Visions in the Dark
Softly the pendulum tick, tocked as the wheels of time pressed ever onward on the desk of a woman running out of patience. She’d picked out this day in particular because she knew how close the veil between the world of the living and that of the dead would become, but Ollie had yet to return with her daughter.
She did not like that, not one bit.
A loud, grating sound echoed around the hallways of the cathedral. Ollie was dragging the coffin down, and the noise of wood against stone was amplified by the enclosed space. His heavy panting filled the quiet time between footsteps.
None dared approach him for his scarred face looked inhuman. It had been a long time since he last wore such an expression. The snarled mouth caused the burn marks to crack and twist. His eyes were wide and unblinking. There was blood dripping from a cut on his forehead, streaming down his cheeks. He made constant releases of the coffin to wide it away onto his sleeve.
Something large was hiding underneath his cloak. Its blob-like form could be seen protruding out from his back.
It really had been a bad night to be out.
Without warning, the door to her office swung open and slammed against the wall with enough force to let it reverberate through the entire room.
Aranea looked up from her desk, her interests half-piqued, half buried beneath a layer of anxiety. She didn’t have to guess who had dared to enter her office at this godforsaken hour, in this godforsaken place during this godforsaken night.
“It’s about time,” she breathed out softly and securely as her eyes locked with Ollie’s. “You look like shit.”
The ends of her mouth curled upwards slightly, her eyes showing sign of a gleam as she seized up the scarred man. The maiestris had done their work, for sure. Scars that weren’t there before had now appeared, and the aftermath of blood gushing from the wounds was still visible to the naked eye. He didn’t have the time to clean himself up, it seemed. Yet, despite all of his perceived hurt, he still towered well above her with his ever menacing smile.
He was trembling, the weight of the coffin finally getting to him, but he persevered... like he always did. Such a loyal, little fool of a tool.
“You better have good news for me, Ollie.”
Her voice was devoid of emotion, yet there was an unmistakeable trebble of fear coursing through the air.
Ollie knelt down, more to rest than to show respect. He smiled. “Yes, Lady Aranea. It has been a trying few weeks. I would have been back sooner, but things stopped me.” He just stopped there, not feeling it important to elaborate.
“I have great news for you. Rosa is right here in this coffin. I hope you don’t mind her accommodations, but it’s the best I could do. She is currently awake, though she has been quiet for a while now. She seems really troubled about the prospect of being back here.”
The coffin landed on the ground with a powerful thud. “Would you like me to open the coffin here?”
“I guess you might as well,” Aranea responded. She knew her daughter would not be able to do much in retaliation to begin with, she’d made sure of that during her upbringing, so releasing her now wouldn’t actually hurt.
“I take it you’ve brought her to me in better health than you’ve kept yourself in?” she asked Ollie, her eyes glancing over the various cuts and bruises that weren’t there before.
“Of course, my lady.” Ollie bowed and smiled.
He reached around searching for the key to the padlock keeping the chains around the coffin. He lowered his head and sighed. In all of the excitement of the night, his clothing had been torn. The key must have been somewhere out on the streets, lost in the dark.
Ollie shrugged. The dagger was still there, that was something much more important than the key. He held the weapon in both hands, knuckles whitening from the strength of the grip. He plunged it down. There was a spark as the blade cleaved apart the padlock.
Ollie stowed the blade away behind his back. He heaved open the lid of the coffin. “You’re home now, Lady Rosa.”
As she stumbled out of the coffin, an almost dead stare strewn across her face, Rosa fumbled to the ground a couple of times. She tried to get her bearing, her footing, but she couldn’t really find it as the sedation still hadn’t completely worn out. Her vision was blurry, but she didn’t need to see to know where she was. After all, Ollie did spell it out for her.
“You say it like bringing me home is a good thing,” Rosa said, coughing somewhat loudly in the process. “Just like I am, you’re just a lackey to my mother’s every whim - how pathetic.”
She’d never really had much in the way of qualms with the brute. She didn’t particularly like him nor hate him, but... well, after today she had to conclude that she did not really appreciate him as much as she might have before.
Aranea’s face didn’t change one bit when she looked upon her daughter, and however small a cracked smile could’ve appeared on her face was easily muffled between all that had happened. She had great plans in store for her daughter, for herself, but none of it really mattered if her Queen wasn’t willing.
“Come now,” she said to Rosa. “Don’t be so hostile to your saviour, dear. I only want what’s best for you, and what’s best for you is to be close to me - you know this.”
Ollie lowered his head and cracked a half-smile. It was crescent that melted away into cracked shadows. "I enjoy life more when I'm the one going after people rather than the other way around," he said to Rosa.
