There is a state of being known as being down on one's luck. and then there is a state of being known as being at the bottom of the barrel. That would be where he found himself. No wife. No money. No family. Alone. Alone, cold, hungry, wet, and drunk. Though this fellow seems to be at the end of his rope, he is not at all the focus of this story. No, this tale only includes him in it's background, you see. For that night in the alley, snuggled by a brick wall, his luck changed. Some would say it was for the better, others would say it is for the worst.
A strange being, bored with his usual hunt and the eternal years of the same old boring living, found this man back then and he offered him a terrible deal. For this being has lived long, accumulating much wealth through years and years of existence without needing to spend that wealth on much in the way of living. He tells the man that he would give him everything he ever wished for. Wealth, women, alcohol, everything and anything that the man asks for. In return for such a great service, the man would give him something. Not now, of course, as surely there was no immediate payment for this. But sometime, in the future, the creature would return and ask, quite simply, for the sacrifice of a child.
Of course the man, thinking he had no wife and thus no children, agreed to the terms, thinking he had this creature fooled. He planned never to marry, never to conceive and never to settle down. After a few years of the party life, surely the Being would forget such an arrangement.
Years have passed and the man has not forgotten where his comfy homelife has come from. Now no resemblance to the homeless bum, he was a successful business man, with a three story home, a goddess of a wife, and four beautiful children. Three pristine daughters and a son to be his heir. He had changed his name and moved to a different part of the world entirely, almost like he was trying to run from something. He tries not to let the thought bother him, surely the creature had forgotten by now. Surely he was safe....but he was wrong.
The fateful day has arrived when the creature would come to call, his sights set on his payment.
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[font "Times" Mr. Fletcher's [size16 posture changed a bit, seeming to perk up slightly from his slightly bent, off posture at the welcome. His head tipped a bit, that smile widening a bit in a genuine fashion, it seemed, less plaster and teeth. More human.
It gave a surprising flicker of pleasure to see the extent of that hand; a very polite, trusting motion. He took a step nearer, accepting the gesture and offered a shake back. It was firm, not overpowering, and his hands, though slender, long-fingered, and fine boned, as if they could be easily crushed felt fine, normal in Vance's hand.
"[+gold A pleasure, a real pleasure,]" he repeated, inclining his head to the young man. He stepped back again, returning to absently petting his fingers over the rim of his hat as he had been. "[+gold Mr. Fletcher will suffice, if you would,]" the stranger said with another dip towards Mrs. and Mr. Hughes.
"[+gold I've been out of the country for some time now,]" Thomas said, dark brows arching over the lenses. "[+gold But had an appointment with your father for hereabouts this evening. I haven't lived in this part of the world for a very long time, I'm afraid, and I do apologize for the late hour.]"
His motion smoothed, it seemed, less a body pulled by strings, and more shift of weight, corporeality, the longer he stood in the light.
But as if with an electrical switch, he seemed to stiffen, to flatten. That smile twisted a bit, and he turned his head towards Mr. Hughes at his outburst. He chuckled, unmoved as the room quieted in the shocked vacuum Joshua left in his wake.
The sound that cut that silence was the flick of paper, and eyes went to the stranger. He had procured a card, held between his two forefingers, of white. It was held towards Vance.
Mr. Fletcher's head turned, then, towards the eldest son, "[+gold My, I suppose I shouldn't impose on your poor father much longer.]" His attention returned to the shaking, vulnerable man with a smile with teeth. Bone colored. Dense, straight. Sharp edges as he spoke. "[+gold I only intend to invite young Vance to drop by my office in the evening, some time. I am interested in your schooling, and do please let me know if you have any- desire, questions, or would like some guidance from your father's sponsor.]"
He let that word soak for a moment. It was practically a euphemism for what he had truly given the man. And it was laced, to Joshua's ears, with threat. Fletcher stood for Vance to accept the card before moving again.
With liquid motion, he turned towards Joshua. Thomas Fletcher stood taller than the man, slim, and in his black suit looking a lithe pillar next to him, completely calm, amused even in how he smiled. The way his fingers moved, one drumming on the rim of that hat, however, betrayed an undercurrent of disdain towards this treatment, the [i delay].
