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Elisabeth let a crooked, sad smile play on her lips as she continued to stroke his hair. She continued with a shaking voice to soothe the sick man lying on her, but she knew he had no idea what she was saying due to his own soft, random mumblings. The wind blew fiercely around them as the night got colder, and Kyier’s consciousness began to fade. She felt a tremor cycle through his body as he shivered into her, and she tried to warm him. He must have been really far gone without using his Magick.
If the night had been warmer, Elisabeth would have stayed there. Kyier’s words, his body against hers….she had gotten chills for a whole other reason. But then she started crying again, more silent tears that heaved her soul and chest and fell abruptly towards the earth. Wither every tear that passed by the flesh of Kyier’s angelic face, a small flower bloomed from the earth in front of her.
‘Nothing has made me a happier woman than to get to see you, and be with you, Elisabeth. I love you like my own daughter, I hope you know that…’ Suddenly the last words of her godmother played in her mind. Her tears fell harder as she remembered sitting with the woman who had opened her home, her heart, and her arms…she became Elisabeth’s mother, like the mother that had been killed right after she was born. ‘No matter what troubles you run into, you’re always going to have friends here. Remember that; no matter what happens in your life, no matter the size of the obstacle, this will be a place of sanctuary and friendship for you…’
Did she know what was going to happen? Either way, Elisabeth would never allow herself to forget the amazing last words she spoke to the grandest of all Duchesses. For a few moments then, she allowed herself to cry, collect her thoughts, and then stare down at the beautiful man that lay nearly passed out on her lap. She didn’t care that he would hate her tomorrow, nor the fact that she knew he would still want them gone. She would fight with that fear tomorrow though, because it was getting colder as the night wore on and she didn’t want Kyier catching cold. The warmth of his body though, it kept drawing her in because even though they were alone at the bottom of a muddy hill, they were together. And that made her heart flutter, for some reason or another.
But the problem was that she had to get Kyier home sometime soon. So, for some reason in the back of her mind she did what she thought she had to do. “Binks,” she whispered, not sure exactly what it was she was doing, but speaking out with a breath against the chilling air.
“Are you attempting to summon me, Lady Elisabeth?” Binks said behind her with a small laugh against the wind, as her hair rose against her skin. “You wish to take him home?” He questioned as he assessed the situation before him. Elisabeth just nodded breathlessly, so surprised that he had heard her and appeared.
They walked together, Binks saying, “We should hurry, Elisabeth. I have an inkling you should be with the children tonight,” and again she nodded.
“Thank you for all you’ve done,” She said as she watched Kyier passed out in Binks’ arms. “Really…That woman hasn’t bothered us, and…and this, Sir Binks,” She said to the anomaly of a man.
The illusive man smiled cordially, "I do not require your thanks, my dear lady, though I am quite gracious." He sighed as his eyes scanned down to the sleeping man he carried quite easily in his arms, "I fear your hot-tempered friend might be met with a rather graceless time come morning."

Sofia had awoke from her troubled slumber the very moment she felt Bink's presence vanish. She jumped down from her bed, her icy eyes darting about the room for any sign of danger. Visions of Sebastien's previous torture still lingered in her mind. Though injured, the little girl wasn't naive enough to believe Katarina would give up. It would be just like her to strike in the midst of tragedy. "They'll be back soon, they'll be back soon." Over and over she tried to reassure herself. How did she allow herself to become so pathetic, so dependent? Sofia walked the hall to Sebastien's bedroom. The corridor seemed so much longer than usual, despite his bedroom being but a door away from hers. It felt like the very walls were weeping the lose of their masters, and yet, never did the manor lose the warm feeling of home. She reached for his doorknob, pausing for a moment when his sobs reached her ears. If anyone understood how he felt right now, it was she. The knob clicked as she attempted to turn it, quickly discovering his door to be locked. Sofia frowned. She dropped her arms to her sides before slumping back against the sturdy wood. With everything she had, she wanted to call to him, to comfort him with soft words. If only...

Sofia jerked into alert, her head popping back up from her knees. She jumped to her feet and sprinted to the overlying balcony. Her little hand barely reached the top. She swallowed, shakily rising to her tiptoes to peek over and get a glimpse of the intruder. The wind took the door, slamming it behind the man who nearly lost his hat in the process. "S-sofia? Ssebastien?" His voice quivered, his hair a matted mess. Mathius stepped forward. He hung his coat and hat on the rack, looking lost and worn as he wandered slowly to the stairs. He thought perhaps they were sleeping still, as that was what Binks had mentioned. It was cruel how the apothecary had been informed of such bitter, heartbreaking news. Binks had appeared so suddenly in his very home, nearly frightening him into a heart attack. Mathius had nearly cost poor Artemis his tail in his attempt to run away. The castor had apologized immensely for the intrusion, and even moreso for the hast and lack of tact he would use to inform the man of the death of the Duke and Duchess he cared so much for. He had explained how Elisabeth had called out for him while he was suppose to be taking care of the little ones, and that he knew not the state of the Marquess or how long they would be before returning home.

"Ahh!" The shout left his lips before he could stop himself. The small little girl had come out of nowhere it seemed... Like a little mouse scurrying across the carpet. Sofia didn't flinch. She merely blinked, staring up at Mathius with those big, chillingly beautiful eyes of hers. Before she knew it, Sofia was whisked up into his arms, held in an unbreakable embrace that was likely to crush her fragile ribs.
Mathius knew though that he couldn’t release his frustration on the children, and though the agonizing pressure in his chest, the same one when he knew his own parents were not coming back, came crushing him, rushing to him. These were his parents. When Madeleine and Ramsey Van Aelst died, this was his only safe haven. Not even his own sister stood by him, and within a few years after their death she vanished into the countryside seeking marriage with rich man after rich man. Maybe she too was trying to fill a void, but only if she had stayed would that void have been filled: by the Duke and Duchess, no doubt, the two kindest people he had ever had the fortune of meeting. And now they were ripped from their arms, the only sufficient way of making him feel better was to ease his worries and tell himself they were in the warmth of Lumos.
He held onto Sofia as tears leaked from his eyes, their silence nothing but shaking relief. He took a hold of her and brought her downstairs, where with shaking hands he made a pot of tea. Though famous throughout Landon as the simple, happy-go-lucky Apothecary, he was famous for one other thing his tea. He had profound tea making abilities, just like his ability around the kitchen and the shoppe. All thanks to his wonderful mother’s teachings. Anita would love to sit down with a good book and a sample of tea for that evening that Mathius had kindly offered to make her. He got better and better with age, using his home grown garden herbs for the different flavors. And now he was going to use that skill and make tea for Sofia, if his hands would stop shaking.
Because now he wasn’t thinking about the tea, or concentrating on perfecting it, nor was he chopping up the leaves and boiling them to perfection; he just tried his best to avoid spilling boiling water on the floor. He took it over and poured some of the cinnamon spice into the floral patterned cup that had been Anita’s pleasure of silver. He passed it to Sofia, and tried to offer her a weak smile.
“I’ll be there for you, if you can be there for me,” He said, knowing she would not speak, but wanting to offer her comforting words. If only she knew though, know what those words meant. One day, when his mother had been lying there in bed, too sick to get up, she said the same to him. And he remembered ever since. He thought about explaining it to Sofia, but when he tried to bring it up, his voice choked and he couldn’t say it. He sounded as if he whimpered, and then looked down at his hands. He couldn’t even smile right now.
The door was heard in the eerily quiet chambers, the soft whisper of boarders in mourning echoed dreadfully. And the soft sound of someone’s footsteps. Mathius stood and peered out from the kitchen into the foyer where Elisabeth was taking off her jacket. As soon as she spotted Mathius hiding away in the shadows she ran to him, her body flinging into his as his arms wrapped around her. She fell into a wet puddle of more tears before she saw Sofia, crying hard. But when her eyes saw the young girl standing there behind him, she let out a cry similar to Mathius’ and tried to dry her eyes. But it was a fruitless worry, and she held out her arms. But Sofia didn’t linger, and instead she followed after Sir Binks carrying the Marquess to his bedroom. Elisabeth though, she wasn’t offended. She had to talk to Mathius. He led her into the tea room and sat her on the sofa.

