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    “No.”, was all he said, his voice crackling slightly over the phone, but the determination in it clear nonetheless, “I will not help you with this.”

    “Noah, c’mon!”, she growled, clutching her mobile phone tightly in her hand, “You can’t leave me hanging now.”

    Her only answer was a pained sigh and she knew exactly how he looked in that very moment, his free hand probably in his long brown hair and his dark eyes closed in both exasperation and hurt, but she paid it no mind. Instead she said challengingly: “You won’t help me? Fine, I’ll do it on my own.”

    Silence followed, she almost believed he had simply hung up on her, but then she heard Noah again.

    “Sharon.”, Noah said, his voice flat, almost lifeless, “If you do this, you will be dead to me.”

    “Noah, I have to, I…”, she began, but then realised that he had in fact hung up on her.

    “Bastard.”, Sharon muttered and threw the phone onto the couch, glaring at it while thinking of Noah. Uptight bastard. Uptight bastard with a stick up his arse.

    Stifling the tears that threatened to spill from her eyes, Sharon snatched up her phone and got dressed. There was no time to lose after all, as there was a full moon tonight.

    When she left her apartment, she thought about sending Noah a text message saying that she was sorry, but then she scoffed and dismissed the idea. She had nothing to be sorry for, nothing.

    During the short drive to the dock, Sharon went over her mental notes again, checking them probably for the hundredth time, but she had to be sure, otherwise this whole endeavour would be for naught.

    But she had everything, the old letter, the lock of Noah’s hair, stolen from him as he had been taking a nap on her couch, her mother’s blood…

    Now the only thing missing was the full moon.

    Checking her watch nervously, Sharon realised that only an hour of daylight remained, but it was enough, it simply had to be enough. Still she glanced nervously at her watch as she parked the car and quickly walked over to her father’s boat. Forty minutes of daylight remaining as the old, rusty boat made its way through the dark murky waters of the lake, pushed towards the lost little island in the middle of the lake, the Isle of Archer, all but abandoned nowadays except for the occasional a bit too adventurous youngster trying to prove himself by spending a night there. No one ever managed the task, but Sharon knew she had to at least stay there long enough to get the answers she needed, just a few minutes.

    Her arms were burning and her breath already ragged as the sun dimly vanished behind the thick, black forest surrounding the lake, engulfing her in darkness. And she was still so far away from the island.

    She had to hurry, or she would miss the window, would miss the crucial time for the ritual and have to wait for another month. Her mother did not have that kind of time. Not anymore.

    Tears threatened to spill, but Sharon choked them down and instead put all the energy into rowing the boat across the lake. It was not long before the keel hit the gravelly shore of the Isle. As she stepped out of the boat, her hands were shaking and admittedly, it was not only from exhaustion. She was afraid. She had sworn herself to not fear this moment, to be brave, for Mom, but she could not do it.

    No matter, she had to pull through despite her fear then. Nothing else mattered.

    Checking once again whether she had everything, Sharon made her way over the island, flashlight in hand. A motion at the corner of her eye made her jump before she realised that it had only been a bush and the flashlight casting weird shadows. Pathetic.

    With new resolve, Sharon briskly walked onwards and soon the old cottage was in sight. It was in an abysmally bad state, all windows shattered, the door unhinged and the roof rotted, caved in. No one had been here for an entire century, she was sure of it, and had it been up to her, she would not be here either, but she pushed the thought and the lump of ice in her stomach aside and instead proceeded into the abandoned cottage, ducking under cobwebs and trying her best not to stumble over the omnipresent rubble.

    She stubbed her toe, but the pain was forgotten within an instant as she found it. The altar.

    Shaking her head, Sharon silently cursed Noah once again. Bastard, he had to have known about this. The whole town knew about the Archers’ connection to dark powers, but they only ever talked about it in hushed voices and never with one of the old clan present. She had once dared ask Noah about it and that rat bastard had denied everything. But he had tried to keep her away from the island nonetheless, even successfully up until now. Now though, something was more important than him, more than her. Or anything, really.

    With a sigh of determination, Sharon walked up to the altar, almost mesmerised by the way the moonlight was caught in the silvery surface, making it shine with an eerie glow that somehow was too strong for that wee ray of moonlight, but she ignored it. More pressing matters.

    With shaking hands, she produced the items she had painstakingly collected over the last few weeks, ever since she had heard that the altar could actually be more than just the village legend.

    First the old letter she had found in the mansion of Noah’s family, now abandoned, but still filled with the riches of the Archer clan. Alright, so she had stolen it, but who cared? It was for a good purpose.

    The letter told her what to place where and so she followed the instructions to the letter.

    “Hair of the heir, bound by blood.”, Sharon mumbled and placed the lock of Noah’s hair in the lacuna right in the middle of the altar.

    “Blood of the ailing, thereby bound by blood.”, she continued, her voice breaking as she emptied the vial of her mother’s blood into the lacuna as well, wetting Noah’s hair with it. It looked like normal blood, but Sharon knew that it was riddled with cancerous cells, slowly killing her mother, taking away the most important person in her life. And for what reason? Fucking bad luck.

    But not on her watch. She would get answers, a bleeding wonder if she had to.

    “Bound by blood, freed by fire.”, Sharon read in the letter and lighted the match which she then gingerly guided to the bloodied hair. It exploded in flame making her shriek in shock, then the flame calmed, but it burned in brightest blue, painting the empty cottage in a pale blue and casting unfamiliar shadows while engulfing both the lock of hair and her mother’s blood, slowly consuming both.

    Sharon was mesmerised; she kept staring until she realised that once the blood had been burnt, her chance would be gone. So she composed herself and read the chant in the letter aloud: “Freed by fire to roam in your realm, seeking the answer. Seeking freedom of this ailment. I beseech thee, grant this freedom.”

