The moving truck was late.
Ben was on the phone with the movers, and he seemed to be very close to losing his temper.
Laura fiddled with the ring on her finger, a nervous habit from when there had been a different diamond there.
She looked up at their new house.
Paint was peeling, and all of the windows were fogged over with dust.
It looked decidedly eerie, but with a bit of work and some furniture it would probably be wonderful to live in.
The sun beat down, harsh and hot on her shoulders, on the back of her head.
Laura had no doubt that Ben would be finished scraping the windows and mopping the floors in preparation for a new coat of wood stain and varnish by tomorrow.
That was something she really loved about him.
He was pro-active.
He got things done, even if he was a little anal about cleanliness and hygiene.
Laura walked through what would be their sitting room, still fondling her engagement ring.
Even in the dim light that had somehow managed to force its way through the strata of grime on the windows, it sparkled prettily.
She examined the old blackened fireplace in the room and wondered (not for the first time) if she should change her last name.
She could hyphenate, or just leave it as it was- but there was something about changing it altogether felt like a second chance.
A new beginning.
Laura very badly wanted a new beginning.
She had baggage. And she wanted to dump it.
The blackened fireplace was one of the few things that Ben wanted to keep original in this place.
The fireplaces and the flooring; he wanted to completely modernise everything else. He had absolutely mammoth plans for the kitchen and the bathrooms.
He wanted to knock half the walls out of the building and open the whole place up.
He wanted to put in huge windows and flood the whole house with natural light and open air.
Laura didn’t care what he wanted to do with the place, she knew that it was going to be fantastic.
And she knew that they would be married next January at the fresh start of a new year, in their new beautiful house, where they would start their new beautiful life.
She heard a loud sound coming from upstairs.
She hoped that the sound hadn’t come from structural issues with the building, Ben didn’t need any more work.
She climbed the stairs slowly, and they creaked under her feet.
Laura gripped the old banister, the grain of the wood feeling rough and obvious under her hand.
When she reached the landing she swallowed, realising just how good an idea windows were going to be.
Hardly any light had managed to make it into this hallway, and it made everything look grey, dramatic and sinister, a shadow from a stack of old chairs rested up against the wall stretched in a deep line in front of her, looking liable to swallow her up.
Laura shivered but wasn’t afraid, she was used to things looking this way.
The loud sound that she’d heard downstairs sounded itself again, now closer than she’d expected.
It was coming from what would be the master bedroom.
She reached out for the doorknob but flinched when it was cold under her hand, numbing her hand as if it had been carved from actual ice.
Laura fought a shiver that was like a frozen shard melting as it slid down her spine.
Her breath fogged.
She reached out and tried the doorknob again, it stuck and jammed under her hand.
Quickly getting frustrated, she brought both of her hands into the action.
The metal of her engagement ring dragged and scraped against the doorknob, until finally something clicked and the door was opened.
Ben was angry.
The movers, who had assured him they would arrive yesterday, weren’t going to be here for another week.
He took a long moment of standing outside to calm himself down.
He didn’t want to go inside and take it out on Laura, she’d had more than enough anger and abuse in her life, and he’d decided that he wasn’t ever going to be the one to inflict more of that on her.
He had employees to misdirect that kind of thing onto, anyway.
He decided instead to start cleaning and get his anger out in a productive way.
Once he was sure his blood had finished boiling and he was once again calm and rational, he opened the front door of their new house.
It smelled of mould, dampness and dust.
He dearly hoped that rot hadn’t gotten into the floorboards; they were one of the main buying points of the house.
He took a deep breath and a moment to congratulate himself in the fact he’d packed the bedding and cleaning supplies into the car.
He’d go up and start on one of the bedrooms so that Laura wouldn’t have to try and sleep in some dreadful mildewy hell.
She’d looked so adorably sleepy the whole car ride, so he decided to start right away so that she could have a nap.
He loved Laura, and hated her past almost as much as she did.
She was flawed, of course, but so was he. And to him, she seemed to be flawed in the most wonderful ways.
And he loved her.
He loved her even more than he loved himself.
A sound came from upstairs.
“Laura?” He asked, taking the stairs two at a time and cursing when they creaked, knowing that this was the first sign they’d have to be replaced.
He wasn’t going to settle for stairs that creaked.
He reached the landing and found the door to the master bedroom open.
“Laura?” He asked again, walking closer to the doorway and pushing the door a little. It swung smoothly out of his way.
