When she left the house that morning, she’d lied, insisting she was meeting her friends in the town square to appease her mother. An unfortunate necessity, she claimed, as the over protective matron of the Lee family refused to allow her daughter to run around in the woods. But Kelly was 16, damn it! Basically an adult!
She reached back, tying her shock of wavy red hair behind her head in a pony tail as she reached the edge of the forest. The familiar face of Charlie Ismore was already waiting for her there. Charlie had been her best friend since grade school. Never once did she ever feel like she had to conform to impress or prove anything to him. Rumors always circulated about their relationship but nothing romantic had ever happened between them. The pair were simply content in being the closest of friends.
“Did you bring the flash lights?” Kelly asked, a cautious look cast over her shoulder to ensure she had not been followed.
Charlie unshouldered his knapsack and produced a chrome-silver old flashlight, offering it to his friend. Kelly took it and attached it to a carabiner at the belt loop of her weathered, old blue jeans. They had once been dark and pristine, but after many of their little adventures, the knees had been torn and the frayed cuffs faded almost white.
Even in the light of day, an ominous fog hung heavy over the dense wooded landscape of the Elder Woods before them. The youth of Rhy’din knew many hair raising tales about venturing into the dark, dreary foliage, few ever daring to penetrate its perimeter. Kelly never put much stock in them of course, writing them off as fairy tales told by over protective parents trying to keep their children from having too much fun.
She led the way, venturing down the closest thing she could find to a path. The fog and impossible tallness of the trees seemed almost oppressive the deeper into the forest they got. When Charlie looked around to find that he could no longer see their point of entry, the first pangs of apprehension settled in.
Charlie’s older brother had told him a young boy, much like him, had wandered into this cursed place and never returned. The boy’s parents, he’d said, searched and searched, but nothing had ever been found, not even a body. Brave as he was, Charlie couldn’t help but imagine what terrible fate had befallen the boy and what horrors might be hiding, watching them in the mist.
The canopy and the choking fog blotted out the sun above, and the world around the pair became as night. The air had grown cold. Much colder than it had been when they’d set on their path.
“Maybe we should turn back.” He said, trying in vain to hide the fear that crept into his voice from Kelly.
The young ginger girl glanced back with a taunting smirk. “Aww, is widdle Charle a-scared?”
Charlie swallowed nervously, mustering up as much bravado as he could. “No…It’s just getting cold. Maybe we should get jackets.”
Kelly was unperturbed and snorted a laugh. “Oh, cowboy up, wuss.” She said, “It’s not that bad.”
The young boy clenched his teeth, weighing ego with a sense of survival. In the end, ego won out and he continued behind her. Eventually, he noticed the limbs of the trees above becoming barer, sharper. He imagined them like talons of some giant ancient predator, waiting to reach down and grab them up. His mind created horrible images of the boy in his brother’s story and the awful things that may have happened to him. Suddenly, Kelly stopped.
“What’s up?” He asked.
“Listen.” She said in a hushed tone.
Charlie did, not hearing whatever it was she was talking about. “I don’t hear anything.”
Kelly’s brow furrowed, “Exactly.”
That was when he realized there wasn’t a single sound around them. Not the chirping of birds, not the rustling of leaves. Only the sound of their breathing. Something was very wrong in this place.
“Kell, can we go back?” He pleaded. “Please?”
“Hold on.” She said, peering ahead.
Charlie protested, but she pushed forward into the fog. I’m his every fiber of his being, he knew he should run, but Kelly was his best friend. He’d never abandon her. With a sigh, he forced himself to run after her.
When he caught up he found her standing still. It took a moment for him to realize that in this spot the fog had lessened and just barely visible before them was a large mansion. The structure seemed largely abandoned, nature already well underway in reclaiming it. Vines crawled up the stone pillars that had once served as a gateway, a filthy bronze placard reading “Rathspire” in stern lettering. The wrought iron gate with its curling metal work lay under what must have been decades of leaves and dirt. Charlie thought it odd that the estate would be located so deep in a forest, far from any known road, beyond the small footpath they’d followed.
Kelly stepped forward onto the grounds of the once beautiful manor. It looked like something out of a Brontë novel, only decayed and left to the elements. Bricks were missing from what had once been an intricately sculpted fountain, the basin cracked and long ago snapped in half. Those vines had begun to crawl all over everything, even the dirt-stained stairs and pillars. Kelly’s eyes followed them up and up and up until…she saw it.
She wasn’t sure at first, but the longer she stared, the more she was certain. At the top floor of the mansion, before a great, broken window stood a figure. Feminine, she guessed from what she could make out, but between the fog and the what remained of the filthy, ancient glass, it was hard to be sure. What she was certain of was that this figure was watching them.
Charlie’d had enough. He grabbed her arm insistently. “Come on, Kell. Let’s go.”
But Kelly just stared up, almost entranced. She almost sounded numb when she finally spoke. “No. I wanna look inside.”
“Kelly, no!” He demanded, “We need to go!”
Kelly pulled from his grasp and walked toward the rotted wooden doors of the manor. Charlie’s hands trembled, but he ran after her, begging for her to see reason.
As her hand touched the door handle, she turned to him, looking him dead in the eye, a sense of excitement behind her own. “Charlie. Be brave.”
Kelly pushed open the door with a great effort, the hinges squealing in the cavernous interior. Inside, the mansion’s state only seemed worse. Walls had crumbled, more vines snaked over and through the floorboards and curled up the walls and banisters. Wallpaper was torn and falling from the walls, saturated by centuries of moisture and, likely, that ever present fog. An old grand piano sat, rotting away near a bay window in what had once been a parlor room. Pictures on the wall were tattered and torn, the burgundy cushions on an ornate couch stained and warped. The old hearth was blackened as if some blaze had gotten out of control some time ago. But above it was a massive portrait. In it, an old woman, stern of countenance, glowered upon the room. An old fashioned blue satin dress adorned her slim frame. Her grey hair was done up in a severe looking bun. Her cold, gray eyes showed only disdain.
Kelly thought she fit the image of every evil stepmother in the fairytales her mother used to read her. Charlie, though, only felt a cold chill. The portrait was the only thing not in the advancing state of rot in the place. Something about that unsettled him. The putrid smell of mold and decaying wood permeated the foyer, mingling with occasional groans of settling, ancient wood.
Undeterred, Kelly moved toward the grand staircase, ignoring Charlie’s pleas to leave. The stairs creaked under her red sneakers with every step. The bannister was moist to the touch, but not the way she expected. It was almost an oily feeling, like touching sweaty skin. Still, for reasons she couldn’t quite quantify, she felt the need to continue on. Kelly ignored the entirety of the second floor, rising up the curved stairs to the top floor.
More destroyed paintings decorated the walls along a long hall leading to the west wing of the estate to where she had seen the figure watching. Every instinct in her told her to turn back, just as Charlie had begged, but she couldn’t help herself. She had to see. Water trickled down from the broken dome over the foyer, plastering bits of her curly orange hair to her forehead as she stepped into the darkened hallway.
Charlie stopped at the top of the stairs, gripping the banister tight with a trembling hand. He tried his level best to will himself to chase after her, but the fear in his heart was too much. He was frozen.
A bit of light came through a crack in the between the double doors leading into the master bedroom as Kelly approached. Kelly heard nothing. Not the wood under her feet, nor the steady dripping of water from the ceiling, nor Charlie's shaky breaths at the stairs. She only heard the even sound of her breathing and the wordless beckoning from within the room ahead. Her hand gripped the weathered old brass knob and turned, slowly opening the creaking door.
As the room was revealed, she saw that it worse off than even the rest of the house. An entire wall along the left side was missing, open to the elements outside. What had once been a bed sat destroyed and decomposed like the carcass of some long dead creature. But it was the figure at the window that set her heart racing.
The silent woman stared out of the window, her hands out of sight, folded in front of her. Kelly approached timidly, not entirely certain she wasn’t simply a mannequin of some sort. The familiar blue dress didn’t move in the slightest, not even in a manner that might suggest she was breathing. In the back of her mind, Kelly was vaguely aware that it had become considerably colder in the room as she came nearer to the mysterious figure.
Her heart pounded in her chest. Kelly knew she should leave, but that voiceless call compelled her. As she neared, she noticed the shabby nature of the woman’s dress. Stains of undetermined origin had settled into the blue satin, the fabric deteriorated with a significant passage of time. Everything I’m her being screamed to stop as she slowly began to reach out toward the still woman before her, but she couldn’t stop.
Charlie’s voice snapped her out of whatever trance she’d been in, her gaze snapping back over her shoulder to him. It must have taken everything he had to force himself into the room, because he looked petrified, the color drained from his face. It was time to go.
Kelly’s eyes turned forward and SNAP! Dry, leathery fingers gripped her face so hard it hurt. She let out a blood curdling scream at the sudden pain, her eyes clamping shut. Kelly’s hands instinctively grabbed for her attacker’s wrists, finding them emaciated with the same dry texture as the hands gripping her face. Slowly, she struggled to open her eyes.
What she saw broke her fragile young mind. The woman’s face was a mangled terror. Her eyes were black holes, infinite and unfathomable. A darkness in them that she could scarcely comprehend. There were no lips upon her mouth, as if they had been carved away, her rotten teeth in a permanent, horrible smile. The longer she stared, the worse it became. It felt as if unseen tendrils were burrowing into her brain, just as the creature’s mouth opened unnaturally large, the pallid skin of its cheeks tearing as it did so.
Kelly’s blue eyes went wide with primal terror, her jaw finally working open enough to let out one last, bone chilling scream before the last thread of her sanity finally snapped and all was dark.
Evan stared after it in tired resignation, muttering curses under his breath as he sank back into bed, stretching his crackling limbs. It occurred to him that the years had done nothing to make the mornings any easier.
The thought was short-lived as the door burst open and two blonde little girls rushed in, their high-pitched voices exclaiming “Daddy!”
He was ill prepared as they launched themselves into the air, their five year old bodies crashing into him. The wind left his lungs in an instant, but he couldn’t be mad. He loved the little monsters. When he and his wife had been told they were expecting twins, he’d been terrified, but the instant they arrived, he settled right into the role.
After a bit of play-fighting, Evan descended the staircase, decked out in loose fitting workout gear. His wife, Ashley stood at the kitchen counter, finishing packing up the girls’ lunch. Twenty three years had passed since they’d first laid eyes on each other, but he still felt the same excited pang in the pit of his stomach when he saw her. Evan stepped up behind her, wrapping his arms around her waist and stealing a quick kiss.
