It was Sunday morning.
Abuzz with activity, the orphanage readied itself for another visiting day. Hope was tangible in the air as the girls donned on their best clothes and decorated their hair with flowers. First, they would all go to the mandatory church service but after the sermon, they would return back here to hopefully be adopted by the prospective parents coming to visit.
It was a joyful event for everyone. Well, mostly everyone.
Already dressed in her baby blue muslin gown – the only precious attire in her possession– Elyse watched the children excitedly talk amongst themselves from the vacant corner of the dining hall she was currently monopolising. The gloomy countenance she had not managed to wipe off her face had sent away any friendly acquaintances from her table. She could not blame them. She had been in a sour mood for the last two days.
Something weighed heavily on her heart. Despite her active search of him, Azrael had not been present in her dreams lately. It was almost as if...the demon was avoiding her.
But that was ridiculous.
If she had overreached, she would like to seek amends. The abrupt ending of their last conversation had left a bitter taste in her mouth and she felt inexplicably guilty. Perhaps tonight she would find the courage to properly summon the creature, instead of waiting for him.
In the distance, bells rang signalling the end of breakfast. It was time to go to church.
"Get your elbows off the table, Elyse," a deep voice ordered from behind her. Behind her, Madame Tildi laid a soft hand on her shoulder. "What is the matter, child? Is my food not satisfactory?"
The bowl of porridge had been left untouched. Elyse turned to the chef. "No, Madame Tildi...I am a bit under the weather nowadays," she replied softly, not wanting to offend the woman's cooking.
A look of understanding crossed the lady's face. "Ahh, say no more, lass. This is one of the few advantages of my age. No more of that monthly curse." Elyse nodded. It was better to go along with it. Telling the chef that she had boy problems, let alone demon boy problems would not bode well for her. Also, the very idea of referring to Azrael as a demon boy was absurd. His intimidating figure was far from boyish.
Elyse snapped out of her thoughts when Madame Tildi spoke. "The HeadMistress is looking for you. She told me you must go see her today." For a moment, Elyse panicked. Had Sister Ann discovered? The older woman had been more than clear on her strict view of demons.
No. If she had, Sister Ann would have come herself to tell me. A breath of relief escaped her lungs.
Something warm was thrust into her palm then. Surprised, the looked down at the inviting muffin in her hand. "Go now. Do not tell the other girls, these are meant for the next meal in fact," Madame Tildi whispered, a kind smile gracing her harsh mouth.
Elyse thanked the other woman and hurried to catch up with the rest of the girls. In the distance, at the very front, Sister Ann was already herding the orphans on the way through the crowded streets.
She slowed her step and remained in the back, thankful for once of the crutch in her hands. She was not ready to face the HeadMistress' astute gaze and lie. She would probably never be.
Among the stragglers, she spotted a familiar short figure. The child was unusually quiet, her pace lacking the joviality of those her age who were currently playing their games at the very front of the group.
"Daisy," she called out. Scared doe eyes widened when she approached the little girl. "I have not seen you at breakfast today. Are you alright?" Elyse asked gently.
"I...," the child hesitated for a moment, "I was not hungry." A quiet rumbling noise came from Daisy's stomach then, betraying her words.
A dark thought was beginning to contour itself in the blonde's mind. It would break her heart if it were true.
"I have a spare muffin, here you are," Elyse took out the still warm pastry hidden in her reticule, happy to see a giddy joy take over Daisy's face. Tentative like a shy rabbit, the little girl grasped the muffin, watching Elyse for any sign of indecision. The blonde smiled encouragingly.
However, in the exchange, the girl's sleeve rode up her arm, revealing an ugly dark bruise on Daisy's skin. What cold monster would do such to a sweet child? Horrified, Elyse asked. "Daisy, who did this?!"
The brown-eyed child froze."N-No one," she stuttered.
"Daisy," the older girl's stern tone had the child lowering her eyes in embarrassment. "I am on your side," Elyse continued more softly. Her own childhood had been haunted by such cruel acts of abuse, she could not bear to see another's innocence tainted by bullies. "Rosanna or Marcella?" The two had avoided her almost religiously since the accident weeks ago.
Daisy shook her head, her braids swinging.
Taking a breath and mentally preparing herself for the answer, Elyse whispered. "Azrael...the demon?" Whatever the response, she hoped to be strong enough to accept it.
The child slowed her gait. She shook her head again.
Inexplicably, Elyse's soul felt lighter.
All of a sudden, Daisy grabbed her hand and stopped them from walking. Further ahead, the merry group of girls carried on walking towards the church.
"It was X-Xonia."
By the time they stepped foot in the church, Elyse was more than ready to find that viper and share some much needed heated words. Neither the permeating scent of burning incense nor the echoing tune of a distant bell did anything to calm her racing mind.
Unfortunately, Xonia was nowhere in sight today.
Crossing the threshold of the gate, she distantly felt someone' intense gaze at the back of her head. Curious, she turned around.
Mathias inclined his head in her direction. As the chancellor's heir, he was positioned in the very front row, those seats a privilege for the noble class. Some townsfolk in the church turned as well to see whom the future chancellor's was saluting. She blushed at the unwanted attention, silently cursing the handsome man.
Mathias should mind his own damn business. Already his possessive fiancee was scowling at her, leaning herself in his arms to gain his attention. Not one for drama, Elyse started to follow Daisy to seat themselves in a bench before the sermon started.
"Elyse, there is a seat over here," a motherly voice spoke out. It was Sister Ann calling her to the front rows. When the HeadMistress calls, one has to listen. Elyse sent her young friend a remorseful look and trudged to where she was called.