She took a tissue he offered her and blew her nose, holding the fabric between her hands as she rung it out, over and over. “We’re leaving, Mathius. Tomorrow, okay? Just…,”
And Mathius hissed at her, “W-what? How can you just-,”
“Mathius, please, listen to us!” She took another breath, “Kyier…kicked us out.”
“He….he kicked who out?” He whispered, now sitting beside her on the couch.
“Myself and the children. We have to be out by tomorrow, and…and…but we’re not going far, Mathius. Only into town to rent a house big enough for us all.”
“How silly,” he said, “Come stay with me, I have the room,” he tried to say but Elisabeth shook her head.
“No, thank you. I really think the best thing is to just not disrupt anymore lives. But I told them I wouldn’t leave. Anita asked me not to, so I refuse. But Mathius, I need you to do something for me…” She asked.
“Anything…”
“Stay with Kyier…or,” she let out another strangled cry, and fell into him. “I can’t reach him now, and the only one who has a chance of doing so is you. He trusts you. You need to make sure that he is okay, and make sure…make sure he doesn’t do anything drastic.” Mathius nodded, feeling another embrace from the Duchess. “And Mathius,” She said.
“Yes, Elisabeth?” he whispered.
“I am so, so sorry,” she cried quietly as her hug tightened around him.
Sofia watched as Binks lay the unconscious Marquess now made Duke carefully to his covers. She eyed him cautiously, her suspicions of his motives evident in her icy eyes. She knew this man. She knew him well. He had been the only one to offer her comfort when everyone else turned against her. He had been the one to reach his hand out to her, but never did he actually allow her to grasp it. The little girl didn't so much fear him, but nor did she trust him. Binks was shifty as all Hell in her young opinion. He chuckled in the looming silence, seeming to have read her mind. "I am not here to take you back, Sofia." he smiled cheerfully. She was surprised to hear him refer to her by what she now considered her real name. Her eyes brightened as her guard against him slowly began to dissipate. The conversation never had the chance to proceed any further as Kyier began to stir in his bed. He sat up ever so slowly, his palm reaching to take hold of his pounding head. "I'll fetch you some ice, Duke Cross. Know that you are safe within the walls of your own home." he stated soothingly, keeping his voice low. Binks reached to pat the little girl's head and gave her a quick wink before excusing himself.

Kyier groaned from the bed. He cringed as Sofia moved the mattress beneath him, her small weight still enough to shift the bed. Without thinking, he pushed her away, the loud thump of her fall bringing a jolt of sharp pain to shoot into his already pounding skull. Sofia huffed. She wasn't so much physically hurt from the action... She had only wanted to try and comfort the poor man. Sofia was not one to usually be so sympathetic, so the fact that he had pushed her away... Well it didn't sit so well with the headstrong child. She pursed her lips, her brows furrowing as she collected herself back to her feet. She jumped up from the ground and crossed her arms over her chest before deliberately stomping away from the mean, hateful man. The sound of the door slamming felt like a knife to the Duke's skull, but the door was nothing to his headache compared to what was to follow. Kyier watched her enter through blurry eyes. Her steps were slow, timid... and he could see the crystal tears in her big brown eyes. "Ky-"

"GET OUT!" he hissed, throwing his arm dramatically toward the door.

Elisabeth swallowed as she bit at her lip nervously. "But I-" She tried again, only to be yelled at with a more heated response to the contrary. Despite the pounding in his head, Kyier stood from the bed and staggered over to the stupid girl. He took her harshly by the shoulder and physically pushed her to the door in haste, slamming the thing behind her. Little was he fully conscious of what had happened at the tavern, but he could only imagine what intimacies me might have uttered in his intoxicated state. Kyier slid his back down the door, heaving a disheartened sigh as his face fell to his palms. He couldn't have allowed her to stay. He wouldn't have been able to bear the shame of crying in her wake. His tears fell freely now, drawing paths in the dirt etched across his handsome face. Through the wood he could hear Elisabeth slide softly down after him, the door between them the only barrier keeping them from sitting back to back. He took a deep breath to try and quell the coming sobs.

"Kyier, do you... do you want to talk about it?" But even Elisabeth knew how stupid that question sounded and abruptly allowed her head to fall smack to the door. Fine... if he willed not to speak, then let it be she! "Okay, you know what Kyier? I will not pretend to understand what could possibly be going through your head right now, because I don't know, and there is no way I can know... But I-I want to understand, I want to be here for you. I know a part of you hates me and I'm the last person you would ever knowingly share your secrets with... " she sighed, beginning to lose heart in her endeavor. "I just want you to be able to come to me and talk. All your secrets would be safe and I would never judge you harshly. Kyier, I-I know I hardly deserve to make this declaration but I loved them too..." she whispered, allowing a few of her own tears to fall freely to the floor. Everything in her screamed to fall into despair but she couldn't allow herself to do that. Her friend needed her and damn if she was going to let him down! ...again. "I'm going to sit out here until you are ready to talk, Duke...and do not even think about going through the window, cause I will follow you."

Kyier didn't doubt that. There was no being rid of this woman. The genius he was, he had very quickly come to know that. He sighed, forcing back the remainder of his tears. "And what makes you think you could keep up with me?" he asked softly.

The Duchess perked up at the sound of the voice she so longed to hear. She was nearly blindsided that he had actually answered, "I have seen you run, Kyier... I don't think I'd have much a challenge." she smiled, still just relieved to have heard his voice again. "Is there anything I can get you? I can run to the market, or a shop..." So desperately she wished to make him feel if even the slightest bit happier. "No smart remarks though, please... no telling me you need me to get you tongue of a dandilion root, and send me on a wild goose chase to town, trying to find a non-existing item."

The man actually managed to grin at her remark, thinking to himself that perhaps she had learned a bit about him in their time together as well. Without further logical thought, Kyier stood to his feet and opened the door without warning. Elisabeth fell immediately inside, not reacting fast enough to stop her head from meeting the floor. She hardly groaned, though, only rubbing the sore spot as she looked up at Kyier with wide eyes. Gods she was such an annoying little idiot. Elisabeth sprung up to her feet, watching the Duke expectantly.

"There is nothing you can do for me at this point, Elisabeth. Please just leave me." His tone was very uncharacteristic of himself... almost polite.
“What sort of friend would I be if I left you alone when you needed me most?” She whispered, and though her voice was cut short, her words spoken so softly, she knew he had heard her. She closed her eyes again, willing away the vast empty feeling within her very soul. She grieved for them, her lost godparents, but now she felt as though she had to remain tall and strong for those who were around her. Her eyes meandered back towards the Duke. ‘What a heavy burden that must surely burn his heart,’ Elisabeth thought to herself. ‘Nobody fit more for the title of Duke, less king, and surely not someone who would want it. Such a tragic shame,’ and before, Elisabeth had almost let herself believe that he could have done amazing things, and she thought still he could. But his heart was dangerous now, changed. That was to be no good, no good for anyone…

“I’m going to finish packing, Kyier. I’ll be in my chambers if you find yourself…” she wouldn’t finish that. She was the last person he would go to. “Or I’ll be with the children.” He seemed like he only nodded, and she had never seen such a look on his face. There was no scowl, no snarl of his lips in mockery or anger. He was certainly not at peace, and she feared he may still be in shock. She stepped forward and wrapped her arms around him. “I’m not giving up on anything,” She whispered to him, before she turned and silently shut the door. She left him standing there on the other side, and for as long as she lived, she would never forget the sadness that she saw in his eyes. “Goodnight, Kyier. Get some sleep, okay?” She whispered, her head pushed forward against the cool oak of the dark door. But then she said, and she could almost feel the heat from his body against the other side. “If you should ever need anyone, I’ll be there. I will offer you my shoulder, so you always have a place to cry; I will offer you my ear, so you will always have someone to listen; I will offer you my shoulder, so you always have a dry place to cry. And most importantly I will offer you my heart, so you always have someone to love you. Goodnight, my friend, and remember that time heals all wounds. Saying that now may make you wish to throttle me aside the head, but I assure you it is the damned truth.” And with that, she headed away, begrudgingly, from his doorstep.

The next morning was colder than she had felt all year. They almost had to bundle their bodies in heavy coats of wool for the winter. The clouds threatened rain since the earliest of hours, and three unhappy people stood near the door. Mathius came to greet them, having spent the night with the children. He tried to keep up their spirits and meanwhile tried to convince Elisabeth into staying at the manor. She just kept repeating, “This is what is meant to happen, Mathius,” And she touched his cheek gently with her small hand. “It’s what Anita would have wanted.” Her eyes scanned back to the stairs, hoping he would be there. He never showed.

“Don’t go just because of him, let me talk to him,” Mathius tried again. He was getting frustrated. But Elisabeth was not to be swayed, not now. She buttoned her overcoat, and grabbed her last bag as the carriage driver came to help her collect her things.
“We’ll be back, I know it,” she said, though a part of her heart panged for the truth of that statement. She walked to the carriage as Mathius hugged the children. Even though they would be remaining in the city, everyone was on high tension, and for many of them, the worst was being feared. Mathius now felt as if every goodbye had to be as if he knew he would never see the recipient again. Elisabeth took both of their hands and led them towards the carriage. She knew where they were going. She had begun to know these townspeople, like she had known them all of her life. They had become her friends. The carriage rumbled. Both children had sullen looks on their faces, just as Elisabeth had felt.

