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In Which I Become Acquainted With a Psychopath or Two
The ballroom was stifling, but I wasn’t sure if it was because of the grand fireplace or the company my father kept. It seemed that all of them were smoking pipes or thick, brown cigars and sweating like pigs.
It was most certainly the company he kept.
I wrinkled my freckled nose at the smell and sunk further against the silk chaise I was sitting on. Parties always made me queasy and nervous. I loved to wear the large party gowns my seamstress made, but I hated the parties in general.
If not for the smell and company, then for Roster Stuart.
“And if Madam Rose doesn’t accept my offer, then the building will be torn down!” He babbled, “I would hate for such a beautiful house to go to waste. Don’t you agree, Miss Feraus?” He took a long drag from his cigar, sharp cheekbones more cutting when he sucked in the smoke.
“I wouldn’t know, Mr. Stuart,” I said flatly.
It’s not that Roster wasn’t handsome; he was. Very much so. But, as alluring as he was, his forward nature repelled me.
He smiled lazily at me, “Aw, Sapphire,” he curled his index finger around one of my golden curls and leaned toward me. The putrid smell of cigar smoke sickened me and I leaned as far from him as possible, “just relax. I’m an old family friend. Remember?”
“It’s impossible to forget,” I replied.
He grinned wickedly, “You know, I’ve been meaning to have a word with your father.”
“Oh?” I grabbed my hair and tugged it from his fingers, “well I don’t much care, Roster. Not one bit.”
His eyes flashed, “Would you care if it concerned you?”
I straightened, my shoulder nearly jabbing him in the eye, “No.”
I knew what he was talking about; a courtship proposal. My father expected it and so did I, but we took it in very different ways. My father grinned secretly each time Roster visited, but I merely acted as though he was beneath me.
Which he was.
Hopefully, Mother felt the same.
“Sapphire,” he adjusted my puffed sleeve slightly, “you'll have to find someone someday. I’ll have that house snatched up near nightfall! I’ll be fully able to provide for you and any other… surprises you decide to produce.”
I felt my blood boil, and I stood abruptly, face tight with anger, “Well, I’ll have you know that my father already has a match in mind.”
He chuckled, “Oh, I know he does.”
I sniffed in annoyance, “Then you’ll have to excuse me, Mr. Stuart.”
With that, I stalked away angrily, hair sashaying behind me. I had a mind to march straight to my father and inform him of my wish to be rid of that pig when someone grabbed my arm from behind.
I turned, expecting it to be Roster, but a man near my age of twenty with dark hair to his chin and bright emerald eyes stared at me.
“I’d recognize those honey eyes anywhere!” He announced, taking my palm and cradling it in both of his, “you look just like your father!”
I smiled in confusion, “Thank you, I’m told that quite often. Uhm, I apologize, but do I know you?”
He tipped his head back and laughed, “Oh, I would suppose not!”
I laughed awkwardly, “Do you mind me asking what is so amusing, Sir?”
He garnered his bearings and grinned widely at me, “Sapphire, I assume?” He asked, tipping his green top hat at me and ignoring my question.
I bowed my head in greeting, “Yes.”
His smile broadened, and he looped his arm through mine. A familiar gesture that baffled me even further. Perhaps he was a friend of Father?
“Back to your question, my dear,” I winced at the warmth in his tone; it unnerved me. What if he was a suitor? The very thought made me want to tug my arm from his grasp. “I find it amusing because⎯”
He was cut short by Roster, who wrenched me from the gentleman’s grip like I belonged to him. Perhaps the young man wouldn’t be so bad, after all. He was certainly better than Roster.
“Sapphire, who is this?” He demanded, pressing me tight against his side.
I squirmed in discomfort as people turned to watch.
The young man didn’t even bat an eye, “A suitor?” He asked me, “how exciting!” He grabbed Roster’s hand and shook it, “I’m Percy Moreios Jones!”
I elbowed Roster away and glared at Mr. Jones, “He is not my suitor!” I hissed, “why would you be so happy to see him, anyway? Who are you?”
He dropped a baffled Roster’s hand and turned to me, “I told you; I’m Percy Moreios Jones!”
I huffed in frustration, no longer caring what the partygoers thought of me. With a swish of my skirts, I strode away, ignoring Roster as he began to walk beside me.
“Who was that?” He asked, taking my arm despite my glare.
“Roster,” I said curtly, “I have every intention of telling my father that you are unfit to work beside him. So I would advise you to leave me in peace so I may give my complaint to him without you present.”
Roster’s steps faded behind me as I took the railing to the stairs and wound my way down a hall. I usually managed to get lost in my family’s house, but the halls seemed to twist in ways I had never experienced before in my angry state. Soon, I was hopelessly turned around.
“Stupid Father and his stupid money,” I hissed, stomping past another smoking room.
“Lost?” A voice echoed from inside.
I stopped short and turned slowly. At first glance, the room had appeared empty, but when I returned to the open door and peeked inside, three people watched me, their backs toward a roaring fire in the fireplace.
“Yes…” I said hesitantly, cheeks coloring, “I constantly get lost here…” I chuckled and folded my hands in front of me. “I’m looking for my father, Henry Ferause.”