    Only the crackling of the flame broke the following silence, then the lock of hair caught fire and burnt in blood-red before, in a flash of light, it went up in ashes.

    Darkness descended with the fire now gone and only the moonlight remained.

    “No…”, Sharon mumbled, “No. It has to wo…”

    Her words were cut off when she gasped in agony, her wrists burning hot like the blue flame that had consumed her mother’s blood. Sharon’s breath was taken away by the mind-numbing pain and even though she tried to scream, nothing could be heard.

    Only a whisper in her head, ice-cold in its malignity: “Your offer is…acceptable.”

    The pain on her wrists doubled, something burning into her flesh, scorching her very soul, blackening it. She had no idea how she knew that. But she did.

    “Begone!”, a voice boomed through the dark night, soothing Sharon’s soul, soothing her burning wrists like balm, “I command you, be gone!”

    The pain on her wrists vanished like a grip that had suddenly been shaken and it only left a dull ache behind as she found herself kneeling before the altar, not knowing how she had ended up on the dusty floor.

    Panting and barely able to move, Sharon nevertheless turned around, sitting on the cold, hard floor of the cottage and as she looked up, she saw the familiar, most welcome sight of Noah. Two metres of comfort, of friendship, even though he looked positively feral with his broad shoulders, his long hair in tangles and his right palm bleeding from a cut he had apparently inflicted on himself with the knife in his left hand.

    “Noah…”, she whispered, tears of relief now running down her cheeks, “Noah, I’m so gla…”

    “Shut up.”, he said, his voice almost as cold as the one she had heard in her head before and Sharon winced as if slapped.

    “Noah…”, she began, but he cut her off, “I told you that if you did this, you would be dead to me. But you did it anyway.”

    “I had to!”, Sharon argued, hands balled to fists, “My mother…”

    “Is dying.”, Noah harshly said, “Everyone dies eventually. Get over it.”

    “How can you…?”, Sharon said, jumping to her feet, but finding it hard to stay upright as nausea hit her and the ache in her wrists pulsated.

    “How can I say that?”, Noah guessed her question and shook his head, “How could you do this? Are you even remotely aware of what you could have done?”

    “I could have saved my mother!”, Sharon cried and Noah merely shook his head before he calmly, flatly said, “Some things are worse than death.”

    Sharon glared daggers at him and then hurled herself at her oldest friend, hitting his chest with her fists as she hissed: “You’ve seen her in that hospital bed, barely a shadow of herself. I could have saved her from that.”

    “No.”, Noah said and gently stopped her fists, “No. You could have only delayed the inevitable. And doomed both your soul and mine in the process.”

    “I wouldn’t ha…Ow!”, Sharon hissed as Noah touched her wrist and then roughly pulled at her arm so she saw her own wrist in the pale moonlight. There was a terrible scar on it, bulging and red, despicable and ugly.

    “The demon is bound to my family. This is the demon’s way of marking his servants. This is the pact you have willingly entered.”, Noah told her, once again pressing his thumb against the scar and making her groan in pain, “Pray that I have come here just in time to save you. You’ll know when you die and do not serve a demon.”

    With that he dropped her wrist as if he had scorched himself on her skin, then he turned and walked away.

    “Noah.”, Sharon said and he stopped, but merely turned his head a bit, yet he did not face her as he spoke, “This is the last time you have seen me. You will never talk to me again, never call me again, never see me again. You are dead to me.”

    “Noah…”, she murmured in disbelief, shaking her head. But he walked away.

    “Noah!”, Sharon called after him, but she only saw his tall silhouette merge into the darkness of the night.

Bound by Blood (Challenge)
This was August's challenge, written from the following prompts:

Location: A cottage
Sentence:
If you do this, you will be dead to me.
Bonus:
Boat

I do not know where the idea came from, it just popped into my head. Hope you like it.
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    “That…can’t be it.”, Ross mumbled as he rounded a corner and – presumably – arrived at the address he had been searching for. But he did not believe his eyes.

    “You’ve got to be kiddin’…”, he muttered and checked the address on the slip of paper once again, even though he already knew it by heart now. He was at the correct address, but still could not believe it. He did not want to believe it.

    “Bob, what the hell?”, he said shaking his head, but then approached the building anyway, even though it was more the husk of a building, broken pillars jutting into the air like the ribs of a long dead animal, the smashed windows like black holes leading into vast nothingness. Chuckling about his sense of drama, but mostly to calm his nerves which were going haywire, Ross entered the building, glancing fearfully at the crumbling roof over his head, hoping it would not come down.

    He crumpled the piece of paper in his hand and cursed his friend Bob under his breath. He would never have come here if it had not been Bob’s handwriting on the paper, together with the ominous order “Come alone”. Old Bobby had always been a bit loopy, but this was a new level of crazy even for him. Still, Bob was a good friend, or at least had been until his wife had died, so Ross had decided to follow his call.

    Seeing the abysmally bad state the building was in, though, he regretted his sympathy.

    He was sure that he had heard the soft pitter-patter of small feet, maybe rats, and he shuddered, but then he called out nonetheless: “Bob?”

    His quiet call echoed in the empty building, was thrown back at him distorted and sounding nothing like his own voice. With a wry grin, Ross imagined a zombie stumbling out of the hallway he could barely see at the other end of the room, but the cold goose bumps on his spine made his grin freeze. That crazy fantasy of zombies just did not feel so crazy in a building such as this one…

    With a harsh breath, he decided to wait one more minute, to the second, then he would be gone.

    The minute passed and still he heard nothing but some rodents’ feet and bleeping and he was absolutely positive that he could feel the cockroaches in the dark.

    Shuddering, Ross turned around and angrily muttered: “I’m outta here.”

    But he did not get the chance.

