Spirit of Fire

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Chapter Twelve: The Manor

*Trigger Warning* this chapter contains information about sexual assault/violence which may be triggering to survivors.

Coburn

Two days later, Ana has finally woken up and Saf feels okay to go to the Shadow Realm again. Part of me is excited to go on an assignment with her, but I’m not as excited to go back to the Manor again. But it’s been almost a year since my last visit there, maybe things will be better this time.

Maybe.

Luna, Saf and I stand in the foyer as Luna answers any last-minute questions before we go on our way.

“I can give you both protection for an hour, as usual. I suspect this will be a longer assignment, so if you’re not back by this evening I’ll send someone for you.”

“Sounds good,” Saf grins.

Luna gives her a warm smile, “great confidence, but again I must stress that you can’t be seen. If they catch you, they’ll know something is up and they’ll try to get information from either of you. If there’s anything I know about my brother and sister, it’s that they’ll use any means necessary,” she pauses, shuddering.

“And don’t forget you can’t portal within the Manor.” She adds, “just,” she sighs, “just promise me you’ll be careful out there.”

“We will,” I affirm.

She nods in response, “good. Well, no point in delaying the inevitable. Good luck you two, I’ll see you later this evening.”

“Thanks,” I grin.

“Yes, thank you,” Saf adds.

A light shade of pink crosses Luna’s face as she smiles back, “you’re welcome.”

*

Saf and I land in the Shadow Realm with a small thud, the large mountain towering overtop of us, spiralling into the gray sky, as though it’s never ending, at least from this angle. The dark trees stand in front of us, their needle-like branches reaching in every direction, standing tall, proud, ominous. The two entities behind and in front of us seem to cast a shadow over the area we’re standing in, like it’s making the world seem darker, somehow.

To our side, a large area at the base of the mountain has been cleared out, to make room for the grandest looking building I’ve ever seen. The structure is enormous, with a gothic style present throughout, with multiple pointed turrets adding to the height, too many to count. The gray stone walls are cracked a little, broken down, suggesting that the Manor has been here for a long time. Dark vines crawling up the sides, almost like a disease has infected the rectangular rocks. Towers stand tall, though could still be hidden by the peaks of the tall trees that precede it. Perhaps that’s why Saf couldn’t see the manor the first time she came here; then again, the forest is pretty deep, I know I couldn’t see the manor the first time I was here either. The windows – what little of them there are – are pointed at the top, almost making the structure seem even bigger. The building is large, foreboding, almost acting like a warning in of itself to stay back, like it knows it houses danger in some way. It reminds me of what I imagine Dracula’s castle to look like; I suppose that makes Saf and I the equivalent of Mina and Jonathan or something.

Shivers run down my spine as I remember the last time I was here, shuddering a little.

I glance at Saf, who looks at the building with awe. Her hair is in a low bun today with a few curly strands framing her face. She’s paired the ensemble with a dark top and leggings, accompanied by a moss green jacket that cinches a little at her waist, with brown boots that just barely go up to her ankle.

“So that’s it?” She breathes.

“Mmhmm. Kind of crazy, huh?” I reply, pulling on my black jacket a little.

“How are we supposed to get inside? We can’t just walk through the front door, can we?”

I shake my head.

“Not really. I had to scale the building last time,” I trail off.

“You had to – what?” She turns to me, frowning.

“There’s a spot near the back that is relatively easy to climb, I’ll show you,” I start, leading her towards the back of the Manor, staying hidden among the shadows to avoid being seen, just in case Nox or Midnight were looking out the window at this moment.

Soon we come upon the back of the Manor, almost sandwiched between the building and the mountain behind us. Thick, dark vines have wrapped around the outer walls, almost encasing them, like they make up the back of the manor. But they’re strong enough to scale the building with.

Saf eyes one of the vines suspiciously, creating a small flame on her pointer finger and torching the end of the small plant, watching it recoil towards the wall again.

