D. J. Scott
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D. Jon Scott’s WebsiteArtFiction ► Fantasy
D. J. Scott
Part I: Imegesis

Prologue: “The Harcroft Estate”

8th Month, 7th Night, 4,632nd Year
Copyright © 1999 C.E. by Dustin Jon Scott
[Last Update: 2003-ish]


¶I. The sisters Jadia Michelle and Abigail Renee Rowan dismounted their horses, their boots clapping hard against the wet clay as their feet hit the ground. The rain had begun to lighten as the clouds above began to clear, giving way to brilliant field of stars as the sisters Rowan started making their way up the stone path to the time-ravaged mansion ahead. Surrounding them on all sides were withered, dead trees; an unusual and somewhat discontenting sight to behold with only a bit more than a month to go before the summer solstice. Although it was quite thankfully a warm night, neither Jadia nor Gail could deny the chilling stillness of the air as they approached the mansion’s front steps.

¶II. The two women stopped at the large, granite stairway and pulled down the hoods of their long brown mantles almost simultaneously as they began to examine their surroundings. On either side of the stairway were expansive granite railings, each with a towering iron gryphon mounted at its front most end. And at the top of the stairway, a rotted yet imposing pair of huge, oak doors. The mansion itself seemed to stretch on for a near eternity in either direction, and was at the very least five stories in height. It was a surreal notion that such a castle could lay hidden so well in the forest just outside the wee town of Harcroft, where one would more likely expect to find a small, abandoned cottage than such an imperial estate.

¶III. “Well, Abby,” said Jadia, “we’re here. Harcroft manor.”

¶IV. “Yeah, great. Are we going to actually go inside, or are we going to just stand out here being all awe-struck by the big house?”

¶V. Jadia stood, gripping the straps of her backpack in her fists, her eyebrow raised in disdain at Gail’s mordant ridicule as she stared back at her younger sister. “Let’s just go inside,” she said, her eyes narrowed disparagingly and her teeth borne in an gritting, insincere smile. A sheet of her scarlet mane fell curtain over half her censorious face as her critical gaze scorned young Gail, the elder sister now silent and awaiting reply.

¶VI. Gail let out a withering sigh. “Whatever you say, mother,” she scoffed, rolling her eyes as she followed Jadia up the steps.

¶VII. Jadia took off her backpack and set it on the stoop, then bent down to unbuckle it. She rooted through the pack for a few moments and retrieved from it a small black purse. She opened the purse, and pulled out a small, gold-handled lock pick, which she then used to probe carefully at the left door’s keyhole. Within just a few moments there was a “click”, and Jadia stood straight up and attempted to push the door open.

¶VIII. It wouldn’t budge.

¶IX. “Abby, could you help me with this?” Jadia asked her sister.

¶X. Gail came up beside Jadia and with her began pushing on the door. Both young women put their full weight against it, leaning their shoulders hard against the oaken barrier. Soon there was a creaking, and the door came crashing down with the two sisters atop it.

¶XI. “That went smoothly,” said Jadia.

¶XII. The girls clambered to their feet and shortly retrieved their lanterns, and Jadia her backpack, from just outside the doorway, and then proceeded to examine the room.

¶XIII. The interior of the Harcroft Estate was even more impressive than the outside. It appeared Jadia and Gail were in an atrium of magnificent spaciousness. The floor was tiled with marble, and upon the marble tiles were centuries-old rugs of fine detail, embroidered, it appeared, with Aegyptian gold-weave in the most intricate Celtic knot work; already a rare find. Upon the walls hung ancient, faded paintings of personages long deceased, and from the ceiling hung a chandelier crafted of woolly mammoth tusks, with aged and broken lanterns strung about it. In the center of the hall was a stone column, upon which sat a marble bust -- presumably that of the adventurer Lord Richard Harcroft himself. Far behind that were two grand archways, each leading to another room. Supported by these archways was a great upper hall, to which led a grand stairway on each wall of the atrium to the right and left of where Jadia and Gail stood. Between the archways there stood a towering grandfather clock with a broken face, swathed with cobwebs and spider webs draping from its crown to floor below. In every nook and crevice of the room there were rats scurrying about, avoiding, if somewhat unsuccessfully, the lanterns’ light.

¶XIV. “Where do you want to go first?” asked Gail.

¶XV. “Let’s check out that room over there,” said Jadia, pointing to the archway on the right as she threw her pack over her shoulder. And the two girls stepped cautiously across the marble floor, making their way toward what soon appeared to be a sprawling library.

