The rickety squeak of the carriage wheels did nothing to calm the chaotic flow of nerves inside my chest. Oryn and I stood in the shadows that I provided, watching the various politicians arrive at the governor’s banquet at Governor Eris’s private home. I had never seen the governor’s home before. The many governors of Abberton that preceded Eris all have resided here, each adding on new additions and changing old ones. It was one of the oldest buildings in Abberton and I was surprised to see that it looked shiny and new when Oryn and I rounded the corner that led to the politician’s circle. It was a group of homes that was directly across from the governor’s home that all held the families of various politicians, most of whom had attended the Citadel on Council Day.
Tristan had once been offered a spot here in the circle a few years after I had arrived at the manor with Carena. He had turned the offer down, much to the surprise of many of the politicians who heard the news. Living in the politician’s circle meant that you were close to the governor himself. It was one of the highest ranks you could achieve in Abberton, a mark of success and propriety. Tristan had told the governor himself that he preferred the wide-open space of the pine forest compared to the cramped, close quarters of Abberton. Thankfully, the governor hadn’t asked any questions then. But part of me now wondered if the governor realized the truth behind why Tristan had refused.
Oryn cleared his throat, warning me he’s about to start talking. Ever since we left the gardens, he’s been acting as if I was on the verge of another episode, about to slip into an alternate personality.
The truth was, I feared the same thing.
When that darkness had filled me, I had become someone else entirely. Oryn had filled me in on all the horrific details after the others had left.
“She had said you were born for this.” Oryn had said while we walked through the streets of Abberton to face down the Captain. I spared a glance at him, those dark circles under his eyes still causing guilt and shame to flash through me.
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“Hell if I know.” He muttered, his eyes scanning the streets for harm.
“Did she - er - I, say anything else?” I had asked. The details of my conversation with Oryn were hazy at best. I remembered flashes of it as if the darkness had parted just enough for me to be aware of what was going on. But for the most part, I had remained blissfully unaware of what was truly happening. It had seemed that this darker version of myself had surfaced and took complete control of me.
“She said you had to merge both sides of yourself; the darker version and this version.” He motioned towards me with a hand. A sense of dread washed over me. I didn’t even know what that meant, or if I wanted to merge both sides. Whatever this darker version was, she sounded horrible, terrifying. Oryn didn’t know half the things she had thought, had felt. Even though I didn’t know what was happening, or what she was saying, I could feel her emotions and impulses. They were nothing but sadistic and twisted.
I didn’t want that.
“That’s everything then?” I ask. Oryn’s shoulders tensed, his eyes flitting to mine then back again.
“You don’t remember anything? Truly?” Oryn asked, his brow arching. I shake my head, his shoulders seeming to relax a bit. “Well, then there was nothing else of consequence.”
I didn’t push him after that. I knew there was more, but part of me knew he was trying to make it not seem as bad as it was. I didn’t even want to know what this other me had said to him.
Especially since I came to kissing him.
That part I had remembered clearly as if the darkness wanted me to remember it.
The kiss had not been my decision. The darkness within me had propelled me forward, forcing me to kiss him. And when I had, it was as if the cold vice grip of that...beast had been wrenched away from my heart, my brain, my soul. All I could focus on was the warmth that poured into me from Oryn, from his embrace and kiss.
It was a strange experience, and by the curious glances Oryn gave me as we made our way here, I knew he had experienced something similar.
And neither of us knew what to do about it.
“It’s coming close for everyone to have arrived,” Oryn said, snapping me back to the present. “The party should start around seven and the final guests will arrive no later than ten minutes before. I’ll make my way in and make sure that there are no surprises. I’ll convey the message to Kova, who will then give you the go-ahead to do your...shadow thing.” He fumbled over the last part, his eyes dodging my own as he looked back towards the mansion.
“Arryn is back at headquarters?” I ask.
“And Edward and Brina are on patrol around back, right?”
“And Kierian, he’s ready to step in in case I go...dark side.”
“Yes, Aurelia.” He says, grabbing my shoulders and gently spinning me towards him. “We have your back. It’s going to be okay.” His words did nothing to settle the beating in my heart. “All you have to do is shadow walk inside, find the Captain, figure out where Carena is, and get out. Edward and Brina will take you back to headquarters. Kierian will cover your tracks while Kova will be conveying all the information to each of us. Once you’re out, I will wait for Kova’s signal and then meet up with you at headquarters.”