So it seemed Joshua would fight him at every turn. He didn't want to needlessly frighten the family, but he had some choice words for the mortal, hungry creature in front of him.
"[+gold I'm interested to get to know the young man who will outlast his father,]" Thomas mused, "[+gold And inherit that world he created for him. A vested interest in what he will do with what I gave his [i father],]" The creature said, dripping with implication. His head tipped to the side a bit. Outside the sky rumbled with oncoming, restless rain.
He swiveled on his heel, addressing the family as a whole now with that charming, polite smile. "[+gold It was a pleasure to meet you all,]" he said. "[+gold I will show myself out. Goodnight.]"
His hat was delivered onto his head, nodding to Joshua once again. He knew how to find him. And with that departed the household.
The card that Vance had upon it was writ, in embossed, glossy black ink, finely scripted: Sir Thomas Fletcher.
And an address to a High Street office. He knew of the building. Large, fine. Old.
Something in the back of his mind told him there was something written on the back, and on there was in barely visible printing, another address. It said Edgefield. Though he had never heard of the place something gave him the distant, distinct feeling of familiarity. A dim recollection of what it looked like, or rather, what it felt like. Fine. [i Old.] Alive in his memory, but very foreign.
We lay my love and I,
beneath the weeping willow,
and now alone I lie, and weep beside the tree...
Singing, Oh willow waly,
by the trees that weeps with me,
Singing, Oh willow waly,
'til my lover returns to me
Joshua felt the tug on his arm by Amelia and tried to ignore her, treating this less like a guest at the house and more like a customer trying to buy something. That was exactly what Vance had detected from the man he had been studying the tactics of so rigorously. He had seen his father sell anything from a piece of scratch paper to an entire mine before and there was never a reason to introduce the buyer to the items being purchased. It would be seen as rude not to introduce someone as they enter when speaking to other humans and his father was not usually that tactless. Something was very wrong indeed.
Vance didn’t much like the smile the man gave his sisters, and felt his skin crawl as he gave a firm nod when his own name was mentioned, glancing at his father with a pointed and curious gaze at such a short introduction. Even he was a bit baffled.
[b “Yes, thank you. I believe…”]
Joshua accepted the compliment, but cut himself short at the way Thomas pointed out his lacking when it came to the eldest. His heart sank and then raced, as though in defiance of such a thing. There was no need for the creature to know anymore, surely not intending to leave with the boy. He wouldn’t allow it, he couldn’t. Yet for now, he remained cool, as he saw the figure address his son directly.
Vance felt those eyes, even from behind those dark shades that were unnatural in such a dark room, boring into him. His mouth felt dry suddenly and a swallow did not help the fact that he almost could not find words himself. Still, for some reason, keeping the attention of this stranger on himself meant the release of his sisters from Thomas’ attention. With another tugging grip on his pant leg, Vance turned, smoothly, and passed Lillian to Abigail. Then carefully moved the gripping fingers to the eldest sister’s dress skirts before stepping forward, daring to move towards Thomas.
A smooth motion, which matched one of suave upbringing, brought the youngr man to a polite bow, before extending his hand.
[b “Vance, as my father introduced. It is a pleasure to meet your acquaintance, Thomas, was it? You will have to forgive the unease of my family, as we were not expecting company this evening. I hope you didn’t travel too far to arrive to such a welcome.”]
Of course, had he been given it, a firm handshake would be appropriate, no matter the feel of the stranger.. He would do it, as keeping his sisters behind himself and out of the stranger’s gaze was his main goal and he would continue to do what was necessary to keep this distance as his sisters were very much terrified of this man. [I ‘Keep talking. Just keep talking.’] He told himself, seeing is father’s face growing paler and peeked.
[b “I am the eldest, as you said. I turned 23 this past spring and have been mostly off at university to study business in the hopes to inherit the mining life of my Father. I am only visiting family and I am in town for a short while, probably not unlike yourself. May I ask as to wince you’ve come, and for what purpose? Perhaps you would like to join us for dinner, seeing as the invitation has not been extended just yet.”]
