Since the group no longer had a prisoner to test the path ahead, nor a tank, DicingDevil decided to turn back towards the entrance of the mansion. Some loud, screeching noises had begun to emerge from deeper in the building, and exploring further seemed unsafe as evening approached.
"Let's check out the lock downstairs again, then leave and check if there are any quests up North," DicingDevil told the group. "But first, make sure you've gathered everything from here."
After the ghostly female had died, the door she had approached from was now unlocked. It contained a room full of medallions and trophies, probably given to Graceus during the war, as well as a few old statues and antiques belonging to the family. These had been divided evenly among the group. While nothing seemed to be left, Akshel and Starfighter carefully combed the edges of the room to make sure that nothing had been missed.
From killing the female, Crucis received a few expensive pieces of [Violet Fabric] and [Black Silk], a [White Dreamcatcher] which resembled a few items Crucis had seen for sale in the village, as well as a trinket named [Will 'O Wisp Trinket]. While the spiderweb-like dreamcatcher's fragile white strands were woven together simply, in a way resembling the traditional designs cultivated in the village nearby, the fabrics she had dropped were expensive and belonged more to the decadent grandiloquence of this mansion. However, the trinket had no description, and did not have a selling price listed.
Since it had no description, Crucis drew out this mysterious trinket to take a look at it. However, as he took it out of his inventory, he suddenly felt a strong force pushing downwards across his shoulders. As he looked up, he saw the small room above him, and he seemed to be falling through the floor. The rest of the group seemed to be standing tall like colossi around him, while he almost felt suffocated by the surge of pressure pushing him under the floorboards.
However, he remembered a similar experience from using the [Hierophant Card] to project out of his body. As such, he quickly tested if he was able shift the floorboards around him, or hit them to make a sound. Nothing happened when he tried to do this, and his hands seemed to melt away from the floorboards as the pressure forced him down. He guessed that he wasn't actually here, and it was an illusion induced by the trinket.
He eased the trinket back into his inventory, since it had only been withdrawn by a few inches, and found himself back on his feet. The rest of the group had seemingly not noticed anything out of the ordinary. While he was unsure what exactly this trinket would be useful for, its effect was powerful enough that he decided it would be worth keeping around. At the least, it might have potential as a deceptive gift to give someone in order to temporarily incapacitate them before attacking them. It took him a minute to recover his bearings, and he followed the rest of the group downstairs across the dimly-lit stairways.
As they reached the ground floor, the sound of screeching from deep in the building began to fade into the distance. Instead, the sound of the wind outside, and the occasional bird or bat flying nearby, punctuated the silence of the building's entrance hall.
The players veered into the living room again, where Akshel quickly relocated the keyhole. DicingDevil and Starfighter shoved the bookcase aside, and the rest of the group gathered to inspect the locked, white door. It blended in almost seamlessly with the white walls of the living room, only distinguishable by the keyhole and paper-thin gaps on each side of the door. Akshel quickly shoved at the door to test it, causing it to creak slightly, but it was clearly locked.
"Alright, we'll still need a key for this one," DicingDevil said. "Crucis, you wanted to try one?"
"Yes. By the way, were Graceus' Eastern wars fought at around the same place as Ganféan's former territory?"
"Yes," Grisier replied. "We found a book about that in the library, it had a map showing that Ganféan's former territory was known as 'Lenegad' at the time. Graceus' medals mention that he fought there. There wasn't much left in the library, just a few old reference books hidden in rubble which nobody had seemingly cared to steal."
"I see. Well, anyway."
Crucis drew out one of Satan's keys of life from his inventory, and placed it into the keyhole. It fit in exactly, and as he turned it the door clicked open. However, the key seemed to get stuck in the lock, and couldn't be removed. As Akshel drew the door back, another door with an identical keyhole appeared behind it.
Crucis shrugged, and used another key of life to open this door. As this door opened, the key fell out of the first door he had opened, and he quickly crouched down to pick that up.
As the second door swung open, it revealed a dark hallway lit only through a tiny hole in the roof. The faint light flickered across the room like a candlelight, and dimly revealed a hint of paintings and desks around the edge of the room.
As Crucis entered the room, behind DicingDevil, he felt his steps cushioned by a soft floor beneath his feet. Inspecting the ground, he found that it was covered by a dense, white carpet, which was fastened to the floor and difficult to remove. The rest of the group filtered into the room, and also seemed surprised by this.
