Alone in the Dark
“What?” I asked, my chest caving in, everything around me starting to turn black. All I could see was Marilla’s face, her steel-gray eyes filling with something reminiscent of pity and sadness.
“Tristan was Meira’s adopted father, therefore, making him your grandfather. You may not be related by blood, but he raised your mother from infancy. I had thought maybe he would tell you and Carena the truth, then lie to the public about your relations. I had never realized he would lie to you as well. He told you that he wasn’t your grandfather?”
I shook my head, numb at the realization. All those years thinking Tristan was only doing something out of the goodness of his heart when he was family. Grief cascaded upon me all over again, my body swaying. Oryn stood, catching me before I hit the ground, and guided me over to the chair he had been sitting in. My body shook, my legs felt numb, my chest felt cold.
There had been so many questions I had about myself, my mother, my past that he could have answered. That he refused to answer with the truth. He would always tell me that he would look into it, that he would discover some truth when he knew it all along. Why wouldn’t he tell me that he knew my mother, that he raised my mother?
I thought of the abandoned home underneath the manor, the way that it had been left forgotten like a skeleton buried in the ground. And I could see it, the place having once held the memories of a loving home. I could understand why Tristan would want to leave it forgotten underneath his new life, why he would never want to return to the pain that laid underneath. I shot a glance up at Oryn, who seemed to be making the same connection I was.
“He always told us that he owed my mother his life, that she had helped him and he was returning the favor.” I curled my fists in my lap, trying to focus on my breathing. I didn’t talk to anyone in particular, but I needed to fit the pieces together in my mind. I knew the room was darkening, and by the way the others nervously glanced around them, I wasn’t just imagining it. I had to calm down and remain in control. I had to keep my focus and that was Carena. It didn’t matter what Tristan had done or had not done, or what the history of my mother was. All that matter was that we got Carena back.
“My mother never told me anything about the Marked Guard. I hardly knew my father and my memories of him are less than memorable. But it doesn’t matter what happened then. All I know is that my...grandfather...is dead and my sister is out there somewhere in the hands of the King’s Guard.” I say, looking up at Marilla. “I think your five minutes is up.”
“But don’t you understand?” Marilla said, her voice on the edge of pleading. “The King is after you, Aurelia. The King of Vrunadia is trying to get his hands on you, and if you run after Carena, that’s exactly what he will get.”
“But why?” I ask, “I have done nothing except stay in that Manor the past fourteen years. How would he even know about me?”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to figure out for months now,” Marilla says, and it’s then that I notice how tired she is. I glance around the room and see the same expression on everyone’s faces, even Oryn’s.
“For month’s we have been intercepting exchanges of Marked girls that look like you.” Oryn says, “They all were headed to Tricine. We’ve managed to save some but…”
“A lot got away.” Kova finishes. She nods over towards Kierian, “This one here was on his way too, decided to stay with the Guard instead of head to the mountains like the others.”
Kierian gave a nod of confirmation, his eyes falling onto the floor as if the memory was still too difficult to remember.
They all watched me, all waited for me to do something, but it felt like an impossible decision to make. There were elements at play in a much larger game. Fourteen years ago, I thought I had taken myself off the board, but it turned out I’ve been in play for a while.
And I have no idea what game it is.
But none of it mattered. Carena was out there, and however clueless I am to what’s going on, she is more so.
She’s not even Marked.
It was my fault she was taken in the first place.
And the grief that was in my chest smoldered and burned into a raging fury, a monsoon of flame.
Your fault, your fault, your fault.
“Carena is out there and we will find her, but for now, there isn’t much we can do but wait until we learn more information about where they took her. We have to keep you out of the King’s grip.” Marilla said. She had moved to the table and took a seat at the head of the table. I stood from my seat, my hands in fists by my sides. There was so much tension throughout my body from frustration, keeping my power under control, that a headache began to form behind my eyes.
