The Cursed of House Whoticore vignette Part Three – An Unwelcome Guest of the House

The Cursed of House Whoticore vignette Part Three – An Unwelcome Guest of the House

The white-marbled mansion stood near the summit of the Cantoos in the province of Mountainville, closer than any other building in the region. It was a quiet guardian of the only emergency access road to its peaks in the region. The grounds of the property were fed by the tail ends of the Westwind river from the north, ending at an aqueduct almost too small to be considered a viable water source for more than the ancient homestead of House Whoticore and its surrounding grounds and fields.

No moon shone this night, for it was not only a new moon, but a lunar eclipse waning at last as the midnight hour traded the old day for the new. 

Two horse-drawn carriages came through the unlocked gates, pulling up to the main house. The drivers, robed in old-style funeral attire with tall, black hats and tails, guided their horse teams to a halt, disembarking quickly to tie the leads to the silver-trimmed wooden stakes next to the granite stone walkways to the front entrance. Then they hastened to help their passengers disembark.

“Are you alright, milord?” the lead driver asked the only tall male occupant as he took his trembling, gloved hand in his, offering a firm brace with which Lord Erik Whoticore touched the ground without incident.

Erik shook his head in the negative, swallowing air, fighting to keep his evening meal in his stomach, as little as it had been. “As well as can be expected under the circumstances, Calpain,” he managed to tell the man. Handing the servant his hat, he ran for the hedge by a marble bench, heaving violently – and politely out of sight.

Calpain looked worriedly to his counterpart, Savier, in the second carriage, who was helping Erik’s brother Narik, disembark. The driver was less worried about his master’s kin as this son of Loki was massive, built as sturdy as the granite driveway of the grounds which had seen 50 generations of their blood and bore no wear for it.

Having served House Whoticore for ten years now, Savier should have been the wiser. Narik disembarked with no help, but grew faint once he touched the ground. 

While the second carriage driver scrambled to hold Narik’s weight, Calpain heard a grunt of disapproval behind him as their only female companion this evening, Sarlyana Whoticore, disembarked with no assistance and requiring none. He, like her male relatives, was in quiet admiration – even awe at how easily she maneuvered out of the carriage while wearing a deeply concealing black cloak lined in deep, electric blue silk. His attention went quickly back to Lord Narik when Sari’s all-black eyes met his, her head nod reminding him he needed to assist with the younger male Whoticore.

While the two drivers wrestled with getting Lord Narik’s weakly-balanced bulk vertical, they heard coughing off to the side. “Narik?” Erik called out, voice raspy with the acidic burn of his stomach’s contents. He cleared his throat carefully. “Brother, are you any better than I for this wretched trip?”

“No, brother,” Narik sighed, the strain in his voice clear. “The eclipse – and the sight of father – “ he paused, nearly losing his dinner at the thought of their last sight of him. “ – has also kicked my flank, as Kelie would tell me.”

Erik came back to the carriage, straightening his black mourning jacket and retrieving his stovepipe hat from his wife Sari’s hands. “You better be well in time to receive our unwelcome guest’s consciousness when he regains it.” He looked to his mate’s steady gaze in time to see her head tilt to the side. She always knew when he had a question for her. “How long, Sari?” he asked.

She closed her eyes for a moment, then looked up, opening them to where she knew the moon would be if it weren’t for the clouds obscuring it and the lunar eclipse. “Your father has not fully disintegrated into the ether as of yet, husband – “

“Goddess above, Sari!” Narik exclaimed. “He was a pile of rotting chemicals spread across the floor when we left that horrible sanitarium.” His eyes conveyed his alarm to her and Erik. “He can’t still be alive!”

Erik’s stomach threatened to heave again merely contemplating the possibility. 

“He is, Narik,” she confirmed, a slight sigh the only indication she was the least disturbed by the last memory they all shared of the sight of the once great Lord of House Whoticore. “That your brother has not yet received his power is proof of this.”

Erik nodded as his brother found his balance again well enough to join the two by the first carriage. “We must get inside quickly then, before – “ his vision blurred as his skin was bathed in a purplish light tinged with black. “ – before…” he fought to get the words out as an ethereal power poured into his mind and body.

“Too late, I fear!” Sari said urgently, snapping her fingers. The three Whoticores disappeared in a shimmer of bluish light which made its way through the garden towards the back of the house. The drivers, used to such an occurrence of magick around their employers, nodded to each other as they fished the other, unconscious man from the second carriage, dragging him between them, into the house.

