The Mouse That Roared – Part 3
Saturday 26th November
Villa dei Mille Fiori
Alex looked up as Francesca came back in, removing her coat.
“You saw him?”
“I saw him,” she said as she accepted a drink.
“So just how did he look Francesca?”
“Like that careful facade of his had finally been torn off and the real face underneath the mask exposed.”
“He slapped Andrea’s face right there in public in the restaurant where they were sitting.”
“I often thought that was what he would really have liked to do to me,” Alex shook her head.
“A couple of his men had almost physically to restrain him.”
“An unusual role for them, usually they are the ones indulging in the violence.” Alex took a deep breath, “did he make you?”
“No I was well disguised and sitting in a screened booth, he didn’t see me.”
“So is he under observation now?”
“Both the Sisters, and La Citadella. He’s in his hotel room, and so are the goons.”
“What about Tina?”
“She we still can’t locate.”
“So she can be close by here?” Alex looked worried.
“Don’t worry,” Francesca said quietly, “we are moving heaven and earth to find her.”
“I know you are Francesca, I’ll just be a lot happier when I know where she is and what she is doing.”
“Do you want to sleep here in the main villa tonight, I can have a bed made up for you?”
“Thanks for the offer, but this is supposed to be Shirley Xavier’s weekend, I don’t want to ruin it.”
“If I know Shirley, and I think I do pretty well, then if she knew what was going on then she would insist you stay.”
“So that’s the plan for tonight,” Maddie said as the woman sat round the room, “The buffet is running, we’re all relaxed, and tonight is about we women.”
“And more secrets about Shirley?”
“Oh lord, I hope not,” Shirley said as she laughed and sat down, looking at the others.
“We’ve talked about how much Shirley has changed since she was a young girl,” Catriona said as she looked around the room, “but who else has radically changed their lives?”
“Well Juliette has for one,” Mary Thomas smiled as she held her wine, “it’s hard to remember that she’s the same kid who I first met and saw such huge potential in.”
“I’ll agree on that,” Missy smiled as well, “I’ll never forget that bright eyed innocent who walked into the Norstar offices all those years ago now.”
“Do you remember how worried you were for her Missy when she announced she wanted to go to Paris to work and study?”
“And I rang you and asked for your advice if you could recommend someone she could room with, and who would stop her getting in trouble?”
“I remember how shocked you were when I suggested Diana du Grechy,” Mary smiled again.
“Who knew they’d become lifetime best friends,” Missy laughed.
“Why were you shocked?” Shirley asked.
“Let me just say that Diana was already being seen as a future modelling star,” Missy paused, “but she did have a certain ‘reputation’.”
“Meaning what?” Kelly asked.
“Meaning that as much as I’ve changed, Diana has probably changed more,” Juliette put an arm round her best friend.
“How so?” Hannah asked what virtually every woman in the room was thinking.
“Please don’t ask…” Alice spoke up.
“No Bats,” Diana took a deep breath, “a lot of you know this anyway, and I hope I can trust the rest of you to not talk too much.”
“Are you sure you want to talk?” Juliette looked in her friends’ eyes.
“I might as well explain what Mary and Missy said,” Diana took a deep breath, “I had a bad reputation for being highly promiscuous and over-sexed. Missy was worried that I might lead an all-American ingénue like Ju into bad ways.”
“Yes,” Missy said quietly.
“I guess in many ways I was my parents’ daughter, I’d lost my virginity to a local lad from Grechy when I was 14, and though until then I’d been a classic tomboy learning to ride and shoot, be like my brothers. I pretty soon learned it was more fun being a girl that men were attracted to.”
“It was well known that both Guy, and Diana’s mother, led rather ‘unorthodox’ lives, and that neither took their marriage vows too seriously,” Nessa spoke.
“I was allowed to enjoy the sort of ‘freedom’ that they themselves did,” Diana spoke again, “I was modelling and studying at the Sorbonne…”
“And sleeping with half the best-looking men in Paris darling,” Mandy drawled.
“That I remember,” Sigi smiled.
“Well a lot of you know what happened when I got married,” Diana dabbed a tear. “I guess I did change totally.”
“But you are a wonderful mother now,” Sandy said as she came over and hugged her friend, “and then there is Henri?”
“OH? Gossip we have not heard?” Claire and Kelly both looked at Diana.
“He is – an old friend, I have had dinner with him once or twice…”
“Well that explains one great friendship in this room,” Sherry said, “but returning to Shirley I’m interested to find out something that neither of them will talk about, and that is how Catriona and Shirley became such friends?”
“Oh dear God are you sure you want to go over that?” Shirley shook her head.
“I’ve heard hints over the years, so yes I would rather like to know how true they are,” Aggie laughed.
“Didn’t we swear we’d never tell Shirl?” Cat laughed as well.
“Blood Sisters for ever,” Shirley giggled as she held up her arm and pointed at a small scar.
“Sisters for ever,” Cat laughed some more as she showed a similar scar.
“I’d damn well forgotten that,” Bobbi shook her head as well. “I remember finding you both panicking after you cut yourselves and the blood coming out, then rushing you to matron.”
“You actually did the whole mixing blood thing?” Penny looked amused.
