I lay on the bed I was assigned to, staring up at the black canopy outlined in blood red tassels that dangled from every inch of the skirt of the canopy bed curtains. I removed my glasses and sighed.
’Sieluni, what’s going on?’
‘The BladeRunners collected on the arrangement. I’m in the manor.’
′How are you?′ A rolling sensation circulated under my skin.
′I’m...uncertain. I’m never where I expect the Gods to place me, but I must be here for a reason.′ I sat up, moved from the bed and began to pace my room in front of my curtains that led out to the balcony, overlooking the garden. I walked out onto the balcony and inhaled deeply. The fresh crisp air of winter cleared my mind a bit, as a welcomed clean breeze. ′What do you need?′ His tone suggested he wasn’t happy with this arrangement.
‘I need you to trust me. See me when it’s safe. Can you do that?’
′I will, when I return from the palace.′ He promised.
‘Once I see my task through, I will come running.’ My thought was comforting. There was an end to this.
’Let me figure out my task and complete it.’ My hands were clasped together, and my forearms rested on the railing. The garden was beautiful and a perfect accent to Sol’s journey to slumber. The pinks and purples of the flowers below matched the pinks and purples of Sol’s wake.
′Any theories? ′ Gabe poked.
′Not yet.′ I gave a mental shove.
′Message received, Sieluni. That doesn’t mean I’m leaving.′
′Come when you can, and we’ll figure this out.′
‘Do you really want to do this? I can come get you-’
‘You and I will have to accept that this is a new normal for a while, and we’ll make it work.’
‘I trust you.’
Dr. BladeRunner was working late into the night at her hospital. Lord BladeRunner was in a meeting with the some of the somehow even higher-ups in the Hunter hierarchy. Derek was out on a search mission, earning his stripes to prove himself useful to the community he proudly represented. Erik had disappeared after we returned from our trip to Isabelle’s ski resort. That avalanche must have shaken him. Or I had shaken him.
′I hadn’t considered myself scary.′ I crossed the grand hall and traveled until I found the door that lead out into the garden. I knelt before a dying patch of blue flowers that typically didn’t survive the winter.
“What do you think, little one? Am I scary?” I removed my glove and felt the cool rush of magic leave my body and flow into the flower I held. The shrub itself began to shimmer. Wilting buds bloomed into beautiful Hydrangea-bushels. The magic spread from bush to bush and brought the sleepy, dying garden to life right before mine and Nyana’s eyes.
The flowers were vibrant and still bathing in the afterglow of magic but dimmed as Nyana began her journey across a lightly star-flecked sky. My hand fell to my side, the plant life tickled my bare hand, reaching out for me. I stopped and lightly held the leaf of the dying roses. Cool magic rushed under my skin and flowed out like water. The little plant began to glow an iridescent green, standing straighter. It was impressive how the rose section of the garden had survived the colder season. Sol had all but vanished, however Nyana was late to her post in the audience for the stars.
“I’ll take that as a ‘no’.” I beamed at the plant-life. “You all seem much better now. Enjoy your show. The stars seem especially bright tonight.” My gloved hand brushed over a dying bush of roses as the glass door leading out to the garden opened. I spun in place to find my balcony doors open. I ran around the fountain that blocked my path to the glass door and pressed my back to a tree trunk.
“Good to see you, as usual.” Erik’s voice was flat.
“How are things going with your...bride?" Derek snorted.
“We’re adjusting. Planning for the wedding may prove a useful distraction.” Erik sounded like he shrugged.
“Don’t drain your sliver of the inheritance into it. It’s all you get.” Derek laughed. My hands balled into fists.
“What do you plan to do with your inheritance, oh, twenty-five or so years from now?” I could hear Erik roll his eyes.
“Twenty-five. Sure...” Derek snickered. “Take father’s place on the Council. First born son and all.” I peeked out from around the tree to see Derek toy with a sharp boot knife that shined as if freshly polished.