“I came here not to help you. I came to get my sister, to find Carena. If you’re not going to help me, then I’m leaving and going out there to find her.” Marilla crossed her arms over her chest, her brow quirking.
“You think you can go out there by yourself? You - the one who is having trouble keeping her power under control. Do you think you’re going to be able to keep it under control in a high-stress situation? How are you going to walk about the city without those shadows on your shoulders? You’re a walking beacon of treason. Any guard would take one look at you and put a dagger in your back. Not to mention that each would be highly rewarded for bringing the King what he wanted.” Marilla said. I hated every word she said, but what I hated more, was that she was right. I didn’t want to admit it, but there was no way I would be able to go undetected right now. I fought desperately to keep that power in check, to keep that flow of magic at bay.
“Like I care.” I spat, “I’m looking for Carena.” I will not sit around while Carena was out there being held by the Guard. I prayed that was all they were doing. The reality was, they could be doing anything to her. For all I know, she could be dead already.
But I wasn’t going to allow myself to think that.
I knew that she wasn’t and that she was out there in the city. I knew she was close.
Marilla watched me with a skeptical eye, her gaze always returning to the shadows. There was a hint of fear in her gaze and I couldn’t help but wonder what she thought of when she looked at them.
“I have informants at the East Gate and West Gate of Abberton that track the prisoner movements of the Vrunadian Guard. I will tell them to inform me if they see any prisoners being transferred. Kova, Edward - I need you out in the field interviewing and asking questions about Carena’s whereabouts. Until then, Aurelia, you will remain here and train. Once you can keep everything under control, you will be permitted to go out into the city and look for your sister.” Marilla said, Kova and Edward silently rising from their chairs and leaving without any more questions.
“Since when do I take orders from you? I’ve been on my own, away from you, for twenty-three years. I’m not a part of this Marked Guard and I have no plans to be. You can’t permit me to do anything.”
If fire could grow in a gaze, Marilla’s was ablaze. She looked right through me, her gaze pinning me in place. There weren’t many people I feared or many people I knew, but Marilla seemed to be a force not to reckon with. I wasn’t sure who the small woman was, but at this moment, a part of me quivered under her gaze. It was no wonder she managed to control the powerful people in the room with an authoritative gaze like that.
“You don’t have to take orders for me. I’m just talking reasonably which, I might add, you are incapable of doing right now. You’ve just been through a trauma, and your entire life has been upended. You are in shock.” She said each word carefully as if she was talking to a child. “I suggest that for the next few days, at least, you take the word of someone who is looking at this situation. I suggest you listen to me because if you don’t, you’ll end up right where the King wants you, and Carena will be dead. Do you understand?”
We stared at each other for a moment. It was hard for me to imagine my mother and this woman being friends. The Meira I had known was a warm, kind, and loving person. She was always the light of whatever room she was in and everyone had loved her. Marilla seemed to be far more serious than my mother had been, and it was hard imagining Marilla laughing at anything. With stress lines crinkled into her forehead and her brows in an ever descending point, I could hardly imagine my mother wanting to confide in this person.
But if what Marilla had said about their relationship was true, then my mother must have trusted her immensely. If she trusted her enough to want to take Carena and me to the mountains to hide with her, then I couldn’t ignore her now.
Exhaustion pulled at me, my strength sapped from the events of the night. I wasn’t even sure I would be able to take another step without falling. I wanted to get Carena, but I couldn’t go out alone.
“Fine.” I gritted out. “But as soon as I get this under control, I will be out in the city, and there is nothing you can do to change that.” Marilla nodded in response, conceding to the rushed agreement.
“The only question left remaining is who is going to train you,” Marilla said. She glanced around the room. “Any volunteers?”
I looked around, daring anyone to step forward.
“I’ll train her.” My gaze snapped over to where Kierian stood. I had tried avoiding his gaze ever since we arrived, the incident in the forest still fresh in my mind. His gaze was uncomfortable, and now that I could see his eyes in the candlelight, the strange hue of them made it almost worse.
