The building wasn’t very different from the typical architecture in the rest of Mountainville…of redwood and slanted roofs to keep the rain from gathering, wide porches with thick wooden chairs and copious ferns as company, it was, as everything was in the Cantoo Eleven Province, woodsy and beautiful yet functional.
The difference in this building’s function, however, made it unique in all of the city. It served as the province’s sanitarium. The large, cozy-looking building was ringed with a wide open area, searchlights set in nondescript recesses in the roof’s eaves and a barbed wire fence most effective in its function – keep the sane people outside safe and the insane people inside in.
Reception was just like the outside – cozy, comfortable chairs, lush ferns and plants for decoration and a large, functional desk took up most of it. As Jim Solare signed in on the visitor’s side of the desk, he glanced up at the mission statement burned into a plaque on the wall behind reception. “Keeping the citizens of Mountainville safe both within and without”. He raised an eyebrow, wondering at how many both residents and visitors would catch its double meaning.
“Have a seat, please, Mr. Helios,” the pleasant woman behind the desk requested. “I’ll let the Carekeeper know you’ve arrived.”
“Thank you,” Jim said politely. He chose a chair with a view of the outside and sat down. With nothing to do but wait now, the tall, blonde-haired male of 47 winters stared ahead, not really seeing the bare, stone-worked driveway or its soft dirt landscape.
His mind drifted to the events of the past week and how easily they could have sent him to Moonville’s equivalent of this dreadful facility. How he had failed to protect his pure, innocent daughter despite her being nowhere near this accursed city and how their family history had decided no one had learned its lessons and bore repeating until the message had been received loud and clear.
Well, Young Jim had received the message and in his grief-stricken state had taken care of his daughter first, attended the trial second and now there was only one thing left to do.
Kill the vile animal that had raped his daughter.
The Carekeeper led Jim down the empty white corridors mostly in silence. Other than family, the inmate known as “Old Man Loki” received no visitors, being deemed too dangerous to those unaware of his latent magickal abilities and temperament.
“We keep him in a containment room that dampens his magick,” the man was saying. Jim had tuned him out as he had gone on about the sanitarium and their state-of-the-art facilities and a sterling reputation for their compassion, rehabilitation methods and treatment of mental illness, but refocused on the man’s words as he touched on the special case that was their latest in a long residency of male Whoticores. “He’s kept behind a specially tinted glass panel that prevents him from hypnotizing any of the staff or visitors. No one has ever been able to suppress that part of the Whoticore bloodline’s abilities and it makes him particularly dangerous,” the staff manager emphasized.
“So I’ve heard tell,” Jim nodded. “I have a natural immunity to hypnotic suggestion. You needn’t worry about me being at risk.” He smiled. “I have made a life’s mission of studying their talents and abilities. I know how to handle them.”
His escort examined his tall, well-built visitor. “Really? Very few outside the family know the truth about them. The Whoticores have this uncanny ability to hide their – “ he waved a hand in front of him, searching for a phrase.
“Activities?” offered Jim. “Evil? Influence?”
“All of the above,” the Carekeeper nodded. “So, if you are not family, how do you know about them and what is your interest in them and in Loki in particular?”
“Research,” Jim lied. “There are ways to contain them, but that only results in leaving a trail of bodies in their wake. Our – institute is more interested in magickal defense against them, prevention of the problem before it becomes a problem.”
“Ah,” the manager said, rather unconvincingly. “I would be interested in their applications in our daily handling of Mr. Whoticore if they prove successful.” Something about the man’s words felt – off – to Young Jim and warning bells went off in the back of his mind. There was no doubt the Whoticores had been a problem for them for centuries…why would he try to deceive Jim about having such a need? Surely it did exist from what he had read and knew of their reputation in the Solare family’s grimoire passed down from their ancestress, Lethe Solare. Never one to leave anything to chance where it concerned his family’s enemies, on the outside he only smiled and nodded, adding an, “Of course, we will gladly share our techniques with your staff.”.
They arrived at a heavy oak and steel door to which the Carekeeper pulled out the keys. Three deadbolt locks and a heavy steel bar across the entire door were disabled and removed. Jim heard them replaced by the guard on the side they had just left, with the keys the Carekeeper had entrusted to him. The keys to freedom were never brought inside with staff, family or visitors – that lesson had been a harsh one to learn in the past that had cost lives.
They walked the last, long corridor to a single, plain doorway with no door. Jim felt a tingle of magic as they passed through. He looked to the Carekeeper questioningly.
“A memory dampening spell,” he explained. “Keyed specifically to Loki’s aura. If he escapes and passes through that doorway, he’ll immediately lose his memory. It’s our hope that if he ever does escape and gets this far, the disorientation will delay him long enough we could get additional security in here to contain him.”
All these insane measures at once impressed and worried Jim Solare. “Is all this necessary, just for him? Haven’t there been other Whoticore males just as bad?”
The staff manager shook his head. “No. Loki is the worst in memory. We don’t know why, exactly. It might have had something to do with him having been born during a blood supermoon. No one knows for certain. He seems to have been born a natural predator. He started ‘hunting’ even before his eyes darkened.”
The blonde man with him clenched his fist at the side facing away from the Carekeeper. “‘Hunting’?” he asked, fighting to keep his voice even and neutral.
“Females,” the other man replied. “Solare females, of course. That’s all they’re ever interested in. There’s no more apt description for it and Loki takes a special pleasure in the capture – ”
“Of – of course,” Jim nodded, cutting him off. He feared if the man went on he might lose it and do something to reveal his true purpose here.
The facility employee stopped at the final doorway. “Here we are,” he blew out a mildly stressful breath. “I’ll be monitoring you from another room.”
Young Jim looked sharply at him, surprised. He had carefully planned out how he was going to take Loki out, had not really expected to get away afterwards. He knew his life was forfeit for the opportunity to seek revenge for Serena’s violation, but he had at least thought he would be able to tell the bastard why he was going to die first before being caught or worse, prevented from carrying out his mission.
“Something wrong?” The Carekeeper’s voice broke through his thoughts.
“No, no…just, you know, preparing for this mentally.” It wasn’t a lie this time. With the added complication of not being in the same room with their prisoner, this was beginning to look more and more like a mission doomed to fail before it had begun. He would have to stall for time while in there, look for a weakness in the facility’s security, something he could exploit. “All right,” he said quietly. “I’m ready.” He stopped the man from leaving with a hand on his arm. “Will we be monitored audibly?”
“That’s up to you,” the Carekeeper shrugged. “It’s not mandatory unless we detect there is a problem.”
“Fine,” Jim nodded. “I would like some privacy with the – subject.” He wanted to say animal but stopped himself in time.
“Very well. Good luck.”
