The Cursed of House Whoticore vignette Part four – The Death of Hope
“S – Serena?”
The males and Sarlayna exchanged looks over their prone, crossed-armed positions kneeling before the statue. None of them dared speak in Her presence, yet Erik saw even his wife longed to question what the blasphemous Solaran had just uttered. Instead, all eyes watched as adrenaline gave the herbalist the push to clear the last of the neuroparalytic out of his system enough he got shakily to his feet before the radiant being before him.
The House Priestess of Whocate frowned in confusion. On the rare times they had brought an unfortunate before her Goddess for execution, none had had this reaction. She gazed curiously at the smooth marble face, trying to see what it was Young Jim could possibly see in his daughter in its features. Having only seen Serena at a distance on her trips to Westwind Spa, Sarlayna remained uncomfortably uncertain. Perhaps there was some resemblance she was not aware of.
“My little one, my darling little Sunbeam,” Jim croaked, tears choking his voice and stinging his eyes. “I – I failed you! I couldn’t keep you safe.”
It was the Priestess’s opinion that the herbalist had completely lost his mind, watching him reach out in an attempt to touch the deadly statue without the slightest fear of what it could do to him. All before him had known, had felt the instinctual desire to preserve themselves at all costs.
The males in attendance with Sarlayna, not daring to gaze directly at the living statue, were instead focused on Jim. She could tell by their faces they took were taken aback at this strange behavior, watching the events unfold with a sort of morbid fascination.
“I had to try, Serena. You’re the only one our family has left – I have left. The only one not tainted by our wretchedness. You were our golden sunlight, the only thing I had left to protect!” he wailed, breaking down to the hard, stone-worked ground, sobbing.
There was such pain in his voice even his enemies felt a twinge of sympathy for their victim. The brothers glanced at each other, exchanging unspoken thoughts of their own fierce devotion to their families. Young Jim did, after all, love his family as much as House Whoticore’s family loved their own and it was in that moment of realization that something yet again happened that had never happened before.
The ethereal dragonfly attendants left Whocate’s side – which they had never, ever done in all the history recorded of the statue’s existence – and swirled around both Erik and Narik. Sari saw both men grow dizzy to a point where they reached out to touch the ground to steady themselves. At that moment, something of the energy of their emotions left them and transferred to the dragonflies. The ethereal creatures then turned their attention to the distressed herbalist.
In the lore of their grimoire, it was often mentioned that the color of House Whoticore was royal purple and this thought was often transferred to the belief that if the iridescent beings before them had a similar hierarchy, then the top dragonfly among them was the one of this color. It was this one that now flew to Young Jim.
Their enemy raised his tear-stained face to the beautiful creature, momentarily putting aside his angst in the presence of such a miraculous wonder. As it and its winged counterparts had done to the Whoticore males, the dragonfly drew the energy of Jim’s emotional state from him into itself. When the herbalist recovered, the three dragonflies returned to their mistress.
All three humans watched, entranced, as the statue of Whocate lifted her arm, elbow bent, hand upturned, as she floated serenely in their midst, slowly rotating counterclockwise like a dancer on a music box. The dragonflies, circling her in a clockwise direction, landed one at a time upon the upturned marble hand and gave up the energies they had collected from all three humans, passing it on to their dragonfly queen as she drew it into herself. When this was done, she laid her hand upon her abdomen in the position where the womb was in a human female, transferring the energy there.
Jim staggered to his feet, distracting his captors. Reaching out a hand towards the ethereal manifestation of the goddess, he gasped, “I see! I understand, beloved one!”
The other humans felt the urge to rise and did so, eyes riveted to the scene before them. Concern showed on their faces, recognizing a resemblance between Jim Solare’s declaration of understanding and the phrase often uttered by those males of their side of the bloodline who were struck with the inherited madness passed down to every male since the first, Lord Acheron.
Before Jim’s trembling hand made contact with the statue of Whocate, she returned to the pedestal, her supernatural attendants reassuming their positions in flight around her. The glow in her abdomen faded and she froze back in the position she always assumed in the moonlit garden.
Sari joined her relatives, standing between the brothers, all their eyes riveted to the now frozen statue and its fluttering dragonfly attendants. “Incredible!” the Priestess murmured. “Such has never happened before!”
