Chapter Five, The Poisoned Rose

Niniane.

It was a magnificent home. I had been given a room on the second floor. It was round: The stairs led into a round. In the middle was a sunken lounge area: a television stood in the middle, with several pillows and sofas surrounding it. Against the walls, between the doors leading to bath and guest rooms, stood a few bookcases filled to the rim with all sorts of books. My room was somewhere behind those doors, but I had no idea in which Gavin had placed me, nor had I paid mind to it when I left it. I was still gaping at the strange interior of the third floor.

The winding stairs led up to the attic, and down to where Collin had his room, study, bathroom and library. And further down to the first floor where the dining room, kitchen, lounge, tearoom and anteroom and rear room were located. It was a very big house for one boy to live in.

'Forgot which room was yours?' Gavin appeared behind me atop the stairs.

'Am I that obvious or is it a common problem?'

'Only among new residents. The rest of us know where to go?'

'Collin has many guests then?'

'No, but Laura, Gavin, Yvette, Eleanor and me all have a room ready for us here if we need it. And the gods know we come here for shelter often. Being rich nobility does not mean you have a nice family home.'

'So I have come to understand. Thank you for tonight, looking after me like that. And yes, I have forgotten which door leads to my room. I never remembered, to be frank.'

'It is the third to the left. The fourth on your left is your bathroom, may you need it.'

He walked past me and pulled a book from the cases and sat down between the pillows.

'And you are welcome. I hope you hate me less.'

I go sit on the ledge of the sunken lounge. 'I do not hate you, I think.'

'You think?'

'You get my blood boiling sometimes, I give you that, but hate? No, I do not hate you, it would be to tiresome, take too much energy, too much time. Why waste all that on you?'

'Am I that irrelevant to you, that you would not waste time nor energy on me?'

'Are you offended now?'

'Well a little.' He puts down the book, still closed.

'Do not be. Maybe, if I was just another girl, I could afford to waste time or energy on you, but I am not. And on the long list of things I might waste energy on, you are not that high.'

'What kind of girl are you then, that you have such a long list of things to hate. And, on that note, I am not a thing.'

'I am a girl on the run.' I look closely for his reaction.

'I got that part, why else live in an attic hidden somewhere. But from who do you run?'

'No one. I do not run from a who, but a what.'

'Your parents' dead?'

'Christ, is there something Collin has not told you yet?' I stood.

'We do not exactly keep secrets from each other.' He rose as well. 'But did it ever occur to you that maybe, just maybe you carry too much on your own?'

'And you want to take that burden away, is it?' I snapped. 'You want to be the knight in shining armour, the one who makes it all good? Well I have news for you: You cannot! All your money and titles and fine houses cannot make this go away!'

He had crossed the sitting area and grabbed my upper arms and pulled me against him. By the time that he held me I was screaming.

'Can you not tell me, just tell me and you will not have to carry it on your own.'

I wrestled myself out of his grasp. 'If I tell you, you will die.' My voice was steady but I could feel the hot tears run down my face.

He remained silence for a while. 'Then hide here. You cannot stay at a room in a shabby abandoned home. If you will not let me share the burden of your past at least let me hide you from it.' His thumb stroked a tear of my face.

It would be so easy to give in to his request. To grand myself a home and a family again. To be warmed by him and sheltered and held. The gods knew I wanted to. But it would not be right, it would not be safe. It would be no more than a warm dream, but eventually I would have to wake up from it and face cold reality: people die when they care to much for me. I could not do that to this young naïve noble boy. He had no idea what he was buying. So I stepped away from his warm hand and his comforting words.

'I thought I heard her yell.' Laura stumbled up the steps. 'Can you not be nice to her without her being only half conscious?' She scolded Gavin, and then came to check on me.

'She has no idea, does she?' Gavin spoke calmly. 'She does not have a clue, and that is why you can be friends. As long as she does not start s asking questions.'

Laura glanced from him to me. 'What is he talking about?'

'Housing.' I replied, glaring daggers at him.

'Hmm. Well, just let him be an idiot and come with me.'

'Where to?'

'My parents second home.' And she started to drag me to the stairs. 'There are some things I need from there.'

It was not until we were on the street that she would tell me what we would be fetching.

'Clothes, you cannot continue to walk around in mine.

'So we are going to fetch more of your clothes?'

She paused for a second, realizing how foolish that was. 'Yes, but these clothes I never wear. So it will be less inconvenient.'

'Or I can just go home.'

'Do not be foolish, stay with Collin. It will make him happy at least, and it will do you good.

