Razor Sharp Teeth
The forest was a mix of cold air and long shadows. The sun had yet to rise, the morning not having yet arrived. I hadn’t realized how early it was, making the timeline of events even more confusing to me.
If it was just past midnight, which according to the position of the moon, it had to be; then that meant the ball couldn’t have ended long ago.
How had everyone left so quickly? How was it possible that no one was in the manor, not even servants? None of it seemed to make sense. There had been a little over four hundred guests in attendance, and Tristan had well over one hundred servants for the night.
Oryn led the way out of the manor. He took us out a servant’s exit, a small door that had been carved into the stone of the manor. It led us right out into the pine forest, into the unknown. Edward walked behind me, his dagger in hand. Brina was nowhere to be seen. She had disappeared shortly after I had left Carena’s room. But Edward didn’t seem too concerned with her disappearance, so I asked no questions.
The weight of my bag was light against my back. There weren’t many items within, making it easier to walk. The only downside was the fact my skirt kept getting caught in the various sticks and branches that littered the forest floor. The manor rested high on a hill, so the natural slope made it difficult to balance everything. The skirt, the bag, the emotions.
I wasn’t sure which direction we were headed. It seemed that we weren’t following the main path that Carena and I had taken on Council Day. It made sense to take a less traveled path. Guards were most likely patrolling the drive, keeping an eye out for any stragglers.
Or for me.
Yet Oryn seemed to know exactly where he was going as if he had traveled this path several times in the past two weeks.
Images of the past few hours flashed through my mind on repeat. The way Carena had looked before the ball, the look on Oryn’s face when he had seen me, the way his face looked when he hurried me into the closet.
Everything that had happened in the closet.
Tristan, when he laid there dying.
The look on Oryn’s face when I attacked him.
It was almost too much to think through and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t stop the flashes. I felt as if I could be sick, and I almost thought I was going to be, but Oryn’s footsteps slowed to match mine. I held everything in, determined not to show him anything.
“I need to talk to you.” He said matter-of-factly. I didn’t answer, not wanting to give him the time of day. “Your sister and I had a conversation when I first arrived where I too made her promises I intend to keep.” I glanced up at him. He kept walking, not once taking his eyes off the surrounding forest. He kept glancing around, his hand clutching the bow he held. Knowing that he was armed didn’t make me feel any better. It only made me feel more exposed.
“I don’t want to talk to you,” I whispered, too afraid to raise my voice in the eerie quiet of the forest.
“I want you to know that I want to find her too.”
“Well good for you,” I say letting the venom creep into my voice. He glanced over at me, his brows coming together. The bruise under his cheek was still turning a deeper shade of purple, his eye swelling slightly. I still refused to feel guilty.
“I didn’t lie to you.”
“You tricked me.”
“I did what I was told to do.” He said. I stopped, causing him to turn and look at me.
“What?” I asked quietly, “Someone ordered you to come here?” Distantly, I watched Edward sigh and turn, his eyes roaming the forest around us. Oryn ran a hand through his hair.
“Marilla runs the Marked Guard. She was the informant that Tristan knew. She chose me to take this job.”
“This job,” I say quietly, my heart feeling as if it were breaking all over again. Oryn stepped closer to me, lowering his voice as he said.
“It wasn’t like that, Aurelia. Everything I said to you was true. Is true.” I reached out, finding no darkness in his words. But it didn’t matter.
I already felt my heart closed off to him.
“It’s too late for that.” I say, “I have to find Carena.”
I stepped past him and continued to walk on, even though I had no idea where I was going. I didn’t look to see if Oryn was following, I just followed Edward’s steps.
I pushed all my thoughts about everything he said down, away from the forefront of my mind.
I didn’t care what he had to say.
I only cared about getting Carena and getting the hell away from everyone here.
We had been walking for some time now, my feet beginning to ache. I hadn’t been paying attention to where we were headed, my mind too lost in thoughts to bother paying attention to my surroundings. Looking around now, I realized the ground had flattened out. We were no longer walking down the slope that was the hill of Tristan’s manor. Pine needles littered the floor and gave a satisfying crunch as we made our way closer to the City of Light. There weren’t as many branches that littered the floor now that we were at the bottom of the hill. It was a relief, not having to keep from falling.
“Wait,” Edward called out. He had come to a stop, his hand up in a fist. Oryn came to stand next to me. I watched as he glanced around the forest, his eyes sharp as he tried to focus. The hairs on my arms began to stand, whether from the cold or the sudden rush of magic that I felt course through me.
Something was off.
Run. Run. Run.
After years of trying to ignore the shadows whisper, I felt that now would be the worst time to ignore them.
“Run,” I gasp.
A black shadow leaped out from behind Edward as we took off through the forest. Oryn let one of the arrows fly, a heavy thunk revealing that the arrow found its target.
A howl rang out in the distance, one that had the remaining contents of my stomach turning to liquid.
