Hello everyone! Sorry for the late posting - I was super busy over the holiday period. But now I'm free for a while, so expect two or three more chapters by the end of January! And please leave a comment if you enjoyed the story - feedback always makes me write better, and I always appreciate it!

Thank you very much!


Her body was cold and still. So different than it had been, back when she was alive. But now she was still, and instead of the dazzling white smile she used to have now she just had a dark red one on her throat.

Crow stared at that body, laid out on the stretcher, for what felt like forever. He thought back, back to before all this mess started, and the part of him that was still human wanted to cry.

Instead he closed his eyes and put the stretcher back into the wall, closing the door shut. She would stay in the morgue until… well, Crow didn't know when. He had no idea when.

But the morgue was no place for a girl like her.


Distrust

Chapter Eleven: Thirteen Left


The rec room was quiet. No one was inside. That was good - no people meant no noise, and Ariana wanted to be somewhere quiet, without any people.

Silver was still holed up in the computer lab, so that was out of the question, and everyone else was either staying in the library or the dining room. She didn't want to go back to her room, where she would be confined in a small space with nothing but her tablet, her books, and her tears could be.

She needed to be somewhere. Somewhere people had been. Somewhere people could go. Ariana couldn't explain it, but… she wanted to be here. It was weird like that.

Ariana sighed and closed the door behind her. She moved to the couch and sat up, pulling a book from one of her coat pockets. She always carried one or two paperbacks with her, just in case she got bored. When she had woken up in her room she hadn't had any on her - just her tablet. It had taken her a while to calm down enough to head outside, she was so stressed out from waking up suddenly and not having her always-comforting books on her, but she had headed outside eventually by herself, and had found the lobby, and that was where she had met Lance.

Lance… he hadn't taken the past few days well at all. He had stayed in his room, not even crying, just sitting on his bed and thinking. He would come out to grab meals, or to grab a book, but he wouldn't talk to anyone as he did so. He didn't want to, Ariana could feel it.

She sighed and flicked through the book absent-mindedly. She shouldn't be thinking about Lance now. He had already lost Erica… and so had the rest of them, but it was obvious to everyone that Lance had taken it the hardest.

It wasn't fair. It wasn't fair that she had died, that Lance was left like he was. Who else could Ariana go to, if not for Lance…?

He reminded her of Nate. Lance was so much like Nate, it was almost weird. He made her feel safe, comforted. She had felt that the moment she had seen him, and it had only grown since then. She had talked to him, and she never talked to anyone, but around Lance, talking wasn't strange and her voice wasn't annoying. He didn't scream at her and call her a burden, he would… talk. Like Nate used to.

"So this is where you've decided to hole up."

Ariana yelped and jumped back. Violet was standing beside the door with folded arms and a small smirk on her face. When she saw Ariana's wide-eyed expression that smirk turned into a grin.

"Relax. It's not like I bite or anything." Violet took a few steps inside, closing the door behind her and sitting down right next to Ariana. It felt alien to be this close to someone, strange and uncomfortable and new, and so Ariana moved along the couch so it didn't feel as invasive.

Violet stifled a yawn, and then smiled at her. "C'mon, Little Miss Quiet, talk to me for once! I've never heard you talk. Why not? Is your voice fucked or something?"

Ariana instinctively shook her head, and Violet sighed. "Why then? I mean, do you have some kind of personal reason for staying shut? You're not that shy, are you? I mean, it'd be kinda cute if you were, but still, no one just stays mute because they're afraid of other people. Right?"

Suddenly an image flashed in Ariana's head, quick and vivid and painful, a memory of screaming, of Ariana crying as her body was beaten, her head smashed - but never the face, she was never hit in the face. She heard those words - worthless, pathetic, shut up shut up shut up - over and over again, as if she was back in that house, back in that life -

Ariana blinked. That memory had come from nowhere, and for an instant she lost composure, blinking rapidly and trying to curl into her ball. It was like she was back at home again -

"Oh my God, I'm sorry!" Violet looked genuinely shocked, her mouth wide open. "That was rude, I know. Oh, man, I'm sorry, Ariana, I really am."

Ariana nodded. She was back in the rec room, and the person sitting beside her was Violet, not Mama, and she wasn't gonna get yelled at or beaten again.

