Merry and John

Merry had gained access to the Estate.  She'd been well told that the Estate would as soon kill her as let her within the fabled halls.  Scoffing inwardly, she spent days exploring the grounds, sketching and painting. The windows of the mansion gleamed at her.  She often tried the door and it remained unmoving.  Until today. She'd dutifully approached the handle and gave it a tug, and nearly stumbled backwards when the bloody thing gave under her hand. The door half swung open, daring her.  Looking around  furtively, she took a step, then another, and then she was inside.  Sunlight streamed in dust-ridden patterns through the air.  Small swirls danced briefly as the door closed behind her.  Jumping a bit, she peered at the door.  Her poor heart was nearly leaping out of her chest.  Swallowing, she took a few more steps into the great central hall. The stairs beckoned her.  She expelled a breath. 

He heard the door close with a familiar jar and thud of the locking mechanism falling into place.  Arms folded across his chest and he watched the door in question for a short time just feeling the semi-urgent push of the air around him.  He drew in a deep and unnecessary breath and made his way to the door.  Fingers around the handle in a familiar fashion before it opened up for him with very little effort on his own part.  On inside he took a step and let the door come softly to this time with not nearly 
 as much of an impact as last time.  Eyes locked upon her back with a slight narrowing and he remained silent.  Dressed in black..slacks and a buttondown shirt rolled up slightly at the cuffs. 

 Hands gripped the railing of the curved stairs, one slow step taken at a time. Drawn and repelled, she tried to smooth the hard beating of her heart. 'Tis well, tis well,' she whispered the mantra to herself.  Another step, and another. She glanced downward, barely noting the lack of dust that should have coated the deserted estate.  Biting her lower lip she paused, craning her neck back to look at the upper floors. 

 He moved to follow her quietly..or quiet enough.  He had no desire to frighten the woman, but a good entrance was more than deserved.  One foot at a time as well was placed on each step as he moved up behind her, watching to where she'd craned her head around to look.  "Watch your step."  he spoke gently enough. 

 She swung so hard she had to make a flailing grab at the rail. Anger and terror raced through her. 'Bloody sonofa ......!' Her ire was such that her free fist clenched and nearly launched at him.  Until she saw who it was.  'Tis you!'  Breath hitched and she swallowed hard.  

 He drew back only a hair as he saw and felt her immediate surprise and anger.  Arms folded gently again over his chest as he watched her closely.  "I apologize for frightening you.  The next few steps have a mind of their own at times...fair warning."  he gave her something like a smile that curled the corners of his lips ever so slightly.

 Lord he looked good.  Too damned good.  And his voice, his voice roamed over her skin so warmly it caused a faint blush to rise.  'Ive been here damned near every day. The door never opened.  Why now?  You?  Did you set it up?  Why are you toying with me?'  Merry took a step downwards, closer to him.  'Ive seen things, on the grounds.  Do you know about that?'  

"I'm not sure what you're referring to."  he went ahead and took another step backward to keep a touch more distance between them and unfolded his arms.  One hand rested idly against the safety rail..the other in his pocket.  A tilt of his head as he considered her.  "As far as the door..it can be fussy at times.  the weather causes it to rust up in the lock."

'Sure it does,' she drawled, taking on her new york tone.  She noted how'd he'd moved from her and some little devil in her wanted to see if she could move him back again.  So another step was taken, away from her goal of the wings, but not away from from her other goal ... him. 'Im here, you insured Id be here, giving me my Da's journal, so now what?'

 He took one more step back casually from her and turned his back to her then and appeared to be examining some detail work on the nearby wall.  He reached out to touch at an unsightly crack what may or may not have been there before they both arrived on the staircase.  A slightt noise as he hummed to himself a few notes and looked back over his shoulder at her.  "What do you mean, now what?  You've come this far.."

 'Stop that,' she admonished, her tone softening into her normal, softer accent.  'Im here and twas you who saw to that.'  She gave a brief, unconcerned glance to the wall.  'What is happening here?  Who was it I saw out near the maze?'  So ... he'd moved away. The dimple at the corner of her smile-line appeared briefly.  Another deliberate step taken.

 "the maze?  You were out near the maze?"  He nodded softly and left the stair case completely, making his way to the floor at the base of the steps.  "tell me what you saw."  He could remain cryptic as long as need be.

 Was he leading her away?  Were her childish attempts merely falling in with his plans?  'Ive been all over the grounds.  They've given glimpses of  things .. but you'd be knowing that, wouldnt you?'  She stood at the bottom step, and he was still taller than her.  Back up one, or stay here?  Better yet, walk right into his chest and see what he did?  God she was losing her mind, and he was the one taking it.