Taking a deep breath, Young Jim passed through the doorway and into another room. There was a wall of shatterproof glass floor to ceiling, with a simple table and chair on each side. The slowly building agitation he had felt ever since coming here had subsided somewhat when it was explained he would not be allowed to be in the same room with the Whoticore filth. Now there was an element of stalling and time he needed to readjust his plan, for readjust it he would, because no matter what and no matter the cost, he would kill Loki Whoticore.
“So, you’re a Solare male,” came a voice from the other side of the clear wall.
Jim froze and looked up sharply from where he had been pacing the empty room.
There was no one on the other side. He blinked, rubbed his eyes.
“Can’t see me, can you,” the voice turned amused.
Jim could see the entire room from where he stood…there was a single, closed door that went back into another area he assumed were Loki’s living quarters, but other than that, the chair and desk, there was nothing and no one on the other side of the glass.
“How amusing,” the deep, dark male voice rumbled. “There is an historical precedent for this, you know, Solare.”
“Where – where are you!” his visitor demanded, backing up slightly. He stopped short, not wanting to appear afraid of his enemy, but by then it was too late to cover it up. The fear had been displayed and if both rooms shared the ventilation system, he wouldn’t be surprised if Loki Whoticore could also smell a twinge of fear in the sweat that had cropped up unbidden on the back of Jim’s neck.
“Where? Right in front of you,” Loki patiently explained.
Only Jim’s eyes moved now, slowly from side to side, examining every inch of the room. Was the bastard still in the other, closed-off room perhaps? Was he projecting his thoughts into Jim’s mind just to unnerve him?
“‘Historical precedence’?” Solare asked, hoping to stall until he could figure out where the sanitarium prisoner was.
“Of course. Don’t they teach such things in Moonville? It’s quite basic to Hidden in Plain Sight spells…cases of aboriginal tribes discovered who could not see the boats in their own harbors because they had never seen one in their entire people’s history,” elaborated Loki. Something about the deep, frightening voice was softening with the subject matter…maybe he was comfortable discussing magick. His visitor was not. It was a forbidden subject in his House. Never practice, never die from its consequences…something that had been practically beaten into him growing up.
At last Jim zeroed in on where the voice was coming from. It was indeed right in front of him, behind the desk, but there was a strange fuzziness obscuring the chair. He sat down carefully, never taking his eyes off the spot, willing himself to see beyond the aural disturbance. “I’ve heard the stories,” he said tightly. “So?”
“Ah, never studied, then. Useful to know.” Silently his visitor damned himself for revealing weakness. This creature, if the Solare grimoire of Whocate was any indication, would be a master of magick. “And you must have never seen a Whoticore before,” the man went on, starting to sound, what?..bored…no…
…he was studying him, Jim realized with a deep shiver crawling up his spine.
“Am I right?” the Whoticore rumbled, seeking confirmation.
Only just now did something said out of place occur to Young Jim at that moment, “Wait, earlier you called me…I’m not a Solare – “ he lied.
Something slammed into the glass with such force it wobbled, scaring Jim out of ten years growth. He stumbled back, falling off his chair. The aura of malice coming from the other side of the wall grew in exponential strength as well. “Whoa!” he yelped, hitting the ground hard, the chair underneath his back causing a quick, sharp moment of pain.
The light in the room suddenly grew brighter, almost blinding. Jim’s eyes adjusted quickly as he moved to right himself when two people came striding into the room behind him. Hands on either side helped lift him up as a feral snarl of anger and pain cut the air around him from the other side of the glass wall. While getting up, he blinked, but now, suddenly, he clearly saw the large male prisoner on the other side, shielding his eyes and – was that a hiss that escaped his lips..?
“Are you all right?” the Carekeeper asked Jim.
“Yes – I’m fine,” the guest replied, thoroughly rattled, but grateful for the quick response to his distress. When he was back in his chair, he ran a hand through his blonde hair. “What the hell was that!” he exclaimed.
Loki was up against the glass, fingers splayed from the largest hands Young Jim had ever seen on a human male. “Don’t lie to me – Sola – “
“ – Is he always so – irritable?” Jim cut him off intentionally, not wanting the staff to know his real name and that he was from the Moonville Solare family – their natural enemies.
“Depends,” the staff manager said. “What the Tartarus did you ask him?”
“I was trying to explain how I thought he was – mistaken about something,” Jim elaborated as vaguely as he could get away with.
“Oh, yeah, don’t do that,” the Carekeeper shook his head, catching Jim’s attention. “He can see through lies in two seconds – almost before they’re out of your mouth. If he thinks you take him for a fool, you’ll never get anywhere with him.”
“Okay, I – jeeze!” Jim startled again, looking back at the Whoticore for the first time, getting a good, uncomfortably close look at his all black, dead-looking eyes. There was no visible differentiation from the iris or cornea…no white, no color, just utter – nothingness.
“Never seen one this close, have you?” He could almost hear the smile in the Carekeeper’s words.
Jim couldn’t look away from Loki, at once fascinated, repulsed and terrified at their appearance. He finally looked up, confused, then look back down once again into the Whoticore’s evil gaze. “There’s no – “ he swallowed, trying to control his fear. “ – no light in…” he gestured at Loki’s eyes, then glanced up again, pointing his finger towards the lights set in the ceiling. “But there is light up…”
“That’s not a trick of the glass, Mr. Helios,” the staff manager said, using his fake name. “Light falls into his eyes, but somehow gets trapped in there. It isn’t reflected back out.”
Loki shut his eyes again, snarling, clearly still in pain, though the lights had begun cycling down from their debilitating brilliance. “I would appreciate it, Mr. Carekeeper, if you would tone those blasted lights down!” the Whoticore said in a surprisingly civil and sane tone.
“Only,” the sanitarium employee drew out a remote control from his pocket. “if you promise not to chew him up and spit him out again.”
The lights came down and the owner of the previously disembodied voice smiled a very unfriendly smile. “I promise nothing, Karl. All depends on the manners of my ‘guest’.”
“Well, considering he has never met you before, Mi’Lord, I suggest you teach him what you consider ‘respectful’ manners,” then to Jim, he asked, “do you want us to monitor the conversation – “
“No,” Jim sighed. “I get it. Treat this one as if walking on eggshells.”
“That won’t work Mr. Helios,” the Carekeeper shook his head. “I suggest you treat him with respect as is due – “
“‘Respect’?” snapped Jim, nearly coming out of his chair. “Loki raped an innocent young woman and Goddess knows how many others he was never punished for!”
“That is ‘Lord’ Loki to you,” the Whoticore huffed. He blew out a breath in exasperation. “‘Raped’ – hardly!” He pierced Jim with a knowing, wicked gaze. “Her pleas for me to complete the fertilization were quite – passionate, as I recall.”
