Thessiaday, 27th of Greengrow, 3830 AR

Duchy of Calyne


            When night came the palace and its grounds would all became real.
            Until then, it was just covered in darkness unnaturally for a small lords’ lands worth of space, several miles of once fertile farmland, caught in the first moment of the night before sunset when it repeated its long, unpleasant night.
            Veyd was wearing a dress for the evening staring down the hillside at the permanent ball of darkness that was Lady Anne Fladd’s land.
            It was black was black, the sleeves a kind of mesh material, tight at the center almost like a corset reaching down to the ankles where the tops of heavy, black boots with buckles on them. It had several layers, the bottom a thick, serious black, the top a lighter one, all matching her hair, her eyes the same light bright blue Alan Veyd had. If she had bothered with gems she would have made them sapphires to match.
            “Alright,” said Veyd. “Time to risk, life, limb and soul to crash a never ending dinner party impersonating a noblewoman in order to destroy a centuries old curse. Good times.”
            “You seem awfully calm about this,” said Danica as she approached from behind.
            “I’m really not,” said Veyd and she wasn’t lying. Twenty-eighth time is the charm, she thought. Either I’ll win or this time they’ll time they’ll manage to kill me.
            Danica stopped beside her, her long, curly dark hair elegantly hanging down behind her ending right above where her hands were clasped behind her. The dress was style the same as Veyd’s, the same from almost a hundred years past, with dark purple underneath and lighter purple on the top, the various shades of similar color fashionable during that age. They both had the boots that were in some wondrous purgatory between fashionable and useful.
            They were the only things that were off in her outfit but then again it was raining down there. And I’m going to need to be able to run.
            “I still can’t believe you followed me here,” said Veyd.
            She had snuck up to her in the night three days ago, having used scrying magic the whole time she was gone, appearing above her and getting a hair’s width from getting shot.
            Veyd had shrieked, almost fired her gun right into her face, and took a deep quick breath before doing it. “What the fuck, Danica!” she cried. “You almost made me crap myself!”
            “You little bitch,” Danica had replied. “You’re off to save the Blue Woman.” She pushed the gun aside, knelt down and said, “I ought to punch you right in your sneaky white face, you line jumping whack job.”
            The Blue Woman was a name given to Danene Talias Roster by the locals of her homeland, blue being the royal color of Calyne.
            A line jumper was a transgendered individual who managed to cross the gender line in some manner beyond typical surgery managing a total change of DNA, often by magical gender or body swapping spells, ideally with a willing partner or an artificial body that never had a soul which was Veyd’s case.
            A whack job was someone who very much acted like a complete lunatic prone to troublemaking shenanigans that could be anywhere from annoying a neighbor to accidentally setting of a nuke.
            “I’m going with you,” Danica told her.
            “Yay, great,” Veyd replied.    So now Veyd had to involve her in this nightmare. She wasn’t upset, she enjoyed her company and could use a magician, but she greatly feared having her blood on her hands.
            “The Blue Woman is in there, somewhere, isn’t she?” asked Danica as the two stood there on the hill looking through the trees at the unnatural darkness there.
            “Oh yeah,” said Veyd. “I never found her but that was rather hard being chased by the guards and—Them.”
            “Them?” She frowned. “You never mentioned a Them.”
            Veyd really didn’t want to tell her about Them but it didn’t look like she had much choice. “You ever heard the Family?”
            “You’re fucking kidding me!” cried Danica. “Which ones?”
            “Uhhhh—” she shrugged “—all of Them—”
            “All of Them?” Danica’s eyes bulged. “You didn’t think to mention this at all?”
            “Look, I’m not joking when I say don’t leave the main palace. Man will probably be the one to come after me, if I’m lucky and I think I am in this case, but the others will come after you.”
            “How is that lucky for you exactly?”
            “Man likes to fight and use weapons, usually creative melee types. He’s not easy but he’s unsubtle. If we both go out there they may all gang up on us.”
            “They’re supposed to be on Namador!”
            “They’re not actually part of our realm,” said Veyd. “They’re from the outer place where the gods come from and they go wherever the Watchman has little control.”
            The Watchman was a common name for the snake-like dragon god of the same cultural race as dark skinned people who was job who guarded the entrance and exit of the realm and keep all the unnatural creatures who would roam into the world and devour it.
