For two whole minutes, nobody said anything. An uneasy silence fell across the courtroom as nearly everyone eyed each other up with glaring suspicion. Only a select few avoided falling prey to this: Rose and Terezi's groups, along with Jane, Roxy, Meenah, and Aranea.
Rose looked over at the others, seeing the shifty glares, sensing the terror. At this rate, nobody would begin the trial, and they'd be stood there in silence for who knew how long. Taking a deep breath, steeling her nerves, she spoke up.
“All right then,” Rose began, looking over the others. “I suppose we should begin this trial then. Our purpose is simple: to find the culprit responsible for the murder of Calliope.”
“Big deal,” Vriska said idly. “The cherub girl was killed. Caliborn never even liked her anyway.” She rolled her eyes, and glared up at Caliborn.
“True,” he said. “But it would be no fun. If I didn't hold a trial. Even though the bitch was asking for it.”
“Whatever,” Vriska sighed. “Then let's get this over with. I guess the first question we should ask is this: who even bothered to look for evidence?”
Many of the others suddenly avoided Vriska's gaze. They lowered their heads, and looked away.
“Like we were meant to know what to look for,” Eridan countered, folding his arms.
“Brilliant attitude, Ampora,” Vriska said. “You do realise that if we don't find the culprit, we all die.”
“Well of course I know,” Eridan said. “I just didn't care enough.” Vriska let out a groan, and buried her face in her hands.
“If I may ask,” Aranea said. “Did you look for evidence yourself, Vriska? I don't recall seeing you at all during the investigation.”
“Well, you see,” Vriska said. “I was, uh, looking elsewhere!”
“She was pushing Tavros' wheelchair down the stairs with him still in it,” Porrim said with a sigh. “She helped about as much as we did.”
“It's not my fault!” Vriska yelled. “Like anyone else could have resisted the temptation.”
“Well, uh,” Tavros said. “Several others did try and, um, stop you from doing it. You just threatened to stab them several, uh, times...”
“Can it Nitram,” Vriska said.
“Anyway,” Rose said. “This is derailing from the main point of this trial. We need to find the culprit for the murder, not discuss the ethical implications behind Vriska's torment of Tavros.”
“Whatever,” Vriska said. She did not push the matter further.
“Thank you,” Rose replied. “Now, let's begin with the first thing: the time of death. For this, we will consult the Caliborn File.” She pulled out her ElectroID, and booted up the Caliborn File.
“It says the time of death was just after half twelve,” John said.
“Which is a couple of hours after the start of Night Time,” Rose said.
“Like that helps,” Cronus spoke up. “I'm pretty sure nearly everyone was sleeping at that time.”
“Not quite everyone,” Rose said. “Meenah, weren't you and Aranea up past Night Time?”
“We were,” Aranea said. “I wanted to do some late-night reading; it's a sort of comfort thing I do when stressed, which this situation qualifies as.”
“I can vouch for ma homegill,” Meenah said. “Was with her the entire time.”
“Wait a minute,” Terezi said. “That's not quite true.” She looked over at Aranea. “I recall you saying that Meenah left the library shortly before you did. Is this true?”
“Yes,” Aranea said. “Although, it was only around fifteen minutes or so before I retired for the evening.”
“Uh huh,” Terezi said. “And tell me, Aranea, what time did you leave the library at in the end?”
“I can't remember the exact time,” Aranea said. “I think it was just before midnight, give or take ten minutes.”
“That gives the culprit a half hour window between Aranea leaving the library and Calliope being murdered,” Rose said.
“Indeed,” Terezi said. “So we can establish the killer put their plan into action at around midnight at the earliest.”
“That's one thing confirmed,” Karkat added. “Now we need to find out who was up at that time.”
“Meenah and Aranea were,” Terezi said. “Was anyone else awake at that time?”
“Um, I was,” Nepeta said meekly. “But I didn't leave my room, and it was more just me waking from catnaps.”
“Okay then,” Terezi said. “Let me rephrase: was anyone else out of their dorm room from midnight onwards?” Silence.
