Endnote of LaLauren Mansion

Dear Readers,

So…23 chapters (or 26,492 words) later, my second story, LaLauren Mansion, is finally finished. Just want to thank all of you for reading and liking the many chapters: I hope all of you had as much fun reading as I had writing. I tried very hard to use character development or the lack of along with other seemingly awkward language to illuminate certain aspects/critique of our society, though it may really seem amateurish since I am still working on my skills as writer!

However, if any of you are actually interested in knowing what is going on in this strange head of mine when I wrote certain chapters– and to be honest, some are more symbolic than others — please comment on those chapters and I will write the analysis explaining the rationale and certain allegories/references/allusions that is always within everything I write. (Random fact, I like to call these references literary easter eggs, just because it sounds a lot less esoteric or intimidating.)

Anyway, a huge thank you for all of your support: I will continue to sharpen my skills with more ambitious projects that can hopefully be enjoyable and meaningful to you guys.

Sincerely,

Meiko

XXIII. The LaLauren Mansion

The memory unfolded in a setting strangely familiar, and Eleanor only realized that it was in the very mansion she was currently in. She found Cephas on the floor, bleeding and struggling to move. She followed his gaze towards the balcony and found a little boy balancing upon the edge of a great fall. Then, she realized it was Sunday. That Sunday.

“James…listen to me, don’t…please…”

From the narratives she watched, Eleanor knew, Cephas, no, Soulran’s very pain. It was all the same as that time. History shall repeat: the nightmare buried under the years of abuse should resurface and haunt him anew. As the little boy stood upon the edge, Soulran dragged himself towards the boy in vain, while LaLauren stood across the room to watch in amusement and rid his hands of blood with a handkerchief.

“Please…he has nothing to do with this…” Soulran begged of the villain, who merely smiled, amused as the boy known as James leaned forward. Soulran cried out and made a grasp at thin air, but all was too late. The boy was no more.

Soulran collapsed against the balcony railings, his head bowed to anguished contemplation, silenced by pain.

The agony became all-encompassing that, as Eleanor reached out to Soulran, the floor tilted, spun, and the strings loosened and the scene drifted into darkness.

“Eleanor…Eleanor…” she came about to the teary face of her brother, whose grip upon her arm became just a little painful.

She tore her attention from him, glancing over the children about her and studying without understanding how the blacken cast of ashes and coal could be the same mansion meant to be her temporary safe house. Perhaps it was more fitting, for the fires had consumed ornate baroqueness and revealed the hellish center.

Then she remembered, “Soulran!?” Her audience were clearly confused, so she sprung upon her feet and looked for him herself.

Her search was brief, for he was but a few steps away from her, faint, deathly pale, and still. She wanted to cry, but thought the gesture to be a dangerous assumption of his doom. So one can only imagine her surprise, when she stooped to examine him to find not only the faint music of his pulse and breaths, but also that his mortal wounds are he. She grasped his intact hand in a passion.

“Soulran?” He stirred, though still locked in the rest he long deserved. “Soulran…” She squeezed his hand to assure that he was still there.

Sirius tapped her on the shoulder with a note of triumphal urgency, “Did you hear that?”

She strained to hear in the mists of uncertainty the harsh clicks and creaks that she later realized to be the sound of an approaching carriage. Paranoia commanded her to run and hide, but she stood her ground, prepared to welcome the worse.

To her disbelief a familiar figure came to view, overwhelming her with utmost excitement and relief, “Elliot!”

The servant answered with equal joy, though immediately thrown into panic by the state of the mansion and his young lady’s bruised cheek and the ring of ruffled children his young master had lost himself in with his equally ashened looks. After collecting himself, Elliot explained his well-timed visit.

“Your mother thought your description of the manor most suspicious and sent me here to ensure your safety…and it seems that her fears are very much justified.” At this point he glanced at Soulran. “Let us make haste then, and explanations can follow our journey.”

It took them a while to settle into the carriage with some of the children being especially unsettled with their beloved guardian in such a comatose state. At last they set out, with the little ones on one side and Eleanor on the other cradling Soulran’s head upon her lap. Elliot turned a blind eye of the impropriety and took to steering.