'No, it will not.' We went up the stairs to her house. 'I am going home tonight.'

'Fine, but at least take something with you, a coat or warm boots. When winter comes, you will freeze to death up there, if you do not clad yourself warmer.'

'Fine, but after that, I am going.'

She unlocked the door and we went in. I closed it behind me and found myself in yet another massive hall with two grand stairs leading to the second floor, and between them two double doors leading to the rest of the house. But something was not quite right, the mat at the door laid crooked and one of the double wooden doors stood ajar.

'Laura, is anyone staying here at the moment?'

'No, this is mother's summerhouse, there will not be anyone here until May, why?'

'Because there is someone here. Or there has been.'

'We have been robbed?' She asked a little too loud for my taste.

'Hush woman, they might still be here.' I hissed at her. We both waited and listened, but the house was as silent as the grave.

'They probably are long gone.' Laura stated. 'I am going to check if they too anything.' And she ran up the stairs. I would have preferred it if we left immediately and called the police. While she runs up I cautiously walk towards the door, every fibres in me yelling me to get out. When I glanced behind the door I looked straight into a pair of dark green eyes.

I jerked back but a gloved hand followed suit.

'Laura!' I screamed while diving under the hand. 'They are still here, Laura!'

The double doors flew open as the man came storming after me. I turned on my heels and ran up the stairs to find Laura. The shrieking that came from above did not help my nerves at all. The man with the black leather gloves and dark green eyes was chasing me up. Atop the stairs Laura ran into me, eyes like a deer in headlights, and tried to get down.

'Not that way.' I grabbed her wrist and dragged her across the hall, ducking a second man who was chasing Laura.

'I do not think they are burglars.' I said as I shoved Laura into a room and closed the door and locked it.

'Why not?' I have not seen a single paining off the wall, not a single drawer opened. And they were watching us the moment we came in. I do not think they are here for your furniture.'

'Then what do they want.' The was a wreck, trembling all over and on the verge of crying.

'What else is of great value in here?' I felt them trying to get in while I put my weight against the door.

'There are here for me?' she said dumbfounded.

'They sure as hell are not my demons. They look to kind for that.'

'This is hardly the time for jokes Nina.'

'Not joking.' The door was shaking in its hinges. 'Is there another way out of here?'

'Through the bathroom.' She pointed.

'I nodded. 'go, make as little sound as possible. Get outside, ring the door by the neighbours' and when your safely inside ring the police.'

'What about you?' She stumbled.

'I will be fine, I will distract them. You just get the cops.' I ensure her. 'now go, and take of your shoes, do not make a sound!'

She did as I told her and left her shoes with me. I held my breath as I listened to what was going on outside, my heart beating like a drum. When the thumping and pushing from the other side of the door stopped I got scared. Up till then I had coped rather well, despite the galloping my heart was doing I managed to keep my head levelled because running away from harm is what I do best. But now that they could have gone after Laura, panic holds me in its icy grip. She was not good at avoiding anything except her responsibility.

I unlocked the door and carefully opened it. The hallway was deserted. I listened carefully, but I had no idea where she had gone, nor them. But seeing as the bathroom door was to the left of this one, she would not possibly have gone down the stairs we came up to because the men would have blocked her way. So I ran left. Down the hall and towards a parapet and a winding stairs. Below I could distinguish Laura's expensive hair coiffure and a head full of greasy unwashed brown hair, a bit too close to each other. The second man was nowhere to be found. If I took the stairs it would take time, it which he could do her harm, If I jumped…

I climbed over the parapet and hung there for a moment. I quickly shot a prayer to the gods and dropped myself. It took a lot longer than I had expected, and I heard Laura scream. And then I touched down. I hit the man, and the two of us went tumbling down. I could not differ up from under, but I felt an intense pain in my right feet, which had hit the steps unluckily. When we finally somewhat came to a halt, I was on top of him. He was smelly, and sweaty and needed a shower and a dentist appointment. And he was unconscious.

'Laura, you ok?' I tried to get up, but my head was spinning.

'Me, how about you!' She yelled back. 'You jumped two floors.'

'Really? It felt like more.' I touched my ankle and immediately winced. Not good. It would not hold me up. Maybe I could drag myself up by the balustrade.

A hand got hold of my hair and yanked me off the unconscious crook. I yelped as I was forced to put my weight on my bad foot, and then got thrown out of the way like an empty cup. My head hid the solid mahogany balustrade to then bounce on the equally solid wooden steps. It felt as if my brain imploded, then went liquid and came oozing out of my ears. I had not fully recovered from last night's tumble, and my concussion was definitely not liking it. Or maybe it did, if it wanted me dead. In which case my brain was screaming in horror, not the concussion.

