October 31st, 3AM
“Did you miss me?~”
I sit up straight in bed, a cold sweat coming over me. Looking to my side, I see Sev, still fast asleep & snoring every so softly. Morji, a little louder, out in the hallway. I can hear the breeze rustling through the branches and leaves outside, & the distant echo of howling from the Nightbane. Active as ever, these days… but, everything is as it should be. And, yet… it’s not.
I slip out of bed & tiptoe carefully to the door. They’re both such heavy sleepers, it’s not actually too hard to avoid waking them. The stairs only creak a little as I head down them & into the kitchen. I probably just need a little late-night snack to get back to sleep… that’s all. The cabinets are full. Sev must’ve gone shopping while I was at work. He’s so good with all these homemaking things- cleaning, cooking… laundry. Which is good, because I never really picked up on most of this, growing up on the road. Then again, he wasn’t exactly raised domestically either, aye?
The sound of footsteps pricks at my ears, and my mind goes on high alert. I whip around to look… nothing. No one at all. Heh. Weird. I just shake my head and go back to making my snack- a little celery with peanut butter. Mmm. Once I’ve got enough on a plate, I turn and sit at the kitchen table. As I nibble, my mind is elsewhere. Lost in thought… Maureen Clara… Steele. Light above. I’m married. It brings a stupid smile to my face.
Mama & Papa got married well before I was born, but they told me all about it when I was little. How happy they were, even without anyone really there to celebrate with them. Papa’s family traveled so much, and Mama’s was… well, back in Gilneas, as I learned, eventually. I can’t help but wonder, Mama, were you this excited to change your name? Were you so head over heels, Papa? I hope so. I want it to stay like this… his eyes, alight with fel flame, might scare some away, but I could look into them for hours. I could get lost in his laughter. If I could, I’d capture that goofy grin and keep it to cheer me up on a rainy day… of course I don’t need to, now. I have him here. Every day, for the rest of our lives. It’s perfect.
“Do you think that’s how they felt, once upon a time?”
My head shoots up, and my eyes meet the familiar figure across the table. She arches a brow, and sips from her flask. My arms get goosebumps, and I gulp, though my mouth has gone dry. “You… no, you shouldn’t be here. I got rid of you.” I mutter through my shock, unable to look away, despite every fiber of my being wanting to. It was like being paralyzed… there was nothing to be done.
She laughed in that distorted voice, and shook her head. “Did you miss me?~” The woman lilts, and I hear it in a thousand whispers all around, echoing over one another. “Aw… cheer up. You invited me out, after all! You always were such a good hostess, little bird.”
My hand clenches into a fist. “Don’t call me that. What do you want, anyway? Just here to torture me?”
She flicks her wrist, and with a slim, shadowy tendril, she stirs the tea cup, which replaced the flask without me having even noticed, some time before. “You’re no fun.~ Well, I asked you a question. These… feelings, you’re having. Do you think either of them felt this way, once?” I pause, furrowing my brow. She mimics it, and continues. “Lachlainn & Lylandris Steele. He’s been on your mind recently. I would know, of course- we share the same one.”
“It doesn’t matter.” I crunch into the peanut butter-smothered veggie, shifting my gaze to look past her. “It was a twisted feeling, whatever they had, and it was wrong. She got hurt. He hurt her… his own little sister.”
The figure sighs, and kicks her feet up on the table, clearly having no intent on leaving me be. “Maybe. Who’s really to say, though? You’ve started delving into this new magic of yours. The Fel. Isn’t that what ruined him in the first place? Twisted up his thoughts and desires until you couldn’t tell up from down and left from right… heh. Aren’t you even a little afraid of being corrupted?” She snaps her fingers, forming a tiny fel flame on top of them, and playing with it as she waits for an answer.
I shake my head. “I’m scared… but not of that. No. I’m more afraid of what happens if I don’t try to--”
“Understand? Yeah, big whoop. So what? Even if you understand him, he’s still evil, and you’re still going to have to kill him… or help to. You’re no killer.” She smirks, and launches the flame at me. “Well, if you’re so intent on understanding… Welcome to your first taste of corruption. Your worst nightmare is no longer confined to your dreams. So much for Auntie’s tea!~” She practically cheers with malicious glee. I look at her and… blink. In surprise? Disbelief? Hesitantly, I reach across myself to pinch… Ow.
She rolls her eyes and sighs. “I know, which means you knew, somewhere in there, that letting the fel in when you’re already compromised mentally is a poor idea, birdie. You can’t leave well enough alone, so… now you’re stuck with me. Maybe this will teach you your lesson.”
I close my eyes and focus on my void, doing my best to send the apparition away. I grumble as I do. “I have my reasons… multiple reasons, mind you.”
“Didn’t he?~” She responds, behind me now, somehow. I feel her breath on my ear. “Oh, that’s right. You don’t know.”
It breaks my focus. I stand up, and go to make a cup of tea. “Maybe… maybe he did. But he’s strayed too far, now. Gone too deep…” I stare into the water in the kettle before I put it on to get hot, and my voice is hoarse. “...drowning in his own suffering.”
She turns me to look, and she’s morphed to look like Isbeth. So dreadfully close, and yet… so far. “Some might’ve said the same of your Isbeth, you know. They might say the same thing one day, when you go mad, little bird.” She pouts and looks down at me.
Bitter laughter erupts from my throat, and I turn again, to look for the tea tins in the cabinet. “Haven’t I already?” Once I find the tea I need, I put it in my cup, and pour the hot water over it. “Truly, what’s so scary about that? When it comes to keeping them all safe, I’m going to do whatever it takes.”