His eyes were gold. Pure gold.
In the light, he was even more striking than he had been out in the forest. His honey-brown skin still held an unnatural glow, his chestnut hair fell in waves across his forehead, and he had a splash of freckles across his nose. He looked between Marilla and myself, his expression light. He smiled a bit as he said, “I think I can relate to Aurelia’s gift.”
“And how would you know?” Oryn asked. His tone was harsh, with a bit of bite to it that was unexpected. “She hasn’t even said what her ability is yet.” Kierian only shrugged.
“Based on the shadows, I have an idea. I used to have similar issues when I was younger and trying to control my power.” He said.
“With shadows?” I asked, unable to contain my curiosity.
“Not shadows, per se. I used to radiate light, even when I didn’t want to.” He said. Arryn chuckled.
“You glowed? Like a lantern?” Arryn said. It was the first thing she had said the entire meeting. Kierian glanced over at her and laughed as he said,
“Like the sun.”
“Light. You can control light?” Oryn said incredulously.
“I would say our gifts are pretty similar, just opposite. I may be able to give some helpful pointers.”
Marilla thought a moment as she watched Kierian, her gaze was thoughtful. I spared a glance at Oryn, to find that his expression was almost murderous as he watched Kierian.
“I think that may work,” Marilla concluded. “I suggest everyone gets some rest for the night. Aurelia, your training will start tomorrow. Oryn, report to me in the morning. We still have Marked being taken and we still have answers to find. I’ll see you all in the morning.” With that, everyone filed out of the room. I remained standing by the table, my shoulders tense as I watched everyone leave.
If there was ever a time I felt like I didn’t belong, it was now.
“Here. I’ll show you where the rooms are.” Oryn said in a low, tentative voice. He nodded his head towards the door, leading the way out.
I was too tired and defeated to argue.
Oryn took me through the house, which was much larger than it seemed from the outside. There were several rooms in the home, some of which were occupied by other people. I hadn’t realized how many had been staying here. Were they all members of the Marked Guard, or were they just Marked passing through? If that were the case, the Marked Guard was a much larger operation than I had anticipated.
I still felt numb, my body tingling as I tried to sort out everything that had happened.
It was almost too much to process.
Not only had I lost everything, but I find out my mother was part of creating this...group. She had a whole side to her life that I was completely unaware of. The person I had thought I knew so well had become a mystery to me, and it felt as if I was losing everything I had known all over again.
Then there was the difficult discovery of Tristan, that he had known so much about my mother, my life, my past. He had kept that all from me for whatever reason of his own.
And Carena was out there somewhere amid everything that was going on.
But what had been the most difficult thing to understand, and the most hurtful, was why that there had been other Marked, that looked like me, being taken to Tricine where the King waited for them.
I could picture the image of the portrait in the Citadel, the way he seemed to sneer at everyone that entered. Why would a man in such high power want me? There had to be a mistake.
Everything rotten that had happened within the past few hours boiled down to one common denominator.
“Here you go. This room is empty.” Oryn pushed open a door revealing a small bedroom complete with a furnace, dresser, and a single bed that had a pillow and quilt. It was small compared to my room back at the manor, but I wouldn’t complain. Once I had Carena, we weren’t going to be staying for long.
“Thanks,” I mumbled as I stumbled in. There was a soft thump, and I turned to find Oryn setting my bag on the ground. Someone must have grabbed it from the forest and brought it to the house.
“That had to be...difficult,” Oryn said, leaning against the doorframe, his hands shoved into his pockets. He looked exhausted, circles starting to form under his eyes. A nice bruise was fully visible on his cheek.
“Why would you care?” I say, but exhaustion had taken the bite away. Oryn sighed, looking carefully at me.
“Don’t. Okay? I don’t want any apologies. I don’t want false words. I don’t want to talk to you.”