“Chin up, things will get better,” She told them, holding them each around the shoulders and bringing them into her. She whispered to Sofia, “Things will get better. This wildfire must surely die down, and I don’t want you to get burnt, my darling.” She hoped Sofia had understood that she spoke the most honest of all truths, straight out of her heart. They arrived at a small cottage, near the upper northeast part of town, down the road from Mathius’ own home. The older gentleman awaited them outside, with a toothy grin and a clam demeanor. “Thank you for meeting us so early, Mister Adelbourne,” Elisabeth said sweetly.
“Nonsense, now call me Ichabod,” He told her, handing her the small key. He leaned inwards. “It is yours for as long as you need it, Duchess,” and he greeted the children as the carriage driver began to unload their belongings and bring them into the home. Well house, anyway. For Elisabeth, this was anything but a home now. It was small, but quaint. She walked through the small kitchen placement, into the gathering room, and looked towards the stairs. Soon it was as if it was just them. Elisabeth had to go get food from the market, but she didn’t want to go so early right now. She couldn’t leave the children, and she didn’t want to tear them around town either. She sat on the loveseat, the thick brown plush bouncy and not anything like it was at the manor. This place was charming, but it didn’t have the touch of anything like Cross manor or van Aeslt Cottage. She watched the fireplace, though it was not lit, until Sebastien came and sat beside her.
“There are only two bedrooms. And there aren’t any books or barely anything…” he said, and she looked over at him and stroked his hair.
“I know. I’m going to sleep down here, for a bit. I hope we won’t be here for long, but I just want you two to be comfortable, okay? And we’ll get some books today when we go get food. Why don’t you go up and unpack your belongings with Sofia?” She asked.
‘Why bother?” he asked, whispering it to himself as he trudged up the stairs. Elisabeth only watched him sadly, the chords of her heart being played like a harp. She stood up, and at the foot of the stairs she listened to Sebastien cry to Sofia. She only stayed because of him, that was how Elisabeth felt. She knew she had to stay, too.

For a while, she paced about, and she tried to make the place seem more comfortable. She placed a few of the books she had taken, and she lay the fabrics of her dressing gowns on the chair. She wanted nothing more than to be at the manor again. But then there were three slow knocks on the door, and Elisabeth moved over, peering through the small glass hole. But there was nobody there. The knocks sounded again, and she opened the door and gasped. "Hastings!" she said, her voice hiding known of the surprise in which she felt. His sinister smile gave her chills of discomfort, and she found herself creating a blockade around the door to protect the children within.
"Good day to you, Elisabeth." The Duke grinned. His eyes shifted from one side to the next, signaling for the men beside him to act on some preconceived orders. They stormed forward, easily pushing the petite woman from their way. Joshua shut the door behind him just as the burlier of the two slammed the Duchess up against the wall. "We're your welcoming party." Hastings sneered, licking his thin lips as Elisabeth cried out in pain. "We had heard you were evicted from Cross manor. Fortunately, I have a much more grand home that you will be staying." With a snap of his fingers, the sultry men under his command forced the gag into Elisabeth's mouth to silence her cries. Joshua meandered forward, his finger reaching to lift the woman's chin, "You should have never crossed me." he hissed, reeling back to smack her across the face. "I'm sure the citizens will be so terribly upset to hear that their little hidden Duchess couldn't take the pressures of royalty and fled back to the s**t hole she surfaced from. Such a pity." he spat cruelly in her face. Pattered footsteps charged down the stairs, a small head ramming directly into the unsuspecting Duke's side. The frail man stumbled backward, his foot snagging on the carpet. Before he fell, he reached out and grabbed the minx by her tiny neck, pulling her down with him. Sofia wiggled and kicked, fighting with enhanced vigor to get away from the hateful man. His thin fingers only wrapped tighter around her neck, however. She could hear the cries of Elisabeth beside them, pleading anything if only Joshua would let her go. The Duke only laughed and flung the little girl into the woman once he was back to his feet. Sofia felt Elisabeth's warm embrace around her not even a second later. Her heart was pounding as the men bound their feet. Elisabeth wouldn't let her go, and thus, they simple bound her arms around her. "Around the back, we don't want to draw any attention to ourselves."
Hidden away upstairs, Sebastien cowered under the bed. The wetness at his eyes and nose was what told him he had been crying, but without that he would have never had known. His body shook in quiet, harsh trembles as he listened and covered his lips with his hand lest any noise escape him. He heard their cries, and he couldn’t save them. He was such a little coward, it infuriated him. But now he trembled and shook and once again willed his body into stillness. The air was deadly. He could feel the tang and spit of that man’s breath once in the air, and the quick forgotten aroma of Elisabeth’s perfume. He waited, and waited.

Waited.

But how long could he wait for. When was he supposed to go search for them? Were those men out there? Did they even know of him, did they know the small boy was just upstairs under the bed? He swallowed heard again, his lips dry and bleeding from biting as he willed himself to quiet his breathing, his hands pale white from holding so tightly clenched. He slithered out from under the bed and wandered quickly downstairs. It was so silent. The front door was closed. He looked around for a moment, before he took off into a run and jumped through the doorway and into the street, heading off into the dewy morning sun. he headed for the manor, first and foremost, because the one person who could help him….could help them…was going to refuse.
The manor already looked different. It was darker, somehow, and it lacked the light it had just hours ago. He flew through the double doors and looked around. It was so quiet. So very quiet, and he yelled so that his voice echoed in the foyer, “Kyier! Kyier, where are you?!” And he looked into the tea room, and he heard Mathius come from upstairs. He had eyes as red as Sebastien’s felt, and Mathius was quickly holding him so tightly. “They took her! They took her, Mathius!” he cried out, knowing he had to get to Kyier, but it felt so good being in someone’s arms.

Mathius was trembling, but he didn’t say anything. There was nothing he could say right now anyway, not that it would help. He took Sebastien towards Kyier’s study where the door stood locked. Not even Mathius had been allowed entrance now. But it was a different time now, and Mathius held onto Sebastien. “Kyier, open the door right now! It’s urgent.” But there came not even a muffled reply from the other side, and suddenly Mathius unleashed the power of his Light Magick, and the door floor off its hinges. The light had illuminated the darkness of the hall, and he stood breathing harshly as Sebastien nearly crumbled trying to get to Kyier. The man looked infuriated and sad at the same time. But Sebastien ran to him crying to for help.
“Please, Kyier…please…he took them away. He’s going to hurt her. He is going to hurt them!” he cried, and suddenly fell into a messed up heap of child flesh and bone, his wails sobbing throughout the entire room. “Don’t let them hurt her…”

In the darkness, she felt the cool, icy grip of chill against her neck; Like it was wet, and slimy, a cool rag running against her face. And suddenly her eyes began to adjust within the darkness. She felt the ropes against her sensitive skin, and Sofia’s soft flesh against hers. Her face was near the crook of her neck. “Sofia, I am so sorry,” She said, her tears falling upon pale skin. “I am so, so sorry for getting you into this.” She tried to focus her eyes, but there was nothing she could see around her. A dim flame appeared as if there were a candle or two on the walls, but they were so minute she could only be unsure. But the air was cold and deadly, and she shivered and cried tied to the young girl. “I’m going to get you out of here,” She said. But then she went quiet. She could hear the mumbling of people above them. It was so quiet. But it was there. They were not alone. And then she heard it, the loud, manly groan of someone beside her in the darkness. And she screamed. She screamed as loud as she could. For they were not alone at all.
"Be gone with you, Lilliana. You are not to leave castle grounds. This is a rule I know you are fully aware of, and yet here you stand." The young Marchioness' mulberry eyes narrowed coldly on the man before her. She was so damn tired of remaining silent, a captive amongst her own family. "Here I stand indeed, and here I shall remain until you speak with me." The Duke eyed her wearily. It had been such ill timing that she had shown up on the doorstep... but a few isolated minutes after he had tossed the blasted girl into the dungeons. He hadn't the time to finish her off as he had planned. This was anything but a welcomed intrusion. "Aye, and what is it you would have me speak to you about?" Joshua took the young woman by the shoulder, gently leading her toward the living quarters and well away from any muffled sounds that could possibly escaped through the cellar door. Lillia swallowed as they walked together down the long, dark hallway. Not a single light, aside from the dim rays of sun playing war with the clouds, lit the stone gray walls of the dismal place. Joshua issued for her to take a seat before signaling for one of his...attendings to fetch them some form of refreshment. "How is it we still have viable beverage here when you and Mother had been so keen on moving so quickly into the castle?" Lillia questioned. The man hastily brushed her off, "You have risked coming all this way to question whether I still stock our old home with drinks, Lilliana? Come, pray tell me why I am plagued by this foolish visit." The Marchioness sunk further back in her chair at those cruel words. How was it he responded so coldly to her now? Joshua was by no means the perfect elder brother, but he had always loved her at least, and she knew that. The Duke had always cherished his baby sister. "I want to know where he is." Joshua paused, his brow raising as Lillia's form grew a thousand times more tense, her entire demeanor changing. With fists clenched to the arms of the chair, Lillia growled back at the man through her teeth, "My brother. I know not what magick is responsible, but I know you are not him!" she hissed.

