The air around the towers was thin and cold. Dark red clouds rolled soundlessly over the castle and the small town under it, twisting into one another and sometimes with flashes of lightning. but the usual whimpers, screams and mourning you should hear in the towers, especially in Christopher Carrion`s own tower was silent tonight.
And the silence was becoming a little oppressive.
Leaning back in his armchair, Carrion stared down at the small book in his hands. Looking deep in thought over something while Letheo, standing at the doorway gazed down at the floor, wishing to be somewhere else than this cursed room, he didn't dare to interrupt Carrion`s daydreaming or rather nightmare dreaming, or else he would have only his head out in a second. He had been summoned by him, but the moment he arrived, Carrion only gave him a slight nod and said not another word to him. It didn't seem to be any madness or hostility in his aura tonight. Perhaps plotting over next strategy in his "Absolute Midnight", but the fact that he had been sitting in silence for the better part of the whole night was making Letheo uncomfortable.
Something had happened to Carrion? Letheo couldn't put a finger on it, Carrion just didn't seem be the same. His patience, typically thin at best to begin with, was practically nonexistent now.
Letheo couldn't understand what happened, though he had a few hypotheses about it.
Perhaps the constant meetings with his generals and assassins, or his grandmother, Mater Motley? She's been a constant pest these past weeks after what happened in Wormwood, perhaps this was turning Carrion crankier and silent than usual.
Or it was a girl...again.
"All you can hope for is that he still is into Candy and not changed his mind to someone else," Letheo thought bitterly. "I have no taste for another girl chase!"
It had taken Letheo a long while to claw his way up to his position, putting his reputation at risk again for something as silly as that girl would be suicide. It wouldn't be easy this time because she was both guarded and his feelings for her haven't changed.
And speaking of girls, his uncle invited him for dinner tonight. His uncle, his cousin, their guests, that sarcastic blond headed "thing" will be all together at the stupid bookshop and he was, without question, to join them.
"Letheo," Carrion suddenly said with a soft voice to him.
Letheo immediately shook himself awake from his own thoughts, "Yes, my lord?"
"Is all women of Hereafter complicated?"
With his eyes still down in the book, Carrion continued, "Is it because their time cycle are different from ours? That they don't have any need to move to Island after Island to be in right time, but all they have to do is to stand in the same spot and wait when the time comes. What do you think?"
A shiver climbed up his spine. Faint, unintelligible whispers started to stir in the back of Letheo`s mind, "I-I don't know My Lord."
"The councillors has given Candy and her family a temporary protection and have hidden them from us. As a result, this girl's behaviour seems all the more ominous, like nails` against the chalkboard of my psyche and it makes no better that we don't know where they are."
Carrion's face had been relaxed for a moment when he looked into the book, but speaking of Candy and her allies, his eyebrows drew down and his whole face became tight with displeasure. Then, an angry Carrion stood up and tossed the book hard into the fire. "They don't trust us!" he spat. "Well, they have actually never trusted us, but now by that damned girl, they finally know we are planning something, knowing about our hunger for "Absolute Midnight"."
"You will have your time to kill her, but for now we must 'play it safe' as they say, understood?"
"Uu-u-understood, m-my Lord," Letheo stammered.
Carrion looked up from his hands, temporarily frozen in place. Letheo bit his lower lip and shrank into himself a little when he saw Carrion staring at him.
"There is something else you wondering about?"
"Wondering about what?"
"You know what I mean."
Staring at Carrion hands, fearing he might clip off his tongue with the starting, rattling of his teeth if he ever opened his mouth.
"Well?" Carrion demanded. "Out with it!"
"W-w-with your permission, I wish to visit my uncle tonight."
Carrion watched him for a moment and then he gave a short laugh, "That's all? a family reunion? I didn't know you have an uncle?"
"I have My Lord. I've been invited to join him for dinner. It will be a short one I promise."
"Is that it?" Carrion said softly, making Letheo shudder as if a large, ice-cube moved down his back.
A dark clothed creature, half of his face covered, moved or rather flew his way around the stack of books at the little bookshop, then made his way to the counter. A tall, thin girl with long, black, braided hair in two loose pig tails stood behind the desk. Sitting with her legs stretched out, boots right up on the desk, she was occupied drawing something on a piece of paper and seemed first not notice the huge creature approaching her.
