When Hinges Creak in Doorless Chambers

Title: When Hinges Creak in Doorless Chambers
Time Period: July 27, 135 A.E.
Characters Appearing:

Summary: "Fear defeats more people than any other one thing in the world." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

The house stands as it has as long as most of Dornie remembers. Broken down, worn, with the forest slowly swallowing it up. Part of what makes it so frightening, all those trees making sure inside of the house is dark, no matter what time it happens to be. It used to be, the children would play here, daring one another to touch it. But after hearing what's happened to the little Hightower boy, they're staying away.

The front door hangs off its hinges, the broken pieces scattered out exactly where they landed when Cordelia and Leslie made their dramatic exit. It seems only the spiders hold no fear of the building, as there are fresh webs hanging in corners and empty windows.

Though it was she who had asked Aislinn to come with her, Cordie hangs back, hands shoved into her pockets as she stares at the door. Her eyes are big, black and wide in her pale face. The toll of her last visit here is evident in every line of her body; the dark circles under her eyes, the bitten-down nails on her hands, the way her clothes fit more loosely than they should, despite being new for the summer.

"The door wasn't broken," she whispers. "We did that. Somehow. We were inside, and then we were out, and I don't remember. It was so dark inside, darker than it should have been, even with the doors shut." She moves closer, despite clearly wanting nothing to do with the place, and moves to the door, tucking her hand inside her sweater's sleeve to swipe at the cobwebs, ensuring she doesn't kill any of the spiders in clearing the path.

Aislinn reaches out to take her niece's hand, fingers interlacing with fingers, and gives it a reassuring squeeze.

She does not let go. What she does do is begin to question the wisdom of coming here without Edmund— or Tobin, whose magic might be able to answer Cordelia's questions without anyone having to set foot inside. Her own gift feels like a cold lump of lead in the pit of her stomach.

"You're sure you want to do this?" she asks Cordelia.

The dark inside the house starts spilling out of the door as Cordelia comes closer, billowing blackness seeping out from windows and through cracks in the wood. There's a rattling growl from within, too close a reminder of the last visit she paid the house.

Suddenly Cordelia's backing up, staring at the door and then the windows, moving closer to Aislinn and squeezing her hand tightly, cringing away from something that only she can see. Her head snaps back in the direction of the door, and her eyes widen. "D-did you hear that?" she whispers to Aislinn, and before Aislinn can answer, her brows knit together and tears well up in her dark eyes.

"You can't, can you… it knows me. It knows I'm here, whatever it is…" she presses her lips together to keep them from trembling, but doesn't step forward for a moment. The answer to Aislinn's question is very clearly a resounding no.

And yet.

She nods. "I have to. I need to show it I'm not going to let it make me crazy. And whatever is with me can just go back in there and stay." She takes a step forward, then looks at Aislinn. "You don't have to, if you don't want to."

"We'll go together, sweet one." As Cordelia steps forward, so does Aislinn. And if we don't come back out again, she adds for her familiar's benefit, seek Donagh.

The smoky gray cat at the edge of the trees offers no reply. Hush has been against this from the start, and he does not wish to encourage Aislinn with a response. Instead, he turns away, showing the women his back and rolls his tongue over his paw as he grooms himself and pretends that he doesn't care what becomes of either of them.

If that were true, he wouldn't have followed them out here at all.

As Aislinn steps closer to the house, the darkness moves out of her steps, clearing a spot in front of her before sweeping back in behind her. But wherever she steps, the dark gives way. The growl even quiets before her.

As the pair step closer to the house, a rat darts out from the shadows beyond the door, running too close to their feet, but carrying on at a dash. It's mouth and jaws are a little bloody, like it's found something to snack on within.

"Thank you," whispers Cordelia, another squeeze of hand as she moves toward the house. She frowns a little, staring at the area in front of Aislinn, and shaking her head slightly. "It doesn't want you. It moves for you. I don't know if it's afraid of you or respects you or… I don't know. It doesn't reach for you like it does for me." The words tremble as she finally moves to cross the threshold, ducking under the worst of the cobwebs. "Be careful — the wood inside is rotten… there's a hole in the floor where Leslie fell into the basement." A candle is pulled out of her pocket along with a match — she lights the candle to give them some light going into that blackness again — though she knows, somehow, it won't be enough.

Aislinn makes room for the rat, hiking her skirts up to her calf. While Cordelia is busying herself with the candle, she hooks an arm around the teen's waist and hugs her close.

If something is reaching for her, she wants to be sure that she has the firmer hold.

Outside, Hush's head snaps toward the rat, his feline curiosity piqued by the sudden blur of movement. His eyes narrow to slits and he blows out a thin snort through his nostrils. Please be careful, lady, he advises Aislinn at last. Like his mistress, he is unable to bear a grudge for very long.

Aislinn can just make out the broken board Cordelia mentions in the hall, and with the wood creaking underfoot, it's not likely to be the only one. Inside is cool from all the shading around it, but it smells of earth and forest, animals and rot. It isn't entirely pleasant.

The doors in the walls are almost all broken, and where they aren't, rain and water have swollen the wood shut.