“Hey we were ten years old,” Shirley became the latest to laugh, “and ‘she’ had seen it done on an old western,” she pointed at Cat.
“Yeah blame me,” Cat laughed loudly.
“Most of the trouble I got into back then was your fault…”
“Most of the trouble all five of us got into was her fault,” Hannah grinned, “Everyone said Catriona was a bad influence.”
“I just wonder what other leading legal figures might pay to know some of the stories of what Cat got up to back then?” Zoe laughed.
“Anyone dares tell and I’ll slap an injunction on before you can say Jack Robinson,” Catriona tried to keep a straight face.
“But to answer your question – I guess we were kindred spirits when we met at Footscray, and we stayed that way ever since.”
“How would you describe them today Penelope? I understand you know them both pretty well?” asked Claire Teal as she sipped her wine.
“I don’t know,” Penny took a second to think, “I guess you could say they are both fierce friends, but also rivals.”
“And I get caught between the two of them,” Agnes rolled her eyes.
“Rivals?” Heather asked.
“I have seen it,” Maisha said slowly, “they look out for each other, and they support each other, but I think they play little games to see which of them is better as well.”
“Do we?” Shirley looked at Cat with a twinkle in her eye.
“Mum,” Maisha laughed, “when we went to that party at Ordford you both took several evening dresses and kept changing when you wore what the other was wearing.”
“Alright perhaps we can be a little competitive,” Shirley laughed yet again.
“It’s the reason we put you together as a tennis pair,” Hannah spoke, “neither of you could bear losing to the other, so we figured it was better for all of us that you played on the same team.”
“I’d hate to be caught in the middle if you two ever really did fight,” Agnes nodded.
“Well, it has happened once before,” Cat said, “but it was only for a little while, and we made up after that.”
“Oh? What was the fight about?”
“Who was better – Debbie Harry or Chrissie Hynds?”
“That’s easy,” Emma said with a smile, “it’s Michelle Shocked…”
“Changing subjects slightly darlings,” Mandy drawled as she stood up, “It is rather traditional at these events for the bride-to-be’s friends to hire a stripper to give he a great vision before she heads off on the seas of matrimony.”
“Oh you haven’t?” Shirley groaned.
“No,” Mandy laughed, “But given that we have at least a couple of women here who dance burlesque, Tracey and I decided that so you have something to do for John on your wedding night, and so everyone else can join in, that we’d teach you all how to do a striptease glove peel.”
“I’m far too old,” Paulie groaned.
“Hey if I’m doing it, then you are as well,” Nessa smiled as Mandy opened a large box brought in by one of the servants and started handing round unopened packets of gloves.
“Do you know how to do this?” Penny whispered in Helen’s ear as she passed her a packet.
“Well it’s a kind of dancing I’ve never done,” the Russian smiled, “but I’m always up for new things.”
“Are we going to film this?” Teacher asked, “or are we going to make a pact to spare each other’s blushes, and insist all this never gets shown.’
“Oh half the fun is seeing yourself,” Kelly Rochermann laughed as she joined Mandy and Tracy at the front.
“Not joining in, Aunt,” Carina said as she stood with Natalya.
“No, I need to go out for a short while – but I need you and Gale to meet me somewhere with Alexis.”
“Indeed – I go to meet Sophia and our mutual friend to show them the location…”
“Having fun?” Janine asked as she plopped down on the sofa next to Alexis.
“Actually I am,” the slightly younger woman laughed as she watched Mary Thomas try to look sexy as she took off a glove. “I wasn’t sure I’d fit in since there is virtually nobody here I know, but I really am having a great time.”
“How was the bike ride earlier?”
“Great when we were going alongside the flat lakeshore,” Alexis said with a smile, “but a couple of these hillsides are steep.”
“Which is precisely why I opted for the more sedentary pleasures of the spa,” Janine smiled as Mary gave up trying to do the glove tease and sat down.
“It’s harder than it looks Merlin.”
“Ai it damn well is young Alexis,” Mary sat back after pouring herself a glass of wine.
“It’s fun trying it though,” Janine laughed, “and I learned a couple of things.”
“Well I learned that my dancing days were 40 years ago. I’m too damn old.”
“What does age have to do with it?” Alexis smiled as she pointed towards Nessa and Paulie swaying their hips in a very sexy style.
“I can see,” Mary rolled her eyes.
“As I was asking Alexis though, are you enjoying yourself Merlin?”
“I am Janine, it’s hard not to when you get this many great people all together in one place. We are giving Shirley a weekend to remember for sure.”
“Well I’m beginning to get tired a little,” Alexis suppressed a yawn, “and I’m hopeful that like last night I might get another night’s sleep uninterrupted by those nightmares I was having.”
“My Mam always said a change was as good as a rest, perhaps you just needed to get out of New York for a few days?”
“Perhaps,” Alexis stood up, “anyway I’m going to get some more wine, can I get you both top-ups?”
“Go on,” Janine said as Alexis went to the drinks table, and poured three more glasses of wine.
“Here – let me help you with that.”
“Thanks, Carina,” Alexis said as she picked up two glasses, pouring one for herself before she carried hers and Alexis’ back to the couch.
