By Sheyenne B.
The room was quiet, the lighting that had once gleamed off of the alabaster walls of the private hospital quarters dim, as a half-circle of family surrounded a sickly old man. Bony and gaunt, his eyes were hooded and his arms lay limply at his sides, almost matching the coloring of the pallid bed he had been confined to for weeks... The smell of death filled the room - the rotting, foreboding smell of cancer. The curtains on the window (which the nurse had, a day before, strolled by every-so-often to check on the patient’s health) were drawn for privacy, the door closed and an air of despair and depression was in every inch of the slightly small space.
The air was hot, and a boy nearest the dying man tugged at the collar of his Spiderman t-shirt in discomfort. He looked only six at the oldest; his coal locks were cut close to his skull and his eyes were a bright shade of saxe blue. The small child’s grass-stained knees were bent with weariness, and by far he was the most cheerful in the room. His expression, in contrast to the other seven in the room, was only curious - a little saddened, but only in confusion and frustration.
Behind the ignorant boy was his apparent father, his eyes matching that of his son’s. His crimson mane was cut exactly like the ebony tresses that graced the small boy’s skull. The child’s shoulders were gripped gently in his large hands. One arm was being gripped by a woman with ebony hair pulled back into a ponytail, a few long curls trailing over her face in a style that made her look as if she held no concern at all for her appearance.
The line continued, a majority of the family evidently related, with their matching, flaming red hair - exploding crimson underneath winter hats, pulled back with ties, hanging loose about the face and cut short. The few that didn’t possess the red locks or the common blue eyes were usually boyfriends or spouses of a family member - gripping tightly to their lovers as if they could squeeze the distress and anguish from their very bodies.
As for the young boy, he was now paying rapt attention to his grandfather. The elder man smiled wearily, which startled the boy, who, expression wary, stepped backwards, colliding gently with his largely framed sire.
“Alexandre…” the old man croaked, his life obviously dwindling as the seconds passed.
Above the evident Alexandre’s arms, a feeling of soft pain enveloped his shoulders as his father gripped them tighter still. Asking permission silently, the child glanced up at his father curiously and was met with a permissive nod. Stepping forward, he inclined his head at the man - his grandfather, who beckoned. Hesitantly, attempting control over the wrinkle that threatened to form in his small nose against the rancid smell, Alexandre leaned over, inches from the man’s face.
His grandfather’s eyes then changed drastically - from a nearly closed position, his lids lifted completely and a heave came from his chest in a hard, rancid breath. A substance tickled the boy’s face and his eyes squinted shut against what felt like dust - its evident source his grandfather’s mouth.
As suspicion would have it, something quite extraordinary occurred after -- it felt as if Alex were leaving his body, drifting away from it - and although the unpleasant and unfamiliar situation should have scared or surprised him, he felt peaceful. His eyes closed and did not open them for at least a minute - when he heard a noise - the swish of fabric.
He looked down upon a darkened chamber, his body suspended lightly above, the only light a small, flickering candle resting on a simple brass holder, its base circular. In the light he could barely make out a hooded figure, a robe falling shapelessly over the body. It was curled up on what seemed to be a couch - though the darkness made it a challenge to see. The head was bowed and a gentle hissing sound filled the room - a whisper so soft it was unintelligible, although it echoed around the chamber.
Light spilled across the floor to the left of Alex, whose head swiveled in the general direction to examine the person who had entered. He was strangely oblivious to all emotion, head cocked curiously as he scrutinized the newcomer.
He seemed to be wearing a mask - form-fitting and quite realistic. It was furry, not like the rubber and plastic Halloween masks Alex had seen. It resembled, perfectly, a feline, a carroty tabby, and before he was bathed in darkness, Alex caught sight of whiskers twitching realistically in the strange orange glow that flooded from the room beyond - which was invisible to Alex as the door blocked all vision into the next room, even open, from the position he was immobilized in. The sound of footsteps met his ears and in the small circle of light the candle provided, the bottom of an ebony robe became visible, and part of the feline face.
