“What happened last night?” Oryn asked from across the basement. I laid on the floor, my cloak pulled around me, my hands still shaking. Throughout the night, I kept waking thinking those men had found their way into the basement and were strangling me. My mind still felt thick with sleep as I sat up, turning to find Oryn sitting across the room from me, his back up against the wall.
He had kept his distance from me ever since I told him to stay away. Yet it was a lesson in control to keep from walking over to him and letting him hold me as he had. I found every part of me craving that touch, that warmth that fills me whenever he is near, touching me, holding me. But I kept lying on the floor, letting the cold seep through me.
But as I face him now, his expression guarded and eyes void of any warmth or humor, I wondered if he struggled the same way I had.
I sighed, leaning my back against the opposing wall. I pulled my hair over my shoulder, the normal brilliant white dulled to silver from dirt and grime. As I finger brushed through my hair, I could feel Oryn’s eyes on me, inspecting, checking, watching. What he was searching for, I didn’t know, but a part of me wondered if he had stayed up worrying about my wellbeing.
“Who were those men?” I ask, meeting Oryn’s gaze for a brief moment.
“The kind that nabs beautiful women and takes them for themselves.” My fingers still, the braid that was forming coming to a pause. My guilt from hurting the man vanished completely. What I could have been victim to if it wasn’t for my power….I shuddered to think about it.
“I ran into that lot before in that pub. They had their eyes on a girl in there, and I caught them in the alley trying to drag her away.” Oryn continued, his fingers fiddling with a string on his shirt.
“Doesn’t the owner do something about it?”
“He doesn’t care so long as they keep giving him business. I tried to stop them myself one time, but got myself banned in the process.” He said, “There’s a lot of evil in the world. The kind we are fighting is only the icing on the cake.”
“Some cake...” I mutter, which earns a soft chuckle from Oryn.
“Do you want to talk about what happened in the alley?” Oryn asks, his voice taking a gentle tone I had never heard from him before. I looked up at him, confused by what he was saying.
“You saw what happened?”I asked, “And you didn’t come to help me?”
“I was on my way to help you, but you took care of it rather quickly.”
“He had me there for like five minutes!” I said, my temper lashing out.
“He had you against that wall for thirty seconds.” Oryn says defensively, “But as I said, you took care of him rather quickly. What did you do?”
Everything in me clammed up, not wanting to talk about what had happened. The scene had replayed over and over in my mind as I tried to dissect what had happened, what I had done. The same thing had only happened a few times in my life, once to Carena and once to my poor family cat. But I had never done it intentionally. Last night was the first time I had intentionally pushed a nightmare into someone.
And I knew that I could do it again if I wanted.
It was like a part of me had unlocked after last night, a part of my power now under my control. The idea of it frightened me. If I needed to use my power in such a way to unlock all of it, how many people would be hurt in the process?
“I made him see his nightmare,” I whisper, needing to get the words out. Even though my thoughts and emotions in regards to Oryn were confusing and murky, I knew I could trust him with this. I knew that despite it all, Oryn did have my back. His being here and coming with me was evidence enough of that.
“Have you been able to do that before?” He asked. I only nodded my head, not willing to go into detail about those stories. Oryn chuckled, letting his head fall back against the wall.
“Remind me never to piss you off.” He said, the deep timbre of his laugh floating around the room. “How do you do it?”
“It feels like I’m pushing darkness into them. I can feel the darkness fill them when the nightmare takes hold. It usually only works when I’m touching someone though.”
Realization dawned in his gaze as he looked at me, his hands curling in his lap.
“That was why you didn’t want me touching you. You were afraid you didn’t have control?” I only nodded, not letting my gaze slip from his. A corner of his mouth ticked up, the blue of his eyes warming.
“Tell me what happened at the bar.” And so I did. I told him everything the Greenie had said about the rebellion, about the guards, and her thoughts about Tristan. I told him how the girl had no news of Carena, but to keep listening in at different bars. Oryn ran a hand through his hair, letting out a long breath as he stood, pacing about the room.
“So Marilla was right.” He says, “And that means we need to find Carena before any rebellions happen. They will send more guards here to quell the rebellions which would make our job that much harder in finding her. I heard that they set a curfew in the Fishing Towns, killing anyone seen outside of their homes. They say it’s for the safety of those around them, but I’m sure that’s just a lie. If that were to happen here...then we could kiss any chance at finding her goodbye.” He paused his walking, looking at me.
“She told me that the people wanted change,” I say, pulling my knees up to my chest. “I hadn’t realized how Tristan was trying to bring that about, and how many people recognized that.”
“He was a true hero to them. He was the only voice they had.”
“And what about us?” I say, looking up at Oryn. “Where is our voice?”
