Between two mountain ranges, sapphire water glistened under the scorching Sun and created lines of reflections on the golden shore. The shore, it was painted red from the remnants of blood.
A pleasant fruity smell of figs and olives mixed with sun-burnt ground and flowers wafted along with the rhythm of the wind as it filtered past crimson sand, through the olive gardens, and to the open field beyond. Long grass swayed on the field with waves of summer content as the cool, salty sea air blew across it in gentle gusts.
A midnight black cape lay on the grass, small blue roses were scattered over it like gemstones on coal, and over that cape lay a man, his white mantle bearing the red misfortunes of this kingdom. His perfectly pale hands which were clasped over his chest were crimson too, but the liquid had dried long ago. With a mellow smile on his face, he looked up at the delicate blue sky, watching the cotton candy clouds drift slowly. His black eyes were narrow; framed by his white lashes, they veiled his emotions well.
Far away the sea had started to move; the sound of tranquil waves made him fall into a slow daze.
Kyrie woke up with a sudden jolt of rapid breaths making mist in front of her face. Sitting up straight, she tried to blink away the thumping of her head a little. One of those dreams. Again. They started a week ago, more specifically, after the night her brother’s body was found in the forest. ‘Haunting’ wouldn’t be how she would put them, but they did take her by surprise every now and then whenever she dozed off.
Dreams of a warm country with a clear sky? Kyrie couldn’t comprehend its possibility in the glum and rainy town of Stonehill. All she had seen since childhood were the cinder-grey clouds and soaked streets.
With a sigh, she put a strand of red hair behind her ear, but not before noticing how the colour had started to fade. The rest of her head was its usual dark shade that appeared more black than brown, but the left side had a bit of red dye in it, which she regularly reapplied, but maybe it just didn’t work anymore. It had become a pitiful dirty hue.
On the table were several pictures of the two murder scenes, both the first, which belonged to Alicia Corderoy, and the second, which belonged to her older brother, George Dain.
Kyrie pulled the dim yellow table lamp toward her to take a closer look at one particular picture that was of Alicia. Her body was almost made unrecognizable by the mutilations of what appeared to be a sharp, thin knife. Dirt from the wet forest floor around her entered through the wounds and decayed them overnight, leaving behind ghastly black traces of death. But that wasn’t the worst part.
The eyes had been gouged out of their sockets and her mouth was forced wide open. Between her lips was the grotesque remains of her own, bloody heart.
Immediately, Kyrie tossed the picture out and put her head in her hand. On cue, a roaring blared across the dark sky outside and blue light from lightning flashed through the red-tinted window to make purple patterns on the marble floor.
With sudden alert, Kyrie sprang to her feet. Initially, the room had one closet, but ever since her mother had the mansion renovated, now she had two. The older one had its door slightly open. Golden light was cast on the floor in front of it and mixed with the reflections from the twinkling Christmas lights. Past the door, inside, with his back pressed against the red wall sat a guy on the blanket-covered floor, quietly reading a book.
The bulb from overhead made light shine on his completely white hair and cast shadows underneath his thick, equally white lashes. His pale skin was made florid from the cold and he wore two layers of clothes; a white cardigan over a white shirt.
Kyrie relaxed when she figured he wasn’t scared by the sound of lightning. She took off her red flip-flops and entered the small closet room to sit beside him, peeking a look at what he had been reading.
“Heidi? That’s old.” She said, slightly unable to take her eyes off him. She would consider herself showcasing strange behaviour, but in all honesty, anybody would want to look at him for a long while if they ever laid their sight on him. She hadn’t seen anybody like him before and she doubted anybody had, either. Before she met him three days ago, Kyrie had never seen such startling, big golden eyes ever before. If George had the chance to meet him, he would want to paint him.
If she could paint, she would, too.
He shifted in his place when she spoke and looked like he didn’t know what to reply, hence Kyrie took the initiative to extend the conversation herself.
“I’ll give you a haircut soon. Your bangs are almost covering your eyes.” Indeed locks of white hair had gone past his light brown brows to reach the base of his lashes. “I hope you won’t be scared by scissors, Kiel?”
Kiel shook his head and didn’t meet her gaze. Satisfied, Kyrie smiled before putting her hand into the pocket of her hoodie to bring something out and show it to him. “Here, I picked these up on my way from the store. Do you like them?”
