By the time the sun began to set, Ivan, Ed, and Mortimer had traversed halfway to the next nearest mansion. The Willis Island had been built with one major mansion for all seven Saviors and one individual one for each surrounding it, making a total of eight. Traditionally, the main mansion was so large than all the Saviors tended to live there, but there had been occasions of certain Saviors not getting along, in which case they would move to another location after informing and bringing along some of the servants.
Upon leaving the main mansion, the three Saviors had traveled in silence, with Ivan leading the way. Since neither Mortimer nor Ed could differentiate between the dense trees and thick canopy, no one protested.
For what must have been hours, only the rustle of leaves and the snapping of twigs made any noise, as even the forest animals seemed to have shyed away.
After Ed could no longer bear it, he attempted to ask, “So, uh, where are we going?”
Ivan kept walking, answering without looking back. “To another mansion.”
At this, Ed paused in his tracks and squinted, peering through the leaves towards the sky. The previous storm had cleared and left a blue sky in its wake, with not a single lingering cloud, the only evidence of the storm in the soaked earth and left in the droplets resting on the greenery. In the distance, a small section of a roof could be seen poking out from above the forest, a single flag perched atop reading the number one. Ed furrowed his brow.
Noticing, Mortimer commented, “That’s the mansion for the First,” he explained, “so it would be Lucine’s.”
“Oh. Uh… what about ours?”
“You mean mine and Mortimer’s,” Ivan pointed out. He momentarily turned back to face them. “Seeing as you don’t even know which Savior you are.”
Ed pursed his lips and attempted to dodge the other Savior’s gaze.
Luckily, Mortimer directed the conversation back to the original comment. “Since Ivan is the Sixth, his mansion is some distance away,” he explained, facing Ed and ignoring Ivan, who eventually gave up and turned back to the front with a tsk. “The mansions are arranged with the First being closest to the main mansion and the Seventh being near the shore. I’m the third, so mine is a bit closer, but it’s still quite far.”
Ed furrowed his brow. “Isn’t that a bit… odd? I mean, in design?”
Mortimer shrugged. “I thought so, too. It’s quite a peculiar decision.”
“It’s not the only one,” Ivan retorted. Mortimer sighed and turned to face him.
“What do you mean?”
Glancing back for a second, Ivan said, “The mansion hallways are complete garbage. There’s zero security and too many escape routes for an intruder to use,” the Savior scoffed. Mortimer thought about this.
“…I suppose that’s true. I didn’t really notice before, but I suppose a thief would know.”
Ed’s eyes widened and he spun around. “Wait, you’re a thief?”
Ivan held up his bag, which clinked when he did so. “Why of course,” he said, sarcasm dripping from his voice. “Wasn’t it obvious?”
“Not really. I only knew because Lucine told me,” Mortimer said.
“I was being sarcastic.”
Mortimer shrugged, eyes dull.
Turning back to the front, Ivan paused and ducked under a fallen tree from the storm, not bothering to wait for the other two. “Shouldn’t you have noticed, too? You’re an engineer, right?”
Mortimer glanced up. “How could you tell?”
“Your clothes,” Ivan said, too tired to bother explaining.
“Oh. Well, that’s somewhat true. I run the village clock shop, it’s a family business, so I know a bit about mechanics.”
“But nothing about architecture.”
Mortimer shook his head. “I’m afraid not.”
Ivan sighed but didn’t comment, instead glancing up at the sky. “…It’s getting late. It’d probably be best to stop here and continue next morning.”
Mortimer nodded. Just as he was about to set his bag down, however, Ivan held out a hand to stop him. “Wait,” he said, then stepped forward and pushed a mangled bush aside. On the other side, a line of footprints were imprinted onto the soft earth, the long strides of someone running. With the bush covering it, only the edges of the prints were visible, but now, they were exposed. Ivan narrowed his eyes and brushed off his hands. “It’d be safer if we moved to the side a bit.”
Ed furrowed his brow. “Those look like Echo’s footprints…” he muttered. Ivan raised an eyebrow.
“I didn’t think you’d be able to tell.”
“What? Oh, um, well, I was thinking it was probably Echo or Fay, and Fay doesn’t wear heels, so…”
Mortimer was inspecting the prints. “They look like they’re already quite faded,” he commented. Nonetheless, he stood and followed Ivan as they stepped the other way, ducking under a thick canopy until the footprints were far behind.