"I'll take this," said the creature, setting the book heavily on the counter.
"Well…everyone has different tastes."
"I`ll take it anyway," the creature said ashe put the money on the table, picked up the book and, hide it quickly under his cloak.
"A man who has written a book about another world that is even crazier than his?" Carrie said as she picked up the money and placed it in the register. "You need to understand his world before you can analyze this Wonderland or else you will turn crazier than the Mad Hatter himself."
"Lori! Come in here for a second!" Leila called out for her from the kitchen. Taking the opportunity, the strange, dark cloaked figure rushed out from the bookshop. Shrugging over the oddness and for not giving her any tip, Carrie headed down into the kitchen.
Leila had just dropped two bags of grocery over the table and started to pack it up.
"What did I tell you about talking to our customers?" Leila said tiredly.
"You got pretty good hearing."
Carrie rolled her eyes, "I know, I know! Do not talk if it's not necessary. Give them the best service without being sarcastic, sulky or be a b-i-t-c-h."
"And most importantly, don't spoil the plot of the books!" Leila added.
"I didn't spoil anything, just giving my opinion. That book has never been a favourite of mine."
"When a customer needs help you either call me or grandpa."
"But I find very odd that some of them acts like they were buying porn instead of children books."
"Your books are odd," Leila sighed as she looked through the items on the counter. "But I'm more irritated that grandpa gave me such short notice that Mr. Rettel and Mr. Cero are coming for dinner tonight show their latest collection. I won`t have enough time to prepare, then you got the nerve to invite Mr. Masper to join us too."
"Don't blame me, Lothario himself asked him."
"Which I found very odd. We barely know him and grandpa invites him for dinner. I don't know, but he gives me creeps."
"What's this dinner about?" Carrie wondered as she picked up some kind of purple apple from the bag and took a bite from it.
"Mr. Rettel and Mr. Cero are colleagues of grandpa. Just like him, they are collectors of rare books and paintings."
"Hmm...That doesn't sound so bad? What's the problem?"
"Aren`t I always on my guard?" Carrie said between chews.
"Your tongue isn't always on its guard and whatever you do, keep that "Snake" tucked inside. If grandpa hadn't invited Mr. Masper, you would have stayed in your room, pretending to be sick."
"Sure, sure, I will hold my tongue and be a good girl."
"You better be, because our "dear cousin" Letheo is coming too."
Carrie stopped chewing and raised both her eyebrows at Leila. "… I'm sorry, did you say who was coming?"
"Letheo. Grandpa begged him to come."
"It's not good to not wearing that scarf everywhere. I have been sweating like a pig and about to pass out."
"It looks like a perfume bottle or something to keep genies in," Leila said as she looked closer at it.
"Genies, spirits or, toilet-water, doesn't matter, it works."
Carrie was silent for a moment as she examined the bottle. "I almost had a heart attack, the way he held it with his bare hands. It was...creepy. I can't really buy that he might be immune to horror and he knew through the Carrions, how to handle nightmares like these."
"After you`re done preparing the vegetables, do NOT under any circumstances move near my oven," Leila said firmly, as she opened the refrigerator and shoved the frozen things in it.
Carrie gave her a short laugh and rolled her eyes in response, "I won't set your house on fire again."
"It's not me I am worrying about. It's the house. You will be forbidden to enter the kitchen while I`m preparing the dinner."
"Fine, just give me something I can use a knife to cut or hack and I promise not to lay a finger on your precious oven."
"I`ll hand you a butter knife, that's all I would dare to give you."
"It's so good to see you again. We have missed you."
"Yeah, I missed you too," Letheo sighed and hugged him back.
"How's it going with the Carrions?"
"Hard, but very...instructive. I really don't want to talk about this tonight."
"Of course," Lothario said kindly and gave him another hug.
"And where is our dear house guest?"
"You mean Lori? just a second. Lori!" Dr. Lothario called her name as he rearranged some of Letheo`s greasy curls. "Come down here and greet your hero."
A few moments later they heard heavy footsteps coming down from the stairs, but instead of Carrie, they was greeted by Leila`s sulky face as she entered the kitchen.
"Well, it isn't you," she said as she crossed her arms, watching him gloomily.
"Hi Leila," Letheo muttered, sharing the same air as her.
Letheo scoffed and answered, "I have been busy thank you very much, but haven't murdered anyone...yet."