Violet pursed her lips, and then sighed. "You know, I've been thinking over the past few days. About, y'know, death and stuff. Like, whether I might actually die here. I mean… well, what if, right? It's a possibility."

Ariana nodded. She checked her bracelet. This was the eleventh day inside the Bunker. Her bracelet read 79: 00: 34. Seventy-nine more days… and then they would all die, allegedly.

Violet was also checking her bracelet, and her face turned into a scowl as she did so. She gritted her teeth and put her hand down, and looked over at Ariana with narrowed eyes. "And if I do die here, so what? I mean, I gotta die sometime, right? It isn't… it won't be that bad, I guess. Ugh! This is pissing me off."

Ariana frowned, but didn't say anything. Violet was making sense… but her attitude was flipping back and forth at a rapid rate, between docile and accepting to outright angry. Was she suffering from some kind of bipolar disorder or something?

Violet sighed and put her head in her hands. "Sorry. That wasn't fair to you."

Ariana nodded, and she started to move off the couch. If someone was here, that would ruin the point of being in here - peace. Especially someone as… loud as Violet was.

She stepped off the couch and Violet looked up, and Ariana looked taken aback. Was she… tearing up?

"Stay," Violet whispered. "Oh, God, please stay, Ariana. Don't say anything. Just… don't go. Don't leave me alone. Please." She sounded… vulnerable. Scared, like a small animal caught in a trap - panicked, scared, and above all - desperate.

Ariana was all too familiar with that feeling.

She stayed staring at Violet for a few seconds. Staring into those eyes, and trying to figure out just what Violet was feeling. What Violet was thinking. What the hell was making her break down like this?

Violet had been a mystery since the beginning. She hadn't revealed her surname to them, for some reason. She seemed like a normal, ditzy kind of girl most of the time, but there was definitely something else going on too. Silver had mentioned that he had seen her snooping around the Bunker at night, and she was spending an awful lot of time focusing on Lance, too - which couldn't mean good things for the poor guy.

Ariana eventually moved back to the couch, and Violet took a shaky breath of relief. "Thank you," she said, and it sounded like she genuinely meant it.

Ariana nodded, and looked down at her feet.

Just… who exactly was Violet? What was she doing? Why was she being so secretive?

No matter what, Ariana knew that she had to figure that out.

The two of them sat in silence for an hour, Ariana reading, Violet hugging herself and breathing deeply, both of them trying their best not to break the precious silence in the room.

And still, Ariana thought.

Violet… whoever you are… whatever you're hiding…

I'll find out.


"Let me out."

"No."

"C'mon, Marco, just a little bit. I need to pee real bad."

"Should have thought of that before you decided to kill someone."

Lucius sighed, and Marco heard him sit down again. He had been trapped in there for a few days, and had been awake for only one of them. And now he was starting to get irritable.

Marco was used to this kind of stuff, though. This wasn't his first time playing warden - and he was sure it wouldn't be his last, either.

"What about food? I'm hungry. A bagel a day isn't exactly the best food plan in the world."

"I'll let Summer know."

"Why can't I tell her myself?"

Marco didn't want to answer that. He was getting sick of all these questions. Lucius seemed to have recovered incredibly quickly from being imprisoned - his somewhat calm and cheerful attitude had returned. Marco wasn't sure whether that was reassuring or terrifying.

"Aren't you getting tired standing out there all the time? It's gotta be draining, standing watch over a freaking storage room."

"It's not that bad."

Lucius chuckled. "Stoic as ever, huh?"

Marco didn't want to respond to that.

Back in Phoenix, his brothers always used to make fun of his expressionlessness. They were all loud and boisterous, always hot-headed and getting into fights. Marco had usually had to get them out of trouble whenever they got into it. It had been frustrating then, and Marco hoped it didn't have to happen again.

His brothers… how were they doing? Marco used to look out for them… if he had been gone for years, then what had happened to them?

"Marco."

Marco looked up. Standing at the end of the hallway was Summer, her arms folded. Beside her, wearing the same blue dress she always wore, was Alice, her bright blue eyes shining.

Marco nodded. Alice shivered and stepped forward - she was short enough that she only reached his ribs, her golden head rubbing against his body. "Big Bro Marco!" she said under her breath.