The Duke smiled at the young woman and inclined his head. "I fear you and Mother have overstayed your welcome here in Landon." He raised a hand, the action leading to two brawny men coming barging into the room and taking the girl harshly by the arms. "Wha-what are you doing?!" she gasped, fighting against the fiends. Her skin alit with blue flames in her rage, leaving the men to rear back and scream in pain. "Lillia, please calm down... I'm only trying to help you. You are clearly not right in the head. I think all this time away from home has caused you ill." Joshua grabbed her himself this time, and forcefully pulled the troublesome girl from the room. She was lost in a panic now, the mention of her returning home to Upper Haste having done something terrible to her will. "No...No, please. You can't do this to me." she cried all the way to the carriage. Joshua forced her in, ordering his guards to remain to watch over the other troublesome females. He thought to perhaps have them do away with them for him, but then... Where was the joy in that? He grinned at the thought of watching the light fade from that sniveling little twit's eyes.

Kyier looked down at the child, his eyes void of any sign of emotion. After the initial outburst from hearing the news of his parent's demise, the young Duke had retreated somewhere deep within the depths of his own mind. He sat focused on the boy, but Sebastien's words weren't registering in his thoughts. All he saw were the boy's tears... "Kyier... "KYIER! Have you heard a single word?!" Mathius stormed over and gripped his best friend's shirt collar, pulling him firmly forward. "This is enough, Kyier! This state you're in is helping no one, and certainly not yourself! What would your parents think? Is this how you want them to see you from the heavens?!" A gust of wind burst open the window, circling the room like some possessed force. A number of books were knocked from their shelves, among them a silver-plated picture frame that had shattered over the floor. Kyier let out a deep breath, his hand falling to rest over the Apothecary's fist. "Let me go." The Duke stated calmly, seemingly unfazed by the eerie wind that had sent chills up the other twos' spines. Mathius all but gasped upon hearing his friend's raspy, quieted voice. He released his grip and immediately apologized for acting so brashly. Kyier all but ignored him. He was more interested in investigating what had fallen. The Duke lifted the shattered picture from the floor, carefully wiping away the destruction left by the wind. It was an old photograph that was left in the frame... One with his mother's face smiling up at him. Standing beside her was his scowling Aunt. Even young as she was, she still harbored such cold eyes. His finger gently glided over his mother's face for but a second before he swiftly turned back to Sebastien. I was as if his words had somehow just broken through the barrier to his mind that had moments ago lane in ruins. He dropped to the boy's level and took hold of both of his shoulders. A light had returned to Kyier's eyes, a spark that some had feared would never return.

"Collect yourself, Sebastien. Tell me who it was that kidnapped them. Was it Joshua?" The crying little boy nodded, "In broad daylight... That is not something I would expect from a coward like him." Kyier lifted his hand and placed it atop Sebastien's head. He would not allow for this boy to lose anymore loved ones. He had suffered too many losses already. "They could have been taken anywhere, but I have a hunch... Sebastien, you stay here with Lydia and Ar-""No! I-I want to come!" The boy's voice was quaking in fear, but his determination touched the Duke. "Okay. Stick close to Aranrhod and I." The hound barked in agreement, coming up to take her place beside the boy.

They left without saying another word, hurrying off to the stable where Kyier quickly mounted the familiar black stallion. He pulled Sebastien up beside him, and wasted no time in checking to see if Mathius was set. They took off through the cover of woods, the Duke's mind racing off over a thousand and one different possibilities. None of this made sense. Joshua, though a fool, was hardly bold enough to kidnap someone in broad daylight...much less the stupid Duchess straight from her home. "Where did you three end up moving?" Kyier yelled back to the boy nestled tightly around his waist. Sebastien told him that the small home and been a ways from the shoppes in town, but still... And what was he planning on doing with her anyway? Would he just keep her locked up forever? Certainly not...But then if she were freed, of course she'd spread word of his deed. Even with Joshua being the master manipulator he is, Elisabeth had a certain- oh charm was most definitively not the correct term, but under the circumstances, it was the best his flustered mind could come up with. Even if the very idea of admitting that made him ill.

It wasn't long before the manor came into view. Kyier headed the group, bringing everyone to a slow. Quietly, he slid from the horse, holding out his arms to assist Sebastien in climbing down. Mathius was quick to their sides, There was a good number number of guards roaming the place, thus, Kyier assumed his assumption must have been correct. He brought his finger to his lips to signal the others to be quiet. Thunder quaked the earth, warranting a scream from a certain child. Sebastien clutched the Duke's clothing. Kyier forced the boy behind him as the guards reacted to the cry they had heard. They came pounding forward just as the sky opened showers upon them. Not a single word was exchanged before the swords came flying toward them. Metal clanked on metal as Kyier gracefully drew his own to battle. He caught the flight of another, his form matching those trained for the King's royal army. "Sebastien, get back!" he yelled, watching from the corner of his eye as a hateful man charged at the defenseless boy. Sebastien stumbled, only to fall backward in his attempt to flee from the man. A howl pierced through the loud winds as heavy paws darted toward the offender. Aranrhod took down the fiend. He screamed in terror as her teeth sunk deep into his soft flesh. Kyier breathed a sigh of relief after having witnessed the scene. Ara would protect Sebastien and- "Damn it!" he cursed as he lunged for his best friend's back. The Duke collided with Mathius, knocking him from the blow that instead came to loosen a few of Kyier's ribs. They both hit the ground, rolling until Mathius caught Kyier against him. "You idiot." Kyier seethed, the pain from his injury enough to blur his vision. Something hit him then- something that he cursed himself for not seeing before. "Light, Mathius..." he breathed. "Wha-?" "Damn it, just use your light! They're castors!" he screamed.

The Apothecary wasted no more time in unleashing a blast of glorious golden light that annihilated all of their enemies where they stood. Nothing more than the sound of the rain lingered after that. Mathius stood panting while Kyier nursed his injured side. "Come on." he commanded. "We've no time to waste."

The three arrived inside the dimly lit manor as a flash of lightning surged across the sky. Once again, Kyier felt Sebastien come close to his side. He sighed and placed a hand upon his head, "Be brave, Sebastien." The words were by no means cruel, and sounded almost caring in quality, as if the Duke were offering a form of encouragement. Kyier gulped as he took a step toward the manor. He took a deep breath and set to enter the unnerving manor. The large double doors creaked eerily as Kyier pushed though them. The Hasting's had hardly ever used the place, as Landon was not their town of permanent residence. This manor would be where they would stay for the holidays, and had seen its most recent use when Joshua moved in permanently pending the title to the throne. Kyier and company moved through the chilling hallways, a strange wind blowing past them as they went. It felt oddly like the one from before, but the Duke did his best to keep that thought from lingering on his mind. They wandered quietly through the halls, and Kyier convinced himself that he could hear Sebastien shaking beside him...or perhaps that was Mathius. He couldn't be sure. "If they are anywhere..." "Of course." Mathius groaned in answer to Kyier. He frowned in terror at the prospect of braving the dungeons. "I'll go alone. Stay up here with Ara and protect Sebastien." Kyier opened it slowly and began descending the torch lit stairs. Despite being a dungeon, the area appeared to be relatively normal. All of the cells were empty as far as his eyes could see... He walked along slowly, shaking his head in disbelief. No, this couldn't be right. They had to be here. Kyier's eyes narrowed in the darkness, "Something else...there has to be. What am I missing?" He closed his eyes and listened, just barely making out the sound of frightened screams. It was feint, but there was no mistaking it.

