No one could have imagined all that was eaten that day.
Claire was fuller than she had been for a long time. Everyone was looking forward to this meal. Except for Léonard. He couldn't taste anything. No matter if it was deep-fried duck or cheese-filled noodle creations. His senses stuck to his plan. Kapellen Castle was not going to be an amusement, but a serious affair.
He had not been nervous for a long time. Nevertheless, he remained lost in thought. What should he do if he was wrong? He had to trust. In the middle of the ballroom, among all the other guests, he had to agree when someone spoke to him. He didn't get a word in edgewise, just like Karoline, who had silently but contentedly emptied her plate.
"Where do we go now?"
Emma was highly motivated.
"To the pleasure garden. We haven't been there yet," Claire suggested.
"What's so special about that?" interjected Stephan.
"It will give us fresh air," Léonard said.
"Where's the dessert?"
Léonard laughed. Emma giggled and Claire looked at Stephan in confusion. Was he actually still hungry? Only his sister jumped to his side.
"There has to be dessert at a feast."
"Later. After all, the last ones are just coming to the buffet now," said Léonard, "Although there was no starter either."
"At the front there was soup, watermelon, and such funny beans!" Emma pointed out.
Claire could not withstand the discussion.
She excused herself and went to the toilet.
She leaned over the pale pink basin and looked at herself in the mirror. For a brief moment she felt nausea rising.
Have I eaten too much? Or drunk too much? What is wrong with me?
"Are you not well?"
It was the woman who had bumped into Claire in Theophilus' shop. Her reflection was terrifying. The glaring green eyes made her flinch and forget her name. This must be how Emma felt when Claire let her eyes wander.
"It's all right."
"We saw each other yesterday, didn't we? In that shop on the promenade."
"Yes. Claire is my name," she murmured.
"Pleased to meet you. Céline is my name," she introduced herself, "You look young. Is it your first party?"
She nodded. Céline smiled. Claire was already feeling better. Maybe because she was distracted. She kindly pushed her aside to wash her hands.
"Are you staying long in Kapellengarten?"
"I'm going back tomorrow. I´m from Regenschloss-"
Claire's breath caught in her throat.
She was shocked at her own stupidity. She was never allowed to say abroad where she came from. The enemy was them. All of them. She wished now that Céline did not know where it was. At the same time, it occurred to her that surely, they had already heard of Regenschloss in connection with the tar pit. Then everything became clear.
She is the wife of the Imperial Territory Leader!
"Really? I'm from Diekathedral."
Claire nodded gently.
"You rarely meet people from the Empire," Céline continued, "It's because of our charisma."
She laughed out loud. Claire tried to giggle and agreed with her. She felt uncomfortable.
"But I won't keep you any longer, Claire, my husband is waiting for me. Goodbye."
The creepy woman elegantly left the room. Claire, meanwhile, froze to stone. Her eyes could fall out of their sockets with every breath, she continued what she could not finish.
She stood in vain in front of the mirror and returned to the table after long minutes of waiting. There were three missing: Léonard, Karoline, and Stephan.
"Where are the others?"
"Léonard went out for a breath of fresh air. Beforehand an argument started between him and Karoline. I don't know why," Emma explained meekly.
"And you just sit here?"
"To wait for you!"
"Come on, let's go outside!”
Léonard was alone on one of the park benches in front of the Great Garden. He was enjoying the quiet. Most of the guests were dining. The sun was shining on him. Screeching, Emma ran towards him and fell to the ground just in front of him. Claire tried to suppress a smile.
"Did something happen?" he asked calmly, helping her up.
"What was going on just now? Why were you arguing?"
Emma sat down next to him and made a worried expression.
"Nothing at all."
"Karoline has been so quiet since yesterday. Even in Weymouth she suddenly became reserved and cold."
Claire strode up to them and looked at a hawk or a buzzard making its rounds above the only castle tower. She knew, unlike her friend, that it might have something to do with his plan.
"What's the big deal? You see, Karoline doesn't talk to me."
"And Stephan?" Emma probed further, "where are they anyway?"
"What do I know?" he croaked, annoyed.
"I've never seen you so curt."
Léonard smiled at Claire.
"Honestly? I am as cool as a cucumber. Look at me, sitting relaxed and keeping my composure. The two of them lost themselves in one of the gardens. It doesn't matter now."
He crushed the cigarette with his fingers and threw it on the ground. Stamping, he hid it under dust and gravel.
"Come out of your pessimism," he laughed with all his heart, "I hear there's bombe glacée for dessert. That's cause for celebration."
He treated himself to a new cigarette.
Claire didn't say a word. Emma didn't want to beat about the bush either. They did not open their mouths anymore.
"Now we can go to dessert," Léonard said, glancing at his pocket watch after nobody spoke to him while he smoked.
"A great idea!" enthused Emma blankly.
Anxious to see if the du Murnaux should wait in the banquet hall, Léonard could hardly wait for the day to be over. Unfortunately, he was momentarily disappointed. There was no sign of them anywhere.
The cooks brought perhaps a hundred bombe glacée to those present. It was a fantastic panorama to spot people among all the hills. With freshly emptied stomachs, they wanted to bite into the dessert.
With new hiccups and a stomachache, Claire condemned her friend, who plastered more than she would have liked. Emma visibly enjoyed the champagne that Léonard had ordered. She didn't even feel sick.
"Where are Karoline and Stephan?" asked Emma after a while.
"They must be here somewhere. They just don't want to talk to me."
"You don't tell us why. Does it have something to do with yesterday? Or with this strange book of the Reds? You haven't talked about it for a long time."
He gave her a suspicious look.
