A Moment of Darkness

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Skeleton's Ribs

I was the last to arrive in the foyer, three sets of eyes watched me as I descended the staircase, sleep deprivation dragging my feet and making me feel dizzy.

It had been another long night of bad images and upset stomachs.

I had managed to get at least three hours of restless sleep before I crawled out of bed and donned the outfit Kova had given me the night before.

It took the rest of the morning to convince myself to step outside of my room in said outfit.

Kova had tried to convince me that the tight-fitting pants and shirt would be the best for the mission, her lavender eyes serious as she handed me the clothes.

“Trust me,” She said. “You’d rather take a dagger wearing this than that flimsy gown you wear now.” She even demonstrated it on her clothing, showing how a dagger hardly tore at the leather that clung to her body. I didn’t question her as she set the pile on my bed, hardly giving me another glance as she turned to leave.

Oryn had also stopped by to make sure I was prepared for the next morning. His expression guarded and his eyes hardly meeting mine as he asked me several questions in regards to my mental state.

“Do you think you’re ready for something like this?” He had asked. “I mean, just yesterday you were struggling to call an orb of darkness to your hand.”

I only demonstrated my control by calling that spear of darkness, showing off the gleaming tip of it. Oryn sighed as he headed towards the door, only turning to give me one final command as if he couldn’t help himself.

“You’ll be sticking with me the entire day. This is a trial run, a way to get your feet wet without getting hurt. The exchange is between some low-level guards so you get to see what’s been going on the past few months. Just stick with me, however much you may hate it.”

And now, as I met each of their gazes in return, I found that I wasn’t sure I was ready to handle whatever the day was going to bring. Even Kova seemed to recognize that by turning to Marilla and saying in a rushed whisper.

“She can hardly stand upright, Marilla. Are you serious?” Kova’s arms were folded over her chest, her leathers similar to mine. She looked back to me, her lavender eyes glowing with that ever flaming purple. “Did you get any sleep?”

“Enough.” I managed to say, my eyes still heavy.

“Aurelia…” Oryn warned, his voice thick as if he had just woken not long ago himself.

“I’m fine.” I glance at him, a zap of shivers racing up my spine as I looked at him. It had indeed seemed like he hardly got any sleep, his hair a rumples mess and his eyes clouded with exhaustion. “If I didn’t know any better I’d say you hardly got more than three hours yourself. Let’s just get a move on it.”

Kova gave an exasperated look to Oryn as if to say you’re not helping anything. Oryn only shrugged as he turned and grabbed a cloak that was hanging from a peg on the wall. He handed the cloak to me, the fabric a soft yellow color.

“You need to wear this throughout the day. We don’t want to risk anyone seeing you.”

“Why aren’t you two wearing one?” I ask, pulling the cloak around me and snapping the hood over my white hair.

“First, we’re more experienced,” Kova said, holding up a slender finger. “And second, not all of us are being hunted by the King.” I rolled my eyes but made sure that the buttons down the front of the cloak were secure.

“Here,” Oryn said, handing me a belt with a knife strapped to the side. “You’ll also want this.”

“But I don’t know how to use that,” I say, grabbing the belt anyways and strapping it around my waist. It felt bulky underneath the cloak, but I figured at least there was some form of protection other than my power.

“We will have to remedy that later. For now, at least you have a backup in case your power fails you.”

“Let’s pray you don’t have to use either weapon or ability today,” Marilla says, her voice quiet for once. She meets Oryn’s gaze, “You keep her with you. Don’t let your eyes off her for one second.”

“Yes ma’am.” He replied.

“Kova, Oryn! Wait!” A voice called from the top of the stairs. We all turned to find Arryn rushing down the stairs, her long, brown hair trailing behind her. As she descended the staircase, I found that I was searching for evidence of those green marks that had appeared when she healed me. But even though she was wearing short sleeves, there was nothing but soft green skin on both arms.