-Elisa and Sofia-

With his adrenaline surging, Kyier ran toward the noise, his hands moving frantically around the stone walls. There had to be something here. Something- his hand felt over something cold, just barely projecting from the wall. He knelt down to investigate, coming to find that it was a form of key. There was nothing to do but turn the thing, Kyier's eyes widening as the once perfectly form ed stone wall opened to reveal what had been a hidden door of solid concrete. With all of his remaining strength, he pushed it forward and began once more to descend into a deeper, pitch darkness.
When she stopped screaming, she held onto Sofia harder, whispering suddenly in her ear. “Keep your eyes shut, darling, and don’t open them. Keep them shut for everything, and all will be okay,” she whimpered herself, wanting to shut her own eyes. For love of Lumos she was trying to be brave but she was so frightened. They were bound together by some rope, but Elisabeth was attempting to wiggle free. She became a tad loose and tried to move her arm about the deep space. Whatever was in here with them, she was determined to keep away from Sofia. But the soft moans and groans of the man near them were so small. She moved forward a small bit, her hand as blind as her eyes and touched something warm. The man groaned in pain at her touch, and suddenly she felt something sharp. She found she could count the ribs on the groaning man, letting her fingers jet across the bone pushing from flesh. She drew her hand back in sudden fear, and she could hear him whimper once more. Her hand explored again when she didn’t feel the impending threat. But her hand touched an open wound, his blood flowing freely onto the stone, and he suddenly reached out and grabbed her fragile wrist. That was when she screamed again.
~~~
Just as the rope fell from over them, and finding themselves no longer confined, Elisabeth scuttled away like a rodent. She had a frightened Sofia nearly under her arm and pushed her into a corner she could find, and her and trying to console her as much as she could. But now the mad man was coming back. He was coming back to finish them off. But she was not going to let the girl die. And she stood blindly in the darkness, praying to the God of Darkness for cover, and stormed towards the sound of echoing footsteps. The man rounded the corner, more slowly than she expected, and she jumped at him, wrapping her arms around his neck and tearing at his flesh with her nails. She could feel the scratches she gave him but it wasn’t enough, and she cried out, “Why!? Why are you doing this?!”
Kyier’s eyes never fully adjusted until he felt his attacker grab at him and pummel as desperately as she could. He could feel the blood from his own flesh now run as he tried to grab the prisoner to help her. He was only able to recognize her when she had spoken, and he whispered harshly to her now that he had her in his own arms. “Elisabeth, stop this! It’s only me, you idiot!” He commanded. Kyier took a deep breath; the girl had completely lost her mind and was being driven by panic. She was frantic and not listening to a word he spoke. "Yelling at her isn't going to help anything..."

Kyier reached his arms around the girl; hugging her tightly. He was holding her close to him; his mouth by her ear. "It's ok now. Everything is going to be alright. Nobody is going to hurt you, I promise." he whispered gently. He took a small step back, still loosely holding her in his arms, and allowed for her eyes to adjust. "It's just me." he whispered again.
“Going to die,” She whispered to him, her head hanging limply against his shoulder, “Just. Like. Him.”
“And why would you do that? Plan on staying down here, silly girl?” How could he not understand. How could he joke now!? She was fighting against her own consciousness trying to pass on her, and she turned to look at Sofia through the darkness.
“S-sofia,” She said, her hand reaching out to the darkness for her. She appeared and embraced the Duke and Duchess now, holding onto them tightly. Kyier began to lead them away, but not before placing his jacket over top of Elisabeth’s shoulders.

“Mathius,” He began, “I’m going to need…” but Elisabeth didn’t hear the rest. There was this awful ringing in her ears, and her eyes were blurring from crying so. She wanted to fall back into Kyier for his solid warmth he was able to produce. He made her feel so…so protected. “Shall we?” he asked, now turned on the top of the stairs to bring Elisabeth and Sofia out into the open. And after putting them in a safe place, he turned and followed Mathius downwards back into the darkness. Mathius stood watching in the now illuminated room.
“Holy Gods,” he whispered, his fingers dancing over his lips in surprise. “Hastings…” He looked at Kyier, “How could this be…is this possible?”
“Yes. And as much…uh, as much as I hated the man I cannot leave him like this. Do you think you could mix together something to end his life without any more suffering?” He asked, holding his own aching side. Mathius nodded.
“Go upstairs, and take care of yourself. I’ll go collect some herbs…I am sure there are some in the storage room." They left together, quickly, and Mathius ran into another room from the kitchens while Kyier attempted to take care of those who were in the other room. Mathius went downstairs again, having grabbed a bit of atropa belladonna, and he crushed it together, making the sweet tasting berries into a thick, gooey moisture or mulberry coloured poison. “The berries will be quick, and taste sweet,” he told the Duke. “I’m…I’m sorry for this,” he said. He held it to the man’s lips, and watched.
He looked up, and whispered a raspy, “Thank you,” before he slowly drank the deadly poison. Mathius nodded, and though he didn’t want to watch, he refused to allow a half deceased man to lay here in even more pain that he created for him. This man would die tonight.
“May you find Light in Lumos,” he prayed, and bowed his head in respect when Duke Joshua Hastings took his last breath. He used his two fingers to close his eyes, and said another quick prayer to Lumos. He stood up and joined the others upstairs, now intending to make sure his friend got looked at after battle, and Elisabeth and Sofia were unharmed.

Elisabeth sat with Kyier’s jacket around her shoulders, shivering into the warmth of it while they awaited Mathius’ return. Her eyes scanned towards Kyier now though, and she watched him out of growing habit. He seemed so relaxed, even with his aching side that he would surely need stitches for. But had joked with her earlier, and she didn’t understand it at all. After what they had been through before this, and now this, and in the middle of this god forsaken night, he was joking with her! He was…oh, it was so confusing. She hated that even in the midst of this battle that when she realized it was him it was as if her heart had stopped beating. She couldn’t believe it was him. Why would he save her? Because he wasn’t a monster, that was why. She glanced over at Sofia and Sebastien sitting together on the bench, and she stood up, with shaking legs and moved over to Kyier. She hugged him tightly, wrapping her smaller frame around his, and held on so tightly. “Thank you…” She whispered. She wasn’t even sure if he had heard her, but she didn’t care. He would have no idea how badly she appreciated what he ahead done for her. It was only when he grunted again that she looked at him once more, and saw that his side was still bleeding. “Kyier, we really need to get you to bed and have Mathius look at you,” She told him.

Speaking of Mathius, he appeared from the doorway a few seconds after Elisabeth had spoken of him. He looked as somber as they all felt, and he moved towards the group to help Kyier with his own injury. “If we’re finished here, I say we head back to the manor and get your injuries cleaned, Kyier,” He said. Elisabeth and Mathius were on both sides, and Sebastien and Sofia were on Elisabeth’s other side, her hand reaching out to hold around Sofia’s back as they headed home through the darkness. Every step was torture, because none of them knew what may lay out there in the darkness. The horses were there. Elisabeth climbed on the back of Kyier’s horse to help keep him steady while Mathius held the reigns and Kyier began grumbling that he was alright and didn’t need this much attention.

At the manor, Kyier was almost forced into bed by his best friends hand to look at his injuries he had sustained. And most of them he was not even fully aware of. Elisabeth stayed out in the hallway with Sofia and Sebastien sitting with her. Nobody really wanted to be alone right then, and despite how badly most of them needed a bath, that was something that just didn’t seem so important right now. She held them both tightly, and suddenly Mathius came out, and nodded inside for Elisabeth to head in. She left the children in Mathius’s care, saying perhaps they could have some hot chocolate.
Inside the room, Ara sat near the end of the bed, her head downcast as if she were ashamed of her master’s injuries. And one of the cats mewed from underneath the bed. Elisabeth wanted to rush over and hug the man, but instead she paced the room suddenly, her eyes moving back to his and she wanted to say so much to him, but it was as though there was not enough time in the world!
“Just relax would you?” Came Kyier’s exaggerated reply to her bustling. “You’ll make me dizzy if you keep pacing.” An awkward silence overtook them as they looked at one another, and Kyier laid his head back down on his pillow. “I’ll have the butlers collect your things tomorrow to move you back in the manor. I figure it's less work for me if you stay safe at this manor rather than live elsewhere and force me to rescue you.”
Elisabeth let out a small sigh of happiness, her eyes beaming, “You do like me!” She whispered, suddenly half laughing in a weird sort of barking way. Her hand covered her mouth as she tried to suppress her embarrassment, but Kyier acted as though he didn’t hear a thing. She came over and sat by him on his bed, touching and stroking his arm. When their eyes locked, she couldn’t help but smile. Her hand reached up and stroked his cheek, and she told him, “Thank you for everything, Kyier. I mean it.” She touched one of the marks she had made herself, and apologized. “I’m really sorry, I just…I don’t know what came over me when we were down there. And I could have sworn that I heard…well, never mind,” she said, her voice drifting away.
“Are you okay?” Kyier asked, finally bringing himself to ask the question. “I mean…in the basement, I’ve never seen you like that. I mean, I really don’t care or anything, if you’re not okay then there isn’t anything I can do about it. In fact I am not even sure why I asked, it’s none of my business, though I…”
Elisabeth lay down next to him, propping herself on her arm. “I’m okay now,” She admitted, “But being down, I never wanted to die more in my life. It was as though everything had been sucked from me, and I felt weak and vulnerable and there was nothing I could do. But I refused to give up because I didn’t want to leave Sofia, or Sebastien…or you. And then when you showed up I was so happy. I have never been happier to see you in my life!” she exclaimed.
