Chapter Two: Soren
The boy turns, and I open my mouth to plead my case, but any words I have leave me the moment we lock eyes.
His whitish-blonde hair is long enough to cover parts of his pale forehead, which I notice he adjusts with his hands a fair amount. He’s taller than me, but not nearly as tall as the rest of my family. His frame is slight, with a touch of muscle definition beneath his simple brown tunic, but nothing about him suggests weakness to me.
The most striking thing about him are his large, sparkling eyes. They’re silver, but like ice. Almost blue. They should look otherworldly, unnerving, even. But they just pull me to him even more, somehow. I know there’s a story behind those eyes, and I am desperate to hear it.
Puzzlement covers his face. “Is everything okay? You seem a little lost.”
I quickly snap back to reality. “I – sorry – yes, I’m fine. I just wanted to ask, are you a new servant here? I’ve never seen you before.”
He nods. “I just started today. I’m working directly under Darius.”
It takes me a moment to register hearing Father’s name. “Oh, I see. What an honour for you.”
“Yeah, he handpicked me from one of the villages nearby.” He scratches the back of his head with a sheepish grin. “I’m Soren, by the way. What’s your name?”
My name . . . should I tell him my name? Will he know who I am?
No . . . don’t be ridiculous. None of the other servants know my lineage, they all think I’m a servant who looks after the library. Why would this boy - Soren - think any different? It’s like I was considering before; if no one knows I exist, how would he know who I am?
I decide it’s worth the risk.
“I’m Luna,” I manage to whisper, running a hand through my waist-length hair.
“What a pretty name.” He steps closer, and surprisingly, the urge to back away doesn’t come.
“Thank you.” I can’t help but smile as heat rises to my cheeks. “Forgive me, I thought all the servants had gone to bed already. Can I ask why you’re still awake?”
“Oh, I’m just heading home for the day. I live pretty close to here so Darius said I could walk back and forth if I wanted.” He tilts his head to the side. “I could ask you the same thing.”
Just as I thought: he thinks I’m a servant. Let’s keep it that way.
“I just – um – I just wanted to get some last-minute things dealt with in the library.” I fidget with the cuffed sleeves of my loose gray sweater. “I have a hard time falling asleep sometimes.”
His face relaxes. “Oh. Well, my village is a short walk away, would you like to come? Perhaps some time outside will help you relax. I could bore you to sleep by reciting the history of Zala if you’d like,” he says with a chuckle.
I freeze again. Can I really go with him? