Descent into Darkness Chapter One

Chapter One

Descent into Darkness Chapter One

Aerion, Aesteria 1860

Rayvn and Rayne sat silently as they listened to their nanny speak idly of the books they were to read, but neither really seemed to pay attention. Rayvn's ocean blue gaze continued to drift out the window of the castle, watching the sun glisten off the ocean below. From the north tower where they sat, she had a clear view of the sprawling ocean, the wind pushing the small waves against the coast.

Teresa, the twins' nanny cleared her throat and folded her arms as she realized that the two girls were not paying attention. She waited a moment to see if the girls would react to her lack of speaking, but when they did not she tapped the wooden desk irritably. "Miss Rayvn, do tell. What is the first rule of social basics for a young lady? And please, do not keep me waiting for your reply, for your parents will be most displeased if you do not know such things."

Rayvn turned her attention back to the woman and smiled softly. Her crimson lips tilting up slyly as she rose, brushing what wrinkles, if any out of her skirt as she folded her hands neatly behind her back taking the opportunity to adjust and loosen the corset she wore as well. Her mother had always insisted upon them being too tight, at least in her opinion. Her voice rang out soft and sweetly with the sound of the church bells in the evening. "Upon being introduced to a gentleman, a lady will never offer her hand madame, she should bow politely and say; I am pleased to make your acquaintance, or something to that effect."

Teresa looked pleased and slightly displeased with the five-year-old. She was glad the young woman had recalled the etiquette lesson so easily, but even at five, she seemed far too smug for her own good. She had the air of her father which hid the gentleness that they had both obtained from their mother. "Very good, miss. Now miss Rayne, may I have the second rule?"

Rayne stood as her sister returned to her seat. She stepped into the small isle next to her chair and faced the nanny in much the same way her sister had, but the young lady had a much more bored expression. It was clear they had been over this a thousand times and she felt as if she were above reviewing this once more. "Nuair a bowing ar an tsráid, is iomchuí incline an ceann gracefully, ach nach bhfuil an comhlacht." (When bowing on the street, it is appropriate to incline the head gracefully, but not the body.)

Teresa let out a soft sigh as the young woman spoke in Aesterian. She understood it easily, but their parents had preferred that both young women learned and mastered English, knowing that someday they may need to travel there, whether it be for social reasons or some other unforeseen reason that their parents had yet to explain to her. She did not inquire further of the Marquee and Marchioness, however, instead, she straightened a bit more. "Once more, miss Rayne. In English, if you would?"

Rayne tilted her head and sighed, she knew better than to show the nanny any attitude, for their mother would hear about it and she would receive yet another lecture about respecting her elders, especially those who meant to educate. She cleared her throat and raised her voice slightly, the sound of bells, much like her sisters, seemingly dampened. "When bowing on the street, madame, it is appropriate to incline the head gracefully, but not the body."

Teresa knew the young woman had found a way to defy her, even in the slight raising of her voice above what was necessary. Still, she took a deep breath and let it go. Marchioness Lillian had requested to be told of any issues with the girls, so that she may handle it appropriately, and not to take matters into her own hands. She made a note of the child's mocking tone and went on, holding herself all the taller. "Today we will review the rest of the basics as well, so please, girls, paying attention for the rest is just as important and after review, we will be moving onto dress etiquette. Now, the third rule is when traveling by train, carriage or any other setting that may involve others being seated near you; the well-bred lady has a delicate sense of self-respect that keeps her from contact with her neighbor, as far as such contact is avoidable. Tell me, ladies. What does this mean?"

Rayvn stood first as her sister seemed completely disinterested in answering, let alone paying enough attention to the nanny to truly grasp her question. Once more she folded her hands behind her back neatly as a sign of respect to their nanny and tutor. She softened her tone, though her gaze remained steady as she looked up at the woman. "If I may, madame, it means that a lady, young or old, is to sit up straight, with her arms folded neatly in her lap. If she happens to have a purse in her possession, the strap should be around her wrist and seated gently beneath her hands. In doing this, she will not make contact with her neighbor, unless the coachman or driver should pitch the ride in such a way to make contact unavoidable."

The nanny smiled as Rayvn presented her assessment and nodded, allowing the child to sit down. She was most pleased with the girl. Even when it seemed as if Rayvn wasn't paying attention, she absorbed everything and thought it through. Though she enjoyed the company of both girls, Rayne seemed to have her own thoughts on what made a woman, even at this age. She was ever defiant, always pressing her parent's and her own buttons to the point of often being kept at home when major social events required their presence. She found this distasteful, as it only seemed to push her further away from her sister and from being able to practice much needed social etiquette. "Rayne, perhaps you can explain what the meaning is of the rule 'A lady never looks back after anyone in the street or turns to stare at them in the theatre, concert hall, church or opera.'"

Rayne stood as she faced the nanny, chin up and gaze focused on her. It took her a moment to analyze the statement before she could bring her thoughts together. She would not deny, she had slowly become jealous of her older sister. It seemed she was favored by the nanny and her parents, most of all, their father. "It means, Madame that a proper lady does not look over her shoulder to seek someone out, nor does she hold her gaze with someone within a social setting."

The lessons went on for another two hours before Teresa could tell that the children had become restless and she would be able to do nothing to bring them back to the attention she required. She dismissed them for luncheon, hoping to give them an opportunity to practice their table manners with their parents. She watched the girls practically skip down the stairs to join their parents in the family dining room.

Jace stood as the twins entered, both girls curtsying lightly to their parents before being helped into their seats by the awaiting footmen. He smiled warmly as the girls chatted away with their mother about their lessons in Aesterian. He was, by far, proud of both of them. They were growing well, and from the sound of it, learning quickly about the social graces that they would need to thrive in their society. He watched as the servants brought in a stew, soda bread, and champ, along with the tea and apple cake.

The family ate in relative silence, enjoying their meal and the quiet acceptance of just being together. On occasion, Lillian or Jace spoke in order to remind one or both of the girls to mind their manners such as keeping their elbows off the table, correcting their posture or grip on their utensils or even something as simple and ever-present as lifting the pinky, just slightly as they sipped their tea. Both girls listened attentively, making corrections as they were told and, by the end of the meal seemed to have a better grasp on table etiquette.

Once lunch was over, Lillian took the girls to the stables for their riding lessons while Jace attended a meeting about the nearby lands under his rule. It seemed there was a dispute about farm boundaries that he would have to settle upon the land itself. It was less than an hour's ride, but Rayne seemed more than slightly disappointed that their father would, once again, not be attending her favorite lesson. If nothing else, she excelled at horseback riding, while Rayvn seemed ever nervous about being around the beasts, let alone astride one.

Lillian helped Rayvn mount the pony she had been assigned, the child looking clearly nervous about having her feet so far from the ground. She adjusted her skirt, quietly informing her mother as she insured the instructor could not hear that she much preferred riding full saddle rather than side-saddle. Lillian laughed softly at her child's predicament and promised that she would ride with her once the lesson was over, and she could break custom once they were in the depth of countryside.

Rayne hiked herself up onto her pony, ignoring her mother and sister tittering as she took hold of the reigns and near expertly guided her mount to join the instructor within the bounds of the training ring. She waited, almost impatiently, for her sister to join them. Once she did, their lesson began with their mother watching from outside the wooden barrier as both girls went through the motions of proper riding, whether it is in town or through the countryside. If she listened to no other lesson, she listened intently to all that their riding instructor said. She was determined to take advantage of her sister's discomfort astride her pony and excel in hopes that she gains more favor, at least in this, with her parents. She questioned often, begged to be corrected, even if she did the slightest thing wrong and listened for her mother to give praise, but of course, she did not, at least not while the instructor was present.

Lillian watched in silence as Rayne pulled the instructor's attentions to her. She had known for some time that the younger of the twins had seemed to have developed a silent jealousy when it came to the interactions of their father and sister. She had spoken to Jace about it, and he had promised to spend more time with Rayne but the man had land to run as well and without a son to take over, at least at the moment, he worried for the survival of their line more than he truly worried over what he felt were petty squabbles between his girls. She knew he cherished both of them, loved all three of them deeply but sometimes it was hard to tell. He came down hard on both girls, and though Rayvn seemed to understand why, Rayne seemed to only grow more distant. She had found herself compensating for this, making it a point to be available for the lessons Rayne seemed to cherish most and ensuring both girls got the appropriate praise.

Rayvn did her best to stay astride her horse while she watched her sister maintain perfect control and posture. Her pony moved with the slightest nudge, while Rayvn's own nervousness made her own skittish and unruly. She attempted to follow suit as the instructor gave her direction, but her pony felt her nervousness and danced left and right despite her attempt to get it to move forward. She heard her sister snicker and blushed deeply, she wished the lesson would end as she let her gaze drop, but the sharp whistle of the instructor made her jump and sit up straight again.