He didn’t like the man but only his distrusting gaze gave the impression, his smile was crooked and a businessman’s politeness emanated from the boy as he spoke. It was not uncommon to meet dark and shady types in all areas of the world, and this was no exception. Joshua, though, gave a small squeak that a grown man should not be able to produce. He moved away from his wife and spoke quite clearly, though shaking from head to foot in a way his family had never seen him do before.
[b “No! No…I’m sure that won’t be necessary. Thomas needs to be on his way tonight, isn’t that right? There is no need to extend such pleasantries. Besides, it is getting late and almost time for bed. It would not due to keep all of you up so much later.”]
He was turning red in the face now, and an almost demanding tone had formed in his voice, despite the fear that radiated from the man in a way that most would assume meant him completely mad.
[font "Times" [size16 "[+gold And that's precisely it, isn't it?]" Mr. Fletcher said, raising a finger. "[+gold Continuing that legacy.]"
He turned as Mr. Hughes turned to pass him and lead the way back down the hall. Shifting, he moved to follow the man, eyes alighting on portraits and art on the walls as they went, and on the dainty tables and fixtures.
The light of the central room took his attention after the noise did. He could hear the voice of that one that the mortal man Joshua was so keen to protect from him. Unfortunately that had exactly the adverse effect, and it made Thomas all the more interested in this valuable.
He stopped in the doorway, as he had not been introduced, and kept a respectable distance, his hat in his hands. Looking over the family with interest, he inclined his head to the woman Amelia when she startled.
Thomas noticed that Joshua did not introduce him. Odd practice, that.
"[+gold Allow me to introduce myself,]" he said, voice soft, honeyed as he pressed a hand to his chest with a bit of a dip at the waist. "[+gold My name is Mr. Fletcher, and I am a very old business partner of your Mr. Hughes.]" He straightened up. "[+gold It's a pleasure to meet you all.]"
The man went oddly still when Joshua began to speak again, turning his head back to him with attentiveness, a brow arching up from behind those dark spectacles worn so late at night.
He inclined his head with a smile to each that was introduced to him, smiling to Abigail. He leaned a bit to do so to wee Christina, and even so to the youngest. He did not find at their stages, any of them, really anything to work with. They had very far to go. Lastly mentioned was Vance, and so briefly. He was the closest to the maturity in which he had discovered his father, and thus held the most interest, doubly so with Joshua's evasiveness. He tipped his head a bit, that brow quirking a bit as he turned to the man himself, smile curling a bit.
"[+gold You have a beautiful family,]" Mr. Fletcher said, the skin at the edge of his glasses wrinkling a bit to show more of the smile. "[+gold But my, so vague. I believe you are doing your eldest a disservice,]" and if he would insist on it, the stranger turned to Vance, then, giving an inviting gesture. "[+gold Tell me a little about yourself, would you?]"
Joshua had turned his head to watch the fire crackle in the fireplace a moment, wishing almost to be in the flames himself than face the consequences for being so greedy as he was. He heard the almost accusatory tone that the creature known as Thomas spoke of him forgetting. He had never forgotten…couldn’t forget even if he wanted to. Sometimes he did indeed want to.
[b “No, no, you know I’d never forget such a …a kindness as the one you showed to me that night, Thomas. It’s all thanks to you, after all…the house and the family indeed. All by your grace, of course.”]
He couldn’t look at the figure still, turning from the flames to stare into the now empty brandy glass and consider pouring another. This whole situation had him trapped like a rat. A tight squeeze starting to grip across his chest from such a feeling.
[I ‘These things’] The very words made his mouth go dry. Ah yes, to the creature everything was simply an item for the collection of what most would call a fulfilling life. This included each of Joshua’s current family members that he cherished so dearly. All just things to be held and collected and disposed of. Joshua’s spirits lifted only slightly when the figure agreed to meet the family in the photo, about to get up and go to fetch the girls, but stopped short in his mind as Thomas requested the presence of the oldest child. The first born. Vance.
The very thought made him glimpse the single photo on his desk that had been from Vance at university. He hesitated, clinching fists and uncurling them, running his tongue slightly over his lower lip.
