Stories in the Dark
“Aurelia.” At the tone of Oryn’s voice, I knew something was wrong. I was only halfway down the hallway, on my way to Tristan’s study, when he caught up to me. The way his eyes scanned the hallways had the hair on my arms standing on end.
“Tristan called me to his study.” I say, “There are hounds...”. Oryn glanced at me, grabbing me by the hand and pulling me after him causing my words to fall away. When we rounded the corner, he picked up his pace forcing me into a jog just to keep up.
“That was me. We don’t have much time.” I knew what this was about. I yanked my hand from his, forcing him to stop. I was already breathless.
“Carena,” I said, ready to turn. Oryn reached out and grabbed me by my shoulders, his face leaning closer to mine. As he spoke, he kept glancing around the hall like something could pop out any moment.
“Listen. Carena is fine, but you and I...” He trailed off, turning to check behind him. “We have other issues we have to think about. I need you to put aside concerns and trust me for once. Can you do that?” His eyes locked onto mine, the urgency in his gaze making me realize how serious the situation was.
It had to be the hounds.
Everything over the past two weeks flashed through my mind. Deep in my gut, I knew Oryn was here to help.
“Okay,” I whispered. He grabbed my hand and we continued down the hallway. Oryn took several twists and turns, making me marvel at how well he knew the manor. It seemed he had a better idea of where we were going because I had already become hopelessly lost. We kept descending flights of stairs, and before I knew it, we were in the basement of the manor yet again.
He took me down a different set of hallways than we had last used. It seemed we were nowhere near the abandoned ballroom.
He opened a door that squealed on metal hinges.
It was a closet.
And he planned to lock us inside.
“No.” I whisper, backing up from the small, dark space. My back collided with Oryn’s chest, his hands coming up to rest on my arms.
“It’s okay, Aurelia. I’ll be with you.” Oryn said. I spun, looking up at him.
“I...I can’t.” I manage to get out, my hands starting to shake.
“You have to. There’s no other place to hide. I’ll be with you the whole time.” It was hard to see Oryn’s eyes, the shadowy darkenss of the hallway making it difficult to see anything. His hands gave my shoulders a reassuring gaze as I looked back at the closet.
It was for our safety, I reminded myself.
I gave Oryn a nod, his breath releasing as he ushered me inside, and before I knew it, he closed the door throwing us into utter darkness. I froze, the darkness completely enveloping me.
Everything in my body screamed to get out, to get away from the darkness, to bolt. The space felt like it was closing in on me, getting smaller, becoming darker. I turned, my chest pressed up against Oryn’s as I tried to fight the panic.
“Hey,” Oryn’s hands came up to rest on either side of my face, his hands warm and calming. Warmth spread through me at the touch, “Breathe with me.”
I took big breaths of air, trying to mimick Oryn’s breaths, my heart feeling as if it wanted to pound out of my chest. But after what felt like a lifetime, my body began to relax into Oryn’s, my breaths coming slower and with more grace.
“There you go.” He said, letting his hands rest on my shoulders instead of my face.
And after the panic faded, I then realized the awkwardness of the position we were in. There was nowhere else for me to go. There was hardly enough space to accommodate both of us in the small closet.
“This is awkward.” Oryn chuckled out. I couldn’t help but laugh myself.
“How long do we have to be in here?” I asked. I could feel him shrug.
“However long it takes.” Was his response. “Here. We might as well get more comfortable.”
Oryn began to move us, his hands resting gently on my shoulders. He twisted and turned, stepped on my toes a few times, but after a few turns and jabs to the side, he finally had us sitting on the floor of the small closet. How his large frame was able to condense into such a small space seemed impossible, but at least we wouldn’t have to stand the entire time we were in here.
Treacherous warmth spread through me as Oryn pressed into my side.
It was going to be a long night.
Silence filled the small space as we both sat and listened for any evidence that the hounds had followed us down here. My heart pounded in my chest, my nerves getting the better of me.
“How did they get in here?” I whispered. My voice seemed to echo off the walls, making it seem louder. Maybe it was just the nerves making things worse.
“I don’t know if they made it inside, but I heard a few people talking as they were leaving.”
“I did too,” I said. I watched as he turned towards me, his pupils wide as he tried to see me.
“They said they were in the pine forest. I didn’t want to take any chances. If a hound catches even the smallest scent of a Marked, they won’t give it a rest.” We fell into silence, listening to the creaks and groans of the basement. My heart leaped at each noise, constantly checking the stream of magic.
“You’re sure this closet will keep us hidden?” I ask, afraid of the answer. A ringing sound filled the space, Oryn’s knuckles rapping against the door.
