Dear Diary, I write this entry with a heavy heart. I have spent my whole life looking for adventure, whatever it may be. Now, I’m filled with dread as I ponder recent events. Shelly advised me not long ago about a hostile presence she felt around the twins. While she was unable to specify what this entity was or which twin was affected the most, she did say she would attempt to find out.
When I told Xalen about all of this, he seemed surprised because he hadn’t felt anything. I had to admit that was unusual as he’d always been sensitive to this sort of thing. As far as realizing these things myself, all I could mention was the weird dreams I continued to have since our trip.
Every night, it seemed, I was plagued by the deep feeling that I was haphazardly flying through the house, almost the way you might picture a bumblebee zooming about. In these nightmares, I had the realization that I personally wasn’t experiencing this crazy flight, but rather, I was seeing through someone else’s eyes.
As my nightmares continued to haunt me, Holden’s seemed to lessen in their intensity and he was having them less often. They had gotten better not long after Christopher began sharing the children’s room. I was relieved about that, of course, but I couldn’t help but think perhaps we were seeing the calm before some kind of storm.
I was constantly on edge, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Things were pretty good between me and Xalen which helped a great deal. Yet, underneath the smooth surface of our interactions with the team, little annoyances crept in and began to ripple, disturbing my sensibilities.
Shelly seemed certain that our troubles began with the arrival of the urn Xalen and I found in the little elixir shop on our honeymoon. After the crate had arrived at the base, Owen had carefully unpacked it, putting it on a table in our secret control room so it could be studied. If you asked me, it was very ugly and that was the best thing you could say about it.
Distracting me further was the knowledge that Susan and Daniel were inexplicably different toward me. It was subtle and perhaps only a difference a sister would notice. Still, it was there, as if they shared some secret only they were privy to. I tried to press her and even asked her if she was pregnant to which she totally freaked out on me and told me to mind my own business.
One morning in the control room, I did my best to get to the bottom of it. The team was taking a short break so I approached Daniel.
I explained to him how difficult it was for me to corner him the way I was but that I was worried about my sister. Daniel, who was normally level-headed and kind, regarded me with a hardness in his eyes I’d never seen.
“Something did happen while you were away,” he said, his voice curt, “but if Susan wants you to know, she’ll tell you.”
I was so surprised by his manner and what he said that I gulped loudly, my mouth suddenly dry as dirt.
Seeing how I reacted, he added, “All I’m saying is to give her some space. I’m sure she’ll tell you soon.”
Didn’t he care about how apprehensive I was? I was sure he could clearly see I was distressed.
Daniel’s expression softened a little as he watched me. “I’m sorry, Marty. I really don’t get why I’ve been so keyed up lately. I’ll tell Susan she needs to fill you in, okay?”
That did make me feel a little better. “Thanks, Daniel, I would appreciate that.”
“Sure thing,” he said. Before stepping away from me, he lightly touched my arm. “I’m not usually like this, you know. All high-strung, I mean.”
He could say that again. Forcing as reassuring a smile as I could muster, I said, “Don’t worry about it. I think we’ve all been a little jittery lately.”
“It’s that urn, you know. There’s something about it that gets me all nerve-racked. I can’t wait to lock it away somewhere.”
Shelly once described Daniel as being ‘psychic as a glass of orange juice,’ so I was surprised he noticed anything at all. For him to suspect something was up, it had to be a big deal.
Shelly must have overheard our conversation as she settled into a chair at the conference table because she said, “I think we should lock it in the vault downstairs as soon as possible.”
As we joined her at the table, I asked, “So you agree things have been really weird and it’s because of that vase?”
“Absolutely. Owen’s been doing a lot of research into the Era of Violence which is the time period this urn is dated from. Xalen was right to have it sent here but we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be exposed to it for much longer.”
“You know, I don’t think Xalen has been affected at all. When I told him about what you sensed around the kids, he was surprised.”
“It’s most likely because as soon as he felt what the urn was all about, while you were in the shop, he closed himself off. It was wise of him to do that.”
Well, that was interesting. I decided right then I needed to learn how to do that. Maybe we could teach the kids to do that, too, since they were so heavily influenced as well.
I heard soft steps coming down the third-floor staircase and looked up to see my husband on the second-floor balcony. (I’m still in jaw-dropping awe when I look up at this three-story library.)
“I’ll join you in a moment, there is one more book I need to look up.”
“This might take a while,” Shelly laughed, shaking her head as she rose from her chair.
