Adventuring through twisted time.
“Feed us, feed us. Please, we are hungry, Shadow. Ever so hungry.”
The eerie hauntings of the Elders whined within each nook and cranny of her mind in a series of screams which beckoned her from her slumber; striking features crunched together as the morning light broke through the barrier of her eyelashes. With cupped fists, she rubbed her eyes with the back of her hands before sitting up and on the edge of her bed; the sounds of her sisters on the other side of the door caused her to shake her head. Yet, it was not her sisters that got her to get ready quickly, it was her. - Matron, they called her; nothing more, nothing less. The name haunted the hallways of Hallows Hill Manor, echoed round spacious rooms and more importantly, it etched itself to the back of every young banshee’s throat. “Yes Matron, No Matron” Robotic, monotonic and lifeless; character, personality and individuality all relentlessly stripped from her children, plucked with precision and ease.They are one of the same; they are a moulding of her. Those that dared to defy her would be punished in the most undesirable of ways; as Ciara found out.
Beneath the deafening silence of the many footsteps coming to a halt and the sounds of girls holding their breath; Ciara could hear the faint ticking of the Matron’s shoes, causing her to make her bed as quickly as possible only to stand beside it with a childlike grin upon her features. Without a knock and without warning, The Matron barged into her room, her own mist covered gaze roaming around the state of the room before falling upon Ciara, she took one step closer. She smiled, a wicked curvature possessed aging lips, crows feet appeared at the edges of each eye and the back of bony fingers ran the length of Ciara’s flushed cheek. “If you do not feed them well today, it will not be you we will punish” The Matron cooed close to her ear, chilling breath freezing the lobe that it brushed over whilst a sinister laugh escaped her lips. “The Scream Chamber will reopen but, this time, the girl will be forced to swallow her scream" The air around the two women became palpable, so much so that Ciara began to hum a cheery tune, with a slight sway of her head. “Good girl, now go.” A kiss as sickly as nectar was placed upon her cheek, her tone ominous as it departed the tip of her tongue. Ciara gave her a child like smile with an agreeable nod.
Hallows Hill Manor stood tall, dying wisteria climbed the aged building as a permanent coating of mist painted the buildings bricks. Overindulging shrubbery nipped eagerly at passing ankles, whilst the distant whispers of the deceased echoed from the woodland’s deep belly. Skeletal branches waved in the breeze, beckoning anyone in who crosses it's path; wanting to swallow an individual whole within its shadows. Ciara found herself staring into the temptress for a few moments before setting off to find her prey this evening. The preselected male was not hard to find, he was a predictable creature and would be found in The Crowhurst bar, once again, cheating on his wife. The bitter taste of alcohol tickled hungry taste buds, the distant screams of her sisters screams rang in the distant air as she made her way towards his table; sitting opposite him with a wide grin.
“Shadow! Pleasure to meet ya!” Her Irish accent rolled effortlessly from her tongue; a wide grin on her features created dimples within her cheeks. The evening continued, a constant flow of conversations, laughter and flirtatious touching; of course, she had no intention of following through with her suggestive ways - it had been many, many years since she allowed a man to touch her or for her to touch him in that way. Ciara slithered her fingers through the gaps that his provided, there was a skip in her step as they left the bar and the man followed her eagerly. “Your name surely isn't Shhhadow" He slurred his repeated words as she guided him into one of the darkened alleys which looked as if it had fallen victim to an apocalypse; rubbish littered the floor and a singular rat scurried along the obstacles. Ciara grimaced internally at the scene, the screams in head growing in volume, in eagerness but also in sinister delight.
“Shatter every bone in him"
They taunted her, urged her on as if they could control the very muscles in her body; she pressed the male against the wall, his hands found her waist much to her dismay before he leaned in to kiss her. Ciara allowed one kiss; the literal kiss of death before pulling her head back. “Say hello to Mister Devil for me when you get there! His dark magic gave me a second life” A light, teasing giggle bypassed her lips as he looked down at her in confusion and in silence. “Nooo, this is when you say, Yes Ciara, I will say hello to him for you. Go on, say it.” She pouted and prodded his shoulder.
“I knew you were too good to be normal” The male stammered and attempted to get away from his space between her and the wall; he only got so far before she channelled the scream which had been clawing at her lungs. Within seconds, his bones were licked with lightning as they cracked within his body and he dropped like thunder to the ground. Ciara managed to stand before him - her mouth wide as the scream erupted from her, windows cracking in the nearby radius as blood soon trickled from his ears, eyes and mouth. He looked up at her, pleading for her to stop but little did he know that her Elders were already feasting upon his soul. Her eyes had fully succumbed to the mist as the scream possessed her briefly, her fingers gave him a little wriggle of a goodbye before he fully crumbled into a mess on the floor. Once she was sure he was gone, Ciara let out a prolonged exhale and leaned her hands on her thighs to catch her breath once again, wincing somewhat as her lungs cracked themselves ever so slightly at the pressure.
Fingers ran through her sun kissed locks vigorously as she composed herself. “Cor Blimey Cici, that was a good one. Good job" She grinned to herself before giving herself a pat on the back and going on her merry way. Just as she was about to reach the entrance of the alleyway, the moonlight rested against another man on his way home; she caught his profile and frowned. His hair, how he carried himself - Ciara tilted her head to the side like a confused puppy. “It couldn't be…. Dimitri?”
“It's him, look at him walking without a worry. As if your death didn't affect him”
Curiosity and a forgotten anger carried her forwards, remaining in the comfort of the shadows as she followed him.
He sat across from her staring down as his plate, clearly lamenting over everything. It was waning on him and it was very clearly affecting him physically. He blew out a harsh breath before rubbing his face and starting to eat, never looking up at her, only opening his mouth to eat. The conflict of emotions he was experiencing keeping him silent; he was ashamed, angry, heartbroken and quite helpless, or so he thought.
At last, I heard the phone ring my brain, at last, registering it after it's fifth screaming on its hook. "Bonjour Collie-Flower, what did you forget?" She was silent and suddenly I knew something was off, beyond the violent night and odd morning we had, I forward my brow. She was the only one with the house number so I knew it was her but her silence...why? 'Vega papa li to (It's Vega Dad)' I froze and let out a sharp and harsh breath. "Le faire passer (put him through)"
"Bonjour Monsieur!" He greeted "Your paintings are ready we told your assistant last week but never heard back." He fell quiet for a moment or two "No! Madeline is not available so I will be bringing them by myself." He spoke sternly and hung up before they could argue further. When he turned and his eyes met Ciara's he suddenly remembered he did not or rather could not just leave her. Not like he had in their past. "I have a delivery to make I am not leaving you alone." He walked up to her cautiously and rose his to her face and very gently and cautiously cupped the side of her face. He rubbed his thumb across her cheek basking in her presence a faint smile showing on his face despite her not being the love he once knew anymore.
I carefully kissed her forehead before pulling away and rummaging through some bags to find the clothes Maddie had set to the side to donate. "All of these clothes are clean if you did not want to wear the same thing you wore last night." I spoke as I presented the bag to her. Leaving her to decide as I myself changed but left my door open.
The silence in which they ate did not unnerve her, in fact, it was very similar to the feeding habits she was used to at Hallows Hill; sisters were not permitted to speak unless requested, but of course, that never stopped them from faint whispers as they wandered down the hallways away from The Matron’s eager eye. Yet, it was when the silence was broken by the sound of the ringing phone did Ciara jump, her grey coated eyes widened as she watched Dimitri go towards the thing that caused such a sound. Cici had seen many people use such things in her excursions out of the Manor, but had never used one herself thus, she turned her head away; she did not want to be corrupted by the modern life. Her fork played with her food, it was rich, therefore, after a few mouthfuls, she was full up - her stomach was only really used to rations, and porridge; things such as bread and sausages were nothing but a faint memory for her until today.
“Why are you not talking? Where are you? You can’t hide forever” Ciara’s inner voice hissed as she tried to search for The Elders within her, although there was no doubt that they were probably convening with The Matron about her whereabouts or the fact she was unable to kill Dimitri; the man who The Matron wanted dead at all costs - he was her girls weakness. Yet when Dimi approached her, she forced on her smile, the smile almost reaching her eyes so that he would not grow suspicious of her own troubled communications; she simply nodded at his comment, it seemed she was going on a road trip. Ciara waited in her seat for a few moments until he wandered into his room to change into fresh clothes before she too began to rummage through the items in the bag.
“Bonjour Monsieur” Cici repeated to herself in her rather terrible put on French accent; she truly couldn’t tell if she was practicing or just copying him in spite - either way, her faded Irish accent couldn’t quite grasp the accent as she changed into more suitable clothing. She found her stilettos from the night before, slipped her feet into them and then proceeded to brush her hair with her fingers; tugging and hissing at any knots which nestled within the mass of blonde. At the sound of his footsteps approaching, Ciara stood still, almost too suspiciously before glancing to the sun which filtered through the blinds; she cleared her throat. “I will need an umbrella” She nodded, her lips twitching at the clear confusion on his features as it certainly was not umbrella weather.
"I swear that girl of mine was everyone's vice..."
Dimitri chuckled softly hearing her mock him, minding his own business as he dressed. He quietly watched as she ran her fingers through her hair wanting to help but deciding that keeping his distance, for the time being, was the smartest. He cleared his throat when he thought at first that she had caught him watching her, letting out a sharp breath of both relief and thought to her quarry. He thought to himself a moment rubbing the shadow he had not shaved on the lower half of his face. “I believe we have a parasol.” He mentioned passing by her and disappearing into Madeline's room. Within a matter of seconds a bang, a crash and then a groan could be heard from her room, and maybe just maybe if you listened close you might catch Dimitri curse beneath his breath.