“Wait a sec,” Dave said. “I realised something: Calliope must have been awake at that time, or how else did she end up in the library?”
“Maybe she was dragged in her sleep?” Jade added. “It's not that impossible.”
“We're also missing evidence that shows that Calliope was up at that time,” Rose said.
“Actually, that's where you're wrong,” Terezi said. “Karkat, the evidence.”
“Okay,” Karkat said. He handed Terezi a large book.
“This,” Terezi said, “is the evidence in question.” She held up the large book for all to see. It was still stained lime and fuchsia. Meenah gasped.
“How tha glub is ma royal blood all over that book?!” she exclaimed. “I don't even remember seein a book that huge!”
“Hold up,” Rose said. “May I see the cover?”
“Sure,” Terezi said. She showed the cover to Rose. Her eyes widened.
“So that's it,” she said.
“What?” Terezi said.
“That book is Cherub Studies: Volume II,” Rose explained. “When I was investigating the library, I found the first and third volumes, but the second was nowhere to be found.”
“And surely a book that size would be enough to knock someone out if hit over the head?” John said.
“That would match the Caliborn File,” Terezi said. “It clearly states that Calliope suffered a concussion prior to her murder. This book would be the perfect weapon for it.”
“That still leaves some questions,” Rose said. “Two, mainly. The first is where you found it, Terezi. The second is why royal blood is all over it in addition to Calliope's.”
“I can provide one answer,” Terezi said. “This book was found in Calliope's room in her storage chest.”
“What?!” Roxy exclaimed. “Why would Callie have had that book?!”
“Surely it seems likely that she took that book from the library herself,” Aranea said. “And I think I have a theory as to why Meenah's blood is all over it, as well as explaining the mystery behind her waking up oddly placed in the library: Calliope used the book to knock Meenah unconscious.”
“Wait,” Terezi said. “Something doesn't add up there, Aranea.”
“What do you mean?” Aranea said.
“If that was correct,” Terezi said, “then surely you would have encountered Calliope on your way out?”
“Or at the very least you would have heard signs of a struggle,” Rose said.
Aranea sighed. “It was just a theory,” she said. “I based it off of the evidence presented so far, so don't take it as my final verdict.”
“Okay then,” Rose said. “So we're back to square one with how Meenah's blood ended up on the book.”
“And look at the layering,” Terezi said. “Clearly Meenah's blood was spilled before Calliope's.”
“Then that means Meenah was targeted as well,” Aranea said. “Which means that the culprit may have knocked Meenah out in the hallway, and then moved her to the library, perhaps thinking they had murdered her as well.”
“That actually makes a surprising amount of sense,” Jane said.
“No it doesn't,” Terezi said. “Look again at the book. From the amount of blood spilled, we can confirm that all the action took place within the library.”
“What makes you think that?” Jane replied.
“If Meenah was attacked in the hallway, then moving her would have created some form of blood trail.”
“Wait a minute,” Rose said. “Then that means...”
“Yes,” Terezi confirmed. “Meenah never left the library last night.”
“What the shell?!” Meenah exclaimed. “But I clearly remember leavin!”
“Delirium induced by the concussion,” Kanaya stated. “You believe you left the library because that was the last thing you were thinking of before you were hit.”
“Then when was Meenah hit?” Aranea said. “She left at around eleven fifty-five, and I left at around ten past twelve. That leaves fifteen minutes to do this. And even then, surely I would have noticed something.”
“Not necessarily,” Terezi said. She flashed a confident grin at Aranea. “If it was a swift blow from behind, then Meenah wouldn't have had time to struggle. And depending on how absorbed you were in whatever you were reading, you could have very well been oblivious to the crime.”
“Something else,” Roxy said. “If everything happened in the library, then how did the blood-covered book end up in Callie's room?”
“The culprit hiding the evidence,” Terezi said. “After killing her, they took Calliope's ElectroID and stored the book in her room.”
“Why would they do that?” Jane asked.
