Alone with the Sun
Mara had slumped against the back of the door to the gardens, gasping for air. She wasn’t sure if she was out of breath or if she was hyperventilating now. Hugging her knees, she tried to calm down. She was still scared. It wasn’t that she was afraid of animals. It wasn’t that the animal had spoken. She wasn’t even worried that it had been a raven, despite Michael’s lessons on lore about them. It was what the raven had said that unnerved her so greatly.
Darkness. Just thinking about the word made a chill run through her. It was almost like the word was alive, and it had leaped from the raven’s beak to attack her. Why was she so upset over a word? It was only a word, right? Or maybe the raven had cast a spell along with it? Oh, that was two animals that had used influence over her today. Her mistress would surely think she was pathetic if she ever found out about this. Her shoulders began to tremble at the thought of falling from the countess’ graces.
“If only I wasn’t all alone, I wouldn’t be so scared...”
Her mumbling paused as the words sunk it. She was alone. Everyone in the palace was asleep. Burying her face in her arms for a moment, she sniffled as she tried to cope with the loneliness. Picking her head up again, she held a look of determination on her face.
“I’ve got to face that bird, or I’ll never be able to look Lady Eve in the eye tonight.”
She stood up, grasping the handle to the door. She opened it slowly, looking outside at the lit-up gardens. Blinking curiously, she realized the raven was gone. Opening the door all the way, she walked out into the warm sunlight. Looking skyward, she closed her eyes to let her anxiety melt away. It worked, producing a small smile on her lips.
Shrugging her shoulders, she let the events from earlier go, so she could admire the gardens once again. The colors stood out more to her in the day. The greens of the flora looked far more appealing than the near-black they seemed to her at night. She breathed in deep, taking in the many scents of the flowers and herbs around her. They were lovely. Her grin swelled even more as she broke into a run around the bushes.
“Haha! This feels so familiar! Why do I feel like I’ve done this before?” Mara said as she laughed out loud. The warm sun on her face and arms felt so wonderful, but she had always been asleep during the day. When would she have ever run around under the warm light of the sun? Twirling about, her hands reached for the clouds in the sky as her eyes sparkled with joy.
“I feel like I’ve run through a green place like this before, only it was more open and there was someone-”
She suddenly stopped dead. She felt as if she had just struck a wall. Her head started to ache, but it was more startling than anything. Shaking her head, she tried to brush off the stun, but it didn’t let up.
“Have I ever...?” She gasped as she felt a blockage of some kind. Now, her body began to hurt. Bringing her to her knees, she grasped her head tightly as an intense throbbing pulsed in her skull. “Have... I... ever...? No... of course I haven’t... Why would I ever do something so foolish as running about during the day...?”
Tears streamed down her face at the pain coursing through her body. She couldn’t think of a time she had been in this much pain. Perhaps, if she denied her ponderings, it might go away. Closing her eyes, she told herself to forget such ridiculous ideas. Slowly, the sensation lifted until it finally went away. Falling to the grass, she stared at the blades before her eyes with a vacant, tearful gaze.
“I didn’t like that...” She cried softly. When her vision began to focus once again, she looked around her. When had she come to the center of the gardens? The white rose bush stood before her with its pure petals glowing in the daylight. Rising from the ground, she stood up sluggishly, staring at the roses sadly.
“Michael, I wish you were here to reassure me again. Where are you now? You’re probably back in your room sleeping. I wish I knew where. I’d come to hold you right now.”
Thy feelings are not displaced. The countess is the matriarch of a powerful and frightful lineage. That lady power holds most wondrous sway o’er us, yet thine own heart lies beyond that lady touch, Mara. Be not afraid.
“Oh, Michael...” She smiled, reflecting on the memory happily. It wasn’t a childish smile or a twistedly perverse grin. She was genuinely happy right now, despite the ordeal she had just experienced. It was strange. She felt like she’d never felt happiness before that moment. Michael was the source of that bliss. He might be cold as ice, even to the touch, but all the years she had known him, he had looked after her, taught her, trained her. Under that placid demeanor, she knew Michael was a good person. Then, her smile faded.
“I was so cruel to him this morning. I wonder if he could ever forgive me.”
Her heart sank as she recalled how she had treated him. What had come over her to make her treat her teacher that way? She bit her lower lip, hunching her shoulders in shame. Her happy feeling was lost into guilt. How could she fix this?
She just wanted to be happy, to laugh free of care, to have fun. She had had just that last night with Lady Eve. The countess seemed to enjoy spending time with her. If only Michael could be with them to share that with them, but he seemed to become even more withdrawn when it came to Lady Eve.
“It’s just not the same without Michael,” she said sadly. “I wonder why he wasn’t at the awakening to greet Lady Eve. She seemed to want to see him. Now that I think about it, I don’t remember much of last night at all.” She poked her nose as she thought about how odd that was, but they weren’t very deep thoughts. She didn’t want another episode to spring up.
“Either way, I need to make it up to him. I know! I’ll spend the whole night with him! We could have dinner together and spar again like before! I can show him how strong I’ve become! That’s what I’ll do!”
