The atmosphere of the mansion pressed in on Gretchen, suffocating her in her own home. The staff were heavy-hearted. The girl who had been murdered was a favorite among them, popular for her kindness and generosity. She had only been with the family for a few months, but in that time she had taken her place in their hearts.
Gretchen had decided to keep the mansion open to tours, rerouting them to circumvent the main hall. It was imperative for the Dragonswans that the tours continued. The yearly sacrifice had to be made, regardless of the crime that had taken place, but she wished that they all could take the time to grieve.
In her study, she was able to find some solace from the heaviness in the halls. She sat on her little loveseat next to a warm, crackling fire, and wrote in her journal. She’d kept a personal journal since her father had died, always addressing each entry to him. She had been closer to her father than her sisters had been. She had taken after him in her business savvy and they had worked together to train her to lead their company from the first time she asked to work with him when she was eleven. She missed him every day and the journal was her way of communicating with him in her heart.
A wisp of smoke from the fireplace escaped the flue and drifted into the study. When it began to gain mass, she knew who was coming. The man formed directly in front of her, taking a seat on the sofa beside her and grasping her hand. “I am so sorry, Getchen,” Long whispered sympathetically. “I should have taken care of that Rugner man instead of passing him off to you.”
Gretchen let him hold her hand, comforted by its almost fiery warmth. “Not at all. I told you we would take care of it, and we will. Is Peggy still alive?”
Long sighed. “She is, but I am forbidden from telling you more. You must, as always, decipher your own messages. I wish to help you, if you will allow me.”
Gretchen looked into his deep brown eyes. Behind the darkness, a fire raged, visible only to those who got close enough to see the god behind the human form. His face was both rugged and beautiful, with three long strands of black hair forming the lines of his mustache and beard. He kept his long hair braided, decorated with silk to keep it in place. His muscles tensed as Gretchen examined him, rippling beneath the red coat he wore instead of a shirt. She could almost image what he looked like without that coat on, but she had been resisting that urge since puberty, and old habits would not be replaced by one moment of compassion from him.
She looked away from him, breaking whatever spell had passed between them. “Thank you, but not yet. If we need you, may I call?”
Long suffered a sigh and nodded. “Of course, Getchen.”
Her hand was suddenly emptied and she was alone again.
Hey. You online? Maggie sat in her mother’s room with her laptop while her mother napped. This was a ritual for her. Everyday while her mother napped, she would get online and chat with Seraph228.
Always. How are you?
L We had a break-in last night. One of my friends was killed.
Oh hell! Are you ok? Are your sisters ok? What about your mom? Tell me what happened, exactly.
Maggie fought back her tears as she explained everything she knew. It was the most difficult paragraph she had ever written in her life. She kept the details of the house and her identity secret. She and Seraph288 never exchanged identifying personal information.
Are the police doing their jobs?
Of course. As best they can. There was very little evidence left in the wake of the intruders. I think it might be a while before the police have enough leads or evidence to arrest anyone. We don’t exactly have a list of enemies in this tiny little town.
There was a long pause before her friend answered. So long, she thought he had lost his internet connection. She almost gave up when her laptop pinged his next message.
Do you want to meet? IRL?
Maggie stared at her screen until he pinged her again with a lone question mark.
I don’t know if that is a good idea.
I know it sounds scary, but we know each other. You need a real, live friend right now. This online crap isn’t good enough when you’ve lost someone.
Maggie couldn’t handle his proposal at that moment. She signed off and turned her laptop off. Rising from her seat, she left her mother’s room and went to the attic. She did not need another incident in her life and meeting a virtual stranger was the right way to go for that.
In the attic she sat at the altar, furiously grabbing herbs from the table and mixing them together with the pestle. She didn’t know what she was concocting, but she knew that mixing potions helped her refocus and calm herself. When she added a match to the mixture of herbs, it blazed with a green fire for a moment and then puffed out in a short plume of green smoke.
She looked down at her creation. It smelled of the unpleasant mixture of burned flesh and lotus flower. She knew from the scents what the potion would do. It was a new-life potion. It would magically save a person from death. It wouldn’t help her mother—no, the death would have to be inflicted, not natural. She put the potion into a vial and pocketed it; if she made it, she would need it for later.
With that grim thought in mind she turned to their scrying board, a three layered table with specific maps on each side of each layer. There was a map of the earth, without the distractions of country borders. Instead, it only had the latitude and longitude lines on it. There was also a map of North America, again with only the latitude and longitude lines. And then there was a map of just the United States, one of just Washington State, and one of Littleton. The last map was unrecognizable as such; it was a map of the heavens from the gods’ perspective. No Dragonswan had ever found use for it, but as a gift from their deity, Long, they never questioned its usefulness or accuracy.
Gretchen was the one with the affinity for scrying, but if the signal was strong enough, even Maggie could find what they were looking for. She sat in front of the table and turned up the map of Littleton, using a rose quartz crystal on a sterling silver chain to seek Peggy’s whereabouts. Closing her eyes she allowed the pendulum to hand freely, concentrating on the picture of Peggy in her head.
“What are you doing?” Margaret’s voice interrupted her concentration as the pendulum hung limply the map unwilling or unable to give Maggie a reading.
She sighed and slouched in her chair. “I was looking for Peggy.”
“Any luck?” Margaret asked, sitting next to her sister and putting an arm around her shoulders.
“No,” she sighed, leaning into her sister’s embrace. “We need to find her, Margaret. She’s too close to giving birth; this kind of stress might force her into labor.”
“Maybe we should call Gretchen up?” Margaret offered, pulling out her cell phone.
“No need.” Gretchen entered their attic sanctuary. “I’m here. I want to scry for Peggy first, if that’s ok. I think she is the most important here.”
Margaret and Maggie scooted over to give her room on the settee they sat on. “Of course,” they answered in unison.