“Not interested in wooing Annie like that, Cari?”
“No – we have our own way of getting excited…”
“What do you make of the gatehouse ladies?” Charlotte asked as she joined Penny, Lily, and Caroline at the buffet tables for a brief respite from the striptease lessons. “It’s actually far more ancient then the rest of the villa complex.”
“I wondered if it was,” Caroline sipped her wine.
“It was part of a castle that stood further up the hill. Originally what is now the way into the villa was then the way out.”
“Is that why the gates open outwards rather than inwards?” Lily asked.
“Yes. It’s a noted part of the history of this place.”
“So is there much left of the castle up there?” Caroline pointed.
“A few bits, including a couple of ruined towers, but it’s mainly just a couple of very spooky cellars. Mamma told me that when she was a small child her Grandfather used to tell her stories of black magic rituals taking place up there.”
“Were they true?” Penny asked.
“Who knows,” Charlotte shrugged, “but I’ve read enough family history by now to know that there are some very dark corners in the di Cambrello story.”
“There are a few families here can claim that,” Caroline looked round the room, “Gaunt’s, Furstenheim’s, McAdam’s, etc.”
“I guess that is true.”
“How the hell does she do that?” Penny changed the subject as she watched Helen. “One little lesson and she looks already like she’s been doing burlesque for years.”
“I’ve always thought I could dance reasonably well,” Lily shook her head, “but she really is naturally talented.”
“Yeah, she is…”
“Oh I’m glad that an arthritic hip gives me a valid excuse not to do this,” Maria Riva laughed as she sat next to Francesca and watched some of the ladies trying burlesque moves other than a simple glove peel.
“They are having fun though, and one or two of them actually aren’t bad,” Francesca smiled as she watched Kay and Sherry moving in time to the music.
“Still no news?” the older lady whispered.
“No, but I did get a text from my son-in-law asking if I’d managed to talk to anyone about the people smuggling, and if I had was anyone prepared to talk to him for his next article?”
“I’ll see what I can do to help this coming week. Immigration, especially illegal immigration is going to be a huge, and divisive, political issue here in Italy. The Populists are going to use it to exploit people’s fears you know?”
“Not just here, it’s happening all over the world,” Francesca nodded. “Consider the new leader to be in America.”
“I’d rather not,” Maria snorted. “By the way, Marianne, where are your friends?”
“Liz and Itsy are in a villa, visiting our friend,” Marianne said as she sat down, “Karen is – wherever she is. And Helga…
They all looked at the Swede as she shimmied across the floor, laughing and smiling.
As Natalya walked across to the hillside, she smiled as she saw the two women, dressed in black, waiting at the foot of the hill.
“Mistress, Cousin – I think this will be suitable. Follow me.”
“So the villa was not the original home here?”
“No – Francesca told me the castle was burnt down before the turn of the 19th century, and the villa built in its place. But the ruins are quiet, and the cellars so useful.”
"When I first came here this castle was still intact and in use," Sophia said as she carefully picked her way up the overgrown path to the ruins. "It pains me to think of some of the things we did here."
"Oh," the Frenchwoman said as she looked at the crumbling walls.
"After my 'death' I wandered Europe trying to understand what had happened to me. This was a place that offered sanctuary to one such as myself. The then Marchese himself was what would come to be called a Sadist, I found in him and others willing partners in the evil that I still craved."
"Did they know who you were Mistress?"
"I was never sure if they had an idea,” Sophia said as she looked at Natalya, “or if they just found in me a fellow practitioner of the evil arts."
"They must have been curious?"
"I don't know, but over time as they aged, and I didn't, I think something caused them to question just who, and what, I was." Sophia paused. "It was here that I first heard stories of others who were emulating my evil, and from the names that were whispered I came to realise the curse that had been placed on my womb, and that my crimes were not be just my own, that chosen descendants of mine were too to know the both the thrill of the kill, and the curse of knowing that evil lurked within them."
“It is not so much a curse,” the Frenchwoman said, “as a burden, one some of us gladly share. But we do so knowing our fate is sealed.”
Sophia looked at both of them, before she said “you may be surprised. The cellars?”
“Down here,” Natalya said as she opened a door, and they walked down. To their surprise, lit torches lined the walls, and two African women were waiting.
“Be at peace,” Sophia said to the other two as she approached Karen. “Hello old friend – were you successful?”
“We were,” Karen said with the Umlimo’s voice as she nodded at Leader, who walked to a chair at the side of the room with a torch. The light revealed a small blonde haired woman sat there, lashed to the chair with ropes so tightly she could not move if she was awake, silver tape wrapped round her head to cover her eyes and mouth.
“We thank you, old friend – best you leave now.”
“Of course,” Karen said as Leader walked back, leaving the woman in darkness as she replaced the torch, and then the two left the cellar.
“Who is she,” the French women asked.
“A much older spirit than I,” Sophia said with a smile as she removed her coat, revealing the black leather pants and top. “When will she be brought here?”
“Our cousin Carina is arranging that now – you will have time to prepare her before midnight.”
“Excellent – leave us now to prepare, I will see you then…”
Janine smiled as she saw Alexis yawn and stretch her arms up. “My god, I am tired,” she said as she stood up slowly, “I hope you won’t feel less of me if I turn in.”