“I didn’t like the look of that one,” she explains with a laugh before I can get a word in.

“Hah, okay,” I chuckle, “ready to climb?”

A small wave of fear crosses her eyes as she looks up, frowning as she glances back to me.

“Is it safe?” She asks, narrowing her eyes at the vines.

“It was last time,” I start, turning to her, “we got this,” I reassure.

She looks down for a moment before bringing her gaze back to me.

“You first,” she winks.

I smile, “that’s fair. But it’s not too far up.”

I quickly climb up the leathery vines, Saf following close behind, and before long we’re several meters up the side.

“Yah right, not too far,” Saf jokes.

“Almost there,” I call down with a laugh.

Several minutes later we come to a large flat topped area, not large enough to be the entire roof, but big enough to warrant a small door on the other side that leads into the Manor.

I sit on the edge, holding out my hand for Saf to pull her the rest of the way up.

“Not far up,” she says mockingly, catching her breath as she sits next to me.

I nudge her, “you made it though,” I retaliate.

She rolls her eyes with a smile before getting to her feet, looking at the door on the other side of the clearing. It’s a cool toned dark gray colour, with an ornate design on the front with a tipped arch, adding to the gothic style of the rest of the building. It connects to a large wall, equally covered in dark brick and leathery vines, with no other windows in sight, no indication of what could be on the other side. For all we know, the twins could be waiting for us.

Or not.

We slowly make our way towards the door, approaching it carefully.

“Ready?” I nudge her.

“Ask me again in five minutes,” she laughs before her face falls, “do you think they’re on the other side?” She whispers.

I shake my head, jostling the handle a little, finding it open, to my surprise.

“I guess not,” I say back, watching the door swing open for a moment before we slip inside, listening to it shut with a small click.

The hallway we step into is minimally lit, high, pointed ceilings making the space seem even more intimidating than it already is. Thick, stony beams cascade from the tip of the arches down the walls, casting shadows that meet in the hallway every few meters, at least twenty of them going in either direction, acting as markers for how long the hallway is. No decorations hang on the walls, highlighting the large cracks in the dark brick. A soft, black velvety carpet lines the halls, though it doesn’t do much to hide the sound of our footsteps. The soft pine smell from outside lingers in the hallway, though not as strongly, the lower temperature within the walls making me shiver slightly.

Saf looks around, “which way? Luna said the library, right?”

I nod, “I think it’s to the right, but don’t quote me on that,” I say with a laugh, “worth a shot at least.”

She makes a small flame in her hand to provide some light in the darkness as we make our way down the hall, soon finding a corner heading to the left.

Moments later my ears prick up at the sound of footsteps, coming from the opposing direction. Out of fear I grab Saf’s hand, pulling her towards me as I smother the flame in her palm.

“What are you –”

“Someone’s coming,” I whisper as we hide in the shadows created by the many beams lining the walls, holding her tightly.

Sure enough the footsteps get louder, louder, until I glance over and see Midnight walking down the hallway, disappearing around the corner we just came from, her nose buried in a small book. There was no indication that she saw us, but you can never be too careful around here. I feel my hands start to vibrate as I hold Saf close.

Moments later Saf pulls away and she frowns at me, tilting her head to one side.

“Everything okay?”

I nod, not looking at her, staring down the hall as it seemingly gets longer and longer, watching memories unfold in the wide-open space, screams echoing in my ears. I let out a shaky exhale.

“Hey, look at me,” she says softly, tugging on my arm as I bring my glance back to her, confusion in her face, “what’s going on?”

I close my eyes for a moment, avoiding the memory.

Now isn’t the time.

“I just don’t have the greatest memories being here, that’s all,” I say quickly.

She bites her lip, thinking for a second.

“She attacked you last time you were here, didn’t she?” She says slowly.

I feel my gaze harden for a second before nodding with a sigh.

“About a year ago,” I mumble.

