XV. Extinguished

Luctus was not disappointed…no, no, no, for it was quite the opposite. Time only solidified his plots, tangling the lines into unexpected turns that formed perfections that he did not imagine fate would allow him to concoct.

Yes, Lucem did not die with Amzra’s puny war: he even went on to fulfill his betrothment in a ceremony modest enough to pass for a well-off commoner’s. Quite fitting.

Ah, how he digressed. Each day passed as a reminder of his contract: it took very little time for him to get used to the plane of understanding that he knew not existed before. The human voices of idle, foolish thoughts laid exposed to him, only to make parody of the intricacies of polite pretenses his vessels donn in his presence. And oh, the ungodly powers that put the common minds at his disposal. For they are all so simple, bending to his will as simply as a flip of a palm.

Yet he sought not the merely common minds. Among the murmur of existence he found her, closer to the light when he last saw her.

Still, not far enough for her to be safe from him: she changed, she was distracted and softened by love and naive enough to think he repented when he named his worthy brother the new King of Amzra. She had fallen out of touch with the powers of her spirits as her priesthood now vie for her attention, competing against her new crown, her husband and…

…still unbeknownst to the second-mentioned, their child.

The existence of the thing disgusted Luctus as he proceeded to exert his influence over Morgain’s mind. But no matter, it would be no concern to him soon enough.

Anyway, he would like to continue the spilled ink metaphor from a couple of chapters before, for the dark tendrils of his shadows shrouded her conscience, and before she noticed she was already doomed to the realms of her distant nightmares. And, so it unfolded, as he saw through her eyes.

It was already fairly late into the night. She was at the foot of the bed, attempting fruitlessly to make creases in the silken sheets as she waited for words to formulate the confession that she had been concocting for days. Lucem was supposedly attending to some correspondences at his writing desk that she turned her back to, though in truth, he studied her from the corner of his eyes as her aura of excitement wrapped in indecision infected him.

Fine, Luctus thought that his plans would only be made more delectable if he allowed this announcement, so he did.

“What’s wrong?” Lucem finally ventured, resting his pen upon its respectful perch and turning to face her.

“…Oh, nothing,” She returned his gaze with a slight smile and another urging for him to rest. “Do we not have an appointment early morning tomorrow? If I remember correctly, with the…their names escape me…”

“…Lord and Lady Leuri, you mean.”

“Right.”

Then for a moment they agreed without speaking to notice the moonlight spilled upon the marble floors through the opened windows, curtains flirting in slight winds with occasional flourishes.

Morgain interrupted the perfect silence with a sneeze, a cue for Lucem to draw the windows shut and himself to her, “So, you can’t tell me what is troubling your mind?”

Sinking into his warmth, Morgain whined, “It’s not troubling…but there was an element of surprise that I originally envisioned but cannot seem to apply in telling you.”

“Don’t tease me now.”

She chuckled and leaned in to whisper by his ear. He sat back slightly, blinking several times and his mouth opened to utter his unbelief and happiness but lost the words in sheer joy. He ran a hand through his hair, asking her for what he thought was the second, though really was the third, to reassure that he did not mishear, went on to give her a tight embrace and a rare show of excitement that only seemed exaggerated and childish to Luctus.

Luctus thought he had waited long enough, and the wider his silly brother’s smile became, the more impatient he grew. The timing was perfect, too, as Morgain’s happy mind had a flicker of a shadow as her husband’s helplessly boyish grin accentuated the uncanny resemblance between him and a beloved youth long gone, resurrected briefly to make her glower in reminders of remorse. So slowly she sank, dragged down into the grounds with the contemplated hypotheticals that she imagined to have saved Lucius’s life until she became entangled under her own damnation and ultimately, Luctus’s control.

Lucem, of course, noticed the unspeakable sorrows that weighed down the corners of his beloved’s smile and attempted to soothe her as the object of her sudden misery was mostly understood. She reciprocated by getting up from her seat upon the bed, pacing across side the bed until she paused at the writing desk, a hand upon the wooden table as her shoulders dropped in a deep sigh.

“Mor,” The bed made a slight creak as he left it. “You cannot blame yourself for someone else’s sins.”

