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THEODORE BACKSTORY TWO - PART THREE             Take me home, delicious heart.







       The fire licked up the wallpaper and devoured the patterned floor rugs and dry old books like a voracious child eating fresh biscuits. How quickly it was all gone, all their additions, all the foreign objects and pretensions. The blank clay walls accepted the heat, and blackened but the flames found nothing to consume there and moved on or died out in black tendrils of smoke. Theodore walked carefully through the dangerous halls, his unmoving lungs immune from the acrid smoke. He dove from sudden bursts of flame, which flared up and sent expensive Grauland-made windows scattering in sparkling shards.




       Patricia found Kellgren slapping at the flames with a wet blanket. All her powers and she could not put out a simple house-fire any better than a common rag-woman. It had been wise to seed the surrounding walls with the fuel, the fire swept up the climbing ivy to the dry roof and made a box of flames, sealing her inside. No sneaky escapes as bird or mist-- at least, not until she left behind all her treasures.
      Kellgren noticed her, and smiled condescendingly, throwing the wet blanket over her shoulder jauntily and furrowing up her non-existent brow.
      “Oh now... What a scene," she chuckled, "You always were such a picky little fussbudget, was this really necessary? This get-up... aren't you just a little embarrassed for yourself?”
      Patricia shook her head, and let the swords fall to the ground with loud crash, gripping one at her side fiercely.
      “I wear this to remind you-- to remind myself, what you have taken. Stealing those children's lives, and stealing our lives. Why? To serve you? What have you done to deserve our eternal labor?”
      “So ungrateful," Kellgren pouted, flicking the blanket to the floor, "After all I've done for you. You'd be long dead if it weren't for me.”
      "I am long dead." Patricia kicked another sword to her waiting hand, and took a defiant step forward. Kellgren reflexively moved back, but realized her mistake and laughed.
      “Honestly... do you find me just a frail old woman? Recall my strength, I am older than you yet. You don't remember anything, do you?”
      “Remind me.”

--and the battle began.


      He was too afraid to move, the horrible crashing and wailing coming from the far end of the manor was chilling and it took great nerve to not flee completely. He cursed himself, he cursed his cowardice and cringed at every unseen blow. What could he do? What hope could he stand fighting against the preternatural?

In a moment, it was done. Perhaps the roar of the fire or the roar of the wind covered any sound, but soon it was all he could hear. The halls were black and choked with smoke, and all he could see was the swirling miasma and a distant flicker. What did it mean? He was paralyzed with terror. And then as though to answer him--

      A call. Echoing in his mind but not making a sound. He was gripped with it, and moved without thinking. Theodore, come to me... Theodore, come to me... He walked possessed through the halls, hardly able to avoid the wispy flames that refused to be snuffed this soon.
      Great gouts of blood splashed across the walls, chunks of clay chipped and gouged and the remains of bent and broken swords littered the charred carpets like bones in a bear's cave. He walked along helplessly, terrified of what carnage he would come upon. Then, he was at the source of the call, and he could hardly make sense of it at first.




      She lifted her head, and let it drop again, perhaps with relief and perhaps with shame. Theodore dashed over and set to pulling out the swords that pinned her like a mistreated butterfly.
      “I'm going to die,” she said plainly, as though she were mentioning a simple evening's plan.
      “No! I'm here, you're okay...!” he blurted out, finding the blades difficult to remove even with both hands.
      “Haha..” she chuckled, blood running from her lips uncontrollably.
      “Patricia! I can't... I can't...!” he shook his head at her, and finally pulled one sword loose, sending her left side to drop like an unbalanced marionette.
      “Theodore...” she batted him away, and pulled the other sword out herself with a broad sweep of the arm, letting it fly and clatter to the ground. One by one she jerked out the offending blades that pierced her, with an impassive face like she was picking off errant bits of lint. After the last sword fell, she stepped forward, faltered, and fell to him, nearly knocking his small frame over.




      “You aren't a child. Really, I know that.” she said into his shoulder with a wet voice, “I'm sorry I have failed you.”
      “No! Don't--”
      “Listen to me-- I need you to help me.”
She could no longer hold herself up, so he held her under the arms, and sank to the floor.
      “I know something now. It's a horrible, terrible secret. You must never tell anyone, but I will tell you.”
He nodded fervently.
      “--The heart of a monster has its soul. Its power and memories. If you eat it, you will have this power as well.”
He stared at her, uncomprehending.
      “I can't help you this way. I'm nearly mad already. You have to get away, Theodore. The sun is nearly upon us, and you can get on a boat and never return. I want you to survive, more than anything. You've always been a good boy and--” she choked, and her face streaked with tears,  “--there is only one thing I can give you. After all this time and I couldn't help, I couldn't do anything. Now I can.”
With a sudden jerk, she plunged a hand into a gaping wound in her chest.



