Chapter eight: Lord Kota

His right hand was a skeleton. Ivory bones, scarred and splotched with red, gripped her arm hard enough to bruise. His right hand was gloved, though the black fabric suggested that sharpened claws, not nails, laid beneath them. Her heart skipped a beat at the thought.

Oh, dear God, she thought. He was a monster after all.

Sarabeth did not dare to look up, trying to keep her swimming eyes on the hand that had pulled her upright. She forced herself to breathe and shut her eyes, scrambling to find something else about the figure in front of her to think about. Like the fact that the man was young, in his voice at least. Maybe Frix's age, maybe slightly older. It was refined, without accent; a nobleman's voice, perhaps. But he spoke in an extremely formal manner, as if from another time.

She took another shaky breath and slowly opened her eyes.

His clothes accentuated this. He wore a black velvet coat over a red velvet vest; both were decorated with gold trim and buttons. This, along with long knickers and black leather boots, made him look like he had stepped from an old picture book. Of course, she could not think of any children's book that would place such a terrible monster in a prince's clothes.

"Well?" he asked suddenly, making her flinch. "What do you have to say for yourself?" Sarabeth shut her eyes again and whispered a very small apology. Apparently it wasn't quite satisfactory. He gripped her arm tighter. "I can't hear you. And it's always nice to look at someone when you're speaking to them," he hinted darkly. Sarabeth shook her head, horrified at the thought of another corpse-like expression above her. This didn't seem to please him, either. "I said, look at me," he demanded, grabbing her chin with his gloved hand and forcing her face up to his.

Sarabeth turned pale.

The entire right side of his face was covered by a porcelain mask. It came straight down from his forehead, covered his nose, and left only the very tip of his jaw exposed. However, where a fake eye was normally painted on, there was only a small gold family crest. All of this was framed by crimson red hair, thin and messy and overdue for a cut. But it wasn't the face she couldn't see that shocked her, obviously. The first thing that came to her mind was that his eye looked exactly like Frix's. It was a matte black orb, not even reflecting the candlelight in the room. Looking into them was like gazing into a bottomless hole-terrifying. But his face...

It was like man's face in shape, but it wasn't. It was like a skeleton's face in its white completion and hinted bones underneath, but it wasn't. It was like a beast's face with its protruding fangs, but not. It was as if he was dead with the cold expression he gave, but he wasn't.

Or was he?

"...She is in shock, Sath," he observed with apathy, dropping her chin. He must have been holding it for some time, because her neck ached when it returned to its normal position. "Have you fed her yet? Like I asked?"

The ghost voice-Sath-cleared his nonexistent throat. "I have just asked Luciele to bring down her tray. Our Sarabeth cannot see me, after all, and I thought it would be-"

"She cannot see you?" the man said with obvious surprise, turning to his left. It was the first sign of emotion from him she had seen so far. "But she can hear you, correct?"

"Yes, Lord Kota," Sath replied. "It's just the ghosts, we think."

Lord Kota? Sarabeth thought dimly. The monster had a human name. Once again, it was old-fashioned and out of place; everything here seemed out of place. Why was that?

"Interesting... but her brother can? Correct? Perhaps it has to do with her resistance-"

Sarabeth, who had been busy thinking of several possible escape routes, suddenly snapped to attention. "My brother?" she gasped, forgetting herself. "Is Frix here? Is he okay?" The monster turned to her; she covered her mouth and ducked her head.

"He is here, in the castle, if that was your question. But as for his condition..." He shrugged. "I cannot give a definitive answer until tomorrow. He is unstable at the moment. Right now-"

"What do you mean, unstable?" Sarabeth demanded. "Is he all right or not?"

Kota's eyes narrowed, angry. "Do not interrupt me, girl," he snarled, raising a hand as if to strike her. She shrank back; he lowered his hand. "I have already told you that I am not sure right now. What were you expecting?" Turning back around, he started towards the door. "I will be checking on you regularly until you are fully healed from that greencough. In the meantime, please refrain from any more half-witted escape attempts. I have a wolf outside on permanent watch-you would not make it out of the door before being dragged back into bed. And speaking of which..." He turned around faster than Sarabeth would have thought possible, brushing her forehead with a gloved finger. Immediately, what little strength she had left disappeared. She collapsed, caught neatly in his steel trap arms. "Don't strain yourself-life is a very precious thing in this place."

It would have been a sweet remark, if not for the dark and scathing tone it was delivered in.

Kota closed the door to Sarabeth's room quietly, listening. Sure enough, as soon as the sound reached her supposedly sleeping ears, she sobbed in relief. The small clicking noise of chattering teeth came immediately afterwards, as well as a few frightened sobs.

The girl was positively terrified of him. Good.

He closed his black eye thoughtfully. "Thank the heavens she doesn't have her brother's temper," he commented aside. "He's enough trouble as it is. The dim-witted boy was screaming in his cell all night, as if it would change my mind. He is unstable and violent-an uncultivated, unruly child. The girl appears no better. Did you see her hands? They were like a mason's. I doubt she has seen a comb in her life. Or a bath, for that matter."