“No, go on,” Janine said with a smile, “I’ll see you in the morning.”
Alexis yawned again and walked off, Carina and Gale glancing at each other before they followed her out.
“Did you add it,” Gale said quietly as they walked along the corridor.
“Exactly as Aunt Natalya asked me to – we let her change, settle, and then we take her to the ruins. And we prepare ourselves…”
“Karen,” Agnes said as she saw her and Itsy come in, and Francesca come over. “What news?”
“The immediate threat is dealt with,” Karen said quietly, “and I need a stiff drink. But we must prepare – he is coming tomorrow.”
“How,” Francesca said as she looked at Leader.
“It is – best you do not know,” Leader said quietly, “but Karen is right – we must prepare…”
"Can I ask a favor please Francesca?"
"Of course Juliette. What is it?"
Bonnier is in Rome,” Juliette said quietly, “and she heard I was here and - she’d
like to talk tomorrow."
Francesca said as she nodded, “I presume that this visit will be about Fiona's
you know that?" Juliette looked shocked.
Juliette. It was an open secret in the
intelligence community that she was Monsieur Bonnier's mistress, but we knew
she was safe, secure. It truly was a
refreshing change from some of the more – salacious pairings we had to
"You all knew,” Juliette whispered, “but even close friends like me didn't?"
"When politicians are involved, it’s our job to know," Francesca smiled. "I presume she wants to know what exactly is in Fiona MacKenzie's book?"
"I'm guessing so."
"Well I can arrange for you to talk in private, so please tell her she may come."
“Thank you – but I will tell one other person,” Juliette said as she walked over to the other side of the room. “Mary – got any plans for tomorrow morning?”
“No, Juliette lass – why?”
“I need some back up…”
Karen looked over as Caroline came back in, grinning broadly as she looked at her cell phone.
“How is Ama,” Annie asked.
“On cloud 9, in Seventh Heaven, and all similar similes,” Caroline said with a smile. “She has been selected for the squad for the next U17 game.”
“Well done, that girl,” Karen said as Maisha limped over.
“So my sister has met with success?”
“She has indeed Maisha – and she is looking forward to seeing you at the wedding…”
you going to go talk to your father darling?" Helen said as she sat down
next to Penny and gratefully accepted a glass of champagne.
don't know," Penny let a tear drop, "I need answers, I need to hear
him justify himself, and I'm not sure in the state he is he can actually do either
"You also need to somehow find it in yourself to forgive him,” Helen said as she put her hand on her knee, “and to put this to rest."
Penny looked at her lover, a fire in her eyes as she said "how the hell am I supposed to do that? That bastard hurt me..."
"I know what he did," Helen said softly, "but you basically have two options here, forgiveness, or revenge, and since I don't think you will do what I tried to do to Andre, then your only option is to somehow find it within you to forgive him."
"I could do nothing..."
"And let this fester for more years, or till after he has dead and nothing can be done?" Helen interrupted. "You MUST do something Penelope."
"I know," Penny took a deep breath. "I suppose I had better go see him."
"Good, but in the meantime don't let it spoil your weekend, or Shirley's," Penny laughed as she watched Mandy trying to teach Madame how to do a bump and grind movement.
“Oh dear lord” Penny laughed, “What would John pay to see that…”
"So how is life in Canada treating you?" Maria Riva smiled as she sat down next to Lucia.
"Oh I keep busy Signora," the surgeon tried to smile. “My patients need my skills, and I need to fulfil my own drive.”
Shaking her head, Maria said quietly "Still burying yourself in work to try and forget?"
Lucia looked at her, a tear in her own eye as she said "Do I have another option?"
"You could always go and see them you know?"
think I'm dead,” Lucia said as she shook her head, “better that then I ever
have to explain the shame I brought on myself."
"You still blame yourself," Maria shook her head. "It was not your fault...Giovanna."
The older lady
whispered the name as Lucia suddenly turned her head.
the younger woman spoke softly as well, "I took that name to hide who I
really was when I was kidnapped, and it's the real me now."
friends have never known have they?" the old lady smiled, "they have
no clue that you were once Giovanna di Matello, the
younger daughter of the family – Andrea’s sister."
"The world thought terrorists had snatched me from the streets of Milano,” Lucia said with her head down. “Better that it stayed secret that I'd survived by degrading myself totally, by doing unspeakable things, by..."
"And yes it would have stayed secret if Andrea hadn't also been kidnapped, and you came to see me in Rome to offer whatever help you could."
couldn't bear the idea she might meet the same destiny that I had," a tear
appeared in the younger woman's eyes.
watched from the shadows while Francesca and another rescued her, and then
tried to vanish again."
found me, and took me in hand, getting me to finish my education, then study
"Being able to help you was one of the best things I ever did." Maria looked round as she said “earlier today, I had a fascinating conversation with Shirley – I told her I knew who she was.”
“I do – just as I know who her friends are,” Maria said quietly. “The French authorities shared some of the records they found there, and they matched the descriptions of the nameless women you mentioned in the debriefing. As for her role – we know of the major contacts of the Family heads, it was a simple matter to connect the two.”