Gerard, the riding instructor could see the issue immediately as Rayvn's pony danced to and fro. He took a deep breath and whistled high and shrill to catch the child's attention and to keep the pony from starting and hurting her. For a moment, he ignored Rayne, even as she questioned him once again on something so basic he knew she could correct on her own by now. He strode over to Rayvn and calmed the pony, taking in her posture and the slight frown that etched her pretty features. "Ní mór duit a bheith chomh neirbhíseach, Miss. Is féidir le do chapaillíní bhraitheann sé agus beidh caith surely tú." (You must not be so nervous, miss. Your pony can feel it and will surely throw you.)

Rayne looked displeased at being ignored and continued with her practice, correcting herself when she found a mistake of her own doing. She could feel her mother watching and she smiled, waving lightly. She rode strong and proud, displaying her skill in a near cocky manner that was almost unbecoming of her as a lady but she did not care. She had found something she could outdo her older sister in and she would flaunt it, no matter how ill-mannered it made her seem.

Lillian could see the relief in Rayvn's face when Gerard called the lesson to an end, though he requested Rayvn stay behind. He wished to help her privately overcome the fear of her mount so that she may look just as elegant atop a pony, and eventually a horse as her sister did. Here was where Lillian became torn. With Jace being gone, she had the unfortunate choice of which child to support. Of course, she supported both of them, but physically being with them at the same time was neigh impossible when Rayne clearly wished for an escort into the countryside and Rayvn seemed to need the moral support.

Rayne could tell that her mother was unsure which of her twins to remain with, and that irritated her. Of all the things to have to do, choosing between sisters should not have to be one of them. Why couldn't Rayvn get over such an irrational and unfounded fear and focus on what she was doing so that they could ride together? She cleared her throat and caught her mother's gaze. "Máthair le do thoil a chur mé isteach sa tuath. Is main liom d'Rowan a stráice a cosa." (Mother, please take me into the countryside. I wish for Rowan to stretch her legs.)

Rayvn knew almost instantly that Rayne would win their mother's attention. There was not much Lillian could do for her oldest in this situation. She had to overcome the fear on her own. She let out a soft sigh and turned her attention back to the instructor as she knew her mother would go to retrieve her own horse and take a trip into the countryside with Rayne despite promising her she would do that with herself. She felt slighted, if nothing else but focused on what the instructor had to say. She would do this, if for no other reason than to be able to go with them the next time.

Jace came home as the sun had started to dip behind the rolling Aesterian hills. He smiled as he heard the familiar whinny of Rayvn's horse, Aeon. He steered his own mount toward the training ring to watch his daughter overcome her fear of the beast beneath her. He did not want to distract her, but with the girl's sister and mother nowhere to be seen, an oddity the rest of the house was sure to notice he called out to her. "Little love, where have your mother and sister gone this late in the eve?"

Rayvn's gaze seemed to brighten, her posture straightening as she saw her father. If anything could embarrass her at this point, it would be to have her father see her with such fear over such a silly thing as a horse. Though she knew all too well if she didn't be careful, the pony would throw her off, but she seemed to relax with Jace nearby and watching. "Papa! Mama took Rayne for a ride into the countryside... They should be back soon."

It was clear to Jace that Rayvn was not pleased with being left behind, but he also understood why. Though Rayvn excelled at the rest of her education, exceeding especially in etiquette when she chose to pay attention, her skills with a horse were often questioned. She seemed to lose confidence once her feet were removed from the ground, something she would have to get over should she wish to be married to a nobleman. He would not be able to remain beside her always, and it seemed, at least in this, she was drawing her confidence from having him near. "Sa chás sin, Hebony a ghlacadh chun a scioból nags dul athrú chun suipéar." ( In that case, take Hebony to the barn and go change for supper.)

Rayvn watched her father carefully and nodded, heeding his word as she dismounted from her pony and guided the pitch black mare into the barn for the night. She listened to her father come in shortly after, accompanied by a footman. She needed very little help settling the pony into the stall, though the stable hand had to bring in the hay and oat. She stroked the beast's nose and came to her father's side just as he was leaving, reaching up to take his hand.