“I saw it and I don’t believe it!” breathed Narik. “Brother?”
“I share the sentiment,” he said, utterly at a loss for words to further described what had taken place before them. “But what does it mean? And what do we do with our unwelcome guest?” he asked, looking to them both.
“Forgive me,” said a frail, halted male voice behind them.
Its unfamiliarity caused the Whoticores to spin around. Standing there was Young Jim, but his appearance was now drastically changed. His once blonde hair was now bleach white, long and scraggly. The fire in his blue eyes was severely dimmed along with their color until they were almost grey. He barely stood, shaky at best, badly bent over, his now deeply-lined face 30 years advanced past the age he had been minutes before. The poor human shook so badly he started to crumple, at which the brothers automatically ran to catch him.
“By Whocate, he’s OLD!” Narik whispered in horror, holding a hand so gnarled and arthritic he feared breaking it with even the lightest touch.
“How did he even survive the experience?” Erik agreed, returning his brother’s shocked gaze on the other side of their now ancient guest. He adjusted his hold on Jim as the herbalist’s clothing crumbled underneath his touch, aged to dust. “Did you see that?” the young Whoticore breathed, stunned. “Sari, what do we do now?” he asked, feeling a rare state of helplessness.
She hesitated. Her own unfamiliarity in this new, shared experience shown clearly in her face. It was almost as disconcerting to the males as their own trepidation for what had just transpired. “I do not know, Erik,” she replied, honestly nearly as shaken as they. “All we can do is get him inside, to the guest rooms.”
“For – forgive me,” Jim wheezed painfully as they got him turned around in the direction of the main house. “I’ve been such a fool!”
No one replied as they walked him in, away from the bitter chill of the evening air, slowing when he clearly couldn’t keep up with their urgent pace. His weak voice, rattled wheeze, and occasional cough worried the doctor-side of Erik’s clinical mind. “He doesn’t sound well,” he told the others. “Sari, can you bring an oxygen tank and equipment to the guest room?”
She hurried off to carry out her husband’s instructions as the two men crossed the threshold into the house, heading straight to the guest wing.
“What the Tartarus are we doing, Erik?” Narik whispered urgently to his brother.
“I know,” was all the House Head replied.
“Five minutes ago we wanted him dead!“
“I know,” Erik repeated.
“Now we’re a friggin’ hospice ‘cause Whocate didn’t – “
Erik’s eyes blazed with anger. “Watch your mouth, Narik!” he snapped. “I don’t want to become an only child because you question her will!”
“Sorry, brother,” the larger brother apologized. “It’s just – I don’t get it!”
They turned into the open guest room, angling themselves so they could get the ailing Jim in and still hold onto him. “I am also at a lost, Narik,” admitted Erik. “We need time to digest what happened out there, to let my mate interpret what has occurred.”
“Trouble has occurred,” answered Jim as they sat him on the edge of the bed, Narik hastily turning down the covers first. “Such terrible, terrible trouble!”
As they worked to pull off Jim’s shoes (which disintegrated in their hands) and his tattered clothing, the old man kept shaking his head and muttering, “No easy time for the Goddess. Not in past incarnations, or this one.”
The brothers traded glances over Jim’s white-haired head at that. “‘This one’?” Erik asked as he rotated the herbalist’s now-frail form so they could get him fully into bed. It was at that moment Sarlyana came in with the oxygen tank, mask, hoses and other equipment in tow.
“The world doesn’t accept her,” Jim wheezed as Erik and Sari worked to get the equipment set up by the bedside. “Nature does, but not man. They will never accept us, accept death, no matter how…” he drifted off. “…oh…she is so beautiful!” he resumed disjointedly. He looked at Sari pointedly. “She thought coming as three would be safe. Safe for the world, oh yes, but not…” A gnarled finger pointed at the Priestess. “You understand, don’t you?”
“Understand what, old one?” she asked as she handed Erik the hose to put over Jim’s head to feed him oxygen through his nose.
“They will come to feed her, but her enemies will track them down,” he ranted, weakly grabbing Erick’s vest. “The sacred silence was not enough to protect William or Zach, or…or Wilfred!” He collapsed, an aura of blue dancing in his eyes, leftover from the statue’s energies.