The room was black, a long rectangle of meagre grey light spread in from the doorway, framing him
His shadow stretched forward and he blinked, trying to get his eyes to adjust to the startling blackness.
He saw Laura on the floor.
He rushed forward, stumbled and fell.
“Laura? Laura,” he choked out, blood was dripping from the corner of her mouth and her eyes were staring blankly at the ceiling.
Laura was dead.
Ben found this so distressing that he failed to notice what he really should’ve.
It was that the darkness in the room wasn’t shadow.
It wasn’t a lack of light; it was being generated, it had a source, and someone was standing in it.
And that someone pulled a small terracotta jar from their pocket and broke the seal around the lid.
Ben tried to gasp for breath, he was choking.
Laura was dead and his life was ruined forever.
The blood dribbling from the side of her mouth ran to the edge of her jaw and then dropletted.
The bead of blood was just about to fall, when an almost invisible tendril of shining silver smoke slithered between her lips.
Almost as if rewind had been hit on a video, the droplet drew backward, the tiny trail of blood drawing back into her mouth, leaving no trace of itself on her cheek behind it.
Ben, who was too distraught to much care, felt something soft and nasty force its way into his own mouth to follow his next breath down his throat.
In a dark room on a hot day in July, Ben and Laura died.
Manda Oslo had always felt sort of awkward.
It might’ve been a product of her dumb name, or to could’ve been the outcome of her odd living environment.
She wasn't sure which.
She felt like she would’ve been good at being normal if her parents had given her half the chance, or even just some time to practice in.
Instead they had to fill their house with weird occult bullshit and piles of old books.
This came with the obligatory dust coating and decorative cobwebs.
Manda Oslo tried her best to love her parents.
But sometimes they made it very hard.
And of course, she was a teenager, too, which made the task doubly difficult.
Her parents meant well, she was sure, but the smell of incense had smoked itself into her skin, the constant ‘warding’ wore on her nerves, and the stupid necklaces they both wore were ridiculous.
Manda Oslo couldn’t even pretend like she could bring friends over, which was why she didn’t even shift from her desk chair when the doorbell rang.
She wasn’t the only one who wasn’t answering the door, apparently, because it rang again.
She walked over to the window overlooking the front lawn, so that she could take a look at the visitors.
Standing on her front porch was a couple.
Their clothes were crumpled and their skin was pale.
Livid purple traced their mouths and Manda wondered if they were in costume.
The male half of the pair was twitching oddly, as if he were half on his way to having a fit.
She squinted at them.
The woman didn’t seem to be blinking.
The man opened his mouth, as if to scream, but as far as Manda could tell, no sound came out.
But then something moving down the end of her street caught her focus.
She only saw him for half a second, and when she tried to look at the spot directly, he was gone- but she knew what had been there.
A tall one, dressed in a coat so black it seemed like a hole cut out of the universe.
“Manda,” Her mother called in a voice that was just a little too loud. “You’ve got visitors.”
The visitors weren’t for her. She’d never seen those people at the door before in her life.
In fact she wished she would stop seeing them and they'd go away.
Looking at them gave her an ugly feeling in her gut; like there was something deeply wrong that she couldn't quite put her finger on.
“Manda,” her mother repeated as if she hadn't heard.
Manda considered climbing out her window to get away from them.
Her mother decided to open the door herself.
She watched from the window as the two grey-skinned people entered her house.
She saw the woman walk inside, her joints moving oddly, as if they were stiff hinges.
The man moved a little differently, definitely with more smoothness, but he seemed to be fighting every step. Like his body was moving against his own will.
The urge to climb out the window and run grew stronger.
And then her mother closed the door behind the new, grey guests.
There was a long silence.
Manda strained her ears to hear something.
Anything at all.
The silence was shot through with a scream, shuffling, and then a loud thud that belonged to Manda’s mother.
Manda's blood sped along in her throat, making her body feel panicky and light.
She grabbed the heavy lamp from her bedside table, intending to use it as a weapon, but she forgot to pull the power cable from the wall and almost had it yanked out of her hands.
Feeling stupid, she pulled it from the socket and wrapped the cord around her wrist.
Pushing the bedroom door open as quietly as her shaking hand could manage, she ran down the stairs to aid her parents, a sour feeling curdling her gut.
Half way down the stairs she stumbled and almost fell, hearing her father shout.