The person slightly in front of the two others, a woman in a suit which struck me as odd, grinned slowly, “You’re Sapphire, then?”
I sighed, “Who else knows that?” I whispered under my breath, then louder, “yes, I am.”
She glanced back at her two companions, “I’ll help you, Miss Ferause.”
I smiled wanly, suddenly wary, “Oh. Thank you.”
She made her way over, the light from the fireplace casting her face in darkness until she was right before me. She was tall, with blonde hair tied neatly in a ponytail at the base of her neck. Her brown eyes shone, and I noticed that two dimples neatly complimented her round face. But something wasn’t quite right about her. I could feel it.
I frowned, “Actually,” I said, “I’m sure I can find my own way. I wouldn’t want to put you out.”
I made to retreat, but she grabbed my arm and grinned down at me, “Nonsense. I’d be happy to take you to him. Very happy.”
I was useless against her as she began tugging me down the brightly lit hall, her companions hot on our heels. The pink and silver wallpaper seemed to blur as she took me down bends and past rooms I didn’t recall ever being inside. I tried to tuck my fear and confusion deep inside me, it wouldn’t do for me to begin fighting her without any seeable cause, and pasted on a visage of calm.
“How silly that I had gotten lost,” I remarked, “I recall where I am now, thank you.”
An obvious lie that made her grin grow wider, “I wouldn’t want you to get lost again.” She glanced over her shoulder at the two men and my calm cracked.
“I really insist you leave me,” I said, a bit too loudly for my taste.
She leaned down towards me as I struggled lightly to shake her off, “Duck.” She told me.
I gave her a scathing look, “I demand that you⎯!”
Something bright shot towards me out of the corner of my left eye and the woman shoved me to the ground. Overhead, I heard a snap and turned onto my back to see a chandelier falling straight towards me. I shrieked and covered my head.
“Move!” The woman screamed.
I opened my eyes and saw one of the chandeliers bright diamonds suspended overhead. In fact, the whole thing seemed to be held up by invisible strings.
“I said move!”
I decided to heed her advice and rolled out of the way, only to be thrust to my feet by her companion.
“Mary!” He spat, clasping my arm, “we’re supposed to kill her!”
At the word “kill” my eyes widened, and I struggled violently against him. The woman, Mary, seemed suddenly exhausted and could only manage a few staggering steps to help me before thumping to her knees.
“Listen,” I recall my mother saying, “men think girls like us are too weak to fight back. And that gives us an advantage. We may not carry weapons, but our nails can be deadly.”
I looked down at my well-kept nails and didn’t hesitate to rake them down his cheek. He screamed and pushed me away. I fell, but managed to stumble to my feet and take off running, kicking off my heels as I did so. I always told father they were impractical.
“Get off me!” Mary said, and I turned my head briefly to see her fighting against both men who had given up pursuit.
She could take care of herself, I decided, rounding a bend only to slam into someone.
I looked up at the odd boy in the green top hat and nearly sobbed in relief, “Two men and a woman were attempting to kill me!” I cried, barely registering that he had used my nickname. The one my father only ever used.
He took me by the shoulders and sighed heavily, “Well, then it’s a good thing I’m here. Hm?” I opened my mouth, most likely about to reply with something snarky, but he held a finger up and calmly took my arm, “Shall we?”
“Mr. Jones! We need to get help!” I shook the arm he had looped through mine, but he only started humming, “Mr. Jones!” I repeated.
“Hush, now, Saph.” I groaned in frustration, trying to extract my arm from his, but he kept a tight hold on me, merely saying, “you’ll be safe by my side.”
I highly doubted it, but what was I to do? He didn’t seem in the way of harming me, but he was wiry, not unattractive in that way, but probably awful in a fight. Especially against the big-armed men Mary had been with.
Percy Jones led me all the way to yet another smoking room and gently closed the doors behind us. I shivered at the cold of the room; everything was covered in white sheets and the fireplace was void of kindling. My father closed up many of the rooms in our enormous house, saying we didn’t need them. So why did we buy the house? I shook the thoughts aside and glared at my supposed savior.
“Mr. Jones, I insist you bring me back to the party so we can get some proper help against those people.”
“Little Saph,” he smiled fondly at me, “there’s no one here who values your life more than I do.”
If he was a suitor, then I was very frightened of my father’s taste.
“Now come,” he grabbed my wrist and pulled me to the latched window. After opening it, he looked at me expectantly, “I need you to venture out onto the sill.”
I nearly slapped him, “What!?” My face reddened, and I curled my gloved hands into fists, “you must be insane!”
“I assure you, I am not. Now please do as I say. The Blenton brothers have excellent noses.”
I didn’t comment further, but refused to climb out the window like some drunkard.
He sighed, that smile still touching his lips, and lifted me up by the waist.
I screamed in protest, flailing as he held me out the open window. How he managed to hold me up with such skinny arms was anyone’s guess.
“Release me!” I cried in fear, clutching his arms. I was horrified of heights.
“Grab the ledge, Saph,” he commanded, and I did so more out of fear than anything else. “Now climb over there, to that jut.”