“It's a set-up,” Terezi said. “They were trying to make it seem as if Calliope was the one to attack Meenah.”
“What?!” Meenah exclaimed.
“It's true,” Terezi said.
“So that clears Calliope's name there,” Rose said. “As well, I think we can deduce that the culprit did this on the way to Calliope's room, before they murdered her.”
“In that case,” Karkat said. He looked across the courtroom. “Meenah, you were the intended culprit of this crime.”
“What the actual glub?!” Meenah shouted. “Who da shell would try and kill me?!”
“We aren't sure yet,” Rose said. “Anyway, the next thing that happened must have been that the culprit infiltrated Calliope's room, intending to plant the evidence there. They must have believed that Meenah was dead.”
“Then after that,” Aranea said. “Calliope must have realised what the culprit was up to, rushed to find Meenah, and was killed with the very same book.”
“That's not quite true,” Terezi said. “Aranea, check the Caliborn File again. It clearly states that the cause of death was a single stab wound to the heart, not a blow to the head. Although, I think we've solved the mystery of the concussion at least.”
“And potentially Meenah's blood,” Karkat added. “But not Calliope's.”
“I have an idea about that,” Rose said. “But before that, we need to find the murder weapon. It was clearly something sharp, and Kanaya's autopsy report revealed that the actual wound was very thin, so something like a knife is out of the question.”
“Don't worry about that,” Terezi said confidently. “I have the murder weapon with me right now.”
“Oh?” Aranea said. “What is it?”
“Karkat,” Terezi said. “If you please.”
“Here,” Karkat said, handing Terezi the item in question. She held it up.
“As you can see,” Terezi said. “The weapon responsible for Calliope's death was none other than her own wand!”
“What?!” Roxy exclaimed. “How is this possible?!”
“I'm beginning to put the pieces together,” Rose said. “This shows that Calliope had the weapon on hand when she entered the library. She was already wary of a threat.”
“But why would she be?” Latula said. “Like, by then, all of us peeps were hella deep in dreams.”
“I've got it!” Terezi said. “The culprit went to Calliope's room to tell her that they had found Meenah's body!”
“What now?” Meenah said. “So lemme get this strait: some motherglubber tried to kill me by knocking me out with some huge book, then went to see the cherub girl about it?”
“Exactly,” Terezi said. “Their original goal was to frame Calliope.”
“I see,” Rose said. “So then whilst Calliope rushed to the library in a panic, the culprit entered Calliope's room and placed the book there with Meenah's blood to make us suspect her.”
“But something clearly went wrong,” Terezi said.
“Huh?” Roxy asked.
“For this plan to work,” Terezi said. “The culprit would have required Calliope to still be alive.”
“So what went wrong?” John asked.
“I think I know,” Vriska said. “Meenah woke up, didn't she?”
“I did what?!” Meenah said. “This is botherin me so much that I can't remember anyfin.”
“I know,” Aranea said. “But don't let it get to you: the culprit is probably enjoying themselves watching your confusion.”
“She's right,” Rose said. “Try and keep as calm as possible here.”
“All right,” Meenah said. “But still: I woke up?”
“Yes,” Terezi said. “But only temporarily: the culprit had no choice but to knock you out again. This time, they didn't use a book though: it was likely to be something akin to a direct punch.”
“Then that leaves the next problem,” Rose said. “Calliope was a witness to all this. Clearly she would have immediately realised who the culprit was, and the culprit couldn't risk this, so they had to take her out as well.”
“They used the same method to knock Calliope out,” Terezi said. “They delivered such a strong punch that Calliope fell unconscious right there. But they couldn't take any chances, and used the wand to stab Calliope, killing her.”
“That's just awful!” Feferi exclaimed. “Who would do such a thing?!”
“We'll get to that,” Terezi said. “And now I've figured out how Calliope's blood got on the book.”
“How?” John asked.
“Simple,” Terezi said. “After killing Calliope, the culprit was coated in blood. They panicked, and took the wand with them as they left the scene of the crime. It's safe to assume that they tried to hide the wand with the book, but realised that it would be too obvious, so they moved it elsewhere, but not before coating the book with the blood.”