Jace smiled at his eldest as she took his hand. Though only five, the child already came to his ribs. He was six foot two and nearly two hundred pounds, the child has to be at least four foot two, though her slight frame showed her to be at least sixty to seventy pounds, maybe eighty. None the less, he adored all three of his girls, though he worried as much as Lillian did that Rayne was beginning to grow jealous of her twin and act out because of it. He spoke as they walked toward the castle. He had yet to tell her, but they would be going to a new carnival that had arrived on the outside of Aerion. "Éan beag, conas a dhéanann tú, agus Rayne táille? Do mháthair agus mé eagla tú ag fás óna chéile." (Little bird, how do you and Rayne fare? Your mother and I fear you grow apart.)

Rayvn looked up at her father and bit her lip. Even at such a young age, she picked up rather well on the emotions of those around her, especially when it came to Rayne. She had, as of late, felt as if her sister was pushing her away as if her bond with their father greatly upset set her and pushed Rayne to seek attention from their mother instead. She had often begun to wonder why Rayne did this; it was as if her sister was attempting to outdo her in her mother's eyes because she could not do so in her father's. "Sea, I ndáiríre. Rayne cosúil nach dtaitníonn do cheadú de dom, papa. Dealraíonn sí aird a lorg ó mama aon uair í thart, agus pushes le haghaidh do chadú I gcónaí." (Yes, actually. Rayne seems to dislike your approval of me, papa. She seems to seek attention from mama whenever she's around and pushes for your approval constantly.)

Jace thought about his daughter's words as they entered the castle through the kitchen. He rarely took this route, as it was meant for the servants but they would be leaving soon and not only did Rayvn need to change, he did as well. He stilled Rayvn's speculations of her sister for a moment as he stopped to ask if his wife and daughter had returned yet. It seemed they had, shortly after he had escorted Rayvn back into the castle. He kissed the top of her head, sending her off to change while walking up to his own room. He wrapped his arms around Lillian as he walked in, his wife already having gotten word from one of the servants that they would be receiving a guest for supper. She was wearing a royal purple and cream gown. The corset had a cream trim along the top of the bodice, a floral piece up the right side. There was a sheer, cream-colored lace sash covering where the corset and skirts met. The skirt itself was two parts, the top a matching royal purple with cream lace trim, the bottom a soft cream color that contrasted the deep purple beautifully. "Angel, you look lovely tonight. I take it you heard about our trip?"

Lillian smiled as she felt her husband wrap his arms around her. She quite enjoyed his closeness, even if it was merely behind closed doors. She leaned back into his arms a bit more as he rested his chin lightly on her bare shoulder, looking into her eyes through the mirror. She could see the vague hunger in his eyes, knew what he wanted but he would have to wait, they both would. "Aye, my love. I have heard. I sent Rayne to change, and pray you have done the same for Rayvn if you have seen her since your arrival."

Jace could tell that she was worried about the relationship between the twins, but there was, as of yet, nothing that they knew of that they could do. He released his grip on his wife, turning to change out of his suit and into one more suitable to being outside so late. He adjusted the ascot against his throat as he finished and slicked back his fiery red hair one last time. "Aye, I did indeed send her to change, my love. We should be leaving soon, at any rate. The carriage should be pulling up shortly."

Rayvn and Rayne had decided upon the same dress, Rayne informing her older sister rather curtly that according to one of the servants, their father had intended them to go out tonight. The dresses in question had full skirts with black trim against the top of the bodices and about four inches above the hem of the skirts. They had an apron-like half skirt in the front, the back ruffled with a bow at the back and short sleeves. Rayvn's dress was a deep ocean blue while Rayne's was crimson. They both sat still only long enough for their nanny to plait their hair, curling the locks that framed their faces before sending them on their way, begging the girls to be on their best behavior.

The twins joined their parents in the entrance hall then proceeded out the front doors to the main steps, taking their place just in front of Jace and Lillian, their hands folded neatly in front of them. The family looked almost like a perfect picture. Rayvn and Rayne standing between their parents, their ankle length hair plaited down their backs, curls framing their faces as their parents stood behind them, Jace standing tall and proud, his left hand resting softly against the small of his wife's back, his right hand gently on Rayvn's shoulder, Lillian's right hand resting softly on Rayne's shoulder as they waited for their carriage to arrive.

A medium-sized oak wood carriage rolled up to the front steps of the castle, a footman helping the woman into the seats before helping Jace in as well, the cover was drawn up to protect the family from most of the evening chill. Once the family was settled, the driver snapped the reigns, sending the horses into a gallop over the dirt roadways they would have to travel in order to get to the carnival that Jace had seen setting up on his way home after meeting with the farmers to settle the land dispute.

