The Portrait: Part Four
It was a grey morning, Mrs. Prenderghast noted with a sigh as she arose from her bed. She trudged to her wardrobe, selecting for herself a stylish orange gown, embroidered with red silk. After she was dressed, she selected for herself a gold ring set with a ruby. She stuck a copper hairpin in her hair and headed out into the hallway. She moved briskly, her stride slow, yet still refined.
“Madam,” Percival announced as he approached. He gave her a courteous bow, and when she did not stop, he walked beside her. “Madam, we—”
“Where is it today, Percival?” she asked quietly.
“It is in the library, Madam,” the Quiggle said softly. Mrs. Prenderghast gave a slight nod. “What would you have us to with it today, Madam?”
“Well, what is there left to try?” Mrs. Prenderghast snapped, coming to a halt. Percival quivered, and stopped alongside her. “Let’s see what we have already attempted: we’ve had it burned, pulverized, cast from the highest window of the chateau, cast into the lake, shredded, torn to pieces, cleaved in two, scratched, slashed, marred, blotted, doused in bleach, soaked in oil and lit, saturated, singed beyond repair, and electrocuted. Oh wait, I’m forgetting a few. How could I forget when we locked it in the safe? Or when we gave it to that hobo begging on the side of the road to town?”
“What has happened to it, Percival? Please tell me, what was the result of each of those attempts? I’ll tell you: absolutely nothing! None of them ever worked!” Mrs. Prenderghast gave an angry sigh. “I am tired of trying to dispose of it.”
“Indeed, Madam, I think I may have a solution.”
“Please tell me, Percival, for I am all ears.” The mistress of the household spoke this in an icy tone, her words dripping with bitter sarcasm.
“We have been looking for quite some time, of course at your behest, Madam, for a magical means of extricating the portrait from the house.”
“We contacted a Zafara from the Lost Desert, who calls herself Kiyabastis the Mystic. She claims to have dealt with similar problems in the past.”
Mrs. Prenderghast froze, staring deeply into Percival’s eyes, to the extent that he began to tremble. Her eyes had taken on a frightening similarity to those of the girl in the painting, he had realized, ever since that portrait had entered into the household. He kept this realization private, and would not dare to make it known.
“Have her come pay us a visit, then,” Mrs. Prenderghast informed him. “For now, I will have my breakfast.”
“What should we do with the painting, Madam?”
“Leave it be.”
Percival paused for a moment. She had never issued that order before, and he found it alarming. For once, was she truly not planning to have the painting destroyed? He felt suddenly relieved at the thought.
Ever since the household had been invaded by the terrible portrait, Mrs. Prenderghast had become increasingly distant. She began to have frequent emotional outbursts at the portrait and its constant reappearances, to the extent that it disturbed many of the servants. In fact, many had left ever since the portrait entered the home. They believed Mrs. Prenderghast was mad, and the painting cursed; they wanted nothing to do with either, and willingly departed. Percival wished to join them, but he felt he could not abandon his mistress, not in this time she needed help the most.
“As you wish, Madam,” he said, and left her sight. She proceeded to the dining hall.
The room inside was the same as it had always been. Platters of steaming foods lined the tabletop, as did pewter bowls containing exotic fruits the likes of which Mrs. Prenderghast had never seen. As always, she found herself apathetic towards this display. She sat down, ate a slice of Ummagine, some cooked eggs, and some steamed juppie; afterwards, she sipped a glass of orange juice, and left the room. She never had been a heavy eater.
She went about her business as she always did. By now, all the servants were astir with gossip and whispers. The word had spread that she had ordered the painting to be left untouched. That alone was enough for gossip. Now that she was going about, acting like her old self, caused the whispers to proliferate at an astounding rate. A spirit of happiness passed between the servants of the home, avoiding only Mrs. Prenderghast, who was oblivious.
She sat in the parlor, reading a review of the works of Angelina Edmund, on a fluffy green lounge chair. All throughout the day, servants passed by the doors, whispering joyously. She ignored them, as she always did.
“Madam,” Percival said suddenly, emerging into the room. Mrs. Prenderghast laid the book down, the spine facing the ceiling, on a nearby end table and gazed over at the Quiggle with a bored expression on her face. “Please excuse the interruption.”