Marco wasn't sure where that had come from. Apparently he reminded Alice of her big brother. She had told him that over dinner, and she had made a statement of always being by his side whenever she could afford it. Marco didn't mind her company - despite her rude comments, she could be surprisingly sweet to the people she considered worth her time.

Marco had insisted that he guard Lucius alone. If Alice was put in danger… Marco wouldn't lose anyone else again. Especially someone who considered him to be like a brother.

"How have you been?" Summer asked, raising an eyebrow. "I've been discussing the possibility of taking shifts with a few of the others. Casper and Seb, mainly. I think you've earned yourself some kind of break from being the local warden."

Marco shrugged. "It doesn't mean anything to me. Give me shifts, or keep me on permanently. Either way, it doesn't matter."

"No!" Alice shook her head. Marco looked down to stare into her big blue eyes. "You can't stay here all the time!"

Despite everything, Marco had to smile at that.

"Ah… Summer's there, huh? Oh, and Alice. Great, just great, I've been dying to have some deep and meaningful conversations with her." Lucius' voice echoed from the room, the sarcasm practically dripping off of his words.

"Don't be a smartass," Marco barked back, and Lucius stayed noticeably quiet.

Summer flicked her hair and smiled a little. "Just think about it. You've done well, Marco - you deserve some kind of pause. Staying watch out here, alone, isn't exactly the most entertaining position in the world."

Marco shrugged. "It's not that difficult. We can't do much else here, anyway."

Summer sighed. "That is true… let me know if he's being especially difficult. I'll make sure he's gagged properly next time he starts being a pain. Au revoir, Marco. Alice."

And just like that, she was gone, walking away from the storage room without a care in the world.

Marco sighed. He hadn't met someone as confident and self-assured before. Only Father came close, and even he didn't have this level of confidence when he was behind closed doors.

"You should go," he whispered to Alice, who looked up at him with scared, rabbit-like eyes. "It's not safe, being this close to Lucius."

Alice opened her mouth to protest, but something in Marco's eyes cut her off. She closed her mouth, swallowed hard, and then nodded grimly, stepping back and brushing down her dress.

"Good luck," she whispered, and then she was running down the hallway, to… Marco didn't have any idea where she was headed.

All that mattered was that she was away from Lucius. Away from immediate danger, as far as Marco knew.

"Okay, okay, one last question - what about just the tiniest glass of cherry Cola? Something sweet, just as a one-time thing?"

Marco slammed his fist onto the door, and for the rest of the day, Lucius remained silent.


"Hmm… no, no, no, this won't do at all…"

Max looked up from the book he was reading. It was unnerving him. Libraries were supposed to be a place of silence - and Christiana, he was starting to find, was very, very loud.

She was walking past the shelves at an almost crazed rate, her feet moving fast, her eyes narrowed as she searched for… something. Max had no idea what, and if he was going to be completely honest, he'd prefer to keep it that way.

Pale hair… pale skin… and blood-red eyes… Christiana was ticking a lot of boxes for the token vampire of the group.

Well, vampires didn't exist, obviously… but a token goth was just as terrifying, at the end of the day.

Max shuddered, and picked up his book, trying not to think about what Christiana possibly got up to in her spare time. She probably did obscene things with other teenagers dressed as pretentiously as she was - a black Victorian dress? In the twenty-first century? She probably wrote depressing poetry to boot.

"Ah. Young Maxwell… how are you doing today?"

Max looked up, adjusting his glasses. He tried not to let his fingers shake too much as he did so.

"Uh… g-good. I guess."

"Marvelous!" Christiana took a seat down in front of him. She was completely bookless - obviously, her search had not gone well. "I'm glad to hear of that. My day is going splendidly as well, you'll be pleased to know, although regretfully, this library is somewhat lacking."

Max frowned. "Lacking? How?"

Christiana smiled, clasping her hands together like she was in prayer. "Well, there aren't any books on riddles at all! It's particularly frustrating - riddles are a favoured pastime in my family. In fact, our library has dozens of shelves dedicated to riddles alone."

"Your family has a library?" Max asked. Despite it all, he was curious. Libraries meant books - and Max loved books. Books didn't judge, or mock, or lie - no, books were friends, they were stories, they were thousands upon thousands of words and ideas that were waiting to be sampled like fine wine.

