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Chapter VII

No way, she thought. No way this is his... Maybe her vampire theory wasn't so far off, but it still didn't make sense, much like anything else that had been happening lately. She opened the coffin and there was nothing inside. No body, no bones... it was empty, save for a small wooden box. Quickly, she opened it and found a small newspaper clipping which was barely legible, but said something along the lines of several deaths due to poisoned water. There was also a note which was easier to read. In a hurry, she took it and quickly read it. It said:

This is to report the total losses of the Royston Mill. For the past half month, we have not been able to meet the sales target of $15,000. Furthermore, the reports of deaths due to water and chemical poisoning are increasing. 

Covering this up is difficult at this point. Questions are pouring in from the local paper and the concerned families. Write to me as soon you can. This is bad, very bad.

Death? Cover-up? It sounded puzzling but her mind returned to the letter she found in Dorothy's coffin. Dark secrets and darker hearts are involved. She took the box's contents and looked for a way out. The crypt was eerie, and despite her being the only living being there, she felt as if there were plenty of eyes looking at her. 

She wasn't wrong. 

Wisps of smoke surrounded her, some of it blocking the small tunnel and the only door leading to the exit. In fear, she hid behind one of the coffins, but there was no hiding from that smoke. She noticed that the smoke cloud dispersed into smaller clouds, then began to take shape, and slowly the smoke took on human form. 

They were quite translucent but she can tell that their clothes were from different periods, from early Victorian to the turn of the century. One of them, a man wearing a ruined dress shirt and seemed to have several stab wounds on his chest and torso, approached her. 

"Why... are you here?" he asked, his voice so raspy it was akin to nails being scratched across a chalkboard. "What... are you... doing... here?" She was staring wide-eyed as the spectre approached her until their faces were within inches. She could...somehow make out his facial features, and despite any sort of definitiveness due to his smoky form, she could somehow tell that he resembled Michael, only a bit younger. 

"Who...are you?" she asked, trembling. "Are you going...to kill me?" The spirit threw his head back and laughed, the handful of spirits echoing him. 

"Kill... you? No, of course not." he said, and his form shifted. He now looked alive, and she was right that he resembled a much younger version of Michael. "Pardon my manners and I apologize for giving you such a fright. My name... is Lucas de Almeida Royston."

"Lucas..." she muttered. Then it her. "You're Michael's younger brother?" He nodded. 

"Yes indeed." he said. "Sadly no one knows about me too much, so it's quite an honor you are aware of my presence. Now who might you be? You look... familiar."

"Oh, I'm just a traveling investigative journalist." she said with a tired smile. "Then I just... found myself here."

"There's good reason why you avoid this part of the town." said one of the ghosts, that of a portly old man. "Ever since Michael did what he did, this piece of land is no less than damned! Damned I say!"

"Calm yourself, Jaimé." Lucas said with a sigh. "I apologize for my...companions here. As you can tell, none of us are too happy with the situation."

"What exactly happened? What is going on?" she asked. "Michael's been chasing me and keeping me here, what does he want?"

"One at a time." Lucas said. "Telling you would be confusing... But to show you absolutely everything... you will then understand the truth."

"The truth of this mansion, and the insane master behind it." another ghost, that of a woman, echoed. "The truth... the dark truth... Oh my Lord, how did this come to pass..." The spirit seemingly floated away to the coffins at the back, wailing in pain.

"Mother was hit the hardest by this..." Lucas began. "But you will not understand until you see. I need you to sit down."

"Here? But what if Michael gets here? His coffin is over there!" she retorted, pointing to Michael's empty casket. 

"Do not worry. Michael won't be able to get in, I assure you." the younger Royston brother said. "Despite his coffin being there, this is probably the safest place you can be in, next to the old wine cellar. I'm sure Emile has taken you there."

"You know about Emile helping me?"

"Of course! I told him to help you the moment I sensed your presence. It was risky but well worth it. Now, any more questions before we begin?"

"Just one..." she said. "Is it true... that Michael killed you?" Silence, and the specter of Lucas bowed his head as he slowly nodded. 

"Yes, that is true." he answered sadly. "Michael was not at all happy to find out that I was to be the heir of the family business. He may be my older brother, but at the time, Father saw differently." 

"You mean Michael was crazy?"

"Heavens no." Lucas said. "He just had problems with his rage. It wasn't necessarily madness but it would greatly impede any decision-making skills. I pride myself on being a cool-headed individual, but alas, this was to be mindful. Let me show you." 

He covered her eyes and muttered something in an incomprehensible language, and upon removing his hand from her face, the two of them were transported in what seemed to be a home office. It was beautiful and gilded, and adorned with all sorts of expensive-looking china and statuettes. A large painting of the Royston family founder hung above a high-backed oak chair and on it sat a man with a bushy beard and brown hair with gray streaks. He wore a brown and gray suit and he sat with his hands clasped in front of him, his eyes trained on the two young men in front of him.

"This was... you and Michael way back then?" she asked.

"Indeed. This was the day that Father would tell us who inherited the family business." Lucas replied. "The day everything started for him, and ended for me."

- - -

"You two have always been my pride and joy." said the old man. "And I haven't got much time, so I need to decide which of you shall carry on our family's legacy."

The two young men exchanged looks, and waited for their father to continue. "Michael." he said. "You are my eldest son, and I see how skilled and resilient you are." This caused the young Michael to smile, but his father's tone changed. "However... your temper gets the better of you, and in business, emotions should never get in the way of our judgement." Michael was shocked, and couldn't even reply, as his father looked towards Lucas. 

"So it falls to you, Lucas, to carry on. Your calmness and ability to work under pressure is something your brother can learn a great deal from. When I pass, you will hold the reins of our family's businesses. I'll have our lawyer draft this and both you and your brother will sign it later tonight. Now, be on your way." 

A smile adorned Lucas' face as he was the first to exit the office, while Michael followed behind, his dark eyes brimming with rage. How could his father choose him of all people? Lucas was calm and collected, but that was all he was, at least in Michael's eyes. This has to change, he thought as he made his way to his room. This will all change. 

- - -

The vision faded, and Lucas was visibly exhausted and slightly transparent. "Do forgive me, but that takes a lot out of me." he said. "I am projecting my memory, therefore it does exhaust me a great deal."

"I-it's okay!" she answered. "I think I can piece it together from there. Your father chose you to be the next head of the family and Michael was jealous, which led to the murder."

"Correct." he answered, sitting down, but as he did, he was still floating off the ground. "It was rather grisly, but Michael was a master of manipulation and concealment. I'd rather you not see the actual murder; it's too much." 

He looked around, and the other spirits seemingly disappeared, but the white smoke still was on the door. "You are safe here." he said softly, patting her shoulder. "You should rest for a bit while I gather my strength again to show you everything that had happened. It's not the most comfortable of places, let alone welcoming, but we don't have much of a choice now, do we?" 

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