“The door is made of iron. It will make it difficult for the hounds to detect our scent,” Oryn replies. I nod my head, even though he can’t see me.
“Have you ever seen a hound?” I ask, trying to control my fear. Maybe talking about them wasn’t the best idea, but I wanted to know what I was getting into if I were to face one tonight. I knew they were like dogs, but much larger. I had never seen a wolf so I couldn’t compare it to them, but Tristan had once told me they looked a lot like wolves, with beady eyes and hair as dark as the night.
“Yeah, and they are the ugliest bastards you ever laid eyes on.” My heart pounded.
“Really?” I said.
“You have no idea.” He said, “But maybe we shouldn’t talk about them. Don’t want to give them too much credit. I’ve seen uglier.”
“Have you now?” I ask, a smile tugging at my lips.
“Have you ever seen Governor Eris?” I nodded, forgetting that he couldn’t see me.
“Well, now you know what the hounds look like.” I couldn’t help it. I chuckled. I tried to stifle it, but the image of a massive hound with the face of the Governor kept running through my mind.
A creak from the other side of the door had both of us fall silent. Oryn felt tense up against me, his shoulder and neck tight as he looked to the door. I could feel his heart pounding from where our bodies touched. If it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t have been able to guess he was nervous about the situation we were in. Maybe he didn’t fear the hounds, maybe he had faced enough to know how to handle them. That seemed hard to process though since most stories about the hounds ended with their jaws around the throat of a marked.
“The hounds aren’t going to get us,” Oryn said. I jumped at his voice. How had he known what I was thinking?
“Don’t tell me you can read minds too.” I huff.
“No. It’s not difficult to tell what you are thinking.” He said.
“Most people wouldn’t agree with that statement,” I muttered. We fell into silence, the threat of the hounds hanging over us like a tangible thickness. “Tell me a story.”
I couldn’t stand the pressure, the waiting for something to happen.
“What do you want to know?” He whispered back. I thought back to all the stories he had told. All of them had something to do with history or the past, but none of it revealed who Oryn was or about his past.
“Tell me about your home,” I ask, feeling as if I crossed a line that had been drawn by money and an agreement between Tristan, Oryn, and I. Oryn tensed as he leaned his head against the wall, letting out a little breath that was almost imperceptible. I felt a flush of embarrassment, I had been stupid to think he would want to share something so personal...
“I lived in the mountains with my mother, father, and sister,” Oryn whispered into the night, his voice tentative. “We lived in a small tribe, my father the Story Master and my mother the local healer. It was similar to the pines around the forest here, but the Aelfrund mountains are...harsher. During the winter months, the worst snowstorms would hit causing thick blankets of snow to pile up around the house.” Oryn paused, chuckling to himself at the memories. “There were times we would be stuck inside the house for a few days, father trying to dig us out for food and supplies.”
“It sounds awful,” I whisper.
“When I was younger, I used to think that too.” He said, “But now those are the memories I remember the most. Believe it or not, winter is my favorite season now.”
I thought back to the time before it all ended, the time when I used to run through my house, my father on my heels. The time when mother used to hum while she cooked, or the stories she told us while we were huddled under our blankets. A strong sense of longing filled me. A longing to return to those moments, that time, my home.
“Do you miss those times?” I ask, my voice cracking. I knew it was a stupid question, but Oryn didn’t hesitate as he said,
“Every moment of every day.”
We fell back into silence. Each beat seeming to reverberate through the closet, knocking the breath out of me.
“I once made my mother think I was dead,” Oryn said. I turned to look at him, surprised that he was still delving into his past, but not wanting him to stop. “I hadn’t realized I was casting an illusion when it happened. I thought maybe that I had died, and I was a ghost watching the events after my death. It had been a few days after a friend of mine had died from an illness. I was in our backyard thinking about how the parents had cried and cried. I remember wondering if my mother and father would cry if I had died. The next thing I knew, my mother was running outside, screaming. She knelt and I watched as she picked up my lifeless body. I had looked like I fell out of the tree I had climbed into and snapped my neck. It took a while to figure out what was happening, so when I hopped down from the tree and dispelled the illusion, my mother was furious.” Then to my surprise, Oryn began to chuckle.
“What’s so funny?” I asked.
“Because she gave me the biggest lecture of my life that night but never once did she beat me for it. Once everyone had gone to bed, my sister was the one that punched me in the face. She was a very passionate person, so you never knew what she was going to do next.” I couldn’t help but notice the usage of the past tense as he spoke of his sister. “You remind me a lot of her.”
I wasn’t sure what to say to that.
“I’m not passionate.” I correct, “I’m just stubborn.”
“Semantics.” He waited for a beat before he said, “What about you?”