Ashley smiled and looked towards the stairs, seeing no sight of her daughters. “Girls! Come get your lunches! We need to get going! And you better not be wearing the dinosaur costumes again!”
Evan smirked as she glanced back at him, “Every morning, I swear to god.”
“Who are we to contend with the fearsome T-Rex Duo?” Evan joked, moving to the fridge to grab his thermos.
The decidedly not tiny footsteps of their eldest came tromping down the stairs. Alyson was newly fourteen and, much to her parents’ dismay, had discovered a deep well of teenage angst in her thirteenth year. Evan often joked if the twins were angels, then Aly was the devil incarnate.
“Mornin’, kiddo.” He greeted her, receiving only an annoyed scoff in return, as expected.
While Evan still made an effort to be civil, Ashley got right back in her hostile little face, her tone curt and unamused. “Do you want breakfast?”
“Fine.” Ashley matched her tone and attitude exactly, which only seemed to make the young girl more annoyed. Alyson grabbed her book bag and headed towards the door.
Her hand had just touched the knob when Ashley called out.
Alyson rolled her eyes and flapped her hands at her side. “What?”
“Straight home after school.” Ashley ordered.
The teenager was aghast. “What? But I’m supposed to meet up with Jenny!”
“Well, somehow she’ll have to get by without your cheery personality.” Ashley said, washing her hands.
“Mom, this is so stupid. I’ll only go over there for a bit-“
Ashley turned around quickly. “Alyson, this isn’t up for debate. That Lee girl and the Ismore boy are still missing, and until they figure out what’s going on, you’re not wandering around doing god knows what. Is that understood?”
“You suck!” She screeched.
“Yeah, sometimes I wish I had.” She said, letting the meaning of the sentence sink in. Evan couldn’t help the snort that left him. Aly made a face and shoved through the door, slamming it in her wake.
Ashley sighed and wrapped her arms around Evan’s waist, pressing her cheek to his chest. “Tell me it’s just a phase.”
“What if I’m not sure it is?”
“Oh. Well then, of course she’ll get better. The utter disdain is just hiding how much she loves us.” Evan said with a grin, earning a little chuckle.
“You going running?” She asked.
“Yeah,” Evan said, “thinking of getting in a couple miles before work.”
Ashley knew what sort of creatures lived in Rhy’Din and with two missing children, she was extra concerned. Evan kissed her one last time, taking her by the shoulders.
“Don’t worry.” He said. “I’ll be fine.”
The sun beat down from above in the warm morning air. His feet thudded against the ground with every step as he entered the path into the Elder Wood. The fog that had hung ominously two days before had long since dissipated, the trees alive with the sound of birds of all breeds. Some claimed these woods were haunted, but he’d never seen such things. Even in Rhy’Din, he never put too much stock in those fairytales.
Evan loved the quiet serenity of a morning run. The repetitive rhythm of his feet and the peaceful sound of nature let him drift far away from his daily troubles. Money issues, his screaming harpy of a daughter, that asshole in accounting with the chronic coffee breath who never wore deodorant…it all faded from his mind. There was nothing else but the run.
But today, there would be something else.
It was the smell that first alerted him that something was amiss. He knew it well. When he was a child, his father had taken him hunting when they’d come upon the decomposing corpse of a deer, deep in the woods. The smell that day was the same as the one he’d just experienced today.
Immediately, his mind went to the worst possible place. The missing kids. Despite his horror at the thought, if that were indeed the case, he owed it to their families to find them. Evan moved off the path and into the dense woods.
It wasn’t long before he came into a slight clearing, stopping in his tracks, startled. In the middle of the circle knelt a girl. Her back was to him, so he couldn’t see her face, but the hair…the wild, curly red hair matched the description he’d read from The Watch.
“Kelly?” He called out gently, approaching her slowly. “Kelly Lee?”
The girl’s motions ceased, her entire body going tense.
“Kelly, are you alright?”
What Evan saw next, he was entirely unprepared for. The red haired girl slowly turned her head, her face black and streaked with dried blood. Fresh rivulets of crimson ran down her chin and dropped onto her already saturated shirt. At first, he thought she was baring her cracked teeth until he realized she had no lips. Where they should have been were jagged bits of flesh, carved into a hideous smile. Her eyes, that once seemed wide and alert, he now noticed no longer had lids. She stared at him with her feral, stomach churning eyes, one blue, the other almost entirely red from where someone had sloppily cut them.
It then dawned on him what it was on the ground that she’d been clawing at. It was the shoes that he noticed first. The rest, he couldn’t bring himself to look at, but the boy’s body must have been dead for days from the smell.
Evan backed away slowly, a low gurgling growl emitting from the girl. Primal fear rose in his gut as she rose on her skinny legs. Her jaw moved and, despite lacking lips or a tongue, she hissed something, blood and saliva gurgling in her throat.
He didn’t have a second to contemplate what she’d said before she lunged at him like a wild cat. Caught unprepared, she brought him to the ground, her fists beating him about the face and chest, lashing out with broken fingernails. It was all Evan could to try and defend himself from her feral attack. Whatever girl she had once been was gone. Only this beast remained.
Finally, he managed to grab her arms, but she merely snarled and let out a ferocious shriek before plunging her jagged teeth into his neck, blood gushing from her ruined mouth. Evan bellowed in agony and with a burst of strength, managed to pull her off of him and toss her body aside. The girl who had once been Kelly Lee rolled onto all fours and prepared to attack again.
Evan was on his feet, one hand on his bloody neck as he readied himself for her attack. Her eyes were filled with wild, insatiable bloodlust. Once again, that horrid visage opened to unleash an inhuman scream and she charged. The full weight of the mutilated young girl slammed into him, her limbs flailing and uncontrolled. He lost track of where and how many times she hit him, his only focus remained on defending himself from the insane, blood-stained monster who had once been a sweet girl.
With her next attack, he managed to grab her wrists, holding her at bay before he flipped her small form off of his body. Terror flowed through his very veins as Evan scrambled to his feet, attempting to run from her. But the girl who had been Kelly Lee was nothing if not persistent. Evan’s knees buckled at the sudden weight of her pouncing onto his back. He tried to shut out the pain and thoughts of just how much blood was oozing from the bite on his neck, but it was impossible to ignore the ear-splitting, inhuman shriek that emanated from the girl. It was a sound he’d never forget.
In flailing desperation, he backed her into the trunk of the nearest tree. Kelly howled at the jolt of pain, but only tightened her arms around his throat. Evan gasped for breath, clutching at her arm, trying to pry it from his windpipe. Once again, he slammed her body into the tree to no avail. With every last ounce of his strength he launched the two of them into the rough trunk of the tree and her arms loosened. He had no idea how much damage he’d caused, but it must have been at least somewhat significant for the wild, vile girl to let up on her attack.
Evan slipped out of her grasp, his hand going for her throat. There was a hint of surprise in Kelly’s lidless, mad eyes when he pinned her back against the tree.
Surprise turned quickly into rage, a gurgling roar building from the back of her tongueless throat. Before she could do anything further, though, Evan gripped her by her filthy, ginger locks with his free hand and smashed her head against the trunk of the tree. Kelly Lee finally passed into unconsciousness, her ruined body crumpling to the forest floor.
Evan stood over her, his mind reeling and trying to make sense of everything that had just happened. In that moment, he thought of his own girls, his stomach turning at the prospect. He tried his level best not to think about what she’d been doing when he’d found her. What monster would do such a thing to a child? What kind of unimaginable horror could take a sweet young girl…and turn her into that?
Strange, indecipherable tomes, weird magical artifacts, and unexplainable occurrences were under her purview as head of the department. Irdra often worked in tandem with The Watch to investigate that defied belief, even in so magic a place as Rhy’Din. A task, she had to admit, suited her interest in all things Eldritch well.
Her long, nimble fingers wrapped around the handle of her office door, giving it a push open. She instantly recognized the man sitting in front of her desk. His hair was short and neat, black as a raven’s feathers. A dark beard kept trimmed upon his angular features.
“Irdra.” He greeted her with a dip of his head.
If an already frowning face could frown Irdra seemed to make it possible. “Miles.” She replied dispassionately.
Miles Cain had been one of the University’s top investigators. A skilled, powerful mage in his own right, he had made a name for himself assisting in the capture of a teleporting serial killer involved in some manner of death cult. Unpleasant though the prospect may be, Irdra was forced to admit the young man was a gifted detective. His presence here could only mean that something had gone horribly wrong for some unlucky soul out in the magical land of Rhy’Din.
“To what do I owe the pleasure?” Irdra asked, rounding her desk. Books, papers and the odd arcane bauble here or there decorated its aged, wooden surface. Her wooden seat creaked as she eased down upon it, the tall leather seatback looming behind her, the color of dried blood. Immediately she set to organizing the paperwork in front of her. It probably didn’t need to be done, but it sent the message that he was a distant concern loud and clear.
Miles wasn’t intimidated by the professor like most others who crossed her path. He’d encountered gods and demons in his career and had seen things far more horrifying than an over confident woman with an icy stare. Irdra knew it to, which did nothing to smooth her disdain for the man. He interlocked his fingers tightly, matching her gaze undeterred.
“The watch got a call this morning.” He said. “Might be of some interest to you.”
“The Watch receives hundreds of calls a day, Miles. Very few of them are what I would call ‘interesting.’” Irdra cast a withering glance back up at the man.
“This one was in the Elder Wood.” Miles said, feeling a hint of satisfaction when those cold, calculating eyes froze upon the paper in her hands and slowly turned up to meet him. “Guy was out jogging when he runs across a girl. You heard about the kids missing?”
Irdra shook her head. Of course she hadn’t. She rarely concerned herself with such mundane happenings. Children went missing every day, and unless there was something of eldritch note about the disappearance, as far as she was concerned, it was somebody else’s problem.
“Kid named Kelly Lee and her friend disappear a few days back.” He explained. “Watch has a manhunt, searching all over the place…nothing. But this morning the guy…uh…Muil or something like that. He finds them both.”
Irdra’s eyes flicked to one side in annoyance, sarcasm dominating her tone. “You were saying this would interest me?”
“The girl was mangled.” Miles said. “No eyelids. Someone carved her lips from her face. Cut out her tongue. And the boy…”
Images from the file he’d been given by the detective assigned to Evan Muil’s case flashed through his mind. Horrific sights, even for a seasoned veteran like himself. Dental records had been needed to positively ID him, but his parents knew just from his shoes.