"Everything is fine. We'll go and look for them in a minute."
She clung to his left arm. Yawning, she said that there was no need to look for them because they would come back eventually.
Claire smirked at him. He returned it with an exhilarating grin. Emma's hiccup came in response.
Claire was on her way to the toilet again. With all her internal organs spinning as if in a merry-go-round, she slumped in the meantime in the deserted corridor. With the pain subsiding, she couldn't help but bend over the sink.
Black dots floated around the room as she sat on the edge of the toilet seat. She felt better. But her body was exhausted. She could not control her shaking hands and legs. She had been glad that no one was present when she cleaned the basin, now she had to sneak out of the bath.
With embarrassing care, she slipped into the ballroom. She was overcome by déjà vu.
Emma was alone. She greeted her return with rapturous applause. Yet Claire did not want to attract attention.
"Is he out?"
"No. He wants to steal the Book of the Reds," Emma grinned.
"You're obviously tipsy," Claire smiled at her friend, "I wonder if he planned all this."
Summoning a waiter was easy; so was choking the water.
Claire was a little disgusted by Léonard's departure.
This heartless, deceitful escape was worse than anything else. He left Emma behind. She could not do the same, even though she would have liked to look for him.
"Are you feeling better?" she asked after a while.
"I'm tired," she huffed, "Where's Léonard?"
"He went outside for a moment," she lied, "Have another drink."
Her friend almost knocked over the glass as she eagerly pulled out a napkin. Claire did not take it.
"What am I supposed to do with that?"
Immediately she snatched the paper from her. Someone had left a message with a green fountain pen.
"It's for you,” Emma added.
Come to the library on the second floor in half an hour. Léonard.
Underneath was a small, spidery sketch with directions.
"Did he leave you a message, too?"
"No. He told me to give it to you. He wrote very hastily because a man had waved at him from the door. “
"Do you know who he was?" asked Claire.
"I don't know. He looked like a big kid," Emma coughed calmly.
Claire took a few deep breaths in and out until she came to a decision.
"Sit here for a moment, I'll go out and look for Karoline and Stephan."
Before she could leave for him, Claire wanted to find the siblings. Wherever they were, they were not with him. Did they abandon him? They had to look after Emma while Claire went to the library.
Something sinister was in the air. It was the coming, fierce danger.
We came along to help him. Aren't we just an alibi? But what about Karoline and Stephan? And who is this Murrhardt? Is he perhaps behind everything and says what Léonard has to do?
No. He does not act on orders from others. He is independent.
Why are you giving me such a hard time?
Ten minutes before the meeting, she almost fell in front of Céline, who helped her up. It must have been luck that she was just at the gate and able to answer Claire's question. She had spotted the two people described by the parking spaces.
A quiet foreboding covered her ability to act. With awkward steps, she ran to Léonard's car. It was still standing there. But there was no one far and wide. A note hung under the windscreen wipers.
We're going back. There's no reason to be on your side anymore, Léonard. After what you have done, there is no way to excuse this.
"Léonard, what have you done? They can't have left!"
The unimaginable became possible. Claire had no idea what to do. She felt everything falling back on her. They had both left Kapellen Castle a long time ago and were on their way to the hotel on foot. She could hardly imagine what a march that must be for both of them.
"I have to go!"
But it should be so beautiful here. I can't see a thing! Everything is so glassy and fragile. If that was his plan, he's too hectic with everything. Does he want to do it alone? But why? Why all these wanton actions? Why don't I understand him?
There were no controls. Nowhere did she encounter any servants or guests. Only at the entrance were there any, while the majority remained in the dining room.
A quick glance at Emma was enough for her. Her head was lying on the table, she seemed to be asleep. That was all she could do now. Taking her with her would be a bad idea. After all, Léonard relied on her.
Her shoes echoed on the bare stone. Full of fear, Claire hurried to the door and wished for nothing more than to be somewhere else. To rise like a balloon into the sky until she could watch what was happening from afar as a spectator.
It was a small room with many windows. Between them were narrow shelves filled with literature from past decades. A fine carpet lay in the centre, with wing chairs and tea tables around it. A chandelier took Claire's full attention. It was too low and divided the private library into two parts.
Then she suddenly noticed that there was an open book on one of the tables, she thought she was not alone. Embarrassed, she crept unobtrusively to the nearest shelf and memorised the spines of the books. With quick movements of her head, she looked for a second person.
I'm supposed to wait here for Léonard. I wonder where he will come from.
There were no other doors. She didn't know what time he wanted to come. A grandfather clock next to the entrance showed her half past six. After a while, Claire heard noise outside and ran to the nearest window.
With overwhelmed goosebumps, she recognised Léonard as he slid along the roof closer to the window. Carelessly, she knocked over a chair as she was about to open it.
"Léonard!" she said loudly.
She waved, beaming with joy. Sprinting, he reached her and was relieved to see the window open.
"Thank you for waiting for me. I needed someone to open the thing," he said.
"I just got here."
He jumped in. Nowhere was he holding anything.
"Did you hide it?"
"In here," he said tersely, tapping his chest.
"It's more inconspicuous if I transport it like this."
He casually inquired about Emma's condition.
"She's downstairs in the ballroom," Claire replied, "I was going to look for Karoline and Stephan -"
"It doesn't matter. Let's go."
Léonard looked stressed. What had happened in the last few minutes, Claire didn't know. She didn't want to ask him, he seemed to be on the lookout. He listened attentively by the door as he flinched in a flash.
"What do you have?"
"Didn't you hear?"
He held his index finger in front of her mouth. She heard nothing.
"Gunshots. And screams."