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Grand Entrance

Chapter I

Sundays, golden Sundays, the day of the Lord's rest.

It was a rainy Sunday this one. The sun hid behind frustrated rainy clouds as it allowed the temperature to drop, and as it dropped, the angry cries from the clouds turned into hail. Madrid wasn't known for its frosty weather, on the contrary, it was revered and sought after its flavour and zest. But, today, this Sunday, it rained snow. The newly-born flakes fell from the clouded sky onto the ground, the inhospitable concrete melting them away.

Five years before, on a similar weathered day, the country had mourned the loss of a great mind, an irreplaceable symbol of change, a guiding light for the future to come. And like with any dying star, her death left behind a black hole, a black unfillable hole that devoured anything given to it. Today, five years' worth of sorrows, mistakes and sins weight down on the city of bear and strawberry trees. And, after feeding the void all the carcasses and skeletons, no one could ever imagine them ever being resurrected. Yet, her Louboutin's heels burned the way out of the Barajas airport dragging behind them the corpses they had all buried.

She walked toward a black tinted Cadillac, the driver already expecting her arrival. She stopped. Her lungs burned as she forced them to inhale, breathing in the poisoned air. She took off her sunglasses, and as her body rejected the poisoned blood pumping through her veins cutting open her insides, her red lips twitched upwards and smiled. She exhaled in contentment while whispering to the aggravated wind:

"I'm home"

With her smile still in place, she got into the car, a lace black mask already waiting for her in the passenger seat. Only when she was finally covered her face did she truly feel the hunger settle on the base of her stomach. The craving for power started seeping through her fingers making her heartbeat rise and her patience wither. The time for children's games was over. Madrid's street seemed to vibrate back to life as the sanctified car graced the city's streets. The wind appeared to have changed direction carrying with it the news of her return. With the threat of the sun revealing her disguise gone, she arrived at the gates of the Mansion of Saints. She rolled down her windows, she could see from the foot of the mountain the lights of the house and hear the music leaking from its walls. She stared, contemplating silently the haunting view of the embodiment of all of what she strived to destroy.

The mansion was built more like a castle than a house, it had four distinct wings, 6 floors worth of secrets and 150 hectares to bury them. But if anything in that monstrosity was worth anything it was the ballroom in the left-wing. It took the height of two floors and it was decorated with the most jaw-dropping artefacts, sculptures and collections. Its ceiling had been hand painted during the renaissance era that it made it look as if the Gods themselves lived there. It was a living, breathing private museum. There was a party to her name taking place inside. Her grandfather had made it a tradition since that fateful day five years ago to host a charity-type gala. But she knew better, when the car finally crossed the mansion's gate the rancidity hit her nose. Even from the foot of the hill, she could smell the putrid odour of desperation protruding from the beasts inside. As the car made its way upwards the stench became more and more pungent until the car finally came to a stop at the mansion's grand entrance. She was welcomed by two of her family's guardian's and symbols, the 'Dips'; massive black dogs that fed on blood and were said to be devil emissaries. The two animal statues stood grounded at either side of the short stairway guarding it vigilantly.

The house of Cartajena could trace their roots centuries before, when they were not lords but kings. For centuries they had been the protectors of the crown, unseen, working in the shadows. Once loyal dogs that had guarded through blood and battle kings and queens, now, they roamed free throughout the country quenching their thirst for blood. "Welcome to the Cartajena estate Miss'', the footman interrupted her thoughts opening the car door. "May I show you to the gala Miss?", he continued offering his hand for her to get out. She stepped out neither answering his question or taking his hand. The footman stepped back allowing the train of her blood-red gown and the Dip's eyes to follow her as the house swallowed her form.

"Nothing has changed", she whispered to no one. An array of pillars had shown her inside, hiding between each, an archway and a path that led to a different location inside. But she ignored them in favour of the staircase at the end of the room. The marble goliath went upwards splitting in two in the middle. She stepped inside, the music became more prevalent than she had estimated from the outside. She took a moment to smile whilst reminiscing before climbing the staircase and choosing to go left letting the noise guide her.