I emerged from the room, I am sure looking a bit dishevelled but with a black parasol in hand. “Madeline made it for a friend some time ago. They no longer need it.” I could not help the haunting tone that followed my words or the shiver those words caused as they trotted down my spin. I gave Ciara a sad smile as I handed it to her before being struck by a sudden remembrance. I huffed and excused myself to my room only to be back by her side seconds later. “The paintings are downstairs.” I mentioned with one hand on her back and the other on the door but I pulled back from her and somberly followed right behind her down the steps. From behind, I could see Ciara's demeanour change and I immediately knew it was because Madeline had come into her view. I frowned with a heavy heart because I knew Madeline's was aching the way in which she avoided looking Ciara's way or how her aura completely changed once she came into my view confirmed it. I frowned even more and stepped into Ciara’s view.
He placed his hands at either side of her face coercing her to look up at him, opening his mouth to say something but then deciding against it and instead of kissing her on the forehead. He moved his hands to her shoulders and made himself eye level with her “I need you to remember that you trusted me once. I need you to trust me again.” He took her hand and placed it on his heart just staring into her eyes at that moment. Eventually, he let her hand go and let her roam the studio while he turned and walked towards Madeline who was just finishing wrapping the last painting.
“He is going to ask again.” Her naturally raspy voice cracked as she spoke.
“Oui,” Dimitri answered as he squatted down to hold a piece of the wrapping in place to help. They were silent for a while as Madeline finished and stood up brushing herself off and Dimitri followed in kind. Her eyes that showed the perfect balance of life and death living in harmony within her stared in administration at Ciara as Ciara admired a painting. Dimitri after tying the paintings together for travel nudged Maddie towards Ciara.
I immediately felt bad as I heard my daughters panicked yelp at my pushing her and felt even worse as CiCi turned to glare down at her hoping she would combust and burn. “P-“ she caught herself quickly “He... He made that for you. It uh… it was for your fiftieth birthday.” Her nerves made her stutter and her fear for her own mother made her keep her distance and broke my heart. I longed for them to get along, but seeing this, knowing CiCi was not the same anymore my mind was slowly being plagued with doubt. “Okay, we are all set.” I beckoned to save Madeline’s soul and at the sound of my voice, she quickly scurried away from her mother and took her spot at her desk to review some important paperwork.
“Elle utilise le parasol que vous avez fait (She is using the parasol you made.)” I said to cheer Maddie up, her aura was grey but she was physically listless and lamenting inside. ‘Mmhmm’ was all I got from her and I twisted my mouth hesitating a bit before saying this next thing “J'ai cassé ton vieux pot de fleurs en essayant de l'obtenir(I broke your old flower jar trying to get it.)” I was slightly ashamed of that honestly and when Madeline froze and her pen stopped I knew I had made her feel worse. She rubbed her eyes scrunching up her face as she did, clearing her throat but then speaking through her teeth “I will clean it up on my break.” I waited for a second or two but then eventually grabbed the paintings with one hand and placed them under my arm and took CiCi's hand with my free hand and walked out with my head slightly down.
“She does not speak to me in English unless something is wrong or I have done something wrong.” He admitted as they walked in silence but then let out a groaning sigh “Sorry, you do not care…” he was a bit angry at that but not at her, never at her for something so out of her control. He was silent after that for a while “I will give Maddie some well needed time and space and just focus on you if you let me… but you have to promise not to hurt her again, she is… fragile, after already being shattered and glued back together piece by piece. She can not take another scream I am sure of it.” In hindsight, this might have been foolish sharing this with Ciara but he did so trying to appeal to the human, the woman he once loved.
When we arrived at the Dracul château I let her hand go and it was not until then that I realized I had been holding her hand the whole walk here. I looked at the manor house and took an audible heavy breath turning to CiCi and digging in my pocket. “ Vega, the “man” you are about to meet… mmm. Well, you will know rather quickly what he truly is, but more importantly, he believes Madeline is my daughter… and you he will recognize you from my stories and naturally believe you are… “ I took her left hand and stepped closer to her slipping and wedding band and engagement ring on her finger. “…my wife.” I gently stroked her cheek and pecked her lips stealing a kiss before she could say anything about Madeline or Vega or anything. I stood beside her in the next second fixing the paintings under my arm faintly nervous because I knew Vega would ask me and CiCi to give him Madeline. While my answer will always be no I could not say the same for CiCi. Madeline was clearly a delicate topic though I already felt as though I had brought her up to Ciara enough times, making her, hate her more I am sure. “He is going to talk about Madeline, he wishes to buy her off of me and I would be foolish to think he would not do the same with you and I can not ask or tell you to say no…” I chuckled sincerely and nervously “The last time I was this scared was… the day you died.”
The Dracul Château was an exquisite place, lavish and grand, with a Medieval Versailles aesthetic and so suddenly as soon as they walked in Vega appeared before them with a gush of wind at his back. “Hello, old friend.” His booming deep voice vibrated at them, the intensity in his vibrant blue eyes disrupted by the genuine but closed mouth smile dawning his face that quickly faded as his face turned to excited shock when his eyes met Ciara's and he moved extremely close to her, invading all her personal space. Except that too quickly faded when he realized she was in fact, not Madeline, he studied her remaining in her personal space for just a second before he moved back or could be physically moved by Dimitri. “And here I thought Mad Bird had bleached her hair. Only to find that it is her Banshee of a mother. “ he sighed as he spun on his heels and gestured for them to follow.
I gave Cici a knowing look because I was right in telling her he would mention Madeline and scoffed to myself about it as we followed him. He took the panting once we arrived in the dining hall ‘Please, sit. ‘ he offered as he began to examine my artwork. I pulled a seat out for Cici if she wished before sitting myself knowing this would take a while. ‘Did you know she was a banshee?’ He questioned without looking up from the current piece he examined meticulously. “Yes.” I answered with a hint of confusion in my voice. ‘Hmmm… I do not think she knew that you knew.’ I looked at Cici “I did not think it was something that needed to be said after the little family reunion we had last night.” I was still looking at Ciara but talking to Vega. ‘Oh.’ He spoke subtly as he rested the painting he was reviewing down ‘she tried to kill you…’ he sat down across from us and crossed his fingers together resting them on his lap. “… and then tried to kill my Madeline. “ he tsk'd her in a playful and yet somehow serious manner.
“I do not hear them either, the voices, you are asking them where they are.” Vega’s alluring manner showed as he spoke so charmingly to Ciara; his eyes slowly trailing up from his lap to her eyes. He chuckled sinisterly, leaning forward a slight bit “oh, how do I know your thoughts? Well, my dear, there is one thing Grimm tales got right about us Vampires. No one’s thoughts are their own around us unless of course you are Dimitri and Madeline…” His eyes shifted to Dimitri quickly and he sucked his teeth and them back to Ciara’s “For the sake of not burning my bridge with you though I shall let you keep hour thoughts to yourself. If the elders are not there then neither, shall I be. You deserve this moment of freedom and peace.’ He gave her a curt nod before picking up the next painting to examine keeping true to his word. “I would, however, be wary. The Elders are only ever quiet when the worst has yet to come.” He shot them a warning look.
Normally I might have enjoyed watching Ciara try and figure out how Vega knew her thoughts, but his words shook me. Vega never warned a soul, his people were arguably just as turbulent and violent as the Banshees so I did not heed his words lightly. I clearly zoned out lost to my thoughts because it was not until I heard Vegas’ voice once more that I focused in and realized Cici was no longer beside me. Had she even taken a seat my mind queried? ‘Her name is Annabelle, but she preferred and many respected her wishes of being called by her middle name, Artemis and, well, of course, you recognize your daughter.’ His eyes met mine ‘Does she know the story?’ I huffed “Honestly, we have not really gotten the chance to speak the way we probably should…” I looked to her and frowned faintly but was disrupted when Vega hummed to himself in response to my words.
Vega stared at the small framed photo Ciara held in her hands, a wave of remorse washing over him as he looked away. “Back during the first world war, many able-bodied men were drafted and women became army nurses.” Vega began his story and though it caused Dimitri’s suspension to rise he remained silent and just listened, hearing this story from a different perspective was new to him and as an artist, he did not want to ruin the opportunity.
“Madeline, as I am sure you have concluded already, was not of able-body having… well… we know she died at birth but the world just believes she was born weak and fragile. Artie…” he chuckled mildly “ she was forbidden from joining that war or any for that matter to save her from being exposed as a vampire. So she forged up a medical record and gave herself some health condition that made her a forfeit to the recruiters. “ He shrugged but a glimmer of pride showed on his face. “So your daughter and my little sister found themselves in a very desolate New York neighbourhood with nothing to do but find a job… With that said…
I shall begin…
“This is the tenth missing coworker…”
“Artemis, I really don’t know what you want us to do about it.”
Artie grumbled under her breath fling the letters before her into the appropriate air shoot with lightning precision. “I want us to be cautious. Curious. And concerned."
“Curiosity killed the cat hun.”
“But! Satisfaction brought him back. Say the whole damn quote if you’re gonna try and brush off my concerns!”
Suddenly the alarm flashed and everyone around Artie began to scatter. The machines stopped clanking. The chatter and vacant songs to bid the time all quieted quickly. And so as everyone ran to hide from the blaring alarm and the loud clanks of the giant iron door being lifted to where they were, Artemis continued her job. Sorting her letters and sending them up with the air shoot. Her coworker, whom she had been no bickering with grabbed her to pull her off to the side to hide.