He wrapped his arms about her from behind, lulling her to stop her unnecessary self blame with gentle whispers that brushed against the shell of her ear. Morgain turned about to bury her face into his chest to hide her distress. As he planted a soft kiss upon her forehead, he was ambushed by a sharp pang about his heart that left him breathless.

“…what…Mor…?”

Instinctively he attempted to push her away, though another sting tore through his gut before he succeeded, stumbling and falling as he tried to back away, pained and confused. He panted, a tremorous hand pressed against his wounds while the other grasped and bloodied the edge of the bed that he backed into, unable to lift himself from the cold marble floor.

“…Lo-love?”

Oh, how Luctus savored the moment the dim glint of silver that caught a sliver of the quivering candlelight extinguished the reflected lights as it was buried into that bastard’s flesh with slick, sickening sound. How poetic, that he should be able to end his adversary’s life with his very own lover.

Luctus raised the blade again, now red to its hilt, though it never delivered its final blow as it found itself lodged into Morgain’s other hand. Luctus was thoroughly confused, but the unexpected agony seemed to have distracted him enough to allow the voice that stopped the weapon from its original trajectory to amplify, growing louder and louder until Luctus realized that he is no longer completely in control of her conscious. Very well, he thought, he had done what he wanted. So, he left her to reap the fruits of her weakness.

She came about to her beloved’s gasps for breath, her hand still wounded about the blade responsible for the deed, “Lucem!” She threw the penknife aside and herself to his side, and she felt as though she stabbed herself in the heart instead of her hand when she saw that he flinched against her presence as he rightfully expected her to deliver more harm.

“No…I am so-sorry…” Her voice was as fragile as his form, which only then relaxed into her arms as she cradled him in utter despair, his increasingly numbed senses unable to realize the tears that fell upon his cheeks. “Oh, Lucem, Lucem…”

The wounds were too deep, so no enchantment can undo what Luctus had done.

What she had done.

She stifled her cry. For a brief moment, his eyes seemed to have met hers and saw the clear depths that he loved getting lost in, his lips opened to verbalize forgiveness and understanding but the words ran out of time and gave way to a shuddering sigh.

“…Lucem…?”

His heavy eyelids fluttered shut and he dreamt.

XIV. Shadowed

It was the longest morning Eleanor had ever spent in her life so far. As she sat watch over Cephas, her fears of startling him from his rest barred her leaving her eyes upon him for more than a glimpse. She got up to draw the curtains against the gradually unbearable heat of the sunlight, alphabetized books upon a stout bookshelf, and whenever Cephas should stir, rearrange carefully his cushions or blankets or wipe the beads of cold sweat upon his brows with a handkerchief she soaked in a cold basin of water.Still she was idle. So idle that she was nearly asleep when Cephas came about. She forced herself out of a doze when his unfocused vision studied his surroundings, became startled by the relative foreignness but relaxed as he found her seated by the bedside.

“Eleanor…what…”

“Are you feeling alright, Cephas, I was so scared since you fainted and you had these wounds and…I…?” Ah, of course, she turned away from her own idiocy and ineloquence.

“Fainted?” Eleanor did not have to see his face to know that he was frowning, searching for a memory to cooperate with her story. “…Sorry for the trouble…and thank you…”

“You’re welcome.”

Then silence fell between them, and Eleanor was reminded of her original attention of extracting a more believable version of the night’s events and the general state of this insane household, “…Cephas?”

“Yes?”

“Will you please tell me what is going on? What happened that night?”

“…”, He turned his eyes to stare at the foot of the bed . “Lady Eleanor, I am sorry for having placed both you and the young baron in danger; I was…too afraid to defy the Master…but as things had come to this point, it is only fair that I tell you the truth.”

“Mr. LaLauren is dead, killed by the man who claims to be him now, Lady Eleanor, who you are acquainted with is but a fraud who was sent here to win you and your brother’s trust…the carriage driver was bribed and the two of you were brought here instead of the true LaLauren Mansion. The man…he’s a sorcerer of sorts…well-versed in the dark arts…or perhaps the Devil himself. That night…it was but a normal patrol, his minions searching for stray food in those who might have a chance at overhearing unspeakable things…but this household itself…have you not notice yet?”

