We're racing toward the finish line here! Get your bets in now because Lieselotte's about to wrap this thing up.
“You know, I wasn't certain when I stepped out of the lounge, but I think I just evolved a hypothesis. Would you care to hear it?” Charlotte remained silent. “Sariah Dupin, soon-to-be-Countess of Archmond, managed to acquire your mother's necklace. The 'how' isn't important, only that she did. I'm guessing it was without your consent. And I'm guessing that all her arguing with Walther drew your attention. You peeked through the open door. There she was, sitting in your mother's place, wearing your mother's necklace, preparing to take your rightful place.”
Lieselotte's heels clacked against the hardwood of the second floor hallway as she circled the stewing Dupin. “So you ordered Genevieve to go in. She could check on her without Sariah getting suspicious. Maybe even help her adjust that necklace.” Lieselotte mimed twisting her hands across one another. “She strangled Sariah with your mother's necklace. Then, when she was done, she returned it to your room. You, of course, needed to be hidden away during all of this so the suspicion wouldn't fall on you. A quick check in with your servant and she was back up to trigger the whole setup. Your brother takes the fall for betraying your trust and you take your rightful seat at the head of Archmond.”
“A fanciful lie, witch, but it couldn't be further from the truth.”
“That if that's what you intend to sell to those buffoons in there, you won't be leaving this hallway.”
Lieselotte openly laughed, shaking her head. A faint voice trailed past her ear. “No, it's fine.” she whispered.
“What's that?” Charlotte asked, her demeanor growing more and more agitated.
“I said it's fine. You can do as you please, you are, after all, the heir to the seat of Archmond. I just shudder to think what will happen to Genevieve when this story gets out.”
“Leave her out of this!” Charlotte shouted, tackling the witch.
The pair wrestled and fought, slamming against the door to the parlor. Charlotte awkwardly slammed her fist against Lieselotte, but the necromancer had little difficulty blocking. Gripping her wrists, Lieselotte held back the woman's attacks long enough for the door to open and Viscounts Conan and LeBlanc to pry the Lady Dupin away.
“What in blazes is going on?” demanded Conan.
“Miss Charlotte? Why would you attack Miss Lieselotte?” LeBlanc added.
“Oh, I was right,” Viscountess Conan remarked, peeking out the door and seeing Charlotte restrained.
Viscounts Conan and LeBlanc forced a measure of space between the two women, Lieselotte never losing her smile. The elder Viscount repeated his question, demanding an answer. “Now, Miss Charlotte, this doesn't look good on you, not while we're deliberating.”
“That's the point!” Charlotte screamed. “She's trying to frame me! She's orchestrated this entire mess!”
“Nonsense,” Conan replied, “she's been with us nearly the entire time.”
“And you were the one who invited her, were you not?” LeBlanc added.
“She lost control,” Lieselotte said, turning her head and feigning fear. “I just... well, I had spoken with Walther on the way here and he said that the former Countess Dupin's necklace was in Sariah's possession that night.”
“Yes, I think I recall something to that nature between his incessant shouting,” Conan replied.
“Well, when you gentlemen interrogated Charlotte, the necklace was there, do you remember? I was just curious as to how it moved.”
LeBlanc and Conan eyed each other for several moments, the cogs turning in their heads. They nodded subtly to one another. Charlotte backed away as they approached. “No! Don't you dare!”
“Miss Charlotte, there are some inconsistencies between your story and the others,” Conan said.
“You can't possibly think that I – that woman is a -!”
“Genevieve.” The name alone silenced Charlotte. Lieselotte stepped closer, parting the two Viscounts. “Apologies, dear Viscounts, I was just recalling how dedicated the servant is to her mistress.” Lieselotte leaned closer, whispering. “And how bad taboo like this could affect her if it went public.”
“She'd had enough of Sariah's dealings,” Conan deduced. “The necklace was both the breaking point and the murder weapon.”
Charlotte was stunned. She looked back and forth between Lieselotte and the Viscounts as they drew their narrative. “Yes,” LeBlanc added, “but I suspect she used the servant to hide her involvement. A garrote, even that necklace, would leave a mark on the perpetrator's hand. I think we should examine the servant one more-”
“No!” Charlotte cried out. She slumped against the wall of the hallway and slid to the floor. Tears slowly trickled from the corners of her proud eyes and she quickly wiped them away. “No. It was me. Genevieve... I forced her to help. Leave her out of this.”
Conan knelt by the lady's side, placing a hand on her shoulder. She didn't flinch, didn't acknowledge him in any way, but simply continued staring at the floor. “LeBlanc, would you kindly find something to bind Miss Charlotte's hands? Perhaps we can relieve Walther of his.”
The younger Viscount nodded and stepped past them, heading for the stairwell. Charlotte, hair disheveled, cheeks red, looked up to Lieselotte. Her voice was cracked and hollow. “Are you happy?”
“I'll be happy when I leave this place.”
Keep your eyes open for my debut novel, The Paladin.