Mansion of Horror, Part 1

OFF: Challenge post has arrived UwU

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The carriage bumped along slowly. She and Aji had lapsed into...maybe not companionable silence, but it wasn't tense either. It just was, like how she and Sunshine would lean against the bricks on foggy days, counting footsteps and raindrops appearing on their hands.

Aji would ask small things about the letter, but Zazi had no answers for her. Sunshine didn't know anyone with a mansion, and she didn't know much about Sunshine either.

What she knew was outweighed by what she didn't know.

Sunshine had blonde hair and pale skin, so pale that when someone touched her arm, a bruise would appear in an hour. She was once a nurse during one of the wars, and she had had a husband, and perhaps a child. Something happened between here and there, and that's how Sunshine appeared at the Inn with a smile and a suitcase full of clothes.

There were other things that she kept secret. How Sunshine liked the taste of cherries but not blueberries. How she had taught Zazi to braid her hair before an incident with a client caused her to keep a short cut. How Sunshine knew how to bake, but she burned bread in the kitchen. She knew how to make some very sweet drink with a small block of chocolate, and how when Sunshine smiled, her face softened further than it ever did almost glowing.

Zazi's foot tapped a beat on the bottom of the carriage as she stared out of the window at the passing forest. Her heart hammered tightly in her ribcage, nearly making it hard to breathe.

"Ah, is this it...?" Aji whispered, standing up on her seat to peer out her window. Zazi frowned, leaning out hers as well.

It was a giant gate, two men pulling it open to let them through, shutting it behind them. The path wound up to a very large mansion, and the temperature had dropped. "It's cold? It's not time for that, is it?" Zazi mumbled.

Aji pointed. "No, my dear. We're near the ocean. It changes even the warmest days to Winter."

Zazi nodded slowly. She could hear the crashing waves, cries of gulls. It appeared they were on a cliff.

Good thing she wasn't afraid of heights. They could see over the side of the cliff as they traveled over the path slowly, before it opened up further, making the land more secure than appearing to be about to fall to the icy depths.

Zazi sunk back into her seat. Maybe she was just overthinking it. Sunshine would never hurt her...

Two men met them at the entrance, although their driver waved them off to open the door for Aji and Zazi. Zazi still didn't let him touch her, but she nodded politely at him. Hey, she was growing, right? That was progress.

One of the men opened the main door. Zazi raised an eyebrow, looking over at Aji. "What is it?"

"Ain't weird that they knew we were comin'?"

Aji shook her head as they followed the men inside, keeping close to Zazi so they could speak. "No, if the person your friend is with is quite popular, he would employ whatever means he can to ensure his own safety." After a beat, "and hers."

"Huh. Anyone tell you you're one smart cookie?"

Aji seemed to fluster, but gave her a small smile. "In different words..."

Hm.

They were led up stone stairs. There were torches on the walls-a bit simplistic-and a small runner one the stairs, but it was too thin to properly keep the chill of the stone out.

Zazi sighed as they were led further into the home. Aji looked up at her in worry. "What's the matter? Everything okay?"

Zazi could hear the probing tone and nodded quickly. "...not as easy to walk as far as I used to," she muttered. She tried to pretend the unease wasn't the reason she was stalling.

This was just so odd, and out of character...but maybe she really didn't know Sunshine as well as she did.

There were gaudy statues around the damn place, too. Most of them were nude, in that 'tasteful' way, some had robes, so on.

She stopped at one, and their little entourage paused. Aji turned around, taking a step closer. "Something wrong, dear?"

Zazi's eyebrows furrowed. She leaned in just a little to the statue. "Nothin', I guess. Reminds me of one of the gals."

Aji looked between her and the statue, tilting her head. "That so?"

"Yeah. We called her Buttercup, because of that..." She gestured at the statue's cheek. The statue looked as if she was calling up at something, but on the cheek was a darkened stain in the shape of a pressed buttercup.

It was really, really weird.

Aji nervously looked at the men behind them, who did nothing to hurry them along, but all the same, it wasn't good manners to keep someone waiting. "Perhaps it's a common...mark?"

"I guess."

Aji gently led her away, following the men once more. It was just odd, she felt. Especially since Buttercup hadn't been seen in the past year.

Oh well.

The men led them into a room, one of them gesturing to a pair of chairs. "He will be by soon." There was a desk, a chair behind it, and surrounding the room's walls were so many statues.

