The Darker Side of Me
I no longer marveled at the city as we made our way through. It had seemed to me that despite the city’s radiance, it had become overwhelming dark and dull. Knowing what I know now about the King and his plans had made it seem that the city was hiding secrets that I feared would be our undoing.
What would the Kingdom think of the King’s plans to destroy the barrier? Despite the strange nationalism the Vrunadians held, I doubted they would stand for this decision. Maybe that was why the King had kept it under wraps because he knew the pushback he would receive.
The fall of the barrier would signal the fall of Vrunadia and the death of its inhabitants.
A chill ran through me, despite the warmth that was still lingering in the late summer air.
“How much longer?” I ask, trying to ignore the sense of impending doom.
“It’s just up ahead,” Oryn said.
Before me was a large glass, domed structure that looked as if it was ready to fall in on itself. It was evident that it had been abandoned, as the areas surrounding it seemed to also be desolate. But despite its age, the glass was beautiful. The building reflected the sun, which was now high in the sky, causing the remaining glass to turn a beaming color of gold. The light seemed to flood the streets the closer we got to the building, and the thought-induced-cold that seemed to have seeped into my very bones was being chased away by the warmth the building generated.
“It once was a botanical garden. The domed ceiling and glass acted as a greenhouse. It used to be the most beautiful place in the entire city.” Oryn said.
“The King made his first decree, and the Greenies that used to run the garden were forced to work in the farms. No one was able to care for the exotic plants that were inside. Now it’s too overrun to be cared about. No one has claimed it and the city seems to want to ignore it instead of cleaning it up. I guess it’s too much of a pain for them to bother.”
“I see,” I say, letting go of Oryn’s hand once we were behind the building.
We entered the building from the back, the heavy door open wide enough for us to squeeze through. As we made our way through the greenhouse, it was almost as if we entered a different world. Everywhere I looked I saw green. But it wasn’t the same green like the pines outside the manor. This was a vibrant green that was scandalous. Life seemed to thrum wherever I looked. The greenhouse was full of trees and vines, leaves, and bushes. I looked up and saw small birds hopping from one branch to the next, singing songs that I had never heard before. Roots and vines crawled over long-forgotten cobblestone paths that led us further into the building. I closed my eyes and breathed in the deep earthy scent of the place, and I immediately fell in love with it all.
With the color, the smell, the...freedom. The plants and the birds, all moved and grew with such wildness that my heart longed to be able to have that kind of freedom. Even though these plants were different, were exotic, nothing stopped their growth. No one tried to destroy them, no one tried to stifle them. They had found a place where they could thrive, and no one seemed to care.
“This place is incredible,” I say, looking at Oryn, who was already watching me.
“I figured you would like it,” He says with a soft smile. He reaches out and grabs my hand, tugging me after him. “This way.”
He led me down twisting paths and up a set of spiral stairs that revealed a large open space that was close to the top of the domed ceiling. It was warm up here, both from the sun and humidity, so I let my yellow cloak drop to the floor, a rush of cool air running up and down my back. I walked over to the glass and noticed several panes were shattered and missing from the places giving me a full, unobstructed view of what was outside.
The greenhouse was close to the Southside of the wall, and the floor we were on was taller than the wall itself. I was able to see over the top of the wall, to the land beyond, to Vrunadia.
Rolling hills that stretched with miles and miles of farmland were all I could see. There were a few roads that seemed to cut it all up, some dust revealing that various travelers were coming and going. But I had no idea where each road led. There was an entire world out there and all I knew was Abberton and the pines. As I watched the world unfold, I felt immensely small standing in the gardens. Everything seemed so much larger up here than it had a moment before. There was an entire Kingdom that was being devastated by the actions of the King, by the actions he was taking against magic.
I looked at the farmlands and could just make out the small forms of the Greenies working in the fields. I couldn’t help but think of the girl I had met at the pub my first night in the city. She worked three jobs so her family could survive. Was she out in the fields now preparing for a night at the pub? Would she have to work like that her entire life?
Could things ever change?
That was what Tristan had been working towards - change - and it had cost him his life. Watching it all, I understood now why he took his job so seriously. There were real people out there with real problems and Tristan had understood the urgency of it all.
All while I hid behind the walls of his home.
“I used to come here a lot when I first moved to headquarters. It reminded me of home.” Oryn said from behind me. I turned to face him finding him leaning against a railing that was covered in rust. He was a different person now than he was an hour ago. That fear and worry were no longer in his face. It made me wonder how he controlled it all, and why it decided to show up in the basement of the church.
