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Michael didn’t like Elise’s house. Coming here always freaked him out more than he could explain. There wasn’t anything particularly sinister about her mansion outside the city limits; there wasn’t a cemetery out front, there weren’t dead bodies hanging from the carved wooden beams in the ceiling of the entryway. Perhaps it was the silence. Miles away from the nearest highway or even power lines, the house was quiet in a way that was almost unnatural in the modern world. Even if he had been mortal, the absence of sound in the air would have given him chills.
“Michael,” Elise’s voice called to him. Damn it, he thought. How the Hell does she even do that? “Come.”
He didn’t have to ask where she was. If Elise knew he was here, that meant she’d seen him coming. That meant there was only one place in the great house that she would be. Walking through one corridor and the next, his heavy shoes sounded like canons firing as they hit the hard wooden floorboards. When he reached the library door, he didn’t knock before pushing the door open, careful to balance the object in his hand, lest it fall to the floor and create sheer pandemonium. He entered the great room where she sat, two dogs by her side. Her blind eyes stared forward, unseeing, as he approached the ornate chair. This room was one of his favorites, one in which the silence was broken by the cackle of wood burning in the grand fireplace; the musty smell of books permeated the air, and he took a moment to glance around as he stepped forward, staring in awe, as always, at the antique volumes covering the shelves built into the walls all around him.
When he came within a few feet of the chair, the two dogs growled in unison, their teeth bared at him menacingly. It didn’t take his heightened reflexes to see what was happening clearly enough. He stopped in his tracks, tactfully addressing his hostess. “Lady Elisa,” he said, his accent drawling thickly. The woman before him seemed to examine him, though he knew there was more to it than that, and he waited patiently as usual. As he stood waiting, he took the time to examine Elise herself. She’d grown older in the century and a half since he’d last seen her. This struck him as odd—Elise was one of the oldest immortal beings to still live on this Earth. And yet, he could see the gray streaking her lovely blond hair, easily missed by someone with duller vision, but unmistakable to him. Her skin, once smooth and radiant, had begun to dim, creasing at places on her face and hands.
“Sit down,” she said finally.
He looked around for another chair and sat in one that had appeared behind him in the blink of an eye. He didn’t question it—he knew Elise’s powers were irrefutable.
“Why have you come?” Elise demanded.
“See for yourself,” he said, and handed her the small box that he’d carried for centuries. Elise reached out, not fumbling to find it as she took it into her wrinkled hands. Her fingers moved deftly over it, studying its features as her grey eyes remained fixed on some spot over Michael’s shoulder. After a moment, her face contracted in confusion—a look one didn’t normally see on Elise’s face.
“That’s impossible,” Elise breathed.
“Try it,” Michael challenged, folding his hands together in front of them. Elise hesitated a moment before closing her eyes, an ancient chant falling from her lips as she ran her hands over the small black box he had found and protected for over a thousand years—until today. After only a short moment, Elise’s hands stopped, her eyes flying open.
“But… The mandragora?” she asked, coming to the conclusion slowly.
“That’s right,” he said, confirming probably the worst fear she had ever felt.
“I thought so.” Elise’s voice was almost sorrowful.
“It’s too late,” she said. “We can do nothing.”
Michael was taken aback—whatever he’d expected to hear, it hadn’t been that. Pandora’s little trick box had been his responsibility and he’d screwed up. But that’s why he’d come here. Elise was all powerful, the daughter of a god and an angel. He’d thought that she would be able to stop the inevitable. “Are you sure?”
“Yes,” she said sadly, setting the opened box down on her lap.
Images flashed in his mind: death, war, famine, and pestilence. The four horsemen that had remained sealed and under control in the box since before the pyramids had been built were now free. What could he do? How could he save the world from this plight? The world was already in turmoil, man against man on the edge of total annihilation; one wrong word from either side was all that was needed to spark the fire. And the world would cease to exist. Hell would reign. Now he even knew that the great and powerful Elisa Bellefonte could not stop the apocalypse.
So it would have to be up to him.
Michael took one last glance around the room, taking comfort in the familiarity of it. He highly suspected that he wouldn’t feel this comfortable again for a long while, so he took his time. Then, steeling himself against the images of the dark days ahead, Michael gazed one last time at Lady Elisa, and then he left without looking back.