By R. C. Carpenter
Nothing would be the same again.
Elsa had a feeling that things, drastic things, were about to change and not for the better. But the nine-year-old blonde-haired girl kept quiet about her premonitions. Bad thoughts were not encouraged by her family or by her teachers at school. Bad thoughts led to tears in her mother's eyes and that awful look of disappointment on her father's face.
She hated that look and those tears, and she had promised herself to never be the cause of her family's sadness once more.
The little girl tucked her fears away, deep inside of her own mind, and instead wandered to her room on the second floor to get something done on her homework before her mother served dinner.
Mrs. Lorral was in the kitchen, slaving over a steaming pot where thick strings of pasta were being boiled to perfection. She held an idle conversation with her oldest daughter, Natalie.
"So how was school today, Natty?" she asked, testing the marinara from a smaller pot.
Natalie shrugged and tossed a clump of silky golden-blonde hair from her eyes as she tried to concentrate on her history book. "It was all right. Except that we had a fire drill."
"Oh?" Mrs. Lorral turned to face Natalie. "Was there a fire?"
"No," Natalie grumbled, rolling her eyes. "Some stupid freshman pulled it, thinking that he was cool."
Mrs. Lorral nodded and went back to cooking.
A moment later, her husband appeared in the doorway of the dining room, a tired and worn look about his body.
"Douglas?" she asked, setting down her ladle as she approached him.
Natalie too saw the state her father was in. She shut her book. "Dad? What's wrong?"
Douglas Lorral stumbled into the kitchen, grasping with shaky hands for the chair before him. "Kathryn, Natalie..." he whispered. He stumbled, catching the chair in his arms as his knees hit the ground. Peering through the wooden dowels, he asked in a worried tone, "Where's Elsa?"
Natalie spoke first as her mother helped the fallen man right himself. "Upstairs. Dad, what is it?"
"Go, Natty!" he urged. "Both of you... You have to hide. Don't come out, please. Don't come out."
"Douglas, you're frightening me," Kathryn turned him to face her as she expressed her concern.
He kissed the top of her head and replied, "The Sialia, Kathy. They're coming for the books."
"The books?" she shrieked. "You told me you gave them to Bernard to keep safe!"
He drew his wife nearer, wrapping her up in his arms as he gripped her tightly. "I couldn't do it. They're our responsibility. I couldn't give it to anyone else."
Kathryn ripped herself away from Douglas, her eyes fiery with fury. "You brought those menace's upon our house! Upon our family!"
"Kathy, I need you now! We have to protect the books, at the cost of our lives."
Kathryn glared harshly at him, folding her arms against herself for comfort. "And the lives of our daughters? Must they bear this burden as well, so young?"
Douglas shook his head. "Natty already can change; it was hers to uphold from the moment she found out what she is. But I will not involve her in this if I can avoid it."
"What of Elsa?"
A tense moment hung between to two before Douglas finally answered, "She will not be harmed. I have to call Bernard, though, to get the girls out of here."
Upstairs, Natalie had found her sister avoiding homework by picking out her clothes for the next day. Elsa looked angry when she saw the intruder. She was a little bit ashamed when anyone ever saw her procrastinating.
"Natty, what are you doing? My door was shut. Do you want me to tell mom?" she threatened as Natalie had done so many times to her before.
Natalie seemed not to notice Elsa's words. Instead, she began rifling through her younger sister's bookshelves.
"Hey!" Elsa argued, pushing the books back into place. "You can't do that! You're going to have to pick them all back up. I had them alphabetized, too."
Natalie mumbled. "Where are they? Where could they be?"
Elsa let out an exasperated sigh. "What are you looking for? I just told you that I put them in order."
Glancing down at her sister, Natalie frowned. "The birds are coming."
Natalie put a hand to her head as she shook it. "I forgot that you don't know yet."
"Know what?" Elsa was becoming annoyed.
"Elsa, I need to find the books that tell about the wars. About the birds and the lions. The serpents? Are any of these sounding familiar? The mongoose? Have you read about them?"
With tentative steps, Elsa went to her bedside. She got down on her knees and pulled out the large drawer that had been built into it. When she stood again, she was holding two large, leather-bound books, both of which looked to be as old as time itself and a bit more loved.
"Was I not supposed to read them?" she asked as Natalie took the books from Elsa's arms.
