A Moment of Darkness

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Out of Control

Servants descended upon the manor like vultures to a carcass. I thought I would have been prepared for the arrival of them all, but when I was awoken to voices drifting through the halls, I worried I may not be ready for the next two weeks.

With a heavy sigh and a begrudging spirit, I hauled myself out of bed and donned my most modest gown. The material was a thick, drab color of gray that managed to turn my pale skin ghostly. The sleeves were a bit longer than necessary, eliminating any chance for them to ride up and reveal the markings. The collar was high, covering the marks on my back. I also knew it would take a sharp blade to cut the material, so there was no risk of an unexpected tear causing my death.

Carena had proved this to me when she had the dress designed, looking like a madwoman as she tried to tear the cloth with her hands and then ultimately pulled a dagger, cutting it to shreds. To this day, I pray I never see her with another dagger in hand.

The hallways were crowded as I tried to make my way down them. I nodded my head to the few servants that glanced my way; some staring openly at my figure, others trying their best not to. I was glad they would only be staying during the days and leaving in the evening. I don’t think I could sleep knowing so many strangers were near.

I was on my way to the library, trying to pretend it was a normal day when Carena told me to be in the dining hall in five minutes.

It wasn’t uncommon for Tristan to request my presence for a meal. I always thought it was his way of getting me out of the library and interacting with him for a change. Carena was usually the one that ate with him and kept him company while I ate most of my meals in the library or my room.

I had eaten in the dining hall hundreds of times, but every time I was still surprised at the beauty of the ornately decorated room. It was large, with a long table situated under a grand chandelier. Paintings were hung up around the room of various landscapes by various artists and even a few by Carena herself.

The food was already set out, each plate already served and glass poured, thanks to Carena no doubt. Carena and Tristan sat at their chairs, talking quietly to one another as I took my seat. As I sat, a flash of memories flooded through me. It felt as if every time I ate with Tristan and Carena together, there was usually life-altering news. The first time was to tell me that my childhood home had been burned and that the Governor planned to build a Marked prison there instead. The second time was when he told me about the King's second decree calling all Marked dangerous and that they would be rounding them up. I was ten when that decree was made. I was now twenty-two, and the King's third decree had already been made. Magic was outlawed, no one with power was to be walking freely. Yet here I was, taking a seat across from Carena, reaching for my fork to stuff my mouth with delicious food while Marked were being slaughtered across the Kingdom just because they were trying to live.

I looked over at Carena who watched me with a delicate brow arched over her green eyes. I shrugged my shoulders, not sure why she was looking at me that way. It was difficult reading Carena sometimes. Her emotions seemed to ebb and flow at the rate of a fly’s wings beating.

I shifted my attention to Tristan, who held a letter in front of him, his brows pinched together as he read with a serious expression.

“It seems that we will be having around four hundred guests at the ball, which will be held in two weeks.” He said, “I don’t think they have had one this large in many years.” Tristan sighed as he grabbed the paper with both hands and ripped it in half. He let the two halves flutter to the floor, not caring where they landed. Carena smiled as she sat up in her chair.

“Is this the reason you had Aurelia eat with us?” She smiled excitedly at me, “Are you forcing her to attend?” I huffed, taking my frustrations out on a piece of sausage that wouldn’t stay still.

“Unfortunately for Aura, yes. She has to make an appearance or else too many questions will be asked. I’d rather avoid having to lie to so many politicians, who – might I add – are very good at detecting falsehoods.”

“And creating them,” I muttered under my breath. Tristan chuckled.

“You are correct there, my darling. But whether it is right or wrong, we have to make sure you show up in some way.” Carena let her fork drop against her plate as she clapped her hands together. I watched as she blossomed with joy, her smile infectious.

“Does this mean you’ll finally let me pick an outfit for you? Will you let me plan your outfit for the ball?” That’s what she had been hoping the outcome of this would be? I rolled my eyes. Carena had always been caught up in the latest fashions, the makeup and the hair, the shoes. I had never bothered with those things seeing that there was no person I would want to dress up for or no reason for me to go out and show it off.

Unless you counted books.

Then I would have thousands of friends to show off to.

“I can dress, thank you,” I stated. Tristan watched the exchange over his glasses as he buttered a piece of toast.