“That was taken long ago. But, I guess Marilla would be the closest thing.” I scoffed at the idea.
“Right,” I say. “The woman that tried to force me to go to the Plains, lied to me, and created some illusion that she was going to find my sister is the voice for the Marked.” She wasn’t our voice. She didn’t care about the Marked. If she had, she would have done everything to find Carena and get us to safety. She was a woman who was afraid to lose control over what she possessed, afraid to lose what she loved. “Last I checked, for a voice to be heard, you have to speak. The Marked Guard runs on secrets and hiding. When was the last time you took a stand and stood out?”
“And be killed before we even had a chance to talk?” Oryn rebuttals, his tone turning sharp. If the past week had taught me anything, it was that I was discovering I hated hiding, that I hated feeling defenseless and abandoned. I had missed out on so many things in the twenty-two years I lived all because some King decided I was too dangerous. But in the end, I wasn’t even the one that got hurt. Carena had been the one taken, and now she was being holed up who-knows-where by the very people who were supposed to be defending her. The world we lived in was twisted and backward, and I wasn’t okay with that anymore. The Greenie at the bar had made me realize that. She recognized the backward state our world was in and she was waiting for her chance to rise. She was ready for it and willing to put herself out there.
Only you can control your future. Oryn’s words from our one day of training came back to me. He was right, and I was starting to understand the freedom behind that.
“There are hundreds if not thousands of Marked out there that are relying on us to help them.” Oryn continued. “If it wasn’t for the Marked Guard, they would have no one. How are they supposed to get to the mountains without being caught? How are they going to get out of the cities in which they are born? There are newly Marked being born every day and it’s not going to stop. Who is going to stand up for them if not us?”
“All I’m saying is there is going to come a time when you will have to stand in the open. I just don’t think you all are used to doing that. At least the Lower Races aren’t afraid of the consequences. With the rebellions, they aren’t afraid to take a stand.”
“And you aren’t?” His words stung as he threw them at me. I looked down at my hands, my fingers curled into tight fists. The truth behind his words was what hurt the most. Because despite my recent understanding of my mistakes for the past twenty-two years, I was afraid. That was the secret to it all. Fear. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said...”
“No. Don’t bother,” I say, standing up and throwing my cloak around me. “Let’s just find my sister and be done with it.”
Three more days passed and our search for Carena had gotten nowhere. It was as if Carena had never existed, that the night of the Ball had never occurred. It seemed that Captain Marion had gotten his guards in line because no one was talking about anything.
I slammed open the door to the basement of the church, chucking my cloak to the floor. I let the shadows slip from the restraint I had held over them, their movement quick and agitated.
“We’ve sat in fifty bars, talked to twenty other Greenies, listened to the grumblings of way too many guards, and yet the only bit of information we have is that the Governor is hosting a party at his private residence.” I seethe, ripping the tie from my hair that held the braid together. My hair tumbled forward, dust and dirt shaking free from the movement. I’d give anything for a bath right about now.
“We have to keep trying,” Oryn says, his voice tired and thin. We had hardly spoken over the past three days except to discuss the next bar we were going to scope out.
“It’s been over a week Oryn!” I spin, stalking up to him. “She’s been in their hands for a week!”
“I know!” He snaps back. It had been a difficult time since we left the Marked Guard. Sleep and food had been scarce and I didn’t know how much longer we were going to last in our search. “But we can’t stop our search. She’s out there, Aura. I know it.”
“Don’t you call me that,” I say, taking a step away? It was what she had called me, what Carena had always called me. Oryn reached, out wrapping his hand around my wrist and holding me in place.
“You need to pull it together, or else we are going to have bigger problems on our hands.” His voice was low, his eyes boring into mine. “We are going to find her. The only question that remains is when.”
“Where else do we look? We can’t get into any of the military outposts without walking into the traps they have set for me. They say they plan to lure me in using Carena, but they’re doing a pretty lousy job and it. Every place we have looked has proven useless.”
Oryn’s eyes brightened at that, his grip loosening on my wrist. I pull away, not sure if I should be frightened by the smile he gave me or hopeful.
“That’s it.” He says, his smile widening. “Aurelia, if you were on your own and searching for Carena where would be the first place you would search?”
I thought for a moment, unsure what he was getting at. If I was on my own, I wouldn’t know where to begin. I would have wandered the Pine Forest, searching to see if Carena had run as I had. If I hadn’t found her then, and I would have searched for a long while, I would have headed back to the Manor for supplies to head into the city. I would have also checked the Manor again to see if Carena had returned herself.
“The Manor.” I say, “ I would have checked the Pine Forest to see if she had run and then returned to the Manor to look there again.”
“I think it’s time we change the scenery a bit,” Oryn says, reaching for his cloak and dagger.