“…no…”

“Well, the truth is, this household is not of this world as everyone is but a conjured spirit or minions of hell or relics of the bygones…”

Eleanor had to stop him there, “…How is that possible? Does that include the head servant and those children that were with you?” She hesitated before adding. “And…yourself?”

“The head servant…is but a shapeshifter, prone to forgetful episodes that are arguablydelusional…the children? They are human…almost like feeds for the Master’s monstrous appetite for horrific acts…of…of…”

Cephas suddenly stopped and shoved her impending questions aside.

“The Master came back…” A look of perturbed horror recalled buried memories within Eleanor’s confused mind while wild eyes stared at the hands of a clock upon the wall. “Strangely early today…oh, he knows…damn that fool!” In a scramble, he managed to get up and dressed, though not without Eleanor’s aid as the ground clearly swayed beneath his feet as he stood up and his body protested against the exercise.

“Did your master do this to you?” Cephas did not seem to even heed her question in his panic, so Eleanor proceeded to repeat herself. “Did–”

He merely nodded before managing on his own to the door, where he found brief refuge against the frame, “Lady Eleanor, you must leave this premise at this instant; please go and–”

For the second time since her stay upon the mansion, a scream tore through the grounds. The pure screech of distilled horror came from the direction of the park and right through Eleanor’s heart.

“Sirius!”

She was so glad that she did not change out of her relatively comfortable outfit as she ran for the park, descending stairs and leaving Cephas’s call of caution behind as she burst into the open, at a loss of where exactly the voice came from.

“Si-sister!” The voice, shrill with anguish, pulled her into the woods.

“Sirius!” She stopped, scanning over the bushes and fallen leaves and branches that seemed to reach lower than before for the mere glimpse of her brother.

She strained her ears. Every stirring out of the corner of her eyes made her snap, every rustle of leaves or her paranoia made her cry out her brother’s name, every movement, every little flutter…

Then she saw it, a tall shadow darkened by the black trunks and the cover of the dense leaves and branches, inching forward down a path of its own. Eleanor narrowed her eyes and was horrified by the sight that met her: the form, deceptively human, had appendages fixed at strange angles that would have upset the creature’s balance had it not been gliding. Immediately, she took cover in one of the neighboring bushes, staring through the gaps between the reaches of the undergrowth. She wasn’t sure how much time elapsed when her pulse gradually stopped racing, while nature released the breath that Eleanor did not notice it was holding; birds and insects went back to their playful chirps while amphibians their panicked croaks. She began to wonder if she saw wrong, and that the shadow was merely a materialization of her fears; then she, too, released a breath that she did not know she was holding.

The second she exhaled, deathly silence fell upon her surroundings as though the voices of nature were but a candlelight extinguished by her very breath. Before she could react, a shadow was casted over her and, somehow, seized her by her arms and pulled her out of her refuge.

She fought, kicked, may have attempted to bite, but was frozen in place at the sight of her assailant: she assumed she beheld its face, which was clearly human in the making, but…twisted by stretches of scars of cuts or burns and hallowed by its perpetual widened expression as though frozen in time of a blood-curdling scream. A discord of teeth seemingly sharpened by broken edges distracted her temporarily from the deep scarlet veins running across the lifeless eye within the only intact eye socket, skin stretched thin against a skull made uneven by a blow that crushed the other eye with broken bones and gore. Eleanor wanted to scream, but the creature strangled her with its mere presence: a cold seized her very being, so cold that it burnt.

As the clutch increased its strength to unbearable proportions, Eleanor thought she heard her name before the world dwindled into darkness.

Father

Genetically speaking, “father” is generally a male who is responsible for half of your genetic makeup.

To me, he is a symbol of distant fears, of late nights when my sister, my mom, and I were obliged to stay up, waiting for him to come home from work. Later on, he evolved into a symbol of inexplicable misogyny, saying things like “wives should stay home and tend to their husbands,” demanding to know everything my mother, sister and I want to or plan to do, randomly snapping or throwing things when my sister and I dared to defy his almighty authority.

He is the one who asks if I am mentally unstable when I attempt to explain to him how wrong it was for him to say that the only reason women should be educated was to “make them more reasonable.”

