Chapter 19 - Shame
“What happened to Moira?” Alena asked. She felt intrigued despite her sense of foreboding.
“She sent me to find her dog, River, who disappeared into the woods earlier during in the morning and didn’t return, which I found odd,” Rowan related with her eyes showing a touch of vampire and her fangs barely out; angry but in control.
“Back then the sun didn’t affect me, and I returned before dark. Moira had one rule, home before sunset. I didn’t find the dog, but River disappeared once before and came back, so I didn’t worry,” Rowan hesitated before she continued.
“Someone destroyed Moira’s garden, and they killed or maimed all our chickens. The dead chickens had no heads while others ran around squawking in terror with missing wings or fluttered pathetically without their legs. One retained only half its brain but didn’t die,” Rowan hesitated again, but this time she seemed more unsettled.
“I spotted River. They gutted her, and it couldn’t have been humans because they tore her head clean off her body when they finished torturing her. Judging from the blood on her muzzle, she at least got a bite out of one of them. The sight made me sick, but I suspected the worse was yet to come,” Rowan appeared barely aware of them as she allowed her mind to relive the past she avoided, but for her nightmares.
“I took the ax off the block, but I think I avoided having to go into the house. Vampire blood-spattered both handle and blade. My senses indicated that no one remained to lie in wait for me. It seemed wrong for the animals to suffer, these fragile things Moira loved so much. They had names, they came when she called them, and I pitied them. The chickens weren’t hard to catch, and I put them out of their misery, one by one, while I avoided looking at River. When I finished up, everything became suffused with an unnatural quiet, and as I looked down on the blood and feathers coating the cutting block, the shock wore off. The world stopped moving in this surreal slower than normal way. I sensed what I would find in that house as I dropped the ax and ran inside,” Rowan shuddered.
“They nailed Moira to the wall upon a cross painted with her blood. Her bloodied hands revealed that they made her paint it. She stared with unseeing eyes out the door. They also used her entrails to decorated the surrounding wall as if they tried to create some macabre sculpture. The stench made me gag and then... her eyes shifted. She was still alive. She should have been dead, but she waited for me,” the horror of that day remained as fresh in Rowan’s memory as if it happened the day before.
“Moira had only the strength to whisper one word, and it made little sense until a while ago. Darwin. Your father’s rival. He intended to have me killed to spite Victor, and when I didn’t return from the forest, they got bored and killed Moira instead, or maybe they would have murdered her, anyway. When I returned, they’d already left,” many unguarded emotions haunted her eyes, but her intense grief and guilt showed the clearest. Rowan lowered her head in shame.
“My anger became overwhelming, and something snapped inside me. I hated Victor for killing my mother and allowing me to live. I despised him for leaving me with that woman. When Moira died, my suspicions led me to believe he caused it,” Rowan lifted her head and looked Alena straight in the eyes. She never shared this story with anyone, and she allowed Alena to see what it did to her.
“You hated us,” Alena surmised, and she could understand that. She found her dead mother, and she experienced similar emotions.
“I hated myself the most, especially after...” Rowan said with reluctance, then stopped, unable to give voice to what she did.
“The smell got to you, and you fed on her. No year-old fledgling could have resisted,” Alena guessed, and Rowan didn’t like the way this story exposed her inner workings and made her vulnerable. She nodded, and when Rowan spoke again, she sounded withdrawn, tired, but furious.
“I took her down, and I buried them all. Then I set the house on fire, and I left. I never returned there,” this time the silence stretched until it became awkward and Marcus once again left them alone with their thoughts.
“I hated you too. After your mother passed, my father had no interest in my mine, she became paranoid, and I think a little crazy,” Alena admitted.
Rowan jerked her head up, and her eyes became intense. She stared at the darkness to the front of the cave with the attitude of a predator.
“You hated me because I’m a half-breed and I should never have survived being born, and you are not alone in that. You hated that your father facilitated my birth because you could forgive him for breaking your mother’s heart, but not for turning out to have feet of clay,” Rowan corrected as she slipped her knife from its sheath, her focus no longer on Alena. The truth of those words hit Alena like a fist in the gut.
Rowan rose in one smooth movement and made her way to the front of the cave with a steady and soundless intent. Alena picked up her swords and followed; they were no longer alone. She recognized something she noticed before, the stench of decay, dead and rotting things.
Alena picked up on a slight scuffling sound and handed one of her swords to Rowan. The light near the entrance to the cave still shone too brightly for her to go anywhere near it.
They advanced, and the horses did not react to their familiar presence. They used the bulk of the animals to shield them. Everything appeared quiet, but they could not ignore the overpowering scent or the fact that the creature brought along a human.
Could it be a straggler? Something more sinister? Rowan moved out of Alena's sight, and a blade scraped rock, followed by a sharp, mighty crack. Silence gave way to the sound of something dragged across the stone toward Alena. She tensed for combat, but to her relief Rowan returned unharmed, towing a dead human by his arm with an ease which betrayed a greater physical strength than Alena initially credited.
He seemed nothing more than a ruffian, large and unclean. Rowan took him into the second cave and dropped him like a sack of grain. Marcus appeared from the back, and his face registered anger when he realized they went after an intruder without alerting him.
“Whatever came with him, disappeared outside at great speed,” Rowan walked past him to where they sat earlier. Markus and Alena searched the body for clues, but he had nothing of value.
He carried the mark, but a tattooed version, not a brand. Rowan wondered if that made him a minion of some sort and her concern over his presence increased.