Kiel took the paper bookmarks from her and stared at their red-patterned designs for a while before nodding again. “I…do.” His whisper came out breathy and raspy, making Kyrie wonder if she should buy some syrup for him too to help his throat.
“Okay, good. It’s past 10, go to sleep now, all right? If you need anything, I’m right behind that door. I’ll keep the lights on for you. And, uh…” Again, from her pocket, she brought out a packet of cashews. “Eat these, they’re good for your health, Hendrick told me.”
Hendrick, the family butler, had given them to her but she had figured Kiel needed them more than she did. When she had found him in the forest that day, he looked so tender she had mistaken him for a teenager. Now she knows he’s 20, the same age as hers, but if he didn’t put on some more meat, people will have her initial assumptions the same.
Hesitantly, Kiel put the cashews on one of the empty shelves in the closet.
“Also,” Kyrie’s uncertain gaze swept across the small scars on the left side of his face, then toward his arms which were covered by his long sleeves. “Don’t think too much, okay? You’ll only talk when you’re ready to, you don’t have to feel forced. I like you here, so don’t worry. I won’t hurt you.”
Pink flushed across his already tinted cheeks and he whispered out a small ’okay’. Subconsciously, his hand rubbed the sleeve of his hoodie. Kyrie put her hand on his, now unbothered by the way he flinched without meaning to.
“Good night.” She said before closing the door gently and heading for her own bed.
A coldness was dissolved with the warmth from the heater in the room, and it made itself known in the way it fogged the glass of water on the table and dimmed the light of the lamp ever so faintly.
She lay with her face buried in the silk pillow. Soft rumbles and the sound of rain slighted her heavy breaths and frail whimpers that barely wanted to escape from her throat. It was as if they were caged but not behind steel bars, rather in an extensive cobweb of dew-stained threads that glued her emotions to herself.
And then the sky roared, followed by the deafening thud! on her windowpane.
Kyrie immediately sprang to her feet, wiping her tears with her sleeves before running toward the source of the commotion. When Kiel peeked his head out from the door she ushered him to stay quiet and not come out and allowed herself the courage to unlock the window to see outside.
Instantly, a blast of ice whipped over the delicate, pale skin of her face. Mixed with crisp raindrops and bitter wind, the shock came abruptly as the peal of red thunder overhead.
There was blood on the windowpane and it trickled down slowly enough to carve a hideous memory in her head that would last forever. Outside, in the dark backyard where rain tormented the mallows, ferns and cypresses, there was a corpse laid on the mud underneath the lamppost that lit the bend of the trail that led to the fence that separated the forest beyond.
Blood washed away from its bashed head from the slicing rain that dug into its open wounds. Even from this far away, Kyrie could tell this corpse was unrecognizable. Its face was completely ruined and a fountain of blood squirted out from its chest continuously.
“No…” Kyrie’s voice was small, raspy. “No.” Dread did not consume her mind, but a chilly thudding in her temples did. The sound of rain was thinned by the sound of her own heart pulsating all about her body as if exposed, bloody, wet, disgusting flesh.
Kyrie turned to look at her door but her eyes couldn’t ignore what had suddenly appeared at the centre of her bed: the head of an animal. A dog that roamed the neighbourhood, a dog named Lily.
Crimson liquid soaked the golden hair of its head and seeped through the white sheets of the bed in a sickening stain of malice. The scream left Kyrie’s mouth as soon as she fell to her knees with her hands covering her mouth and sweat coating her whole body. Pulsations of pure terror beat in her veins in rapid periods.
Hearing this Kiel opened the door again, but this made Kyrie promptly get up and hold it before he could come out. Her large, green eyes were red and open wide when she looked into his startling golden ones. “Go, hide in the walls as I showed to you. Don’t…don’t come out until I tell you to. Do you understand?! Don’t make a sound. And…” Sounds of rapid footsteps were already heard ascending the stairs. “Don’t look.”
Kiel nodded and didn’t utter a single word before closing the closet door.
Kyrie stayed in her place as the rain streamed in through the open window and watered her body with a frigid embrace. Her eyes never left the disembodied head at the centre of her bed, and slowly, quietly, when the banging at her door almost shuddered the whole house, she reached for the knob and unlocked it.
