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|The first chapter in a novel, telling the story of a supernatural investigator. But what exactly is she herself?||
Chapter 1: The Woods’ Mansion
Withered scarlet roses quivered in the breeze that rushed through the open window. The curtains, adorned with beads and lace, were torn and smeared with blood. Glass shards were scattered upon the floor and vanity, all mirrors and windows reduced to nothing more than cracked mahogany frames. The jewelry was not ransacked, but was, in fact, never touched. Diamond necklaces and sapphire rings were carefully set next to the expensive bottles of perfume, hand mirrors, and hair combs ornately decorated with precious gems, mother pearl, and abalone. The room had probably belonged to a woman of high status, though her body had not been found.
I arrived at the Woods’ Mansion at dawn. Earlier, I had been abruptly awoken by an incessant pounding at my front door by an express delivery. I had opened the letter addressed to myself, Miss Andras Zaokane, to be informed of the disappearance of Lord Woods’ daughter. I had not been irritated by the sudden visit, for I had suffered from disturbing dreams for a fortnight, and was more than glad to awaken from the restless sleep.
It had only been a matter of a half an hour before I had reached the mansion, and the sun had just begun to peek above the horizon as it cast black shadows upon the ground like ghosts of a distant past.
No one had showed me through the front doors, and the atmosphere of the looming building was ominous and dismal. The curtains were drawn to obstruct any view of the outside world. There were no signs of life in this cursed place, so I proceeded upstairs to the scene of the crime.
When I stepped inside the bed chamber, the sun had begun to linger through the shreds of curtains, casting yellow and orange patterns on the far wall. I headed towards the vanity, and observed where a drop of red fluid had fallen on one of the many envelopes that lay atop the polished wood. I proceeded to open and read the letter that was adorned with what appeared to be candle wax, wilted flowers, and it was soaked with the rich scent of cologne. I had not finished more than two words before I realized it was a love letter, so I placed it back down on the vanity to not disturb any evidence of the possible killer. The aroma of the cologne lingered on my fingers, and though I did not know why, I began to grow dizzy from it. Before I faltered, I shook my head and took a deep breath to rid myself of the faintness.
My fingers wandered to the hand mirror to the right of the letters and I observed its marvel. It was a beautiful piece of work, its handle lavished with exquisite carvings of roses and stems, and the lacquer was almost ebony; the frame oval, and the mirror itself almost seemed to capture the light inside of it like pearls in the sea. Only a rich woman could own something so singular, even if she could have indeed been a hag with withered appearances.
I gazed at myself inside the looking glass, my silver eyes forlorn from forgotten memories, and my ivory blonde hair showered over my black jacket rimmed with velvet. I was far from the ordinary woman of my time. I was youthful, attractive, and unmarried, though a little taller than average. I found many were intimidated by my stark appearance. I often wore dark gowns of silent and muted hues to public gatherings, but mostly wore a simple outfit that included a tailored black jacket, tight black pants, a pair of matte black gloves, and my silver crucifix. Some found it to be quite appealing, though many took me as a dark omen. I sighed and parted my blushing lips to wipe away a few stray hairs that fell in front of my face before placing the mirror back down.
I hovered above the bed as I ran my fingers over the sheets that had not been changed since before the young woman’s disappearance. They reeked of sweat, and were still wet from whatever the previous night’s activities might have been. This sparked memory of my dreadful nightmares, in which many nights in a row I awoke in a cold sweat from dreams that I could not decipher.
I closed the door to the woman’s room, and glided down the grand stairway, as I made my way to the Drawing Room. The cathedral ceiling towered over the paintings and instruments that were placed about, and I could almost smell the wealth once I stepped inside. On one side of the room stood a grand piano forte, a Stradivarius, a cello, and a golden harp. On the other were excessive amounts of paints and pastels, an easel, and rolls of canvas. Assortments of finished paintings dappled the walls, all being rich and exuberant in color and style. Some may have called them nouveau, though I found them to be elegant and richly appealing. It had seemed that the daughter of Lord Woods was quite an artist.