Kyier managed to smile at her and thought to himself, but he he noticed himself drifting off towards sleep. “You don’t have to stay down here, Elisabeth. You can go to your bedroom, I am sure it will be more comfortable for you,” he told her. “You’re safe now; you no longer need to worry.” The last part had been whispered so quietly, Elisabeth barely heard it. But she refused to leave him, even as the comfort and warmth of sleep took ahold of him; she curled up next to him on the bed, trying to give him space. She just wanted to be near him if he needed anything.
Isabella


With the sun dim on the horizon, the woman glided gently from the carriage, the burly carriage driver allowing her delicate hand in his to help her to her feet. She gave him a slight nod, but otherwise said nothing else. Throwing a single silver piece to the man, she placed her umbrella up over her head and continued to walk through the busying streets. Her shined shoes gleamed in the morning sun, her heels clicked on the stone ground, and her skirts swayed delicately about her feet. She noticed the glances of both men and women, and reveled in it. She loved, more than anything, the attention of others. She smirked behind a pair of squared, wiry glasses, her blonde, bouncing curls draped against her shoulders.
She whispered something to the baker who was merely standing her in way, and he moved briskly. She glanced up at the name of the shoppe, ‘Mad’s Cauldron’ and grimaced. She closed her umbrella and entered the shoppe, the bell above her head dinging and she watched the man behind the counter. He was busy reading his own papers, and called out to her, “One second, Miss!” before he put down his papers. When he looked up he gasped, doing a double-take and watching in awe. “Uh…Isabella…what are you doing here?” he asked her.
“Hello, dear brother. Have you missed me terribly?” She asked him, coming up near him, her perfume strong and floral it stung his nose. She did some sort of smile at him, a pretty smile, yes, but not one that reached her eyes. It was as non-genuine as she.
Mathius looked up at his sister, his eyes blazing with unknown feeling.
“Isabella…what are you doing back? Why…why are you here?” he asked her, finally enveloping her in an embrace. “I didn’t think you’d get my letter,” he said. “I didn’t know if you and your husband had moved again…”
“Brother, please. Enough with the nonsense. I’ve only come because my husband has lost all of his money. No other reason would I deplore myself to be in such shambles of a city again. Do those dreadful hounds still plague this place?” She asked him, her eyes wide, and the wet green color shrouding any mystery that Mathius may have befallen under her.
“You didn’t hear?” He asked, and she grimaced.
“Hear what?” She asked, leaning in. Mathius, by now, had placed the CLOSED sign on the door. He turned around.
“Come on, let’s get you to the home, and I will tell you on the way,” he said. Isabella rolled her eyes, but nodded anyway. She would listen to her brother. She wasn’t an imbecile girl. They made their way to the cottage through the chilly winter air. Mathius told her about the Cross’s, their tragedy, and he watched his sisters face for any emotion. She was stone cold the entire time. That was not to say that she was not upset, but merely unsure how to take the news. He wanted to allow her time to rest. “I’m sorry to have to tell you so brashly, I just assumed you would get my letter. Seeing you here…it is as if fate brought you here. And I hate to this to you, but I really must go. I need to check on Kyier, but I suppose you want to freshen yourself before you see him.” He spoke very fast and was collecting a few things before almost tripping out the door. “Isabella,” he said, before he left, “It’s…it’s wonderful to see you again.” And not expecting a response, he shut the door.
“You, too…” She said, before she herself began to collect her things in the bedroom.
Isabella


With the sun dim on the horizon, the woman glided gently from the carriage, the burly carriage driver allowing her delicate hand in his to help her to her feet. She gave him a slight nod, but otherwise said nothing else. Throwing a single silver piece to the man, she placed her umbrella up over her head and continued to walk through the busying streets. Her shined shoes gleamed in the morning sun, her heels clicked on the stone ground, and her skirts swayed delicately about her feet. She noticed the glances of both men and women, and reveled in it. She loved, more than anything, the attention of others. She smirked behind a pair of squared, wiry glasses, her blonde, bouncing curls draped against her shoulders.
She whispered something to the baker who was merely standing her in way, and he moved briskly. She glanced up at the name of the shoppe, ‘Mad’s Cauldron’ and grimaced. She closed her umbrella and entered the shoppe, the bell above her head dinging and she watched the man behind the counter. He was busy reading his own papers, and called out to her, “One second, Miss!” before he put down his papers. When he looked up he gasped, doing a double-take and watching in awe. “Uh…Isabella…what are you doing here?” he asked her.
“Hello, dear brother. Have you missed me terribly?” She asked him, coming up near him, her perfume strong and floral it stung his nose. She did some sort of smile at him, a pretty smile, yes, but not one that reached her eyes. It was as non-genuine as she.
Mathius looked up at his sister, his eyes blazing with unknown feeling.
“Isabella…what are you doing back? Why…why are you here?” he asked her, finally enveloping her in an embrace. “I didn’t think you’d get my letter,” he said. “I didn’t know if you and your husband had moved again…”
“Brother, please. Enough with the nonsense. I’ve only come because my husband has lost all of his money. No other reason would I deplore myself to be in such shambles of a city again. Do those dreadful hounds still plague this place?” She asked him, her eyes wide, and the wet green color shrouding any mystery that Mathius may have befallen under her.
“You didn’t hear?” He asked, and she grimaced.
“Hear what?” She asked, leaning in. Mathius, by now, had placed the CLOSED sign on the door. He turned around.
“Come on, let’s get you to the home, and I will tell you on the way,” he said. Isabella rolled her eyes, but nodded anyway. She would listen to her brother. She wasn’t an imbecile girl. They made their way to the cottage through the chilly winter air. Mathius told her about the Cross’s, their tragedy, and he watched his sisters face for any emotion. She was stone cold the entire time. That was not to say that she was not upset, but merely unsure how to take the news. He wanted to allow her time to rest. “I’m sorry to have to tell you so brashly, I just assumed you would get my letter. Seeing you here…it is as if fate brought you here. And I hate to this to you, but I really must go. I need to check on Kyier, but I suppose you want to freshen yourself before you see him.” He spoke very fast and was collecting a few things before almost tripping out the door. “Isabella,” he said, before he left, “It’s…it’s wonderful to see you again.” And not expecting a response, he shut the door.
“You, too…” She said, before she herself began to collect her things in the bedroom.
The next morning was slow coming for the newly appointed Duke. Kyier cringed as he was awoken from his deep slumber. "Sorry..." Mathius whispered, looking sympathetic as ever as he sat draped over the Duke. "I didn't mean to wake you. You were starting to bleed through your bandages... The wound is pretty deep, but it appears to be a superficial bleed." The Apothecary sighed, knowing damn well it had been his a** that the Duke had been saving when he had become injured. Kyier had always been like this. He acted the tyrant, but when push came to shove, the man thought not a second before he would willingly give his life for those around him. The Duke was a man of the highest caliber, even if only those closest to him knew it. "Why are you staring at me with such longing in your eyes? You don't plan on kissing me, do you?" Kyier quipped, "I always knew we would have to have this talk some day." he sighed. The Apothecary sat back and shook his head, pleasantly surprised to hear that his friend had returned from his previous dark solitude. He helped Kyier to sit up, noticing the pain screaming out behind eyes that tried so desperately to hide it. "I want you to lay ice to your ribs today. It will minimize any inflammation. I don't think that you have a break, but you do have yourself a mighty fine bruise, I believe. We can't have you doing anything too strenuous, but I- well... Mathius swallowed, he didn't want to bring up this topic. He feared his best friend would lose himself in sorrow again. "I have medication that will hopefully suppress the pain enough that-" "I'm not going." The man had cut him off before he could finish...

Mathius nearly dropped his mouth to the floor. No words would come to him. He could only stare as Kyier moved ever so slowly to look over the girl still slumbering on the chair. The Duke grunted as he knelt down, his eyes scanning over the bruises on her neck. She must have been strangled at some point in her capture. Dried blood stained her delicate wrists where the rope had cut in. It had been tied cruelly tight. "Mathius, your bag." Kyier ordered, holding out his hand. The dumbstruck man obeyed, and could only gawk at the man as he routed through to find some antiseptic. "Kyier- I-I know this will be difficult, but- They-they were your parents. You can't just not go...Ahh-" The Duke's jaw clenched as he closed his eyes for a moment. He carefully rubbed the ointment over the wounds on Elisabeth's wrists. They were not deep enough to require stitches, but they would have to watch for infection. Kyier sighed again as he guided the gauze gently around her right wrist, and then the left. "I can't..." he whispered, his voice raspy. He knew that Mathius was probably hurting just as badly as he was, but he honestly couldn't handle everyone offering him their condolences. He couldn't allow anyone else to see him so vulnerable. This was all too much... "They are dead now and will still be dead tomorrow. My attendance at their funeral will not make a single difference to that fact." he swallowed, standing back to his feet as Elisabeth began to stir awake. "I am sorry, my friend, I realize that that perhaps sounded a bit harsh. But my parents were murdered. What is it you want from me?!" Kyier took a deep breath, holding his hand up when Mathius attempted to speak. tygcflln:13="firebrick]"Mathius, please. I understand what you are trying to do for me. I know I may one day come to regret it, but please. I can't go out there with all those people. I don't want to say goodbye to them yet." he stated softly, being entirely sincere for once. "Just leave me be."