 "And in your exploration of the grounds, what have you found of interest..if anything at all?"  He went ahead and assisted her by motioning before himself with a smooth gesture of his hand beckoning her to come his direction.

 She felt the gesture as though he'd driven a hook into her chest and tugged.  'A woman .. I saw a woman with black hair, she looked right at me, and then she wasnt there at all.'  She was so close to him she could have touched him with the slightest move, yet she no longer was sure she wanted to.  He drew her, but there was something else that warned her to take care.

 He walked off from her intending for her to stay at his side as he moved to other parts of the lower level of the estate house very causally with no real purpose to the places he moved.  "It was probably a vagrant..someone seeking shelter from the weather."  he nodded to himself as he continued to test her and her motives.

 'Would you be telling me lies now?  After all the trouble to bring me here and all?'  she kept with him..  She could no more let him go than she could stop taking in precious air to breathe.  Who the bloody hell was he?  'You'd be knowing the truth, Id wager.  Again, Im asking .. why toy with me?'

 He paused then as they rounded a corner and he put out his arm to stop her..his mere presence imposing itself on her..causing her to press her back against the wall where his hand lay flat upon it over her should.  She was trapped..cornered in front of him, even though she had plenty of exits and he didnt physically hold her, but he made sure the black pools that were his eyes held her.  "There are things here you won't believe unless you have sought them out for yourself.  I can only lead you and protect  you to a point.  The rest is up to you."  His voice seemed to come from all over..or perhaps it was only in her head...Had his lips even moved?

 She whimpered.  Not aloud, of course.  At least she hoped not.  His eyes, those damnable eyes that captured hers and ... his voice, it wove spells into the very fabric of her cells.  She pulsed with the sound of her own heart beating.  He was everywhere, in her mind, and in her body.  His hand was imprinted and left her barren for his touch elsewhere.  'God!' she burst out.  'Is that what your here for?  To be protecting me?  Is ...' she broke off to swallow again, nerves singing.  Her hand reached up  towards his face.  He had touched her.  Could she touch him?

 He drew back from her again and let his hands fall back to his sides and peered down the hallway, eyes then back upon her.  "Some don't think you should be here.  I take it upon myself to insure your safety as you...well...explore."  His eyes boldly traveled from hers down her body and back up to her eyes again..not like an animal sizing up a conquest..but more like someone examining the tiny details of a painting.

And damned if she didnt feel his eyes as though he'd actually touched her.  'What are you meaning?' she asked weakly, using the wall to support her body, which was almost trembling.  Almost.  More than almost.  Her hand lifted of its own accord and touched his chest ... again, almost, rather, it hovered.

 His hand seized hers immediately like she'd stuck her hand into a bear trap.  His grip was strong and his skin was hot as if his blood was lava just beneath the surface.  He pulled her open palm and placed it to his chest where she'd be able to feel his urgent heartbeat that's rhythm was inhuman, uncertain, but steady.  Eyes grabbed hers again firmly. "If you're meant to find out, you will."  

She almost yelped.  Instead it came out as a lower sound.  She couldnt pull away.  Wouldnt have if she could.  He'd drawn her across the ocean to this place, and the dreams had haunted her.  He'd haunted her.  'I am meant to find out,' she whispered.  'You know it, you've always known it.  If you are here to protect me .. then show me.  Show me everything.'

He released her hand and stepped back again.  Glancing overhead to the ceiling, the walls, and back to her.  "Come, even the walls have ears."  And with that he left the hallway and made his way back to the front door.

 The wall was her friend.  Her good friend.  It held and supported her.  It was even willing to let her slide down it if that was needed.  But he was walking away from her.  Again. And his touch still lingered.  His eyes still had hold of her body.  'You speak with riddles, still tormenting me,' she managed to grumble, pushing from the wall. Grumbling was good.  It cheered her up.

 If the walls could have breathed, the one behind her definitely sniffed her hair..or something that felt that way quite certainly.  he called again from the front door as it opened with a bit more force this time.  "Make haste please."

 Would running qualify?  She was there as fast as her legs would move.  Not bad, not bad, she thought.  She wasnt panting, but her breath wasnt even, surely.  'Whats the hurry?'  She tried for nonchalant.

 He stepped outside and waited for her to exit before forcing the main door closed again with a slight grunt.  "The estate is more hospitable at other times..no sense in overstaying our welcome."

