The sun was high in the Romanian sky, although you couldn’t tell it because of the cloud cover. Every day looked like a day full of rain in the Carpathian Mountains. Some days it would simply threaten to rain or snow; other days the promise of rain would be fulfilled. It was mostly the latter than the former. Today was no exception. The light sprinkle over Bilbor was a natural event. Some people on the globe breathe dirty air, some walk through garbage to get to their homes, the fine folks at Bilbor trudge through rain. No one expected any difference.
And no one expected any difference today. Even though the rain was peppering the landscape in a random pattern, Victoria continued to do her job at the Inn. She carried on as if the owners hadn’t been devoured and their bodies buried in a shallow grave. The newest lady-of-the-house was set in her ways. Any defiance on Victoria’s part would result in permanent termination. Victoria knew that. Hell, Victoria has seen what happens when someone defies Sokara first hand. Victoria stared at her blood spackled apron to refresh her memory of the battles easily won.
The Inn had been empty for the better part of a week. No one had registered to be a temporary guest, and all guests that had been signed in had already departed. The rooms were vacant. This didn’t bother Victoria much. That would mean that her day of cleaning and making beds were to be relatively easy. Since Sokara had taken a chunk out of the cook’s chest, there was no need to light up the wood-burning stove to prepare lunch – or dinner, for that matter. Victoria would eat what she could find in the pantry or refrigerator if she didn’t eat at home before she came to work. In all honesty, this was the easiest job she had ever had in her young life, thus far. She then reconsidered that fact. She placed “burying bodies” as a tough job, but burying a dead body only took an hour out of her day. The other hours were hers to do with as she pleased. She usually spent them trying to please her Mistress.
It had been hours since Sokara had gone down to the wine cellar. It would be a few hours before she was back up again to continue with her shenanigans. Victoria pondered how odd Sokara’s behavior is. She was nothing like the people of this region at all. The people of Bilbor worked hard and were humble. At night, they drank as hard as they worked and then went home to their respective cottages to get all bundled in early so they can start the new day working hard again. Thus was the cycle of Bilbor. Sokara stuck out like a sore thumb. She was edgy, always on the move, and so paranoid. Victoria still wasn’t certain who this woman was yet she kept insisting that everyone did, and she was somehow important. For someone that was doing everything possible to not be seen, she sure was making a spectacle of herself. Victoria enjoyed the quiet time when Sokara went down. There was no one in the Inn to bother her and there was no Mistress to ask her so many questions. Victoria considered her job more a vacation rather than gainful employment.
Busy work is what kept Victoria occupied. Wiping down the bar of the Inn that hadn’t been utilized for a few days by sloppy drunks was a breeze to clean. She found so much time to clean it now; she actually polished the steel legs of each and every bar stool. Some of those bar stools hadn’t seen a cleaning element since the day they were manufactured. After the polishing began to bore her, she headed up the creaky staircase to the guest rooms to give them each a complete dusting. She had left all the beds unmade so that the sheets and linen wouldn’t smell so dusty after not being used for so long. This was a bright idea on her part, she thought. Why do one job twice when once is just as nice? She had finished with the guest rooms and the communal showers when she decided to go to the wine cellar and do some work down there. There wasn’t much to do down there, and she certainly didn’t want to bother her Mistress. But Sokara had incessantly complained about the amount of light that snuck in through the only window in the basement. Victoria decided that today she would block that light once and for all. That would eliminate any further grievances from the newcomer. Victoria chuckled to herself as she headed to the old beech door that leads down to the wine cellar, “no one can go to an Inn and just relax. They always have to bitch about something. It’s too cold, it’s too hot, the food is greasy, too much light in the windows, and there are monsters in the wine cellar.” She reached for the door knob with a smile on her face.
Except the door knob wasn’t reaching back for her.
It took a second for her to notice that the reflection of her hand couldn’t be seen in the brass knob. She had, at first, thought that maybe the misty, frosty day had somehow created condensation over the door knob. She then wiped it to be sure. As she did this, she took note that there was no frost at all on the brass fixture. She knelt down so that her face was level with the knob. She couldn’t see her face. She thought this was very odd. She had been polishing the silver bar stools today and cleaning the rooms with mirrors; surely she would have taken notice if her reflection had been missing. Wouldn’t she? She stopped concentrating on the door knob to the wine cellar and headed to the bar. There were mirrors behind the bar boasting name brands of alcohol she had never even heard of. “Black Label”, “J&B”, “Luxsusowa”,“Molinari”,“Grey Goose”, and “Tuaca”. Jadis, the barkeep, loved his vanity mirrors. He had them strategically placed behind his expensive liquor bottles that no one ever drank from. They all went for the bottles down on the bottom row with bland labels. Victoria noticed she had missed cleaning up some blood that had splattered on the well whiskey when the Inn Keeper had her heart removed by Sokara.