“He was beaten to death.” He managed. “Even after he died, the girl kept attacking him. And worse than that…she…she was eating him.”
Now he had Irdra’s attention. “The girl is in custody right now?”
“Shacked up in a padded room and fitted with a straight jacket as we speak.” .
Irdra nodded slowly. “Good… Good. Have they had a chance to interrogate the girl?”
Miles snorted. “Hard to interrogate a girl with no lips or tongue. That’s part of why they want me.”
Miles was known for his telepathic abilities. His ability to gain insight into the minds of even the most difficult subjects had been useful in establishing his usefulness to the watch and the University alike. Irdra envied the power. How much easier would her job be if she had such a gift?
“Well, why come to me?” She asked him.
“Because I have questions.” Miles responded. “What do you know about the Elder Wood?”
A wry chuckle left her. “What we don’t know about the Elder Wood could fill a library. Mysterious things happen daily there. You’ll need to be more specific.”
Miles disliked this little game she was playing. He understood that she didn’t care for him, but this was professional. Lives had been lost. “Does this ring any bells? Has anything like this happened before out there?”
Her icy stare returned to him again, but she didn’t respond. Miles decided that her silence was response enough. Finally, she spoke again.
“A year or so ago. There were a few instances that fit this description.” Irdra said. “Not precisely, but similar elements. All victims had no lips, eyelids or tongues. And the only word they could say was-”
One thin of Irdra’s thin brows arched.
“It’s what she was saying.” Miles clarified.
Slowly, she shook her head. “No, Miles. Rathspire.”
His brows knit together, trying to place the word to no avail. “What does that mean?”
“Rathspire Manor. Some believe it’s a fairytale.” Irdra explained. “But the story goes, a long time ago, a woman watched her husband go off to war, promising to await his return by the window of her bedroom. At some point, she receives word that he’s been killed. Consumed by her grief, she goes mad. Kills their children. Mutilates their faces and her own. It’s said she then stood up at that window, waiting for the day her lost love returns to her.”
“Then that’s where I should start, no?” He asked. “Where is this Rathspire Manor?”
“Ah, that’s the rub, isn’t it?” Irdra said. “It exists only when and where it wants to. Luring those on the unlucky and weak enough of mind into its clutches. You don’t find Rathspire Manor. It finds you.”
“What do you mean?” Miles pressed her. “The mansion hunts you?”
“As apt a description as any.” Irdra shrugged.
“Then how do I find it?” Miles inquired.
Irdra leaned back into her seat, the leather creaking softly beneath her. Her fingers, which were adorned with a few antique rings, wove together over her stomach. Her cool, blue eyes glinted with smug amusement as they stared across the desk at Miles. "I believe that's your job, Miles. I can't do it all for you, now can I, dear?" she said, her voice dripping with condescension.
Miles forced a smile, the muscles in his jaw aching from the effort. He uncrossed his legs and rose out of his chair, feeling a twinge of irritation in his chest. Getting anything substantial out of Irdra was like trying to squeeze blood from a stone. But no matter, he could do his own research. "If you can get me everything you have on The Manor, I'd appreciate it. Perhaps the fae girl with the stutter. She has a knack for this sort of thing."
At the mention of the stuttering little fae, Irdra's demeanor shifted imperceptibly. Her shoulders tensed for just a second before she forced them to relax. "No. She's occupied with her own work," she said, her voice smooth and even. "But I'll have Elinore bring you what little we have."
Miles noted the tension in Irdra's posture and wondered, not for the first time, what the story was between her and the fae girl, Alexia. But he decided it wasn't his concern. "Thank you, Professor Delvos," he said, his smile polite but strained. "A pleasure as always."
“Thank you, Professor Delvos.” He smiled politely, but it didn’t quite meet his eyes. “A pleasure as always.”
Irdra’s mouth briefly ticked upwards in what could be loosely be considered a smile before her attention was once again directed back at her stack of papers. “Shut the door on your way out.” She said dismissively.
Miles stifled a bitter laugh as he headed out into the halls. There was much work to do and he had no idea where to begin.
In his research, he discovered that the first appearance of Rathspire had been back in 1864, two years after the murders on Rathspire Manor Irdra had told him about. The manor itself had burnt to ashes in 1863, leaving only the charred grounds where it once stood.
As interesting as he found the lore of the manor and the horrors that had taken place, they got him no closer to solving the mystery than when he’d begun. At first, his mind immediately jumped to a malignant spirit. Though, in his experience, such entities were often tethered to the location of their demise. The ability to transport, not only themselves, but an entire mansion in order to hunt their prey was something new. Teleportation of a physical location was, of course, possible, but it took unfathomable amounts of power. Doing it with as much frequency as the Rathspire attacks would drain the life force of even the most powerful of mages. And even then, there was always some trace that something had once existed in that space. No, this was something else.
He’d read stories of a few lucky survivors who had seen the manor, but for whatever reason managed to muster the wherewithal to avoid stepping foot on the grounds. They claimed to hear a wordless voice beckoning them onward, but the foreboding in their hearts sent them running. How was it that some could resist the allure of the mysterious mansion while others were inexplicably drawn to it? The survivors were nothing special. No powerful mages, none particularly strong of mind. Just ordinary folk who spared themselves a fate that even the worst nightmares could scarcely conjure.
His office chair creaked as he collapsed back into it, his fingers moving up to rub at his tired, aching eyes. Hours of study had burned the worst images into his mind’s eye. Photograph after photograph of the gruesome, mangled faces of the victims of Rathspire throughout the years haunted him even when he shut his eyes. Few survived long after their encounter, especially in the early years. If infection didn’t take them, the madness often finished the job.
Miles reached out, taking up his glass of bourbon. The dark liquid seemed to glow amber in one of the golden rays finding its way into the dusty haze of the office. As he brought the glass to his lips, he caught sight of one of the pictures of a living victim. With their mutilated features, it was often difficult to tell who was who, but all of them had the same eyes. Whatever personality or humanity had once lived behind them was replaced with an unfathomable madness, driven only by uncontrollable hate for all living things that chilled the investigator to the core.
Still, there was only one way forward. If he wanted answers, he’d have to face his fears and observe the Lee girl for himself.
The sterile, blindingly bright fluorescent lights of the mental hospital seemed to pulsate against the stark white walls, casting an eerie and otherworldly glow across the entire facility. Miles couldn't shake the feeling that something was off about the place. It was too clean, too antiseptic, like the staff was trying to mask a deeper, more insidious rot lurking just beneath the surface.
As he waited nervously at the check-in desk, the silence seemed to amplify the unsettling atmosphere. Every footstep echoed like a gunshot, and Miles found himself straining to hear any other signs of life. But all he could hear was the sound of his own heartbeat hammering in his chest. He was so lost in his growing anxiety that he didn’t notice the footsteps approaching from behind.
The soft, feminine voice startled him. He did his best to mask it, to little effect. Collecting himself, Miles forced a smile.
“Apologies.” The doctor said, “I didn’t mean to sneak up on you.”
The doctor’s name tag read “Riley Frost”. Her chestnut brown hair was haphazardly knotted into a messy bun, with a pristine white lab coat layered over a set of vibrant turquoise scrubs. Miles could tell that she must have been in the middle of a grueling shift, yet even with the weariness etched on her face, she still managed to exude a magnetic charm. He couldn't help but wonder how striking she would look when she put in the effort.
“Not at all.” Miles smiled, the barest hint of a knowing little smirk crossing Frost’s lips. He knew full well he was busted, but to her credit, she let it go.
“If you’ll follow me?” She said, moving past the double doors leading to the main corridor. As she pushed the doors open, Miles noted the hints of a tattoo peeking out from under her sleeve.
“You’ve been briefed on the patient, I assume?” Frost asked.
The nightmarish images he’d seen flashed in his mind once more, sending a chill up his spine.
“In glorious technicolor.” Miles responded wryly.
“Good.” She said curtly. “I’ve had doctors and so-called investigators show up unprepared and lose their lunch at the mere sight of her.”
“Other than the obvious, how is her health?”
Frost’s lips pursed as she considered the question. “We managed to get any infections under control. Most of her vitals are where they should be. We have her restrained, but she’s still resisting. Keeps hurting herself trying to break free.”
Miles nodded, processing the information.
“Unfortunately, there’s only so much we can do with her in this mental state.” Riley added, her voice heavy with resignation.
“Do you have a lot of experience with this sort of thing?” Miles inquired.
“This is Rhy’Din. We see more than our fair share of the disturbing and inexplicable on a daily basis. Possession, insanity, schizophrenia, lycanthropy for those who can’t control theirs, psychoses of all shape and fashion.”
As they approached the high-security area, Riley paused at the double doors, marked with a sign that read "high security wing."
“But honestly?” She said, “I’ve never seen anything like this. The rest of the patients I’ve had,, you look into their eyes and you can see some semblance of a person behind them. But…when you look into hers? There’s nothing. ”
Riley pressed her access key to a plate, the doors clanking unlocked with a loud buzz. The doctor held the door, ushering him in. The high security wing was dimmer than the other areas of the hospital. Miles couldn’t help but notice claw marks in one of the walls. Likely, the handiwork of an aforementioned lycan.
“We try to recover the person at the heart of that madness here. But how do we do that when that person is simply gone?”
As they walked down the dimly lit hallway, Miles couldn't help but feel a sense of vague unease. The patients in the rooms they passed were all restrained, some thrashing and screaming while others lay motionless on their beds. The air was thick with the scent of disinfectant and something else, something more ominous that Miles couldn't quite put his finger on.
Riley led him to a room at the end of the hall. "Here we are," she said, her voice barely above a whisper. "This is where we keep her."
Miles took a deep breath, trying to steady his nerves. Pictures were one thing, actually encountering a Rathspire victim firsthand was another. With a trembling hand, Miles reached for the handle and slowly pushed the door open. The room was dark, illuminated only by a dim light in the corner. In the center of the room, strapped to a bed, was a figure. She was only vaguely recognizable as a human female. Those empty blue eyes stared vacantly at the ceiling.
Miles took a step closer, trying to get a better look, but Riley put a hand on his shoulder. "Be careful," she warned. "We have her under heavy sedation, but even so, she's dangerous."
Miles nodded, feeling a bead of sweat trickle down his forehead. He slowly approached the girl who had once been Kelly Lee. It was the smell that hit him first. It wasn’t just that she was in dire need of a bath, but there was something else mingled in. A scent he couldn’t quite pin down. He realized it was that same ominous smell he’d sensed in the hall. It permeated the room, the wall and somehow even his flesh. If Doctor Frost noticed it, she showed no sign. Miles wondered vaguely if she registered it at all at this point.