She stood above overseeing the grand room from another less imposing splitting staircase. This one had a discrete balcony in which you could loom downwards and watch the inside. The ballroom was designed so that you'd enter through the second floor and go downwards towards the first. The staircase would split from the balcony into two and the join in at the bottom. She stood there looking down to the tsunami of the black and white dressed rabble. This year's gala was different. Her grandfather who boasted about her every year had never actually cared about her. This year someone that actually knew her had planned it. There was a string quartet at the farthest corner playing her favourite concertos, but, the sound of rehearsed laughs and practice small talk overtook the beautiful music. Even from above them she could taste the disdain and contempt oozing from the blinding diamonds that cloaked their corrupt motives. It repulsed her. "Excuse me Miss?", a waitress interrupted her surveillance making her turn to face her. The waitress was carrying a tray of glasses of champagne, "Would you care for a glass?", her words made her lips turn upwards, once more, smiling as she accepted the offered glass. Soon enough waiters with trays of Champaign flooded the entertained crowd and when every single hand held a glass a voice killed the chatter down and called everyone's attention, even hers, to the centre of the room. "Goodnight ladies and gentlemen".

Eros Alexandre BlackWood, the untamed beast, second son of Perseus Greyson BlackWood and now Vice President of BlackWood Enterprises. With his dark chocolate mane curling at the tips, he stood tall, taller than almost everyone in the room. "I trust everyone is having a pleasant evening", an array of glittering teeth answered him. She could see through him though, "Today, as all of you know…", his shoulder muscles tensed to the point that they made the tailored suit flex, " the annual Cartajena charity ball ... ''. He curled his fingers into a fist. The action made her right eyebrow to cock upwards with deathly curiosity. "This year you may have noticed some changes'', she had, "This is because this year I was honoured to have been asked by my mentor or, how most of you know him, Don Valento Tomas Cartajena to plan and host this event here today." She smirked in amusement and listened to him continue his speech. "She, well…", he paused while looking down at the floor before sighing, "I was completely and utterly in awe of her. Her very presence made the air vibrate. I have never and perhaps will never meet anyone that can quite match her". He had everyone eating out of his hand, he was, after all, Spain's golden boy sitting atop the forty-second place in Forbes 500 most powerful people with a net worth a tenth of the country's national GDP. And, yet, even from the grave she still managed to somehow have him wrapped between her pretty little fingers. "And I just hope today, I managed to capture even a glimpse of what she, beneath that ruthless exterior, was really like '', her pearly white teeth made an appearance the more he talked. "With this said, let us all toast to Scarlett '', Eros finished. "To me", she thought as she stained the Baccarat glass with her red lipstick and everyone else in the room responded: "To Scarlett '', collectively. She chugged her glass and made her way deeper into the core of the mansion.

Eros, having finished his speech, was drowning in a sea of people wanting him to spear a minute of his time since in recent years his public attendance had become increasingly scarce. He was drinking his champagne glass as the crowd feasted on his presence. The only reason he had agreed to this was because he wanted to finally put the memories of her at rest. He really wasn't looking forward to the rest of the night but, something caught his eye and before he knew it, he started choking on the bubbly liquid. He felt his lungs scream and desperately attempt to expel the alcohol from them. He coughed the champagne out making him drop the glass, shattering it into a hundred pieces that scattered around him. He forced his eyes open and looked upwards at the marble staircase. He'd seen it clear as day, a reflection on the interior of the glass; a smear of red. He couldn't breathe. Just for half a second, he had seen it, the Blood gown he had commissioned Valentino. His body froze and his heart rate doubled. His mind went blank, he didn't know if to follow the ghost or to run as far away as possible.

However, before he could act, a strong hand grabbed his shoulder. Eros had finally regained his composure and turned to look at the owner of the hand. Valento's tall and imposing figure greeted him with grey eyes stern and calmingly looking into his. Valento snapped his fingers and a waiter showed with a glass of water. Eros grabbed it and took a sip whilst Valento dismissed the crowd as a maid cleaned the scattered glass shards. After a minute Eros addressed the older man, "Valento, I need to speak to you". The elder's steel eyes looked at him and nodded. They smiled to the crowd greeting several guests and making small talk until they reached a quieter and less populated area of the ball. "I saw someone up the marble staircase wearing Scarlett's dress", Eros began making Valento's eyes widen and his eyebrows to furrow. He was not happy. "Escarlata?", Valento questioned not completely buying Eros' story. The younger man was more than aware of how ridiculous he sounded and the more he thought about it the dumber he felt yet, he couldn't shake the uneasy feeling that nested in his lower stomach. "Look, boy, you're like one of my grandsons to me, you almost were", his eyes soften, "I, more than anyone, understand the pain you feel. When I lost Letizia her ghost hunted me, it still does, I swear I can still sometimes see her in the rose garden", he paused, "I know how hard this date is for you but, look at what you made here ", he gestured to the rest of the room, "Of course she would have wanted to see it," Eros smiled at the thought, "So do yourself a favour and enjoy it because she would have". Valento grabbed his shoulder one last time and before Eros could say anything else he disappeared into the crowd.