“In that case,” Rose said. “Where did they hide the wand?”
“This is an interesting story,” Terezi said. “We ended up finding the wand in one of the dorm rooms, as the door was open.”
“Whose room?” Rose pressed.
“Here's the issue,” Terezi said. “That entire section of the hallway had the signs on the dorms taken down.”
“I see,” Rose said. “So the culprit made it so that we wouldn't be able to identify whose room it was; none of us are particularly familiar with the dormitories yet.”
“What?!” Jade said. “They were all up there when I woke up this morning!”
“Perfect,” Terezi said. “So we have a time window for this to have happened. We were all woken by Caliborn at seven, and we were all present for Calliope's body discovery at around seven forty five. That's a perfect time frame for our culprit to move the signs.”
“Something else,” John said. “Why was the door open in the first place?”
“Carelessness,” Terezi said. “In their rush to remove the signs in the hallway, the culprit forgot to close their room before heading off to the library.”
“Or dining hall,” Rose said. “Provided it didn't take as long to dismantle the signs. And out of question, how many were taken?”
“The entire southern half of the dorms,” Kanaya stated. “Essentially every room after Calliope's.”
“They're closest to the dining hall, aren't they?” Nepeta said. “I remember, since my room is really close!”
“Exactly,” Terezi said. “From this, we can safely say that after taking down half the signs, they met up at breakfast with everyone else.”
“If that's the case,” Rose said. “Then at least half of us could be the culprit.”
“Indeed,” Aranea said. “Terezi, are you sure there's nothing tying someone to the crime?”
“Actually, there is,” Terezi said to Aranea.
“Oh?” Aranea said.
“I'll show you all,” Terezi said. She reached down into her pocket. For just a moment, she saw the anxious look pass Karkat's face. But then Terezi pulled out, keeping her hand shut. “I think that this development will show us exactly who the culprit is.” She lifted her hand up, allowing everyone a clear view. And once everyone was looking, Terezi opened her hand, revealing the Sufferer necklace stained in lime green blood.
Silence fell over the courtroom as everyone stared at the decisive piece of evidence. Meenah's mouth was open in disbelief. Rose was staring blankly, unable to form words. Aranea looked away from Terezi.
“Only one of us wears a necklace like this,” Rose finally said. She turned to the only one not looking at Terezi. “Isn't this yours, Aranea?” Aranea remained silent.
“Oh yeah,” Jane said. “She wasn't wearing it this morning. I assumed it fell off in the night.”
“That was too naïve an assumption,” Terezi said. “This is the decisive piece of evidence for this trial.”
“Is it?” John said.
“Yes,” Terezi said. “And with this, I can piece the crime together. This is how it happened...”
“See, from the moment Caliborn announced the School Life of Mutual Killing, our culprit began scheming this murder. No, wait, that would be unfair. Realistically, they began plotting once we had explored all we could so far. The first move was for them to gain an excuse to stay up past Night Time: the library was perfect for this. And of course, Meenah's loyalty allowed for them to gain an alibi for the night in case another murder occurred. The two of them remained in the library, the culprit reading a suspiciously large book, until just before midnight. Meenah told the culprit that she was going to head to bed having exhausted herself. This was the perfect time for the culprit to strike. They hit Meenah over the head with the book, knocking her unconscious, staining the book with her blood. The culprit wrongly assumed that this blow had been enough to kill Meenah.”
