I - Just the Beginning
This is the first of three books. Book 1 and 2 are completed and Book 3 is currently on hold until late 2023.
*Just a heads up that this story does detail domestic abuse. There will be no trigger warnings before the chapters in which it takes place so tread carefully as you read this story. Additionally, this is a work of fiction and as such, characters' responses to said abuse may not mimic what takes place in reality.*
Just the Beginning
From the inside
To the soul
Shall earth save you
Or shall it wreck you
As evil strengthens
Beyond death’s door
I hummed the words to myself, rolling through the tune. The words appeared three years ago, just after my 18th birthday, and I hadn’t been able to get rid of the riddle since. The haunting jingle replayed itself through my mind, sending a strange warmth through my limbs, strength vibrating beneath my skin. The earthy smell beneath my feet grew in richness as the words grew louder in volume until I began whispering them aloud, my eyes dropping to the one potted plant left on the altar before me. I knelt before the stone steps, running my fingers along the rotting fruits and foods left from last week’s offerings. Only the plant remained alive. Whoever had left it, definitely had a death wish.
I ignored my name, unable to break the trance as I stared at the captivating life before me. The petite flower bore brilliant shades of turquoise and gold, the colors dancing and swirling along its roots into the moist dirt. The pot was a boring pale red, doing nothing to support the vibrant life that it held so dear. It was funny how something so beautiful, so enticing could be so deadly. A virus had been ravaging this town – Nchedon – for as long as I could remember, the only indicator that it still existed lying in the innocent petals before me.
The Council had stripped the entire town of all its greenery, destroying its essence in the process. It was for the safety of the people, they said. After all, without nature, we would be safe, secure, left alone, while the town became empty shades of gray, far from the exciting colors it had once prided itself in. Hardly. The virus had slowed but still found its way into our livelihoods. Unfortunately, The Council’s next course of action was not turning to science, but rather the Elemental Gods. Prayer to the Gods. Sacrifice to the Gods. Worship the Gods.
Down to one or two deaths a month seemed to appease everyone that lived here. And what was I supposed to do? Run around yelling that flowers were killing humans? It was crazy as it sounded, and people already thought there was something wrong with me. There was no way I was going to give them another reason to think so.
I could swear that one of the petals stretched beneath my gaze, reaching towards the north for that extra burst of sunlight, but that would make me crazy – something I definitely was not. Or at least I hoped so. Maybe everyone else was right? I reached out as well, daring myself to touch the stretching plant, a million thoughts running through my head. Was this the beginning of death?
“Silver!” I jerked up to attention and snapped my hand back to my side, finding Miles leaning forward, a worried look plastered to his face. Fuck.
“Fucking shit knuckles on a nugget. Sorry, Miles.” I shifted back a few feet; my head bowed to avoid eye contact. My cheeks burned in embarrassment. If someone had caught me touching the plant, I’m not sure what would have happened. No one knew how the virus spread, but touching a flower was a sure way to become ostracized – not that I wasn’t already an outcast in my own right.
The man chuckled, running a hand through his espresso curls. They hugged his face, complimenting his deep brown eyes, nearly the color of mud. I was mesmerized by the stories etched into his face, the mystery in his every move, and the darkness beneath his gaze. Even sitting beside me, I knew that he towered over my 6’2”. He grinned, showing off his award-winning smile. I could stare at him all day if he let me. “You and your strange way of cursing. No need to apologize. You zoned out again. Are you alright?”
I gritted my teeth at the question. I hated when people asked me that. I wasn’t okay. I don’t think I ever would be.
In the last month, I had lost everyone I truly cared about. The virus had claimed my mother. My older sister Tina – the last line of protection from Father and my twin, Julias – had gotten married and moved out across town. My best friend, Griffin, got a full ride to some college I had never heard of and despite promising that our relationship wouldn’t suffer, had taken the first bus out at the beginning of the summer. I couldn’t blame him. And Ace – my kind of boyfriend? Well… he had graduated last year from the community college everyone attended and since he had moved onto the university the next state over, I rarely saw him. Talking on the phone just… wasn’t the same.
Unfortunately, being left here alone without anywhere to escape to had only made things worse. I was pretty sure the pain in my chest was trying to tell me I was lonely. I rubbed at my chest, irritated. My eyes drifted to the plant again, watching yet another petal reach towards the sunlight, shivering when it came in contact with the twinkling rays. Fuck.
I was definitely losing it. I shifted uncomfortably in my crouched position, trying to hide the grimace as pain shot through my ribs from the most recent fight between me and Father. Drunk and pissed about something that had nothing to do with me hadn’t saved me from him. The three industrial locks on my door had, but not until he had gotten in a few punches and a kick that I was sure had cracked the same rib I had been trying to heal for the past two weeks.