"You especially." He glanced back at Elisabeth after hearing her heavy sigh. "You who confuses the term "like" with barely tolerates." The Duke said nothing more as he traveled toward the stairs. He drew himself up slowly, each step causing an agonizing form of pain. He glanced down at Sebastien at the top of the stairs. The boy's eyes were wide with dark circles forming underneath. There seemed to be a lot on the child's mind. The door he was leaning against creaked open, revealing the tiny girl stepping from the darkened. Sebastien gulped audibly, but Sofia barely paid him any mind. She gently wrapped her arms around Kyier who placed a hand atop her head before continuing his long, arduous trek to his bedroom.
Elisabeth watched silently, and she stood still until Kyier had disappeared down the darkened hallway. Mathius came over and checked her wrists and neck, looking at the swelling, scrapes and bruises. “Nothing seems too terrible. Kyier seems to have taken the brunt of the pain for you. Let me know if you feel any pulsing or anything, and I can make you a soothing salve and bandage you up to help.” He seemed to go on and on, and Elisabeth watched him move until she felt she should stop him.
“Are you alright?” She asked him, tilting her head. Such a simple question that didn’t exactly allow for the room of what had gone down the previous night. He just nodded.
“Why don’t you go upstairs and get ready?” he asked her, and watched her move silently and slowly up the stairs. He rested his head in his hands. He had to take these few moments of peace to collect his thoughts and prepare for the tiring day that was sure to come. While the funeral was guaranteed to be beautiful, the emotional heaviness that they all carried on the shoulders was going to take a very heavy toll.

At the funeral, the place was decorated meticulously. Two dark wooden coffins sat parallel one another near the front, and people crowded the seats. In fact, so many people showed up that many had to stand. Decorated in white and purple irises, the fragrance was simple, and calming. Sitting in the front row, Mathius and Elisabeth with the children, and Isabella standing off near the back. Mathius kept looking around for Kyier, hoping and wishing that everything would be okay and Kyier would show up. He heard some bitter old hag behind him whisper to her friend about how disrespectful it was that Kyier had not shown up for his own parent’s funeral. Mathius turned around and threatened that he was in mourning and if they kept talking he would have them thrown out. With a “Well, I never!” the old bats shut up.

Elisabeth was in tears the whole time. At first her sobs she tried to quiet, but her sobbing only grew louder until her wailing had become too much and she forced herself into submissive, quiet tears. She held onto the children and both of them seemed as upset as she was. At one point it was Mathius’ turn to speak his eulogy, and he stood and moved nervously towards the podium. He gripped it tightly, his nerves flowing like cold blood through his veins. But he pretended that Anita and Cederick were there, as well as his parents, But he pretended that Anita and Cederick were there, as well as his parents, but before he spoke he caught sight of something on each casket. Picking up the paper, he opened the decorated parchment to find beautiful scrawl, and it said, ‘Goodbye, Auntie Anita. You were so much more of a mother to me than mine ever could be. I will love you always and forever will you stay in my heart.’ The sentiment made him smile, and he knew who had to have written it. But the other, too, another just like it said, ‘Uncle Cederick when all seemed lost after my father's death you helped to fill the vast void left in my soul. I will love you always and forever will you stay in my heart.’ Something about it made his heart beat faster, and much braver he began to speak, “It’s truly a grand tragedy that has happened to us here, with the loss of the Duke and Duchess Cross. Many of us knew them and were treated by them like family. Me especially. Most of you know of my past and the death of my parents, and the Cross’s quickly took me in as one of their own, and in a way it was as though I never missed out on having parents. Though my past will always be there, a bit dark and unforgettable, Anita and Cederick were the Light Castors in my life, bringing me into a hearth of warmth, kindness, and peace. A sanctuary that they built for anyone who was in need.” He looked down into the audience at Sebastien and Sofia, knowing they would understand as he would. They too were taken in by the Cross’s in their times of need.

He continued his eulogy, speaking of the wonderful times he could remember and telling the stories about what wonderful people the Cross’s were. “We all have our own stories, our memories of Anita and Cederick. Those will be with us for rest of our lives, and we will do well to keep them close to our hearts. ‘Those who pass will be with us for always, and they are never truly gone, for as long as we do them the honour of remembering them, they will be with us. In the wind, in the dirt, in the ocean…these spirits of our past will guard over us until we meet again,’ is something…something Anita Cross told me when my own mother died when I was very young. I never forgot it, and I truly believe it can be used here, as well.” He touched his head a bit, surprised at the sudden wave of nausea he had gotten. He realized how nervous he had been about doing this. But he had to, and these were all people who he knew. He finally thanked them, and thanked the two caskets near him before he got off the stage. He headed towards the bathroom near the back, listening to the weeping crowds. He had to wipe his own eyes, blurry through tears. He just needed to splash some cold water on his face, and that would make him feel a bit better. Before he closed the door, he briefly heard the voice of one Joshua Hastings, but nothing really clicked in his mind besides sitting down and getting some water.

But Elisabeth saw. She held the children much tighter. It had been her turn to speak, and she was prepared. But now she was more frightened than anything. He was so damned calm and soothing with his poisonous words, the vile of it made her sick. She looked around for Mathius but he had gone, and the woman who was sitting next to him had also disappeared. Elisabeth caught sight of her moving through the crowds, assumingly to find her brother. Sofia was stiff and Elisabeth made sure she wasn’t frightened, but something about her position made her seem so…angry. She knew he wouldn’t try anything in here. He wouldn’t be so brave.

Isabella was not going to find her brother. In fact she was going to find someone else. Ordinarily, she would have stayed after hearing the name Joshua Hastings, but for now she wished to find the one person who had ever truly held her heart. The manor was just how she remembered it stepping inside. Even without the Duchess there, it was s till warm and fragrant of her perfume. She sighed in content before adjusting her spectacles and moving towards one of the bedrooms. If she recalled correctly, that one would have been his. But alas, she was proven wrong. His childhood room no longer seemed to be his. She headed down the hall once more, humming a tune gently to herself. When she finally found the man he had his back turned to her, and was hunched over some book. He was so deep in thought Isabella wished to just watch him as he worked. But she coughed slightly, to get his attention.
“Hello, Kyier. It’s been a long time, hasn’t it?” She entered the room, and moved near him. He seemed so surprised to see her there. But Kyier was so quick, his expression changed after a second and he seemed as if he had seen her every day prior.
“Good day, Miss Isabella. It certainly has been a while.”
“Ai, it has…” She said. “Marquess, eh…Duke, I mean. I am truly sorry of the passing of your parents. My heart goes out to you.” She reached over and grabbed his hand, holding hers atop his gently.
Kyier looked up at the woman he hadn't seen for so long, "Yes. Thank you." he muttered, unsure of what to say, and more importantly...why she was here. "If you have come all this way for their funeral, I am afraid you are missing it."

Isabella smiled gently. "I was there. One missed soul won't cause anyone grief," she said, "especially mine. But what I cannot understand is why you aren't there?" She asked. She held up her hands to him. "Don't get me wrong, Marquess. It's your own choosing, I am but a humble questioner," she sighed.

"I care little to discuss that right now." Kyier turned back to this desk and closed the book that had lie open atop it. Ara yawned from under his desk, the wolf-like hound's presence having apparently previously gone unnoticed by the visitor. The woman screamed, scaring Kyier from his chair and leaping into the man's arms.

"Why is that....that beast here, Marquess!? Are you crazed to have such a...a monster in your home?"

Kyier sighed, doing his best to subtly shift Isabella from her deathly embrace, "Aranrhod has saved my life on more accounts than one. She is not a beast, but a loyal friend. You don't need to fear her." The dog stretched and pushed his nuzzled against the woman's thigh as if to reassure her of the Duke's words. "Now if you could, please remove yourself from me?"

"I...I...uhh..." The normally posh and balanced woman faltered in her words as she loosened her grip from her old friend, and timidly pushed out her fist to allow the dog to sniff at her hand. "Why? Why is this one so unlike the others that plague our Kingdom?" she asked him. "Did you do this?" She whispered, finally allowing her hand to touch the soft fur and will her heart to calm itself.

The Duke looked down curiously at the dog as if the answer to that question lied deep in her peridot eyes. "Your brother and I were working on research to accomplish just that, yes... However, whether it was truly us or something within Ara herself, I cannot answer."

"Interesting..." She said, watching the dog with curiosity. "Has the same happened to any others?"

Kyier sighed again, growing tired of this monotony, "Isabella, please. I have never been one for chatter, and I realize it has been a long while. I am happy to see you well, but I am afraid that I am not in proper spirits to carry on this small talk." The Duke shook his head, his eyes gazing out the darkening window. The rain had started when the sun fell, surely to soak those who would be standing around his parent's gravesides to say their final goodbyes. The procession would come to an end soon. "Please, another time." Kyier breathed, suddenly feeling his lungs tighten as he spoke the words. He turned from her, swiftly bolting from the room without the utterance of an explanation. Isabella was a friend he had always been thankful for. She understood him in a certain sense that no one else every seemed to grasp. Perhaps it was because the pair of them were so similar in ways. He knew she would not be one to pursue him. The sound of the door opening in the foyer stopped him in his tracks. He heard the soft muttering of Elisabeth to the children echo through the entrance way. Mathius must have gone home on his own. The Duke felt a pang of guilt for that. He had left the man all alone to deal with the sympathies and tireless attempts of cajolement. Such a facade.