“Whatever you say, your majesty,” Carena said as she picked up her fork and pushed her eggs around. Tristan snorted, his gaze warming as he looked between the two of us. “Now, this guard that I heard was coming…” She trailed off. I shot my gaze over to Tristan, who watched Carena with peaked interest.

“How you figure out information is beyond me.” He took a bite of his toast, crumbs falling into the beginnings of a beard around his mouth. “It’s quite astonishing, actually, how you manage to gather it all. I seriously wonder about that sometimes.” He says trailing off, looking at his piece of toast as if it held the answer he was searching for.

“Is he coming?” I asked. I clenched my fork, not feeling hungry all of a sudden. Tristan nodded, smiling as he said,

“I received word that he will be arriving later this evening. His name is Oryn and he is close with the informant that I told you about, Aura. I think we can trust that he will take your protection, as well as Carena’s, very seriously. He will remain here for the next two weeks and ensure your safety. During the ball he will be keeping a close watch on you. As I’m sure you have noticed, servants have already arrived to begin preparations. I informed them to stay away from the few rooms you and I have discussed, Aurelia, so you should not have to worry about being watched at all times of the day.”

Great.

“Are you sure this is necessary? Would it just be easier if I were to leave for two weeks? We could say I went to visit a friend or a distant relative.” The silence that followed was thick. Carena’s hand tightened around her fork, her gaze hardening as she watched me.

“Is that really where you want to take this?” She said, all glee and humor wiped from her face. “You want to try to leave again?” I had never left, not really. I had mentioned several times to Tristan that maybe it would be better if I had just left the manor, left Carena and Tristan behind. I always argued they would be safer, better off without me putting them in harm's way. The truth was, because of me, they will always be in harm's way, and if something were to ever happen to either of them…

“The truth is, because of me, this all becomes more difficult. I wouldn’t have to stay away. I could just be gone for a few days over the date of the ball.” I argued. I looked from Carena to Tristan, who seemed for once to be considering the idea. Carena seemed to realize this because she stood from her chair, the sudden movement knocking it over.

“You can’t be seriously considering this!” She said, “After everything you’re just going to back down like that?” She looked from Tristan to me.

“Carena, if it helps keep everyone safe…” I start, already knowing where this argument was leading.

“Safe?” She seethed, “You leave this Manor and you’re as good as dead.” Her face was flushed, her freckles standing out more than usual.

“What would you know? There are Marked out there every day that manage to get by, that manage to escape. You were right the other day. I have managed to live twenty-three years and no one has noticed. So why would it be so difficult for me to leave for a few days during the ball?” I say.

“You’re not leaving for your safety or ours,” Carena said, her voice dropping low. “You’re only leaving because you’re scared.”

“Of course I’m scared! That’s what this is all about.” I stood, my anger propelling me forward. “If I’m caught, then I’m killed. Or worse - captured. Then what do you think happens to you? What happens to Tristan? I’ve been hiding here since I was nine! You both would be imprisoned for harboring a fugitive! You heard the decree, Carena. From here on out, there’s no protecting you or coming up with excuses. If I’m caught, then you’re as good as dead too. So of course I’m scared because it’s not just my life on the line here!”

“That’s not what I mean.” She bent to the floor, picking her chair up. She held onto the back of it; her fingers white with the pressure. She didn’t say more as I waited for her to continue. We both stood, staring at one another.

“I fear Carena may be right in this instance. Your leaving would only put you at greater risk, as we have discussed several times before. It would also raise more questions than it would do good. It is best for you to remain here.” Tristan said. He looked from Carena to me, his expression tense. It wasn’t often we argued, but when we did, it was a sight to behold. He always said we got our stubbornness from our mother.

But I know I got my temper from my father.

“We can’t just run every time something comes up,” Carena said, her eyes not meeting mine anymore. “We’re no longer little.” Her words hit me like a blow.

“So that's what it’s all about then,” I said, a fiery calm washing over me. “What would you know." I seethe, darkness curling at the edges of my vision. "You were only five, barely conscious when I picked you up from that floor out of the pool of our mother's blood.” I spat at her. I wiped at the tears that ran down my face, too angry to care about the flash of hurt that crossed Carena's face.

“Girls…” Tristan sighed.

“You don’t know anything, Carena. I watched them kill her, murder her all because of the markings that were on her skin, that are on mine.” I said. "Nothing's changed then, and it certainly won't change now." I watched her for a moment, a numbness seeping into my chest, my heart. She didn’t know what it had been like, to watch the guards kill our mother, to almost killing us. I looked to Tristan, who only looked at the table, his eyes a vacant stare. The darkness in the room seemed to thicken, and I couldn’t help but notice the way Carena’s eyes widened as she took in the shadows that seemed to grow longer.