"Of course! Our library in Munich is the most spectacular, of course - but New Orleans, where I was raised, that library is adequate. Much better than this one, at the very least." Christiana sighed and shook her head. "It makes me sad, somewhat… the fact that I have nothing in this library to think back to my family…"

Family…

Max shook his head, trying to get those thoughts out of his head. He wouldn't think about them - he wouldn't.

"Enough about me, however," Christiana said sharply. "What are you reading? Some occult spell book, I presume."

"They're called grimoires," Max said automatically. Christiana gave him an odd look, and he found himself blushing. "Spell books, I mean. N-not that they're actually spell books… a-and… no, it's a fiction novel. About an occult detective who solves supernatural crimes." It was an enjoyable read, and most of the occult stuff was accurate, which was nice. Max was tired of the cliches associated with it - pentacles and ritual knives, and blood sacrifices all the time. The author had at least bothered to do their actual research.

Christiana sighed. "Of course. The occult again. Why do you spend time with such a strange topic?"

You're the one dressed like a vampire wannabe. Max bit back that thought - he didn't want to say something like that. He didn't know what this girl could or would do to him if she got mad. "I… like it," he said, smiling feebly. "It's… interesting."

Christiana narrowed her eyes, but didn't say anything. Had she caught his bluff? Max hoped not. If someone actually figured out the reason - God, if that happened -

"Yo! Max! Christie!"

Christiana's eyes widened. She looked around, and gritted her teeth. "Him, of all people?"

Beside Max, Sebastian took a seat, smiling broadly. He stretched and then rested his elbows on the desk, sighing as he made himself comfortable. Max frowned, and tried not to say anything, while Christiana folded her arms and sighed.

"How's it goin', guys? What's shaking? I feel like I haven't talked to either of you in aaaaaaaaages!" Sebastian seemed completely oblivious to the fact that he had just interrupted a conversation between them. His bright blue eyes were wide and unassuming as he looked at them; Max blushed a little, while Christiana was still death glaring him from across the table.

"Um, y-you know… stuff," Max said, his voice trembling. "Uh…" Oh, geez, he was screwing this up so bad. Why was he so bad at talking? Seb didn't care, did he? He wouldn't get mad if he screwed up, surely…

"It's cool. Don't sweat it, bro - if you don't wanna say, then don't. Okay?" Sebastian flashed him a smile, and Max sighed, the panicked feelings in his chest starting to go down ever so slightly.

Christiana seemed incredibly mad, though, although she was doing a good job of keeping it under control. "This was a private conversation, Sebastian. Could you -?"

"Oh my God, Christie, please! Call me Seb, everyone does. I mean, Sebastian has waaaay too many syllables, it's a complete nightmare. Seb will do." Seb smiled again innocently, but Christiana's gaze didn't waver.

"D'you mind that, by the way? Christie. Reckoned it suited you - it's cute, and it's kinda mysterious, like you! Also, Agatha Christie, a person I think you might be familiar with, right?"

Christiana opened her mouth to speak, but Sebastian cut her off again.

"Okay, so normally I would try and get everyone in on this, but Summer's being a bit distant and, well, who can blame her, right? I mean, there's a freaking serial killer in the basement or whatever, she has her hands full right now, and that's cool, y'know, I respect that, so I'll give her a bit of personal space, just to be polite. Now, you guys know those big oak doors that Summer couldn't open, yeah? Well, I showed up this morning to the library to grab some books, as you do, just grabbing some stuff for me to read when I'm bored or in my room or on the toilet or something, but that's not really all that important. Well, it's important to me, I mean, they are books I picked out - they're SUPER cool, seriously, I'll lend 'em to ya once I'm finished - but that's not what this story is about. Nah, it isn't, it's about the oak doors that Summer couldn't open. So I show up this morning to grab some reads, and what do I do? Check the doors - who knows, maybe this facility operates underneath some really freaking weird rule where if a person dies then a floor opens, kinda like some video game except not really. And what do I find? The doors are still locked, but there's a terminal now. It needs a password to open it - letters and everything. How - cool - is - that - shit!?"

Sebastian finally took a breath in. Max was just staring at him, wide-eyed. How could he say all of that? And… what had he meant?