Sighed slightly.  She'd waited long to get entrance, and now she was outside again.  Tricked?  Maybe.  'Our?  Does it not allow you in at times?'  Now that would be curious indeed. 

 He only chuckled softly.  "you could say that, of course."  A slight nod then and he gave her a grin before offering her his arm.  "Let us explore the grounds further shall we..Im sure you have plenty more questions"

Blinked once, twice.  And three times.  She eyed his arm, but even as she was thinking about it, her hands came up and settled right along as though they belong there.  Rather bemused, she smiled.  'Of course ... ' she murmured dryly. The very touch of him set upon her again. Her fingers seemed hypersensitive and to compensate, she moved closer.  A wise move, surely.  not.

 Indeed a very very unwise move.  He allowed her to take the lead as they walked the grounds.  he would play the answer-man should she have any questions or concerns.  In silence they would move for a bit before he spoke again.  "have you visited the cemetery yet?"

Whatever thoughts her body had been generating (and they were generating lots of thoughts), his query was as effective as a dash of ice water.  'Er .. Ive gone to the gate of course ...

 He gave a nod as a large white owl soon came to perch on a nearby tree and gave a screech at the two of them.  "Its a very unique part of this estate wouldnt you say."

Her fingers seemed to spasm slightly and she edged just a tad bit closer to him.  Oh and how that was a mistake. In ire she suddenly released him totally and took several steps back.  'Unique?  Sure. Id be saying it surely is.  But not so much as youself.  I dont even know your name.  Nothing.  Zip.' She drew back on her clipped way of speech.  The man was dangerous.  Simple and purely.

Ah, forgive me.  In the..well..." He decided against excuses and extended his hand to her.  "John, John Duiwel.."  he gave her a charming smile again accompanied by the echo of another screech from the owl.And the events transpired in a certain order something like this, perhaps it happened like deja vu as it went through her mind again. The screeching of the white owl, the extending of his hand to her and the name that he gave. "John, John Duiwel."

His name resonated, triggering a fleeting memory, or maybe just a thought. 'John,' she repeated slowly, thoughtfully, as though tasting the word, rather than the content. 'Duiwel,' she finished. Why was that word familiar? Why was he? 'Well tis finally a glad thing to be making your acquaintence, John Duiwel.'

"Again, I do apologize for not telling you sooner. One has to be certain that he can trust visitors." he watched her closely and was concerned for a moment about the distance she quickly chose to put between them. "Since you do not seem keen on the cemetary at the moment..what other part of the ground do you wish to visit?"

Her chin lifted even as her temper climbed. Thought her afraid, did he?? 'The cemetary will be just fine, thank you very much.' Oh such brave words, now that they were out. And not a damn thing she could do about it. Retracting the declaration was certainly not going to happen. Besides, he'd stated he'd be protecting her, didnt he?

"Good...I'll let you lead the way." he motioned ahead of himself again just in time for the rustling and fluttering of wings to take flight from the tree.

Merry gave a quick glance to the owl, a faint frown marring her brow. Linked, they were, she'd be betting on that. 'Sure,' and tossed her head a bit. She wouldnt be letting him see any weakness now. Except, she was rather turned around. What direction was the bloody place? Oh, there. Giving him a faint smile, and gathering herself, she headed in that direction. Making quite sure he was staying with her, of course. She'd not be wanting him to disappear on her now.

He was definitely right behind her and just a bit off to the side. Speaking up again as they approached the graveyard with cool and quiet tones. "The wildlife around this place is most impressive at times. You can be sure that you are never alone."

Well that stopped her in her tracks. 'Wildlife? How would you be meaning that, exactly?' Did he qualify as wildlife? A quick look over decided that. He definitely did. Too bad he was so maddening in other regards.

"Of course. Part of the things I need to keep you safe from. Animals from the surrounding wildness like to claim this place as their own from time to time. One can never be too safe." he extended his arm to her again as the gates came into view.

Take his arm and be too aware, or chance walking along and having him ... eh, bloody hell. She took his arm and did so gratefully. 'What kinds of things would you be talking about .. exactly?'

He passed with her through the opened gate and placed a hand upon the arm that had linked with his and answered simply. "Do you believe in ghost stories?

'You'd think not, being as Ive such a level head and all,' she mocked herself lightly. 'And my Da, he was always chasing the stories. Would you be having one to tell me, John?' 

"No, I don't have a single one to tell you. But there are hundreds of them here that wish for their stories to be heard. That I will assure you." He walked around to stand in front of her again, arms folding over his chest. "But are you ready to listen to them?"