I tried to keep up with Oryn and Edward, but the awkwardness of my pack made it difficult.
“Hurry!” Oryn yelled at me as we ran.
My breaths came fast and sharp, my legs burned and my chest ached like it never had before. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see another black shadow off to my right keeping pace with us like it was having a nice jog.
Move, hurry, run.
The shadows grew louder as the beast kept up with us. I pushed myself faster, grabbing at my skirts so I could move. Oryn was knocking another arrow as he ran, letting it fly off to my right.
The shadows screamed in my ear as I fell to the floor, the breath leaving my lungs from the impact. A black shadow arched over me, a claw reaching down towards me. I felt a sharp claw graze the back of my skirts, sending a bright rip through the quiet.
“Aurelia!” Oryn shouted. He let another arrow fly as I stood to keep running. He let me sail past him, his arrows flying at anything that moved. I didn’t look to see if he followed me. I kept running, hoping I was going in the right direction.
Run, run, run...
The shadow’s relentless echo made it difficult to hear anything else. I felt my boot caught on something, and before I could catch myself, I was sent flying to the ground. My ankle twisted, a sharp pain shooting up through my leg. I cried out, trying to keep it quiet, but there was no use. I hit the floor, sliding on the slick needles. My pack felt from my back as I tried to stand to continue running. I put weight on my leg, sending a bright pain through my body. I fell to the ground again, my hands burning from the needles scratching against my skin. I rolled over so I was on my back, searching through the darkness.
Oryn was nowhere to be seen. Neither was Edward. But what I could see froze the breath in my throat.
A large shadow trotted out from behind a tree and a hound stepped into a soft stream of moonlight.
Oryn was right. They were hideous.
The thing had a hunched back, its stringy black hair stood up straight. Its mouth pulled back to reveal razor-sharp teeth that were stained a muddy brown color. I began to back up, frantic with trying to get away.
Then the odor hit me.
It smelled of rotten flesh, or what I thought rotten flesh would smell like. I gagged, sure I would be sick. It took a few steps towards me, its snout sniffing the air, confirming what I was. I tried to stand to run, but my ankle only flared in excruciating pain, sending me to the floor yet again. I began to cry out for help, but my voice wouldn’t come. I looked around, trying to find anything I could use to defend myself, but nothing was within reach.
I reached for my power, to do anything, but nothing seemed to work, to happen.
I turned to face the hound as it leaped at me. I could only watch its jaws, trying to prepare myself for what was to come.
A streak of brilliant light flew into the hound’s side, sending it away with a mighty yelp. I shielded my eyes, the light almost hurting as much as my ankle. I curled on the forest floor, trying to make myself small and unnoticeable. I heard signs of a struggle, a battle between the hound and whoever else was attacking.
A hand rested on my shoulder, and I thrashed, throwing punches and kicking, despite the pain in my ankle. I felt my hands come into contact with something, but it was smooth, warm, and not hairy like the hound.
“Woah there!” A male voice called out. I stopped, thinking I would find Oryn. But instead, I looked at a stranger. He crouched next to me, his eyes wide with concern as he took the sight of me in. He scanned my body, head to toe, his gaze resting on my now swelling ankle.
“Are you hurt?” He glanced at me, reaching out to touch my foot. I didn’t stop him as he gently prodded my ankle with his long, delicate fingers. I watched as he inspected my foot, trying to see what damage had been done. He had a long face, one that was clear of any blemish, scar, or freckle, a sharp nose, a cutting jawline, and full lips.
I didn’t say a word as he prodded up and down my leg, checking for any reaction from me. Everything within me seemed to quiet. The shadows, the pain, the fear. I looked at the man again, a strange sensation filling me. His hair was a warm chestnut color and his skin was a honey-kissed tan that seemed to glow.
That did glow.
His skin radiated with light, making the darkness seem mild. It was as if the sun had kissed him, leaving behind a trace of its brilliance.
“I think it’s sprained, but not broken.” He turned, offering me a gentle smile. “I think you’ll be okay.” His voice was warm and soft, like the sun in the morning. Movement caught my eye just over the glowing man’s shoulder. Oryn stood, an arrow pointed straight at the stranger’s head.
“Step. Away. Now.” Oryn said slowly. The man froze, his fingers tightening ever so slightly on my ankle. He looked at me, a half-smile forming on his full lips, and winked.
“I’m guessing you’re Oryn?” The man said as he stood, raising his hands in the air to show he wasn’t holding anything.
“Who are you?” Oryn asked, not once letting the arrow down. I didn’t move as I watched the man face Oryn, his skin still glowing like the sun.
“My name is Kierian. Marilla sent me with Kova to help get you guys back.” He said carefully, but firmly. He watched as Oryn processed the information, his bow still trained on the man’s - on Kierian’s - head.