I nod, committing the plan to memory yet again. Oryn had told it to me several times. It was a brash plan, one that had steep consequences if things were to go badly, but it was the only plan we could come up with. I was grateful for the others that were willing to help, even though Kova had seemed less than thrilled to be helping me. Arryn also seemed a bit on edge, her gaze snapping between Oryn and me as he explained it to them.
“About the garden.” Oryn began, his hand running through his hair. I held my hand up.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” I mutter, not taking my eyes off another carriage that bumbled along the cobblestone.
“Aurelia, we need to at some point.” I turned to him, frustration rising in me.
“What is there to talk about Oryn? It turns out that I turn into a monster when I take on the darkness. Lesson learned I won’t do it again.” I turned back to the mansion, trying to ignore the way his eyes seemed to go cold as he stared at me. He opened his mouth, then closed it again. His hand ran through his hair yet again.
“Why do you always do that?” He asked his voice tense. “At some point, you’re going to have to open up and talk about things.” I clenched my fist.
“I don’t want to talk about it with you,” I said, short and simple. I didn’t want to talk about what happened, and I sure was not about to talk about that kiss with him.
“Liar.” He muttered as he turned back to the mansion. “When you want to talk about it, let me know. I would be happy to hear your thoughts on my performance.”
“Your performance of what?” He glanced at me, a new twinkle in his eye.
“I think you know.” He said.
“You can take what you know and shove it up your...” I began.
“Guys, can you hear me?” Kova’s voice blared through my mind, causing me to raise my hands to my ears as if she had just shouted directly into them. Oryn was doing the same as he said...
“Geez, Kova. Could you turn it down a notch?”
“Oh. Sorry. Is this better?” She asks at a much more tolerable level. I let out a sigh of relief.
“Much.” I hear Oryn say, still baffled by Kova’s ability. Linking minds and speaking to us through that link? Incredible.
“I think it’s time for you to make your move Oryn.” We both peered around the corner of the house which we were hiding behind. It was one of the vacant homes on the circle, making it the perfect vantage point for Kova to watch from. If I looked closely, I could see her small outline pass by some of the windows as she prepared the top floor room for her night of watching.
“She’s right,” Oryn said out loud to me. He sighs as he straightens, giving me a resigned look. “I’ll see you inside.” He turned to leave, but I grabbed his wrist at the last moment. I couldn’t let him leave without saying something about what happened. However much I hated what I knew I had to do, I couldn’t bear the thought of something happening and never telling him what had been on my mind.
“Your family’s deaths weren’t your fault,” I say, not letting myself think too much about it before I lost my confidence. “You can’t help the fact that you were born Marked. You had a great family and they loved you so much. I think they would be upset by the fact you felt shame and guilt for that. I’m sorry I intruded and I’m sorry I made you relive it, but you need to know that you’re not the only one.” Oryn watched me for a moment, the dark circles under his eyes seeming to grow darker, his gaze heavier.
He squeezed my hand before he turned and headed towards the governor’s mansion. I watched as the illusion fell over Oryn. He turned into a politician, one that I was sure I had seen attend Council Day. Oryn provided the gate attendant with an invitation, one that was an illusion and was then allowed entrance.
Just like that.
I took a deep breath.
“Your turn Darkbringer.” Kova’s voice said into my mind.
“Darkbringer?” I say back to her, not sure what to think of the nickname.
“Yeah, came up with it myself. You bring Darkness, so therefore you are the Darkbringer.”
“I would prefer Oryn’s sunshine to Darkbringer.”
“Nah,” Kova says, almost sounding bored. “Darkbringer is much more fitting.”
“Gee,” I say. “Thanks.”
A zing of adrenaline rushed through my body as I prepared for what I had to do. I was nervous to head back into the shadow so shortly after a massive mistake. It seemed like a horrible idea, but we had no other choice but to go through with it. The Captain was here, as was the Governor and other influential people. This was the best time to discover information and, more importantly, to find Carena.
“Go find your sister and let’s be done with this,” Kova said.
And with that, I drew the shadows together and stepped into the shadow world yet again.
I braced myself for the surge of power that would force the other Aurelia to the surface, but nothing happened. The world plunged into darkness and I felt my body lighten. Other than that, there was no threat that I was going to become someone else.
“Can you hear me?” Kova asked. This was one of the things we weren’t sure would work. We didn’t have the time to test it before we made our way here, so we could only wait until this moment to see if Kova would be able to talk to me while I was in the shadow.
But now we didn’t have to worry. Her voice sounded as it had a moment before.