Glancing at the urn again to my right, I rolled my eyes. There were already piles and piles of old tomes all over the floor, and some scrolls, too. I can appreciate books with the best of them, but there were some things that could be looked up rather quickly on google.
Xalen was a technophobe which meant there was nothing I could do to convince him how great the internet was. I could count myself lucky he tolerated his cellphone.
Suddenly, I had to blink my eyes a few times… I could have sworn I saw little sparkles around the vase. After a moment, they were gone and I wasn’t at all certain I’d actually seen them.
Xalen glanced down at me with a smirk and I was sure he knew what my eye-roll was all about.
“There you are!” he exclaimed at the bookshelf.
As Xalen headed down the stairs, we all sat at the conference table again.
“You already know I’ve been keeping a close eye on the twins,” Shelly began. “I still feel the presence but the children’s terror isn’t as all-consuming as it was before. Either they are getting used to this presence or it’s not focused on them anymore.”
“But it’s not gone, I take it?” Owen asked.
“No, it’s definitely here.”
“Have you been able to contact it?” Xalen quietly asked, his eyes reflecting the concern I also felt.
She shook her head. “No, it hasn’t revealed itself to me, I can only sense it. Whatever it is, it’s full of hate. In fact, that’s how I first became aware of it. I was holding little Holden before his birthday and I felt this overwhelming anger coming from him. But he seemed perfectly content and you wouldn’t think contempt like that could be felt by a baby.”
I shivered at the thought that something like that was in such close proximity to my child. “We didn’t even have the vase then.”
“Yes… yes, it was,” Owen said. We all turned to look at him. “It arrived here while the twins and your parents were still here.”
My eyes grew huge as I considered this. “Oh my – I didn’t realize.” Then I had another thought. “Could that stupid urn be the reason my parents were fighting?” I’d been so worried about them, too, because at grandpa’s funeral, they didn’t even speak to each other and that wasn’t like my lovey-dovey folks at all.
“Not, the vase itself, Marty, but what was inside it,” Shelly said.
“And what was that?” I demanded.
Again, all attention turned toward our research guy, Owen. As if on cue, he cleared his throat and dove in.
“As you know, the urn dates back to the Era of Violence -”
“- Look,” Daniel interrupted, “I’m just the pilot and gun guy. What was the Era of Violence and what was this vase used for?”
“It marked the end of a prosperous time for the Grisjit people. Until then, they were a thriving civilization. But when the Knights of Liaphra arrived by boat, they were determined to conquer the area, thus began a war that lasted for generations. In the end, the Grisjits were overtaken and most of them were slaughtered. Their remains were put in urns like the one we have.”
I shivered as prickles went down the back of my neck. The urn was still on that table but now, it almost felt like some hulking eavesdropper, listening in on our conversation and plotting ways to hurt us.
“That’s a great story, Owen, but what is in that vase now?”
“That, I don’t know,” he answered, “other than to say it must have carried the ashes of a Grisjits. A really pissed off Grisjit.”
“Think of the urn as you would a turtle and its shell. This … thing… was sealed in the urn, somehow, was released and now uses it only as a house of sorts. I am certain the entity can come and go. My question is, what happens to it if the vase is destroyed?” Xalen said.
My stomach felt like it had a brick in it. “Would it be forced to leave? Or would it be stuck here with nowhere else to go?”
Xalen’s eyes met mine and I didn’t like the disquiet I saw.
“What are we going to do? We can’t let anything happen to the kids.”
“I will never let anything happen to the children,” he sternly said.
“Maybe we should send them to Winchester for a while or something?” I asked.
Shelly shook her head. “It followed the children when they joined you on your holiday, so it stands to reason it could also follow them to Winchester.”
“Holden and Rosetta have Olivia looking after them at all times and she has not mentioned anything unusual,” Xalen said. “We just have to do what we do and figure out how to be rid of this. In the meantime, we will continue to keep a close eye on the twins.”
After our team meeting, I intended on visiting with the kids but instead, I found myself absorbed in doing my own research on the Era of Violence. I thought perhaps I would come across something Owen hadn’t. All I knew for sure was that I needed to do everything I could to protect my children. And now, Christopher, too. What had I done, bringing another child here?
It wasn’t until near bedtime that I finally joined Olivia and the children in the nursery’s playroom. Exhausted, I dropped heavily onto the chair at the little tea table opposite Olivia.
“How’s it going?”
Olivia smiled softly as the kids gathered around us. “Just fine, just fine.”