“You used to live in a jungle?” I asked, looking at a vibrant bird that had settled on the rusted railing. Oryn chuckled as he kicked off of the railing and came to stand next to me, looking out over the wall.
“It’s the quiet that reminds me of home, the earthy scent. The Aelfrund Mountains have a wildness to them that is...indescribable. There has been nothing that can compare, but this place...” Oryn looked around the greenhouse, his blue eyes sparkling in the sunlight. “This is the closest I have found to that wildness. Well, this and you. I think you’d fit right in with the tribes in the Aelfrund Mountains.”
“I’m not wild,” I say, crossing my arms and arching a brow. Oryn chuckled.
“Maybe you don’t know yourself as well as you think. You’re as wild as they come.” He says, taking a step closer. “Unpredictable too. As changing as the storms at sea.”
“Carena is the wild one,” I say, looking back at the fields. “I was always the predictable one.”
“Ah, but take away the mask and what remains underneath?”
I tense, keeping my gaze out at the fields. What did remain underneath? This past week has only repeatedly shown me that my decision to stay hidden at the Manor was one of the biggest mistakes of my life. Without that, maybe I would have been able to protect Carena, maybe Tristan would be alive, maybe we would have had a better life.
There were so many if’s that I felt I could swim and swim in them, never reaching the bottom of the possibilities. I could drown in the thousands of different outcomes that were my life. But I had made my decision, and now I was here. Alone, scared, fearful, and fighting for not only my life but also Carena’s.
Tristan was dead.
And I didn’t even know what remained of me after it all.
Who was I beneath the mask that I created?
“When I was younger, I wanted to be a teacher,” I say, needing to tell someone something about me that was true. “I used to make Carena be my student and I would teach her useless, random things. Sometimes I would even make up things that were complete lies and teach them to her as truths.” I smiled at the memory, turning to look at Oryn. He was perplexed by my sudden change of conversation. “I told my father that I wanted to teach when I grew up and you know what he said to me?”
I paused, taking a deep breath as I relived the memory.
“He said that I would never be able to teach because the only lessons I could share were nightmares and that no child would want to learn from me.” I swallowed, my eyes burned as tears threatened to spill. “I can’t help but wonder how different my life could have been if I hadn’t stayed with Tristan. The past week, my every thought turns to the what if’s. What if I had trained earlier? What if I could have saved Tristan? What if I could have protected Carena?
“But I think I also realize, that we never really had a choice, to begin with. I didn’t have a choice but to create the mask and hide behind the safety of Tristan’s influence. I didn’t have a choice to learn to save Tristan or Carena. Just like my mother didn’t have a choice when the guards came to kill her all because of the marks on her skin.”
“What about your father?” Oryn asks, his voice careful as if the topic was thin ice.
“He had a choice,” I whisper. “But he made the wrong the one.”
I look back to the fields, to the Greenies, my heart swelling with empathy.
“Their lives are planned for them, our lives were taken from us, and our future generations? Who knows what will happen to them. But I’m done. This has to end. We can’t do it my mother’s way, we can’t do it Marilla’s way. There has to be a way to change that, to change the future, to change the pattern that has become so normal yet so wrong.”
Oryn seemed surprised by my sudden outburst, his brows rising. He ran a hand through his hair, the deep color seeming to lighten in the sunlight. Everything about Oryn seemed sharper, more intense in the shadowy light.
“And how do you suggest we do that?” He asks.
“We start by getting Carena back and then we tear the world we know apart until we can reform it into something new.”
Oyrn didn’t react to my words at first. He stood and watched me, his eyes roaming my face as if to make sure the sincerity of it was true.
And it was. I found that in my heart, I meant every word of it. I had just killed a man all because he was told to kill Marked.
Did he even have a choice?
I bristled at the thought of feeling empathy for the King’s Guard, but it was true. Would that man still choose to kill Marked if he knew us if knew that we didn’t mean to inflict harm?
After a moment, a devilish smile crossed Oryn’s lips, his eyes sparkling with a new fire.
“Then let’s see what you can do.”
For the first time since I left the manor, I felt a surety of what I had to do. It was as if the fog that covered my mind had been erased by the warmth and light of the greenhouse. For the first time in my life, I had a goal, a desire.
I was tired of feeling useless, of feeling hopeless, and I was certainly tired of others making me feel that way.
I wanted a choice in my life. I wanted to live and to thrive.
And there was nothing that was going to stop me from getting there.