Solare’s blood was boiling at the sickeningly graphic turn of discussion. He knew he would completely lose it and find a way to kill the man if he even hinted one more time that his beloved, innocent Serena had enjoyed his unwanted attentions! He slammed his hands down on the desk, infuriated. If he had to throw the lethal herbs tucked in his pocket at the ventilation shaft in an attempt to reach this vile creature, thus killing himself and the facility staff as well, he would gladly –
It was the Carekeeper that broke the tension, surprisingly. He grabbed Young Jim by the arm and led him outside with enough force to let the visitor know this was not a suggestion to come with him, but of an urgency he should not protest. Out of earshot, Moonville Sanitarium’s Manager gave him a harsh look. “What is wrong with you, Helios? You’ll never get him to cooperate with that attitude! We should just stop this right here and now if you cannot conduct this visitation in an objective, professional manner.”
Jim bit his lip, realizing his terrible mistake. “Yes, yes, you’re right. I apologize. It’s just – I know the family personally and this is quite a difficult case for me to take on – “
The Carekeeper narrowed his eyes. “Then your institute should send someone else to conduct this interview. Why would they send you knowing you’re personally involved?”
Jim had to think fast or he would be thrown out and never get the chance again to exact revenge for his daughter. “Our other – case workers are on vacation or other assignments,” he lied. “And there is some urgency to conducting this investigation sooner rather than later.” With great reluctance he didn’t have to manufacture, he explained why.
The Carekeeper’s eyes widened. “That’s – that’s not possible. The Whoticore family told us – “
“I can guess what they told you and it’s wrong, believe me, Carekeeper,” Jim impressed. “We were just as shocked as you.”
Karl put a hand to his head. “I’ll have to tell them. Sarlayna’s vision must have been wrong, but I don’t see how that’s possible!”
Jim squeezed the man’s upper arm. “Please! Wait at least until I finish my evaluation of Loki.” The lies were coming easier and easier now, at least, making saying ‘evaluation’ instead of ‘revenge’ less obvious in his voice. “It might be I can draw him into revealing more than you have even been able to up to this point.”
The Carekeeper shook his head. “That’s doubtful, but I am willing to try in light of this news. Though it won’t matter soon.”
“Why is that?” Jim asked.
“I don’t suppose there’s any harm in telling you, Mr. Helios, especially if you intend to stretch these interviews out beyond today,” Karl said thoughtfully, then refocused on his visitor. “Something – strange happened to Lord Loki when he, well, when he – fertilized Miss Solare.” He could see Jim’s face darken at the sensitive subject again and hesitated. Jim nodded for him to go on, steeling himself this time. “It’s part of why he’s so mentally unstable and how he got caught so easily after this last assault.” He sighed. “And why House Whoticore finally consented to having him committed. They knew what was coming when they saw his condition.”
For some reason, Young Jim felt an uneasy flutter begin in the pit of his stomach. “Go on.”
“We suspect a magickal as well as a genetic reason, but he seemed to have cast a spell either before or during, um, well, during the copulation,” the man told Jim carefully.
The Solare House head felt his guts tighten further.
“This spell, whatever it was, seems to have put nearly all of Lord Whoticore’s life force into his semen. He knew, of course, that the fertility of the bloodline was finished with the birth of his two grandsons.”
“He has sons and grandsons?” Jim’s jaw dropped at the news. More of their kind in the world meant this wouldn’t be the end of his mission once he ended Loki’s miserable existence.
“Yes, two sons – Erik and Narik,” the Carekeeper nodded in acknowledgement. “And their sons, Loki’s grandsons. They’re very young yet – just 2 ½ years old.”
His visitor closed his eyes in pain. Opening them, he urged his host to continue. “The spell, his life force – if he already has sons and grandsons, why do that?”
“We don’t know,” the Carekeeper admitted. “But in doing it, he sacrificed his own body’s life essence – and worse. One would think if he had wanted his line to continue, he would have cast such a powerful spell upon his own sons, but he did not. For some reason known only to Loki, he felt it was worth giving up his very soul to soul erosion to create one more child with the Solare bloodline and only the Goddess Whocate knows why.”
I hope you’ve enjoyed this little look into the Halloween horror that is the most feared Patriarch of the Whoticore bloodline to live since Whocate’s First Son, Lord Acheron. What he reveals before his death will affect the future of not just the Whoticores, but both families and of everyone they touch in the Cantoos. Don’t miss a chapter – sign up for exclusive previews of new chapters today for as little as $1.00 on Patreon!
An introduction to yet another child in the bloodline of House Whoticore. Remember, these teasers are not in order of the eBook I plan to publish. They are merely glimpses into their world.
This scene was inspired by Between Interval’s haunting rendition of the classic Greek myth of the Minotaur. It’s urgency and mystical tones set the mood perfectly for The Flight to Westwind. Enjoy.
The young man ran through the forest at the base of the mountain. Against those he was fleeing, he had the advantage…it was the deepest part of midnight and his night vision was perfect. If his pursuers thought the young man would find the long, arduous trip more painful than his present life, they had not watched him grow up beneath the cruel thumb of his wicked father.
No, it was the daylight and the things that refused to hide any longer in his bloodline that were more painful to him than climbing the impossible heights to Westwind – and blessed Sanctuary.
“I think he went this way,” a voice said from a distance, but close enough his sensitive ears picked it up instantly. He darted off the path and dove into a patch of ferns and hostas, ground-hugging, large-leaved plants that would hide his presence well. He settled into place as fast as possible, reaching up from the inside shelter to calm the leaves still bobbing heavily from his abrupt entrance.
Heart pounding wildly, he was surprised the two large, meaty thugs running past didn’t hear it. ‘Please, please, please,’ he mouthed silently to himself, praying to his Goddess to keep him safe and his whereabouts hidden.
Not daring to breathe for a full minute even after he no longer heard them, he finally peeked out. A black dragonfly who had kept up with his flight, bobbed in front of him. He reached a hand out and it landed in the palm of his hand. “Midnight, is it safe?” he asked, scanning the darkness with equally dark eyes.
The creature buzzed, lifting off his hand and darting quickly into the sky. After a moment, it came back and landed on his hand in the same spot, buzzing with its report on the young goth’s pursuers.
He nodded. “Good, they ran off like the big, dumb idiots they are. Like the ones my father always hires.” Looking down, he thought a moment. Raising his head, he asked, “Will you show me the safe path to Westwind?”
Taking up the flight again, Artemas ran through the night. Under the tall, leaning trees that blotted out the stars above, past startled swarms of night insects, past an even more startled mountain cat. The goth mumbled an apology to the big cat, but bit back the urge to stop and coax it to him. He hoped the creature’s territory included Westwind, which was still a long ways away, at the top of the mountain. When he got there, when his father’s men came for him – as come they would – he could use allies with the strength equal to or greater than that of a mere man’s. He smiled at the thought of seeing their shocked expressions and terror when faced with an angry cat their own size.