The shout was cut off with a strangled gurgle, and Manda ran.
She ran down the remainder of the stairs and into the living room, which was where she found her parents.
Manda Oslo found her mother choked to death with the thick silver chain that had held the protective pentagram as a charm around her neck.
Her father died a little less cleanly.
His arm had apparently offended someone who had the power to remove it.
Manda, lamp in head, turned her head left and right at dizzying speed, trying to find the people who had done this to her parents so she could hopefully render then unconscious before they did it to her.
Her blood was thrashing about in her veins, loud in her ears.
She couldn’t hear anything through it.
She stopped looking about and decided to run, hoping she’d have a better chance somewhere public, finding the police.
But the grey-skinned couple intercepted her at the door.
Up close, the two of them were repulsive to look at, and even worse to smell.
The female of the pair seemed to be rotting, falling to pieces while her limbs were being controlled like a marionette.
Manda made a choking sound.
The woman was decomposing.
But worse than that, just as Manda had thought before, her joints weren’t right.
Her arms and her legs were bent in the wrong places.
They were bending where bone had been purposely snapped a little under each of the sockets of each joint.
It appeared to be a work-around rigor mortis.
She lifted her gory, rotting arm and took a swing at Manda Oslo.
A cold, slimy fist connected with her nose and she heard a sick little crack.
Manda brought the lamp around, and swung it at the head of the dead woman.
The body of the lamp smashed, shattering to porcelain shards to the floor.
The woman’s head twisted with the blow, turning to an unnatural angle and hanging off to the side, neck obviously broken.
This did not seem to hamper her in the slightest, or really even bother her.
In fact she didn’t seem to have at all noticed.
She didn’t even reach to straighten it back out.
For a fraction of a second, the man next to her made a sound of rough pain, an almost sob.
It was silenced very quickly.
Manda looked over to the man. His joints were not broken at odd angles, in fact, they did not appear to be broken at all.
He had been fighting his every step, but now he lunged, unhampered by whatever had been stopping him before.
He lunged in her direction, and his thick hands wrapped around her neck.
She tried to dodge, but she wasn't fast enough.
Meaty fingers dug into her flesh and the both of them toppled over, falling into the remains of the lamp on the ground.
She felt slick pain slice its way up her back.
She still had what was left of the cord wrapped around her hand.
Blindly she searched for the other end of the plastic rope in the empty air.
Black spots melted into her vision, and her throat screamed with pain.
Her brain throbbed, aching for oxygen.
She found the end of the cord, and whether through her own strength or his weakness, she flipped the both of them over.
Rolling to straddle him, she pressed the taught plastic cable against her assailants’ neck.
His eyes started to pop from his head, she was cutting off any sort of circulation he had left, but his arms were longer than hers and she still couldn’t shake the thumbs pushing into her windpipe.
She was going to die, she realised.
Manda Oslo was going to run out of oxygen, then she would fall unconscious, and then he would kill her.
The thought of death made her oddly dispassionate.
It took away any sort of fear or care and turned her into a sort of creature that she’d never been before.
Heat filled her up and coloured her remaining vision red.
She realised that she honestly wanted to kill the man underneath of her.
More than that, she realised with utter certainty that she was going to.
She wanted to kill him.
She wanted him to die.
Perhaps even more than she wanted to live.
She felt hot oil slick over her skin, felt it smooth her hair.
She felt it flow under her skin, felt it pool in her fingertips.
And then Manda Oslo smiled.
A high pitched whine came from behind her, and then the pressure that the man had been applying to her windpipe relaxed and disappeared altogether.
She saw a small cloud of grey smoke escape from the mouth of the man who’d been trying to kill her.
He rolled himself over, his blood smearing over the floor.
He made a horrible keening sound in the back of his throat, and dragged himself through the porcelain shards to what was left of his female counterpart.
While he may still have been clinging to the edges of life, she was very dead.
He clutched at her lifeless body with half-useless limbs, making a sound that might’ve been a scream if he’d been able to work up more volume.
Manda Oslo felt worn out and squeezed dry.
She felt as if someone had opened up one of her veins and drained something from her that was more vital than blood.
She managed to stand, and then she shuffled over to the hat-stand that her parents had put by the door.
The hat that her father had worn every day to cover his bald spot fell to the floor, where it soaked up some of the glossy red varnish of blood.
She wasn't sure who the blood belonged to.
It seemed to be coming from everywhere.