“I tried to get the orderlies in here to bathe her, but most of them are afraid to look at her, let alone touch her.”
“But not you.” He said. It was a statement, not a question.
“No.” Riley confirmed.
The doctor mulled over the question for a few seconds before responding. “This girl is a victim. Whatever else she did after her break, she’s still a survivor. And above all, she’s my patient. She deserves the same care as anyone else.”
Miles finally took a moment to actually look and see the girl restrained to the gurney. It was impossible to tell if she was conscious, those eyes permanently staring into nothing. But looking past the horror of her wounds, he could almost see the young face of Kelly Lee. In that moment, she was no longer the monster who had murdered and eaten her best friend. What terror had shattered her mind and reduced her to this must have been unimaginable. As he pondered the figure before him, he could only feel pity for her.
“You’re a good doctor.” He said to Riley.
Doctor Frost sighed wearily, brushing a loose strand of hair behind her ear. “I try to be. It’s hard to be here for her as often as I’d like, with my patient load.”
In Miles’ mind, she was being far too humble. Not many would be so understanding towards the girl they’d found. No matter, he decided. He had a job to do. A beep came from the device at Riley’s hip, stealing her attention for a moment.
“Have you had a chance to get a reader out here?” Miles asked.
She glanced up at him, eyes wide with surprise. “Has no one told you?”
Miles tilted his head in confusion. “Told me what?”
“We had our resident telepath come in to read her when she first arrived. A few seconds in and she just started screaming. She is currently in the recovery ward. Whatever it is she saw, she isn’t saying.”
Riley clipped her pager back to her hip, her tone turning urgent. “I need to deal with this. If you need anything, have a nurse page me.”
“Yeah.” Miles nodded, still confronting the news that even reading the girl’s mind was enough to scare the living hell out of a trained telepath. He was a gifted reader in his own right, but he’d never heard of such a thing. He watched the doctor walk out of the room and into the hall.
When even the sound of her footsteps had faded to nothing, he was suddenly all too aware that he was alone in the room with the murderous creature that was once Kelly Lee. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up as he approached her. She was so still. Her chest rose and fell in a slow, even rhythm. She had to be asleep, he decided.
“Well.” He thought, “I’m not gonna learn anything just staring at her. Here goes…”
His hand shook uncontrollably as he reached out towards her forehead. It was best to be cautious, so he put up all the redundant mental barriers he could. It wouldn’t do to risk suffering the same fate as the hospital’s resident telepath. Those blood-shot blue eyes continued their unconscious vigil of the ceiling above. Miles half-expected the girl to wake and start biting at his hand with those jagged teeth. It took every ounce of his will power to place his fingertips to her temple and begin the process of entering her fractured mind. Her skin was oddly cool to the touch, yet a small sheen of sweat had rendered the surface slick. His eyes shut slowly and, with a deep exhale, he reached out with his mind.
Entering another’s consciousness was always a strange experience. It was somewhat like entering a cloud and coming out on the other side to see utter chaos. In reality it usually took less than a second to adjust, but in the mental realm it could seem to last minutes or hours depending on the subject and their mental state. When he came out on the other side of Kelly’s mind, however, he found only darkness. The black, empty expanse spread out into infinity before him. There should have been something there, even in her advanced state of psychological decay. He felt coldness deep down in the core of his being. There was a part of him that was relieved to find emptiness within her, but another more concerned part that wanted to know what exactly had rendered left the last telepath nigh-catatonic.
The sound of a water drop echoed throughout the vast nothingness, startling Miles, his heart beginning to race and goosebumps forming upon his skin in the physical realm. He spun around to face the source of the noise. There, in the great black void stood a girl, her red hair pulled back in a tight ponytail, her back to him. For a second, he felt excitement. He’d found her! Maybe there was a chance here, afterall.
But every instinct he’d built in his career cast a sense of foreboding. Something was very wrong. Slowly, he began to approach, footsteps muted upon a non-existent ground.
“Kelly?” he called out, his voice echoing across the mental plane. “Kelly, can you hear me?”
But the girl remained still. She simply stared ahead much as her corporeal counterpart had. The cold grew stronger, permeating his very soul as he neared the unmoving form before him. Slowly, he stepped around her, dreading what he might see on the other side. In the physical world, his body shivered as if he were freezing, every nerve on edge. He braced himself for the horrible visage of Kelly Lee’s current appearance. But what he found was unexpected.
It was the fresh, young face of Kelly Lee as she had been the morning of her disappearance. Gone were the gruesome wounds and those wide, crazed, unblinking eyes. Pictures of her pre-Rathspire did not do her justice. She was a pretty girl, he thought. Those blue eyes probably drove the boys crazy.
Her expression, however, remained vacant. Even when he got right in front of her, she stared straight through him. Even in the mental plane, he could feel his chest rise and fall as he began to lower himself into her line of sight.
“Kelly.” He whispered gently, though the name echoed nonetheless.
Cautiously, he raised his hands, the cold growing deeper and even more intense. Everything inside of him told him to stop, but he persisted. He had to try to get through to her somehow. As his hands settled upon her arms, he heard a sound not unlike the crackling of ice. Miles’ brows knit together in consternation.
Suddenly, Kelly’s eyes snapped to life, looking deep into his. Miles could only hear the echoes of his own breath as she stared. He didn’t dare speak. Not yet. Finally, her lips parted and her voice issued forth one whispered word.
That was when he felt it. A stab of unfathomable cold pierced his heart and began to fill his being. Her hands moved in the blink of an eye, clamping to his forearms with vice-like strength. Black tendrils began to move beneath his skin. The pain was unimaginable, yet he couldn’t scream. As Kelly Lee’s face began to distort to its physical state, he saw into her memories.
Her eyelids peeled back as flashes of the widow entered his mind. Her mouth split at the sides as Kelly was forced to stare into the Widow’s empty eye sockets. Kelly’s lips curled upwards, as Miles watched the attack of Charlie Ismore from the girl’s point of view. He screamed and cried as his best friend savagely slammed her fists into his face again and again and again. Red veins formed upon those pretty blue eyes like vines crawling up a wall, Miles witnessed her teeth piercing the jugular vein of young Charlie’s neck, tearing flesh and sinew in a spray of hot crimson. The boy’s mouth opened to scream, but it only came out as a choking gurgle.
He struggled with all his might as, one by one, the barriers he’d set up began to fall. Through Kelly Lee’s eyes he saw the Widow. The flesh of cheeks tore as her face curled into that mutilated, grotesque smile. This mind was no longer Kelly Lee’s. And the vice-like grip on his arms did not belong to the 16 year old girl. It wasn’t quite possession. It was something else. Something more powerful. As if Kelly’s mind had somehow become some manner of gateway to something dark. Something malevolent and sinister. With one last great effort, Miles managed to rip from her hold, his consciousness spiraling through the infinity of existence that was the mental plane.
He slammed back into his own body, finding himself lying upon the floor and staring up at the ceiling. Doctor Riley Frost knelt over him, frantically trying to revive him. He gasped suddenly and desperately for air as he coughed like a man who’d almost drowned.
“Miles!” Riley cried, trying to calm him. “It’s okay. You’re back. You’re safe.”
His eyes were wild and confused for a moment before he regained his bearings. It was only then that he noticed Kelly upon the gurney, lashing against her restraints and shrieking a garbled “Rathspire” over and over again with her mangled mouth. His chest rose and fell rapidly, his entire body shaking as the images he’d just seen flashed once again through his mind.
Riley’s soft hands rested upon his cheeks. “Miles, look at me. Look at me.”
He finally caught his breath and looked into her kind, blue eyes. The doctor smiled reassuringly and asked him one question.
“What did you see?”
Riley stepped out into the hall, her calm demeanor turning concerned as she broke into a brisk stride. Maisel, a nurse she recognized rushed to meet her.
“Doctor!” The nurse called out, matching the worried doctor’s pace.
“Where is she?” Riley asked.
“We don’t know.” Maisel replied. “We went to her room to check on her, and she was just gone.”
A sinking feeling settled into Riley’s stomach. She couldn’t claim to know Doctor Mira Coplin particularly well, but whatever the telepath had seen had terrified her to her core. When Riley had last seen her, she was nigh catatonic. All she could do was nod and shake her head while her body shivered uncontrollably. Where the hell could she have gone.
“Get security on every exit.” Riley ordered. “And put out a code green. Start checking every patient room. I don’t want Doctor Coplin leaving the building.”
Maisel nodded. “Yes, Doctor.”
Riley turned the corridor as the nurse ran off. She tried to control the fear that currently ran through her body. She could kick herself for leaving Mira with the general population. She should have been placed under high security. Her self flagellation didn’t last long as security rushed past. It was brief, but she managed to make out one sentence that chilled the blood in ver veins.
“- reported seeing someone on the roof-“
Riley’s lips parted as her stomach dropped. She broke into a sprint, ripping open the nearest stairwell door. The doctor ran up five flights as fast as her legs could carry her. The sunlight was blinding as she burst out onto the roof, winded from her mad dash. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust and she looked around frantically before she found what she hoped she wouldn’t.
Mira Coplin stood at the roof’s edge, staring out over the treetops sprawling ahead. She was eerily still.
“Mira!” Riley called out.
The telepath slowly turned her head. Her dark brown eyes were bloodshot, tears streaming down her face. She looked so scared. So hopeless. Riley moved towards her cautiously.
“Mira. Please. Don’t.” Riley pleaded as calmly as she could.
“You haven’t seen.” Mira replied, her voice a numb tone that made Riley’s heart ache.
“I know.” Riley reassured her. “But you don’t need to do this. Please. We can help you.”
“Help yourselves.” Mira said. “Kill her.”
Before she could say another word, Mira Coplin spread her arms and, with no hesitation, stepped off the roof. She didn’t scream. She made no sound aside from the impact of her body on the pavement below. Riley’s lips parted in horror, reaching in vain for the telepath as age plummeted to her grisly demise, just in time for security to crash through the door.
Riley was only vaguely aware of them. Her shock lasted only long enough for one thought to enter her mind.
She gasped and ran as fast as she could, descending multiple steps at a time, almost tripping on her way down. Miles was alone and likely about to fall right into Kelly Lee’s mental trap. She fumbled with her security card, her hands shaking. Her sneakers squeaked on the tile floor as she got closer and closer, that high security hall seeming infinitely long.
