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Spring Lies Within A Golden Dream (Haru wa Kogane no Yume no Naka)

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“Will you do it, Arturia?” the elderly man asked, looking at her intently over his glasses.

To anyone else, his gaze would have seemed calm and even quite disinterested, but the woman in front of him knew better. Merlin was tense, the current situation being an unpredictable issue in his quest of looking after the wellbeing of the country.

“Of course I will,” she replied evenly. “Even though it’s not something I have ever done before, I will do my best.”

Her former mentor exhaled slowly, a wave of relief washing over him, before he tensed again.

“You need to be careful, my child,” he warned her. “I trust you to handle yourself, but this is no joke. Your life will be in danger.”

Arturia merely nodded, her bright green eyes aflame with determination.

“I’m aware of it.” She paused briefly. “Are you however absolutely certain that that mansion is where the body has been hidden? It truly can’t be anywhere else?”

“There’s unfortunately no other possibility,” he confirmed grimly. “No other place resembles my vision enough. The body of the person I saw being strangled must be on those grounds, if not inside the mansion itself. And as I told you,” he went on, seeing her about to interrupt him, “I assume it to be a woman, but I can’t be completely certain.”

Arturia nodded again.

“I will do everything I can. And once I find the body…”

“…there will be a murderer to find,” he concluded darkly.

The elderly mentor didn’t find it in himself to give another reply as she nodded again – this time in parting – as he knew that going to work at the mansion was something that would put Arturia in grave danger.

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“Oh, I’m so glad you decided to come work here, Miss Arturia!” Irisviel’s excited voice gushed, several hours after she had first started to observe her new housekeeper’s efficiency.

Arturia gave a polite smile, not taking her eyes off the windows she was finishing cleaning and being mindful of the dinner getting ready in the oven. It would have been rather problematic – not to mention embarrassing – if she let it burn.

Since arriving at the mansion earlier that morning, the blonde woman had been swept up with duties. It hadn’t taken her more than a few minutes to realize that there was a lot to take care of and too many things that had been neglected to stay idle for long. The rather young, white-haired Irisviel was currently the owner of the house, as her much older brother Angra had left her everything in his will.

She knew that, due to the place being so isolated, it was extremely hard for Irisviel to find maids who would accept to work there for an extended period of time – except for the cook – and that was what more or less justified the poor conditions of the place. At the same time, considering that it was a large mansion divided into smaller apartments, while the lack of employees made sense, it was quite surprising that all the apartments were occupied. As far as she knew, the family was rich, and it didn’t make sense that all its members kept living there.

So far, Arturia had meticulously taken care of Irisviel’s rooms, the dining hall, the entrance and the kitchens, not finding anything suspicious aside from a rather alarming untidiness. Assuming she managed to complete all the common areas, she was planning to start cleaning all the apartments the following day, as it would give her leisure to examine them unobtrusively.

Dinner that night would see the entire family gathered for the first time since she had arrived, therefore she had set out to prepare a full meal while she finished cleaning.

To be fair to the owner of the large mansion, Irisviel had helped out in all her tasks, and even though she had ultimately done more chatting than working, Arturia didn’t truly mind. When Merlin had first taken her under his wing, she had been a very aloof and somewhat cold person; he had taught her that it wasn’t a problem as long as she paid attention to what people said, as encouraging them to speak and listening to them was a useful method to learn a lot about them. Besides, even though she was completely different from her and slowly earning her trust was important in order to continue her search, the white-haired woman’s company was pleasant, especially since she seemed to be a very sweet person.

The cook, or at least the one Irisviel had indicated as such, was a taciturn and expressionless woman called Maiya who always took care of breakfast and lunch, and occasionally tea when requested, but she left every day at six. While it made working with her easier, her constant silence meant that it was going to take some patience to understand what kind of person she was. No matter how much she was actually liking the place she was in, Arturia could not forget that she had come there looking for a cold-blooded murderer.

Glancing towards the oven and squinting a little bit, since she was still on top of the ladder, Arturia rapidly climbed down and straightened.

“It’s my pleasure, Ms. Irisviel,” she replied, reminding her of the supposed reason why she had accepted the job. “I needed to work close to the village where my uncle is recovering from an illness, and this place was perfect.”

Making her way to the gong – which she had been scrubbing for a good half-an-hour until it was shining – she then added, “Dinner is going to be served in ten minutes.”