Curses, and more curses. The man continued to challenge her and she was bloody well getting fed up. 'Im here, and Ive travelled far, dont you think? Of course Im ready.' She wished she had a recorder device, but she could well rely on her own wits.

He put his finger to her lips and mouthed a shhhh quietly. He glanced behind her and then once over his shoulder. Slowly he drug the pad of his index finger across her bottom lip with a bit too much familiarity before withdrawing it. "Then pick a headstone.."

Sweet Jesus. Did she sort of maybe kiss that finger? No. 'Headstone,sure,' Merry whispered. 'that one,' pointed randomly while trying not to feel the effect he'd left behind.

He stepped away from her to approach the stone, making sure she followed him he took a quick glance back at her. "whats the name upon the stone?" the testing of her would more than likely never end.

Merry tore her eyes from him and looked at the marker, narrowing her eyes a bit. Taking another step closer, she knelt down. A scent caught her attention. Roses. But no roses were around that she could see. Yet the scent was clearly there. 'Alden Marcus,' she read the inscribed name. 'Died ... oh, he was in the battle.' So this was one of the men who had died defending the estate.

Directly in her line of sight, slowly coming into focus many many yards away at edge of the far end of the cemetary a coyote licked its lips as she spoke the name on the stone. John knelt down then beside her and spoke against her ear. "The battle...yes" the emphasis was on the word The..just as she'd done.

Her spine tightened. 'John,' she spoke with quietness. 'Do you see ... that?' She heard his voice, heard the tone, but it was the animal that would be holding her attention.

"Hm?" He glanced up and saw the animal. A hand was placed gently on her shoulder and he spoke quietly to her. "Don't move"

No problem. Really. Not moving. Well, other than to maybe lean abit into his hand. ((when did you become worried about post sizes? hanging out too much with the elitists ;-)) 'Er, well, you are familiar with all the wildlife, right? You were saying?' Breathe. Couldnt wild animals smell fear?

He stood up slowly in time to hear the animal give a growl. A tilt of his head questioning the beast before giving a big clap of his hands together once to startle the animal. It of course did not look in the least bit concerned..but bowed its head all the same and backed away.

Bloody heaven. What was happening here? She opened her mouth to ask, but closed it with a snap. John had said to listen, and here she was, right and ready for just that. Her Da would be proud of her.

And if she were truly listening, the voices of the dead would linger in her head. Only random phrases that would take much more focus on both the part of the dead and her to be able to make any sense out of it. All that was felt was the urgency..the torment..and the suffering. Perhaps it was just a trick of the light from the fading sun..but John's image would become that of shadow for a moment..drawing in all light..and then it was gone.

Something was happening. Something as elusive as a dream, or a nightmare. She struggled to focus, hearing the unhearable. The scent of roses thickened. She twisted her head to look at him. Her eyes teared from the struggle. What had she seen? 'John?!' She rose so quickly the blood left her head. Her hand fell to the marker, gripping the hard stone, the texture digging into her palm. 

He reached out quickly to grab her in case she lost her footing or balance. Hands kept steady on her upper arms with a gentle grip. "Merry?..are you allright?" The tone of his voice had changed a bit..the caring had returned..and the concern was apparent on his face.

'You ... you,' she shook her head a bit to be clearing it. 'I thought you were a ghost yourself. It must be the odd lighting. Do you .. do you smell anything? Flowers?' She wanted to lean to him. By all that was mighty, she really did. 

A soft nod. "Roses?" He took her arm again and began to lead her away from the tombstone and on out of the cemetary. The owl that had been watching them screeched in protest and then flew away back into the wilderness.

So she wasnt ...quite ... insane. Yet. The future would be showing if that situation held fast. She was grateful for his strength, and she unabashedly leaned to it. Why she was shaken, she couldnt be saying. She'd done her fair share of myth-hunting, but this .. this was close to her somehow. "Close to the heart,' she murmured.

He closed his eyes lightly, appearing fatigued..drained. If pain were visable it would have radiated from him with a bright flare upon hearing her words. Finally he spoke again. "It can be very..difficult in there."

Something shifted. Inside. Beneath the bone of her breasts. She took an extra step forward so she could turn, blocking him. 'John, what is it?' What is hurting you, she wanted to ask. Why did he look so tired? 

He paused as she cut him off and looked tired for a moment before looking back at her. "Its been a long day..too long in the heat Im sure.

Askance, she looked at him. He didnt seem the type to be swaying under a mite load of heat, but perhaps he'd not had any proper rest. 'Id be at fault for taking your time then. Do you live hear-abouts?' She felt urged to take care of him, but also felt the stirring of caution. Caution at pushing, or assuming even.

