I grabbed my packed bag from the floor and followed Oryn down the hallway. He stopped in front of what had to be his room, quickly grabbing a packed bag of his own. I gave him a look as he threw it over his shoulder.
“I’m always prepared to go, just in case.” Just in case the King’s guard showed up, just in case Marilla decided to turn nasty.
Footsteps came from the staircase, soft and quiet. Oryn grabbed my hand and pulled me into his room, letting the door shut with a soft click. He pulled me to him, wrapping his arms around me. I tried to push away, but when I looked up at him, I noticed I could no longer see him.
He had made us invisible.
“Aurelia.” I heard Marilla say as she knocked on my door. “We need to talk.”
A moment of silence seemed to stretch on into eternity as I heard the creak of my door open.
“Marilla?” I heard my voice say. I snapped my head up at Oryn, even though I could no longer see him. His hands tightened around me, willing me to be silent.
“Aurelia, we got her,” Marilla said, her voice quiet with false excitement.
“Carena?” Fake me whispered. “You found Carena?” Boiling rage began to simmer beneath my skin, Oryn’s hands squeezing my arms was the only thing that kept me in the room.
“Some of my informants intercepted her on the way to Tricine. She’s currently waiting for you at an outpost in the Plains. If you’d like, there’s a carriage waiting for you out front. They will take you to her.” Fake me didn’t say anything as I followed Marilla down the stairs to the awaiting carriage. Once the footsteps were in the distance, I found that Oryn had rematerialized.
“Come on, we don’t have much time,” Oryn said, grabbing my hand and dragging me after him. I glanced behind us to find the hallway now empty, but Oryn led us in the opposite direction of where Marilla and I went.
“How long will the illusion last?”
“Not long enough.” He whispered, pulling me down a smaller flight of stairs. This set of stairs had to be for the servants of the house if there were any. It led us right to the kitchens, right to where Arryn was.
We all froze, Arryn with a glass of water in her hand. She looked from Oryn to me, to our joined hands. Oryn let my hand go as if it burned him.
“What’s happening?” She asked quietly, looking back to Oryn.
“It’s...difficult to explain.”
“Then explain.” She said, with the first hint of anger I’ve seen since my arrival.
“Marilla is trying to get Aurelia to the Plains to hide her from the King.”
“What about Carena?” Arryn asks.
“Exactly,” Oryn mutters, running a hand through his hair. “Marilla isn’t looking for Carena. She only cared about Aurelia and making sure she was on our side. She lied to Aurelia, and us, about her plans. Tell the others.”
“I will,” Arryn said, standing up and running to embrace Oryn. I rolled my eyes, starting to move towards the back door when arms folded around me. The scent of grass filled my nose as I realized Arryn was hugging me. She leaned back, her pine green eyes meeting mine, urgency written deep in them. I felt stiff as a board as she held me in place.
“You be careful. Stay with Oryn and get your sister back.” She patted my shoulder, turning to look at Oryn. “You too. Come back in one piece. Reach out to Kova if you need anything. I’ll make sure she keeps her ears, and mind, open.” She turned and left the kitchen, heading up the stairs we had just come from. I watched as she left, not sure what to think about what had happened. I decided there wasn’t time to wonder why she had done that, or why she seemed to care so much. Oryn grabbed my hand, tugging me after him out the back door and into the backyard.
Lights came to life in the house, as did heavy footsteps pounding up the stairs, pushing us to move faster. It seemed the illusion hadn’t lasted long after all. Oryn let out a low curse as he pulled me along, my feet catching on the skirts of my gown.
We reached the farthest parts of the yard, Oryn steering us towards a hole in the hedge that surrounded the house.
“Hold on to my arm.” He instructed. I didn’t question him as I did so, the scent of pine filling my nose, making me miss the manor and those two weeks leading up to the nightmare that is now my life. He crouched by the gap in the hedge, looking out at the empty street. It was late, the moon high in the sky. But I had learned that it wasn’t uncommon for guards to make their way down this street when changing shifts from the West Gate to the East Gate.
Oryn didn’t say anything as he pulled me onto the paved sidewalk, pushing us into a jog. I looked down to grab my skirts and had to stifle a cry. I was invisible again. I stumbled a few steps, Oryn having to right me before we continued.
“Warn me next time will you?” I huff between breaths. Oryn chuckled as we continued into the night, the call for Oryn and I falling away in the distance.
We didn’t talk anymore as we made our way through what I figured to be Reb District. I wasn’t sure how to tell when we exited one district or headed into another, but when Oryn pulled me off the road into an alley between two houses, I figured something was about to change.