“Whatever it takes.” She echoes it. I don’t even have to look. I know she’s smirking. “So let him die.”
I stare down into my tea cup… and carry it to the table.”I’m keeping him safe, too.” I close my eyes, and begin counting silently… waiting for the tea to be done steeping. I can sense her growing irritation at being ignored. This brings a smile to my lips, too- I do love having this, at least, over her.
She’s never quiet for long. “Are you trying to call for your Auntie? Hm… no. You wouldn’t want her to know. Pity- that could’ve been fun. Should I show you again, that vision from N’zoth’s invasion? How the Black Empire tried with you… tsk, tsk. To think you’d be capable of betraying her like that--”
“Sh.” I hush her. “You’re messing up my count. I don’t want to over-steep the tea.” My eyes stay closed… perhaps, to some degree, I’m hoping if I don’t see her, she won’t be there. Sound enough logic for what’s, by all accounts, a hallucination. Finally, I open my eyes again… and she’s sitting on the side of the table, swinging her legs as she waits. Hrm. As I remove the tea bag from my cup, and stir in the honey, she looks me over, and reaches out, tapping my head.
“It’s only here for now, aye? But one day… I hope it takes your voice. Or those precious eyes you love. Wouldn’t you like to match your Sevastien?” Her own eyes change to mimic what she implies.
I grit my teeth and shut my eyes tight, focusing my will once again. “I’m in control. I am in control.” I repeat and try over & over to get rid of her. I slam my hand on the table. “I did this to understand, damnit!” Despite my attempts, I can feel the shadows creeping in, and my control slipping. I have to reel it in, or else… Sevastien. Morji. They’re both upstairs… I could hurt them.
I won’t allow it.
The shadows dissipate, and when my eyes open, she’s gone, at long last. Whether I managed to remove her on my own, or some other force beyond my understanding sent her away… it doesn’t matter. Not really She’s gone for now.
Damnit. She got to me.
I go retrieve a pen & a notepad, and begin jotting down a letter.
“To my Uncle,
I’m sure you know, but we received your letter. You caused quite a stir at the reception… I expect no less of a Steele. You all love to get attention any way you can… I suppose I relate, in some ways.
I would like to meet you in Redridge- Lakeshire, perhaps. Just you & I. I’d like to discuss some things, and ask a few questions. I’d guess, considering our last encounter, and anything you might’ve learned since, that you’ve got your own fair share of curious thoughts about me. It’d be nice to see each other in a fresher light, I’d say.
So, what do you say? The location seems neutral enough. A little talk over tea & a game? I doubt you enjoy cards… too hard to predict. You don’t like to gamble on chance. Chess, then. I suspect you’re quite good at that one.
Your newest niece,
Maureen's attention is drawn outside by the sudden raucous cawing of a corvid, sounding from the back door of her home in Duskwood. As she approached, the Bardess hears an urgent flapping of wings in the distance, accompanied by yet another of those cacophanous caws. Several feathers of sleek raven's down wisp along a stiff breeze coming from the nearby river bank, landing unceremoniously in the grass near Ellisondra's tent. It's there where Maureen would spy a black envelope deliberately placed, bearing an elegant, practiced scrawl. Fel-green ink, she might surmise, though it's just as likely to be dried demon's blood or ichor.
Dearest Maureen Clara Steele,
"My newest niece"... the most recent and notably welcomed addition to our Clan,
As I set quill to parchment, it comes to mind that I ought deign to more closely examine that latter claim. You seem to be well-regarded and gladly welcomed into this auspicious and venerable family by nearly all accounts -- No, that is hardly what begs veracity! Rather, the question of whether or not I may continue to rightly claim the Steele bloodline as mine own Clan and kin, as I once had long ago. As they all do, to this very night...
I have earned the ire and disdain of most of those whom I once called "family" over these great many years, you see. Condemned and persecuted for merely doing what I must! I'm certain you've heard all manner of stories by now. Yet I have achieved and accomplished a great many deeds and feats beyond ordinary mortal ken. I have ascended to greater heights than most could ever dream possible. I have accumulated might and power from those who would offer such secrets... and I took and usurped from those who would not. I have sacrificed much of who I was, to become what I am.
All to protect them.
I sought desperately to safeguard this world from all threats, in particular the mad Dark Titan and his Burning Legion. But alas, genuflection and unquestioned obedience to a Master and God-King (or, God-Queen, it matters little to me) yet remains a price too costly for "these pawns who would play as rulers" to pay. They will never understand, nay, comprehend, the methods necessary to reign absolute, all which appear as cruelty and madness to them.
But you do, my newest niece... Don't you.
At the very least, I have allowed myself to entertain this possibility. For now. So I offer to you at bare minimum the notion of my curiosity. I had been ever so curious about you, Maureen Clara Steele, until that... unfortunate moment when you were no longer a simple wildling waif driven solely by her whims and lusts. That singular moment when you did what you must, nigh on my plans just beginning to unfold. You acted, regardless of the cost to those who supported you throughout your entire ordeal. Even more, regardless of the cost to yourself. A heavy toll which you have only begun to pay.
Since that precarious moment in time, my curiosity has... evolved.
Now, you have my attention...
Very well. I agree to your meeting and shall grant you, my newest niece by marriage, an audience as per noble custom. Lakeshire in Redridge, then. On the morrow. Come alone -- I grant you this courtesy of warning but once; should this invitation in reality be a pathetic ruse to lure me into an ambush engineered by the Gilnean hedgewitch, my treacherous erstwhile daughter or even the sickeningly magnanimous White Witch Herself... you shall live to regret it.
Long enough, at least, to see all that which you love and hold dear will not.
~ L ~