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Carefully observing every person to whom she served dinner proved to be rather interesting, mainly because she had never met such a strange group of people that seemed to have very little in common yet were all part of the same family.

Perhaps a small amount of her disconcertment was also because she seemed to be a subject of attention for all of them too. Not in the same way and not for the same reasons of course, but they all had something to do with her during or after the evening meal.

She found herself spending a few moments with the muscular Hercules – the eldest son of the recently deceased Angra – helping him prepare his sport tools before he went to practice his throws in the garden.

As soon as the door closed behind him, the youngest son, Gilles, approached her, requesting several very rare spices right before attempting to convince her to follow him to his lab. She managed to decline, though she made a mental note to keep an eye on him and his locked laboratory in the basement.

She had then leisure to observe the two adopted sons, Gilgamesh and Diarmuid, quickly reaching the conclusion that they had absolutely nothing in common.

She had already met Gilgamesh twice during the afternoon, very briefly, the first time when she had been dusting the library and the second time when she had been setting the table. Both times he had manged to catch her by surprise, as he seemed to appear out of nowhere, and she had had to remind herself to be more careful in her future investigations. If he kept being so stealthy around her – and he seemed to take pleasure in doing so – it meant that she could not afford to lower her guard even when she thought she was alone.

She had met Diarmuid before dinner as she had been setting the table as well, although he had made a much more positive impression on her by instantly offering to help with her chores and coming to the kitchen after the meal to help with the washing-up as well. It had of course been unnecessary, especially since she had been hired specifically to take care of those tasks, but it was appreciated nonetheless. She suspected that he was probably among the very few people who assisted Irisviel in managing a household where six adults – seven including the cook – lived.

Kiritsugu was Irisviel’s husband and the only person with whom she had had the tersest interactions. He had left the apartment he shared with his wife only when Arturia had been cleaning it and then a second time for dinner, but had immediately gone back there as soon as he had nothing more to do outside.

Irisviel claimed he had important paperwork to take care of, but while that might be true, the instant dislike that had formed between him and Arturia made him a plausible candidate as a suspect.

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It took a few weeks, but Arturia finally began to see that the house where she worked hid many secrets. So many, in fact, that a possible surreptitious murder would have fit right in.

She still had no proof that a murder had actually taken place, since she had discovered no body – nor any space large enough to hide one – anywhere inside the house. Outside, as she took care of gardening, she had found no evidence of loose soil, and she had examined the tool-shed scrupulously, again finding nothing. All the information she had was solely based on Merlin’s visions; those had always proven to be true, but they were all extremely vague and lacking in much-needed detail at the same time, making her job twice as hard.

However, in spite of the fact that no body had turned up, she had still discovered more than enough secrets to convince her that she wasn’t wasting her time in staying at this isolated mansion. What was however strange was that no one seemed to put much effort into keeping anything truly secret.

Whatever Gilles was doing in his laboratory was definitely illegal; she had ascertained it once she had managed to access it – together with Irisviel, because while she knew she could take care of herself, she wasn’t going to be foolish enough to enter that room alone with that shady man – and she knew it needed to be reported.

Maiya, the cook, was having an affair with Kiritsugu; Irisviel seemed to know this and, even though she was obviously in love with her husband, she didn’t seem upset about his cheating.

Hercules was physically intimidating and strong in any athletic activity, but Arturia had seen – and occasionally unintentionally overheard – him talk with Gilles about some potions and substances that would increase his ability. Why he trusted his younger sibling’s noticeably wild tendencies was beyond her, but it was undeniable that it had led him to allow Gilles to experiment on him.

Gilgamesh’s character was harder to put into frame, but he did seem to be arrogant above anything else. He kept at his irritating habit of appearing out of nowhere, and while looking at her somewhat haughtily, there appeared to be interest in his glances as well. He seemed to prefer surprising her when she was alone, but while his comments were more than capable of irking her, he did not make her uncomfortable or behave in a too forward, inappropriate manner.

He sometimes made an appearance when she talked with Irisviel, whom she was beginning to like. The white-haired woman was devoted exclusively to her husband and to the house, but she was unexpectedly insightful and conversations with her never turned dull. Gilgamesh had appeared to listen in on some of them, and Arturia had been surprised to see that he regarded Irisviel with neutral eyes, instead of the slight disdain he seemed to bestow on everyone else who lived there.