He is the epitome of hypocrisy who scoffs when he sees my mother cleaning the house, but complains when my grandma does not leave the household spotless once my mother goes back to the States with me. He later told my mother that seeing people doing house chores upsets him and he wants it to be done out of his way.

He is the definition of insensitivity as he purposely boast to his friends in front of my sister and I how much he suffered when he visits the U.S.: how inedible the meats are compared to Taiwan, how the foods were only fit to be fed to pigs, how tiresome it was to adjust to jet lag. All these complaints, even though he never bothered to adjust to jet lag on his one-week visits nor even go through the bother of packing since he expects my mother or grandmother to clean up after the luggage he leaves opened in the middle of the living room. Most of the time he would talk loudly on the phone in the middle of the night even during school days. During the day, he would sit there and scroll on his phone, demanding for my sister and I to chat with him while he continues to stare at his phone (with the exception of the instances when I mention a white person).

Once we complain or try to talk to him, he would just book a ticket to go back to Taiwan sooner, saying that we are isolating him, that we are unsympathetic to his sacrifices in providing for us.

He’s the first thing I hate, and the last thing I would want to learn to love, though I know that the lesson will have to pass one day.

XIII. The Visitation

The conditions of the army were not nearly as horrible as Luctus had envisioned: yes, many were wounded while others muddied from burying their dead, but the grimes of war and worries had long been cleaned, polished to allow the prevalence of determination and, once the Emperor was out of sight, disdain for Luctus’s belated presence. He pretended oblivion to the glares beneath low bows as he arrived upon his destination at the commander’s tent accompanied by his squadron of guards.
A general stood at the mouth of the tent to meet him, explaining with firm humility that he was given instruction to not allow anyone enter for the sake of the Commander’s health.
Luctus arched an eyebrow at the idea that he should not be exempted from the prohibition, “Then, may I ask whose instructions are these that should bar me from seeing my own brother?”

“The Grand Priestess, Your Excellency.”
Ah, so she arrived before him. Luctus clicked his tongue, more weary of the mask of brotherly affection than the days of commute from the capital to the edge of the empire, “Must I take leave without a more certain promise of his health?”
“…Your humble servant dare not defy the Priestess’s orders, Your Excellency.”
Luctus scoffed, “Then, are you inclined to defy mine?”
The conflict of loyalty with fear was delightful to watch; it was reminiscent of the way splattered blots of ink reached out in microscopic tendrils to taint the silken papers until plain brown became a dark, sloppy mess. The general did not resembled a mess, however, though Luctus noted the bead of cold sweat upon the general’s brow before a gauntleted hand wiped it away.
“No, absolutely not, Your Excellency,” He gestured for forgiveness before adding. “If Your Excellency deem him worthy, your lowly servant can take word.”
Luctus scoffed, “Fine. Merely inform of my presence, then.”
The general entered the tent, giving Luctus just enough time to give up on scrutinizing his muddied robe as the former returned meaning for the Emperor to enter. Luctus was first struck by a solid wall of herbal scents then by the modesty of the set up: a desk that screamed simplicity but not poverty covered in strategies, a lantern, two small chests set against a plain divider behind which the Commander rested.

Propped up by a few cushions and a propensity to hide pain and disdain with formality, Lucem appeared before his older brother on his bedding, seemingly unchanged since their last meeting saved for a much clearer shadow in the angles of his features. He made a clear attempt to get up and bow, but Luctus excused the effort with a slight wave of the hand. In a far corner of the tent obscured by an enclosure of canvas, the dull scraping of stone pestle against mortar accompanied by occasional rustle of movement announced the Grand Priestess’s occupation. Curious, that the general seemed to have only conferred with his Commander, Luctus contemplated as he seated himself upon a convenient stool. Or perhaps she was resolved to avoid him.