I swallowed, feeling the absence of his arms. Nothing held me up except my own arms and a filthy ledge, but I complied, using my hands to guide me over to the child-sized ridge. Upon reaching it, I pulled myself onto it and tucked myself safely against the wall.
“Good girl,” Percy’s head disappeared from my line of vision and I heard the window close and latch.
I quivered in fear, realizing that he had just locked me out and sentenced me to death. I buried my head in my now filthy glove-covered hands and let the wind tear my hair from its neat ribbon. My feet just rested at the tip of the ledge and I wondered how long it would take for someone to find my body if I fell. Or worse, if I starved to death on that ledge. Trees shrouded my hiding place, and I knew I would probably never be found if I happened to die.
Which I would.
Suddenly, the window, off to my right, swung open and Mary poked her head out to stare at me, “Come on!” She hissed.
With nothing else left to do, I began to crawl on my ledge to her, pink dress being soiled by mud and dirty rain water.
Once I was close enough, she grabbed me by the waist and pulled my body inside. I sobbed in relief and clung to her arm.
“Hush!” She said, “you have to keep quiet!”
That’s when I heard the yelling and bangs in the smoking room I had been snuck inside of.
I shook her arm and began to run towards the door of the spare bedroom, but she stopped me, “He can handle himself!” She snapped, “now wait silently.”
I lapsed into silence, still clutching her. I prayed for the boy in my head and tried to gather my wits about me, starting first by quieting my tears, then pulling away from Mary to sit down on a covered chaise.
The woman began to pace, feet silent against the pink carpet, “All for a girl.” She muttered, casting me a glance.
I hung my head limply, wincing at the sounds of some form of combat next door. I looked up again when I finally had enough gall to ask her what was happening.
“None of your business,” was all she said.
The battle, at least, I assumed it was a battle, finally seemed to end after what felt like hours. I tensed as the sounds stopped and so did Mary, who studied me silently.
Someone pushed open the heavy doors to the bedroom, and I jumped to my feet.
“Sapphire, good.” Percy, looking disheveled and very tired, strode toward Mary. “We can begin.”
“The brothers?” She inquired.
He waved her question aside and turned to my shaking and dirty form, “Try not to scream, Saph.” He grinned and then withdrew a dagger from his left sleeve.
I stumbled backward and screamed.
“Saph! I said not to scream!” As he said this, he waved the dagger overhead in exasperation and I screamed even louder. He turned to his bemused companion, “Mary?”
“Maybe it would help if you explained, Percy,” she said.
“Oh,” he frowned, like her solution made no sense, and returned the dagger to its hiding place. “Hush, now, Saph,” he told me, for I had started to cry earnestly, “I’ll tell you what’s happening and then you won’t be so afraid. Okay?”
I doubted that would help in the slightest, but tried to compose myself to come up with some sort of plan to escape them.
“Okay. I best start with who I am.” I was tempted to say that he was Percy Jones, mocking him, but clamped my mouth shut. He had a dagger, I didn’t want to make him mad. “I know it may sound unbelievable, but I’m very close to your father. In fact, I’m his father.”
I blinked, “You’re crazy, aren’t you?” I squeaked.
His smile dimmed a little, “No. But just pretend what I’m saying is true for one moment. I’m what some people would call ‘immortal’ and so is your father, though he chose a different age to activate that power.” I wanted to laugh, but couldn’t. The poor boy probably believed all this and I didn’t want to mock him. It was really very sad. “Now, I wish I could go into details, but I must finish with one last detail about your lineage; you’re a Mage.”
That time, I did laugh, but it wasn’t mocking, it was disbelieving and somewhat scared.
“She’s mocking you, Percy,” a boy behind him said.
I jumped, wondering how he could have snuck in without my hearing. He was tall, like Mary, but had burnt sienna looking skin and a more oval face.
“Who is this?!” I demanded.
The newly appeared boy smirked, “I’m Byron. Don’t mind Mary; she’s rather vague and mean.”
Suddenly, he morphed into Mary, “I am not!”
I opened my mouth to scream again, but Percy clapped his hand over my lips, “Saph…”
When he removed his hand, I jumped to my feet and backed towards the window, “You’re all insane! Or maybe I’m insane! I’m in a fever dream right now, aren’t I!?”
“No,” Percy said patiently, “Byron and Mary are trapped in the same body.”
“I’m certain I’m in a fever dream!” I babbled, “like my aunt was when she died! Am I dying!”
Byron glanced at Percy, pity clear on his face, “I think we ‘ought to just do it before she can run out of here.”
Before I could react, Percy had me in a tight hold, and Byron was standing in front of me with Percy’s dagger.
“No!” I screamed, “no, this is just a dream! You can’t hurt me!”
Byron seemed to shake a little and Mary took over their body. “You wimp!” She spat, not at me, at her other half, “I’ll do it.”
“Wait!” I protested, “why?”
“Because if we don’t, someone else will,” Percy said. “And we can’t let someone else have control of the most powerful Mage in the world. Now can we?”
With that, Mary adjusted her grip on the knife and plunged it straight into my chest.