"So we can open those doors if we have the password?" Christiana asked, frowning. Her anger seemed to be gone - now she just seemed confused. "Do you know what it is?"

Sebastian shook his head. "Tried the usuals - password, Prism, nutter butters, but nothing worked! Huh… well, we can figure it out later, yeah?"

Max frowned. A detail like that… it seemed important. Password-protected…?

Christiana sighed, and shrugged. "Well. I'm sure that a password will come to light soon enough…"

"No use worrying about it now," Sebastian agreed, nodding. "Anyway, I was thinking I would ask Summer soon - not today, but maybe tomorrow. I hear she was going to do some stuff with the stuff about the stuff."

Max frowned. "That… that doesn't m-make any sense."

"What? Sure it does. What did I say? Not important." Sebastian smiled again, and Max felt himself smiling just a little bit as well. Something about Seb was just so calming…

"You're awfully energetic, considering you were rather depressed only two days ago," Christiana said skeptically. That stopped Sebastian from smiling almost immediately, and Max felt the tension between him and Christiana - it was more than just a little uncomfortable.

Christiana was smiling slightly now, and it looked malicious, especially with her pale features and striking eyes. "Well?"

It took a few seconds of silence before Sebastian was able to speak again, his dazzling smile returning.

"Yep! I know, something weird just happened this morning. I realised - I could be sad and mopey, or I could be happy. Y'know, studies show that if you smile, those chemicals in your brain that make you happy get released, so I'm always smiling so that I'm always happy! That way, I can get stuff done - I can work towards helping everyone out." Sebastian closed his eyes, and his smile grew even wider, turning into a ferociously happy grin. "That's how I think about it!"

Christiana's smile had vanished; she looked dumbstruck, unable to say anything at all. It was a strange look for her.

"So, yeah," Sebastian said, still smiling. "Anyway, I was hoping that you guys could come up with password suggestions! I'm gonna organise a meeting about it tomorrow at breakfast - reckoned that you'd like some kind of heads up, and a bit of a head start on the whole password thingy."

Max smiled a little. No one usually gave him a head start at anything. "O-okay. Thank you!"

Christiana frowned, but she nodded in response. "I see…"

"No problem," Sebastian said, still smiling. "Happy to help!"

Max nodded, and looked back, towards the big pair of oak doors, locked firmly at the end of the hallway. There was a screen next to it, and on a pedestal was some kind of terminal as well…

Max nodded. If Sebastian had given him this chance…

He would figure out what that password was… and he would help everyone out somehow. He wouldn't be useless or a burden anymore - he'd be valuable, worthwhile.

All he had to do was figure out that password.


The hallway was quiet. It should have been - the third floor only had two or so rooms that were open; no one really hung about, except for Silver, and all he did was play in the computer lab all day.

Marina appreciated how quiet it was, though. It meant she could work undisturbed.

The camera in her hands felt heavy. The strap was slung around her neck, like it always was; the feeling of the camera strap on the skin of her neck never failed to comfort her whenever she was stressed.

Marina closed her eyes and raised the camera, snapping shots of the doors, the walls, making sure that she got the labels in the centre of the frame and that they were legible. These shots were going to be pivotal to the story, the one she would write once she got out of this hell.

Marina could see it now - headlines across the States, maybe even the continent. Huge paragraphs of writing, all by her… and her photos, on every front page. She would write pages upon pages about this story - what would she call it? "I Was Trapped By a Psycho!" No, she wasn't some sell-out… but something personal, like, "My Journey In An Underground Hell"?

Marina put down the camera. This floor was done, and at night she'd take photos of the others. Now, it was time for her log.

Pulling out the voice recorder with a simple motion, Marina looked around to make sure no one was coming, and that no one would interrupt. Luckily, no one was coming, and she couldn't help but feel a rush of excitement as she pressed the red record button.

"Diary Entry Number Four. It's currently day… eighty-eight, the very beginning of it. The days here are odd - they start at noon, technically, which is difficult to adjust to. It's been three days since Erica Bradley has died… her killer - Lucius Ravenswood. I'm still disappointed I got no pictures of the body. Does… that make me a bad person? Whatever, not important.

"Currently on the third floor, for the peace of mind. That's the annoying thing about being trapped down here - there's always people everywhere you go, and there's almost no way of getting out of it… unless you want to die, of course."