I didn’t know what to say. I wasn’t usually the storyteller. I held my tongue, determined not to say anything, but each passing moment of darkness seemed to make it more difficult to stay quiet.
“My family lived in Abberton before...everything happened,” I whispered, drawing my knees closer to my chest. “It was my mother, father, Carena, and I. We lived in a little apartment that once was located where the Marked prison is now.”
“You mean they turned the apartment complex into the prison?” I nod, even though he couldn’t see me.
“Before that though, it was a nice place to live. There were several other families there at the time that had Marked children and parents. Part of me thinks it was easier for them to transform the apartment into the prison instead of transporting all of the Marked out. At least, that’s what Tristan used to say.” I paused, unsure of what to say next. Oryn waited, sensing that I had more to say and not wanting to rush me. “It hadn’t been easy living in Abberton when the King was declaring his decrees, but it had been good. My life in Abberton was the brightest moment in all this...darkness.”
“Would you ever return?” He whispered, a hint of...something in his voice.
“One day I would like to.” I say, “One day I would like to see the world.”
“You’ve never left this manor?”
“Only for the rare occasion such as Council Day.” I reminded him. Oryn shook his head.
“Maybe it is stubbornness then. I think I would go crazy.”
“Sometimes I think I may have,” I say, meaning to say it as a joke but there was a hint of truth to it making the air turn stale with tension.
“I don’t think you’re crazy.” Oryn says, “Well. Maybe a little. But crazy is good.”
“You think so?”
“I know so.” Oryn says, “If you think you’re crazy, then I’m certifiably insane.”
I laugh, “A match made in heaven then.”
Oryn chuckled, looking over in my direction.
“You asked earlier what my type was.” He said in a hushed whisper. My cheeks flamed, my heart pounding in my chest with the sudden change of conversation.
“You don’t have to...”
“You.” The word was soft, hesitant as he reached out and brushed a stray piece of hair away from my face. His fingers skimmed my cheekbone sending hot flares of warmth through me. He cupped my cheek, the rough callouses on his hand scraping against my skin. “Everything about you is what I have been searching for.”
My breath caught; my heart stilled. Maybe it was the champagne, or maybe it was the threat that loomed over us. I didn’t know and I didn’t care as I leaned forward and kissed Oryn in the darkness.
His lips were as soft as the silk of my gown. Warmth blossomed in my chest spreading through my body like wildfire. I reached up and pushed my hands into his hair, not knowing what I was doing.
But whatever it was seemed to work as Oryn deepened the kiss, leaning into me, parting my lips.
I lost all sense of time as I kissed Oryn, as I explored this new sensation. That feeling of dread had been replaced by a blossoming hope.
I didn’t worry about what was going to happen after this, what the plan was, what we were going to do. I lost all sense of self, of Carena, of Tristan. I dropped the mask, the defensive shields I had in place, and instead replaced it with the warmth I felt growing in my heart.
I leaned back, looking up at Oryn. He ran his finger along my cheekbone, my brow, down my nose, across my lips.
“Aurelia.” He whispered my name, the syllables low and drawn out. It was as if my name was a song to him, one only he knew how to sing properly.
“I’ve been wanting to do that for a long time now.” He whispered. I couldn’t help but chuckle.
“We only met two weeks ago.”
“A lot can happen when you’re fighting for your life.”
That was the understatement of the year.
“What happens now?” I ask, looking at the door. “How long do we have to wait here?”
“Until it’s safe.”
“How will we know?” Oryn looked away for a moment, and when he looked back, his brows were furrowed as he opened his mouth to say something, then closed it. “What is it?”
“Aurelia,” He hesitated. “Will you come back to Abberton with me? After this is all over?”
I sat, stunned at his question. Was he asking me to move to Abberton with him? To live with him there? I looked at Oryn and my heart tripped at the openness of his expression. I had only known this man for two weeks. I hardly knew him, but a part of my heart, my gut told me there was something about him. It felt as if something clicked into place as I looked at Oryn, like some missing part of me had finally arrived.
“I...” I began but hesitated. What about Carena? Tristan? I couldn’t just leave them here alone.
Carena’s words floated back to me as if the shadows had whispered them in my ear.
Promise me you won’t leave me.
“Let’s talk about it more tomorrow,” Oryn whispered, pulling me closer to him. The embrace was odd, different from what was normal for me. It had been a long time since anyone held me like this, and I found that I had missed that sensation.
The sensation of being cared for. I leaned my head against his shoulder letting my eyes fall shut.
“Try to get some rest, Aurelia.” I heard Oryn mutter as I began to drift off into sleep, a blanket of warmth carrying me into oblivion.