I was later joined by the chamber maid, who pointed out young Miss Woods herself.
“There she is. This portrait was done for her sixteenth birthday, which was nearly eighteen months ago, I believe. Was she not the most handsome woman you have ever seen?” commented the maid, whose name was Libby. Her name matched her face. It was plump, though her spirit was still full of life despite her age. She sighed, reaching up to wipe away a tear that rolled down her round cheek.
“It was from then on that she began to act strangely. She was not herself after she took a trip with her father to Romania previous her birthday. Her father, though a businessman in the tangible world, has always been an adventurer at heart. Miss Woods was very much an adventuress herself, though she resembled her mother in many respects. She charmed many a young men with her charismatic smile, that one,” Libby sighed, attempting to show the least bit of happiness.
“But once she returned, she had taken to being shy and incommunicable, writing in her diary all the day long and keeping the curtains drawn even in the middle of the day. Whenever she did come out of that dreadfully drab chamber, she was often clad in dark colors. She ate little, and began to grow very thin and wan. She was very thin and wan, indeed. Her father thought nothing of it, but the other maids and I were quite disturbed by her change of character. It was out of hand when she began to invite young men into her quarters at strange hours of the night. I was kept awake by her torrid activities, and I blush at the thought of what I have heard. On some nights I believe I heard screaming and maniacal laughing pouring from behind her closed door. My poor dear. She changed too much, and now she has gone missing. I would not be surprised if she was murdered by one of her jealous subjects, though I fear something far more cynical is at work here.”
I gazed at the portrait of the young woman. She was quite beautiful, her tresses of auburn hair flowing over stately shoulders, her hands delicately placed in a lady-like manner upon her knees. Her lips were full and rich, and had eyes that seemed to shine through the painting and into my very soul. She had worn a white dress that day which was embellished with pearls, lace, and puffed sleeves. Her heart-shaped face had child-like qualities, though her solemn expression showed character of great maturity.
“Indeed, she was lovely, though we do not know if we must speak of her as if she may have departed this world. There may still be hope that she has only eloped with one of her lovers, and that we may in fact find her,” I replied.
By then Libby had broken down into tears, and so I left her that way, wailing and trembling. I had not intended to be rude, but her sorrowful cries were enough to make me scratch my eyes right out.
I slowly entered Lord Woods’ study, letting my fingers make patterns in the dust that had settled upon the furniture. It was a quaint little room. Maps and atlases were strewn about, most worn and discolored. An orange tabby slept soundly on top of India, making tiny little creases all the way to Mongolia and the Gobi desert. There were many taxidermy trophies that hung on the wall above the mantel of the brick fireplace. I could not help but feel uncomfortable with the creatures with glass eyes and snarling mouths staring at me.
I felt slightly cold, and bent down to examine how long since a fire had burned in the dismal office. Coal dust was thickly settled, and a stack of dusty firewood was arranged in the corner. Lord Woods had not been here for quite awhile, and was actually on a business trip in Wales, so I found out. Miss Woods’ mother, it seemed, had taken ill after Lord Woods and his daughter returned from Romania. Her body was buried by the Woods’ Mansion Park, and a bench was engraved in her memory. Lord Woods was devastated by her death, and traveled more than he ever had, leaving the already desolate mansion far more dismal than it ever had been. This implied that he had most likely not heard of his daughter’s disappearance.
I returned to the drawing room to find it empty, and once again gazed upon the portrait of Miss Woods. The corner had been exposed from the frame, and I reached out with a gloved hand to stroke it back into place. I found that a flat box was hidden inside, and I reached up to examine it. I attempted to pry it open with my fingers, only to find that it was bare. It had a subtle scent, the same as the cologne on the love letter in the upstairs bed chamber. I found it peculiar, so I placed the container inside my coat pocket while I glanced behind me hastily as I heard a cacophonous hooting originating from the foyer. I left to investigate the origin of that horrid sound.