“Your useless servant had unnecessarily troubled and failed Your Excellency,” Lucem began. “If…”
“Oh Lucem,” Luctus interrupted the apologetic outburst. “I am merely glad to see that you are recovering so well: the thought of losing another brother is simply…unbearable.”
Before Lucem could offer any inquiry disguised as brotherly consolation, a crash of porcelain against the hard earth intruded along with a string of muttered apologies from Morgain, who hurried to pick up the pieces left of a bowl of medicine.
“It’s fine, Mor, don’t cut your fingers, now…” Despite Lucem’s chiding, the Priestess already wrapped up the broken pieces in a handkerchief.
After disposing the small package in what Luctus presumed to be her own luggage, Morgain made for shelter in her canvas square, though changed her trajectory to keep a closer watch upon her beloved against their adversary, seating herself on his other side and as far from Luctus as politely possible.
“Rest assured, I would not allow you to lose a brother so easily,” The extreme bitterness of her address alarmed Lucem as he found it too unrestrained from her usual calm to be purely anger for Luctus’s purposeful delays; Morgain, on the other hand, noticed and decided to add a “Your Excellency” that merely approached to sarcasm.
Luctus scoffed inwardly and opened his mouth to speak, but he was surprised by an icey grip upon his heart that made him stumble instead, “I suppose it was improper of me to intrude: I shall bother you no more now, Lucem, be well.” With that, Luctus exited the tent wondering why Lucem’s ignorance towards his sin against Morgain relieved him so: that fool has nothing. In fact, he could have killed him right there just now.
Yet, it was as though the glares of the Priestess, the general, the rows of soldiers, the ministers in the capital…hidden disdain thrusted upon him cuffed his hands, and any faulty pull against the chains would birth a spark to revolution that would burn him alive.
Meanwhile, Luctus’s fears solidified the second he left the Commander’s quarters as Lucem allowed himself to sink back into his cushions with a sigh of relief, but remembering to seize his lover’s hand before she was rushing back to her medicines, “Morgain.”
The warmth of his hand and the soft whisper with which he uttered her name froze her with dreams of a better time, “Please…don’t touch me.” She broke remembrances as she snatched her hand out of Lucem’s.
“Are you…hurt? What’s wrong?”
“I am” — the despair with which her love searched for the source of her pains cracked the last word to the lie — “fi-fine…” Anguished tears assaulted her, and she turned her back to him in a fruitless attempt to hide.
“Mor, please…who wronged you?” Lucem answered the question as Morgain remained silent in her sorrows. “What have Luctus done?”
Finally, with a long sigh, Morgain made the resolve for her confession, “I-I was going to t–tell you after you are better…” Then truth flowed forth, of first the true nature of Lucius’s death and then of the negotiation and the poisoning and…and…
Morgain watched in silent horror blank despair settling over Lucem’s features as he clenched and unclenched his fist as though to see if the strings of fate would finally break. Then he tore his gaze away from her and fixed his eyes upon the earth instead.

“Lucem…”

“I am sorry, Mor,” He started. “I am sorry…I didn’t think…I was not there for you when you needed me most…Please forgive me, it’s all my fault…”

She merely denied his self blame with a firm shake of her head before fresh tears washed her cheeks anew, sorrow and fear joined by a splinter of relief. For the first time ever since the day she exerted all of her powers to forget, she allowed herself to not flinch away from her love’s outstretched hand; she knew from his diverted gaze the agony of powerlessness and remorse amplified by his tendency to protect those he loves. So, his suffering temporarily distracted her from her own, prompting her to lift herself out of darkness and into the security of his arms.

As his beloved wept noiselessly into his chest, Lucem rested his chin upon her head as he squeezed his eyes shut: despite her mutters of forgiveness, cold tendrils gradually wrapped themselves about his heart and wrung it dry.

Had I been there with her, had I been more capable so she did not have to beg for aid on my behalf, had I been able to swallow my pride and fears and merely retreat or surrender…

“Lucem,” She quieted his rambling thoughts, drawing just enough out of his embrace to cup his face and catch his gaze. “Love, please…we cannot afford to think like that…”

He agreed by placing his hand upon hers, sighing at the intrinsic burdens of remorse and into the contact as his fellow sufferer pressed herself into him, stealing the apologies from his lips by locking the latter with her own. Once again, he squeezed his eyes shut, allowing himself to indulge within his Priestess’s desires and without another string of hesitant guilt.

Just for the instance.