He nodded lightly. "I have a place in the town. But I'll be fine. And you shouldnt be concerned, you came here for a reason and I have to help you with it. I'll be certain to get more rest next time. " he gave her a small smile again.

'I could be making us dinner,' she blurted, feeling responsible for his condition. But she couldnt be lying to herself. She didnt want to see him go. Simple as that. 

He gave another smile at that. "You cook do you?"

Heat colored her cheeks. 'You're thinking I couldnt? Of course I can! Who do you think cooked for my Da?' 

"Well then, how could I possibly turn down such an offer. My food supply is meager currently, but I'm sure a creative mind like yours will be able to come up with something." he took a quick glance around. "Did you walk here today?"

Oh lord, he'd accepted. 'Good, good. Tis just a short walk from here, as Im staying at the cottage down the road aways. Not that you could rightly call it a cottage. Tis mightly large for one. And Ive a good larder.' She stepped to one side, glancing towards the estate that always loomed over everything in sight. Even with the thick privacy of trees at her place, through the the mansion was still visible. Had she cleaned before heading up her? Bosh it, if he didnt like it, twas his problem.

"Ah, very well then. Lead on and I shall follow. I haven't had such hospitality from a visitor in quite some time."

Visitor sounded so temporary. But, she reasoned, that was exactly the nature of things. It was depressing to think that she'd be leaving. In silence, temporary of course, as she was never silent long, she selected the path that led away from both the cemetery and the house. 'You've lived here all your life?'

He considered his answer for a while, slipping his hands into his pockets. "Yes and no." He gave her a slight smile as he was sure that answer would be taken with curiosity. "I haven't always lived here no..but I've often said my life truly began when I moved here."

That sounded much like he had a woman in his life. She sighed faintly. For some reason that had never crossed her mind. But then, he was having dinner with her, so ..? Shifting a shoulder she let that thought fade right out. Wouldnt be much mattering anyways. As the cottage come into sight, she glanced over the yard with a quick eye. She was sure she had visitors, and not the two legged kind either, but she'd yet to catch sight. She'd love to catch sight of the deer reported to roam the area. 'What did being here do for you that would be causing it to be so intense?"

He thought again. Her questions were really making him work to find the right answers..or at least acceptable answers. "Im sure you can feel the difference here as opposed to other places. I found my purpose here, so to speak..felt needed for once..and, was finally able to let past guilts and concerns be buried."

Her attention came back from her perusal to really look at him. Something was up. But she had a good telling feeling that he wouldnt be overly forthcoming. Perhaps a spot of brandy would change that. 'Well bring yourself in then,' she murmured, mulling over his words.

Another nod. "Thank you." He followed her lead and stepped on inside the place. Arms folded back over his chest, perhaps as a tactic for self security..or perhaps to show off..or maybe just a habit. Eyes scanned the place and he tested the air...found it very appealing. "I take it you have enjoyed your stay so far?"

'Aye ...' she agreed absently, lapsing. She kicked off her shoes before moving across the well lit open hall. Lord how she wanted to pry. 'You'd be looking like the kind who appreciates a good slab of meat?' Of course he could be a vegetarian for all she knew.

He managed a deep chuckle while examining the wall decor and hearing her words. "I am a skilled eater no matter what the cuisine, Merry. All I ask is you don't go to much trouble."

She stopped and turned. Looked across to him, the way the light came in over his form, his expression. And how his voice seemed to fill the room without overwhelming it. Or her. She walked back to him, standing a mere breath of inches. "Who are you, really?' She wasnt sure if she were asking him, or herself. Only that the question needed asking.

A little tilt of his head as he gave her another charming smile. "Who do you want me to be?"

Her expression changed to nearly scornful. 'That was a ways beneath you, John.' Annoyed she turned away from him. It was probably better that he'd responded as he did. Created a breadth of safety, space.

He breathed an inward sigh of relief himself before speaking up again. "You know nothing of what is beneath me..or what I am capable of, Merry. Who I am is not important..and thats how it should remain. For your own safety." He nodded to himself, yeah, that sounded good enough.

'Would that be so?' She answered back smartly. For all the good it did her. Muttering under her breath, she went into the open-aired kitchen. 'Brandy?' She sure the hell had a need for one. What sort of man made comments like those? Arrogant, bull-headed, jerks. Aye, that was just a fine insult indeed. Lame, was what it was. 

