When Lynna woke up, she discovered she wasn't in her bedroom anymore. The moon was covered by clouds, and with only the dim light of the stars, she couldn't figure out her new location.
Lynna only knew she was now in the open. The cold night breeze and the rough feeling of the earth under her hands left no space for doubts. As her eyes started to adjust to the penumbra, she noticed some humanoid forms laying on the ground, only a few meters away.
Glad of not being alone, she slowly crawled towards them, while trying to remember what had just happened. Lynna was about to shake her roommates, when the moon shined through the moving clouds, revealing them to be skeletons.
Lynna started to scream, and when she recognized the nightgowns they were wearing as those she had seen countless times on her friends it turned into a shriek.
Around her, multiple figures started to move and moan. She tried to run away, but tripped into something soft and squishy, tumbling on the ground. When she opened her eyes again, she was staring at a tombstone where was engraved:
"Here lies Croblan Lark, beloved father and husband."
Lynna suddenly realized what was that place, why it did feel so familiar. That was Lark's family burial ground, were all the forefathers of Count Lark lied in their eternal rest.
In that moment, she remembered everything: the poisoning, the twisting knob, the ghost. She wanted to believe it was all a bad dream, but her foot still hurt after the fall. Lynna was about to lose her mind, when the moonlight revealed that the moving figures weren't undead, but other members of the staff she knew all too well.
Two of them were actually her accomplices, Zamon, the second oldest butler after Poltus, whose loyalty actually lied only with the Countess, and Bisya, a young maid that had been planted a couple years ago to keep an eye on the Count's private quarters.
The three of them had been tasked by the Countess to ensure her return to power, by eliminating all possible obstacles. It was only thanks to Zamon's and Bisya's help that she had been able to slip the poison in the food unnoticed, even when she wasn't supposed to be in the kitchen.
Either by relying on Zamon's authority or Bysia's flirting charm, she had managed to complete every task assigned to her after the Countess forced departure.
There were also two more staff members with them. Refia, a young valet she had often worked with, and Olmund, one of the many butlers of the household.
"Lynna, is that you?" Bisya looked confused, shaking her head, trying to regain her focus. "That scream of yours almost made my head explode."
"Where in the gods' name are we? Why I'm not in my room? I clearly recall…" Zamon's voice was cut short, the blood draining from his visage as he remembered the last events.
"The Count!" He exclaimed.
At those words, all five of them froze up in place, swept away by the terror caused by the unnatural encounter.
"The Count is back!" Refia said with a choked voice.
"And the gods know why, but he believes I'm responsible for his death!"
Soon they all started looking around, finding the corpses of their roommates. Their clothes were unscathed, while their bodies seemed to have aged centuries.
"Rorryk, why did this happen to you?" Olmund feel to his knees, near the remnants of his oldest friend, crying desperately.
"Shut up, you fool!" Zamon forced his mouth shut with a hand.
"In case you haven't noticed we are in a cemetery! Is better not to wake which can eternal lie." Zamon didn't dare emit more than a whisper, he was very superstitious.
Usually Lynna would mock him for his cowardice, but that night was different. She could feel her guts twisting and turning in fear, her body begging her to run away.
Suddenly the ground trembled, and a raging fire erupted from an open grave.
Count's Trequill Lark grave.
"How could you do this to me?"
The Count's spirit slowly emerged from the flames.
"Prepare to be judged by my ancestors."
From the tombs nearby the Count, three skeletons arose, unearthing themselves up to the waist.
"Murderers!" Wailed an old man's voice.
"Traitors!" Yelled a woman's voice.
"Vermin!" Said a man's voice.
The three skeletons were struggling to get free from earth's embrace, while announcing their verdict. The dirt, tattered clothes they wore kept ripping apart.
"The die is cast!" The Count's spirit said with an otherworldly deep voice.
"Confess!" He was pointing his finger towards Refia, who suddenly felt pushed down on the ground by an invisible force.
"I'm innocent! I swear!" He said, sobbing uncontrollably.
The three skeletons started to wail as one, in a cacophony of indistinguishable voices. Their hollow orbits emitted a red glow, like a candle had been lit within, and like the Count, blood tears started to endlessly flow along their cheekbones.
"Liar!" The Count yelled, and Refia was dragged by the invisible force towards the Count's open grave, whose flames started to rise and roar loudly.
The others tried to hold him by the arms, but the spirit's pull was too strong. When Refia was thrown into the fiery pit, he emitted an inhumane shriek while the flames turned from bright red to an ominous purple.
"He will serve me in the netherworld, to atone for his sin." The Count's spirit said.
"Confess!" This time he was pointing at Olmund, who promptly complied.
"I confess! I confess! It was me stealing the silk bolts, exploiting my inventory duty. That's why there was never enough."
"And how do you atone?" Said the spirit, its eyes reduced to two flaming slits.
"I'm so sorry! I swear!"
"Words are not enough!" The corpses on the ground arose, their orbits brimming with a red light. They lifted Olmund with their skeletal hands over their heads, and threw him into the pit.
"Rorryk, why?" Was his final scream before disappearing in the flames.
Before the ghost could pass his judgment, Lynna kneeled deeply, head on the ground, begging for forgiveness.
"I confess! It was me poisoning you, and those two are my accomplices!" She said pointing at the two survivors.
Zamon and Bisya tried to take a step back, but the skeletons had returned, surrounding them again.
"Because of you my children are alone in this world!" The ghost wailed in pain.
"It's only a matter of time before they join me in death! How do you atone?"
"I'm so sorry! I've been stupid, I have no proof. I threw away the poison and burned all her Ladyship's letters."
"Then burn yourself!" Lynna was then dragged by her dead roommates in the pit, only the flames put an end to her shrieks.