Finally, she found him. His skin was pale as death, cold sweat pouring down his face as he shivered with fear. His lips were blue and his breath quivering as he exhaled. Kelly Lee’s unblinking eyes stared at him coldly.
“Miles!” She cried out, grabbing him from behind and yanking his body away from the girl, the two of them collapsing to the ground while the mad child screamed.
Riley had spent the last two hours undergoing questioning while Miles was in observation. He understood the necessity for it, but the woman deserved at least a moment’s rest to process everything. He found the exhausted doctor sitting out in a small courtyard, a cigarette smoldering between two fingers.
Miles pushed through the glass doors, approaching her slowly. He sat on a bench outside, a cup of coffee in one hand and a paper bag from the cafeteria in the other. Riley glanced up at him, offering a sympathetic smile.
“You should eat.” Miles said, presenting the bag and taking a seat beside her. “How are you feeling?”
She glanced at him, a hint of a bitter smirk threatening to break through as she stubbed out her cigarette. “I’ve been better.” She said, dripping with sarcasm. “You?”
“Like I almost drowned. But, for the most part…alright. Thanks to you.” He said, his voice a little hoarse.
Riley accepted the offered sandwich. “Thanks.”
The doctor unwrapped her food, crossing her legs and taking a bite. Dark bags had formed under her eyes, the weight of what she had witnessed heavy on her mind and making her look as tired as he felt.
“I’m sorry about your colleague.” Miles said.
Riley’s eyes lowered, her shoulders slumping with a deep exhale. For a long moment she was just silent. She couldn’t get the image out of her mind.
“She was so scared…” Riley said, her voice quivering. “I didn’t even have a chance to try to talk her down. I called out to her and she looked me right in the eye. She’d been crying. She said…god, I can’t even remember what her words were. And she just…dropped.”
The doctor let out a shuddering sigh and wiped her eyes, forcing a smile. “I’m sorry.”
Miles shook his head. “No, no. Not at all. I’m shocked that you’re still here. They didn’t at least give you the rest of the night off after that?”
“They did.” She admitted. “But if I go home, all I’ll do is think about it. Replay it over and over in my head until it makes me sick. Know what I mean?”
A small smile tugged at Miles’ lips. “Yeah. I think I do.”
Riley finished another bite of her sandwich and wiped her lips with the back of her hand. “So, do you think you figured anything out in all of that?”
“Maybe?” Miles responded, sipping his coffee. “What do you know about the Widow of Rathspire Manor?”
Riley’s brow rose. “Wow. That’s a throwback.”
The doctor searched her memory for the details.
“When my mother wanted me to stay in when I was a kid, she used to say the Widow would get me.” Riley shrugged, a smirk playing across her features. “Not that it kept me out of trouble. I never really bought into those old ghost stories.”
“What if I told you it’s not a ghost story?” Miles said.
Riley snorted as if it were a joke, but the look on his face told her it was anything but. Her brow arched inquisitively.
Miles nodded. “She found Kelly. I saw her.”
Riley quirked her brow. “You saw the Widow?”
“I know how it sounds.” He held his hand up. “But I saw its face. No eyes. No lips. That…that grin. That decayed, rotten grin. I can still see it when I close my eyes. But there was something…off.”
“You don’t say.” Riley said in a deadpan tone, earning a momentary grin from Miles.
“No…no. It was like the widow was…something she was wearing. Like a shell or a mask. Something beneath that form was trying to get out. Something even more terrifying than that face. I could feel it beneath my skin. Trying to invade me. Like she…and Kelly were some sort of doorway and whatever was contained behind it was trying to get through.”
Riley struggled to comprehend what he was telling her. Even in Rhy’Din such things were at least unusual. The idea of some powerful Eldritch horror trying to invade their plane of existence through the broken minds of any who crossed its path filled her with dread. “Something like that would have to be incredibly powerful. So…and no offense, but how did you survive?”
“I think if I had remained connected much longer, I might not have.” He said. “Maybe it’s because I was prepared. Braced my mind. Or maybe it’s like looking at a reflection or through a pane of glass. You’re still seeing the thing, but the image isn’t the same. Maybe that makes it weaker.”
“Weaker” was a very subjective term in this case. It still sought to drive him mad and might have succeeded if not for Riley’s timely return. Riley wasn’t certain she believed in all of this, but she also couldn’t account for what had happened to Mira. The telepath was no rookie when it came to her job. She’d seen truly horrible things in her time dealing with the sometimes violent and disturbed patients who came and went on a daily basis. Riley was a good judge of character and rather adept at spotting a liar when she saw one. Miles didn’t strike her as a liar. She decided it was best to take him at his word.
“This ‘Rathspire’ appears where it wants to, right?” She asked.
“Well, if that’s the case, then you can’t exactly track it down, can you?”
Miles chewed his food, thinking it over. “I don’t think so.”
“There’s nothing you remember seeing?” She asked. “Nothing that stands out.”
“Aside from the woman’s face splitting open?” He said with bitter sarcasm, “No.”
The visions had been brief flashes within the depths of his consciousness. Filled with violence, fear, and anger beyond his wildest imagination. The mere memory of those images sent a chill down his spine. They were something he had little interest in revisiting. Yet, something did occur to him. As Kelly Lee and the Ismore boy were approaching the manor, there had been a heavy fog. He remembered the day in question had been clear and sunny. Not a hint of cloud in sight.
Riley could see the wave of realization wash over him. She leaned forward.
“There it is.” She said quietly. “What is it.”
“I’m not sure.” Miles replied distantly. He turned to her. “Are you going to be alright here?”
Riley seemed touched by his concern, a small smile on her face. “I’m always alright. Go.”
Miles rose from the bench, starting away, but stopping in his tracks. He glanced back at the doctor. “I’ll check back in if I find something.”
“Sure.” Riley nodded, something in her voice sounding a little dubious. “I look forward to hearing from you. See you around, Miles.”
“Be seeing you, Doctor Frost.”
Riley took a long drag from her cigarette, watching him walk away. She didn’t get another second before her pager went off. She had a job to do and nothing, not even otherworldly terrors would get in her way.
Miles moved through the dimly lit halls, his Rathspire file clutched in his hands. Perhaps it was the subject of his research or the residual effects of his experience at the hospital, but every shadow in the long corridor seemed to carry a sort of vague, sentient malice. As if unseen eyes hidden within the dark were watching him. Following him. Hunting him. He could feel his legs moving quicker than intended, that building sense of incomprehensible dread propelling him involuntarily onward.
The Restricted Records and Information Department was at the other end of the building, making that long walk seem almost like an eternal journey in his current frazzled mental state. Finally, he saw the dark wooden door with its pebbled glass window, a wave of relief rushing from deep within as he turned the brass knob and stepped through the threshold.
The office smelled of mahogany, aged leather, and ancient paper mingling pleasantly together. The nighttime caretaker, an elderly man named Irwin Greeves was nowhere to be seen. He was an intense man, very protective of the documents under his watch. The room was silent, a large desk sat at its front, leading to two long, crowded aisles of stacks filled with books, ledgers, and small file boxes. Miles swore it stretched on into infinity, disappearing into the dusty, dim haze of the university’s bowels.
“Hello?” Miles called out. It seemed as if the books swallowed the sound before it left his mouth. Receiving no reply, he stepped around the desk, peering down at its contents. A file sat upon the letterhead, a big red stamp marking it “confidential”. The small black and white label upon its tab read “The Observers.” The edge of a photo peeked out of the corner of the folder.
Curiosity got the better of Miles and he reached out and slowly drew it from the file. Little by little, he revealed the picture, just able to make out two humanoid creatures, seemingly male in build and shape. Unremarkable except for their utter lack of discernible facial features. Something about them reminded Miles of seeing someone out of the corner of his eye, but finding nothing upon second glance. It was all at once alien and yet disturbingly familiar. A cold feeling grew in the pit of his stomach, a silent dread as he contemplated what the nature of these beings could possibly be and why the university thought them worthy of note.
His foreboding ponderance came to an abrupt end as a bony, liver spotted old hand slammed down upon the file with a resounding thud, startling Miles.
“Can I help you?” Greeves’ voice creaked in a reproachful tone, the sound reminding Miles of a door hinge in dire need of oil.
It was impossible to get a good read on exactly how old the man was. Deep lines had created peaks and valleys all about his gaunt face, gravity very much winning the battle against his sagging jowls. Sunken, dark brown eyes that may as well have been black sat behind a pair of wire-framed glasses perched upon his large, hooked nose. What remained of his hair hung about in thin strands of gray upon his balding head.
Miles took a step back, collecting himself.
“Mr. Greeves.” Miles said, his heart still pounding.
The elderly caretaker offered a mirthless smile. “Mr. Cain. Come to return my files, have you?”
“Not just yet.” Miles said, allowing him to sit in his chair.
“But you do intend upon it, yes?” Greeves asked, turning an unamused bespectacled face up at him. “These are on loan, sir, and I expect every scrap of paper back where it belongs.”
“Of course.” Miles said, “I’m a man of my word.”
“We shall see.” Greeves responded, tucking away the mysterious file out of Miles’ sight. “So, young Mr. Cain. To what do I owe the pleasure of your company tonight?”
Miles’ bearing shifted, taking on the business-like tone of a man on a mission. “I’m playing on a hunch. I need to cross reference incidents of the Rathspire victims with weather based anomalies within the Elder Wood. Specifically unexplained fog.”
Greeves seemed amused, flashing a gapped grin. “You’ve come for a weather report? Do I look like a meteorologist?”
“Humor me.” Miles said.
Greeves studied the young man, sensing that he would not budge from this hunch of his. He inhaled deeply through his nostrils and exhaled, the scent of pipe-weed upon his breath.
Greeves pushed his decrepit body from his chair with a groan. Miles swore he could hear the man’s bones creak beneath his loose skin.
“Come.” Greeves ordered him. The old man led him into the stacks, passing row after row of artifacts and tomes. What wealth of mystery and history was contained within the pages and boxes, he couldn’t begin to imagine. There were secrets in this world, wonders and horrors beyond comprehension of most mortal minds. Some of them came here for posterity. Some of them came here to wither and die. Left to the stacks until time or the unforeseen released them.
