Darkness through the Looking Glass

You’ll find here a few pages of the new novella, Marradith, Darkly.  Take a look at this alternate reality. You don’t need any knowledge about the online story to follow it. Enjoy:

 

Prologue

“I have taken back his soul,” Xia said.

“He gave it willingly?” Adam asked. “Without reservation?”

She glanced away from his face then. “I threatened his wife. He gave it up then.”

Adam shook his head. This simpleton child, for all the accolades their kind gave her, knew nothing. His experience in the reclamation of souls spanned millennia longer than her existence.

“You know that he comes from a long, and powerful line of warlocks, don’t you? Despite the contract, one must be careful . It’s been centuries since the agreement was first made, and his collection far overdue. If some slight thing were to go wrong, there‘s just no telling…. I don’t suppose he spoke any words that you didn’t recognize? An incantation?”

“I know what I am doing,” she replied, trembling. A sound, like claws against a chalkboard, burst from her mouth. Blood tears spilled from her eyes. Adam drew back.

“I have one question for you then,” Adam said. “If you’ve taken his soul, why hasn’t the body died? Don’t worry, Xia. I’ll find him.”

*****

The wind howled.

Cold crept into his flesh; he could not even shiver. His eyes were heavy. In the darkness, he barely saw a sliver of moon. There were trees above and a pristine, black sky. Closing his eyes, floating in the depth of a greater darkness, calm washed over him.

“Rafael, get up.”

A female voice seemed to echo from somewhere behind him.

The voice was familiar, though he could not place it. It didn’t matter, he decided. Nothing did anymore.

“Rafi.”

The familiar nickname made him think of his wife. Fiona. Bright red hair and sky blue eyes. He cringed. As his mind formed her name, she evaporated before his mind’s eye, a wisp of smoke and fancy.

“Damn you.”

The voice was closer now. Who was this woman? She seemed to be whispering in his ear. He felt the soft warmth of her breath.

There was a pause. She was moving around him now, carefully placing her steps in the snow. He could tell by the sound, the crunch as she moved.

There was a whoosh of sound.

And then pain.

She’d kicked him in the ribs.

He cried out, half cursing, half sobbing. The boot connected solidly. A hot flush of liquid bubbled up from his stomach, acid burning his mouth.

“Fuck you!” he yelled, spitting, getting to his knees. His voice echoed back through the emptiness, the dead trees and their burden of snow.

A feminine giggle, and then a full, hiccupping laugh.

“You wish,” she said. “Get up.”

It took a while for him to stand, and eventually she had to help him.

His sight was blurry. He couldn’t tell if it was the snow or if there was something wrong with his eyes. The woman slung his arm around her shoulders and half dragged him forward. She did not speak, other than to utter curses under her breath. She wore a long black coat with a hood that concealed her face. He’d recognized her voice. He just couldn’t place it.

“Who are you?” he said again.

“How long were you in the snow?” she asked. There was a tinge of concern in her voice. And then she sounded irritated again. “How did you manage to get yourself lost out here?”

He couldn’t answer her and didn’t try.

Eventually, a house came into view between the trees. It was built like an old fashioned lodge. He shuddered, suddenly realizing how he craved the warmth and comfort that would be found inside. A hot shower, a bed. Maybe something to eat. He felt oddly empty, though not hungry in the usual way.

Once they made it through the door together, his female companion steered him towards a chair and he fell into it, limp as a rag doll. Inside, it was a beautiful modern house. The huge living room was sparsely decorated; two leather couches, a fireplace, and a flat screen television above it. The hardwood floors gleamed.

The fireplace was already lit, but the fire burned low. The woman removed her coat. With her back to him, she stoked the fire on the grate, speaking softly.

“I thought maybe your car got stuck somewhere on the road in, Rafael, but I had no idea that you were stupid enough to get out the car and walk up here on your own. If I’d found you any later you’d have frozen to death, for sure.”

Rafael watched her movements in fascination. Her long hair was wavy and laid in curls along the middle of her back. There was a gold necklace on her wrist, and it moved back and forth as she manipulated the poker.

“Treacherous weather,” he muttered, just because he did not know what else to say. He knew his name. He was Rafael Castillo. But he had no idea what he was doing here, or how he’d gotten into this mess in the first place.

The woman turned to him then.

The planes of her face were different. But the stance of her round mouth, her dark eyes were the same. She had aged. She seemed taller than he remembered, but part of that could have been the boots she wore.

“Dad wouldn’t have been too happy about you freezing steps from our doorway,” Marradith said. “Not with all the guests he has coming.”

***

“Guests?” Rafael said.