He turned to Lady Aranea. "If there's nothing else, I'll be taking my leave. I'm certain you would prefer to be alone right now." Ollie picked up the coffin. Without the person inside, it was so much lighter. Holding onto the chains, he hoisted it over his shoulder with just one arm and a soft grunt. "I'll just get rid of this then, shall I? I hope you two have a pleasant reunion."
Ollie trotted off, happy to be done with the task. It was the most annoying one he had done in a long time.
Though she acknowledged Ollie’s exit with a simple nod, there wasn’t really anything in the form of emotion to show on Aranea’s face as she locked eyes with Rosa once more.
“You seem displeased, Rosa” she said in a tone that betrayed a sense of questioning.
“Do I?” the halfling returned in rebuttal. “I wouldn’t really know, since I was drugged for more than half the way here. So, you tell me.”
Waving her hand in a nonchalant manner, Aranea sighed softly. “There is but one way, and that is forward, my dear. Stop living in the understanding that you have a live elsewhere. I am what brought you into this world, and if I will it, you will perish by me as well.
“You owe me at least that much.”
For a moment, she clenched her teeth and formed a fist with her hands. She stood defiant on the outside, her eyes aflame with a burning passion to end it right here and now, but her mind could not make good on that promise. Something was keeping her from lashing out, from ending the suffering she’d had to deal with for these past couple of years.
Perhaps, in a sick and deranged way, she took the abuse as acknowledgment of her existence. Maybe she even liked it a little bit, or maybe she was just no longer capable of going against her mother’s wishes.
“And so it has come to this after all.”
Her right hand, drawing blood from its skin because of how tight of a fist Rosa was turning it into, slowly opened itself. A dark, almost sickening cloud began to form within the palm of her hands, causing the young spurii to lift her head up again facing her mother’s eyes head on. It was the first time since the two met again that they were actually facing each other, but it wasn’t quite the reunion either of them thought it would be.
For Rosa’s part, she didn’t think she’d ever be reunited with her mother again - or at least hoped she never would’ve been anymore. As for Aranea... well, she didn’t expect gazing into the eyes of a being she’d been trying to resurrect for several decades.
“Owe... you?” Though still her own, Rosa’s voice was slightly distorted and manic sounding as she spoke the words to her mother. She was somewhat aware of what was going on, but a lot of it was hazy. Her eyes had trouble focusing on a single place, and her body was starting to shake.
Gripping her blackened right hand with her left, she tried to keep herself in check, but it was harder to pull off than she thought.
“I will KILL YOU where you’re seated!” Rosa shouted with such viciousness behind it that it actually made the temperature drop to below zero.
Widened eyes locked with the distorted visage of her daughter’s otherwise grey eyes as hints of a bright yellow pierced through the veils of an otherwise emotionless face. There were only a handful of recorded instances of the colour of the Ancient Ones being caught by the public. One such instance was when the Mad King showed himself to the citizens of Valmoor for one last time, the other instance was when the Mist first set in.
“Arachne...” Aranea said, her hands shaking from the sheer adrenaline pumping through her body right now.
She wanted to laugh, to smile, to shout out to her guest of honour, but she couldn’t. The air felt hard to breath, and her seating felt awkward. This feeling... of fear... she hadn’t felt in a long, long time. She was scared, afraid of this being, but...
Raising her right arm, she tried to reach out for her daughter - or whatever was left of it at this point.
“No!” the unmistakeable voice of Rosa suddenly cried out, and the air in the room stifled even further. “Get away, stay away, go away! Away, no!”
Stumbling backwards, the half blood tripped over her skirt and fell down to the floor. It wasn’t a graceful fall either as she found her face planted firmly into the ground. She didn’t stay there for long, though, and soon she was crawling back away from her mother’s desk and towards the door leading outside and away from her nightmares.
She’d been feeling herself slipping ever since she met that damned thief, but not before to such an extent. As she struggled to get back up on her feet, the voice in her head had gone silent. The throbbing in her heart, the pulling of strings in the back of her mind had subsided. She knew this was only the beginning, but for now it had ended.
With a soft sigh, Aranea said, “Wolfram,” and turned her chair around. Within seconds a man appeared seemingly out of thin air, standing next to the woman garbed in black. “Escort our dearest daughter away. Prepare a bath, some ceremonial clothes and lock her in her room.”
“Daughter, but...?” Wolfram began, but was cut off by his wife all the same.
“No buts, dear. I wish not to see this... thing any longer today.” The bitterness echoing through Aranea’s voice was unmistakable, and most pierced a hole right through Rosa’s chest if not for the fact that this was nothing unexpected.
“Very well, Aranea,” Wolfram responded in a serious tone of voice as he took a hold of Rosa who’d passed out by now and began to make his way out of the room.
“But this damn well better be worth it.”