A high, nasally voice escaped the pink lips of the masked person, who spoke softly. “Sir,” it began, shakily in its annoyingly high voice, “I have… unpleasant… news… sir…”
The whispering halted and a low growl thundered throughout the room - foreboding, it resembled that of a lion’s - aside from being increased around five levels in volume.
“Unpleasant news.” It was a question posed as a statement, flat and dry - the voice of the hooded figure was musical, however, it was almost painful to hear - like calming music mixed with the sound of fingernails grating a blackboard. It was the sort of sweet noise that pained your ears and teeth, especially when caught off guard by the sound. Alex only vaguely felt the sensation of distaste for the noise - though it was cleared away by some invisible force, urging him to watch and focus. Focus he did. “Y-yes…” The voice trailed off and there was silence.
The growl was now a roar, and Alexandre glimpsed a scaly, rotting hand protruding from the sleeve on the cloak of the hooded being. Then, darkness, and he realized the thing had overturned the candle on its brass stand, which clattered to the floor, extinguished.
“Do you intend to tell me, Nartias,” he spat the name with immense distaste, ”that the ashes of that wretched bird now remain in the dirty hands of the LaGranges?”
Again, an emotion was cleared away quickly - surprise at hearing his own surname. He kept listening.
Nartias was stuttering horribly now, and Alexandre would have felt pity if able for the frightened creature.
“Sir, it was not by fault of the Dyret… Dimitri LaGrange was a powerful witch, Master Ghyslain…”
Even more surprised at the combination of his father’s name and the word ‘witch’ yet forbidden to feel the emotion, Alexandre listened harder, expression blank as he took in the words.
The painful voice seemed to lighten, “Was, you say?”
Nartias seemed to become gleeful as he replied, “Yes, was. We failed in capturing the ashes, your majesty, but we did manage to kill the filthy traitor.”
The musical tone became suspicious, “But the ashes…”
“The location of them is unknown, sire. But I trust that, unguarded, they will be easy to both track and acquire.”
There was a swish of fabric as the dark outline of the figure nodded curtly. “Were there anymore murders tonight?”
“Yes,” Nartias replied, too casual in tone, “Jules LaGrange, I believe. We injured Dimitri’s wife, but she escaped… she is mortal, however. She is bound-” Alexandre did not know what he meant by this, though his blank mind continued to focus on the dialogue, “-and I trust that we will not be discovered.”
“Good,” was the blunt reply, although through the pain of hearing the noise Alexandre heard that he was pleased.
“Are you content, your majesty?” Nartias was hopeful, Alex could tell.
“Thrilled,” was the reply, doused in a disgusting pleasure. “You may leave now, Nartias. Take heed that you will be repaid soon…”
Glee suffused the feline-human’s tone as he backed away, his outline bowing with clasped hands, “Thank you, your highness, your greatness, merciful leader…” His voice trailed off as he finally turned to leave; before he was halted by the hooded creature’s voice.
“Nartias?” it was sickeningly sweet.
“Yes, Master?” Did he sense wariness in the tone?
“Obtain the ashes. Bring them to me,” the voice was a growl.
“I intend to, sir.”
“And Nartias… do not keep me waiting…”
“Trust that I won’t, your majesty. I am your most faithful servant.” To which Alex mentally remarked, ‘Suck up…’
“Of course you are. Good evening, Nartias.”
“And to you, sire.”
A sickening rush engulfed Alexandre as emotions began to flood in and his breath stopped - surprise, fear, anguish even for the apparent death of his father, Demetri, and uncle Jules - both compassionate and strong men… though something told him - not in a voice, just an instinct that he seemed so sure of, like the smell of blood tapping a predator’s muzzle to inform him of his hunger, his bloodlust… that it would not happen for long. Weeks, months, years, most likely. He took little comfort in this, however - as the emotions overwhelmed him and his conscious body convulsed and cringed on the cold, tile floor of the hospital room. Finally, his body seemed to calm, although the trembling remained.
He was surrounded by people, and took comfort in the view of his father and uncle before the world began to fade again. The last thing he heard, prior to passing out, was the vague sound of his mother calling his name - verbally silhouetted against the cardiac monitor’s screams of a flatline.