“What is it, Percival?”
“We have made contact with Kiyabastis the Mystic. She says she will be here within two or three days.”
“Excellent,” Mrs. Prenderghast said with a nod. “I marvel at the swiftness of communications these days, don’t you, Percival?”
“Why, yes, Madam,” Percival responded, but it was only small talk; the mistress of the household was back to reading her book. The Quiggle gazed at her for a moment, before departing the room.
The rest of the day passed by peacefully, except for one moment between lunch and dinner, when Mrs. Prenderghast passed by the library. The door was open, but there were no servants inside. The Aisha gave the room a brief glance as she passed – and, as always, her eyes caught the penetrating gaze of Elise. Aisha and portrait stared each other down for several moments, before Mrs. Prenderghast conceded defeat, stifling a shudder.
“It’s not over yet,” she breathed, staring at the ground, forced to avert her niece’s stare. “You will be gone, soon enough.”
She did not need to look up to know that the portrait stared at her, confidently, as its response.
Mrs. Prenderghast departed.
Mrs. Prenderghast looked up from her lounge chair in the parlor. Her hands clutched a biography of Thestia the Insightful; her eyes glittered from behind her reading glasses. The gown she wore this day was gold and scarlet; around her neck hung the golden necklace her husband had given her as a gift. Her eyes, green and sharp as emeralds, penetrated Percival’s own.
“Yes, Percival?” she asked softly, for she already knew what he was about to say.
“Kiyabastis the Mystic has arrived, Madam. She is in the foyer as we speak.”
Mrs. Prenderghast smiled. “That is good news, Percival.”
Outside, she began to hear the soft tapping of raindrops on the windows. It was raining for the first time this spring, she noted. She arose from the lounge chair, setting the biography down, and moved briskly towards the foyer. Percival followed close behind, duteous as always.
The foyer was almost adjacent to the parlor, so it was not long before Mrs. Prenderghast reached it. The figure she saw standing beneath the light of the chandelier was unlike any individual she had ever seen.
“Lady Kiyabastis, I presume?” Mrs. Prenderghast asked, giving a courteous nod.
“Indeed, that is my name. I ask that you call me only Kiyabastis, however.”
The Zafara’s voice bore a distinct, rich accent. That, coupled with her exotic garb, easily identified her Lost Desert heritage. She smelt of incense and exotic spices Mrs. Prenderghast could not name. Her fur was the color of sunlight upon sand, and her amber eyes glittered like sunstones. Her eyelids were traced with thick lines of kohl, which shone darkly in the light. She wore a loose robe of purest white, embroidered with golden thread. The white silk cap she wore atop her head had an attached veil, which covered her mouth, making her all the more mysterious. Rings, crafted of various metals and set with every imaginable gemstone, shone brilliantly upon her fingers. Armlets of all shapes and sizes jangled upon her wrists. A rope hung around her neck, on which hung a scarab carved of lapis lazuli. Various bottles of different shapes and colors hung from a rope tied around her waist.
Indeed, she was the most peculiar individual Mrs. Prenderghast had ever seen. There was something fascinatingly familiar about her – something seemed very striking about the color of her fur and the armlets she wore. Regardless, Mrs. Prenderghast could not place a finger on just what was so striking.
“Where is the portrait?” Kiyabastis asked after a considerable pause.
“I found it on the wall in my bedroom,” Mrs. Prenderghast replied. Kiyabastis gave a slight nod. “It gave me quite a startle when I awoke.”
“That is natural,” Kiyabastis said, offering very little relief. “Have you determined that it is of supernatural origin?”
“Indeed we have,” Mrs. Prenderghast said softly. “We have tried many ways of destroying it – we tried burning it, throwing it away, cutting it apart, beating it to dust, immolating it, disfiguring it, locking it in a safe, drenching it in water—”
“All right then,” Kiyabastis spoke softly. “Lead me to it, please.”
Percival led the way to the bedroom. No one spoke a word as they walked. The only noise was the sound of breathing, though each breath was soft, and the sound of the rainfall. The servants they passed were silent, but Mrs. Prenderghast could hear them whispering when they thought she was out of earshot. She, as always, ignored this.