    From the darkness behind him, hands grasped him and he would have screamed, but he could not as a hand was pressed firmly against his mouth, closing off his supply of fresh air with its pressure on his mouth and nose. But also with its stench. Ross gagged as he smelled the stench of grime, sweat and urine and he fought against the person behind him, but to no avail. He was dragged deeper into the dark, his head swimming as he still could hardly breath and the only coherent thought he was capable of was “So this is how I’m going to die.”

    Feeling the last bit of strength fading, Ross closed his eyes, but suddenly he was free again and he gulped in desperate breaths of air, even ignoring the stench that still lingered. But only for a second, then he whirled around, his hands raised to defend himself.

    The man in front of him was covered in filth, dressed in rags and…

    “Bob?”, Ross breathed in utter disbelief and stared at the creature in front of him. It was Bob, but… it so was not.

    “Shush!”, the man hissed and Ross could not recognise his friend any longer. He knew it was Bob, but somehow it was not him anymore. His grimy hand closed around Ross’ wrist and he positively felt the dirt stick to his skin, felt it even on the scars there that usually had no feeling at all. Just thinking about the filth clinging to him, he also smelled it again, tasted it on his own lips, gagging again.

    He was so preoccupied with trying to not throw up that it took him a long time to actually react.

    “Where are you taking me?”, he demanded to know, wrenching free from Bob’s grasp, with the sickening feeling of Bob’s fingers sticking to his skin with filth.

    “Shush!”, was all Bob said, then he dragged Ross deeper into the bowels of the building, but he fought his friend off, “Tell me what’s wrong with you!”

    “Not here.”, Bob mumbled, barely audible and his voice distorted by the echo from the walls, “I think the room is bugged.”

    “Bugged?”, Ross muttered, shaking his head, “There sure are bugs here, Bob, but it ain’t the electronic kind.”

    A glare full of distaste so hateful hit Ross that he gasped for breath and instantly shut the hell up.

    Against better knowledge and despite the sickening, icy feeling in his gut, Ross then followed his friend deeper into the building, was dragged through collapsed corridors, around and around. He was absolutely sure that he would never find the way out on his own.

    Stumbling into the pitch dark, Ross barely caught himself when Bob suddenly stopped, right in the middle of the room. At least he thought it was the middle of the room, but he did not see a Goddamn thing.

    “Bob?”, he whispered, not daring to speak any louder and, as half expected, Bob’s angry answer was, “Shush!”

    Then Bob let go of him and in the darkness that engulfed him, Ross almost wished the grimy hand back on his own, because he only heard Bob shuffle through the room, going here and there, as if he was… searching the room.

    This was crazy. Totally crazy.

    “Bob?”, he tried again, but when his friend once again replied in the same fashion, Ross lost it, “Tell me what’s going on this instant.”

    “Shush!”, was his only answer, then again the shuffling of Bob’s feet and as soon as he had gone full circle Bob returned to him. He merely realised it because of the overwhelming stench. But then he had to close his eyes against blinding brightness and it took him a moment to understand that Bob had lit a candle. A blasted candle and it seemed bright as day to Ross.

    “Where the hell are we?”, he muttered as he saw his surroundings. Everything was broken, collapsed, rubble and filth lay everywhere. Only a dirty blanket told him that this might be Bob’s lair, for lack of a better word.

    “Safe.”, Bob said and Ross needed a moment to process this, then he asked in confusion, “From what?”

    “Them.”, Bob said and Ross could not help but groan, “Bobby, if you dragged me here…”

    “I’m not crazy.”, Bob said and despite his appearance, Ross was inclined to believe him. The sincerity, the urgency in those words…

    “Then tell me what’s going on.”, he asked, willing to give his friend another chance. One last chance.

    “They are here.”, Bob said and Ross frowned, half believing this to be some sick joke. But Bob was not the kind of guy for such jokes and this was not the place for them either. Yet he could not believe it, but he decided to play along, even if just to get some coherent answers out of him.

    “Who is?”, he then asked and Bob shrugged, “They didn’t exactly introduce themselves, ya know? Didn’t have no business cards either.”

    “Bob.”, Ross said sternly, “What’s going on? Tell me or I swear I’m outta here.”

    “They’re watching me.”, Bob explained – kind of, “They know I’ve found them and they want me to stay quiet. Wanna silence me.”

    “Bob, they – whoever they are – are not after you.”, Ross intentionally slowly told him, stressing every word, but Bob replied harshly, “Just because you don’t believe in them doesn’t mean they’re not after you.”

    Ross laughed, but it died quickly on his lips as he saw Bob’s face. He was truly convinced of his mad ramblings. But he played along: “So they are already after me, too?”

    “Yes.”, Bob nodded, “I found them with my telescope, so I’m a threat, because I know. And you… you can stop them.”

    “Me?”, Ross asked and again Bob nodded, now with more enthusiasm as he explained, “You develop vaccines. You can stop their way to world domination through inoculation.”

    Ross knew all those words, but they did not make any sense anyway.

    “Alright.”, he said slowly, “But what is their plan?”

    “It’s…”, Bob began, but then quickly fell silent and cocked his head as if he was listening for something.

    “Bob?”, Ross asked and was – surprise – shushed again. This was crazy, his friend needed help, the kind a shrink provided. But for that, he had to get him out of here.

    Not sure how to accomplish that, Ross tried anyway: “Bob, we won’t be able to stop them while we’re in here, so…”

    “Shush.”, Bob asked of him, “I heard something. There’s an agent of theirs here.”

    Ross tried his best not to roll his eyes or let him otherwise know that he was now fully convinced Bob had snapped. Mind snapped like a twig under a boot, crack. Simple as that. Maybe Betsy’s death had been harder on him than Ross had thought…

    “There! Die!”, Bob suddenly roared, scaring Ross almost into stupor as he dashed aside, far more quickly than he had thought him capable, and then fiercely stomped something into the ground. When he was done and stepped back to admire his footwork, Ross gagged at the sight of a mouse squished into nothing more than a blood stain and some dirty scraps of fur.