“Their next move was to run over to Calliope's room to tell her that Meenah had been killed. At this point, they were still holding the book. We can assume their explanation to Calliope was that they had either dropped it in Meenah's blood in surprise, or that it was found next to Meenah's body. Anyway, upon hearing the news that the mutual killing had begun, Calliope rushed to the library, taking her wand with her for protection. In her haste, she forgot to close her door, allowing the culprit access to the room, where they hid the book inside Calliope's storage chest. At the same time, Calliope found Meenah on the ground just as she began to stir. As this happened, our culprit returned to the library. Seeing this scene, the culprit punched Meenah with enough strength to knock her out. At this point in time, Calliope began to piece it together, realising that the culprit had attempted to take Meenah's life. The culprit, realising that their frame job would be useless given what Calliope had witnessed, knocked Calliope out too. However, unlike Meenah, they took no chances, and stabbed Calliope with her wand. The blood from the wound coated the culprit, staining the wand and their outfit. Realising that remaining blood-stained would be proof enough for their execution, the culprit left the scene of the crime, forgetting to check that they had killed Meenah. They would later attempt to use this as bait for a frame job unsuccessfully.”
“After leaving the library, the culprit returned to Calliope's room, where they attempted to hide the wand, soon realising that this would make it all too obvious. Instead, they removed the wand from the chest and left Calliope's room, but not before staining the book with Calliope's blood. The culprit then returned to their own room, where they washed the blood off of themselves, hiding the wand under their pillow. However, they also found that they couldn't remove the blood from their necklace, so they were left with no choice but to hide that as well. The culprit then slept until the morning announcement, presumably exhausted from the previous night. This was when they put into motion the final part of their plan. They waited until everyone had left for breakfast before leaving their room. They took down every door sign in the southern dorm section, hiding them somewhere to try and throw off anyone who would try and investigate. They then left for breakfast, but had foolishly forgotten to close their own door. They then slipped into the dining hall, acting as if they had been there the whole time. Right around this time, Meenah woke up in the library, seeing Calliope's body. Reasonably, she panicked and fled, heading towards the dining hall. At the same time, the culprit met up with Jane and Roxy who were both concerned about Calliope's absence. The culprit also mentioned how Meenah wasn't there yet, assuming she was dead as well, and the party headed towards the library where they encountered Meenah who told them about Calliope's body. They all rushed to the corpse, and proceeded to react accordingly. The culprit put on a convincing act, appearing to everyone as if they had just laid eyes on the body. They even managed to make it so that Meenah still being alive wouldn't ruin their chances of success, very nearly fooling us all. There's only one person who would be able to pull all this off,” Terezi said. “Am I right, Aranea?”
Surprisingly, instead of shock, Aranea simply smiled ruefully. “Well, I guess the game is up,” she said wistfully. “I confess to my crime.”
“I knew it,” Terezi said. “But then there's still one more question: why did you do this?”
“You were very close with your theory,” Aranea said. “Except for one thing: I never intended to kill Meenah.”
“What?” Terezi said.
“Calliope was the target from the beginning,” Aranea explained. “Really, the book should have been enough. If it was Meenah I was aiming to kill, do you really think I would have selected a book titled Cherub Studies? It's too much to be a mere coincidence.”
“Okay then,” Rose said. “But why Calliope then?”
“Isn't it obvious?” Aranea said, her tone growing more exasperated. “I was trying to get us all out.”
“You what?!” Meenah cried out, staring in disbelief at her friend. “Twerket, in what way is killin goin to get us all outta here?”
“It was a simple gamble,” Aranea said. “Realising that both Calliope and Caliborn are technically the same person, I began to research cherubs in greater detail, discovering that if the other half is killed in a manner outside of predomination, then it can lead to potentially fatal effects for the surviving half.”
“You were willing to sacrifice Calliope to kill Caliborn,” Rose said. “How ruthlessly brilliant.”
“Evidently it failed,” Caliborn said from atop his throne. “I am still alive. She is dead. We never shared a body. In this. I suppose. It would be similar. To killing a human 'identical twin'. The other twin lives just fine. Despite their 'other half' dying. You were stupid to assume that would work.”
“Well, it was worth a shot,” Aranea said. Her tone was surprisingly calm. “And anyway, at least it prevented Calliope from falling into further despair at her brother creating this killing game.”
“This game is brilliant,” Caliborn said.
“You're derailing from the trial,” Aranea said.
“Oh. Yeah,” Caliborn said. “Anyway. The discussion is over. Use your ElectroIDs. To cast a vote.”
