Tag Archive | horror

Dark Story – Part 8

(Originally from October 2007)

 

This is a study in free flow writing. It may not make sense when it’s finished. Oh well.

**Mature content warning**

********************

Time passed. Querin made them both something to eat. When they’d finished, he produced a silver crystal that shimmered in the firelight and bade her hold it while he chanted something in a language she didn’t understand. When he finally stopped she felt better, but looked no different.  He studied her before shaking his head and muttering about how strong her aunt’s magic must be.

When they emerged from the small house, the burning sun was sinking into a sea of red fire. As they moved through the village, Querin nodded in greeting to someone here or there, but they remained silent.  The Inn was bustling with activity and they entered it and took a table in the dark corner, away from prying eyes.

Querin ordered food for them both, and while they ate they watched their fellow patrons.  Eseldra and Torin made no appearance throughout the meal, nor afterwards.

“It seems we shall have to go hunt for them,” Querin said wryly, finishing his mug of ale in one gulp

“And where do we look?” Keena hissed from beneath her hooded cloak, her face hidden from the other customers.

“I’d suggest the site of the ritual,” he answered mater of fact, his voice low. “If that fails I suspect the woods. Tonight is the full moon, is it not?”

She nodded her head in affirmation and then they stood slowly. Querin dropped a few coins on the table and they left the noisy inn and soon the small town. They walked down a narrow tract under a black sky strewn with glittering stars. An owl hooted in the dark trees and Keena shivered at the all too familiar setting. Only the dead babe was missing.

The house came into view just as the moon broke free from the clouds.  It stood as imposing and dark as it had the night before. The same eerie feeling of something unnatural clung to the property, and filled the air withl a palpable unease.

Keena lead him through the front door, past dark, empty rooms, and finally down the winding stone stair to the rooms below the house. She showed him the intricate designs painted on the floor with whitewash and crows blood, and the cauldron that had been simmering only the night before, now cold, it’s contents thick and oily looking. But nowhere amongst the shadows did they find a trace of Eseldra or her husband.

To be continued….

(one has to hope it is winding up soon…)

Dark Story – Part 7

(Originally from October 2007)

 

This is a study in free flow writing. It may not make sense when it’s finished. Oh well.

**Mature content warning**

********************

Keena ceased struggling immediately, her surprise evident. “You believe me?”

“Yes, now be still.” He spoke no more as he led her through the quiet village to a hovel at the edge of town. The small structure looked ready to collapse at a moment’s notice.  Still silent, he ducked through the narrow doorway, brushing aside the filthy curtain that served a s a door. She followed him, eyes squinted in the sudden darkness of the small building.

Once the curtain had fallen back in place she looked around the room,. Her eyes darted from the bedroll in one corner to the guttering fireplace and then to the drying herbs hanging from the ceiling and the shelves of bottles and jars. “Who are you?”

“My name is Querin,” he replied, stooping to catch up several logs. Without glancing at her, he began to slowly feed them into the fireplace. “I am not from these parts, nor do I live here. This house belonged to my brother Albeck-”

“Albeck,” she breathed the name like a memory. “He left with the hunting party.”

“Yes,” Querin nodded. “And like the others he did not return. I had come to deliver him the news that our parents had died, but when I arrived he was not here. There were only rumors. I have stayed trying to unravel the mystery, and then today, who should appear but the only mysterious survivor, returned after two years absence.” He glanced up finally and dropped the last piece of wood into the flames. “You say she is a witch. Explain your words.”

Without hesitating she told him the story, how she’d been coerced by her aunt to giver her sister the prepared draught, how it had induced her to miscarry, how she’d stolen the babe and fled to her Aunt’s house beyond the edge of the village, the ceremony and at the last waking to discover the changes wrought upon her.

He listened silently, his face passing no judgment on her or her actions. At the last, he gave a finalizing nod. “If it is as you say, the things are far worse than I imagined.  We will know the truth of it soon enough, I wager.” He brushed his hands off, and indicated  one tatty chair. “Come, sit. You are no doubt tired. Magic of that kind… I am surprised you lived, as, no doubt, is the woman you call your aunt.”

Keena took the offered chair with no complaints, relieved to be off her aching feet. Querin busied himself shuffling around bottles and jars in search of something, but the silence did not last.

“How do you know about dark magic?” she inquired, the full implication behind his words only just realized.

He pausedhis search and turned slowly to face her. “I have seen the dark arts with my own eyes. Once, I was an apprentice to the darkest warlock in our country, the things he taught me..” he trailed off. The far away look in his said he saw something beyond the shabby rooms, something lost to memory. “But, I abandoned his teachings,” he said firmly, his attention returning to his surroundings.  “And I have vowed never to return to them. ”

She simply nodded, not knowing what else to say to his admission.

To be continued….

(Querin came as such a surprise I was interested to see where he came from and what he was doing.  I have no idea how I am going to end this thing….)