By the time they reached the stairway leading up to the bedroom, Mrs. Prenderghast could see the sky had darkened considerably. The rainfall was quite rapid, now, and she could hear the distant rumblings of thunder in the sky. She took this as a foul omen.
They stood before the shut door to the bedroom. Kiyabastis paused, and shut her painted eyes, inhaling softly.
“If I may ask, Kiyabastis, what exactly will take place?”
Kiyabastis turned to her quickly; it was obvious the Zafara was quite on edge. She stared at Mrs. Prenderghast, eyes glinting softly in the light of the hallway. Outside, the sky gave a loud groan, and the droplets began beating more furiously against all sides of the chateau.
“Using the magic of my ancestors,” Kiyabastis began, “I will identify the spirit that inhabits the portrait. Then, I will attempt to make it leave through various means; I will do whatever it takes to do so. Once the spirit departs, the portrait will lose all its properties. If it is not rude to ask, though, how much you do plan to pay me?” The Zafara’s golden eyes glittered, as if mirroring golden neopoints falling into her palm.
“How much is your going rate?”
Kiyabastis laughed, something which threw both Mrs. Prenderghast and Percival off-guard. When she was done, she said softly, “I do not usually perform these types of rituals, Madam, if you must ask. However, I would say, judging by the strain it will induce and the cost to replace the consumed materials...”
Here, Kiyabastis gave a momentary pause, scanning the surrounding hallway quickly, her eyes glittering as she did so.
“...the final cost will be at least 1,500,000 neopoints.”
Kiyabastis spoke the final bit quite softly, as if hesitant to make it known. Percival gasped, but made no noise. Mrs. Prenderghast did not pause in her response, and did not hide the tone of desperation in her voice.
“If you can guarantee the portrait will not haunt me further, I will be glad to pay you twice that.”
“I will, Madam, that I will,” Kiyabastis said, her voice a whisper, her eyes agleam. With that, the Zafara threw open the doors to Mrs. Prenderghast’s bedroom.
What happened next could only be described as an excerpt directly from a horror novel. Outside, the sky was as dark as night, and the rainfall constant. The winds picked up and howled as they tore across the chateau, hurling raindrops furiously at the windowpanes and stone walls. The moments the doors opened, lightning exploded from the sky, illuminating the sky with vivid violet. The clouds growled angrily within seconds after the lightning struck.
The room was dark, and the air cold. The crystal chandelier, which hung from the ceiling, cast no light upon the floor, for there was no light to reflect. The only thing that was immediately visible was the portrait, which had not moved since Mrs. Prenderghast had first seen it that day. It hung above her bed – indeed, it had given her quite a fright when she awoke.
As always, Elise was in the dress as blue as a cloudless summer sky. Her glistening brown ringlets fell about her neck, shimmering even though there was no light. Her face was expressionless, with an expressionless smile – her lips, as always, were drawn flat. She expressed no emotion, save that which burned in her eyes, as malignant as a curse. Her amber eyes seemed to glow as the lightning crashed and the thunder roared, even though the light in the room was faint.
Mrs. Prenderghast gasped, as did Percival. Kiyabastis was the only one who remained perfectly calm. She strode forward – her armlets jingling, her rings glittering, her eyes gleaming, the bottles around her waist clinking against each other. She gazed up confidently at the portrait, and it gazed confidently back down at her. Mrs. Prenderghast and Percival stood at the back of the room, at the opposite wall, belittled before Elise’s penetrating gaze. Kiyabastis was the only one who was entirely unaffected.
“So, you must be the portrait,” Kiyabastis said, without stammering. The portrait gazed down at her, eyes aglitter. Purple lightning crashed in the distance, illuminating the room for a moment. “We will discover just who you are, soon enough.”
Kiyabastis drew forth a bottle blown of clear glass from her waist. The liquid inside was a pale grey-blue, and swished slightly as she tugged its container from her belt. She closed her eyes, and then uncorked the bottle. Tendrils of white smoke rose, outstretching from the bottle’s open neck, rising up like fingers into the cold, dark room. Without a second’s hesitation, she lifted the flask to her lips, and downed all of its contents in a single gulp.