“That bitch,” Saf mutters, a flash of anger passing over her eyes before they soften, “I got your back, okay? We’ll get what we need before they even know we’re here,” she reassures, lacing her hand in mine.

The feeling brings me back to reality, pushing away the memories, at least for now. Her bright eyes are full of compassion, empathy.

“Okay. Let’s do this,” I grin, putting on a brave face.

She nods and we continue down the hallway, making hesitant right and left turns in search of some indication that we’re going the right way.

After what feels like an eternity, we find a large set of dark wooden doors at the end of one of the hallways, with the same pointed archway as the rest of the architecture here. Large, ornate handles stand at the doors entrance, looking like hollow golden circles.

“Ha! I knew it was this way,” I point out, reaching to pull the door open.

Saf lightly hits my shoulder, “how do we know no one’s in there?”

I bite my lip, pausing, “we don’t. If there is, we run.”

Her eyes widen for a moment, but she nods as she grabs the other handle.

“Okay. One, two, three!”

We pull the heavy doors open together until they crack open just wide enough for us to slip through, making sure to close them gently behind us.

The room that meets us looks as though it’s bigger than HQ itself, black, ornate shelves lining the walls, touching the tall ceilings that tower over us, with even more smaller stacks lining the empty space between the walls, almost like the room is a maze of bookshelves. To our left is a balcony like structure that houses even more dark wooden shelves, though these stacks don’t quite hit the ceiling. Black hardwood floors cause every step to echo in the grand space, the room smelling of a mixture between dust and leather, suggesting the room has been here for a while. It’s noticeably colder in here as well, though perhaps that’s to protect the integrity of the books or something, I’m not sure. No windows are present in this room either, making the dark room seem even more ominous, gothic. Small circular light fixtures hang periodically along the walls, filling the room with a dim, warm light.

“Oh my God,” Saf breathes.

“Hmm?” I respond.

“It’s just a lot,” she adds, scanning the room before her eyes meet a large table made of a dark red cherry wood to our right, strewn with books and papers of all kinds.

“Maybe we should start over there, unless you know your way around the stacks?” She giggles.

I scoff playfully, “you think I know my way around there? You’re hilarious.”

She raises her eyebrows, “okay, table it is!” she laughs.

We make our way over to the table, starting at the left end with a plan to work our way down, deciding to look in the stacks later if we find anything interesting we want more information about during our search.

Right away my interest peaks to a large book with dark leather binding that has worn down considerably, the thin pages looking newer as the book progresses. The older pages in the book are crinkled slightly, well read, preventing the rest of the paper from sitting flat. The book looks as though it would take two people to carry, the writing on the pages in large, cursive letters with a photo on the right hand side of the page.

I lift up the bottom of the book, squinting at the dust caked cover.

“A complete history of the rulers of the Shadow Realm,” I announce with a sarcastic flourish, flashing a silly grin in her direction.

She giggles, “maybe there’s something in here, you never know.”

I put the cover of the book down on the table, kicking up a small cloud of dust in the process, causing Saf to wave her hands in response before sneezing.

I chuckle and she sticks her tongue out at me before analyzing the pages.

“Adrik . . .” Saf reads, “Son of – I can’t pronounce that – ruler of the Shadow Realm for fifty two years, blah blah blah, disappeared in the year of 2257 . . . disappeared?” She pauses, turning to me, “that wasn’t too long ago.”

“Hmm, I’m not sure. Luna might know more about all that,” I comment as she continues reading aloud.

“Children . . . Nox, Midnight,” she gasps, “this must be Luna’s father,” she looks closer at the page, “Luna’s name is below theirs here . . . it says bastard next to her name,” she frowns, “is she only their half sister?”

“Mmhmm,” I reply, “I’ll tell you when we get back, it’s a long story,” I glance at the pages, “is there anything else interesting in there?”

Saf carefully turns the page, as though she’s afraid she’ll rip it if she’s too rough with it.