Thankfully, not on the same side as the capital's noble family. That would have been an uncomfortable situation.
"Good morning, Sister Ann," Elyse seated herself next to the dark skinned woman. The HeadMistress's eyes crinkled as she smiled in return. "How are you, my child?"
"I am well, thank you." Please no questions about Azrael.
"Hmm," a knowing twinkle appeared in the woman's wise gaze. "I will have you know that the gentleman is now looking this way." The blonde resisted the urge to shift in her seat, choosing to remain quiet. The burning in her cheeks confirmed it though.
The Sister bore a strange expression. "He even tried to hand me a written message for you." Slack-jawed, Elyse turned to the Sister. "May I see it then?" Curiosity would be her undoing one day.
The HeadMistress scoffed elegantly. "The man should have the decency to give his love confessions directly to the girl in question, not use a Sister as an intermediary," the scathing look Sister Ann threw to the left was probably meant for Mathias.
"Men have become none the wiser since my time," the Sister shook her head. "That boy is a step away from the holy confines of matrimony," she murmured, careful not to be overheard by the chancellor and his son.
Sister Ann petted Elyse's hand comfortingly. "You do not need that trouble in your life, my child. You deserve better." A brief instance of Azrael soothing her leg pains popped in her mind.
Ahh, I understand now. The HeadMistress was likely trying to assuage any heartache that Mathias' official betrothal to Yuria might have caused. A lifetime ago, she had cared. Many tears had been shed over it. But, she was no longer that child now. Intent was deeply appreciated, but thankfully not needed.
"Time had washed away any foolish infatuations," Elyse said. Her eyes drifted to the opposite bench. Indeed, the heart remained silent when the handsome noble held her gaze yet again.
A cold object was passed in her hand then. There in her fingers laid her silver pendant, the one memory from her grandfather. She had missed its weight around her neck. But, it came with a cost now.
"The pendant is heavily charmed. It will protect you from him now." Of course, Elyse knew who the Sister was referring to.
"Shall I help you put it on?" the HeadMistress asked, already leaning to clasp the chain.
Footsteps sounded in front of them and latin words filled the air. The sermon had begun.
And Elyse could not have been more grateful for the timing. Otherwise, how could she have told Sister Ann she might never wear her pendant ever again?
A perfectly arched eyebrow indicated the brunette’s disbelief. “I do wonder what he sees in your mousey appearance...,” she felt Xonia’s gaze burn like acid as it trailed over her form, inspecting her as a farmer does cattle. “Your breasts are not even fully bloomed yet,” a slim hand palmed one lightly. A red tint spread across Elyse's cheeks and shame reared its ugly head. Heading towards seventeen, her bosom had not suddenly grown like she had seen happen to other girls in the orphanage.
“Get off me, Xonia,” Elyse said calmly while trying to keep her rising insecurities at bay. Hurting her was exactly what the crazy wench wanted.
The other girl completely ignored her, maintaining her harsh grip. “Perhaps it is exactly this virginal allure that attracts the creature so, I had been right to choose you as his sacrifice. After all, darkness always longs to taint light,” a strange emotion glowed in Xonia’s blue gaze, making the blonde shiver.
She had previously considered Rosanna to be the meanest girl in the orphanage, but she had been gravely mistaken. There has always been something eerily cruel simmering just beneath the surface of this beautiful silent girl before her.
Elyse barred her teeth in warning as the other orphan leaned in and insidiously whispered in her ear.“Tell me, Gimpie, has he fucked you yet?” The crude words made the younger girl flinch further into the wall.
Xonia continued, pressing her body closer to hers. Elyse felt like suffocating. “He must have surely. He did not kill you, so he must have liked what he saw. Though, I have read that most accepted sacrifices do not survive the first night, but here you are all well, still alive," fingernails raked over the racing pulse in her captured wrists. "Hmm, his new toy must provide worthwhile entertainment each night then. This leg of yours makes you an easy lay, does it not?" with one foot, Xonia pushed the crutch out of reach, making it slam on the hardwood floor with a resounding thud. "I bet the demon loves the look of utter helplessness in your eyes as he ruts over you. Or perhaps it is face down, like a bitch in–”
Her right hand managed to slip through Xonia’s grasp and gave in to her bubbling instincts. To hell with dignity. The brunette’s face whipped to the side as Elyse slapped her as hard as she could.
The blonde still trembled with rage and humiliation as she watched the tall girl spit out a mouthful of bloody saliva on the old carpet.
"Azrael is far kinder a person than you shall ever be. Between him and you, I would not know who the real demon is," Elyse bit out, taking a step forward, despite her aching leg. The sudden adrenaline pumping though her veins had made her too reckless, though it was too late to stop now. "And stay away from Daisy!"
Recovering from the punch, Xonia straightened her back and unexpectedly grinned. The smile would have been elegant were it not for the blood still staining her gums. "Is he still playing that card? Poor, Poor Gimpie," the brunette sing-songed.
This viper knew nothing of Azrael. Nothing.
"Do not worry, he will bore of you," the pitying tone Xonia adopted made Elyse's blood simmer. Perhaps another slap was required, but she was wary that luck would not be on her side a second time to catch the taller girl unaware."After all, how much can a creature of sin obsess over a foolish virgin?"
Xonia turned her back and started to move down the hallway, still talking. "Then you shall end up like all the other Mistresses of demons." Growing distance distorted the older girl's parting words."In a shallow unmarked grave."
Did she hear that correctly?
Though veiled differently, a similar sentiment had been echoed by Sister Ann. Elyse froze for a moment, before she picked up her crutch and willed her legs to move in the opposite direction.