There was a long, silent pause before Kiyabastis’s eyes opened once again. However, her eyes were now a featureless, opaque gold. Every time the Zafara exhaled, white smoke issued from her mouth, before evanescing into the air around them.
“Let us see who you truly are,” Kiyabastis spoke in a voice that was both hers and a chorus of voices all at once. It was the voice of countless magicians before her, all of whom were her ancestors, all of whom were responsible for the magic that was her heritage. It was a voice of power, and a voice of command. Her words echoed hollowly in the room.
Kiyabastis’s new and unnatural voice startled Mrs. Prenderghast, who gave a slight gasp, and offered her hand to Percival. Dutifully, the Quiggle took it, ready to offer whatever support he could.
The Lost Desert mystic reattached the bottle to its spot on her belt. Staring at the painting without blinking, she extended her right arm towards it. It was rigid, and did not move, despite the cold and unforgiving air that enwrapped the room. A pale grey flame consumed her hand. It was a smokeless, harmless flame – Mrs. Prenderghast noted this with awe. She unconsciously gripped Percival’s hand tighter.
A tendril of the flame extended from her palm, moving like a serpent towards the surface of the portrait. Without hesitation, it lunged; the portrait began to sway violently, and Elise’s eyes burned darker and deeper than they ever had. A scream died in Mrs. Prenderghast’s throat.
Once done, the tongue of flame retracted, returning to Kiyabastis’s palm. The flame then faded, smothered into nothing. Ashen powder, like the remnants of burnt paper, was scattered across the mystic’s palm. With her left hand, she reached down and extracted a clear glass phial, which contained a colorless liquid. She effortlessly uncorked it, and deposited the powder from her hand into it.
She did all of this without blinking, gazing up at the portrait without faltering, without shaking. Outside, the storm raged ever harder. Elise’s eyes did not dim. Now, more then ever, it was apparent she was no harmless portrait. Her amber eyes indeed did glow, smoldering like coals, in the darkened room; there was no chance it was a trick of the mind, now. Though she bore no explicit expression, the wrath and malice that burned in her eyes betrayed her true feelings.
The colorless liquid was now no longer as such. It now was a deep blue, and spun violently within the phial, like a whirlpool caught in a glass. It suddenly became dark as oil, and began spinning at a frantic pace, as if desiring to escape its container. Outside, the lightning exploded with great force; the purple light that illuminated in the room seemed to hang forever, and the boom of thunder was not so distant now.
Kiyabastis’s golden eyes narrowed to slits. Without hesitation, she thrust her left hand towards the portrait. The black liquid that whirled within the phial burst forth, soaring through the air as straight and narrow as a javelin, crashing against the portrait with great force. The portrait shook as the black liquid splashed across its surface, blotting out Elise; blotting out everything, that is, except for her eyes. The portrait thrashed violently, like a cage containing a feral beast, and fell from the wall. It disappeared behind the headboard of Mrs. Prenderghast’s bed.
Mrs. Prenderghast, who had been holding her breath this time, finally exhaled, gasping for breath. Percival, her pillar of solidity, did not flinch as she crushed his hand with hers. The mistress of the household opened her mouth to speak, but the words never left her lips. Her eyes widened as she watched what next unfolded.
The portrait was rising – yes, rising – from behind the headboard, and was now floating in midair. The surface of the portrait was still stained black; Elise’s eyes were still glowing. Kiyabastis, her eyes still bright and unblinking, seemed to have anticipated this. The portrait suddenly began to struggle violently with itself, before falling lifeless to the bed beneath it.
What did not fall, however, was the black liquid; it detached itself, hanging in the air above the bed. It did not remain dormant, however. It began to twist and warp, like wet clay being formed into pottery. However, as a shocked Mrs. Prenderghast realized, it was not taking on any one shape. The black liquid was twisting and writhing into letters.
I AM ELISE.
“Elise!” Kiyabastis cried out in her ethereal voice, as the sentence was made known. “I call forth the powers imbued within me by my kinsmen, my ancestors, to force you to depart this painting, to depart this household, forever more!”