"Oi, we're in the lap of luxury now, aren't we?" Akshel said light-heartedly.
"Did anyone see a person moving further down the hallway?" Danemy asked nervously.
"There doesn't seem to be anything there," Grisier replied. "Anyone want to check?"
Crucis and DicingDevil walked cautiously forwards across the hallway, but did not see anyone nearby. However, as they approached a corridor towards the left, Crucis was startled by a pair of what looked like glowing, red eyes staring from the right side and a claw-like shadow looming over him. He quickly drew his sword and stepped away, but as he looked in the direction of the red eyes they had disappeared. He saw that DicingDevil had also drawn his sword in alarm.
"Was there someone there?" DicingDevil asked. "It looks empty."
"Doesn't look like it," Crucis replied. "Wait, let me have a look."
Crucis carefully scanned the ground for shadows, and quickly identified the claw-like shadow which he had seen earlier. Following the path of this shadow, he felt along the shadowy wall until his hand touched a firm, metallic surface. Inspecting further, he found that this was a fragment from the front of a helmet, containing the eyeholes and a small part of the nose. It had seemingly broken off when the original helmet had been shattered somehow, and still had slightly jagged edges across the side from when the helmet had broken. He avoided touching these edges, but noticed that they were casting the claw-like shadow.
"There's some sort of helmet hung on the wall here," Crucis said.
DicingDevil summoned Grisier over.
In the dim light summoned by Grisier's [Conjure Light], the group could make out a few fragments of a suit of armour hung on hooks across the wall, with some fragments from the arm and legs hung beneath the helmet. There was no sign of anything glowing which might have produced the apparition of red eyes. The helmet's eyeholes were empty, and there was nothing behind it.
"Strange, did you see anything glowing from this direction?" Crucis asked DicingDevil.
"Yes, some burning orbs or something? There seemed to be some sudden movement, it was strange," came the reply.
"I see. There doesn't seem to be anything in that direction which glows, and even when Grisier shines his light on it I don't see much red. The armour's all grey."
DicingDevil shrugged. "Well, there's ghosts upstairs, we should be careful around here."
As Crucis walked towards the corridor on the left, he almost tripped over a desk leg hidden in the dark. As he propped himself against the wall, he placed one hand on top of this desk to stabilise himself. He felt a piece of paper beneath his hand.
As Grisier approached, Crucis managed to decipher some of the writing on this paper, written in thick, dark-blue ink:
"Why would you say something like that? You know I have a reputation to look to. You can't just malign my fidelity and temperament, don't you know what people will say when rumours spread? YOU CAN'T AND WON'T. Understood? Meet me at the, um, 'aquarium room' as Graceus calls it, the one with the fishes and pool. You'd know it. I'll give you a favour if you are compliant — but if you're not, then... ah, I doubt you'd be so stubborn for long, so why discuss it? Don't tell ANYONE about the meeting. We will discuss why you chose to spread GOSSIP and RUMOURS about a young lady in an honourable household, and see if we can come to an agreement and undo any damage done! YOUR CO-OPERATION IS APPRECIATED.
It seemed to be written by a young, slightly hysterical female.
"This is the strangest version of the Navy Seal copypasta I have ever read," Crucis said.
DicingDevil and Starfighter chuckled quietly, recognising the old reference.
"Yes, quite. Can you make out any of the rest?" DicingDevil said.
"No, the ink has flooded down across the bottom of the page, by now it's just a large ink-blot. I guess it could be useful as a Rorschach test, but other than that it's indecipherable."
"I see. It's seemingly written by a youngish lady, maybe the one who we saw a ghost of upstairs? She looked fairly young, maybe early 20s? Though she has probably been dead for decades. This letter mentions 'Graceus,' so it's likely."
"Any idea where this 'aquarium room' would be?"
"No idea, it would be difficult to tell by now since the fish are probably long gone. We did see a room near the library with what looked like a few large holes in the floor, maybe those were pools once. It was deeper on that floor, though, so when we heard a screeching sound from that general direction we didn't look any further," Grisier said.
"Not unreasonable. By the way, I think I might have found the name of the person this was addressed to," Crucis said, scraping away some thick dust and congealed ink from the top of the piece of paper. "It says, 'Dear Afraim Dasair,' does that ring a bell?"