[b “N..Now Thomas…surely…the boy cannot be as tempting an offering as his sisters, right? If you truly wish it, I will fetch him, but …please Thomas, he is my only son. My Eldest. Ready to carry my…Our legacy. Surely….you can consider one of the others…”]
It was futile attempt, though Joshua kept his gaze averted and his head down, so as not to incur the full wrath of the being at all. He hoped he could plead with the creature and make him see reason, but what reason is there in such deals with devils?
With a strange determination, he stood and started towards the door. His gaze glancing back at the figure with a pleading look as he opened it.
[b “Please, follow me. Perhaps if you just meet them, it will help you to decide more clearly. The girls are far more pretty in person than in the photograph. Surely one will catch your interest. If you would follow me.”]
Should the creature choose, Joshua had started a slow step out of the study and towards the dining room, never looking back completely to see if the figure would follow him at all. He hadn’t liked those teeth in that last grin. He hoped it didn’t mean that the monster had made up it’s mind completely yet.
Vance was helping Lillian keep a better grip on her cup of water. He was listening to his sisters talk about school and class and what it was like there. Some of the teachers his younger sisters spoke of where there and ancient already when he had gone through school himself. As for Vance, he conversed about university life and what it was like to shadow his father around while he had been back.
[b “But have any of the young ladies caught your eye out there in boston?”]
Abigail snickered as she asked the question, ever the hopeless romantic that girl and Vance gave a grin that most would read as a bit mischievous. Though he was not actively looking for a lady, he had glimpsed a few prospects. He had not spoken to any that he would take though, simply because of the distance between there and home.
[b “A few, none as pretty as you though, Abigail. You’d be the one that stood out if you went. They love a good southern belle.”]
A few chuckles echoed from Vance’s mother as well, though the table went silent as each turned, save Lillian, watching Mr. Hughes come through the doorway that usually lead down the hall to his study. But Joshua was not alone it seemed…as he never hesitated to join the family at the table usually. This time was different and Vance could feel it.
Joshua looked ill, as he entered, and it made Amelia stand rather quickly, a look of concern crossing her brow as her napkin fell to the floor. All eyes had turned to the man, then to the figure behind him. Vance felt wary of the man, joining his mother in standing, though slower than she, and trying to stave off an eerie feeling that crossed over his spine in a shudder.
[b "Joshua? You look pecked, darling. Is something the... Ah... were you expecting company this evening for dinner?"]
Amelia had started to go to her husband but froze at the sight of the man behind him. She involuntarily took a step backwards, before seeming to find herself. Joshua was quick to move away from the creature behind himself and to his wife's side, his voice trembled just a bit as he spoke, but did not address his wife's concerns at all, as though to deal with her later.
[b "Here they are, Thomas. All gathered as I said they would be. My wife, Amelia, whom I'm sure you heard about. And my children...Come along little ones, come meet our guest."]
Vance had seen this side of his father before when making complicated deals that required a bit of sacrifice to see future investments. Thomas? He'd never heard his father speak of such a man...if you could indeed call him that. Something about the way the figure moved left a great deal of unease in his gut, even as he collected Lillian from her high seat and motioned his two siblings to join him in standing, but they kept mostly behind and to the right of his parents, staying in a row.
[b "Right then. In order of standing, this is Abigail, my eldest daughter. She has shown a great deal of skill when it comes to keeping up the household, despite my better judgement. Their mother, you see, insists that they be taught such things. She stands at fifteen and is already the prospect of a few young suitors who come to call. She does wonderful work with her younger siblings and the simplicities of the Lady's role. Sewing and cooking and such."]
Confusion had taken over Amelia's face, but it was mixed with pride and hesitation as one could see her want to demand answers plastered upon her face. Abigail stepped forward, nervously, and curtsied as was the proper greeting of a young lady. Her voice trembled just a bit as she spoke. [b "A pleasure to meet you, sir."]
[b "O..of course, next would be my daughter Christina. She is all of about five years and, as you can see, quite shy. But don't let that fool you, sir. she has spirit and learns very quickly, being ahead in all of her classes. I tend to think it has to do with watching Abigail, to be honest. One could say she has the potential to be suited to any endeavor."]