Eleanor stared intently out of the windows of the carriage, attempting to distinguish the LaLauren Mansion out of the untrimmed branches and tangled trees as they drew further away. She caught its dark outline against the pale blue sky, and shuddered as she was reminded that the architecture now served as a crumbling, nameless tombstone of one undeserved to be buried.

She drew the velvet ribbon and allowed the veil fall across her view upon the narrative that she hoped to forget.

XXII. Ring

It was not until a week after did Soulran realize that one who can ruthlessly snap the neck of a wild beast is but a greater monster.

The realization came as his father summoned him one morning to the lesser courts. Luctus took his hand as though to guide him into a new wonderful world as they ascended an endless spiral of stairs leading to the tower in the center of court.

The only thing new about the lesser courts was its inhabitant, the Consort Sapphira stripped of her Imperial crown, and her usual iciness embittered with sorrows wasn’t all that wonderful. Soulran kept telling himself that the black cloud of crows shrouding the East city gate visible just out the opened windows with their “caw”s were but the manifestation of his remorse, and not the birds’ feasting over the severed corpses of a once beloved servant.

As the two were ushered into Sapphira’s presence by a nervous servant girl, the former Empress sighed: her unadorned hands rested upon her lap, Sapphira sit in her degraded throne with her back to the intruders, her raw eyes fixated upon the same object the boy dreaded. “Why do you loathes me so, My Lord?”

“Can one blame another for being disapproving of treason? Adultery?”

“My Kingdom will not forgive you,” She said through gritted teeth.

“And you think I should fear a nation whose King was groveling before me for forgiveness days before?”

Sapphira rose from her perch, striding in measured steps to the window to gaze upon the murder of crows as her inquiries were left unanswered. “If you are here to take justice in your own hand, so be it. I doubt my execution should have anything to do with justice, but the obstruction of it: you are merely afraid that I would tell the world of what you did…Who did you think told me these things but they themselves?”

“…”

“You cannot kill the truths, Luctus, for as long as Morgain and your brothers are wronged, they will continue to tell of your deeds. Have you fallen so far that you can’t even hear them?”

The serenity upon the woman’s face accentuated her resemblance to another, and the reminder only made him more desperate, “Silence!” He knew not if the command was directed at the woman before her or the multitudes that murmured by his ears.

Yes, he hears them too: cursing, condemning, or prophesying his doom.

He fought them to reach out and grasp Sapphira’s mind, and she fell under his command, seized with suppressed terror. Her limbs were out of her control, carrying her in gradual steps to the window until she was standing on the frame, eddies beckoning her to continue into thin air.

The voices grew, raising and deteriorating into a low roar that nearly deafened him until a tug at his sleeve pulled him back.

“Papa?” The legion silenced, not at Luctus’s command, but the voice of the child. “…Please don’t hurt her.”

“…Why do you side with her?”

“If you kill her, you only hurt yourself more.”

It was not Soulran that spoke: it was the prodigy, the commander, the bastard son…or was it the prophetic, the blessed, the perfection? No…the child did not share anything with his parents that he never met saved for a foolish capacity to trust, to tug on the sleeve of a monster that robbed him of his birthright to familial love. He could only do so since he does not understand…

Indeed, Soulran could not understand the sting that sent him tumbling to the floor. Father struck him, and it hurted too much, “Pa…”

“Would you have cared if you know that you are no child of mine?” The Emperor’s voice was harsher than the blow. “That I killed your uncle, father, and…mother? Would you have cared?” How could a mere boy answer? Luctus wanted no more but to rob him of that blissful ignorance. What does he think he is to pity?

Soulran wanted to scream, but he knew not of what. As he saw the blur at the window and heard the horrible shriek he rushed to it, thrusting his hand out the window to grasp at the escaping fabrics of Her Majesty’s robes and watching in helpless horror her descend until she bashed into the stones below, grey smudged with ruinous red and matters that made Soulran spring back from the window and vomit.

Before the Emperor left he heard the boy choked out, “…Why…”

Luctus paused at the door, slightly distracted by the growing commotion below, before deciding to leave the boy drowning in his distress.