Adjusting his path, Artemas Whoticore always kept the rising crescent moon to his left. Biting his lip at one point, he winced in pain. The deepness of the cut would need stitches, he knew, but more than his lip would need stitches if his pursuers caught up with him. It reminded him to keep on the lookout for any tea trees while fleeing. If Westwind had no doctor, he wanted to be prepared, grab leaves of the local melaleucas, transferring them to his pouch, saving them for a time when he could treat the vicious wound his father had given him as a last, parting gift before his flight.
‘Don’t think about it!’ he reminded himself sharply. There was no time to get caught up in a flashback of the terror and brutality of his dad’s reign over his and his mother’s lives. They were so bad and so often now, sometimes he could barely tell them from reality, though he always became aware during them, realizing they were happening only in his mind.
They also reminded him of why he had to find his cousin at all costs, give her the book grandmother Sarlayna had told him existed. It was the reason he was now hotly pursued, having stolen it from his father’s den at her urging. She had been right about its import to Artemas, telling of a branch of their family living in Moonville, and though it be too far away to get there on foot, it also said they resided at the top of the Cantoo mountains, in Westwind Meadows, just above Whocate’s Valley. The latest, most recent entries spun by his great grandfather, Loki Whoticore, told how his female cousins – the Solares – had a burning hatred of his side of the family, something that would be an advantage in the war against his evil, sadistic father. It was also possible they were the powerful herbalists descended from Lethe herself – Whocate’s daughter. If so, he prayed Lethe’s daughters were still taught the ancient art of leaf, root and flower and could banish his now near-constant, traumatic hallucinations and give him the strength to save his mother…
…”You have to come with me!” Artemas hissed urgently, trying to keep his voice down.
His mother looked at him with infinite sadness. “I can’t honey. I would only slow you down. If you think it is better out there, you should go.”
“‘I think’?” he mouthed, incredulous. “Mom, he BEATS YOU. He beats ME. He’s a bastard – “
“He’s not that bad, dear,” she said in a placid voice. “He just gets – frustrated when things go badly at work.”
“That’s like, every day, mother!” the young man reminded her. She turned away, not wanting to hear the same old argument that had become his mantra every day, every hour practically, for the past six months. “One day, he’s going to kill you!”
“Stop it!” she yelled, instantly cringing, regretting the outburst. They both looked towards the study where the man they called husband and father had passed out in front of the fireplace – a bottle on the table and an expensive, crystal goblet dangling from his hand.
“I don’t know why, Artemas, honey, but he’s been much worse since you turned 16,” she began.
“Yeah, well, I’ve been feeling more – rebellious since I turned as well,” he said sourly. “I feel like I’m wasting my life here. He hates me, but he keeps trying to teach me the damn business. He drags me to work and other days he swears I’ll never touch his assets. He’s a psycho, mom!”
She shook her head. “I don’t understand either, dear. Maybe he just needs a rest.”
“Yeah, a permanent rest – in Mountainville Psychiatric Hospital,” Artemas mumbled, picking up his flute. It was the only thing in his life that wasn’t filled with pain, but allowed him to channel that pain into something constructive. Maybe it was this and the feel of it in his hand that always calmed him.
She sat in a chair closer to him, to listen as he played. “He’s terrified of that place,” she reminded him. “His grandfather Loki and his father and father’s father’s father died in there. “Only your grandfather Erik didn’t end up in there and no one remembers why.”
Artemas paused at the end of a stanza, then lowered the instrument. “Even if dad knew, he probably wouldn’t tell us. And he tried to tear that place down. He always hated Uncle Narik for putting his half of the family fortune towards blocking its demolition…”
“NO!” Artemas gasped, wrenching himself back to reality, unable to bear the memory of what came next. He came back to his senses and to the peaceful darkness of the forest around him. He listened and looked around. There was no sign of pursuit.
“Thank you Goddess,” he whispered to the liquid black river flowing past nearby. “Maybe you haven’t abandoned our wretched family yet like dad said you did.”
After a minute of rest and getting his orientation back, he took off again, back towards the mountain ahead, towards freedom.
Will the last born Whoticore survive to reach the sanctuary of Westwind? Pledge NOW to our $1.00 tier on Patreon to receive future chapters and learn his fate.
The washed-out light of the half-moon hung over the Cantoo Mountain range, shining down upon the six cities neatly arranged between each spoke of its outstretched fingers of woods and intertwining rivers.
One city, Plainsville, had long since perished, its ghostly, skeletal remains of buildings long since abandoned. The entire province was absent of even the most basic of life, strangely, considering nature and a new ecosystem should have picked up where the human element had failed to carry on. Some said the region was cursed because of a long since forgotten atrocity carried out by a paranoid, selfish society, but since no one remembered what the atrocity was, it had been relegated to the realms of myth. Still, science could not explain it and thus nature and sane humanity avoided it out of a subconscious fear the curse was real.
The next cities to flank the now-dead Plainsville were Moonville to the west and Mountainville to the East. Being separated by the ghost of a dead city actually suited both still living communities as they had grown more and more apart over the centuries. Where there had once existed fear and suspicion between them, time had dulled the memory until only ambivalence and apathy remained.
And while certain authorities, including the caretakers of Mountainville Sanitarium, knew better than to forget the lessons of the past, other certain family houses have never been allowed to forget…
The tall willow trees surrounding the mansion of Dr. Erik Whoticore split the light of the moon until only its fragments reached the immaculate grounds underneath. Pale statutes of animals and people shown with faded light – with one exception. A life-sized statue of an ethereal, inhumanly beautiful goddess glowed with blueish light, her hair in finely feathered marble billowing about her. She was surrounded by three large dragonflies. All four hovered without visible lines of support above the ground, the entire structure concealed in the back of the house where no prying eyes of guests would be cause for awkward questions and explanations.
The peace of the outside grounds underneath the serene canopy and silvered moonlight belied the turmoil going on with the main house within.
“Nice of you to show up, Glen.”
“It was not necessarily my choice, cousin,” Glen sniffed at his same-aged relative, Holic. He straightened his slender tie. Holic just snorted. It along with the school-issued uniform looked so damn ridiculous on the gangly sixteen-year-old, it nearly made the more rebellious boy gag. The teen wore it with a smugness that choked the very air, like the cloying aftershave Glen wore too much of. In an almost defiant gesture, Holic pulled his leather jacket down and slightly tighter in front. He ignored his cousin’s disapproving looks at the new tattoo on Holic’s wrist – one of handcuffs.