"Of course..but, only if you'll join me." As she'd pass by a window going into the kitchen, a flash of yellow luminescent eyes would stare at her from outside surrounded by a mess of grey fur...and surely she heard a voice growl..."get out.." And then it was gone. John apparently had not heard it as he continued to walk absently about the place exploring quietly.

The glass nearly flew from her hand as her head jerked around. 'What was that? Did you hear that?' Carefully she set the crystal down and looked curiously at her hands. They'd become suddenly clammy. 

"hear what?" he asked curiously and began to approach her again. Of course he'd heard it and he was able to smell the beast before it has even reached her cottage. Brows furrowed slightly as he finally reached her..standing before her. "What is it?"

'Bloody heaven, Im right losing my mind. Tis all I can say. You, this, the estate, that woman I saw. The voice in the cemetery.' She wiped her hands along her thighs. 'Your weaving more mysteries than creating answers, John. And your getting inside my head. You know it. I can see the knowledge in your eyes.' She stood leaning to the counter, its support cool and firm. Contrasting the open pleading of her.

"I suppose you are owned an explanation. And I will be honest with you now since you are here finally..and settled in. Something here wants you and whats inside of you...actually..there are two seekers for what you are..One good..one evil." He shook his head listening to the words he spoke. "Its up to you to discover what is here for you..and its up to me to help you find your destiny. Haven't you felt there was always something more to you than you let on?" There were more footsteps heard outside the cottage..snapping twigs and stirring around leaves as it ran back and forth as if pondering a move to take. John's eyes shifted slightly before returning to hold her gaze. Barking heard outside now...howling...a cry of a large mountain cat..more rustling...then silence.

For a moment, tears glistened as heat pressed against the back of her eyes. This was too much. She missed her Da something fierce, and this man, was tugging at things within her heart that had never felt such a tug. It was frightening and exhilarating. Her neck bent forward, hair swinging to hide her expression as she drew in a ragged sort of breath. Destiny. Her Da had spoken of it. And she'd felt it. Something out of reach. And a homecoming when she'd arrived here. Not exactly when, but at the moment her eyes had laid to the estate. A knowing, perhaps. Just as she'd known John. Her head lifted and those silky grey eyes, so like the eyes in the portrait, but unhaunted, looked direct to him. 'Which would you be, John? The good or the evil? Am I to be trusting you?' She heard the sounds being made outside, but she was in here, with him. Safe, for the moment, no matter how brief.

He held her eyes for a long time before answering her honestly. "Both...and whether you trust me or not..you will still find your destiny." He reached a hand up, daring to touch her cheek but closed his hand into a fist and squeezed tightly instead. Too much honesty was given then he thought.

'Destiny, or death?' Why that thought cropped up just then, she couldnt be saying. What did know was what she felt. And she felt the intent of his touch. 'You've done nothing but served me, from the giving of my Da's journal, to being here, now. Trust ... well, Ill be trusting in you, John. Im thinking Ive little choice in that. Neither for my sanity, nor .. otherwise.' Her hands came out to him, taking his fist between her palms. 

The tightness in his fist lessened as her hands surrounded it. He let the smile find his face again before looking down, hair falling across his face from behind his ear. "How about that brandy?"

Merry released his hand slowly, the texture of his skin imprinted. 'Brandy would be good about now.' Her laugh was rueful as some of the tension lessened, while other tensions remained. She reclaimed the glass and untopped the bottle, pouring a bit more than the accepted three fingers. Another glass joined the first and she offered it to him, while holding hers. 'Cheers ... and to .. destiny, hm?' She met his eyes with her own resolved ones.

He accepted the glass with a bow of his head. "To destiny then...whatever it may be." He touched the glass to hers and raised it to his lips. And outside the eyes had to been glaring at the two through the window...Angrily, large hands with long fingers crushed the remaining life out of the coyote by the throat with a distant cracking sound..the body was dropped to the ground as the killer ran back off into the wilderness.

Merry, the paintings, the creature ...

A long morning shower to clear her head did nothing to cool the inner fires. The only solution for that was action. Strong affirmative action. So she presented herself to the Estate, and damned if that door didnt just swing right open to her. She made it up the stairs unmolested by ghosts or men and slowly had explored the infamous east wing. She shivered several times, whether from vibrational memory, or her own vivid imagination. In that exploration, she found a small door and followed its lead upwards to a closed sort of room with a single, narrow window bringing in filtered light. Old furniture, chests, and hundreds of portraits were jammed into the space. It was the portraits that drew here. Unfinished and finished alike, most done signed as - Shayla, but many others unsigned at all. Her fingers traced the lines of paint upon the canvas, admiring and curious for the technique.

