“Chapter 2: The Convict’s Gift”

The next morning found Emilia still lying on the couch. When she finally woke up, she noticed that Aru had left. She yawned and got up, streched her arms and grabbed the remote. As she was about to turn the TV off, she caught a glimpse of the news. As the man kept on saying things she couldn’t hear, the screen on the back was frozen in an image. The image of a person she’d become way too familiar with: Max Petersteel.

It was what the caption read underneath that drew her attention: ‘Max Petersteel sighted in Valedorn!’ She gasped. “He was here?” she muttered to herself, as she turned the volume up.

“It was confirmed by a local woman, that early this morning, the infamous escapee, Maximillian Petersteel, broke and entered a house in Valedorn. The woman, who wishes to retain her anonimity, says that a man looking exactly like him entered her neighbour’s house from an open window on the upper floor…”

Before she could really grasp the situation, a knock on her door made her jump. She rushed to open it, only to find miss Prudence standing there, with a purple woolen jacket draped over her shoulders. She was smoking and, for some reason, she was smiling.

“How can I help you, miss Prudence?” she asked, skipping the ‘good morning’.

“Haven’t you heard? We’re on the news! They say Petersteel was seen breaking into a house in our neighbourhood! I expect the cameras to arrive shortly! I would dress up, if I were you. No offense, dear, but I wouldn’t want to be seen in my pyjamas…” she replied and gave Emilia a nasty look, while faking a smile.

You are only alive because Death has forgotten you, Emilia thought, but did not express her thoughts.

“I would rather not be seen at all, miss Prudence. I am more concerned about the well-being of whoever was visited by him last night” she replied instead, in a rather harsh tone. Miss Prudence opened her mouth, ready to make a sneering comment, when suddenly Aru’s barking sounded from upstairs.

“That pesky dog…” miss Prudence said, annoyed, and turned to leave. Emilia did not bother seeing her off. She slammed the door shut and went upstairs. She entered her bedroom and found Aru standing in front of her desk, sniffing the carpet and the window, wagging his tail and barking at the same time. Emilia noticed that the window was open and that the tree’s branches were thick enough to support a man’s weight… and very close to her window.

“It can’t be… could it be, Aru?” she asked, feeling alarmed. She looked around, searching for any indication that he had broken in and… her eyes stopped at her desk. She saw the small black box. It wasn’t there, she was certain. It didn’t belong to her.

She approached it, fearful of what might happen if she touched it. Underneath the box, a piece of paper was carefully folded. The initials ‘M.P.’ were visible. It was her house that he had broken into. And she had evidence. Her curious brain’s gears were turning at amazing speeds. Several thoughts rushed at the same time: why did he come here? What was in the box? Was he framing her for something? Her hand was reaching for the note, moving almost independently. She wanted answers. She was afraid, yet intrigued at the same time. Aru had laid down beside her, studying her with his big eyes, his tongue sticking out.

Emilia grabbed the note and unfolded it. Max’s letters were almost indiscernible, as if he’d written it in a hurry. She opened the drawer under the desk and pulled out her reading glasses. She then began reading in a soft voice.

‘Dear Emilia,

you do not know me, but I know you. I’ve heard so many stories from Hugh. Yes, I knew him, and he knew me. We were working together. And that was the reason he was killed, all these years ago. I deeply regret it. In fact, the sole reason I escaped, was to show you exactly how much. In this box, you will find what me and Hugh discovered five years ago. You see, Hugh was keeping his secrets from you. I cannot explain much here. All I can say is that you should put it on. It works, I know it does. With it, you can save him.

You should burn this note. And never tell anyone you possess that thing. If you want more answers, just use it. Hugh was always telling me you are a smart woman. You will know how.

Max’

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