Holic longed to wipe that self-righteous look off Glen’s face with a brick. “She’s your grandmother, too, deadhead,” he warned Glen. “Show some respect for once.”
“You wouldn’t be so mouthy if Wilfred were here,” Glen mumbled, trying and failing to sound tough.
Holic laughed. He knew tough and this kid wasn’t anywhere nearing toughness. He also knew Glen hated his own brother, Wilfred Whoticore, and the only reason Glen would want him here would be to back him up. In fact, the absent Wilfred would rather side with Holic than his own, nearer flesh. “You’re kidding, right? Wilfred would hold you down for me, Glen.”
Glen shot his cousin a look of such hatred, wrongly imagining it was the truth, that Holic raised an eyebrow. Well, well, the little weasel had a spark in his spineless body after all!
Fortunately, before the tension broke into outright hostility, Holic’s parents, Narik and Kelie Whoticore, came into the room. Like most teens, Holic had arguments with them – mostly about homework and the motorcycle the teen wanted to buy, and there was friction, but he still loved them and their presence was infinitely more desirable right now than that of the little parasite in front of him. He had thought this was going to be a display of ingratiating manners on Glen’s part, pretending to be so righteous and concerned about the near-death state of their grandmother, but he wasn’t even making the effort to do that for some unfathomable reason. Whatever the case, all it took these days when the two were in the same room would be for Glen to open his mouth to say, “Hello,” and it was certain to guarantee there was going to be violence.
Narik and Kelie were joined by Glen’s parents, Erik and Sarlayna, and they all moved immediately out of the living room and down the corridor, to the bedside of Narik’s mother, Hyacynthe, leaving the teens once again in each other’s unwelcome company. “Great,” Holic breathed, leaning against the entrance to the broad, sweeping room.
Glen ignored his cousin’s remark and obvious discomfort, examining his fingernails. “I don’t know why you’re so bent of out shape,” he said casually. “You’re not the one dying, you know.”
Holic balled his fists, forcing them open, struggling not to let his bad temper lead him into a fight. “Too bad it isn’t you, Glen.”
“Tsk, tsk, Holic,” his cousin sighed. “You’ll never get anywhere in life with that attitude.”
“I’m doing just fine, cousin,” he spit the word out in contempt. “I just think it’s stupid of Uncle Erik to bring your side of the family here while dad’s around. He knows what our family is like when you get too many men in the same room.”
“First off, Holic,” Glen explained with false patience. “You’re not exactly a ‘man’,” he punctuated the statement with annoying little “air” quotes. “and father’s not the problem here,” the youth shrugged. “That crazy, witch-grandmother of ours just happened to pick an inopportune time to die when both sides of the family were in town. Like I said – “
Holic lost it. Turning, he kicked the doorway, leaving a dent from his steel-toed boot, then turned on Glen. Grabbing the youth, he flung him out the room’s entrance, throwing him towards a wall. Glen’s yelp of surprise and pain echoed loudly down the corridor.
By the time the parents of both boys realized what was happening, the bigger, stronger Holic had made sure his dear cousin had slammed into the wall HARD, and before letting him recover either his wits or his footing, had thrown the boy several feet back down the hallway, towards their grandmother’s room.
“Glen, STOP IT!”
Both fathers yelled at their sons at the same time, leaving the room, moving quickly to break it up.
“She ain’t dead yet, you tool, but you’ll join her if I have anything to say about it!” Holic yelled, advancing on his prey. By the time his father Narik had grabbed his arm and pulled him off him, he caught sight of both their mothers standing in the hallway, watching.
“What’s he even doing here, Uncle Erik?!?” Holic turned his anger on Glen’s father, unable to get to the teen’s face to beat it to a pulp like he so desperately wanted. “You, I get, but he doesn’t give a damn about grandma!”
“Holic, I don’t think that’s necessarily true!” This from his mother.
He turned towards her, ready to ask her why she was defending his enemy when he suddenly felt dizzy. Badly dizzy.
*Dad, I don’t feel so good…* he said unintelligibly, the boy falling heavily against his father.
Glen, despite the stinging in his lip, caught the strangeness of his cousin’s words. There was a coldness in the air that made everyone shiver.
“Holic? Holic!” Narik tried to prevent his son from hitting the floor so hard, but let go of Holic’s large hand with a gasp of pain, the boy falling to the floor, suddenly too weak to stop himself.
“Holic?…Narik!” Kelie repeated fearfully. Holic’s mother ran down to join her husband. Sarlayna, Glen’s mother, stood just outside the doorway to her mother’s hospice room, watching from behind coal-black eyes.
The youth felt his dad and uncle pull him up by the jacket, but could not see them. *Yeah,* he mumbled. *S’my name. Dad, why’s the floor on the ceiling?* he asked drunkenly, gazing upwards, confused.
“Had enough I see, Holic?” Glen goaded.
“Shut up, Glen,” his father admonished. “You were on the losing end of that fight if you hadn’t noticed.”
Kelie turned to her husband. “Narik, what’s wrong with him? Why did you drop him?!?”
“I’m more concerned about why we can’t understand him,” Glen’s father, Erik, spoke up, shooting a glance to his wife, Sarlayna.
“He was freezing,” Narik said levelly, trying not to scare the mothers needlessly, hiding his hand. “His skin is like ice.”
“That’s ridiculous, it’s perfectly warm in here!” Kelie scoffed, reaching for her son.
Holic rose, somehow moved away from her touch…she shouldn’t… *Don’t, mom,* he slurred, hitting the floor again, it dropping away in feel as well as in sight, replaced by cold blackness and stars and a disequilibrium that made him want to hurl in the worst way. If he was lucky, he could find his hated cousin to throw up on before he either fell through the void or blacked out.
Somewhere above him, he heard a man exclaim, “Narik, Goddess, your hand is burned!”
“It’s nothing, Erik,” Narik tried to downplay the strange injury.
Blindly, Holic turned towards the sound, trying desperately to use it to anchor himself back into the house, struggling to find it again. Once he found it, the sickness, the coldness, the strange language began to lose their grip, only to be replaced by a worse realization.
*Gran…gran…gran…mother…” he wheezed, the cold burning his lungs. “She’s – “
“You sense Her, Holic, don’t you?” Sari said quietly. Somehow, even though she was down the hall and nearly out of earshot, only the youth heard her.
“Oh thank god,” Kelie breathed, relieved, feeling his forehead. “He’s warming back up!”
Holic focused on their voices, saw Glen backing away from him, fear on his face and in his wide-eyed stare. Holic couldn’t give a crap what he was reacting to right now. The boy’s double-vision, the blurriness went away, him forcing it away in panic. “ – mother, shut up,” he tried to reach towards the blueish glow coming from the doorway to his beloved grandmother’s room… ”Grandmother’s in trouble!”