Dark Story – Part 6

(Originally from October 2007)

 

This is a study in free flow writing. It may not make sense when it’s finished. Oh well.

**Mature content warning**

********************

Keena’s fists clenched in anger. Her brittle limbs shook with fury, like tender branches in the onslaught of a storm. with purpose, she shuffled unobserved through the crowded room Her eyes never left the couple before her.

At last she stood in front of them. Their eyes turned to her, shock written clearly in the depths. “WITCH!” she screamed, pointing a long, bony finger at her once haggard Aunt. “Unholy demon from hell!”

All talking ceased as the patrons attention was drawn to the scene unfolding near the fireplace.  Mouths gaped and eyes blinked in confusion.

“Get the gone, old hag,” Eseldra’s husband, Torick, muttered darkly.

“Old Hag you call me, yet I am younger then she who stands beside you. How did she bring you back from the dead?”

The crowd pressed closer, ears straining to hear every word and heaving a collected gasp at what they perceived to be the old woman’s words. Whispers rippled through the room, questioning the old woman’s sanity.

Torick laughed loudly and heartily. “What say you, old woman.  I have never been dead.”

“Then where have you been?” Keena demanded, jabbing her accusing finger towards him. “For two years you’ve been gone, you and the men who went with you. Where did they go?”

The patrons murmured their mutual curiosity. This had been a popular question all morning, ever since the couple had mysteriously turned up on the edge of town with their news.

“They died,” he answered flatly. Then, he turned  away from her and picked his mug up from the fireplace’s mantle. He brought it to his lips, but lowered it before drinking.

“Get thee gone,” Eseldra hissed. “We have no need for such lies.”

Keena turned her fury on her aunt.  “And you, withered hag that you were. What happened to make you thus when you went in search of him? Hmm? And what happened again to turn you as you are now?”

“She’s mad!” Torick called over her to the assemblage. “Turn her out that we may hear no more of her ravings.”

At first no one moved, but finally a large man who’s bald head gleamed in the firelight stepped forward and, without a word,  took hold of her arm and began tugging her towards the entrance. She struggled against him, her now feeble energy no match for his strength and shrieked,  “She’s a witch Eseldra is a witch who steals your children to make herself young again!”

“Be quiet!” the man snarled and pulled her through the door. He checked quickly for passers by and then, without so much as a by your leave, he began to drag her down the narrow dirty street.

“Unhand me!” she cried uselessly.

“Be quiet woman!” He muttered under his breath. ” If what you say is true you will need all the help you can find. Be thankful that for once help has sought you out.”

To be continued…..

A Dark Story- Part 5

(Originally from October 2007)

 

This is a study in free flow writing. It may not make sense when it’s finished. Oh well.

**Mature content warning**

********************

The rooms above were as silent as they’d been last night but, in place of black shadows, sunlight streamed through the windows and dust motes danced in the golden rays. Keena moved towards the opened drapes and reached out for the warmth of the sunlight – and then she screamed.

The hands stretched before her were withered as an old woman’s. The skin was dry and sagged around the knuckles of her fingers.  She reached for her face and traced the once familiar contours, only to discover the same affliction.

Her heart hammered and she moved through the rooms with a purpose and through the door into a sunlit morning. Her feet crunched over frost crusted grass as she moved towards the rain barrel and its shimmering contents. She reached it and bent over the edge to peer at the reflective surface, her chest heavy with her labored breathing and fear.

Tears slipped down her now withered cheeks as she beheld the countenance reflected back at her. Young eyes stared back, surrounded by the skin of old age. Her long hair, once copper red, now hung lank and gray around her face. Meanwhile, her clothes were as fresh as they’d been yesterday.. or had it been years ago?

She had no sense of time, no sense of reality, as she stumbled backwards from the barrel. A scream lodged in her throat and her hands feebly tried to hide her visage from the morning’s brightness. She didn’t understand how it could be possible – so many years could not have passed in a single night.

When she’d pulled herself together she began the journey towards the village. She needed to find out if the years had really passed her by, and if so what had become of her aunt and what might be done to remedy this. Surely it was some mistake?

Her pace was slow and she was forced to stop often to rest. Her feeble limbs shook with the exertion of the long trek.  By the time she reached the edge of the small town, her stomach growled and the sun was high in the sky.

No one paid her any mind as she moved through the dirty streets, heading towards her own hovel. She found it in smoldering ruins. A small crowd of boys ringed the rubble, poking through the ashes with long sticks.

“What has happened?” she demanded from the nearest of them, forgetting for a moment that she was no longer herself.

The child looked at her thoughtfully and then answered, “They burned it last night. She what lived here were a witch.”

Her heavy lids blinked slowly, the space of a heartbeat seemed to drag into an eternity before his words made sense to her. “A witch?” Her voice was barely more than a dry breath.

“Aye,” the boy nodded enthusiastically. “She took a babe last night, from her sister no less, fresh from the womb and strangled it for her ghastly ceremony. Her husband found her bleeding in the middle of the floor and no sign of her sister to be seen. But she’s dead now, o’course,” he added.