"The Dasairs were a less powerful noble family," Grisier said. "I don't know how to pronounce their name exactly, I notice that you and Starfighter have picked up on some local pronunciation but I don't know much about it. Anyway, they were listed in the library as one of the smaller noble families of this Kingdom at the time, but the book was in disrepair so I didn't get much more information."
"That's already interesting. From the sound of it, Dasair had been spreading 'rumours' of this lady's infidelity. From her offer of a private meeting, it sounds like she was close to this Afraim — perhaps she had cheated on Graceus with him and others, and he had let the word out?"
"She didn't seem that faithful, from what we saw of her ghost," DicingDevil smirked.
"Quite true. Graceus also had a high reputation during the war, and seemingly kept all of his awards carefully, so reputation seems to have been quite important to these people."
Akshel had been rummaging through a few small drawers on the side of the room, and stood up holding a small wooden doll painted with dark, black hair and traces of white skin across the rest of its body. Most of the paint had peeled off by now, so Crucis couldn't make out her face. Akshel shook the doll slightly, and heard a harsh, rasping metallic noise from inside the doll. Crucis noticed some glitter fall off the doll as it was shook.
"There's something inside this," Akshel said.
"There's a gap where its eyes would be, can we shine a light down there?" Crucis said.
Grisier walked up and carefully shone his light towards the doll's eyes. Crucis squinted as he looked through the small holes, and Akshel shook the doll slightly so that Crucis could make out the shape inside the doll.
"Looks like a rusty nail," Crucis said. "A bit like the one Ganféan used in our fight with him."
The rest of the group also had a look, and mostly nodded.
"Yeah, does look like a nail. Also sounds like one," Akshel said, shaking the doll in order to make the sharp, metallic rasp of the nail inside clearer.
"Having a nail inside like that, this doll must be itching like a man in a fuzzy tree," Crucis remarked.
The doll was glimmering faintly in Grisier's light, so Akshel collected some glitter in his palm and showed it to the others.
"This glitter is a bit cold, it feels like ice," he said.
"Yes," Crucis said, checking on some of the glitter that had fallen onto the table. "It also evaporates quickly under pressure."
Akshel pressed the glitter with a finger, and saw it evaporate into a faint, white vapour before disappearing. "Yep, it does. Anyway, not sure what to make of this doll, but I don't think there's much more to see of it. Is there anything down the corridor?"
Akshel walked towards the leftwards corridor, and Crucis joined him. However, as they neared the entrance of the corridor, they heard a wild, distressed screech emerge from it. This lasted for five seconds before dying down. As they cautiously stepped forwards, checking carefully for any signs of motion, they found that the corridor was in fact empty, and led to a dead end.
"What was that noise? There's nothing here," Akshel murmured.
"Probably the ghost of a dead black metal vocalist," Crucis replied. He knocked quietly on the elegant, white walls. "The wall on the left here seems to be quite thin, it feels like there's some sort of painting behind it. There's a slight thud when you push on it."
Akshel tested this. "Yeah, maybe there's a way to enter there from elsewhere in the room?"
"Sure, let's tell Dicing."
After they told DicingDevil that there might be another room to the left, he instructed the group to look closely at the left side of the room for any hidden doors.
Soon, they stumbled on a small sculpture near the entrance to the room, concealed behind a small curtain. It depicted a male whose face was seemingly covered with an etched map of the surrounding area, lacking any facial features like eyes or a mouth. There were soft traces of blue paint which marked bodies of water, but by now most of this paint was fading and what remained looked like faint blue ink which has lightly dripped onto blotting paper.
The map seemed to stretch East until the Kingdom of Lenegad, and had a pair of clashing swords drawn at the borders of this Kingdom to represent the war which it was probably contemporaneous with.
On a small bronze plate beneath the sculpture, some words were written in cursive: 'A hero has a glorious destiny, not a face.'
"A hero has no face? Not a very uplifting message," Akshel remarked.
"Well, the players from Kruxol were heroes fighting against DeathGang, and now many of them are without faces or other body parts," DicingDevil said.
"A hero isn't a private figure, they are a public emblem," Crucis said. "They symbolise a society's vision of bravery and strength against adversity. In this way they are useful to the society, as an emblem and source of hope. But as for themselves, nobody cares. They are more like a situation than a person."