She lifted the part of the bar at the very end that lifted up to allow the bartender in, and to keep the patrons out. It came back down with a thud. Victoria never realized how heavy that piece of wood actually was. She had never been back behind the bar before much before she had the place to herself. This was Jadis’s job to keep it clean and tidy. She had no business being behind the bar where the alcohol was. She walked up to the rear of the bar to look into one of the vanity mirrors. She could see herself; there she was with her dark, curly hair strewn about her head and tucked behind her ears. She had a few smudges on her face from the day’s dusting.
She contemplated that if she could see her reverse image here in the mirror, why couldn’t she see it in the brass door knob? She walked from behind the bar, this time by squatting under the heavy piece of wood, to walk to the Inn’s doors. She noticed that the door knobs on the two doors that allow patrons in on one side, and out on the other, were brushed silver. They weren’t exactly knobs as they were more like plates. Yet, she could still see her reflection in them. It was settled, she was having some sort of hallucination, or lack of one, on the door knob leading to the wine cellar.
She wound her way back to the door to the wine cellar, and just as she had expected, she did not see her reflection on the door handle. At this point, she really didn’t care. She has a reflection no matter what this weird door knob had to say about it. She opened the door and met the cold air come rushing up the stairs. She lightly walked the stairs to the bottom so as not to wake Sokara from her sleep. She hadn’t disturbed Sokara so far this week; she would like to keep that record going. Her Mistress was a grump when she was awake, she could just imagine how bubbly and friendly she would be if Victoria were to wake her. She found a roll of tape and a razor blade. She scuffled around the cellar floor looking for something akin to a cardboard box. She couldn’t find a box, but she did find a banner. She didn’t have to make the window look beautiful; she just had to keep light out. Sokara didn’t care for the three single bulbs hanging from the ceiling, so Victoria lit up a hurricane lamp to find her way around the dark cellar. She tried to catch a glimpse of her reflection on the window at the top of the wall, but it was too high up for her to see. She’d have to wait to get outside to test the reflection trick. She grabbed her materials – the knife, tape and banner – and headed up the rickety old stairs as quietly as she could. She was relieved that she made it to the top without incident.
She walked around to the south side of the old brick building. The window leading down into the wine cellar was at ground level, so she had to kneel down to get the banner over the frosted glass. She was a little disappointed that she wouldn’t be able to catch her reflection on the window through the frost and dirt and grime. It’s just as well; trying to catch her reflection on odd objects throughout the Inn had taken a little over an hour of her day. It was time to get a move on if she wanted to be home in time to feed her family before sundown. Her thoughts had strayed to random corners of her mind. Thoughts of how this woman in the wine cellar had become her Mistress, and where did this woman even come from? Victoria could definitely tell by the heavy accent that the woman was not from Romania. And the way she dressed was not how the women dressed in these parts. Not to mention that the stranger sleeps in the dirt. No one that she knew slept in the dirt. That was an odd ritual for anyone. Victoria had heard of sleeping on top of the dirt, like when the family goes camping, but not IN the dirt. Her sleeping habit was odd, as well. Everyone in Bilbor sleeps when the sun goes down since it’s very difficult to see inches out beyond normal vision at night, yet this woman sleeps in the day time and flits about at night. It was all very strange indeed.
While she was finishing up the taping around the banner on the old window and piecing together her random observations thus far, she didn’t hear the vehicle pulling up to the Inn portico, nor did she hear the two gentlemen get out of the vehicle and walk in her direction all the while crunching the patches of snow beneath their feet. It wasn’t until they were directly behind her and announced their presence did she know she had company.
“Excuse me, Miss,” said the bigger of the two gentlemen. He wore a uniform that had immediately let Victoria know that he was an official of the law. “I was wondering if we could ask you some questions.”
Victoria turned slowly around from her task at hand. She looked at the uniformed pair and then nodded as she carefully stood up from taping the cellar window. The sun was beginning to settle in for the night to her right. She was hoping these questions would be quick. She had to finish up her chores before heading home to those she cared for at night. She directed the pair of them through the kitchen door to the counter where she fixed them both something to warm their bones. The thought of them asking her any number of questions may be aggravating to her, but she didn’t have to be uncivil about it. She had manners seared into her soul.