*******

Soulran had never felt so sick in his life. The suspicion of him killing the former Empress’s death punished him into being forever regarded with judgment and loneliness. Not a day went by without the nightmare of how he would reach out for her, sometimes it may even seem closer, yet never enough, and he would watch her crash against the floor. He would wake without one to cry to, and the bedtime stories and kisses were but another dream turned to dust.

He tried many things. He stopped eating to see if anyone cared, purposely failed his lessons to test Mentor Sariel’s sympathy, and yet all he earned was more negligence.

He resorted to kicking pebbles along the creek in the gardens, contemplating the Emperor’s cruelty, the revelation of his parentage, his parents’ unexplained deaths. Nothing made sense, and with a hard kick a pebble splashed into a pond where the creeks met.

He didn’t want to return to the palace just yet today; instead, he paused, and looked into the water at the despondent face glaring back. He wished more than ever that the beast in the forest killed him.

Then a voice startled him: beyond the murmuring creek and frogs and leaves, laughter in a musical tone. He first attributed it to some adventurous fairy, and was drawn inevitably towards it. As he walked to the voice it never got closer, so he pursued down the winding paths. He never remembered the gardens being so large.

It wasn’t until he found himself before a dense covering of old trees creating a cave of darkness that Soulran realized that he was not in the gardens anymore. He wanted to retrace his steps, but the paths led him back to the dark cave. He knew not what to do.

Soulran, child, do not be afraid, He said in his usual tenderness.

“Who are you?”

Go on, Soulran, you will be safe there, She added without intentions to explain.

“What..are you?” Soulran saw them then, juxtaposed against the darkness of the cave, and he recognized and approached them. Each step he took brought him closer to cold air. As he chased after them the cold only grew increasingly unbearable, biting at him until he hid his face behind his arms to not be blinded.

“Where are you taking me?”

To the beginning.

When he saw again it was of a word of darkness where sharp bristles of snow cut at him in the howling wind.

Do not lose heart, child.

Soulran gasped to regain his breath, and only sucked in a mouthful of icy wind, “I can’t…”

You don’t have to do it alone.

Then from his chest a new warmth found him, and he realized that it was from his ring, hanging like a pendant upon a chain about his neck. He grasped it and its energy shield him from the cold, and from that same warmth two figures seemed to have held his hands and guided him to a great mansion, the only light dotting the dark, white world.

He did not know how, but he slipped past its gates and found its large mahogany doors.

Go on, we will be right here.

The second his knuckled made contact against the door, his warmth left him, and his strengths gave way to darkness while he muttered.

“Pa…?…Ma…?”

And the doors opened.

XXI. The Monster

Soulran wasn’t sure what to make of his childhood. It was almost like a yam, the rotten kinds, where parts were still edible but some green with mould: the lack of unity in it made it all the more miserable since there was the hope that it could have been perfect, but it’s still thrown away.

Soulran wasn’t thrown away, though. In fact, there were a lot of happy times, like when father gave him a pretty ring after Her Majesty slapped him for accidentally calling her “mother.” Or, how his father always made time for him, telling him stories and making him almost feel like he was more important than the empire.

But, Soulran doesn’t like to bother his father since he’s still busy. Plus he would never explain who his mother is (or why Her Majesty is always so crossed and wouldn’t let Lyra to play with him), and would always grow so grim whenever the boy inquires, until Soulran made up his mind to beg for forgiveness. Then the Emperor would feel bad and be all kind again. The boy was left to Her Majesty’s devices, and he really wanted to know why she hated him so much so he could stop offending her.

One day, Soulran dropped by the Empress’s wing to bid the customary good evening. She excused him with a lazy wave of her hand, though changed her mind as he crossed the threshold.

“Soulran,” She said with her rigid regality. “Would you mind leaving Leo” — for that was the name of his servant — “with me today?”

Of course, the boy was so happy that Her Majesty deigned to ask him for anything, so he nodded enthusiastically; Leo, however, had his consternation.

“You Majesty, I must go arrange for someone to accompany My Lord –”

“ –No, I am sure that Soulran would be fine to roam on his own,” She rested her head upon her hand as she turned to the boy. “Doesn’t Mentor Sariel always said that you exceed the talents of the late King Lucem (may his poor soul rest in peace) and his cursed queen?”

