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Here is the epilogue! Some truths are going to be revealed in this so try not to be shocked.
TW: Graphic descriptions of torture, corpses among other things.
It had been nearly three months since Megami bled out on the floor of his manor.
His mother had recovered and she had returned to her duties as Lady Yamada but that was quickly being turned over to himself and Ayano as the future heads of house. They had to hire more servants to replace the ones that had been killed, he made sure that he used the family funds to pay for the funerals for those servants and maids who had been murdered while on duty.
Itsumi was visiting his father’s resting place everyday, Taro wondered if being so close to death had changed something in the way she looked at that kind of thing. She made sure that the place was absolutely spotless, changed the flowers once they wilted and spent time talking to the tomb as if his father was responding to her.
The trail of Osana Najimi had been very tough for both of them. She had practically jumped with joy to see Taro, completely ignoring Ayano. It was a unanimous ruling, Osana was guilty of two counts of murder and two counts of attempted murder. In the end, she showed no remorse which ended up giving her the death sentence.
Muja Kina never did go to trail, she was murdered in her cell by her cellmate.
Ayano was slowly starting to recover from the trauma of everything, counselling had helped out big time for the both of them. Kenchi Saikou had also ending up in counselling, he talked often of Megami harming him while his parents and grandfather turned a blind eye to it. Kenchi had grown very close with Ryoba and Jokichi.
Despite her becoming paralysed at the hands of his sister, Ryoba found that she adored the little boy as if he were her own son. Jokichi found it tough to admit but even he enjoyed the presence of another child. They found that Kenchi loved animals so Tori became attached to him very quickly.
Ryoba loved sitting in her wheelchair, watching Kenchi as he played with Tori. He ate anything that Ryoba or Jokichi fed him and had started to mimic some of Jokichi’s mannerisms which he found hilarious. The nightmares were still very prominent, but they found that leaving one of their dressing gowns with Ryoba’s favourite perfume on it helped him sleep better at night.
Kenchi was likely the richest eleven year old in the country, they decided to make sure that Kenchi understood just how lucky he was. The boy was starting to develop a talent in calligraphy which they openly encouraged, even taking him to a competition so he could watch and learn.
Taro had personally paid for a large house to be built not fair away from the Yamada home, Ayano’s parents and Kenchi stayed in the Yamada family home until construction was finished. It was a large, traditional style home like the ones around Tokyo. He did make sure that it was wheelchair friendly to help Ryoba’s newfound disability.
Ayano visited her parents every day, Kenchi had grown very fond of her. Even going as far as to call her his big sister. Ryoba and Jokichi were in discussions to legally adopt Kenchi without taking ownership on the Saikou fortune, of course there were distant relatives what wanted to take him in with his fortune in their minds but Kenchi made his thoughts very clear.
“I don’t want to be a Saikou. I want to be an Aishi”
That had ended the discussion.
Ayano was sleeping soundly in bed as Taro was about to double check the door was locked.
Though they weren’t intimate just yet, it was starting to get close and Taro wanted his future wife so bad. She was gorgeous and he was mesmerised by her beauty even in sleep, he was sure that he heartbeat increased significantly in her presence.
He tucked her softly into bed, kissing her head as he did so before leaving the room and walking downstairs. He picked up a golden candelabra and made his way down the stairs in his dressing gown. Everyone else in the manor was asleep apart from the guards on rotation but they were outside.
Looking down the darkened hallway, he couldn’t help but picture himself in a gothic novel. He shadow twisting and moving as if it were dancing with the candlelight. The red patterned wallpaper and portraits of his long dead relations helped the feeling. He continued to walk before reaching the hallway where a tapestry hung from the wall about the founding of the Yamada Family.
An ancient Yamada samurai who's first name had been lost to time had protected prince Shiraka from an attempt on his life several times. When the prince came to the throne as Emperor Seinei in 480, he granted the samurai who had protected him lands and a title.
He pulled the tapestry aside, revealing a door.
