Sand swirled around a man as he stood in a dim chamber, lit only by the three relics that floated before him. His name was unimportant, but in the future, under Xel’lotath, he would be Price.
After a moment of consideration, he took the sickly green relic and as her great and terrible power flowed through him, as he fell screaming to his knees, the world was forever altered.
It was 3 am and South had just fallen asleep when her phone began to ring. First she tried to ignore it, but despite the fact that she let it go to voicemail twice, they kept phoning back.
With a growl, she grabbed for her phone as it began to ring for a third time. “Do you know what time it is?” she snapped, not caring who was on the other end.
“Ah…I’m terrible sorry to bother you Miss Roivas, but something has happened with your brother. This is Officer Wu with the Providence Police Department in Rhode Island.” The officer on the other end coughed, and South let out a long breath.
“What happened?” she asked, no longer spitting mad. For the police to call her about North…something bad must have happened. Something worse than a simple case of him breaking an arm or getting busted for drunk driving.
“Its…not really something we can talk about over the phone. I understand you’re going to school in Washington- how soon could you come up to the estate?”
“Is he okay?” she demanded, “What about Theta? My nephew?” South could hear Officer Wu on the other end hesitate, and she cursed. “Fuck…”
“Miss Roivas…we really just need you here as soon as possible,” he said instead of answering, and when South hung up the phone, she felt empty.
What on Earth had happened to her brother?
There was no way that she was going to get a commercial flight to Rhode Island as late as it was, South realized, and as she got dressed she dialed the number of the only person who knew someone who could get her where she needed to be in such short notice.
“Do you know what time it is?” Carolina snapped as she answered her cellphone, bypassing the groggy stage and going right to annoyance. South didn’t blame her but couldn’t find it in herself to care as she threw a couple changes of clothing into a duffle bag.
“Look, ‘Lina, I wouldn’t call you this early for no reason,” South said, reaching in her closet for her boots. “North…something happened, and the police won’t tell me what’s going on until I’m at the house in person. I was hoping that—”
“Say no more,” Carolina interrupted. “Andi, Andi wake up. York, get Andi up. It’s an emergency.” South could hear Carolina as she climbed out of bed, as well as grumbling coming from both her partners. “Did they tell you anything at all?”
South shook her head before remembering that she was on the phone. “No, nothing. Just that they couldn’t talk about it over the phone, so…whatever that means.”
“Nothing good,” Carolina said quietly. “We’ll meet you at your place, and Andi’ll fly you down to Providence. Keep me updated?”
“Of course, boss.”
Within two hours, South found herself bundled up against the cold and sitting next to Niner in her prop plane. She and Niner had never really gotten along in school, and when South found out that she was also going to be attending school in Washington, she almost moved states before realizing that Niner was going for a pilot’s licence instead of a traditional bachelor’s degree.
So, safe to say that if the situation wasn’t as dire, South would feel more awkward than nervous.
“So, the police really told you nothing?” Niner asked as they approached the airport, once she’d finished speaking to air traffic control. They were, South though, surprisingly accommodating to an unscheduled landing. South suspected that she was going to be paying through the nose for the emergency trip. “Are they even allowed to do that?”
South shrugged. “I dunno. I know any time North had to get me from the drunk tank or whatever, they always gave him the deets.” She closed her eyes as the plane descended. “I guess that means this is something worse than a DUI, huh.”
“Yeah, probably…” Niner trailed off, before shaking her head. “Okay, I have a question. Promise to not overreact until after the plane has landed?”
“…yeah, fine. What?”
“Do you think, you know, do you think they won’t tell you anything because North did something to Theta?”
South closed her eyes, clenching her fists as she tried to take a deep breath without it getting stuck in her throat. “Andromeda Kelly Caboose, once we land and clear security, I am going to break your goddamn nose for even suggesting that.”
Niner sighed. “Yeah, I figured that was going to be your reaction. Can you wait to break my nose until after we find out what’s going on? I was planning on going with you and once everything was cleared up, I was going to go harass my brother. Lord knows it’s been too long since I’ve embarrassed him.”