    But he shoved the image aside and instead asked Bob: “If there are agents here, we’re not safe any longer. Let’s go.”

    “Yeah, good thinking.”, Bob nodded and Ross was glad, having succeeded in getting his friend at least the first step into the right direction.

    On their way out of the room, a candle in Bob’s dirty hand, they saw another mouse scurry right across their path and Bob dashed after it, stomping it into a pulp like the first one.

    “Bob, come on.”, Ross could merely mumble, but as they reached the doorway out of this lair, two more mice ran towards them. With a roar that made Ross think of a battle cry, Bob charged against the two mice, dropping the candle in the process, engulfing them in darkness.

    Ross heard him stomp around, then scream, his blood curdling as he heard that. It was not a scream of a rambling madman, no… it was a scream of pain and sheer terror. It echoed off the walls, came from seemingly everywhere around him, deafening in its volume and intensity.

    Until it suddenly just… stopped.

    “Bob?”, Ross asked, his voice barely above a terrified whisper. Then he heard the pitter-patter of small feet, probably rats. The next thing he heard was his own scream of terror.

     

     

    “And this, doctor, is our latest guest.”, Doctor Madden said as he rounded a corner followed by his new colleague to show her the patients and briefly discuss their cases, “Came in three weeks ago, our John Doe.”

    “We don’t have ID?”, she asked and he shook his head, glancing at the man in the padded cell.

    “No, we don’t.”, he then merely said, “No one’s claimed him and I doubt anyone ever will. He’s a handful.”

    “How so?”, she enquired and Doctor Madden shrugged, but then explained, “Screaming his head off in the middle of the night and not even benzos get him to shut the hell up. During daytime he’s just sitting in the corner, drooling. We don’t know what happened, but his mind is broken if you ask me.”

    She looked at the man, watching him, and Doctor Madden spoke up before she noticed: “He’s a bad case, but breakdowns really aren’t unheard of in people with suicidal tendencies.”

    Then he turned away after one last glance at the man’s wrist and the scars on it.

Rats (Challenge)
This was July's challenge, written from the following prompts:

Location: A partially collapsed building
Sentence:
“I think the room is bugged.”
Bonus:
Mouse

I don't know where this came from. And I scared myself while writing it. :XD:
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    “Ain’t she a beauty?”, the old sea captain next to her sighed with a fond smile on his lips and Mariana could not help it, she had to glance at him. He truly was old; his face weathered and brown like old leather, his hands covered with tanned, wrinkled skin, calloused from years of hard work out on sea, steering his ship safely through hardships unnumbered.

    But even though she clearly saw that the joints in his hands were all swollen, there was still a juvenile shine in his eyes. They made him seem young, almost boyish in his happiness. If only she had ever felt anything similar.

    The thought made her cautious smile falter and die on her lips and Mariana unconsciously touched the brooch on her coat, caressing the ruby embedded in it.

    The captain’s admiring voice pulled her from her thoughts: “Just look at the town, glistening there in the dusk. She’s a real gem.”

    Mariana tucked a strand of hair behind her ear to look out onto the town’s coast. It was true, it was a beautiful sight, the harbour there in the fading light as they approached it from the stormy sea. It was heart-wrenching, but it truly was beautiful.

    “It’s good to come home.”, the captain said with a content sigh and Mariana kept her eyes on the town as she replied, “I would not know, I have not been home in a long time. You?”

    “I’ve never left, Miss.”, the old captain laughed heartily, “Born and raised in this little town right there.”

    Mariana smirked crookedly. She, too, was from this very town she was now looking at for the first time in many years, but he did not need to know that. It would not change anything. So instead she said: “It must be beautiful to be home, to feel like a child again, without sorrows or concerns, without sadness.”

    Once again she glanced at the captain, but then set her eyes on the town, her home town, and she whispered sadly: “I’ve forgotten what it’s like to feel young.”

    “But Miss…”, the captain’s rough voice startled her, as she had not thought he would hear her whisper, “You’re still young.”

    Mariana just smirked at that.

    “There’s still plenty o’ time for you to go back home if you want to.”, the old captain reassured her and Mariana took a deep breath, then she nodded, “You’re right, there is still time. One day.”

    He smiled proudly at her, but Mariana looked away, thinking that this day was a lot closer than she had ever thought it could be. It was almost upon her, almost. But it had to wait a while longer, Mariana thought, as she saw the fog gathering around the ship, slowly blocking their view of the little coast town they were approaching.

    “What in Pete’s name…”, the old seafarer mumbled in astonishment, but Mariana merely smiled. She had learned to love fog over the years.

    But the crew of the ship was getting in a flap as the fog enclosed them and effectively blinded them.

    “Let go anchor!”, the captain yelled an order, followed by a string of curses interspersed with other orders Mariana did not fully understand, but neither did she care. All she really picked up was that they were staying right where they were, off the coast of the little town.

    “Dang it.”, the captain cursed once again, mumbling into his white beard, “We can’t see a thing in this blasted fog…”

    Mariana looked at him and with an apologetic shrug he said: “We gotta stay here for now. I’m terribly sorry, Miss.”

    “You should have said that a long time ago.”, Mariana whispered and she saw confusion cloud the man’s eyes, like a whitish veil that was pulled over them.

    “You do not remember, do you?”, she then spoke, a disbelieving grin on her face, but her voice sharp as a razor’s edge, “Did you really forget the girl you and your friends cornered that one summer day under the docks? The girl you raped?”

    Mariana watched as he paled, blanched with sudden realisation, recognition, so she nodded softly: “Yes, it’s me. Back then I did not know how to fight you, let alone all five of you. Now I know.”