"I'll explain later," she promised. She dropped the books down on a small blanket at the end of Elsa's bed and began to wrap them tightly in it.
Elsa stood at her side, still mystified. "You said birds are coming?"
Natalie glanced quickly to her sister before going back to tucking the corners of the blanket in upon itself. "Yes," she said sharply.
Thinking a moment, about the books and what she had read in them, Elsa became worried. "Are they the same birds in the books?"
Before Natalie had a moment to try and explain to Elsa, a crash hit both of their ears.
Elsa dove for her favorite stuffed animal and hugged him tightly.
Natalie shot her a look. "When are you going to stop playing with those things?" she asked curtly, feeling afraid of what the noise had been.
"I'm scared, Natty," came her whimpered reply. She had been told many times by her sister that keeping a dog toy, no matter how much he meant to her, wasn't going to help her mature any time soon. Even in the tense atmosphere, Natalie still seemed to have words of advice to give to her less mature sister.
Despite Natalie's warning, Elsa hugged the dog around his neck, nuzzling against his tattered brown fur.
Natalie ignored the dog in Elsa's hands and the crash, which had come from below. She tiptoed to Elsa's door and grabbed the backpack she kept hanging on the knob. Throwing all the notebooks, binders, old notices, and books out of it, Natalie made room for the books.
Elsa didn't protest as she watched her carefully organized school life be casually tossed aside. She didn't protest, because she knew that this was what her premonition had been preparing her for. She just hadn't expected it so soon.
Natalie crept quietly from Elsa's room, urging her to follow close behind.
"We know nothing," shouted their father from below.
Grabbing Elsa by the hand, Natalie pulled her into the bathroom, mindful of her footsteps. Opening the bathroom's sliding closet, she sat her little sister on the floor in among the beach towels.
She stuffed the backpack in with her and ordered, "Don't let anyone get this. Understand?"
Elsa nodded, trying to avoid crying. She knew that tragedy was waiting. She knew that whoever the bird was in the kitchen whose voice was indistinct through the bathroom door, he was bringing bad thoughts with him.
Natalie whispered, a fearful look in her deep brown eyes. "Don't come out until someone comes for you."
As Elsa squeezed her big sister's hand tightly, she heard Natalie's name called by their mother.
"Stay quiet," Natalie ordered and then, with a brave and defiant look carved into her features, shut the closet door and yelled, "Yeah, I'll be down in a minute!"
Natalie had always been the brave one, the smart and beautiful one. Elsa had envied her at times, but Natalie went out of her way to drag Elsa along on as many of her adventures as she could.
Elsa waited in the darkness as Natalie leapt down the stairs. She winced when she heard her sister scream.
Natalie had turned the corner of the steps into the kitchen only to find herself scooped up into the arms of a tall, dark-haired man that she could only suspect was one of the birds her father was waiting for. He had a nasty glare in his eyes, and a scar down his left cheek that looked ragged, as though a cat had made it.
The man's rough voice bellow, "Tell me where the books are, Douglas, and I might only cripple your daughter."
Kathryn screamed in protest, reaching for her first born. Her efforts were met with a balled fist to her stomach as the bird readjusted his grip on Natalie.
"Keep your woman silent, Douglas!" the man growled. "Now tell me where the books are. You have ten seconds."
Natalie squirmed in the dark-haired man's grip, trying to clip a heel into his knee or shin. Her struggles earned her a tighter grip on her wrists.
"God damn," she hissed as her bones constricted, nearing the breaking point. Natalie bit her lip hard, to take her mind off of the pain.
"We know nothing!" Douglas repeated to the man who tormented his daughter. He pleaded, "I've told you, Odion, I don't know what you want. We have several hundreds of books in this home, and hundreds more at the cottage. You can search this place from top to bottom to find what you like, but leave my family out of this."
"I tire of your whining and your lies, Douglas," Odion's tone had taken on a hint of exasperation. In the next moment, as Natalie continued to struggle in his arms, she felt cold fingers grip her throat.
"No!" Kathryn shouted and lunged at Odion with one of the kitchen knives.
It was all too fast for Douglas to react. He had only seen it as clips, clips of his life falling apart.
The knife plunged.
Natalie, a red stain growing around the blade in her chest, gasped and choked.
Odion grasped the handle of the knife and let the girl fall. The blade slid out of Natalie's heart as the weight of her body brought her to the floor.
