Chapter 8 | The Nursery

The first two floors of the house gleamed and shined, but the third floor could have belonged to a different house entirely: everything within sight was covered in a thick layer of dust.

Phaedrus pulled his hood across his nose. It was enough that he’d been breathing in the strange fog to unknown effect; he wanted to prevent the grime from clogging his senses. He was out of his element in this brick house. The patterns of weather and the phases of the moon were decipherable for a ranger. Stuck inside manmade structures and strange villages with lurking threats made it trickier to discern time and and direction and danger.

The third floor was quiet and still. There were several sets of doors leading into separate bedrooms, one just to the left of the staircase.

“Hello?” Akra called. No animated suits of armor awoke at her voice this time. “Let’s look for the baby, and get out of here.”

“What’s the rush?” said Hoben, his small foot prints stirring the thick, undisturbed carpet of muck. With a tiny finger, he drew a smiley face into the dreggy wall.

With Akra at his side, Phaedrus pushed open the first door to the left.

A feeble light trickled in from the slats in the boarded window. At one point, Phaedrus was sure the room was probably considered quite elegant, with a large bed, two end tables, and a wardrobe, open and empty. A crib, shrouded in a black veil, stood in the corner. That didn’t bode well. The shroud looked funereal, and Phaedrus had an inkling of what they might find under it.

The room suddenly filled with a soft glow. A hooded, skeletal figure with the cadaverous face of a young woman arose from behind the crib, its boney fingers reaching upward.

Instinctively Phaedrus nocked an arrow and aimed expertly toward the looming figure. The arrow passed through her ghostly torso, and Phaedrus couldn’t tell if it was affected by the impact. The figure reached for Akra, and the dragonborn blocked it with her shield, narrowly avoiding a hand upon her armor.

Amira lifted one hand toward the creature, the other tightly clasping her amethyst, her knuckles turning white. She closed her eyes, her scarf fluttering from an unseen breeze. From the center of her outstretched palm emerged a beam of pale purple light.

It hit the specter, and it shrieked a horrible shriek, the sound reverberating in Phaedrus’s chest. The creature dissolved into nothingness, and the room went quiet.

“I think that was the baby’s maid,” said Akra, matter-of-fact. “Or, what was left of her.”

Welp. That had been significantly more frightening than an animated set of armor. Bears, wolves, beasts with foaming mouths and teeth sharpened into points — all that, Phaedrus could handle. There were few enemies he had encountered in the forests who were left unscathed by the sharpness of his penetrating arrow. But these haunted, magical creatures were revealing new layers to the world he thought he knew so well, disturbing the natural order of things. He would have to quickly adapt to this new form of wild.

Akra pulled the black shroud from the crib, and Phaedrus recoiled, worried that they would find the ravaged, decaying body of an infant. Or worse, an infant visibly unmarked by death, its small face serene and preserved as if asleep. He knew whatever he saw would become embedded into his mind.

Together, Akra, Liam, and Phaedrus peered into the crib. Amira stood at a distance, and Hoben and Ruh Ruh peeked through the slots.

“Don’t touch it — “ Amira started, but Akra reached for the bundle. Phaedrus winced, readying himself for whatever it revealed.

Akra tugged at the blanket, and it unraveled. Nothing was cocooned within it. They sighed collectively when nothing further happened, but this unearthed a new development: there was no baby, which meant that Rose and Thorn’s story became very suspect. Perhaps Amira’s and Akra’s interrogation of the children had been somewhat warranted. Although the children had been right about one thing: there were monsters in this house.

Run Ruh and Liam inspected the room. The paladin touched the mirror next to the wardrobe, an elaborate design of ivy and berries carved into its wooden frame. Amira scrutinized it, and grinned.

“Eyeballs,” she said, pointing to the eyes carved among the berries. “What’s a nursery without some disembodied eyeballs?”

The mirror tilted on its hinge to reveal a small door frame, covered in cobwebs. Phaedrus didn’t have to ask — he knew that in moments they’d be going through it.

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