She was being watched as usual if not by the house itself, the spirits there, or just the essence of the place..it was another pair of eyes unseen to her. With all the other stimuli in the house it was doubtful that she'd feel those eyes. But still through wood and morter the giant eyes of the own penetrated the walls to watch her study the paintings.

She'd wished she'd thought to bring her own canvas, perhaps to sketch some of the images presented her. Better yet, though, why not be taking a few with her back to the cottage? Would the Estate permit it? She'd be soon finding out that answer. A sound had her head lifting towards a dimmer corner. Moving herself around the maze of obsticles, she saw another draped canvas, larger. Almost as large as the one that hung behind the bar at the tavern. Breath held as she reached for the covering. Would it be another of Lacy? A tug had the cloth whispering away to the floor. Merry gasped, a hand going to her throat as she stepped back, eyes awidened. 'Bloody heaven on earth,' she murmured in awe. The painting was bold, with strokes thick and fine. It was both pure evil and pure magic. Darkness and rainbows, death and life. Water falls and mist, the river itself spliting open, two lovers united and trapped, safe yet imprisioned. And the eyes, oversized, more implied that actually seen, but see them she did. So real, yet not there.

There was a sound somewhere downstairs in the house..something shattering..more rustling and moving. Up the stairs it came quickly and then silence...nothing..no more unexpected sounds.

It was the legend, written in her Da's journal. Captured eerily on this canvas and rendered with such passion. To be loved so passionately, to be one half of the whole, what power, what tragedy, what life! Merry sighed in soft wistfulness, that stirring in her body moved by the depiction of such emotions. And then a sharp rush of adrenelin. Her body turned quickly towards the door, her head angled as though to hear better. She'd be swearing she'd heard a sound. About to call out Johns name, she hesitated. What if it werent him?

What if it wasnt him, indeed. what if? The picture called back out to her for her attention. It begged her to come close and pay more attention to deeper and finer details within the brushstroke. The secret eyes of the owl were burning into her now from outside.

Shaking her head at her nerves, she turned back to the portrait, drawn, called. Kneeling before it, she let it absorb her. Its size dwarfed her from that position, just as she'd intended. She wantet to know this scene, to feel it, to become it.

Light whisperings upon the air called her name from outside the small door.

She couldnt, wouldnt, hear it. Merry was so enthralled that everything outside herself had faded. The sounds of the thunderous falls echoed, screams of agony and triumph risen above and through the mighty force of the water, and another sound, like a giggle. Merry yanked herself back. That giggle. She knew it. She'd heard it aplenty while exploring the grounds. What in the .. ? And it was then she heard the other sounds, as though in layers, whispering through the room. Rising with haste to her feet, her wide grey eyes turned towards the door once again.

Any light that had been lit went out..leaving her in near darkness. A mass crouched in the corner outside the door seemed to have life..moving around slightly..softly stirring. Words came again in gruff whispers. "You shouldn't be here..."

She wanted to scream for John, certain he would come if she did. Then her spine stiffened. When had she begun relying on anyone to rescue her? Had she not led expeditions into the jungles of foreign and hostile countries?? More dangerously, had she not walked the streets of New York?? 'Who are you?' She was most pleased that nary a quaver gave away her trepidation. 'Why do you skulk around? Show yourself!' Sure, the lights had gone out, and it was bloody damned dim, but there was still that filtered light from the narrow window. And if whatever cloud had covered the sun would move along its merry way, life would be ever so much better.

The voice repeated to her..more gruff and deep that before..but still barely above a whisper. "And who are you?...why do you skulk around? Show yourself..." It mocked her and in all truth..asked questions of her that only something deep inside of her would be able to see as legitimate statements and not just mockery. The massive shape moved again slightly.

Eeep .. well she was the trespaiser, wasnt she? Oh. No she bloody well wasnt. The estate itself had granted her entry. And with that thought came the crazy logic that the house would protect her. Before she could examine that too closely, she wrenched at the door, flinging it back and declared into the dimness, 'I'm Merry Dresden and Ive all right to be here, as you flaming well know ...' she broke off then.

The voice repeated again and rose up to full height in the shadows there, eerie yellow eyes catching a glint of light..reflected back at her. "You shouldn't be here...." it tried to repeat with the same eerie urgency before giving up and changing tones. More eloquent and more effectively delivered..though the tone still not much over a growl. "It isn't safe for you here."