The two gentlemen from the Romanian Police Force greedily slurped the beef stew placed in front of them. Victoria had noticed the ranks proudly displayed on the epaulets of their outer jackets. One had two silver stars and the other had three silver stars. That would make them “Police Inspector” and “Police Principal Inspector” respectively. On any normal day, she would have been curious as to why these two would invest any amount of time in questioning her. As they both were slurping up their warm grub, she secretly knew why they were here. She thought back to the Inn Keeper – among others – that Sokara had extinguished in this little village. She replayed the automatic video in her head of dragging the bones through the snow to their final resting place. Victoria thought it would have been a heavier task to carry lifeless bodies through snow to discard them. The truth was, they were extremely light. Victoria credited the fact that the black mist that follows Sokara around did all the hard work for her. All Victoria had to do was take out a bag of bones; those hardly weighed anything.
The flash of gold from the “Policie” badge flashed for an instant to help bring Victoria out of her trance. It was on the breast of the Police Inspector, who was now repeating the question that she didn’t absorb the first time. “…mind if we take a quick look around?” he said more pronounced the second time.
“No, Sir. Absolutely. You’ll see all is in order,” said Victoria as she looked at the last vestiges of the Sun going behind the peak of the mountains. It was now official – the night had come. From her vantage point behind the counter, she could see that she had left the door leading down into the wine cellar cracked open. Light, frosty air was escaping from up the stairs out into the hallway leading to the kitchen and the dining room. She could also hear a soft, masculine whispering. It was a soft sound at first, but then resonated as the shushing and the shawing were more compacted to the narrow stairwell leading up the first floor from down below. She took quick notice of the cellar door’s threshold; that’s where she noticed the dark mist mingling with the breath of cold that had formerly tried to escape the wine cellar. She turned to look at her visitors to inform them, “You may want to start with the wine cellar first. I was just about to lock it up for the night.”
The two gentlemen lifted off their barstools to walk slowly over to the wine cellar door. The Police Inspector placed his hand on the door and swung it open on its hinges until there was a light thud on the wall behind it to announce that the door would go no further. Victoria noticed that the Police Inspector, as well, did not have a reflection as he passed through the threshold to head down the stairs. The Police Inspector and Police Principal Inspector trotted down the stairs, with Victoria cautiously behind them. The door at the top of the stairs slammed shut. Both men pivoted in the close stairwell to acknowledge the sound. They both stared up at her as she was in between them and the exit. “Does the door normally slam like that?” asked the Police Inspector.
“It does, yes sir,” she lied.
Considering her statement to be true, they both turned to step onto the cold stone floor at the bottom of the stairs. With the banner now taped over the only source of light in the wine cellar, it was difficult for both of the Inspectors to see their way. Victoria resisted flipping the switch that, in turn, illuminates the four light bulbs hanging from the ceiling. Her Mistress despised those lights, so as not to cause any more distress, Victoria never turned them on. This didn’t seem to slow the Inspectors down any. They both produced slim flashlights from their inner-jacket pockets, their thin streams of light caressed wine casks resting upon their wooden tables and wrought iron legs. Dust motes floated as they raced in no particular fashion to get to where they needed to be, as long as it was out of the direct line of light. Dark corners were unobscured as the lights penetrated their recesses. The two gentlemen silently covered the entire wine cellar except for the narrow hall that led to a dead end into the brick wall.
They seemed to be satisfied that they hadn’t discovered anything. Almost every inch of the floor had been swept with the mechanical light. They were very thorough with their search, Victoria thought. She was impressed by how quick the two of them covered ground in the hunt for whatever it was they were hunting for. The only problem that she saw was that the two officers neglected to look up to the ceiling where the black mist was as thick as a field fog – and where Sokara was hovering.
The Shroud was the first to cover the two gentlemen as they stood in the only open spot of the wine cellar. The Inspectors never saw the black mist as it skimmed the wall behind them to land in a flood of dark, thin smoke around their legs and feet. In a matter of seconds, the Shroud lifted them both – legs first – up into the air so that they were in an upside-down position. Their hands flung over their heads and reached for the floor as they let go of the grips they both had on their flashlights. The metal tinking sound of the lights hitting concrete could barely be heard over the sounds of the Inspectors creating offensive and monstrous remarks in regard to what they intend to do with Victoria should she ever let them out of their current predicament. Victoria just smirked at them as they hung upside-down getting lost in their outer-jackets. Gravity had become a key role in taming the boys a little. Another key role in the taming of the two was the sight of Sokara.
“Now you’ll see what a monster looks like,” whispered Victoria to no one at all.