“Because, like Francesca, she has been a great force for good in some ways, even as she committed crimes,” Maria said, “and she protects others even now. Giov…”
“Lucia – do you know your sister’s current position?”
“I saw pictures of her in the United States – she is married, with a son?”
“Indeed – but I should tell you the truth…”
"Carlotta this doctor friend of yours,” Francesca said as she looked across the room, “have I met her before?"
"Doctor Lucia? I can't remember Mamma. Why?"
"Because I see her talking to Aunt Maria like that, and from somewhere deep in the back of my brain something is trying to nag at me."
"Well, she's a Sister. She led a medical team that saved a lot of woman being imported to Canada as slaves. She has operated field hospitals when the Sisters have been in combat. I honestly can't remember if you were ever in the same place as her."
"Okay, but before all that?"
"I believe that Shirley has known her for many years. Apart from that, I know very little."
"It looks like Aunt Maria has also. My senses are alerted…"
Carina and Gale let themselves into the room Alexis was lying in, dressed in black as Carina whispered “get up, my friend – we need to go for a walk.”
Alexis slowly stood, her eyes open but empty as she walked between the other two, along the corridor and out of the house towards the ruins… In her mind, she was walking in the arms of two women she knew, women she knew had committed terrible crimes, but they had done something to keep her mute.
“Ah – welcome,” Sophia said as the trio walked into the cellar. She stopped in front of Alexis, putting a gloved hand on her cheek as she said “and a special welcome to you, my dear. I have been looking forward to this.”
Alexis looked at the raven haired woman, dressed in black and somehow knew her life was in mortal danger. Her ever instinct was to run, but then she felt the leather cuffs as they were fastened round her wrists and ankles, the woman’s eyes penetrating her very soul…
“Chain her. We need a few more moments, and I want her to be kept in one place.”
“Who… Who are you?” Alexis finally managed to say.
“We will talk later,” the woman replied as she indicated an iron grill at the wall, Carina and Gale walking her over and standing her against it before they attached chains from the grill to her cuffs. They then knelt down, their hands touching the cold iron as manacles were fastened around Alexis’ ankles – she could feel the cold metal on her bare skin before the grill was slowly lifted up.
“No – oh dear god no,” she whispered, “please let me go…” Then she heard the barking, and she screamed…
“Is this real?” Carina whispered as she looked at Alexis chained to the grill and the pack of barking dogs below her, jumping up and snarling with flecks of blood and drool on their teeth and jaws.
“In the sense that we can all see it then yes,” Natalya smiled as she looked at the huge fangs of what seemed like hellhounds, “but in the sense that it is physically there, then no.”
“But I just touched it, it is there…”
“No child,” Mistress smiled, “your mind is telling you it is there, your mind is telling you that you felt it, but it is all actually ‘her’ deepest, darkest, fear, made manifest.”
“This is all in Alexis’s imagination?”
“It is the most horrific thing she can imagine yes. Did you know she was scared of dogs?”
“No,” Carina shook her head, “she’s Mom’s assistant but I don’t know her that well.”
“Well I reached into her mind to find what scared her most, and this is it.”
“This frightens her more than the horror she has seen us do in her dreams?”
“So it would seem,” Sophia smiled again, “if I had time it might be rewarding to find what trauma caused this, but we have more urgent matters to deal with.”
“Yes,” Carina nodded as again Alexis screamed. “Can you be sure no one will hear her, those screams sound awfully real.”
“They are, but I have put a cone of silence around this cellar so that only we will hear what comes from her lips tonight.”
“But why do this?”
“We need young Alexis at her most fearful – remember, my daughter,” she said as she looked at Gale, “how it felt when you were re-united.”
“I do – not an experience I wish to relive,” Gale said in a deep voice as Natalya joined the quartet.
Alexis looked at the five women, her skin and clothing soaked in sweat as she screamed “PLEASE LET ME GO!”
“Be patient, my child,” Sophia said softly, “the time is near. But we must begin.” She walked over to a table, beckoning the others to follow as they saw the implements laid out.
“How do you know our preferences, mistress,” Carina said as she picked up a scalpel.
“Because I have always known,” Sophia said quietly as there was a muted scream, barely audible above Alexis. “Would you fetch our other guest in please,” she continued as she looked over, “it is almost time.”
Alexis was shaking, almost out of her mind in fear as she watched Natalya and the other woman, a stranger to her, walk into the shadows and carry out a chair between them – and the woman who was sitting in the chair, tightly bound and struggling, tape wrapped round her head to silence her and tapping her blonde hair against her neck.
She was twisting her head round as she looked at the six women – one standing with her arms and legs apart, but screaming as if she was in terror, and the other five, dressed in black, all looking at her.
“Who is she,” Natalya asked.
“A danger to another here apparently – a mouse,” Sophia said, “but she has purpose for tonight, correct my friend.”
“So she is not an innocent?”
Sophia looked at the French woman, and said “no, Claudette, she is almost as steeped in blood and violence as we are – are we all not?”
All five nodded as Tina and Alexis stared at them, before Sophia said “so, let us begin. Are we all present?”