    “T-that was 60 years ago…”, the captain stammered and Mariana shook her head as she walked to him, taking the brooch off her coat, “Maybe for you it was. For you it was 60 years, three months and five days ago. But not for me, for me it was just yesterday.”

    She smiled as the old man who had once been her classmate shivered and backed away from her, shivering and cowering in fear as she had done 60 years ago.

    But no one saved her back then and no one would save him now.

    With a quick and trained motion of her hand Mariana jabbed the needle of her brooch deeply into his neck, jammed it into his aorta. It still amazed her that there was no blood; the brooch drank it all. But it was glorious to see the fear in his eyes and then, slowly, see it fade as the life left the wretched creature.

    The more the brooch drank, the stronger Mariana felt and she actually felt wrinkles vanish, felt her weakened, old joints mend themselves, her body rejuvenating itself with the brooch’s magic.

    As the rejuvenating flow ended, Mariana gasped and she knew that the brooch had sucked the old man dry, had drank the last drop of blood.

    With a satisfied smile, Mariana looked down at the now mummified body of the old seaman. Now his skin looked even more like leather.

    She pulled the brooch’s needle out of the flesh, now more parchment than skin, and dragged the body to the railing, hoisting it up and unceremoniously dumping the dead weight into the sea.

    “Captain?”, she heard one of his men shout out to him so Mariana turned around to face the so far disembodied voice, slowly seeing a young man emerge from the thick fog. She had not realised that her faithful companion had had the ship so tightly in its clasps.

    “Ma’am, you alright?”, the young man asked and she nodded with a grateful smile before he asked, “Have you seen the captain?”

    “No.”, she shook her head, “But… I heard a splash just a moment ago.”

    “So did we.”, the young sailor sighed and then turned around to shout over his shoulder, “Man over board!”

    Mariana bit her tongue in order not to smile. They would never find him and even if they did, they would not recognise him.

    “Ma’am, let’s get you below deck.”, the sailor offered his hand to steady her, “It ain’t safe here in this fog. I don’t trust it.”

    “Alright, thank you.”, she said, but smiled to herself. The young man had good instincts, but he had nothing to fear from her. So Mariana calmly followed him back to her cabin as he escorted her below deck.

    “He is still in town.”, Mariana heard the quiet voice from the ruby, heard it resonate in her head, “So close.”

    “I know.”, she whispered, urging for patience. She had waited more than 60 years; she could wait one more night. One more night and then she could finally die in peace after getting revenge for the child she had been, sixty years ago, and for the child she had given birth to back then, the boy with five fathers and only twelve minutes to live before he became the one to find his fathers for her. One by one.

Homecoming (challenge)
This was June's challenge, written from the following prompts:

Location: A village next to a harbour
Sentence: “
I’ve forgotten what it’s like to feel young.”
Bonus:
Brooch

I am not sure where this story came from, but I hope you like it nonetheless.
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48 deviations

“Welcome to Fairburn Castle, enjoy your stay.”, Tom smiled at the elderly couple as he handed them the keys to their suite over the reception counter. The gentleman nodded at him, but his wife returned Tom’s smile and extended her hand for him to take. 

“Thank you, young man.”, she said, shaking his hand and leaving a folded bill in his palm. Fifty quid for a line he said over and over every day and a smile he had to fake most of the time... his life was bitter. And everyone kept reminding him of that fact, Tom thought, as the young bell boy turned to him, chuckling: “Man, you sure could charm the knickers off every chick.” 

Tom merely gave him a stern glare for that, but as Bobby kept snickering, he asked the boy: “Joke all you want, but make sure the guests don’t hear it. Alright?” 

“Yeah, sure.”, the boy waved him off, but Tom insisted, “Otherwise someone will complain and the management will hear of it.” 

“Yeah, I know.”, the boy shrugged, so Tom reminded him of something most people, himself included, tended to forget around here, “I am the management.” 

Well, at least part of it. 

The bell boy paled visibly and Tom felt bad for him, but he tried to keep up a stern façade as he told him: “Consider this a warning.” 

“Yes, sir!”, the boy responded and Tom merely sighed. Being respected was one thing, being feared was a whole other thing and he did not like it. Because fear made people distant and he only worked the reception because he liked people. The occasional jerk reminded him that not all people were good, but most of ‘em were. 

Especially the colleague - employee - who waved at him from the office, silently asking him to come join her. He had no one to take his place at the reception, but just as he wanted to say so, one of the most capable guys they had in the hotel relieved him with the words: “Lydia asked me to cover for you, said she needs you.” 

That had his heart soaring to celestial spheres. That was until his head caught up and reminded him that Lydia did not reciprocate his love for her. And thereby his sliver of a good mood was gone instantly. 

“Did she say what for?”, Tom asked, trying his best not to let his dampened spirits be heard, but his colleague merely shrugged, uninterested, “Some financial stuff.” 

Tom bit his tongue, for once not to snap at him that this “financial stuff” paid his salary and second because he hated talking about this financial stuff. It meant lying to Lydia. A lot. 

Putting the fifty pounds in his pocket, Tom turned around and did his best to smile at Lydia, which was not hard at all. He could go on all day about how beautiful she was, brown hair, golden eyes, a charming smile... but what he really loved about her was the way she treated others, with the utmost respect and care, always helpful, always honestly interested. But his smile crumbled as he looked at her, saw the frown on her face, the deep worry in her eyes that did not sparkle as they usually did. 

“What’s wrong?”, he asked, but she just glanced towards the office and went in, waiting for him to follow before she closed the door. 

“I don’t know how to say this.”, Lydia mumbled, but Tom gave her a cautious smile, “Just say it. Won’t kill me.” 

She looked up at him as if she doubted his words, but then she bit her lip and blurted out: “Money keeps vanishing. Another month like the last one and we’ll have to close.” 

Tom swallowed hard, but stayed silent. 