She steadied herself on the remnants of a ruined bush. “Dead?”

“Aye.” He nodded once again. “Her aunt killed her, didn’t she? She came into to town this very morning after having hidden away for night two years.  They told everyone how they’d caught her out in the woods doing her unholy rituals and how they used a stake of silver to pierce her heart-”

The boy kept talking, cheerfully relating what was undoubtedly considered delightfully woeful news, but she quit listening.  Her aunt had returned to the village this morning? They said….

“They?” she asked quickly, interrupting him.

“Aye, her husband o’course.  He ain’t been seen neither for a long time, but there they are at the inn.”

Without waiting for him to finish his sentence, she turned on her heel and strode towards the inn. Fury and fear mingled in her breast until she was dizzy with it all.

A crowd had gathered outside the Inn and she made her way through it, No one paid any mind to what they thought an old bent crone.  Inside, the large room was dark. Fires crackled on the hearths of two large fireplaces and people stood or sat in various bunches on rough hewn benches while the barmaid moved from table to bar, hauling heavy ceramic mugs. despite the bustle, the only thing she noticed was the young couple standing against the back wall. The woman’s long coppery hair hung to her waist, a mark of her lineage that shimmered in the firelight, and her laughter was a silvery tinkle. On her arm was a tall man, his long dark hair a contrast to his pale tunic, his eyes resting on his beautiful bride.

To be continued….

(I originally was going to end it today but then I changed my mind on the plot as you can see…)

A Dark Story – Part 4

(Originally from October 2007)

 

This is a study in free flow writing. It may not make sense when it’s finished. Oh well.

**Mature content warning**

********************

“Lord of all, hear our call. Dark Lord of night, heed our plight.”

Her Aunt chanted, the words foreign and unfamiliar. The harsh sounds filled the room and brought a chill to Keena’s heart as she listened to them. Each twisting syllable echoed in her ears and whispered hints of something evil and unnatural.

When she’d finished her recitation, she dropped the dead babe into the small fire, but the soft body didn’t suffocate the flames as it should, instead it seemed to feed them. Tongues of fire wrapped around the body and black smoke curled  towards the ceiling, heavy with the smell of burning flesh.

keena winced as the thick smoke filled her nostrils. She couldn’t watch, and turned her attention to the stone wall before her, tracing every crack and fissure with imaginary fingers of thought. That was safer. That was saner. But her aunt’s cackling laughter brought her back.

She blinked and squinted at the withered woman through a sudden onslaught of darkness. The fire in the center of the circle had doubled in size but, instead of lighting the room, it seemed to be throwing it deeper into shadows. The unnatural darkness clung like cobwebs and she fought against it as it seemed to seep behind her eyes and into her mind, clouding her thoughts and her vision.

She felt herself falling; her ears full of strange words, harsh and cold like the blade of a knife slicing into her consciousness.

When she opened her eyes the first thing she was aware of was the blackness pressing on her; a tangible object that could suffocate her. She jerked into a sitting position and frantically turned her head left to right, eyes scraping the stone room for a sign of her Aunt.

The fire in the center of the room was dead, so there was only darkness. She stood painfully and moved forward slowly, her hand stretched before her, reaching through the yawning emptiness.  At last her fingers touched the rough hewn surface of the  door. By feel she found the latch and swung the door open. The adjoining room was equally dark, and she moved through it, hand before her, searching for the stone stairs that would lead to the rooms above.

She found them at last and shuffled weakly up the steps. Her limbs felt heavy and her heart raced from the small exertion of mounting the staircase. As she neared the top she saw the glimmer of light and hastened her pace, eager to be away from the subterranean rooms and the clawing memories of the ceremony.

The rooms above were as silent as they’d been when last she’d passed through them, but now in place of black shadows sunlight streamed through the windows and dust motes danced in the golden rays. She moved towards the opened drapes, reaching out her hands, her fingers seeking the warmth of sunlight – and then she screamed.

To be Continued… (I think I know where it’s going now, probably a good thing, huh?)

A Dark Story – Part 3

(Originally from October 2007)

 

This is a study in free flow writing. It may not make sense when it’s finished. Oh well.

**Mature content warning**

********************

Keena nodded and followed the old woman towards a back room draped in shadows. She could still see the scene she’d left behind in the village, etched in her mind as though captured by an artist’s brush in  hues of red and blue too fantastic to be real. Her sister lay on the floor screaming and clutching, so much blood everywhere, while she sobbed for the baby… the baby who would never wake.

“Tonight we will right the wrong,” Eseldra said, never turning but walking steadily towards the low arched doorway. “You and I will fix what has been broken.”

Keena nodded.  She didn’t know what to say. She barely knew what they were going to do, let alone what the outcome of the ritual would be. She had been promised it would change the world, but what that change would be, she did not know.

