I slipped through the door. The dim lighting barely reached the stairs. Creeping down them, I peeked into the room. The basement was stacked with rows of equipment and props, same as it had been my first time down there. Some were no longer used and others were brought up for certain shows.
I narrowed my eyes. They kept the trolleys to move heavy objects around in here. If someone sneaked one out it was possible to move a body with it, even if I wasn’t sure how they would cover it up.
Somewhere out of sight I heard her murmuring under her breath and rustling around.
Should I look? There was the remote possibility that she was the murderer, but she was probably doing something innocent and I’d hate to make a big deal out of nothing. I could already hear Asean complaining about me causing trouble during a show.
I tiptoed in. I’d just see what she was doing and leave. Her clattering covered up my footsteps as I went around. When I rounded the corner I spotted her halfway down the row. I couldn’t tell what she was looking for, but she had some sort of small object in her hand.
Just when I was going to step forward and ask what she was doing I identified the object. A dagger. I froze. The blade had been removed from its sheath and looked real.
She let out a frustrated sigh and climbed to her feet. I stumbled back. If she was the killer I was in a dangerous spot.
I spun back around the corner before she looked my way but I would have to run across the room to get back to the stairs. She’d hear me for sure if I did that. Her footsteps were coming my way and I needed to hide quick.
Someone could have picked me up by my toe and my entire body would have stayed in the same position I was so tense. I ducked behind the next row. Maybe she’d walk by and go back up the stairs.
She didn’t. She meandered around the area, scrounging through objects. Whatever she was looking for she didn’t seem to be finding. When I peeked around the dagger was still in her hand.
What to do. I had my v-phone but I was fighting myself on who to call. If I called the police it would cause a huge ruckus and probably stop the entire show. I didn’t know how to reach Aliseam, and neither Valli nor Ellora would be in their rooms so it was no use calling them.
I’d feel awful messing up the show if nothing was happening. Every time I was about to call a pang of guilt shot through me. I didn’t want to embarrass Valli or cause more problems. I finally reached a decision and sent a message to Rykiel. I didn’t dare talk, so I typed it out. Typing was awkward since I wasn’t used to it.
Rykiel, this is Leander. I can’t talk, but please come to the basement in Queen Lambrian’s Theater. It’s an emergency.
I sent it. The fact that I even typed a message would make it clear that something was wrong. People rarely wrote instead of using video.
Tucking my v-phone back in my pocket, I listened to her movements. She was slowly making her way closer to me. I needed to keep hidden until Rykiel could do something or she left.
Whenever she made noise I crept farther away. I found myself crawling along the ground and ducking behind stacks of props. She kept working her way closer and closer, slowly cornering me as we moved through the room.
Eventually I hit the wall. End of the line. It felt like hours had passed but I knew it couldn’t have been that long. I tucked myself behind a cabinet, ears flicking in response to every sound. If she got much closer I’d be spotted and I’d have to make a run for it.
The door squealed on the other side of the basement. It echoed through the room, drawn out as if the hinges had never been oiled and someone was opening it as slowly as possible.
Two pairs of feet thudded down the steps. Erona jumped, startled. It was her turn to panic as her eyes darted around the room. She held the dagger flat against her chest and walked around the rows towards the door.
My heart skipped. Was she going to attack someone? I started stumbling to my feet when I heard a voice call out from the other side.
“Erona? What are you doing?”
It was Aliseam. Why was she down here? I faltered in my steps, debating what to do. Aliseam was a guard. She was better equipped than me. I stepped forward robotically, moving closer to see what was happening without thought.
“I was… just looking…” Erona’s voice wavered.
There was an awkward silence, and then a familiar voice yelled out.
My ears perked up. Rykiel! An invisible veil of safety slipped over me and I peered around the corner. There he was in his white and red uniform. He had puffy locks of hair and, even though he was a little older than Dad, the only wrinkles on his face were laugh lines.
Aliseam stood by him. Both were large and Erona looked small in comparison.
All the anxiety plaguing my heart faded away. It felt like it left my body when I exhaled, and I stepped fully into view.
“I’m right here,” I said. Erona glanced back at me in shock.
“What’s going on here?” Aliseam asked.
A new wave of anxiety washed over me. Now I had to explain what I was doing.
I stared at the floor. “Umm… I saw her come down into the basement and I was wondering what she was doing, so I came down to look, but…”
Aliseam’s eyes shot to her. Erona jumped when they landed on her.