When she reached us, a soft breeze carried the scent of grass and lilies drifted around us as if Arryn herself had just come from a garden. She handed Oryn the bag, her hand covered in dirt.

“Medical supplies in case the girl needs it. Just pulled some herbs from the garden as well, so you should be covered.” Oryn took the bag, thanking her as he slipped it over his head. She smiled, looking to each of us as she said,

“You be careful out there.” Her gaze settled on Oryn again, her cheeks turning a slightly darker shade of green. She set a hand on his arm and stood on her tiptoes to plant a gentle kiss on his cheek.

I avoided my gaze, catching a smirk on Kova’s lips as I did so. Hot, acrid fury laced through me like a lash as I looked to the door of the foyer.

“Right,” Kova said, her voice cheery and bright for once. “Let’s get a move on it.”

I didn’t look back at Arryn, Oryn, or Marilla as I followed Kova out into the city.


“How much farther?” Kova asked Oryn, her voice a whisper. We had been walking for almost twenty minutes now, our identities masked thanks to Oryn’s illusions.

“City Square is up ahead. Not too much farther to the Genk District after that.”

“I always hated cities,” Kova grumbled. “Too much walking.”

“You’re not from here?” I ask, not able to help my curiosity. I had assumed all of the Marked Guard were from Abberton or had lived here a significant amount of time. Oryn was from the Aelfrund mountains, but he had made it seem like Abberton was where he had spent the majority of his time afterward.

Kova seemed surprised by the question, but thankfully, she decided to be kind for once and answer me back.

“I’m originally from a small village in the Plains called Tuvan. Arryn helped me escape about five years ago. She brought me to the Marked Guard afterward. Haven’t been back since.” She said, her eyes never once left scanning the streets for any sign of guard.


“Not all of us get to hide in luxury like you.” She said with a vitriolic gleam in her eye. “The people of my town are superstitious folk. They kept me chained to the wall on my father’s farm, only using me when necessary. Kept me drugged and exhausted to keep me from escaping on my own.”

“At least you got a wicked awesome nickname out of it.” Oryn chimed in, the tension in Kova’s shoulders relaxing a fraction as she smirked.

“The Witch does have a nice ring to it.” She said, “I do rather hold onto that nickname dearly.”

“They call you that?” I ask, surprised by the honesty of her story.

“Marked are not common in my village, so when I displayed what I was capable of, they thought it was a curse from the Great Light. They kept me contained and feared everything about me. It didn’t help that I had a physical change in my appearance as well as the markings. The hair, the eyes, the power. It all was a perfect storm for those puritanical zealots. I became their devil in every way, and they treated me as such.” She seethed, her hand tightening around the pommel of the sword that was strapped to her side. A hint of markings surfaced to her skin from the frustration that she showed.

“Kova,” Oryn warned.

“I got it under control.” She remarked, the marks disappearing again.

“You can control it like that?” I asked, shocked to watch her make the marks disappear. She looked at me with an arched brow, her face squinting as she said.

“All Marked can.” She looked to my arms, covered by not only the cloak but also the long sleeves of the leathers she had given me. “Are you saying you can’t?”

“Shh. Ahead.” Oryn said in a low voice.

The City Square loomed ahead, commotion starting to fill the alleyway we were heading down. The three of us strode through the City Square together, Oryn’s illusions disguising us as ordinary Vrunadian’s. He had wanted me to stay close when we left the manor, saying his illusions became more difficult to control the farther away I got, but it was impossible not to stare at everything in the Square. I had to remind myself to keep walking several times as we made our way through.

It looked as it always had from my childhood memories; the vendor’s stalls, the anxious crowd, the smell of spices, the shouts of prices. Everything was enthralling, exciting, but also overwhelming. And towering over it all, the Pillar of Brandr loomed over it, mighty yet peaceful. The tall stone structure clawed towards the sky, the crystal amber within the center of it seeming to glow with its own flame of fire from within. Everything Marilla had said about it came tumbling back, the story of my mother and father, of Marilla and the young Marked Guard. I couldn’t help but wonder what had happened here during that battle. Had my mother thought of it every time we would make our way into the Square? Did she always fear that the Shadowfold would return? I never recalled my mother seeming worried about the Pillar, or even mention any significance in regards to it. She always told me to stay away from the base of the structure, but only because the children that dwelled there were particularly fond of getting into brawls and fights.