            Man, Woman, Boy and Girl, who sometimes called themselves the Family, were creatures that slipped in from time to time in places, such as the center point of the pillar, where the Watchman’s normally airtight control was vastly weakened.
            Danica did not look pleased. “You’ll die fighting them.”
            “I’m not fighting them. They cannot die. I was blew Man’s head to pieces. The fucker came back in a few hours.”
            “You’re joking.”
            Veyd really wasn’t. Alan Veyd had met all four of them at some point or another, and all four of them were very dangerous. Even mother, the professed “thinker” of the group, had gotten within a hair’s width of ripping off his right arm.
            Alan Veyd had shot in her the head as she grabbed a hold of it in both hands and she instead only badly dislocated it instead of tearing it right off.
            “You really think you can manage to fool these people?”
            “For like five minutes, yeah, why not? I’m white Cousin Ellen Fladd’s granddaughter. She had lands in Calyne and she’s dead in that time period and no one knows anything about her. Yay for intellect and good planning.”
            It wasn’t an intense plan, really. The plan was not to stay and eat dinner in a long and convoluted plan with the factual minutia of detail known to each and every lord. It was just get into the door passed the fortress exterior and enter the courtyard and start snooping around.
            Danica rubbed the bridge of her nose and sighed. “Do you know how many white aristocratic houses are in Calyne?”
            “I never said it was going to be an easy sell—”
            “You damn well implied!” Danica cried. “Look, genius, there’s three white aristocratic families in Calyne then as now, if that, and they are all branches of the same family, the Fladds of Greenwood. Since there is only one white family, all blond and red haired by the way, they’re probably going to know you’re lying.”
            “Goddamn it, I just lost my red hair!” Veyd replied. “Say, don’t all white people look the same to your aristocrats. They only see mirrors.”
            “You’ll fool most because they really don’t care but Anne Fladd was reputed as a court nightmare and you will not fool her. She comes from mixed blood anyway, her father was white and one of the main branch families in the north, and years of being mocked and humiliated had made her very calculating.”
            Veyd had noticed that and if it wasn’t for Anne Fladd she would have made it passed the door a dozen times. If she hadn’t been there the whole dinner party scenario would have been able to be dodged a whole lot easier. “Do you think you will somehow be better at this than me?”
            “Uhhhhh yeah, I think so. I am actually an aristocrat in this body, for one, and I can borrow Sarah Lanor’s identity because she’s my grandaunt, from a distant part of the duchy only few know intimately and I look a lot like her. Her father was also invited, didn’t make it, and she is about my age right now. I’m going to tell them that my father was held back by business but my mother was visiting friends in the area and decided I should get better acquainted with the ladies of the duchy and they’ll believe it.”
            “I guess you were reincarnated for a good reason,” said Veyd. “And I will be—”
            “You get to be my plus one. You’re now a low ranking aristocrat from Keldor trying to gain favor from the Lanors. Your father was one of father’s friends, a lower lord in his service in the military, and he’s trying to gain favor in Calyne to work your way into the court. Nobody cares about Keldorians so you should be fine.”
            “Awesome and degrading.”
            Veyd looked into the darkness where, in the distance, the lights of the house began to flicker on as the dark outside began to match the dark inside. When the darkness did the lights would turn on for real and the vehicles in the rain, frozen before, would start moving forward.
            There was no way to get into that until it started moving. The rain drops were like steel balls in the sky and there was no way through them until they became water again. Getting inside in anyway would just end with being forcibly teleported back out anyway as was the event of being caught in morning several times experienced personally by Alan Veyd.
            But not things Veyd had noticed. Alan Veyd had dropped a pistol once and that pistol had been there when Alan had come back a few nights later which gave plan to a new idea Jessica Veyd was going to capitalize on.
            Once he tried leaving notes but they only served to disturb the guests and Anne greatly so she didn’t. After twenty seven attempts she had little belief she could motivate them out of their patterns as they seemed unable to escape them without the use of violence.
            “By the way,” said Danica awkwardly, “I just talked to my cousin.” She swallowed. “The Goblin got out.”
            “Oh that’s great fucking news,” said Veyd unhappily. She knew the instant Emma Roster fell onto her lap she was never going to pull off her quest quietly. If the Goblin knew what she was up to the Gray Queen would too. “Any more good news?”
