.
His mind kept trailing back to the mystery novels he knew his mother sometimes read. He felt he should be searching for clues, so that he could eventually string together an overly-complicated explanation for what really happened, complete with catching the real culprit. However, Luke knew the limits of his abilities of deduction, and could not imagine himself adequately filling the role of detective.
All he had to do, he kept reminding himself, was prove Tear's innocence. Though he would have liked to say he helped catch a murderer, it was not his responsibility. His only concern was seeing Tear return home safely.
In theory it should not have been hard. Tear said she had gone for a walk, so someone in Baticul had to have seen her at the time Veronica was killed. That is, assuming Tear really was innocent...
Luke mentally slapped himself for thinking, even for a moment, that Tear really was guilty. Such doubts would get him nowhere, and he knew Tear would never stoop so low as to kill someone that meant her no physical harm.
Luke came to the conclusion that he would be able to do nothing until he knew the details of the crime. He was not sure exactly how he would get them, since such information was not usually public knowledge. However, he had many connections, and he figured his relationship with the accused may help him further.
Armed with a renewed determination, Luke exited the manor again in search of answers.
Tear sat up suddenly, wondering who had cried out. It took her a moment to realize that she had been sleeping, and she herself had emitted the scream.
Tear shuddered. She could not remember the contents of her dream, but it left her with a sense of sickening dread. She could never before remember having a dream that caused her to physically cry out.
Seeking comfort, she instinctively reached out to her right where a warm body should have been. She was dismayed when she was met with a cold stone wall, before she remembered where she was and lowered her hand.
The small cot she was on creaked as she shifted positions to face away from the wall. She squinted, trying to make out the details of the cell, but it was too dark to see more than blurry shapes.
Tear had never been afraid of the dark, but this darkness felt different somehow. It was as if the terrors from her dream had escaped from her mind and slunk in the shadows, determined to haunt her in her waking hours.
Something was wrong. Something bad was going to happen.
Tear tried to tell herself that it was only a simple nightmare, and the lingering fear was not any kind of premonition. To focus her thoughts and calm her mind, Tear did what she always did when she was distressed: she sang. As her voice slid easily from one verse of the Grand Fonic Hymn to the next, she silently prayed to Lorelei and Yulia that her fears were unfounded.
The Kinsey mansion was a regal estate, a testament to the wealth of the Count that owned it. Its grandiose archways and crawling vines were a sight to behold, but they clashed oddly with the rest of the city's mechanical, metallic feel. The building almost appeared to be challenging the rest of Baticul, looking down upon it and daring someone to call it pompous and out of place.
The last time Luke had visited the mansion was at some formal dinner or another, so it had been decked out with its finest and most gaudy decorations. It was an eerie contrast to the way it appeared now, dull and colorless under a clouded sky, carefully preened plants trampled under the boots of the many soldiers who scoured the property in search of clues to the mystery behind the recent death of the Countess.
Luke followed obediently behind the guard escorting him, knowing that if he strayed and was caught snooping around he would be thrown off the premises. As they walked through the first set of arches into the entryway garden, Luke glanced around curiously, spotting many nervous maids and servants being questioned by city guards. It would not have surprised him if one of them had been the murderer; he could not imagine that Veronica had been a kind mistress.
They entered the grand double doors into the mansion proper, where even more activity seemed to be taking place. Luke glanced all around the room briefly, before his eyes focused on the activity going on at the center of the large entryway. Two guards were questioning the Count, Veronica's unfortunate husband.
Luke had never been fond of the man. He was ignorant to all of Auldrant's current problems, and seemed to find no reason to educate himself. He preferred to remain in his mansion on Baticul's highest tier, fawning over his succubus of a wife, despite her never showing signs of reciprocating his affections.
Even so, Luke could not help but feel a twinge of pity for the Count. He was clearly distressed, and had the look of someone who had not slept well in days. Even if the two of them did not get along, Luke could imagine the pain of losing a beloved wife. It was a feeling he desperately prayed he would never need to experience.
The guard that Luke was following stopped and turned to face him. He motioned toward the Count before speaking.
"Her husband was the last one to see her," the guard explained. "He said she left the mansion just after sunset, and the guards at the gate confirmed it. The Countess told her husband that she had a social encounter to attend."