The only person who seemed relatively normal – and even somewhat charming – was the dark-haired Diarmuid. He was polite, never arrogant nor insolent, and while he was occasionally a bit too obvious in finding excuses to spend time with her, he never imposed his presence on her. When they talked, he always listened carefully, regarding her intently with his amber-yellow eyes, and he gave thoughtful replies, making sure the conversation between them was always pleasant.

If Gilgamesh appeared when she was talking to Diarmuid, she had noticed a frown on the blond man’s face, but it had only been a brief observation, never followed by a comment on his part. Had he been displeased, he would have been vocal in expressing his dissatisfaction.

Overall, while she had many duties as a housekeeper, she was spending more time in learning everything she could about the inhabitants rather than focusing on work.

As she sent a short note to Merlin when she went to collect the day’s mail, she considered that she still had a lot of work to do in order to find the possible culprit.

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She sank the spade into the earth firmly, continuing to dig the furrows where she was later going to plant potatoes.

Irisviel had mentioned her desire to grow some vegetables, but since she had little to no knowledge about them, Arturia had taken it upon herself to do the work. Having grown up in a farm surrounded by fields and gardens where she had worked under Merlin’s supervision, she was all too familiar with what she had to do. Furthermore, preparing the garden gave her the opportunity to examine the soil more carefully for any traces of a buried body, and she had recently discovered that there was a closed well nearby that she intended to explore once she found some time alone.

She had completed half the work when the old spade snapped into three pieces as she slammed it into the ground with a little too much force. The metal part hit her leg before she could jump out of the way, and she barely held back a wince as she fell to her knees in pain. It hadn’t cut her skin, but she was going to have a collection of nasty bruises for days.

As she carefully attempted to get to her feet, there was suddenly a pair of arms to steady her, ensuring that she didn’t lose her balance. Looking up, she met Gilgamesh’s crimson eyes, which were giving her an unintelligible glare.

“There’s another, better spade in the tool-shed,” he informed her, tone detached. “Quit snooping around this place furtively. You’re not half as stealthy as you believe you are.”

In spite of his disinterested tone and offensive words, he didn’t let go of her until he was certain that she wouldn’t fall, and surprised her by proceeding to pick up the broken pieces of the spade.

His following words both increased her confusion and almost made her lose her cool.

“If you’re not a thief, be smart and keep your nose out of other people’s business. You may pretend to be a housekeeper, but you obviously aren’t.” He turned around to leave with what was left of the spade, but stopped for a moment. “Put something cold on your injury, to prevent the swelling.”

As he disappeared inside the house, Arturia went to retrieve the other spade – it was indeed where he had indicated it would be – and finished her work, only then going inside the house to look for some cool water. She grimaced when she took a closer look at the small wounds and large bruises, but thankfully they didn’t seem to be too deep.

What was much more concerning was what Gilgamesh had said to her. Now that she was calmer, she had to recognize that it was slightly strange, on everyone else’s part – aside from Irisviel, who was trusting by nature – not to notice how she had been thoroughly inspecting every corner of the mansion.

Gilgamesh had instead not only observed her behaviour, he had also brought it up with her, warning her to stop. He may not have confronted her fully, but he had made it clear that he knew that she was concealing something.

He was more perceptive that the rest of the people in the house, which meant that he was more dangerous as well. Certainly an ideal candidate as a murder suspect, as her mind pointedly kept reminding her.

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It took her another week to finally find out a bit more about this odd family’s financial situation and the relationships between its members.

While Irisviel was technically the owner of the house and everything related to it – which included a rather large number of other properties – she was involved in a legal battle with a distant relative who lived overseas and who was attempting to stake a claim on Angra’s inheritance. Kiritsugu was his wife’s lawyer, which explained why he had so much work, as he was taking care of an incessant correspondence about the upcoming trial.

Since all four of Angra’s sons were her nephews, Irisviel had felt it completely natural to let them live in the mansion with her, and they had apparently accepted the hospitality, as it was convenient. All four of them had their own activities and had received a conspicuous amount of money upon their father’s passing, which couldn’t legally be disputed, and that meant that they held no animosity towards their young aunt for having received all the properties. They showed to be rather indifferent about her trial, not seeming to be interested in its possible results.

Arturia couldn’t help considering that the people living inside the house had strange bonds, or rather, a lack thereof. They all seemed to be detached from one another, no ties binding them together, making their interactions civil but formal. That was the case at least most of the time, because Gilgamesh’s off-hand comments managed to get under anyone’s skin more often than not, usually starting a discussion that never lasted long because it was extremely difficult – if not outright impossible – to outsmart him in an argument. Gilles’s creepy comments were instead regularly ignored, and at any rate Irisviel’s enthusiasm, occasionally aided by Diarmuid’s pacifying remarks when needed, were usually enough to smoothly keep up appearances.