            “An average looking female security guard let him out after killing several people. A pretty waitress claimed to be her—”
            “Oh great, Wyienne! There goes any doubts I have.” She sighed. “Look, I’m a little girl now, so I might be able to get in without—”
            “No,” said Danica and grabbed her shoulder and made her face her. “Look at me.” Veyd raised her bright blue eyes into her black ones. “You can’t do this alone. Danene Talias Roster is my people’s princess, in everything but name, and it is my people’s duty to break this. I’m here for a reason.”
            “I suppose,” said Veyd and her eyes narrowed. “Maybe.” It made sense but the world wasn’t also balanced. Then again, the Walrus liked poetic things like that—
            “If you try to run off and do this alone I’ll break your arms.”
            “You seem tense,” said Veyd.
            “I had to sneak out of the house. My family has got people hunting for me everywhere and I’ll be grounded for eternity and a day when they finally find me.”
            “Ha!” Veyd laughed. “I created my own guardian. I have a feeling he’ll be lenient.”
            Danica frowned and asked, “What is your plan, exactly?”
            “Oh it’s easy,” she replied. “I’m going to go kill the source of this anomaly with Talia’s light. I never had that before and if I find it, it’s dead, and I’ll free another part of the pillar, the part with your princess.”
            Veyd had no idea where the girl was or how she was connected to the ritual but she knew that destroying the pillar would free her.
            “What is the source, exactly?” asked Danica.
            “Hopefully a person. From what I understand it’s a ‘heart’ of the pillar.” She took a deep breath of air and felt the smell of that rainy world one hundred years past come wafting up at her. “You need to stay in the dining area and keep the guests from wandering out. Girl will find a way to turn the guards on me so try to keep them from suspecting me. I can’t find this heart while being attacked by a small army.”
            That army was primarily the most problematic of what occurred every time. Alan Veyd had never, not once, found a way to slip through the front door. Breaking into that fortress was not the world’s biggest challenge for a gadgeteer such as himself but not being noticed afterward was. Cameras, motion detectors, retinal scanners: the place was like a bank vault.
            And every time she went there she was found before the courtyard and chased out into it by either the guards or the Family, often because Woman was in her own security room somewhere watching him and would alert the security guards if she found Alan. If he could Man would lock Alan in one of the various buildings and try and kill him with one of the various “toys” he came up with which in one case was an extended chainsaw. Another was a car with blades on the front, the one that got closest to killing him.
            It was somewhat poetic that Alan Veyd would survive such encounters in one piece only to end up cut to pieces by his friends and de facto family.
            “You look strange.”
            “Yeah, uh, whatever.” Veyd laughed and tried to rub her eyes but Danica caught her hand. “What, oh, makeup.” Veyd turned from her and watched as the bubble popped and rain powered in that one area of the world again. “It’s time.”
            “What are we going to do, exactly?” asked Danica.
            Veyd hadn’t told her much because Veyd wasn’t entirely sure. “We’re going to be two little disobedient girls who left their retainers and guardians to get to the dinner party ahead of the others.”
            “That’s not what I meant.”
            “You got your job, I’ve got mine. Out of the two, yours is the better. Trust me.”
            “What are you going to do?”
            “Hunt,” she replied. “I’ve searched a shockingly large portion of the buildings here. I still don’t know which one has the girl or the heart but now that I have Talia’s light I think I’ll be able to find it.”
            “Jessica,” said Danica softly as she pulled her hood up.
            “How does the Family react to magic?”
            “I think they’re immune,” said Veyd. “You’ll have to enchant the ground or something in your hand or yourself or whatever to harm them. I never used magic on them but they’re a pretty durable bunch.”
            “What happens at the dinner party if you take too long?” she asked.
            “Something slaughters them all,” Veyd told her. “I don’t know what it is but it’s not the Family. It happens somewhere between one and three.”
            “One and three?”
            “At one o’clock they were okay and three o’clock they were all dead. Torn to pieces.” Veyd shrugged. “I think I know where the heart is but I’ve got an idea. You should get out of there about one if I’m not finished.”
            “Sounds like you got this all planned out perfectly,” she said sarcastically.
            “I thought so,” she replied happily as she buttoned up her jacket. She pulled up her hood and gave her, her best smile.
            “Creepy seeing that on that pretty little girl’s face.”
            Something about that made Veyd smile even wider.