Sath listened to these comments in silence. In previous times, he would have chastised the boy for such vulgar remarks, but those times had passed. Now, he could only shake his head and drift disapprovingly alongside his master.

Kota strolled down the hallway, continuing, "But I am impressed by their resistance. The boy is, admittedly, infected, but the only outward sign is that eye of his. Well, that and his temperance. There is no sign of decomposition or transmutation at all. And the girl does not appear to be affected at all..." He trailed off, then shrugged. "Perhaps they have some sort of demon in their blood, or maybe one of them is a witch."

"Lord Kota!" Sath gasped, taken aback. His ghostly form swirled angrily. "You overstep your boundaries!"

"Oh really?" Kota laughed coldly. "There are still boundaries in this time and place?" Sath began to argue further, but gave up and bowed his head.

After a tall, spiraling staircase and a candlelit passageway, Kota was greeted at the dining hall by Lucile. She bowed to him as he passed; he gave her a nod of acknowledgement after studying the tray of bread and soup she was bringing to the girl. "Make sure she eats it," he warned. "And if she resists, tell her I will return to force it down her throat myself."

"Who's throat, exactly, are you talking about, Lord Kota?" Kota stiffened and turned around, scowling at the two figures behind him.

It was a couple; more specifically, the Mandrakes. They were two of the nobles that had once sat at his family's court, before the curse was placed. They were no longer human now; they were ghouls. Their once tan and youthful skins were now blue and wrinkled, bruised with purple shadows and green bruises. Their eyes were empty sockets, and looked strangely out of place beneath their untouched blonde hair.

Kota bowed stiffly to them. The man bowed deeply, and the woman curtsied. "May I inquire," he said as calmly as possible, "as to the nature of this visit?"

Mrs. Mandrake smiled, revealing seven rotting teeth. "Why, you have been absent from the party for ages!" Kota's eyes narrowed at the mention of the 'party'. "We were curious, and decided to follow your smell." She took a deep, rattling breath, then frowned. "...You do smell strange lately," she said offhandedly.

A low, menacing growl found its way past his fangs; she flinched back. "My work is none of your business," he growled, "and neither is my personal life. I am not a child to be watched over and you are not my nanny." His hair began to sway in an invisible breeze, a sure sign of a mage's temper rising.

Sensing that the situation was becoming dangerous, Mr. Mandrake bowed quickly, pulling his wife back. "Please forgive her, my lord! She spoke without thinking."

Kota scrunched his nose up in disgust. "I have no doubt of that," he scoffed. "Please restrain her from making such flippant remarks in front of her superiors."

The man nodded quickly, bowing again. "Yes, yes, of course, Prince-"

A sharp screeching sound filled the air; the two ghouls squealed and clung to each other as a gale began to tear around the room, sending chairs and crystal glasses flying. Curtains ripped from their poles and began to spiral upwards in a frenzied dance with the furniture. The giant chandelier above their heads began to spin wildly, groaning and threatening to break loose from the ceiling.

"Lord Kota!" Sath shouted. Even his ghostly form was threatened to be washed away by the wind. "Please, stop!"

He wasn't listening. "How dare you call me that!" he roared, fury eclipsing everything else. His red hair was growing long and ragged, whipping around his head. "How dare you!"

The two ghouls huddled on the floor in front of him, struggling to not be swept away in the wind. "Please," they screeched, crying thick yellow tears, "please forgive us, Lord Kota!"

Another earsplitting roar filled the room. The two clutched each other tighter and braced themselves for the blows sure to come.

Slowly, ever so slowly, the wind began to die. The bits and pieces of the room caught in the tornado began to fall to the floor with loud cracks and crashes. The chandelier, now missing a dozen of its crystal pendants, stopped its groaning and stood still. A dish fell an inch away from the Mandrakes; they didn't dare move.

Finally, Kota spoke.

"Go," he said, strangely calm. He pointed to the oak double doors they had come in through. "Tell everyone that I will be retiring for the night, and do not wish to be bothered for any reason. Is this understood?" They nodded fiercely, scrambling to their feet and making no attempt to hide their terror as they ran from the room. As soon as they were out of sight, he turned to his ghostly companion. "Sath. I think you should check on our guests... and tell my wolves that I would like to see them in the morning."

Sath sighed in relief, mopping his brow with a ghostly handkerchief. "Of course, of course," he muttered to himself. "Anything for you, my lord..."

Author's Corner:

I'm lazy. That's my only excuse for why this chapter is so late... again. Thank you my lovely reviewers who love me anyway... I hope... -sweat-

Previously mentioned lovely reviewers: Kyre Crow, Cantata, Alicia Davis, XxXevening-starXxX, Amaranth, pkumar, kittenhood, FireRam, NarniaRiddle, and the kitten.