A Witch's Monster

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She clutched her suitcase as her eyes wandered up the tall walls of the Duke’s Manor. The black fence that surrounded the whole terrain had been ominous, but it was nothing compared to the black and white manor itself.

Do you feel that too? She thought, fighting a chill.

I do, Rune answered thoughtfully, heavy energies are at play here.

Was she at the right address? She couldn’t be. There was no way such a sweet old lady could work in a place this—

“Right on time,” Mrs. Millers's voice called from behind the other side of the fence. Her gaze turned away from the grand manor, falling on the woman instead. She tried to return the smile, but it turned into something closer to a grimace.

“Mrs. Millers,” she said, taking a step closer as she opened the fence for her. “It’s good to see you.”

“Are you ready for your first day, Darling?”

She nodded, swallowing. “What an . . . interesting place this is.”

That’s one way to describe it, Rune said in the back of her head.

Mrs. Millers laughed, closing the gate behind her. “It’s a lot lovelier on the inside, don’t you worry.”

“I hope so,” she mumbled. She wasn’t too fond of such structures after all. “Can I ask you something, Mrs. Millers?”

“Of course.”

“What made you choose me?” she asked, tilting her head at the older woman. She was far from qualified, late to her interview, and still quite young. Avery had been so kind to fill her in on all her shortcomings and the strangeness of actually having been hired. Rune did the same during her practice. Even her patron seemed baffled, and a little too cautious if Diana said so herself. “I mean, there must have been many other more capable girls.”

Mrs. Millers chuckled, shaking her head. “My dear, you were the only one to apply.”

“Are you certain?” Her brows furrowed. That doesn’t seem likely. It is widely known that the Duke has a son, and despite the rumors about him or his father, he was only a child. A child couldn’t be that terrible? Right?

Rune only chuckled.

“It does not matter,” she said, waving a dismissive hand. “Whether there were multiple or none, you seem the most fitting for the position.”

Mrs. Millers pushed opened a door at the side of the manor, leading to a hallway that had multiple doors and a staircase pressed against the wall. The door on her right lead to a kitchen, larger than she had ever seen before, with two cooks who busied themselves with the next meal. The scent alone made her mouth water.

A little ahead, past the staircase, was a collection of doors. “Those are the servant quarters,” Mrs. Millers explained. “The first door is reserved for the butler, the one across from it to the housemaid.” She gestured to the door next to the housemaid’s room, “This one’s for the maids—” then turned to the one next to the butler’s “—and that one is for the cooks. If you befriend them they will gladly make you any snack you desire.”

Mrs. Millers winked, already turning away.

“And offerings,” Diana mused quietly, earning an approving pat on her head from Rune. She looked back at the maids’ quarters, her fingers straining with the weight of her bag. “Can’t I leave my luggage in my room before we continue?”

Glancing over her shoulder, Diana caught a glint in Mrs. Millers's gaze. She shifted on her feet, wondering if she had said something wrong.

“You can, but you won’t be staying in there if that is what you were thinking.” Mrs. Millers laughed, waving another hand at Diana’s confusion.

“But I was hired as a maid, wasn’t I?”

“You were.”

Mrs. Millers didn’t elaborate as she walked up the steps of the staircase. Diana followed, her shoulders stiff. The door at the top led to the entrance hall of the manor. Walls of dark mahogany wood and spotless marble tiles surrounded them. A deep crimson carpet extended in front of her, and as she followed it to the front doors she found two grand staircases on either side of her, leading to the second floor. A crystal and gold chandelier hung above her, casting the hall in even, elegant light with specs of stars on the dark ceiling.

Several potted plants were lined along the walls on the second floor, though, unlike the manors she had seen before, there was no portrait of the family where the two stairs met at the balcony. Instead, a mirror was put in its place. She was surrounded by nothing short of perfection. Her old, long black coat, worn shoes, a suitcase that had seen better days, even the strands that had fallen out of place because of the morning breeze, it didn’t belong in the image that was reflecting back at her. Averting her gaze from her reflection, she shook the image from her mind.

Mrs. Millers showed her the dining hall, the Duke’s studies, the sitting room, the ballroom, then led her up the stairs to the second floor. “The left-wing is completely reserved for the Duke and his guests, meaning you don’t have to concern yourself with it.”

Despite her words, Diana shot a glance at the hallway. It seemed like any other hall in any other manor, but a chill somehow found its way along her spine. She followed the older woman to the right-wing.

“How exactly does it work?” Diana asked. “From where I am the maids are usually given a specific task that they have the responsibility of doing each day.”

It was what Mia had told her. Being a maid wasn’t easy, and after being found out, she was but all too glad to quit the job. She had advised Diana strongly against becoming one at the time, and yet, here she stood.

