Chapter 46 - The Cursed
The wall opposite the alcove led to a second chamber, a dark hole that inspired fear and dread in both women. Marcus stepped forward. When his torch illuminated the wall, the women quickly turned away, and even Marcus found it distasteful. The artist painted the monster as a man, and those were scenes of the things that happen between men and women, but the acts were as tainted as he.
Marcus inspected the second chamber and found the most unsettling thing of all. It contained dreamscapes from the mind of a monster and at its center, with the clarity of a portrait, he found a familiar face looking at him from what seemed like the other side of a mirror.
“You have to see this,” Marcus instructed them with an urgency in his voice that made them hurry to his side.
It looked like Rowan at first glance, but the women knew better; the portrait was of Ariana in her true form. At the edges of fluffy clouds, the artist painted two little girls walking side by side, one in the sunshine and one in the moonlight, with their backs to the room. They didn’t have to see the faces because they knew the truth.
Marcus directed their attention to the next scene where the true nightmare showed their monster as a man once again. Alena and Rowan were in his bed, naked, lying against him like lovers, feeding off his blood, but when they blinked, the image disappeared. The actual image showed someone lying in a pool of blood with her back to the room. They sensed that it wasn’t Ariana, but another.
“He foresaw us,” Alena said with fear in her voice, and behind Marcus, the two women held hands without even knowing they reached out for each other. Marcus hadn’t seen the vision of their future reserved for their sight. This creature reached across time to touch them with this vile image. It took an effort to let go of each other before Marcus could turn and see their horror.
“Come, we have seen enough for tonight, let us leave this place. Marcus decided, and they followed him with the distinct realization that they were the hunted.
The girls were shy to face each other once they returned to their tent. The memory of that vision lay between them like a taint, and they felt no need to talk about it. Just as they didn’t need to speak of Ariana or the dreams in which they saw her, and each other, until recently.
It was their secret, their bond, lessons from a far away stranger, that understood them better than they understood themselves.
Marcus was unusually quiet and withdrawn. His eyes often rested upon them as if he considered some thought.
“Something bothers you,” Alena took the bull by the horns and touched on the subject that worried them in a different way than it did him.
“Why her face, and why you?” Marcus asked directly of Rowan, and she almost cringed from the intensity of his stare before she recovered her composure.
She glanced at Alena, and something passed between them in an apparent exchange of thoughts. Suddenly Marcus grew angry. He felt confident now that they kept a secret from him.
The girls fought with themselves, and the instruction Ariana gave them. Marcus had to hear some of the truth if they didn’t want to lose his confidence.
“It wasn’t me, and it wasn’t my face,” Rowan admitted, and Marcus observed them with eyes that betrayed both wariness, and the edges of distrust.
“The old soothsayer, she’s...” Alena hesitated. “She’s not old, and she’s not human,” Alena admitted with great care in her choice of words. “Father had a twin sister,” Alena revealed, and Marcus raised a brow, surprised that he didn’t know this, but also not sure how one thing pertained to the other.
“Her name was Helena,” Rowan provided.
“One of Victor’s close friends violated Helena and impregnated her. Knowing Father well, this friend brought Victor under the impression that Helena had fallen in love with a human and that the child was some half-breed abomination. He knew Father would never allow the baby to come to term, and his secret would be safe,” Alena toyed with a piece of metal and Marcus took it from her with a frown.
“Victor rejected Helena, and she couldn’t tell him the truth. His friend planned to murder her, and make it look as if Victor killer her, but she escaped them both,” Rowan continued when Alena appeared unwilling to tell him this part.
“Helena found refuge with the old soothsayer, and when the woman died, she took her place,” Alena explained and irritated with herself; she stopped her fidgeting and her hedging.
“Long before that happened, the child was born as one of the purest of our blood. They lived in seclusion hoping that Victor would never find them but eventually, Victor reappeared. They couldn’t allow him to know that both Helena and the child lived, or that Ariana wasn’t what he thought,” Rowan told him, and in her heart, she envied Ariana her bloodline, but not the shame of her conception.
“Helena left Ariana to throw Victor off the scent, and Ariana became the soothsayer in her place. Sometime later Helena died under mysterious circumstances, and Ariana watched Father destroy himself. She saw the love he had for a human turn him from his family. She alone saw the extent of his manipulation of Rowan and her fate. Ariana witnessed Father’s fall from grace and viewed it as karma for what he did to Helena,” Alena watched Marcus’s face become unreadable with a tinge of regret and fear.
“Ariana told us all this while you were sleeping,” Alena explained into the thick silence. He glanced at her, and Alena realized that what Ariana did, bothered him much more than it should. Marcus wasn’t just some guy; he was a man of character. Ariana had violated his sense of honor, and his manliness. She glanced at Rowan, and their thoughts were the same.
“So your cousin violated me in my sleep, and you two see nothing wrong with that because I am a man?” He asked with a tone of voice that made them even more uneasy with the thought. They didn’t know what to say and hadn’t realized that it affected him in such a profound way.
“What else should I know?” He demanded with enough anger to make the air seem to crackle with the power of him.