The back room was small and damp. The smell of straw and mildew clung to the crumbling walls. Eseldra moved quickly to light thick white candles. Their shivering flames snapped the shadows into sharp relief, brilliant black against the earthy tones of stone and dirt.  Still bearing the gory bundle, she arranged the candles symmetrically upon the floor, cleaned of any straw or hay and decorated with a white painting made of intricate symbols.

Her niece stood back and surveyed the work. Her cool eyes took in the scene and saved it for posterity with so many other memories. There was one that rose to the surface, battling with the scene at hand; the smell of ale and sweat and the sound of laughter ringing in her ears. But tonight that would be set right as well, so her Aunt had promised her. And she hoped it was true because she suspected she had already traded her immortal soul for this.

When her aunt was finished, Keena moved to the center of the designs and picked up a parcel wrapped in rags. Carefully she unwound the binding and began to lay out the contents the way she’d done many times before: the thick scented grass and the small withered objects that she knew had once been living creatures, or parts there of. She ran her thumb over a small bone before depositing it next to what had been the heart of a chicken, all arranged precisely.

When she’d finished she stood back and, at a nod from her aunt, she picked up the dead torch and lit it with a candle. The flames sprang to life, and using it she lit the sweet grass on fire. The fragrant odor wrapped its tendriled fingers around the two women as they began to chant.

“Lord of all, hear our call. Dark Lord of night, heed our plight.”

Keena moved forward first, removing one last item from her person; a chunk of hair tucked neatly in her belt. Holding her prize aloft the chant continued as she stood before the center of the circle.

“Lord of all, hear our call. Dark Lord of night, heed our plight.”

Drawing in a deep voice she spoke over her Aunt’s still chanting voice, “Lord of darkness hear my prayers, I give to you a taste of he who in malice dwells. Savor this morsel of his human form then consume his might, leave naught but empty shell by end of night.”

The hair dropped on the crackling grass, and she stepped back quickly, trying not to choke at the momentary stench.  The flames crackled and soon the hair had been consumed, as had at least half of the other shriveled offerings she’d so carefully arranged moments before.

Taking up the chant she watched as her aunt stepped forward, bearing the dead, unwrapped babe. Raising it, Eseldra stepped before the inner circle, a smile spreading slowly across her cracked lips.

To be Continued…

A Dark Story – Part 2

(Originally from October 2007)

 

This is a study in free flow writing. It may not make sense when it’s finished. Oh well.

**Mature content warning**

Part1

********************

The voice that issued forth from the figure was tight and raspy, like dried nettles. “So, you’ve come at last?” it asked.  The creature could have been either male or female, and thought it had a human shape there was something not right about it; something that made a person take pause as they tried to determine what was  incorrect. But Keena knew what it was and why it seemed strange and foreign.

Eseldra had been human once, not so long ago. Not only human but a woman, though now it was hard to tell.  Despite the heavy skin that wrinkled around her eyes  and spoke of old age, she wasn’t yet forty, and only two years ago had been considered beautiful. But that was before the Great Winter.

Snow had come early that year and with it a bitter cold to rival any winter before. Things died in that cold and lay frozen where they’d fallen. And if that weren’t enough the wolves came.  First it was a child, then another and another and soon a grown woman went missing. That was when the men of the village banded together to seek out the wolves and destroy them in their lair. They were tall and brave, their fur wrapped bodies a stark contrast against the white snow. They laughed and joked despite their grim task, and left with promises of wolf pelts on their return. But, they didn’t return.

Eseldra’s husband had been one of the men in the hunting party and when search parties failed to find some sign of the missing men she’d gone herself, leaving with the first thaw. It had been late summer before she’d returned on the brink of death; haggard and starved with a strange something lurking in her eyes. It was a haunted look, the kind that men return with after a great battle.  She sealed herself up in the house away from town and would see only one woman; her niece. Though, even to her, she did not reveal what she’d seen to effect such a change.

Keena forced a smile across her pale features. “Of course I came. I did promise you.”

The old crone waved her niece’s words away like smoke. “The promise of youth is fleeting and ever changing. Words mean very little.” Her strange eyes studied the young woman before her. “Did you bring it?”

“Yes, of course.” Keena drew out a parcel from beneath her cloak. The wrapping was still warm from being under her arm throughout her journey. She held it out and resisted flinching as her aunt took it from her.

The old woman laid the bundle upon the table and opened it slowly. A smile twisted across her features,  coupling with the bitterness in her eyes to make her look maniacal.  “Yes…. Yes this will be perfect.”

She turned around, the gory contents clutched in her hands. Clots of blood glistened, staining wrinkled hands and fingernails, as she lifted her prize in the air, holding it aloft as if asking a blessing of the Gods.  She either did not notice or else ignored Keena’s revulsion as she lowered her burden and brought it near her face and sniffed it.

“It’s nearly fresh,”  Keena whisper, her stomach churning.