Luke resisted the urge to roll his eyes. He could guess what kind of "social encounter" Veronica had planned in the middle of the night.
The guard continued, either oblivious to the innuendo or not particularly caring about it. "When she did not return he became concerned, and sent some of his personal guards to search for her. It was not until early the next morning that a fisherman on his way to work discovered the body."
Luke watched the guard skeptically as he finished the story. "Wait, if no one found her until morning, how do they even know when she was killed? What if it was that morning? Then there's no way it could've been Tear, I was with her then."
The guard shrugged. "Hey, I'm just saying what I've heard. They had some specialist or another look at the body, and said he could tell she had been dead since the night before. Don't understand how it works myself. Besides, she usually let people know if she wasn't coming home that night for one reason or another."
Luke decided that pursuing the issue further was pointless, so he changed the subject. "Can I talk to her husband?" No doubt the man had been questioned plenty already, but Luke doubted he would be allowed to see what he had told the investigators.
"I suppose," the guard answered, then leaned in closer and lowered his voice. "Just remember, if anyone finds out you're not supposed to be here it's my ass in the fire!"
"Don't worry," Luke reassured him, "I'll be quick."
The guards questioning the Count finished up, but instructed the man to remain there until further notice. Luke felt a little guilty for approaching him so soon after he was questioned, but this would likely be the only chance he would get to speak with him.
Suddenly feeling rather unsure of himself, Luke stepped over to Count Kinsey and spoke cautiously. "Um... excuse me, could I talk to you for a moment?"
The Count eyed him curiously. "Are you part of the investigation?"
Luke scratched the back of his head nervously. "No, I'm... I'm Luke fon Fabre."
Recognition glinted in the Count's eyes, to Luke's relief; he could not think of any other way to gracefully say he was the husband of the woman accused of killing his wife.
"Look," Luke said before the Count could speak again, "I'm pretty sure I know Tear better than anyone, and there's no way that she would've killed someone like this. But if they decide she's guilty, then whoever the real killer is will get away with it. I want to help find out who really did it."
It was somewhat of a lie. All Luke really wanted to do was get Tear off the hook, but he did not think the Count would respond well to him saying as much.
"I know a thorough investigation is being done," Luke continued, "But I'm afraid the guards might overlook something, since they're all so determined to believe Tear did it. I thought I'd do a little investigating of my own, just in case I can find something useful."
Luke waited anxiously for some kind of response. He did not know the Count well, and had no idea how he would react. Luke's mission had sounded logical enough in his head, but now that he had said it out loud he felt a bit ridiculous.
For an instant a strange expression flashed over the Count's face, but it was gone before Luke could read into it. The Count then smiled weakly, somewhat alleviating Luke's fears.
"I commend you on your noble mission," the Count said at last, in what Luke hoped was not a sarcastic tone of voice. "How may I be of service?"
It was nightfall by the time Luke left the mansion, feeling uncharacteristically optimistic. After speaking with the Count, he had managed to develop a theory about who the real murderer was, though he had no proof. He had mentioned this to the Count, but did not say who it was; if it turned out he was wrong, Luke did not want to be responsible for causing trouble for someone innocent.
Luke was anxious to share his theory with someone, so he made his way to the castle with the intention of visiting Tear. However, when he arrived the guard informed him that she was asleep. Not wanting to disturb her, Luke decided that it could wait until morning.
Not feeling ready to sleep just yet, Luke took a walk down to the port. There were a couple civilians around, as well as the usual guards. At the moment Luke wanted to be alone with his thoughts, so he continued walking for a ways, past several rows of moored ships. It was not long before he was completely alone, out of sight of everyone else.
Luke stopped and stared out over the water, feeling oddly at peace. The clear night sky, dark glistening water, and full moon made him think of Tear; for whatever reason, all of their most intimate moments seemed to happen at night.
In the distance a ship floated lazily across the sea, and Luke watched it, oddly entranced by its journey across the horizon. From somewhere behind him came the sound of something scraping against the stone walkway, but he paid it no mind, continuing to watch the drifting ship while his thoughts lingered elsewhere.
There was another sound, this one louder. Then there was pain, the sense of falling, and the feeling of icy water surrounding him before the world gave way to darkness.