As it turned out, Ivan had packed a thick, large blanket in his bag, which he now spread across the ground to avoid sleeping on the mud. Ed was impressed with how well prepared the Savior was, glancing at his own light pack in embarrassment. Mortimer, however, was staring at the bag Ivan had temporarily set down, eyeing the bulks and folds in the cloth.
Finally, Ed’s eyes widened as Mortimer reached over and unzipped the bag. Almost instantly, Ivan spun around, ready to retort, but Mortimer frowned and pulled out one of the gold decorative figures that had lined the shelves. Then, underneath that he found strips cleanly shorn off the gold wallpaper as well as some of the amber jewels embedded into the window frames. All had been masterfully removed and carefully placed into the bag. Ed’s eyes only grew wider as the Savior pulled out more items, Mortimer’s frown deepening until, by the end, he bore an expression of complete and utter disappointment.
“You done?” Ivan snapped, snatching the bag away and pushing all his loot to the other side of the blanket, where he sat down and began to delicately place them back into the bag.
Mortimer gave him a dead look. “Was that really necessary?”
“Can you blame me?” Ivan scoffed. “Did you see the security around? They were begging to be stolen!”
Mortimer sighed, having seemingly given up on scolding the other Savior. Instead, he asked, “When did you have the time to steal all of that?”
“When we were inspecting the halls.”
Ed furrowed his brow. “Um… doesn’t that… technically already belong to the Saviors? So why…”
“I’m just being well prepared!” Ivan snapped. He placed the golden figure back atop the rest of the goods and zipped the bag up, glaring at the other two. “It seems it was a smart move, too, with the Eighth on the loose. What’ll you do if we can’t find them? Wait till the barrier vanishes and tell the public you failed? Go back to your old life? Ha!”
“I’m sure we’ll be able to catch them,” Mortimer pointed out, “especially since our powers will be awakening soon. Once that happens, the barrier will also most likely vanish.”
“Really?” Ed asked, sitting up straighter. Being able to display his ability would certainly make it easier to convince the others he wasn’t the Eighth. Mortimer nodded.
“Traditionally, the Saviors’ powers appear in bursts when they first receive them. Then, they usually don’t manifest for a while until about a week into the second month of having them. There are some exceptions, like Lucine and Willow, but that’s usually how it is.”
“Don’t forget the Eighth,” Ivan pointed out, pushing his bag aside, glad to direct the conversation elsewhere. Ed furrowed his brow.
“Um, it’s… it’s kind of a silly question, but… uh. What’s the Eighth’s power do?”
“You mean you don’t know?” Ivan taunted. Ed stared at the ground.
Mortimer, ignoring Ivan, replied, “The Eighth’s power is the manipulation of death, you could say. It can cause a large radius of living beings to lose their lives, and not by simply killing them, but by stealing away their soul, it’s believed,” he explained. “Of course, it’s still a bit vague, but that seems to be the case, since the Eighth is also able to steal other Saviors’ powers if they kill them, most likely because our abilities are attached to our souls. That’s also why having them causes us to die in eight years, because our bodies can’t withstand the heavier souls.”
“Someone’s well read,” Ivan muttered. Mortimer shrugged.
“Back in the town I lived in, it was required reading,” he explained.
Ed frowned. “So… the Red Artist used their power to kill all those servants?”
“Most likely, yes.” Mortimer nodded. “Otherwise, I can’t imagine it would’ve been so easy to slaughter an entire mansion of people. The servants would’ve had knowledge on combat, too.”
“I guess we’re unlucky the Eighth’s so powerful this generation.” Ivan sighed, leaning back against a mossy tree trunk. Ed bit his lip and stared at the blanket.
“But… once our abilities appear, it’ll be easy, right?” To kill him?
“You’d better hope so,” Ivan said. He raised an eyebrow. “Of course, one of us here is the Eighth and already has their power, they’re just not saying so.” Ed flinched at the way the other Savior deliberately looked his direction.
“Ivan, your power would be useful,” Mortimer interrupted, much to Ed’s gratitude. “You’d be able to instantly tell who’s lying. That is, if you can control it without assistance and if you’re not lying about it.” The Savior’s eyes were cold
Ivan returned Mortimer’s words with a steady gaze. He smirked. “Lying about being the Truth Teller? Wouldn’t that be ironic?”
Without flinching, Mortimer replied. “Indeed.”
Ed watched the two, head flitting back and forth, but neither seemed intent on speaking. Already the sky was darkening, the forest being filled with the sound of night animals, and Ed decided he’d rather not spend the night in silence. He turned to Mortimer.