Her eyes went back to the white roses before her. In the cover of her shadow, she could imagine how they looked in the moonlight. They looked so much prettier than their red cousins. They were beginning to symbolize Michael to her. Reaching down to pick one from the bush, she flinched at a sudden pain in her finger. Drawing her hand back out, she saw that a thorn had pierced her middle finger.
“Every rose does have thorns, but that’s just to protect their beautiful flowers.”
As she mused aloud, blood seeped from the wound, dripping down into the petals of one of the flowers. She didn’t think about it much at the time, but as she carefully plucked three stems from the bush, the droplet sunk into the center of the flower. Turning away from the bush, the vixen brought the flowers to her nose to breathe in their subtle, sweet scent. The scent of the white roses was less strong than the red ones.
Walking back toward the door to the castle, she stopped. She felt a soft embrace holding her back. It felt like it didn’t want her to go back inside the castle. She looked back over her shoulder at the gardens. She could just imagine Michael standing by the white roses, looking at the moon above. Her eyes drifted to the walnut tree, where she could see Michael standing beside the roots holding a book out to her. She couldn’t think of a safer place than this because Michael had been here with her. Michael was inside the castle though, so why did she feel something holding her back? What could she possibly have to dread?
“Lady Eve is counting on me... and... Ruzha.” Her mood slumped. She felt anger flare in her chest as she reflected on how she had talked about Michael. Why hadn’t she told her off then? She wouldn’t have people talking bad about her mentor behind his back, even if he didn’t care.
“Maybe I just don’t want to look at her face later. That must be it. Well, I’ll show that vixen not to undermine Michael. Just you wait, Ruse!” With that, she strutted inside with a pit of pride burning in her chest.
Since she had three roses in hand, Mara figure she had best fetch a vase for them. She remembered the servants would put flowers from the garden in water to keep them longer. She thought about giving Michael a rose tonight to show how sorry she was for treating him so poorly. Surely, even the cold-hearted vampire would forgive her after such an offering.
She quickened her pace to skip as she made her way down the empty halls to the kitchen. She started humming a tune, which turned to singing her guardian’s name over and over. As absurd as she knew she looked, it helped to ease her feelings of isolation.
Once she reached the kitchen though, her stomach growled. She was craving blood. Had it been that long since she’d drank last? She had no idea how to tell how long she’d been up, so perhaps it really was time to drink up. Setting the roses on the long table in the center of the room, the vixen dug around the cupboards and cabinets for blood. She realized that she had no idea how a kitchen functioned, and therefore, she had no idea where blood would be stored. Narrowing her eyes with each shelf that failed to yield her prize, the vixen decided that she hated this room the most in the castle.
Coming to a crate against the wall, Mara thought she heard the sound of running water. What would that be doing in a kitchen? Opening the lid, she found many bottles, sitting underwater. Reaching down inside, she picked one up. It was cold to the touch, and once she drew it out, she found it was full of blood. Popping off the cork, she took a swig. It was so sweet. She’d never had cold blood before. She kind of liked it. Grinning, she tucked the glass bottle under her arm to take along.
“Now, where do they keep the empty ones?” Mara asked out loud, as if somehow the question could be answered. “Bottles, bottles, where are you bottles?” She hadn’t seen anything but cups and bowls in the cabinets, and opening the remaining cupboards and closets turned up nothing either.
Huffing, the vixen looked around the kitchen for any place she hadn’t looked yet. That was when her crimson eyes fell on the cold fireplace. There was a chest beside it. It struck her as odd for some reason, so she went to investigate. Opening the trunk, the latches swung limply as she looked inside.
“There! I found all the bottles!” Pausing, Mara looked over at the fireplace. Snapping her fingers, the dots connected at last. “I get it now. They must wash the bottles and fire them in there before storing them. I remember how Michael saying drinking spoiled blood can make a vampire deathly ill. How clever of them to reuse them, but I wonder where the blood comes from.”
Shrugging, she picked up a bottle, closing the chest once more. Returning to the crate against the far wall, she filled the bottle up to the neck with water, putting her roses inside. She smiled at her work, even if it wasn’t the most beautiful display. Picking up her bottle of blood, she made her way back to her room.
When she reached her bedroom, she glanced around the chamber for a place to put her roses. Her table was too far from the bed, and she didn’t want to put them on her clothes trunk. Setting them on her nightstand, she decided she liked them beside her that way. Since she had been drinking blood all the way here, the bottle was nearly empty as she sat on her bed to admire the flowers. She thought of Michael again, smiling happily at the thought of making up with him.
Older thoughts began to creep up behind those feelings as her eyes grew heavy. The raven and its one-word message made her gulp down a mouthful of blood. That wolf’s howl sent a chill down her spine. She turned the bottle all the way upright in her mouth, realizing it was empty. Hugging the cool glass to her chest, she lied down on her side, staring at the white petals. The last thing on her mind before sleep took her was the face of that witch.
“She really did look like me, didn’t she...?”