All three Whoticores looked at each other. Of the three names, they only recognized –
“Wilfred?!?” All three asked at once.
“I don’t like this,” Narik paced the length of the guest room, occasionally glancing at his brother, Sari and their unwelcome guest who at the moment was half-dozing, recovering from his encounter with the Goddess. “How the hell does he know your son’s name?!?” His gaze took in both parents.
“Perhaps Karl told him at the sanitarium,” Sari offered.
“Karl would never do that,” Erik shook his head. “He would never divulge such personal knowledge of family members – especially to an enemy. And we have bigger questions to answer. What is this ‘sacred silence’ he spoke of? Or ‘the Three’?”
“These are nagging questions, husband,” the Whoticore female agreed. “It must be a deeper level of knowledge gained from his encounter with the Goddess.”
“His encounter should have fried him,” her large brother-in-law argued. “It should have aged him to dust, not just his clothes!”
Sari closed her eyes in thought, ignoring the clear beacons of distress radiating from the males in the room. “‘Was not enough to protect William or Zach or Wilfred’,” she repeated softly out loud. “Was not…WAS not…” Her eyes opened. “It sounds as if he were speaking of the future, as if these things had already happened.” She caught Erik’s eye. “We know he has never seen Wilfred, and our son has never been in danger as he suggests.”
“It is as good an explanation as any,” he agreed slowly.
“The old coot is senile,” Narik protested. “You heard how disjointed he is, how rambling.” His relatives nodded in agreement. Of that point there was no doubt.
He watched his brother take a reading on an oxygen level meter. “So, brother, what do we do with him until Callihan gets here from Moonville?”
Erik shot him a look he knew all too well. “You lied, didn’t you? Sari didn’t call.”
“I bluffed,” the House Head corrected. “Of course she didn’t call their police department. However would we retain control of the situation if they became involved?” He smiled. “Besides, you know Sari hates technology. She would never pick up a phone in her life.”
Narik looked embarrassed. “I knew that,” he mumbled.
Sari swept past him on her way out. “You forgot,” Her eyes took in both of them. “I will meditate on the old one’s words. Take note of anything else he says.”
They nodded. “He appears to be sleeping off the shock,” Erik told them. “If he deteriorates, he will require a dose of anti-shock serum.” His tone was not only informing them but inviting any good reasons to not minister it if it came to that.
“You’re the doctor in the family, brother,” Narik shrugged. “You already know my feelings on the situation.”
Erik’s eyes flickered over to Sari’s. As always they were unreadable, even to a husband of as many years as they had been paired.
“He appears more – cooperative now,” she said measuredly. “If he regains consciousness, there may be more he can reveal as to his cryptic statements.” She seemed to focus more on her husband. “And he is Serena Solare’s only living male relative left to her. The child will need a father figure to grow into adulthood a better-balanced human being.” With that said, she left the room.
Narik blew out a breath. “I hate it when she makes sense!” he complained.
Erik only grunted at this, absorbed in the readings he was getting on Young Jim – now Old Jim’s oxygen readings, his pulse and blood pressure. He didn’t like what he was seeing.
Employing a spell that would tell the House Head when their guest either regained consciousness or became worse, he and Narik left the room. There was still half a night left to the nocturnal household in which to attend to their waking activities – which now included informing Lord Loki’s business associates, the town authorities and other family members of his passing. Loki had been incarcerated so very short a time, both men were extremely grateful for the living trust their father had created many years ago, which granted his sons Erik and Narik full power, authority and inheritance of everything he had left behind.
The servants went about their usual routine, which at the night’s midpoint consisted of a large meal for the family. The children; Wilfred, Glen and Narik and Kelie’s son Holic, bounded through the house and grounds with the youthful fire of typical 2 ½-year olds and had to be convinced they would quickly lose energy if they didn’t stop to eat. Reminders of food did nothing to slow them down until they caught the delicious scents of home cooking, then they made beelines straight for the dining room. Kelie fussed over them all more than usual, but as this seemed only natural after the altercation with Jim Solare, no one was surprised and no one chastised her for it.
After “lunch”, the children went off to play under the watchful eye of Kelie and the household servants. Sarlayna had been absent since leaving the males to attend to Old Jim, having waited until everyone else ate to grab a small, quick meal in between her meditation sessions, while Erik and Narik retired to Loki’s study to continue working on family matters.
