How could it all have gone so wrong?
How could it all have gone so wrong after years of preparation?
The Nine Sisters of Kashchei were no more, their sweet promises of revenge and delight unfulfilled. Oh, how Reynolds had wanted to lord his victory over his father, the father that had taken such pleasure in reminding him he was a bastard, the father that had never seen his son as anything more than a groundskeeper and a burden.
Gurlich Manor was burning, the fire had spread out from the gardens and was finding fuel in everything- furniture, trees, even the bodies of the party guests. The light from the fire was as bright as a sunrise and it cast flickering illumination through the windows of the one room cottage Larry Gurlich had allowed his son to live in. Reynolds was packing to leave. He didn’t have much to show for his near decade of thankless service; a few savings bonds, some cash and all the jewelry he had managed to steal from his father’s guests when the opportunity had presented itself.
It was enough for a new start, he had contacts in Los Angeles; that city of pornographers and sorcerers and everything in-between. Reynolds knew they had befriended him because they thought he was a quick path to his father but they had come to appreciate the talents that were his and his alone.
Hadn’t he let them taste the flesh of ghosts and the substance of dreams? Hadn’t he summoned creatures from the very Ruins of Creation for their amusement?
Yes, there were more than enough people out there that would help him start over, and even more that would follow him.
With a single suitcase packed Reynolds turned to go, his only regret was that he didn’t have time to steal any of the classic cars his father had collected and left to gather dust in storage.
“Going somewhere?” Audra DiMico asked.
Lorelei Miller gave her a disbelieving look, “I can’t believe you said that.”
“It seemed appropriate.”
“Can we get this over with so we can finish freeing all the animals?” Judy Bauer cast a nervous glance towards the open cages of the Garden Of Duchesses.
Reynolds stared at the three girls blocking the way out. He recognized one of them, she had almost cracked his ribs with a single kick. But the other two? He had no idea who they were, but they weren’t Girly Magazine material that was for damn sure. They had trouble written all over them- uninvited trouble.
“You cunts!” he realized aloud, “you’re the ones that ruined everything.”
Audra nodded sadly, “They always go right for the C-word don’t they?”
“Last refuge of a scoundrel,” Judy agreed.
The ax handle was still in reach, Reynolds grabbed it and waved it threateningly, “Get out of my way.”
“I would ask you why you did all this,” Audra said, “but I think the answer might be too pitiful to bear.”
Judy groaned, “Can we just finish this?”
The girl that had kicked him in the gut was just watching him and whispering under her breath; it was unintelligible but Reynolds still didn’t like the sound of it. Screaming like a madman he charged them, swinging the ax handle wildly.
Instead of backing away Lorelei stepped up to him and kissed him hard on the mouth.
The ax handle dropped to the floor, when the kiss broke Reynolds fell on top of it. He couldn’t move, he could barely breathe.
Lorelei wiped the blood from her lips already dreading the aftereffects of the Nightshade Kiss but how could she complain in the face of what her friends had gone through on this night? Audra had only escaped with a hasty translocation but she had been too hasty and glimpsed the very Heart of the Maelstrom; something no woman should ever do. Judy had protected herself from one of the Nine Sisters with a powerful spell of her own but the cost had been moments off her natural lifespan; when your future is uncertain those moments can add up.
As if there wasn’t enough that would haunt them about this terrible night.
“You won’t be able to move for a while,” Lorelei said, “if I had had more time I would have fixed it that you’d never move again but I suppose that would be pointless.”
Somewhere a peacock was screeching in alarm, Judy made an anxious sound and fidgeted in place, “Come on...”
“The fire hasn’t reached here yet, maybe it won’t even reach here at all” Lorelei explained, “so you’ve got a chance. That’s something isn’t it?”
Audra nodded, “We’re not monsters.”
“So... I guess that’s it, good luck.”
The three girls filed out of the cabin. Reynolds tried everything he knew, every invocation, every trick of the mind but he couldn’t move. He wanted to scream and beg but he could barely keep one breath coming after the other.
It wasn't long before he started to smell smoke.