"Then heroes should thank villains, because otherwise they wouldn't have adversity to fight," DicingDevil smiled.
"Indeed. But they are fickle people, and will exalt suspense, drama, tension, and conflict, while hating the villain who has caused all of this."
"By the way, according to Darys, a few players in Kruxol are gathering a small following as 'war heroes,' with far-fetched tales of battles and escapes. Seemingly they're power-seeking Fountain members looking to take advantage of the power vacuum left after the death of their leader. Darys recognised one as a deserter from the North."
"A power struggle in Fountain could be advantageous, since it may lead to in-fighting. However, the danger is that 'war veterans' might start to push for renewed efforts against DeathGang. Simply contradicting the heroes' tales, or saying that they are false, might not do much. People will probably ignore it, since they care more about the personal feelings of inspiration and hope inspired by the heroic stories than the veracity of these. But the upside is that these 'heroes' probably mostly just tell simple, lowest-common-denominator stories of bravery that resonate with the desperate townsfolk. If your Guild uses alts to trick some of their audience into getting over-ambitious and voyaging out under the inspiration of these heroes, then kills them off, it could easily make the heroes' audience more sceptical of warmongering rhetoric. The heroes will shift as their audience does, and might still cause Fountain infighting but will be less likely to annoy DeathGang."
"We were already using alts to infiltrate some of these upstart communities, luring some out and having them killed sounds like a decent plan. The bigger players mostly want out of Kruxol, according to our spies, so if we can curb the enthusiasm of their smaller players then the rest will just leave rather than fighting. The Hashin leader is also conciliatory, apparently the Hashin are a bit decentralised and some groups decided to have a go at DeathGang. So hopefully most threats should be neutralised for the moment, and once Darys unlocks the Invasion feature we can take Kruxol for the moment. With the benefits from that, we might be able to take Kaxil as well."
"Yes. If the Hashin are too divided and unstructured, then that might also hamper them. A lot of the other Guilds' big players are rushing Westwards along the main questline, if possible, but since most high-level players are in that area it will be difficult for one Guild to hold territory uncontested."
Although Crucis did see DeathGang as likely to fend off opposition for the time being, over time their territorial ways could limit their growth. Staying in one area and consolidating would be effective in the short term, and they could make occasional ventures to the East and North for higher-level content. However, they would still miss out on several opportunities to access content and facilities towards the West. While their members' focus was immediate survival, and securing territory was an effective way to do that, over time they might experience issues as larger Guilds double back and try to head to the lands East of Kruxol.
There was an exclamation of surprise from behind them, as Grisier's light revealed two large paintings along the left wall of the room. The first painting displayed the faded figure of a black-haired woman sitting in a stately pose. Rough holes were torn across the canvas, revealing a dark red, rusted iron frame beneath it. The woman's face had no clear features remaining, only a few grey smudges which seemed to indicate the position of the eyes and mouth. The paint on her hands had peeled away, to leave skeletal, black-and-beige claws instead.
"What's wrong, Danemy?" DicingDevil asked.
"Ehm, sorry," Danemy said, folding his right arm behind his head, "the painting on the left, the female, looked like she had bright red eyes and was lurching forwards. Must have been some sort of optical illusion."
"That's... interesting. Me and Crucis saw something similar with the suit of armour down the hall. I'm not sure why, surely if there was a ghost then they would attack us rather than just lunging and vanishing?"
"It's a bit like the ghost that showed up in that wooden door in Ganféan's castle, during the séance," Crucis said, "If I recall correctly, it was while we were fighting Dexia. It kept reaching out, but seemingly never attacked. At the same time, we couldn't do anything to it. Maybe we're just seeing things, but it's possible that there's something here. If it actually appears, we should probably leave."
"That sounds reasonable. Anyway, do we know who this painting is of?"
"There was some text under it, but it's illegible by now," Akshel said, frustratedly trying to make out the writing on the bottom of the rusted frame.
"I see. Well, she looks a bit older and more formal than the female we fought upstairs, but it's difficult to tell. Her silhouette seems to be fairly broad and has a firm upright posture, but that might just be her clothing, we can't tell because the paint has faded. The silhouette is slightly frilly, so it might have been a large dress or whatever."
"Good point. I mean, that girl wasn't very lady-like, but according to her letter she was expected to be? This painting seems a bit more like some idealised aristocratic lady, maybe the posture is a bit exaggerated to flatter the rich family, the, um, Es..."