“At least we do not have to worry about the bookkeeper showing up until after the mourning period is done,” Narik noted, ignoring the ledgers Erik had kept up since the day they had committed their father. He frowned at the list of guests the brothers had begun of attendees to Loki’s upcoming memorial. “This is such rubbish, Erik!” he growled, tossing those papers back on the desk as well. “All for show, none caring for what we had to go through in the end with father’s instabilities.”
“Except for when it inconvenienced the town, of course,” his older brother agreed thoughtfully. “Fear and respect got him – and us – the distance to handle most of it quietly. But there was some empathy for our position, I saw that much on occasion.” He sat up straighter in Loki’s desk chair. “I predict we will see a mix of relief at his passing and interest in how much the less scrupulous believe they can get away with now that his ‘saner, softer sons’ are in charge.”
“I hate the politics of this town!” Narik harrumphed. “At least they knew their place and father kept them in control while he was alive.” A particular set of papers caught the larger brother’s eye. He picked them up, looked them over briefly, then handed them off to Erik. “What of the sanitarium? Is there a need for it now?”
Erik chuckled without humor. “Our family weren’t the only residents there, brother. While you escaped the curse of our sex in this family, we do not know about the boys.” Laughter outside the window drew his attention away. He watched Wilfred and Holic chase each other around the garden. “Goddess help them, Narik. I pray every day they will be spared, as you were.”
“As you were as well, eventually,” Narik reminded him.
“Not before I – “ The desk phone rang, interrupting him. Erik picked it up. “Yes? Hello, Karl. He’s – contained, shall we say. You needn’t worry – what?” Something in his tone caught Narik’s attention. “The entire wing? Blast it! Well, yes, we’ll just rebuild. I’ll inform the accountant and architects after we are through mourning. Good evening.” He hung up, moodier than ever.
“What was that about?”
“Some peculiar interaction of father’s remains has left that wing of the sanitarium unusable,” Erik told him. “It’s of a level of toxicity that necessitated bringing in a biohazard team, but they are having difficulty dealing with the situation.”
“It’s that bad?”
“Not just chemically,” he paused. “You recall how fear-inducing it was to witness his last moments of life?” Narik nodded. “Something of that primal fear is lingering.” Erik shook his head. “I was certain it would pass once he was gone, but somehow it has not completely dissipated.” He made a note on the paperwork Narik had handed him. “They have sealed the wing off. Once it is cleaned up, it appears we will have to demolish that section and rebuild it.”
Narik merely shrugged. “If we must, we must. Though as soon as we can confirm the children will retain their sanity, I hope to convince you to raze it to the ground.”
His older brother smiled wearily. “Nothing would give me more pleasure. I – “ he was interrupted by the door opening.
Only Sarlayna was permitted such freedom to come in without awaiting an invitation and it was indeed her that swept in. “Husband, the Solare male’s time is nearing.”
Erik frowned. “There has been no indication from the spell I set in place.”
“It was not he who told me this,” she replied seriously.
The brothers looked at each other. “Then we have the advantage,” he agreed, getting up.
The males cleared the desk and joined her at the door. “Did you learn anything from your meditations, Sari?” her brother-in-law asked her.
She answered as they made their way to the guest wing. “The reference to The Three is ancient,” she nodded. “It has not been spoken of since our Goddess’s children were born.”
“Wasn’t it in reference to her inability to bear children in a normal, human way?” asked Erik.
His wife nodded. “Her children were not human souls drawn to the womb by the ignition of life during conception. Because she herself, being a death-like life force, was merely hosted within a female disciple, neither her nor the host could conceive.“
“So she created the bloodline’s heirs another way.” Narik remembered. “The children were actually her essence, split into – “
“Three, yes. Herself and her two children, Hypnos and Lethe.”
“Hypnos, who later took the name of Acheron,” Erik said distantly, bitterness in his voice. Despite knowing the legendary healer could not have helped being mad, Loki’s son would never forgive their ancestor’s passing to them a legacy he now had the burden of carrying, waiting for theirs and Narik’s sons to fall as its final victims.