"Then what are you doing these nights in the Carrions?"
Puffing out his scrawny chest like a little pigeon, Letheo replied, "Top secrecy you know. Details known by only a few highly placed people. Like me."
"You mean only you know how to make Carrion`s boots shine brighter?"
Letheo glared at her, "If you must know, I'm one of the best apprentices he ever have."
"Then you certainly know how to lick his dirty boots spotless," Leila snapped back at him.
Dr. Lothario closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose tiredly. "Not this again. We've been over this a hundred times already. Literally."
"You don't understand." Letheo says slowly, "I might-I might have found a cure for my disease."
For a moment both Dr. Lothario and Leila were silent. Slowly, Leila moved a little closer to him, "You have? How? Has Carrion given you a cure?"
"It's a long story, I can't tell you right now," Letheo sighed. "Where is that girl I sent to you? Is she still here?"
"Lor- Carrie?" Dr. Lothario said.
"No, Carrie, but we call her Lori for the sake of protection," Leila corrected him. "We are telling our friends that she is our niece from Yebba Dim Day."
"Great, that's what I need. Another cousin to pester me around," Letheo muttered as he moved towards the cauldrons on the stove and looked down into one of the bigger ones.
"Smells good. Are you preparing cooked Octopus?"
"I just arrived and you want me to clean? Since when do I take orders from you?" Letheo shouted, standing face to face with Leila.
"The moment you walked into this house," she replied. "We are having guests tonight and I want the dining room spotless like Lord Carrion's boots."
"You will help or you can forget eating with us."
"Fine," Letheo growled, "Where do you want me to clean?"
"In the dining room. Just remove the books and place the cloth over the table. Even a baby can do it."
"Perhaps the baby needs a hand?"
All three of them turned around and saw Carrie leaning on the doorframe with a cloth in her hands.
"Oh, it`s you. Hello "cousin", "Letheo said dryly to her.
"Ha, ha, ha," Carrie said as she moved closer to Letheo.
"Nice wig. New?" Letheo pointed at her newly braided wig.
"Almost a part of me. I think I will cut my hair a bit to make it fit better."
Letheo rolled his eyes and then he looked curiously at Carrie`s bare throat. "Where is that creepy thing of yours?"
"In here," Carrie said and picked up the blue bottle under her blouse and showed it to him. "So you can relax a bit, I won`t throw it at you."
Letheo looked at the necklace doubtful, "I'm surprised that you're still alive. This island isn't exactly a holiday resort. "
"Yes and thanks for dropping me here," Carrie snorted back.
"You're welcome and at least a small thank you for saving your life would be great."
"Only the regulars, but Lori is bringing home her boyfriend tonight," Leila said nonchalantly with slight smirk on her lips.
"He's not my boyfriend!" Carrie shouted, giving her a venomously look as she picked up the stack of clean plates from the table.
"What?! A boyfriend?!" Letheo barked.
"The two of them met a couple of weeks ago during her little "walk", Leila continued.
"You two ate dinner together at that restaurant couple of nights ago." Leila winked at Carrie.
"It was business, nothing more."
Letheo gazed skeptically at her. "You're hiding in the most dangerous Island of Abarat and you have the courage to bring your date to dinner? Who is the idiot that has a crush on you?"
"His name is Mr. Ma-"
A loud ringing from the door bell broke through their talk and reality set back in. Quickly, Carrie tossed Letheo and Leila a "You both pay for this later" look, pressed her lips together and headed up the stairs. "I'll take it."
Carrie adjusted her wig, though it was more habit than anything before she opened the door and found herself looking up at a pair of grey eyes that belonged to Mr. Masper himself.
"You're early," Carrie said by way of greeting, crossed her arms, and made her signature pose by leaning on the doorframe.
"Better to be early than late." He smiled down at her. Carrie didn't return it. Instead she moved so he could enter into the tiny hallway and closed the door after him.
"Yes, it finally lost the grip on me," Carrie said calmly and picked up the necklace and showed to him, "May I ask, how did you get this?"
"By a salesman in the market. Nothing fancy and I thought it might be better for you."
"You didn't have to and why haven't you-?"
"Some things are meant to be alone and I believe you have a lot on your mind you wish to keep for yourself right now."
Carrie eyed at him for a long moment. "You're weird person Mr. Masper. I wonder if Gorgosseum is really the right Island for you or not? "
"This is my home Island and that will never change."
