I was about to join those forgotten souls myself.
It was as if the manor was lost in time—once magnificent, but now eerily haunting. Large windows with a faint light emerging through the stained glass of the second floor gave such a cold structure some signs of warmth and life. But then the sharp-pitched roof with the crumbling brick chimneys reminded me of the deathlike aura. Would my body be tortured and killed beyond those walls? Was I staring at my own coffin?
When the car pulled up to the front entrance, I saw a man waiting outside wearing a black suit with a crisp white shirt unbuttoned at the neck. He was at the bottom of the stairs, arms crossed, his huge figure looming in front of the manor. His hair was black, his eyes dark, and I was pretty sure from the firmness of his expression that his inner being was even darker than his outer appearance.
The driver got out of the car, opened up my door, and yanked me out of the vehicle. With a strong grip of my upper arm, my chauffeur half-dragged me to the waiting man since my feet could barely keep up with his speed and purpose. As we approached the steps, both men silently climbed their way to the front door and pulled me inside. Once we reached the foyer, I was shoved to the floor.
“Kneel,” the man who had been waiting for me said.
Too panicked to do anything else, I scrambled to my knees and did as he said while I quickly tried to scan my surroundings. A glorious staircase mastered the entire space with its intricately carved banister spiraling alongside the wooden steps. Original pocket doors concealed rooms on each side of me, and the scarred wooden floor beneath my knees countered the lavishness of the chandelier dangling over me.
“Esme Myers,” the man began as he stood in front of me with his arms remaining crossed at his chest. It was as if my assassin was going to lecture me like a naughty schoolgirl rather than kill me for my deadly transgressions.
I didn’t respond, but looked up into his eyes instead. I swallowed hard and struggled to breathe. For a moment, I wondered if I would die of a heart attack before the man had a chance to end my life on his own terms.
“I’m not one to fuck around. So, let’s just get to the point. You know why you are here, yes?”
I nodded and looked down at the floor. My nerves could no longer handle the severity that I saw in his eyes and on his face. I foolishly thought I could be brave and face my death head on, but the tears that began to fall and the need to beg for mercy almost erupted from the place I thought I had securely locked my fear away.
“Oz is not a man to cross. Betrayal equals death. And in most cases, the most torturous, agonizing death you could imagine. He wants to make his enemies pay with far more than just their lives.” He took one step toward me, and I flinched as if he had just punched me in the face. “But you know that. You know what could happen to you right now.”
My mind ran rampant with all the ways this man would make me pay. Every single horror movie I ever watched played back in my head. My ragged breath came out in gasps as my vision dimmed. My ears rang, and my body began to quiver. This was it.
This was it.
The man reached for my chin and tilted my head back so I had to look up into his eyes. “My name is Knox. I am one of the Monsters of Mercy in the manor.” He paused for a moment to give me time to absorb his words. “I am the monster assigned to you. I am the man who will make you pay.”
“Pay?” There was a note of hysteria in my voice as I asked, “Are you going to kill me?”
“Death would be easy compared to what I plan to do to you.”
“In the most wicked of ways. Yes.”
I flinched when I heard the cries of a woman from another room in the manor. Staring up into my monster’s eyes, I asked, “You are one of the Monsters of Mercy? How many are there?”
“The only monster you should worry about, Esme, is me.”
The sob I had been struggling to hold back released. It was even louder as it was amplified by the barren walls of the entryway. My shoulders shook with every desperate wail. I could no longer wear the crown of the brave queen. It was broken, chipped, destroyed by fear. I was so very scared, and all I could do was watch my tears fall to the floor before my knees.