The moment of emotion made Erik slam open the door to Jim’s hospice room with more force than he meant to use. It brought him back into the moment and out of his passing anger.
The old man was twitching as if in the grip of a bad dream. As they settled around the bed, Jim fought through the layers of sleep until his eyes opened. He lay quiet as Erik checked the man’s vitals. They were stronger, strong enough to remove the oxygen, which the doctor did.
Jim focused on Erik first. “You know,” he said. “She is waiting for me.”
“My wife informed us, yes,” Erik nodded.
“Did I give my apologies to your house?” he asked. “I can’t remember.”
“You did,” Erik told him. “It is appreciated.”
“Not much time,” Jim shook his head. “But enough, I hope.”
“For what?” Narik asked from where he was.
They could see the man was struggling now, his clarity of thought fading in and out. “I have seen him,” he said to Erik. “Such a handsome young man, Wilfred is.” He smiled, waving a hand. “He still wears it, you know.”
Erik cocked his head. “Wears what?”
Jim raised up on his elbows, reaching a trembling hand to his host’s coat. “The pin you gave/will give him.” His voice had a peculiar, dual echo, those in the room hearing both tenses at the same time. “The silver dragonfly. Sometimes, sometimes he wears it as a tie pin, sometimes on his lapel, but always he wears it.” Jim grew tired and sank back to the bed.
Erik looked at the other adults as he reached inside his coat, to the vest, drawing out a silver dragonfly pin. Their father had given it to him just before he began to disintegrate and in the chaos of having to deal with Old Jim, Erik had never had time to put it on. “How did you know of this?” he asked Jim.
The old man’s clarity of mind seemed to fade again as he waved a hand in the air. “You will find the horse and saddle at Westwind. Serena asked that it be held for you.” The adults looked to each other in confusion. “She was the fastest steed I have ever ridden. A credit to your stable.” He coughed, pausing, then continued. “That damnable horse always hated me, but in the end, I suppose, she sensed Whocate had one last mission I required of her.”
Erik’s eyes went wide. He headed for the door and was about to open it when Savier opened it from the other side. “Sir, Night Mist is missing!”
“Father’s prized stallion – “ the house head began, trailing off, turning quickly back to their guest. “How in Tartarus did you – “
“Never mind, son,” Jim wheezed, suddenly going pale. Erik dismissed the servant and closed the door.
Jim scanned the room until he locked eyes with Sari. He gestured for her to come closer. Sarlayna approached and he grasped her hand. The seeress stiffened a moment, her eyes flaring over with the transfer of a sheen of blue from Jim’s body to hers as it raced up her arm to end in her black eyes. She turned around, gasping, her eyes fixed on the double french doors leading out to the garden. It was clear to everyone there she was seeing something they did not.
“Whocate!” she breathed. “She has come for him!”
Jim wrenched her hand back to him with enough force to get her attention. The males drew closer to them, nervous and alert.
“Take care of the child,” he said weakly, urgently. “Serena needs you to midwife her!”
“Me?” she drew back, surprised. “I am not – “
“You MUST! I will be against it…you must not refuse. The ouroboros broke when they burned her.” His eyes flickered over to the spot Sari had seen Whocate, then back to the priestess. “To be born in such a horrid place would kill any living thing, but she is not – “ his life force suddenly weakened. “She is the only one who can restore balance to – “ Jim paused, struggling for breath. When he got it back, he resumed in a rush, as if he had no more time in the world. “It is the only place Death can be born!” he gasped.
His hand lost its grip as he breathed his last breath, sinking back into the bed. Sari grabbed him by the shoulders, “Where, old one? Where will Loki’s daughter be born?!” Her dark eyes scanned his, delving deep into their reflection – a reflection that now only held the image of an ethereal, beautiful goddess waiting patiently behind her.
Erik reached out to pull Sari away from the dying man. Narik grabbed him, dragging him back before he could touch her. “Erik, don’t!” he warned sternly, holding fast to him as Old Jim’s body relaxed completely.
“You know better, brother!” the larger Whoticore admonished, pulling his sibling even further back to ensure he didn’t interfere with what was going on.
Sarlayna’s head turned back to the side, her eyes wide and unseeing, staring at something not there. Erik and Narik shifted their position until they were standing in front of her, but several feet back as a safety precaution.