"No questions you wish to give me to satisfy your curiosity? Or...money exchange?"
Mr. Masper shrugged, "Like I said, it's not my business."
"Hmm, then let me help you with that," she said as she took his coat and hat, and placed them on the hat rack. Mr. Masper had put on a clean sweater for the evening, removed the dirt on his hands, glasses, and face to give a better impression.
"You really cleaned yourself up," Carrie said as she eyed his clean face and hands, "I don't know what kind of people the other guests are, but be sure they haven't been digging any graves lately."
"I'm pretty sure that they won't mind me at all. Are you doing the cooking tonight?"
"I burn water, Leila is the headchief."
Carrie gave him a small shrug, "Its best that I have the responsibility to be a good door hostess as possible."
"You're doing a fine job."
"Well, the food is soon to be finished, the dinner table is arranged perfectly, the flowers are exactly as Leila specified me to place and the menu couldn't be in better hands than hers. Everything is going to be just fine and-"
The door of the kitchen behind them swung open, startling them both as Letheo popped his head outside. "Oh, there you are. We were worried you got lost or kidnapped by a Stichling," he said and then noticed Mr. Masper, towering over Carrie.
His golden eyes are darting from Carrie too Mr. Masper slightly confused, but then smirked, "Is this your boyfriend? Didn't know you like old men, how nice."
"Again, he's not my boyfriend!" Carrie hissed, her face becoming blazing red and Mr. Masper couldn't help to smile teasingly at her reaction.
Suddenly there was another knock on the door and this time as Carrie open it, the man standing there was round as the moon itself, together with round cheeks and enormous red whiskers. His coat was, Carrie really didn't know what to think about the monstrosity that looked it once crawled from somewhere in Efreet.
"The weather's turning," Mr. Rettel added without replying to Carrie`s question, "It's much colder than it should be."
"Yeah, it's pretty cold ton-"
"It's been so long since we've gotten together like this," Mr. Rettel continued, as he pulled off his coat and tossed it into Carrie`s arms like she was some kind of maid, then held out his hand at Mr. Masper and said cheerfully, "I didn't know we were having more guests coming tonight. I am Mr. Rettel."
For a moment Mr. Masper just stared at Mr. Rettel`s smiling face before he grasped his big hand briefly, "Mr. Masper," he said shortly, and then dropped it.
"You must be Lothario`s niece. Lori I presume," Mr. Cero said shortly as he handed the package over to Carrie already full hands so he could take of his own coat. "I have heard so much about you."
"Only the positive ones I hope," Carrie muttered as she tried to balance the heavy package and the (not really dead yet) red coat.
A wolfish grin pasted on Mr. Rettel face as he last took a closer look at Carrie and drank in the sight of her slim figure. "Definitely, but I don't think he's ever told us how pretty you are."
"It's nothing to brag about," Carrie said coldly.
and was now blinking owlishly. His golden eyes darted from Carrie to Mr. Masper. A smile curled up from Mr. Masper thin lips as he looked back at him, though it was neither warm nor friendly.
That seemed to snap the boy out of whatever weird trance he was in and without greeting their guests, he quickly started to walk fast towards the kitchen.
Unfortunately Leila stopped him as she entered, "Don't even think about running," she said and tossed a bowl of salad into his arms. "You will place this bowl on the table and then you're going help me with the octopus."
"But, but-" Letheo`s face was pale as a ghost, but Leila ignored his plea or his look.
"No buts! Your butt is mine tonight."
Another grin pasted on Mr. Rettel face when he saw Leila's curvier figure. "Hello Leila, good to see you again."
Rolling her eyes Leila helped Carrie with their coats and hats, then shepherded everyone to the dining room. After the greetings and comrade hugs between Dr. Lothario, Mr. Rettel, and Mr. Cero they all took their seat down at the table. Dr. Lothario took the head chair, Mr. Rettel sat on his right side. Letheo awkwardly sat down beside Carrie as Mr. Masper took a seat beside Mr. Rettel and just in front of Letheo. Mr. Cero took a seat beside Carrie. Leila, as the main hostess for the evening, sat on the other end of the table.
"Dinner is served," Leila said with a cheerful voice, "Hope you'll all enjoy it and don't you dare leave the table with an unfinished plate or you will have to deal with me."