“Um… you don’t have to answer if you don’t want to, but well, do you know about the Red Artist?” To Ed’s relief, Mortimer turned to face him.
“What makes you ask that?” he asked.
“Well, you seemed kind of bothered by Lucine, so…”
“Oh, that.” Mortimer shook his head. “No, I haven’t seen any victims until today. I lived on the west coast,” he explained, “so we weren’t affected.”
“By the shore?” Ivan suddenly asked, leaning forward a bit. “Wasn’t that place battling disease or something? I didn’t think there were still people living there.”
“You seem to know a lot about it,” Mortimer pointed out, but answered nonetheless. “Yes, there was a severe bout of illness some decades back. The previous generation of Saviors helped quell it, but the land itself is still infected. We’re almost expecting everyone to contract the disease at some point or another.”
Ed frowned. “Why don’t you just leave?”
Mortimer sighed. “While it would certainly be beneficial, it’d be difficult crossing through the mountains. Besides, it is our home, so it’s hard to leave the town behind.”
“That’s stupid,” Ivan said bluntly. “What’s the point if none of you are alive?”
“Perhaps,” Mortimer said. “My mother said something similar, though she died of the disease before she could convince everyone to leave.”
“Oh.” Ed stared at the thickly woven blanket. “Um, sorry for your loss…”
Mortimer shook his head. “It’s fine. It was the same with my father, actually. Most of us villagers expect to find loved ones dead when we wake up every morning, so we’re used to it. If anything, it’s taught me how much to appreciate living.”
Ivan was silent for a moment. “I suppose that’s why you don’t care about the eight year time limit.”
“I suppose so.”
Ed continued staring at the ground. “Still… that’s terrible.”
“Well,” Mortimer added, “once we can find a way to get off this island, I’d like to return there and help renovate the place. That’s the Saviors’ job, isn’t it?”
“You probably won’t have the time,” Ivan scoffed. “The king’ll probably just make us be guards or something.”
“Perhaps. But, I don’t think it’s bad to think of future plans. What about the two of you?”
Ed looked up. “Huh?”
“I feel like I’ve been talking an awful lot lately,” Mortimer pointed out. “Don’t the two of you have any goals?”
Ed thought about it for a moment, then ducked his head, embarrassed. “Well… I’d like to renovate my town too,” he finally said sheepishly. “Um, we don’t have any disease or anything like that, but it’s really old and a lot of the people are poor, so… I—I’d like to help some.”
Mortimer nodded. “That’s an honorable goal.” The Savior turned towards Ivan. “What about you?”
Ivan narrowed his eyes. “Why does it matter?”
“Creating conversation isn’t terrible,” Mortimer said, “especially between fellow Saviors.” Ivan bit his lip and turned away, back facing the other two.
“Whatever, think about that stuff once you’ve actually killed the Eighth. Anyways, I’m going to sleep. I don’t really care about shifts. The two of you can go run back to the mansion if you don’t trust me, I don’t care.” With that, the thief lay down and refused to move.
Mortimer and Ed exchanged glances, but the two, too, decided to sleep.
For a moment, Mortimer’s eyes drifted back to Ivan’s bag, then to the path in the woods. In the end, he shook his head, though he made sure to stay awake a little longer to listen for anyone approaching. Ed, too, had similar thoughts.
Of course, by the time morning came, all three Saviors were still there, having decided to stay together.
The next morning, the three rose early and continued on the trail, soon reaching the first mansion, which towered above them. It wasn’t quite as colossal as the main mansion was, but still giant in appearance. Vines creeped up the walls and bloomed yellow flowers, twisting about the tall pillars that stood at the gateway entrance. The windows, unlike that of the main mansion, were round and circular, a majority made of stained glass.
Ed instinctively shrunk under the shadow of the home while Mortimer and Ivan made their way up the steps and to the massive gate. Mortimer tried the handle, but it was locked. The Savior frowned.
“I suppose without the servants around, there wouldn’t be any keys,” he said. Ivan, however, was busy rummaging around in his bag. Curious, Ed stepped forward a bit just in time to see the other Savior pull out a long, thin metal tool. Mortimer frowned, but Ivan shrugged.
“What else are we supposed to do?” Then, he carefully inserted the lockpick into the keyhole and began fiddling around with it until a click signified the door had unlocked. Ivan straightened and set the tool back into his bag. “See? Isn’t that useful?”