“Hmm, accomplishments, this should be fun,” she scans the page for several moments before a sleek black book catches my eye, unencumbered by dust, though it looks well read, the book looking as though it’s unable to sit flat on the table due to the amount of dog-eared pages.

I pick up the smooth leather-bound book and read the title.

The Art of Compelling.

I quickly turn the pages, reading through the contents.

‘Energy capabilities, things to know, potential individual differences . . .’

I flip through the material, the paper being littered with so many notes there’s almost no blank space on any of the pages.

“Hey, Saf, I think I found what we need . . .” I trail off, glancing over to see her deep in thought, her hands scanning the words on the large page.

“Sorry, what?” She glances at me.

I toss her the book as she examines the cover.

“Damn, nice find,” she hands the book back to me as I put it in my large jacket pocket. She gives me a reassuring grin.

“What did you find here?” I ask as I run my hands along the rough pages of the history book she was reading. They feel brittle and fragile at the same time, suggesting their old age.

“Oh, just reading about some of the past rulers,” she explains, “interesting stuff.”

“Is there a page on the twins outside of them being related to the last leader?” I ask.

She gently flips through the pages, “no, maybe they only get written about after they die or something.”

“Or disappear,” I add, leaning against the table, the dark wood feeling smooth beneath my palms.

“Something about that doesn’t quite sit right with me about that,” she mumbles.

“How so?”

“I don’t know. I just have a weird feeling about it.”

“Hmm, maybe we can ask Luna when we get back home,” I suggest.

“Maybe,” she contemplates, “but I got the sense she doesn’t like talking about her father though.”

“She doesn’t,” I affirm gently, “but I’m sure she wouldn’t mind if it’s important to you,” I give her a reassuring glance.

“I’ll ask another time, I don’t want to push her or anything,” she trails off, picking up a small, clean looking brown book, not much bigger than a small picture frame.

“What’s that?” I turn and rest my chin on her shoulder as she flips through the pages, a number of scrawled notes on the page.

“One of their notebooks, maybe. Should we take it?” She whispers.

I don’t answer as I scan the pages, trying to decipher the words from the messy handwriting.

I gasp, “wait, that’s your name there,” I point at the page, “but why?”

“Huh? How can you read that?” She says with a small laugh, bringing the book comically close to her face before scanning it again, “wait, look at the date, the penmanship may be terrible, but I think this is from yesterday. I say we take it,” she concludes, “then we’ll know what their plans are, at least as of then.”

“They’ll notice something like that missing,” I warn.

She gives me a look.

“They’ll notice if we take anything, why not make the most of it?”

“True enough,” I agree, a document on the other side of the table catching my eye.

I scan the contents, seeing Luna’s name pop up multiple times.

A record of desertion.

Desertion?

This must be from when she left.

‘let it be known on this day that Luna, illegitimate daughter of Adrik, has deserted the Shadow Realm for unknown reasons . . .’

Yah right, unknown reasons. They couldn’t have given her a break even after she was gone?

The thought angers me for a moment.

I leave the document where it is, making my way back over to Saf, running my hand along the table.

“What was that over there?” She asks.

“Just a document about Luna and how she apparently ‘deserted,’” I hold up my fingers in air quotes, “but it didn’t have anything of use, really. How’s your search going?”

She sighs, “I’ve hit a dead end, honestly,” she tosses her head back dramatically, closing her eyes for a moment.

I look at the cover of the small book I’m holding, a part of the binding catching my eye, “this says section seventeen, maybe there’s a whole collection of possession books in the stacks somewhere,” I suggest hopefully.

We look at the maze of bookshelves, and she gives me a worrying glance.

“I’m sure it’s not different than the library,” I laugh.

She scans the room before her eyes squint at something on the side of the shelf closest to us; the one that leads into the world of books before us.