“Don’t you want to know why?”, Lydia asked, irritated, nervous, and it took Tom a second to respond, “Of course I do. I’m just...shocked.” 

Truth was...he knew exactly why all that money vanished and where it went. 

But he could never tell her. No one knew and no one ever could know. 

“Tom, we have to do something!”, Lydia insisted, her face flushed with her suppressed anger and her helplessness, making everything in Tom scream to hold her, comfort her and never let her go again. Instead he balled his hands to tight fists and bit his tongue to keep his mouth shut. 

“We have to find out who’s embezzling money. We have to call in the police.” 

Now Tom felt himself pale. If the police started an investigation, they would have his head within a few days. He could not let that happen. 

“Give it some time, Lydia, it will..”, he began an attempt to assuage her, as he had done many times before in the past months, but to his surprise, this time she would not have it. 

“No.”, Lydia insisted, “This has been going on for half a year, Tom. Someone is stealing from us. Sorry, from you.” 

It was his hotel, yeah, but he would happily share it all with her. She already felt responsible for the castle and the people in it, he could not think of a better partner in this business. Or a better partner in his life. But sadly, none of that would happen, ever. It simply could not. 

“We will find them.”, Tom tried to reassure her, feeling like the scum of the earth for lying to her, “Trust me, please.” 

“I do.”, Lydia said, taking him completely by surprise and she smiled up at him, “Don’t look so shocked. You’re a wonderful boss, but you’re also too kind for your own good. I hate to say it, but waiting for someone to come forward and confess the embezzling just won’t happen, Tom. We have to find the culprit.” 

No need, he knew him well. 

“And then we have to get rid of them.” 

He was trying to, but it did not work. Yet he could never tell her that. Damn, it broke his heart. 

“We will.”, he whispered and Lydia sighed, not convinced, but then gave in, “Alright. Two more days, then I’m calling the police. Alright?” 

“Yes.”, he croaked, but bravely nodded at her and left the office before she would be able to realise that something was very wrong in his life. Heck, she probably knew anyway that he was a basket case. Even worse, there was not much hope to get better as Tom wryly thought when he felt his pager buzz on his belt. Not now, he pleaded silently, please not now, not ever. 

But it was no use. So he made his way back past the office, down the corridors deep into the belly of the west wing, then up the stairs. With a desperate, insane grin he thought that it was just fitting that in the olden days the high tower had been used as a cell. It was a cell alright, his grandfather’s and also Tom’s. 

No one knew the old man was still here, no one but Tom and he dreaded whenever his grandfather summoned him up to his chamber in the tower. He felt his heart pound in fear with every step he took and his hand was shaking as he reached for the doorknob, but he pushed the old, creaking door open and entered the cell, entered his prison. 

The mouldy odour of dust and old paper assaulted his nostrils, making Tom cough, but he tried to keep quiet, to not be heard or seen. To no avail. 

“Where have you been?”, his grandfather shouted at him, making Tom wince and a chill run down his spine. Desperate to find any resemblance of strength, Tom stared into the light of the only light bulb in the tower cell and tried to ignore the money piling all around him. So much money, the blood of the hotel that would keep it running for years...all hoarded up here just because his grandfather wanted it that way. And Tom was powerless to stop him. 

“Answer me!”, the old man roared and Tom shakily replied, “Down at the reception, greeting new guests.” 

“Rich guests?”, his grandfather snapped and Tom looked into the old man’s eyes, but could not withstand the malice and hatred in them. There was no love left in that man, no love but that for gold and this was not love, it was greed, it was a sickness. 

“Y-yes.”, Tom replied, his voice merely a whisper and he winced as his grandfather screeched, “I know you have their money! Give it to me!” 

Shaking all over, Tom reached for the fifty pounds in his pocket and as soon as he had the money out, it was snatched from his finger. Cold fear washed over him and to hide his shaking hands, he stuffed them in his pockets. In there, a slip of paper rustled against the fingers of his left hand. 

Did he dare...? No. He could not. It was his only chance, but no. No. 

“More!”, his grandfather screamed, but Tom slowly shook his head, his shoulders tense and his teeth chattering, “T-there is no more.” 

“There is more!” 

“Not today.”, Tom whispered, but it was requited with a sharp blow to his cheek, a slap that left a both cold and burning sensation. 

“Liar!”, his grandfather screeched and Tom fought to grit the words out, “I cannot give you more, not now, not if you want the hotel to keep running.” 

“Liar.”, his grandfather merely repeated, but then ignored him as he snatched a handful of bills from one stack and started counting. Tom had learned to make good use of such an opportunity and he silently slunk off, his head hanging and his spirits crushed. How should he ever keep the hotel alive? 

His fingers once again rustled the slip of paper in his pocket, but he immediately let go of it again. He just could not do it. He had to , but he could not. 

Crestfallen he made his way back to the reception, he needed to be amongst people now, preferably nice people. He felt a lot better already when he heard the sounds coming from the lobby, but before he rounded the corner, he ran into Lydia. 

“Hi, Tom, I...what happened?” 

“Huh?”, he merely asked, shaking his head in confusion, but smiling at her. There was no one else he would rather be with right now. 

“What happened?”, she repeated and gingerly touched his cheek, making a whole other kind of shiver run down Tom’s spine, but her words pulled him out of his daydreaming, “Your cheek is red. Are you running a fever?” 

“I...don’t think so.”, he replied and Lydia gently took his hand, then winced and enclosed it between her much smaller hands. “Your hands are ice cold. Where have you been?” 

“Just...going about.”, he mumbled, but she was clearly not convinced and asked him, “Tom, are you really alright?” 

“Just...worried a bit. The finances, you know?” 

After a long moment of silence, Lydia delicately asked, her hands still warming his: “Is that all?” 

Tom swallowed hard and shrugged, whispering: “Maybe a bit lonely, too.” 