“Okay. We have to go through Sib Heights next. Nothing’s going to change, but I just wanted to warn you that we are going to pass the prison.”
“The Marked prison?” I asked, my heart pounding from the run. Oryn gave me a wary look that made me wonder if he remembered that the prison had once been my home. A part of me was surprised that he would remember that little detail, and a part of my heart warmed at the idea.
But then I remembered everything that had transpired, and I pushed that flutter of warmth away. My focus was Carena, not some romance with a boy I hardly knew. I motioned for him to continue. I placed my hand in the crook of his arm as we continued down the sidewalk that was riddled with cracks and fractures.
Sib Heights looked as if it had walked right out of my childhood.
There wasn’t much that had changed since I had been here last, and it was hard to keep the flashes from coming again. Walking hand in hand with mother as we traveled to the City Square, father hoisting me up on his shoulders so I could see over all the people, Carena jumping over all the cracks in the sidewalk as if they were massive caverns. My chest tightened as I blinked away the tears that threatened.
We had deserved better.
“Here it is,” Oryn whispered as we turned the corner. It was difficult to see the prison, but it was evident they had torn down and rebuilt a lot of what was once my home. Most of the structure was blocked by a massive fence made of wood that obstructed our view. At the top of the fence, there were pieces of metal that had been sharpened to razor blades lining the perimeter. It would be impossible to cross over the top of the fence without impaling yourself on the jagged bits. I couldn’t help the open stare as I took it all in. Guards lined the front of the prison, swords drawn and ready for anything. It was all I was able to see before we turned the corner, revealing a larger street that led straight to City Square.
The tension in my body didn’t subside as we continued our journey.
We walked through the city, Oryn keeping an illusion on us, as we made our way through Sib Heights, past the Governor’s home and politicians circle, through the City Square, and towards the Genk District. We took our time, trying not to raise any suspicion as we meandered through the crowded streets. It was difficult avoiding the suspicion of the guard but also making sure Marilla wasn’t chasing after us. By the time we entered City Square, it was already lunchtime and it seemed more crowded than I remembered.
The scent of food floated on the gentle wind, causing my stomach to growl. We had been walking for hours, trying to get a feel for who was following us - if anyone was following us. Oryn had changed the illusion several times already, making sure that we would lose anyone that had picked up on our scent. Sometimes we were a couple out on a stroll, other times we were beggars, once we were a Pastor and acolyte from a nearby church. It was incredible what Oryn was capable of, the attention to detail and the creativity it took to do such a thing was remarkable.
The City Square was crowded with the afternoon rush. People were wandering the market, searching for food and unique wares; guards were roaming about, and children were playing near the Pillar. The color and commotion were attractive, and I remembered how Carena had asked me to come here just two weeks prior. I felt a pang in my chest, guilt and shame flashing through me.
A sharp cry of joy filled the air, and I turned to find young kids playing around the base of the pillar, kicking a ball between them. They chased one another, smiled lighting up their faces, sweat beading their foreheads. They were all Vrunadian children, none of them Lower Races. They abandoned the ball and began to play a game of chase, using the base of the Pillar as a block. Around and around they went, calling out to one another. I looked up at the Pillar, letting Oryn lead me through the crowd.
Never changing, always the same.
I kept my gaze at those who passed us, trying desperately not to feel overwhelmed. Sweat had begun to drip down my back. Even though the weather was starting to thicken with a fall chill, the press of the bodies around us generated a stifling heat. I focused all my energy on keeping my ability at bay. I imagined a cool wall coming down over me, stifling the ability that was threatening to push its way forward. Oryn may be able to create an illusion for our identities, but I doubt he would be able to cover up the shadows that threatened to fill the Square.
“This way.” Oryn pulled me down an alleyway, the temperature seeming to drop a hundred degrees. My hands were shaking as Oryn opened the side door of a church and ushered me inside. We were thrust into darkness when Oryn shut the door, but I didn’t mind. It was a cool relief after spending the day surrounded by uncertainty.
Safe. Quiet. Safe.
The whispers of the shadows comforted me as I slid down the stone wall, letting my legs rest after the long morning and afternoon.
“Was it necessary to take the longest route here?” I whispered, knowing that it most likely was necessary, but too stubborn and tired to admit it.
“Probably not, but I wanted to make sure no one was following us.” I heard Oryn rummage around the room for a few minutes, muttering a few curses when he ran into various things. A flame appeared in the darkness as Oryn set alight in a lantern. Warm light filled the room, pushing the darkness at bay. I huddled closer to it, pushing the shadows far into the corners of the basement. Oryn looked around until he found me, a satisfied smirk resting on his face when he saw me sitting on the ground.