In the end, they were nothing but a group of strangers living under the same roof. When she finally realized this, the blonde woman couldn’t help feeling that her work was becoming even more difficult now. She still had her mission to complete and, deciding to examine them all more closely, she found herself scrutinizing everyone’s expression and most of all their eyes. It was extremely interesting yet also slightly disturbing to notice how different they all seemed to be from one another.

Maiya had completely empty dark eyes, never seeming interested in anything. Irisviel’s dark red eyes were instead always positive and full of enthusiasm, almost childishly so, which couldn’t be in greater contrast with Kiritsug’s dark and bored ones, which sometimes filled with disdain – though Arturia knew that that was mostly directed at her. Diarmuid’s amber-yellow eyes were kind, Gilgamesh’s crimson ones were haughty and as bored as Kiritsugu’s except for when he looked at her – something she acknowledged with great reluctance – when they suddenly filled with interest. Gilles and Hercules had identical dark eyes, but the former had always a calculating and slightly mad glint in them, while the latter’s looked almost frighteningly void most of the time.

It took some more time, but Arturia ended up recognizing that Hercules was completely focused on the sports competition he aimed to win. It seemed extremely important to him, as if it was some kind of personal challenge of honour, and she understood that he was almost desperate to reach his goal, which was why he had allowed his younger brother to basically use him as guinea pig for his experiments in hopes that it would improve his chances of winning.

Perhaps calling it a dysfunctional family was taking things a bit too far, but it could definitely not be called a normal one.

Finding a murderer among them was beginning to look more and more complicated, because assuming that she did indeed manage to find a corpse, it would be difficult to prove that only one of them was a killer.

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Arturia tried very hard to be inconspicuous when she was out in the garden and used the opportunity to examine the well she had found recently. She frowned slightly when she noticed the soil where she had planted the potatoes to be rather loose, as if someone had been digging there, and fixed everything before focusing on her investigation.

Her attempts at elusiveness weren’t however successful, because soon after ascertaining that there couldn’t be any bodies hidden in the well, Gilgamesh appeared once again.

She gave him a measured glare, keeping busy with the trimming of the roses, which was her plausible excuse for her presence in t hat specific part of the garden. She did not know whether he – or others – truly suspected her and what they could suspect her of, but it would have been unwise to increase those suspicions by acting recklessly. She also didn’t know why he had chosen to tell her that he suspected her of something; it certainly did mean however that she had to be careful around him.

Taking her aback, he didn’t accuse her of anything this time, instead bringing up the short talk she had had with Hercules about his diet, in which she had gently advised him against taking unspecified substances from Gilles while managing not to be either condescending or moralizing.

“You sounded very righteous in what you told him,” he commented briefly, and without giving her the time to reply, he went on, something strangely teasing in his tone, “You’re not a police officer, so there was no need to be so authoritative.”

She abruptly turned away and walked back to the house, glad that he couldn’t see her reddening cheeks that would have given her away. She wasn’t a great actress, and she couldn’t risk him finding out the truth, and namely the fact that she was indeed a police officer.

It was rather peculiar to notice, however, that Gilgamesh was perceptive enough to have noticed that she had genuinely tried to do something good for his brother.

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She woke up near sunrise, as she heard noises in the night, coming from the garden.

At first she thought they were coming from near the well, but soon realized that they were coming from where she had planted the potatoes. She left her room as silently as possible, knowing there couldn’t be burglars and it had to be someone from the house.

But as soon as she exited the backdoor, a violent blow to the back of her head knocked her out.

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Arturia’s eyes were filled with tears and she kept blinking in an attempt to get the soil out of them, but it was useless.

She was suffocating.

She was lying somewhere, and it took her several long seconds to realize that she was surrounded by topsoil, and more soil was falling down on her, covering her rapidly. Air was becoming a problem.

She blinked furiously, vainly trying to move her limbs to at least reach a sitting position, and forced herself to look at the person who was burying her alive.

Purely by chance, she managed to see his eyes, even in the darkness.

Amber-yellow eyes.

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She wasn’t going to die like this. She had not decided to help Merlin just for things to end like this.

Merlin. His vision.

Perhaps the lack of air was making her brain work faster than normal, because she now understood what her mentor had seen in his visions.