The man who was still alive was bleeding, her father had bled quite a lot during his dismemberment, and as she remembered the shards of porcelain that were probably still poking out of her back, she had bled, too.
The man who had just stopped trying to kill her had started to sob.
Manda was not going to wait for him to finish.
She gripped the hat-stand with weak fingers, and lifted it completely from the ground.
She brought the old hat-stand up, and then she swung viciously down, letting it come to a stop on the back of his head.
He stopped sobbing.
She lifted the hat-stand again, and brought it down hard.
He stopped breathing.
She pulled it back up into the air, and feeling as if this were the most effort she’d ever expended in her life, she brought it down a final time.
His skull underneath of it was broken and collapsed.
Now that the two assailants both appeared dead, she let go of the hat-stand, lost her balance, and fell backwards into the wall.
She slid from there onto the floor.
A horrible sound came out of her and she started to shake.
Manda was not sure how long she stayed like this, nor was she sure when she started to cry.
She couldn’t stop it, and she didn’t want to.
She was bleeding, she was light headed, and she wanted to throw up.
Weeks could have passed in the time she sat there.
Months and years and she would not have been surprised; but despite the way that she’d felt in those stretched minutes, it was only a half hour before her shaking and bleeding and crying was interrupted by someone new opening the front door.
This time without so much as touching the doorbell.
Manda Oslo scrambled to pull herself into some sort of vaguely threatening position.
She found that she couldn’t so much as stand.
So she decided to slide herself away from the new arrival instead.
She couldn’t manage much of that, either.
The person in the doorway was tall.
He was tall, he was a man, and he had nice hair.
Those were the three things that registered in her brain, which struck her as stupid.
She started to laugh, although this was more at her sudden realisation that if this man decided to kill her there wasn’t much she could do to stop it.
She'd seen enough procedural crime dramas to know she was going into shock.
The man in the doorway surveyed the blood and the dead flesh smeared and scattered through the front entrance.
“My god,” he muttered.
She tried to push herself away from him again, hoping in vain to hide, but she just ended up floundering against the wall behind her.
He took a step toward her, and she started to make a dry aching sound.
He stepped over the two dead bodies that she’d made, and then squatted down in front of her, resting on his heels as if it were the most comfortable position in the world.
She struggled to move away, to stand, to do anything.
He reached out with one large hand and held her chin still, forcing her to look up into his face.
Her eyes darted about for a moment, but when they connected with his, she found it impossible to move at all.
His eyes were the most haunting thing she had ever seen.
They hypnotised her- and not figuratively.
They held real control over her, stilling her, calming her, stopping the tears that were trickling from her eyes, halting the horrible lost sound coming from her throat.
Slowing her pulse.
Their gazes met and crackled in the middle, but her answering stare felt like the failing, weaker sword in single combat.
His eyes were large and grey-green, lodged in a face that was sharp, clear-cut and incredibly pleasant to look at.
It was a familiar face, and she was certain that she’d seen it before.
He looked her over from head to toe, as if he were surveying damage.
His hand released her chin, and then reached down to slot under her knees.
He then lifted her as if she were nothing heavier than a rag-doll, carrying her over the corpses and into the kitchen.
He sat her on the edge of the sink.
Even with the elevated height that this gave her, he was still looming above.
“Arms up.” He instructed, like she were a child being dressed by a parent.
Without her own permission, her arms raised themselves up.
He grasped her shirt by the hem and pulled it up over her head.
He ran water from the faucet until it was warm, found a cloth, and then started to wipe the blood from her with infinite care.
He started with her face and ended at the bits that still had porcelain in.
She didn’t watch him as he cleaned her off, she looked past his side and through the door instead, where she could see her mothers' dead eyes staring blankly at the wall above her head.
Manda Oslo felt her brain go numb.
Her mother’s skin was turning ugly and colourless, and from here she could just see the livid bruising forming around the necklace that had killed her.
Manda tried to speak, she tried to say anything but then gave up.
It was painful even to breathe, so she just watched her mother as he finished with her torso and then moved down to lift one of her bare calves.
She watched the rough cloth as it smeared the blood over her skin and then cleared it away.
He put her leg down and reached up to lift her again, this time carrying her back up to her bedroom.
He sat her down on her bed and walked over to her drawers, where he found her a clean shirt and pulled it over her head.
When she didn’t immediately cooperate, he just lifted her arms through the sleeves.