The old woman nodded in agreement. “Yes, it does not yet have the stink. Come, my child, and together we put things to right. Let not this babe’s life, though never started,  be taken for naught.”

A Dark Story – Part 1

(originally from October 2007)

This is a study in free flow writing. It may not make sense when it’s finished. Oh well.

********************

Keena walked in the nigh.  Slipping from one shadow to another, the darkness shielded her malintent. Lights flickered behind nearby windows, but she heeded them not. She moved with a purpose; a goal that only the night could embrace.

Her cloak billowed behind her as she moved silently, leaving the small village and pressing into the countryside beyond. Her feet made soft noises against the rutted dirt road. The sound was drown out by the whispering of the fragile leaves that still clung to autumns branches.  The moon hung in the sky; low and bloated, shining a sickly orange-red – a blood moon. The kind of moon that would shine for her on a night like this. The stars wheeled overhead; tight, tiny clusters of light that shied away from the strange moon like insects from a greedy spider.

She drew her cloak tighter around herself  to ward of the chill that whispered of winter’s impending arrival. Only a few more weeks would see snow falling from a heavy leaden sky. It would blanket the impure world in its virgin whiteness and hide the imperfections of the landscape from the observing eye. She wished there were something that could hide her imperfections and redeem her soul for the sin she had committed tonight, and for the one she was about to commit.

Her destination loomed ahead. The house was large and dark. A hulking black monster hidden in the deep shadows of  murmuring trees. No light greeted her weary eyes and no smoke curled from the chimney to welcome her. The house stood cold and silent and dead.

She paused for only a moment, the span of a heartbeat,  and made the sign of the cross out of habit. She shook herself and smiled at the ludicrousness of her action. Then, she moved forward quickly, feet scurrying up the flagstoned path until her hand was on the carved handle of the door.

The door swung inwards silently. She stepped over the threshold, knowing that there was turning back. Once she walked inside this house, once she headed towards the shadowy fate awaiting her, she could never go back to the way things had been before. But, this was her choice or, if not so much her choice, at the least  her necessity.

The house was close and musty. She walked through seemingly silent rooms where only shadows dwelled until she reached the lazily spiraling stair. Taking a shuddering breath, she steadied her nerves as best she could and then began slowly to ascend.

The smell reached her nostrils before the flickering light registered to her eyes. The odor was thick, heavy and unpleasant, like something rotten.  As the stairs threaded downwards both the smell and the light grew stronger until she found herself both gagging and squinting.

At last she stood upon a dirt floor strewn with hay. Her eyes danced around the rooms buried deep beneath the slumbering house. A figure stood, its back to her, its long hair hanging thick down a black cloaked back. She made no sound, yet it knew she was there, and, turning, it smiled expectantly.

To be continued….

Circle of Guilt: Flash Fiction

(originally from July 2007)

This was written for Reid’s 500 word challenge

 

Without an echo, she gently faded into shadows through the doorway as if she were a piece of the night. The only trace left behind the hammering of my own heart.

I dropped back into the bed, grabbed a pillow and covered my head with it in mock suffocation. If only it were that easy.

I closed my eyes but I could still see her visage. Blood splattered along her cheeks. Her dead eyes wide with horror as we dumped her into that drainage ditch and left her. Every nuance and detail of that scene was burned into my very brain: the dead leaves floating stagnant, the way her hair tangled in the damp grass along the banks, the way her hand still clutched at nothing trying to save herself from that fate.

“It was just a nightmare,” I told myself loudly, the words comforting and real. She had been found by the chief of police and her body was at the morgue, stuffed in one of those refrigerated drawers, a tag on her toe while they waited for someone to identify her. She wasn’t here and she had never been here.

I climbed to my feet, flipping on the bedside lamp, and made my way from the bedroom.  The air too close and hot seemed to hold the terror close to my prickled skin, but the kitchen throbbed with life, the hum of electronic hearts beating within the machines that made life livable.

The light spilled forth as I opened the refrigerator and grabbed the gallon of milk to take a long drink. Cold liquid reality raced down my throat, soothing my fears and salving my conscience.

We’d had to finish her, after all. There’d been no choice, not after what Chalky had done. He hadn’t meant to, but too much Rum always made him unpredictable. It was her own fault for going with him, for letting him take her out of sight of the rest of us. If only she’d stopped screaming. That loud, shrieking noise still buzzed inside my ears when I thought about that night. Over and over that screeching sound, like nails on a chalk board to make my hair stand on end.

I shoved the milk back where it belonged and stared at the hands that had choked the last of the life from her. I could feel her weak pulse beneath my thumb still and her blood splattered on my skin, thick and warm, a pattern to decorate an eternity of guilt.

Shuddering, I made my way back to the bedroom and was soon wrapped in the cocoon of blankets, heavy eyes closing.

With a startled jerk I looked up to see her standing in the doorway, staring at me, anger in her eyes. “How could you?” she asked, her voice tight, her throat raw from her screams. “Your own sister, how could you?”