“Yes,” I say, already making my way across the road and past the gate. I walked through the gate without hesitation, my mist form passing through the iron bars. There was a large, circular drive that made its way around a grand fountain.
The front door was a large white double-door with gold handles and glass that allowed me to see inside. I stepped through it, hesitating only slightly before I made my way through the solid material. It felt as if I was passing through any normal open doorway.
I smiled as I stood at the entrance to the Governor’s home.
His wife, Bernadette, greeted various guests into her home with a warm smile and cold eyes. She was not a beautiful woman, and it was known that she could out-eat any man in the Kingdom. Her personality was also one of prejudice and ignorance. Carena used to tell me stories of the horrible ways she would treat the Greenies that worked her landscaping. I watched the woman for a moment, tempted to reach out and experiment more with the new ability. The temptation was so strong for a moment that I feared I would ruin any chance we would have at completing our task.
I guess Kierian was right. The shadow world was one of fear and temptation.
Carena, I reminded myself. I cleared all evil and vile thoughts and pushed forward into the home.
There were maybe a total of one hundred politicians in attendance tonight; all men and all pumped full of arrogance. None of them had their families with them except for Bernadette greeting the guests. Each man made their way around, smoking on pipes and sipping from glass bottles.
I made my way around the room, trying to avoid touching any politicians so as not to be sucked into their memories like last time. It wasn’t hard to spot Oryn, despite the illusion that covered him. Even though he looked like the rest of the men, I could see past his illusion in the shadow. It was as if a veneer covered him, a mere image encircling his true identity. I
Oryn was in a small huddle of politicians who were all laughing at something Oryn had said. It was amazing how he was able to play all these roles, and play them well. If he had the chance, he should become an actor for the great dramas that were put on in the arts center of Abberton. He would be an instant favorite of all the girls in the city. I couldn’t help but smile at that thought.
He would probably love the attention.
I reached out and grabbed his wrist, letting myself into his mind. I was careful not to open the doors of his memories as I had earlier. I willed myself away from them as they threatened to surface. Thankfully, this time the shadows were willing to play nice.
“I’m here,” I whispered into the darkness of his mind. From the tension of his shoulders, I could tell that he heard me. No one else around him seemed to notice the sudden change of his demeanor. His eyes began to search around him more, trying to keep an eye out for anything amiss.
“Oryn wants me to tell you to move on. That it feels like you’re sending buckets of ice up his arm.” Kova says. I let go of his wrist and watched as his shoulders relaxed, his eyes still glancing around nonchalantly. “For some reason, I can’t link the three of us up anymore. It seems I have to use more energy to speak with you while you’re in the shadow. Just hurry up and do what you came to and get out.”
I couldn’t agree more with Kova. Even though it seemed we had successfully infiltrated the Governor’s home, we were in the lion’s den.
I moved about the room, looking at each man to see if any of them were the Captain. Their faces all blurred together as I stepped from one to the next. But the Captain was nowhere to be found.
Had he even arrived yet? I was sure Oryn had said he spotted him entering the mansion. And where was the Governor?
“Kova, the Captain is here correct?” I ask.
“Oryn said he arrived shortly after six. He was one of the first to arrive.” She replied. Where was he?
I continued walking, looking at all the faces of those in attendance. Many of them I recognized because of my connection with Tristan. Some of them had even been to the manor to discuss the law with Tristan. I hadn’t remembered any of their names, but I remembered watching them come and go from the library window.
“May he rest in peace.” I heard someone say, the voice drawing my attention. I turned to find an older man, who looked familiar, talking in one of the many huddles. They all seemed to have been working for a while in the field of law and many of them carried various medals on their chests, sporting them around like they were prized pigs.
“He didn’t deserve to die the way he did.” Another man said. “He was a good man.”
“A good man?” Another man said, “Tristan Stillwater was a sympathizer. He married Juniper, a Greenie and his granddaughter was a Marked!”
That hushed the room, that single world seemed to echo around the place. I glanced around and found Oryn staring at the disturbance, his mouth still moving as he spoke to another man. There was still a soft conversation going on around the room, but heaviness and nervousness settled over the place.
“Tristan Stillwater was harboring the enemy in his manor. He deserved what came to him.” An older politician with an impressive mustache added. So it was true then that they knew who I was, or rather, what I was. “They told me that the attack had been planned, that the entire ball was a ruse.”
“How was that possible?” Another man said from a different group. He caused the entire attention of his group to shift. It seemed as if most of the men in the room were now part of this singular conversation.