Soulran never heard much about either of those people beyond the common gossips, but deduced that it was a compliment, to which he was ecstatic, “I will be fine on my own, Your Majesty!” With that he bounded out of the room, pausing only as he caught the Empress’s sigh.

“Good riddance.”

Soulran was devastated: he sincerely thought she actually trusted him. Out of an unjustified hope of Leo speaking up for him, he hid on the sides of the door to listen.

He was disappointed, since the servant valued his life a little more than his friendship with the boy.

The Empress continued, “Was why can’t that little vermin just die?”

Soulran suppressed the urge to cry as Leo finally spoke, “The boy is quite innocent of being born, Your Majesty.”

“Well, so am I! Who dictated so that I have to suffer through all this? We’ve already been over this, Leo: I need a son.”

“Remember, Sapphira, your jealousy only repels His Majesty.”

“If you are in my position, then you would have been the same: every day that worm grows more and more smug. You would know, how much attention that bastard wasted upon the pest: His Ignorance didn’t even know his daughter, my daughter’s name until she turned one. He spends more time with that boy than with me!” She paused, presumably to fan herself in pity. “I hate that little parasite so much, so much that I dreamt of plucking his toes and fingers off and gouging out those eyes — those exact same eyes as that cursed Priestess — and have his puny little head crus–”

–Soulran couldn’t stand it anymore. He ran, not minding whether if Leo or the Empress heard him or where he ran to. He ran and ran and ran out of the wing, out of the palace, until he couldn’t breath so he just walked, upset with the world.

Eventually he tired and curled up against a tree as he finally broke out sobbing. It wasn’t his fault that father decides to pay more attention to him. How could anyone say such things? What can he do? He doesn’t want the Empress to kill him…

He was so caught up in his distress that he did not notice the purring of a preying predator until a branch snapped above him. He looked up, only to meet cold feline eyes amidst fine obsidian coating rippling muscles that nearly distracted from the powerful jaws and fangs and claws digging into the bark of the tree as its back reared, preparing for a deathly pounce.

Soulran attempted to run away, but the beast was faster, landing before him and blocking off his escape. He recall a spell to summon roots to tie down the beast; still, its wild struggle and scratches caught his leg as he scrambled backward, slicing his left calf.

It burnt so much when he finally got up on his feet, he couldn’t bear to run! So he had to limp along, constantly looking over his shoulder in pure horror as the creature snapped each root by root, agitation only aggravating hunger. And by the time he put in a good distance between him and the beast, it already broke free. Soulran attempted to repeat his luck, but the creature dodged, closing in upon him with a few mighty leaps while the boy futilely staggered along. Then he was paralyzed with fear and the unbearable sting of the beast’s claw tearing down his back. Out of desperation, he conjured a ball of fire and dashed it haphazardly at the animal. It hissed and sprung back briefly but was mostly unscorched.

How did it come to this? Everything hurts so much that he can’t even move, his fingers digging into the warm earth under him and grasping at the tufts of grass as though any of that could help him. Still he could hear the creature approaching. He squeezed his eyes shut and wished for a quick death.

He heard the beast roar, a crunch, followed by a thud and a gentle grip that lifted him into safety, “Soulran, child, look at me.”

He managed to cry out, “Papa,” before bursting into tears out of relief and pain; the Emperor inspected the oozing wounds to find that they weren’t fatal and applied a simple spell to staunch the blood.

“Shhhh…it’s okay now…” Soulran was disoriented from all the pain and gruesomely broken body of the beast in a spreading pool of scarlet watering the earth. “Why are you here alone?”

Soulran tried to tell him everything, but choked on his tears instead. The Emperor merely studied him and understood, squeezing the boy briefly in his arms before taking the child back to the safety of the palace, excusing the nervous servants to send for the court physician and shunning the useless guards with his cold ignorance.

That night, the Emperor visited the boy’s to fret over his injuries, and after Soulran assured him that he is fine, Luctus seated himself on the edge of the bed and was deep in thought.

“You know, I was almost mauled to death by a wild beast when I was a boy, too…”

Soulran was delighted as the musing tone suggested story time, “What happened? Who saved you?”