I didn’t answer and, without an echo, she gently faded through the doorway and into the shadows, as if she were a piece of the night…

Arowenia – Blogophilia 47.3

*brief potentially disturbing scene

It’s time again for Blogophilia, the weekly, cross platform blog game where Marvin gives participants prompts to use in their weekly post. This week’s prompts are:

  • Blogophilia 47.3 Topic: “It Isn’t Easy Being Green”
  • Bonus points:
  • (Hard, 2pts):  incorporate outer space as a metaphor
  • (Easy, 1pt): mention a weird gummi animal

The last two weeks I’ve been posting a new short story project where I get to write stories about some of the side characters in my vampire novels who have fallen through the cracks. To make things simple, I’m going in alphabetical order.  I admit, when I first saw the prompts I thought  there was no way I could write a story about Arowenia with them, but surprisingly it worked.

 

(You can find Arowenia, Claudius, Michael, Patrick and the whole assorted gang in Shades of Gray. This story takes place just shy of four months before the opening of that book.)

Arowenia stared at the reflection in the mirror. The child like face that stared back held large, liquid blue eyes and an expression devoid of any feeling. Above her, she could see the fluttering redheaded woman who hovered and primped, trying to tame Arowenia’s long blonde hair into an elaborate updo that would suit Claudius.  A second woman stood behind her, handing out strings of pearls and bobby pins as needed.

“You’re going to look simply lovely when we’re finished,” the beautician-by-assignment cooed in her soft, honey southern accent.

“Like a doll,” the other agreed with a wistful sigh that betrayed her jealousy. Yes, she was jealous. Truth be told, both of the women probably were. The grass is always greener on the other side, but sometimes it isn’t easy being green. Sometimes, playing the porcelain doll was a cold amusement, if amusement it could be called.

The last string of pearls was threaded, and the women stepped back to admire their handiwork. Arowenia glanced into the mirror, but felt neither pleasure nor dissatisfaction. She only noted whether or not it would satisfy Claudius, and she believed it would.

“If you’re ready, my lady?” The redhead asked. A dimple at the corner of her mouth betrayed her opinion of the antiquated title, but there was a system to everything; rules, regulations and formalities. Without those things the system would break down and there’d be only chaos and a group of power hungry vampires vying for control. Too many covens were already like that, or so Claudius said.

Claudius. Claudius. Claudius. It always came back to him, didn’t it? The leader of the coven, the master of their futures, her mate in immortality whether she wished it or not.

Arowenia followed the two women through the hallway and then down the ornate, curved staircase into the marble foyer. Guests and coven members alike mingled in small groups, chatting and laughing politely, their tones as tinkly as the crystal chandeliers above their heads.

Despite the crowd, her eyes sought him out, almost unwillingly. He stood in the center of the largest semi-circle, his blonde hair pulled back into a tidy ponytail. His dress was as opulent as ever. A white shirt bore ruffles at the neck and wrists, and an ornately embroidered vest matched the cold green shade of his eyes. In one long fingered hand he gracefully held a golden goblet whose contents were a rich crimson.

As if he felt her gaze, he turned and a smile snaked over his boyish lips. Though he looked no more than sixteen, untold years hid in his eyes and revealed themselves in the steady strum of his aura. He mock toasted to her and held out his free hand, waiting for her to claim it. She understood the gesture, and moved to stand next to him.

“Arowenia,” he murmured, and brought her hand to his lips. “You look lovely.” He broke off and a tiny frown formed between his eyebrows. “Though I wonder that they chose peach instead of green. Hectia knows I prefer that we match.”

“Yes, of course,” she agreed tonelessly. “Shall I change?”

“No, no.” He brushed it aside carelessly. “I’ll speak to her later.” He turned back to his companions. “Come, I believe the music should be starting slowly.”

Arowenia took the arm he offered, and allowed him to guide her through the French doors and into the lavish ball room. A small orchestra was gathered in one corner, their faces hurried and pale as they arranged themselves. One long wall of mirrors reflected back the dazzling chandeliers and the array of well dressed guest. In the middle of the room stood a large carved fountain. In the center, a deep basin was balanced on the heads on three bat winged cherubs who each poured a pitcher of red tinted water into the pool below. Inside the basin, two naked teenage girls lay, half conscious, and packed in cubed ice to keep them from going into shock. Their bodies were curled around one another like a yin-yang, and each had one wounded arm extended over a trough circled the edge of the basin. Blood dripped from their rent limbs into the trough and collected in the crystal bowls that were set into the four corners of red tinted pool.

It was to this fountain that Claudius led them. He dipped his golden cup into one of the crystal bowls, then took a sip and sighed with appreciation. “You can’t even taste the drugs any more. Modern pharmacology has done wonders.”

