Dried Roses

by Jamie-chibi

 "Mariemeia!" thundered a woman's deep voice through the empty halls of the all but abandoned estate. "Mariemeia Khushrenada! Where the devil are you hiding this time child?! Mariemeia!"

For her part, Mariemeia cowered in her wheelchair upon hearing "Auntie" Une's angry tongue. She looked around desperately for a place in the dark shadows of the dusty master bedroom to hide. The room once belonged to her father, a man she'd looked up to all her life. A man she both respected and idolised, despite the fact she was illegitimate and had never seen him while he lived. Treize Khushrenada probably never even knew she existed.

But she knew everything about him. She had always turned to him for guidance. She knew all of his historic exploits, read every biography ever written about him, and studied his unpublished memoirs in exhaustive detail. But now she needed something else from him: sanctuary.

As the footsteps came closer, Mariemeia found a dark niche her wheelchair could fit into, between the thick velvet drapes and the antique wardrobe. She carefully rolled back into the far corner, but accidentally stirred the dust that had been settling for years. The specks and particles billowed up around her, furious that their rest had been disturbed.

Lady Une stormed down the halls of the mansion, clenching her teeth and her fists. She stopped and tilted her head slightly as an evil glint flashed across her chestnut eyes. She heard something, a tiny, somehow extremely feminine sneeze. It was more a muffled squeak then anything, but it was still enough to give her foster daughter away.

She smirked victoriously at first, but then her eyes bulged from behind her wire-rimmed spectacles in panic and rage. Of all the doors in the house, the child had somehow opened this one!

It was only open a crack, but Une knew what it met, and was filled with loathing. Of all the rules Mariemeia had broken over the years... Une swore that Mariemeia would rue the day she committed this violation!

Gathering her courage Une burst through the door flooding Treize's old quarters with light.

The room was a mass of dusty grey sheets cast over the furniture, and shadows, and had very rarely been visited in the last few years. Mariemeia had never been permitted to explore it, no matter how much she begged. Une installed a sturdy pad lock on the door the day she became Mariemeia's guardian, but the irritating brat must have somehow found the key.

Une had never told Mariemeia why this was so strictly forbidden. She couldn't bear to admit to anyone when she was afraid, and would die rather than admit it to the insolent whelp.

"How DARE you!" Une roared into the room and a soft terrified and helpless whimper was heard. Lady Une stomped toward the sound and found the crippled child huddled in her wheel chair, already in tears. Mariemeia knew what was coming; she understood the extent of her trespass. And long ago she had learned the utter futility of resisting or begging. "How DARE you disobey your Auntie like this?"

Through the corner of her eye, through the darkness with her vision blurred by tears she could still see Une had *it* with her, one of the things Mariemeia dreaded most in the world. A riding crop. It had once belonged to her father, and was now Une's favorite instrument of chastisement. "Auntie Une please! Please Auntie, I'm sorry!"

Une wrenched Mariemeia out of her hiding place, and threw her frail body onto Treize's massive feather bed. The first lash bit into her before she had even landed on the mattress. Mariemeia screamed more from terror then pain, but that would change very quickly.

Une lifted the evil crop again and brought it down viciously, then she grabbed at Mariemeia's clothes. The elegant fabric ripped easily in Une's rage as she bared the girl's back, legs and buttocks for further punishment.

"Now see what you made me do!?" Une bellowed, referring to the ruined finery.

Mariemeia blubbered sorrowful apologies, but they fell uselessly on deaf ears and a cold stone heart. Mariemeia tore at her own hair as Lady Une drew the lash back again, and began to vent her fury on the helpless child.

Hell lasts for eternity, and Mariemeia's hell was no exception. The punishment seemed to go on forever, and even when it was over Mariemeia knew it wasn't. Une had been so kind to her in the beginning, but that was before she left the Preventers to take care of her. Before they moved into the mansion, and left her with so much time to herself.

Lady Une had spent the time thinking about Treize and the life she had dreamed of with him. How Mariemeia should have been their daughter, to raise together. She also thought about how much she had given up for Treize, her youth, her innocence and her soul. She had given him everything, bloodied her hands so that his could be clean. She told him it was all for his vision of a perfect world, but never the truth, that it was all for him.

The more she thought the more things became clear to her. But the clearer they became the more chaotic the buzz of questions in her head felt. She began to realize that he had used her, used her love, strung her along to better play on her devotions to him.

He had never loved her that much was certain now. He had used her, and now she was committed to caring for his child. Une realized that Treize was still using her, even from beyond the grave. Then one day as the ghastly revelations set in, Lady Une decided to change her look again... She put her hair up for the first time in years and the buzz of questions in her head ceased. Feelings began to die, but her duty to Mariemeia remained.