While my arms were trembling I tried to push myself up. I could not possible guess how long I had been laying there, but I knew it was too long. Laura cannot defend herself from that creep. When I opened my eyes it felt like the stairs were spinning widdershins, the room clockwise, the house counter clockwise and my head was jumping through hoops. But somehow I managed to stand and I succeded at looking straight enough to distinguish Laura. Although there seemed to be two of her. And two of the other crook. Right, I needed to kick his ass, with one possibly broken foot and a head better off in the gutter. Up the stairs it is. After taking one step I shriek. Scratch that, definitely broken. I put my weight on the balustrade and hopped up the stairs. This way had something to steady me, although the stairs and room were still spinning in opposite directions for me.

Once he was in reaching distance I gritted my teeth, let go of the balustrade and put my weight on my feet. I forced myself not to scream, because Laura was doing that for the two of us. My numbed mind could not possibly make out words from her shrieking, but it was solid enough to make the simple conclusion that people do not shriek hysterically from joy. So I used all the self-discipline I had built up over the years and stood on my broken foot, leaned forward and dug my fingers into the man's waist and pulled with the last of my strength. He faltered and turned to me, waiving something in his hand. I could not make out what, because of the movement it seemed like a greyish green blur to my diluted mind. But I sure as hell felt it when it went up my right arm. I had not thought my body could distinguish more different types of pain at once. But it did. It was not a blade, as I had suspected, it was a long and thick needle. And I could feel the substance being thrust into my blood. I had no strength left, but Laura finally got to her senses and threw her weight, little as it might be, against him. He flung aside and took a b chunk of the balustrade with him as he fell the remaining meters to the grand hall. It would not crack open his skull, but he was unconscious. The injection needle had fallen as well, and green blobs were dripping onto the polished hardwood. But it was also dripping down the small puncture wound in my flesh. I had no idea what it could be, but thick green substance form a bad guy cannot be a cure for the common cold.

I started to collapse, Laura caught me before my head became more acquainted with the stairs. But there was something stranger going on with me. Sure, my ability of observation had not been in the best of states, but this was something else. There were snakes, fat, slimy slithering snakes coming out of Laura's nose and mouth. And I began to panic. I shrieked at the top of my lungs and pushed her away. Surprised she released me and I landed on my but a step lower, causing my balance to forfeit. I tumbled down and came to a sliding halt with my back against the wall and still sitting on my bum. The stairs where crumbling down and Laura was no longer human. She was entirely covered with writhing slithering snakes that hurled a stanching black goo that burned the stone floor. On my hands and feet I tried to get away, completely hysterical. While I was clawing at the door my fingers were melting and I could feel things crawl under my skin like armies of red ants on the march. I finally got outside. The cold washed over me like a tidal wave and I felt like I was drowning. In the end I crawled away in a corner next to the stoop, witch my knees clenched to my chest while my toes were talking to each other, conspiring to kill and consume me and my hair was on fire. I heard sirens and people yelling and all of a sudden it was gone. The sounds, the sirens even the heated argument between my right big toe, my left ring toe and both my pinkie toes just stopped. But I could still see their little mouth moving, with their gnarling teeth and slick lips. Then I could no longer feel the floor I was sitting on, or the wall in my back. Even the pain, the thrusting in my head, the cutting pain in my foot, even my burning scalp become nothing. I felt nothing. I started to shake involuntarily. I could have been crying, I would not know for sure because I could not feel the tear. But finally people came. They looked like distorted monsters but they were people, I knew they were. They had to be. I tried to call for them, but I could not hear my voice nor feel my lips move so I am not sure they heard me, but all of them ran up the steps and into the house.

Only one of the things stopped, one paw on the steps, one claw on the railing and turned its big head to me. Its writhing horns threw a shadow over its eyes but I knew it had to be looking at me. I saw its mouth move but heard no sound. Then it hopped over the balustrade, rushing to me on all four and hovered over me, sniffing and making more noises I could not hear. Then my eyes started to play tricks on me, the image started to flicker and flash. I moved up my trembling hands to hold my head but my fingers were still melting: gushes of skin and blood and bone and flesh were tripling down my wrists and to the floor. A few last flashes: my hands, the thing and then eyes. Warm and comfy chocolate brown eyes. Just normal, something human and right. And then nothing.

Just black.