*          *          *

            “Not fun!” hissed Danica.
            “It’s kind of fun,” Veyd replied.
            “It’s a freezing autumn rain and Sarah Lanor doesn’t have any magic!” hissed Danica as the two went up the steps to the doors. “This was the stupidest idea you ever had.” They both looked up at the door and Danica’s jaw dropped.
            Two guard stood on either side of the door, men in dark maroon and yellow plated armor, the color of House of Fladd, their helmeted faces showing nothing behind it.
            “I am Lady Sarah Lanor,” Danica told them in a near perfect imitation of the Emily Lanor’s accent. “My idiot friend decided to leave our entourage and now we’re soaked and freezing.”
            One of them stepped forward with a scanner moving over her face and eyes.
            “Don’t bother,” Danica told him. “My father told Lady Anne we wouldn’t make it but my mother ended up in this part of county at a random stop on our airship and he decided I should get better acquainted to Lady Anne and the higher ladies of Calyne. Will the Lady Danene be here?”
            They looked at each other, shrugged, and took a picture of her face. They checked the database and matched her picture with Sarah’s in the database.
            I remember these guys, said Veyd. One of these assholes tried to shoot me when I claimed I was an Asherman. They also tried to shoot me when I claimed a failed priest turned engineer and that one wasn’t even a lie. Veyd laughed.
            They looked at her.
            “I was just thinking of something funny—” A hand pulled her half-roughly back and a woman stood over her looking down coldly. She was an elegant woman with a red fur lined coat, dark, heavily curly hair and narrow, sexy eyes. Veyd’s remaining male persona at the back of her mind sensed that woman as a sexual creature, built for it too, curvy, sensual, tight bodied, with large breasts and hips, nylon legs sticking out of a skirt with tall subtly, but not obviously, man stomping kind of fashion boots. “Looky here,” said Veyd. “If it isn’t the county’s most eligible lady.”
            Good gods, did she treat Alan Veyd like shit. She found him unattractive, low born, and very, very much beneath her notice. Veyd could still feel the imprint the twenty or more times she slapped him which occurred even when Alan Veyd had tried to save her from whatever it was that would kill her in the early morning hours.
            Every court had a woman like her: one with the looks, charisma and birth to take her far but a spoiled, mean personality that just kept her short of the higher positions. She was just a low enough in the high birth area to make that higher place not an automatic and to very much be in competition with other beautiful, and more likable, ladies.
            Veyd was deeply amused to see her glances at the two little girls with jealousy and unsubtle dislike which was pretty much how she would view any younger, pretty girl.
            “Lady Joselyn Corro,” said Veyd and she curtsied.
            “And you are?”
            “My name is Lady Sarah Lanor,” said Danica instantly and Joselyn’s eyes narrowed with dislike and jealously: Sarah Lanor was an elder daughter, the inheritor of one of the great Lanor properties, and might actually still be holding it, and with her beauty and birth would be a sure in for the court as one of the royal ladies personal entourage. “This is my companion, Lady Barbara Brunah, the daughter of my father’s favorite commander.”
            Bitch, thought Veyd. That’s worse than Brenda.
            “I can see why she ended up here.”
            “Really?” replied Veyd. “I didn’t think this was a bad position at all. I mean, I could have just ended up working for some aging social climber going to a meeting trying to claw her way to court but I suppose the elder daughter of the greatest bloodline house of Calyne is a fine substitute.”