¶XVI. All four walls of the library were shelved and filled with books, many of them rotting away and coated with centuries of dust, but a few looked as if they’d been printed last week. As they entered the room there was a huge set of doors to their left leading to the next room, the room to which the other archway had led. Just ahead was a great stone fireplace, crumbling away as if before their very eyes. To their right was what remained of a lounging area, an island composed of extravagant couches and chairs, there being two of each type, encircling a small table. Just beyond that was another archway, this one somewhat smaller, leading to yet another room.

¶XVII. The Rowan sisters crossed the library’s creaking, disintegrating hardwood floor to the archway and peaked inside, finding only an ordinary, if not unusually large billiard room, its walls shelved with books in the same manner as the library. They turned around and continued exploring.

¶XVIII. Jadia found her way to the fireplace, and knelt on the stone hearth before it, setting her lantern down alongside her. She opened the front of her lantern, and then broke a piece of badly rotted wood from one of the dry and ancient logs set upon the grates within. She took the tiny chip of wood and placed its end within the lantern’s flame, allowing it to catch fire, and then wedged it between two of the logs in the fireplace. The dry, dusty wood slowly caught fire when otherwise the flame certainly would have died, and after several minutes light began to fill the room.

¶XIX. Jadia closed her lantern, took it and stood up, stepping back from the fireplace. “There, that’s better.”

¶XX. “Hey, what’s that?” said Gail, walking up to the fireplace. She reached up to the mantel and grabbed at a tiny gold candleholder. It was short, not taller than a young child’s thumb is long, and was bejeweled with emeralds. But when she attempted to remove it from the mantel, it was snapped back by an iron chain, and the entire hearth spun around. Gail and the fireplace disappeared behind the wall, as a second, identical hearth took their place.

¶XXI. Jadia huffed and stepped up onto the hearth and pulled on the candleholder, and allowed the fireplace to spin around once.

¶XXII. The sisters now found themselves in a ballroom, one that seemed to have at one time suffered from a horrible fire. The floor, the walls, and the ceiling were all charred black. The huge windows on the far wall were broken out, allowing a chilling breeze to circulate throughout the expansive chamber. In the center of the room was a huge, fallen chandelier. To their left was a set of large double doors, probably leading to some sort of dining area. All around the room were charred, gnarled black skeletons.

¶XXIII. “Why would Harcroft have a secret entrance to a public room?” asked Gail.

¶XXIV. “From what little I know about what Lord Harcroft was like, it probably wasn’t a secret. This was probably his way of poking fun at the secret rooms all the other Lords of his time were putting into their manors. Either that, or it was just to entertain his guests.”

¶XXV. “Probably both,” said Gail.

¶XXVI. Slowly a dark fog began to manifest within the room, and within moments there were dozens of nearly transparent, ghostly apparitions dancing about the ballroom.

¶XXVII. Gail and Jadia watched for several moments in silent horror.

¶XXVIII. In the distance the sisters heard a wailing cat, and the dancing phantoms vanished along with the dark mists. There was the faint sound of young children singing in an almost monotone rhythm. Their nonetheless melodic voices resonated through the sisters’ minds, each chilling note and inaudible word brushing past the girls’ ears like a cold cemetery breeze. Then the words seemed to become clearer:
“The grown-ups on the dancing floor
Don’t know about the secret door
Watch us smile, watch us grin
We’ll set the fire an’ lock ‘em in!”

¶XXIX. Six children of varying ages between three and eight appeared slowly out of the thin air before the Rowan sisters. Unlike the ghosts before, these children were entirely opaque, with skin so white as to be nearly blue. Their heads were bald, their eyes were as pools of blood, and their clothing was non-existent. The corners of their mouths curled hideously as they began to grin, and drops of blood dripped from the corners of their eyes. As they opened their mouths in smile, they exposed to the sisters their shining metal teeth; crooked, sharp, and marbled with blood from the cuts they made in the children’s own gums. The youngsters salivated a steady flow of the sanguine drool, resulting in drips of blood running steadily down their stomachs and onto the burnt floor below.

¶XXX. Though their lips did not move, a second song was sung forth from their open, blood-filled mouths:
“We’ll watch them as the flames get high,
We’ll sit right here and watch them die!
Burn burn burn, fires bright,
Burn in our most sweet delight!

“They think they’re better cuz they’re tall,
Soon we will have killed them all!
Burn burn burn, fires red,
Burn until the last one’s dead!”