“Ay, you!” but it was too late.
Artie wiggled free and stepped out into the man’s view.
“It’s your lucky day. Artemis this is Madeline. Maddie, Artie. Alright now that you too know each other so well show ‘er the ropes.”
As soon as the man left and the door came slamming down leaving all the mail workers in the dim lite basement of this high rise all the women came out and got right back to work. Ignoring Madeline but scorning Artemis for being so stupid.
Artemis rolled her eyes “Ignore them. They’re all just chicken shits is all. Come on let’s get you acclimated!...
…You a newsie?”
“A N'awlins Newsie in a New York mailroom. Who woulda thought…”
“We’re missing fifty now” Artie froze mid letter toss. She forwarded her brow and frowned.
“Ya sure?” She walked to Madeline and looked over their scribbled paper. She twisted her mouth
“How long have you been here Mad Bird?”
“Uh… six months in a week or two.” Artemis rolled her lips together deep in thought. “Somethings certainly wrong.”
The lights flashed first before the blare of the alarm rang. Madeline stood up and tucked the small paper into her pants pocket. The two girls hid with a huff but Artemis wouldn’t stay still.
And so without a second thought or a real plan she stepped out into the view of the men that had come.
“What are y-“
Artemis gave Madeline and faint smile and suddenly was grabbed and dragged off.
“Artie!?” the woman coughed. Artemis’ emerald eyes glowed in the darkness of the place and she stumbled to her feet and tried helping the woman sit down with the little energy they both had.
“How… long… have you… been… here?”
Artemis didn’t answer. She insisted the woman rest and save her strength. Sharing with her the little water she had. “You just had to go and be curious.” The woman insisted on saying and Artemis blow an audible breath of air from her nose to represent a laugh.
“I thought coal mines died out in the 1800s.” Artemis chuckled with her statement but nothing was really funny to her. Her vibrant eyes looked around and watched as the women, children and horses tirelessly worked. Collecting coal to later be used for the war, everyone unsure of which side they were being forced to collect for.
“Three months.” The women looked up at Artemis once hearing her answer and frowned.
They sat in silence for a time, covered in the ash of coal and dirt, counting down the seconds for when their break would end. Grieving when it was time to get back to work again. Artemis lifted her pickaxe and lantern “Stay close.” The stern look in her eyes caused the woman and everyone else near to just give her a curt nod and listen. Silently and quickly she lead them down a tight path grabbing people and persuading them to follow. It was time to go, to dig their way free.
She mumbled to herself with all the people watching as she scoured this small wall before them. With all her might she struck the wall with her axe and as she pulled away and the rubble from the wall clattered to the floor, light from the sky could be seen. And so, the miners jumped at the opportunity. Working together to mine away at the wall.
They were tired. Coughing. Desperate and just trying to catch their breath when the mine rumbled and the echo of a horses cry could be heard. Looking among themselves they hadn’t the slightest what had just happened but pushed them to harder. Faster.
Another rumble but this time they heard it. The bang, the cries of people and horses. Then a chain reaction happened and the banging and rumbling wouldn’t stop. The miners panicked. Some continue to pick away at this wall while others ran. Artemis desperately tried to get them to stop and run.
And then, it hit her. A faint breeze. An oddity for a mine like the one they were in. Miles below ground where their screams for help would go unheard.
Artie grabbed people and pushed them in the right direction “its gonna collapse. Get to the lifts!” Her voice echoed over the rumbles and screams. And the panic in the air kicked up as some of the horses and screaming people came into view, covered in an extra cake of coal and now blood. A dark cloud from the impending collapse quiet clearly started by an explosion coming their way. The lifts working overtime to get as many people up and out as possible just to send the machines back down and repeat.
Yet Artemis stayed behind. Trying to save as many as she could without risking exposing herself. Exposing herself as a vampire. “
“You see.” Vega's tone of voice shifted as he did in his seat. “Everyone carries trauma differently….” He thought of that statement a moment. “Our grandfather was killed right before our eyes. Executed because he was Count Vladimir Dracul the Impaler. Better known for his patronymic of Count Dracula.” He sighed “That one moment changed us and our lives forever. Forced us to run and hide for centuries. All my other siblings handled their trauma by responding with violence. Myself included. But Artemis. We lost her that night. In the calamity, she slipped right through my fingers and got lost in the riotous crowd. And when we found her again, fully grown, and centuries later, she was a gypsy too afraid to show her true self to the world and wanting nothing to do us and our, at the time ferocious worse than subpar reputation….
Back to this…
“She ran without her vampiric speed and saved everyone she could. Lifting them up or pushing them forward to the lift. Fighting herself as the smell of blood and death grew around her. All because she had seen at a young age what people do to vampires.
She was growing delirious. No blood. Water. Food. Fresh air for months and now she was exerting more energy than she had the means to. “Artie!” She shook her head and looked, a shadowy figure looming over her. She forced herself to her feet at the sounds of the people’s screams “Artie.” She spun around in the middle of helping someone up looking for that shadow once more but found nothing this time. “Artie?” she placed the injured child on the lift and went back to help the people a few feet away from her. “Artemis…” she struggled to get them on the lift. Running back for one last sweep “Artemis get on the lift!” She looked around for the shadow or someone to save only finding lifeless bodies and fresh blood.
Seconds, maybe a few minutes had passed in all this time.
And now, the collapse was in full effect but Artie was too far. Too far from the lift. Too far from the right state of mind. And far too terrified to use her vampiric abilities to save her soul. She stumbled to her hands and knees watching as the lift went up from a distance through her eyelashes. Looking away as that shadow that followed her and knew her name landed down as the lift went up. She looked away to her coming doom. Embracing the truth that she would be crushed down here, giving way to her heavy eyelids.
But she was content because she had saved thousands.
And so, the mine collapsed on top of her.
And when the white light could be seen through closed eyes she thought this was it. She died. “
“Except who did she see risking her life for hers?” Vega’s questioned towards Dimitri.
“Our daughter.” Demi answered with a huff. He did not seem happy despite just hearing that his daughter had saved a life.
Vega seemed unphased, he opened his pocket watch and wound it up, starting at the picture on the inside of the watches cover. “You see, your daughter saved my sister’s life…” he rose and approached Ciara slowly. Dimitri following after him, standing right beside Ciara as Vega stood in front of both of them. He put his hand on the photo she held and pushed it down gently so he could show her the new photo. The one in his pocket watch “Your daughter knew and loved my sister as I did. Look at them here, I could not tell you what Artemis is looking at but Madeline. Madeline is looking at Artemis.” He looked at Dimitri and offered a sad smile which naturally was not returned and in fact met with a faint scowl. “I tell you all of this for no reason you see. Your daughter is the last person to know Artemis before she changed. To know her as the bright, joyful and hopeful person she was. I have asked Dimitri and I know what his answer is and will always be despite my pleads. So now I ask you; will you give me Madeline?” Immediately Dimitri detested. Confronting Vega rather than trying to plead with Ciara aware that might do more harm than good. But Vega ignored him completely focusing on Ciara solely “It is an odd and rather improper request but having Madeline around is almost like having my loving sister back. And yes, her blood could possibly bring anyone or thing back to life as your husband is so nicely pointing out. But she would have to give it to the recipient willingly. Sacrificial my in fact and that would make the reason I want her null and void. So I ask you as her mother to let her be my ward?”
Ciara was pleasantly surprised that he didn’t question why she was asking for something like an umbrella; perhaps he already knew why she needed if, and she assumed it was no secret what her species was after the night they had - not many could scream at her volume. She remained in her spot as he disappeared into that girls room and a sculpted brow pushed upwards at the sounds which came from the other side of the wall; so much so that she stepped forwards slightly and leaned to the side to see if she could see in there. Upon his return, an amused smirk curled her lips as she took in his appearance. “Typical teenager room, huh?” She could only assume that it could be the same as some of her sisters, although, mainly them no longer held belongings other than some items of clothing, books and notebooks; they lived a simple and lonely life. Her arm extended as she grasped the handle of the parasol before she inspected it; her free hand allowed her fingertips to trace over some of the lace which decorated it. “It is beautiful.” Cici was able to force the idea that this belonged to the other girl; it helped to think that the child had no respect for such things.
She noted the sadness which lingered in his words and in his smile when he mentioned that it was no longer needed or in use; but it had been some time since she had used any form of emotion, thus she found it hard to empathise with him. She turned towards the door as he returned and exhaled as she felt his hand press against the small of her back; guiding her to their destination much like he used to back when she was human, and she honestly couldn’t decipher the feelings which stirred within her at the delicate touch as it was removed. She descended the stairs, one hand brushed against the wooden rail; despite being competent in her heels, she still didn’t want to run the risk of tripping and falling down them. Yet, she did run the risk when it came to bumping into the brunette who she still couldn’t bring to say her name, not even silently in her head. Naturally her muscles tensed as jealousy and anger soared through her system, how could she be jealous of a child? It bothered her greatly, that some stranger could have such an impact on her.