Lord Woods’ son, and second heir to the estate, had returned from a town party that had been held the night before. He was a happy drunk, his cheeks the color of ripe red fruit. He stumbled in foolishly, his older brother grasping his arm with such urgency, that it made the drunk spin around on his toes.
His name was Rupert. His head was topped with a thick mass of auburn curls, his eyes were the color of molten gold, and he giggled from thick, boyish lips. He wore a finely tailored suit the color of plums, with a matching top hat. He waved a black cane around in the air, and for a moment I though it was going to strike me square in the face. Fortunately two young maids came to take it away and put him to bed so he could sleep off his drunkard state. I would not have been surprised if he would drink himself into a coma by the end of the night. In fact, I wished that he would. Disgusting creature.
As for Rupert’s older brother, I came to find out that he was first in line to inheriting the mansion, and was a very rich businessman indeed. His name was Thomas, which did not suit his face well, but rather his character. He was a very stately fellow, with intensely solemn eyes and a mesmerizing voice. Those eyes were hypnotic, but still fiercely cold. His lips were soft, as if the morning dew had greeted him with a warm kiss as the sun rose above the mountains. He was an attractive man, and I though I could have been attracted to him, I could not let myself stray on a childish infatuation.
Thomas greeted me with a brisk bow, neither giving a smile nor eye contact. Many had said that Thomas was charismatic, though his brother had earned the reputation of being a ladies-man. He kept his mind on business and his duties, though underneath him somewhere was sentimentality. He led me to his personal study, sitting upon a plain oak chair.
“Please, sit down and have some scotch. It will do you good. You need a little color in those cheeks,” his hypnotic stare forced my body to descend the same as he, and take a sip of the fire drink.
“I am aware of the situation, and I am aware of what kind of person you are. Now, let’s cut to business. I will pay you a fair amount if you find my sister. Of course, knowing your work, you will judge whether or not to bring her back alive. All I want is for her to be safe, whether or not she is in Heaven, Earth or Hell if it comes to that,” he said as he looked into my eyes. “Now, could you do that for me?”
“It depends on the price,” I said with no feeling in my voice. Him and I were much the same: get to business and keep it simple.
“Well, well. Fair enough. I like your character. Not many women are like you, I have to admit,” Thomas folded his hands upon the table, grinning. “If you are not presently engaged this evening, would you care to join me for dinner? It will be quite a dark atmosphere around here without my younger sister around. We can discuss your payment at that time as well,” he said as he looked down to pour another glass of scotch.
“No, I am not engaged, thank you. I would be very pleased to join you this evening. I would like to talk more of the investigation.” I replied. “What time should I arrive?”
“I should say. . . about seven o’clock this evening. Though I must warn you, it is bad luck to talk of murder after dark.”
“I already have enough bad luck as it is. Would a little more hurt me at all?” I said as I stood to leave. Thomas gave me an awkward smile and showed me to the door.
I finished up my first investigation of the disappearance before barring off Miss Woods’ chamber so that no one would be able to tamper with the evidence. I glanced at my silver stopwatch, a quarter past eight in the morning. My business was done at the mansion for the day, though I would once again return for dinner that evening. I departed without a goodbye, nor a sound, and proceeded to leave once I stepped inside the carriage that had waited for me.
I arrived at my humble abode a little before nine in the morning hour, and told my personal servant to tend to the horses. On the ride home, my horse, Raven, had lost a shoe, and I was deeply concerned that he may have received damage to his hoof. Raven had a dark spirit, which showed through his heartless, black eyes. The servant seemed displeased to deal with Raven, so I let to him tend to my partner’s horse, Orchid, instead. After all, everyone knew that if looks could kill, Raven would not even hesitate.
I resigned to my study to document my findings from the investigation, and dusted the small wooden box for fingerprints. There were none to be found except for Miss Woods’, so I concluded that it was nothing more than a trinket that she strived to keep hidden. Why she would hide it behind her own portrait, I could not comprehend. Before placing the small box into a bag, I discovered a small engraving in the bottom right corner. I turned it towards my oil lamp to catch the light, and read out loud to myself the elaborately carved initials: V.R. I placed the box into the bag, and summoned my servant to find me a list of all men, corporations, or architecture in or near London that the Woods family had associated with. A simple clue could link me to more traces of evidence, and possibly even the murderer.
