I undo the belt on my dressing gown and it falls away from my body with a rustle of silk. I gaze at the reflection of my naked body in the full length mirror and sigh.
Once upon a time, my skin was smooth and unblemished, pale as alabaster. My one real vanity, really. But now…
Scars brand me all over, their horrid pinkness looking like earthworms crawling across my skin. I shudder at the thought.
I'm lucky, I suppose. I'm obviously still alive and each of the scars were obtained fighting for my life. I know that many other girls like me, many other Ruders have not been as fortunate.
A horribly snide laugh echoes softly from the mirror and I look up in shock.
"Staring at yourself again, Alyssa? Aren't you the vain one?" the pale-skinned menace says and I barely manage to stifle a horribly girly squeal of indignation as I cover myself.
"Go away!' I try to be as quiet as possible, but my anger at him, no, it is difficult to control "How dare you?" I can hardly believe that this thing has the nerve to invoke such magicks in order to torment me.
"Oh, what can I say? I'm a daring person." They reply, a malevolent smile on their black-painted lips. I growl softly in annoyance.
"You are no person, Entity." I say, and a frown instantly replaces the sardonic look on their face.
"But I feel pain just like you, Alyssa. I feel pain when one of your damned arrows pierces my skin or worse yet, when somebody takes my beloved sisterfrom me." The icy glare on his face scares me, I'll admit. But it's the thread of guilt that his words have spun that makes me look away.
"She tried to kill me… You all tried to. It isn't like I had a choice. I didn't ask to be born a Ruder… I didn't ask for any of this." I hate how sloppy, how wrong my words sound.
"I don't care for your excuses, Alyssa.' He spits my name like an insult "All I care for is that one day, I will cut your pretty head from your neck and avenge her." His dark, purple-red eyes seek out my own, and I feel a stab of his bloodlust so strong that my knees feel weak.
Why is it that he can control me so?
And suddenly he is once again his usual jovial, albeit twisted self and he flashes me a roguish grin.
"Until next time, fair Alyssa" he presses his lips to the mirror and crows with insane laughter which continues to ring in my ears long after his image has faded from the mirror.
I wait for an eternity, just to make sure he is truly gone before I give in and sink to my knees. Rebellious tears sting in my eyes and I grit my teeth hard.
"Damn it! Why do I still feel so bloody sorry?" I choke out to myself. I turn to look at the picture by my bed.
"Mum… It isn't right. They took you… They took you from me, but… I'm crying because I had to take his sister from him? It's not fair, mum. It's just not fair…"
He wants to kill me and I must kill him to stay alive, yet…
I can't help but be the one to pity him.
The Delacroix's. The oldest, and most powerful of the Ruder families. Noted mostly for the defeat of the Entity Graymoth in third century Ireland, the Delacroix's have a reputation for sending the forces of darkness into recession for up to hundreds of years at a time.
During the Second World War however, the Delacroix family suffered a devastating blow. Francesca, the fourteen year old heir of the Ruder arrow, and her mother, Minnette, were killed during a German air raid in London.
Grief stricken, having lost both his loving wife and daughter, William Delacroix took his own life, leaving his seventeen year old son James to marry and try to ensure the next line of Ruder daughters in the Delacroix family. There were no guarantees however, that James's wife would indeed bear him a Ruder child, as the Ruder strain is almost always carried by women.
Fortunately, most likely due to the high potency of the strain in the Delacroix blood, James's wife Marigold bore twin children, a boy and a girl. The girl went on to become the next Ruder warrior.
And so the Delacroix family continues to produce Ruder heirs, the most current being Annette Delacroix who is Nancy's age. According to what Nancy has told me, Annette's powers are fading and she will soon wed. I pray that relations between the Delacroix and Hamilton family will remain strong throughout the future.
I wonder if Annette and Loretta actually dislike me sometimes. Especially in situations like this… They sit side by side at the end of the long breakfast table. I sit at the opposite end alone, trying to concentrate on whatever it is the cook has served.
"Did you hunt last night, Alyssa?' Annette asks. The rare times when she ever talks to me, it's always business. "Have you managed to defeat that dreadful Scissorman?"
I can't help but stiffen. She doesn't usually mention specific Entities and I am quite surprised she actually remembers our conversation about him…
"No ma'am. I didn't quite manage to get out last night. Too much studying." I say, glossing over the subject of Ralph… Scissorman. I wish I had never mentioned him to her.
Loretta sniffs disapprovingly and turns to her mother, cold blue eyes regarding me snootily.
"Mother, I do believe that if Alyssa is too tired to hunt when it's her turn, perhaps its best I take over one of her days?" She says and I feel a deep dislike for the girl rise in my stomach. Loretta, my fellow Ruder is obsessively dedicated to her heritage. She seems to live and breathe for destroying Entities and looks down on me for my life outside the walls of this secret war.
Annette actually looks like she is considering it.
"Well dearest, Alyssa must do her job too. I trust she will not let this happen again?" She says, turning her attention to me. I wither under her icy gaze.
"No ma'am." I say quietly.