The knife found its mark on Kathryn as well, slicing open her throat in a wave of blood and the echo of her scream.
Releasing the weapon, Odion grinned.
As the knife clanged to the ground, both bodies hit the kitchen floor.
It was over faster than it had begun.
Elsa stifled her sobs as she heard her father's wail of despair and she knew that Natalie and her mother were dead. She pushed open the closet door. placing her dog toy in her backpack, she then struggled to sling her bag over her shoulder.
Below, he father's voice was airy as he asked, "How could you?"
Tiptoeing as Natalie had, Elsa snuck to her sister's room to find the dagger Natalie so proudly displayed on her bureau.
Odion scoffed. "They were useless, Douglas. And as soon as you tell me where the books are, you too shall become as useless as they were."
Elsa heard a piece of furniture knocked over and she stopped moving as she reached for the handle of the blade, which was shaped like the head of a unicorn.
"I don't know where they are!"
A hard cracking noise shuttled through the house.
Quickly, Elsa made her way to the top step, the dagger carefully pointed downwards in case she tripped.
"Why do you insist upon lying to me further, Douglas?" Odion hissed and another crack resonated through the empty-feeling house. "You've nothing left to loose at this point, especially since I'm going to end your miserable, wasted life once we're done here."
Silence filled the air.
For a moment, Elsa thought that Odion was killing her father, but then his strong voice cut through her fright as he baited the man with his words. "Do your worst, Aviavol. I may no longer house the books you are searching for, but I have memorized their passages. I know that a bird of your breed fell from standing in the High Assembly more than ten generations ago."
The intruder gave a shriek that made Elsa cringe; it sounded like a diving bird striking at its prey.
More furniture was toppled and in that moment, she scurried down the stairs.
"Dad!" she shouted, seeing her father on his knees, both of his hands clamped tightly to his throat.
Odion turned to the girl, a faint blue glow tainting his eyes.
She gasped as she saw him, the long ragged black hair that whipped about his face, the scar that ran down his cheek, the blood that was everywhere.
Elsa took an instinctive step backwards when she saw her mother and her sister's murdered bodies on the floor.
But as Odion cackled, asking her father why he had kept such a pretty girl a secret from him, Elsa ran at the bird-man with Natalie's knife raised high.
She drove it deep into his leg and again, the awful, screeching noise swelled through the halls of her home.
"Elsa! Run!" her father called. But as he began to speak again, Odion withdrew the blade from his leg and brought it down on Douglas' neck with all of his power.
Elsa turned, running as fast as her little legs could carry her. She had to get away from that gruesome scene of death. All that she had loved, he had killed.
His labored steps were heard behind her, and his rumbling anger seemed to snap out at her like a weapon.
Elsa nearly tripped when talons scraped down the backs of her bare legs. She shouted in pain and looked back to see Odion. But he didn't look like the evil man she had momentarily crippled. He looked more like the birds in her storybook, his fingers curled into deep-cutting talons, his eyes black and hollow, blue feathers rippling through his inky hair.
She ran faster, toppling what furniture she could to slow her pursuer down.
As she reached the front porch, she saw a familiar car approaching. She waved frantically at the driver, her legs beginning to sting where Odion's claws had raked her.
The long black car stopped instantly when the driver recognized Elsa. The driver threw open his door and ran towards her, asking with fright in his voice, "Is your father all right?"
"Please help me, Bernard!" Elsa crumpled to the ground, the pain too much for her.
Bernard, a business partner of her father's, picked the little girl up without struggle into his strong arms. He only hesitated a moment, when he saw Odion run onto the front porch in half-form.
Odion caught Bernard in his sights and gave another piercing shriek.
"Keep away from her, Ruhestiel," Odion warned, the blue glow around his eyes swelling around his body. "She has something that I want."
Bernard gave a wave of his hand and Odion was slammed sharply into the wall behind him. "I'll never let you hurt her."
"I want the books!" Odion protested, writhing against invisible shackles. The wood around him began to take on the same strange glow as his eyes, slowly melting away at the house. "I will find them, even it means trudging into your fortress to get them!"
Bernard smiled, carrying Elsa back to his car. He shouted to Odion, "I doubt you could even find your way alive onto my land, little bird."
With that, Bernard dropped Elsa into his passenger seat and took off, leaving Odion shackled to the house.