She tensed and very nearly flinched when she heard the sound of footsteps coming from downstairs.
“Stay here.” He instructed in a quiet sort of no nonsense voice.
Then he turned and left.
As soon as he and his eyes left the room, she realised that she was in pain.
Everything hurt, she felt like a human-shaped bruise with some cuts in.
Her hands were paler than she’d ever seen them in her life, but were lividly red at the fingertips.
“Where is she, Gabriel?” The voice of an old woman asked.
Manda’s hearing seemed to stretch, as if she could give up some of her periphery to hear longer in one certain direction.
It was an odd feeling.
“I put her in her bedroom, she’s in shock.” Said the voice of the man who’d just deposited her on her bed.
“Does this mean Lurch has Abaddon on his side?” Asked the old lady.
“It seems so.”
“And what? You killed the scions with what you had on hand? I thought you had your gun with you?”
“No, she did this. With a hat-stand.”
There was some silence.
“Yes, Violet. I’m serious.”
“How did he find her?”
“Just look around the place, it’s filled with pseudo-occult bullshit. They may as well have put up a flag.”
“Didn’t you explain the risks to them when you handed her over?”
“Of course I did, they were just idiots.” He hissed.
“Calm down. Let’s just get her back to the house and then you can lose your temper as much as you like.”
“No I can’t. They found her, and if they did it once, they can certainly do it again.”
Manda Oslo collapsed into her sheets and pulled her hands over her ears like a child.
She pushed her face into her pillow and pretended like none of this was happening.
Or at the very least she pretended like it wasn’t happening to her.
She was a perfectly ordinary seventeen year old girl who had not at all killed anyone with a hat-stand.
Killing someone with a hat-stand was completely ridiculous and couldn’t have happened to her at all.
Manda Oslo was not equipped to deal with this sort of thing.
She was not sure how long she stayed there like that, but it was long enough for her to fall asleep.
When she woke, she was no longer inside of her own room.
In fact, she wasn’t inside of any sort of room that she’d been inside of before.
She’d been tucked into a large four poster bed.
There were actual curtains hung around her, thick, rich and heavy.
She had no idea how she’d gotten here.
She pushed back the covers and got to her feet.
She lifted her shirt to examine her wounds from the smashed ceramic. The broken skin was covered with delicate scabbing - angry and red and tender around the edges.
She probed one of the wounds and wondered exactly how long she’d been asleep.
She was still dressed in the shirt that the tall man had pulled over her head, and her throat was sore.
Manda stretched herself out, looking for a mirror.
She found one stuck to the back of the door.
It was the only door in the room.
She looked around and realised that there were no windows either.
The mirror was full length so she could catch the full spectrum of how dreadful she looked.
Her nose was swollen, which had blackened both of her eyes, and an aggressively purple bruise painted hands on her neck.
She touched it and felt an odd sort of disconnection from the event that had created it.
Her parents had died and then a tall, grey-green eyed man had shown up to clean her blood off and pull porcelain out of her.
Manda Oslo thought about this for a moment and decided that her having gone mad was more likely.
Of course she’d gone mad.
That was more likely to happen to a seventeen year old than murder.
She shivered, remembering the way that the green-eyed man had acted as if all the corpses scattered about were perfectly acceptable as decor.
She thought she might fall over.
She’d killed someone with a hat stand.
She reached out to rest a hand on the door, bracing herself, holding herself up.
She’d actually killed someone.
And her parents were dead on the living room floor.
She needed to call the police.
That was what you did when someone killed your parents.
You deferred it to a higher authority.
One with guns.
She reached down for the doorknob. Her sweaty palm slipped against it.
This pushed her one step closer to a frustrated panic attack.
She gripped the handle more tightly, and this time when she tried to turn it the door opened.
She was greeted by the back of a head.
The back of a head covered in good hair.
It looked expensively cut and salon styled. It was the tall, grey-green eyed man she’d seen yesterday.
He was sat in an old chair beside the door she’d just opened; and he had a shotgun balanced over his thighs.
His sleeves were rolled up, exposing an old, faded tattoo below the crease of his elbow, on the soft inside bit of his arm. It read 'S.P.Q.R.' in careful lettering.
She walked as quietly could around him, and saw that although his posture was military stiff and his head was balanced perfectly atop his neck, he was asleep. She'd been abducted.