Simple Kaffa: a Tiramisu Forumla

One of the things that I missed the most on my six-weeks visit in Taiwan was good coffee. Yes, I did mention that there are a plethora of cafes in basically every single block of any Taipei streets. However, there are very few that I saw that could provide a quaint environment in the same way that Kean Coffee does for me in Tustin, CA.

My opinions changed when I went to Simple Kaffa, a quaint cafe hidden in a small, open air yet somewhat underground courtyard that offers wonderful coffee and desserts.

It is a popular place: so popular that they named their tiramisu “sometimes available” since it often runs out (my first visit being one of those times).

It is also so popular that no one noticed when my mother, sister and I accidentally walked out of the place without paying, since somehow, we were all too tired from house chores and too accustomed to the waitress/waiter bringing the bill instead of having to go to the counter before we leave.

We did not notice our mistake until that night, when my mom immediately called and apologized for our forgetfulness. Surprisingly, the clerk also apologized profusely, thanking us for our honesty. Though we made sure for the next day’s schedule to include our second visit at the cafe to pay our forgotten bill.

This was when we tried their “beer coffee,” a cold, non-alcoholic drink that was basically a bubbling cold brew.

This was also when we finally got the tiramisu that ran out the day before.

It was a great reminder to my usually pessimistic mind that both honesty and understanding are just like tiramisu at Simple Kaffa, a heavenly combination of great ingredients that are “sometimes available.”

Matcha Heaven

I thought that my relationship with matcha was forever upset by the presence of chocolate. However, Taiwan was here to prove me wrong.

At Myowa Japanese Cafe, there are a lot of forms of matcha that offers an ultimate (pricey) matcha experience: crepes, sizzling plates (which I had a video of, but cannot post here because I am not a premium member :D), lava cake, tiramisu, sundaes, along with a side of mochi, pudding, soft-served ice cream and teas.

This was yet another example of Taiwan’s culinary finesse along with its deep connections with Japan as a result of being put under the latter’s rule during the period of Japanese Imperialistic expansion before WWII.

Also, since Japan had been one of the most economically successful countries in East Asia, it was only natural for Taiwan to copy/learn heavily from that culture.

Well, I certainly am glad that matcha became one of the prospects of cultural diffusion.

XII. The Servant’s Tale

Eleanor finally found Cephas on Tuesday, when he returned to his post of arranging trivial affairs as though the night or the accident with the boy never occurred. He continued to avoid her attention and her many questions with petty excuses or well-timed demands from Mr. LaLauren. So, she was left in a daze of the upset happenings of the mansion, keeping a paranoid eye upon all that she observed.Then an event meeting her paranoia unfolded.

It was Thursday morning when Mr. LaLauren had just set out for town, and when Eleanor finally gave into Sirius’s relentless requests for her to go to a creek on the edge of the grounds with him. She got dressed in the lighter gowns fit for the exercise and was wrestling her hair into a bun when her brother knocked and entered without seeking her permission. Assuming that he was merely bursting with the usual boyish excitement, she reached out to calm him down but only to find him hanging by the door sick with fear.

“Sirius, what happened?!”

“Ce-Cephas is not well!” The boy attempted to explain as he led her sister to his room. “I was just asking him if he had seen my jacket then he suddenly collapsed…”

When Eleanor got to the room, she found Cephas on his knees leaning against the arm of a chair in a desperate attempt to stand.

“Cephas!” She called, rushing to his side. “What on earth happened? Are you alright?”

“Oh…Lady Eleanor,” He acknowledged her with difficulty, squinting just slightly as though the proximity of her existence to him remained a mystery to him. “I’m…I’m…”

She noted his deathly paleness and the burning heat of his hands as she attempted to recall him from his stupor, but he merely uttered incomprehensibly before falling forward against Eleanor’s shoulder, losing consciousness.

“Go call the head servant,” Eleanor ordered her brother along, and it wasn’t until the boy shut the door that she realized her cluelessness as she held Cephas.

