Malachy drove onto the paved forecourt of the chapel and parked his car. When he had switched off the engine, he turned to me.
“Are you ready, love?”
I nodded and put my fingers around the door handle to open the passenger door. At that moment it was already swung open by a worried looking Darius.
“Hello Maggie, hello James! Good of you to be a bit early.” He nodded to Malachy before turning back to me.
“I want to have a quick word with you, before we go to the chapel. Is that okay with you?”
I nodded at him and replied an “Of course” before getting out of the car.
Malachy, who had gotten out of the car in parallel, turned to Darius questioningly, wanting to know where the other funeral guests were. The latter informed him that the others had already gathered in the chapel.
Malachy nodded slightly and then walked in the direction of the stairs that were in front of the semi-circular entrance to the chapel.
Darius wrapped his arm around mine and pulled me towards the small green area opposite the entrance, where there was a large chestnut tree.
“I’m glad I caught you before the funeral, Sis.”
He looked at me with a worried look.
I wondered what had happened.
“I want to know how you are doing. On one of our last phone calls you told me that your powers, belonging to your warrior blood-serum, were manifesting and you sounded very worried.
I only left you alone because I wanted to give you time to recover from the shock of Soraya’s death.
However, I am also aware that a full-blooded Aristocrat who is turned at a late stage generally has problems controlling his powers. I fear this is exactly the case with you.
Especially in emotionally difficult moments, your powers could erupt uncontrollably.
Are you sure you’re emotionally prepared for this funeral? If not, I have a sedative for you - don’t worry, it’s purely herbal from the Witch-Circle. Dr McKinay sends his best regards.”
I thought for a moment and replayed the situation in the shower at Chalet ‘Eleonore’ in my mind. My senses went crazy when I saw the dried blood on my engagement ring’s diamond.
This sight seemed to have triggered a kind of panic attack and all the bad memories of Soraya’s death came up all at once....
I didn’t want to imagine what it would be like, if this situation were to repeat itself in some form during the funeral.
“You’re right,” I replied, still lost in my thoughts. “I definitely don’t want that situation to repeat itself today. Where do you keep the sedative Dr McKinay gave you? I’ll take it.”
He took a small bottle out of his jacket’s pocket and handed it to me.
“Drain it completely, sis. And you better hold your nose. That stuff stinks like a rotten compost heap. I don’t even want to imagine what it tastes like.”
Darius screwed up his face in disgust.
“Thanks! Now I really look forward to swallowing this concoction.”
“Sorry!” Darius laughed in amusement. “I was trying to motivate you, but I guess it backfired.”
I gave him an annoyed look, then picked up the vial and shook it vigorously before opening the cap and sending the contents tumbling down my throat in one gulp.
Disgusted, I screwed up my face and made a gagging sound. “Yes, it tastes exactly like it smells. Let’s hope it works.”
Darius embraced me tightly.
“And if, against all expectations, the sedative doesn’t work, I’ll be there to help you too. Now that you’re back in Atonia, we should start training your skills as soon as possible.
If we don’t, you’ll pose an unpredictable danger to yourself and those around you.”
He broke away from me and looked at his wristwatch.
“It is time. The funeral service is about to begin. Let’s go to the chapel. We’ll talk about it again later.”
He stood beside me and offered me his arm.
I took it and then we walked towards the entrance of the small cemetery chapel.
“By the way,” he cut to another subject with a sly grin around the corners of his mouth. “I have expelled Niklas from our property in Ignis. After his last action, I didn’t want him to stay in my official seat to emphasise my lack of support on his part.”
I looked at him thunderstruck and asked incredulously, “You kicked him out of his own house?”
“Yes,” it came back in monosyllables.
Then I couldn’t help an amused grin either.
“How did he react?”
“What do you think, Maggie? Of course he was ‘not amused’, but he’s got nothing left to say in this matter.”
An amused giggle escaped me now, and Darius joined in briefly.
“It’s his own fault” escaped my mouth, slightly gloating.
