Chapter 1 - Part 1
AISLIN: THE ESCAPE
I felt cold wisps of air claw at my skin. Shivering, I pulled the covers beneath my chin, but staying warm was futile. I laid half awake and half lost in another world, blurred between reality and dreams. Cold, weak, and tired, all I wanted was to be left alone.
The treading of shoes against the floor echoed, followed by hushed voices. An exaggerated sigh was quickly overcome by a yawn as I opened my eyes. I blinked a few times, adjusting to the moonlight filtering in through the makeshift window in the wall. With night swallowing the room in darkness, there wasn’t much to see. The tiny cave-like room was sterile, like a hospital room, and only one other piece of furniture adorned the room; an old wicker chair.
“Shhh...you don’t want to wake her.”
“I still don’t see what the big fuss is all about. I mean, compared to everyone else she drags here, she seems pretty normal.”
Startled by the sudden whisper of voices, I stopped breathing. Unsure who they were talking about, I remained quiet. Their voices echoed but sounded like they were right next to me. I hoped whoever they were, they would leave and not bother me.
“Amelia, quiet! We could get in trouble for being here.”
“Nonsense. Who comes down here anyway?”
The soft-spoken words were haunting and followed by the smallest gulp of a nervous swallow. Shaking off the night chill, I leaned forward, sitting up.
I crumpled back onto the bed as a searing pain shot across my right side. Clamping my eyes shut to keep the tears at bay, I bit my lip to keep from screaming any louder. I rested my hand against my side as if to draw out the pain.
“Did you hear that?”
I kept my sharp inhale as quiet as possible. Though my effort did not go without a few salty tears streaking down my face. Resting my head against the wall, I mentally tried to fight off the onslaught of a splitting headache.
“It sounded like it came from her room.”
“Oh, don’t be such a sissy, Clarice.”
Catching my breath, I opened my eyes and looked in the direction the voices were coming from. A wooden door hung there, framed by the stone archway.
Ahhh....Well, there goes that escape route. I sighed.
A more detailed look around the room revealed pale walls. Even the floors reflected back the moonlight. I reached out and let my fingers slide over the polished stone. Alabaster. I now understood why it felt so cold and damp. I was practically in a cave.
Averting my gaze to the only other piece of furniture in the room - the chair - I made out a lumpy form. Focusing, I began to pick apart the shadowed lumps as clothes.
Oh, this isn’t good.
As realization dawned on me, my cheeks burned with embarrassment. Seeing my clothes draped over the chair, I reached to scratch my arms and then my legs. That’s when I looked down and saw the itchy fibers of what once used to be a blanket clothing my naked body. I sighed, thankful for what little privacy I had.
Pursing my lips, I gaged the distance between the bed and the chair. It couldn’t be more than twenty or so steps but the searing the pain in my right side made it look like a twenty-mile hike. Taking a deep breath and nearly choking in the process, I scrunched my nose at the musty odor of the room. How come I hadn’t noticed that before?
The sharp tapping of heels halted any further thoughts of getting up out of bed. With each step, the tapping became clearer, like a chiming bell. And then a chilling voice broke through, ricocheting off the corridor walls.
“What are you two doing down here? Get back to your rooms before I have you thrown into the white room.”
My breathing hitched as the tapping of heels stopped outside my door. The scurrying footfalls of the two girls quickly subsided down the hallway. It left me wondering what my fate would be. I waited in silence, cowering beneath the ratty blanket. What if she opened the door and found me awake?
The wait was torturous. Anxiousness fluttered in my stomach, awaiting the door to fly open. How long did she plan on standing outside my door? What was she waiting for?
And then just as she had come, she left. I didn’t detect the burning in my lungs until I exhaled the breath I was holding.
How bizarre was that?
For the first few seconds, my chest felt heavy as I tried to calm down. That was too close for comfort. The silence that followed was welcoming. My heart wasn’t beating erratically and my breathing steadied. I was slow to prop myself up and leaned up against my pillow. I felt my face contort as my side pulsed, reminding me of the aching pain in my side. At least it didn’t come as a shock to me this time.
I found my gaze wandering over to where my clothes were piled on the chair and sighed. The feat ahead was a little weighty and I put it off for as long as I could.
Shivering, I pulled the blanket aside and revealed a bandaged abdomen. The sterile bandage was stained with blood and I couldn’t help but wonder what I had done to receive such a nasty wound.
Taking a slow deep breath, I stood up, keeping a hand on the bed while I tested my legs. A little wobbly, but it wasn’t enough to keep me from crossing the room. When I reached the chair, a small triumphant smile spread across my face. I was one more step closer to escaping this asylum-like room. I bit my lip to keep from making a sound as I slipped into my shirt and leaned against the wall to pull my pants on. Just being dressed in my own clothes was comforting.