The shadows stood out to me, and it wasn’t hard to draw them together to form a doorway.
Or a portal?
I wasn’t sure what to call it, but once I saw the opening, a sliver of darkness that seemed to rip a hole in the world, I stepped into it.
Everything was drenched in shadow inside the rip. The temperature was no longer stifling, and rather, goosebumps seemed to make their way up and down my arms. A chill ran up my spine, and an eerie feeling settled over me. I felt as if the shadows were watching me, waiting for me to command them as if they were living creatures finally meeting their Queen.
I looked down at my arms, noticing details I had not noticed before. My arms, and my entire body, were encased in mist as if my body was made of the shadow. My body was not whole in this world and I felt as if I were made of nothing, yet everything at the same time.
Looking up to Oryn, I found that he was scanning the space where I had once been. His eyes roamed as he tried to make sense of what just happened. When the arrow had been shot at him, it felt as if everything had been moving slow. As I made my way towards Oryn, I realized that the shadow didn’t make things slow down, but rather that it was thicker. It felt as if I was wading into a lake or pond and that my movements were restricted.
I focused my thoughts on the shadows that seemed to be pushing against me and forced them to bend to my will. I made them push me forwards, propelling me towards Oryn. It was as if I was able to move faster in this world than in the normal one, my body light, and swift. I all but collided with Oryn in my mist form and had to dodge him, cursing at the shadows as they chuckled behind my back.
I finally stood before Oryn, reaching out with my hand to grab onto his wrist.
It was as if I was thrust into yet another world as Oryn’s thoughts swarmed through me.
Where is she? Where did she go?
His thoughts moved at a rapid pace, images, and ideas, words, and feelings all flying around me as I held his wrist. They were in vivid color, each thought and idea brighter than the last. I watched the shadows around me, as they changed and morphed into more doors, revealing the hidden passageways that were Oryn’s mind.
Each door was a different color with its own unique designs. I couldn’t be certain, but some part of me knew that behind each door there would be memories that he had stored away in the darkness of his mind. Some doors looked inviting while others looked dark and brooding. Some were orange and warm, like the color of an evening fire, and others as soft green as a meadow.
I reached out towards an ice blue door, the handle freezing to the touch. I looked back at Oryn, his eyes widening as I gripped the handle of the door and pushed it open.
It was like the scenes of his life were playing before me, but these scenes and moments in time were familiar.
They were familiar because they were of me.
I watched from Oryn’s perspective as he arrived at the manor; when he met me for the first time; the various times he was watching over me, some when I was aware and others when I was not. I saw his thoughts about each time he would look at me, what he felt when I exploded in the library, what he experienced when we were locked in the closet. It was as if I was reading a book, but the various scenes were playing out in front of me.
There was an aura of uncertainty that seemed to surround the various scenes as if Oryn wasn’t sure what to think of me. But there was a steady presence of warmth through them all, like the warmth I always felt whenever he would touch me. Did he feel the same thing I did if I touched him? I glanced back at Oryn, his eyes wide and an expression of confusion on his face. Was he seeing the same memories that I was looking at?
I glanced back at the memories. Every time the focus of the memory rested on me, my image was sharper, clearer. It was as if everything around me seemed to fall away into nothing as Oryn looked at me. And I realized that it was strange seeing myself from another’s perspective. In the mirror, I felt average and looked out of place. My fair skin and white hair always made me seem like I was made of something other. I would have never called myself beautiful. Strange, unnerving, yes; but never beautiful. But to Oryn, I looked as if I was the only beautiful thing in the room. Each time he was near me, his gaze always seemed to linger or to find its way back to me.
After all, he was supposed to protect me.
In his eyes, I was striking. My fair skin seemed to glow with grace, my white hair as brilliant and welcoming as a cloud on a summer’s day. My ice-blue eyes that I thought were conniving and shrewd, were sharp and light with a glint of ferocity in them I hadn’t been aware of. If I didn’t know any better, I would say that Oryn had found me attractive, beautiful even.
I felt my cheeks flush, stepping away from the memories, the door.
“Aurelia,” Oryn said, his eyes still seeking me out. “Aurelia, stop.”
Even though I wanted to keep looking, to keep seeing what Oryn saw, I felt a rush of embarrassment and guilt.
I felt as if I crossed a line, one that I had not realized was drawn.
I turned to leave, not wanting to intrude upon any other memories, wanting to get out of whatever I was in. I closed my eyes, trying to conjure that rip in the shadow that would allow me to get out. I felt a rustle of the shadow, and when all settled, I opened my eyes.