Ciara’s mouth parted as if to say something although she was sure that both were going to assume she was going to generate a scream and throw it in the girl’s face; but her lips closed soon enough when Dimitri stepped in front of her - her grey eyes shifted upward to face him. Yet they closed briefly at his kiss, although the darkness in her swirled in confusion as it tried to figure out if he was brave to do that or simply plain stupid. Cici nodded at his comment and glanced as her hand rested against his chest, feeling his heartbeat; it was a lot faster than hers, yet it didn’t take much for anyone’s heart to beat faster than hers. It came hand in hand with being a Banshee, she was half dead, half alive. “For now” She reassured him with a nod, she guessed there was a part of her that doubted whether he was ever going to free her from The Pleasure House, but that would always be his word against her doubts; there simply was no way in proving it unless Quinn was miraculously alive. Cici then tucked the parasol between her arm and torso and began to wander around the shop, her gaze falling upon each and every painting.
The Banshee was taken out of her thoughts at the sound of a very soft and nervous voice; she glanced over her shoulder to find Madeline stood just to the side of her. She looked at the girl up and down and her lips remained in a fine line before glancing back to the painting when she was informed that Dimitri drew that for her fiftieth birthday which comforted her some as that was at least 19 years after her death, give or take. Ciara remained with her back towards them as she continued to look at the painting, and she soon realised just what it was - it was a painting of her favourite lake in the heart of Ireland, with the enormous green space which surrounded it. The memory of the place and what the two did there was extremely foggy, and it only appeared to her in flashes,
Ciara was now much more silent than what she was, she barely spoke to her sisters back at Hallows Hill, and only really spoke to The Matron when she needed too; so perhaps it was because she somehow forgot how to generate words into sounds but she would guess Dimitri simply thought she wished not to speak with him. However, she cleared her throat, because she did not see it fair that he did all the talking, all the time. “You’re right, I don’t care. And I would rather not hear about your life with her. She has had years, supposedly with you, if I am to believe she is your daughter, and I only had two” She sounded bitter, and jealous, even like a teenager herself but she kept her gaze forward as she used her free hand to open the parasol to keep direct sunlight from her. She was not used to such light, Hallows Hill, no matter the time was always engulfed in a thick layer of fog and she only ever did her killings at night so there was no room for daylight in her schedule. Thus, she feared she could be allergic to the sun, or even burn under its rays like a vampire. Cici fell silent then, and listened to his response and hummed to herself as he opened up about just how weak she actually was.
Her eyes widened as the château came into view; it was far grander than Hallows Hill and she knew immediately that The Matron would be hit with jealousy if she saw it. Ciara felt her hand go free but she was too occupied at the grandiose that was in front of her; it was beautiful, and gothic and the dead plants that crawled up it walls sung to her. A sigh escaped her before she turned her attention to Dimitri once more; a brow quirked skyward as he opened up a small box and placed the rings upon her wedding finger. She had too many questions about this, about the rings but before she could vocalise any of them; his lips found hers, probably to silence her and perhaps there was a part of her that liked that. “Why are you scared? You’ve said no before and he clearly hasn’t taken her?” Cici decided to abandon any knowledge of the comment of her day of her death, because after being surrounded by death for so many years - he wasn’t scared because she was dead, he was scared of how life would be without her; there was a difference, at least in her opinion.
Ciara blinked a few times, primarily in surprise about how quickly and unexpectedly the man appeared in front of them; her head withdrew only slightly as he came so close to her that their noses were within touching distance. “Excuse me but this Banshee of a Mother has a name” She spoke confidently at his rather rude comment and caught Dimi’s glance as they followed him through the luxurious hallway to where they were to be seated. Ciara placed the parasol at her feet once she sat down, and allowed the men to continue their discussion; yet there was a part that caught her attention - that Dimitri knew she was a Banshee. Had he known all this time? But never came looking for her? After all, when she thought about it, he did not seem too shocked by her sudden reappearance, after centuries of believing she was dead. Oh she was going to have words.
She threw the vampire a quick and snarky smile as he tsk’d her but when he brought up the voices of the Elders, she narrowed her gaze. “How do you---” She paused for a moment as she finally understood, a typical trait of Ciara Devlin - she wasn’t the brightest tool in the shed. “Ohh.” She nodded in thanks that he would remain out her head; although she did have a hard time believing that. “I can handle them, always have and always will. But Thanks for the heads up” Cici couldn’t help but show the man some attitude when in reality he was actually only trying to be nice to her; perhaps it was just all too much socialising for the typically very recluse Ciara. With that in mind, Ciara stood and went towards the burning fire at the back of the room, yet her eyes remained on some of the photographs which aligned the mantle piece; in fact, she even went as far as picking one up.
She jumped as he appeared at her side again. “You really need to stop doing that” She hissed before falling silent as he began to tell her the story of the girl in the photo. Ciara remained silent and she didn’t really know why he was telling her all of this, surely he would know as a Banshee that empathy was not the easiest emotion to feel; primarily because if she felt that, then she would be inclined to prevent certain deaths from happening. When Dimitri joined them, she knew that this was when he was going to ask for Madeline, and she glanced between the two males. “No, no. Why am I in the middle of this?!” She exclaimed, and practically threw her arms upward. “I mean, I don’t care, take her, don’t take her. This, this is between you and… My Husband” Ciara shivered when she called Dimitri that; it was always a title she wished him to have for her. “I have bigger fish to fry than some petty need to fill some void in your life because boohoo, your sister died or is not the same anymore” She was probably stepping on dangerous grounds right now with him, and Dimitri was probably going to scold her somehow with her outburst. “But guess what, Champ. People die all the time and you just have to get over it. Or you know, you can just join her yourself”
Ciara continued yet as she did so, she came to a chilling stop as her eyes widened; and soon enough she began to choke and gag on the air in which she breathed. Her hand leaned against the wall to steady herself as she felt the individual’s death; and she was experiencing it - the person she was about to scream for was going to die by drowning. Cici spluttered up some water before bracing herself for the scream which erupted from her lips; she was unable to give the men time to distance themselves from her and she doubted that they had been close enough to one - particularly like herself who experienced what she did when she screamed involuntarily.
Being a vampire meant that Ciara’s words really did not bother him, to be honest, he focused on my what mattered to him and that was the answer to his question. So he shook his head and squinted his eyes to her when she began to say this was up to Dimitri. “That would only be true had Madeline been born an Esperanza-Collette.” He smirked wicked and tsked in a mocking manner completely ignoring both Dimitri as he tried to stop him and Ciara as she spoke “But alas she was not. She was born a Devlin and only becam-" he was cut off my Dimitri viciously grabbing his arm and forcing him to turn his way. “She does not know!” he scowled through his teeth. “Has she never seen her own tombstone?” Vega retorted yanking his arm from Dimitri but the two men froze and gave all their attention to Ciara when they heard her cut herself off.
“Love? Are you okay?” I stepped forward to approach her but felt Vega harshly slap his hand against my chest to stop me. I watched him study Ciara before looking back at her clearly able to see something was wrong. I began to push passed Vega’s hand to reach Ciara when we both noticed her spit up water.
Vega’s faint whisper came right before the scream and I went flying back.
As soon as he saw the water Vega knew what would happen next but there was not enough time to warn Dimitri. Nor was there enough time to get them both out of possible harm’s way safely. The blue of his eyes quickly deliquesced to a potent blood red and as Dimitri blew back from the force of the scream Vega dropped down. His fangs extending and claws showing themselves just in time to dig them into his floor to keep from blowing back. Tucking his face under his arm to avoid the shards of glass. Dimitri was less fortunate with navigating through this scream, his head and back hitting the wall behind him before he tumbled to the floor. His wings manifesting a moment too late to protect him from the rest of the scream. Yet they were not white, not anymore, not in many years. They were not black either and the fact he still had wings showed he had not fully fallen. They were grey meaning he could earn his redemption back. They wrapped around him entirely encasing around him until the scream came to end, naturally flicking the shards of glass out of the feathers and moving to behind him as he stumbled to his feet.
I could not catch my breath, my ears bleed and so did my head. I shook the dizziness I felt away more concerned with CiCi than my clearly growing concussion. I did not hesitate to approach looking her right in the eyes with concern. My wings naturally wrapping around her as I came within wingspan my arms following and wrapping around her “okay?” I asked guiding her to sit. This was going to take a lot of getting used to and I feared what would happen if we were not here, but somewhere more public or less structured. Once she was sitting my wings vanished and a faint growl could be heard from behind us. As I turned and saw Vega, I stepped to try and help him up. ‘No!’ the charming features of his voice had dissipated and he grunted through his teeth. The red and bloodlust in his eyes evident as he looked up trying to control himself. ‘Blood… we can smell your blood.’ In that moment I recalled my head was still bleeding, I stepped back but as I did a sudden screech could be heard echoing through the halls of château. The howls and grunts grew louder quickly but one voice stood above the rest “Violet...”
‘Fucking run you fool!’
As Vega’s words processed, I quickly took hold of Ciara “I am sorry my love but we have to get out of here now.”
During this hour the art studio was normally filled life and the joyful sounds of children. Madeline ran an afterschool program here where she taught the towns kid art and adventure. Today they were joined by Brandon and few other men who jumped at the opportunity to help replace the broken glass Ciara had shattered the night before. The young men only wanting to help to see the rarely seen Madeline who to them and most the town was a rumour. She helped the men rise the glass up unafraid of getting her hands dirty. When they got the glass standing upright and it was clear she was not needed she went back to her students practising their cross-stitch today “Easy squeezy lemon peasy?” She teasingly asked knowing everyone was struggling a bit chuckling as they all groaned but still tried “mmm it sounds like it is more stressy, depressy, lemon zesty to me.” She teased again before circling and helping each child with whatever they needed. “Boooo!” Brandon laughed out as he continued to work on the storefront window with his friends. “Hey look, sometimes everyone thinks I am funny and laughs, and sometimes I am the only person that thinks I am funny but someone still laughs… it is me I am someone.” She cheekily rebutted as everyone gave faint laughter to Brandon and Madeline’s slight banter but it stopped as soon as Dimitri and Ciara entered. “We need to talk.” Dimitri said so sternly all Madeline found herself doing was nodding her head to say okay “Hey…” she felt a faint touch on her shoulder from Brandon “I will close everything up down here. Bring the kids home once the window is done.”