The black, inky letters quickly twisted to form a new message.
Outside, the pattering of the rain against the windows was unceasing. The raindrops beat in constant, blasting rhythm, like a war drum. The wind howled and raged against the chateau. The lightning came no longer in blasts, but screams; the thunder followed quickly behind it, roaring as it did so. The amethyst light of the lightning illuminated everything in shades of purple, save for the letters.
Suddenly, unbidden, the windows on each end of the room swung open, slapping against the walls that had kept them closed. The long scarlet curtains, which reached from ceiling to floor, whipped in rhythm with the wind that now blustered through the room. Rain poured in through these openings, drenching everything inside. Mrs. Prenderghast finally loosed a shriek, but it was lost in the cacophony of the storm. Though she did not see it, Percival gasped in horror as well.
“So be it!” Kiyabastis shrieked. Amidst the storming winds and the rain, she reached for her belt, extracting a red glass bottle. Its contents were sizzling, and burned bright orange, like fire. She uncorked this bottle and thrust its contents at the letters; fluidly, they vanished, evading the attack. The fiery potion sizzled into nothing.
The portrait rose from its place upon the bed, swaying through the air as if suspended by an invisible thread.
“Begone!” Kiyabastis cried, resolute. She hesitated for a single instant, and then drew forth a large black bottle from her waist. The contents could not be seen. She closed her eyes for the first time since they had become pure gold – and, uncorking the bottle, slung its contents at the portrait.
Everything seemed to freeze. The mixture inside was a cold blue, like liquid ice. Almost like a spirit, it launched through the air, whizzing, groaning, and exploded against the surface of the portrait. Echoing throughout the room was a sudden peal of childish laughter. Mrs. Prenderghast gave a sudden wail, and fainted.
Then everything was still.
The portrait collapsed, facedown, upon the ground. The windows, in unison, shut. The curtains, which had been blowing wildly in the tempestuous winds, ceased moving. The only proof that anything had taken place was the fact that the portrait had fallen from the wall, and that most everything in the room was windblown and wet.
“Madam? Madam!” Percival cried. His mistress had fallen upon him, unconscious, and he was desperately attempting to rouse her.
Kiyabastis, meanwhile, had kept her eyes closed all this time. She opened them – they were no longer featureless orbs of gold, but restored to normal. She turned to gaze at the unmoving painting on the ground. Judging her efforts to have been a success, she turned back to Percival and Mrs. Prenderghast. Only then did she begin to gasp for breath, as if she had just completed a footrace.
Mrs. Prenderghast opened her eyes groggily. “Percival,” she asked, “what happened? Why am I—”
The memories flooded to her, causing her to gasp.
“The portrait is dealt with,” Kiyabastis gasped. “Elise... is gone.”
The last sentence suddenly seemed sad, though the Zafara did not speak it sorrowfully. Mrs. Prenderghast rose slowly to her feet, puzzling at why seemed that way. Kiyabastis, finally having caught her breath, gazed around the room.
“You have done your job to my satisfaction, Kiyabastis,” Mrs. Prenderghast said quietly. “True to my word, I will pay you 3,000,000 neopoints.”
“Thank you. Your generosity is much appreciated,” the mystic said with a slight bow.
“Kiyabastis, if I may ask... what exactly has happened to the portrait?” Despite the fact that the portrait now lay facedown upon the floor, the Aisha could not bring herself to even glance at it.
“It has become just another painting, Madam,” Kiyabastis said quietly. “There is nothing left inside of it. Do with it what you will.”
“Thank you so much, again, Kiyabastis,” Mrs. Prenderghast said quietly. The Zafara only nodded. “Percival, see to it that she is paid precisely that amount. Also, gather some maids to clean this mess up.”
“What of the painting, Madam?”
Mrs. Prenderghast paused.
“Place it in the storeroom,” she whispered. The Quiggle nodded, and departed from the room. Kiyabastis followed closely behind him, the bands upon her arms still tinkling as they knocked together.
For the first time since the ritual concluded, Mrs. Prenderghast gazed over at the portrait. She stared at it for a moment, gave it the slightest of nods, and left the room, quieted.
To be continued...