"Esyu?" Grisier interjected.
"Yeah, there we go, the Esyus."
"This other painting is also quite interesting," Danemy said from the right side.
The group moved to look at the second painting. It portrayed a young male surrounded by a white glow, whose face resembled Graceus Esyu. He was exploring a forest, and held a sword tightly by his side.
In the dark room, the corners of the painting were difficult to make out, filled with depictions of murky, thick greenery. After some investigation, Crucis found that the top-left corner was filled with a dense array of overlapping black lines resembling a cobweb, between the branches of a tree, and enveloped in this cobweb was the scaly, dark-grey head of a dragon leering at the man in the centre of the painting. The dragon's eyes were a faded, light yellow by now, almost white in some places. The dragon's face had contorted into a large, open-mouthed roar.
Beneath the painting was some text, but the only part still legible said, 'Also in this place'.
"This looks like Graceus," Akshel said.
"Yes, but now portrayed as an archetypal, adventuring hero," Crucis said.
"Indeed, there's also a dragon," Grisier said. "But it's not the typical one, its face is really twisted when it's roaring, it's hard to make out its actual appearance due to that. It's moving so intensely that it's not clear what it would look like if it was still."
"Quite. But that makes it look almost alien, and quite fearsome. Almost makes up for it being consigned to the corner."
"There's a crown on the ground, towards the left side of the painting," Starfighter said, looking closely. A crown was painted lying on the lush, forest grass, but by now its golden paint had faded into a silver-white that could easily be missed among the frequent hints of white canvas among the peeling, thick paint of the grass.
"That's also the direction of the dragon," Akshel replied. "The man has his sword out, maybe he has to fight the dragon to find glory?"
"I doubt he'd win," DicingDevil said.
"Quite. Anyway, it does look a bit like what the letters upstairs said, Graceus was forced to fight in the wars in order to secure glory, and improve the family's standing. But maybe the war had unseen costs which he didn't realise. Incidentally, there's a room behind this wall, and this painting portrays a journey. Could there be an entrance behind the painting? I see a small metal latch behind it."
"Well, let's have a look. But be careful," DicingDevil said.
He joined Starfighter in carefully tilting the painting upwards and to the right side, revealing a small, round iron door behind it. This was rusty enough that Akshel managed to simply kick it down.
Behind this iron door was a musty wooden room, with a large desk in its centre.
Grisier walked through the door, but stopped cold as he reached the room. Crucis followed him with curiosity.
On the other side of the room was a collection of old, scratched and tattered paintings thrown together in a heap. They depicted all sorts of debauchery and disease, from a scene of a feast with revellers taking turns at sex with a white, stocky woman pinned to the table by a stake, to a funeral where the attendees were cutting up the corpse to try and transplant its parts onto their own bodies. In the funerary painting, the man in a black suit giving a eulogy seemed to be gesturing with a red-tinged arm that was taken from the corpse and fastened onto his body awkwardly.
"The missing link between 120 Days of Sodom and anime?" Crucis quipped.
"There's even a painting with tentacles, it looks like," DicingDevil replied.
"I'm not sure those are tentacles, it looks like someone is growing a tree inside a woman, and the branches are growing through her insides," Starfighter said, walking closer to inspect the paintings. "Sounds like a case for Francis York Morgan."
"So what are these paintings?"
"From what I can see, many of these paintings have small titles below them, mentioning the Esyu family. Also some names of Esyu family members, maybe earlier ones?"
"Let's check, there's a book on this desk which lists the names of many generations of the Esyu," Grisier said, walking up to a book on the desk which had a damaged spine. "Some pages are missing, but here's a few names from the second page of the list, so some of the earliest members documented. Invid, Charseus, Miffol, Ghezel, Enaxi..."
"Yes, there's a couple of those here," Starfighter said. "The feast with the woman on the table is called 'The Feast of Charseus Esyu,' and the one with the tree in the woman is named 'The Rape of Ghezel.' These seem to be scenes from the early Esyus."
"Yes, it says that a few of these females were captives or slaves. Ghezel was apparently a captive from Kaxil, which at the time was a merchant village ransacked by the upstart kingdoms nearby. She was captured by an Esyu named Efrem Esyu, so perhaps he planted the tree."