“Most of those in attendance were guards in disguise. Not many were actual politicians and those that knew what was happening.” Said the mustached man.
“That’s true. I was one of those men, got compensated greatly for my service to my Kingdom.” A round of cheers went up for the man and the clinking of bottles followed suit. My hands curled into fists at the sound.
“Whatever happened to the girls? They did seem like lovely girls.” One man said.
“Well the redhead was the kindest, but the other seemed to have a demon in her.”
“You mean the ghost-looking one?” Said a round man. “My wife always said to stay away from her, that the devil himself had created her as the downfall of men.”
“Oh, that’s something she’d tell you about any beautiful woman.” Said a chuckling man with reddening cheeks, “She’d say that to make sure you stayed in her bed and not any others!”
“Beautiful? Have you seen the death in her eyes when she looks at you? I swear I could feel death near when she looked at me.” Another man said.
“May she never rest in peace.” A tall man said, raising his glass and drinking to that.
I had enough of this conversation. It seems the truth of what happened at the manor was finally out and I realized I didn’t care much anymore for the details. It didn’t matter how they managed to kill Tristan and capture Carena. All I cared about was getting her back. I made my way towards the exit of the main room. If the Captain was not in attendance in the main room, then he had to be somewhere in the house.
Bernadette was now standing in the empty foyer, waving a fan in front of her plump face. She wiped at the sweat that beaded along her forehead, her makeup seeming caked onto her face. I reached out and grabbed her hand, dreading what I would find within.
“I wonder what there is for dinner tonight. I certainly hope the cook prepared the duck as I had instructed. Duck would be good for the soul I think.” I sighed as I tried to focus on other thoughts that swirled through her mind. It seemed the woman only thought of one thing, and that was food and random bits of gossip. She had a heavy dose of worry in regards to what the other politicians would tell their wives about her when they returned home and a strong fear of dying from drowning.
Which was the strangest thing to fear in the middle of Abberton.
But I didn’t dwell too much on that.
I sifted past the useless bits of thought and found my way to her memories, ignoring my anxiety as I pulled them forward. Instead of doors like Oryn, she held her memories tucked away in neat hat boxes. Each box was unique, just like Oryn’s doors. I began to open and close various ones, trying not to look too closely at any in particular so as not to cause suspicion within her.
After a minute of frantically opening and closing boxes, and avoiding a few that were black and covered in chains, I found my way to one that was gold. The name Eris was inscribed on the top. It was a small box, and it didn’t contain many memories. It seemed the Governor was too busy to provide his wife with any memories at all. There contained a few of their meetings, their wedding, wedding night, the time she gave birth to their son, and some various dinners. It was quite sad actually as I tried to make my way through the various images. Their marriage had been arranged and it hadn’t been a happy one.
But I found myself drawn to one where Bernadette had snuck into his office and rifled through his things. I could tell it was innocent, that she was only looking for a misplaced key that opened a wardrobe. But in her search, she came across a letter from the Captain. She hesitated before she read it, and when she did, I soaked up the information.
It was a letter informing the Governor of my attempted infiltration of the manor. It also mentioned Oryn and how the Captain would meet with the Governor before the banquet to inform him of some exciting news. I looked to Bernadette as her gaze lingered on the stairs.
Go up, go up, up, up.
The shadows called out to me, and without hesitation, I dropped the lid to the hatbox and made my way up the stairs. I forced the shadows to propel me forward, making my way up the stairs in half a blink. There were many rooms in the mansion and I poked my head through each door searching for the Governor and the Captain.
Forward, go, straight.
I continued down the hallway, listening to the shadows and not even bothering to check every room. The house was massive and one could spend days wandering through the endless hallways.
Show me. I told the shadows, letting them guide me.
Right, left, straight, right, right. I followed the direction of the shadows turning down the many hallways all decorated with the same, ugly wallpaper and flooring. I ignored all the details as the urgency of the shadow’s whisper propelled me forward.
I came to a slamming halt before a set of double doors that were also white with gold handles. I took a breath before I stepped into the room, and when I did, everything in the world came to a crashing stop.
The Governor stood on one side of the bare room, watching the Captain who stood in the middle. There was a smile on both of their faces, the kind that made my skin crawl and shoulders tense. But it wasn’t the look on their face that promised hurt and pain, or the way the room seemed to be more of a prison than a bedroom, that caused panic to flood my system.
It was the girl that sat in the center of the room, her flaming red hair dull from weeks of dirt.
It was the fact that Carena knelt in the carpet, the Captain’s hand holding her up by her hair.