In came Hendrick still in his bedclothes and seemed to immediately understand the situation. A few of the guards had come too and their guns were held before their faces as they examined the room. Hendrick put his shirt over her head and dragged her out gently until they reached George’s room, where he made her sit down and placed his own gun beside her.
“Calm down, everything is okay. Everybody is already at their positions and looking, nobody will hurt you here. Will you tell me what happened, Young Master?”
Hendrick’s shirt couldn’t block out the bright lights of the mansion as they were suddenly turned on, neither could it cancel out the sounds of people running to and fro, searching for the late-night intruder who had come with such a morbid surprise.
“I don’t know…” She could only stare at his gloved hands as they held her own. “There’s a…there’s a corpse in the backyard. I think it’s Rasha. I need to go out.”
As soon as she tried to stand Hendrick made her sit down again. The left side of his black bangs had grown to hide his eye so she could only see the narrow, blue right eye of his stare at her with as much worry as protest. “You are not going anywhere, Young Master. Hold this. You’re good with a gun. I will go and help the others. We must protect the mansion in absence of Master Jennifer. I will not let anybody hurt you or this house as long as I am here.”
Kyrie nodded and let him leave.
As soon as he did, however, she found her way to the window as well.
Guards still in their bedclothes surrounded the corpse underneath the lone lamppost, somebody had already covered it with a shirt, but they didn’t spare any more time behind a dead body. Instead, they spread about the house and some even reached for the forest in search of the criminal.
Kyrie used this opportunity to find her way out.
At the apex of the staircase she stopped to look at the enlarged picture of her family with widened eyes. There was her father in the painting, beside him, seated on a grand chair was her mother with her dark hair up in a neat bun. Besides the parents was George himself. He was smiling the most out of the four, so much so that his emerald eyes shone through the painting. They all had green eyes, but Kyrie always thought his was the brightest.
In the painting, Kyrie was sitting down on the floor in front of her mother with the emptiest face she had, and she always thought the painting was all about George’s smile more than the family. He had the perfect smile of course since he was blessed with the better genes from their parents, and Kyrie loved that smile more than anything else.
Only that, somebody had ruined that painting.
Fresh blood was smeared all over George’s face and crimson trickled down to the base of the painting to eventually drip on the floor.
Sudden anger made her blood pump in her temples and she descended the staircase with heavy, rough steps. The scent of incense felt thick and suffocating, but the smell of blood was worse.
Downstairs, the parlour wasn’t empty. Some of the guards had already put on their grey uniforms and roamed about the doors and windows with guns in their hands.
“I’ll be in the panic room.” She assured them and Elizabeth, one of the head servants, escorted her to the basement where two guards were already patrolling. Convincing Elizabeth that she will be fine, Kyrie entered the password to the bunker door and slipped inside before closing it and pressing the ‘seal’ button.
Behind one of the shelves that had dry provisions that will last for weeks was Kiel, sitting with his knees close to his chest.
“It’s me.” She assured him. “I’m glad nobody else knows about this door. If you hear the bunker door beeping it’s probably Hendrick, you’ll hide back inside the tunnel again. ” Here she pointed at the little hole in the wall which was still open since Kiel used it. “I’m sure you noticed the branches, I told you not to use any other branches but come straight ahead to the panic room, but all the branches actually lead to other safe places, and outside. So if you think you’re in danger, use them. You won’t get lost, they’re marked.”
Then she turned to leave again but a tug at her sleeve stopped her. Kiel’s gaze was painted with worry and fear. His hands trembled and his whisper almost got carried out by his breath.
“What?” She asked.
He paused for a moment before speaking again. “Don’t…go.”
A narrow guilt clouded Kyrie’s decision for a moment. She could see he was a trembling mess with fearful eyes. His pupils were dilated and his breaths unsteady, but she couldn’t stay. He was safe, that much she knew.
“I have to, I’m sorry. My friend is dead and I have to go to her.”
When she climbed into the tunnel, before sliding the door she smiled at Kiel just in case. The tunnel door disappeared on the wall, and Kyrie felt her breath begin to get colder by the second. The walls of the tunnel were rounded and icy, an old brown colour moulded from lack of use.
