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A Prelude to Murder This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

As Loren ascended the stairs, the ancient walls hung with trophies of the long dead seemed to echo the words of warning all over again. By the dim glow of the single lamp overhead, the gleaming glass cases of various memorabilia and golden plaques holding up a variety of severed heads seemed to mock him. They cried in a parody of a laugh, This is where you will lie one day. You will join us here. Soon, soon… Their voices carried a force that shook his heart into a faster tempo, a harsher rhythm. The top hat that had always sat on his bed of curly blonde hair now quivered with him, as if it knew, too, that danger was up ahead.
Orphis was clear in his warning. His words floated back to Loren now with a conviction that did not quite take hold until he had one foot on the creaking stairs. Here, in the dark, musty place, every shadow came alive with monsters. Every noise was the sound of death and Loren gripped the gun he swore he’d never use.
They were coming for him. They were coming to take it away from him and rob him of his power. They would have no mercy, no pity for the boy; these criminals didn’t care for trivia like him.
Unless you stop them first, Orphis repeated in his head.
Loren had shaken his head firmly, breaking free of the trance Orphis took him under. Never, Loren had declared. But he reached the top of the stairs now with only a simple wooden door, so thin and fragile, separated him from the thieves. He could already smell the gunpowder and hear the bang of the kill shot that would take his worries away and bury them in a mound of relief and freedom.
The revolver clicked loudly as he pushed open the door.
On the other side, a great hall stretched far and wide, fashioned with beautiful stained-glass windows that filtered the Moon’s silver light in twinkling stars. High ceilings supported large chandeliers that tinkled softly each time Loren took a step. There was an innocent, virgin silence here, and it was intruded rudely by the boy’s footsteps. He had no time to gaze on the beauty of Star Graveyard and he had little sympathy for the excruciating quiet that taunted him with a false sense of safety.
Suddenly, there was a loud pop. It spooked him and he jumped off both feet.
“What was that?!” he shrieked to himself. In panic, he pulled the trigger.
The bullet flew through the air and lodged itself into the flesh. The metal thing shifted blame to the gunpowder that pushed it into the body, and it apologised on behalf of the gritty thing, for it had committed suicide just a moment earlier. The body took it in a violent fit, dropping its blood and muscle to allow space for the newcomer before it realised the guest had brought with it a dangerous poison from the other side of the skin. Yet the body embraced it just the same, mostly because it had no choice to. It flailed pointlessly and shouted, “Get out, get out!” but it dropped in a heap, exhausted from trying to make something of itself. It gave up and saluted to the gunpowder, who was brave enough to give up all on its own in order to give the bullet a little boost.
Su fell slowly to pain, but her face reacted immediately. It contorted to one so new, so unrecognisable that for a moment, Loren did not realise the girl he had just shot.
But the umbrella, its handle crooked in a mock hook, was unmistakable—Loren had shot his best friend.
“NO!” Loren screamed with all he had and his efforts twisted Time around him. The familiar blur of hyperspace wiped away the bloody scene as Time warped in obedience to the boy’s rage. It deposited him with an indignant hrumph further back, pissed off at that little boy in a silly top hat as always for bending the mighty thing in submission.
In a new time, Loren had five minutes to fix his mistake. He checked his surroundings and confirmed where, or rather, when, he was—he had just shaken off Orphis and was headed to the Star Graveyard where the thieves supposedly hid, plotting their upcoming raid. The gun was in his hand, but Loren pushed it deep into a pocket in disgust.
Holding onto his hat, he ran to the old mansion, jumping the gate as he did last time and retracing his steps around the immense building until he found the hall again in record time.
Loren fished out his fob watch and checked the time again and again, but even as minutes passed after the original time of the girl’s arrival, Su was nowhere to be seen. She did not appear with the pop like in the previous timeline.
“No… Su, where are you? Where are you?” he whispered in despair. Even the chandeliers, this time, stopped their obnoxious tinkling in observance of the grave scene playing out beneath them. Loren did not stay here, however. He sprinted away from the hall, forcing himself to detach from the crime scene.
He searched for hours, went back to recover the hours lost in vain, and searched again. But there was still no sign of the girl with the umbrella.
Loren fell in exhaustion by the East River. He rolled once across the rocky road and peered over the edge, staring at the crystal-clear water. His reflection, warped by the ripples of the river’s current, stared back confidently as if he wasn’t afraid to look at himself. Real Loren, however, hid his face away, haunted by the bang of the bullet and the horror on her face.
“What have I done, what have I done…” he repeated to himself. He rocked in shame, quivered with fear… What if Su was dead—actually dead, in all timelines, in all possibilities, and there was no way for him to see her again…
“Hey, lazy-ass, what are you doing down there?”
A jolt went through his body. That voice…
Loren’s eyes snapped open. Su was smiling at him, her face directly above his. Her long brown hair fell towards him from her shoulders with their usual messiness and split-ends. She held her umbrella behind her back, folded up and softly teasing the ground with its brass tip.
And she was very much alive.



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