“Cyrene and I will live quietly somewhere. She likes travel, maybe we’ll go see some places.” Erik assured.
“You’ll never be a Hunter. I can’t believe we share DNA.” Derek dismissed. When their backs were turned, I rushed to the side and launched myself out of the bushes. I used wind to propel me forward and catapulted myself onto the balcony that connected to my room. I rushed into my dark room and all but slammed the door. I leaned against it and breathed heavily.
′That was exciting. ′ Gabe tried to keep it positive.
′I dropped my guard. I won’t do that again.′ I placed my hand over my heart and slid to the ground.
′Trusting you...′ Gabe warned.
′They didn’t see me.′ I assured and stood myself on shaky legs. ′That was close, too close.′ I listened for the voices in the garden. Once it seemed clear, I opened the balcony door and walked back out to see the garden. There was no one wandering the garden under Nyana’s light.
The garden was a gorgeous work of art I was lucky enough to appreciate, luckier still from the comfort of my “new room”. Months ago, I was pulled from the woods, to find my family. Hours ago, I was taken from my family and brought to a new family to join. I lifted myself onto the railing, dangling my legs over the edge and closed my eyes. The air was clean and crisp, a benefit of living close to a garden.
’What is my purpose? Why have you brought me to a highborn Hunter’s family?′ A knock on my door pulled me from my prayer.
“Come in.” I glanced over my shoulder to see Erik in a loose black undershirt and red sweatpants. “Hello, Erik.” I greeted, flatly.
“Hello. I see you unpack quickly.” A little hope flared in his bright blue eyes. I pursed my lips.
“I didn’t bring much, this time, I’ll filter my stuff in here as we go. Perhaps the twins could swing by and drop off the last of my things, if they’re permitted on the grounds?” I suggested. Surely, a family of Hunters wouldn’t deny me visitation of my family.
“Not without BladeRunner permission. Leo is more likely since he is an add-on to Isabelle. You are not granted the same freedoms. It’s in the contract.” His eyes dropped toward the plush white carpet.
“May I see the contract? See what signed our lives away?” I requested.
“I’m not allowed to see it either.” he shook his head. “In other matters, I’m here to invite you to spar in the gym with me. I want to know what you know.” he mentioned.
“You want to fight me?” I nearly fell off the balcony with the snort that followed.
“Yes.” he confirmed. ′Is this how Hunters bonded? Is this how the twins bonded, or Isabelle and Leo? Strange customs.′
"I don't fight." I waved him off and chuckled to hide my hardened stomach.
"I saw you take down the yeti." he confessed. "I saw you rip out the yeti's heart, and take the bullet out from Theo's chest. You fight, don't lie to me." he argued.
“Let me get ready.” I agreed.
An hour later, we were in the gym that resided in the east wing. I lunged forward, missing him by seconds. I caught myself on my hands and pushed off. Landing unsteadily on my feet, I took too long to settle before I felt a tap on my shoulder. I tensed and turned to see a fist consume my field of vision and soon stars danced before me. The thud of my body hitting the padded floor echoed in the empty gym.
“Gale?...Gale...?” Erik knelt beside me. A cool rush of magic blossomed in my nose. I sent an upper cut punch to his jaw. The impact echoed throughout the gym, followed soon by his body’s thud against the padded floor.
“Still an overly informed human?” I bounced on my toes, and I let lose a few jabs in the empty air before me.
“You’re a little audacious.” A wry smile escaped him.
I dared to step within arm's reach of him. He swung a leg up to my side which I quickly blocked with a lifted leg curled against my side. He swept my supporting leg out from under me. I caught myself in a handstand and pushed off. I landed straddling him which forced some air out of his lungs, and his arms were pinned under my legs. He was breathing hard, and his skin shined with sweat, highlighted by the harsh lights that hung overhead. His left eye began to blacken. I had nailed him with a mean right hook, much to my pride and his pain.