Are you alright? A woman’s voice asked at the edges of Young Jim’s consciousness.

A hand brushed Jim’s hair back out of his face with a light, gentle touch. A woman then, he assumed from the care she was taking with his person. The memory of where he had last been and who had been there came flooding back quickly and his eyes snapped open. His first sight was of a young, lovely brunette woman with golden eyes, opened large in surprise at his quick reflexes.

“Don’t be alarmed – “ she began to say, but was cut short as Jim grabbed her, righting himself on the bed, flinging her around, drawing her back against his chest, his arm locked hard around her. 

Her shrill scream brought people running immediately into the room. He drug her off the bed towards a set of french doors at the back of the room. 

“Nar – Narik?” the captive woman cried, fear evident in her voice. 

“Oh, I am so gonna kill you!” the larger of the two men who had come storming in growled, advancing on Young Jim. He stopped, hesitating when the desperate herbalist pulled harder on his captive, making her gasp as he cut off her windpipe.

“Where am I?” Jim asked shortly.

The smaller male waved a hand, urging the more aggressive man back. Jim quickly processed that the two men in front of him were related, their facial bone structure was damn near identical despite the extreme size and build differences. In fact, the larger one reminded him of Loki’s build. 

His sons, then. A look at their eyes confirmed it when he saw that they were both black where the iris and cornea should have been. At least these two had a healthy-looking, normal white outer eye area, making them not nearly so disturbing to gaze upon.

A choked, gurgling sound from his captive brought him back to the present. He eased up enough she could breathe again. “Just being around you Whoticores is poisoning me!” he snarled, angered his normally peace-loving nature had been so forced to violence. “I want out of here, NOW.”

“And we would like to accommodate you, Solare,” the smaller male agreed. “Save for a discussion we are going to have before you go back to Moonville and murder your unborn granddaughter.”

“There’s nothing to talk about,” Jim said immediately, not even thinking it over. “The affairs of my house are my business. Butt out!”

“Except that my mate has already called the police department in Moonville and spoken to Officer Callihan,” the same male informed him. “He is shocked at your premeditation, but apparently you have spoken to him and in public with enough venom against our family name, he agreed to have a talk with you when he arrives here tomorrow evening.”

“Well, I won’t be here,” the herbalist spat, then caught something Erik had said. “Wait, tomorrow evening?”

“He asked that we hold you here for the night and tomorrow,” the other brother said. “Not exactly a house arrest, but well, yeah, it’s a house arrest,” he shrugged in a gesture of ‘oh well’.

“That’s – that’s insane!” Young Jim sputtered.

“You – you would abort an unborn child?” Kelie asked him in a small voice, agast. All their attention turned away from the tense discussion when his captive suddenly spoke up. 

“Again, woman, it isn’t your – “ he began to say when the woman bit his arm so hard she drew blood, forcing Jim to let her go. He yowled in pain and surprise as she turned and started kicking and scratching him. 

“You monster!” she howled. “I don’t want you in this house, near our babies!”

“Kelie – “ Narik began to say.

“GET OUT!” she screamed, turning the tables as Jim tried to get away from the enraged mother.

“Now that’s a turn of events I was not expecting,” Erik said, amused as he motioned for them to pull Narik’s mate off their unwilling houseguest.

“You don’t live with her, brother,” Narik grinned. “She can be quite the hellcat when Holic is threatened.”

It took both of them to pull Kelie off Young Jim, but not before she let out a nasty, angry hiss in the herbalist’s direction. “Are you sure she isn’t part dragonfly?” Erik asked in surprise. “Whoa!” He lost his grip on the woman and she immediately went to attacking Jim again, twisting in both brother’s grips enough to get loose. Erik grabbed her by the back of her gown and pulled back hard to get control of her. “Narik, get your gloves off!” he ordered.

“On it!” the larger Whoticore was already taking them off. He grabbed her bare arms, barely able to hang onto her as she refused to let up.

“Kelie…KELIE!” Erik said in a fierce, commanding tone that even startled Young Jim with its power and authority. “Calm down!”

“He won’t – make him leave!” the distraught woman said, her harsh breathing easing, her fighting inexplicably lessening. “He isn’t touching Holic, or any of the boys!” she said, growing unsteady.

“Of course not, love,” Narik agreed, rubbing her arms gently, moving up to the back of her neck. “We’ll take care of it…just relax.”

