The great stone structure stood black against the dying light of evening and as the tumultuous night rolled in over the horizon, the steeples were all but blotted out save for the brief flashes of red that scorched the undersides of the pregnant, storm clouds. The breeze from the late summer afternoon had turned to great gusts that whipped at the forest and sent violent waves through the long grass of the nearby meadow. The clouds encroached further, strangling off the last rays of the sunlight in its grip. The thunder groaned deep and angry but distantly. In what felt like an instant, the small town and the great house in the forest were cloaked in a night so dark, the dawn felt like a dream.
In that house atop the hillside, the windows were barren and dark save for the dim light cast in one of the western windows, high enough to see the horizon over the treeline. Inside this room was a dour young man and a nervous older woman who sat arranged like figures in a lavish doll house. The woman sat still as possible, trying in vain to focus on the embers of the fire light in hopes that it would bring some warmth to the otherwise chilled room. The plush furniture reflected the dull light of the dying flames. The glint of light off the silver embroidery of the large wing chair reminded the woman of frost in the dead of winter and made the room feel even more cold and drafty. Caroline Fevrier cupped the tiny bone china tea cup in her hands and cast worried glances between the dim light in the drawing room fireplace and her brother, standing sullenly in the corner of the room at the large window. He was overcome with one of his moods and had been nearly silent since dinner.
“It is so dreadfully dark out,” she shivered as she ushered herself closer to the fire place. “I must say that this house, for all its beauty, Victor, is a might bit odd. I should think that it was at least a hundred years old by the look of the outside of it. If not for all the modern conveniences you have brought here, I might believe you’d been swindled. I certainly wouldn’t have guessed that you had built such a home. It would be regarded as quite the chateau back home.”
Victor did not reply. His face was a mask, as it always was when he thought of the past. His dark eyes mirrored the world outside, the lights in the town below the forest seemingly winked out of existence. Eyes that mirrored the deepening black of nightfall.
“Victor, I do wish that you would visit. We’ve spent so long apart now, my brother, and it pains me to see you like this,” she complained, softly. It was the gentle complaint of a sister that was almost twice his age and all her wild temperaments spent. “Come away from the window. Surely the moon doesn’t need your admiration tonight. You have her for company each evening.”
“Alas, I fear she will not be making an appearance tonight,” he said, his voice calm but there was a slight edge to it. “There is a storm on the horizon.”
“A fine companion to your mood, my brother,” she sighed.
“Had you another companion in mind, dear Caroline?” he mused, his tone lightening.
Caroline looked away. If not for the cooling tea cup in her hand, she might have been fidgeting but she had carefully made certain that there was nothing nearby that might tempt her. The tea had been too hot anyway so she allowed the too warm porcelain to sit uncomfortably in her nervous hands and it had all been for nothing.
“Have you known all along?” she sighed, defeated.
“Known that there was no other reason for my dear sister and the only relative that I have any interest in to track me here? Known that there is nothing that our father would like better than to see me grovel for his graces as he puts up the facade that fools only him, these days? Come, Caroline. You should know me better than this.”
“You accepted my letters,” she insisted. “Oh, Victor, I had dearly hoped that this would be something that we could leave behind us. Papa misses you, no matter what you think of his affairs. We know that you are determined to be independent but our father only made those decisions for you for your best interest.”
“And what was my best interest, dear sister,” he replied, his voice taking a harder edge. “Could it not coincide with his best interest as well? Perhaps a little money to be had for him and a lifetime of regret for me? I should think not. Papa, as you insist on calling him, has no place in my life. You’ve been welcomed into my home and I should have thought that this alone would have convinced you that I have no need of him. With the look of my new home, I should think I need no one at all.”
“Stubborn to the last, my dearest Victor,” she said, her voice heavy. There was a pregnant pause as she gazed down at the cup in her hands. The tea was cooled now but she found that she had no interest in it. As her faded reflection looked up at her, she peered into its face, wondering where the woman she once had been had gone. That woman, long disappeared, would have been able to get her brother to see reason. “Our father has come ill. I suppose this doesn’t surprise you at all but he has said that you must return home at once. That your place in the family remains in jeopardy until you do. He says that you must make good on your part of the arrangements that were agreed to before he will release your inheritance.”
“And he can choke on every last dime of it for all I care,” Victor said, slowly and firmly. “The arrangement is not one I care for nor agreed to. Sister, dear, I do believe that I have told you this before. I will accept my being cut off from the family.”
“Victor this is foolishness!” Caroline pleaded, trying desperately to find the fire in her voice. “Papa may well be on his death bed and his soul may be at stake with this heavy burden he bares. Do you care nothing for him?”
“And I should sacrifice my life for that of a fool who has taken more than his share?” Victor snapped back, his demeanor getting colder. “I have made a life of my own, free from the burdens that he would sit upon my back when he was too pig-headed to think of what it would cost him. I agreed to nothing and will not for a man at full health nor a dying man.”
“That dying man is your father!”
“Was, dearest Caroline. He said it himself as I left captivity that day. I chose to leave, my sister, and I have no regrets on the matter. If that burden you speak of is one that bothers him now, consider it a fatal case of regret and I shall not be the one to inherit it.”
“And what of the shadows that haunt you?” Caroline said, her voice wavering partially out of frustration and mostly out of loss. She knew her mission was hopeless upon arrival but seeing it now to its fruition, it was more heartbreaking than she could have anticipated. “Victor, that darkness has not left you and if you do not return, it will follow you to your grave. Maybe beyond. Do you care nothing for these warnings, my brother? Do you feel nothing of these things truly or is that stubborn nature capable of overpowering your fears?”
“I have had nothing to fear for years, my dear sister,” Victor replied, turning back towards the window. His demeanor softened and Caroline bowed her head. “There is nothing of fear left in this life for me. I have lost everything that once meant anything to me. Everything that would have been my joy. What do I care for light if it can so easily be snuffed out? No, I do not fear the shadows. Let them haunt me. I enjoy their company.”
The silence left by his words seemed to last forever until a loud crack of thunder shook the foundations of the house, followed but a brief flash of lightning that crawled across the billowing clouds. Caroline gasped and in her shock, let the small tea cup in her hands fall to the stone tiles before the fireplace. The delicate china shattered and the sound seemed amplified in the otherwise sombre room. Tears streaming down Caroline’s face, she slowly picked up the fragments of the cup and placed them on the saucer, the jagged edges looking all the more deadly and sinister to her now. Her breath shook each time she breathed.
“Oh Victor,” she said, her voice ragged. “I’m so sorry, my dear brother.”