Kyier jumped from the window, his weak legs giving way to the ground that came much too quickly. The door would have been much easier, but he really didn't want anyone to follow, nor could he deal with their pestering. Oh, and that damned look that would be sure to hold in their eyes. No, he could not allow himself to be in the presence of anyone. He lifted himself to his feet, feeling as if he were attempted to walk on water. This wasn't real. None of this was actually happening. His parents were fine and everyone was just playing a horrible, cruel joke to get back at him for all his evil deeds throughout the years. Maybe he deserved it, maybe this was all just karma. The rain was feeling as if it would never end. He pressed on slowly, Kyier possibly more lifeless than the dead resting beneath the ground. His vision was a little hazy, but there was no mistaking cemetery. The ominous shades of grey played havoc with ones soul. He stood at the iron gate, the freezing rain not hardly impending enough to overcome the strong feeling of absolute numbness that had become him. Everyone had cleared from the grounds. The service must have been quickened because of the weather. Kyier stepped across the muddied earth, each footstep feeling like a separate mile. He swallowed, but he could not clear the lump in his throat formed after the hateful things came into focus. The Duke dropped to his knees and crawled forward, his finger outstretched to trace the letters across the decorated tombstones.

The stone etched at his skin, each individual engraving felt like acid to his touch. It was real. This was really happening. "How could you leave me?" he whispered accusingly. "How do you expect me to carry on by myself? I still need you, I still needed you!" he cried, slamming his fists into the earth. "You were both the best people I have ever known, and I'm sorry you had me for a son. You both deserved so much more than I. I'll never be as compassionate, as empathetic and understanding as you were Ma'ma. I don't know how to offer up my heart to others, how to radiate the warmth and light as you did so easily. And Pa'pa, I'm a coward. Every hardship I have ever had to face I got through it because you were at my side! Something wicked is coming, Pa'pa. I'm not strong enough to stand against it, I'm not you! On my own, without the two of you I- I know that I always strived to be alone, but now that I truly am... now that you are gone, wha-" he swallowed. His chest hurt with every icy breath he took. The injury to his ribs was once again making itself known. The rain washed over his pained skin and perhaps, he thought, if he stayed out here long enough he might be so lucky to drown. "Don't leave me alone." he whispered.

An angry roar of thunder shook the earth before the rain suddenly began to slow. The weather set into an eerie calm. Kyier wiped the tears from his eyes as he stood to gaze around. Out of nowhere, a gust of wind swirled through the trees. The breeze danced with the leaves making the Duke able to trace its movements with just his eyes. His heart jumped when it ripped toward him, the curious air brushing passed his cheek. It felt so familiar. Kyier turned with the guiding wind; the solo wind whose movements couldn't have been more direct, more distinct. It propelled him forward a few more steps until he saw her standing amongst the trees. He stood in silence, his mind lost in the mysterious breeze. She looked to be crying, her eyes portraying their hurt, and yet calling to him. It felt like she was staring straight through him and directly at him all the same. Kyier swallowed, beginning to wonder if she was truly there or perhaps an illusion his mind decided to grant. Maybe a specter? The distance between them was too great to tell, the night too dark, but he swore he recognized the girl atop the hill. She was beautiful he decided, the moonlit rays painting a delicate silhouette around her small frame. He watched as the gentle breeze swirled around her and ruffled her dark dress, though he was still unable to decide if she was real or not. Grasping reality did seem to be a particularly pressing problem at present... even moreso than he would care to realize. The breeze from before continued to try and push him forward, but if he were to be honest he was a little afraid. What he had said to his father moments before have been true. Kyier was hardly brave and this was all too strange. Perhaps the strangest thing of all was how badly he wanted to trust this wind, how right it felt...
But when Elisabeth turned around, she felt the blush rush to her cheeks. She almost gasped, and wanted to turn around. She hoped for a moment that he didn’t see her, but when his eyes locked with hers, she felt her pulse begin to race once more. She took a step toward him, and another, moving through the man past the stones. She felt so shy, so unlike herself. She didn’t think it appropriate for herself to cry, so instead she ran the last few steps to him. And she hugged him tightly. She threw her arms around the man and gripped, giving everything she could. This was not just for him, either, this was for her. And she expected to be burned, or scolded at the very least. But instead she felt his arms come down around and her, holding gently against her.
Nothing was said between the two, just a soft, warm embrace. “You’re going to catch a cold by being out here, Kyier.” But she didn’t know if he even heard her. She just held onto him more tightly, pulling back to look up at him. There was absolutely nothing she could say now. There was so much she…wanted to say…she wanted to tell him and make him feel. For a moment, it was as if everything was different. She felt safe with him, though the circumstances surrounding both of their lives seemed so grim. She wanted to kiss his face, and take away this pain. She had lost both sets of her parents, but in different ways, and there was nothing she could do to help him. His lips looked so…good, and she thought maybe if she kissed him she could make everything bad go away. Her eyes scanned up, touching his nose, his almost feminine nose that was so perfectly fit by the Gods for his face. She was always embarrassed about her too big nose that she didn’t believe fit at all on her face, and here Kyier was, so damn…beautiful. She couldn’t believe how she didn’t realize it before, but he was. He was truly beautiful. And she knew he was inside and out, which was so wonderful. He was a good person, despite his attitude and attempts to push people from his life. But then she placed her eyes on his, for good. She almost gasped. His eyes were so wet and shining. They were reflective pools into his childhood, his hurt and suffering, and she doubted anyone had ever seen this much of him. It was like she had seen him naked…again.
But there was something else she realized by looking at him. She realized how he had truly saved her, and she wondered if he had known it. She wanted to kiss him so bad then, kiss his lips and all over his goddamn beautiful face. But she just hugged him again, attempting not to collapse in a fit full of powerful tears. “Thank you…Kyier.” She was such at a loss for words, it was as if she had swallowed them all, because now she would stumble and fumble when she spoke. She took his hands and held them in hers, holding them between her chest and his, and her head fell onto his chest, and she wanted to stay there forever and let him forget his sadness…if only she could.

Isabella never went home, at least not straight away. She meandered through the dark streets. She walked slowly on the empty streets, knowing this city so well. Her heels echoed in the night, and she stopped for a moment, leaning on a lamp post, and watching the wetness of puddles in the silvery cobblestone beneath the moonlight. The air seemed to stop and she felt so alone. She swung from the pole and held herself, wrapping her arms around her torso as if she were cold. And she was so cold, but only on the inside. She had her heart melted too many times, and now it seemed to be frozen. But there was one who could melt it so wonderfully, and make her pulse race like he had so many years before. She stopped near the lion headed fountain that centered in the main square and looked into the water. She didn’t realize she had been crying. She lay against the cool stone, the feeling chilling her back much quicker, and she let her tears slip down.
He was the one man she would have married for love. He was the one man she had ever truly loved. She didn’t care about his money, or his power, not like the other men she had married. She loved him for him, something she was never ever able to feel for the past men in her life. She held up her hand to watch it against the night sky, looking at her empty finger. She had pawned her ring off after she left her husband, and there felt as if a burning scar now left a mark. But she wished there was a ring there, a ring from him, but she knew it was foolish. Because Kyier never loved her as she loved him. To feel his warmth against her, their bodies entangled. She had thought of him many times during times she made love with her previous husband. But she never gave him love. She had that reserved for only one. She could see his eyes above her, oh, his eyes…he had beautiful eyes, and she smiled like she had before her parents died. It was so foolish to have come back here, she knew that, and she knew her feelings for the Marquess were going to develop even further. She would have to be strong. Perhaps now would be the time he would return her feelings as well. Perhaps now they could finally be together. She continued her walk home, almost hoping that some hound would appear and take her out of her misery for being so damned foolish.

Near their home, Isabella found her brother in his hat and coat rushing through the night. He was so very frightened, the man. She continued her own walk until he was sure to see her. He did, and he ran up to her. But he lost his footing sometime near her, on rain water turning into ice or some sort, and he fell into some prickly bushes. Isabella smirked sadly, not finding the humor in this as she would have just yesterday. “Bush, brother,” she said.
He stood and dusted himself off, and grimaced. “Yes, yes, clearly,” he said. “Where did you run off to? I was worried about you, you know? You just…you left.”
“I am a grown woman, Mathius. Let me be, will you?” She hissed at him, no longer wishing to be in his presence. The small cottage came into view, and she allowed him ahead to unlock the door. Going inside, she said, “I am going to go take a bath. Do some good and make us some tea, will you?” and without another word she just herself in the lavatory. Mathius just stood rather dumbfounded, before going to make some tea for his sister. It was good she was back…he tried to tell himself. But when he went to make tea, he passed by a picture of the two of them as children, and he smiled at the memory. They hadn’t always fought. They only separated after their mother died and Isabella couldn’t take on the burden of womanhood. That was what he told himself. But this picture was done on a day when the Van Aelst’s went with the Cross’s to their summer home in the Hillside Country. Isabella and his best friend were very similar in certain ways, and after all these years of dealing with Kyier, Isabella should be no problem.

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