There were more stairs, it was a long way down but Taro did not mind. The darkened hallway blazed with the candelabra in his hand. It was cold and slightly damp in here, Taro was careful to mind his step. At the bottom of the winding stairwell was another door, he took out the key that his father gave to him on his deathbed and opened the door as it made a squeal sound.
Hayanari Tsumeato was tied to a chair, gagged and blindfolded. Next to him was a metal barrel with the remains of Gaku Hikitsuri inside. Hayanari had struggled for quite some time now, the rope marks were cutting into his skin and the smell of blood was prominent in the air.
Placing the candelabra aside, he looked over his tools on the table wondering if he should use them or not. In the end, he decided not too. Instead, he tore the blindfold off Hayanari who looked completely bewildered at who his captor was; The last thing he could recall was the horror of watching Osoro kill his friends.
“I suppose you must be wondering why you are here” Taro started “Well, Umeji was smart to not have everyone confront your idol but he wasn’t clever enough to figure out that there was someone else pulling the strings, was he?” Taro smiled, his eyes grew sinister and he walked away for a moment to play with the lid of the barrel.
He lifted it, revealing the rotting corpse of Gaku to Hayanari. His skin was covered in a sickening mix of green and blue decay. His face had began peeling away as his eyes were surrounded by feasting festering maggots. His clothes were also tattered, revealing the rest of his rotting body whilst his organs spilled out from his caved in stomach.
Hayanari tried to scream, the stench of his best friend overpowering him until Taro closed the lid once more. Taro sighed as he topped up the candelabra with new candles, he would be here for a little while more.
“You know, I didn’t plan for this to go the way that it has” He confessed “But, I suppose nearly being murdered by your childhood friend would change anyone...”
When Taro knew Osana as he remember her, she was an annoying red haired brat. Her pseudo Tsundere personality drove him up the wall. Even if she had not gone mental, he would have turned her down when she confessed. Truth be told, he had his eye on Ayano since her first year at Akademi but he was afraid that he would scare her away by coming off a creepy if he tried to talk to her.
It had been a strange sensation, watching Osana get nastier and nastier until Raibaru confronted her about it. When she had knocked over Ayano on purpose while she was carrying around those little treats she made, she had unknowingly given Taro the opportunity to talk to Ayano properly without looking weird.
She had blushed a bit as she taught him to shape the little sweet treats properly, that was the signal that he had been really hoping for: She liked him back. Watching Ayano run to him before showing the picture of Osana driviing the katana into Raibaru’s back had stuck his hairs on his back up, seeing a bloody Osana had changed everything. “Osana! How could you do that?! She was your best friend!”
When she went for them, Ayano threw herself between Osana and Taro himself. Though Aoi was quick to apprehend the red haired girl, something in him had twisted as the pair waiting in the student council room with a severely traumatised Midori.
Amai had been a surprise to him. As soon as she tried to approach him, he knew exactly what she was up to. That sickly sweet personality was more pretend than him faking interest in her baking, he wanted one girl’s cooking alone and it was not Amai’s.
Ryuto had later explained to Taro what had happened when Amai was suspended from Akademi. That vile girl had placed an open vodka bottle into Ayano’s bag when she wasn’t looking, Ryuto and Pippi were quick to tell Ms Kunahito who had figured out something was off with Amai’s story.
Before Amai had come back to school, he had been quick to slip the terrible thing that Amai had tried to do when people came up to him asking if he was alright. “I’m not feeling too well, you know Amai? I heard that she tried to frame Ayano for drinking on academy grounds by putting an open vodka bottle in her bag. Can you believe it? I thought that she was a nice girl but I couldn’t be more wrong...”
He knew damn well that Amai had hidden herself away in the gardening club when he said “That's the thing. You don’t need to go around impressing everyone because they liked you just the way you are. She tried to talk with me often but I never liked her. Something didn’t seem right with her, her cheery attitude after what had just happened. But hearing what she did, I’ll never like her. I fact, I don’t want to ever see her again after what she tried to do to you...”