¶XXXI. Then, raising their knife-tipped fingers, the children began slowly stepping across the vast ballroom floor toward the two sisters. Out of their mouths came the sounds of children innocently laughing and playing.

¶XXXII. Gail fell back and ran to the hearth and pulled the candleholder, causing the fireplace to spin around.

¶XXXIII. “Jadia, come on!” the younger Rowan shouted, disappearing to the other side of the wall. Jadia followed quickly, tugging on the candleholder and spinning around to the library to meet Gail.

¶XXXIV. Gail exhaled relievedly, her hands nested in her hair, her heart pounding as she now panted from the fear that had completely taken her breath moments before. Her hands fell to her sides as she looked to Jadia, who was as well gasping for breath with her hands resting on her knees. Jadia stood up straight and looked back at Gail, both girls’ eyes as wide as shales.

¶XXXV. “Let’s not go back in there,” said Jadia.

¶XXXVI. Gail’s panting turned immediately to shallow-breathed laughter. “No, I’m reasonably sure we shouldn’t do that,” replied Gail, holding her nearly concave belly as she laughed at her older sister.

¶XXXVII. Jadia joined in with Gail’s laughter. “Come on, let’s go check out what’s through that other archway,” said the elder Rowan, brushing past her nearly identical younger kin.

¶XXXVIII. The tails of their open, hooded mantles trailed behind them as they marched back into the atrium, still laughing slightly along the way. Once the partially cloak-clad sisters were there, however, they discovered that the great oak door that had fallen only minutes earlier had somehow erected itself once more.

¶XXXIX. “That’s a little strange,” said Gail, her lips pursed and her brow burrowed in bewilderment. Jadia wore a similar expression, though just slightly more agape as she walked up beside her sister, looking the door up and down from afar. Just in front of the door was a man squatted, his back to the sisters as he toiled attentively at whatever it was he was doing.

¶XL. “Come to rob old Richard Harcroft have ye?” said the man, standing and turning to face the sisters Rowan.

¶XLI. “No,” said Gail, “we were on our way to Greenloft. A tavernkeep back in town told us we could take a shortcut through these woods, but we were frightened by some strange sounds we heard, and decided to come in here for shelter.”

¶XLII. The old grey-haired man simply laughed for a moment. “Ye don’t honestly think I’ll buy that load of Orc shit, do ye? No, I know ye’ve come to rob the manor. Ye’re thieves, that much is quite obvious. Not that I mind, of course. Not a soul has occupied these grounds in well over two hundred years. Well, no one but souls, it would seem. Although, as I recall, there were two or three thieves in that time. They were made short work of by the ‘residents’, though.” He pushed his spectacles up on his nose, and then continued speaking; “I don’t imagine the two of you will last much longer here, either.”

¶XLIII. “Are you a ghost as well?” asked Gail.

¶XLIV. The old man looked behind him momentarily. “No need to be so formal.”

¶XLV. “Sorry,” said Gail. “Art thou a ghost as well?”

¶XLVI. “Nay, not a ghost exactly,” the old man replied. He snapped his fingers, and instantly the lanterns that hung from the chandelier were lit, brightening the entire atrium, the stairways, and apparently much of the second story. “Ye see, a ghost is like an ‘echo’ that one leaves behind when one exits the world of the living. One’s soul will transcend to the netherrealms, whether it be to the upperrealms or the underrealms. But, many, many centuries ago, the old cemetery’s Guardian Spirit was driven away by all of these damned ghosts running about, haunting the estate. So, when my time came, being that I was Richard Harcroft’s favorite groundskeeper, rather than moving beyond the veil between worlds, I was made to remain here as the permanent guardian of the estate, charged with repairing the damage done by vandals and thieves, and with keeping the vandals and thieves safe from the estate’s residents, along with any unwitting passersby stumbling onto the premises.”

¶XLVII. “So what’s thy name?” asked Jadia.

¶XLVIII. “Leif Grimsson.”

¶XLIX. “And thou doesn’t intend us any harm, doest thou, Leif?” Gail pressed.

¶L. “Well if either of ye take anything as far as money is concerned, I don’t supposed it’ll be missed. But don’t ye dare be taking any heirlooms, or be breaking down anymore doors, or knocking over any tombstones, or any of that sort of thing, or I’ll be feeding you to the residents myself.”

¶LI. “And if we obey these rules of thine, thou wilt protect us from the residents?” Jadia queried.