            There was an awkward moment before both guards started snickering. Josleyn frowned at them, stopping their snickering in an instant, and then grabbed their scanner, moved it over her face, then shoved it back into their arms. They both bowed as the large bronze doors opened widely for her to enter.
            “You shouldn’t have made her angry,” said Danica softly.
            “Anger is her natural state of mind,” Veyd replied. “That’s the way women like her get when their breasts start to hang down around their ankles—”
            “I heard that!” Jocelyn hissed.
            “It was her,” said Veyd with a point at Danica.
            “No it wasn’t,” said Jocelyn.
            “Okay, you got me. What are you going to do about it, Grandma?”
            “I’m twenty seven.”
            “Really? Wow, that’s rough, but there’s still time. I’m sure some elderly man will deem you worthy of marriage when he finally turns eighty and has to downgrade—”
            Both were guards were snickering again.                   
            “I swear to the gods I’m going to make you pay.”
            “I’m just joking with you, Lady Jocelyn,” said Veyd.
            “Your friendships with the Lanors will not protect you forever,” said Jocelyn and she turned around and walked on, her head held high and dignified.
            “You can enter,” said one of the guards who was given the okay through Anne Fladd’s steward.
            “I think she likes me,” said Veyd.
            Veyd was scanned into the system for the first time ever, able to walk through their security checkpoints without alerting the entire property, and started down the dark hallway.
            As the servants took their jackets Jocelyn outdistanced them. Her servants, a man, and couple of girls she very much disliked and mistreated, had entered in the service entrance which was not as easy a place to sneak in as one might think. Veyd remembered them well, an older man who was the family servant, and two young girls who were cousins both of whom had surprisingly superior marital prospects.
            At least in the time period all that was going on.
            If I had been black I might have been able to pull it off, Veyd thought. Alan Veyd had simply stuck out too much.
            That and Alan Veyd wasn’t the solar system’s greatest actor and Anne Fladd could spot a fraud a mile away.
            Just couldn’t keep my mouth shut—
            Danica grabbed her arm as they walked suddenly almost terrified. “What is with this place?” she asked. “The lights are all on but the place should be lit like crazy. This isn’t natural and there is no magical effect anywhere!”
            “Yeah, it’s not entirely in our realm exactly. The lights are doing funny things, might have noticed, and oddly weak. Everything but the people aren’t as intense or strong as they should be. A candle has like a quarter foot radius.”
            The long red and yellow hallway seemed to stretch on forever, the paintings distorted, and, Danica finally noticed, moving as well. “Can any of these people even see those?” The paintings’ eyes were moving to look at them. Whether there was something in the paintings that was alive Veyd could not say but she suspected there was: probably lesser outer world beings taking advantages of the Watchman’s weakened control and taken possession of something inanimate since they couldn’t form bodies unlike the Family who were considerably more powerful.
            “I don’t think so. Nobody whose trapped here flips out unless, maybe, they are the ones who massacre each other.” The idea had crossed her mind several times: all the guards, servants, and guests killed in the same room with no doors broken open, no broken windows even except where someone’s head went flying into it. “Of course, the thing in the well might have something to do with it.”
            “What’s that?”