Then I remembered my surroundings and went back to being quiet and appropriate for the occasion. We entered the dimly lit chapel with serious expressions on our faces.
As my eyes adjusted to my new, dark surroundings, I could make out the dark curls of Amie, who had already taken a seat on the bench in front of the altar.
Opposite her on the other side of the aisle sat Daina, holding her hands clasped together in a stiff sitting position. She seemed uncomfortable.
’I wonder why,′ I thought mischievously.
I let my eyes wander straight ahead and saw a large framed picture of Soraya. She had been a really pretty girl when she was alive.
Right next to her picture was a small pedestal with an antique pink urn. Beautiful flower arrangements and wreaths in pink and white were draped around both and many white candles were burning.
I noticed anger slowly rising within me. Anger that such a young, innocent girl had given her life for nothing - a life that was still so unfulfilled and had to end far too soon.
It was good that Darius had given me the sedative. Who knows what I would have done otherwise.
Shortly after drinking it, a warm feeling had spread throughout my stomach that seemed to leave no room for bad, dark emotions. I think I was safe from another panic attack.
Then I caught sight of Malachy in the middle of the corridor. He seemed to be engrossed in conversation with an older woman with dark hair pinned up high. This had to be Soraya’s aunt.
After her death, it turned out that Soraya was an orphan with only one penniless aunt left, which was living in Ignis. The latter had assumed that her niece was studying in Atonia and therefore only contacted her sporadically.
It almost seemed as if Adrian had deliberately chosen poor Soraya as a victim, pig that he was.
I detached myself from Darius and walked towards Malachy. Darius immediately took advantage of my detachment from him to join Amie.
When Malachy noticed me, he interrupted the conversation and held out his hand invitingly.
When I took it, he introduced me.
“May I introduce to you my fiancée Margaret Fleur de Lys and the sister of Adrian and Darius Romanov?”
The elderly lady nodded politely at me.
“It is a pleasure to meet you in person. My niece Soraya has told me about you.”
“She did?” I asked in amazement. It was a mystery to me why Malachy had brought Adrian into it.
“Yes, she liked you a lot. She said you were the sister she never had and that you were her great role model.”
She looked me over from head to toe, then added, “You look a lot like her, my Soraya. I can understand why she thought of you as a big sister. I am glad that you could arrange to be present here today. It’s a pity Adrian is abroad at the moment and couldn’t get a flight in time.”
I looked at Malachy for help. He nodded at me firmly and signalled to me to play along. I nodded back almost imperceptibly. At the same time, a huge lump formed in my throat, as if my discomfort was manifesting itself physically, and my eyes filled with tears.
I was aware that the world of the Aristocracy had to be kept secret from the people, but it still hurt to have to lie to this poor woman’s face, and in a chapel at that. This tragic and messed-up situation gave me an oppressive feeling. It seemed as if my guilty conscience was literally cutting off my breath.
I let go of Malachy and took the hand of this woman, a complete stranger to me, to offer her comfort. It was the only thing I could do, the only way to comfort myself too.
“Yes,” I replied in a strained voice. “It’s a shame.”
Exactly what shame I meant by that I did not explain further.
Malachy now took the floor.
“It is so unfortunate and terrible that Soraya was taken from life so early. This disease was so insidious. I hope she is in a good place now and finds her peace there.”
Soraya’s aunt nodded in agreement. Now her eyes, which had filled with tears, were also shimmering.
“We should sit down so the priest can begin the eulogy.”
“You are right Mr Stuart.” With these words she sat down in the empty seat next to Daina.
The latter looked at her for a moment, perplexed and with a guilty look, and then turned her attention to the priest, who stepped next to Soraya’s picture and cleared his throat to draw the attention of everyone present.
Malachy and I quickly sat down next to Amie and Darius.
Then the priest began the funeral service with a beautiful and loving hymn to Soraya and her lovely personality.
Amie and I held hands and blew our nose into our handkerchiefs, moved to tears. Our men held their arms around us comfortingly and protectively.