The dark haired girl had been watching from the garden stairs. She was watching the other children play - as much as what any of their interactions counted as play. Off to one side, sitting quietly, was the Monère child. Easy to spot, the pale girl with matching ghostly hair stood out amongst the manicured hedges.
Eden watched and tilted her head slightly. The girl was moving her hands, as if in conversation with someone. She had seen this often, but now, without the adults around, she approached the girl carefully.
"Who are you talking to?"
The blonde girl looked up. She recognised Eden...she walked with them at the Fundays. Lifting her shoulders slightly, she looked at something, then back at Eden.
"They're not real," Lyra said dismissively, bracing for a taunt.
Eden looked to where Lyra had looked and smiled, sitting down next to her.
"I don't mind. Will you tell me anyway?"
Lyra watched the dark haired girl without moving, waiting, her eyes boring into her. She looked like Snow White, Lyra decided, watching as Eden shifted and second guessed her decision to come over and talk to her.
"I am talking to Jackal," Lyra said finally.
"Is that a boy?"
"No. He's a giant black jackal with yellow eyes and really sharp teeth," Lyra waved a hand in the air indicating something only she could see...presumably teeth.
Eden paused, wondering how to respond.
"He is my friend," Added Lyra, helpfully.
"Oh...well that's good. He doesn't sound like someone you'd want to be enemies with," Eden paused, then asked, "Why do you talk to him if he isn't real?"
"Lots of things aren't real, and we treat them like they are. Besides, he spoke to me first, and it would be rude not to reply," Lyra answered, then suddenly her dreamy tone sharpened, as if she had been struck by an idea and she smiled at Eden.
"We should play."
Eden smiled and shook her head, "No, I'm ok, thanks. I don't play."
Lyra nodded, "I know, but you should."
The blonde girl stood up and straightened her dress, then held out a hand.
Eden looked uneasy. She tried her best at all times to have perspective, control and an external calm. 'Play' had no place in that.
"Don't worry, Jackal and I will keep you safe while we play," Lyra assured her.
Eden looked around the yard. Nothing there was safe, there was only the illusion of safety...but if illusions were all they had, then why not play with the strange pale girl and her giant predatory canine? It was as good a make believe as any.
The tall figure strode through the parlour lounge with an uneven gait, black hooded cloak pulled low over a white bone face and trailing in tatters behind him. In his hand, a long scythe. The women squealed in delight or terror as they skittered out the way, prompting drunken cackles from the observers.
The air smelt thickly of spices and burnt meat.
Lyra followed the figure from a distance, tailing him from room to room, watching as guests cowered behind furniture, others jovially pushing their prey into his path.
Eventually she darted forward and wrapped her arms around the figure's legs, squeezing her eyes shut tight.
"Please. Please, take me and my friends. We won't be any trouble...I promise," her voice was barely a whisper.
The figure halted and twisted to loom over her, the scythe lifting and sweeping down to push her away with a blunted end to her throat. The pressure on her larynx made her cough as she stared up at the cloaked form drawing to it's full height before her.
The Professor's voice struck her and drew her gaze away. He held out a hand for her from nearby, or rather, indicated that she should take her place beside him.
Lyra gave one last look up at the Grim Reaper before hurrying to the Professor.
"What were you doing Claudia?" the Professor asked as he led her from the room.
"Asking a favour," she replied quietly.
"And what favour might a man in a nonsensical costume provide our Claudia?" asked the professor, making no effort to hide his amusement.
"None," came the soft answer, "But I thought that if I addressed him as a fetish of a cultural personification that it might make me feel sated in an effort to achieve an otherwise unacceptable goal."
The Professor stopped and looked at the child, unfazed by her eloquent assessment of her actions.
"And whose death are you hoping for, my dear child?"
Lyra sighed, her small shoulders slumping.
"Tell me where you go?"
Eden and Lyra were sitting on a small divan when the dinner chimes rang. Eden looked politely confused as she stood, an expression that seemed common when speaking to Lyra.
"Where I go, when?"
"When they hurt you," Lyra replied bluntly, "When they stick their dicks into you or beat you til you are purple. You go away somewhere."
Eden stared at Lyra, confused as to what she meant until Lyra reached out and gently tapped Eden's forehead.
"In here. Where do you go?"
A dozen defensive instincts flew through Eden's mind. Why was she asking? Was it obvious? Did the Professor point it out to her? Or worse...the blonde boy?
Lyra shrugged, standing and starting to head towards the door leading to the dining room, "You don't have to say if you don't want to."
Eden grit her teeth and forced a smile before turning and walking towards the hallway that lead the bedrooms.
"I forgot something," she said simply. Suddenly she didn't want dinner.
"Eden, wait!" Lyra ran up behind her. Eden turned and the young girl thrust out a hand with a small folded paper boat in her hands.
"In case it takes a long trip to get there," Lyra said.