Hanging in their inverted position, the Inspectors couldn’t believe their eyes. They were both witnessing the most beautiful woman they had ever laid eyes on float softly down from the ceiling to stand directly before them. The lighting in the room was sketchy, at best, but they could make out her bronze skin that looked as if it had been honed to a shine; it was so shiny that it looked fake. She must’ve had a rubber suit on like in the superhero movies they both have seen in the village cinema. Upon further inspection, they both noticed her massive black wings that stretched out to either side of her body. They both wondered at the exact same time, but silently, “Are those bat wings?”
“Shhhh. Speak no more. I have come to take you home.” Sokara whispered as she crouched to position herself in between their dangling heads. She had entranced them. They were no longer struggling, and they were no longer talking. Sokara placed her forefinger at the side of the Inspector’s head, watching as his carotid artery pumped and pulsed and danced for her. She flicked her elongated tongue to touch his bare skin with the forked end. She grabbed him fully by the top of the head with the use of her entire hand to position the evening’s meal just right when she was interrupted..
“Beg pardon, Mistress. Do you possibly think we could keep these two to help at the Inn?” humbly whispered Victoria. There was never a need to be any louder than a whisper in Sokara’s presence. She was able to hear Victoria’s every thought, and Victoria knew that; Victoria figured it common courtesy to give the thought some sound, however little she might give.
“I do not desire others in my presence either when awake or asleep. Your request is denied,” commanded Sokara as she continued her course to nourishment.
“Beg pardon, again, Mistress. You rest in a hole in the wall among the dirt of our land. Would it not please you to gain better quarters?” asked Victoria.
Sokara stopped in her tracks that should have been covered in this man’s life force by now. But the girl did have a point. Here she had two very capable men at her disposal. She could put them to work securing her more formidable living quarters. Her accommodations were lacking comfort and warmth. She is a Queen of the Royal Gemin of Gijar. Her station deserved so much better than what she was currently receiving.
Sokara released the grip she had on the Inspector. His hair was flopping in the air below his body, along with the outer-jacket dangling from under his arms. “Very well, Victoria,” snuffed Sokara, “see to it that these two dig this wine cellar during the day while I sleep. They do not rest until they have constructed palatial grounds suitable for the Queen of the Royal Gemin.” Sokara turned her back on her captives and started up the stairs, but not before she turned around to release them both with a heavy crunch on the concrete they were dangling over and to add, “Now that I’ve been denied nourishment in my own shelter, I must go forage like the common Gemin. See to it that these two find their new quarters.”
“But, Mistress, what if they try to run from me?” asked Victoria.
“They no longer have a need to run, do you gentlemen?” asked Sokara to the men lying in a puddle of bones on the ground where the Shroud had left them safe and intact. They both looked up at Sokara and both shook their heads in the negative.
“And if they say something to someone who might happen to come into our establishment?” another question from Victoria.
Sokara considered that question for a moment. It was true that she could enchant anyone to her will. Any normal, intelligent person would have a conversation with these two in their trance state and consider them mute and dumb. Sokara had perfected the enchantment phase only to give her an advantage during feeding or to have one do her will. She never once thought about leaving the subject alive to have a conversation. She honestly didn’t think they could carry through with social intercourse in this state, this might well be true.
She stepped down from the bottom stair to walk across the concrete and squatted next to the huddled mass she had left there just moments before. She grabbed the Principal Inspector’s face with her left hand. She held his face for a moment, staring into his eyes as if consoling him, and then reached into his mouth with her right hand to rip out his tongue with one swift grab and then yank. His blood rushed through his lips and down his chin where it began dripping to pool on the floor. She then pivoted to face the Inspector to follow the same ritual – grab and then yank. His tongue, as well, had been removed. Neither one of the gentlemen had felt the immense pain coursing through their bodies from having their tongues unceremoniously removed. They had been entranced. The officers were now both under Sokara’s complete control.
“And now they can’t say anything to anyone. Your inquiry has been resolved.” said Sokara as she trekked up the stairs to the first floor of the Inn. “Be a dear and clean that up before you leave.” she added all the while licking the blood off her hands. She then closed the door to the wine cellar behind her.
The two officers turned to look at Victoria. She bounced a look of revulsion back in their direction. Both of their heads of hair were askew, jackets in disarray, and shocking red blood was still steadily pumping through their lips where their tongues had been only moments ago. They were both making slurping and bubbling noises.
“At least you get to live. We should always look at the bright side,” said Victoria as she helped the men up from the floor to lead them back to Sokara’s hole where the men would spend every waking minute transforming this cave into a castle, or they’ll lose much more than their tongues.
“Let’s get to work, gentlemen.” she said as she ushered them into the dark, dank, dusty, rancid hole that had been Sokara’s home away from home.