The dust particles were so thick in the air, Miles could almost taste them, beams of light from the lanterns above casting a halo through the innumerable stockpile of information. Miles caught glimpses of some of the titles. Most were unimpressive, though a few caught his eye. “Myths of the Ontari”. “The Order of Eternal Dark”. “Voices from the Sunken Sea”. “Varysport: The City of Living Death”. One bound in a strange leather Miles couldn’t identify was etched in a lettering he didn’t recognize. Something about the book sent chills down his spine, as if some malicious intent or history had willed such an object into this realm. An insidious power that, even in its shelved state, cast its will out into the world, bidding the unwary passersby to ingest its dark content. Something primal and deep within him greatly desired to release it from its imprisonment. But for his strong mental and psychic resilience, he might have given in. Miles pushed on leaving the evil emanating from such a horror behind, though he could still feel its call, hundreds of shelves down. Row after row, the pair walked until finally, Greeves came to a stop.
“I believe…” he trailed off at the end those long fingers tracing over the aged spines until finding a large tome. “Ah, yes. Here it is.”
It was bound in red and blue leather, though the colors had faded. Back at the caretaker’s desk, the book hit the old letterhead, kicking up a small cloud of dust upon impact.
“If such records exist, this is where they would be found.” Greeves advised, offering his seat.
Miles slipped into the chair and pulled the first file from his Rathspire box, readying himself for an in-depth investigation.
“May I ask what it is you’re hoping to find here, Mr. Cain?”
Miles looked up the old man, weighing his words. He knew the very nature of his investigation would seem like madness to some, but Greeves was no stranger to the mad things of their world.
“I believe that I can tie events involving appearances of the Rathspire to anomalies in the weather. If I can do that, I may be able to establish some sort of pattern.” He explained.
“And what will this accomplish?” Greeves inquired.
“If I know where it will be, then maybe I can stop it.” He said. “Maybe I can kill it.”
Greeves flashed that broken grin and chuckled with his wheezing laugh.
“Is that funny?” Miles asked defensively.
“Do you know what it is you’re hunting, Mr. Cain? This isn’t a flesh and blood creature you can stab with a blade or shoot with one of your guns. This is an entity far beyond our realm of existence. Beyond life. Beyond death.” The old caretaker’s gravelly voice turned deathly serious. “You cannot kill that which does not possess life.”
“Then I’ll have to find a way to drive it out.” Miles said, trying to shut him out.
Greeves stared at the persistent young man. He admired his tenaciousness, misguided as it might be. But he was toying with forces he didn’t understand. As far as he was concerned, Miles Cain didn’t stand a chance.
“May luck be on your side, then.” Greeves said doubtfully. “If you require anything else…do not hesitate to call upon me.”
Greeves heard the door to the room open, his face lighting up as Miles had never seen. There was a childlike glee upon that ancient visage that almost seemed impossible.
“Ah, Alexia, my dear!” He intoned, rushing to meet the skinny little fae. Miles eyed her but for a moment as the pair passed, the girl warmly stuttering out her needs to the old caretaker.
Whatever it was she required didn’t matter to Miles. He focused on the job ahead, letting the colleagues drift off into the infinite abyss of the library. There was much work to be done and there could be no distractions.
Hours of study should have taken a toll on Miles’ mind, leaving him exhausted and ready for a break. Instead, it both invigorated and unnerved the young investigator. His theory was thus far proven correct. Hundreds of incidents dating back well over a century told an eerily familiar story. Where Rathspire appeared, so too did the fog and always within the confines of the Elder Wood.
He procured himself a map, marking the sites for each of them, numbering them chronologically. In all, he was able to nail down seventeen different recorded locations over one hundred and fifty nine years. The time intervals all seemed random, but the locations were like clockwork. Hundreds of recorded victims and who knew how many that were never reported had met their end, one way or another in those woods. It had to end. Miles just had no idea how to do it.
Greeves sat in an easy chair, mouth agape as he snored loudly. “I’m just going to rest my eyes.” He’d claimed. That was two hours ago. It occurred to Miles that this room contained some of the most dangerous artifacts in their world. Relics and tomes of such Eldritch power that they could break the very fabric of reality itself if they were to fall into the wrong hands. With that knowledge, how had the university decided to place them under the care of an elderly kook like Irwin Greeves, who napped on his shift. Yet, all in Rhy’Din was rarely what it seemed and perhaps this eccentric, old curmudgeon was far more powerful and capable than his outward appearance would betray.
His keen, dark eyes darted from location to location on the map, keeping the chronology in mind as he ticked each one off along the way. It didn’t feel unlike tracking a predator’s movements through their preferred hunting grounds. In a way, he supposed it was. Whatever unfathomable, abominable horror Rathspire truly was, it could only be considered a predator. It was merciless and cruel. And above all, it was always hungry.
As he settled upon the next likely destination, a chill enveloped his heart. He would soon have to face this evil. He would have to walk right into its grasp and find some way to send it screaming back into the void whence it came.
He poured through some books Greeves had left upon the edge of the desk. Psychic barriers, mental enchantments, possible artifacts that might defend him against this unnatural entity. They all seemed somewhat feeble and none would aid him in his ultimate task. If he was to expel such a creature from this world, he would need advice from someone more knowledgeable about the dark forces in this reality. He would need to speak with Irdra Delvos.
Irdra woke the next morning as she often did. A cup of tea upon the kettle, her breakfast light and low-effort. Her living space was sparse, merely a small apartment she used to bed down for the evening and little else. The shades were drawn shut, blocking out the sun as best they could. A simple purple satin robe adorned her tall, slim figure.
The knock at her door was utterly unexpected. She looked towards the sound with annoyance. Irdra didn’t receive visitors. Nor did she want them. She was quite content with living a solitary life, free from the stress and obligation of common socialization. So, it was with no small amount of contempt that she reached her door at the second round of knocks.
“What?!” She hissed, throwing it open.
The man on the other side was unexpected. Few had the utter gall to intrude on her privacy, but here he stood. Miles Cain, looking worse for wear, his clothes crumpled and disheveled like he had slept in them. If he had slept at all, which the bags under his eyes suggested he had not.
Her brows knit together as she appraised him with disdain. “What are you doing here, Miles?”
“I’m sorry to disturb you at home, but-“
“And yet you’re here, disturbing me.” She interrupted, “So let us not extend your stay. What do you want?”
“I figured it out.” He said, a hint of triumph in his voice. “I know where it’s going.”
Irdra raised one brow. “And this couldn’t wait until I’d had my morning tea and come to my office?”
“No.” He shook his head. “I don’t know how much time I have. The pattern doesn’t work like that. But I need your help.”
Irdra eyed him for a long moment, those judgmental, cold blue eyes piercing his very essence. “You have five minutes.”
She allowed him to enter, stepping aside. Miles entered the spartan living space, the scent of earl gray heavy in the room.
“This place, this…thing. It isn’t what it seems.” He explained. “The manor, the grounds, the widow, they’re all a smoke screen hiding it’s true form.”
Irdra tended to her tea, unimpressed. “And what do you propose that form is?”
“A creature. Trans dimensional. Powerful like nothing we’ve ever seen. It feeds on sanity, on the very darkness within us.” He explained breathlessly.
Irdra glanced sidelong at him, the spark of something Miles couldn’t quite identify in her eyes. Fear? Excitement? It might have been both. “One of the Old Ones?”
Miles nodded slowly, his jaw set.
“Do you know what they are?” She asked him in a hushed tone.
Miles was well acquainted with the stories and myths surrounding the entities called “the Old Ones”. They were fantastic, great and beyond the comprehension of mere mortals. “They’re gods.”
“‘Gods’ is just a word. They are power. Power taking shape to alter the course of reality. To ensnare mind, body and soul. They can bend the wills of men and beasts to their designs. Time and existence are playthings to them.” Her words held a weight that bordered on the ragged edge of admiration. “They are eternal.”
“Tell me how to destroy it.” Miles said, determination set in his eyes.
The corners of Irdra’s mouth ticked upwards for but a second. “You don’t.”
“Then how do I get rid of it?” He persisted impatiently. “There has to be a way.”
For a moment, he swore he saw pity in her icy, blue eyes, but in an instant it was gone as they flicked away. “There are theories. The Old Ones have not been encountered for some time. Ages, in point of fact. They prefer to dwell in shadow and secrecy. But the powerful few who have faced them were able to concoct certain methods.”
She took him by the arm, leading him to a small steam trunk. It’s clasps clicked loudly as she opened it, the lid creaking as if in protest as it was opened.
“Do you know what a Soul Snare is?” Irdra asked, not waiting for confirmation. “Incredible pieces of magic. They envelope the very essence of a being. Draw them within, held captive until released…or left to linger until the end of time.”
She withdrew an amulet, blood red in color with a pure silver chain passed through its encasing. He could feel the dark, otherworldly energy emanating from within it even without making physical contact. Irdra walked to him, placing the Snare in his hands.
“And this will work on one of them?” Miles asked.
“According to legend.” Irdra confirmed. “The ones bested in the past are said to dwell within other Soul Snares. What happened to those, I cannot say. Lost to time, I suppose.”
The thought that there could be other such beings trapped within amulets just lying about the world, waiting to be stumbled upon by some unwitting person sent a chill up his spine.
“What I do know,” Professor Delvos said, “is that if you have any hope of survival, this is it.”
Miles clutched the gem in his hand, feeling the thrum of its will pulsing in his grasp. Fear mingled with a faint sense of hope, finally. It would be hyperbole to call it a plan, but at least now he had a chance.
He turned his eyes up to Irdra, finding a hard look upon her angular features. Something about her always unsettled him. A distant, buried rage was behind her prickly demeanor and he was never certain of the woman’s motives.
“Time’s up.” She said simply.
Delvos ushered him to the door, opening it for him to step through. Just as he reached the hall, Miles heard her voice call.
He stopped and turned, finding a slight curl to one corner of her mouth.
“The best of luck.”
Irdra turned to shut the door, and in that brief moment, he caught a glimpse of the back of her neck. Delvos always wore high collars that covered it, but now, it was bare and he could see a mark. More than a mark, it would seem. The raised flesh suggested that it was a brand.
Miles knew he had seen it before and as the door clicked shut, he remembered where. “The Order of Eternal Dark”. The spine of the book had borne the very same symbol. What the significance was, he had neither the time nor the resources to deduce, but he assured himself that, as soon as his errand was complete, he would find out.
All he had to do was survive.