He had found her just outside of Buraza Marina drunk out of her mind. She had staggered over to him, confessing her love as Taro walked into the sea. He coaxed her and she followed him like a cute, mindless lamb. When the water was at hip height, he held her down in the water facing him.
She thrashed, kicked and tried to fight it but he was too strong for her. He smiled as he watched her struggle to breath, knowing that her lungs would feel like they were on fire. Then, she stopped moving completely. He flipped her so she would be face down before sending her out towards the main harbour.
Kizana was a far tricker beast to deal with.
She was another level of vicious, threatening Ayano with images of her nude body to make sure she stayed away. While Ayano had been talking with the rest of the drama club about how to deal with the bitch, Taro had been messing about with the weights on the stage. He angled one of them perfectly, when Kizana pulled or cut the rope it would fall and crush that not so pretty face of hers.
No one realised that Taro had been smiling when blood and brain matter had splattered across the crowd.
Oka was tricky.
She was tricky because it was Ayano who she was in love with, not Taro and he found it rather refreshing. Ayano would never agree to date Oka, she was far too in love with him for that (Which Taro absolutely revelled in) but that did not make Oka any less dangerous. He knew that she was up to something when he saw her seeking into the school grounds, she had tried to do a strange ritual on his desk when he dropped a science flask to grab her attention.
Oka ran straight into his trap, he knocked her out with a whack to the side of the head. He then tied her up and carried her to the incinerator when he stood by and listened to the symphony of Oka burning alive. When her remains had cooled down, he ground them up in the gardening club’s grinder and watched as the dust flew into the air.
He had found a notice of withdrawal from Akademi in her bag, so he placed it inside Ms Kunahito’s office.
He knew that Asu had drugged the water she had given him, but he also knew that Shiromi wouldn’t be to far away.
While it had scared him for sure, he had planned it out knowing that the chances of him actually being raped were little to none. He had a knife in his back pocket just in case. Akane had taken him aside and spoken to him after what nearly happened and he realised that he had found himself an ally.
So, he bribed the police to give Asu to Akane for her to do whatever she wanted.
He was onto Muja Kina as soon as she had stared t him in the hallway. He also figured out that her mind was more geared to lust than the other rivals, so he purposely did things and would give Muja feeling hot inside in the hopes of her getting caught. If not, then he planned to burn her flat to the ground with her inside.
Thankfully, Koroko had caught onto what she was doing and had taken several incriminating photographs before Hoshiko kindly uploaded them to her blog. Taro had printed out the blogpost so many times that he slipped the entry into everyone’s locker and placed more into the nurse’s office and into the faculty room.
Musume’s murder and Koroko being blinded was not exactly part of the plan but it worked out for him.
Mida Rana had disgusted him completely.
She was a whore, end of story. He held no respect for someone who willingly seduced older married men at her age, the story had gotten to him from a family friend living in Spain that Mida had actually driven one young woman to suicide and take her two young children with her. He wasn’t quite sure how to do away with her until he watched Hoshiko grill her in the middle of the hallway.
That night, he paid the Yakuza to kidnap and sedate her before tying her up under his water machine. He let the water drip slowly, hearing her agonising screams had told him that her sanity was not far off breaking.
Then, she stopped screaming and her sanity was completely gone…
He had given her a knife and told her to do away with Mida who was in the gardening club after being isolated by the rest of the academy. He had laughed as Mida was stabbed to death. After Hoshiko slit her own throat, he buried them both in the gardening club and cleared up all the blood.
Osoro was also in love with Ayano. He actually didn’t need to toy with her that much though he didn’t like Gaku following him around. His guards tazored him before bringing him down to the basement, where Taro had some fun pulling Gaku’s teeth out for information. Osoro had ended up killing the other delinquents before falling into the Marina and dying from extreme cold shock.
He made sure her body would not be found, Hayanari presented a danger so he was taken captive as well.
Hanako had been a real shock to him. He thought that she would actually come to like Ayano but Megami had her claws in his sister. Especially when she pretty much admitted that she wanted to replace him as Lord Yamada. “You’re too placid to be lord. A lord or a lady needs to be cut throat to get what they want, I am the only one who can uphold the honour of our family. You will never be a decent lord as long as your bitch bride lives!”