Vance felt his stomach go from nervous to a twisted ache. What was this? His father's tone and descriptions were like that of advertising a new mining process to the board. His eyes narrowed in attempt to understand before lowering his gaze as Christina grabbed hold of his pantleg and hid her face behind his knee. She was terrified of the figure, and he could feel her shaking.
[b "And then, of course, there is Lillian. She is almost a year in age, but can already partially say a few words. At least she seems to have a sense of understanding one rarely finds in children her age. Not a fussy sort, really, not like her sisters were. And there is Vance, of course."]
Joshua waved over them each, in indication save for his son, whom he simply mentioned. the lack of detail only made Vance the most suspicious. No age given for him? No grand entrance for the eldest and most educated? Like a product one would rather not sell. It was clear that this last bit shook his mother completely. She looked from her husband to the strange man and back again before letting her voice become almost cross.
[b "Joshua? What is the meaning of this?! Who is this man and why..."]
[b "Not now, Amelia. I will explain in due time. Now, Thomas, what are your thoughts?"]
Joshua had been rather terse with his wife and then turned quite soft and nervous again as he looked at the creature. His hands once more ringing the kerchief nervously, not unnoticed by Vance. There was a sudden and inexplicable urge in the boy to move forward a bit, taking Abigail gently by the arm to guide her behind him, where Christina still clung tightly to his leg. Something was seriously wrong.
[font "Times" [size16 Mr. Fletcher's smile widened, a closed, lipped smile that never showed his teeth, inclining his head towards the man. "[+gold I had appraised myself with your new identity before calling,]" he said, gesturing to Joshua. "[+gold I am glad to hear we are still on a first name basis after all these years...]"
He could feel how tense the mortal was, how his anxiety was pressed further, harder within him with his presence. It gave him a sort of savory atmosphere about him that spoke of sweat, blood pressure and trembling, tightly strung muscle fibers.
The other stayed still as the man passed him, closing their distance only briefly and keeping the door close, narrow. Thomas tipped his head a bit, remaining quiet, and allowed him to finish the interaction, simply watching, waiting. He was little, if not patient.
When Joshua turned back towards him, he took in the man's posture with a little twitch of his brow. There was fear in it. Mortal fear. Turning the rest of his body around to face the man, all in a smooth motion.
"[+gold Now, Joshua,]" he responded with a tip of his head, amusement in the lines of that smile, again with no show of teeth. "[+gold I've given you a great gift, and ample, ample time to grow accustomed to it, and reap its benefits among your mortal fellows.]"
That smile relaxed away as he spoke, bringing those hands forward again and folding them. "[+gold It was an unorthodox, uncharacteristic act on my behalf. But something in your- situation made me curious to see how you would fare like this. Do not tell me you have begun to believe it was not [i me] who fed your insatiable need to accumulate.]" His voice remained polite, but something moved behind it. Something that hinted at displeasure.
Joshua walked away from him at this, the other's head turning to follow him as he moved, thumbing absently the edge of that hat brim. It was a very human gesture he was unaware of as he did it, otherwise keeping near completely still.
Slowly, that body moved, head moving minutely to gaze at the item the family head presented. Something akin to pride twitched, briefly, in the creature's interior as he viewed something his dear, distant, friend held so close to him. A fascinating, human trait to keep such things close. Thomas moved, it seemed slowly at first, interest loosening his hold on his form, and blurring it briefly. The shadows around him quavered, shifted as if alive, and then he was near. There at the desk. Drawing forwards as if with a single stride, but the creature crossed the distance between them without visible movement, and reached to take the photograph with curious fingers to see it better, such a small thing.
Thomas tipped it a bit so it would catch the lamplight. "[+gold I would be delighted to know these things that are so precious to you,]" he said, returning his gaze to Joshua, smiling once more.
However, his senses picked up another body. Not the maid, not the cook, nor the butler or housekeeper.
"[+gold Ah, but there is another who has your blood in them in this house, is there not?]" A thumb smoothed over the face of the photograph, head turning back to Joshua. The smile had teeth this time. "[+gold I am eager to become acquainted with this one. Your eldest.]"
The picture was returned to Joshua, held out for him.
