The fog had settled on the morning frost but had quickly been chased away by the wailing morning winds that had started up shortly after dawn and grew to a gale force before noon. While the wind may have taken the mist from between the trees, it had left the frost with its icy breath. All these factors had left the occupants prisoners of the mansion in the trees and while Victor was not keen to stray too far from his study these days, he was feeling the fullness of his home lately with the obvious movement of his sister. It was like living with a viper who slithered under the deceitful guise of a lap cat. He knew that her restlessness was getting the better of her and he was aware that things would become volatile should the work to remove that branch be further delayed. Already he could see it in her eyes, the expression of impatience coupled with her need to get what she wanted. Perhaps even a little need for sport too and there was little to be found there. He only prayed that she didn’t take a fancy to any of the house staff. He may be stuck with the viper but he had no doubt that should she bare her fangs, he might be dealing with a riot that could not be contained with the love of money. Thankfully, his deadly sibling was more calculating that this for the most part so he knew that really, the only target that might yet crop up was himself. It was a fate he somewhat always assumed for himself with her around but still, there was something disturbing about it being a closer reality.

More disturbing, he was disappointed to find, than the things that should be holding his attention. Trouble stirred on the horizon and while he anticipated that it should come soon, he was uncertain of what shape it may yet take and that should be his only concern. It had been a while yet and still no word on the activities of Brother Edward or the Widow. Victor was less concerned about Brother Edward. His affairs, Victor knew by reputation alone, were best left unobserved as they were unsavory at best. In the few meetings that he’d attended here in town where there had been rumored stories passed around, it was not an exaggeration to say that they made poor dinner conversation. In the quiet moments between him and a few shadow associates, he had been wise enough to pry only enough to know how to ensure that Brother Edward was happy enough to remain disinterested in Victor’s own affairs. It had been a relationship standard that he had established well enough upon his arrival and had never needed to change. While he had no interest in attempting to contact his missing associate, he found it highly odd that he had been so silent. Brother Edward was very well known for his insistence on his privacy and it was one of the reasons that he and Victor had continued to have such a successful understanding between them. While others were strangely quick to forget what manner of man he was, Victor had seen in this man a want for silence amid his own personal hell that he cultivated. It was something he respected beyond simple business and it had rewarded him well. Brother Edward allowed Victor certain concessions where others would simply be punished for overstepping their boundaries. It was one of the reasons that Victor currently felt put out by his silence but chose to ignore this for the moment. Still, it was bothersome.

The Widow, on the other hand, had been missing for some time and he found he was starting to feel the edge of something sinister in her silence. It was impossible to truly know what he was to think about this or even how to act. He knew there were certain truths that he could count on with his puppet master, though he had never been in her bad graces before so that may well have changed the rules of his relationship with her. He knew that if she had wanted him dead, the game between them would already have started. He may not know what strategy she might be using but it seemed highly unlike her to stay so stone-faced and silent when she didn’t have to. She was someone who craved attention, almost as much as Charlotte. She would not allow herself to be unheard at a time like this. Not when she knew her methods for breaking into his thoughts and creating chaos in his mind. The fact that he could think of her at all and could not feel the oppressive air of her calling him to her was disturbing but all the more so was the thought that it might be something that she did for fun. On purpose for the sheer torment of her prey before she struck in full. He was bracing himself but he didn’t know how much longer this would last. How much more he could prepare before the inevitable. Still, it was better than the alternative.

Victor shuddered at the thought of this. He’d retreated to his study when the wind had picked up, hoping that he would easily escape the unpalatable possibilities that he’d woken up thinking this morning. As he’d dressed for the day, he had actively pushed those errant thoughts from his mind, assuming that they would flee with the mist that had left before he’d reached his study. Instead the thoughts had remained, lingering in the back of his mind like a half forgotten dream that seemed always on the verge of surfacing. Of revealing the true nightmares that he’d been having but only in fragments.

No, he did not believe there was an alternative. He had always known that the Widow would tire of him eventually. She could only hold favorites for so long. A new daughter to use and get irritated by when she was too old. A new son to dote upon before he became spoiled. It was the method by which she had long worked. Victor had known this before he met her. Her previous sons and daughters had all met their fate the same way. It would be painful and he did not look forward to finding the horrors that she had in store for him but he knew she would eventually find a way to grow less fond of him. In fact, he’d wondered now why it had taken her so long. Why not have dispatched him faster like she had the young man who had broken his many banks to bring her here? He had gained quite the ego, of course. He had betrayed her at least twice, thinking that an old woman would not notice such an insult. He’d been allowed to make such mistakes as a measure to find a crime for her to punish. Victor, as far as he knew, had not committed such a crime but she barely needed such reasons anyway. She would find a reason if she truly wanted one and he would only have to comply with it and he would be punished. He could only hope that his cooperation would allow him some mercy on her part but he did not believe it would come. It was easier to accept this than the other nagging thought that continued to crop up despite his attempts to choke it down. The thought that maybe she had met her match.

Victor had paced around his study absently for the better part of an hour now. He could still hear the howl of the winds as they assaulted the windows, making them rattle with a viciousness that felt almost like desperation. He could practically hear the soundless words of its invisible pleas to come in and grab his attention. He didn’t know if he resented it more for the constant white noise it provided to his life right now or if it was because he knew he would comply and see nothing. Victor decided to give in and get his disappointment out of the way. He approached one of the windows to look over the beginnings of the courtyard that would eventually be constructed there. A grand garden that he’d been thinking of since he moved in. He didn’t quite know what it was that possessed him to want such a garden but he insisted on it and had never bothered to stop the progress once it started. For now, it was levels of dirt and it contained nothing except the captured footprints that Charlotte had left in her most recent wanderings as she sought her escape from the grounds. It looked like a path carved by a mad woman in the middle of a nightmare. It bothered him to see it and he ripped his attention away from it. He instead looked out over the sky at the white clouds that scuttled over the sun like a veil that could never be lifted. A veil that might be hiding so many secrets that might yet be coming to claim him. A small sense of dread fixed in his chest but he swallowed it. He wanted, should this be his doom approaching, to welcome it.

Victor’s thoughts were broken when a sudden gust of wind crashed against the window pane, making it tremble as though it were barely hanging on in the sill. Startled, he looked up to the sky to see if this was the makings of a late season storm but was shocked to see wisps of clouds trailing down. They swirled about, twisting around each other like formless dancers caught in tandem and forever forced to perform to a demented broken rhythm. The wisps that wafted around each other suddenly separated and in another, more vicious blast, came forcefully at the window hard enough that Victor feared that it would send glass shards sailing towards him. The window held but he heard the hollow sound of something like nails scraping against the glass. He put his hand on the undamaged pane and for one chilling moment, he was convinced that he heard the agonized cry of a woman. A woman calling her fortunate son.

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