“We are, mistress,” Natalya said as the others nodded.
“Good – allow me to begin,” Sophia said as she looked at the other two, “DOWN!”
Alexis watched as the hellhounds turned and walked away, whimpering as Sophia stood in front of her, the torches flickering on the walls. “Welcome, my children, to a rare and precious occasion.”
“Your… Your children?” Alexis looked at the five women, different ages, different accents – but all with the same dark shadow seeming to loom over them.
“Indeed – for I am Hildegard of Furstenheim, the first, and as such the one who has watched silently over all my children. This is my curse, this is my power, and this is my destiny until the powers that be see fit.” She turned and looked at Carina, Gale, Claudette and Natalya as she said “and you, you are my daughters, my progeny, my descendants. I welcome you.”
“Thank you, Mistress,” all four said in deep guttural voices as they lowered their heads.
“Hildegard… Oh god no, I’m not imagining things.”
“No, you are not,” Hildegard said as she looked at Alexis, “but we are not the only ones here tonight. I am told your name is Tina – Tina Morkel,” she continued as she looked at the bound and gagged woman, “and that you also are a killer, a sadist, a lover of pain. Is that correct?”
Tina said nothing, it was like she was in a bad Hammer horror film from the seventies. What was going on?
“I… I don’t understand. I have seen so many of you in my dreams, but the Blood Princess… She was a murderer… No, please no….”
“My child,” Sophia said quietly, “Your place here is earned and necessary as well. But we get ahead of ourselves.” She closed her eyes and raised her arms, as she said “I call on the dark and great powers to witness us this night, and to grant us the strength to do what must be done. My daughters, prepare the sacrifice.”
“Of course, Mistress,” Claudette said as she bowed and walked to the table, taking a surgical saw as she looked at the others. “Each of us brings our skills to the ceremony, and we will use them – Carina, cousin, you may go first.”
Alexis could only watch as Carina selected a pair of pliers, and knelt in front of the captive woman. “No,” she whispered as Tina had her shoes and socks removed, and Carina looked up, smiling as the plier held the nail of her big toe. To her eyes, Carina seemed to grow in height, her smile a definite evil one, as with one movement she removed the toenail, Tina screaming as Carina held up the blood red nail and licked it.
“NO! PLEASE, IN ALL THAT IS MERCIFUL!!”
“Do you deny you have seen this in your dreams, my child,” Sophia said quietly as Gale picked up a riding crop, her hair seeming to turn blonde, smiling as she tore Tina’s blouse open and cut through the bra, before bringing the crop down time and again on her breasts. Tina screamed into the gag with each blow, the red weals making a pattern – and somehow, Alexis felt both revulsed and drawn to it.
“WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING!”
“They are giving vent to their drives – the drives they inherited from me,” Sophia said as Tina screamed again into her gag, while Carina walked behind her and stated to use the pliers to crush her knuckles. Natalya smiled as she found the needle and tubing, inserting it into Tina’s vein as the blood slowly dripped out into a jug, and then picked up a whip, cracking it before she brought it down on her legs. “Is it not beautiful?”
“It’s horrific,” Alexis whispered as she closed her eyes to try and block out the images, “why are they doing this?”
“Because they must,” Sophia said, “open your eyes!”
Alexis felt compelled to do so as Sophia said “I cannot stop my daughters, and nor can I join them now, but there is a reason they had to do this, with you present.”
“No – please, no don’t say I’m next…”
“I was not talking to you as such Alexis Bronheimer,” Sophia said calmly, slowly, “you are also one of my daughters, but you are in great pain as well.”
“One of…. NO, PLEASE NO…” she watched as Claudette ran a gloved finger along the surgical knife, and then said “is it time, Mistress?”
“It is – do it.”
Alexis could only watch, literally struck dumb with horror as the knife was used to cut Tina’s stomach open, her eyes wide as she screamed in pain and then saw her guts slowly fall out. Alexis opened her mouth – and then heard laughter.
“There you are,” Sophia said, “I command you to appear, my daughter, your time to see the light has been far too long delayed. Come forth, Daughter of Hildegard of Furstenheim!”
Alexis suddenly tensed, her back arched as once more she screamed in agony, every muscle straining as she feared she would die. But instead, she felt as if a wind was coming out of her, and she turned her head slowly to the side to see an apparition standing there. It looked like her, was dressed like her, but its back was bent, misshapen, and it seemed to have one arm shorter than the other.
“At last,” it said in a faint, hoarse voice and looked at Alexis, “how… How did you know, mother?”
“I am so sorry, my child,” Sophia said, “my children. Very rarely, this happens, and I am here to put all right.”
“Who… Who are you,” Alexis whispered as she shivered in fear.
“I am you – the part of you that has never seen the light of day,” the apparition said as Sophia looked at them all. “So much I have missed out on, so much pleasure…”
“No – this is all a dream?”
“I wish it was, my child,” Sophia said as Tina panted, “but it is not. This is what has driven your interest in the dark areas, this is a part of you – but sadly, it is not like the others. She has never blossomed, never known a real life – and as such, this is the first time she and you have met.”
“How did it happen?” Carina whispered as she looked at the Alexis that might have been.