To find a door dripping with the darkest night.
I stepped away, my heart pounding in my chest as I looked at the night dark door, a heaviness calling out to me.
"No,” I whispered as the shadows curled around the doorknob, twisting and pushing the door open. Something shoved me from behind, a hiss of shadow sounding in my ear as it kept me in place, refusing to let me move.
My heart thundered as I thrashed against the rebelling shadows.
They whispered to me, turning my head towards the shadows that showed unspeakable images.
“Oryn! Run!” I heard a male’s voice drift around me, the terror and fear dripping from each word. I watched as Oryn ran from his home, stopping just on the other side of the tree line. No one seemed to have noticed his disappearance.
Three guards surrounded his father who was Oryn’s mirror in every way. He tried his best to battle against the guards, but it was of no use.
I watched as the guards ran a sword through him, not once, not twice, but three times. They ended him by cutting off his head.
Right after that, they dragged Oryn’s mother out, her body already lifeless and limp.
But it was the sister that they took their time on.
I relived the night the guards took his sister and did unspeakable things to her. Things that Oryn watched from his hiding place, too young and too small to do anything to help. He couldn’t have been more than seven.
I screamed as I spread my hands out, trying to force the darkness of this nightmare back into the door, to stop the shadows from coming.
But it didn’t listen to me. It kept coming, filling every other door, leaking underneath the cracks, and ruining all of his other memories. And I knew, I knew, that this was what happened when I pushed a nightmare into my victims.
I knew that this one nightmare would go and fill all of Oryn’s memories, destroying them, until there was nothing left of Oryn.
Until he was dead.
This was all my fault.
I willed the shadows to listen to me, but they were strong. I watched as Oryn’s mind seemed to crack, to shatter under the weight of his guilt and shame. I felt how every inch of him blamed himself for his family’s death, even though he couldn’t help the fact he was born this way. I felt his shame at the fact that he stood by and watched as his sister was killed, slowly and torturously. He lived with it every day and there was nothing that had been able to change it.
And I felt as he started to give in to that shame, that guilt.
I felt him start to give up.
Sweat trickled down my back as I worked on the nightmare. I wouldn’t let it overtake Oryn. He would not be left like the man in the alley. It was one thing to allow nightmares to break a person’s mind, but watching it was something else entirely. I closed my eyes and tried to calm my breathing. No matter what I did, the nightmare was too strong to push back into the door. I couldn’t control the darkness of this, but I knew that I could take it from him.
Let us in, let us in, let us in.
The shadows whispered into my mind. I could feel them scratching at my back, pulling at the gown I wore. They wanted nothing more than to find their way into me and I knew that it would be the only way to keep Oryn from shattering like that man in the alley, as the cat from when I was younger.
I took a deep breath, not sure what to expect.
Enter. I whispered to the shadows.
With a gasp, I felt all that shame and guilt flood my mind. The darkness that once was in Oryn was now filling me. It wasn’t so much that I was taking the memory of what had happened, but rather I was taking the stain the memory had left in Oryn’s mind. I was taking the darkness and allowing it to fill me.
And as every dark part of his nightmare rushed into my body, I felt strength in its place. His nightmare filled every inch of me, filling me with a strength I had never before imagined. As I took the darkness on, I felt all of his shame, his guilt, his fear as if it were my own. It was a flurry of emotions that I didn’t even know how to begin to sort through. I felt powerful yet weak; alive yet dead; full yet empty. It was as if my power was trying to take over but my heart and brain were fighting to keep control.
I stepped out of the shadow, falling to my knees as I fought with the power, with the darkness, that struggled within me. I could feel every shadow in the room, as it threatened to overwhelm me. I closed my eyes, letting my head fall into my hands as I tried to ignore the temptation of the darkness.
As it beckoned me closer into its embrace.
I only had to touch it, the power that Oryn’s nightmare gave me, and I knew what I would be capable of. I couldn’t stop myself as I reached out, towards my power, towards the darkness, and was thrust into a world I didn’t recognize. When I opened my eyes, everything was clear and sharp, vivid and alive with shadow and darkness. I could see everything in more detail, I felt as if I could breathe. All the guilt, the shame, the confusion of the past fourteen years melted away leaving nothing but stark clarity in its wake as the darkness fueled me.
I no longer felt weak, useless, unwanted.
I was the most powerful thing in this city, possibly this Kingdom.
And it felt glorious.
“Aurelia.” Oyrn’s voice was soft, questioning, and when I turned, I relished in his startled expression.