Miles raised an eyebrow, clearly noticing when an embarrassing groan slipped from my lips and I clenched my jaw, willing the tears to stay right the fuck where they were. “Silver, I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that you’ve gone through a lot in the past month, and staying at home is not doing you any favors.”
I threw him an annoyed glare, hoping he could tell that I was just as pissed at him as I was everyone else. “Fuck if I don’t know that.”
“Then why-” He began. I could feel him itching to place one of those reassuring hands on my arm, telling me through his gaze that everything would be okay at some point. But fuck if all those weren’t lies masquerading as blanketing truths. I didn’t want more lies.
I pushed myself to my feet, wincing as I stretched slowly. I ignored the throbbing pain in my side, clenching my jaw again. “I just,” I hissed, pausing to take a deep breath before continuing, “Don’t understand why you keep bringing it up. There’s no-fucking-where for me to go. My job barely pays the rent and everyone here either hates me or is terrified of me.”
Miles tilted his head to the side, sighing deeply. Was he disappointed in me? Did I care? “Silver, is that really how you feel?”
It didn’t matter how I felt. “It’s true, though, isn’t it?”
I dared him to try and change my mind. That night, I had watched my mother die in my arms, claimed by the virus. It wasn’t supposed to touch her. She had been the light of my life, the light of the entire fucking town. Plants loved her, so much so that she surrounded herself with nature. Her flowers rivaled even those from the neighboring city. But the fucking virus had taken her from me. Stolen her from my arms.
Everyone had shared stories of how terrifying it was to watch someone lose themselves to nature, but there was no preparing me for what I had seen that night – the way the vines seemed to have a mind of their own as they tangled themselves around my mother and strangled her from within. The vines threatened to take me with her, blooming and coiling around my limbs, locking me in nature’s embrace for nearly two hours before someone found me.
The Council quarantined me in the fucking shop for three days, after removing my mother’s body, trying to find out why I was still alive. Why was I the only survivor? Instead of using me to find a cure, The Council begrudgingly agreed to release me, stating that I was immune. That I wasn’t a victim… yet. I had downgraded from an outcast to a dead man walking.
In all honesty, it was a step up from being confused for Julias. Fuck, I hated my twin.
“Why don’t you stand up to your brother? I can see the fight in your eyes.” Miles’ voice jerked me out of the nightmare I was becoming sucked into again.
“Fighting won’t solve anything.” I spit at him. These were the same conversations we all had. I used Miles as my therapist and he asked the questions I didn’t want to answer.
“I never said it would.”
I tried to read the man before me, but I couldn’t dissect his expression. Fuck. “Then is there even a point?”
“You’ll never win a war if you don’t fight any of the battles.”
He sounded so… wise. But he couldn’t be much older than my almost 21 years of age. 25? Maybe 28? “That’s not even… it doesn’t matter.” I hung my head, kicking at the loose pebbles by the stone altar. For as much stock as this town put in the Elemental Gods, they did jack shit about the altar’s upkeep. Maybe that’s why the virus was still running rampant? I chuckled to myself. Even I didn’t believe that praying to stone would save us. It was just a matter of time.
“You’re a nosy bastard.” I took a deep breath, “You’re not even real.”
“That hurts, Silver.”
“I’m just a fucking crazy person.”
The three statues rested before me, the apparition dying along with it. I wanted to believe that ever since Mom had left this world, I had been seeing things. But that wasn’t true. I’d been talking to these damn statues for years. It was only when that mysterious poem found its way into my head that the fuckers started talking back. Well, only Miles, the Air Elemental. The other two had stayed fucking silent, stingy bastards.
And sure, there are four elements. But that part of the stone – the Earth Elemental – had shattered a few weeks ago, days after Mom’s death. Talk about ominous. I had so many questions.
A couple walked past me, and I nodded timidly, unable to smile. They skittered off, whispering, no doubt going to spread the fact that I was talking to myself again. I shoved my hands into my pockets, eyes lingering on the potted plant one more time, before heading towards the house.
“Be careful tonight.” Miles’ voice traveled across the wind in a low whisper.
“Your brother’s birthday smells like disaster.”
I grimaced, yet another one of those ‘prophetic’ statements. Miles was all in my mind; I knew that. But some part of me wanted all this to be real. But believing that the virus was actually more than just the explanation of a scientific anomaly was hard. All aboard the crazy train, I guess. I didn’t turn back around, muttering my response. “We’re twins. It’s both of our birthdays.”
“Is it though?”
I frowned, hating the fact that Miles wasn’t technically wrong. But this conversation would lead us nowhere and I needed to be home before 5, locked in my room, before the preparations started. Not only did I not want to run into Julias, I wanted no part in this celebration.