“Someone, or something intervened, in her development,” Sophia looked at the malformed image. “I suspect her grandmother saw the signs in Alexis and did all she could to stop the blossoming and birth.”
“How?” Carina stopped momentarily as another of Alexis’s screams rent the air, the apparition laughing, “why?”
“Because her grandmother knew the signs, she knew what was happening, and she did all she could to prevent the development.”
“How did she know? Was she one of us herself?”
“No,” Sophia said as she shook her head, “but her own mother was.”
Gale and Carina looked at her, before Carina said “Alexis’s great grandmother?”
“You are a historian my child,” Sophia said with a smile, “did you ever hear of a woman who was Al Capone’s torturer?”
“Not my area of interest,” Cari shook her head, “but I take it that was her great grandmother?”
“It was indeed. Her daughter must have known her Mother’s secrets and was aware enough of the signs to spot them in Alexis.”
“And she somehow aborted the process?”
“So ‘she’ was left inside Alexis to fester?” Cari looked at the malformed image.
“She was, and it was she who was reaching out and trying to call to us to come to her. The inner Alexis could sense the rest of us but she couldn’t talk to us. It was not until Alexis met you Carina that she felt she could make contact.”
“So she put the dreams in her host’s head knowing that Alexis would tell Mom, and that Mom would tell me?”
“Exactly,” Sophia grimaced as another heart-rending scream escaped the lips of Alexis.
“No – no, she cannot be a part of me…” Alexis shook again, the chains in her mind rattling as the twin turned her head.
“She is – and the pain of not recognising that has been driving you mad,” Sophia said as she stroked Alexis on the cheek. “This is why I am here – to offer the choice.”
“The… the choice?”
“Yes – now you have seen her, you cannot deny her,” Sophia said as Alexis looked at her “twin”. “She and you are linked, we all are – and that link must either be forged or broken.”
“I don’t understand – she is the one who has been giving me those dreams, so I would reach out to Carina. Carina is a loving mother, a good woman – how can she be this as well.”
“All of us have dark and light in us,” Sophia said with a smile, “even me. I call forth the pure spirit within you,” the Blood Princess made a sweeping gesture and suddenly a second image of Alexis appeared alongside the malformed one, but this one bathed in a pure white light.
Alexis looked from side to side as the light said “I know you hurt child – I do as well, but we must endure a while longer.”
“We can finally talk?” the dark spirit asked in a tentative, halting, voice.
“You may,” Sophia said, “and I am allowed by the greater force to give you time to talk to each other before a decision is made.”
“You knew I was there,” the dark spoke first, “why did you deny me?”
“I don’t know if I truly did know,” the light smiled, “but I was aware dear sister always that something was missing, that for some reason I was not whole.”
“You call me dear sister, yet you know what I am?”
“I know what you would do if released yes. It’s why you opened my mind to the world of horrific crimes.” For a few seconds the light Alexis contemplated the dark. “May I beg that I might see her as she would have been please, this image is an unfair depiction.”
“As you wish,” Sophia again made a sweeping motion and the hideous Alexis was replaced by the exact double image of the light spirit.
“This is me?” the dark spirit tried stretching and moving, “this is how I would have been if I had been set free?”
“It is. Look to your cousins – they physically remain the same, even as their spirits co-inhabit their bodies.”
“I cannot deny that it pleases me to see you like that,” the light spirit smiled. “It is said that the devil is a handsome man, because true evil is not in how one looks, it is in one’s heart.”
“But you realize the consequences should you decide to let me live?”
“I do,” the light said, “which is why the choice must be made. We are daughters of Hildegard, and it would be painful, and I know there would be unspeakable horror.”
“This cannot be,” Alexis whispered, “I cannot have two halves.”
“There is one other who can advise you,” Sophia said as she gestured again, and a lady who appeared the exact double of Carina stepped forth, wearing a high collared white blouse and grey skirt, her glasses perched on the ed of her nose.
“Grandma?” Natalya and Carina looked at each other as Princess Lexa smiled.
“Well, this is a rare treat,” she said as she looked at Sophia, “why have you called out to me?”
“This is Alexis – one of my daughters, but one whose spirit was supressed until recently,” Sophia said. “I am here to offer the choice, but she has only seen herself for the first time tonight.”
“Ah,” Lexa said as Alexis looked at her. “Allow me to introduce myself, my child – I am the Princess Alexandra Malvorino, but you may call me Lexa. Is there much pain?”
“So much pain,” Alexis panted, “what is happening to me?”
“You are, I regret to say, confronting a great truth and horror,” Lexa said quietly as Alexis felt a cool touch on her cheek, a touch that seemed to ease the pain. “Our family, our descendants, have this curse, which goes over and between generations. You know my granddaughter Carina, but these other three are related as well, as is my great niece. But within them is also the capacity for great good – when they allow it to flourish.”
“Even in you, mistress?”
“Even in me, my child,” Sophia said. "In World War One I served as a nursing sister in France named Maria. In World War Two I was a Swiss woman called Heidi working for the Red Cross, and doing what I could secretly do to help both you, Grandmother Lexa, and Birgitte in her work trying to spirit people to safety."
Lexa smiled as she said “you were Heidi? I never knew.”