His companions took cups from a nearby table and dipped a sample into their goblets. Heads bobbed as they swallowed, each agreeing that the flavor was unaffected. Arowenia let her gaze fall to the girls. Their pale skin was goose pimpled and their pink nipples stood cold and hard.  Their heads were thrown back so that their long, pale throats were temptingly exposed. One of them moaned softly and her eyes fluttered open. For a moment, she held Arowenia’s gaze, and something flashed in her eyes; something pleading and desperate, but it disappeared under the influence of the drugs and her body fell limp again.

“Take a taste,” Claudius ordered and, without thought, Arowenia complied. She, too, nodded vaguely, though no one cared about her opinion, and then the group moved on.

The music started low and soft, then swelled to fill the room. Not too loud to drown out the discussions, but with enough volume to cover the sound of their shoes on the hard wood floor.  Claudius discussed business, and Arowenia let her mind wander.  Around them, couples danced, some like silk butterflies and some like bumbling raccoons. There would be no dancing for her, unless Claudius could separate himself from his business long enough, because no male was allowed to touch her. That was one of the endless rules and regulations that kept everyone in their proper places.

Claudius suddenly released her arm, and offered a polite, “You’ll excuse us, I’m sure?” Though he spoke it as a question, it was really a statement, and she only nodded wordlessly. He gallantly kissed her hand again. Then, he and his associates disappeared, no doubt headed for the library where they could sign away some part of their souls to him.

Alone, she drifted towards the row of opened French doors that led to the veranda. Vampires flitted in and out, and each took their time to show their proper respect to her as they passed her.  Some simply nodded, while others went for a full out bow. With no real conviction, she acknowledged each in turn. Neither an inconvenience nor a pleasure. Like so many other things it simply was.

Outside, the night was deep and dark. The stars above glittered like a thousand diamonds and Arowenia gazed at them and thought about what lay beyond the sky. They said it was outer space, a never ending black ocean with planets instead of islands, but she couldn’t understand it.  It was like China; something “they” said existed, but which she’d never seen with her own eyes. How was she to know that any of it was real?

She leaned delicately on the veranda railing and closed her eyes, savoring the early summer evening. The smell of fresh cut grass wafted on the breeze, and she could hear the bugs and the bullfrogs calling to one another.  It reminded her of another time and another place; a world before Claudius and his “brothers” stormed her father’s castle and butchered everything in their path.  Sometimes, in her dreams, she could still hear the guards’ screams, but she was numb to them now. It was so very long ago, and time healed all, or how else could they continue living year after year, century after century?

“Oh, uh, hey.”

She looked up sharply to find Michael, Claudius’s newest toy, standing next to her.  He’d been the human hired to take care of the lawn until he’d gotten too nosey.  Now he was one of them, though not quite. Less than the least of them, he was on the same tier as the humans servants Claudius kept, including Michael’s rather bizarre, but thankfully silent, brother.

She didn’t deign to answer him, only arched a cold eyebrow. Michael cleared his throat and shifted uncomfortably. She could smell his fear and hear his heart pounding.  When he didn’t speak, she finally demanded, “Yes?”

“Um, like, Claudius wants you.” He jerked his thumb in the general direction of the house.

She turned back to the stars and sighed inwardly. What did he want now? Hadn’t he just gone to speak privately with the other men? Why did he need her?  Surely a porcelain doll on his arm wouldn’t help seal the deal.  But, regardless of what he wanted, it was best not to keep him waiting.

Without a word, she turned sharply for the house and strode through the doors and back into the brightness of the ball room.  Guests bowed and scraped, and Michael scrambled to catch up, but she ignored everything except the doors at the far end of the room. One room at a time.  One step at a time. Never contemplate the final destination, just the steps that take you there, or you might go mad.

Michael’s all too human brother was waiting in the foyer, his blonde hair disturbingly messy despite the formal engagement. He drew no more notice from her than a mosquito, and she passed him by and walked towards the library.

“Um, uh, hey” Michael said quickly. “He’s, uh, in the sunroom.”

She didn’t bother to acknowledge him, only turned abruptly and headed in the opposite direction, towards the back of the house. The sunroom was a large glass enclosure filled with as many tropical plants as Claudius could get to grow.  Gold bird cages peeped out from the foliage, and occasionally a bird would twitter or call, seeking comfort from its fellow prisoners.  Many of the vampires found the sunroom a pointless addition, which was exactly why Claudius had added it. He wanted everyone to see that he had so much wealth that he could afford to spend it on trivial, outlandish things. Even after all these years, he was still desperately trying to prove that he was worthy; though, she didn’t know he was trying to prove it to.

The sunroom had a row of artificial lights just inside the door, but the rest f the room was thick with shadows.  Her vampire eyes could see through the gloom, and she moved silently through the whispering plants, one hand holding her skirt above the floor, and the other gently folding back the larger leaves.

She reached the far side of the room, but Claudius wasn’t there. She turned back, a frown on her face, and found Michael and his brother so close behind her that she nearly crashed into them. Surprised, she jumped back into a large potted palm. Her arms flailed as she fought for her balance. It was the human brother who caught her under the elbows . For a moment she hung suspended, like a water drop ready to fall, but he righted her. She saw something flash across his face; some kind of regret, and then she remembered the hands on her arms.