That had been the final straw as well as the death of their mutual friend Midori. Midori was the one other person apart from Ayano outside the family who he had genuinely cared for. Taro put his gloves on, before injecting her with air. The mortician would likely rule it as a heart attack and be done with it. She struggled but he silenced her.
He was glad that he was able to kill Megami with his own hands and get away with it, but he wasn’t happy that he nearly lost his mother in the process. His father would forgive him, seeing as he had made every effort to keep his mother alive before she was taken to hospital.
Now, there was on last thing he need to do.
He swiftly knocked Hayanari out before placing him into the same barrel as Gaku’s remains. He closed the barrel and ordered his Kyoto guards to move it to the burial grounds. The Kyoto guards were his father’s special guards who helped him do the more… Unsavoury things that sometimes he had to do as Lord.
As a young child, Taro had been very quiet and timid. Effectively emotionless. It was his late lord father that gave him a purpose in his life. “I know what you are feeling my son...” Taro could still recall the feeling of his father holding him as Taro burrowed into his neck, even at three years old.
His father would sway as if he were cradling him.
“You know, I was an awful lot like you when I was a child. One day, you are going to meet someone very special to you just like I did. When I met your mummy, I thought that she was the prettiest girl in the world. Everything came to life around me, and I needed her as my wife.
Of course, because your mummy was so pretty I had to do away with some love rivals but that is a story for another day. Perhaps when you are a bit more grown up.” Lord Ren had chuckled as little Taro drifted off to sleep.
He had later found out that his father had ordered his Kyoto guards to seize any man who dared to approach his Itsumi Yuuki with hopes of her falling in love with them. Ren disposed of them by stuffing them into barrels with large rocks and throwing them into a lake.
Taro had arrived at the burial ground where a hole about seven foot deep had been dug beside his father’s Mausoleum. The barrel was placed inside before being buried and the patch of grass carefully put back on. The Kyoto guards reported hearing horrified screams through the night but come dawn, the grounds were silent once again…
Father always did know best...
There we are so what happened?
When Ryoba broke the Family curse, it simply passed over into a different family. The Yamada family, starting with Ren and going into Taro. Also, the story of the Yamada's family founding is based around the Prince Hoshikawa rebellion in Japan so I thought it would be interesting to tie in real Japanese history with the family.
Honestly, the whole Yandere Taro angle was not what I intended but after writing 'Blood, Tears and love in between' I loved writing an insane Taro. But this Taro pretty much snapped after the Osana incident...
[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4] [Part 5] [Part 6] [Part 7] [Part 8] [Part 9] [Part 10] [Part 11] [Part 12] [Part 13] [Part 14]
I opened my eyes and blinked under the rays of the hot summer sun. My eyes adjusted and I realized I was on a boat, a familiar Sea Ray Sundancer. My uncle was at the wheel, my father standing next to him. No. No, no, no. Not this.
I tried to open my mouth to scream, but I couldn’t move, I couldn’t speak.
They were speaking calmly, but I could sense they both were anxious.
“It’s been getting worse, Denny,” my uncle said. His voice was almost unrecognizable to me, far from that of the jovial uncle who was always good for a laugh. He looked as though he hadn’t slept in days.
“She gets a kick out of spooking you, that’s all,” my father said, trying to reassure his brother, but not quite convincing himself.
“No, no. This isn’t just the occasional dead cat. I’ve been seeing
her. In my house, at work, nowhere near the motel. I…I…think I’m losing it.”
“What about Martina? Has she noticed anything different?”
“You know she doesn’t know about her.
“Yes, I know. But nothing different around the cottages?”
Hearing my father speak of these things, a voice from my innocent past speaking of terrors that now haunted my life—it was jarring to say the least.
“Nothing different. Denny, her laughter. It’s everywhere. Every time I close my eyes, I hear it. She wants…she wants me…oh god, I can’t even say it.”