Miles climbed the steps of the bell tower at the edge of the Elder Wood. Reaching its peak, he stepped to the tower’s edge, placing his hand on the rough wood of the balcony, its layers of paint chipped and peeling from untold decades of exposure to the elements. A few flickering lights dotted the windows in the town below, the only signs of active human life to be witnessed. Distantly, Miles tried to contemplate the lives behind those windows. Did they know about Rathspire? Had the word spread, as it often did in small towns? Rhy’Din being home to many a strange and curious event, he assumed this would go under the radar as well. But, maybe…just maybe, it was the thought of this malevolent shade that kept them awake. Wondering if it would somehow come for them…or for their children. He was determined to put those concerns to rest. It was time for this nightmare to die.
The sun would rise soon and he could only hope this would be the moment of opportunity. With the erratic nature of the entity that was Rathspire, it was impossible to be certain, but something in his gut told him the time was near.
He clutched the ruby soul snare in his hand, his thumb absently rubbing the smooth surface of the stone over and over again. He traced the edges of the object, memorizing their shape and simplistic features. It seemed a strange occurrence of fate that this endeavor hinged on such a mundane device, but if there was anyone who knew the best defenses against the dark forces in this universe, it was Irdra Delvos. Her studies into the subject were well known and she’d authored several papers on the ominous and chilling field.
A cool breeze rose goosebumps along the back of his neck as if an unseen ghostly hand had caressed his skin gently and disappeared. Miles closed his eyes and breathed deeply, making an effort to control his rapid heart rate Breathing in, he thought of Kelly Lee. The girl she had been…and the creature she had become. He saw the faces of every victim, staring up at him from photographs, demanding justice for the horrors inflicted upon them by the shade posing as Rathspire Manor. It was a cancer, a blight upon this world. He would have to be the one to remove it. He owed it to those poor, mangled, maddened souls.
With a deep exhale, his dark eyes opened. A swell of primal fear rose in his belly as he saw the mists rise from within the forest, wrapping about the trees and green topiary like ghostly tendrils, a beast pulling itself up from the depths of hell. The faintest blue glow emanated from the heart of the cloud. For a moment it almost seemed to beckon him forward, calling him towards his doom.
Miles shut his eyes tight, his mind turning inward, strengthening itself and calling upon every bit of his training to place psychic barriers like it was barricading a door. Once again his eyes opened, a renewed sense of courage and purpose behind them. The world would soon wake and every moment lost was another unfortunate person in danger of being ensnared by the Widow. With one last glance at the soul snare, he descended the stairs.
The air cooled as he entered the woods, the path strewn with layers of decaying leaves. The further he trekked, the colder it got and he knew he was close. The unnatural fog seemed to close in around him as he neared the faint glow that could only be his target. Despite the chill, he could feel beads of sweat run down the back of his neck, his hands gripping the chained stone so tightly his fingers began to ache. The sounds of the natural world fell away, as if life itself was fleeing this invasive fog. Soon there was nothing. Not even the wind. There was only his breath and the crinkle of his feet upon the leaves.
As he passed through the cloud, his feet came to a sudden stop, as if they’d been cemented into the ground. It took a moment for him to realize that nothing physically held him there. Nothing but his own growing terror. He could hear his heartbeat in his ears, his breath becoming more and more rapid as the fear took hold. But still, something dark and silent and persistent beckoned him forth. The rotting iron gates of Rathspire Manor loomed over him like the gates to hell. An unnatural, musty odor like the scent of decay filled the air as he tried to will himself onward. It was as if every sense in his body was begging him to turn and leave this nightmare illusion behind. He supposed it was different, knowing what it was, but its call only became stronger.
The grounds were a ruin. A long dead fountain set before the decaying Victorian mansion before him. Paint had peeled and wood had rotted like a carcass. Vines crawled from the ground rising up along the wooden siding like black tentacles slithering over its surface, threatening to pull the place down to the depths of the underworld. Shattered windows only showed impenetrable shadows within its confines. The front door hung ajar upon a wide porch, two steps high. Banisters of the porch had long gone missing like dead teeth. Three spires pointed skyward, the centermost sitting highest upon the crumbling roof. To one side, he could see what appeared to be the remains of stables, as if carriages had once been housed there, relics of a bygone era, likely replicated from the Manor’s original state before this abomination had taken its visage for itself.
His eyes traveled upwards along the filthy exterior and suddenly an icy terror gripped at his heart. At the topmost window, he saw her. Shadow and distance obscured any visible features from the figure behind the broken circular portal, the unearthly glow originating from her slight, archaically-dressed form. It was an eerie enough sight, but then he felt her gaze upon him. The Widow was watching him. She was hungry and she had spotted her prey. That commanding aura only grew stronger, piercing past his considerable sense of fight or flight, gently setting aside any need for self preservation.
Most wouldn’t have noticed it, but he was on-guard. If she wanted to play mind games, he could play back. Miles summoned his strength again, closing his mind to her. For a moment, he could feel the rise of anger emanating from the creature at being shut out. She was powerful, but he was most certainly no slouch. He opened his eyes and looked up at the creature, a smirk tugging at one corner of his mouth.
“That’s right, you bitch.” He said. “I’m not some scared little kid. I’m coming for you.”
The air itself seemed to hiss like a threatened snake, the very world filling with the horrid entity’s frustrations. With renewed confidence, he stepped towards the old manor, the steps to the open front door creaking in protest beneath his feet as if the wood itself didn’t want him there. That cracked and ancient wooden door hung slightly askew upon its hinges, as if it might fall at any moment. Miles cautiously slipped through the gap and into the manor itself. Dark energy the likes of which he’d never witnessed filled the atmosphere within, almost penetrating his defenses. It practically staggered him for just a moment. What unnatural will could have called such a being into existence confounded him. Gathering his bearings, he dared take in the sights around him.
Centuries worth of cobwebs and dust littered most surfaces, the wallpaper peeling from the walls like dry skin. What remained of an old piano lay at an awkward diagonal angle in the parlor, one of its legs snapped in half. To his left, tattered and stained white curtains fluttered in a gentle breeze within what was once supposedly a small library, its rows of unmarked books succumbed to the ravages of time and nature. The earthy stench of mold permeated the air, invading his senses. The same black vines from the structure’s exterior climbed the shelves like veins, spreading out upon the stained, cracked ceiling. It took an enormous amount of effort to remember that none of what he saw actually existed. Through the arched doorway on the right wing, he could spy what must have once been a kitchen, the tiles cracked and dirty as the rest of the manor. There was a part of him that wanted to see just how deep the illusion went, but the less time spent within the confines of this infernal place, the better.
A sudden shriek from above startled him back to his senses. Two bodies came tumbling down the stairs in a chaotic blur of thrashing limbs. He stumbled back in panic, bumping into the precariously hanging door, slamming it shut behind him. As the pair of wild figures crashed upon the aged wooden floor, Miles realized, in dread, what he was seeing. But it wasn’t the screams, or the flailing, clawing limbs, it was the attacker’s wild, red hair.
Kelly Lee’s mouth was covered with fresh blood, her eyes wild and blind with unspeakable madness. His attacker briefly thrown from his body, the boy,vaguely recognizable as Charlie Isman, crawled desperately across the ground, the flesh of his neck torn open and gushing with life. Kelly clambered onto all fours, like some hideous humanoid spider, and scuttling quickly towards her prey and pouncing upon his back. The once sweet young girl was screaming incomprehensibly as she beat Charlie’s small body with such ferocity, it turned Miles’ stomach just to witness. The boy howled in agony as bones cracked beneath the beating fists of his friend. Kelly gripped him by roughly the hair, yanked his head back hard enough that bits of hair tore from his scalp and slammed his face into the floor again and again and again, every impact accompanied with the increasingly wet packing sound of breaking bone and flesh upon the rotting wood. Charlie’s groans grew weaker and weaker with every brutal impact, his mangled hand reaching towards Miles in vain as life began to drain behind his eyes. He could have sworn the boy looked him right in the eyes, feebly trying to beg for help with a voice that was no longer able to function. Kelly turned her grasp to his face and grabbed him by the mouth and, with unnatural strength, yanked.
Miles shut his eyes again, drawing on his strength to push the image from his mind. He’d seen enough. He was certain that had been how Charlie Isman had died. Terrified, confused, and in incomprehensible agony at the hands of his best friend. When Miles’ eyes again opened, the girl, the boy, and bloody mess were gone. His chest rose and fell in a rapid rhythm. The manor was trying to exhaust him. To weaken him before he could exact the justice he sought for Kelly Lee, Charlie Isman and the hundreds of others it had taken before them. Instead, it only strengthened his resolve.
As he slowly ascended the staircase, the old wooden steps creaked and groaned in defiance, somehow louder in his ears than should have been possible. The same fear that tried to halt his progress at the gate returned, turning every step into a daunting struggle. Still, he persisted, eventually finding himself upon the third floor. A long dark hall led to the room that could only belong to the creature in the window. Four rooms on either side of the hall were shut, practically begging him to explore. Miles focused, though, on the task at hand. As he passed the closest to his target, he could swear he heard the sound of a baby crying on the other side of a door. After what he’d seen with the vision of Charlie and Kelly, he had no intention of subjecting himself to what fresh nightmare the Widow was trying to show.
The door to the widow’s room remained steadfastly shut, that faint blue glow peeking through the bottom. Miles could feel his teeth begin to chatter as the air cooled yet again, almost freezing at this point. Whatever madness waited on the other side of that door, he would need to be prepared. Psychic barriers rose within his consciousness, every last ounce of his ability coming into play as he readied himself of a final battle with the creature known as The Widow. The moment had come. He gripped the jewel in his hand tightly and, planting one foot back, kicked open the door, Ready for anything.
Anything but this. Where usually the Widow would await, there was nothing. No creeping terrors, no Eldritch abomination. Only an empty room with the first rays of the sunrise fighting in vain to break through the dense fog that gripped this mirage of a mansion. Miles brow creased in confusion. For a moment he thought he’d gotten the wrong room, but he knew it had to be the place. Raising the soul snare as if it were a weapon, he stepped into the emptiness of the Widow’s layer. Checking every corner, he found nothing. Just a broken and rotten old bed, its brass head and footboard long consumed by rust, and what remained of formerly ornate furniture.. Though, at the center of the room, just before the shattered, round window, was a black spot upon the wooden floor. The exact spot where the Widow normally stood.
Had she fled? Was she gone? Or was she merely in hiding? Miles stepped up to the window’s edge, peering down at the broken, lifeless grounds below. No, this had to be some sort of trick. That withered crone was somewhere in the house. She was scared. And he would find her.
