The Cross Chronicles

Prologue

(Currently unpublished WIP)

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Everything was quiet in the great hall except for the surrounding murmur of deep sleep. A graying woman waited in an elegant reading chair, her thin frame flowing along its contours nicely. A newly set fire was the sole source of light in the room.  Liza Lumley pulled a black sweater tightly around her shoulders as the amber glow cast rhythmic flickers on the shadows of the room. She leaned forward in her chair and placed an empty teacup next to the teapot on the antique coffee table at her feet – the only thing between her and the empty chair opposite her. She took a deep breath, and rubbed her temples, waiting for the chamomile to take effect. She couldn’t shake the feeling that this had happened before. She reached inside her sweater and extracted a piece of paper. Unfolding it, she examined again the urgent letter that she had received earlier that day.

Liza stroked her chin with a frail hand as her weary eyes scanned the anonymous letter. She didn’t understand fully, but it explained what had happened, and why she was here. According to the letter, this wasn’t the first time. The words seemed to slip her mind the moment she stopped reading them. Her hand trembled. She felt compelled to keep these words in her mind. She wanted to remember. She closed her eyes, mouthing the words she had just read, and tried to commit them to memory. A moment later, she opened her eyes, and gasped at the letter. The words were vanishing from where they had been just moments ago.

Hearing a ticking sound over the crackling embers of the fire, she looked up at an ancient clock hanging above the fireplace mantle as it showed the eleventh hour would soon expire. “It’s always some awful hour of the night,” she finally muttered to herself, shaking her head to keep a memory she had just recalled. “You’d think that these people could do business during the day like everyone else.” She wondered how many of these they were going to send her way. Not that it mattered. She wouldn’t remember in the morning anyway.

She shifted in her seat, sensing her guest’s arrival. She took a deep breath, and wondered how it would happen this time. After what seemed like a very long minute, the familiar chimes from the old clock came, and Liza shot up in her seat, startled, as if she had just woken from a nightmare. The chimes hadn’t roused her, but rather, a knock at the front door. A knock? That surprised her indeed. Without turning to look at the door, she gave a mechanical “Come in,” her tone slightly louder than a whisper. The amber glow of the fireplace turned a cool blue momentarily, and there was a single flicker of flames as if a gust of night air had forced entry into the room. Liza didn’t flinch, even when the shadow behind the other chair writhed once, like a small blue creature trying to steal a look at her before going back into hiding. She looked up and found, sitting opposite her, a man draped in an ornate crimson cloak, and sitting perfectly still. Already in his hand was the other teacup that she had left for him. He lifted the cup to his mouth and sipped, silently before he spoke.

“Was the letter thorough enough to jog your memory?” asked the man looking down at the paper in his host’s lap. He sighed a deep, tired sigh, and ran a hand through his long silver hair. “Or do I need to make time to fill in the gaps?”

“Yes,” she said. “That is to say, I have been able to recall some things.” She reached out, and placed the blank paper on the coffee table in front of him. “Please understand, you really didn’t give me much time before the letter, well, expired…”

The man folded his robe on his lap, and leaned in. “I have brought you another,” he said in a solemn, almost sad voice before he leaned back in his chair. “This will be the last.”

“But…” she said, not expecting this. “But, I thought we had already taken in too many to be safe. Too many in one place could give us away. The letter itself said so.”

“Yes Liza, you have,” he said with a sigh as he gave a quick glance at the old clock before looking back at her. “But there is nowhere else to go. Don’t you understand? This one is particularly special, and will require extra care.”

Liza sat up a little straighter in her chair. “I can’t take another,” she said, as though she had made up her mind suddenly. “I can’t take another and risk what it might happen to the others.”

The man studied her for a moment. “You must take him, Liza,” he said as he gazed at into the amber fire, flames reflecting in his eyes. “He is the last one.”

Liza shook her head. “That is what you said last time, and yet here you are-”

“You don’t understand,” he said, his tone definitive now. “The others have been… slain. He is the last one of his kind.”

“What?” she asked before falling silent. Her eyes searched the room for understanding. The writhing shadows seemed deeper somehow.

“Will you keep him safe, no matter the cost?” he said. She nodded, unable to find her voice. “At some point they may realize what we have done, and you must be ready for them here.”

“How can I be ready for that?” she asked incredulously.

“You will receive further instruction when the time is right,” he said. “You will have power enough to protect them at your own discretion.”

“But I won’t remember…”

“No, you won’t; but when the time is right you will know what to do.”

He reached inside his cloak and pulled out a black package. Tied to the outside of the package was a black envelope and a name. “Give him this,” he said as he handed the package to her. She promptly grabbed it from him, trying to steal a look down at the name on the envelope. It had faded away, though, just as her letter had. She looked up to give one last retort, but the man was gone.

 

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