Maxime, Gaspard, Arnaud, and Alphonse, carried Philomenes burial liter out of the grand saloon, down the staircase, and out into the back garden. Followed behind was Orianna, with Marcel not too far behind.
After the parents were the siblings. Esther had linked arms with Emma. As they walked, Henri trudged next to them, a stoic but fragile expression on his face as if he wanted to cry but wanted to be strong.
Emma looked at her younger brother with love and sadness, slipping her free hand into his. He jumped slightly at the contact, looking down at their joined hands before looking up at her in confusion. She said nothing but gave a reassuring smile and squeezed his hand to show that she was here for him.
The rest of the family walked behind the siblings, with friends and close associates in the back. The procession made their way past the immaculate garden into a small gated area surrounding an immense live oak tree. Called the Ravens Grove, the tree had been planted as a seedling when the Delacroixs had been given the land for their service during the Betrayers War. A bloody period in history, the Betrayers War saw all manner of unhuman things, called Rawheti at the time, fleeing the mortal plane for the Hinterlands.
Upon the Ravens Grove were the names of every Delacroix that had passed, scrawled in the ancient tongue (what humans would know as Linear A from the ancient Minoans) and covered it from the farthest limb all the way to its roots.
Among the branches, white-blue spirit lights could be seen floating aimlessly between the limbs and leaves, their ghostly appearance giving the holy tree an ethereal aura.
At the base of the tree stood a large stone altar made of a single large rock. On its flat surface were a sea of sunflowers, irises, periwinkles, forget-me-nots, rosemary, and white tapered candles.
Before the altar was a wooden pyre, where the brothers set their sisters body. A priestess of Ushas, a goddess of dawn and Philomenes patron goddess, spoke words of how Philly was loved by all and had only passed onto the next chapter of existence. She offered council for all that grieved and asked that they didn despair, for Philomene was among the celestials now.
A dirge of mourning was sung by all as the siblings took flowers from the altar and placed them around the pyre. Esther and Gaspard both took sunflowers, Ingrid and Henri took the sprigs of rosemary, and the rest seemed to grab flowers at random.
Emma took a small bouquet of periwinkle which symbolized fondness of past memories and placed them near her sisters head, whispering a short goodbye.
The priestess handed Orianna a flaming torch as the last flowers were laid on the pyre. Their mother looked down at Phillys body, her face emotionless, devoid of sorry or pain as she placed the torch to kindling at her daughters feet.
Aided by magic, the fire quickly spread and engulfed Philomenes form as the priestess began to sing a song of sending. As her body was consumed by the flames, smoke and sparks floated into the sky as the sun finally dipped below the horizon.
A commotion stirred the crowd as on a limb roughly twenty-five feet from the ground, a gold glow began to form. As it faded, one could briefly see the name of Philomene etched in gold now gracing the family tree.
For a moment, Emma mourned the fact that now her name would never be written next to her sisters and ancestors but was comforted by the thought Philly would have approved of her choice.
As a tradition, the family sat with the dead until the magically fueled flames burned the remains to ash. Together, the clan summoned a gentle breeze to blow her ashes towards where the sun would rise in the morning.
Also part of tradition, the funeral was followed by a celebration of life that would last long into the night and end as the sun rose in the morning. In the great hall of Ravens Keep, the servants had set out tables of delicious food and expensive sparkling liquors.
The family ate, drank, spoke of happier times, and danced to lively music as they celebrated the life and legacy of Philomene. Toasts were made and memories were shared. The sadness and anguish of the sending were quickly replaced by fondness and love as they celebrated together.
Emma stood in the corner, champagne in hand and chuckling to herself as she watched her stuck-up, uptight family make absolute fools of themselves. She committed this view to memory so that she had at least one happy time to look back on when she thought of them.
Maxime approached her with a glass in both hands and offered her a replacement. Emma accepted and placed her empty glass on a servants tray as they passed.
”Your room has been cleaned and is ready for you. ” He mentioned as if he was presenting a peace offering.