“I just wanted to say that I’m sorry.” He said quietly. I had grown so numb to the layers of mysteries I had uncovered about Oryn tonight, about everyone in my life. I looked to the ground, my hands in fists at my sides. I wasn’t sure what to say to the apology. Because of his mistake, because he didn’t listen to me, Carena was gone. In a way, a lot of this had to do with him. A lot of it was his fault, even if he was doing the job he was hired to do.
Yet at the same time, a lot of it was my fault as well. If my conversation with Marilla had shown me anything, it was that this was a mess in the making since before I was born.
I didn’t know what to think anymore.
I glanced up to find Oryn watching me, a hard look in his eye.
“Why are you looking at me like that?” I asked.
“Are you sure you want to train with Kierian? You don’t know him. I don’t even know him. I could train you just as well. I did train you back at the manor.”
The change in conversation seemed sudden, and I wasn’t sure what was prompting it.
“It seems that Marilla trusts him, as well as everyone else.” I point out.
“Just because the others don’t seem to have an issue doesn’t always mean there isn’t one. I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
“And why not?” I cross my arms over my chest, like the child I am. He takes a step towards me, letting the door swing close.
“Because he shows up out of nowhere and all of a sudden, he decides he’s going to train you? Not to mention how convenient it is that he happens to have a power like yours? Don’t you find that strange?” Oryn asks.
“Sorry for disagreeing, but the last time I listened to you, someone died.” The words were like a slap to the face. He took a step back, a harsh chuckle escaping from him. A part of me hated myself for saying it, for accusing him of something that was out of his control.
Yet I didn’t care.
I was angry, and I burned with the need to let it out, to take it out.
“Right.” He said, running a hand through his hair. “And I guess the past two weeks were nothing then? That everything that had happened a few hours ago meant nothing?” His eyes scanned my face, looking for a glimmer of hope, a glimmer of forgiveness.
A rebellious part of my heart broke at the sight, at the longing that was written on his face. I wanted nothing more than to be back in that closet, Oryn holding me, comforting me. I wanted nothing more than for him to do that now, to comfort me against the discoveries that changed my entire world.
But it had all been based on a lie, a cover-up. Had he been told to seduce me? Was it a part of his mission to get close to me so that he could convince me to come to Abberton?
Another piece of the puzzle clicked into place.
“Did you ask me to come to Abberton because you wanted me, or because you wanted me to join the Marked Guard?” I waited, praying that the truth was the former. But Oryn’s jaw tightened a muscle popping. He didn’t say anything as he just watched me.
The truth stung.
“Get out,” I said, my heart too broken to put any venom behind it.
Oryn didn’t say a word as he slipped from the room, the door silent as it closed.
After changing out of the clothes I traveled here in and discarded them in a corner of the room, I sunk into the bed of the new room.
My heart trembled with exhaustion, my fingers, and toes numb. I stared at the way the morning sun played with the shadows in the room.
I didn’t feel like moving, or thinking, or anything.
I wanted nothing more than to be back in the manor, sprawled out on my bed with Carena next to me.
Tears formed in my eyes.
And in the loneliness of the unfamiliar place, I let the tears come.
I lay back on the bed, curled up on my side, staring at the closed door.
I closed my eyes, trying to force myself to fall asleep.
But sleep didn’t find me. I watched as image after image poured through me making me relive the past few hours.
It felt like a lifetime had already passed.
I watched as Oryn opened the door, revealing Tristan bloodied and dying. I heard his last breath of air. I watched as his eyes became glassy and dull. I felt the blood drip from my fingertips.
I felt the rage, the panic, the shock.
The tender kiss Oryn and I had in the tense moments in the closet.
I felt the betrayal as I uncovered truth after truth, he had kept from me.
But after a few hours of pain, I no longer felt anything at all. All I felt was hollow inside, empty as I realized that the past fourteen years of plans had crumbled to dust in just a few hours.
Everything had been taken and now I remained alone in the dark like I had always imagined would happen.