“Who saved me?” Luctus looked down at his hands as he seemed to be extracting the name from the creased silk. “It doesn’t matter: you ought to rest.”

Soulran would have pressed for more had him not be too sore. So he opted for snuggling against the blanket Luctus tucked him in and muttered, “Thank you…for saving me, papa.”

The man merely smiled, “You were very brave, I was very proud of you.”

The moment he rested a hand upon Soulran’s head, the boy couldn’t control his urge to cry.

“What’s wrong?”

“…Nothing…I am just tired…”

“You silly, people don’t just cry because they are tired: why are you still scared? The beast is no more…” Luctus stumbled upon the answer after some thought. “Oh…don’t worry, Soulran, Her Majesty will never be able to hurt you.” With that and a kiss on the forehead, the boy submitted to sleep.

 

XX. Pretty Trinket

At this point, Eleanor could not hear anything but the wood breaking in the flames. She attempted to reach out to Sirius, but cannot: not a thing was valuable enough to strike another deal, the voice was not tempted after taking decades of her lifetime when she used her power earlier. She remembered that she was still holding Cephas, his paling face resting against her shoulder, eyes struggling to not yield against the weights death placed upon his lids.

Then she felt it, a searing heat right below the midst of her collarbone. She winced, a hand shooting to the irritated area to find a forgotten trinket: she drew out the pendant from its chain, the jadeite seemingly innocent of any peculiarity until she laid it in her hand, when its unusual warmth gave her an illusion of the stone smoldering like the world about her.

She was about to drop the pendant when Cephas unexpectedly placed a hand against hers in holding it. Then all the sudden, the heat died out to be replaced with a relieving coolness that increased in intensity until it became altogether bitingly cold.

“Cephas…?”

A cool breath, so wintry in comparison to the fires around them encased the two, and Eleanor could not help but shiver at the sudden change. The sigh of air took up vigor and circled, spinning and twisting until it howled, forming a cocoon that withstood even when the wooden complex gave way to the inferno.

Among the chaos, Eleanor found herself wondering again: it wasn’t her power but something grander, that took hold of her consciousness and drew her into yet another memory.

XIX. Night’s Visitor

Morgain did not know what to make of this new world, but it was as though the God she nearly deemed negligent recompenses: she found that she came to a world not entirely different from her home, for it still harbor enough energies within the atmosphere for simple spells, and the language was familiar. Another miracle was that she found herself under the wings of a couple wealthy enough to care for a stranger they found unconscious on some corner of the road, but not affluent enough to patronize. For, as soon as she was well enough she was determined to set out against the world, though the woman forcefully insisted for her stay after learning that Morgain knew not even a soul in proximity. The woman, who Morgain had come to know as Veronica, only found greater justification as she learned that her guest was with child.

“At least for a year, my dear,” She took her hand gingerly and with a bright smile that drew crow’s feet about her excited eyes. “God forbid your stubbornness should harm the child.”

So, Morgain gave in and attempted to distract herself from memories though to no prevail as she spent most nights sleepless, dreading that if she should fall asleep she would see it all again, the devil, her father and…Lucem…When sleep eventually conquered her exhausted body, she only woke from her stupor covered in cold sweat and painful remembrances. She did not know how time passed, or if it passed at all.

Still, Veronica seemed to pretend oblivion, for which Morgain was thankful, while Veronica’s husband did not seem to be too pristine of an observer. And, Morgain eventually recovered a patch of home from local herbs similar enough to behave in synonymy with some of the plants she knew, returning a fraction of the couple’s goodness on an occasion when she saved Veronica from a severe cold with one of her concoctions. From then on, she was revered, despite her chagrin, as a gifted apothecary.

Her development of friendship with Veronica accompanied the growth of her child, and with more joy than dread the days crept by much faster now, most of which spent in cultivating her mind alongside her little plot of earth. Finding company in the couple, the neighbors, blind worms and preying birds, Morgain told herself that she was as blessed and happy as she could be.

*******

Luctus knew something was wrong.

Despite the Old Priest’s efforts, it only took him a little over a year to find Morgain within the web of existence. Still, he was not able to do much, for that careful woman had measures against him, talismans hardly enough to qualify as major hindrances…And there was that inexplicable force biased against him, gravitating him away from any proximity to even the park she was residing in, repelling him, protecting her…

…Until a midnight.