“There’s something here,” she says as she walks towards the dark wooden structure, “yah, look here! It’s numbered,” she runs her hands along a small ‘1’ engraved in the wood, “it must be in there somewhere.”

“Nice,” I offer her a high five, which she takes enthusiastically.

We quickly but quietly walk through the shelves, before finding a small numeral ‘17’ on the edge of the shelf.

“I think this is it,” I comment, running my hands along the carving.

We make our way into the row, scanning the books at eye level.

She looks up, making a face, “I bet all the ones we need are up there, huh?”

I look up before turning to her with a puzzled look.

“You think so? It looks like there’s a bunch down here that could be of use too,” I say, running my hand along some of the bindings at eye level.

“Well, you look down here, I’ll look up there,” she winks at me.

“There has to be a ladder around here or something,” I trail off, looking around.

She rolls her eyes playfully, “we don’t have time for that, I’ll just climb up there,” she starts, hoping up onto the shelves.

“Saf – what are you – I mean, okay,” I say with a smile, shrugging as I look at the base of the shelves.

“I’ll only be a few minutes, I’ll be careful,” she responds, taking my hand and giving it a small squeeze.

She makes her way near the top of the shelf as I analyze the small leather bindings at my eye level.

Variations of Compulsion . . . that could be interesting. And it seems small enough to carry.

I pull the book out of the collection and look up, seeing Saf near the top of the tall shelf already.

“Find anything?” I call out to her.

“No . . . not yet, I’m almost there,” she calls back, her voice strained as she pulls herself up, “aha! I knew all the good ones would be up here.”

“Like what?” I ask.

Compulsion of Elemental Leaders . . . there’s a whole book on that? Yikes,” she flips through the small book.

“There’s a bookmark in here too. . . there’s something written on it, it looks like symbols or something, but it was in the chapter on air abilities,” she bites her lip and contorts her face a little as she scans through the pages.

That explains Ana.

Suddenly, a pit forms in my stomach as a dark presence makes itself known in the room.

I look around, but we’re alone. Nothing to suggest anyone came into the room.

Saf eyes the book one last time before putting it into her other pocket, adjusting her grip.

Maybe I’m imagining things.

But I can’t shake the feeling something’s wrong.

As if on cue, Saf looks down at me, her eyes filled with fear as she blinks several times.

She must know too.

She begins to slowly make her way down when the creaking sound of the doors fills the room, and my heart sinks.

Saf gasps, “oh no.”

“Jump down, I’ll catch you,” I suggest, my voice tense.

Her eyes widen, “what? No!”

“Who’s there?” Nox’s voice booms through the room.

“I’ve got you, I promise,” I reassure.

She looks behind her, taking a deep breath before letting go.

I hold my arms out to catch her, hoping that I’m strong enough to keep her from falling to the ground, realizing I didn’t really think this through.

I grimace as she lands in my arms, the downward force of her fall forcing me onto my back, my head knocking against the floor with a thud as she collapses on top of me, knocking the wind out of me, making my breathing strained.

“Are you okay?” I breathe.

She sits up, climbing off me.

“I’m fine,” she looks around before we quickly stand and she pulls me towards me towards the far edge of the shelf, where we’re hidden from view.

“Who’s there?” Nox’s voice rings through the air again.

“How do we get out of here?” She mumbles.

“I don’t know, but we will,” I whisper quickly, looking around the corner, finding it empty, but I can see the outline of his shadow coming ever closer.

She squeezes my hand tightly.

“He’s coming this way, let’s go,” we run across the wide row to the safety of another shelf end for short term protection, but how long would this last?

Could we make it out of here this way?

“I know you’re here,” he sounds as though he could be mere feet away from us, “come out and we can have some fun,” he says menacingly.

Yah, right.

I turn and look into the lane of books, watching his shadow disappear around the corner. As it vanishes, we turn to the right and slowly make our way through a lane of bookshelves, being careful to stay quiet before we hide at the other end of the shelf. We look to our right and see the table we were at before; more importantly, the door: our way out.