      “PATRICIA!” he nearly dropped her in horror. She had a wild look, her eyes bugging to keep from closing forever.
      “I've done enough. I'm tired. I'm not good, no matter how much you think. I want it to all be over. You could go back to Glenland and live freely. You won't have to be afraid any more.”,
      "No...! Just take my blood and heal yourself. I can't do it..." Theodore shook his head.
      "If I took your blood, I couldn't stop. Never. It's too late for me. Please... quickly, I am in great pain."
      “I can't!” he sobbed, "I can't kill you!"
      “Do it!” she snarled, “she'll kill us both and eat us! I don't want to give her--” she nearly lost control, but clamped her teeth down hard on her lip with an audible snap.
      “--Please help me.” She spoke in a lower voice, “This way I can be with you forever, wouldn't you- wouldn't you like that?” her voice quavered in a way he had never heard.
He could hardly keep from bursting into insensate whimpering, and nodded his head slowly.
      “Thank you. Theodore, I love you, and I know you will find lots of friends. Please, always be a good boy.”

He took the heart from her shaking hand, it was cool to the touch. She smiled gently, and slumped, closing her eyes. He did it as quickly as he could, but it took painfully long, and he would never forget the feeling in all his days. The room grew dim with the last flames flickering out into smoky oblivion. Only the red glow of embers still glittered on the edges of the tattered curtains and lit the blackness with a bloody radiance. Once, he thought he heard a whimper, but when he looked over, her face was peaceful and slack. By the time he had finished, she was already gone.

And he was alone once more.



      He gagged and swallowed and sobbed, and wiped his soiled hands on the filthy charred rug. Did it work? What if it was just a –



      It was as though he had suddenly woken from a hazy dream of being some unknown and ill-defined nobody. His hands prickled with strange new nerves, and a sparkling pain roared inside his belly. It nearly overtook him, and he was swept over with a deluge of many lifetimes of memories.




Demetrios was a true devil, but did he really delight in wickedness or was it just a fun act for him?
      “You'll never amount to anything,” he said with a smile, “do you wish to be handmaiden to that silly old bat forever? You have true talent, it's such a pity to waste it on scrubbing floors.”
      “Better washing than lying and consorting with criminals. I do my best to keep the death to a minimum,” Patricia easily kept up with his aggressive offense, their blades faster than a human could ever hope to see.
      “So practical. Much less to clean up," Demetrios jumped on the back of a flimsy chair like a perching bird, continuing his overblown attack.
      “There is more to life than that.”
      “But we do not live, silly! Do you forget that?” he grinned and hopped on to a delicately carved table, not even fluttering a paper.
      “Hard to forget it. I just think our masters do enough evil, we don't need to live up to their ideal.”
He rolled his eyes and chuckled. His sister watched intently from the wings.
      “Don't try this Fran,” he said, making a diving maneuver that Patricia easily blocked, “you see? She'd use you for a pincushion.”
      “She can use me for whatever she wants...!” said the rapt onlooker with a strange grin. ...Whatever did that mean?



      He couldn't think-- he had to-- too many thoughts, too many memories. He felt he would be lost under the wash. What was he? What was his own? Thoughts of his own life seemed like trivial events of two days before. So short, so meaningless, so forgettable. But he couldn't forget! He was Theodore, Theodore, Theodore... he couldn't forget--

      Then-- the horror. Hundreds of years of murder. Screaming and terror, the pale eyes of crying victims and mangled bodies. Distant recollections of disturbing molestations, unwanted advances, helpless abuse.

      Yet, he could clearly see this new self that glowed within his heart, and he still could not find fault. All those years, and she still remembered emotion, even if she didn't show it. Whatever her weaknesses and faults, they seemed pale in comparison to the horror she had experienced.
      The night of the coronation, Elizabeth always had such a sense of drama. She had waited, of course, it was more fun to let her think she could get what she wanted. Just a hair away from a life of comfort and power. A visitor in the night, she had never seen the gutting blade. It wasn't a month before she was a servant. Was it fun for that monster? To take another royal down a peg, never let her forget that she was worthless? Worse though, it really did seem to be whimsy. Stupid, blithering, idiot fancy. She wanted a pretty princess to chat with over a bloody tea, and after finding her to be more self-possessed than a porcelain doll, discarded her like an unwanted pet. But she was a pet that would live forever.

      --then he remembered. He remembered himself a child. He remembered his parents. Not through his own eyes, though. He remembered meeting a tiny boy, and fearing for him. Frantically cleaning streaks of blood before he discovered them. He remembered burying bodies in the garden, blaming himself for having an evening out on the lake with the boy instead of checking Elizabeth's excesses. He felt the powerlessness to save the boy from the ax. He saw his own body, hacked to bits. He remembered lifting his sodden corpse from the bloody fountain and carrying all the pieces in the hem of a servant's dress.

      She had never stopped caring.






      Somewhere in the distance, he heard a low howling and the occasional clank of metal. A rage boiled within him, that he could not differentiate from his own emotions. How confusing, he thought, as he stood with a new sense of his body. He was taller and lighter than he remembered-- no, of course he was the same but...
      He should leave like Patricia said, he thought, as he kicked a sword up to his hand with a sure flick of his boot. He regarded the crumpled body nearby with a strange swirl of conflicting thoughts. That horrible creature howled in unholy pain, not far off. She was injured, and if he moved quickly, he could end this forever.