Kova’s hand wrapped around my arm, pulling me from my thoughts and stupor.

“Keep up.” She said in my ear, her voice almost drowned out by the crowd.

The towering buildings of the Genk District came into view, shifting my focus back onto today’s task. The Pillar was tall, but the intricate network of buildings that was the skeleton of the Genk District rose as tall as the wall that surrounded Abberton. I had once heard that the back portions of the Genk District were built into the wall itself. I had never had the chance to see it, but my mother had always warned me of those areas and the people that dwelled there.

“Nothing good ever comes from Genk.” She would always say, clutching my hand tighter as we passed by.

“You ready?” Kova murmured to Oryn as we began to enter into the dark District.

“Born ready,” Oryn said with a smirk, that earned an eye roll from Kova.

“With all the time you spent at that manor, you would think you would have thought of some new jokes.” She said, shaking her head. I tried my best to keep up with the two of them. Oryn’s illusion shifted over us, I could feel the way my skin tingled as it did so. Catching a brief glimpse in a window, I now saw that the three of us were a bunch of drunkards. It turned out to be a perfect ruse because as we made our way through the narrow streets; bar after bar passed us, each full and thriving despite the morning hours. The rank smell of beer and alcohol filled the streets, mixing with the scent of sewage and other odors I’d rather not name. It took everything in me to keep the small contents of my stomach down, and by the looks of it, Kova was struggling to do the same.

Even though I already disliked this part of the city, and was ready to be rid of it, there was a strange beauty to it. Clotheslines hung from the patios of the outward-facing apartments, creating an interlocking web of clothes, changing the sky to a kaleidoscope of trousers and shirts. Brightly colored clothing flapped in the breeze like flags and the gentle smell of soap offered sweet reprieves from the dank odor of the street.

A few children were already up and playing in some of the side alleys, their parents far too poor to afford schooling for them.

I watched the young Greenies and a few Stones kicking the ball between them, their laughs pleasant and light. Women were out on their patios, washing laundry or preparing for the day, but always keeping their eye on the children below. There was a sense of community here, and I couldn’t help but notice the nervous glances shot our way as if they could see right through the disguise.

“The apartment complex is towards the wall,” Kova said, both Oryn and I flanking either side of her. “Marilla said that it was once used as a guard station, but they abandoned it after a few of the ceilings caved in. It’s just a space they use to store extra supplies and rations if need be.” Oryn had filled me in on those facts last night as well before he decided to try to play the part of the unnecessary guard and order me to stay near him. I still bristled at the tone in his voice, the flash of fierce determination in his gaze.

“There,” Kova said, motioning towards a building that was surely a relic of ancient times.

Kova had not been lying when she said that the apartment complex was abandoned and run down. Most of the ceiling and walls had fallen in making it seem like the ribs of a skeleton. It was shorter than any of the other buildings that we had passed, meaning that it had to be one of the original structures of the Genk District.

“Can anyone even walk in there?” Kova asked as we passed the building, keeping our eyes open for any guards or persons within. Kova’s head nodded towards an alleyway. We ducked into it, Oryn letting the illusion drop as we slipped into the shadows. I let out a breath, letting the shadows thicken around us, making it more difficult for unwanted eyes to see. Oryn glanced around, and then met my gaze, giving me an approving nod and impressed smile.

I looked away.

“It seems empty enough,” I say, inspecting the pockmarked face of the building.

“Yeah, but how do we even enter it without going through the front door?” Kova said, “The back of the building is in the wall of Abberton itself. There’s no other entrance except the front.”

“We could go through one of the windows,” Oryn says.

