I come back to hateful consciousness with a pained groan.
Almost at once, something cool and damp is pressed to my aching face. "Easy, Alfred," a calm, gentle voice says to me. "You took quite a blow there. Just give yourself a moment to recover."
I grumble something unintelligible, not even sure what I was trying to say myself. God, my head hurts. Still the pain seems to be subsiding. What happened, anyway? As I lay there, I hear the sounds of the storm still going on outside. The wind and the rain, the thunder booming in the distance. That's right, we're in the middle of a storm.
Closer to me, I hear some quiet conversation. It sounds confused, worried. One voice even sounds a little angry. What is happening-
Oh God. Yukari.
Slowly, I pull the cloth off of my face.
I'm lying down on a couch in one of the main building's lounges. Eiki is sitting in a chair next to me, gazing down at me with a worried expression. Behind her, Iku and Yumeko are talking to each other in hushed voices, occasionally throwing concerned looks at the closed door to the room. Parsee is standing in a corner with a frown on her face, watching the two of them speak. Every so often she casts a look my way, looking worried about me, before turning back to the other two. Somewhere else in the mansion, I hear the sound of a loud argument.
"How do you feel?" Eiki asks me. I respond by struggling into an upright position on the couch, which gets the attention of the others. I sit there, trembling, for a moment as the memory of what I saw pounds into me. So much blood.
"Yukari is dead," I whisper, voice nothing more than a rasp.
Yumeko walks over with a glass of brandy, and I take it gratefully. The liquor acts as a shock to my system, snapping me out of my stupor. I remind myself not to drink too much; this is hardly the time to get drunk, much as I might wish otherwise.
"We saw the room," Yumeko says calmly. "It looks bad, but... I dunno."
"You DON'T KNOW?!" I practically shriek at her. "Did you not see the blood?! My god, I didn't even see the body!"
"That's sort of what I mean," Yumeko says thoughtfully. "Yukari is known to play tricks on people like this. Admittedly, this is a little extreme for her..."
"Yukari was looking forward to this," Iku says firmly, "I really can't see her pulling a stunt like this. If anything, I'm surprised that she didn't do something about the weather." The classy weatherlady takes a deep breath. "Which implies, of course, that she was in no position to do anything about it."
"What the blazes are you all talking about?" I demand, head swimming with confusion, "Do something about the weather? What, does she have a magical weather machine in her back pocket? Because I'd certainly like to borrow it if such is the case! I'm sure the estate could place a nice bid on it! OH, but we'll have to talk to her next of kin, won't we?!"
"Alfred," Eiki says sharply, "Calm down. Now." Her blue eyes stab into mine with an irresistible command. The woman has presence, that much is for certain. I sigh and pinch my nose, forcing my thoughts back into order. She's right. Something terrible has happened, and we need to figure out just what is going on. Regardless of their incomprehensible statements.
"What happened to me?" I finally ask.
"That idiot tengu hit you in the face with a chair," Parsee practically snarls.
"You were gone for fifteen minutes, Alfred," Yumeko says gently. "A few of us went looking for you, and found you with... that." She sighs. "Then Miss Himekaidou apparently jumped to the exact wrong conclusion, grabbed a chair, and knocked you out."
"The idiot would probably have bludgeoned you to death if we hadn't stopped her," Parsee practically spits. "Anyway, we dragged her off of you and brought you here."
I take a deep breath. "I'm the prime suspect." The realization is like a punch in the stomach. I am suspected of committing the worst atrocity that I have ever seen in my whole life. My whole body feels numb. My heart pounds in my chest. How could this be happening?
"You were found with the body," Eiki tells me evenly, "But it was truly a gruesome scene. Judging from your reaction just now, I'd say you went into mild shock at the sight."
"I could barely think, Miss Eiki," I exhale a shuddering breath. "It was horrible. I thought I was going to go mad. I finally had gotten my thoughts together, and was going to get the rest of you when..." I gesture helplessly. "Wood to the face. Very HARD wood, at that."
"Didn't know you swung that way," Parsee comments.
"I certainly didn't stay awake for it," I shoot back on reflex. No one laughs, and Parsee looks a little ashamed. This really isn't the time for such jokes. "...Is it a prank? Some sort of sick joke of Yukari's? The blood was so fresh when I got there..."
"Hard to say," Iku sighs, "Suika screwed up her courage and said that the blood tasted like Yukari's, so-" She winces immediately upon realizing what she has just said.
I rocket to my feet. "SHE WHAT?!" I shout, horrified. "Just what in the blazes is wrong with her? With all of you?! What the hell is going on in my mansion?!"
"He's awake?!" I hear a voice shout outside of the lounge. There are sounds of a scuffle, loud footsteps, and then the door is slammed open. Lyrica Prismriver stands there, face twisted in fury, holding a fire poker in her hand. Behind her, I see Hatate and Hina staring at me with fearful expressions. It's like they're trying to hide behind Lyrica's small frame.