Glen was pointing at him, “Shit! Dad, his eyes…SHIT!”
Holic managed to get to his feet, half falling, half running down the hallway, “Gran!” he yelled.
Both mothers and Narik sat sullenly in the living room of the mansion. Sari looked in deep thought as well, pondering her nephew’s words and the circumstances of his bizarre behavior. Erik Whoticore was off somewhere with his son, doing his part in keeping the boys away from each other. By the time everyone had gotten back into the Dying Room and caught up with Holic, the boy was at his grandmother’s side, using a tissue to wipe the blood away from her nose. Her vital signs on the heart monitor were half what they were. A stroke was feared and had been later confirmed by a doctor on site.
The adults had not been able to pry him away from her side and had decided for his sake to let him stay with her while they all moved back out to the living room, nothing left to them now but to wait.
The front door burst open, startling everyone out of the uneasy silence. Two more teens came running in, one a handsome young man, who ran to Sari, the other, a girl as equally beautiful, ran to Kelie.
“Alaina!” Kelie let herself be tackled by the girl, buried in her fragrant skirts. The sensitive child was obviously upset and even though she wasn’t related to the family, she had formed an attachment to Holic’s mom whenever her own wasn’t around.
“Father, mother,” Wilfred greeted his parents in turn, then each adult. “I’m glad you’re here, Uncle Narik, Aunt Kelie.”
“So are we,” Kelie smiled sadly at the young man. “Holic is so upset. He’ll be glad you are here, too.”
“Did you have any trouble getting out of the school trip?” Narik asked.
“No, they did have trouble finding us, though. The bus driver forgot his cell phone and the school called every stop on the way until they found the one we were at,” Wilfred replied.
“Thank goodness,” Kelie said as tended their friend clinging to her, smoothing the girl’s hair down.
“Where’s Holic? Can we see Gran?”
“Yes, Wilfred, you can. Holic’s with her but,” Narik shook his head. “She’s not conscious.”
Alaina sniffed, trying not to cry too loud. Kelie hugged her to her. “Wil, you should probably go see them first.”
The young Whoticore nodded and went in search of their matron’s room.
It was now known Hyacynthe would not recover and per her last wishes, the equipment was disconnected so she could let go in a peaceful, quiet atmosphere.
In order to accomplish that, the boys were separated by their parents and not allowed to be in the same room again for the duration of the visit. Young Wilfred Whoticore was the exception to this as he could both handle his annoying sibling and comfort his grieving cousin Holic.
Wilfred stood in the doorway watching Holic at the bedside, Hyacynthe’s hand in his, talking to her unconscious form. He felt his breath catch and ache in his chest for her and for his dear cousin. As quietly as he could, he closed the door and approached the bed.
“They said you sensed her life force wane,” Wilfred began. “Even tho you were out there.“
Holic nodded. “Yeah, I was in the middle of beating the crap out of your brother. Usually I can’t really be distracted from his beatings all that easily, but…” He glanced at the young man. “I kinda fell through a black hole in the Earth and into space.” He took a shuddering breath. “That was damn jarring.”
Wilfred raised an eyebrow. “Really? Wow.”
“Yeah, I was trying to think of harsher words to describe it at the time, but my brain wasn’t too with it,” Holic nodded.
“I can imagine.” Wilfred approached the bedside. Looking down at the frail, comatose woman, he sighed.
“I wonder what ‘Cynthae would say about that?” Holic asked aloud.
“She’d say you were a Whoticore,” Wilfred said with surety. “That you are sensitive and gifted and would be a Seeress if you were female.”
Holic shook his head. “If that’s what they go thru, Wil, I don’t wanna know. It was INTENSE.”
“Sounds like it,” his cousin agreed. “I didn’t feel anything,” he confessed. “But I rarely sense such things.”
“Maybe you were too far away,” Holic theorized.
Wilfred shrugged. “Alaina knew something was wrong. She felt a sudden cold.”
“So did I,” his friend agreed. He looked at him. “Wilfred, I want to keep studying, for us to keep studying, but how the hell are we gonna deal with Gran gone?”
His cousin shook his head. “I don’t know, Holic, but mother told me she is going to give me the family grimoire and to read it cover-to-cover. That it would help.”
“Dad told me the same thing,” the other boy nodded.
“My dad said that whatever I do, I have to keep it away from Glen,” Wilfred confided to Holic in a quieter voice, afraid that even though Glen was not in the room, he would somehow hear.
“I heard that, man. That fuck would tear apart the worlds with it if he could get away with it.”
“Luckily our hypnotic gifts don’t work on older generations,” Wilfred added. “He’d never get dad or Uncle Narik or any of the family to tell him what’s in it, but you have to be careful, Holic. Glen’s a clever one, even with just plain words.”
That made Holic wonder. “What about you? Could he force you to tell him?”
Wilfred shook his head. “No. I’m the only one of us that inherited Whocate’s hypnotic gifts. Glen can charm and influence people, but he can’t outright force anyone to tell him anything.”
Holic glanced heavenward. “Thank you, universe.”
“Yeah, but he is pretty good at tricking people into telling him anything he wants to know,” Wilfred warned him. “Don’t underestimate him.”
Holic woke deep into the night after midnight. He was no expert, but one look at his grandmother told him her end must be very near. He got up, ignoring protesting muscles from having slept slumped over her bed, holding her hand. How many hours he had been there was lost to him, but he knew from the stiffness in his body that it must have been quite a few.
The youth went to the door, opened it and looked out towards the family area. All four parents were there, as was Wilfred and Alaina. (Who knew where Glen was.) All were asleep in chairs, couches, Alaina was on the floor, her back and head resting against the couch Wilfred was asleep on, his hand draped across one shoulder to another, slender fingers resting against the pulse in her throat. He must have been comforting her, he sighed. This has been so hard on everyone and now it’s coming to an end. He moved to exit the room and get them, tell then what was going on, when he felt lightheaded and dizzy, so badly so, he clutched the door jamb with a harsh gasp. Every person outside the room faded from his vision and the endless, star-dusted depths of space came back with a vengeance.
This time, however, he was staring at a star nursery of brilliant, new blue stars. Their amazing beauty was so captivating he found himself forgetting what he was doing, where he was, why…Not now, dammit! He growled under his breath, shutting his eyes, trying to ignore the heavenly sight before him. “Guys, hey – “ he called, but his normally strong voice came out as a mere weakened whisper, unable to carry far enough to wake anyone.
After several attempts, Holic felt something he had never felt before, yet tickled the back of his mind as being familiar, like a forgotten memory. It drug his attention back into the room, pulling him back towards Hyacynthe’s death bed. Somehow he was able to walk across the room which, unlike the rest of the universe, had not faded from his sight and senses. The sickening dizziness and feeling of falling faded in proportion to his perception that another was in the room, despite the fact there was no one else actually there.