“I suppose,” Mortimer replied, voice dull. He stepped forward and gripped the handle, but before he could open it, the door moved outward of its own accord. Ed jumped while Ivan instantly stepped backwards, eyes narrowed and hand gripping his bag.
At the doorway, a voice said, “You could’ve knocked, you know.”
Ivan’s eyes turned to slits as the owner of the voice stepped out of the doorway. There stood Lucine, a wide smile on her face, fingers twirling around her black and white umbrella. She grinned. “Or is polite behavior impossible for you?”
“What do you want?” Ivan asked, voice low. Mortimer, too, had taken a step back and was now in front of Ed.
Lucine, however, ignored Ivan’s hostility. “Here I was, wondering where you three had gone off to. Willow and Iris were so worried, too.”
Mortimer’s voice was cold. “Where are those two?”
“Where?” Lucine chuckled. “I don’t know about Iris, but Willow’s still in the mansion. Iris ran off this morning.”
Ivan narrowed his eyes. “What?”
“Yep. When we woke up this morning, it was just Willow and I. I daresay she ran off just like all of you did.”
Mortimer was quiet. “…Judging from your presence here, I assume that means you left too.”
Lucine feigned clapping. “Amazing, what an incredible observation.”
“Ha! Now who’s the coward?” Ivan taunted. Lucine snickered.
“You think I’d run away from the Eighth? I’m in absolutely no danger, I was just bored, is all.”
“Obviously you wouldn’t be in danger, the Eighth wouldn’t attack themself,” Ivan retorted, hand drifting even closer to one of the outer pockets on his bag.
“My, jumping to conclusions now? Well, that’s fine, I don’t really care either way.” Lucine leaned against the doorway, continuing to twirl around her umbrella. Ed found his eyes following the blur of black and white, which was almost hypnotic in a sense. “Might I ask the reason you’ve decided to grace this mansion with your presence?” Lucine continued, eyebrow raised.
“Shelter,” came Ivan’s blunt answer. Lucine chuckled.
“Well, in that case, you’d be better off going somewhere else. This place is occupied, I’m afraid.” The Savior raised a hand and waved.
Mortimer glanced up at the sky. The sun was just now reaching its height, leaving them with a decent amount of time to head over to the next mansion. No, they’d even have enough time to go to the third, his, which Mortimer was sure wouldn’t be occupied. He turned to Ivan. “We could head over to my mansion,” he suggested. Ivan sighed and conceded, turning around and beginning to make his way down the steps, though he kept his hand on his bag.
Behind them, Lucine called, “Oh, right, forgot to mention this, but you really should stop that.” She pointed to the keyhole. “You do realize it destroys the lock, right? It’s really a pain to fix.”
“Of course I know that,” Ivan muttered. When thieving, it made no difference to him if the lock was a little damaged afterwards. If anything, it made his next round easier. Though, that being said, he did have to admit not having locks on the island would be difficult, especially if someone else could further destroy them and enter the mansion where they were hiding in.
Lucine must’ve known what he was thinking, because in the next instance, she threw something small and shiny towards Ed, who jumped and nearly missed, but was able to catch it. The Savior glanced up at Lucine, who was grinning, then back at the object. Holding it up to the sunlight, the metal glistened.
Ivan instantly turned around. “Let me see that,” he demanded, snatching it away.
Squinting, he flipped the key over, eyeing the head, which showed a detailed crest carved in pure gold. As flashes of recognition passed over him, memories of the banners and flags in the mai mansion, he slowly lifted his head towards Lucine, eyes ice.
“This is a servant’s master key.” At this, Mortimer’s eyes widened and he, too, turned to Lucine, who remained nonchalant.
“How did you get this?” Ivan demanded. “The servants should all be dead.”
Lucine sighed. “Isn’t it obvious? I pilfered it off their corpses.”
Ed grimaced, the memory of the cellar drifting back to him as he could practically still smell the stench. He covered his mouth.
Ivan’s hand was now trembling just the slightest.
“Doesn’t that mean you’re admitting you killed them?” he asked, voice shaking.
At this, Lucine laughed. It was a hearty laugh that bounced off the walls and rang through the forest, and it was one that sent chills down Ed’s spine and seemed to freeze the air. Still snickering, she wiped a tear from her eye.
“What a funny idea you’ve got there,” she finally said. “Did it not occur to you I might’ve taken it after the three of you left?”
Ivan pursed his lips. “Yes, but you don’t have any proof of that,” he argued.