I sat Cici down on the sofa as soon as we were alone, grabbing a rag from the kitchen to wipe the blood off of me and hold it to the back of my head to stop the bleeding. I avoided staying still, moving around and not really focusing on anything because I knew the moment, I was not moving my eyes would close. “Pack your bags. You are going on that sabbatical you have been begging me for" I spoke as soon as Maddie had entered and shut the door behind her stopping her as she approached me to help with my head. “No… no... just go and pack… please.” ‘I cannot do that.’ “Why!?” ‘Because I leave for Europe at the start of next month, remember?’ I was beyond desperate and that got the best of me, it always I did “well call who you must! Do whatever the hell you can to get out of here by tonight! Go pack, now!” she flinched and stepped back at my outburst her face showing her confusion and slight anger, but after a second of getting over the shock of my outburst, she silently nodded and disappeared into her room.
It did not take long for her to pack as she had slowly been packing for her trip already and she was a minimalist, to begin with having few personal items. She came back out with one travel backpack and a peculiar jar wrapped in the bag for her sleeping bag which she was not bringing with her. “I got a flight living in a few hours. Cancelled where I was staying and instead ask the Hovington’s if their offer to rent their loft was still available Bran will drive me to the airport after he is done with dropping students’ home.” She spoke as if reading off a checklist, never looking up at either of her parents. “Be…before I go…” her voice cracked as she placed her bag down and slowly approached Ciara. She sat next her holding her breath but picking up on how she was slightly weaker and Madeline wanted to take advantage of the opportunity. Leaning in she hugged her mother, an evident fearful tremble shaking in her muscles as she did.
“…I leave you with this gift.” I spoke pulling back, placing my hand on my mother’s head and closing my eyes before my father could stop this. When I opened my eyes again my mother and I were in my mind. I took a deep breath and stepped closer to her as she looked around confused. “You and I are in my mind. We are dream walking.” I sighed “it is hard to explain.” I looked around before I quickly trotted and grabbed my mother’s hand stopping before she opened a random door in the middle of the cobblestone street we stood on. “Has no one ever told you not to open strange doors.” I joked but I do not think she appreciated it which did not surprise me. I focused on the door she wanted to open; as she ripped her hand from mine. Her memories were behind there you could hear them slipping through. I frowned; I would love nothing more than to see those memories with her but I would never get passed the door. To pass that door she would have to accept me and who I was to her, and to go past that door without me risked her never leaving, getting stuck here was like falling into a coma. I shivered at the thought before closing my eyes and focusing.
A strange wind suddenly picked up around them flying through their hair as all the images around them began to fly by, almost as if they were in the matrix. When Madeline opened her eyes everything stopped, she looked around “I am not going to combust into flames no matter how hard you stare.” She gave a quick cheeky glance over her shoulder exactly like Dimitri would have, unbeknownst to Madeline of course. “And you cannot scream here either.” She sighed out with a faint disappointing tone again much like her father, never having to look back at Ciara to know she had tried. At last, the extremely young girl came into view, her wide death stained blue hues looking around the empty apartment. It was the same one Ciara knew when she first met Dimitri the one he had lived in at the time he courted her and the one he stayed in with Madeline for a few years after her birth “He thinks I do not remember this place.”
We stood and watched the younger me sneak around and into the attic. Laying down under this dust-covered stained glass window oddly in the ceiling ‘This was her favourite spot…’ my father’s voice echoed “he is not here.” I mentioned without the at my mum know she was looking for him “you are just hearing my thoughts at that moment.” I frowned again as the memory changed. I am older here slightly and all alone again in a new home curled up in the corner clutching my wrapped up and burnt hand to my chest. Scared, alone, hungry. I remember this moment vividly ‘I TOLD YOU TO NEVER TOUCH THE STOVE!’
Both Madeline’s flinched but nothing happened because again it was just the memory of his voice. Madeline blushed as her mother stood next to her, ashamed she had responded to her own memory this way. “He never hit me… he just…” she decided against finishing her statement... that was a conversation for another time because the memory changed again. She is in the forest alone, the flame of her candle, her only source of light, blue, she looks like the age she does now except she was truly only seventeen in this memory. The serious look on her face and in her eyes was a familiar one but this time it was not her father that could be seen in her but her mother. The Devlin in her was showing, showing to the point that if she were blonde, she would be in this moment the spitting image of her mother at this age. Her eyes shot to where there was a strange sound, the young Madeline tensed up but not in fear. Her fingers curling into a fist with her free hand and jaw tightening “dad this is not funny. I know it is you.” There was no answer, no echo of his voice, just Madeline alone and probably in danger.
Glancing from myself and this memory I looked to my mum. She seemed enthralled enough, was it because I looked like her here? Was she seeing herself or was she seeing me and hating him more for “being with me”? Regardless, I stepped back as she stepped forward letting her examine everything at this moment. Hoping she was catching on to my feelings at this moment because that is what dreamwalking did. It allowed you to share your feelings but it only worked if the other person let down their guard enough. With Ciara, I had no way of knowing. I heard the rustling again and I knew what was coming next. It all happened in the blink of an eye, the memory of me blowing the candle out, the creature taking advantage of my blindness and jumping out at me. “Mum look out!” I panicked realizing she was right in the creature’s path tackling her out of the way just in time for it to tackle the memory version of me like it was supposed to.
She shared a few more memories after that. All of them the same in that they show how alone she always was, how angry and absentminded Dimitri was when he was around. They were watching a memory of Madeline chase her father down the streets of New Orleans because he believed he had seen Ciara but there was truly nothing there. “You hate me. You hate me for the decades I have had with him. And so, you hate him too for the same reason.” Madeline had not spoken since tackling her mother and promptly being slapped away. “But in reality, if we took your moments with him and bet them against my time with him you would win. You would have the higher bet. You still have his heart and I do not want it in the same way you do.” She smirked and took a deep breath closing her eyes, it was time for them to exit this state they were in and time for Madeline to go.
The ground shook faintly as a whisper slithered through the wind. I opened my eyes, something was wrong… the last memory around us began to crack and crumble and the whisper grew louder now coming through the cracks as they were created. Soon enough it all came crashing down all around us as loud violent scream bellowed through and shattered everything around us blowing us both back and causing us to land on a hard cobblestone street. I groaned hitting the floor, nothing was supposed to hurt here but falling to the floor did, rising I help my mother up or tried to moving away as she refused my help. I began to look around finding that everything seemed frozen or slowed down “Something is not right.” I whispered under my breath but I knew my mum heard me. I froze once I saw it.
This was a vision of the future and what they saw before them was the moment Ciara would kill Madeline. Madeline stared at the image of her future self, her eyes rolled back with blood pouring from anywhere it could escape. The faint snow dusting the cobblestone, the visible breath coming from the mouths of their future selves, the length of Madeline’s hair… this all told them it was not only winter but not far into the future. Maybe this winter? You could never be sure if no date was displayed somewhere. Madeline looked from the vision and to her mother, staring her directly in the eyes and while she did not smile she did not show full fear though of course naturally, she was. Instead he eyes showed forgiveness. With a breath, they were at last free from the dream walk. Madeline swallowed hard but stared into Ciara’s eyes to be sure she was okay, and before anyone could blink Madeline’s nose began to bleed.
I rose my hand to my father as I was prepared for this and quickly stop the blood from getting on anyone or thing with a paper towel I had tucked in my pocket. I re-locked my eyes with my mum.” We are okay.” I looked at him as I spoke, he was terrified I could see it faint in his eyes but I knew that look better than any other look of his. Well, that and anger. I rose keeping my nose covered making my way to the kitchen before finally my father approached and forced me to show him my nose. ‘what did you?’ his voice low maybe to avoid being heard my Cici but he knew I had done something, given something or I would not be bleeding. I have to give blood to bless people. But I put some space between us and did not answer, washing my face and hands before taking more tissue and putting it in my pocket. I gathered my things, picking up my bag and tossing it on my back and then taking my wrapped-up flower jar. The flower’s glow shining through faintly as soon as I held it close to me. I could not help the healing breath the flower forced me to take, my phone chiming in my pocket letting me know Bran was downstairs.
It was time to go.
Physically as soon as her nose had begun to bleed this façade of health she kept about her seemed to fade and suddenly she looked like death herself until the flower came into her arms. “I gave you a gift. I cannot tell you how it will happen or when, but one day you will wake and find that the love your heart used to be able to feel has returned.” I just want you to be happy. Both... both of you.” She frowned looking down, “But I am sorry for the pain that love will bring you. Love is beautiful but it is also a heavy burden. I should know.” She sheepishly and sadly laughed before turning to leave, stopping short and glancing back over her shoulder at her mother alone. She stared into her mother’s eyes one last time and gave her a sad and forgiving smile “It is okay. Just never tell him.” Was all she said in regards to the future and then without a goodbye, she was gone. Followed by the steps by Dimitri, who after minutes of just standing in the street realizing his daughter had gone off a hundred per cent on her own came trudging up the steps.