She pulled away, and he jerked back, as if he’d been burned. “I’m sorry,” he said quickly. His panicked eyes skipped around the room as if they sought something, and his nervous hands dived into his pockets. He pulled them out again and shoved a crinkling plastic bag at her. “Gummy shark?

She drew away, confused. “What-” but she didn’t get to finish before someone grabbed her from behind.  She struggled against constricting arms and opened her mouth to scream, but someone silenced her with a wad of perfumed silk that burned her tongue.

Michael and his brother drew away as she choked and gagged, both wide eyed and terrified. She tried to motion to them to do something, but realized the futility when she saw two more figures emerge from the shadowy plants. One was a dark skinned woman attired in a long, shimmery gown, and the other was a pale man with long golden hair and amber eyes.  She’d never seen them before, but their expression told her that they weren’t going to help her.

The dark woman smiled cruelly and lifted what looked like a sack. Arowenia struggled, but she couldn’t stop her from putting it over her head.  The world was lost to darkness and the thick stench of old dirt.  On the other side of the sack, someone bound her wrists too tight and the woman’s voice purred, “There’s no time to be squeamish now, boys. You’ve both done very well.”

Arowenia was lifted and unceremoniously draped over someone’s shoulder, no doubt the man who’d first grabbed her. The only sound was the faint whisper of the plants as they moved through the sunroom. A door opened, and she realized they were exiting through the sunroom’s side entrance.  She kicked her feet and made soft, muffled pleas, but no one seemed to hear her. Where were the guards? Why weren’t they at the door? There were always guards – guards everywhere waiting, watching. Where were they now? Where were they?

She squealed and squirmed, but they were outside and there was no one in the back gardens at this end of the house.  These were the autumn gardens, and they wouldn’t bloom until September, so they were left shrouded in darkness and alone.

Her captors stopped, and she could only conclude that they’d reached the back wall. The man who held her muttered, “You first, and I’ll pass her over.” Whoever he spoke to obeyed, and she was handed up, wriggling and kicking, to another pair of hands. Her new captor grunted and swore under his breath, but he pulled her to the top of the wall and held her there, face down, while he waited for his companions.

She wondered who these vampires were, and why they were taking her. How had they gotten past the guards? How had they gotten in the house and out again without being observed? Why weren’t they being stopped now?

She was hauled down the other side of the wall and to a waiting vehicle. They dumped her in the backseat between the woman and the human. She could smell them both, something she should have done in the sunroom.  But there was no reason to be on guard, then. Or at least, she hadn’t thought there was.

The ride was long and quiet. Her captors rarely spoke, and when they did their words meant little to her.  Trapped between them in a car, she could do nothing about the bag or her hands, so she concentrated on spitting out the handkerchief. One step at a time.

By the time they reached their destination, she was free of the perfumed gag. There was no point in calling attention to it, so she stayed silent as she was heaved out of the car and carried inside another building. The footsteps of her captors echoed, and she guessed it must be a large room, possibly like the foyer at the mansion they’d left behind.

Another door opened and she was carried down the stairs. She felt the cold damp of a basement wrap around her, and heard the sound of stone grinding against itself.  She was dumped to the cold floor, and then the stone ground again and snapped shut; a concealed door.

The chamber behind it was small and Arowenia shifted so that she lay on her side.  The cold of the stone floor seeped through her light summer gown. The gown that was the wrong color. Why had they dressed her in pale peach?

She listened to the darkness and felt it listening back. Upstairs someone moved, footsteps across a floor, and hushed voices whispered. Who were they? Why had they taken her? She didn’t understand what she’d done, but she soon came to realize it had nothing to do with her. It was something to do with Claudius and one of his feuds.  Though he didn’t discuss them with her, she knew he had many.  None of them had ever touched her before, and she still didn’t understand how this one had.

But contemplating it was pointless. There was nothing she could do except wait for Claudius to come for her, leaving a bloody path of destruction in his wake, like he had before. For a moment, fear fluttered in her chest, a wild, forgotten emotion. A flash of the girls in the fountain came to her mind, and she could picture the one who stared at her, with terrified eyes, but, like Arowenia’s own fear, it hadn’t lasted, and the girl’s terror had dropped away into nothing. Yes, she was like them, only her drugs were the long, tired years that had drifted past, while she’d watched from a gilded window, never touching or being touched, until she no longer cared.  And now, alone in the darkness of the secret chamber, with only her thoughts and her memories ,she found they were all  cold and numb, like the ice that had chilled the young girls in the blood fountain, and she suddenly wasn’t sure whether she wanted to be rescued or not.

************

The ending might need some work.  But it’s eight am and I am tired.

Next week is Ashton Drake, Loren’s brother. Wheeeee!

Song going through my head – “Solitary Man” – HIM

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