Lyrica herself stares at me with loathing in her eyes. "You disgusting murderer," she hisses.
I shake my head in bewilderment. "I didn't-"
"You were gone for fifteen minutes!" Lyrica shouts back, "What, you want me to believe that you were just standing there in a daze all that time?!" She starts to storm towards me, but is intercepted by a stern-looking Yumeko.
Hatate cautiously steps into the room. "So, what?" she asks Yumeko in a shuddering voice, "You're trying to defend him?"
"You have no evidence-" Yumeko starts.
"He's a butler! It's always the butler in these murder cases!" Hatate glares back, confident in her logic. At least until the rest of the room slowly turns to stare at her.
"That's your reasoning?" Parsee scoffs. "Please. Looks like the tengu really do push nothing but garbage, huh?"
Hatate looks deeply offended. "Are you questioning my ability as a reporter?"
"YES!" Parsee shouts back. The two hold a glaring contest with one another, which is only broken when Hina peeks around the door frame, breathing heavily, and fixes her frightened gaze upon me.
"Alfred," the ribboned woman says to me in a very quiet voice. "You seemed so nice earlier. Did you... really do this? Why? How?"
"I didn't do a thing," I practically sob out. "How could I physically have done such a thing?! I thought I would lose my mind when I saw what had happened! This is just... just..." I shake my head in desperation, unable to find the words.
"Alfred makes a very good point," Eiki notes, standing in front of me, "This is Yukari Yakumo we're talking about. How could he have physically done something like that to her?" My three accusers have no answer. The only response comes from the storm, which rumbles with thunder. It is not a very helpful comment. Damned storm.
Kasen appears in the doorway with Suika. The two appear quite grim, and stare at me with inscrutable expressions. "Miss Eiki, can you not gaze into his soul and discern his guilt?" Kasen asks of the judge.
Eiki sighs and shakes her head. "No, for three reasons. One, he is alive and I can only judge the dead. Two, I am out of my jurisdiction in this land. Three... I didn't bother to bring any of the materials that would allow me to determine the truth in an instant. This was supposed to be a vacation." She sighs unhappily.
"I still say that this is Yakumo's screwed-up idea of a prank," Parsee insists.
Suika shakes head. "Not a chance. Yukari was looking forward to this. If she was going to do anything, she would have tampered with things so this weekend could have gone ahead as planned. I just figured that was what she was doing when she left." The horned girl gets a disgusted look on her face. "And that blood tasted like Yukari. It's hers, no two ways about it, and I don't see her making a blood donation just for a prank."
Then she actually-?!
"You're all mad," I say faintly. "Absolutely, stark raving mad. I am in an asylum, trapped with madwomen." I slowly sit back down on the couch. "Or maybe I'm insane, and this is all a horrible dream I can't wake up from." I glance over at Suika and Kasen. "So, are you two accusing me of murder as well?"
"It's possible," Kasen says with a shrug. "You were found with the... remains, after all. I must consider all possibilities before making a decision." Suika nods in agreement.
"He didn't have a speck of blood on him," Yumeko says flatly. "You have no evidence."
"I agree," Eiki says sternly, and Iku nods her agreement.
Parsee just stares at my three accusers, along with Kasen and Suika. "You're all idiots," she says flatly. "Hey, poltergeist. Let go of the poker. You aren't impressing anyone." Lyrica just stares at her hotly for a moment before throwing the poker against the wall. She then whirls around and marches out, Hatate and Hina quick to follow. All the latter two have for me are frightened glances before they depart.
Kasen and Suika watch them leave, look at me one last time, and then depart as well.
Iku sighs, and walks over to sit next to me, rubbing a hand on my shoulder. "I'm sorry," she says gently. "They're just frightened. We all are. Plus, Suika is Yukari's friend, and Kasen is just trying to be analytical. We know you didn't do this, so chin up, all right?"
"You are all completely out of your minds," I whisper back. Iku doesn't respond, instead moving away to give me my space. The four women start talking quietly, leaving me alone with my thoughts.
All right. I've got to talk to someone, right now. I need to say and hear something, anything, to take my mind off of this situation. Yes, I am surrounded by nine psychotic women. Yes, there has been a bloody murder. But I'm just not ready to face that yet. I need to get all of my thoughts in order first.
Maybe I should talk to these four, try and determine what could possibly be going on. Maybe I should try to talk to Lyrica, Hatate, and Hina, try to get them to understand that I am innocent. Or maybe I should go after Kasen and Suika, they seemed reasonable enough earlier.
Yes, I need to talk to them, but who first?
[ ] My four supporters.
[ ] My three accusers.
[ ] The two withholding their judgement. Remember my Protip, Anon.