Awakening in terror and pain, Sarah’s screams are enough to bring a panicked mother and several worried servants running to her bedside. They are quickly followed by a steadier Sir Robert. Though late in the evening, he is the only one showing little signs of having had his sleep disrupted.
Joining the others, Robert finds Sarah sitting upright in bed, sweat beading her brow and the girl’s panic-wide eyes staring unfocused into the physical world. Her breath comes in quick gasps, while her right arm hangs ravaged and useless, blood soaking through the shoulder fabric of her sleeping clothes. In Sarah’s left hand she clutches her precious flute. It is a death grip none can force open.
Were she aware enough of her surroundings, Sarah would know Neriah’s gift of a talisman around her neck is radiating white-hot with protective magic. As such, in those initial moments of wakefulness she only feels warmth pulsing across her chest and towards her back, while the rest of her body spasms from its proximity to Death.
The cause of her painful screams and so much bloody mess is quickly discovered to be three long lacerations across her shoulder. Exactly how the cuts were inflicted is anybody’s guess. In time, Sarah is calmed, her stained nightgown stripped, and the shoulder bandaged. Only afterwards is she able to offer a quick synopsis of her dream to Robert who begins to question the true severity of her wounds. That there may be more here than meets the eye is evident. His final words on the matter being that Lord Rush must be notified.
The details of Sarah’s nightmarish tale must wait for the morning as a liberal amount of medicinal tea forces her into unconsciousness. Thankfully, this sleep proves to be far more restful than her earlier attempt.
With the arrival of morning Sarah’s wounds are carefully checked for possible infection by the house physician. What is found instead is almost as worrisome. The three slashes are completely healed, already showing scars that could pass for a much older wound. How or why any of this has come about is a mystery. It certainly smacks of magic and only heaps on more unanswered questions. Luckily, the shoulder seems to have healed well. Only a slight stiffness and the scars serve as a physical reminder of the night’s trauma. It is far less a hindrance than anyone ever expected.
At some point, Robert stops by the apartments to look in on Sarah and her recovery. As predicted, his young charge is still visibly shaken by the previous night’s experience, not to mention the day’s earlier visitor in one, Sir Oliver Thompson. For if the nightmare was not enough to cause Sarah to question her security within the Rush Estates, the misrepresented arrival of the enigmatic stranger had her already on edge.
Sir Oliver Thompson… a kind and caring face with manners to match… a well dressed, manicured gentleman who offered to help a young girl in need… a man who turned out to be nothing more than another worry piled upon what is already a mountain of suspicion and fear.
Sir Oliver Thompson… He had come and gone from the estates without so much as a “by your leave” to those Sarah believes all-powerful and knowing within its confines. And worse yet, she had spilled her life story to the man. Divulging every aspect of her involvement in the destruction of the dockside demon, seeking out Quail with her “travels,” encountering and escaping not one, but two ancient beings of power, helping to defeat the Tymorian priests, and finally her own concerns about feeling continuously hunted by some otherworld entity. She told him everything. Everything in the belief that Oliver was sent by Robert to help Sarah make sense of the things that were happening to her. But it was not to be.
Only when Sarah went to speak of Oliver and their meeting did she learn from Robert the truth of her mistaken trust. Oliver was an unknown, his name and visage unrecognizable. And worst of all, the usually unflappable servant to Lord Rush seemed quite disturbed by this stranger’s appearance at the estates. That this “Sir Oliver Thompson” character was seemingly aware of the contents of a private conversation – where Robert had promised to bring someone forth to help Sarah deal with her personal demons – only made him appear more troubled. So much so as to make Robert react in an almost paranoid fashion, soliciting a most uncharacteristic response.
Such was Robert’s concern over what he had been told that it caused an involuntarily draw of a bladed weapon and an impromptu investigation of Sarah’s room for any possible unseen intruders. In turn, Sarah couldn’t help being effected. Seeing Robert seemingly upset only heightened her alarm for her own safety, such that she crafted a ball of force in anticipation of the need to protect herself.
Thankfully, neither of them found reason to use their chosen weapon. Excepting the two of them, Sarah’s room was empty. But not wanting to waste what energy she had already drawn forth, Sarah took the opportunity to understand more of her immediate surroundings. What she found was every wall, floor, and ceiling covered in magical runes, visible only now by her crafted efforts. Be they protection or cage, the distinction was difficult to make.
Now, only a day and night following the strange and traumatic visitations, Sarah sits with Robert once more, pleading for him to do something, anything, to protect her. Recognizing Sarah’s struggle to keep it together, Robert assures the girl he will bring her request to Lord Rush. Something will be done soon. Sarah only hopes that what ever is planned, it happens before Oliver makes good on his promise to return, or before her next nightmare kills her.