      What was he thinking?

      --She thought herself so clever, but she could not fight fairly. Each swing of the sword she dodged and ducked like a bobbling buoy, half turning into a mist to avoid a square strike of the blade. Cheap and unpredictable, the power of the mad progenitor. Perhaps Demetrios was right...

He found himself in the drawing room, which still blazed, to his amazement.





      The creature regarded him with a vile grin. It gripped a blade and pulled, howling like the monstrous banshee it seemed. It suddenly stopped, and slapped its forehead in an uncanny, human-like gesture.

      “Silly me!”

It disintegrated into a pale cloud and the swords dropped to the ground in a noisy clatter. The creature reformed into a gouged and mangled old woman that sat on the floor like a babe at play. Theodore noted the sky beyond the smoke was paling into a violet tint.




      “Dear Theodore...” she wheezed, falling to her palms. “What an awful nightmare. I'm so happy to see your sweet face! Let us return to our homeland, and leave this savage place.”
She scuttled to him, on her hands and knees in a horrid mockery of human movement.
      What did he feel? He couldn't place it. He felt lost, like he was still controlled by an unknown force. Like he sleepwalked and would awaken at any moment.
      “That terrible woman,” Kellgren clutched his feet with gory hands, “look what she did to me! The treachery! The heartless treachery...” she traced her fingers up his legs, leaving blood smears.
      “You'll never leave me, will you son? Buhuhuh...” she blubbered wordlessly for a moment, climbing to stand and touch his chest with her bony fingers, “what did I ever do to deserve this?!”



      She moved with horrifying speed, dropping to the ground and twitching under the blade like a scurrying beetle. He had struck her through cleanly though, and she did not find her escape so quickly. At last she spasmed, and grew still. She seemed to have forgotten to wail, and at last she did. Theodore stepped back in a moment of shock, and she shrieked her animalistic cry. Suddenly, she was cut short.



Theodore hugged his arms around himself, still horrified even with his newfound worldliness. The head had cleanly separated from the body, like the body was a carelessly dropped doll.




He caught sight of that terrible organ, just visible inside the rough wound. How quickly did the power fade? How quickly would all of Kellgren's evil be dissipated into the ether, or sent to roast in Dorein's chamber forever?




No...! What was he thinking? Why? Why?





They thought they could do this to me? Ridiculous! God will strike them all down! I cannot die! My reign will never end, not in this life, not in the next! I will be Dorein's bride if I must, oh someone save me! Anything! Unfair! Unfair!




      The unbearable storm swept over him. Whatever the confusion of the last, it was hardly to be considered compared to this. Madness and murder and nauseating lust. Unending torments, pain and screaming. Wanton slaughter and dismemberment, devouring flesh and bathing in the fresh showers of arterial blood. He couldn't see it! No! He murdered himself, he murdered Patricia, he murdered his only friends and saw their final visions and thought their final thoughts. All of it, hundreds and hundreds of years of experiences in a moment. The white horse trampled his heart with its heavy hoof. Buried under the dark sea and crushed beneath the burden of five tormented souls. Where could he go? Sucked under in a vortex of insanity, drowned in it... He was too weak.




      “Oh Tomasz, what will I ever do without you?”
      “Haha... there may be a vacancy in the Circle some day...”
      “You would do that for me, wouldn't you?”
      “How could I ever hope to be as powerful as you one day? It seems so effortless for you.”
      “It is, actually.”
      “What do you mean?”
Tomasz grinned, “I would only tell you since you are leaving, and because, honestly, I feel I can relate to you more than the others. You are my favorite, Elizabeth.”
      She nearly swooned.
      “--I have a little secret,” Tomasz continued, “I won't tell you how I discovered it, but it's really quite simple...”



        The head bounced once and was quickly blackened by the growing inferno, and disappeared into the blazing light. He felt nothing! That was the least of all the horrors he now had written indelibly into his memories. What would it take? Was there anything that would move him now?
      Those fiends! --And Dragomir, the worst, the grand dark king, unstoppable and unquestioned. It was his fault! All of this, it never would have happened without his demented rule. It wasn't over... Kellgren was dead, but those four still frolicked in their wicked union. Four of those beasts, combining their unholy power? How many would die? What goodness would be destroyed? What could possibly be left behind after they had maimed, raped and murdered everything?

      His mind burned with the trauma. They had taken everything from him, he was utterly alone and stripped of every dignity and possession. He couldn't think, he couldn't feel, he clutched at his chest and retched violently. It wouldn't come out, those thoughts, those horrible thoughts. Why?! How had this happened? Was he lost forever? Apart from God and now apart from himself? All because of them! His screams were caught by the crackling flames, and burned away into wispy tendrils. How could he hope to stop them without Patricia? How?!
      An errant thought came to the surface, a funny little memory about dear, child murdering Inka. A servant bumping a tray of decorative candies, sending them scattering to the floor. The little one dropped to her knees in a fit, sorting through them like a zealous taxman. How silly!
      ...Why had he thought of that?







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