Marina glanced briefly at her bracelet as she talked. "It's… frustrating, wearing this thing. It's like being strapped to a bomb, and you can't remove it, but you're forced to watch it as the countdown keeps going. And there's nothing you can do about it. It's… terrifying, in a unique way that I can't describe."

That was a good line. That should go in the book, Marina decided in her head.

"Right now I'm taking photos. It's important that I document the locations that we come across. There's more floors than the four here, surely, but we have no way to access anything else.

"The entire game seems devoted to the idea of control. We're exactly like lab mice, trapped in a maze, and the Game Masters are the scientists who tell us where to go. Maybe this whole thing is some bizarre social experiment -"

"Why are you talking to yourself?"

Marina screamed and jumped back, dropping the voice recorder as she looked Silver in the eyes. He looked bored, and his expression didn't change as he looked down and knelt to pick up the voice recorder.

Marina's eyes were wide. How much had he heard? Had he been there the whole time? If he had…

"You dropped this," Silver said, hand stretched out. Marina stared at the voice recorder in mild panic, before she grabbed it with a hand and pressed the red button with her thumb.

"I was… recording my voice, like reporters do," Marina explained. Her face was flushing bright red, and she shoved the recorder into her pocket, trying to make him stop looking at it.

Silver nodded. "So… you thought you'd write some story about this once it's all over?"

"I -"

Silver smirked a little and cut her off with just a small little sigh. He rubbed at his eyes and stared at her, and Marina couldn't help but feel just a little bit invaded, like he was examining her too intently. It felt… creepy.

"You can dress it up however you want, but you're basically selling out if you decide to write about our time down here once we get out," Silver told her. Marina felt her chest tighten a little, but Silver refused to stop. "That is, assuming you actually get out. That's not guaranteed yet, is it? I mean, you could get murdered in a few hours. And unless you're the last one standing, you aren't getting out anyway - allegedly, of course."

Marina's face was completely red. She felt embarrassed talking to him - what the hell was he talking about? And selling out? She wasn't some cheap, sleazy journalist trying to make a quick buck…! Who did he think she was?

"I don't appreciate -"

"Of course you don't," Silver said, interrupting her again. "You're just like everyone, deep down. 'I don't appreciate you tearing down my hopes and dreams like that! God, you're so insensitive!'" He put on a mocking falsetto when he imitated her. It just made Marina feel worse.

"If you're gonna sell out and share your story to the highest bidder, make sure it's worth it," Silver continued. "I'd hate for our story to be half-assed if it does get turned into a book or whatever. I mean, you have to remember that - it's not just your story, it's mine too. Mine, and Summer's, and Erica's. Everyone's."

"Is this some morality lecture?" Marina asked, stepping back, She was shaking - how unprofessional. She needed to be calm and composed, wasn't that what she had been taught? "That whole 'what will you do for the story?' And then you call me a vulture for wanting to tell the story in the first place."

"It's nothing like that," Silver said, waving a hand nonchalantly. "I don't actually care about what you do with your time. You want to write shitty tabloid articles about being stuck down here, go ahead. Can't wait for your next story - 'Twenty-Three Tips to Survive in an Underground Bunker!'

"All I'm saying is that someone's already died. Don't be a sell out and disrespect her memory."

And with that, Silver left her standing still in the hallway, waving as he returned to his computer lab, slamming the door behind him.

Marina suddenly felt very cold. Very cold and very lonely.

She shuddered and hugged herself, trying not to think about his words. Oh, God, was he right? Was she disrespecting everyone by doing this? Recording everything and… yeah, she was going to sell it once she got out, right? What else would she be able to do with it, exactly?

Marina shook her head, and looked down at the camera around her neck, and pulled out the voice recorder from her pocket and looked down at it in her hand. She hadn't realised how tightly she'd been gripping it. It looked so small and frail in her hand… if she were just to crush it…

No! Even if it might be disrespectful, you have a duty to the world as a seeker of truth. You have a duty to yourself! Who else will tell the world about down here? How awful it feels? The isolation? The powerlessness? You can't destroy your work yet - you must work even harder to make sure that this story gets out there!

Marina wasn't sure who was saying that in her head. Aunt Dawn, or her? She had no way of knowing.

Slowly, she put the voice recorder back in her pocket, her hand twitching as she did so.