Valento, of course, knew better than Eros. Ghosts never appear during the day. He discretely left the gala through the servant's entrance to the ballroom and headed towards the right-wing. His footsteps echoed through the empty halls as he approached his study. He knew exactly where she would wait for him. When he turned the corner the faint gleam of lights coming from the locked double doors at the end of the hallway confirmed it.

"Escarlata?", Valento's angry voice questioned from the frame of the entrance to his study. "Grandfather!", she exclaimed on top his desk. She was sitting nonchalantly on it, her dress draped around the imported African black wood. "Are you not happy to see me?", she asked, her voice dripping with cheeriness. He didn't respond. She smiled, throwing her mask in front of his shoes. He looked down at the discarded accessory and without hesitation stepped over it. There was an audible snap that greeted him as he came inside his study. "Not surprised?", she asked, smirking when he closed the door carefully behind him. "What are you doing?", he asked calmly making his way towards the bookshelf to his right. "I didn't know you cared so much about me. Thank you for the party. Who would have guessed that Valento Tomas Cartajena was a big softy?", she taunted propping her bare leg in the chair in front of her. He opened a silver box on the bookshelf with his fingers taking out a Cuban cigar. He brought it up to his nose and smelled the thick rich aroma of tobacco already calming him down. "Do I have to repeat myself?", his voice darkened as he took out a heavy black lighter from the same box. Her smile fell, "I think you're forgetting something", she said with a hint of anger. He paused. "You don't own me anymore", she said firmly, making him slightly chuckle.

Valento turned towards the floor-length window on the left with his cigar already in his mouth he lit it up puffing it slowly. He wasn't a man of vices; he was very traditional in his thinking; very little patience with very little time. But, if there was one thing, he took his time enjoying were his cigars next to a straight glass of scotch, of course. He took a long drawn out drag of his cigar letting the smoke pull in his mouth savouring it before allowing his lungs to luxuriate in its darker tones. Smoking forced him to live in the moment, to stop thinking ahead and think in the now. He took a second drag before he heard the screeching of a chair being moved against the wooden floor and then the tapping of bare feet. Her presence was thundering, she emanated an aura of grandeur that none of her brothers had inherited. The cigar came to his mouth a third time when he spotted the deep red colour on the corner of his eye.

"Are you angry that I interrupted your little money laundering party?", her voice interrupted the subtle silence that had settled between them. She was looking at him, tracing with her gaze his profile. It was times like this that she could see where her mother got some of her features. Big grey eyes with long eyelashes protecting them, thick defined brows and plump lips. He didn't acknowledge her and simply took another puff from his cigar. He wasn't taking her bait and she knew it. The moon was now high in the sky bringing with her dark grey clouds. She sighed in defeat, "You have to stop, we have an agreement and I think I've more than proven I can play your little games and win. No response.

He brought the half-smoked cigar close to his lips for a last puff and finally asked for the third and last time, "Why are you here", she stayed silent and he enjoyed the last surge on nicotine entering his circulatory system. He let the smoke out of his mouth when the red from the corner of his eye called his attention once more. He frowned and turned his face to satisfy his curiosity. He looked down at the figure next to him. She was visually shaking. Her arms were around herself trying to control her trembling body. The appalling scene made his body turn completely and take a step back from his granddaughter. Her long dark red brown hair was now covering her face as she looked down at the floor shielding her from the moonlight outside. Valento did not know how to react. "It wasn't you?", she managed to whisper unsure if to ask him or herself. Silence.

She saw black, a blinding shade of black that took over the entire space. Her dress became too tight and she could feel it constraining her lungs. Everything around her became too small and there was not enough room for both him and her to breathe. She could hear her heartbeat double and if deafened her ears. That's when she tasted it again, for the first time in twenty years. She felt it thick and sour lodging in her throat; fear.