And Mariemeia she noticed coldly, was so very much like her father with her refined tastes and high-toned airs.

"You will not be as selfish as your father was," Lady Une lectured as she lay the child down on the table and dabbed and alcohol swab over the places her skin was broken and bleeding. "You will be self-disciplined, virtuous, and obedient! As your Auntie, I'll see to it that you are."

There was a short silence, and then Une's hand cracked down across young bruised and bloody skin. "WELL?"

"YES, AUNTIE!" Mariemeia howled. "A-and... Th-thank you Auntie..."

It had been four days and Mariemeia still wasn't allowed out of her bedroom. It would be a much longer before she would be able to bear sitting in her wheel chair for more then a few minutes, but she had been cooped up for too long, and needed a change of scenery. So when Auntie Une told her that she was going into town to run some errands, Mariemeia knew her chance had arrived. She told herself she didn't care about the repercussions if she disobeyed again. She only wanted a few minutes... just long enough to look out a different window. That was all, just to remind herself that the mansion was not the whole world.

It was only after she heard the door close and lock, and Une's car leave did she dare open the door. She glided down the long hallway and peered out the window at the far end; it was one of her favourite views. She lost herself staring outside until reality gave her an unpleasant message.

Her poor body ached and throbbed sitting in the chair so long. She had to get out of her chair for a few moments to rest; the trip back to her room would be unbearable. Her legs still weren't strong enough for her to walk on, but she could support herself for short periods of time.

Slowly Mariemeia struggled to lift herself out of the chair and onto her feet... But it had been too long, she was weaker then she had anticipated. The girl stumbled forward, and tried grab a small table near by too support herself.

She didn't grab on quickly enough and ended up sprawled across the floor. She banged her face against the edge of the table on the way down giving her a giving her a bloody lip - but worse still, the impact knocked over a vase filled with dried roses, and it fell to the floor and shattered. Mariemeia was horrified; she would have to somehow clean up the broken pieces before Auntie Une came home. She knew her fate was sealed as she heard the front door open.

Mariemeia was overwhelmed with fear... had to get away and hide. Maybe this time she wouldn't be found, maybe this time it would all be all right if Une had a chance to cool off before she found her.

Slowly, she crawled away but all the rooms in the hall were locked except for her's. Then she remembered the small flight of stairs at the end of the hall near the window. She crawled up the carpeted stairs and reached for the brass handle desperately...

Auntie Une was enraged by her foster daughter's disappearing act again. She searched the house high and low until late into the night, uttering threats all the while.

The next morning when Mariemeia was still no where to be found she feared for the worst, that she had been kidnapped. After all the daughter of Treize Khushrenada would be worth a princess's ransom. She called the police to report her missing, telling them everything except about the punishment. Une felt that her methods of discipline were her own business.

When the police found no trace of her, private detectives were hired, and she waited anxiously for the ransom demand to arrive.

It never came. Guilt rained down on Lady Une. She didn't know what had happened to the child, who seemed to have vanished from the world, almost as if she had been swallowed up by the house. But she understood that whatever it was, it was her fault. The last piece of the man she once loved was gone forever, leaving her with nothing but guilt and loneliness in the massive, empty house.

Years passed and Lady Une's sanity became more and more questionable. She had nightmare's every night, and found she could only sleep in the day. She hired workers to panel over Treize's room and permanently seal it off, but the nightmares continued. The locals learned to avoid her; even her only friend, Noin, finally stopped visiting. The town grew around the mansion, and then one day Lady Une received notice that the mansion had to be torn down to accommodate the growth.

After a futile court battle, she began preparations to move out. As the last of the furniture was being shipped away, she wandered the empty mansion in a daze like a ghost.

The only things left to be packed were the basement and the attic. As Une slowly went trough everything trying to decide what to keep and what to throw away, she found an old chest that had once belonged to Treize. Her mind was still numb from the shock that she would soon be leaving the mansion that had become her life, as she opened the chest.

Two small empty eye sockets peered up at her from under a scarlet beret. Tiny bone arms still hugged her knees.

At long last Une knew what had happened to Mariemeia, who was so afraid of her Auntie Une, that she crawled to the attic and hid from her.
Lady Une screamed at the skeleton, as darkness and realisation closed in on her. Une screamed and screamed as blood began to ooze down the attic wall. Not because of the ghostly vengeance of Treize or his child... but because Une had driven her brittle old woman's finger nails into her eyes.