After I documented all the information I had obtained, I stood up from my desk and decided to head upstairs for a quick bath so I could get myself ready for my dinner engagement.
My maid poured the water for me, and tested it to see that it was no colder than ninety-two degrees. She left the room, and I proceeded to undress myself. As I lay my clothes aside, I observed that my body had grown as cold as marble. When I glanced at myself in the mirror, it seemed that only my cascades of hair made me appear human. Otherwise, I seemed nothing more than a breathing mannequin. Translucent skin and eyes that seemed as fiercely cold as shattered glass made me appear ethereal. I was no more than a statue, an idol for my worshipers to adorn with wreaths of flowers and silk.
My body had begun to hurt from the cold, so I stepped into the bath. Once inside the refuge of the warm liquid, the pain in my body had begun to subside. I held my breath and let my body sink to the bottom of the basin, my feet bobbing up to greet the surface. I emerged with a grateful breath, and continued to wash my body with rose and lavender oils.
I stepped away from the basin and allowed my maids to drape a pale blue robe over my stark shoulders. I made my way to my chamber and sat down in front of my vanity to brush my dripping hair. I glided towards my wardrobe and took out my evening gown. It was a deep contrast against the tone of my skin, and the indigo satin softly kissed my body as I slipped into it. Black lace whispered in hushed tones as my maid buttoned up the back of the dress, and the gloves murmured to the lace as I slipped them over my delicate fingertips. An ornate silver crucifix with a star sapphire set in the middle was placed about my neck, and the pendant rested upon my bosom that peeked over the edges of the dress. Cream hair trailed about my neck in ringlets, the rest tied up above my head, the common style of the day. I placed herbs and spices into a pouch and tucked it behind the extravagant bow on the back of the dress.
Once ready, I made my way down the spiral staircase and towards the main door. A velvet cape was draped about my shoulders while I awaited my carriage’s arrival. I sighed as I stroked my crucifix with a gloved hand.
Once again at the Woods’ Mansion door, I sensed a precarious presence, almost as if there were a spell placed upon the building. I knew that there was something I had missed, and I would have to investigate further at my next arrival.
I was showed to the dining room by a young maid who I had not met before. I came to discover she was a mute. No one found out the reason she ceased to talk, but with all the strange occurrences, many were not surprised. The doctors spoke of shock from the deaths and disappearances, while the townspeople gossiped about a dark spell. Others whispered about a spirit that rips out the soul, making a zombie out of anyone who encounters it.
Inside the dining room, candles burned steadily on both sides of the table with flowers trailing softly around them. An aura of light surrounded the chairs, and Thomas sat at the far end. The maid gave a quick curtsy and left so Thomas could show me to my seat. He was not elegantly dressed, but he wore a matte black suit with white gloves. It suited him well. I held out my hand like a proper lady should, and he bent down to kiss it. I felt the warmth his breath and lips upon my cold veins, and I shivered with excitement.
Over the course of the meal, Thomas and I discussed the details of my profession and the investigation. I had a feeling that it terrified him to hear what I said, though I saw that he kept interest as I spoke.
“What can you tell me about your sister?” I asked as I took out a small stack of papers to write on.
“I am afraid I cannot tell you much. All I know is what I have been told, really,” Thomas said. “She began to act so strange after a point, I am not even sure she was even inhabiting her own body.”
“You mean she was possessed?” I inquired.
“No, not exactly. Less that she was sharing her body with something else, more like her mind was poisoned. As you know, it is scandalous to take on lovers, especially those of the same sex. She had several relationships in which she never stayed in for more than a few nights. Some of them she took on were reported missing. I even heard rumors a few ended up in insane asylums. I cannot really say why, but I know that someone was controlling her actions. Maybe the one who changed her so much murdered her,” He said with a dry voice. “I am sorry. That is all I can recall.”