Zazi made a 'tch' noise as she and Aji took a seat. "Dunno if I'd waste money on these things. You got any?"

Aji shook her head, nervously looking from one statue to the next. "I've never quite gotten over the feeling of them watching me."

Zazi shrugged, crossing her leg over the other, bouncing them nervously. "The only one I saw was a man with a sheet. Wasn't impressive."

Aji quickly nodded, looking away from the statues around them. Minutes ticked by, both of them feeling their nerves crawling on their skin. Finally, a door opened, and a very handsome man appeared wearing a cape and top hat, which he set on the desk. "Hello there. So sorry for the wait."

"Where's Sunshine?"

Aji tried to calm her down-he didn't appear to be the type of man who cared for interruptions-but he laughed, settling in a seat. "I understand, you're quite concerned for her. Rest assured, she's doing so very well right now. She's sleeping."

Zazi huffed. "Fine. Who the hell are you?"

The man smiled, leaning back in his chair slowly. "Call me Jack. It's a simplistic name, but my parents were simplistic folk. Who may I say I have the...honor of speaking too?"

"Baroness Aji D’moonh, sir," Aji bowed her head lightly.

Zazi scoffed. "Ice Queen."

"Oh, no first name?" Jack pressed. Zazi just stared at him and he shrugged. "Very well. Ah, wait, tea, yes, this meeting requires tea. Gerald!" He clapped his hands, which Zazi noted were gloved with black leather, and a man in a butler uniform appeared with a tray of three cups. He lowered it onto the desk, picking up each cup and placing it before them all. The tea was already in the cups.

Zazi picked hers up unsteadily, cursing the fact that her tea was only usually gulped down in between rushing around. She should've paid more attention as a kid...

Aji's nose twitched, her cup-which honestly looked massive in her lap-rested on its place. "Dear."

Zazi paused before she had taken a sip. "Yeah?"

"Would you pass me a bit of the cream?"

"Sure." Zazi put her cup back down, reaching for the pot of cream as Jack smiled. "No sugar? Cream is generally sweeter, in my opinion."

Zazi passed it to Aji, her nose twitching here and there. Zazi spoke up, "Those cost, I just...take what I can get."

"Very impressive."

What the hell did that mean?

Zazi shrugged it off, it didn't matter, he was just a weird guy. She slowly lifted up the cup, but before she could press it to her lips Aji spoke up, "Don't drink the tea."

"What?" Zazi put it down again, looking at Aji quizzically while Aji nearly glared at Jack.

"Tetrodotoxin. What an interesting addition to tea. However, it's to neither of our tastes."

Zazi, in confusion, slowly put the cup back on the desk as Jack laughed, clapping his hands together. "My, what a nose you have on you. Do you know the position you're in now? Hm?"

Aji never took her eyes off him as she spoke to Zazi, "Had we drank it, we would be as if dead, unable to do anything in return. Many have been buried accidentally with it...or on purpose."

Zazi glared at Jack as well, standing up sharply. "What the hell are you playing at?! Drugging us?? Who the-"

"What a filthy mouth. Honestly. Not to worry," he said, the door near him opening and two men slowly stepping out of it with tranquilizer guns. "You won't for long."

He snapped his fingers.

Zazi bashed into Aji's chair, grabbing her up as she sputtered, the dart missing them by an inch. She raced out the door, yelping when one caught her sleeve but she ripped it away, nearly stumbling over the railing of the hall and onto the stone below.

"That way!" Aji chirped, pointing Zazi down the other way. Zazi sped off, panting sharply. She was out of shape, and all this running sure wasn't good for her.

She couldn't think of that now. She skidded on the runner as Aji pointed out a small indention in the hallway, big enough to fit at least two of Zazi. She squeezed in quickly, panting before covering her mouth, Aji curling up with wide eyes.

The men raced past. and they sighed, relaxing for a moment. Zazi groaned. "God this was a bad idea," she muttered.

Aji's nose twitched. "The question remains: why did he do this?" she whispered sharply. "Do you know him?"

"Nah, he looks about as familiar as any other fella."

Aji shook her head, scrubbing a hand over her face. "We need to escape. Whatever he has planned, with that type of poison, he would be able to do whatever he pleased."

Zazi swallowed, nodding. "Agreed."

Aji looked around the little indention, turning around fully with a small gasp. "...Zazi..."