After breakfast, I slink back into my room. Even the walk back is lonely, as my room is located in a completely different wing of the house, far away from Loretta, Annette and even most of the servants.
I sigh. Sometimes I like it better this way, as my privacy is never invaded. But other times… Other times I would just like to be accepted into the family that has fed and housed me for the past year and a half.
After the battle with Lord Burroughs, Dennis and I had decided that I would be best off living with him and his sister, seeing as the Hamilton manor had been completely destroyed. But we… We failed to realize just how quickly I would come under attack.
I couldn't endanger them anymore. And after consulting my grandfather's surviving diaries, I sought out the Delacroix's with my problem.
In all fairness to them, they did immediately take me in. They certainly had the means to. However… Their house has never become my home. I am an outsider in my own place of living and that hurts me everyday.
I suppose things wouldn't be so bad if it were not for the fact that I am constantly being pursued by that damned Ralph. I do not even know how he managed to return. Perhaps… Perhaps his thirst for revenge is all that really keeps him tethered here. Maybe it is because I didn't kill him with a Ruder arrow… I may never know.
To be quite honest, he is very different from the other Entities I face most days. We fight, of course. Me, with Ruder bow and arrows, him with his double blades. A good third of my scars are actually from him. It's just that… I am not so sure how hard he is trying to kill me. His constant attacking and bantering is because he cannot kill me yet, since my powers are at their peak.
I'm lead to believe that he is awaiting the day my powers weaken. He seems to try a different attack strategy each time we fight, probably searching for my weakest areas.
I… I am quite certain that he will be the one to end my life.
It came to me the last time we were engaged in a fight. I was tired, bloodied from shallow wounds and emotionally wounded from his comments. He was telling me I would end up just like my mother…
So… As he came towards me, his blades and X above his head as he prepared to slash downwards, I stood at the ready, waiting until he was close enough that my arrow would do the optimum damage to the area he had so carelessly left open, when…
You can't beat him forever…
In that moment, I knew. I knew it wouldn't be that day, probably not even that year, but one day… One day.
I froze completely, for such a long time that he managed to bring his blades down at me. I'm surprised I escaped with only the jagged scar that runs from my shoulder to the middle of my chest. I think I just managed to dodge backwards in time.
My arrow hit him, but badly. Slicing only shallowly into his side. He smiled as I clutched my shoulder in pain and a rose of scarlet spread from beneath my hand.
"Getting rusty, are we?" He said, his black lips stretching into a terrible bow.
That time… I woke up. I realized that I did not want to die, just because of my blood. To die as a Ruder means that I will be replaced and quickly forgotten. I'm certain there has to be more to life then this.
Ever since then, I have avoided combat with him.
Somehow though, the menace has utilized his power over mirrors to taunt me. I could try to cast a shielding spell over the mirror, but it would probably be too weak.
I may as well just get rid of it. I think as I enter my room.
The maid must have been in here already. Fresh sheets lie on my bed and pale sunlight streams through the window, from which the forest green drapes have been drawn back.
I glance wearily at the mirror, searching for a sign of my ghastly stalker, but all is quiet. I would not bet on that for long though. He craves my torment.
Maybe it would be best to throw something over the mirror? I have spare sheets, they could work.
I grab a sheet and make towards the mirror… Just as he decides to fade into view. He glances down at the sheet in my hands and cackles fondly.
"Oh, Alyssa. Throw that sheet over and I will just have to keep talking and talking and talking… All night long."
I must admit, he has me there. And I don't think I could stomach to listen to him all night. I throw the sheet down, disheartened and make for the door.
"Leaving so soon? Bad day? Want to talk about it?" His tone is mocking and it irritates me no end.
"Not with you, Ralph. Never with you." I say and reach for the door handle when he giggles softly, secretively.
"Alyssa, you almost broke my heart there. It was just saved by the fact that you finally used my name."
I immediately bite my tongue. I feel positively ill at my idiotic blunder. To recognize he has a name is almost like admitting he is still human, and that I refuse to do.
I try to think up a come back before he can taunt me more.
"Hmph. I was just thinking that with a name like that, nobody is going to be afraid of you, Ralph." There. That ought to do it. I'll be glad if I have wounded his pride.
"Their mistake, I suppose.' He says offhandedly, the insult practically passing over his head. "Besides, aren't you afraid of me, Alyssa?"
I whirl around with my mouth already open to deny it, but at the sight of his knowing smile I choke.
Oh god, his smug face makes me want to hurt him… So much that for the first time in weeks, I feel like attacking him without fear of death.
Before I can control it, I pull my rug off the floor, exposing the hidden portal I keep there for emergencies. I dig into my back pocket, and fish out the holy bottle. I never go anywhere without it.
Ralph is grinning maniacally and his eyes track my every move.
"Coming to visit me, finally? Oh, you're too kind, Alyssa." He says as I angrily slosh holy water over the portal. It activates with a hum of concentrated magick and I feel it draw me in.
The last thing I see before my view of the room dissolves is his white as death face and skull-like grin.
"See you soon, Alyssa…"
Why? Because I believe they should have beautiful, crazy babies together! I just said something stupid, didn't I?