She crawled on all fours and examined every branch that led to a different exit. The one marked ’k’ had its net door open, of course, and she could even see a little bit of white hair stuck on the net. This figured Kiel had hurt himself, but he will be all right.
When she popped her head out from the damp and dim tunnel, heavy rain almost blinded her as it made contact with her eyes.
Grunting and groaning, Kyrie pulled herself out of the small door and slid the cover over it. Her fingers clutched onto the mud and rotting leaves of the forest and bitter coldness washed all through her clothes and hair. The water slipped between her lips and it tasted of ice and…metal?
When she looked up with squinted eyes she could see a pair of crimson-red eyes in the dark staring down at her.
It was a girl she knew, Doli Goode. Her blonde hair was wet and sprawled all over her face, and from behind that mess her small red eyes stared at her as if not bothered by the rain and wind at all. She had on only a thin white dress, and in her hand was a baseball bat with something…something stuck on its ends. Mixed with water, the blood from its tip was falling all over Kyrie’s face since the bat was pointed toward her.
Kyrie crawled back with a shriek. “What the hell?!”
Realization was fast and impossible. In an attempt to evade the murderer and reach the corpse of her friend, Kyrie had run right into death.
“You…you killed her! You killed them!”
Doli stepped back with a cackle that was almost drowned by the sound of rain. “Did I, now?”
Immediately scurrying up, Kyrie grabbed a hold of her gun from her belt and pointed it toward the murderer, but she didn’t shoot her. Instead the bullet went right past Doli’s face and disappeared in the darkness.
The loud bang! echoed in the forest even through the piercing wind. “You won’t get away from this.”
Doli didn’t seem a little bit fazed. Her grin grew wider and wider until it was almost unnatural even. “Your brother was the funnest. He fought back. Will you fight for me too, you will, won’t you? You Dains are all the same stuck-up and dumb.”
Gulping, Kyrie tightened her hold on the gun. Funny how the killer of her brother was standing right in front of her, and even though she wanted nothing more to kill her, she just couldn’t. All of the anger and all of the hatred didn’t seem to amount to the courage of killing a person.
Her gun pointed down and the trigger was pulled within an instant. The bullet pierced through Doli’s thigh and she yelled and fell down on her knees, the bat effectively falling out of her hand.
At first, Doli seemed to cry in the ugliest voice Kyrie had heard, sobbing and weeping and screaming as if the world was eating away at her. It made Kyrie’s ears shiver and her heart shake in its place. But she didn’t let go of her gun.
“They’ll be here soon.” Kyrie’s voice, tremulous with a suppressed cry, was barely audible. “So shut up. Shut up. Shut up.”
And yet, Doli’s bewailing and howling didn’t stop neither did they subside. This made Kyrie march forward. Thump thump thump her footsteps disfigured the mud beneath her. Then, with a swift hit she pushed Doli so that she was lying with her back pressed against the ground.
With horror, Kyrie saw there was no wound on her thigh at all. Whatever speck of blood she had, it had washed away. She would have thought it was too dark to make assumptions yet, but the bright lights from the mansion meant to search for the intruder was enough to let her see.
There wasn’t even a tear in Doli’s dress.
When Kyrie looked at her face, that’s when she realized. It wasn’t Doli at all. Whatever it was, it was no longer human.
Instead of a girl’s face, that thing had a heap of rotting leaves moulded with mud to be shaped into a humanoid. Maggots ate away at some of its parts whilst worms crawled all over it hurriedly.
With a scream, Kyrie stepped backwards, not wasting another second before making a run for the yard. This earned attention from the guards and they almost shoot her way before realizing it’s only her.
Kyrie stopped only when she reached the lamppost that was her original destination and fell on her knees in front of the bloody and mangled corpse. A diamond ring was still in its ring finger and it shined through the blood from the lamppost’s light. The same kind of diamond ring that George still had when they found him. After all, they were supposed to be married this winter.
“Rasha….” Whispered Kyrie, no longer able to hold back her mournful scream that brought an infinity of hot, stinging tears in her eyes. “Oh, Rasha…”
Rasha’s beautiful red hair was scattered all over the bloody mud. Her face had been completely destroyed; bits of flesh and brains lay here and there. A deep gash in her bare chest did never stop bleeding, and her heart lay a few feet away from her body, pulsating its lastest.
Bloody, wet, disgusting.