Margaret awoke from a fleeting dream with a gasp. The bright night filtered into her bedroom like wisps of ominous fog through the gossamer curtains that hung in her bay windows. The green numbers on her digital clock told her that the night had only just begin. She should have been asleep still and for many hours yet.
Never one to ignore her instincts, Margaret slipped from her sheets and jogged quickly until she reached the attic at the top of her home. Yellow candlelight greeted her when she opened the door, revealing her sister, Gretchen, kneeling at the altar in deep meditation. The altar was atypical for what one would expect from pagan altars. A red brocade fabric with golden dragons woven in with silk thread draped a short table adorned with the athame of their people on a golden stand, a bowl and pestle, herbs of different varieties in small earthenware containers, an old, used book with ink and quill, and neatly folded, cotton kerchiefs stained yellow with time and tears. Stepping close, Margaret knelt and joined her sister. Within a minute, Maggie had come as well and knelt with them.
Joining hands and closing their eyes, the three sisters watched a scene play out before them. A wounded doe limped through a dense thicket followed by a terrified fawn, fleeing a savage lynx hunting her. The lynx wasted no time in catching the doe, but instead of killing her, the wild creature dragged the screaming animal out of the forest. The doe’s fawn trailed her, terrified of the dangers, but unable to stop itself from following. In moments, the lynx had the doe trapped; playing with her, torturing her; then the doe kicked out and caught the cat in the jaw. It wasn’t injured, but in a rabid rage, the lynx slaughtered the doe, slowing tearing her to shreds with long claws and sharp teeth, wringing out every ounce of pain the doe could withstand before she expired, cursing the fawn to its own slow death away from its mother.
The sisters returned from the vision simultaneously, dropping each other’s hands and wiping tears away with the sacred cloths that held every tear from Dragonswan eyes since the beginning of their family. Visions like this one pocked the family history. The youngest of the sisters, the hardest of them, gathered an old book and began writing the vision into it. It was a journal of every vision, every prophecy, every spell cast since the covenant the Matriarch of the Dragonswans cut with the Dragon.
Margaret gathered Maggie into her arms. She was the most sensitive and intuitive of the three and visions of death affected her more than the other two. Gretchen wrote in detail everything the sisters had shared. She left out nothing; not the scent of the thicket, nor the warmth of the blood. Margaret sat and held her sister until the shudders subsided and then let her go.
“We will need to discover the doe and the lynx,” she said aloud, but she knew from the beginning of the vision who the characters in it were. Peggy and the abusive Junior Rugner were the only two that fit into it.
Her sisters read her like a book. “You already know,” Gretchen stated, stopping her writing and looking up.
Margaret smiled, but it didn’t reach her eyes. “I fear it is Peggy and Mr. Rugner,” she admitted to their inquiring eyes.
Maggie sniffled, wiping her nose and blotting her tears again. “If that is so, she is in more danger now than she was before she accepted our hospitality. Perhaps we should put a guard on her?”
Gretchen nodded. “Agreed. I’ll call Max and have him come over first thing tomorrow.”
Margaret sighed. “I think I am going to go sleep on the poor girl’s couch tonight. I have an ominous feeling, my dears.”
Maggie stood. “I will join you. We can sleep in shifts,” she said, tenderly placing the sacred cloths back on the altar for the next time Dragonswan tears were shed in this room.
Gretchen held out her hands to her sisters. “Shall I scry anyway? It seems a waste to not try, just in case.”
Margaret squeezed Gretchen’s hand. “Yes, of course. If you should come upon a different outcome than we expect—”
“You will know first,” Gretchen assured her.
Margaret kissed her sister’s cheek and led Maggie down to the guest suite, arm-in-arm. “How is mother?” she asked dutifully. Though she had spent the evening with her mother, the nights were sometimes bad for her.
“She is sleeping tonight. I insisted she take a dose of sleeping medication and she agreed without much trouble. I think your visit helped her spirit this evening.”
Margaret sighed happily. “I am glad. Are you better now? I know only a few hours isn’t enough, but I hope you took the time to refresh yourself as much as possible.”
Maggie laughed quietly. “It was nice to relax for a little while. I took a bubble bath and read a book I wouldn’t want mother seeing me read.”
“That smut you love would get you into trouble with her!” Margaret laughed loudly, her voice echoing through the halls.
Something crashed, startling both women.
“Shit!” the whispered expletive raced through the house as if it were abandoned. The male voice it came from was not familiar to either woman.
As one, they darted toward the intruder, Margaret banging on every door they passed to awaken anyone in the house. They had servants quarters on the second floor along with the guest suite. It helped to keep a few household staff on site. As they ran toward Peggy’s room, a window broke, and shattered glass tinkled through the halls to them. Suddenly a scream resounded causing both women to redouble their pace. Within a few seconds, the scream stopped and moments after that, Maggie and Margaret stopped short at the top of the stairs that led to the first floor hall.
In a pile of awkward limbs, blood pooling all around, a maid in her nightdress looked blankly through dead eyes, her neck twisted around and broken.
Margaret immediately turned Maggie away—doctor or not, she did not need to see the nightmare of death at the bottom of their stairs. As soon as the other servants were in sight, Margaret put her hands in the air. “Stop! None of you move!”
Frozen in place by more than just her words, the staff looked at her with fear and dread filling their eyes. When she addressed them again, she gave them orders to pair up, to call the police and detective Van Camp and to get the rest of the household to gather in the Margaret’s suite. She sent Maggie with the oldest of the women to care for her and then stood guard over the body of the dead girl until the police arrived.