“She wants you to end your life.”
Uncle Jim looked at his brother in surprise.
“I’ve heard her too,” my dad whispered.
My body shook in its invisible prison. Dad, no.
“We need to tell Nora.” My uncle said.
“You know it. You know she always finishes what she’s started. When we’re gone…Nora’s next. We have to warn her.”
My father leaned against the side of the boat, his face a mask of anguish.
“You’re right,” he said. “We should have told her years ago.”
The buzz of the boat’s motor increased and the boat began to speed forward, accelerating rapidly. Uncle Jim desperately grabbed at the throttle, trying to shift it, but it wouldn’t budge. The steering wheel spun out of his hands as though it was being controlled by an invisible force. My father tried to wrest it back into his control, but it too could not be moved by the men in the boat.
The boat continued to accelerate, bucking up and down on the water violently before finally swerving, hitting a shoal with great speed. I was utterly helpless as I watched my uncle’s skull shatter in the windshield. My father was launched out of the craft, I heard his neck snap as it made contact with the hull.
Their mangled bodies still seared into my mind, I found myself in a cold, damp room, sobbing on the packed dirt floor, my body once again my own. I sat up, a wave of dizziness passing through me.
I was pretty sure I was underneath Bellevue Castle, in the unfinished wine cellar, familiar from the numerous tours I had taken there as a kid. The cellar was filled with barrels of old building supplies, still in the same spot they were when the lovelorn (or perhaps bankrupt) owner called a stop to construction, over a century ago. In the opposite corner, however, there was something that wasn’t there in the tourist season.
Jake was huddled on the ground, unconscious, silver collar around his neck, his body laced with new, raw-looking scars, as though he had been scourged or cut.
I rushed over to him and began to shake his shoulder. He moaned.
“Here, let me take this off,” I said, fiddling with the silver collar. He winced; his eyes fluttered open.
“Nora?” He said, dazed.
“Don’t try to talk, I’ve almost got it off.”
“No,” he said weakly, grabbing my wrist. “No, no, don’t. Please!”
With a final twist, the collar clanged to the floor. But this only made Jake more agitated.
“Nora, put it back on. Put it back on and get out of her. Please, I’m begging you. Get as far away from me as possible.”
“What are you talking about?” I cried. “I’m not going to torture you.”
He took the collar, but dropped it with a moan as his hand burned at the contact.
“Run!” he shouted. He staggered backwards, and I could see the tell-tale signs of transformation. But this time, his eyes began to glow, his mouth lengthening into the snarl of the wolf twisted almost into a smile. The half-shifted creature before me laughed.
“Too late now, girl,” it growled. I bolted to the stairs, the grunts and howls of the final throes of transformation behind me. I climbed the stairs with speed I didn’t know I possessed, slamming the door behind me. The wolf threw itself against it, buckling the wood with a sickening crack.
I was in the castle’s recreated kitchen. Frantically, I threw down the elegant copper molds that lined the walls, hoping to slow down the creature’s pursuit. The cellar door gave way just as I fled the kitchen in to a grand dining room. My eyes immediately fixed themselves on the elaborately set table, ready for an Edwardian feast and my heart leapt with hope. Such a meal would never be served without the finest of silver
I scooped up the numerous utensils set before the nearest place setting, stuffing oyster forks, fish knives, butter knives, bouillon spoons, tea spoons and anything else I could fit into my jacket pockets. The door behind me shattered, and the wolf came barreling towards me. I hopped up on the table and flung a giant silver soup tureen at him, hitting him on the chest with a howling hiss.
“Sorry, Jake,” I muttered as I ran into the front hallway. I pulled at the carved wood door leading outside, but it was locked, bolted with a padlock for the winter. Behind me was the grand staircase of gilded oak and marble. My only way forward was up. I knew the wolf would not be far behind me, once he had shaken off his temporary debilitation.