Zazi was busy staring out of the small entrance, trying not to peek her head out. "What?"

"Look..."

She turned around, seeing the last thing she wanted to see.

Zazi had described Sunshine so deeply to Aji, she could nearly picture the young woman in her mind. She didn't have to anymore.

The indention led to a small carved out hole, in which stood a statue. The statue was Sunshine, hair curled around her shoulder, eyes closed softly with a gentle smile, hands laced in front of her, wearing a simple white dress.

She wasn't grey, like the others, but rather, it appeared someone had painted over her. Gentle brush strokes brought pale cheeks and golden hair to life, delicately painted lipstick over her lips and even the eyelashes were gently dabbed with a black paint to bring out the shut eyes.

Zazi broke, nearly dropping Aji who quickly hopped down and she took a step closer. "Oh Sunshine, darlin'...what happened to ya?" her voice cracked, a shaking hand raising up to cup the cold cheek.

She let out a choked scream as, instead of hard stone-as if the man had cruelly made a totem of her Sunshine-she could feel the squishy feel of skin.

She yanked her hand back, breathing faster as she covered her mouth. Aji looked up at her. "W-What is it?"

"Oh God...I'm gonna be sick..." Her face was pale-pale-ish as blue as she was-and she had to press her her head against the stone, turning away from the 'statue'. "That ain't no statue...it's her."

Aji nodded grimly, as if she had already arrived to the same morbid conclusion. "Zazi, dear, we have to get out of here. I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, but we have to leave."

Zazi nodded against the stone, taking a slow breath before she looked over the angelic looking woman. "Oh Sunshine..."

Aji gently touched her hand, and Zazi scooped her back up, darting out of the crevice with speed. They had to get out, but from the noises, the men were down one hallway, and on the stairs.

"Where-ah!" Zazi yelped, spinning around when she felt a hand grab at her shirt, instantly kicking the man in the face with her heel.

He went down like a sack of flour.

Aji gasped. "That was amazing! How did you-"

"Out of everything my mother did for me, she at least taught me to defend myself." Zazi muttered, stepping over-and maybe digging a heel into his shoulder-the man.

One hallway ended in a dead end, but the burly man at the end saw them and took aim. Zazi had to sprint and flee into another room to lose him. More statues, except these too were painted delicately. Each were in different poses, but all appeared 'happy' and smiling.

Zazi grimaced. "Sicko."

"Agreed," Aji muttered, pressing her face against the keyhole to see if anyone passed by. They waited a few minutes longer, then out the door they went again, their hearts pounding with each near miss or noise they heard.

Somehow they ended up on another floor, Zazi still holding Aji tightly. "How are we getting out!? They've chased us into a dead end and they know it!"

Aji sighed, a finger pressed against her chin as they walked around the banister keeping someone from falling over onto the stone. They passed by a hanging chandelier, with silk delicately tied around it. Aji perked up. "I have an idea."

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"You're really gonna have to tell me 'bout your childhood after this one, Aji."

Aji had shown Zazi how to untie the silk attached to the chandelier, but leaving one end tied. The other end was long enough, by Aji's calculations, to at least get them close enough to the ground they wouldn't, you know, die at the end.

When asked how she knew to do this, Aji mumbled out something about having a 'rebellious phase' in her childhood.

Zazi sighed, hands wound into the silk with a grimace. "Stuff's so soft, you sure?"

Aji climbed up onto her back, winding her arms around the buckles of Zazi's top, nodding quickly. "It's stronger than you think. Be brave, Zazi!"

Zazi scoffed, shaking her head lightly, although it did give her a little warm feeling.

They didn't have much time for Zazi to build up her courage, someone shouted from the side, and a near army started spilling from the corridors, taking aim.

Now or never.

Zazi hopped, and the silk swung her away from a barrage of darts, Aji squealing at her to loosen her grip to slide down. Zazi used her momentum to keep the swinging-even she knew a sitting duck would get killed-and she slid down in a spiral trying not to scream as the stone floor rose up faster and faster at them.

Then, with a stop, Zazi's feet met the floor, and she swayed in place for a moment. "...we made it?"

"We made it!" Aji chirped, but their happy moment ended as they heard the men coming down after them.

Zazi didn't have to be told twice, she booked it to the door, having to dodge down thanks to Aji's quick warning, nearly losing the smaller woman over her shoulder before she grabbed her, speeding out of the monstrous mansion the fastest she's ever ran.

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