“Would you have
believed me if I had told you, Lexa,” Sophia said as she shook her head.
to help those suffering pain Mistress?" Carina asked.
"I saw the horrors of Napoleon's retreat from Moscow,” Sophia said as her clothing seemed to shift. “I was at the Battle of Gettysburg in your own country child. To see death and suffering on such a scale perpetrated not by one such as us, but by so called 'humanity' made me realise that as well as using my gift of immortality to watch-over my daughters, that perhaps I owed it to the greater power to do what I could to help aid those forced to suffer in the name of politics, or greed, or patriotism, or whatever false idea that mankind decided to kill itself for."
"We know our evil," Natalya smiled.
"While they do all this in what they believe is the cause of righteousness and good," Hildegarde smiled back, "you and my other daughters cannot help yourselves in what you do, it is within you because of me and my sins, but in recompense I can also do my best to help those who kill each other for what they believe in and save hopefully some lives and spirits."
“I told you we all had the capacity for great good, Carina,” Lexa said. She then noticed Tina in the chair, the open wound on her stomach and said “is she…”
“She is – but she is no innocent.”
Tina looked into the ghost’s eyes as she peered through her glasses. “Indeed – you remember my warning, Carina?”
“I do – is she part of that.”
“What… What is this choice they talk of?”
“You have seen me now,” the dark spirit said, “The choice is simple – what happens to me now.”
“What do you mean?”
“You must make a choice, Alexis, Daughter of Hildegard,” Sophia said quietly as Alexis looked at her. “You may accept who she is, and fully join with her, join with us, and be one with us.”
“Be… Be a murderer, a sadist.”
“Yes,” the ghost laughed.
“Or you may choose to release her,” Sophia continued, “allow her to pass on to an eternal rest, and you would be freed of the curse.”
“She speaks truth,” the light said as Alexis felt the sweat on her body, felt every nerve start to burn, “We can co-exist, but you have to make that choice – and accept the consequences of that choice.”
“But I know who you all are now…”
“If you join, that is not an issue,” Sophia said. “If you choose to release her, you will be fully released, your knowledge of us will be expunged, and you will only know us as we appear to others. You will rest in total peace either way, and live your life.”
Alexis screamed again as an electric shock seemed to rush through her. “I am no murderer,” Alexis said as she shook, the chains rattling, “I am not like the rest of you.”
“You are in a way,” Carina said quietly, Natalya bending down and pouring some of the blood into a cup before she drank it. It looked like a Hammer horror film – but the groans from the bound, gagged and half-eviscerated woman in the chair were all too real.
“No, no I will not accept that,” Alexis screamed as her body arched in pain again.
“I know, Claudette,” Sophia said quietly. “Make the choice Alexis – join us, or forget us, but either way, there is a price.”
Alexis looked at Tina, the blood oozing from her, as she said “I want never to remember this – forgive me.” She looked at the dark ghost, who nodded and said “You have chosen.”
“Farewell, sister – be at peace,” the light said before it entered Alexis again, making her body shake.
“She has,” Sophia said quietly as she walked forward, her eyes red as she held Alexis’ head in her gloved hands, and said “You are courageous my daughter – I will watch with interest and I wish you peace.” A red fire seemed to Alexis to emerge from her mouth and envelop her, her scream clear to all as she arched her body once more, closed her eyes and her head dropped.
“And what of me?”
Sophia looked at the ghost, still looking like Alexis, as she said “I also release you – but not before you have a taste of what you have missed.”
Tina’s dying sight was of the ghost smiling as it rushed over and into her, before her body was engulfed in red flames as the others watched.
“Goddess,” Carina whispered, “I grieve – we all do.”
“Which is why it is so painful,” Claudette said quietly as Alexis slumped to the floor. Sophia checked her pulse, and said “she is alive. Return her to her bed.”
“Yes, Mistress,” Carina said as she and Gale carried her out.
“I will arrange for her to be found,” Claudette said as she bowed to Natalya and Sophia.
“Thank you – come, Natalya, walk with me…”
Sunday 27th November
10 am CET
Castel San Pietro
As Alexis turned over in her bed, she saw the door open and her friend come in.
"Hey sleepyhead I was about to wake you," Janine smiled as she put a cup of coffee on the bedside table. "You've been sleeping like a log."
"I have?" Alexis sat up and stretched, "What time is it?"
ten," Janine smiled, "I thought you were having trouble sleeping, but
you were well asleep when I finally got to bed last night, and you never moved
when I woke up."
"I didn't?” Alexis sat up and looked out of the window,
before she said “Wow - this change of scenery must have been just what I
"So,” Janine said as she sat on the bed, “any bad dreams?"
"You know,” Alexis said as she picked up the mug and took a sip, “I can't truly remember. I think there was, but for the life of me I can't remember what was going on."
have been that bad then?"
Alexis paused for thought, "I actually think whatever I was dreaming might
"I guess so," Alexis eased herself out of bed, "so have I missed breakfast?"
“Not yet – it’s a running buffet.”
“Good – but there’s something I need to do first.”
“And that is?”
“Resign from the community – if that was what was giving me the dreams, I need to put it fully behind me…”