“I know that he invited you,” Marradith spat, crossing her arms. “Snap out if it, won’t you?”

“I’d like to,” he replied.

“Have you got some liquor? I could use a drink.”

She nodded. “In this house? Of course. I guess you want me to go fetch it, right? Why do I always have to be the maid around this place?” she sniped.

She walked out. Rafael felt like he wanted to run behind her, shake her, demand to know what was happening. But he couldn’t do that. In fact, he wasn’t sure he could even get up again without help. Now that he was in a warm room his body ached with all kinds of injuries… his back, his knees, the side where Marradith had planted her boot so kindly in his rib. His head felt fuzzy.

When Marradith came back, she was carrying a bottle of whiskey. She poured a glass and shoved it at him unceremoniously.

“Are you old enough to drink?” he asked.

She smiled then, a grim twist of her mouth. “I was nine the last time you saw me. Yes, I’m old enough to drink. For Christ sakes I’m twenty-three.”

“Time…um, goes fast,” he mumbled.

“Whatever.”

Rafael took a long draught of whiskey before speaking again. “Where’s Granthem?” he asked.

Marradith tensed. He saw her back straighten; if she were a cat her hackles would have been raised. “Granthem? Why do you mention him?”

Rafael raised himself up in the chair, feeling well enough to sit a little straighter.

“Because wherever you are, he’s never far behind.”

She got up from her chair. In one liquid movement she stood over him, with a knife at his throat. “I don’t know how you know about that,” she whispered. “I don’t care if someone told you, or if you divined it by magic. But you don’t utter a word . Not a mention of that man’s name, and especially not to my Dad. I might have grown up calling you my uncle, but I’ve no compunction about killing you.”

Rafael nodded in agreement.

She moved away from him and slid the knife into a sheath beneath her skirt. She smiled.

“Good. We have an understanding.”

The doorbell rang just then.

***

Marradith ran for the door, and Rafael suppressed the urge, again, to follow. She was not the girl that he remembered, but she was at least somewhat familiar.

Rafael heard her call out Dad, and he felt hopeful. If that was Paul at the door, that meant there would be another rational adult around, someone that could tell him what was going on.

He stood up and walked as far as the hallway, and saw a man coming towards him.

The man was thin and tall, with blond hair that skimmed the collar of his coat. He frowned at Rafael, and then laughed.

“You look horrible, man. Mari told me she found you face down in the snow. Is that true?”

Leighton Ryder patted him on the shoulder, laughing heartily.

“Mari? You mean Marradith?” he said.

“I told, you Dad. He’s still loopy.” Marradith cut her eyes at him, a warning look about the little secret they shared.

Rafael felt as if the room were spinning. He walked back into the den and sat down again, this time closer to the fire. He’d never met Leighton Ryder, but he’d seen enough pictures to know him. Leighton had been dead… for months. And what was this about Marradith calling him Dad?

The Marradith that Rafael knew only met her great- grandfather once- shortly before she killed him.

“You must get some rest and pull yourself together, Rafael. Mari, be a sweetheart and show him his room.” Leighton asked.

“Yes,” she sighed.

“That’s my girl,” Leighton said, and planted a kiss on her cheek.

***

Marradith brought him to a small, cozy room with its own fireplace and a window that looked over the back yard of the house. She helped him onto the small couch, and began taking off his boots.

“I’m only doing this because you’re in a bad way, and Dad asked me to,” she sniped. “But don’t you think about getting handsy.”

“Has that happened before, when Leighton has friends around?” Rafael asked with a raised eyebrow.

“A fucker or two has found himself with some singed parts. Let’s put it that way.”

“Marradith. What happened to your parents? Your Father and Mother?”

She put down his boot. Rafael covered his throat, fearing that she would reach for her knife. “How can you say such a thing to me? Do you really not remember?”

Something changed in her eyes. A glimmer of a child. A girl she used to be.

She touched his forehead. “I thought maybe you were acting, but you’re serious. How hard did you hit your head?”

“I don’t know!” Rafael said. “Everything’s….odd right now. I’m not asking these questions to upset you, really, I need to know. Please don’t tell Leighton I asked you, but just tell me, where are Paul and Nora?”

She sat down on the edge of the bed, with her hands in her lap. “They’re dead.”

“How…?”

“It was made to look like an accident,” she replied softly. “A car accident. Leighton says The Sojourners were behind it. The last time you saw me was at their funeral. How can you not…?”

“I will heal,” Rafael said carefully. “This is just a bad night for me.”

“Seriously? You don’t want to show any weakness when the rest of them get here.”

 

“Who are you talking about?”