‘Enjoying the view?’ That sounded bitter.
’I understand sweat is made of different bodily liquids, but it shines on the skin like water. Think I can manipulate it? ′
‘Do you really want to?’
‘Not particularly.’ I decided. I refocused back to the scene before me. I planted my hands on either side of his head and leaned in close. “You have not yet begun to see audacious.” I whispered in his ear. “You won’t be able to open it for three days unless it’s tended to. The sooner the better.” I kicked off the mat once stable on my hands I planted my shoes back onto the mat and stretched my arms over my head. I yawned. “When’s lunch? Or may I raid the kit-?” My arms that I stretched overhead were held at an awkward angle and a foot met the back of my knees. I folded in on myself, my arms held away from my body, and I felt a hand grip the back of my neck to pin my head down. I lost air and all ability to express noise.
“Neither of us called an end to the match.” Erik reminded me; his voice strained. He was right. I had assumed victory too soon. I moved my face enough to see the mirror I fell before. Erik had me firmly in his grasp and met my false brown eyes in the mirror’s reflection. I should have been paying attention. The mirror would have been an excellent warning sign.
“You win. I yield.” I ground out from between my teeth. Pain began to pool in my left eye, and some moved to the right side of my jaw. Erik’s firm grip on my wrists loosened a bit. I felt him move away and collapse to the padded floor behind me. I shakily stood myself up, gripping a bar in front of the mirror for support as my left eye throbbed and my free hand flew to it. Erik stood on equally unstable legs and put one hand to his head, his blue eyes glazed over a bit, though I could see him fight to focus.
“Are you well?” he breathed heavily and rested his hands on his knees to stabilize himself and regain his breath.
“I’ll recover. You, ok?” I felt my body adjust and smooth over my imbalances, so I no longer required the bar for support. I made my way over to him, wobbled a little but managed to steady myself long enough to grab his arm and move to support most of Erik’s unease. “I gotcha.”
“Yeah, a little lightheaded.” he admitted.
“That’s what healing feels like sped up.” I whispered for his ears alone. He froze for a bit.
“That was kind of you, but unnecessary.” His panting had slowed back to a nearly normal breathing pattern.
“I didn’t choose to heal you this time.” I told him stiffly. He grew quiet after that. After a moment he straightened himself and all but pushed me off and insisted on some distance.
“Let’s break for lunch.” Erik tossed a towel in my direction and fixed his grey beanie. I grabbed my gym bag from beside the door. “I’ll meet you in the dining room.” he flung his towel over his shoulder and left without another word.
The bathroom connected to my room was made of brilliant black marble with gold specs inside. I set up the shower and hesitated on the black shampoo hair dye Theo brewed that maintained dyed hair. I turned around to see my reflection in the mirror.
The long black hair that framed me as the near carbon copy of my mother hung from a low ponytail but set in a way to cover the empty gold sun on my forehead.
My father came out in my facial features, and it gave me some relief. Theo also came out of my face as I wore the glasses that tainted my eyes to match his dark brown. Once my glasses were removed, I saw Alan with perfect clarity. My dark purple eyes, near black, stared back at me. I rubbed the makeup off my forehead to peer at the sun, branded there in gold. Despite missing my white hair, it was nice to see me again, if only for a moment.
The shampoo reinforced the black dye in my hair and my foggy glasses masked my eyes. I was once again Cyrene DarkArrow. This became a part of my new routine. Wake up, spar, shower, eat, and tend to the family garden between the thirteenth hour and the fifteenth hour.
A wide spread of fruit, sliced in colorful patters lay in their own section across the grand dining room table. There was a whole section dedicated to pancakes and waffles, following all the syrup flavors lined up like soldiers awaiting orders. Everything was organized and colorful in its presentation. I built my plate and took a seat across from Erik. Breakfast was quiet, aside from the scraping of forks and slurping of liquids.