Though stressed as Sarah is, there is only one thing for it: music. Music has always been her sanctuary. Today should be no different. If she is to have any peace of mind, it will be found with an instrument in hand.
Feeling well enough to take a day of piano with Lady Veronica, Sarah finds herself in the music room at her appointed time. But recent events have left the girl in a less than cheerful mood. Sensing a change in her usually affable student, Veronica offers to instruct Sarah in tunes of a more melancholy nature.
It isn’t long before the two are wallowing in a rather dark and gloomy composition that perfectly fits Sarah’s joyless disposition. Even so, it’s conclusion brings both performer and audience a certain level of satisfaction. But there is more than Sarah as listener. The audience also happens to include an undiscovered Lord Rush.
Typical of a Rush entrance, neither Sarah nor Veronica is aware of his arrival until the man makes himself known. And as usual, it is startling. Even though the time is an hour shy of noon, his immaculate attire implies otherwise. It is as if Lord Rush just stepped away from the most fashionable dinner party and into the music parlor for an after-meal cognac and an evening of entertainment. Neither of the ladies can fathom how he came to be there.
Gliding forth from a corner of the room where there is no door, Rush offers Veronica a rare complement of sincerity. His tone one of self-assurance and complete control, as if he were the master of all that surrounds him. Which is the exact truth of the matter.
“My dear Lady Veronica, how I do enjoy your interpretation of that particular piece. As always, it is a pleasure to hear you perform. May I offer my sincerest compliments?”
Lady Veronica, overcoming the surprise of Rush’s sudden appearance, quickly rises from the piano bench and offers the perfect picturesque curtsy. It is the only possible response she would dare to offer on such sudden notice. As always, Veronica is dressed in the finest fashions and flawlessly coifed to match, the ideal compliment to Rush’s extravagant nature.
“Thank you milord. As always, you are far too generous.” Veronica’s tone is equally self-assured, but understanding of its place. There is no mistaking who is in power here.
The lord’s gaze then falls upon Sarah, her head bowed, eyes upon the floor. And in that same self-important tone Rush addresses Veronica’s student, “And you, if I am to understand correctly, suffered a bit of unpleasantry last night. You so do seem to be having more than your fair share of unwelcome visitors. Wouldn’t you say?”
“Yes, milord,” is all Sarah can muster in a response to the man who holds sway over her very existence.
Rush continues his rather one-sided conversation. “Perhaps we should do something about that. But first, if you would allow me to take a look at your offended shoulder, I would like very much to see with my own eyes what I am to be dealing with.”
Sarah, having the foresight not to wear one of the more restrictive dresses in her wardrobe, reveals her shoulder. What Rush sees there appears to be three very old scars. It is all Sarah can do not to cringe away in fear as he runs a cold and disquieting finger down the center white line. There is too much in his contact that echoes the one who recently placed these scars upon her skin. But no matter Sarah’s displeasure, she remains motionless, head bowed in inspection.
“Interesting. How unfortunate such pretty skin should be marred in such a fashion. And to be so young at that.” It is an assessment that does little to ease Sarah’s fears of this man.
Walking around and facing the slightly trembling girl, Rush continues, “Yes, I shall have to deal with that if you wish. But you must understand, there will be a price to pay. For there is always a price to pay in such matters. Are you willing little one? Are you brave enough to face the consequences of my aid?”
For the first time in their verbal exchange and since Rush was found to be in the room, Sarah lifts her head to face the lord of the manor. There are the beginnings of tears in her eyes and the slight quiver of a trembling jaw line. And though her voice is meek to the point of almost being unspoken, her decision is made.
Looking him in the eyes for the first time, she offers her timid reply, “Yes milord.”
A small smile works its way across Rush’s painted lips, a smile that fails to meet his eyes with any real compassion. “Very well, I shall have Robert fetch you when I have made the necessary preparations.”
“Yes milord.” Again, it is all Sarah can offer in her ever-disappearing voice. Her eyes once again cast down to the wooden floor.
With her gaze averted Sarah is unsure as to what transpires between Lord Rush and Lady Veronica as he leaves. But in that briefest of moments it is enough to cause the normally unshakable demeanor of the former to lie in shambles. For as Sarah finally looks up after the lord’s departure, she discovers Veronica to be flush and at a loss for coherent speech. Her carefully cultivated bearing is nowhere in evidence. If the child had any reference to base her findings upon, she would have to say the woman was fairly sacked for her feminine treasures. Veronica truly seems a mess. Physically and emotionally.
Recognizing that neither of them is in any way capable of continuing the day’s lesson, both student and teacher agree to retire early to Veronica’s apartments and then lunch, where the remainder of the afternoon is spent contemplating and recovering from their time with Lord Rush. It is a quite and unfulfilling lunch.