Milson McCrow's

Art's a funny thing.

Sometimes it just spews out of you, like you're painting up the walls. And other times, your mind hits a road block where the red and blue just don't seem to mix. It can be very, very frustrating.

Ellis Winston was in a rut. In Patterhead he was known to be a patient man—no, really, he was!—but this was ridiculous.

He clasped his head in his hands as he stared down at the blank piece of paper taunting him from the comfort of his own desk and, with a heavy sigh, ran his fingers through his unkempt brown hair. Around him, failed artworks, if he was permitted to call them such things, reposed, crumpled on the dirty, hardwood floor. Even the food shortage didn't seem to jump-start his brain!

He blew a lock of hair from his eyes, and stooped to sit on the rough wooden stool, picking up his horse-hair brush with faint hope. Maybe if he just put down color. . . .Ellis began to lower the brush—

Knock! Knock!

“Tch.” Ellis gritted his teeth as the vision vanished and, along with it, his hopes of a proper meal. But he would be a gentleman. That was what he was known as, and he had no intention of ruining his precarious social status.

He stood, striding purposefully towards the solid-built door of his home, and nimbly unfastened the deadbolt. “May I help you?” He didn't ask it to anyone in particular, just the person who knocked.

“Oh!” The newcomer started at the abrupt inquiry, nervously brushing his blonde hair from his eyes. “H-hello, Mr. Winston! I-I was just walkin' by when I saw your light was on . . . .” The boy, for that's what he was, looked at the floorboards anxiously.

Eyes softening as he got a good glance at the boy, Ellis smiled amiably, the corners of his eyes crinkling into crow's feet. “Always happy for you to stop by, Adari.” He ushered his young guest inside, dead-bolting the door behind him so as to make sure no unwanted guests slipped in by accident. “Sorry I can't offer you some tea and biscuits, but my stores are running low. But feel free to hang up your coat!” He gestured towards the coat rack near the door, where his own tattered cloak and cap hung.

“Oh, no, no!” Adari shook his head wildly, mud droplets flying from his hair. “I just heard ya' were havin' some trouble with yer art, s-so I thought I'd drop this off.” He held out a package wrapped in stained, brown tweed.

Reaching forward, Ellis took the gift from his young friend's hands, surprised when his arms sagged from the weight. “And what would this be?” He examined the package with critical eyes.

“Jus' an old tome from my master's library. I-I thought it'd be better used here than gatherin' dust on a bookshelf. Maybe it could give ya' some inspiration!”

Ellis smiled softly. “It's good to see you're moving on, Adari.” He placed a comforting hand on his friend's shoulder.

“Th-thanks.” The boy averted his gaze. “But I better get goin'. Don't wanna be out too late.” He shrugged the hand off.

Nodding sympathetically, the artist led him back to the door, unlocking it slower this time. “Be safe,” he said to the blonde as he stepped outside.

“I will.” Adari smiled a melancholy smile before he disappeared into the evening.

With a sigh, Ellis locked the door once more, tucking the package under his arm. Poor boy. He shook his head sadly.

The artist strode over to his desk, brushing aside the sheet of paper in order to make room for his new acquisition, and plopped down once more, placing the gift on the table's center. He carefully unfolded the wrapping's tucked corners with spindly artist's fingers and unceremoniously tugged the cloth away.

It was leather-bound, chestnut in color, and decorated by a copper engraving in the shape of a spiraling, wingless dragon, it's lifeless eyes flashing in the light of the kerosene lamp. Under the image, words were inscribed.

Ellis leaned closer.

Gaelic if he was correct. Sadly, the struggling artist could not read Gaelic. If he had, then things might have been different.

He absently swung the tome open, coughing lightly as dust billowed from its pages. He rubbed his eyes, but the action only inflamed the sclera further. Giving up, his eyes pink, he glanced down at the book. It had settled on a page about two-thirds of the way through, marked by a red satin ribbon. Elegant calligraphic scribbles, Gaelic again, covered the page's surface from corner to corner, but the stunning handwriting was dwarfed by the ink sketch drawn over it.

Ellis stared at the face glaring back at him, its visage in the middle of an angry snarl. If it weren't for the pictured man's expression, the artist would have admitted him to be rather handsome, even aristocratic with his angled jaw and cutting nose. His inky-black hair fell past his shoulders, tossed and wild, like the man had been sprinting against the wind mere moments before.