“Aranea...” Meenah said softly. “What the shell have you gotten yourself into this time?” But still, Meenah pressed down on her ElectroID, and cast her vote. She blinked back tears as she did so.
Once everyone had voted, the lights suddenly dimmed. A few seconds later, a spotlight shone down from the roof, onto Aranea's podium. Aranea blinked in the harsh light for a few moments until her eyes adjusted.
“You losers are correct,” Caliborn said. “Aranea is the culprit.” Almost collectively, everyone breathed a sigh of relief. They had done it. They had identified the culprit.
“So what's going to happen to her now?” Jane said.
“Supposedly, I'll receive an execution,” Aranea said. “But I doubt it. It is highly improbable that there is enough room to perform an execution.”
“Wrong,” Caliborn said. “I have prepared an execution. Just for you.”
“Really now?” Aranea challenged Caliborn. “I doubt it.”
“Just wait and see,” Caliborn said. He then lifted his gavel, and shoved it down on the red button. Text appeared on the box below the button.
ARANEA SERKET HAS BEEN FOUND GUILTY
COMMENCING EXECUTION: READ IT AND WEEP
Aranea remained standing on her podium for a couple more seconds, before something cold and metallic clasped around her throat. She looked around at the others, startled, before the chain that she was attached to pulled back harshly. Aranea had just enough time to see the look of utter despair on Meenah's face before she was pulled through a set of doors, leaving the courtroom.
She was placed in what appeared to be a long hallway lined with bookshelves. The bookshelves reached upwards to the high roof, making them into what essentially amounted to walls. She glanced behind her. Grey wall. She looked ahead. At the end of the long hallway, Aranea noticed an open door. It was her way out. But as she walked along the hallway, the walls began to move. They were closing in, she quickly realised.
Aranea began to run along the hallway as the walls of bookshelves continued to close in. Books fell to the ground, being swept along the ground. Panic began to well up in Aranea as she realised she was racing against the clock to escape the execution. The door drew closer. The walls closed in. Closer. The gap became tighter. Closer. Tighter. Closer. Tighter.
The door was just within reach, and Aranea took one final leap towards it as the walls continued to close. But at the last minute, the walls suddenly shoved in at a much faster pace. Aranea vanished in an explosion of blue. The gap had been closed.
Everyone had been forced to watch the execution on a large screen that Caliborn had revealed. Most had been taken aback by the brutality of Aranea's end. Vriska continued to stare at the blank screen incredulously. Rose and Terezi hung their heads in guilt. Meenah stared blankly into space. Like a thick haze, despair hung in the room.
“Come on now,” Caliborn said. “Was that not. The most exhilarating thing?”
“How can you say that?!” Feferi screamed, tears in her eyes. “Someone just died!”
“She was a pathetic murderer. Who allowed herself to get caught,” Caliborn said. “No big deal.”
“No big deal?!” This time, it was Jane that spoke up. “She tried to get us all out! How is that no big deal?!”
“She failed,” Caliborn said. “Who cares any more.”
“You truly are awful, you know that?” Jane said.
“I pride myself on it,” Caliborn replied. “Now. It will be Night Time shortly. I advise you all to board the elevator. And leave the courtroom.”
Eventually, the courtroom had been cleared, and everyone had returned upstairs. Most returned to their dorm rooms. Those that did found that their signs had returned, and that Aranea's door was shut. The handle was missing. The room had been sealed off forever. The same applied to Calliope's room. Nobody would be returning to it.
Terezi also discovered that all signs of Calliope's murder, including the body, had been cleared. It was as if the crime had never happened. She sighed. The School Life of Mutual Killing had finally kicked off, and there was no telling how many would fall into despair.
As she returned to her room for the evening, Terezi prayed that there would be no second trial. She later fell asleep with the guilt of Aranea's execution seared into her conscience. How many more would murder? How many more faces would she feel responsible for their executions?
These thoughts plagued Terezi's mind even after sleep claimed her.
CHAPTER ONE: END