She looked around, trying to decide where she could possibly be. The carpets were thick, clean and old, the paint on the walls heavy with rich pigment and the paintings hung on top of it couldn’t be anything but original.
It looked like an interior decorator had aimed for cosy, understated opulence and had hit intimidatingly rich instead.
Manda Oslo found herself feeling dirty, crumpled and out of place.
She searched for an exit, a staircase, or a door- but she was looking around with only her eyes, whipping her head back and forth in an attempt not to wake the green-eyed man. It made her feel like a curious meerkat.
She looked back down to the green-eyed man before she moved away, and jumped when she saw that his eyes were open.
He hadn’t moved at all, but now his eyes were peering through half closed eyelids, watching her, still and incredibly careful.
She looked him over as if cataloguing a threat, actually seeing him and really processing his appearance for the first time.
He couldn’t have been older than twenty.
“You’re awake.” He said.
Manda narrowed her eyes at him.
“Were you standing guard over me?” She asked.
“Yes.” He said simply, completely unabashed.
Her eyes narrowed even further, her vision now seriously inhibited.
“Making sure nothing goes in or making sure no one comes out?” She asked.
He stood and stretched himself out, all lazy, sinuous grace, as if he were a cat.
“Violet,” He said in a slightly raised voice, not taking his eyes from hers.
“Yes Gabriel?” An old woman’s voice answered from somewhere underneath them.
“Put some breakfast on, our sleeping beauty is awake.”
With this he pulled himself to his full, extraordinary height.
The two of them looked at each other, her having to tilt her chin uncomfortably upwards to meet his eye.
He smiled. It was not pleasant.
“Where are we?” She asked, entirely unkindly.
“A small estate about twenty minutes out of Lemmox.” He said, bringing out a hand to rest on the small of her back, a golden spot of clear undamaged skin in a minefield of wounds, which he used to turn her around and guide her down the hall.
“Where are my parents?” She asked, not moving down the stairs as he had wanted, but staying stock still and staring up at him.
The way she met his eyes seemed to unsettle him just a little, as if he weren’t used to it.
“Lemmox State Hospital morgue.” He said blandly, as if he were telling her they’d gone away for the weekend.
Manda Oslo was not sure how to respond to this, so she turned away from him and went down the stairs as he wanted.
The stairs led to an open planned house, through which Manda could see an old woman working away in a modern kitchen.
He half led, half pushed her toward an expensive looking dining table.
“Sit,” he directed along with some eye contact.
His irises looked like chips of sea-glass.
She sat without instructing herself to do so.
Something in the back of her mind screamed at her, telling her that this was somehow mind control.
The old woman moved around quietly in the kitchen.
The tall man, Gabriel, sat two seats from her.
He was close enough that he could reach her, he had his back to the wall, and he had a clear view of all exits.
He sat with his chair pulled far enough back that he could stand in half a seconds notice.
Manda was put on edge, feeling as if she were shut in a small room with a large predator.
The old woman came out and placed three plates of food on the table.
Gabriel took her elbow and pulled her over to his ear, where he whispered something at her. An instruction.
The woman disappeared back into the kitchen, and returned with a suspiciously yellow looking fluid in a glass, which she sat by the plate in front of Manda.
She looked at the two poached eggs on toast next to crispy bacon.
Her stomach growled.
“Drink first. For your throat, I can’t imagine that’s pleasant.” The old woman said, not sounding much as if she cared.
Manda did not touch the food.
Her mouth watered, but she wouldn't break.
“Good lord she’s quiet, Gabriel. Are you sure her voice wasn’t damaged?”
He folded a piece of bacon onto his fork.
“We aren’t all criers, Violet.”
“She just lost her parents.” The old woman said under her breath, as if this would somehow keep Manda from hearing.
Manda noticed that the old woman didn’t look Gabriel in the eye, or even directly in the face.
Her gaze only crawled up to the bottom of his chin at his highest.
The old woman seemed to fear him. But in a fond sort of way.
Gabriel looked up from his food only long enough to see that she wasn’t eating hers.
“Eat.” He ordered, meeting her eyes.
Not seeming to notice the glaring malice that Manda was directing at them, Violet sat down at the table with a cheerful little smile, and started to chat.
“My name’s Violet and this is Gabriel, and we’re very pleased to be meeting you again.”
Manda looked at the old woman coldly.
But Violet was either thick skinned, or did not at all care.
Manda finished her drink and then her food.