“Fine,” South ground out, slamming herself back against her seat. “I’ll wait until after to bust your nose.”
“Thank you ever so much.”
“Jesus, you two really are loaded. I mean, I knew that but like. Wow.”
Once the plane landed, South held true to her promise and didn’t broken Niner’s nose. She did punch her in the arm half a dozen times instead once they were through security, leaving the other woman rubbing her arm and cursing as they taxied to the estate.
“Yeah. Our mom’s side of the family was old money, I guess? I just wanted out of here once I graduated, so North got stuck looking after the house, not that he minds. It’s a historical site or something too, I guess? I never paid much attention to it, but the fucking nerd decided that he was going to major in folklore and local history, so he and the house are made for each other.”
Because of the police presence, still buzzing even though it had been at least 3 hours since South got the call, they stopped a block away and walked towards the large gated mansion.
“Hey, this is a crime scene. I’m going to have to ask you to turn around,” an officer said, and South scowled.
“My name is Alexis Roivas. I was called and asked to…come up…” She trailed off. A crime scene. The house was a crime scene. “Who’s in charge here? What happened to my brother and my nephew?!”
Niner put a hand on her shoulder but South barely noticed as she took a step forward. The officer took a step back, holding up their hands.
“Do you know who called you?”
“Right…Look, I need you to come with me. Your friend can stay out here.” They said, reaching for South, but she took a step away.
“No. Either Wu comes out here to talk to me, or Andi comes with me.” she said, and the officer sighed.
“Right, okay. Follow me.”
Niner hooked her arm through South’s as they entered the house, walking past scores of police personal. It still looked exactly like how she remembered it, the glaring faces of their ancestors lining the walls, the dark and musty hall runner, the old broken clock in the corner.
“No wonder you spent so much time at everyone else’s houses,” Niner muttered as they walked into the library, but South didn’t reply. Her stomach was tied in knots, and she was sure something bad was about to happen.
“Just around the corner,” the officer said, standing back. “And…I’m sorry.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” South heard Niner say as they rounded the corner.
The smell of blood, the fire still going in the fireplace, South’s eyes circled the room, focusing on everything, everything except for—
South stumbled back, her legs giving out as she dragged Niner to the floor with her.
“What’s wr—” Niner pushed South to the side, before scrambling to her feet. “What the FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?! Why did you—”
A different officer rounded the corner, took one look at the scene in front of him, and started to swear. South couldn’t hear his words though, her focus on the scene in front of her even as she was pulled to her feet and out of the room
Ten minutes later, South was seated in the kitchen, a mug of North’s horrible rooibos tea in her hands and Officer Wu sitting across from her. Niner was standing behind South, her hands on South’s shoulders like they were the only things keeping her from attacking the man.
“I…am so sorry. I told everyone that they needed to bring you to the kitchen and come get me when you arrived. Fowler will be…dealt with.” Officer Wu said, his own anger as poorly disguised as Niner’s. “I…It was hard enough knowing that I needed to call you up here, I didn’t want to—”
He sighed, running his hand down his face. “We need you to confirm that the body is that of your brother, Nicholas Roivas.”
“Why…couldn’t you just do dental?” Niner ground out. “Or prints? Did you really need to do this?”
“I wish we didn’t, I really do. But…the body, his head and hands were removed. Is it—I don’t want to take you back in there, Miss Roivas. Is that your brother?”
South nodded. “Yeah…it’s him.” She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She could break down later. “What about Theta? Is he okay? Where is he?”
Wu sighed again. “Your nephew is… he’s in the hospital. He was the one who found the body and called 911. I can’t say in good faith that he’s doing well, but once we finish up here, I’ll have someone drive you to the hospital.”
For three days, South slept in Theta’s hospital room while Niner ran around in the background. She called Carolina and York, spoke to Washington before she realized that he and Maine were living with her brother, and left a voicemail with Connie.