            “A child of Ardark I’m told—”
            “A giant fucking spider! You’re joking!”
            “It’s the kind of dick thing he would do for a laugh,” Veyd replied uncomfortably. The one experience Alan Veyd had with the demon-god Ardark in its spider form had been a less than pleasant one and Jessica Veyd did not one to think about that at all.
            “What aren’t you telling me?”
            “How much I hate the name Barbara.”
            “I’m going to call you Babs!” hissed Danica. “I’m going to call you Babs because it lacks the seriousness this situation requires of you!”
            “You’re so serious, Danica.”
            “Just tell me what you’re aren’t telling me, bitch!”
            “There’s nothing I’m not telling you,” she replied. “I came in twenty seven times and went guns blazing through every corner of this place that I could get to. I’m going to use Talia’s Light this time to get a better look but I’m going to be honest here, I might end up making some noise when I start this. The Family is going to freak out when they see my eyes glow so if you have to run, run back down the road and use magic to move quicker and possibly through the air. The pillar’s curse starts to creep into the palace wherever Anne is and Boy is sometimes out there on the road putting up traps.”
            “Why would he do that when no one uses the road?”
            The dim light of the dining room confronted them as they went forward, a room looking like a film roll that had the light turned way down. “Because I use it,” she replied and they stepped out into the light.
            The long red dining table with its mix of yellow, more Fladd colors, and large paintings on the dull beige walls, all confronted them along with guests standing around. At its head was Anne Fladd whose eyes locked on Danica as the more interesting, and higher class person of the two. As the servant called out their names Veyd barely noticed and looked up at the matriarch of the Calynian branch of the House of Fladd with wonder.
            Anne Fladd was half black because her father was white and a full blooded member of the white Fladds of Greenwood who given the Fladd’s their first biological connection to the lands they owned in Calyne and a son to inherit them which he had. His descendants still had them, except the one in the center of his pillar, where his sister, unchanged, had lived out the same night every night for almost seventy years. She was, on that night, still a beautiful woman in her early seventies wearing a fantastic bright yellow dress with golden necklaces and earrings topped with yellow gems of various, opulent, sizes with red underneath, the yellow being designated as the “female” half of House of Fladd.
            She stared down at Veyd with an unreadable expression that was identical to the one she had before. Then, just for a moment, Veyd saw her eyes narrow and felt almost certain she remembered.
            She looked up and saw the date on a sign above the entrance into the entertainment area: 3766.
            Sixty-four years ago, Veyd thought.
            “Greetings Lady Sarah, Lady Barbara. Welcome to my home.”
            Veyd curtsied low while Danica curtsied only slightly, a polite curtsy from a higher ranked lady, and then when Veyd looked up and saw that look of recognition was gone from her and focused on Danica.
            “We are most honored,” said Sarah.
            “That wasn’t what you said last time,” Anne replied.
            “I don’t remember what I said last time,” Danica told her.
            “You were very young,” Anne told her and her eyes narrowed. She knew, Veyd was certain she knew something of the truth, but she didn’t seem to believe it exactly or didn’t want to risk an insult to the Lanor’s on a hunch.
            “We shall begin soon,” said Anne and gestured to the entertainment room. “Wait in the entertainment room.”