Leaning backwards to stretch, the artist sighed. The rumors had been correct. Adari's master really was into some dark stuff, and Ellis would never speak this to Adari, but he was kind of glad the man was dead. Patterhead didn't need someone like that roaming the streets. Of course, for all Ellis knew, the man had been a model citizen, just with a hobby off the beaten track. Ellis never had met him, after all.

The artist pursed his lips as he distractedly began to scribble with a pen on the nearest blank sheet of paper, not even bothering to glance at his creation-in-progress as he instead chose to examine the book's strange picture.

It was drawn entirely in ink, other than the man's eyes. What very strange eyes. . . .done up in emerald green, but speckled with sapphire and amethyst. Very life-like. It almost made him jealous, but he was quick to push the feeling away. Jealous of a picture! Could you believe it? He really was in a rut.

Irately, Ellis ripped his gaze from the black-haired man in favor of his own painting. Perhaps his absence of thought had produced something worthwhile.

He frowned.

The same inky-haired man stared back at him, multicolored eyes identical to the pair in the book. However, this man appeared to be in the middle of shouting gleefully, his brow in a sinister crease, and most certainly not snarling angrily. His hand was outstretched with painted black nails as an embellished raven cloak trimmed with fur billowed around his lithe form. How very strange.

Now, Ellis was not particularly fond of the man with raven hair and shining eyes, but nutrition was far more important than personal feelings. Besides, if it sold as well as it looked, he'd be rid of the thing in no time.

With images of hot Colcannon—a dish of mashed potatoes with kale or cabbage—drifting through his mind, Ellis Winston picked up his pen and scrawled his signature across the lower-right corner of his newest work.


Ellis Winston


He sighed contentedly and closed his eyes. He could practically smell the Colcannon brimming over from Miss Kerrigan's stew pot, filling the air of Milson McCrow's with sweet aroma—

Slowly, a superior smirk crossed Ellis's face, stretching the edges of his face up in an unnatural manor. “Colcannon, eh? Sounds good,” he trilled in a honey-silk voice, an exotic accent turning up the ends of the words and punching the consonants. Leaning forward, he trailed his spidery fingers across the ink lines of the artist's piece.

He blinked Ellis's eyes, newly bejeweled irises scintillating in the lamplight, and smiled chastely as the image's gleeful visage melted into a horrified expression, multicolored light draining from its eyes to be replaced by slate blue.

“Thanks, for the tip Mr. Winston.”

The picture did not respond.

With a yawn, the man stood, leisurely rotating his wrists as he stretched upwards, grinning as he heard his vertebrae pop. “Ah! Now, that's the feeling.” Bending back down, he took up the sketch between his thumb and index finger. “Hope you like you're new home, Mr. Winston.” A nail coalesced in his hand as the man held the picture up to the wall. With merely a flick of his hand, he hammered the nail into the wood, pinning the image up neatly. He stepped back, playfully cupping his chin in a Thinker's pose. “Quite lovely!” he decided with a snap of his fingers.

The man twirled around on his heel, having lost interest in the artwork, and strolled towards the door, snatching Ellis's old cap from its hanger on the way past. With a flick of his hand, the door snapped open and he shrugged on his new wardrobe. But as he stepped out into the night, he paused, a sly sneer marring his features. “Thanks for the assistance, Mr. Winston. Don't think I could've done it without you.” The door slammed behind him.

He sauntered down the cobble-stone road, a smirk on his face as he reveled in the novel sensations.

“Master!”

The man glanced over his shoulder.

A young blonde bounded up beside him, green eyes alight. “Is that you?”

“Ah, there you are, Adari!” The elder clapped his hands together as a Cheshire-like smile spread across his face. “Miss me?”

“Oh, yes, most cert'inly, sir!” The blonde nodded furiously as he performed a sloppy bow.

“Quite good I'm back, then. Wouldn't want you getting depressed or anything of the sort.” His heels clicked on the pavement. “But enough of this sappy speech! We really must be on to business.”

“Yes, sir!”

“Firstly, we must replace this hat.” He threw a disgusted glance upwards. “Top hats suit me much better, you know, but I just don't feel quite right without a hat on my head. I trust you haven't moved much around in my absence?”

“I'd not even dream of it.” Adari's eyes crinkled in a smile. “Everything's as ya' left it, Master Ceallach!”

Ceallach grinned and raised his chin to look at the sky. “Very good. But before we head back to the mansion—“ He swiped his tongue across his lips. “—ever heard of a spot called Milson McCrow's?”





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