Though now that she was here, the high pay and lack of competitors made Diana a little wary. She would be filling in for old and kind Mrs. Millers, so she had assumed the work wouldn’t be too hard, but now she wasn’t so sure anymore.

“Here we are.” Mrs. Millers brought her attention the door she opened, and the room that lay behind it. “This is where you’ll be staying.”

It wasn’t as grand as the rest of the manor, yet Diana’s lips parted as she took it in, never having had a room this big before. The morning sun illuminated the room, basking it in a warm light. Long curtains were pulled back from the tall window. A hearth sat unlit, surrounded by several comfortable seating options. A bookcase lined the wall beside it, almost completely emptied out spare for a hand full of novels. The closet was emptied out as well. An average-sized trunk stood beside it.

A singular-sized bed was pushed into the corned. Her uniform was neatly laid out on top of the comforters. Beside it, underneath the window, stood a desk and chair.

Mia had warned her about the cot she was likely to sleep on and how to make it comfortable. Diana glanced at her suitcase, wondering what she should do with the extra blankets.

Diana turned back to Mrs. Millers. “There must have been a mistake, I—”

“The young master prefers his personal maid close.”

Diana choked on her breath, bending forward as she coughed. “Personal maid?”

“That’s correct.” The smile on Mrs. Millers’s face left a sour taste on her tongue. She looked too innocent, yet cunning in a way that only older people could as they tricked anyone younger than them.

“I—I was under the impression I would become another one of the maids,” Diana said as she straightened herself back to her full length. “I’m not fit to be the Duke’s son's personal maid. I barely know how to be a regular one. I—I could get him killed!”

Mrs. Millers laughed, loud and heartily. “I seriously doubt that, but there is no need to worry. I’ll show you all you need to know, now come along.” Once again, Mrs. Millers had made her way to the exit before Diana could do as much as breathe. She blew a long breath through her nose, placed her suitcase beside the bed, and followed behind her.

“Good morning, My Lord,” Mrs. Millers's voice sounded from the door beside Diana’s new room. A little hesitant, Diana entered.

Mrs. Millers had gotten to the bed, already taking off its sheets for washing. Taking another step, Diana froze as her eyes fell on the young man she would be serving from this day forward.

Young man. Not a child. Far from a child.

Again, Rune chuckled.

You think this is funny?

Rune continued to chuckle. I have to admit that I am amused.

The young man—Sylvester, Diana remembered—glanced up at her from the book he had been reading, his gray eyes locking with hers briefly. His features were completely void of any emotion. It was impossible to tell what he might have thought of her.

Somewhere at the back of her mind, she acknowledged Mrs. Millers's talking, but not a single word registered. Sylvester placed the book down as he stood. His posture screamed his status and how he was more than aware of it. He was sharply dressed, not a single deep chestnut strand of long hair out of place, and as he walked only a soft thud could be heard if she paid close attention. Everything about him demanded respect, which left a nasty taste on her tongue, one that overtook the sourness from before.

“And you are?” Proper. Polite? She almost called it that, simply for the way he had said it. There was also a hint of a threat if the demand was not fulfilled.

“You may call me Diana, My Lord,” she said, offering a courtesy. “I’ll be your personal maid once Mrs. Millers retires from the position.”

He continued to watch her as she rose. She offered a smile, tilting her head slightly when the silence stretched on. Even Mrs. Millers had decided to refrain from speaking until she would actually be heard. It troubled Diana ever so slightly.

After another second of nothing, Diana raised her brow. “And . . . who do I have the pleasure of serving?”

His brows furrowed. “Do you not know who I am?”

Arrogant, Rune huffed.

I know.

“Mrs. Millers has been very tight-lipped on those details indeed.” Diana glanced around him at the older woman, who had started humming to herself as if neither of them were there. “I was only informed that the Duke’s son was in need of a new maid. I only just learned that I was to serve as a personal maid.”

“I see,” he mumbled to himself, shooting a glare over his shoulder at Mrs. Millers who deliberately turned her back on him. “She did mention you weren’t from around here. I suppose whether you know my name or not doesn’t matter either way.”

Diana shook her head, taken aback by his response and gaping after him as he turned back to his desk to resume his reading.

“Come now, dear, we don’t have all day,” Mrs. Millers called, snapping her attention back to the tasks at hand. As she helped Mrs. Millers, she didn’t miss the disappointed sigh that she breathed, nor the disapproving glare that she shot Sylvester. Diana could have sworn she even saw that collected composure crack for a split second as Mrs. Millers returned a second novel that occupied his desk with a little more force than necessary. He had flinched. Only a tiny bit, but it was the tiniest opening Diana needed to be aware of.

This could become interesting.

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