The moment the demonic entity disappeared, Elyse dashed out of the basement. Or at least tried to move as quickly as possible, given her limp and frayed nerves. Even her reliable crutches had been forgotten in her mad haste. By the time she had realised their loss, the cellar was too haunting of a place to return to.
The ordeal had definitely left its ugly mark on her once adventurous nature. A mark that would continue bleeding for as long as the monster remained in her life.
With a resounding bang, she closed the trap door and leaned her still shaking frame on the nearest wall. What a terrible evening that had turned out to be...From believing demons were just a bed tale for disobedient children to becoming such a beast’s Mistress. Or whatever Azrael had so fervidly claimed her to be–she had no inkling as to what the title even entailed.
I need to make sure the girls are indeed alive. Although the monster’s eyes had showed no deceit, Elyse would be a fool to trust him. Not after experiencing his misplaced morbid sense of justice.
Tiredly peeling her form from the wall, she went in search of Rosanna. Worry started gnawing at her insides when the girl was nowhere to be found.
Walking past eerily empty dorms, the sound of clattering pots downstairs drew her attention. A sigh of relief passed her lips. She should have guessed–everyone in the orphanage was probably preparing dinner, a habit Sister Ann, the institute’s motherly principal, had ingrained in them.
She looked outside the window. The bleeding sun was setting over the kingdom. She had to hurry.
She finally found Rosanna in the dinning hall. The young woman was dusting off the dishware for the upcoming meal, doing quite a poor job of it. Lost in her own world, Rosanna robotically rubbed the cleaning cloth over and over the same plate, mindless to the stares she was receiving from others.
“Rosanna,” Elyse stepped forward from her hiding spot. Immediately, haunted hazel eyes found her and the girl ceased all movement, the forgotten plate smashing unceremoniously on the wooden floor. Just like their sanity shattered that night.
Rosanna was staring at her like she had seen a ghost.
“Rosanna, you are alive,” relief flooded her voice. “I need to talk to–”
“Don’t,“instead of the mocking tone Rosanna usually addressed her with, now her voice came out trembling. The frightened girls’ gaze darted wildly around, as if she were hapless prey in the presence of a bloodthirsty predator. The very though was laughable. At her short stature and thin frame, Elyse could never pose danger to anyone, especially not to the tall older teenager.
“Please, I just want to clear what–,” Elyse tried again.
“Do not come closer. Leave me alone, please.” The sight before her was pitiful indeed. Her once cruel tormentor was now visibly shaking because of her. Or was it because of her? Watching more closely, Elyse noticed that the older girl’s gaze was actually not trained on her, but on something behind her. It was a subtle difference that chilled her blood.
Cautiously turning, she observed nothing but the old stone fireplace burning peacefully in its hearth. There was no living soul behind her.
However, the other girl seemed to believe otherwise. Giving her another terror-filled look, Rosanna sprinted away from the dining hall. She would have wanted to follow her and inquire more about the summoning, but her fragile knees strongly disagreed.
Sighing, she made her way towards the entrance of the orphanage. Furtively passing past Madame Tildi’s kitchen, a lovely old lady who would have undoubtedly forbidden her to go out at night, Elyse finally stepped foot outside.
She needed to find answers after all.
The summer air was heavy with the lovely fragrance of the moonflowers lining the balconies and the occasional spicy aroma of ale wafting from the many taverns on the street. The peculiar combination was one she had come to enjoy and associate with the nocturnal life of the kingdom’s capital.
Delaying no further, she began her way to the church. Without her crutches, walking was slower than usual. Due to heat and physical effort, her grey dress clung to her rapidly perspirating skin. Worse, she could swear someone was watching her. Though dim light still governed the skies, shadows invaded the corners of the cobbled path, each reminding her of the obsessed demon. She increased her pace.
When one of the dark shadows moved towards her, Elyse was ready to shout for help. She would be grateful even for some drunken fools zigzagging their way back home than Azrael appearing.
The shadow touched her hand. She sucked in her breath.
“Still scared of the dark, Elyse?” Stepping into the light of the nearby street lamp, Samuel grinned teasingly. A few years younger than her, her friend was still a child in many ways despite his tall lanky frame. After travelling since birth with a circus, he had finally settled with his aunt in the capital. Two misunderstood souls, the two had swiftly become friends.
“Still playing bad jokes, Samuel?” She retorted grumpily, though she was glad to see him.
“Always guilty of that,” he winked, his exotic sun kissed features reminding her why so many of the noble girls already trailed after him. Suddenly, the boy stepped back and squinted his eyes.
“Something is different about you tonight.” His tone was mysterious.