Yet, to the rebellious youth, there was something, someone…a powerful life-force was drawn to the ebbing of his beloved grandmother’s life. Holic stumbled back to the bed, standing by the side of the women he had known his entire life, a sense he could not name making him turn towards the double french doors leading out of the room into the surrounding gardens.
Moonlight was pouring in from a moon that was rapidly fading from Holic’s sight, more rapidly dying back in its cycle to the sharp sickle of a crescent moon than should have been possible in a single evening. He stared as it did this, as it at last faded, leaving only the outline of the entire orb, its interior darker than the surrounding darkness.
The world around Holic held its breath, then seemed to him to grow insubstantial as shafts of what he could only describe as soft blue, sparkling light filtered into the room from around the edges of the new moon above.
Fading into sight before the youth was the ethereal, wispy form of a woman who floated several inches off the floor, just above it. The wind seemed to blow through her luxurious, dark hair, spreading out in a cloud around her face, framing it softly – but there was no wind, no breeze that Holic could feel. Oblivious to his presence, she was instead intently watching Hyacynthe.
Her body was transparent wherever the moonlight from the window behind her touched – and where the light was absent, cut off from the skeletons of barren winter trees, so her body simply wasn’t there. As she floated, whatever part of her drifted in or out of the light from the sacred orb above then, it alternately revealed and concealed her.
“Who are – “ he began to ask and failed to finish. Fascinated and yet afraid, heart pounding, Holic cautiously approached her until he could see her face. He stumbled back in fear as he caught sight of her eyes, they being completely of a black, seamless, flawlessness – every millimeter of them. It was like staring into a deep, black pool of water in the deepest part of the evening on a moonless night. They instantly reminded him of Wilfred’s mother’s eyes when she was meditating, or when the family’s patron Goddess spoke through her on very, very rare occasions.
Afraid as he was, the young Whoticore couldn’t tear himself away from the incredible sight, for even though the eyes were deep and threatened to pull him into them, there was no malice in the woman’s posture. She seemed to be simply waiting.
Then it came, as the teenager knew it would, as he had been trying all night to prepare for. Death. Hyacynthe’s last breath was followed by a shudder of her chest, the noise of which pulled her grandson to snap his head back to her. There was an exhalation, then stillness. The ethereal presence too, noticed it immediately – the only evidence she was even aware of anything on the physical plane she was not a part of. Her slender, delicate hand extended towards the body.
A sparkle of purest green light caught Holic’s eye on the newly-expired form. It was a small, intense glow upon its chest that flared into brilliance, then ebbed to a softer outline that framed something now resting upon the silent chest cavity of the dead woman.
Peering closer, he could see it was a little dragonfly outlined in a livid, glowing green. The wings were still wet as if it were newly-born and fresh to the world, but it was not of the world, for it was transparent, ethereal, like the woman who watched over it. Resting, its tiny head against the corpse, it seemed at first just as lifeless as its perch.
Holic suddenly knew then who this visitor was. In a flash it came to him, recalling its exact likeness to the beautiful statue in the back garden. Grandmother Hyacynthe had taught him, Wilfred and Alaina about her and her magicks as well as the family’s all their lives.
Whocate smiled at the tiny insect. She spoke something in a language that sounded so ancient as to be old when the world was new – familiar to the teenager more on a deeply emotional level where words lost any translation. It was a musical, soft sound that caused the dragonfly to turn to the Goddess.
This delighted Whocate, whose smiled widened and softened. She reached out and the tiny creature rose into the air, levitated, coming to rest in her long-fingered hands. It was then with a shock Holic realized this was the soul of his grandmother, there being a fading, thin green thread of ebbing life force connecting it to the body.
It was so sad-looking and listless, as his grandmother’s weakened body and spirit had become towards the end of her life. The Sleep Goddess cooed lovingly to the dragonfly as if it were her child. She then blew very softly and gently over its body, leaving a wispy, filmy trail of blueish light that settled on and around the soul in her hands.
In response, the dragonfly’s limp, weak wings dried and straightened, becoming stronger. It tested them, slowly at first, then with more confidence as the Queen of Death infused it with a tiny amount of her own essence. A glow still outlined the soul, which immediately started looking more and more alive and stronger.
Then, once standing on wobbly legs, it vibrated its wings faster, then took to the air. Whocate’s eyes glittered with delight at its accomplishment and she spoke further words of love and encouragement to it in the sacred language.
The dragonfly flew steadier as moments passed – like a foal on its first legs after being born. Whocate followed its paths through the air, as Holic did, both smiling. He could feel the burden of its harsh physical life drop away, all the pains and heartaches released as it discovered the joy of a new, pain-free existence.
Then the MoonWitch moved away from the lifeless shell on the bed. The new, little soul she had come to guide, to protect and infuse with her primal essence, buzzed around her in playful, joyous flight, then settled in her hair, by her ear. It was ready to leave, ready to follow her to its new existence.
*Whocate!* She somehow heard him as his mind found the sacred language he had spoken earlier in the day and the Goddess now used to coax the dragonfly soul to her. She met his amazed gaze for an instant. Her gaze was tender, reassuring, drawn by his curious nature and reverential awe in her presence.
Holic dropped to his knees before her, tears of joy in his eyes, relieved to know that everything Hyacynthe had taught him and Wilfred about Whocate was as true as her presence now with them. She would take care of his grandmother, he knew it as sure as he was alive. *Will I see you again?* he asked emotionally, so caught up in this miracle he did not realize until later that he was still speaking in her ancient language. Gran had always told him it would come to the youth one day, when he was ready to use it and not before. He had only half-believed her at the time.
Whether it was the words or the shared bloodline between Holic Whoticore and his ancestress/Goddess, she became more aware of his presence, drifting closer to him. He backed up instinctively. She was Death, her touch was for those who had passed and Holic knew he had not exactly been the best, most shining example of Her children. A small part of him wondered if she wanted to take him too. Another part felt a strong, loving maternalness towards him that made him want to go to her in the worst way.
He forced himself to back up until he hit a corner and a wall. Fearing to look into her eyes, he looked down, closed his eyes for a moment, swallowing down his fear and desire as best he could. When he opened them again, it was in time to see her trace a delicate fingernail across his chest on the side opposite the heart. The cold of her touch burned through the leather material and shirt beneath as if nothing were there, yet he felt no discomfort. Tears flooded his eyes at the wave of pride and love Holic felt in his mind from her. It was the last conscious thought he had before blacking out.