“So, you didn’t know that Wash and Maine were rooming with your brother?” South asked quietly, Theta sleeping with his arms wrapped around one of South’s.
“Yeah, and Carolina’s brother. The only one I didn’t know is Tucker. His son, Junior, gave me this to give Theta, by the way.” She set a stuffed toy alien on his bedside table, the reached out to run her fingers through his hair. “They’re discharging him tomorrow, right?”
“Mhm…They said there’s ‘no lasting damage’ and that he should be fine.” South bared her teeth. “No lasting damage my ass. How can they say that?”
“I don’t know, South. I don’t know.”
A week later South and Theta saw Niner off at the airport.
“I’ll be back soon, with Carolina and York and your things. Don’t forget to call the school, South. They wouldn’t talk to me, so you’ll have to,” she said as South rolled her eyes.
“Yeah, yeah mom. Go on, get going before the airport impounds your plane.” She gave Niner a small shove and, with a wave, they were alone.
South was ashamed to say that she barely knew her nephew. When North had called her a year and a half ago to tell her that he was thinking of adopting a child, she’d cussed him out. When he called a month after to introduce her to Theta, she had been rolling her eyes the entire time, but also told North that she was proud of him. It wasn’t like she hadn’t interacted with Theta before—she sent him gifts for his birthday, his adoption day, and Christmas, but they hadn’t met face to face until—
South shook her head and herself out of her thoughts and looked down at Theta. The 8-year-old was holding tightly onto her hand and to the stuffed alien Junior had given him.
“Ready to…head back?” she asked.
The police had finished their investigation of the house and had, as far as they’d told Niner, put the case on the back burner. South would have raged at them about that when she heard, but with Theta on her lap at the time and Niner already five minutes from breaking someone’s face, she only nodded and made a note to get a private eye or something on the case.
And…even if the hotel the three of them had been in was nice, South did miss being able to do her laundry without having to pay for it, and she was sure that Theta missed…well, more than just his own room and bed.
South dropped her bag on the floor inside the door and stared into the almost empty house. The only trace the police left behind was the hundreds of footprints on the floor, and she resolved to give it a clean once she was settled in.
“Are you hungry, Theta?” she asked, taking a step towards the kitchen.
“No! There’s…the monster. The monster is in the kitchen, Aunt Alex- South,” Theta said, shaking his head and stumbling over his words.
“Monster?” South crouched down, and he let go of her hand to wrap his arms around her neck. “What monster, kiddo?”
“…” he sniffled and buried his head in her shoulder, shaking as he started to cry. “The monster who killed dad…”
Theta squeaked as South shot to her feet, holding him tight as she started to pace, her tired sorrow turning to fury. How could they have said that Theta was fine? Why had she decided to come back to the damn house? She didn’t want to take him away from his friends or school but maybe going back to Washington would be a better idea?
“Do you want to go back to the hotel?” she asked once she’d paced herself dizzy. It’d be expensive, especially seeing as she had a big empty house right there, but South knew that she’d sleep better if Theta was comfortable.
If there was anything that South was going to do for her brother, it was going to be making sure that Theta was her number one priority.
He shook his head. “No…I don’t want the monster to follow me there,” Theta said. “Uhm, Aunty? W-what should I call you? Dad called you South, but the hospital called you Alexis.”
South shrugged, taking slow breaths as she carded her fingers through Theta’s hair. “You can call me whatever you want, kiddo. South is my nickname but if you want to call me Alexis that’s okay too.”
“M’kay…” He yawned, rubbing at his eyes, and South smiled.
“Do you wanna show me around, Theta? Then maybe bed. We can deal with the…monster tomorrow, okay?”
Despite the size of the house, for as long as South and North had lived there most of the rooms had been sealed up. As she carried Theta upstairs, South could see that, despite telling her that he was planning on it, North hadn’t peeled down the wall paper and unbricked the sealed rooms.
“Which room is yours?”
“The first one,” Theta said, and South nudged it open.