Then she opened her eyes, and took a deep breath.

She wasn't being stupid, or selfish, or desperate. No, she was being a seeker of truth… she was helping humanity, simply by documenting this place and how it felt. People would read her stuff, and they would know what it was like down here…

They would know, and they would sympathise, and then they would understand.

Yeah… that's what would happen, once she got outside.

If she got outside.

No - when she got outside. Back to Bakersfield, and back to writing small stories for the local paper, and back to Mom and Dad and Aunt Dawn…

Marina nodded, and took another deep, shuddering breath. When she got out. When, when, when.

That would be when everything would be okay.


The dining room was empty. Silent. It was unnerving - there was so much noise, such a welcoming and warm atmosphere, only a few days ago. How long had it been since they had all had lunch together?

Lance sighed and rested his forehead on the table. It seemed like forever since they had actually had a moment of happiness in this place…

The atmosphere hadn't gone down. He felt trapped, now more than ever. He was trapped in this place, with his bad memories, hurtful memories… memories of Erica, and memories of her killer… it hurt thinking about both of them, it hurt so much, but Lance couldn't think about anything but either of them.

The Game Masters had somehow organised for Erica's body to be moved. After locking Lucius away, he had gone to check, and it was as if she had never even existed in the first place. Blood was gone, body was gone - her door was locked, too, and the plaque with her name on it was missing as well.

Like she had never even existed.

Lance gritted his teeth. That painful feeling in his gut was building up again, like he had swallowed a few razor blades or something, and they were spinning and churning inside of him, cutting him apart from the inside. That's what thinking about anything felt like at the moment…

"Hey. I asked you a question."

"Huh?"

Lance looked up, blinking rapidly.

Standing next to him, a stern look on his face, was Casper. His pale blond hair was brushed back, and he had a deep and intense glare on his face. His arms were folded, and he looked incredibly frustrated.

"Well?" Casper asked, raising an eyebrow.

"I… didn't hear any questions."

"Of course you didn't." Casper put his hand on the table - no, on a mug on the table. It was a blue mug, filled with a warm chocolate-brown drink, and it smelt nice, fresh and captivating.

Casper slid the mug over to Lance, and Lance gently placed a hand on it. It was warm, not as hot as he had expected. Casper nodded, and Lance took a sip - it was cocoa, but with a hint of something else, maybe vanilla, and it tasted wonderful.

"You might need it," Casper said. Lance nodded, and smiled a little.

"I… didn't expect you to be so caring. I mean, you always seemed so… distant."

Casper nodded, his expression unchanging. "We're in a life or death situation. Of course I'd be distant. Why would I hang around people who have more than enough motive to kill me?"

Lance hated to admit that he had a point. Look what had happened to Erica, after all.

"I never got to say goodbye…"

"Huh?" Casper frowned, and Lance blushed. He'd said that out loud, when he hadn't meant to. God, that was stupid of him.

"To Erica. She was… well, she was the first girl to ever notice me, y'know? And… she's dead, and I didn't get to say goodbye. That hurts."

Casper nodded once, and his face was solemn. "I know. It does hurt. Not being able to even say goodbye… it feels awful."

There was an awkward silence between them now, a painfully awkward one. Lance tried not to say anything - he didn't want to open up to this guy, not completely, even if he had given him hot cocoa and said a few comforting words.

Casper was the one who eventually broke the silence, his voice clear and precise, with an almost unreadable tone.

"I need you to do something with me. I'd ask someone else, I know you're having a hard time, but I think it would be rude to not invite you."

Lance frowned. What in the hell was he talking about? But Casper just cleared his throat, and said something that made Lance's heart skip a beat. Out of excitement or terror, maybe even anger - Lance had no idea.

"I want to go into the storage room. I want to talk to Lucius."

Lance's eyes widened. "You want to talk to him? Talk to that psychopath?"

Lance could feel the fear inside of him start to creep up, bit by bit. It felt like ice, digging its way through his body, cold and awful, and Lance just wanted that feeling to stop.

Casper nodded. "Yeah. I do."

"But… why?" Lance looked at Casper with wide eyes. There was no hint of any expression in Casper's grey eyes, none at all, and that was unnerving, to say the least. "He's psychotic."

"I know."