“Oh, Tom.”, Lydia murmured and to his surprise, hugged him. It took him too long to realise what was happening, but when he did, he quickly put his arms around her, determined to hold her for as long as he could. Still it was much too soon when she pulled back, a sympathising smile on her lips as she asked him: “Come on, let’s put some ice on your cheek. It almost looks as if someone slapped you.” 

To ease the suspicion he heard in those words, Tom faked a chuckle: “Clumsy me, ran into a door frame.” 

Lydia glanced at him, but stayed silent. She did not speak a word as she took care of him, put ice on his cheek, her touch gentle and caring, just as she always was. Every day, especially every night he craved her touch, but he knew it could not be, not now. Maybe not ever. 

When she turned around to return to her office, without him, Tom sighed heavily, knowing that she would never be his. She was too good for him. And he could not risk bringing her into his life, could not risk his grandfather knowing about her. Or her knowing about his grandfather. 

And in two days time, it all would be over, because the police would find the money and Tom was the only one who knew about the old cell up there. 

He was so, so screwed. 

This thought and the fact that in two days Lydia would call in the police distracted Tom for the rest of the day, making it hard for him to concentrate on creating shift schedules, so he rather spent his time at the reception, talking to people, nice people. And most of them were, so his pocket quickly filled with tips again and with every penny, his pocket grew much heavier, for Tom knew that he would have to deliver every last penny to his grandfather. And soon. 

“Alright, boys, have a nice evening.”, Lydia said as she stopped in front of the reception, bundled up in her coat against the rainy weather outside, her purse on her shoulder. 

“You too.”, Tom wished her, but as Bobby busied himself, Lydia walked up to Tom and asked him, “Feeling better?” 

“Yeah. Thank you.”, he replied, thinking that it was her excellent care that got him through the day. Or just her smile, who knew? 

“If there’s anything, at all, call me. And if it’s the middle of the night.”, she asked of him and Tom merely nodded, but she insisted, “I mean it, Tom. Anything. Anytime. You hear me?” 

“Yes, ma’am.”, he smiled, receiving a smile in return that warmed his heart. Lydia then turned around, making his heart heavier again, but she looked back over her shoulder and with a grin told him: “Oh, before I forget. My nan’s asked if you’d like to come by for some tea.” 

“She..did?”, Tom stuttered, surprised, and Lydia shrugged, laughing, “You know the old hag. I love her to bits, but she’s crazy. Said you were such a nice young gentleman when she met you. She’s imagining things again, she hasn’t left the house in a year. But anyhoo, good night.” 

“Night.”, Tom mumbled, but his hand returned to his pocket, to the slip of paper in there. What Lydia did not know was that he had in fact met her grandmother. Old Lucille had once worked for his grandfather and she was the only one who could help him against the old tyrant, the only one who knew at least something, had known even before Tom had told her as little as he had. She had just looked at him and known. Then she had handed him the slip of paper and urged him to make good use of the information written upon it. 

Tom had read it, but not dared use it against his grandfather. He simple did not have the courage to... 

The buzzing of his pager interrupted Tom’s gloomy thought and his mind was instantly filled with terror. No, he thought, not now, not so soon! But it was no use and he knew it. 

So Tom got an employee to relieve him form his post, then he made his way up the steps to the tower cell, silently praying. Before his grandfather had taken up residence in the tower, Tom had not prayed since he had been a child. Now he was wearing a crucifix again, but it had not helped him, still he clung to it, felt its corners dig into his palm and tried to draw strength from it. 

To no avail, for when he reached the door to his grandfather’s residence, Tom felt his heart gallop. Once again his hand fondled the slip of paper, but with a sigh he shook his head, left the paper where it was and entered the tower cell. 

“What took you so long, imbecile?”, he heard his grandfather screech and it made him wince, so he closed his eyes to preparing himself for the venom that would be thrown hat him. 

“Answer me!”, the old man demanded, but it took Tom a moment to respond before he barely managed to say, “I was working the reception again.” 

“Then where’s the money?”, was all his grandfather was interested in and Tom sighed, defeated, “Here.” 

With that he took his tips from his pocket, a total of almost two hundred pounds. He knew exactly how much it was, how much money was stacked up here in the tower cell, he knew it to the very last penny, but what did it matter? It was lost to him...as long as his grandfather was there. 

“Where’s the money?”, the old man shouted that moment, making Tom wince again before he replied, “That’s all I have.” 

“Liar!”, he was accused and even though he was expecting the blow, it still caught him off guard and made him stumble, knocked him off his feet. 

“Where’s the money?”, his grandfather screamed right next to his ear and when Tom merely shook his head, his face too numb to allow him to form words, another blow hit him. Right on the spot his grandfather had hit him hours before...on the spot Lydia had touched and cared for. 

“Give me the money”, his grandfather began anew, screaming in Tom’s ear, but when he followed with another blow, Tom this time evaded it, hissing, “No! I’m tired of doing what you say.” 

His grandfather chuckled darkly, the sound echoing in the tower cell. 

His heart pounding in his chest, Tom produced the slip of paper from his pocket, the one Lydia’s nan had given to him, had urged him to use. 

He would. He had to. For the hotel, for Lydia. For himself. 

His hands holding the slip of paper were shaking, as was his voice, but he forced himself to read the words out loud: “Amor aeternabilis sit mihi asa. Nunquam inmundus spiritus sit ipsimus meus. Vade retro, profana praesentia, vade retro! Amor aeternabilis et pietas casta protege animus meus.” 

Tom heard his grandfather snarl at him, howl in pain, but he ignored the malevolent ghost to the best of his ability and recited the chant over and over again. And as he spoke the last syllable of the seventh recital, the light bulb above his head exploded, leaving Tom in impenetrable darkness. 

And silence. Sweet, precious silence. 