What had once been her and North’s room had obviously undergone some changes. No longer did it only contain a pair of single beds, a pair of dressers, a desk in front of the fireplace in a dark room. Now a large bed sat in the middle of the room, a small desk to the side and a dresser opposite. The walls were bright purple, and Theta’s sheets were neon green.
Her parents would have hated it. South loved it.
She stepped around a pile of lego on the floor to sit on the bed, and Theta finally let go so sit beside her.
“Uhm…you know, Aunt South, the house is really scary at night, so if you wanted to sleep in here, it’s okay,” Theta said after a few minutes and South had to stop herself from laughing before she nodded. She hadn’t found the house scary in years, but it was obvious that he did.
And really, South wasn’t sure if she was ready to move into North’s room yet.
“I think I’d like that, Theta. Will you be okay while I go grab my bag? I left it downstairs.”
Theta looked at her, and at his room, before hugging the alien to his chest and nodding.
By the time South returned—she’d taken the time to lock up, close the blinds, and unplug the house phone—Theta was already in his pyjamas and he’d even cleaned up some of his toys.
“I already brushed my teeth,” he said, his alien replaced by a stuffed dog, one South was pretty sure she’d sent him for his adoption day.
“Nice. I’ll just get changed and then I think it’s lights out.” South stopped, tapping her fingers on the door. “Or…lights dimmed? We can leave the light on in the washroom…I’m kinda scared of the dark.”
Theta nodded. “Okay, Aunt South. I have a neat lamp too that might help.”
South shut the door to the bathroom as Theta got his colour changing turtle lamp turned on and sighed.
“Same room, same bathroom, same sink and same tub. This place never really changed, did it North?” she said to herself, stripping out of her clothing and adding it to the hamper with Theta’s before pulling on her pyjamas. “What am I supposed to do here? You were the one who was good with kids, not me…I wonder if you still have that ‘Raising a Kid for Dummies’ book I sent you for Christmas. Lord knows I could use the help…”
Tears pricked at her eyes, and South grabbed the sink as she tried to keep herself under control.
She hadn’t had the time to break down, not when Theta needed her at the hospital and the police needed her at the station and when she needed to be strong. And she couldn’t break down here, not when Theta was literally in the next room, waiting for her to come out so they could sleep.
“You can do this, South. You can break down tomorrow after Wash comes and gets him. You’re—huh?” looking at herself in the mirror, something over her shoulder flickered and South spun.
“You’re tired, Alexis, go to bed,” she muttered as she approached the claw-foot tub, just to double check that it was empty and the tops were shut.
Aunt South was taking a long time in the washroom, but Theta tried not to worry so much. After all, she was just getting changed, it wasn’t like the monster was going to—
A shriek and a loud thud made him jump, and he darted off the bed and pulled the washroom door open. Aunt South was on the floor, up against the wall, eyes wide and breathing heavily.
“Theta?” she asked, before surging forwards and grabbing him before he could run in to look around. “Hey, it’s okay I’m fine. Just…spooked myself.”
“Are you sure?” he demanded, kneeling down. “Was it the monster?”
“It wasn’t the monster. I’m pretty sure I saw…” she trailed off, before shaking her head. “It’s nothing, kiddo. Lets go get some sleep.”
Bundled up in bed, the washroom light and his turtle lamp on, Theta curled up against his Aunt and closed his eyes. He hoped she didn’t think he was lying about the monster…he didn’t want her to get hurt.
With Theta curled up against her side and lights on, South tried to relax.
What she’d saw in the washroom was not a monster, but it wasn’t a pest or a spider or anything else that North would tease her for being scared of.
A bathtub filled with blood, her pale, drained face barely breaching the fluid. A smell of copper and rot so strong she felt like she was about to vomit just from thinking about it.
With a shudder, she closed her eyes. Maybe tomorrow things would make more sense.
In a secret room in the library sat a Tome. Bound in flesh, decorated with bones, it waited.
It had waited millennia, so one night more meant nothing.