Emma giggled and looked up at him, remembering times from their childhood when hed played trolls and elves in the garden. ”Im not staying, Max, ” She replied, ”Im returning to the mortal plane after this. ”
Maximes normal scowl deepened at her words as if he was upset that he did not understand them.
”But your banishment is over. With Philomene gone you
e now heir of Delacroix. ”
Emma shook her head at that. In most witch clans, the heirs were always the eldest female. Sometimes a male was chosen, but that was a rare notion and had never happened in the Delacroix clan.
”Ive renounced the Delacroix name. Im no longer part of the family. ” she said casually with a sip of her drink.
Maxime opened his mouth, visibly shocked and almost angry. ”How could you joke about something like that? ”
”Its no joke, Max. Its already been finalized in the courts. Mother will receive the official documents tomorrow morning. Or, well, today. ” She said, looking at her wristwatch and saw that it was nearly one in the morning.
Now confusion mixed with his shock,
”But… why? Why would you do something so foolish? You
e now the heir to the Delacroix fortune. The clout, the money, the power, all that is now at your fingertips. You could have anything you want- do anything you want. Any worry or care you had before is now gone. Why would you throw it all away? For what? To go back to living as a hermit alone without any support? ”
”What support would I need? ” Emma countered, looking up at her brother with an almost sad expression. ”The money that I made in one hundred years now rivals the entire Delacroix family fortune. And you know what? I earned it all without any help. I have clout, money, and power already. Why would I need more? Heir is a nice title, but it doesn hold any weight. If I wanted to go and buy up a new home, or hire a new assistant, do you think I could just do it? No, Max. I receive nothing unless its by mothers so-called generous giving. Im sure shed rather give control to you or Laurette than to a daughter that she can trust to act exactly like her. ”
She smiled at his confusion, patting his muscled arm, ”Mother banished me for seven thousand dollars, even though I paid her back more than double. Thats not counting the physical, verbal, and emotional abuse I endured from her. I can trust mother to do whats right for me. Not whats right for the clan or whats right for our home, but whats right for me, her daughter.
”I love you, Max. I love all my siblings, even Ingrid who though she has no memory of me. But what mother wants and what I want are two different things. It would just be better if this time I disappeared of my own violation. Mother will just need to find another heir. ”
Emma said this last part with a swig of champagne, finishing her drink. She handed Maxime her empty glass and gave him a big hug.
”I should get going. Watch over everyone for me, brother, and take care. ” She smiled and turned to leave. It was time to put this house and all the pain shed felt while living in it behind her. Shed never be one of these people who were so ready to let others suffer and die for their own ambitions.
She built a successful life for herself and was ready to get back to it. Let this palace of pride and gluttony rot for all she cared.
Outside, the night air was almost chilly but illuminated by clear skies and the light of the moon and its two red and blue submoons. From the hill, she could see the glow of Deliverance and the silhouette of the city buildings as their lights flickered like the stars above.
It was almost midnight, but Deliverance was truly a city that never slept. Even tonight, when many businesses were closed for the summer solstice, it bustled with movement as the Nightcity came alive the denizens of the night awoke.
Vampires, trolls, shades, and other night lurkers along with the unsavory population had taken over and the glowing opulence of the city had given way to a muted, misty ominousness.
It was strangely beautiful in its dangerousness. Like a stalking tiger, it was sleek and majestic, but never the less boar teeth made for killing.
Emma admired the cityscape from a distance as a cabby came forward. The door opened and she took her seat. ”Luna Mia Cafe in Deliverance. ” She said. That was a cafe that her friend had recommended to her earlier and she wanted to get a coffee and croissant before heading home to take her mind off her family.
The cabby nodded and the carriage lurched as the horses began their unhurried pace out the main gates and onto the cobbled road towards the city. She took one glance back at her childhood home one last time, committing its shape in the torchlight and that the window of her old room on the third floor second from the left to memory. She could see Maxime standing outside watching her depart as if ensuring that an unruly guest would not be returning to cause them trouble.
Emma turned back and relaxed into the cushy upholstery of the buggy, a heavy sigh escaping her as the cabby took her farther and farther away from them all.