“Regretting taking me along already?” He asked with a satisfied smirk. I let my head fall against the wall.
“It’s the farthest I’ve had to walk in a long time,” I said, frustrated that I had to admit it. Sitting around the manor, hiding, wasn’t conducive to a fit and toned body. I wasn’t unhealthy, but I certainly was not in any shape to entertain an active lifestyle. At the Manor, there was nowhere for me to go or see, unless I wanted to take a trip through the Pines. And based on my last adventure through the forest, I was glad that I had stayed in. But now, there was a lot I regretted and I began to realize that I had greatly miscalculated my definitions of readiness when it came to my great escape from the King and his hounds.
I couldn’t even walk through the City without wanting to sleep for a week.
“Your power is also taking a toll on you.” Oryn walked over and reached a hand down. I hesitated, but inevitably grabbed it, letting him help me up. “You just began to allow it to have freedom, and it’s calling to be used. We have to use our ability or else the inactivity of it will eat us alive. It’s kind of like holding your breath. You can do it for some time, but after a minute or two, you might pass out.”
“Then how did I last so long without using it?”
“Did you though? I mean you were hiding away because you couldn’t control the outbursts. Your power was forcing its way out, even when you tried to hide it away. We can’t force who we are away, however much we would like to at times. It will always reveal itself in the end.”
We fell silent after that. I hated when Oryn became philosophical, revealing some mushy hidden statement behind common sense.
“Where are we anyway?” I say, trying to change the subject. He was right, yet again, and I was starting to regret making him come along.
“A church in the Genk District. We will hide out here for a few days, then move to a different location.”
“Does the church know we are down here?” I ask. Oryn shrugged, dropping his pack to the ground. He began to remove his cloak, and I started to do the same. It was stuffy in the abandoned basement.
“Probably, but most churches are sympathetic to the Marked and Lower Races. You’ll find a lot of the pastors and members willing to help us out when we need it.” Oryn said.
I didn’t know much about the church, other than the deity known as the Great Light, but remembered the way my mother used to pray before she would sleep. I always felt peace when I saw her praying. It gave me hope to know that there was someone, or something, out there that was listening to her, to me.
I hadn’t given it much thought since the night my mother died though. It seemed that whatever she prayed to didn’t care what happened to her, so I forgot about it as well as a handful of other childhood memories that seemed to be popping up.
I wonder if mom would still pray if she knew how it would all play out in the end.
“Are you hungry?” Oryn asked, handing me a piece of bread. I grabbed the piece, my stomach growling in response, and found a seat on the floor. “What’s the plan?”
I looked up mid-chew, surprised to find Oryn asking me such a question. He had been pretty demanding, and I figured he would begin to take charge once we reached our first location. I was preparing myself for a fight, but hearing him ask for my guidance, I was pleasantly surprised. I swallowed, trying to think of what the best plan of action would be.
“We need to find someone that was at the ball. If we can find someone that had been there, maybe noticed anything suspicious, then we could figure out what happened to Carena.” Oryn nodded as he tore a piece of bread and popped it into his mouth. He chewed slowly, not looking up at me while he thought.
“You want to listen to rumors?” Oryn asked, ripping a piece of bread off and popping it into his mouth. I watched as he moved, mesmerized for a moment. He smirked as he tore another piece off, getting ready to chew it. I glanced down at my piece, shaking my head as I did so.
“I want to know what happened.” I say, “I think that will give us somewhere to start.” I look up to meet his gaze, that deep blue seeming to contemplate what I was saying.
“I think it is a good start.” He says, wrapping the bread up and placing it in his pack. “The bars and taverns are going to be the best place to start. It’s where most gossip generates. There are a few in Genk district, but the ones that matter most are located in the Square. It’s where we will get a larger, more mixed crowd. We can check them out later this evening, but we are going to have to wait until the sun starts to set.”
“Why can’t we go now?”
“Because the bars don’t start to fill until after people are off work or later. We would only raise suspicion.” Oryn says.
“I’m not sitting in this musty basement to wait until the sun goes down. There have to be other places we could look.” Oryn sighs, letting his head drop, muttering something under his breath that sounded suspiciously like Light help me. His hair fell in soft waves, hiding his face from view. When he looked up at me, his blue eyes seemed almost black from the way the candlelight hit them.
“I guess there are a few places we could go. But we are going to have to be discreet, and you may have to go in by yourself.”
“Because I may, or may not, have gotten banned from a few of them.”