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.

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