I ran up the stairs, up one flight, now two. The restored Gilded Age luxury of the first floors morphed into a dilapidated, unfinished area of exposed beams and plaster, covered with decades-worth of graffiti. The wolf was in pursuit once more; I could hear the scratching of its claws on the marble of the stairs, making his way upwards. I turned around.
The wolf crouched some feet below me, grinning, far closer than I had thought. I pulled out a few silver forks and threw them at him, sprinkling more on the stairs between us. The wolf howled with dismay. My eye caught a long ladder leading up to the turret. Without further thought, I raced towards it, pulling myself upwards while unsheathing the knife at my belt. The wolf had shaken off the silver and was at the bottom of the ladder. I tossed my last handful of silver spoons at him, hitting him in the snout which bought me enough time to put more space between us.
I could see the opening to the turret above me. But just as I managed to get my upper body through, a claw grasped my boot. With all my strength I kicked at it, to no avail. I lowered my right arm and slashed at it with my knife. The claw released its grip and I dragged the rest of my body through the opening. The wolf snarled at me and he poised himself to jump. I pushed the ladder away and he fell to the ground. Now in the turret room, I saw a large metal filing cabinet against the wall and brought it down over the opening below with a tremendous bang that gave way to silence, revealing the ferocity of my haggard breathing.
I took a step backward into something cold, the parts of my body that had come into contact with it tingling unpleasantly. I turned around.
The witch stood before me, smiling that terrible smile, her eyes like coals. She was draped in thin, almost transparent, black silk, her body a corpselike gray. Her hair hung to her knees, wreathed in the brittle, dead leaves of late winter. I stumbled away from her, my back hitting the walls of the stone turret behind me, a large, arched window with a several stories fall my only escape.
“Girl,” she hissed, her voice a crackling flame. “I do not believe we have been properly introduced.”
“You need no introduction,” I said bitterly.
She laughed, the cadence about as pleasant as scraping paper with a broken pencil.
“Many mortals call me a witch. Is that what you think I am?”
“I think that’s a mere euphemism for what you are.”
“Smart little cow.”
She smiled slyly and perched herself on the ledge of the window, one bare leg draped over the side.
“I was once a girl like you. I danced before Baal at the dawn of men. I was found worthy. I became much, much more than a sentient pile of meat. My name was worshiped by emperors and queens. Generals and high priests prostrated themselves before me and offered me sacrifice. I am triodia, enodia, brimo, indalimos, chthonia
. I am Hecate.”
At the utterance of her name, she raised her hand, and my body began cramping in agony. With ease, she moved aside the filing cabinet I had pushed over. The wolf came crawling up the ladder, eyes still a possessed green, no sign of Jake within them. He crept over to Hecate and she patted his head, pleased at my anguished expression.
“Now we are only waiting for our mutual friend,” she said. From below, I heard a splashing in the water. I could see René climbing out of the river and over the fence leading to the castle grounds. He was waterlogged, filthy, and nearly frozen, his jacket gone, his shirt torn and bloodied in several places, indicating he had received and healed from several wounds in his struggle.
Hecate smiled coldly. She stood and, with an almost imperceptible motion, we were thrown out of the window on the back of a great burst of air, only partially cushioning my body from the fall. I hit the ground violently and my shoulder exploded into pain. I vomited. Hecate made some sound of disgust at my side. Her feet were bare on the frozen ground, but even in the barrenness of winter, earthworms burrowed upwards to writhe against her toes.
René made a move to approach me, but Hecate raised her hand for him to halt and a column of fire erupted between us, reaching high into the night sky. He took in a deep breath, ragged with rage.
“If it’s me you want, I cede myself to you once more. Let the girl and the wolf go and this will be my bargain to you.”
“So predictable. So boring. I know this will come as a shock, René, but it’s not about you this time. I reject your little bargain. Go mope around a lumber yard for another few centuries, I could care less.”
“Why?” I said, finding the courage to speak. “Why do this?”
“Because I stayed my hand when I should have destroyed your wretched forebears. For a century, I watched them fumble their way through a simple set of chores. Did you know your uncle dared to complain to me? He begged me to lift my curse, not for his sake, not even for the sake of his poor servant, but for you.”