Literally, her voice gave itself out. She made a few attempts, and only when her head lightened did she realize to speak one needed to breathe. Gasping, she put her hand to her throat defensively. Near about the same time, she realized whatever it was, what ever manner of creature (and no mistaking it was not human) this was, it hadnt hurt her, nor even really threatened her. Boldly, she took a step towards the looming shadow. 'Would that be so? Would you be thinking Id be safer elsewhere? The world is wholy dangerous and Im no more running from here than I am any other place. And you've not answered ... who are you?' Lord of mercy, where had that courage come from? Her Da' perhaps. Had to be.

"Who I am is of no importance. However, your safety is, Merry. Don't let curiosity and unanswered questions be your undoing...return to the life you know..leave this place behind." He moved away from the shadows deeper into what darkness remained in the tight corner.

'I cant be leaving,' she blurted out. 'There's someone ... I cant be leaving,' she repeated.

"Him?!" He said with shock and surprise..as if fears had been confirmed. "Evil lives within him, and that evil wishes to harm you."

'Thats a bloody lie!' In her distress, she took several steps towards him.

He bolted back out of the shadows suddenly at her. A large grey head of a wolf set upon a body of mythological design leveled with her eyes. It looked tired..wrinkled around the eyes..yet its mission and goal seemed to keep a fire hot inside of him as he came out at her and yelled. "I do not lie!"

She jerked backwards so sharply she tripped and landed hard on her bum and cursed him roundly for a sharp moment before his appearance registered. Gaping at him, she felt the first skittering fission of terror, followed by total facination. Scrambling to her knees she peered up at him. 'Brilliant ... absolutely, bloody brilliant. How can you exist here? Tis too mundane ... you here, in a building,' she breathed in wonder. She'd seen etching of a creature like him in her Da's journal, but thought it merely that ... etchings.

A gruff sound made in his throat as he narrowed harsh but slowly softening yellowed eyes at her. another grumble and stepped out fully from the dark and crouched down before her to watch and plan his next move. "I meant to scare you away. And if you had done what was expected of you..you would have been fleeing by now."

 'Oh blessed lord,' she whispered, eyes wide, not with fear, but captivation. He was a bloody miracle, and she almost felt the warmth of her Da near her. He'd be rich with envy and pleasure if he knew what she was seeing now. Maybe he did know, over in that nether world. It took several moments for the words of the creature to register, and it caused a half chuckle. 'Me Da always said I hadnt the sense God gave me. Tell me, if you will .. would you be having a name?'

He fought through disappointment and duty with the desire to actually have a conversation again. As was often his lot in life, he gave in and slumped a bit more at the shoulders..tilting his great head a bit more to look her over and muse over her fascination.
"I had a name once. But I don't remember it."

Merry watched with an artists eye at how the hinges of his jaw moved as he spoke. It shouldnt have worked, yet it did. Those keen eyes also noted the direction of his fur, the multishades of color, how his eyes were spaced and moved within the sockets, his nose, the movement of the muzzle, and visually stepping back, the awkward yet graceful moves of his body. 'If I could be asking, why are you trying to scare me off? Im not easily afeared, you know. You could ask my poor Da, but he's gone on, may he rest with peace. Are there more in your likeness?' Questions tumbled one after another.

He reached out with a long finger and touched the tip of the nail to her forehead and then a touch to her chest, just over her heart. "You carry a spirit inside yourself that is in great danger here. Many long years ago..I made a vow, no matter how hard, to let nothing happen to...well..to you I suppose." He stepped back again and stood back up a bit more though it seemed the weight of his upper body constantly kept him crouching..the bones of his spine and ribs shown clearly through his skin. "and I should pray there are no more like myself..."

It took every ounce of control not to flinch at the coming of his touch. Breath eased out when he didnt hurt her. 'Are you saying there's a spirit residing in me? Someone else? Im not feeling much possessed, I have to be saying.' Blonde hair swung as she shook her head in negation. 'Tis all so fantastic.'

I don't know what lives inside you. If anything at all..but there is an essence..a light within you that has always directed you. And he wishes to take that from you. Why can't you simply understand the danger and just leave this place." He wished desperately for rest and the urgency was felt in his voice as he tried to reason with her.

'He ...? Would you be refering to John?' She swung her lower legs under her, kneeling, sitting back with apparent comfort on her heels. 'How can I be understanding the danger when Ive not been given any reason or ration to it all? Im drawn here, cant you understand that? I could no more be leaving than I could remove my own heart.'

He stopped for a moment and listened as if hearing a voice. there was a little tilt of his head during the listening. "I do not think all the secrets are quite ready to be presented...there are others who think certain problems should be remedied first....such as you leaving this place." He tried again, as best he could.

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