Crucis walked up to investigate a painting depicting a man hanging himself while staring transfixed into a mirror. In the mirror was a pale, white orb with a pair of frail, white wings emanating from each of its sides, sending a chilling glow across the man's room. This painting was reminiscent of the mirror used for summoning in Ganféan's court. Beneath it was written, 'The mania of Olved Esyu.' Next to this was a cracked painting of a dead married couple lying in bed, whose faces were barely visible. They were both covered in bruises and scorch-marks, for no clearly discernable reason. Crucis wondered if this was somehow related to Otxi, the deceptive fire spirit.
"There's a few letters here, most aren't in English," Grisier said, scouring over the letters. "There's one to Graceus, though, it says, 'It is fine that you have brought a mistress from the war, but her conduct is improper. She is too favourable towards other men, and spends too much time mingling with the tribal people in the forest outside. Elara must become more refined, to fit into the Esyu. Look at your cousin, Amalen, her soft voice and her etiquette are worlds away from Elara's coarse ways. If you hadn't spent so long among rough-talking soldiers, then I doubt you'd even give Elara the time of day! But I'm sure your good upbringing will shine through. For now, please talk with her about her wanton manners.' I can't find an Elara Esyu listed in book of names, it says that Graceus was married to a young girl named Amalen, who was apparently his cousin."
"There's a gravestone here with the name 'Amalen,' buried under these paintings," Starfighter said. "It has a small painting embedded in it, but of a young brunette girl with curly hair, around 12 years old, not that much like the girl we saw upstairs. It says it's from the year '875,' but probably according to some local system, so that could mean anything. I'm not sure why they'd hide a gravestone here, I don't see any others."
"Yes, but this painting shows 'Amalen,' and it looks just like the ghost," Akshel replied from the right side of the room. "It's marked as being from the year '877,' so maybe a short time after the gravestone."
He pointed to a cracked painting behind the wall, of a pale young woman with straight black hair. She looked very similar to the ghost from upstairs, but here she was painted with an exaggeratedly straight posture, and with broader shoulders. Scanning the painting carefully, Crucis noticed that she was holding a bouquet of white and violet flowers carefully to her left side, with the text, 'To E, from G,' embroidered on a grey piece of silk wrapped around it.
"Wait, 'G' is Graceus, but why is she called 'E'?" Crucis remarked. "Wasn't his earlier mistress named Elara? It's a bit speculative, but maybe the hidden gravestone is because Amalen died young, but her death was somehow covered up and she was replaced by Elara? It would explain the disparity in the paintings of 'Amalen' as well."
"I guess that's possible, from the look of these paintings it would hardly be the strangest thing to happen to the Esyus," DicingDevil replied. "Since Amalen died that young, it was probably easier to switch her appearance."
"At least they didn't transplant her body onto theirs. At least, I hope not," Grisier said.
"These Esyus have quite a dour history, huh?" DicingDevil remarked.
"They have their own House of Atreus," Crucis replied.
"Not surprised that they kept all of this hidden," Akshel said. "We should check if there's anything behind it."
Akshel crept past the heap of paintings, and a few damaged sculptures next to them, to check on the back wall. After a few minutes, he found a panel which could be slid to the right, but it was partially jammed. The rest of the group joined him to help, and eventually they pushed the panel to the right.
This revealed a large, glass window behind it, displaying the familiar scene of the grass and trees outside this mansion. A few bats flitted between the trees, as the pale sunlight faded. To the side, some tufts of grass were still pressed down from when the group had walked towards the building.
This still scene was interrupted by the loud sound of a horse neighing. Soon, a large, wooden carriage had come into view, travelling across a flat path towards the North. It was drawn by two exhausted black horses, and its wheels loudly grated against the mud.
"Where did that come from? I didn't hear it approaching, but it looks like it came from the South," DicingDevil said uneasily.
"Yeah, not sure. No sign of it until we opened this window," Akshel replied.
Looking closer, Crucis saw that the wheels of the carriage had broken spokes, which were bent sharply at their centre. Strangely, the carriage seemed to progress effortlessly even with these crooked spokes. He could just about make out the driver, an old, black-bearded man with glassy eyes sitting at the front, but most of the driver's body was hidden since the carriage was moving away. It was impossible to tell if there was someone sitting inside the carriage, behind the red, gold-embroidered curtain across the door.