She dragged me upright by my injured shoulder, digging her nails into my flesh. I tried not giving her the pleasure of hearing me scream, though it felt like my head would burst.
“Precious Nora,” she said with contempt. “I hope you enjoyed watching their last moments. I have made a decision, you see. I will snuff you out, each and every one of you. You Calnons are far too troublesome and extremely replaceable. I had planned on killing Martina too—such a loyal and obstinate thing she was—but then my dear René got to her first. Always good for that sort of thing, isn’t he?”
She took a fist full of my hair and pulled me closer to her face. René took a step forward, fangs bared, but Jake stood between them, snarling threateningly. She whispered into my ear, her words sickening me.
“I planned on killing you too. It would have been simple, quick. But then you had to find him
, didn’t you?” She glared at René. “The one who is mine. And then both of you, taking away my favorite pet. You upset me, Nora. You’ve upset me greatly. For you, not only death will do.”
A torch appeared in her hand and with it, she traced a flaming circle around us on the ground which ignited into a sickly green flame. René shouted and leapt at Hecate, but he collided with Jake instead and the two of them fell to the side, locked in a frenzied struggle.
“Now, now, René, no cheating,” she said, snapping her fingers. The silver chain René carried with him flew into her hand and she threw it in to the column of flames where it was consumed with a terrible hiss. She turned her attention to me.
“It is not the next quarter day for quite some time, but I am sure he
will not mind. I could not resist the symmetry of it all. You awakened to this reality on the night of the grand tithe and now you
will be the last tax the Calnons ever pay.”
Clouds appeared in the night sky, suffocating the stars, churning with ferocity, the green of decay. The air pressed down upon me, pushing the air out of my lungs, causing me to sputter and gasp. Hecate raised her hands, shouting in an ancient tongue. The sky tasted of wet earth and lightning; a frisson of electricity passed through me. A vial of water appeared in Hecate’s hands, and she performed her ablutions.
René pushed Jake aside, but a fissure in the ground opened between us. A terrible roar erupted, the cries of the damned comingling together into a dreadful force. Hecate pressed her palm to my forehand, her eyes glittering with malice, intoning words I could not understand. I reached for the knife at my belt in desperation, but found my sheath to be empty.
“Looking for this?” Hecate said, producing my knife in her left hand. With a cruel laugh, she plunged it into my belly. I heard René scream, but he already sounded far away. I looked down in shock. She pulled out the weapon and blood began to pour out of me. I felt no pain; it was as though I was watching this happen to someone else.
The vortex of voices became enhanced around me, and I was being dragged downwards and downwards. I was slipping into the void.
The world disappeared. There was nothing and I was nothing, or at least, nothing beyond endless misery. This was a place with no hope.
It is impossible to describe such things to those who have not witnessed them. I was in a great Maw, of that I could surmise. A great gaping Maw of flesh, throbbing, burning, constantly consuming. All around me I could hear weeping, sobbing, cries of madness or anger or futility. There were people here, or what was left of them. Tendrils of flesh fused their bodies to the walls of the thing, which slowly digested them, eating them away only for them to regenerate, continuing the torture in perpetuity. They were still conscious, if that word could be used in this place, unaware of each other, but making the most despicable sounds of suffering, some wailing, others grinding their teeth.
Arms of flesh tore at my legs, searing my skin. But just as quickly as they had come, the tendrils receded and the surface beneath me began to rumble. The wailing was overpowered by a growling coming from the Maw itself, as loud as a jet engine and as haunting as the roar of a jaguar. It was enraged.
My body was ejected. I was suspended somewhere, away, and then I hit the ground. My fingers dug into blessed, real dirt. I blinked and the stars were above me once more.
Hecate stood before me; her face twisted in shock. The column of fire was extinguished. Jake fell to the ground, shifting back into human form. René rushed to my side.
“It appears your payment has been rejected,” he said grinning.
