Chapter 32 - Crossroads
“You are at a crossroads,” the Crone announced, stirring the embers. Marcus and Alena were both uncomfortable in their awareness of her. Her presence filled the room, touched their skins, and slithered through the shadows. She seemed to sway, and the darkness beneath that hood reminded of a death mask.
“Evil...” She spat the word out as if she could taste its essence and they both shuddered.
“You are in search of great evil,” her words carried an odd cadence to them that threatened to mesmerize the vampires. Her dark gaze seemed to fix itself on them with unblinking intensity, even if they could not penetrate the shadow beneath the cowl, not even with their senses. It made her appear faceless.
“Tell me,” she demanded of Marcus in her singsong tone and with measured words he obeyed, and she listened without moving or speaking. Alena thought to herself that being the oracle, she should already know their purpose.
“Death lies both ways,” she muttered just when the silence following his words seemed to stretch into eternity. “There is no escape from your fates,” she stirred a bowl of water with her finger, and for a brief moment, as the surface rippled, the water turned to blood. Alena blinked and wondered if she hallucinated it.
The room felt too hot, the shadows appeared to undulate when she wasn’t looking at them, time moved oddly, and shivers ran down her spine. She wondered if Marcus suffered from the same ailment or if her imagination got the best of her.
“You brought the Damphir into my house?” She demanded. The abrupt change of topic briefly confused Alena, and she rubbed her face to rid herself of whatever intoxicated her senses. She found the old woman aggravating. She hated people who spoke in riddles and gave answers that weren’t answers.
“Yes,” Alena responded when it was clear Marcus would not. Those hidden eyes glowed unexpectedly blue from the darkness of the cowl, and Alena frowned. She could have sworn those were vampire eyes that stared at her, but the Crone carried only the smell of human.
“Interesting,” the Crone murmured with her face turned toward Alena, and Alena felt something touch her senses almost like a caress from a cold, dead hand.
“Bring her. We will continue our discussion another day,” the elderly human ordered with a voice that carried an icy tone, and an unexpected power that buffeted against their awareness like a dragon waking from sleep.
They both rose. She had dismissed them from her sight, and Alena noticed anger in Marcus, but he kept it in check. Maybe he suspected, just as she did, that this old woman held the key to their quest. She knew something, and she would keep her secrets until she saw fit to reveal them.
“Alone. Let the halfbreed come alone,” she insisted. Neither of them wanted to leave Rowan at her mercy, but they were dependent on her charity until sunset, or until she wanted to furnish them give with more than whispers of fate and death. Alena found she also didn’t like the word halfbreed where it concerned Rowan, truth or not.
Rowan entered the chamber with reluctance. Something about Alena wasn’t right when she returned to where Rowan waited, and it even affected Marcus. Whatever it was, it made them seem drugged, or if they were recovering from a trance.
The moment she stepped over the threshold, these thoughts slipped away. She felt something happen to her as if she were being mesmerized. She could literally not tear her gaze away from the darkened figure sitting beside the glowing embers, and even stranger; it felt familiar, the Crone, the room, the way time seemed to slow down.
“Sit child,” the old woman ordered sternly, and she did. That hidden gaze never wavered, and Rowan had the distinct impression that the Crone saw right into her soul. She shuddered in response. Rowan picked up on the way the old one seemed to fill the entire room with her presence, and even though she appeared to be human, something seemed wrong.
“So much more than they ever told me,” she almost crooned, and Rowan felt her skin crawl, but unlike the others, something drew her toward the elder, and not repelled. She found the pull the woman exerted eerie and entrancing as if her own soul reached out to be touched.
“You’re helping them?” The Crone asked with no inflection in her voice, and Rowan nodded.
“Yes, I’m helping them,” Rowan answered when the woman did not speak into the deafening silence of that room.
“Oh, my Angel, how the world has changed you,” the Crone spoke the words with a touch of amusement but laced with sadness. Rowan shifted uneasily, and she did not ask the old woman how she knew that name which she hadn’t heard in years. Something told her this woman was far more than Marcus and Alena told her. She may even know everything they needed to know. Rowan remained motionless like a mouse staring into the eyes of a cobra.
“Your old enemy has gone, and now you find a different one in his stead? Something to make Victor seem tame in comparison?” The woman asked quietly, and Rowan frowned, the words chafed.
“No, it found us,” Rowan acknowledged to herself.
“Why do you care for them? They have done you as much harm as humans?” The Crone questioned. “Hating a concept is much less difficult than hating individual ideas,” the elder answered her own question, and Rowan remained silent.
“Do they know what you are? What you really are?” She clarified, and Rowan grew still.
“Do your new family understand what it means?” She stressed the words new and family. Rowan stared at the darkness that concealed the Crone’s face while her mind struggled to function normally. What was this all about? Her being a vampire?
“Do you?” The woman asked, seeming to know things that Rowan could not possibly know. Something shifted in the atmosphere, changed, and the Oracle withdrew within herself. Her presence vanished from the room, and her body seemed oddly fragile in the wake of whatever she did. Her influence drained away, and Rowan’s thoughts asserted themselves again.
“I’m tired, we will speak again,” the woman ordered, but this time her tone didn’t affect Rowan. She still followed the other hag outside, and to a room, she had all to herself. Where were the others? She wondered, but her hostess ignored her questions.