Viktor Lupescu was boiling water for the herbal tea that his grandmother had taught him to make when he was so much younger. He had spent many summers with her in this cottage in the Dark Forest, and she had taught him the ways of the old world as best she could.
"It's nothing, grandmother," he said, stirring some honey the cup with a straw. "Drink this, it will help you sleep."
"You are so good to me, child." She took a sip from the cup. "I feel so weak these days, I think perhaps my time is coming to a close."
"Nonsense, grandmother, you are the strongest woman I know."
She laughed then, a small bark that set off a fit of coughing. "Even the strongest tree in the forest falls when the storm comes."
"Don't talk like that. And drink your tea."
She took a grateful sip and made a face at the slightly bitter taste.
"Are you sure that you can take this time away from your life?"
"Of course grandmother. You are the only family I have anymore, and I wouldn't dream of leaving you alone."
Babi Cheshka sighed. "I do wish that things had gone better with your mother. She was such a willful thing."
"You have a lot of her in you, you know."
"I don't remember much of her."
"She was so very pretty, your mother. And she was so taken with your father. So handsome he was."
"My father was not a nice man."
"No, he was not," she nodded. "Strong, yes. And driven. That was his way." She touched his arm gently. "You have a lot of him in you, too."
Viktor pulled away from his grandmother. "He was a failure and a drunk. I am nothing like him."
She looked at him for a moment with sunken eyes, drank the last of the tea, and turned away. "Bless you, my child," the Babi said groggily. "I think I must sleep now."
Viktor took the nearly empty cup from her. "Yes grandmother. It is time for you to sleep. You have earned the rest." He poured the last remnants of the cup down the sink and carefully rinsed it out before placing it on the rack to dry.
As she slept, Viktor started poring over the map of the Dark Forest that hung on her wall. He took out his cell phone and looked at the screen:
That is one of the first things that will change, he thought, and smiled.
Jess saw the car first, its polished shiny blackness being out of place next to the time-worn cottage. A visitor from outside was rare enough, but being at the Babi's cottage was almost unheard of. It gave Jess enough caution to knock at the front door rather than simply entering as she had done as a child.
Viktor was startled at the knock, and opened the door to see Jess standing there. He looked her up and down.
"Can I help you?"
"I'm here to see Babi Cheshka," said Jess. "I am here to look after her."
"That's not necessary. I am here to take care of her."
"It's not your choice," said Jess, and started to push her way inside.
Viktor blocked her from coming inside. "Just who in the hell do you think you are?"
"I am Jess, daughter of Monica, and grand-niece of the Babi. And who in the hell do you think you are?" she said hotly.
"I am Viktor Lepescu. This is my grandmother's house, and you have no right to be here."
"I have every right to be here. I have a long-standing invitation from the Babi."
Viktor was about to argue more when his grandmother spoke up. "Jess? Is that you child? Come here."
Jess's demeanor turned from anger to concern as she dropped her basket by the door and went to the Babi's side.
Jess looked at Babi's eyes, her pupils dilated to almost total blackness.
"Your pupils are so big, Babi."
"It just makes you look all the more lovely, my dear."
"And your teeth..."
"I know, my dear. It is my time."
"Hush child, it is already done. Viktor has been kind enough to help ease my passage."
"But he... he cannot..."
"He already has, child. I am sorry."
And Babi Cheshka slipped into unconsciousness.
Jess and Viktor watched over her while the day turned into night and her breathing became slower and shallower, and finally, just before midnight, she breathed her last, peaceful breath. Viktor was the first to break the silence.
"Well, cousin," said Viktor. "It seems that there is little more for you to do here." He stood up and motioned to the couch. "Because it is so late, you can stay the night."
"There are many details that need to be taken care of, Viktor."
"I will take care of them, cousin."
"You are not prepared for the things that need to be done..."
"Shut the hell up, cousin," Viktor said. "My grandmother is dead. I was her only living family, and I will choose what needs to be done."
Jess just stared at him, dark hatred starting to burn in her eyes.
"You hold onto the old ways because it's what you know, it's what you were tought. Well, cousin, the world is big outside of this forest, and it doesn't believe in the old ways anymore. I will bring the new world in, and we will all become part of it."
Jess slowly shook her head. "It is not yours to decide, Viktor."
"The hell it's not. Grandmother owned the forest and all of the land surrounding it. What was hers is now mine, and I. Will. Choose."
"You really do not understand, Viktor," Jess said, standing to put her cloak on. "The Babi did not own the Dark Forest. The Dark Forest owned the Babi. And now the Dark Forest owns you."
"Bullshit. Old world bullshit."
"Then try to leave, Lupescu."
Viktor stared at Jess for a minute, then grabbed his keys from the table and stormed outside. Jess followed, and watched as he opened the door of his shiny black car and tried to start it. There was no sound coming from the engine.
"What did you do to my car, you bitch?"
"Nothing, cousin. As I told you, the Dark Forest owns you now, and won't let you leave."
"I should kill you."
"Yes, you probably should. But you won't."
Viktor tried to take a step towards her and tripped, his feet entangled in strands of ivy.
"You see Viktor, the Dark forest has another name, a much older name. It is not just a place, it lives just as we do. Perhaps even more."
Viktor struggled against the ivy that was starting to tighten around him.
"The Babi is... was the servitor of the Dark Forest. The guardian, the protector from the ways of man. And the rite of succession can only be transferred upon her death to the one who takes her life."
Viktor turned pale.
"Yes, cousin. The Babi knew that you were poisioning her. Belladonna and Wolfsbane, I would suspect. She let it happen because she was tired, and wanted it to end. And I was to be the next, before you intervened. It was my duty to tend to her, to help her across that bridge to the next world. And now you have interfered with the succession."
Viktor stopped struggling, eyes wide with fear. Jess's eyes turned black, and her teeth started to elongate. Her voice began to turn to a low growl.
"It would perhaps be a good time for you to run, my cousin."
And Viktor began to scream as he ran.
In the LJ-Idol thingy, I was also paired with rattsu. It's a nice pairing.