Hecate scoffed. She took a step backward, muttering in that same ancient tongue, but nothing happened. I could see panic rising within her. She fell to her knees and raised her hands to the sky, speaking as though she were entreating someone or something. Little sparks danced on her hands, tiny pieces of skin flecked off of her, slowly at first, then hastening, faster and faster. Hecate let out a great cry and her body combusted into green flames, stripping her down to her bones, blazing until she was no more than dust borne away by the swirling winds.
A deafening sigh echoed around us billowing upwards into a swirling funnel cloud. Whisps of tormented souls rose into the spinning air until with a clap of thunder so loud the castle behind us shook, their whimpers were extinguished, released to their final fate. The clouds receded and the sky was clear and calm again.
I tried to sit up, but my abdomen erupted into pain. I was still bleeding. I was bleeding a lot. I tried to steady myself on René’s arm, but my fingertips were numb. René was speaking to me, but I couldn’t understand him. Get up,
I willed myself. Get up.
I could not obey. I was falling—no, I was flying, flying away from my body.
I was walking through a tunnel. Not a dark tunnel of terrors, but one of soft greenery adorned with flowers in colors beyond comprehension. There was sunlight on the other side. It was warm, so delightfully warm. With every part of me, I wanted to be there. There were people waiting for me, I knew.
I tried to step forward, but I was stuck. Something was dragging me, dragging me back into pain, into the dark. I cried. No, no, please no. Let me rest here. Please.
There was something in my throat, something thick and sweet. I choked, but I swallowed. I was drinking.
I wanted more.
It has been several nights since that happened. When I awoke, it was sunset again, as it will be for the rest of my days.
René is quieter now. I wish I could reassure him that he did the right thing, that I am grateful. He doesn’t seem to believe me, but I guess we have a lot of time now to figure it out.
“Time enough for you to grow to hate me,” he said sadly, pushing a lock of hair away from my face. I hope he’s wrong.
The cottages are peaceful now. The entities are gone. There is a sense of ease here that is permeating more every day, heralding the coming of a Spring like no other before. They’re gone too, the spirits of Cottage 14. I tried to go to thank them. After all, it was their blessing that had saved me from the Maw. They had kept their promise to Ellen. Your soul shall not be dragged down to perdition, you will not know the eternal flames.
The cottage door was open; there were buds on the trees. I think they have finally found their true home, their eternal rest.
Jake has recovered from his ordeal. He is still a werewolf, but his mind is now his own. With our help, he is mostly healed, though there are scars he will carry with him for the rest of his life.
We haven’t been doing much lately. Things are too raw, too new. We have just begun to breathe again. Sometimes we just sit by the river. A wolf and two vampires, a funny trio.
“I want to find my parents,” Jake said last night. René passed me his thermos, which I took a bit too eagerly.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I stopped by my old house today. Neighbor told me they were taken into assisted living a while ago, though he didn’t know where. Their minds…weren’t quite the same since I…” His voice broke. So many lost years, so many ruined lives
“I guess I’m just saying I’m leaving.”
“Do what you must, Jake,” René said. “You will go on. You are free now. Find your parents; find your own kind.”
Jake nodded. I caught a tear glistening in his eye.
“What will you two do?” Jake asked.
“Figure out what the hell to tell my mom,” I said chuckling. Even René smiled. “But you know, this place? It has some potential.”
And so, I find myself back where I started: with a giant pile of wallpaper books and a folder of paint swatches. René is pouring over plans for a complete remodeling of the cottages and motel with some structural enhancements. Given our change in circumstances, our business model and targeted clientele will be slightly different, slightly more…nocturnal.
But this is where the veil of secrecy must finally descend between us.
For now. x
It seems the owners have drawn a line in the sand regarding Lamar Jackson's contract demands, but both Kirk Cousins and Deshaun Watson have received fully guaranteed contracts in recent history. If a QB like Joe Burrow were to hold out for free agency and demand a fully guaranteed contract, would he get it? Are there any others that could do the same? I would think the NFLPA would be blasting the owners right now for how they're handling Lamar compared to how Watson was handled, but it seems they're content to just let it play out.