¶LII. Grimsson laughed. “Don’t be getting the wrong idea. I’m not about to escort you around the estate so ye can help yourselves to the Harcroft fortune, but I’ll be around. And perhaps Lord Harcroft’s spirit could find some peace after all these years if some of his studies were to reach the outside world. Though I don’t suppose ye’ll last long enough to lend any help in that regard. No thief ever has, despite my protection. But, ye are certainly welcome to try, by all means, so long as ye tread lightly and do no harm.”

¶LIII. “And what were those children in the ballroom?” asked Gail.

¶LIV. “Well,” said Grimsson, “every family has its black sheep. But the Harcroft family seemed to be a whole flock of them, with a white sheep here or there, such as good old Lord Richard. He was a great man. But not his brother Gareth. Gareth was what we used to call a ‘jack-ass’ back in those days. There wasn’t anything particularly ‘wrong’ with him, though.

¶LV. Gareth’s children, on the other hand; they were a different story. He had two of them, named Neirin and Brynn. There was definitely something wrong with them. They’d been having a secret, incestuous love affair with each other since young Neirin was old enough to notice girls, and quite a bit before Brynn was old enough to notice boys. I still haven’t figured out if little Brynn would’ve turned out right if Neirin hadn’t done what he’d done to her, but I don’t truly think she would have. Ye see, when a girl has something like that happen to her, she loses a part of herself. The twinkle in her eyes fades away, and her smile turns to blankness, as if something inside of her has died. But not for Brynn. No, for Brynn it was as if she’d come alive for the first time. There were brief moments before that, of course, when she was pulling the legs off of beetles in the garden or when she was torturing rats in the basement. Still, part of me wishes to think she could’ve grown to be a normal young woman if not for Neirin.

¶LVI. “But as families tend to do, the Harcrofts ignored what was going on, hoping it would go away. Neirin eventually married a woman who looked strangely like his little sister, and Brynn was married to a man who suspiciously resembled her brother just two years later. Brynn and her husband spent two years trying to conceive a child, until they returned here one summer and Brynn immediately became pregnant. She and her husband remained at the estate with Lord Richard, Neirin and Brynn’s parents, Gareth and Llewella, as well as Neirin and his wife Carwyn. Over the next four years Brynn gave birth to her child and had three more children on top of that. During that time, though, Gareth and Llewella had both mysteriously passed away; both somehow got turned over in their sleep and suffocated themselves in their own pillows, and both in the very same night, it seemed. Lord Richard died of old age the following summer, leaving his entire estate to Neirin and Carwyn, since Richard had no children of his own. In the autumn, Brynn’s husband, Idwal, had a strange accident. He fell down a flight of stairs and onto a knife, according to Brynn. Brynn remained at the estate, choosing not to remarry. It was when she became pregnant two months later that Carwyn left Neirin, horrified by what that meant, and by what she realized had been going on.

¶LVII. “Neirin and Brynn had two more children together. The strange thing about those children was how normal they were, despite their parents being siblings. In fact, these six children were extraordinarily bright. Then, one night, when Brynn was entertaining guests in the ballroom, for some reason, something inside those children’s minds snapped. Two of them went into the ballroom while the other four put the crossbar across the ballroom doors and locked everyone in. The two in the ballroom started a few fires, and in the commotion escaped through the fireplace. No one saw how they made the fireplace spin around, and no one figured it out before they all burned to death. Of course they died because their clothes caught fire -- the fires never grew large enough to spread beyond the room, or do much more than superficial damage to the room itself.

¶LVIII. “Anyway, after that night, Neirin Harcroft began to experiment on the children in his laboratory down in the basement, feeding them all sorts of potions and concoctions, performing all sorts of strange spells and rituals on them, and performing surgeries that he was far from qualified to perform, being that he wasn’t a surgeon, and only had a few of Richard’s volumes on anatomy to have studied from. He was lucky he didn’t kill those poor children. Well, come to think of it, he’d have been more fortunate if he had. They cut him to ribbons with those knife-tipped fingers he gave them, and with their new metal teeth they ate his flesh. It’s a shame those children were so damned smart, too, because they managed to keep poor Neirin alive and conscious throughout most of the ordeal.

¶LIX. “The children killed a few of the servants and fled into the woods after that, and their corpses were found by some of us who still lived in the estate’s village a few months later.

¶LX. “That’s just one of a thousand stories I could tell ye about this old estate, though.” And with that, Grimsson faded away slowly.