“Do you have any proof of your identity?” Lucine pointed out. She nodded directly at Ivan’s bag, eyebrow raised. “I assume you’ve collected quite a bounty for yourself, despite it already belonging to the Saviors. What do you call that behavior besides suspicious?”
Ivan flinched and pushed the bag aside. “Why does everyone keep noticing?” he muttered.
“Because it’s obvious.” Before Ivan could retort, Lucine stepped back from the doorway. “Well, it’s certainly true I can’t prove the origins of that key, you’ll have to decide for yourself. Though,” she added, eyes amused, “I sincerely doubt either option will do much to improve your opinion of me.” She chuckled. “Not that I care, either way.”
Mortimer stared at the key, still tightly gripped in Ivan’s hand, then back to Lucine. His voice was cold. “Do you expect us to thank you?”
“Of course not, I didn’t give that to you to be thanked.”
Ed furrowed his brow. “Then… why?”
Lucine smiled. “Because it’ll be more amusing! Wouldn’t it be dull if all of you were killed without a fight? In the very least, I’d like to see your powers manifest for myself before all of you die.”
Ed flinched and Ivan glared at Lucine, shoving the key into his pocket and turning to leave.
As the trio departed, Lucine called from behind them.
“It probably doesn’t mean much at this point, but I should let you know that I’ve never killed anyone.”
Ignoring her voice, the three slipped back into the cover of the forest, leaving the mansion behind them and heading further into the woods towards the next towering monument.
The three were silent as they continued on their travels, only speaking once when Mortimer suggested they head to his mansion next, in case Fay was also occupying hers. Ed’s memory floated back to the footprints and he couldn’t help but wonder whether the Savior had managed to find Echo. Ivan didn’t respond, only giving a terse nod as he pushed one of the tree branches aside.
Despite Mortimer’s earlier prediction, travel was far slower than he’d imagined, the forest growing far denser as they moved further in. Eventually, they had to stop as Ed was struggling to keep up, beads of sweat trickling down his forehead.
“Sorry,” he muttered, head bowed. Mortimer shook his head.
“It’s fine, the sun was beginning to set anyway. I was feeling a bit tired myself.” Mortimer glanced at Ivan, who was sitting some distance away from them and hadn’t spoken a word. Usually he’d berate Ed for his low stamina, but today, he was oddly silent. Mortimer sighed and decided against questioning him. After all, he, too, was feeling weary, their previous encounter having drained him.
Ivan had packed some food from the kitchens and Mortimer had brought some dried goods in his bag, so the three ate while watching the sun sink below the distant mountains.
For a while, the trio focused on filling their stomachs, though Ed found that much of the food was difficult to swallow, despite being every bit as good as it had been back in the mansion. He finished quickly, though Mortimer gave him some concerned glances which he shook his head to.
“I’m just not hungry,” he explained. Mortimer didn’t seem completely satisfied, but accepted it and continued picking away at his own loaf of bread.
Ed glanced over at the dark woods, their appearance reminiscent of when he first arrived to the island. Squinting, he closed his eyes and once again tried to remember who it was that had attacked him that night.
There had been the storm, the twig snapping, the golden glow and then…
The Savior shook his head. No matter what he did, the remaining chunks were mere fogs, impossible to distinguish. It was a feeling familiar to him, the same sensation he had whenever he tried to recall his parents or his early years. Whenever he did, a sharp pain would replace them and he’d be forced to give up.
Mortimer and Ivan had finished eating, too, and were also staring at the woods, eyes observing every tree and shadow.
Then, a rustle made the three jump. Ed froze.
Slowly, the shaking Savior turned towards the direction Mortimer and Ivan were facing, staring into a deep patch of shadowy trees. Ivan’s hand was already moving towards his bag and Mortimer silently shifted position to behind a tree trunk, grabbing Ed along the way and pulling the two behind cover.
Another twig snapped.
Ed swallowed as the branches began to part, a Savior’s golden glowing eye lighting up the person’s face long before she stepped out of the trees.
It was Iris. She didn’t seem surprised to find the three, but didn’t seem to bear any signs of hostility, either. Instead, her expression was more like one of… relief. “I’ve finally found you,” the Savior said, sighing. Ivan’s eyes narrowed.
“What do you want?”
Iris returned the Savior’s glare with remarkable calmness, not flinching in the slightest. She turned to the three of them, voice clear.
“There’s something I need to tell you.”