I just went to take a deep breath but it knocked off my feet, I leaned up against the nearest wall breathing hard. I was trying to shake away my blurry vision all the while still holding the rag to the back of my head to stifle the bleeding. I looked up at Cici as she approached and I reached up and grabbed her hand with my free one. Turning the inside of her palm to me and running my fingertips across the marks her nails had made there. “Oh, what the hell just happened?” I huffed out before pulling her down with me, my eyes tear-stained, my heart beating harder than ever before making it hard to catch my breath as I fought through this concussion. “I need you. I need your help. I cannot let my eyes close. So talk to me, give me something to focus on.”
There simply were no words available to her to help her explain the sensation of an involuntary scream; particularly when she was well equipped with controlling and manipulating her screams at will. In fact, it was an oddity for her to scream for someone's death now, especially when she was not the one causing their death. Thus, when it happened she sometimes found that these types of screams were a lot stronger than her own self induced ones; and they typically left her weak for a good couple of hours to even a day. Ciara cussed under her breath as she watched the water splatter out of her mouth and onto the floor, and how embarrassing too - in front of the two men who were clearly having a rather intense conversation; she had managed to pick up some words and how Dimitri shut something down. Yet she was unable to intervene at what had piqued her curiosity as the scream erupted from her and as she watched the glass shatter at the same time the two men went flying across the room.
Ciara felt her whole body tremble, and for a while, she wondered if her diminutive form was able to withstand the vicious energy which rumbled within. Once the scream had finished, her body shook, and her legs wobbled as they tried to keep her upright and she was internally grateful when she felt the soft feathers wrap around her before a pair of arms followed; supporting her completely as she practically collapsed within Dimitri’s hold. Sweat beaded upon her brown as she sat down, her grey coated eyes were wide but exhausted, and her breathing had remained at a fast pace; it was one of the only activities which managed to get her heart beating faster. “Yes” She mumbled breathlessly as if she was still trying to catch her breath from the water which had flooded her lungs, she could barely hear Vega behind them but she felt the energy within the room shift once more which indicated the two of them needed to leave; something about blood, and the sounds of others from the other side of the walls. She groaned softly and used Dimitri to help move her although she was aware that he had taken some of the brunt of her scream which he probably didn’t need after the scream from yesterday and the stress of her and Madeline.
The moment that the pair of them entered the shop, her gaze wandered across the sea of faces before her eyes widened as they fell upon the young lad who clearly held some form of flame for Madeline; it was him. It was him. He was the one she screamed for, he was the one who would die from drowning. Ciara swallowed harshly, after many years, she barely ever saw the victim of her involuntary screams; in fact, he had been the first in a good decade and he was so young too. Yet Ciara remained silent, there was nothing she could do - even if she wanted to save him; The Reapers would be waiting for him to kick the bucket and if she upset them, then a war would begin. For the first time since seeing Madeline, she did not scowl or show any form of jealousy; she was going to accept being in her presence for now, and besides, she did not have the strength to argue or fight her.
Cici exhaled the moment her body came into contact with the softness of the sofa and she pinched the bridge of her nose as she began to compose herself once again; perhaps this was just the start from The Elders and The Matron - they knew that these screams were indeed one of her weaknesses. If she began to do as she was told, perhaps she wouldn’t get more of these. Eventually, she looked at the two in the kitchen and watched how they interacted; she noted the franticness in Dimitri - it was a side of him she had never truly seen. He was always so calm and collected when she knew him, but her mind was always so hazy from those days, perhaps to protect her, or to prevent her from feeling the humane side of her. Either way, there was maybe a darkness to him, even if it did perhaps come from a good place; but what was more interesting was that the young looking girl simply fell silent and obeyed his wishes.
She watched and listened to how much Madeline spoke about Brandon who would soon die and there maybe was a part of her that wished to tell the young girl; but would she do something silly to prevent it and get in more trouble with The Reapers? Cici decided to remain quiet, sometimes it was best not knowing but found herself taken by surprised as she was approached, and even more so when the girl wrapped her arms around her. She inhaled, she smelled of Dimitri and she tried to smell herself in her too; but what was her smell? Death? Either way, her body froze at the sudden affection yet her muscles tightened at the new sight before her. “What the fuck” She muttered, the first coherent words that had left her from her scream as she looked at the many different doors that surrounded them; she was in this girls mind? “I don’t think I want to understand” Cici responded before her ears twitched at the different sounds; there was one particular door, however, which grabbed her attention.
She wandered towards it, her hand falling upon the door handle before she was quickly interrupted. “I think you’re mixing that up with not talking to strangers” She responded in a somewhat snarky manner and withdrew her hand from beneath the petite one. Ciara did not like this, she wanted out particularly when the many different visuals ran passed her at quite some pace; she wanted to generate a scream despite being weak but furrowed her brows at the expression Madeline threw at her as she informed her that she could not scream in this dimension. Ciara felt her eyes go beyond the brunette to the young blonde child which appeared in front of them; her head tilted to the side as she took in the scene before them. Cici knew there were things that could never be explained but what she watching now, this didn’t seem possible not even in a supernatural world.
Ciara blinked as the scene changed to a more saddened one, one which shifted the air around them; she watched as the same girl, but now older cowered away with a burnt hand whilst Dimitri shouted at her - much like he had done in the real world moments ago. Even Cici found herself flinching at the hidden side of him, but also moved closer to the brunette woman who was apparently her child; she allowed herself to look at her sideways and nodded when she confirmed that he was never physical with her. “He just what?” Cici questioned but felt that she would not get the answer she wanted today, or even tomorrow - she had a feeling that she perhaps would never know what the girl meant by that. The Banshee then shifted to the new scene and blinked a few times at the second Madeline in the room, but it did not seem like her? This was not her memory but it felt as if the girl in front of them was her, she held a striking resemblance which almost scared her; not only could she see herself, but she also saw her own Mother, Alanna in the girls features.
The sight caused her heart to ache, particularly at the memory of her Mother; a figure she had not thought about in so long - so much so that she couldn’t help but take a few steps closer to the second Madeline. Ciara extended her hand to want to touch her, but she was so close but so far out of reach when the petite body slammed into hers as an unearthly creature attacked the figure. Cici groaned as she felt the ground against her and the girl above her and she soon flapped herself free from the sandwich she had found herself in; her hands dusted herself down and lowered her head solemnly as she listened to the girl’s words and perhaps there was a small part of her that had over reacted to what she had found out last night. Ciara swallowed harshly, almost stunned at the words which were about to leave her lips. “I’m S--” She was unable to finish her sentence which her body shifted to try and balance and ride out the rumble in the Earth below them.
Ciara huffed out harshly as he back collided with more cobbled streets and felt the back of head it the pathment; being independent she refused Madeline’s help to get back to her feet and glanced around only to be greeted with a version of herself. Grey misted eyes narrowed at her mirror image and how she attacked the other Madeline in the streets until she died and slowly, she caught the look of Madeline in her time and could see the confusion but also the forgiveness in her eyes. Ciara, however, remained completely emotionless - if Madeline was able to read anything from her countenance, Cici would be flabbergasted. Maybe from the memories she had seen which had confirmed there was nothing romantic between the two, she knew killing the girl would cause more pain for Dimitri and whilst the Monster in her loved that, the death exciting the bond she shared with The Elders, the humane part of her ached at the idea.
When they were surrounded by the familiar living room of Dimitri’s present home, Cici blinked a couple of times to readjust and shook her head slightly in disbelief of what she had just witnessed. Her fingers ran through the lengths of her hair roughly and for the first time, she allowed Dimitri and Madeline to converse without her scornful gaze; there was a shift within her, it may have been only brief but she felt like it was the right thing for her to do in that moment whilst she still felt weak and had some control over her hateful emotions. That being said, she kept her gaze at her feet and let the two of them talk before she felt Madeline gaze upon her, which caused her to glance upward at her; her own gaze not as harsh as it had been - not just because of what she saw, but to know that Madeline would soon be mourning a Friend of hers also. Ciara nodded at Madeline’s request, it was unlike her to do something like this, but she felt that perhaps it was not her secret to tell.
Eventually, Ciara pushed herself up from the sofa and wandered over to the rather distraught Dimitri as he fell against the wall; the blood had stained his face, yet it was a mixture of that and tears as she assumed that not getting a proper goodbye from Madeline would take a toll on him emotionally. Yet for her, there was a relief that she did not have to worry about Madeline being around and being the center of attention. There was no need for her to fight for Dimitri’s attention, not now. She didn’t know how long she would have him to herself, not simply from Madeline but from her own family now - The Matron and The Elders. Ciara sucked in a breath as he ran his fingers across the brief and temporary scars her nails had left upon her palm. “It doesn’t matter, honestly. Just storm Ciara striking again” She smirked and fell to the ground next to him, yet she shifted enough so that she could get a better look at the cuts that resided upon his face and scalp. “For an Angel, you don’t heal quickly do you?” She teased yet there was some shock within her words; yet she felt her mind racing for things to keep him concentrated - it had been a while since she had to care for someone else other than herself.