“I think I’ll let you figure that out for yourself,” she snarled, pulling off his second boot. “I have better things to do than play word association with you, Rafi,” she said, and walked out.

As the door closed behind her, he wondered how he could have missed asking her the most important question. Where was his wife, Fiona?

***

“How’s Rafael?” Leighton asked.

“Sleeping, I guess,” Marradith said. She sat down on the couch beside him. “The rest are coming tomorrow?”

“By morning. You don’t have to stay up waiting if you don’t want, darling,” he said. “You look a little tired yourself.”

Rafael’s talk of her parents had stirred uneasiness in her. She rarely spoke of them, and living in Leighton’s house, it almost felt as if they’d never existed. There were pictures, but none were displayed around the house. There was an emptiness when she thought of them, an ache that nothing seemed to replace. As kind as Leighton could be at times, he was not her Father.

From what she remembered, her own Father had a tense relationship, with little contact with Leighton. But he’d been good to her. There hadn’t been anyone else for her and Danny to go to when her parents died.

It was easier for Danny, in a way. He was four years old when the accident happened. He had little memory of Mom and Dad. It was Marradith and Scott that had trouble adjusting to the new order of things…

Once Scott was of age, he took Danny away with him. Marradith remained with Leighton. She hadn’t seen either of her brothers in a few years.

“I think I will go to bed,” Maradith said. “I don’t guess anything exciting is going to happen tonight anyway.”

****

Once she was in her room, she stood with her back against the closed door.

A shadow moved beside her window. She smiled and checked the lock.

Justin moved out of the shadows towards her, closing the distance between them in three long steps. He grabbed her and they tumbled onto the bed together. She whispered in his ear while he kissed her neck.

“I thought you weren’t coming until tomorrow,” she said, her lips brushing his ear.

“Yes, well, change in plans,” he replied, tugging at her bra. He expertly unhooked it and ran his fingers along her spine.

“We’re gonna get caught!” she whispered. She giggled and shivered, only adding to his excitement.

“I. Don’t. Care,” he said between kisses.

She sighed, taking his face between her palms. “Baby. You seem to forget I’m about to marry someone else.”

That stopped him. Like a man submerged in ice water, he rolled off of her and stared angrily at the ceiling.

“Marradith…”

“Look, I’m only stating the facts. Everything’s already planned. The wedding is only a few days away.”

“You’re not marrying Bruce Green.”

“Why shouldn’t I? He’s rich.”

Justin propped himself up on one arm, so he could study her face. “You really have the nerve to say that to me? I love you! How many years has it been, we‘ve been sneaking around? You can’t tell me this is anything but Leighton finding the man most like himself for you to marry. I’ll kill Bruce before I ever see you become his wife.”

She sat up, punching a pillow and putting it behind her back. “Well if you’re going to kill him, why not wait until after I’ve married him? I’ll be a rich widow,” she smacked his lips. “Won’t you love me then?”

Justin shook his head. “Unbelievable.”

“Don’t be mad. I do love you,” she teased. “And we only have so much time.”

Justin’s eyes glowed green when he looked at her. He put his palm flat against the nape of her neck, holding it there. The anger in his voice made her cringe. “I’ll see him dead. Or you dead. Perhaps, both.”

“No you won’t. I know better,” she said, and kissed his mouth. His arms came around her again . She had him where she wanted him.

***

Rafael woke the next morning, sitting on the couch, his clothes and socks still on. He wasn’t sure where he was at first, and memory flowed back slowly. He was in Leighton’s house. Marradith was living with him.

What was this place? He stood and stretched, feeling the awful tension in his muscles.

There had be a way to find out what happened. He felt clearer, but wasn’t sure how he got to this place.

The last thing he could remember was leaving Colorado to go to New York.

Looking at the snow outside, he could surmise that he was again in Colorado. But this house was not the estate that Marradith had inherited, where he’d been living with his wife and the Ryder family. Ryder House had been home to at least fifty or so support members as well: guards, technicians, housekeeping staff. This place was a much smaller home, and so far, he hadn’t seen any staff at all.

And in this place, Leighton was not dead.

The sun was out already, almost blinding against the snow. The previous night’s downfall was beginning to melt already.

As Rafael watched, he saw Marradith emerge from the front of the house. She had a huge German shepherd on a leash. He pulled against the leash, looking at the remains of softening snow with glee. She raised a finger at him. The flash of electricity was too small for Rafael to see from the distance, but he heard the dog yelp in pain. The canine sat down and waited then, watching his mistress with wide, frightened eyes as she turned to lock the front door.

“Come on, Spike,” she said, and gave his chain a yank.

She disappeared around the corner of the house with the dog in tow.