She reached down to her side and lifted up a small sheath. It was sized for the dagger with a small chain attached to the top and hanging down.
“The chain on my sheath broke. I was hoping I could find something down here,” she explained in a weak voice.
I looked at the sheath again. The small chain was meant to attach to the top and the bottom, but there was a tiny indent at the bottom where it had broken off.
I sighed. It was nothing. At least I was safe now.
“Come on. You’re not supposed to be wandering away from everyone,” Aliseam scolded her, gesturing for her to head out. Erona walked towards the door with her. “You can ask Tenore if she can fix it.”
My gaze turned to Rykiel. I was grateful for his presence but felt bad for disturbing him over nothing.
“I’m glad you came,” I said.
“When you sent a message I figured it had to be something serious.” He moved towards me. “What were you doing coming down here alone?”
It was strange to hear him take on a serious tone. Rykiel was laidback and didn’t do a lot in the scolding department. In a way he sounded like Dad.
“I saw her and wanted to check. I didn’t think it would be something dangerous. I just thought I’d look and leave…” I tried to explain. In retrospect I wished I’d told someone else.
He held up an arm to put around me as we headed for the stairs. It fell lazily over my shoulder.
“Next time make sure you stay with everyone else. You don’t need to be wandering off alone.” His tone lightened. He was concerned but trying not to chastise me. I appreciated it.
I nodded. “I will.” That was a mistake I didn’t plan on repeating. Next time I would get Aliseam. He walked me back upstairs.
“I have to get back to work,” he told me.
“Yeah. Sorry for bothering you,” I answered timidly. I really did feel foolish.
“It’s fine. I’m glad you called.” He patted my arm and smiled. When he pulled his hand back he swept it under my chin quickly, pushing it up. “Don’t get yourself in trouble. I can’t keep leaving work like that.”
He was back to his mellow self. I nodded as he turned to leave, promising, “I won’t.”
My eyes lingered on him as he worked his way back towards the lobby.
“Rykiel!” I called out. He stopped and glanced back. My eyes turned to the ground and my face felt hot. “Don’t tell Dad?” I requested meekly.
He smiled. “As long as there’s no repeat incident,” he assured me.
I’d have to do something to make it up to him later.
Erona scurried back into the dressing room. She wouldn’t be alone with someone in there. I’d just have to make sure she didn’t sneak anywhere else. I could talk to Ellora about it later. She hadn’t been doing anything bad but I needed to keep in mind that it was still possible she was the killer and someone was wandering around the basement and unnoticed. Maybe it wasn’t the first time.
I waited by the wall, grateful for the people that were around. With my heart slowly calming I kept an eye on my surroundings again.
A group of novice actors had finished their short parts in the play and scurried to the dressing room. On the way, Tanikaye stopped.
He paused in front of the fence blocking the living quarters and stared down the hallway. I furrowed my brows. What was he looking for? I swooped in to start a conversation.
“What’s wrong?” I asked in a friendly tone.
He jumped, facing me.
“I was just wondering what it looks like. I’ve never been back there,” he answered.
He scuttled away. I pressed my lips together. It wasn’t an insane excuse but I couldn’t help but wonder if there was more to it.
There was still one I hadn’t seen much of. Tiamy. She had been with the other dancers but I hadn’t seen her do anything of note.
I decided to take my mind off the dagger issue by looking for her. I’d seen her go on with the other dancers and assumed she went back to the dressing rooms with them, but she wasn’t there. I checked the second dressing room to make sure and found myself at a loss. Where else would she go? Could she be hanging out backstage still? No one was in the showers yet.
Peeking out at the stage during a show could get me in trouble but I decided to risk it. When I turned the corner, though, I spotted her down the hallway. The door to a large storage space was open and she was halfway inside, doing something.
After watching a bit she to be wiping something off her leg. Trying to get a stain off her clothes? What kind of stain?
She hadn’t noticed me so I backed around the corner again. Perhaps it was jumping to conclusions to think she’d be wiping blood off. But if she was the murderer, she could have gotten a speck on her clothes during the attack. It was during a show, after all, so she would have been in her costume at the time. It was possible she didn’t notice or have a chance to clean it until now…
I let out a heavy sigh. There were far too many suspects. I needed to figure out some way to narrow them down.
The victim had been killed outside of Valli’s door, but somehow the body was transported to the trap door on the stage. If I could figure out how the body was moved maybe it would narrow down who the killer was.