We begin our escape towards the door when I feel eyes behind me, causing the hair on the back of my neck to stand up.

I turn, knowing full well who is behind us as Nox comes into my line of vision. His dark gaze makes me feel as though icicles are pinning us in place.

“There you are,” he chastises, “I was wondering when I’d see you again.”

I glance at Saf, her eyes swallowed by fear.

I put my hands up in defense, “okay, you caught us,” I say as calmly as I can, “what do you want?”

I give Saf a reassuring glance.

“To know what you’re doing here. There must be something you know about what we’re planning, and you’re going to tell me,” he says darkly.

“Like hell we are,” Saf says through her teeth.

He takes a step forward, leaning against the end of one of the shelves.

“Manners, young lady,” he shakes his head, “regardless, I’m not taking no for an answer.”

He pulls a small knife out of his pocket; a small dagger with an ornate looking handle and some kind of engraving on the whitish-silver blade. He plays with it between his fingers, a cloud of shadows forming in his other hand.

“It’s simple. Tell me what I want to know, and I’ll let you go on your way. Or I’ll force it out of you,” he makes eyes at Saf.

I put my arm out in front of her.

“Stay away from her,” I narrow my eyes.

“I’ll do what I want. I’ve caught you two fair and square.”

“You haven’t caught us yet,” Saf tosses a flame against the shelf where Nox is leaning, igniting a small section of the wood, causing him to jump in alarm.

“Run!”

She grabs my hand and we run towards the door, making our way into the hall.

“Do you remember which way the exit was?” She asks, looking both ways, putting her hands on her head.

“I don’t know, let’s try right,” I suggest as we start running aimlessly, “how much time do you think that bought us?” I ask.

“I don’t know,” she stops running, “we should hide until he’s off our trail.”

She scans the hall, locking eyes with a door a little way away.

“In there?” She suggests.

“Let’s do it.”

We quickly open the door – finding a small closet on the other side – and slip inside. Both of us being in here doesn’t allow for much personal space, but it’s only for a little while, I suppose. Even then, there’s virtually no room between us. The small room has an old, musty smell to it, almost making the area feel even more cramped than it already is, with minimal light filtering through the cracks created by the hinges of the doorframe.

Saf lights a small fire to give some light to the room, and I notice her cheeks are a light shade of pink.

“Hmm, cozy,” she mumbles, glancing at me every few moments.

She quickly puts the light out a moment later as the sound of footsteps come closer, getting louder with each passing second.

They move right past us, moving further and further away, until. . .

“I was just looking for you,” Midnight’s muffled voice causes me to shudder, “did something happen in the library?”

Saf runs her hand along my shoulder, as if to comfort me; I lean my cheek against the back of her hand, holding her close to me.

I hear Nox sigh loudly, “it was that Fire Wielder, Saffire. Coburn’s here too. They must have snuck in or something.”

“Hmm, interesting,” Midnight trails off, “do you have the slightest inclination where they could be?”

“I saw them head this way.”

“Hmm,” she agrees, “they must know about all the possession if they’re here.”

Shit.

“Oh, they do,” he pauses, “but we need to figure out how much they know, and everything they took from the library.”

“Well, lead the way, brother. I wouldn’t mind seeing Coburn again anyways,” she says a little too excitedly.

I feel my hands start to tremble again, a shaky exhale escaping me.

Saf squeezes my hand as we hear the footsteps echo away from us.

“They won’t find us, I promise,” Saf assures, “maybe we should stay here a little longer, just so they’re as far away as possible,” she suggests, moving her hand away from my shoulder to create a light in her palm again.

“Good idea,” I reply, blushing a little when I realize her other hand is still tightly laced in mine.

Silence falls between us for several moments.

“So, are we playing seven minutes in heaven? That’s what people do in closets to pass the time, isn’t it?” She muses.