His grandfather was gone. Tom heard himself laugh maniacally, then he stopped himself and realised that it was over. After six months, it was finally over, he could live his life again, run the hotel...maybe even come by Lydia’s place for tea. 

Maybe he could, at least he had a chance now. 

Filled with new hope, Tom slowly got up from the stone floor and fumbled for the door. Upon reaching it, he realised that it was also dark here, a power outage? 

“Tom?”, he heard someone call after him and at first he thought his ears had deceived him, but there was no mistake when he heard her call out to him again, “Tom, are you there?” 

“Lydia?”, he called back, still disbelieving, but she replied, “Stay where you are, I’ll come find you! Just keep talking so I can find you.” 

This made him grin, but he did as he had been told: “Is there an outage?” 

“Whole hotel blacked out. Saw it when I left and had to come back, make sure everything’s alright here.”, Lydia informed him and then she rounded the corner of the stairs, he saw the cone of light from her flash-light, so he called out: “I’m here!” 

“Thank goodness.”, Lydia sighed and reached for his hand, “Are you alright?” 

“I’m fine.”, Tom told her with a smile and gave her hand a gentle squeeze, “”Now I am.” 

“What do you mean?”, she asked, but he merely smiled at her, Lydia, however, did not smile as she asked in shock, “Tom, what happened to you? You’re bleeding.” 

“Indeed.”, Tom muttered as he touched his brow, but it did not matter, not anymore. He was free, free to do as he pleased. 

“Tom, please, what happened to you?”, Lydia asked again and with a smile, he replied, “You probably won’t believe me, but I will tell you everything over that cup of tea you mentioned.” 

“Huh?”, she murmured, making Tom smile and he took both her hands in his, asking her, “Would you go out with me?” 

She was surprised, stuttering as she tried to reply, so Tom added: “I’ve had a serious crush on you for months, please just give me a chance.” 

“Gladly.”, Lydia blurted out, then covered her mouth as if she was as startled by her answer as he was, but then she clarified, “Actually, I’ve been waiting for you to ask me out... I couldn’t find the courage to ask you.” 

“We’re a bunch of fools.”, Tom chuckled, but then put an arm around her, nuzzled the top of her head and murmured, “Makes us a good match.” 

The Scrooge of Fairburn Castle (Challenge)
This was May's challenge, written from the following prompts:

Location: A castle built on a cliff
Sentence: “No! I'm tired of doing what you say.”

Bonus: summon

The banishment spell Tom used in this story was written by me, so please excuse any mistakes I made. My lessons in Latin have been a while ago know. ^^;

“Amor aeternabilis sit mihi asa. Nunquam inmundus spiritus sit ipsimus meus. Vade retro, profana praesentia, vade retro! Amor aeternabilis et pietas casta protege animus meus.”

But it is supposed to translate to this:
“May eternal love be my resort. May the unholy spirit never be my master. Begone, unholy presence, begone! Eternal love and pious reverence protect my soul.”

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Und schon wieder von SmirkCat.
Mädchen, das gewinnt Überhand. :XD:


Diesmal sollen es 8 Fakten über meinen Charakter Alexander Rowley sein, zu finden in San Francisco Dusk Part 1

1) Sein zweiter Vorname ist Theodoric.
2) Er kann diesen Namen nicht ausstehen.
3) Am liebsten hört er Jazz.
4) Ohne Kaffee geht bei ihm gar nichts.
5) Er hat keine Ahnung, wer sein Vater ist.
6) (Die Agentur übrigens auch nicht. Und seine Mutter schweigt zu dem Thema beharrlich.)
7) Er hat zwei Tätowierungen, eine um die Geburt seiner Töchter zu feiern, eine um immer an seine Scheidung erinnert zu werden.
8) Aber er glaubt trotzdem noch an die große Liebe, er gibt es nur nicht zu.

:wave:

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:icontrielleamnessis:
TrielleAmnessis Featured By Owner Aug 26, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
Danke fürs faven ^^
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:iconthyme-sprite:
Thyme-Sprite Featured By Owner Aug 26, 2015
Immer gern. :D Dein "Cuddling" hat mir immens das Aufstehen versüßt.
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:icontrielleamnessis:
TrielleAmnessis Featured By Owner Aug 26, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
Hehe :3
Es war mir eine Freude ^^
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:iconsmirkcat:
SmirkCat Featured By Owner Edited Aug 6, 2015  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Hmmm... also, wenn ich so deine Stories durchstalke ist ja nix mehr mit Game-Prosa :D
Nur Narvel im Moment? ;)
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:iconthyme-sprite:
Thyme-Sprite Featured By Owner Aug 7, 2015
Im Moment ja, weil ich leider nicht zum Zocken komme. Also fehlt der Game-Input. :shrug:

Aber ich plane wieder was eigenes. ;)
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:iconsmirkcat:
SmirkCat Featured By Owner Aug 7, 2015  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Oh noooooin D= immer noch keine Zeit zum Zocken? xD
Zockst du denn unser erstes Spiel? ;P

Coool :dummy:
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:iconthyme-sprite:
Thyme-Sprite Featured By Owner Aug 7, 2015
Noch hab ich den Titel ja nicht...aber hoffentlich bald.
Welches jetzt? Sorry, die Hitze hier verbüht mir langsam das Hirn...
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(1 Reply)
:iconalexbk1325:
Alexbk1325 Featured By Owner Feb 26, 2015  Hobbyist Writer
Thank you so much for the fav!! :)
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:iconfictasy:
Fictasy Featured By Owner Feb 13, 2015   General Artist
:iconthankyou1plz::iconthankyou2plz::iconthankyou3plz::iconthankyou4plz::iconthankyou5plz::iconfour--plz::iconfavoriteplz:
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:iconfantasysmistress:
FantasysMistress Featured By Owner Feb 11, 2015
Thank you for faving Valentines Cards! FREE flying hearts Icon 
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