Her heart stopped for a few painful beats. Could Samuel possibly detect what blasphemy had transpired tonight? He and his aunt were supposedly the only ones with the gift in their bloodline. Alora occasionally read people’s palms and played tarot cards, while her nephew performed magic tricks. But they were just innocent frauds earning coins to survive or were they not?
After tonight, Elyse was not so sure anymore. “I believe I am just more tired than usual. Rosanna and her army are getting harder to manage,” she replied evasively.
Samuel did not look like he believed her, but he nodded resignedly. “One of these days, Aunt Alora is gonna turn those into ugly toads. Until then, where off to now, my Lady?” He bowed dramatically, making her snicker.
“To the church,” she replied.
“At last we are eloping, aren’t we?” Samuel puffed out his chest, trying to be appear more mature than his fourteen year old self. “I have to warn you I forgot the rings though,” he cheekily said.
Elyse laughed. The boy always knew how to make her smile.
Inside the chapel, a soft peaceful quietude ruled. The aromatic scent of incense tickled her nose and induced a state of relaxation. Looking at the stunning stained glass depicting benevolent guarding angels and joyful cherubs, she could almost make herself believe she was safe.
Gliding down the aisle, she chose a lonely bench near the altar to seat herself and meditate. No repenting souls were in the church at this hour. Samuel was waiting for her outside. Yet the feeling of being watched never ceased. A foolish though whispered that maybe her pleas were listened to and a sympathetic deity would grant a miracle. However, she knew better. The eyes stalking her felt too intrusive, too possessive.
Her gloomy thoughts were interrupted by a gravelly quiet voice. “Greetings, child.”
Elyse turned around and inclined her head respectfully. The priest was an old gentle man with an eternally understanding smile and warm crinkled eyes. She had only seen him from afar when she attended the ceremonies with the other orphan girls, but rumour had it he was indeed a man of God.
At present, he was her only hope.
“Greetings, Father. I apologise for the late hour.”
“The doors of the church are open anytime to anyone,” he smiled. “What burdens your young eyes in such a way, child?”
“I have–” Elyse hesitated. She tried again. “Father, do you believe in the existence of demons?” Saying it out loud, it sounded foolish even to her ears.
The Father took a seat adjacent to hers. His deep blue eyes seemed ageless and all-knowing. “Of course.” Faith in salvation bloomed in her heart. “Demons are omnipresent in this world, existing side by side to kindness. They are the seven deadly sins preying every mortal’s thoughts.”
The Father’s explanation made her hope plummet to the ground. He did not believe. Dejectedly, she asked again. “But actual demons, not metaphorical ones, are they real?” Of course, she already knew the answer too well.
The kind priest shook his head. “No child, they do not.”
She let hear head fall in defeat, her blonde locks momentarily hiding her from the chaotic world. A tender touch feathered against her back. “I fear my answers have disappointed you, Child. What presses you so?”
“I feel helplessly alone in the face of my troubles,” she confessed softly and raised herself from the wooden bench.
“You are never alone, God never deserts you,” the priest said. “It pains my heart to watch you go like this. But remember, it is always darkest before dawn, Child. I shall pray for you.” Out of nowhere, the Father thrust a bottle in her hands.
Raising questioning eyes to him, he answered: “Holy water. It shall protect you from dark thoughts.”
“Thank you, Father. Do you have more?”
Maybe Elyse could find a purpose to her visit after all.
She found Samuel just where she had left him outside. The boy was unrooting rebellious wisps of grass arising between the cobbled stone where he seated cross-legged. He agilely jumped to his feet when he saw her exiting the chapel.
“Found the answers you were looking for?”
“Not precisely,” she answered sadly. They started their walk back to the orphanage, Samuel noticeably shortening his steps to not leave her behind.
“That is because the answers are right in front of you,” he pointed towards himself and wiggled his eyebrows. Unfortunately, this time she was too weary to be cheered up. The teenager continued more seriously ” You should visit come visit Aunt Alora, Elyse. Maybe she could help you. She considers you the daughter she was never blessed with and always mentions how you have a great future before you.”
This made her grin. “You mean how she foreshadows every customer of hers about their great awaiting destiny?” Elyse playfully nudged her friend.
However, Samuel remained solemn. “She truly means it about you.”
By the time they arrived at the orphanage, heavy darkness had set in the metropole. “Thank you for accompanying me tonight, Samuel.” Looking at the flickering useless fire lamps gracing the streets, a worried pang shot. “Be careful on your way back.”
Samuel rolled his eyes. “I know these streets better than my own hand.” He always liked to show off. His circus days as a performer never quite ceased.
Elyse stretched her arms and briefly embraced the boy. “Take care nevertheless.”
All of a sudden, he exclaimed excitedly: “Now I know what is different about you. You smell like cinnamon!” With that final remark, Samuel faded into the shadows, leaving a dazed Elyse behind.
The demon’s scent is like cinnamon.