She felt better afterwards, but hated herself for it.
After she was done, she sat stock still, a vessel awaiting command.
She could not move.
She tried to fight it, but she had no idea how.
Her limbs wouldn’t be responsive until he told them to be.
“There’s a spot in your brain behind your left eye. Close your eyes and focus on it.” He said.
This time there was nothing supernaturally controlling in his voice, there were just words.
She glared at him, not wanting to obey.
He leaned forward over the table, resting his elbow on the surface, and resting his chin on his hand in turn.
He looked amused.
“Go on.” He said fighting a smile.
Again, it wasn’t a command, just a suggestion.
Manda couldn’t move, so it didn’t seem she had a choice regardless.
So she closed her eyes and focused on the spot behind her left eye.
There was a knot there, a piece of twisted, taught material in her brain.
Something that she’d never noticed before in her life. But now that she was aware of it, it made her incredibly uncomfortable.
It was as if there was a bit of rock in her head.
She made a nervous exclamation, half between annoyance and pain.
“And there it is.” He said.
She thrust herself to her feet, finally again able to move, the stone in her head making sure that it wasn’t worth it.
She clutched at her eye, hunching in half.
“What the hell is that?” She yelled, fighting the urge to collapse and scream at him from the floor.
The stone behind her eye wasn’t painful so much as it was extraordinarily unpleasant.
“That is where your abilities are locked away, little one. There is another spot like that toward the back of your skull, but don’t touch it just yet. There isn’t any need to put yourself in further pain.”
His eyes were focusing on her a little too closely.
She wanted, in this moment, nothing more than to escape that focus, to find an exit and run toward it.
She wanted to attack him, to try her hardest to rip his head off and then run.
This would not be the smart thing to do.
The smart thing to do would be to act nice and friendly until she could find an opportunity to escape.
She didn’t think that she was quite going to be able to manage that, so she tried her best for taciturn indifference instead.
It was the best she could do, and she did it rather well when one took her incredibly unpleasant feelings into consideration.
“If you’re thinking about running from me now that you have control, little bird, I’ll just drag you back.” He said, looking very relaxed about the whole thing.
She decided to disregard his words.
Something in the back of her head told her this would be a mistake. There was something not quite right about him.
He was normal in all the ways that mattered- in all the ways that one could measure- but there was something small and naggingly different about him that she couldn't quite put her finger on.
A master actor playing the part of fitting in, rather than it coming naturally.
She found herself looking around the room for a door out. When this didn’t present to her an exit, she turned back to him. He watched her back quietly.
This was meant to be a show of trust, him teaching her how to bypass his weird mind control powers.
Something dangerous, she noticed, was pumping itself to full power in his eyes.
She didn’t want to wait around to see how he’d control her next.
She left the room, pulse thumping, to search the house for a front door, and eventually, she found one.
She reached out to touch it, but as soon as her fingertips grazed the wood, blue veins of map-work lit up and pulsed.
They shocked her hands, locking the ligaments in her arm.
“You’re going to try and leave before you’ve asked a single question?”
Gabriel’s voice came from too close behind her.
He’d moved so silently that she’d had no idea he was there at all.
She turned and glared up at him, meeting his eyes directly as if she weren’t afraid.
She was afraid, she was dreadfully afraid, but she had a sneaking suspicion that bravery mostly consisted of pretending like she wasn’t.
“If you go back out there it’s likely that something much worse than Abaddon will try to get their hands on you.” He told her in a quiet voice.
His eyes were unwavering, and his focus on her was so close and precise that it sent her head into a confused, panicked fever pitch, it felt like her brain was trying to eat itself.
She tried to shift forward, to invade his personal space and shift him backward, but from what she could tell, he hadn’t noticed that she’d moved at all.
“And I’m safe here? Where I've been abducted to?” She asked through her teeth.
“No. But if we’re comparing how safe you are in here to how safe you’ll be out there,” he said, nodding at the door behind her. “Then yes. You're safer. Ask some questions, please. Learn a little. Make an informed opinion before you go sprinting off into the sunset, would you?”
He didn’t sound much as if he cared, as if the outcome would be the same to him, no matter what she decided to do.
Like he was humouring a child.
A child who was only going to be allowed to make their own decisions within the guidelines he permitted.
“Fine. Who are you and what were you doing at my house?” She asked, feeling as if she’d handed him a victory on a platter.