Grabbing my bag that had been buried beneath my clothes, I was relieved to see it was untouched. Or at least it looked that way. I scrounged for the one and only thing that mattered to me. It was a simple gemstone locket my mother had given me before my parents were taken from me nearly a decade ago.
Where was that dumbfounded thing?
Hanging my bag upside down, in a last attempt, I shook it, scattering all its contents on the floor. The clattering of miscellaneous items made me cringe.
Holding my breath and squeezing my eyes shut, I waited for someone to come bolting through the door. But the door remained shut. My muscles relaxed as I exhaled and looked around the room. I was running out of time. I scanned the contents for my mother’s locket. But it wasn’t there.
Don’t panic, Aislin. It has to be here somewhere.
It just has to be.
In one last hopeful effort, I glanced into the bottom of my bag. Restraining a squeal of delight, I watched as it dangled from a snagged position. But that wasn’t what caught my attention. I inhaled sharply as I noticed a piece of paper attached to the locket. It was addressed to me.
Hugging myself against the chill, I rubbed my arms, trying to generate some body warmth. I stared at the note, leery. I had no one close to me who would leave a note addressed to me. Plus, who knew I was here? Where was I, anyway?
More curious about who it might be from and why it was attached to my locket, I hesitantly reached for it. The paper crinkled against the deafening silence as I unfolded it. The message was short and simple.
If you want answers, come and find me.
The sound of footsteps first caught my attention, then her voice accompanied by a male’s. In one sweep of my arm, all my possessions were shoved back into my bag. My time had run out. With no electricity in the room, all I had was the moonlight shining through the small window. I cringed at the idea of having to squeeze through the small hole, but I didn’t see any other options.
Grabbing the rickety old chair, I placed it beneath the hole and sent up a quick prayer. The clatter of metal on metal snapped my head in the direction of the door. It was now or never. Taking a tight hold of the bags’ shoulder strap, I climbed onto the chair, careful to avoid the worn center.
“Her surgery went well. She will be able to start her training within the next couple of days.”
“Glad to hear that, doctor. She is especially important and I can’t have anything go wrong. We have waited too long already.”
It was as if dark talons emerged from the shadows and tightened their hold on me. There was a wrenching gut feeling and I suddenly felt nauseous. More petrified than I remember ever being, I took one last look at the window and knew what I had to do.
Keeping a sturdy hold on my shoulder strap, I slipped my bag through the hole. I had no clue how high up I was, but I wasn’t about to chance losing the only thing that still connected me to my mother.
Gritting my teeth, I used what little strength I had left to pull myself up through the tiny opening. The effort it took erupted an agonizing cry from my lips as I felt my wound split open. But I had to escape. It was the only thing on my mind as I pushed myself completely through the hole. As I fell, landing hard in a patch of brush, as shriek from the woman spewed from her mouth and followed me out the tiny hole.
“Well, just don’t stand there, you idiot! Call for the Hounds!”
In a thunderous exit, the door to my room slammed shut, and soon after I heard the howl of hounds. Taking a deep and steady breath, I rose to my feet. I placed my free hand over my wound, feeling fresh blood on my fingers. Off in the distance, across the field, was a dense forest. That was my destination.
Climbing from the bushes, I recognized the ruined building as an old cathedral. Though glorious back in its time, it now stood weathered from centuries of use. Turning back towards the forest, I started jogging. The further I could distance myself from her hounds, the safer I would be.
The howling of hounds was quickly drowning all hope I had. The adrenaline of fear pumped through my veins. I was no longer limping along, but running for my life. The sounds that rang in my ears were nothing but howls of terror. My heart was about to burst from my chest. My lungs were burning hot, I thought they would explode and my legs felt like jelly. What if I didn’t make it to the tree-lined forest in time? What would happen to me?
Don’t think that. You can do it! I thought, trying to reassure myself.
The ground rumbled beneath me with each powerful stride the hounds took. Tripping over my own feet, the bitter taste of grass permeated my taste buds.
I was so weak and tired, getting up was useless, even though I was so close. My side was throbbing and I felt a few fresh dribbles of blood trickle down my side. My breathing was labored and all I could think about was what was going to happen to me?
Closing my eyes, I could almost feel the hot breath of the hounds on my neck. I was close to passing out, probably from loss of blood, when the yelp of a hound pierced the night air. Confused, I opened my eyes just in time to see an ungodly beast crumple next to me.
In one gust of air, I watched his snarling maw go limp before his menacing eyes went void. His mangy fur was the only thing left dancing in the light breeze. I wanted to scream, but there was just no energy left.
It’s companion snarled, brilliant white fangs under the moonlight. Menacing silver eyes locked on something behind me, hidden in the forest. Within two shakes of its head, the hound reluctantly retreated back to the old cathedral.
Everything after that point blurred together.
“Don’t worry. You’re safe now...”
The voice was soft and calming, but the words jumbled together and I could barely make them out. Before I passed out, I promised myself one thing; I would find this Destiny person if it was the last thing I did.