Eden took a deep breath, "Well...my house doesn't have any water nearby for a boat. It's in here..." she tapped her head with her finger, looking a little sheepish, "But maybe I could try to make some.".
Lyra brightened and returned the sheepish smile.
"I've always wanted to live by the ocean."
A second, more demanding bell rang through the estate and the two girls obediently turned towards the dining room. As they walked Eden felt a streak of concern flash through her mind. Vulnerability was not safe, even over something seemingly so small.
What small parts she could keep to herself were so precious.
"She is a Monère, Jerald. She has been here for a month now, under the apparent 'observation' of Kreutz. No further test should be necessary," Lyra's father spoke from behind where she stood awaiting her 'appraisal.', She could not see him, but he was using a tone of voice she knew all too well.
Lyra was just grateful to be away from the doctor. He was like her father in some ways, they both liked pain, and books. But where her father used gracefully cruel antiques, the professor used sleek implements and things that didn't touch your outsides but hurt you terribly inside.
Like the White Room.
"If your child is so bloody fancy, Armand, then..." the man behind Jerald Black was silenced by a gesture from the merchant banker.
"I'm afraid," purred Jerald, "That it is required. A tribute is only binding if it is accepted, and to be accepted we must follow protocol."
Armand looked disdainfully at the Englishman before him. Jerald Black cut a fine figure amongst his council of degenerates. Both men were aware a truce would be reached, had to be reached. The Monères and Blacks had a feud dating back as long as either could say, but; as Armand had himself pointed out: 'Men like us may succeed against each other for only so long before blood is drawn or truce made.'
As the men talked, Lyra watched the boy whom Jerald was indicating. Around her own age, the boy had bright blue eyes and black hair. She considered her own appearance, her pale skin and hair.
'We look like chess pieces,' she mused, 'Black and white.'
Lyra shivered slightly, reminded again that she was naked by a draft tickling her back.
'Remember that,' she noted to herself.
She wasn't sure she liked the way the boy looked at her.
'Like the hounds look at meat,' she thought, straightening her shoulders. 'I am not meat...well...I suppose technically I am. But so is he, then.'
By this point Jerald Black had begun talking to the boy. Lyra wriggled her toes on the thick carpet, drinking in the sensation.
'Remember this,' she thought.
The boy approached her slowly.
'He looks like a photo negative of Jacob,' she mused, the concerned pang at the thought of her baby brother suddenly cut short by a blow to her face from the boy.
Her expression was so incredulous that even Armand gave a snort of laughter. Lyra looked to her father, then back to the boy, who grinned and responded by striking her again.
'Ok,' she thought and took a deep breath.
She kicked the boy hard in the shins, watching him double over before kneeing him in the stomach. The adults roared with laughter. Lyra wondered vaguely at what they were laughing at, but before she could look the boy had tackled her to the floor, pinning her to the ground.
"Bitch!" he spat at her, wrapping his fingers around her throat and drawing back a balled up fist.
She stared at him.
'Remember this,' she told herself, and lifted her chin.
The boy stared at her, confused. She didn't wince...he wanted her to wince. He re-adjusted his aim and punched her in the stomach, seemingly delighting in the noise she made as he winded her.
Air rushed out of her body, pain in her lungs as she stared up at him.
He paused his assault and looked at her face, hungry to see her cry. Yes, there were tears in her eyes, but she wasn't crying. He knew the difference between fear and the physical reaction to pain.
Letting out a growl of annoyance, he clamped both hands around her throat, leant in and bit her cheek hard. She cried out in pain and the blood in his mouth tasted of victory for a brief moment.
Then she lashed out and clawed at his eyes, scrambling out from beneath him and throwing herself against a couch, gasping. She heard a malicious giggle as he stalked over.
'Remember this,' she breathed to herself, "Remember this!"
"I won't," hissed the boy, tilting his head, "I won't remember anything about you." He walked over and grabbed her hair, yanking her away from the couch and to her feet.
"Not you. Me," she muttered, dazed, "Remember feelings. In the White Room, it all disappears. Everything disappears...I disappear. Unless I remember what feeling is like."
Lyra dug her fingers into the wound on her cheek curiously, wincing at the pain. He stared at her, then, his grip on her hair loosening.
Perhaps they were right. Perhaps she was mad. She sure acted crazy.
Reaching out suddenly, ran her bloody hand down his face, using his momentary disgust to pull out of his grasp and stumble behind her father.
She couldn't pick which adult had called it, but it was a relief to hear regardless.
"Clean them up for dinner. Tonight, we'll welcome the Monères to the table."
Lyra felt a hand clamp around her wrist and drag her away. As she passed the glaring boy she muttered a thank you.
Written by Luna Madness.
All characters and story lines remain the property of N.Ristovski and the Underground. All character writings within the Underground are fictitious. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2016. Natalie Ristovski.