His wife started sobbing, then just ask quickly as she had begun, she stopped, slumping in her husband’s arms. Narik picked her up, setting her in a chair while giving Jim a nasty, vicious glare. Solare hardly noticed, still breathing raggedly, hurting, bleeding and flushed with adrenalin. It gave Erik time to hit him with a hard, telekinetic blast, pinning him to the wall next to the back doors. Jim groaned, but was unable to move a muscle against the unbelievably strong force.

Narik turned at the sound of Young Jim slamming into the wall. His eyes widened. “Brother, did you do that?”

Erik looked at his hand curiously. “Yes, I guess I did.”

“I didn’t know you could do that. Remind me to never get you pissed off!” his brother breathed, impressed.

“It was instinct, I think,” the House Head replied in wonder. “Your anger, Kelie’s fear. But as to how, or why now – “

“Your father’s power, Erik,” Sarlayna spoke up. “The duty to protect your family is instinctual now, along with his telekinetic gifts.” 

Erik only nodded. Becoming more aware of his surroundings, he turned his attention to Kelie’s quieter sobs as they died off. “Don’t you think you hit her a bit hard with – “ he began to say over his shoulder to his brother.

“Didn’t have time to adjust its strength, bro,” Narik cut in, making sure his wife was stable where he’d set her and returning to Erik’s side, fishing his gloves out of his vest pocket, hastily donning them again. “Wasn’t like a slow mating dance, if you hadn’t noticed.”

“Since when do we have time for lingering dalliances?” Erik smiled without humor. “Now, what to do with this one?”

“I have a suggestion if you’ll let up a moment,” the bulky male offered.

Erik eased his grip psychically, allowing Jim some limited movement. He was still up against the wall, but was able to move his arms and legs now, though not enough to escape. Narik strode up to the hapless man, drew his fist back and punched him hard across the jaw, knocking Jim out cold.

“Owwwww,” Jim groaned heavily. For the second time that night, he was waking up in a strange place, with a decidedly female touch attending his injuries. This time he wisely chose not to react as violently as he had the first time. “What in Tartarus hit me?”

“My brother’s fist,” came a familiar man’s voice from somewhere in the room. “If you are smart, you will not react as you did previously when you awoke. The result will go much more badly for you.”

The herbalist managed to open his eyes, forcing them to focus upon another woman in front of him, one older than Kelie, who was dabbing his swollen jaw with a cold compress. She was turned towards the one of her clan who was speaking, so Jim had not yet seen if she was another relation to this accursed family. “And how could it go worse for me?” he asked in between groans.

“My wife, who presently attends you, could be the one to deal with you,” the one he now recognized as their leader, Erik Whoticore, told Jim. “and we would let her this time.”

“I’m sure,” the herbalist said, believing him, wondering how much worse she must be that their House Head would make such a threat.

“Mr. Solare, this is my mate, our Seeress of House Whoticore and mother of my two sons.” He smiled at her. “Sarlayna.”

The woman nodded to him, then turned to their injured guest, startling him as he yet again met with the solid, black-eyed gaze of his distant relatives. 

Ignoring his sucked-in breath and jumpiness, she continued to press the compress against his jaw, not as gently as Kelie, making Jim wish he had not been as aggressive with his first nursemaid. Hastily he raised a hand and took the compress and applied it himself, “Thank – thank you,” he nodded.

She was not impressed in the least. Looking to her husband Erik, she clucked her tongue. “Ungrateful wretch. Ill-mannered as well.” She rose gracefully, black cape swirling about her, going back to stand by both Erik and Narik. Her sharp appraisal of Jim’s first reaction to her, his very thoughts, even, made him realize he would never be able to lie to this one, let alone deceive her even if he didn’t say another word.

“I was hoping he’d pull the same shit on you as he did Kelie, Mi’lady,” Narik grunted. “I’d like to see him impaled halfway through a wall.”

“Yes, I’m not sure he’s of the Solare family,” Erik shook his head. “He has no regard for human life.”

“Oh, and your family does?” Jim mumbled sourly.

“Stop wasting our time with your petty insults, herbalist,” Sari snapped, annoyed at the exchange, then looked to the Whoticore males. “And you two, stop baiting him as well or I will cut out all of your tongues and regain peace and quiet in this home.” Her gaze returned to Jim, who had the uncomfortable sense of those black eyes boring into his soul, like looking into a crow’s unreadable gaze. “If you wish to judge all of us based on the behavior of the now-dead Lord Loki, so be it. My husband and brother-in-law certainly gave you no reason to trust them, but you were the one who invaded our town to murder our House Head. Remember that well, Mr. Solare.

