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Day One Hundred and Eleven: Murder Mystery

Contessa Kelyn Akani Lassiosa, cousin to the Archduke and heir to the fortune built by her grandfather, the Baron Gyle Aesterano, was beautiful even in death.

She lay on her side, blood slowly running from her mouth to pool on the room-sized, hand-woven rug. A pearl-handled dagger jutted out from just under her ribcage, staining her handmade green silk sundress a dark and virulent red. She looked like she might be sleeping, her eyes barely open and staring at nothing in front of her. Looking at her would break the heart of any man. Lucas Kolany looked down on her and sighed. It was always harder with the beautiful ones.

He leaned down and looked closely at where she had been stabbed. “Who found her?” he asked the people assembled in the drawing room. No one answered.

The murder had happened during the Contessa’s twenty-fifth birthday party, a gala event attended by hundreds of the family’s closest friends. There was an entire event plaza set up on the sprawling grounds of the family estate, with great tents for food and drinking and dancing, five different musical acts, a sun tent and even a small play area for those children who had been dragged along by their parents. In the middle of it all was the main stage, bedecked with flowers and the finest fruits and greenery that could be found. There was a table with an elaborate cake, upon which stood a candy replica of the birthday girl, perfect down to the last detail.

Finding the killer among a group that large would be difficult without doing proper forensics. The five people in the room were as good as he was going to get. He looked around the room at them, tried to read their faces and their postures for the tiniest clue to which one of them might have been the murderer.

The most obvious target was the sister, Lusenne Mossia Lassiosa, a woman who was nearly as beautiful as the one on the floor. She shared her sister’s dark skin and gently curling hair, but Kelyn’s eyes had never held such malice. It was common knowledge that the two hated each other with a passion, following the death of their father, Count Acham Niar Lassiosa. Kelyn had been left with the vast majority of the estate when he died, including a summer home that took up an entire alpine valley. It was rumored in society circles that Lusenne wanted that house for her family, disregarding the fact that she had yet to sustain a successful relationship with a man for more than a year. The only reason she came to these parties was to make sure that her sister never forgot her, and if that meant being the fly in her wine, then so be it.

Tolam Warr, on the other hand, was the last person Lucas would have suspected. He had served the family for nearly thirty years, and even now had to be restrained by his son, Banaugh, to keep from trying to tend to the body of his beloved Contessa. Tolam was crumpled in his son’s arms, his graying red hair in complete disarray. Despite his formalwear, any semblance of being the perfect servant had disappeared.

The most uncertainty hovered around a childhood friend of the Contessa – Cyrilie valMolorrie, a pale beauty who towered over the rest of the group. She was known to have had an intimate relationship with Kelyn when they were teenagers, a relationship that Kelyn called off herself. valMorrie never wavered from her stance that they had parted well, but lost love was a powerful poison, able to turn even the strongest person into a monster they would not recognize. She stood, arm-in-arm with her current lover, a woman much younger than she who had only given her name as Nyna. She was tiny and looked like a bird ready to flee. Who she was, and her connection to all this, was still unknown.

Lucas grimaced at the knife in the Contessa’s midriff. It was beautiful, but far from unique. Any of the people in this room would have been able to get their hands on one just like it. He stood up and brushed his hands clear of imaginary dust. “All right,” he said. “This is how it’s going to go.” He put his hands in his pockets and began pacing in front of the group, his footfalls silent on the deep carpeting. “My colleagues will be here in about ten minutes, with all of the forensic science they can get their hands on. Until then, I’d like to talk with each one of you – alone.”

Young Banaugh looked up through the bright red hair that fell in front of his eyes. “You think we did this?” His father reached out, tried to steady him, but Banaugh Warr stood up and advanced on the detective. “We loved her, do you understand? All of us in this room loved her!”

“I didn’t,” Lusenne said, lighting a cigarette. She took a deep breath and let out a stream of smoke towards the floor. “I couldn’t stand her.”

“Please, Lusenne.” Cyrilie dabbed at her eyes with an embroidered handkerchief, and Nyna stroked her arm. “This isn’t the time or the place for your pettiness.”

The sister shrugged and tapped her cigarette ash out onto the carpet, perilously close to where her dead sister lay. Todam Warr moaned quietly. “I can’t think of a better time or place, Cyr,” she said. “You know I never loved her. I never even liked her.” Lusenne took a step and nudged Kelyn’s body with the toe of her handmade leather shoe. The dead woman slowly rolled over onto her back.

“You can’t do that,” Lucas said. “The body needs to be kept as is for the forensic boys.”

Lusenne shrugged. “Oops.” She turned and expertly flicked the cigarette out an open window. “How about I make it easier for you to do your job?”

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“How about I tell you who killed my sister?”

Lucas glanced around the room. The rest of the group had gone quiet, no one looking at anyone else, everyone trying to look absorbed in his or her thoughts. He looked back at Lusenne. “You know who killed her?”

“Absolutely,” she said, reaching into her handbag for another cigarette. “You might say that I am intimately familiar with the murderer.” She smiled and looked sideways at Cyrilie, who reddened and looked away. Lusenne inhaled deeply and let the smoke drift from her nostrils. “The killer is indeed in this room, detective,” she said. “And I’m sure that, were you given enough time, you’d be able to figure it out even without the help of your friends in the forensics department.” She fell quiet.

“But?” Lucas asked. His fingers itched and his heart was beating hard in his chest. This was the dangerous moment, the unpredictable moment. A killer, when revealed, usually acted irrationally. More than once he’d nearly been murdered in an attempt to cover up a murder, even though murdering him would have given everything away. If the killer didn’t try to stop Lusenne, he or she would almost certainly bolt, try to find a way to live the rest of his or her life on the run. And it would be his job to make sure that didn’t happen, all while not getting anyone else hurt.

“But,” Lusenne echoed. “But Kelyn’s death has set certain wheels in motion, detective. These are things I can’t stop, and which just have to be allowed to play out.” She handed the cigarette to him, and he took it gingerly. Lusenne held out her hands, wrists together. Her skin was smooth and unblemished, and he could see her pulse, slow and regular.

“I killed my sister, detective,” she said. The smallest of smiles flickered across her face, and then the mask of seriousness returned. “You’d better take me in.”

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