“And die trying.” Kova folds her arms over her chest, her hip popping as she looked at the building, inspecting it like it was a puzzle to be solved.

“I don’t think we would die,” Oryn remarks, eyeing a few windows. The closest window was several feet off the ground and I doubted that even Oryn, with his hulking frame, would be able to make the jump to reach it. That’s not even mentioning the state of the building itself. Every wall looked like it was mere seconds away from crumbling to dust. Some fissures and cracks snaked up the outside walls, along with vines of ivy. It was probably the ivy that held the walls together, not the cement. “Maybe the front door isn’t such a bad idea.”

“What’s that building across from it?” She asked. I looked down the street at the building in question. It was tall, but it was much more ornately decorated than the others. There were no clotheslines attached to the patios and there seemed to be no matronly women keeping an eye on children playing below. Everything about the building seemed new and fresh. As if no one had been able to live in it yet.

“It appears to be a renovated apartment complex,” I say, yet again earning a surprised glance from Oryn.

“Interesting.” Kova smiled.


A few hours later, I found myself settled under a dusty staircase below a set of stairs I figured would kill me if I breathed the wrong way.

Somehow, Kova managed to convince Oryn to sit in the dilapidated building while she canvassed the area from the comforts of the new yet abandoned apartments. I hardly said a word about the matter but was told to stick with Oryn since I was his problem, according to Kova.

And so I sat with Oryn, yet again, in a dusty closet that threatened to cave in on us.

“Can you still hear me?” Kova’s voice arose in my mind, her whisper making the hairs on my arms stand up. I nearly jumped out of my skin when her voice first appeared in my mind as Oryn and I broke into the building. Oryn had explained to me that it was a part of her power, to be able to speak into minds.

Witch indeed.

“I still don’t understand why you get to be over there and I have to stay here,” Oryn said, his voice somehow appearing in my mind as well.

“Because. I’m the one that can talk into minds. You just play tricks on them. No good when you’re trying to actually relay information.” She said, earning a soft chuckle from Oryn. I gripped the dagger that was in my hand, trying to ignore the way his breath tickled the back of my neck.

“Next time, I’m getting the nice building and you get the building that wants to kill me,” Oryn says.

“The building doesn’t want to kill you. It wants to kill itself.” Kova said, eliciting a small smile from me.

“Any movement?” I ask. I could hear her defeated sigh. It was already well past lunch and we hadn’t seen any sign of the Marked girl, or her captors.

“Not yet,” Kova said. “Assuming it didn’t already happen.”

The voices fell silent, our breaths becoming the only sound filling the closet space. I closed my eyes, trying to keep my breaths even as I counted to ten and back again. The space was too similar to that night all those years ago. I clutched the dagger in my hand, my knuckles groaning from the force of my grip.

“Hey.” Oryn’s voice hardly registered in my ear. “You okay?”

“I’m fine,” I said, opening my eyes and looking out through the small slit in the door. We had a perfect vantage point of the front door and the foyer, the only place for them to enter.

“About Arryn…” Oryn whispered, my heart turning to ice as he continued. “We aren’t...not like that. There’s nothing between us Aurelia, nothing more than a strong bond that is similar to that of a brother and a sister.”

“I don’t want to know, Oryn,” I say, repositioning my legs under me.

“I know, but I need you to know.” He says. I spin, finding myself inches from his face.

“Why?” I seethe, “Why does it matter anyway?”

“Because what happened back there at the manor…”

“I don’t want to know, Oryn,” I repeat myself, turning back to look at the room again. “It was a mistake.”

Silence even thicker than before filled the room and I felt as if I could hear my heartbreaking as we sat there. I didn’t think it would hurt as much as it would say that, but I didn’t want to admit the truth either. I still could recall the way his lips met mine, the gentle feel of them. I had imagined several times that I was there again, before everything happened, wrapped in his arms and safe.

But the image of Arryn reaching up and kissing Oryn’s cheek filled my mind again, reminding me why I had been a fool in the first place.

“They’re coming.”

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