“We understand you will never trust us,” Sarlayna went on. “and this current arrangement of your stay here is not about earning trust. We are not fools to believe such. You forced our hand with your vile threat of aborting my father-in-law’s unborn daughter.”

Jim set down the ice pack. “Why is everyone so convinced she is carrying a daughter when we only just discovered three days ago she is with child?!?” he said, surprising them that this was his first question not concerned with his captivity. “Yes, we’ve borne only daughters for 81 generations, but this child’s also half Whoticore. And why is she so damn important to your family?” He swept his hand outwards, indicating the two men standing with the Seeress. “Your House has its heirs. Why – “

“ – heirs to a dead bloodline, as you well know by now, Mr. Solare,” Sari reminded him. “As useless as a life without meaning or purpose.”

“And we don’t know why our father felt it necessary to sacrifice everything – “ Erik began.

“ – even his soul, for a daughter,” finished Narik, shaking his head. “We’re as stumped as you are.”

All four were silent for a moment. Sari walked up to Jim. “Are you so heartless you would actually murder an innocent babe not yet borne to spite a dead man?” He looked up at her, looking contrite. “What kind of a healer would do such a vile thing?” she asked him.

His gaze re-hardened at her insult. “Whatever he did to that unborn child – and my daughter – nothing good can come out of it.”

“You don’t know our father,” Narik grunted. “He was psychotic, but he never did anything without a damn good reason.” He paused, then asked, “Did he say anything to you of his motives?”

Jim shook his head. “Nothing coherent. He said the child was a ‘miracle’ and that ‘one more must be born if our families are to not only survive, but be forgiven by our mother goddess’.”

Sari steeped her fingers, lost in thought as she paced the space between her family and Jim. “That the girl is a miracle is self-evident,” she said slowly. “But where the bloodline’s survival comes in…” She shook her head, clearly confused at the dying man’s last words to Jim. “He could father no more children. Narik was the last. This we know. He had no fertility to pass on to the child your daughter now carries.” She looked at Erik and Narik. “To be ‘forgiven’ by Whocate implies She cursed us in the first place.” The Seeress shook her head.

“But it was her son Acheron who went mad after she reascended,” Erik agreed. “He is the one who cursed us.” Jim detected a slight weariness in the man’s voice. At least he acknowledged what a terrible burden this was to his house, the herbalist realized. His respect for Erik went up a small notch as a result.

“I believe we must discount Lord Loki’s assumption that the Goddess herself is responsible,” Sari agreed. “Unless…” she trailed off. “There is something in that statement that is amiss. Something I am forgetting.” She shook her head in annoyance at her lack of memory. “I must meditate on it. But it is no of importance now.” She stopped pacing, coming to stand in front of Jim. “Lord Loki always acted upon his nature, and cursing his name now that he is gone, or attempting to reason out the motivations behind his unstable mind will not provide us with any answers.”

Jim’s eyes widened. “‘His nature’?” he asked in disbelief. “He was an animal. He raped my daughter,” he emphasized. Surely these people knew that. He felt like an idiot for restating the obvious to them!

Their reactions to this declaration were not what he had expected. Erik Whoticore looked wide-eyed to Narik, who half-coughed, half-laughed and Erik’s mate cocked her head at Solare in curiosity.

“Is this what your daughter told you?” the Seeress asked Jim.

“Well, no, but she was taken against her will and – “ it was hard for him to talk about it. “And there were – witnesses,” he got out with an effort.

“And she admitted this,” Sari asked him. “Said that he mated with her against her will.” The woman wasn’t going on about it to hurt Jim, it seemed. She genuinely appeared to be trying to learn exactly what had transpired.

“No, but she was in shock,” Jim struggled to keep his tone civil. “I couldn’t expect her to give me details!” he snapped at last at the end.

“So later she told you – “

“No! She didn’t have to,” he declared with certainty. 

“I believe you assume she was then,” the Seeress told him.

“What? How would you know?” he snapped. 

Sari came closer, peering hard into his green eyes. “Because of what we are, of course. Surely if you have Lethe Solare’s portion of the family grimoire, you would know this.”