She hummed as she scrambled for some answers; perhaps now would have been a good time for The Elders to return to her to give her some inspiration. “I heard this really funny joke the other day, before I ki--” She shook her head, he did not need to know that part, but the excitement remained laced in her words. “Do you want to hear it? Of course you do, duh” She grinned and clapped her hand against his thigh. “Did you hear about the two peanuts walking down the street last night? One was a salted” Ciara felt the back of her head rest against the wall behind her as she giggled. “Do you get it? A salted, as in assaulted”
He frowned at all her words “yeah" he dryly laughed out at him not healing quickly, a consequence of being a slightly out of sorts angel. A story she may one day hear but not as of right now. He laughed at how horrible that joke was but as she laughed at her own joke he froze and right then two things happened. The first thing was he saw her, the love of his life, the Ciara he broke angelic code and laws for to be with. The second thing was the look he gave her. It was the look everyone wants to get from the person they love, it was a look that showed anyone who might see it that he was still smitten with her. He was still head over heels for her and that if he found himself having to choose between her or anything else in this world, he would choose her. In many ways he had already done that sending Madeline away was merely the latest example of that. Except Ciara missed it, the look everyone longs to see because the moment she looked at him he turned away.
I chuckled “Quinn warned me you were bad at jokes.” I let a sharp breath leave my nose before looking back to her, moving closer to her and taking her hand. I intertwined our fingers together and rested my head on her shoulder. Letting out a husky low chuckle to her giggling “I do not know how much you remember of our past, or if you remember the first time, you saw me, noticed me but I remember the first time I saw you. I remember everything...I remember...” I felt my eyes slowly close but they shot back open when I felt her fingertips grace my face. I took a burdened breath and sat up. I did not mean or want to move away and put some space between us but I did when I moved. I looked down at our hands comfortably in each other’s grasp, we were still wearing the rings I had put on us earlier. With my free hand I moved my ring up slightly and moved both our hands up closer to our faces. “I have never taken It off...” I mentioned as I pointed out this thick thread wrapped and tied around my ring finger. “I ripped it from a piece of thread hanging off one of your dresses after it got snagged onto something. I swore myself to you that night. I still am sworn to you this night.”
He stared at the thread before fixing his ring back over it, zoning out but yet again focusing once more when he felt Ciara’s fingertips on his face like before. He blinked a few times and cleared his throat to focus “Back at the pleasure house when I first started coming ‘round, there was never any laughter or genuine sounds of joy in that place. Not the times I was around at least. Quinn... he by this time knew what I was and why I was around. Figuring that out quicker than anyone I had been assigned to him. For weeks since I started taking up his offer of eating at the pleasure house and keeping him company there all he could talk about was you.” He fell silent and let out a sad sigh “Through the years without you I often wondered if Quinn was trying to get me to get you out of there by talking you up to me so I would want to take you from that place or if he just wanted me to lay with you only.” He thought about that as if he regretted not catching on to what might have been Quinn’s intentions. “The first time I saw you though after weeks of hearing about you nonstop was on particularly gloomy day. Everyone save Quinn and I were in a foul mood to the point he had shut the pleasure house down after one of the guests was thrown out by myself and Quinn for hurting one of his girls. There was surely something in the air that day but then your giggles filled the air as you came trotting down the stairs.”
I laughed to myself because I recalled what happened next “Quinn got so excited you had come out and around us on your own that he knocked me off the stool I sat on from shaking and hitting me so exhilaratingly.” By the time I recomposed myself and sat upon the stool once more you had struck up a conversation with the woman who had been hurt doing your absolute best to cheer her up. Telling jokes that she merely blinked at as a response to.” I laughed again doing my best to impersonate Quinn with my next words. “She is no good at Jokes or smarts that one. But she is the best of us all.” I looked Cici in the eyes and gave a gentle smile moving close again. “You did not notice me then and if you had you did not hint at it and I did not think much of Quinn’s attempts to get me to request you. Nor did I have an interest in speaking with you, or anyone, until we were locked up together with nothing else to do.” I twisted my mouth thinking back on all those moments with her, a smile breaking in at the corners of my mouth. After a moment though the smile faded “I know The Matron...” I admitted but did not admit how as that might be too much of as shock. “I have known her longer than you have been a Banshee and she never told me she had you, that she took you.” My breath hitched a moment, I was angry but I calmed down quickly... “She will want you back, she will not stop at anything until you are back with her.” I opened my mouth but dropped my head instead of saying what I wanted to in that moment. I moved close to her, closer than we have been since her “arrival”. I draped her legs across mine and stared right at her stroking the side of her face as my free hand wrapped around her and pulled her closer; our faces inches apart” I cannot let you go back. I cannot let her have you again. Not unless you tell me that that is what you want.” My words were so soft and fragile my voice cracked upon the emotional desire to have her tell me she wished to stay.
It had completely surprised her, that she was able to perform the joke itself with laughing before or through the joke; that she managed to conduct it well enough that if it amused him, he would have laughed at it more so than her performance. Nevertheless, it was the laughter that she managed to beckon out of him that truly made her smile; she had set out the night before to kill him, but now she was making him laugh and the urge to end his Angelic life had disappeared, until The Elders returned, she was sure. Thus, she knew she had to embrace this moment of being in touch with her humane side, the side of her that still longed for companionship, long for love and freedom to be whoever she wanted to be and to be with whoever she wanted to be with. Ciara embraced this moment with her head tilted back and a wide smile upon her lips; her chest continued to rise and fall slightly quicker due to her laughter.
Ciara, however, couldn’t help but freeze at the simple sound of a name that she had not heard in so long; a name she had not even thought about in centuries - Quinn. Quinn Foley. She withdrew her head from the wall for a moment whilst her brows forwarded as she attempted to recall the memories she had with the man; and she knew, in her very gut that they were all primarily good memories - for he was typically a good man. It felt like she was battling a thick fog within her mind to get to the memories of before her death but she was soon distracted by feeling his hands before her, their fingers intertwining. A slow but somewhat awkward smile found her lips. “I do not remember all, but some” She reassured him, but she knew that was nothing compared to the memories which plagued or comforted him; but the memories she did have, were the ones which helped her through her torment, before the screamings.
Naturally, she brought her fingertips to his face, caressing him softly until he shifted to bring their hands closer to them; a brow quirked upward in curiosity - particularly as she noticed she was still very much wearing the ring that she was asked to wear to venture in to Vega’s palace. Ciara remained silent to allow him to finish, but also so she could pay full attention to the slight bit of cloth which wrapped around his wedding finger; something so delicate could go so unnoticed - she found it to be quite touching. She cleared her throat for a second. “So you have not been with anyone else in however long?” Cici, at least the human part of her did not really want to know the answer; however, the monster in her did, if he had, it would give her more of an excuse to end his life and for her to be in the good books with The Matron and Elders again.
Ciara exhaled through her nostrils at his account of the pleasure house; this seemed a clear memory to her, perhaps because the house itself was much like Hallows Hill - a group of women living together and following orders from their boss. “The girl's laughter was usually fake” She exhaled in an amused manner. “Not many had a choice but to sleep with them, laughter came sex and sex came money” She put on a foreign, male accent to resemble that of Quinn as he gave them a pep talk each evening before the doors opened. But then she let her fingers dance upon Dimi’s skin as she allowed him to continue his story. Yet her eyes widened at that particular memory, one that somehow managed to wriggle to the forefront of her mind and Ciara could not control her excitement. “Oh oh! I remember! I remember that one!” She bounced up and down from her spot and exclaimed in glee that she could recall something from her previous life. “She did not like my jokes” Ciara deflated and shook her head, mumbling to herself under her breath for a moment until he brought her legs to rest over his; which consequently brought them closer together. Cici breathed in, the urge to harm him had dwindled and she wanted to savour this moment forever - she hoped, they would at least get this night before more drama occurred.
Confusion washed over her. “You know her?” She insisted, her misty eyes widened at the revelation before her head dropped ever so slightly; despite their faces being mere inches apart. “She wants you dead, and as long as you know I am here, she knows I will always pick you” She exhaled the truth, and rested her forehead against his. “And The Elders, they whisper horrible things to me” Cici cupped the side of his jaw, the pad of her thumb brushing over his lower lip. “I don’t think you’re safe with either option I choose” Her words were soft, and she leant in, unable to resist much more and whilst she had a clear head to do so. Ciara inhaled deeply as her soft lips brushed over his. “Home has always been you”
In moments like this Dimitri was thankful they were not wolves mated together or else she would feel how much his heart ached at the various things she said. He just wanted to squeeze her close and cry against her apologizing for everything he blamed himself for but that was not the moment he wanted now. He smiled to himself at how through it all she managed to keep parts of herself, that was proven as she bounced in excitement at being able to remember the moment in question. “Mmmm, quick reminder; no one liked your jokes" he teased just to see and laugh at the face she would make. Oh God he missed this, the simplest pleasure of just being in her presence. He sank and his smile faded when she insisted about the matron. “They have been trying to kill me since I lost you.” He frowned as his chest deflated from the heavy breath he took. “She believes I have something that is rightfully hers. Something she cannot have as long as I am alive.” He admitted.
My heart was already running fast from being this close to her, I am sure she felt it with how hard it banged against my chest. Home has always been you. Those words alone made my heart palpitate; her lips brushing mine made me unable to control my impulses. So, I kissed her and my heart found its rhythm, skipping like a rock on water. It did not last long the kiss because I made myself pull away, I moved one of her legs to the other side so she was straddling me, a term I learned from her. I could see in her features even though she was trying to hide it that she did not like I had not answered her question on whether I had been with another. I will admit it was unlike me at least from what she could remember of me to not immediately reassure her she was my only. I closed my eyes and took a breath of relief as I felt this concussion beginning to lift, leaning into her hand as I felt her fingertips on my face as she still despite how she felt tried to keep me from fading. “I am okay, my head is slowly clearing.”