“Marilla sent you?” Oryn asked. A bustle of movement to the right caught everyone’s attention. Oryn trained his bow on the rustling of the tree. I prepared myself for whatever was about to come out of it. A girl leaped over the brush, her hands alight with a purple hue. Oryn pointed his bow to the ground immediately, the tension of his shoulders fading.
“Oh good! You guys have met.” The girl said in a chipper tone. Her voice had an accent that I had never heard before, a soft lilt that was melodic and pleasing
“You know this guy?” Oryn asked, looking over at Kierian.
“He’s the newest recruit.” The girl, who I assumed was the supposed Kova, said as she began to take note of me. Her brows arched as she looked at me then back at Oryn. “So this is the girl?”
Oryn walked over to me, nearly knocking shoulders with Kierian. He knelt next to me, his hand resting on my shoulder. I tried to shrug him away, but he kept checking me for wounds.
“Yes.” That was all he said. His gaze rested on my ankle and roamed all over the rest of my body. “Where does it hurt?”
“Like I’d tell you.” I snapped, glancing up at Kova who watched Oryn with one brow arched. Her arms were crossed over her chest and she leaned on one leg, her hip popping.
“Come on, sunshine.” Oryn began to help me up, his hands wrapping around mine. I stood, leaning heavily on him trying to put weight on my ankle. I wasn’t going to be a baby about it. I tried to push him away, to let him know I didn’t need him to help. He almost gave in, letting me try to take a step, but as soon as I began to wobble and fall, he held onto me tighter. He sighed as he bent down and placed a hand under my knees. I didn’t have time to protest as he scooped me up like I was nothing more than a sack of potatoes.
“Let me go.” I squirmed trying to get out of his grasp. This was the last thing I wanted to happen.
“You can’t walk on that ankle and we need to get out of this forest,” Oryn muttered. I couldn’t help but notice the way Kova watched us, an amused smirk on her lips. Frustration began to build.
“You can’t just pick me up like that and toss me about. It’s rude.” I said.
“Well, I’m sorry that you lost a battle with a tree root.” He retorted. He began to walk through the forest as if nothing had happened.
“You can’t carry me the whole way. That’s not possible.”
“I’m offended you find me so weak.” He said, a small smile finding his lips. “I’m one of the strongest in the Guard.”
“Well good for you.”
“I like this one.” Kova piped up from behind us. She chuckled as she followed Oryn, Kierian not far behind her.
“No one asked for your opinion, Kova,” Oryn muttered. I didn’t think she had heard him, but when I looked at her, she only smiled a knowing smile.
“It would be helpful if you wrapped your arms around my neck. It would make my job a lot easier.” Oryn said, his voice low to keep the others from hearing. I looked up at him, his eyes scanning the ground, watching for any dangerous roots or brush on the forest floor.
“Let me go,” I say quietly, trying not to draw the attention of the others. Oryn spared a look at me.
“Look,” He said quickly. “We don’t have time for this. I understand you’re angry with me and that you don’t want to be near me right now, but Carena’s life is on the line. If we are going to get her back, we need to work together. There are too many odds stacked against us right now to be at each other’s throats.”
I fell into silence, hating that everything in me screamed that he was right. I wanted nothing from him, no help, no pity, nothing. But, I did need Carena back and so far my track record for success is in the negative.
However frustrating it was, I knew that this was the best way for me to get back to Abberton. I could set aside my stubbornness for this one thing, for Carena.
“For the record, I didn’t ask you to do this,” I said as I wrapped my arms around his neck, trying to ignore the awkwardness I felt surface.
“You’re welcome.” He huffed out. He glanced down at me, his brows crinkling. He lowered his voice as he said, “You’re sure the hound didn’t hurt you anywhere else?”
“No. I’m fine,” I stated. I didn’t want him worrying about me. He didn’t need to be concerned with my wellbeing considering he was no longer my guard or protector. His reply was soft, a whisper against my skin.
“You don’t need to lie to me, Aurelia.” I turned to look at him, but he was focused on the forest. “Everything that happened...back there...”
“I don’t want to ever talk about it again.”
“But I need you to know it was real.”
“It doesn’t matter,” I whisper, tears threatening to prick at my eyes. “None of it matters anymore.”
Oryn didn’t say anything after that as we continued. I did my best to ignore the shame and frustration that built with each step, as well as the aching pulse of pain that raced up and down my leg.
“When we get to Abberton, there are going to be a lot of questions. One word and I’ll send them all away. Just one word.” Oryn said with determination. I looked at him, my heart cracking as I thought about what could have been.
Will you come back to Abberton with me? After this is all over?
Those words rang in my mind as I looked at him. This is what he had wanted. He wanted me to come back to Abberton for the Marked Guard, not for him. The truth of it settled over me like a blanket that was too warm. I felt sick as I looked forward, a traitorous tear spilling down my cheek.
“I’ll be fine,” I said as we continued through the forest.