“You think they are waiting for me at the Manor?”
“You said it yourself. The King and his guard say they are trying to use Carena as a way to capture you. They must not know you were with the Marked Guard because it’s only because of us you left the manor in the first place. So, we have to do what you say from here on out as if you were doing this all on your own. If you say the Manor is the first place you would look, then to the Manor we go.”
We slipped out of the city with such ease, I wondered what the point of the guards was that patrolled the perimeters of the City. It seemed they didn’t even know about the various holes in the wall that surrounded Abberton. As we walked through the Pine Forest, Oryn explained how the holes were only used by the Marked and a few of the Lower Races that were moving around the Kingdom without the King’s notice.
I had not known such people existed.
It turns out an entire group of Stones, Aquians, and Greenies moved about the Kingdom with freedom. None of them worked in the fields, mines, or the fishing towns. They moved in secret, most of them dwelling in the vast expanse of the Plains. He said the Marked Guard called them wanderer’s since they did not have a home to call theirs.
I couldn’t help but relate to them. My home was neither here, nor there. Abberton had once been my home until that was ripped from me by Captain Marion and the King. The Manor had become my home, even though I would have never called it that before. Yet, it had been more of a home than the tiny apartment had been.
But once again, the King had ripped that from me as well.
I was left with only Carena, and even she was in the wind, caught up in the net the King had snared her in.
The urgency of our situation prompted me to move faster over the uneven ground. We had left the church in the dead of night, wanting to arrive at the Manor by dawn. The Pine Forest was despicable at night. The trees groaned as the wind swept through them. An eerie sound as Oryn and I tried to listen for evidence of hounds. Shadows curled and flowed on the forest floor, pausing and looking at us and then continuing. Half the time I was convinced those shadows were animals, and other times they moved at my command.
Thankfully, there was nothing that hindered our travels as we made our way to the Manor.
Oryn had us following the long, windy trail that Carena and I had taken on Council Day. It took about an hour by carriage, so by the time we had reached the top, dawn was getting ready to break over the hilltop.
“Here,” Oryn motioned towards a large tree that had fallen, the trunk nearly as tall as me. He hunkered down behind it, letting his bag drop to the forest floor. He peaked up and over the trunk, motioning for me to do the same.
The entrance of the Manor sat across the dirt road, a large gate the only evidence of the drive’s existence. My heart hammered as I realized how close we were to possibly get answers. I could make out the front of the house from where we stood, but it was nearly impossible to tell if anyone was inside.
Maybe no one was there at all.
“Can you see anyone?” Oryn asked from where he knelt, strapping daggers to his belt.
I took a closer look, the tingle of the shadows at my ears.
I let them whisper.
“There are five guards total inside the manor,” I said, goosebumps rising on my arms. When Oryn didn’t answer, I looked down to find him watching me with an expression of shock, his eyes taking in the way the shadows were curling around my ears.
“How do you know that?” He asked, his voice quiet.
“The shadows,” I say, holding my hand out. Shadows curled around my fingers in a loving embrace, and for the first time, I felt a glow of appreciation for the ability.
“They...talk to you?” He asked incredulously. I only shrugged my shoulders, not sure what to say.
“Well, that’s convenient.” He mutters as if he was jealous. He stands, reaching up to pull his dark hair back from his face. I watched from the corner of my eye, noting the way his eyes hardened as looked towards the Manor, the slight twitch in his stubbled jaw enough indication of how he was feeling.
He was nervous.
“What’s the plan then?” I ask, turning towards him.
“I’m going to go inside and have a nice, long chat with the guards while you wait here.”
“You can’t go in there alone!” I say, thinking that it was the worst possible plan I had ever heard.
“Why? Worried about me sunshine?” Oryn said with a smirk, readjusting the belt that was wrapped around his waist. I open my mouth, then close it.
I was worried about him.
“How are you going to get inside. What illusion could you possibly come up with that wouldn’t raise too many questions.” I cross my arms over my chest, waiting for him to explain.
But he doesn’t say anything.
Instead, I watch as Oryn’s form disappears and Captain Marion’s surfaces. I gasp, stepping back from the man. Captain Marion stared at him, smirking as he spun around.
“What do you think?” His voice was even the same. I looked away, towards the Manor, reminding myself it was only an illusion. That the man wasn’t standing in front of me.
Because if he had been, I would have plunged my dagger into his heart.
“Let’s just get this over with,” I mumble. When I looked back, Oryn had thankfully reappeared.
“No good luck kiss?” He asked, leaning forward expectantly. I felt my cheeks flame, so instead, I looked back towards the Manor.
“You can take your kiss and shove it up your...”
“I’ll be back!” Oryn said in a cheery tone, interrupting me. “Try not to worry about me too much.”