He fluttered his eyes open and stared at her for a moment, in moments like this she seemed to always remind him of a renaissance painting, beautiful and haunting with sadness well hidden in her features and hurt behind her eyes. He sank at the idea he had made her feel this way so he shifted beneath her, sitting up with his back flat against the wall and rising his knees behind her for her to sit back upon. He began to do something he had not in over a century, something he only did with her and he hoped and prayed she remembered. Remembered the days he would be locked up with her or even after that when he would freely roam into her room but she would be too tired or bruised to do anything. Men were rough and abusive then, not to say they were not now but the times were different, the men had little to no consequences if they hurt one of Quinn’s girl without him knowing; It was a VERY different story if Quinn found out so they hurt them in ways and places Quinn would never notice. Dimitri however always noticed the faint marks and differences on Ciara but also just simply enjoyed her presence anyway and never wanted nothing more but to talk back then, something her and Quinn never fully understood, that is until she fell for him too and then he hoped she suddenly understood.
I started at her thighs gently caressing them at first before I began to massage them. Then I moved up to her hips repeating the action, watching her carefully. When I would do this back then I would watch for signs of pain to know if I should move on or continue in that spot. Now, I just want her to look at me or show me some sign that she remembered these tender moments between us. My hands moved up again and my eyes shot down once I felt a scar on her womb and I am sure I was now the one with pain written on my face. “sorry.” I said very lowly when I realized my hand lingered there for too long, I had to force myself not to linger around the one on her chest too. Still she had not looked at me unless she had at the moments I looked away. I frowned leaning close to her gently kissing her collarbone and then her neck, eventually replacing my lips with my hands kneading the tension away or trying too. I place my fingers under her chin and move her head so she would look at me but her eyes still looked down. I forgot how stubborn she was. “You were my first and my last to lay with as I have loved you long before and after you have loved me.” I am too scared to ask her the same question, something telling me the answer would break me now; something to talk about in the future. So, I kissed her again to get away from that possible fearful truth and because one thing I always regretted was never kissing her back then, she always started and stole them. But since the moment we woke this morning I feel as though I had stolen a thousand kisses but this one, as I pulled her closer and it heated up, I could not stop like the rest.
It was a proud moment to be able to remember an aspect of her past; although, in fairness, even if she hadn’t been mentally tortured for months on end and then repeated each time she disobeyed she would have been surprised to remember something from so long ago. Her gaze narrowed for a very brief moment as he confirmed that no one particularly liked her jokes; but eventually a slow smile formed. “But!” She exclaimed. “Everyone did laugh at them, and I’m sure it wasn’t just to be polite and not hurt my feelings” Ciara huffed in a childlike manner, she knew she was often seen as the child in The Pleasure House and for that every reason she got access to some special treatment; but jokes? They were terrible but they got laughter. Her features pulled as she was trying to come to terms with the information that Dimitri was supplying; there was a long silence surrounding them, bar the gentle breathing from them both. “And I’m going to put all my money on that something, being Moi” Cici almost responded too happily, too proudly at the moment; as if she truly didn’t get a grasp on the importance of the matter; yet her words were accompanied with a point to her chest.
Upon her revelation that he had always been her home; the one she managed to dream about each night when The Elders allowed her some rest made her stomach and chest feel warm; and she had missed that feeling during waking hours. Ciara wanted the kiss the last, to continue and develop into something more and a pout found her lips as he once again pulled away from her; he had done it last night as well as refused to sleep in the bed with her. The fact that he did not answer her question about being with another only added to her insecurities and all loss of the hopes she held to survive the torture. She moved her body, following his commands to straddle and sit upon his lap; her fingertips brushing over his face - a face that she could never get enough of. Ciara watched him softly, noting how the concussion was working on his body; seeing as his eyes gave off long blinks, she slapped him softly with her fingers. “Dimitriiiii” She sang. “You’re not allowed to go to sleep, just yet!” She giggled and she hummed suspiciously yet playfully at his reassurance.
It was bizarre to see, to see such an Angelic man feel like a mortal; to feel pain like one, to need to rest like one. She supposed when she was human, she had such stereotypical faith in what an Angel should be like, and over the course of when the pair of them were locked in her room; Dimi proved her wrong in so many ways. He had the capability to astound her, to surprise her daily and he taught her so many things about his kind as well as life outside of the house. It was those very things that made it so she fell for him; it was not the sex, it was the emotional connection they shared and she believed it was that The Matron hated the most. It was a connection she would never have with Ciara. She wiggled a little to get comfortable in their new sitting arrangement and leaned backward against his thighs; before glancing downward at his hands as they began to move against her thigh.
Her brow quirked gently at his soothing moments, the caress slowly turning to a massage which began to work up her body. The feelings were nice, but from the feeling of his gaze upon her; she guessed there was a meaning behind these touches, a meaning she had no idea of and because of that, she could not bring her eyes up to meet his. Instead, she kept them on his hands; her body tensed as he came across one of the scars on her lower abdominal. The scars upon her chest and stomach were sensitive, not as a matter but as of touch; it did not hurt but it caused her to shiver. The kiss to her collarbone and then again her neck made her suck in a breath, her eyes closing at the comforting motions of both his lips as his hands as he kneaded away the tension which lingered in her muscles.
Ciara exhaled as he lifted her gaze upward by resting a finger beneath her chin and she reopened her eyes to rest them upon him; they fell to his lips briefly as he began to speak. From a very stubborn and solemn expression, she turned her frown upside and her features were soon alight with a wide grin as he confirmed she had been the only one. Cici squealed at his response, and welcomed his kiss happily and eagerly; and to have him initiate this kiss meant a lot more than the act itself. She leant forwards and away from his knees to push his head back against the wall and her hands fell to the side of his neck to keep him place. “It was about time” She muttered cheekily against his lips. “That very long wait was not fun.” She felt the urgency and need in his own touches, so much so, she was excited and curious to see if he had remembered any of the moves she had taught him on their sleepless nights.
He let out a soft chuckle to the implication of her being the one thing he had that Matron wanted but he did not respond. She was right, but not entirely; He thought he would never be here with her again. Feel her touch on his skin or hear her laughter that always seemed to make his whole world better or the terrible jokes she was absolutely convinced we're funny. He never stopped loving her for the better parts of his life without her or the worse but he did lose hope. The Matron assured him she had not taken Ciara and while he did not entirely believe her he did not want to believe that she was entirely gone either.
That always put my mind in a weird state of being, I always seemed to regret later as I came to terms with how she had haunted my mind. For soo long all I wanted was to hold her again and speak with her tell her I am sorry I could not save her. Yet now that I had her here, something told me that she would not fully accept my apology, speaking with her was already not the same as she was clearly a little less sane and holding her... She was cold to the touch and I wondered if my warmth would spread to her or if she would still remain cold.
He broke their kiss because of his thoughts, a sad chuckle leaving his lips as he was reminded of how in their past he would always do the same thing for the same reason but just have different thoughts. He rested his forehead on hers and cupped the side of his face as he closes his eyes a moment, his thumbs rubbing gently against the softness of her face. He took a deep breath as his eyes opened back up he did not want to be the same anymore at least not at this moment. He moved away from her completely laughing faintly at how awkwardly he had to move to get away and how comical that must have looked but also how it reminded him of when he would always try and get away from her while locked in her room. Different from those days though he bent down once he was on his feet and picked her up off the floor and carried her to his room, which he hoped would become their room, and kicked the door closes behind them.
It was his silence that got her, it was always his silences that worried her, intrigued her and oh she wished she pick inside his egg basket just to try understand the thoughts that ran through; particularly in these moments. Yes, her memory was incredibly hazey, she honestly couldn't remember what happened yesterday let alone hundreds of years ago but this feeling of being unnerved by his silence was something she could never forget. It particularly happened when they found themselves in these sort of situations; it was as if he was still in this mentality that having a physical relationship was wrong. It was a thought that always made Ciara scoff; she had heard of the great God Zeus, and he was anything but shy when it came to such matters. So when it came to Dimitri, he left her confused; in fact, he was the only man she had ever come across, even in her new life that held such redundancy to it.
Her glazed eyes glanced at him through her eyelashes as he leaned his head against hers and allowed his thumb to slowly caress her cheek. Ciara gently tugged at her lower lip with her teeth and she could feel her impatient ways beginning to crawl out of the darkness; if he didn't say or do anything soon, the humane part of her was ready to up and leave before her monster, The Elders perked up and tried to do something they've so desperately wanted to do for so long. Soon enough, her own thoughts, her own insecurities shook as he began to wriggle beneath her - to free himself. His decision had clearly been made and Cici remained on the ground for a moment and ran her fingers through her hair; removing the strands in a flustered state - perhaps she should have just killed him.
Yet, Ciara was taken back just after she had processed him escaping when he bent down to pick her up. She had to calm her building frustration at his suspected leaving before her legs naturally wrapped around his waist as he walked them to his bedroom.
//Fade to black//
The light slowly filtered through the curtains and despite it being weak, it was enough to stir Ciara awake. She woke with a groan and groggily pushed herself up into a seated position; with a rub of her eyes, she glanced down to the sleeping Eternal beside her. A slight smile appeared on her lips as the pads of her fingers gently brushed over his cheek bone; eventually her legs fell off the side of the bed and the pads of her fingers rubbed her temples. The voices were stirring, she could feel movement in every part of her brain and her brows furrowed; her absence at Hallows Hill would be noted soon, and the thought of the punishment The Matron would put her through made her panic. Ciara, tried with all her might to be silent as she scrambled for some clothing but to no avail as she heard Dimi wake behind her. The Banshee froze and glanced over her shoulder sheepishly as he practically caught her in the act of dashing off.