THIS IS A SAMPLE ONLY.
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St Machar’s Cathedral was filled with dozens of people dressed in black. In dreaded silence, they occupied the carved pews. An aura of great loss shrouded the place as rain battered the stained glass outside.
Even the gods mourn Madeline’s death.
Helena swallowed and smoothed the piece of paper in her lap. The words she wanted to say fled her mind, leaving it a complete blank every time she looked at the photo of Madeline’s smiling face in front of her.
Andrew’s hand landed on hers, and he gave it a light squeeze. “It’ll be okay.”
“…I would like to ask Miss Hawthorn to stand and speak a few words about Madeline Eleanor Mathews.” The smiling Father O’Donovan waved for her to come forward.
As she slowly rose to her full height, Helena feared she would fall. Her legs turned to jelly. Perseverance won over, and she walked to the microphone.
Father O’Donovan took a step back, allowing her to place her short speech on the stand. She cleared her throat and grasped the sides of the pulpit to steady her. As she scanned the faces of those gathered, her eyes landed on the six-year-old girl. Her red curls were pinned on top of her head with ringlets brushing her ashen face. Helena’s heart hurt to see such a small child’s green eyes empty of any emotion.
Cullodena looked up, and Helena’s stomach knotted again.
“Do you need a moment?” Father O’Donovan whispered beside her.
With the shake of her head, Helena looked at her speech, seeing the letters becoming blurry as she read it out for everyone to hear. “I am unworthy of being here. Someone closer to Madeline is more qualified. But, because I was asked to do so by her sister, Una, I will continue.”
Helena closed her eyes. This had to be the hardest thing in her life. Since Andrew returned from being dead, she never truly mourned him. Speaking of Madeline in past tense summoned unwanted tears. She didn’t dare stop them and made tiny puddles on her memorised handwritten speech.
“Madeline was like the sun in the sky on a beautiful summer’s day. She was always warm, caring, and brought joy to those around her… She helped me when everyone else would have refused my request and, for that, I will be eternally grateful.” Helena covered her mouth to stifle a sob.
Andrew edged to her side, and she took his hand for support.
“As I have said, I didn’t know her for very long, so my thoughts are my own.” She paused and squeezed Andrew’s hand as she looked at Cullodena’s round face. “Madeline was an amazing woman, and I can only aspire to be like her. Without her, I wouldn’t be here today. She…” Helena’s voice was strangled by an overwhelming sadness.
Andrew gathered her trembling frame to his chest and led her to take their seats next to Madeline’s sister and Vincent.
Helena swiped at the pesky tears that blurred her vision. Her tired eyes were almost hollow with dark circles underneath. She didn’t care for her looks. Madeline’s funeral blatantly showed her that life was fragile. No one was safe from Death’s claws.
After the service, Helena approached Una who stood next to Cullodena with her hand protectively resting on the little girl’s shoulder. “I’m so sorry for your—”
Una shook her head. “No need for that. Madeline did what she believed in. A gun to her head couldn’t stop her if she decided to help someone. I want to know one thing. Did she pass away peacefully?”
Helena struggled to form a sentence. She couldn’t tell them Madeline was killed by an archdemon.
“Your sister died saving me,” Andrew interjected. “And, although we didn’t see how she died, I’m sure it was a quick death.”
Una lowered her voice. “I hope that you will attend the wake. I am certain people in the Circle wish to know more about how she passed.”
Instead of responding, Helena knelt in front of the little girl. From her handbag, she took out her grandmother’s grimoire and lovingly ran her hand over the cover. With a smile, she offered it to the child.
“This is the only thing I have left of my grandmother. It’s a grimoire, and I would like you to have it,” Helena said softly.
Cullodena accepted it and pressed it to her chest. “There is something I have to give you, but it’s at home. Will you please attend Mum’s wake?”
Releasing an almost silent sigh, Helena forced a smile. “If you want me there, I will come.”
The child handed the grimoire to Una and wrapped her arms around Helena’s neck. Through the black dress she wore, Helena felt the child’s warmth—the same warmth Madeline emitted when she was alive. She didn’t deserve the kindness these people showed her.
Helena separated from the girl and shook hands with Una.
“I will see you this evening then,” Una said with a tilt of her head.
All Helena could manage was a half-smile. Andrew wrapped his arm around her waist and led her away. On the way to the doors, she sensed eyes on her. She pretended not to notice the stares and kept her walk steady.
Andrew whispered into her ear, “Do you want to head back to the hotel?”
The hotel made her think of the bed. She violently shook her head. Ever since she returned from the Demon Realm, she had the same nightmare. The memory of her dropping the lit match onto the carpet and the apartment catching fire tormented her. Even when she was a child, death followed her. Perhaps it would have been best if she had given in to Lazarus and let him take her soul. Maybe everyone would be happier.
“Helena, do you have a minute?” Vincent’s deep baritone brought her attention back to reality.
She faced the Council’s elder and waited for him to speak over the hiss of rain that dampened the earth and the small paved path two feet beyond.
“I would like to invite you to stay at my home. There are some matters I wish to discuss with you, and I believe Perri would be delighted to see you again.”
Helena studied his pensive expression. Whatever he wanted to discuss, she wanted no part in it. “I will be returning to Ireland tomorrow. I have to prepare to leave for America.”
Vincent looked from Andrew to her. “I could use my influence as a Councilman to bring you to me or you can come as a guest. Please consider my offer carefully.” He inclined his head. “Till later, Helena, young man.” With a graceful movement of his hands, Vincent opened his umbrella and wandered down the path surrounded by weathered gravestones on either side.
Andrew nudged her side. “Why does Master Vincent want to talk to you?”
“I don’t know…” she mumbled.
“Think it could be something important?”
“I don’t know!” she snapped, immediately regretting it. Helena muttered a soft curse and marched along the same path towards the gates, letting the cool drops of rain seep into her dress. Being too tired and emotionally drained, she couldn’t care less if the world was on fire or if the Council came after her again.
Andrew caught up with her and raised an umbrella over her head. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“Please, Andrew, let’s go somewhere, anywhere.”
He offered her his arm, and she accepted it. With every step she took, the distance between her and the cathedral grew, as did the suffocating pain within her heart.