Initially, she checked if he was still breathing, and the slight puffs of hot breaths brushing her neck relieved her. But, after that examination, she was not sure what she was supposed to do. She wasn’t even sure how improper it would be for her to just continue holding him like so. After some thoughts, she decided to move him to her brother’s bed, and with a mighty struggle she managed to accomplish so. Then, recalling Elliot’s procedures once when reviving a faint servant, she loosened Cephas’s collar and sleeves after much contemplation. Though before she could be flustered, she was alarmed to find cloth…no, a corner of fresh bandages exposed with his lowered collar. She quickly undid the buttons of his shirt to find that the cloth wrapped about shoulder and his side, the latter part stained with a dull scarlet. Could it be the strange voice that led him away that night? It was as she postulated the possible origins of such wounds that she noticed the numerous stretches and irregular lines of skin covering his body, pale and smooth and told of infinite suffering. How did he have so many scars…In fact, the numbers of the marks made it difficult to notice as it nearly completely covered his entire being like a discolored patchwork upon a broken doll.

Before she could make up the courage to exchange the bandages, Sirius returned with the head servant, whose greying brows knitted together even more severely as he entered the scene, “Oh, Cephas…” In a scramble the Crisiotas were both shut out of the room after the head servant fetched another helper, leaving the two hanging under the cloud of concerned contemplation and prayer until he emerged from the room, his hands freshly cleaned of blood.

Eleanor had enough of silence and demanded, “What on earth happened to him?”

The head servant was going to excuse himself on the basis of the Master’s orders, but found a burning emotion within the Lady’s eyes that spoke of dangerous resorts if left unanswered once more and had compassion for the poor soul he just tended to, so he decided, “This household is not what you think it seems, Lady Eleanor.”

That was really a given understanding what the Crisiotas experienced in merely a week, though Eleanor sensed more confessions as she prompted the servant to go on.

“I…I really don’t know much of it myself, since I had just been employed not long before your arrival, but at nights” — he paused to look about the hallway as though the nightly horrors were to befall him if he spoke — “…at nights, there are these…spirits.”

Eleanor felt a tug upon her dress from her brother.

The servant continued, “At first, I only heard their cries and thought it was some cruel jokes from some of the children that stayed upon these grounds, so I decided to use a light and investigate.” He gulped as though the memory of the night itself was unbearable. “Then I saw them, human but deformed in the most monstrous ways: they rushed at me and I accidentally dropped and extinguished the light, then they just started speaking in a low growl…more like chanting in a tongue that I did not know of…I don’t remember much since I passed out from sheer fright, my old heart could not possibly sustain me…”

“Then, Cephas confronted me the very next day with a warning to not leave my room after midnight, and I followed suit until one day…just last week I believe, when I heard the low growls drawing closer to my door…instead of following Cephas’s advice, I allowed a crack to spy upon the procession, only to find Cephas in their claws and being dragged across the floor…”

Now having realized the servant described the same event that she remembered, her remorse for having abandoned Cephas to such a terrible evil spirit (or whatever the monster is) rose along with her hairs.

“…Of course I thought I had to give chase, perhaps having been woken up in a daze impaired my judgement as I followed them, only to find them leading to a flight of stairs that never came to my attention before leading down into a spiral. I lost sight of them after the end of the stairs, which led to a strange maze of darkness and the most horrific stench that forced me to abandon my mission…Then I scrambled blindly in the darkness to return to my room, but just before I left the hallway, I saw my Master turning the corner and descending down the stairs. I was too disturbed and was coming to my senses of the horrors of what was happening to dare to follow…”

The mystery only seemed to coil together tighter along with the servant’s brows as he told his story.

“Then Cephas was missing for the following days, and I tried retracing my steps that I took that night to find the stairway…but…it was vanished…”

Eleanor found herself skeptical of such a fantastic tale, and drew from it the conclusion that at least Cephas should have a better explanation for the strange happenings of the LaLauren Mansion. Eager for this answer lest a delay should further endanger her brother and herself, Eleanor asked to keep watch over the injured man with what she told herself as a pretense of affection, which was enough to convince the head servant.

As she went to the bedside, Cephas had adopted a much deeper breath in his slumber, which was only interrupted by rare feverish stirrings. She took a hand in hers as though the contact and the faint pulse could beat out a confession that would solve her worries and, above all, hopes for the survival of the object of her supposedly childish love.