***

In the adjoining bathroom, Rafael found a change of clothes and a shaving kit stacked neatly on the edge of the sink. He riffled through the bag. It looked suspiciously like the expensive leather kit Fiona bought him years ago. But the contents were completely unfamiliar. The razor was new. The aftershave was a brand he had never used, and did not recognize.

The kit was much like everything else he’s encountered in this place so far– familiar on the outside, but holding completely different contents. The clothes were not familiar, but looked like something he might select for himself.

His reflection in the mirror startled him. His hair and clothes were a mess; he looked like someone who routinely slept outside on the wet ground.

After a shower and shave he felt better. But the shower revealed his bruises.

They were all over his body. Some were burns. Others were cuts, made with what he guessed was a serrated blade by the length of the scars. They didn’t cause him pain, but were recent injuries . There were bruises as well, large blue spots on his ribs and back made by blunt force. What happened to him?

Maybe something traumatic did happen to him on the way up to this house. But how could he explain how everything around him now was so different than before?

Was he losing his mind?

A car accident would be an easy explanation for the bruising. Marradith had found him face down in the snow, and assumed that his car was stalled somewhere on the road. He’d like to go down see if his car was actually there. What if there was no car at all?

What if he appeared here, where everything he knew seemed to be upside down?

It would take strong magic to transport him to a place like this.

He could only think of one, maybe two people that were capable of it. Rafael was a strong warlock himself, but he’d never attempted to manipulate time….it was a dangerous thing to do.

And if he was here by magic, how was he going to get himself out?

 

He went back to his room. Putting his boots back on, he was thinking about what his next move should be when the door opened.

***

Marradith was taking Spike for his morning walk when she saw a car turning up the drive to her great grandfather’s house.

She recognized the black SUV. Feeling her heart drop, she turned back towards the house.

He’d parked up at the top of the drive, and walked down to meet Marradith at the gate.

Bruce Green smiled behind his sun glasses. He wore an expensive Armani coat and a navy blue suit. His curly blond hair was perfectly coiffed.

“Darling,” he said, and stretched his arms out to her.

She went to him and they kissed. Marradith thought about what Justin said about Leighton choosing a man much like himself for her to marry.

It was understood that she would marry one of Leighton’s men from the time that she was a girl. It was the order of things among Wolves, and even though Marradith was of mixed blood and not a Wolf herself, she was expected to become a mother. Her children would continue the family line. According to tradition, the mother did not need to be a Wolf herself, as long as the father of her children was.

Bruce was a Wolf. He was clean cut and always expensively dressed. Leighton was never that type of man; her great grandfather, a Wolf for well over two centuries, still appeared to be in his late thirties. He wore his hair long and shaved when it suited him. His clothes were usually worn jeans and faded shirts. Leighton cut back on the drugs that he took because his girlfriend demanded it, (which was the only good thing Marradith could say for her).

What it really came down to, Marradith believed, was that Leighton was threatened by Justin. Unlike the other Wolves that Leighton made, Justin was never afraid of him. When all the others cowered or lowered their eyes in shame, he stood firm. Despite what the consequences might be.

This was part of what attracted her to him.

Bruce would lavish her with gifts when they married, give her anything material that she wanted, no matter the cost. But there would always be that part of him that remained beholden to Leighton, the part that thought of her as the boss’ daughter, and would respond to his prompting.

 

“I’ve missed you,” Bruce said warmly, his breath making clouds in the cold air. “Have you checked your phone?”

“Phone?” she muttered absently.

“Yes, I sent you a message last night.”

Marradith felt her cheeks grow warm. The mention of the previous night brought back images of Justin in her bed. He’d left the house just before dawn, sneaking away through the shadows.

“Um, no. I went to bed early. It was a long day. And Rafi…” she thought about his strange demeanor, and decided it best not to mention it. “He had a little much to drink. You know how he and Leighton can get.”

Bruce chuckled. “I do.”

“Well, don’t mention it. I’m not supposed to tell,” she teased.

“I won’t. I’m supposing everyone will have to be dry tonight, though.”

“Why?”

“Oh, I’m sorry, I forgot, you haven’t been around for one of these before. I remember you said Leighton usually sends you out of town when he’s ready to Feast. On the nights when we go out to hunt,” Bruce said, “we tend to stay sober. Alcohol does weird things to you if its in your bloodstream when you Change.”

“Hunt? I thought this was just a Circle meeting.”

“It’s that too, but you know how Leighton likes the Old Ways,” he said. “But I’m surprised that he didn’t mention it. The hunt is being held in your honor.”

___________________________________

©2011 Lori Titus

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