“My name is Gabriel, and believe it or not, I’d come to save you. I apologise for doing such a poor job of it.”
He sounded more bitter than apologetic.
“And you think it was Abaddon that came after me? A demon?”
He looked pleased with her at this.
“Yes, Abaddon is a demon, and a rather nasty one at that.”
“You’re mad.” She informed him.
“If you like.”
She turned around and grasped at the door.
She needed to get away. To see her parents. To be somewhere safe, away from her insane madman of a kidnapper.
Electricity pulsed through her hand, and up her arm, reaching her shoulder this time.
She ignored it.
It grew stronger and more painful.
Not at all sure what she was doing, she closed her eyelids and reached out a gentle mental finger to probe at the hard, useless spot in her head behind her left eye.
The mass grew and became more uncomfortable, but the pain from the electric warding shooting up her arm stopped
But the door still wouldn’t open.
She remembered what he’d said just before, and she closed her eyes again.
She sent her mental probe back out again, leading it to the back of her brain, where her skull joined her neck.
She knew what he’d been talking about when she found it.
It was something sharp and polished, interrupting where there should’ve been nothing but the soft conductive tofu of her brain.
This time when she put mental pressure on it, she screamed.
The door opened under her hand.
Gabriel made a sound of surprise and then tried to make a grab for her.
Warm oil poured, slick through her veins. It filled her fingers and it shocked his grasping hands away.
She didn’t look back for long enough to see what she’d done to him.
She just ran.
And she ran as fast as she could.
It was raining outside, and heavily.
Her clothes were soaked through within seconds.
Surprisingly enough, the house that she’d just found herself escaping wasn’t located atop a deserted hill, or on a lonely island in the middle of the Atlantic like she'd thought, but was instead in the dead centre of a modern, civilised gated suburban community.
She ran as fast as she could.
This was not very fast.
She followed the neatly bordered and well maintained roads until she managed to reach the guard who monitored the entrance to the estate.
He seemed to mainly be in charge of pushing the button that made the little electronic arm that blocked the road go up and down
She thought that her rumpled appearance and the necklace of purple would grab his full attention, but it did not.
Her fitness levels weren’t what they could have been. Her legs ached. But she continued to run toward him, yelling.
“Call the police, help me get out of here.”
And then the hard thumping of her feet on the asphalt road came to a halt.
The grey pallor of his skin registered in her mind.
And then the Abaddon occupied body vaulted itself stiffly through the window of its little observation box.
Manda, who had yesterday thought her parents were completely ridiculous for believing in protective symbols and occult curses, was now convinced that the thing in front of her was no longer even vaguely human.
Rain had sunk through his clothes, making the fabric cling to his dangerously thin reanimated corpse.
This man had been dead and gone and under Abaddon’s control for longer than the other two.
Fluid had drained from the body, leaving skin to stick directly to the dehydrated tissue underneath.
Its awkward, created joints bent and twisted toward her.
Manda found, in this moment, that overusing the odd stones had left her mind, and her nervous system numb and unresponsive.
She stood, paralysed, as one bony, fleshless finger stroked the length of her cheek.
“So very pretty,” dead vocal cords rasped, it was an unearthly growl of whistling air. “But not very bright.”
And then those bony fingers closed around her neck.
These hands were resting differently around her throat. They weren’t trying to crush her airway the way the other man had.
This time the hands weren’t going to be doing anything as benign as choking her, no, this time hands were prepared to do some snapping.
Manda Oslo, with rain pasting her hair to her skin, squeezed her eyes shut and prepared for it all to end.
Instead, Gabriel, who seemed to have avoided the rain and stayed perfectly dry, dropped down from the top of the gate control booth and ripped the man’s head off.
He tore neck from body as if the task were no more strenuous than opening a lid.
The body fell to the ground with an anticlimactic thump.
“This,” he brandished the head that he’d just removed, looking annoyed. “Is why you were meant to stay inside.” He reprimanded as if he’d caught her doing something only mildly bad, like running with scissors.
He threw the disembodied head through the booth window, and only then noticed the smeared black ichor of blood that was dripping off of his hands.
He made an irritated sound as if he found washing his hands a bit of a hassle, and so leaned down to wipe the black sticky substance off on the shirt-front of the dead man.
After he’d finished this, he lifted the headless corpse by the back of its collar and tossed it through the window to join the rest of it.
“Now, do you want to try running again, or are you ready to cooperate?”