Chapter 6 | Marble
Amira pushed open the large oaken doors of the house, and tried to relieve the sudden clenching of her heart. She tried to think of something other than Thorn’s small hands clenching his toy, his little face fearful as he looked up at his sister. She tried to distract herself from Rose’s hand gripping Thorn’s as she glared, fierce and defensive, at Amira.
Amira knew that look. Older sisters recognized themselves in other older sisters, and they understood the shared experience of being gifted a brother, and the immediate, inextricable bond that formed when he was first placed in their arms. Nothing, not even death, could destroy that bond.
Amira didn’t like being reminded that some sisters protected their brothers better than others.
She was in a dark mood, but that was typical. Most days, she enjoyed brooding, sinking into her hood, retreating into her own mind. Most days, she would have appreciated the impenetrable fog. There were few sights that stirred her more than mist flowing over mountains, or nebulous clouds preparing for a torrent.
But there were monsters afoot, and the damned raven was taunting her.
I know it’s you, she thought. Just come to me already. What do I have to do to earn you?
She swallowed hard to release the tension in her jaw. Few things unraveled her like affection between sisters and brothers, and she felt off-kilter now. She was pretty sure that Rose and Thorn weren’t real children: real human children didn’t have ghostly blue skin like that, or gaunt faces and withering bodies, or clothing that looked decades, if not centuries, older than everything around them. But it didn’t matter. Her heart responded all the same, and she felt like pouting, or crying, or eating cake.
If there really was a baby named Walter still in the house, Amira was doubtful. If they encountered anyone alive, it would be a miracle. Stranger things have happened, she supposed. When had she become such a pessimist? She was capricious, sure, but usually not so desolate. She wrapped her hands around her amethyst, and it warmed in her palm. The light surged within her.
Akra lead them into the foyer. They squinted into the darkness. From her satchel, Amira produced her tinderbox, and handed it to Akra to light the oil lanterns.
The lanterns cast an eerie glow, illuminating the room, which was startlingly, impeccably clean. On the far wall, portraits of stern-looking aristocrats hung on the walls, the painted faces staring into nothingness. Hoben went to stand in front of them, swaying from side to side, as if ensuring that their eyes weren’t following him. Amira wasn’t sure what to make of him yet, but was impressed by his nerve. He seemed positively unaffected by everything they’d encountered. She had not expected that from a bard.
Phaedrus brought their attention to a shield hung between the portraits. Akra lifted it from its hook, and examined it. She positioned herself in a warrior pose, brows furrowed, and held the shield out, mimicking the movement of bashing someone’s face. Then she shrugged, and returned the shield to the wall.
Mahogany doors separated the foyer from the main hall, and the dragonborn pushed them open, revealing a spacious hall that also appeared to be recently cleaned. Liam followed Akra, who went straight toward the sweeping red marble staircase that wound up into the house. An impressive black fireplace stood on the far wall. Amira went to it, and ran a finger along its smooth facade. She had an affinity for black marble, and red marble, and white marble. Someday she’d have a home bedecked in marble. She loved stone with stark veins, white on black, black on white.
She knelt before the fireplace and opened her tinderbox, striking the flint against stone, and the fire roared to life. She half expected something supernatural to emerge from it, but all it emitted was a pleasant warmth. Hoben and Ruh Ruh flanked her, and she resisted the sudden urge to place a hand on each of their heads and pull them to her side. She needed something small to squeeze.
The fire brought to light more details of the room. Akra reached for the long sword mounted above the fireplace, which appeared to match the shield she had disregarded. The dragonborn seemed equally unimpressed by the sword, but she swung it around anyway for good measure.
Amira peered at the panels on the walls, ornately sculpted with images of vines, flowers, nymphs, and satyrs. After a moment of inspection, Amira noticed that there were serpents and skulls inconspicuously woven into the designs. She was beginning to appreciate the gloomy aesthetic of this weird house.
Akra bounded up the stairs, Liam and Phaedrus close behind. Amira returned to the fire, and attempted to warm her fingers, almost numb under her gloves, before continuing the search for the baby.
The moment of reprieve was short-lived. Amira heard shouting from the second floor, and the clash of metal on metal.