The devil was never one to try to fool it seems, and as the creature seemed to slowly appear, the stoic businessman seemed so shrink back to being the rat he once was. Small, and cowardly, a drink in one hand, and fear on his face. It was a wonder that the creature’s presence brought his mind back so far to that alley, to that place he hadn’t been in years.
As the figure spoke, Joshua…no…Darien, hung his head. The change in name and place had done nothing to prevent this meeting. No amount of running, or money, or changes of appearance could hide him from this fate. He was Darien once again. Yet the creature even referred to him by his new name…he had been watched for sure.
With a shaking hand, Joshua pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and used it to wipe his sweat ridden brow. The man, if you could call it such, had not changed. Not from the gloves to the hat to the shape of his face. He seemed not to have aged at all, in fact which bothered Joshua the most.
[b “Ah…Yes, yes…a long time indeed…Thomas.”]
The name had been burned into his mind the moment he’d struck hands in a deal so many years ago and no amount of time had rid him of the accursed name. Nothing could make him forget the devilish being, or the deal they had struck.
There was a knock on the door to the study, and for a portly old man, Joshua moved quickly, passing the creature to open the door but the smallest bit.
[b “Ah, sir, your dinner as requested…Are you alright, Sir? You looks a bit pale.”]
The young maid who held a plate of food asked of him, but Joshua waved her off quickly, trying not to look as disturbed as he felt.
[b “No, no…fine. It’s fine. I’m no longer hungry, thank you…go about your evening. I am not to be disturbed.”]
He shut the door quickly and turned, keeping his back to it and himself between it and the creature. He studied the figure a bit, before lowering his head and twisting the kerchief into knots in his hands, shifting from foot to foot.
[b “I know why you have visited me. I know what it is you are going to ask of me as well. But is it really so important? Must you do this tonight?”]
His voice started to shake a bit as he knew the answer without having to ask and finally straightened up, walking to the desk to take a photo from it and, without looking, slowly held it to the creature. The photo was one of the times, of course, and the figures in it were Joshua, his lovely wife Amelia, and his three daughters…Lillian the baby, Christina the five year old, and Abigail, the 15 year old. He considered it lucky that Vance had been out that day…The boy had been in university.
[b “Please…have a look as you like. You may meet them, if you wish…I will have the family sent in so you may look over them.”]
He tried not to look at the photo or the creature as he made his way back to the chair behind the desk, stress and hopelessness ripping at him as he knew Amelia would never forgive him for this.
[font "Times" [size16 Night fell. And as it deepened, so did its taste. It had been a long, long time since the being had returned to this area. Oh, how it had grown. And oh, how his charge had moved, changed, little knowing the tether that held him in the very veins of his contractor, his debtor.
With distance, the creature had been unaware of the man now known as Hughes' thoughts, feelings, plans. He was simply aware of the constant thread of connection that informed that Joshua yet breathed, and blood still flowed in those veins, he still aged, he was unchanged.
As the time drew near, so did the creature. Footsteps taking it ever nearer, taking a physical, solid form as his stride drew nearer to the home where Joshua resided. Joshua, the grateful, eager creature that he had come across, years and years ago. Decades, somehow accumulating, while the creature traveled, learned, and aged. And with age, with practice, came an even deeper control of his abilities. And of this body.
Without knowing it, Joshua had been gifted a portion of that body. It was the same preternatural urge, the heightening anxiety that informed him of the nearness of this thing was one of this arsenal of things that Joshua had been gifted. His 'fortune' was not material, it was not a bank transaction in the way that the human understood it to be. Though, approximately, to the creature it was. He had been gifted a Sense.
Some of his kin, of his ilk would call it a savvy, a Sight, a Gift, whatever. Joshua had been given a tap into this contract holder's ability to accumulate, on lend. His senses had been broadened, his gut instincts in a way honed that allowed him to read things, read rooms, people, taste victory, and see, and smell a deal. And now, the creature would partake of its payment.