¶LXI. Jadia shrugged. “Guess we should go check out that other room now,” she said, turning and walking away as Gail followed.

¶LXII. With their lanterns in hand the sisters left the bright light of the atrium and entered what appeared to be a breakfast room. On their right, the pair of double doors they’d seen in the library, and ahead, and archway leading into a similar, larger room. Jadia and Gail walked around the large breakfast table and made their way through the archway into the adjacent room, finding themselves in an enormous dining hall.

¶LXIII. Straight ahead of the sisters, across the dining table from them, was a large broken window. To their right, the doors leading into the ballroom, with the crossbar still barricading them and scorch marks beneath them.

¶LXIV. Then they heard the voices of children singing:
“We’ve found two friends with which to play,
We’ll kill them both, to make them stay!
Slash slash slash, sisters’ flesh,
We’ll eat them both, while they’re fresh!”

¶LXV. “I’m leaving,” said Jadia, turning and darting back out of the room at breakneck speed.

¶LXVI. “Me too,” said Gail, sprinting along behind her. Both sisters skidded to a stop once they’d made it back to the atrium, and turned around to look into the dark, blank archway.

¶LXVII. “I think we’re safe from the children as long as we stay in the light,” Jadia observed, looking to her younger sister.

¶LXVIII. “Then what about our lanterns?” Gail argued.

¶LXIX. “Perhaps they don’t cast enough light?”

¶LXX. Gail shook her head. “No, I think it’s just certain rooms that the children haunt. The ballroom where they set the fire and the dining hall where they locked the guests in.”

¶LXXI. “Did you want to look upstairs then?” asked Jadia.

¶LXXII. “You lead,” replied Gail.

¶LXXIII. Jadia walked back toward the entryway and turned sharply right, her hand on the banister of the left staircase as she began making he way up the stairs with Gail following closely after. When finally they reached the top of the huge marble stairway, they found themselves in another large foyer, with yet another huge stairway at the end of the hall, and two huge sets of double-doors on each wall to the right and to the left.

¶LXXIV. “Let’s go in this first room,” said Jadia, gesturing with her lantern in hand to the nearest set of doors on the left.

¶LXXV. Gail nodded her head, and the two sisters proceeded cautiously into the room as rats began scurrying, terrified, to their holes. This the rats did to avoid the sisters’ lantern light, which pierced the binding darkness that swathed the room in blackest shade.

¶LXXVI. In the center of the room were two large lounging chairs and a table with several bottles sitting on it. Lining the walls, about a foot above eye-level for the girls, was a series of plaques. Mounted on many of these plaques were heads, and below the heads were captions.

¶LXXIX. As Jadia and Gail continued looking around, they found that there were plaques for every known variety of Human, Elf, Ogre, Dwarf, and GHob, and all with captions included.

¶LXXX. “I’m guessing this was Neirin Harcroft’s trophy room,” said Jadia.

¶LXXXI. “Neirin certainly had some odd hunting habits,” added Gail.

¶LXXXII. “Looks like there’s going to be a lot more ghosts here than either of us would’ve thought.”

¶LXXXIII. “Looks like you’re right,” said Gail. “Do you think that perhaps we should leave?”

¶LXXXIV. “What, are you afraid?”

¶LXXXV. “No, it isn’t that. I’m just wondering if the payoff is really worth all the trouble.”

¶LXXXVI. “Trust me, Abby, it will be.”

¶LXXXVII. Jadia and Gail walked over to the table, through the fluid, almost living shadows that stretched across the room. Jadia set down her lantern and grabbed up one of the bottles.

¶LXXXVIII. “Hmm, three-hundred year-old brandy,” said Jadia, inspecting the bottle. Jadia then handed the bottle to Gail and turned her back to her younger sister. “Here, put this in my pack. I doubt anyone’s going to be getting much use out of it anytime soon.” Gail complied, unbuckling Jadia’s backpack, slipping the bottle inside, and buckling it back up again.

¶LXXXIX. Just then men began to manifest from within the darkness; headless men, their bodies almost transparent. Most of the beheaded men were dressed as though they hailed from tribal societies, and those that weren’t seemed to be outfitted in some sort of warrior garb. Each man was armed according to the preferred weapon of his culture: the Neanderthal and Light Elf each with a composite shortbow, the Borean with a longsword, the Mountain Dwarf with a battle axe, the Blunderbore with a warhammer, the Wood Elf and Drow each with a crossbow, the Redcap with a miniature glaive, the Gold Elf with a javelin, and so forth. The headless warriors stood, motionless, surrounding the Rowan sisters almost completely yet leaving them an escape route to the doors through which they came.