“It is quite all right. Any information helps me in these situations. Any questions?” I wrote down the rest of the information as I spoke.
“What exactly do they call your profession?” he queried.
“It depends on your upbringing. Some call me a devil worshiper, others the devil herself. There are those with even less sense who think me a saint or an angel. I am far from that, I can assure you,” I took a small sip of wine, savoring the bitter taste upon my tongue. “I am what you call a Supernatural Investigator. It can be summed down to a detective for the unnatural or unexplained.”
“What exactly does your job entail?” Thomas took a sip of wine as well, and licked his fleshy lips. I watched his tongue streak across the pink skin with awe.
“Umm....Where were we? Oh, yes. My job entails investigation of unexplainable events. I deal with anything as simple as mischievous poltergeists residing within a small cottage to something more complicated, like exorcism of crowds. Let me just explain now, it is no simple task to cast demons out of several writhing bodies at once. Most would burn them first, before trying to save them. I am afraid to say many lack the talent, though they have an abundance of faith. It requires more than faith to perform such an operation, it requires skill, which requires practice.”
Thomas’ eyes grew wider by the moment, and I decided to change the subject, but he showered me with, yet again, more questions.
“What can you say was your most difficult task, if I may ask?” asked Thomas.
“I’m not sure if it is something you would like to hear about over dinner, sir,” I stated.
“I think I could handle it,” he urged.
“Well, if you insist”, I said. “There was once this young girl. She was about seven years of age, I believe. She sold matches on the market corner, earning a penny a pack. One night she was scolded by her superior, so she was sent home later in the dark. You can imagine, a young girl walking alone at night in the slums,” I said as I stumbled over my words. “When she was found, her neck had been torn open, and the infection grew beyond any normal doctor’s control. Some dark force was behind the mark on her neck. The whites of her eyes had turned as black as the night sky, and from her throat came the sounds of unnatural horror. No one really knew what had become of her until I tied down her hands and opened her mouth to discover that her canines had already been affected by the transformation.”
“What do you mean by transformation?” Thomas said as he leaned forward on the table, eyes widened with curiosity.
“I am not sure if you believe in vampires, sir. You can believe that mere possession did this to the child. After all, many believe the bloodsuckers to be a hoax. But the change that took place in this child was far from a normality, and I knew there was no way to save her poor soul. So, I killed her. It was the only thing I could do, but yet I still feel guilty deep inside. I still believe that I could have saved her soul,” I took a deep breath and stopped.
“But, you said there was nothing you could do?” Thomas stated.
“I know,” I said, my eyes lowered to the table. “I could have brought her to my partner. She would have known what to do, but I panicked. I would rather end this conversation, if you do not mind.”
“I understand. So, what benefit do you receive from all of this, from your work? I am not intending this to seem shallow, but what is it in for you?” Thomas asked.
“Thomas, I may seem to be a saint, but in the end, I am nothing more than a monster trapped within the body of a woman.” I whispered.
Thomas rose from his seat, teetering a little from too much wine, and strode to where I sat.
“I will prove to you that you are nothing but a woman.” He spoke passionately.
He grabbed my hand with swiftness, ripping the satin glove from my arm, and ravenously kissed my wrist and palm. As he kissed me, my body exploded with intense anticipation. My head spun from the alcohol, and I felt as if I were to pass out at any moment. A deep brooding thirst rose from the depths of my soul, and I ripped his shirt off of one shoulder and kissed it. Whether it was the alcohol or the dark thirst that rose up into my throat like a scream, I could not have known. But all at once when he kissed the soft vein on my neck, passion overtook me and I plunged my teeth into his shoulder. At first he shuddered from the pain and shock, but then he moaned with fierce pleasure when I softly sucked on his tender skin. I slowly lifted my head. A small trail of blood had trickled down his left arm and onto the floor as my vision began to black out.
|Angel's Underground Prologue: Part 1||Night Maiden|