She hoped that, even though she was no longer a Delacroix, she would still be able to have some communication with her siblings. Gaspard and Esther had always been on her side, and she wanted to have some kind of relationship with Ingrid.
With her gone, Laurette would most likely become heir of the clan. For someone so young, Lorie was a good fit to take on Phillys mantel. Where Philly had been a born healer and was too kind for the likes of this family, Lorie understood business and trade very well. If she wasn stonewalled by Orianna, shed certainly do well digging the Delacroix clan out of whatever financial mess they were in. In addition, she also had her twin who could naturally step into the role of decoy and offer further protection.
Emma yawned, feeling the exhaustion of today and everything that had happened in the last twenty-four hours finally catching up with her. She was looking forward to that coffee to give her a little boost of energy.
A few minutes later, Ravens Keep was nearly the size of a coin in the distance when she yawned so hard that she almost cracked her jaw with the force of it.
A sinking feeling started in the pit of her stomach as her eyes began to feel heavy. Yes, she was tired to her core after the funeral and seeing her family after so long, but shed never been so sleepy that shed fallen asleep in a rented buggy before.
She tried slapping her cheeks to keep her awake, but even her strikes were barely strong enough to cut warm butter.
It was when she felt her tongue starting to go numb that she realized what was happening.
Poison, she thought in horror. She recognized the sleepiness, numbing of the tongue, and sudden exhaustion of the body as symptoms of Ucrei Petal poisoning, or Sleeping Beautys Breath. It was a rare and highly sought-after drug for its ability to be odorless and tasteless once diluted in wine – or in this case champagne.
”D…driver. ” She tried to shout, but could barely get it above a whisper. ”Dri…driver. Stop… please. ”
She struggled to get his attention, but her attempts were futile.
Emma tried to summon her magic, fists clenching as she willed her tired mind to focus on teleporting her somewhere-anywhere but back with the Delacroix clan. But black spots were beginning to overtake her vision and the sudden extreme exhaustion had sapped all her energy that she couldn even summon a flame on a candle, let alone send her back to the mortal plane.
Desperately, she groped for the handle of the buggy as her vision went in and out and succeeded in wrapping cold fingers around the handle. As she tried to twist, a sudden dip in the road jarred the carriage and sent her flying backward where she landed haphazardly on the floor of the buggy.
Emma tried to push up onto her elbows but even that was too much for her. Her body felt like it had been poured with concrete and even keeping her eyes open was a monumental feat. She glanced down and could see that the door of the buggy had been opened to reveal the passing trees and rural land but paralyzed as she was, she could only watch as freedom passed her by.
Unable to move, cry out for help, or use her magic, she could only watch as her mind struggled to keep her conscious, but after a few seconds, even that was impossible. Her eyes closed, and they did not open again as she slipped into darkness.
She didn know how long she had been knocked out. The poisons effect made the user feel as if they had entered a dreamless sleep. All she knew is that she did not awaken slowly or peacefully, but was forcefully and painfully pulled from deepest slumber to the sensation of every blood vessel in her body breaking at once.
Emmas eyes shot wide and she woke with a blood-curdling scream on her lips. All she knew was pain as every cell in her body had been lit on fire. It went on for what felt like eons but was actually minutes until her throat was so raw from screaming that red mist could be seen exiting her mouth in the fridged air.
In her agony, she recognized the intricate ceiling art as her childhood bedroom and that something underneath her glowed with an ominous green light, but her entire body was locked as if she were being electrocuted, and couldn turn her head to see what it was.
All at once, the pain vanished and Emma was nothing but a sweating, shivering raw mess as her heart immortal heart did its best to repair itself after suffering from a heart attack so strong it literally tore the organ apart.
As she struggled to breathe, the clack of pumps on the expensive hardwood floor crept closer until two black heels were in her line of sight.
Emma slowly looked up and saw the pitiless face of her mother staring down at her.
Orianna sneered as her body seized, kicking Emmas hand away when her arm flopped near her foot without her control.
”Bad girls deserve to be punished. ” She spat at her own daughter before leaning close and hissing through clenched teeth, ”and you shall be punished like no other before you. ”
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