¶XC. “You are in grave danger,” said the Ettin’s head.

¶XCI. “Heed thy warning,” the Neanderthal’s head added.

¶XCII. Then, out of the mass of transparent, headless warriors, an arrow was shot, striking Jadia in the abdomen and continuing straight through her.

¶XCIII. Jadia doubled over and fell to the floor, crying out in pain as she dropped her lantern.

¶XCIV. “Jadia!” Gail shouted, helping her elder sister to her feet. Gail placed one of Jadia’s arms around her own shoulders and grabbed her lantern, then quickly helped her sister back out into the foyer and kicked the door shut behind her.

¶XCV. Jadia regained her footing and withdrew her arm from her sister, taking back her lantern as she held her stomach.

¶XCVI. “What’s it look like?” she asked, removing her hand.

¶XCVII. Gail knelt down in front of her sister to inspect the wound. It was only a small red circle; nothing that appeared painful in the slightest. Yet from it there came a small wisp of grey smoke, and as Gail put her hands on her sister and guided her to turn around, brushing the long brown cloak aside, she could see that the wound went all the way through.

¶XCVIII. “It goes all the way through,” said Gail, “but it doesn’t look that bad. Just a little burn. You’re lucky that wasn’t a real arrow, or you’d be slowly bleeding to death right now, and it’s a long ride back to town.”

¶XCIX. Jadia returned her hand to the front of her abdomen, still wincing somewhat as she held the wound, and breathing heavily from the pain. “It may not have been a real arrow, but it stings like hell. If it burned me all the way through, that means that these ghosts can do some real damage, and I’ve a hunch that was only a warning shot.”

¶C. “I wonder how it was able to aim / how it saw where to shoot,” said Gail, standing to her feet. She unbuckled her sister’s backpack and fished out the bottle of brandywine she’d placed within it back in the trophy room, then handed it to Jadia.

¶CI. “Are you kidding?” replied Jadia, taking a swig. “They had eyes all over the room.”

¶CII. “Still think the payoff’s going to be worth it?”

¶CIII. “Yeah, I do. C’mon, let’s keep looking.” Jadia hobbled across the foyer to the doors opposite of the trophy room. Gail followed her, shaking her head slightly, amazed by her sister’s determination. Jadia took another swig of the brandy and handed it back to Gail, who returned it promptly to Jadia’s pack.

¶CIV. “Aren’t you going to have any?” the redheaded sister asked.

¶CV. “Do I look like I want to die?” Gail quipped. “That stuff’s three-hundred years old. It’s probably about a hundred and fifty percent alcohol.”

¶CVI. “I feel just fine....”

¶CVII. “You just got shot!” said Gail, as she feigningly punched her sister in the shoulder with a lively, playful grin. Jadia smiled back as she turned and opened the door and peaked into the room, then shut the door again.

¶CVIII. “Just a lavatory,” said Jadia, proceeding to the next set of doors as Gail closely followed.

¶CIX. Jadia turned the doorknob slightly, but was stopped before she could open it by a slight chill she felt down the length of her spine. Gail had felt the same icy twinge, and together the sisters slowly turned round to gaze upon that which beckoned them silently from astern.

¶CX. Upon having turned around, the sisters saw before them a rather portly woman in a maid’s uniform. Her skin was pale, yet blotched with sickly red blisters, and her eyes seemed to have been torn out crudely. All around her brow and the bridge of her nose were slash marks, and her lips had been shredded to blood-sopped sinews. In her hands she carried a tray of food; a loaf of bread covered in dilute blood made chunky with the occasional clot sliding down from atop it, and a glass filled also with thin, watery blood.

¶CXI. “Children,” said the maid, “it’s time for your supper. Please hurry up and eat, or it’ll get cold.”

¶CXII. “Uh, they’re downstairs,” said Gail, “in the dining hall.”

¶CXIII. “Oh thank you very much,” the maid replied. “I haven’t been able to see anything in ages.” She walked away from Jadia and Gail then, across the foyer, through the wall opposite the sisters and into the trophy room. Then there was screaming, and then silence.

¶CXIV. “Huh,” said Gail, “I suppose it wouldn’t have done much good to point her in the right direction, either.”

¶CXV. Jadia smiled, rolling her eyes and shaking her head as she opened the door and stepped inside. Gail followed her sister into the room and closed the door behind her as she entered.