I chuckle, though I can’t tell how serious she’s being, “maybe,” I whisper shyly.

She lightly smacks my shoulder, “I was joking,” she says with a laugh, though the guilty expression on her face is hard to ignore.

“Ha, how about twenty questions?” I suggest as she nods in agreement, “you start.”

“Okay,” she giggles, “what’s your favourite colour?”

I roll my eyes with a grin.

“Burgundy. What’s yours?”

“Green,” she whispers.

“Like your eyes?” I ask softly.

She looks away for a moment, “maybe subconsciously,” she grins, bringing her gaze back to me, “maybe it’s just from being around Katya so much.”

“I can understand that,” I pause, “your turn.”

“Do you still have that kite from when we first met?”

I bite my lip, nodding with a small smile, “I was so proud of that thing, you think I’d get rid of it?” I ask with a chuckle.

“Ha, of course not,” she smiles, looking down.

“Do you miss Katya?”

Her face falls as she nods, “I mean, it’s not like I’ll never talk to her again, but I still haven’t really gotten used to not seeing her every day, you know?”

Not seeing Tessa every day was hard for me at first, but throughout the years it’s gotten easier, and it makes our time together that much more special.

“I get it. But it does get easier over time, I promise,” I say reassuringly.

“Hmm, I hope so,” she trails off, thinking, “did you, um, did you miss me? When you first got picked, I mean.”

“Of course I did,” I bite my lip, “did you miss me?”

She nods, looking away.

“I did, a lot, actually. It was so strange not seeing you all the time,” she pauses, “I – er – I guess it’s hard for me to imagine life without you in it, especially after these last few weeks,” she exhales shakily as the last words leave her.

My heart skips a beat, my cheeks feeling warm as I gaze into her bright, endless eyes.

Ehren’s conversation with me the other day has caused me to really evaluate my feelings for Saf. I suppose I’ve realized just how much I care for her, not just as a friend.

But I’m not going to profess those feelings to her in a closet in the Grand Manor.

Besides that, I don’t want to make her or our friendship uncomfortable and awkward. I want to be able to think about this a little more anyways. I’ll wait until we’re both ready to make that next step.

I tuck a scarlet curl behind her ear.

“I feel the same,” I whisper.

“Do you – er – um,” she stutters a little, looking away, pausing.

“Saf?”

She sighs with a frown, relaxing a little, “do you think we’re in the clear? They haven’t come back this way for a while.”

Is that really what she wanted to ask me?

I decide not to pressure it.

“I think so. Only one way to find out, I suppose,” I say jokingly.

She slowly turns the handle, both of us too afraid to make a sound as the door slides open.

We hesitantly step out into the hallway as Saf puts her light out, breathing a sigh of relief as she looks both ways.

“Whew. Looks like we’re okay,” she mumbles, turning to me, “backtracking is probably our safest bet for getting out of here, hey?”

I nod, “I think so.”

Several minutes go by as we make our way through the towering halls. There always feels like there could be a monster lurking around each corner, or some kind of threat that we need to pass. It puts me on edge, makes the want to get out of here stronger than ever.

We come upon the library, which now seems to be fine, as far as I can tell. The door is slightly ajar, likely from when Nox rushed after us earlier, but there’s still a slight crackling sound coming from the room, echoing through the hallway.

I wonder what’s going on in there.

We walk past the gap in the door and I quickly glance over into the room, just to ensure no one is in there when . . .

I lock eyes with Midnight.

*

I shut my eyes, wanting it to be over.

Her voice echoed in my head.

It seemed never ending.

I was lost in the darkness.

Trapped in my thoughts.

All I could feel was fear.

A disgusting fear that made me want to scream.

But I couldn’t make a sound.

I covered my face.

I was aware of everything.

But I was numb at the same time.

I couldn’t breathe.

I couldn’t dissociate.

I couldn’t escape this.

I lost myself

I had no control.

*

“Saffire, run!”

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