He had seen a young woman be suffocated somewhere around the mansion. She had searched the whole mansion for a body, not thinking that Merlin having had a vision didn’t necessarily mean that it had already happened.

He had seen what was going to happen.

But she couldn’t allow it. She would not let the would-be murderer get away with it. She would not let him murder someone – herself – and get away unpunished.

Air was now something she desperately needed, as she was entirely covered by soil.

Her limbs felt heavy, but she forced her hands to move forward, to reach at the now almost invisible sky in front of her. She clawed against the soil, fiercely throwing, scratching, rubbing it away from her face.

Her fingers dug into the earth, desperately trying to go up.

She wanted air. She needed air. She needed it, or she would die.

And she wanted to live.

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Suddenly, the soil was gone. Her fingers clawed against nothing.

There was air.

Her vision was nothing but darkness, and she felt weaker and weaker, but she thrust her body forward.

She felt herself unexpectedly able to inhale, together with some soil, also some truly needed oxygen.

If she pushed herself a little further, she would be able to breathe more air. She would live.

With the last of her strength, she did push forward, and finally, finally breathed.

Her head was almost completely out of the makeshift grave, when suddenly a hand grasped hers.

Instinctual terror filled her, thinking it was her attacker again, coming to finish the job, coming to push her back under the soil, and she couldn’t stop a strangled gasp from leaving her.

But the hand was followed by a second one, and they were quickly beginning to pull her out.

They grasped her fingers, her fingers with most nails broken through the inhuman effort of scraping against the soil, and they pulled her out of the place where she had almost been buried. They then released her hands, but only to firmly grab her under her shoulders and pull the rest of her body out of what had almost become her grave.

She coughed, panted, choked, and focused only on breathing.

Her eyes were full of dirt and everything looked rather dark in the faint light of the early morning, but she managed to meet the ones of the person who was next to her, who was saying something to her that she couldn’t hear and who was staring at her in panic.

With crimson eyes.

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She had no idea why Diarmuid had lost his mind and decided to kill her, but he had apparently been planning it for a while. He had widened the furrows she had dug for the potatoes, but he had only afterwards decided to kill her. She had heard the noises by chance, and Gilgamesh had heard her walk down the corridor by chance as well – though he kept telling her that it was because she was incapable of being stealthy.

Only after he was taken into custody did it come out that he had believed Arturia to be some sort of spy with malicious intentions, but of course that was never going to justify his attempt on her life.

Arturia couldn’t help keeping wondering whether she should have been more suspicious of Diarmuid’s careful politeness that had completely fooled her. It was useless to ask herself such a question, since she was probably never going to find the answer to it.

Once Merlin had been briefed and the culprit was arrested – and the elderly man had actually spent a surprisingly long amount of time apologizing contritely to his ward, knowing that she had been put in danger because of him – Arturia had a brief talk with Hercules, who came to speak with her before his competition. He curtly informed her that he would not be accepting Gilles’s questionable help anymore and would compete by relying on his own strength. She was pleased to hear it, knowing that he had more than enough abilities to make it on his own and win the challenge he had set against himself.

Gilles wasn’t able to avoid an arrest once the police searched the house and took a look at his lab. The charges against him were serious enough – especially since he had been drugging Hercules – to make sure he was sent to prison for a rather long time.

As she was gathering her things to go back to her work as well, Arturia heard from Irisviel that she was about to leave with Kiritsugu to go attend the final trial. Maiya was going to accompany them, and the blonde woman decided not to ask the reason for that choice. It was very likely that they would win, and while they were away, Irisviel had put Gilgamesh in charge of the mansion.

Gilgamesh leisurely pointed out that the place was in dire need of renovations, otherwise it wouldn’t be a worthy house to live in, and told Arturia that while those works took place, she was going to see a lot more of him.

Since she was going to resume her regular training with her mentor, she had to hold back a slight scowl when Merlin was seraphic in disclosing that he had agreed to have Gilgamesh assist, “because he saved your life, my child.”

She couldn’t exactly argue with that, and since she strongly suspected that if he didn’t have a legitimate excuse be present around her he would have no qualms about using illegal methods, she supposed this solution was preferable.

Whether it was one she ended up liking, well, that certainly wasn’t going to be determined unless they did actually spent more time together, and the amount of time needed for that was still to be decided as well. It could be days, weeks, or months. Maybe years. Maybe even the rest of their lives.

But perhaps, it was worth trying and finding out if it could work.

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