Jim reared back slightly at the intensity of the Whoticore female’s statement. “That foul thing? No Solare has read that evil tome of Whocate’s daughter in centuries. No one would dare!”

“But it is in your possession?” pressed Sari.

“Yes, of course it is! We can’t chance the damnable thing falling into someone else’s hands,” Jim replied. “And it can’t be destroyed. Tartarus knows every generation has tried!”

There was stunned silence for a moment. Erik turned to his brother. “They don’t know,” he breathed in amazement. 

Narik’s eyes grew huge. “Apparently they don’t. They have no clue!”

“Know what?” the herbalist asked, getting testy.

“I think they know,” Sari said, returning to her family’s side of the room. “They just don’t admit it to themselves.” Her gaze turned disapproving at first, then was replaced with calculation. “Well, it will do no good to tell you then. Of this I am certain.”

Jim opened his mouth to protest, but the Priestess held up her hand. “Let us put it to you another way, Mr. Solare. You said earlier that Lord Loki was an animal by virtue of his act with your daughter Serena.”

“‘With’? You mean against!” he said crossly.

“Not the point, or not a point you would currently concede to,” the woman dismissed. “We are all animals by virtue of the flesh we are bound to. Tell me, Mr. Solare, can you stop a cobra from striking if it is frightened?”

“No,” Jim said automatically, confused for a moment at her change of the topic.

“If a bird wishes to sing because it is happy, can you stop it?” she asked.

“No, but – “ he began to say.

She cut him off, “And if any animal – or man, is hungry and has food near to it, can you stop it from eating?”

“What the hell does this have to do with anything we are talking – “ Jim snapped.

“And,” she went on relentlessly. “if it wants to mate, will you stop it?”

“No,” Jim said a little more forcefully. “But Loki Whoticore was not an animal.”

“You said he was,” the Seeress pointed out.

“We’re all animals, Mr. Solare,” Narik reminded him. “It just so happens that we have the ability to discern when we should refrain from mating – “

“ – or indeed how we go about that mating,” Erik said, slightly smiling.

Seeing the Whoticore’s bemused expression drove what little respect Jim had for the man back down several million points. “He was a man acting like an animal!” Young Jim argued, but then thinking of something, ventured, “More animal than man, yes, but still – “

“Not quite an animal,” the woman shook her head. She resumed her pacing, her cloak drifting with her. “You will learn in time, as your granddaughter grows. If you intend to let her live.”

Jim’s expression hardened. “And if I don’t?”

The Seeress lifted her gaze, radiating nothing but contempt for the Solaran. “You would deprive your daughter of the one child that could survive two previous miscarriages?”

“How do you know about – “

“You disgust me!” Sari said in unmasked anger. She looked to the Whoticore males as she swept out of the room. “Do what you will with him. His life is forfeit. The child must be protected.”

The two brothers bowed to her, advancing on Jim. He held his hands out in a futile effort to resist them. “Wait, Wait! What’ll happen to my daughter?” he yelped as Narik grabbed him in an unforgiving grip of steel.

The Seeress, perhaps taking pity on the condemned man, granted him the knowledge. “She will be brought here and cared for throughout the term of her pregnancy. She will raise the child here and want for nothing. Her baby is half our blood and we take very good care of our own.”

“I’ve seen how Loki’s taken ‘care of his own’,” spat Jim in anger. “Raising a family of thugs and rapists! You would kill me as easily as – “

“ – as you threatened to abort your granddaughter!” Sarlyana shot back acidly. Her sharp gaze turned to her husband and brother-in-law. “Bring him before the statue of Whocate that he may beg her forgiveness for shirking his duty as a Healer and a protector of his daughter and granddaughter,” Sari instructed. “She might forgive him before she kills him.”

“‘Kills me’?” Jim squeaked, watching as she left. His gaze turned to the House Head, as Erik, “Tsked,” in annoyance and began to remove his gloves. “How can you expect a stone statue to kill me?” Solare demanded to know.

Narik laughed an unpleasant laugh behind him. “Oh, you’ll see.” The burly man watched with a gleam in his eye as his brother remove his gloves and set them in a vest pocket. “Why you bothering, brother?” he asked Erik.

“Not taking any chances, brother,” the smaller man said as a matter-of-fact.

“Don’t see why,” mumbled Narik. “He doesn’t believe us, so I can’t see him puttin’ up much of a fight.”