It was as though the spell became undone: Luctus, for the first in a very long time, felt his throat ran dry and tasted the unfamiliar gall of dread. What happened? The talismans had lost their stings, the unknown force replaced with withdrawn silence…He had to investigate.

When he arrived upon the grounds, he knew, yet he was unbelieving.

In the cover of the night he slipped past the small park to the back doors, pausing in his path to note a patch of herbs out of its elements, a beacon in the darkness as a distant remembrance of laughter at his youngest brother’s propensity to mix up all the names of the herbs worth knowing. He always insisted in replacing their names with new ones that altered everyday: perhaps he merely fell into the inherent ailment of men with their earliest ancestor doing nothing but naming objects?

Oh Lucius…

Luctus went on to intrude upon the household, a building so impoverished to the point that there were no servants waiting at the door: he merely went past it and ascended a series of stairs.

Then he found her.

She was surrounded by the peasant filths claiming to be her friends. The woman knelt by the bed, her dirty hands clasped about porcelain ones, her thin shoulders shaking subtly. The man stood as though just to obscure Luctus’s vision with his arms crossed.

Not only were the peasants dumb, they were blind to his presence. As he drew closer to the room, he finally saw a glimpse of her face, pale and petrified in its perfect frame of long locks in stark contrast against the white sheets and cushions, her full lips parted, her last sigh frozen.

The man turned around, and Luctus saw then the author of the greatest of all miseries tugged in a cocoon of warmth in the man’s arms, fast asleep. At this point, the woman’s sobbing had become unbearably annoying, and the man have fully noticed the intruder. He cried out, and demanded for him to state his name. The woman took a break from her useless musings to face the stranger, sorrows briefly replaced with confusion and fright. Luctus did not think it necessary to declare himself, for he rid himself of their company with a simple spell, and they both crumbled to the floor in silence.

Useless, all of them, useless and hypocritical: if they so cared for her life, then why did they not find a physician? They were as guilty as the bundled creature, who now coohed softly in protest for the disturbance. And, to his greatest surprise, it merely wormed in its wrap, struggling in the dead man’s arms without bursting into a mess of slobbering snot.

Luctus did not know what propelled him, but he stooped and reached out for the child, who did not understand and coohed some more, a little hand freed from the bundle to flail favorably at the stranger. The same inexplicable motivation prompted him to pick up the little thing, wrenching it out of hands’ lingering warmth and bringing it under closer inspection.

It was merely a week old, maybe less, wrinkly, warm, and…so fragile. He could have easily snapped its little neck with a pinch, yet…From the corner of his eyes he once again glanced over her shrouded in an ethereal perfection reserved for death. He returned his full attention to the infant in his arms. He remembered overhearing her mind as she insisted upon the name even when that stupid peasant woman laughed at her…Luctus had to admit that he liked the sound of it, too, the way it seemed to play upon optimism. If only he could remember…was it Serin? Sarriel?…Oh, it was Soulran.

With that, he decided.

And just like how he came in the faithful cover of the night, he left, taking with him the last kin to light.

XVIII. Inferno

Eleanor sank deeper and deeper into the narrative, the strings of jealousy and obsession weaving it all, the coronation, the unfolding of the plots, the rape, the murders with an archaic world of wars and sorcery in the backdrop…yet the tapestry was dotted with incoherences where, she assumed, the flawed protagonist was so in tune to his inner darkness that it was no longer merely within, but rather his very existence. Eventually it all became consumed by the darkness: the Fallen ascended a throne again.

She did not dare to stir the pages of recent years soaked in darkness for fear that she should be more affected. So, her hands moved on their own to grasp the tangled strings before her, maneuvering this mind twisted by unchecked pride and lust that unthreaded the cloth into a discord web of perpetual envy. As she worked she grew infinitely cold, and a legion of voices rebuked her; never before had she felt fear so distilled within her entire being, and she quavered from her task.

What do you think you are doing, child? She did not answer, since she knew the voice knew. How…brave of you. Many eyes inspected her and sought to see through her being, yet they cannot. So, this is a Crisiota.