Warning bells went off in Narik’s head. He shook it, suddenly very certain that what they were doing was dangerous. “This isn’t a good idea, Erik,” he warned him.
Sarlayna said a word that made no sense, in a language they had never heard before. It sounded ancient, primal and dark. Upon hearing it, both brothers were hit with an undeniable understanding of its meaning.
Erik’s wife was asking Whocate where the child was to be born.
A red, iridescent symbol flickered in Sari’s eyes, the glow spreading outwards to quickly outline her. She rose, her entire being’s aura shifted into something inhumanly ethereal, calm and beautiful. She reached over until her right hand rested for a moment on the chest of the deceased Solaran, then rose, upturned, holding an iridescent, ghostly blue dragonfly. She looked at it tenderly, with maternal love – something her relatives not seen Erik’s mate display since the birth of their last child, Glen.
The males, feeling overwhelming awe at the sight before them, backed up as the priestess raised her hand level with their eyes. She blew on the tiny soul softly and the dragonfly disappeared in a veil of sparkling light that faded after it. The woman then turned, scanning the room until her eyes locked onto a mirror on the opposite wall. Her head tilted, intrigued and curious.
Erik, heart pounding in warning, overcame his instinct to look away and collapse to his knees where he stood, but taking a step towards his possessed wife proved impossible as every muscle in his body seized up, refusing to move.
“I – I can’t move, Erik!” Narik whispered, inflicted by the same paralysis.
“Death has a habit of repelling life,” Erik replied, groaning with the effort to move something, any part of his body, towards his wife. “Our bodies appear to have better sense than we do.”
Digging deep into his new-found, inherited powers from their father, he, at last, found the magick that enabled him to raise a trembling arm towards Sari as she was lifting a hand to the mirror. *Sarlaynaikitila,* he managed to say, using her sacred name.
Sari turned towards him. His gaze froze, locked into hers by the strange, glowing symbol in her eyes.
Everything in the room faded away for Erik Whoticore. The ability to move came back to him all at once, jarring him forward with such force he fell to his knees. Readying a curse to use at the pain he knew he’d feel, he was suddenly at a loss for words as no pain came when he hit the ground…the ground that was no longer in the house. The ground that was bleached a pale beige color beneath his hands. He strained to look again. There was something wrong with his hands, but he wasn’t sure what it was. They too appeared to be the same color as the ground, taking on a strange translucency.
Standing, he surveyed his surroundings. He found himself looking over a bleached, lifeless plain stretching from horizon to horizon. Nothing lived, nothing moved. No wind blew, no man nor animal was seen – not even an insect buzzed. It reeked of sterility and death as nothing he had ever experienced before. “Where am I?” he asked aloud to no one in particular save himself. The last thing he remembered was their captor Jim Solare dying in his house, his wife over his corpse, holding the soul of the dead man in her hands. She had let it go, it had disappeared. She had looked up, into Erik’s eyes –
Erik swallowed uneasily, now recalling the strange, rune-like, glowing symbol in her black eyes. It had been familiar…he knew he had seen it somewhere before, but could not recall where. All he knew as he looked over the dead world before him was that it gave him the same fear-inducing feeling as this place, this plain of death…
Like a punch to the gut, the Whoticore male suddenly realized what the symbol was and where he stood. He backed up, panic rising in his throat, choking off his breathing. “Oh no…no, no, no, no, NO!”
The symbol appeared in the dirt on the plain before him, taking on dimension as it grew in height, two feet taller than the flatness it had grown out of. It began to spread, growing longer as it stretched into the distance.
Erik turned away from it, growing sick with fear. “I can’t be here,” he told himself, shaking his head as a deep thrumming from the ground itself reached up to vibrate first the soles of his feet, then slowly crawl upwards, insinuating itself into his very bones, humming in the cells of his skin. He reached deep into himself, drawing upon his father’s ancient magic, searching for a way to shield himself against its low-toned vibration, its promise of madness in the vacuum left by the absence of life. The life that had been drained from the only place in their world by a long-forgotten cause. Whether practical cause or deadly curse, it stood a testament to the extinction of everything everywhere for a thousand miles in all directions.
The curse that had caused the death of Plainsville.