“When Oryn arrives, tell him to keep well away. Until then,” I took a breath, trying to calm the roar of my emotions. “Leave me alone.”

I slammed through the hallways, careful to stick to the passages that were clear of servants. Tears threatened to spill down my cheeks, to overtake me completely. Everything within me shook, and when I finally found my way to the library and shut the doors behind me, I sunk to my knees in the middle of the floor.

“You must always be careful, Aura. Not every power is meant to be used.” My mother’s voice seemed to waft through the room, the lilt of her voice bouncing from wall to wall. I closed my eyes, not wanting to look, to remember. She had always warned me, tried to show me why my power was dangerous. It wasn’t until the night of the apartment I understood why. I covered my face with my hands, squeezing my eyes shut.

“What’s wrong with me mama?” I had asked.

“Nothing, my love. Nothing at all.” She would wrap me in her arms, her hand resting on my head. I opened my eyes to find the library descended in murky darkness. Shadowy figures moved about the room, memories playing back to me. I wanted to look away, but there was nothing I could do to stop them. I watched scene after scene, nightmare after nightmare. They were all memories of my past, memories of my childhood. Each scene a reminder of who I was, what I was, and what I had lost.

“Mama!” I watched Carena run to mom as she looked back at me, her eyes wide with terror, tears running down her round face. It was the first day I had showed Carena a nightmare. I had been so angry because she took a toy of mine. I grabbed her arm, trying to pry the stupid doll from her hand, and her eyes had turned dark. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I remembered the feeling I had afterward.

It was intoxicating.

“Aura.” The deep voice was heard over by the far bookshelf. I watched my father’s shadowy figure walk into the room. His tall frame seemed to fill every space, every thought, as I watched his shadow looming over me. His eyes pierced through me, my heart quickening with fire as I stared up at him. I hated this memory.

“I didn’t mean to,” A younger version of myself whispered. I was holding our cat in my lap, her lifeless body draped across my knees. I petted her soft fur, wishing I could take it back. My father knelt down in front of me, prying my fingers from the cat’s body. He took her outside as I sat, numb. I had only wanted to pet her, to feel the warmth of her body and hear the sound of her purr. Yet my power was raw, untamed.

The cat had died from fear when I touched her.

“You have to be more careful.” My father said. He didn’t touch me as he spoke, he never did. There was never a loving embrace, a gentle hand, a fatherly kiss. He was too afraid that I would do the same to him.

“I can’t help it, papa.” My younger self said, “Why does this happen to me?” I looked at my hands, at the small palms that could inflict so much damage. The scene faded to mist.

“Get in the closet…”

“No.” I breathed, barely grasping the shadows long enough to change the image they showed. Yet despite my efforts, I couldn’t force the shadows away.

“Aurelia...the closet! Now!”

My body locked up at the words, my chest froze, breath not finding my lungs. The shadows whispered as they swirled around me, ruffling the pages of open books. I clutched my head in my hands, trying to drown them out.

It’s all your fault.

Your fault.

Fail.

The whispers continued, growing louder and stronger. The darkness seemed to creep in, hedging in on my vision.

No, I thought. I can’t lose control. Not with so many people around.

Your fault. Your fault.

“Where is she.” A man’s voice rings through the room, his gravelly voice seeming to tear gouges in my chest, leaving me exposed, raw.

A wet sound filled the air as I watched a shadowy image of a guard punch a sword through my mother's chest. Her body crumpled to the floor, the thud that woke me from my dreams resounding through the room.

“Stop!” I shout, flinging my hands out to the shadows, desperate for an ounce of control. They freeze where they are, the dark mist hovering above the ground, the shadowy image of my mother's lifeless body resting only a few feet from me. The soft light of the morning seemed to be non-existent now, my darkness having replaced any light in the room.

I held my hand out, and with every thought focused on that image, I pushed the shadows away watching as the mist seemed to seep into the floorboards.

A noise from the library had me jumping at the sound. Without thinking, I sent them flying towards the sound, not sure if I had commanded them or they reacted out of instinct.

There was a deep grunt, and when I looked, I found a man pinned against the heavy oak doors.

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