At the same time, she searched for her brother and found his mind, sick with worry and confusion in his company of the children from that night presumably assigned as his guide by Cephas. Sirius, he was pleasantly surprised to hear her voice, though puzzled that it was within his head. Sirius, you must listen to me and do as I say…He submitted his absolute attention. Now…She explained her haphazard plan and encouraged him, and the little boy merely indicated that he understood.

Oh, such a wonderful sister to have so much faith in her little brother…do you really believe a mere lad can control his powers to such precision? She did not permit the voices to disturb her original objective as she upset LaLauren’s conscious just briefly enough to stun him with haunting visions of nostalgia, and as he grappled with reality and pasts, she returned to herself to snatch the fallen torch from dying into embers. Her abused wrists burnt at her negligence as she strained to retrieve the torch, reviving the blaze with gentle breaths and without hesitation dashed the fire against the closest wooden pillar.

Flowers of flames blossomed within a blink of the eye: wooden beam cried out as petals ripped and multiplied in a violent burgeoning of suffocating heat.

The Fallen recollected his distraught host and beheld his predicament with unbelieving rage, snapping around to face the author of his doom, his eyes wild with wrath.

“How…dare you.”

Eleanor remained motionless, returning the glare with feigned serenity while the world around her burnt, the creaks and cracks of the wood devolved to cackle walking the edge of sanity.

In a sudden burst, the deranged man charged at her, the dull glint of a scarlet blade raised. Sirius, now!

The air before her screeched as it tore open, collapsing paradoxes followed the burning beam that fell into existence, crushing the Fallen in a mighty crash. Eleanor made out a horrible cry amidst the chaos while the wooden cackle amplified, for their victim deserved no sympathy.

As the dusts and embers began to clear, Eleanor attempted to ignore the smell of seared flesh and gathered a voice, thinned and nearly unrecognizable in its plea, “Ce-Cephas…save me…”

She watched in stupefied horror as the summoned servant staggered to his feet from his feeble state, a shaking shadow in the smothering smokes. “Cephas, what are you doing!?” He must have been deaf to her as he made his way to his master, who was trapped under the burnt beam from the waist down. “Ceph…as…hurry up…” Eleanor thought that Cephas was controlled by the man, so she was about to reach out from her conscious again until she saw that he stooped next to the Fallen, a dull red glint in his hand as he raised it and brought it down. A slick sound of blade against flesh and one last hushed curse later, it was finished.

Cephas fell backward against the wall, tempted by the whispered promise of a peaceful stupor and relief, but Eleanor’s gasps for breath in her slow strangulation by the smokes deprived him of any rest. Still, he was chained down by fatigue, the melodic voices accompanying sweet visions of death, ever so beautiful. The strain of his last exercise paralyzed him with new pains: the fears and uncertainties that drove his survival and numbed his abuses gave way to relief, an emotion so longed after that it disappointed him when he got it for once. Relief was hardly strong enough to keep him upon his feet, so he half staggered, half dragged himself to her, attempting without success to undo her bonds.

“Cephas…” He had to stop working for he could not even see his own hands beyond blurs, even her delicate face and kind eyes became mirages shivering in and out of the shadows and firelight.

He blinked hard, frowned, but to no effect.

It was as though she sensed his helplessness as she put a hand upon his. For a split second as he looked up he saw clearly into her unspoken lament, and he agreed after he gave another jab at the locks with the pick, relenting, at last to the inevitable embrace of death.

Oh, the irony, that they should be burnt to death by the fire that freed them from their fiery demon.

With a sudden brashness not unprecedented, she drew him into her arms. It was only then, as his head slumped against her shoulder, that he noticed that she was shaking, weeping in suppressed sobs. What was she but a noble child, horrified by the prospect of her violent end? His sympathy held rancor derived from a jealousy for her privileged upbringing, but her words only shamed him for even harboring such thoughts.

“I-I am sorry…I’ve a-associated you with all of th-this…I…”

He cupped her tear-stained cheeks and brushed the streams aside in silent acquiescence: it was not her who associated him, but rather the opposition. He could not imagine that he would end this way, that someone should mourn for him, that someone…can he pretend that she loved him?

He supposed, she would be the first and last to do so anyway.