“True, but the others were too scared to move.” Jim watched as Erik rubbed the fingertips of his right hand against his palm. “We don’t know about this one. If he has any resistance to Her by virtue of his ancestral blood, I want to make sure She gets a good shot at him.”

Jim’s smirk faded slightly as Erik’s fingers began to gleam with a glittering, fragrant substance. “Wait – wait – “ he tried to back up against Narik, but the man was built like a solid brick wall and was just as yielding. “What – “ he stuttered, squirming what little he could while Erik approached, hand extended towards the Solaran.

“You see, herbalist,” Erik explained as he grasped Jim’s bare arm. “If you’d been smart – or at least curious, you’d have read that ‘evil tome’ in your possession, as you call it. You would know what I’m doing and would have never been so stupid as to make all the mistakes you’ve made that led you here to your death.”

Jim was only half-listening until he felt his wildly beating heart slow down and his breathing calm. 

“Didn’t you wonder what Narik did to his wife to soothe her enough we could pry her off of you?” the Whoticore asked his victim. “It’s the same thing our father did in courtship with your daughter Serena.”

“Neural paralytic,” Narik whispered in Jim’s ear from behind. “A very effective painkiller later imitated by her husband Brendon to create the very first non-herbal painkillers available to science. She brought the gift of painless surgery to the Pontoos. You knew that, right?”  

“Whocate created her mortal form to produce it, then passed the trait down to her sons through Lord Acheron,” Erik added, his voice turning calmer, almost soothing. Jimmy thought he detected a slight reverberation in the tone and recalled that he had been told by his Solaran relatives that the Whoticores were also masters of hypnosis and wondered if that was also responsible for his failing resistance to their strong will now.

Whatever the cause – one or both, the Solaran’s struggles surrendered under its influence until he felt mildly lightheaded and passive. The herbalist part of his mind took over, absurdly, theorizing what chemicals he could compare it to in the herbs he knew their family used in their practice. “Neuro – neurotoxins,” he slurred.

“Rather pleasant ones, Sari – “ Eric began.

“ – and Kelie tell us,” Narik finished. “Makes for great sex!” he added as an afterthought, intentionally.

“You – bastards,” Jim wheezed. He could feel its effect warming his muscles, relaxing them so much his legs buckled out from under him. Narik was prepared, catching him, then slung him over his shoulder. The two brothers proceeded out to the garden with their unwelcome bundle.

“Is – is that the only way you could get wives? Through a date rape drug?” Jim taunted them as they walked down the mansion’s white marbled corridors. His addled, passive mind barely couched it in the sarcastic tone it would have been better suited to, but it hardly mattered. Inexplicably, both Whoticores laughed.

“Firstly, Solare,” Erik explained as if to a child. “As Sari would say, ‘applying traditional courtship rules and rituals to us is like expecting dragonflies to mate in a missionary position’ – “

Jim’s limp, useless body jiggled against his captor’s body as Narik laughed.

“ – and secondarily, I would say if you survive this – “

“ – which you won’t – “ Narik assured him.

“ – you should ask your daughter if she consented to the copulation like my wife recommended you do in the first place,” the House Head finished as they came out into the gardens behind the mansion.

The paralysis was starting to wear off, Jim noticed, but not enough he could keep his feet when Narik suddenly turned around and dumped the hapless man onto the grass in front of a circular granite area lit with a peculiar glow. When Narik moved, Sari was facing them, standing in front of a beautiful, bone-white statue of a woman surrounded by three larger-than-life dragonflies.

Jim’s first shock was that the dragonflies were unlike any he had ever seen and were alive. Their bodies were transparent – one blue, one an electric red and one royal purple. They had long, beautiful – he could only think of them as looking like streamers – that trailed from their bodies between the first and second pairs of arms. The entire insect’s body was lit with a sparkling iridescence that caused even the space immediately around them to glow as they hovered around the statute, as if in attending to it, their flight in a tight yet lazy circle around her.

His second shock was when the statue itself came to life and touched down to the pedestal, stepping lightly from there to the area in front of her.

While the other three humans had gone down to one knee before her, arms crossed over their chests, heads bowed, Jim’s gaze was drawn to the statue’s serene face, its only color the eyes set with flawless, black obsidian.

The third shock was one that rocked everyone in attendance. As the statue’s all-black eyes looked upon Jim’s stunned, terrified face, the human softened, his face suddenly alive with recognition.

“S – Serena?”

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