It didn't take them long to get to the site, the carnival seemingly already in full swing. The family got out of the carriage, the twins staying rather close to their parents at first as they passed fire breathers, exotic animals in cages, games of chance, skill, and strength. There were people everywhere, laughing, screaming, and jeering at some of the sideshows. The one thing that seemed to catch Rayvn's attention was the large poster just outside of one of the shows. Images of demonic looking creatures seemed to reach out of the paper toward them. "Papa.... Papa! Let's go in there... I would like to see."

Jace smiled at her as he looked at the poster for a moment as he nodded. It was obvious that Lillian and Rayne were more interested in the animals that the strange things that Rayvn wanted to see. He kissed Lillian on the cheek, Rayne on the head and took Rayvn's hand as a cackling woman in a dirty, slightly torn Victorian gown pushed open the door for them. Rayvn wasn't greatly impressed by the woman as they passed, her attention slowly turning to the other creatures in cages. Some were disturbing, covered in hair with glowing eyes and talon-like claws while many looked like regular people, she couldn't quite figure out why they had to be behind bars.

They came to one particular cage and she stopped, looking at the board next to it. The creature was supposedly a vampire, but she saw nothing at first. Her curiosity got the better of her and she moved closer to the bars, keeping her hands primly folded in front of her until she could go no further. Without thinking she wrapped her small, pale hands around the two bars in front of her to try and get a better look at what was in the shadows just beyond. That was when the creature within decided to strike.

Before Rayvn could jerk away, she found a pale hand wrapped around her wrist, the nails of the creature yellowed and grown out to at the very least, three inches from the nail bed. Her eyes widened further as she looked up, the corpse-pale abomination having such shocking features she couldn't find her voice to scream. Its ears were pointed, the creature itself bald. Its eyes burned such a deep, angry red she feared they alone would consume her. The flesh upon it was pulled so tight against bone that it looked as if the muscle had all but shrunk away, its thin lips drawn back in a gruesome sneer revealing what looked to be razor sharp incisors.

Finally, as the initial shock from the sight of the creature ebbed into fear she was able to pull away. She took a couple steps back, her breathing coming in short, rapid bursts. As she turned to find her father, she came face to face with another horror. She didn't remember the hallway being so small, but opposite the vampire, seemingly reaching for her as well as something utterly different, yet equally terrifying. The large, muscular arm was covered with fine brown hair, almost fur-like. As she followed the rippling muscles, she found the arm attached to what looked like a combination of man and wolf. It stood upright, sure but its head was covered in the fine brown fur, its snout elongated to that of a wolf's. Had she not been in such a state of panic, she would have realized that it was nothing but a paper mask.

Jace had backtracked when he realized that Rayvn had let go of his hand, but he didn't have very far to go. His daughter came rushing out a short time after he had finally bargained with the gypsy-like woman at the exit to let him back in. The child's waist length onyx hair had begun to fall out of its plait in her state of panic. He wrapped his arms around her when she let out a scream from his initial touch, coming down to one knee to try and soothe her. He spoke lightly in Gaelic until she had calmed enough that her slender form had stopped shaking. "Come, Éan beag, let's go find your mother and sister. It seems we have had enough adventure for one night."

Rayvn nodded and kept close to her father once more, paying very little heed to the rest of the attractions and people around them as he led her to the main fairway. For the most part, she let her father do the searching, still too shaken to pay much attention to the faces of people and be of much use in finding Lillian and Rayne but once again, the soft 'oohs' and 'awes' of a gathering crowd caught her attention. As they passed what seemed to be the main stage she watched as a tall male figure juggle a fan of blades. From what she could see, the man had an athletic build, the muscles of his arms tightened and flexed as he threw them into the air. On stage, he looked like a giant, with arms as large around as small trees. The rest of his upper body was covered by a tan button down shirt, tucked neatly into his trousers. Just as the blades looked like they were going to pierce every inch of his body, she was tugged away by her father, but the image of the man, as well as the monsters she had come across, would remain in her memory forever.

Read next: Run Necromancer
Carolynn Reynolds

I am a Writer of Fiction. I have taken a specific interest in Vampires and demons with the consideration that there are so many different variations of both.

See all posts by Carolynn Reynolds