*          *          *

            It took what felt like forever to be seated like it always did.
            Veyd’s patience before a battle was never very high and every second that passed let the Family get close to doing something mean. Veyd wanted everyone where she could find them, not following her as guests sometimes did, when she made her move.
            Alan Veyd was many things but boring wasn’t one of them. The courtiers would follow him for no better reason than in hope for him to do something interesting which he never failed to do.
            “This food tastes like cardboard and the wine tastes like water,” whispered Danica.
            “Yeah, the Great Alchemist is weak here too. Everything is.” The Great Alchemist was the dragon god of reactionary elements, the grandsire of the dragons found in the societies of the sultan and the great peoples of the desert. He was why food tastes the way it does when cooked or not, wine when it ferments, the sparks created from flint to create fire; basically the entire chemistry chart. An early word for basic alchemy was Dragonomy for that very reason. “Interesting that—”
            The name “Dannell Fladd” was suddenly announced.
            “Nephew,” said Anne in a less than pleased voice. “I’m surprised to see you here.” Ergo, you weren’t invited. “I’m certain Lady Danese will be pleased to see you.” The last was definitely meant as ironic.
            Veyd and Danica stared at each other for a long moment then turned to the hall where they entered.
            The figure stood in the doorway was wearing a fantastic black tuxedo, the lower body just in the light with gloves covering his hands. The hands opened and closed for a moment, standing there like a horror movie character, and then he stepped out.
            Veyd saw a man, a man he had once been, a long time ago. He was an average to handsome looking sort, his hair buzzed short, darker skinned than Anne as he was only one fourth of a Greenwood Fladd.
            But Veyd wasn’t fooled into thinking he was cured just for stepping in there. She saw the chain that no doubt led to the amulet around his neck.
            What he done to be the Goblin was not clear to Veyd. He was part of this, that much was for sure, and what he knew of it, well, that was a mystery too. No one really knew what the Gray Queen had done to that place and the Gray Queen either did not tell, had people who would not talk, or killed anyone else who knew.
            “Goblin,” she called out and he looked at her with wide suddenly angry eyes. “I remember what it was now,” she told Danica. “It was a goblin that did in old Uncle Flynn. He was caught in the gardens in his sunset years when all of a sudden he was attacked by a goblin.”
            Veyd, stood up, put her hands behind her back and faced the Goblin as he stepped up to her. “Where, oh where, have we met before? I’m sure we have, somewhere, don’t you think?”
            “Another time perhaps,” he told her as he walked up to her and held out his hand. She gave him her left hand and he lifted it up, kissed it, and looked into her eyes. There were dark promises in them. “Where is she?” he whispered. “I know she’s here so where is she?”
            “I really don’t know,” Veyd replied. Danene had, as far as Veyd knew, never shown up to the party. Trapped her own purgatory as Veyd once had been or maybe just trapped there in some secret place Veyd had never found. Veyd shrugged at him and whispered, “She’s here somewhere.”
            “What are you two whispering about?”
            The Goblin’s eyes stared into Veyd’s eyes and Veyd tightened the grip on the steak knife she had in her right hand behind her back.
            “Nothing,” said the Goblin and he stood up. “Nothing at all.” He stepped around the dinner table and went to his place. He took a drink of wine, grimaced, and put it down. “Hello aunt,” she said.
            “Hello nephew,” she replied.
            They sat down and the Goblin stared at Veyd for several moments. “Why are you looking at me like that, Lord Fladd?” she asked. “It’s almost like I made a great fool of you and cost you something dearly.”
            “Did I miss something, nephew?” asked Anne.
            “You did not,” said Veyd and she stood up. “I need a moment to powder my nose.”
            The Goblin instantly stated, “She needs an escort. A young woman should be not wander alone through a great manor home such as this.”
            Anne looked at Veyd and her face twitched notably. Danica and the Goblin noticed but no one else did or they all did but somehow saw nothing wrong with it. Anne’s face built up sweat, her lips pulling back, her eyes narrowing.
            “No,” Anne blurted out suddenly and she looked at her twitching hand in its red gloves and then looked up. She looked at Veyd. “Its fine,” she said in an almost feral way. “It’s just fine.”
            Veyd turned to the Goblin. “Do not follow me.” She smiled and said softly, “I’m too young. Even for you.”
            Danene Roster was only fifteen.
            The Goblin nodded and pulled his lips back over his teeth. “I’ll see you soon, Alan.”
            Veyd curtsied low and said, “I know.” She turned around, went out through the side door, and then moved on instinct through the house.

*          *          *

            Danica turned and faced the Goblin who was standing up slowly.
            “Are we going to have problems tonight, Ms. Pare?”
            Danica looked up at him and said, “One of us definitely is.”
            “Just like old times, eh,” he replied.
            “Yes,” she replied softly.
            The name “Alan” and “Pare” did not seem to register with the people there who stood silently as if waiting for the grim reaper who had not yet claimed in the sixty four years they had been standing there.