Joshua's thoughts, so preoccupied on his debtor, led the creature directly to him. His focus on it made him a beacon, in a way. And as the clock, ticking in the corner, chimed low, softly, that it was midnight, Joshua's thoughts went immediately to his debtor, opening the door for him to enter. His eyes went to the clock, and with that the figure of a man, no sound to have announced his entry. His colors, for a moment, seemed flat and unreal, but as Joshua blinked again, disbelieving his eyes, he came as if into focus. Very, very real.
A black leather glove was tugged a little more securely on a pale wrist that held the brim of a tall hat. The creature smiled on a human face, one that was unchanged in the decades since Joshua had made this deal and that had faded from his memory like all things had a tendency, lost their sharpness. But upon looking to that face, he knew exactly who it was. What it was.
Joshua had never asked. It had seemed rude at the time. But he had a sense of this being's otherness, in the way that informed him it was perhaps not human. Definitely not human. But so human, yet just- not.
The creature's dark hair framed a pale face and eyes hidden behind dark spectacles. The creature smiled at him, folding his arms behind himself.
"[+gold It has been a long time, Joshua,]" he was greeted, like they were old friends. Where so much time had passed for the mortal, very little had for the other.
His silence spoke of eyes moving over the man behind the desk with appraisal. He was much changed. Age always shocked him, in a small way, in the fact that he forgot about it.
The morning seemed normal. The younger ones had gone to school as usual, and then headed home in one of their Fathers’ carriages, driven by the older of the two butlers that took care of their home. It was a lovely house, and the Hughes family had wanted for nothing. With business being profitable and luck seeming to be on the ever-onwards upward spiral, it seemed that nothing should dampen the spirits of those living under the roof of the Hughes' Mansion.
Despite their wealth and to the disapproval of many wealthy women around town, their down to earth mother was more than determined to have her children do chores and work. she had always won the arguments with their father who continued to tell her that his children should be carefree always. Despite this supposed show of love, the man was distant from his children, save for the son he was determined to pass his company down to. Vance was a well-studied young man of 23 years. He was smart and friendly and smiled often, especially in the presence of his sisters.
Vance went straight to university after high school, none too eager to leave home as it was nice to have the support of family. He was studying business but did not know if that meant he would be willing to take on his fathers’ company. Currently, he was on holiday, and quite happy to visit with his siblings and his mother. At the moment, he was heading down the stairs towards the dining room where the three sisters he was overjoyed to be with, and his mother were waiting at the table. Vance's heart sank as he saw that his father would once again not be joining them. When he was not at university, Vance usually became his father's apprentice. Following the man and learning what he could about the business he ran. Tonight, his father was once again taking dinner in his study.
Vance's mother saw him glancing at the doorway that lead to the hall and read him like a book.
[b “He spends a lot of time in their lately, head buried in his books. Don’t worry dear, I’m sure he’ll join us some other time.”]
His mother’s words and sweet smile made him return it, sitting closest to his youngest sister, Lillian, in order to help her if she needed him to.
[b “You would think he would at least find time to join us for dinner…I know the man is busy, but he has not left his study for a few good days now.”]
Vance’s words of concern fell on the shrugged shoulders of his mother who seemed very tired herself as of late. A young maid who had started with the household not long ago did well in serving the family dinner. She went around the table, starting with Mrs. Hughes, then Lillian, then Vent, and Christina and lastly Abigail. She took the final plate of food towards the hall and the study. The family bowed their heads as Vance stood to bless the food without being asked, as it was usually his job when father was not at dinner, then sat back down to quietly eat.
In his study, Joshua sat, sweating bullets. He had a glass of Brandy in one hand and a cigar in the other, though his brandy bottle was almost empty now, as he was draining the entire thing. He had paced the floors, watched the clock, paced the floors some more. Though he was sure that nothing could possibly find him now, not here.
He had done all the things he needed to to hide. Changed his name from Darien Kinsworth to Joshua Hughes. Moved clear across the country in secret by the dead of night. No one would be able to recognize him now. He had run and would keep running if he had to. That creature would never catch up. And what if it were no longer living at all? Yes...that must be it.
20 years ago now...it had been. 20 years and he had to try to make sure he was safe. The creature may have even forgotten. [I "Don't be stupid. Devils don't forget their debts."] He told himself and shakily took another sip. It was almost midnight...it was almost time...
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