24: Memories of the Undead

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Part 24: Memories of the Undead

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"I have saved your life by receiving you into my castle..." (Beauty and the Beast, Jeanne-Marie LePrince de Beaumont)

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-Ruta-

"Mother?"

My mother's serene face continues to stare down at me, unblinking and emotionless. My face pulsates with the sensation of oncoming tears, but they never come. Dry, painful sobs rack my body as my shaky hand reaches for my mother.

"I couldn't protect Father!" I cry in a hoarse, cracking voice. "Please forgive me, Mother...!"

My quivering fingertips lightly graze across Mother's cheek before becoming abruptly still. Her skin feels strangely smooth, like parchment. I pull away my hand and allow my eyes to truly focus on Mother.

What I thought was Mother is nothing more than a painting of her. A painting... Where in the world am I?

I sit up so fast that my head swims. I place a hand to my head to steady myself before giving the painting a more thorough evaluation.

I knew it. It's the same giant painting Father put in his room after her death, the one I often found him staring at when he thought he was alone.

I'm in Father's room. I glance around at the familiar red décor that Father adored so much. A trembling smile overtakes my thin lips as I gaze at the huge desk in the corner, still piled high with unsigned requests from our villages. I move on to the wooden wardrobe to my left. A frown replaces my smile when I see that its doors have been ripped off. The expensive capes and clothing inside have all disappeared, most likely because of the wandering hands of shameless servants.

I can't even begin to explain how I got here, in my father's bedroom. My hands rub the mattress I'm seated upon. I smirk savagely at the ceiling.

"Is this another one of your tricks, Katharsis?" I coo. "Or have you broken our deal and sent me to the after life?"

My hand suddenly rubs across human skin. I look down at the bed and scream. Looking up at me with sad, dead eyes is the bloody head of my Father.

My scream continues as I crawl away from the severed head. My hand misjudges the edge of the mattress and I tumble backwards to the floor. I curl up into a ball and whimper, too afraid to even move. I thought the image had been purged from my mind, but now it's back and I can't erase it.

A small voice speaks, pulling me out of the bloody images that try to conquer my sanity.

"Ruta?"

Using all of my mental strength, I force my body to unfold. I take a few, shaking breaths before I peer over the edge of the bed.

The head is gone. In fact, it seems as though it were never there in the first place. Instead, I find Eden staring back in my general direction.

"Eden!" I cry, surprised to see my little companion. He looks a little worn out. His round face is smudged with soot and his eyes are red.

I fight away what little guilt I retained for leaving him in a burning building before I pull myself up to my feet and address him. I speak calmly and slowly, refusing to succumb to the fear that still lingers in me.

"Do you know what happened?" I ask while sitting back on the bed.

Eden shakes his head from side to side. "No," he admits. His voice sounds gritty, like he's swallowed a mouthful of sand. "I was asleep until the knight saved me. He told me there was a fire."

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