Zamon and Bisya kneeled too, going straight to the point.
"I can save your children!" Yelled the young maid. "I'm not stupid, I never trusted that b*tch as far as I can throw her. I kept all her letters, her orders, in case she broke her word! I keep them all under a loose board in the kitchen's pantry."
"As did I! Also, I know where she keeps hidden all her personal correspondence." The old butler rushed to add, fearing of becoming useless to his captor.
"She ordered the poison months ago! And there so much more to it! It's all in a secret compartment right under her bed. I swear, that's all that I know! Please have mercy of this old fool!"
"Magnificent!" Said the Count with his usual joyful and enthusiastic tone, clapping his hands in delight.
Suddenly he didn't sound otherworldly at all. The skeletons fell down like puppets whose strings had been cut, the fire went out and the Count came down to the ground with a thump loud enough to be heard.
"Was this all…" Zamon couldn't believe his eyes.
"A farce?" Poltus completed the sentence for him. "Yes, old weasel. I knew you were always up to no good." The traitorous servants were able to put a face to the old skeleton's voice.
"Jadon, Keyla, be a dear and go retrieve the evidence. At this point I can't trust anyone else." The Count's heirs came right after Poltus, nodding, before running back to the house.
Knowing he was doomed, Zamon still found the strength to watch into the open grave, finding out that everyone was still alive, just bound and gagged by tendrils of earth.
Thinking about what would befall to him and his family, the old butler was filled with regret. The long years of loyal service, the savings of a lifetime, all those careful plans for his retirements, shattered together with his hopes for a better tomorrow for his sons.
Lith sighed with relief, he could finally come out in the open. If he could, he would pat his back by himself, the results had far exceeded his expectations.
Since Solus couldn't find anything in the remaining rooms, Lith had her follow Lynna day and night, taking note of all those she was the most in contact with, to round them up all together for the final act.
Which by the way, had been quite a hassle to arrange. To avoid blowing his cover, Lith could only resort to chore magic and spells up to tier three, like the Hoovering spell he had applied to the Count.
He had explained everything in detail to the Count, to avoid him being scared or surprised by the special effects he had in mind. Lith, off course, said he would move the skeletons with air magic, while he was actually using spirit magic.
The blood tears trick was an easy one, chicken blood that he prevented to clot with light magic, while using water magic to make it go down the cheekbones, pass behind the ear and through the hair to get an endless stream effect.
The single steps were easy, but keeping all those spells active at the same time, manipulating flames, blood, skeletons, had been quite exhausting, even with Solus's help. She had taken care of half the stage, but the mana she used was Lith's.
They were like two divers with a single oxygen tank.
The Count too was very happy with the result.
"Ah! Ah! Ah! I always knew that magic is awesome! Flying has been such a memorable experience. Not to mention their faces!" Count Lark was laughing like a kid after a successful prank.
"You should have seen their faces! Priceless! I never had so much fun in my life." He patted Lith's shoulder, covering him in white powder.
"Who would have guessed that old ghost stories from my books could be so effective. With a little tuning here and there, off course!"
"For being a goodie-goodie two shoes, the Count is quite a trickster." Lith thought. "Despite being so averse to torture, he had no qualms scaring so many people sh*tless. Guess he never heard about psychological torture and PTSD."
As soon as they got their hands on the incriminating evidence, Count Lark immediately used his communication amulet to contact the King's Bureau of Law and Order to submit them.
The night clerk assured him that they would move his paperwork on the top of the list, and that they would send royal investigators to shed light on the case.
Translated from the bureaucratic lingo, it meant that the Count's case would now take days instead of weeks. Lith wouldn't take any risks, not after showing so much of his prowess, so he had the Count make his whole family come to the estate the very next day.
He sent them also some clothes he had prepared beforehand. In such a palace, the lowest stable boy was better dressed than them, even if they wore their best suits.
When they arrived, one way or another, all the staff was assembled to see first-hand the mysterious woman who had spawned the Count's alleged fifth son.
They expressed much admiration for his mother's and sisters' beauty, and even Raaz received a lot of attentions.
When Lith sent Solus to check if the rumour had finally died out, she replied with endless laughing out loud and an unbelievable story.
According to her report, the household was now split into two factions.
The first one, that she dubbed #TeamLith, was leaded by Poltus, which refused to step back from his initial theory.
"Who would have thought that such an airhead like the Count could also be such a schemer? Not only he got himself such a beautiful and young mistress, he also had the smarts to choose a woman whose husband resembles him so much that he would never suspect the son isn't his own! That witch of the Countess can't hold a candle to such gorgeous woman."
The second one, #TeamRaaz, was leaded by Hilya. She was the head of the kitchen staff, first chef and also Poltus oldest rival in terms of both authority and gossip skill.
"Are you gone senile or what? The Count is too noble and chivalrous to cheat, even on such a treacherous hag! Clearly, he had an affair before their wedding, and Sir Raaz is the offspring of that love.
That means that not only he is the real Count's fifth son, but that the young mage and his beautiful sisters are all his secret nephews! That's why he cares so much about the boy, and why he has brought them all here now that the Countess is dead set to wipe out the whole bloodline!
How noble of him! He probably has protected them from the shadows all these years, to keep them safe from his wife's jealousy and ire."
Lith didn't know if to laugh or cry.
"How the f*ck did we come to this?"
"Sorry." Solus shrugged. "It seems that the Count's staff has the hobby of making everything related to nobles look sordid. Thinking ill of something makes even coincidences looks interesting, don't you think?"
Lith shook his head in desperation.
"Poor mom. She is just a forbidden love triangle away from becoming the main character of one of those chick flicks that were all the rage a few years ago on Earth."