8 | Strange House

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Miles's funeral was held two days after the attack at a cemetery near Konstantin Academy. Nika donned her finest black skirt and went, but as she stood before the iron gates of the graveyard, she couldn't bring herself to step any further. So while students, staff, and relatives attended the ceremony, she'd emptied the contents of her stomach in a neighboring patch of wilderness.

Hours—she'd lost track of the exact number—later, Nika found herself standing on the moonlit streets of Lirovin Square.

Thirteen mansions lined the road on both sides, each with its own unique style. But the one rising before Nika now was her home, or what would have been her home, if Markos hadn't so frequently left her in the care of Lu's mother.

The Gothic building was elaborate and haunting, complete with sable towers that conspicuously soared into the gloomy sky. Windows lined the stone exterior from low to high, and gargoyles perched in secret nooks all around. It was a house worthy of its title—Dimitrovich Manor.

At high midnight, the inhabitants of Lirovin Square were busy at work. From the end of the cul-de-sac, where Nika now stood, all the way to the front gates, the authority and influence of politicians were being used behind virtually every door. These were the manors of the Ministers—the most superior group of Daemonstri in the Western Hemisphere.

Markos suddenly passed, making urgent demands into his cell phone. As he briskly carried himself through the front door, leaving her behind on the lawn, his voice echoed into oblivion.

He'd been on the phone with his associates for a small eternity, discussing all the implications of the attack. What response to give, when to hold a formal assembly, how to address the public. Same as always.

"Does he ever stop?" she muttered, slinging her bag over a shoulder and taking a paved path to the grand entrance.

After stepping inside, Nika feasted her eyes upon the elegant interior. Beyond the entry hall was a parlor, which served as the home for antique furniture and an enormous fireplace. The room's vaulted ceilings met at a point in the center, perhaps twenty or thirty feet overhead.

On the opposite side of the fireplace was a stone wall inlaid with a magnificent arched window. The geometric design was made of red-stained glass, and when the light shined through, it gave everything the distinct quality of having been soaked in blood.

The manor was quiet. Nothing but the ticking of a grandfather clock and Markos's faint voice, which seeped through the walls that separated him from Nika.

She turned in a circle, taking it all in.

It's smaller than I remember.

Romanovich cleared his throat and said, "Your room is this way."

Nika regarded the titan-man, who pointed toward a flowing staircase at the end of the entry corridor.

"Come. I'll show you."

Being head of security, he probably knew every angle and facet of this manor like the lines of his own hands. But it didn't stop Nika from dwelling on the absurdity that she needed to be guided through a house bearing her very name.

She followed in silence, absorbing her father's grand house. The walls were dimly lit with vintage lanterns, and Nika couldn't help but feeling out-of-place.

Dimitrovich Manor had been the home of her bloodline since some Daemonstri king sent thirteen Serafi families to America. They'd had one agenda, like any other nation: to reach the ends of the earth. So, those families had expanded the empire and founded what was now known as the Ministry.

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