Rhaïd’s grip on the sceptre tightened.
“Be quiet, damn it. Be quiet, I say. Screaming will get you nowhere.”
It had been one sharp shriek and was over now, but still Alexandra meekly crept backwards. Rhaïd stood, casting his tall figure over hers.
“Have you ever been threatened at gunpoint, Alexandra? This is far worse. It kills you in one second of wishful thinking and there is nothing left of your body. There becomes no evidence, and it is as though there was nothing of you ever in the world but a hallucination. No body, no soul, no lifeblood to drain from your pleading eyes! One thought, bang, and you are gone.”
Alexandra didn’t know what to say. She whimpered, feeling awfully silly to be frightened of a rumour. Her breath caught in her throat, and feeling faint, she wondered if this was really it.
Then came the voice of god.
“Do you really believe that, Mr. Mahalle?” said the voice from the doorway behind Alexandra. “Fables like that always seem to be a jot more unlikely when they no longer have the title of ‘myth’.”
Inspector Whitting stood, his hands on his hips, in the corridor that stretched the way of the quarters. In one swift movement, he was pointing a small silver pistol towards Rhaïd.
He was standing in front of a group of men, and, although the light there was poorer than that of her room, Alexandra could identify who had arrived with the Inspector, generally by the light that was reflecting off the bits and bobs around their person that made them uniquely themselves.
It was, firstly, the detective’s steel toecaps and the shine of the pistol. Closest behind him was Mr. Winters with the decorative metal buttons on his suit; then followed Joshua Newton, his pocket-watch glinting as he removed it from his trouser pocket, looking bored; finally, reliable cuff-links glowed like fire against ivory gloves. A certain butler gave Alexandra his reassuring smile.
However, a far as Alexandra could see, the gun was the men’s only attack against the crazed Rhaïd and his omnipotent sceptre.
As if to vocalise what Alexandra was thinking, Rhaïd snarled:
“If you don’t agree, I’ll sort you all out!”
Mr. Winters stepped forward, gesturing.
“Now, Rhaïd, I don’t know where you heard such ridiculous notions-” (Joshua suddenly looked up, but did not seem overly worried by the statement) “-but, I can confirm that they are far from true. That cane is…an old family heirloom, nothing more. It cannot kill as a man can. It was in my display case, where it should have stayed to protect it from the dust of spring. Our house is due for a complete, top-to-bottom clean, and the maid should know this. I will not press charges for the theft, but perhaps it is for your own safety that the Inspector takes you with him.”
The cheek of Mr. Winters! Alexandra had thought him the most honest, and, as she had thought to prove before, sensible, of all the classy gatherers, but not only had he lied about the staff, but he had given her more work to do in the slyest of ways. It was times like those that Alexandra wished Rhaïd could be in the right, but it just wasn’t possible.
Christophe leant forward to Mr. Winters.
“Perhaps the maid deserves some time off after the trauma she has suffered here, Sir. I will be glad to take her work, instead, or reassign it across the other scullery maids,” Alexandra heard him remark. At least his being there brought a dainty smile to her lips.
Amongst all this, Rhaïd faltered, but it was only for a moment as he stared at the Inspector’s hard glance. Rhaïd’s eyes flashed, and once again he was on the offence, gripping the cane as if his life depended on it. At this stage, it most likely did.
“Now, Rhaïd…” the Inspector warned. “Would you be satisfied if something was found to prove against your point?”
“There will be nothing,” Rhaïd whispered in a dry and definite voice.
That was when Christophe stepped into the room. As he laid a hand protectively upon Alexandra’s shoulder, he held out the other gloved hand for the cane. Even as a servant, he was the epitome of authority.
“Mr. Rhaïd, Sir, return to your character. He was once vanished, dead, but is now alive again, by your power. He was a sensible, studious, kind man, and the type of person that you should embody, not run away with this crazy pursuit, Sir. Let me show you the true purpose of the cane.”
“I shall not let your touch even the base of it again, butler. You and your ‘yes, Sir; no, Sir’ can go and rot in hell. I do not trust a hair on your head.”
The Inspector advanced towards Rhaïd, his gun thrust forward. Alexandra began to worry, as she was positioned in the middle of the both of them, but she felt Christophe’s hand, firm on her shoulder, giving her a little squeeze of comfort.
“Don’t think we are giving you a choice, Mr, Mahalle. This is thievery, amongst other things: threats on the life of this maid, breaking and entering… I reckon that I could uncover a great number of charges from whence you came.”
“He works at the Foresmyths’…” muttered Alexandra.
“Thank you, Miss Alexandra. I am sure that I will find many accusations lying with your employer.”
“I’m sure you would,” spat Rhaïd, bracing the rod.
There was, as the girl was very polite and always prepared to see the issue from every side, an amount of pity left in her for the man who held her at sceptre-point, so she leant forward and muttered to him.
“Rhaïd, please just give the sceptre to Christophe until we can figure out what it is. Do it for your plans, and do it for freedom…friend.”
“I do not trust that they will keep their word and let me go,” he muttered in an undertone. Although they were fading, Alexandra knew that, this time, the words were meant directly for her. She sighed.
“Don’t expect to now. Sir, you have upset a great many grand people, and they will be wanting their reimbursement.”
Alexandra was fed up. She had done enough. By now, the shaft of the pistol was slanted in close proximity to Rhaïd’s head, and Christophe’s strong hands were around a good length of the staff. Unable to move, Rhaïd was hoisted off the floor (to where he had crept once Christophe had advanced for the precious sceptre) and into the arms of Joshua, who was, surprisingly, standing by, ready to assist the policeman.
Christophe carefully lifted the cane up out of Rhaïd’s hands so that black stone was level with his eyes. It glinted with some evil essence that would gradually draw in any onlooker who made the decision to stare too long. It was translucent, letting through a little light that it dyed with its black heart. To look through the stone was to look into an endless abyss of black glory, as the centre contained the same dark material, as dense in pigment as any other part of the stone.
“Indeed, I say, this must be of real value,” Christophe declared after a minute of searching into the black well.
He then ran his fingers along the lengths of the cane, seemingly caressing every inch of the glossy wood and running his digits over the miniature gemstones.
“These, on the other hand, appear to be rhinestones, false diamonds, and…oh!”
Christophe’s thumb latched onto the third little diamond from the neck of the sceptre. The faux gem itself seemed to rotate in an anti-clockwise direction under his pressure, clicking into place once it had turned ninety degrees. The general arrangement had not changed, but, overall, there was something different about the gems.
Christophe himself frowned and continued to run his thumb across the faux diamonds set into the resin. Next he managed to move the first gem in the same way, then the last, which already looked off-centre, and a resounding click was heard.
“…They appear to be some sort of mechanism.”
He prodded the remaining two gemstones, to no avail, and finally resorted to tapping the black diamond. It now sounded hollow.
Christophe took the top of the cane in both hands and slowly twisted the black hexadron, which, after one full 360-degree turn, broke from the cane with a ‘pop’.