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The woman watched the crescent moon above from the vantage point of the little bridge. Below, the waters of Westwind River ran swiftly, swollen with the gift of the spring runoff, running (impossibly) uphill from Whocate’s Valley. With a chill still in the air this early in the season, the straw white blonde gathered her spring green cloak around her.
She also shivered with anticipation. Her mentors, chosen by her from among the adepts of the Dragonfly Temple, had warned her she would have to pass a test of fealty and she was nervous.
“What if I don’t pass?” she whispered to the dragonfly that had alighted on her bracelet, attracted, she thought, by the shiny silver metal. “I love him. This is his life now. I can’t be without him, but is that the right decision, for me to stay because of him?” She looked around, taking in the landscape, the soft lights glittering off her insect friend’s red wings. “I know that’s not a reason to be here. A rational one, anyway.” She laughed. “Oh Goddess, where is my head? Here, talking to a dragonfly on the banks of the most beautiful river I’ve ever seen, in the most beautiful place I’ve ever been, about the – “
” – most wonderful man you’ve ever known,” came a woman’s voice behind her.
She turned, startled. The dragonfly held fast to her elaborate bracelet, a gift from the man she loved, the man she wanted to be with forever. The man she had lost in a diner in a little town at the bottom of the mountain.
*You are Misery Chastain, child,* the woman seemed not to ask, but to confirm her identity.
Misery lowered her head in respect, her cloak’s hood falling over her face, swallowing her vision. *Yes, yes ma’am,* she replied, trying to pull the cloak hood back, failing utterly to keep her hair in check and out of her face.
The newcomer laughed. *You will get the hang of wearing one of these in time,* she advised. *You do not have the advantage I have of having worn one ever since I could walk.*
*No, I guess not, I. What is your – oh, wow,* Misery stopped short, seeing the color of her cloak. *I – um – well, what does black mean – * she asked, uncertain.
*Sarlayna, Miss Chastain,* the older woman replied.
*Sar…it means – ?* poor Misery was even more confused now than ever.
*My name is Sarlayna, dear,* she was corrected. *and you will not see many cloaks of black here, and only two others with blue highlights.* Sari gazed out over the bridge railing, enjoying the view, taking her time in the conversation.
*I wasn’t told about black…what it means, I mean,* Chastain pursued. *I know green are acolytes, the lighter blue ones are intermediate, the orange moreso and the red adepts – *
* – and we are the Whoticores,* Sari interrupted. *Well, black are, and those who are their Seeresses, bonded into the bloodline, have the bejewelment added – * she paused, seeing Misery back up slightly, knowing it was partly in fear, partly in awe at Sari’s black eyes.
She smiled. *You have nothing to fear from me, dear. I am not mad. That is the exclusive territory of the males.*
Misery tried to relax, succeeding only partly. *Oh, I guess it would be wrong to assume an entire family’s mental stability based on one individual.*
*And normally you would be right, but in this case, 81 generations of direct male descendants have fallen prey to the Burning – the madness,* she corrected herself.
Misery couldn’t help but gape. *Excuse me, but did you say ‘81’?*
*Yes, I did. Eighty-one. Only my husband, Erik, has thus been spared, but there will be an end to it – soon,* Sari confirmed.
*How do you know?* Misery breathed.
*I am not sure I should tell you. You are, after all, a reporter,* Sari said measuredly.
*I’m not here for a story, ma’am,* she said a little too quickly. *Originally I just came to see Zach. To tell him I’m sorry. It wasn’t my fault! Pippi followed me to the diner – *
The black-cloaked woman straightened. *You do not need to convince an old woman of what you already know to be true, dear.* She held out a hand and the red dragonfly flew from Misery’s bracelet to her finger, perching there, studying it. *He knows and you both have your own reality.*
Misery leaned back against the railing. *But does he believe me? He didn’t at the diner.*
*He was scared,* Sari told her. *And rightly so. We have been burned in the past and there is too much at stake now to risk getting caught. The women you live with are dangerous. They will never rest until they have hunted us, never stop until they kill us.*
Misery’s eyes went wide. *Pippi would never – *
*That is not why you are here, though, I think.* Sari interrupted. *You are wise enough to let people work things out in their own time. I see that about you. This is more about you and your motives.*
The reporter’s shoulders slumped slightly. *I’m not sure I am even thinking straight,* the MWHO reporter admitted. *Zach is just – dazzling! I don’t know how else to explain it. His energy is so – vibrant, yet he’s so quiet. Though sometimes he drags into work half-asleep,* she laughed.
*There are – reasons for that,* Sari said cryptically.
*I know, and that’s what Zach’s said. I haven’t pushed him. I know he’ll tell me when he’s ready.*
*More like when you are ready, dear,* the Seeress counseled her.
*Am I?* Misery sniffed. *Or is my head so confused by love? Is that why I am here? He says I am a Child of Whocate. I don’t even know what that means.*
Sari placed a hand below the distraught woman’s collarbone, indicating her heart. *You do. In here. And because this is so new to you, the safest place for you is here, with us.*
*But how do I know for sure?* Misery asked, tears running down her cheeks. *How do I know I don’t just love what he’s become, not what he is inside? Or, or how do I know he really loves me?*
*It is times like this that test us, dear,* Sarlayna counseled. *And he IS inside what he is becoming. They are one and the same. And if you were not a Child of Whocate, then how could you even understand me as we speak?*
The reporter looked up, realizing she had been speaking the Sacred Language the entire time. *I guess you’re right about that,* she admitted to the Seeress. She gazed over the water where dragonflies were hunting for their evening meals, catching mosquitoes, diving with them under the water to drown them. *But Zach – *
She looked back up. The Seeress was gone.
The red dragonfly danced before her with a black one who had joined it from the river. The new companion darted off, back over the waters to hunt. Reflexively Misery put out her hand and the red one came to her, landing on the same fingertip as before. She gazed into its faceted eyes, light reflected off the torches that lined the little river bridge. Tears filled her eyes. *Tell him for me,* she pleaded it. *Tell him I’m sorry. Tell him I love him, no matter what happens, even if he never wants to see me again. I’ll never stop loving him!* She broke down at the thought. The dragonfly took off, zipping back and forth over the waters below, diving underneath, disappearing.
Misery pulled her cowl off, longing to feel the cool air dry her tear-stained face. The dragonfly broke the surface, zipped up towards her and landed quickly and neatly next to her on the railing. She ignored it in her pain.
*I’m sorry too.*
“Zach?!” Misery looked wildly around at the sound of Zach’s voice, but there was no one else on the bridge, only the red dragonfly. A peculiar light below caught her eye, reflecting off of a stalled eddy of water trapped between rocks that spun only slowly, draining slower into the rest of the babbling river.
Her eyes flew wide. Zach’s image leaned casually on the railing next to her in its reflection. She jerked up. He was next to her, golden eyes regarding her quietly…
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