The second he turned, he felt dry, cracked hands clamp painfully on either side of his face, letting out a startled, agonized scream. It felt as if those impossibly strong hands were trying to crush his skull between them. His eye lids parted, finally gazing upon the gaunt, decayed mask of the creature, those black holes where eyes should usually reside, fathomless and incomprehensibly dark. He rotten, broken teeth in that hideous, lipless grin. The scent of decayed flesh and sulfur invaded his senses, his eyes watering and his stomach turning so badly he thought he might vomit. Miles could already feel unseen tendrils burrowing into his consciousness, invading his mind and tearing through the first set of his mental barriers. He didn’t have the presence of mind to comprehend the power of such a thing. Nothing he’d faced in the mortal realm was strong enough to break through his defenses and she was ripping through them like tissue paper.
He gripped her bony wrists, trying in vain to pry her hands from his face as the snare dangled by its chain. Try as he might, there was no overpowering the Widow. The tendrils dug deeper into his mind, the immense pain like an exposed nerve being constantly prodded. There was only one way out of this. Through the pain, one rational thought managed to come to fruition. He had an ace in the hole. Releasing her hands, he patted around on his chest, looking for the gem that hung from his neck. Gripping the soul snare, he slammed it into the right side of her face, drawing a shriek from the entity that shook the very foundations of the manor. He felt, with immense relief, the invasive tendrils withdraw from his mind, the pain subsiding to a dull ache.
Miles dropped to the floor, coughing as she released him from that unbreakable grasp. He clambered backwards away from her, putting some distance between them. The Widow recoiled, those withered boney hands covering her grotesque face. Miles panted, a victorious surge of renewed strength washing over him as he smirked.
“That’s right.” He said tauntingly. “You know what this is, don’t you?”
Slowly, he rose to his feet, holding the stone in his hand, cautiously approaching her. The Widow almost seemed to cower.
“It’s the end.” He said, chuckling bitterly. “I’m gonna send you screaming back to hell!”
Miles grabbed the thing’s hand, pulling it away as he drew the jewel back, ready to stab the entity and absorb its power within. With a vicious bellow, he thrust the soul snare into his enemy’s face, burying the ruby stone into its skull with a solid, dull crack. The widow’s body went suddenly still, her back arched stiffly as her head hung limp behind her. Miles sneered at her, staying close.
“Does it hurt?” He asked, his voice filled with venom. “I hope it hurts like hell.”
The widow remained still. Miles wasn’t sure what he expected, maybe she’d explode or disintegrate or maybe he’d just end up standing in an empty clearing like this was all some bad dream. But this was nothing. Silence. The thrill of victory waned as he realized…something was very, very wrong.
Suddenly the red jewel burst and unleashed a blinding light that had him stumbling back, almost tumbling out the window. Miles brought an arm up to shield his eyes as the piercing red light washed over every surface of the bedroom. The manor shook beneath his feet as he gripped the wall tightly with a free hand. The very air around him seemed to howl and shriek viciously, assaulting his ears so badly they rang. Finally, the light subsided and all was once again quiet.
The Widows head rolled upwards to a more natural position, those inky black sockets leveling at him. Sound drained from the room and all Miles could hear were his panicked breaths. She reached up with agonizing slowness and plucked the snare from her skull, and beheld it for a moment. That withered, gnarled hand swiftly closed with a sharp crunch. The jewel cracked like shattered glass, bits and pieces tumbling to the ground at her feet. Unimaginable dread pierced deep into Miles’ heart as she stepped forward, little by little, the fragments of his ruined weapon popping apart beneath her heel. But there was something else that he couldn’t escape. Something unseen. Something he could only feel. Whatever power had been in the object, the entity had absorbed it…and it made her stronger.
Miles looked desperately for any means of escape as, step by ominous, powerful step, she approached. His eyes on the door, he realized there was only one chance. Miles charged at her, hoping with every bit of his being to overpower enough to make his escape. But the power of the Widow could not be undone by brute force.
Her dry, leathery grasp found purchase around Miles’ throat. Overtaken by sheer terror, he was lifted off his feet, guttural gagging noises escaping his lips as struggled to take in any bit of air he could. The Widow stared up at him, emotionless and cold through the blackness of her gaze. Miles felt those tendrils inside his mind once again, bursting through his defenses like a flood drowning the world. Primal, unimaginable fear took hold deep in his heart as he realized the inevitable. From the moment he laid eyes on the Manor and the woman in the window, he was going to die. He never stood a chance.
The pallid, gray skin that encased the Widow's mouth stretched taut, rending asunder, revealing a sinister grin etched upon jagged teeth. The mask shielding her true essence fell away, exposing the indescribable, unfathomable reality of her being. What Miles beheld was vast and dreadful, an entity ancient beyond the bounds of mortal imagination or comprehension.
As the enveloping darkness washed over him, consuming his consciousness, Miles saw everything the Widow wanted him to. He saw the profound and terrible magnificence of the world beyond, and he only had one thought.
It was beautiful.
It was a warm, sunny day. Families walked and enjoyed the pleasant sunshine, out playing in parks and walking the sidewalks as she passed in her car. Things seemed positively idyllic in Rhy’Din. Riley took it all in while she could. The next sixteen to twenty hours would be spent within the confines of the drab, antiseptic hospital, dealing with the maddened and afflicted.
One day, she told herself. One day she would actually get to enjoy a day like this. Hopefully while sunning herself on some tropical beach with a nice, cold drink in her hand. It was a pleasant fantasy.
The automatic doors to the hospital parted ways for her as she passed through, thumbing through emails on her phone. Distantly, she replied to every greeting of “Doctor” as her colleagues breezed by. Early morning was no time for socialization and she hoped to avoid any extended interaction until she’d reached her office to decompress.
The cramped elevator ride to her floor seemed like an eternity until the doors slid opened. Once inside her office, Riley set her purse on the desk and flopped into her chair with a sigh. This job always took a lot of energy. Putting on a strong, confident, and calming face was a full time performance, and a clear head was necessary.
She’d closed her eyes for less than a second when a knock came at her door.
“Well, so much for that.” She sighed. “Come in.”
Nurse Cynthia Caprini stepped through the door, at the tail end of a long, exhausting shift. Her straight hair was so blonde it bordered on pure white, tied back in a ponytail. Riley knew the dark circles under her eyes well. She would most certainly be sporting them herself by the time her shift was complete.
“Cynthia.” Riley said warmly, offering a calming smile. “How are our friends today?”
The younger woman entered, files in hand and plopped into a chair across from her. “Oh, the usual. 232 still thinks we’re all pod people. 1501 tried to break out of his room again. Gave doctor Clemons a broken finger in the process. We had to whack him with Thorazine, so he’s having a nice little nap. Other than that? Smooth sailing.”
Riley snickered. “Heading home?”
Cynthia scoffed, “Oh yeah. There’s a hot bath and a soft bed screaming my name.”
“Sounds divine.” Riley nodded, taking the patient charts from her and checking through them.
“You all good here?” Cynthia asked.
“Five by five.” Riley nodded.
“See you tomorrow then.” The nurse pushed out of her chair, stretching with a groan.
“Enjoy the shower.” Riley chuckled.
Cynthia waved and walked to the door, pausing as she gripped the knob, remembering something she was supposed to tell her. “Oh, um, one more thing.”
Riley looked up, brushing an errant strand of hair behind her ear.
“Miller said recovery three isn’t eating.” She said. “Might wanna take a crack at it. I was going to, but lost track of time.”
Riley knew that was bullshit. Few people liked entering that “recovery” wing. It terrified them. Not that she could blame them. She let the lie go unchallenged and only smiled. “I’ll do that. Thanks.”
With Cynthia gone and any hope of a few moments of peace going with her, Riley Frost went to work. The long, dark hall to the recovery area had taken on new, sinister significance since the admittance of Kelly Lee. She’d even heard it referred to as the “Rathspire Wing” by some of her colleagues. A moniker she wasn’t too thrilled with, but could do little to abate. A quick stop to the cafeteria and a cup of soup in hand and she was on her way.
Riley steeled herself, her hand upon the door handle, and pushed in. The patient was as they had been since they’d been admitted. Those lidless, mad yet lifeless eyes darting about despite the drugs meant to keep them docile. The mangled, torn flesh around their mouth in a perpetual sinister grin.
The sight turned her stomach, trying to imagine that face as it had been. It took everything to force a smile as she moved in, pulling up a chair beside her maddened patient.
“Hello, Miles.” She said, her voice shaking just slightly, betraying the pain she desperately tried to hide.
Those wild eyes, once so pretty and warm, were now anything but. It had been weeks since he was found, feral and ravenous. Several men of the Watch were injured trying to restrain him. Yet, somehow, she got the feeling that a small part of the man he’d been re-emerged in her presence. He calmed and would even eat normally, but only, it seemed, if it was with her.
“I brought breakfast.”
Riley scooted close, remaining at his side as she fed him, doling spoonfuls of soup into his mangled mouth. The man she knew was unrecognizable as himself, but if these meals could bring whatever was left back to the surface, she would do it. It was her calling, and no amount of anguish would stop her from taking care of a friend in need.
Several miles away, Irdra Delvos stood in her office, staring out over Rhy’Din as the populace scurried about on their daily routines. A fire crackled gently within the hearth behind her. All of these creatures, human and otherwise, going about with no idea that things beyond their comprehension lie in wait, just waiting to pounce. They were so secure in their delusions of safety and power that they had no clue that one false step, one wrong path could devour them whole.
Irdra’s cold blue eyes flicked to the stack of files on her desk. Miles’ Rathspire research. Well documented, thorough and possibly of great use to the next fool who thought to take on the mysterious trans dimensional entity posing as a decrepit old woman.
Irdra picked up the file with her long fingers, thumbing through the pages and pages there in.
Yes, she thought. This would be useful to any who sought to drive out the dark things of this world.
A small smile crossed her lips and she tossed the file into the fire. Every bit of information went up in flames. All of Miles Cain’s efforts and work burning to ash, allowing the terrors of Rathspire manor to endure.
Irdra turned on a heel and stepped out of her office, peering at the secretary. “Have the Longbow girl come to my office.” She said. “I have more translations for her.”
There are many strange and terrible things hidden away in the magical realm of Rhy’Din. Some benevolent, some malevolent, and some ambivalent. One can only hope not cross paths with the wrong sort. But if one should find themselves in the Elder Wood on a foggy morning, they would do well to turn around and head back the way they came. The Widow persists. And she is always hungry.
Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 0 guests