The candle's flame shakes, making shadows bounce on the walls, and Cordelia's eyes are wide as she looks around. "I don't know what to do," she whispers to Aislinn, swallowing hard. She lifts the candle, peering here and there, trying to see more of the house than she did before, and edging in along the walls, staying away from where the boards are likely softer, more likely to break, toward the middle of the floor. "If anything is with me," she says in a louder, shaky voice, "I've brought you back. Please just leave us alone." It sounds foolish, now that she's here, and her cheeks grow pink at thinking this might help. "Stupid… I'm sorry, Auntie…"

Aislinn presses a kiss to the crown of Cordelia's dark head. "No," she murmurs against her hair. "May the blessing of light be on you— light without and light within. May the blessed sunlight shine on you and warm your heart till it glows like a great peat fire."

Her grip on Cordelia's waist tightens. "With me, now: Bless this house, o Lord, we pray. Make it safe by night and day. Bless these walls so firm and stout, keeping want and trouble out." Although she speaks in a whisper, her voice does not lack convinction. "Bless the roof and chimney tall, let thy peace lie over all. Bless the windows shining bright, letting in God's heavenly light. Bless the hearth a-blazing there, with smoke ascending like a prayer. Bless the people here within… Keep them pure and free from sin.

"Bless us all, that one day, we may be fit, O lord, to dwell with Thee."

Aislinn begins to pray, and the darkness pushes back further from her. But at the same time, it gets heavier around Cordelia. It feels thick around her, sliding through fingers and making it difficult to breathe. As the urge to cough sets in, Cordelia can feel something looming behind her. It feels tall and broad and far too close. A stray brush hits her there, the odd exhale across her neck.

The prayer, being whispered, doesn't echo through the empty house, nor does there seem to be any grand divine intervention striking the house. But something has heard it. Something deeper in the house. And it is most decidedly angry.

Cordelia gasps and hunches a little, as if to pull away from something behind her; she coughs, then begins to murmur the words after Aislinn, hurried and hushed. "… Bless this house, o Lord, we pray…" After the prayer is complete, Cordie squeezes Aislinn's hand; her eyes wide in her drawn face, they slide to the side, as if she could peek around the corner of her own head to see what's behind her. "Something's here," she mouths to Aislinn, "behind me…"

One step is taken forward and then Cordelia turns, the candle shaking in her grasp, held like a cross in front of her.

As Cordelia turns, so does Aislinn. Her heart flaps in her ribcage like a panicked bird — she is as afraid as Cordelia is, but she substitutes terror in her expression for tension in her jaw. "O Lord, be between us and harm and protect us from the harm of the world."

When the women turn, neither of them catch sight of anything there. For Cordelia, it seems like the movement has her vision clearing for the first time, with the darkness fading out to allow her candle to reveal more of the room to her.

She can recognize where she is, with the door she used to get to the basement down a side hallway, and the hole Leslie fell through behind them as they look toward the door. Perhaps the prayer was enough to scare off the creature that had been, so recently, behind her.

For Aislinn, though, nothing changes beyond the direction she's facing.

Cordelia exhales, a shaky, shuddery thing. "It's gone, whatever was there," she whispers. "And the darkness — it doesn't like you or your prayer. It leaves you be, while it clings to me — though now it's gone. For now." A tear slides down her face and she lifts the candle up so she can scrub her face against the sleeve of her shirt — apparently she's not letting go of Aislinn's hand any time soon.

"There's the way down to the basement," she points with the candle, "and there's the hole he fell down. He's a good boy, isn't he? I… the way that darkness doesn't touch you, I thought m-maybe I'm not good enough, that I'm not as good and kind as you… but Leslie, he's a good boy, I think. And he's seeing these things too." Her voice, tremulous, makes her sound younger than she is, smaller than she is.

Aislinn reaches up to strokes Cordelia's cheek with the back of her knuckles, picking away strands of tear-soaked hair, which she tucks behind the girl's ear. "You are very good," she says, "and you are very brave."

Her eyes follow the candle's glow and fix on the hole. "If it's gone, love, then let's leave it be." And this is the closest she'll come to admitting to Cordelia that she is afraid of whatever it is that's living beneath their feet. "We can come back again with Donagh and his men, aye?"

That anger from the house's occupant seems to be boiling up, as if the house itself were upset for being trespassed on. Which, of course, sounds ridiculous in the light of day, but perfectly solid a thought outside of it.

And the growling from within sounds again, heedless of Aislinn's presence this time. The dark stays back, but there is the definite feeling of something coming to get her as Cordelia looks toward the entrance to the basement.

"I don't know if it's gone for good — I don't know if that's what's with me, or what's with Leslie, though," Cordelia begins to argue. It's not enough — whatever she's done, coming here, she's sure it's not done. She looks to the basement door, as if considering going that way, but then her eyes widen and she steps back, bumping against Aislinn, who can feel her trembling.

"Aye," she says suddenly, tugging Aislinn's hand and turning to hurry back to the front door. "Hurry. I think it's coming for me." She won't let go of Aislinn, not for the wide world, but there's a whimper to her tone that's not at all like the often-obstinate tomboyish teen.

That's almost more disturbing than what Aislinn can sense in the house's rotten foundation.

"You can't have her," she says to nothing and to everything in a voice that's as loud as her courage allows. She imagines Duncan or Edmund's would be louder. "The Lord stands in your way."

Cordelia wants to leave and so does she. Heavy, purposeful footfalls accompany the teen back toward the way they came in. Quick, too, because it won't be much longer before they're both shaking.

Outside, Dornie seems blissfully unaware of what sits on its doorstep. The sun hangs in the sky, wind playfully rustles the leaves, birds dart here and there, trying to carefully avoid the familiar in its current form.

Conversely, as they leave the house behind them, the building looms threateningly. It only lacks the ability to reach out and take them, but there is the distinct impression it would very much like to try.