“You always say that,” I laughed.
“Well, it’s true. Holden and Rosetta had a very good school session today. Rosetta is ahead of her reading level, as you know. If I could get these rowdy boys to settle down more, I’m sure they could catch up.”
“Girls are smart,” Rosetta said, implying the opposite of boys.
“Now, now, Rosie,” Olivia tsked at her. “What did I tell you about thinking we’re better than others? The boys are smart, they just need to focus.”
“I’m better at math than you.” Right after he said it, Christopher’s expression became one of regret but I laughed.
“Math is very important,” I said. “I’m glad you understand it because it took me a long time to figure out what I needed to know.”
Very slowly, as I spoke, his face lit up with a smile and I couldn’t help but smile back at him.
“And what about you, Holden?”
His pale cheeks flamed bright red and he said, “I’m good at eating lunch.”
I laughed. “Well, I reckon that’s a nice thing to be good at, too.”
“Mother, I would very much like to attend dance class more than twice a week. I’ve nearly got my recital number down but I can’t perfect it if I can’t practice with the teacher.”
Looking down at my daughter, I began to wonder if this little perfectionist resembled Xalen as a child. Of course, she did. Somehow, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t even picture Xalen as a kid. Had he always seemed old like Rosetta does?
“And, I would very much like to quit going to dance class,” Holden piped in.
Again, I couldn’t help but grin at him. “Well, no one’s quitting anything just yet, okay? But maybe you can go less and Rosetta can go more?”
This seemed to satisfy them both for the moment.
“Actually,” Olivia said, “if I might take us back to the school subject, Holden is a very curious child. I imagine he might be good at science since he likes the little experiments we do here.”
“Is that right, Holden?”
He looked up at me and smiled a little sheepishly. “Yes, I do like the experiments. We made an erupting rainbow with vinegar and … and…”
“Baking soda,” Olivia said when his voice trailed off.
“Yes! Baking soda. It was really cool! And I got to wear real glasses so I wouldn’t get anything in my eyes. Oh! And I spilled food coloring and my hand turned purple!”
“Oh dear,” I said with a giggle.
“Yeah, and you know what? Miss Olivia rubbed more vinegar on the stain and got it out!”
“Wow, she really knows what to do in an emergency! Aren’t we lucky?”
“We sure are!” he agreed.
It was late and Xalen still hadn’t retired to our room. I knew if I needed him, I could find him in his study but I saw no reason to bother him just yet, especially since, he was so absorbed in finding a way to get rid of the presence.
I’d just pulled my nightgown on when I heard a knock. When I answered, it was Susan.
“I’m so glad you’re here, Sis,” I said, trying to sound pleasant.
“You might not be after I talk to you.”
My pulse immediately quickened and my stomach tightened, bringing the brick back. “Is something wrong?”
After a pause, she blurted, “There’s no way to do this except to just tell you. Daniel and I … we eloped while you were on your honeymoon!”
After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I unnecessarily said, “You’re married. To Daniel.”
“Yes, that’s what I’m trying to tell you.”
Slowly, I felt my vital signs returning to normal and I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding. “Congratulations. Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Oh, I should have told you? Kind of like how you told me about The Inheritance?”
“Y-you know about that?”
“Yes! Because Daniel said if we were getting married, he couldn’t keep that kind of thing from me. You’ve been doing this for how long now and never even told me?”
My head began to throb and I put a hand to my temple. “Please, don’t yell. I was sworn to secrecy. If you know anything about it like you say you do, then you know I couldn’t tell anyone.”
“I’m not anyone!” she spat. “I’m your best friend and sister! Or so I thought!”
An anger started to build in me then, just beneath the surface at a slow boil. Daniel, I thought, could have at least warned me he was going to tell her. Now it looked to her like I didn’t want her to know.
“The whole time, I was wishing I could tell you,” I said, trying to keep my cool. “I was told you couldn’t know unless you were a part of the team.”
“Well, I am part of the team. At least I will be once Daniel has talked to Xalen about it.”
“Doing what? I think you should really consider this more. You have no idea how dangerous it can be.”
“Daniel thinks I would be useful documenting with my photography. And don’t just assume I haven’t given this a lot of thought. You can be so condescending, Marty!”
Could I? Or was this that blasted vase talking because it sure didn’t sound anything like Susan.
Barely had my eyes closed when the worst nightmare of all tormented me…
… It began with Rosetta pushing someone… Who was it? Olivia?
Thank you for reading!