*          *          *

            Veyd snagged her jacket from the servant’s area, none of them were there since they were helping at the party, slipped around into the library and started toward the door to the courtyard.
            The library was twitching at her with this out worldly forces, a tall, dark room with rows of book shelfs in on long hall rising up above her, the right side with huge windows set between the shelves, rain powering down onto them, and things, perhaps, roaming out there in the darkness.
            They were out there, the Family, waiting for her. They had been waiting for over fifty years, she was sure. They did not like be thwarted and Veyd had thwarted them all.
            She moved into a small janitor’s closet near the door to the courtyard, threw open the door, and saw everything right where Alan Veyd had left.
            She tightened her jacket around herself, tied the belt around her waist to keep it there. She took a deep breath, slipped on her gloves, and opened and closed her hands.
            She lifted up the sealed suitcase and began to put together her lightweight tactical shotgun. She placed it on the table when she was done, put the box of shells down beside it, and found it surprisingly easy to lift for a thirteen year old girl.
            She went through the trouble to make sure she was physically fit and did a fantastic job. Every muscle on her body could be seen, a gymnast sort of physicality, since she decided her best bet was to be limber and fast.
            Alan Veyd, who had survived several encounters with beings who had killed many a greater man, had never been strong. His father had called him a sissy and cast him out of his home into the priesthood while his mother had cursed the gods she should have a son with a daughter’s physique always lamenting that he should have been born a girl.
            “Jokes on you, I’ve been born a girl now!” cried Veyd as she clipped on her survival blade. She then loaded her shotgun until a “7” appeared on the little monitor at the back and she made sure the silencer was on there too so that when she fired it would be ghost quiet.
            Somewhere, she heard the high pitched squeaky laugh of Boy or Girl somewhere nearby. They were similar in their apparent ages and voices so it was hard to tell.
            “Shit,” said Veyd. “Shit, shit, shit!” She threw the gun over her shoulder, the strap as well as the gun filled with shells, and she clipped her pistol with its extended magazine in its holster at her side.
            Alan Veyd had been into the courtyard several times and in her experience the best weapon was a shotgun. Bullets made holes and the things kept coming but a shotgun tore chunks out of things, like the face, and took out the eyes which really irritated her enemies. Shotguns were better for limbs and appendages, capable of taken most or all fingers if properly connecting.
            The downsize made the enemy really angry.
            “Alan,” called Girl in her high pitched, amused voice. “Where arrrrrrre you?” She giggled at him like she had discovered something really funny but couldn’t keep to herself, try as she must.
            “I’m coming, girlfriend,” Veyd replied and she turned around, stepped out the door to the courtyard from the library, and held her shotgun in her hand. “What the hell was it again those sick Family fucks called this place?”

*          *          *

            “You don’t seem afraid.” The Goblin gestured to the guests around him, all staring wide eyed at them and none of them, not even Anne, said a word. “They won’t help you.”
            “I’m not afraid of you, Donnell, and I don’t need your help,” she replied.
            “You afraid of her?”
            Danica turned her head over her shoulder and saw the woman in darkness, an average looking woman in the uniform of a security guard, standing just at the edge of light with her face covered in darkness.
            “Oh gods,” she whispered at the sight of her. “Oh fucking dear gods.” She stood up, back to the Goblin, her hands on fire. “You stay away from me!”
            The creature in the shadows seemed to be smiling. “I would never hurt you, Danica,” it told her with a rather creepy yet somehow normal voice.
            The answer was yes: Danica Pare was absolutely terrified of the thing that stood there.

*          *          *

            “I remember now,” Veyd said and she unlocked the door and pushed it out widely.
            She stared down into the very dark, very rainy, courtyard. It was a familiar place, exactly the same, right down to the minutest detail nearly seventy years passed, and said exactly what was on her mind.
            “Welcome,” she called out in a mocking imitation of Man. “Welcome to the Splatter House.”
            She readied her shotgun and started forward.



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