Once Upon a Time – Chap. 18.1

Standing on either side of the woman in the lovely indigo gown were two men also dressed classier than the room’s guards. They wore cloaks of their own but ones made of a black fur that looked fairly itchy and heavy but luxuriously fashionable nonetheless. While the woman still kept to her painfully tight looking bun, her colleagues bore the same greasy, black hair combed to the side as each other. They also managed to hold identical expressions for which the word greasy equally worked well for. If the gentlemen happened to not be twins, they were obviously quite in tune with one another’s style and mood. They were in accord as far as action also, both silently removing their cloaks and holding them up until a guard rushing over from either side claimed them.

Unlike the party-ready woman the twin Keepers appeared more prepared to do some sort of ritual, magic or otherwise, as elimination of their cloaks revealed thinner cloth ones that were dyed burgundy and embroidered with crimson sashes running from shoulder to the garments’ front edge. Stitched into the left side of the sashes themselves was a hand’s width braid of gold, silver, and black.

There was nothing particularly amazing about the tri-colored decoration to Sylvia and in fact, even with her limited experience as a seamstress, the braids themselves came across more amateur than intricate. A gasp from the vampire standing next to her quickly indicated at least one person was impressed or very surprised.

“Friends of yours?” she whispered to V. The silence received back only told Sylvia he was either trying to avoid risk of being realized not to be an actual guard or he was too shocked to have taken notice of her question. She hoped it was not a sign that she might as well go jump head first into the pool to get things over with. The guard she’d pushed into the water was still making slow but eventual progress by doggy paddling his way to the pool’s edge.

Despite being a Keepers trio, it was obviously the woman in charge and in the foulest mood as she stamped her foot and shouted at the poor man. “Sebastian, why are you frolicking around in there?”

“Forgive me madam but I swear it was far from my intention.” The guard pulled himself out of the pool and shot a drenched sleeve toward Sylvia. “That vixen pushed me in here!”

“Did she now?” the woman spoke with an air of humor and smiled as her head revolved back to Sylvia. She leaned forward, pressing both hands to her hips. “You’re determined to be a little trouble-maker aren’t you, dear?”

Sylvia kept silent, only raising a brow at the theatrical seriousness.   

“And still privy to being the quiet one I see.” The woman’s grin turned to a grimace while she leaned back into a normal posture and glanced about the room. “The others haven’t made it back with that fragment from the desert yet?” she called out to the rest of her minions.

“No, madam,” answered one of the guards standing at the end of the room where Seth and Deigen still remained. “There’s been no word of their return yet.”

The twin standing at the woman’s right leaned in her. “They should have been back here by now, Serena. The man’s home wasn’t that far away.”

“If you’d bothered to ask,” said Sylvia, crossing her arms. “I would have told you your guards will be out of luck if it’s a chunk of magical rock they went to get. And if they really do find my uncle, they’ll only get trouble.”

“And what could your precious uncle do to three of our armed guards?” cooed the other twin standing on Serena’s left.

“Eat them!” called out Seth.

Everyone in the room except Sylvia and the vampires responded with confused stares. Seth shrugged. “Well, if he happened to be a zombie when they got there he might. Not that anyone should think he is. But the land is cursed and all so it’s always a possibility, right?” The zombie seemed ready to continue speaking until Deigen jabbed him with an elbow.

“Seth-,” the vampire hissed a whisper, “-even I’m being quiet. Shut your blasted mouth!”

“It matters not whether he’s living or dead,” said Serena. “We will rule over everyone soon enough.” She turned back to Sylvia, taking a step toward her. “And you, my little trouble-maker, have a decision to make.”

Sylvia’s brow furrowed. “Decision?”

Serena raised a hand toward Arthur and Megan. “You are quite a unique young woman. You have some aptitude for magic which few others such as these mangy rug rats possess.” She pointed the hand toward Sylvia before lowering it back at her side. “You are obviously untrained but have the gift nonetheless. That being the case, you alone may have the privilege of joining us.”

“Join you?” Sylvia spoke as though she’d just been offered opportunity to become a sewer rat. “I don’t want to join you, I want to see my mother and the rest of my family!”

“And perhaps you will,” Serena continued speaking in a calm tone dripping with the arrogance that comes with feeling very much in charge. “If you choose to become a member of the Keepers. Choose not to-” she tilted her head toward the pool, “-and you will certainly be taking a swim.”

Seth raised his hand. “Is there a third option?”

Serena’s eyes narrowed. “No.” She squinted, trying to see the face hidden in the cloak’s hood. “Who are you?”

“Thaddeus,” lied the zombie, providing the only guards name he and everyone else in the group had learned earlier.

“Ah.” All three Keepers rolled their eyes and nodded as though the name explained the strange outbursts perfectly.



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