"What are you hoping to get out of it?"

Casper shrugged. "Well, I want to do an… examination, you could say. Of Lucius. To see why he targets criminals… essentially, I want to analyse his mind, so I can predict his movements and see if he'll be a threat to me."

"Why are you telling me this?"

Casper shrugged. "He killed your girlfriend, didn't he? Surely you'd like to join the interrogation."

"She wasn't my -"

"Yeah, of course, but it was only a matter of time, right?" Casper smirked a little bit, and Lance noticed he was turning red. Goddamnit, now was not the time. "I think you have the right to demand answers from him as well. So I'm inviting you to join me."

Lance was silent for a very long time after Casper said that. It wasn't just talking to Lucius that made Lance feel odd. The way that Casper talked about it… it sounded so surreal, like some weird scientific experiment, something weird and unnatural. Lance wasn't sure if he wanted something to do with that.

Casper sighed after a few minutes. "Suit yourself. I'm doing it in ten minutes. Come and talk to me before that, if you're still interested." And then he stood up and was gone, leaving Lance alone in a room with a mug of hot cocoa.

Lance sipped at his drink as he thought. Lucius… was it worth it? A part of him said that it had to be done. And it was smart, trying to figure Lucius out, but… was it safe? Lance didn't want to be the next one to go.

Then again, if he didn't do anything, Casper might be next…

Wouldn't it be good? To just… let go and see Erica again? Isn't living painful now? Isn't breathing a bother? If you just relax, and let the knife slip in, you could finally be at peace…

Except he wouldn't. Not without answers.

That was what had been burning up in his mind - the question. That one, single, burning question.

Why?

And now there was finally a chance to answer that… a possibility, more likely, but it was better than nothing, and beggars can't be choosers.

Lance closed his eyes. Oh, God… how had he gotten into this mess? He had just wanted to be a part of Prism… to help people… to finally feel important. And now this was happening…

His headache was building inside his brain, and Lance took a sip to try and stop it. He had been getting headaches more frequently than he had used to. Maybe it was this place. Or maybe it was just him.

Lance watched the clock for a good while, watching the seconds tick past, as he sipped his drink and thought about what he should be doing. What he needed to do. What should be done.

And after thinking, he stood up, his empty mug on the table, and he headed out the door.


Knock. Knock. Knock.

Casper answered the door immediately, and as soon as he saw who it was, he smiled. It was his first smile that actually seemed to be in good humour, and it suited his thin and sallow face surprisingly well.

"I knew you'd come around," he said, stepping out and closing the door behind him. "You people always do."

That comment made Summer frown. "You people?"

"Detective types. You can't possibly pass down the opportunity to solve this mystery, not if you were as good a detective as you claimed." They started walking down the hall, talking calmly but quietly, just in case they were overheard.

Summer sighed. "Let's get this over with. I'm a little hesitant to be in a room with that sociopath."

"We all are," Casper said. "I mean, he's a confessed serial killer. That would unnerve anyone… even master detectives."

Summer felt a twinge of embarrassment at being named that, and turned away so he couldn't see the pink in her cheeks. "Casper -"

"Of course, Summer, of course." He still had that cheeky smile on. Summer still didn't understand why he was acting so differently than he was before, but she wasn't going to question it. If he was willing to be helpful, then there wasn't any problem.

"Did you ask Lance?"

Casper sighed and looked down at his wristwatch. "Yeah, but… it's been ten minutes, and I don't reckon he's coming."

Summer frowned. She'd expected better. But then again, she couldn't be too harsh. Not when Erica had just died. He had been taking that especially bad… she hoped he wouldn't do anything rash. People in mourning tended to lash out a lot more than others did.

She was about to open her mouth to say something, but someone else cut her off. Someone standing behind them, further down the hallway.

"Guess again."

They turned, and saw Lance standing there, panting heavily like had just run. His face was red from the exercise, his hair even messier than usual, and when he saw them he took a deep breath, shoulders moving with his body.

Both of them stared there, Casper and Summer, watching and waiting. Summer felt a small but strong hope start to grow in her chest somewhere. Lance was going to help?

"Well," Lance said, cutting through the silence. "Let's get started, shall we? I mean, it's not everyday you get to interrogate your friendly neighbourhood serial killer, is it?"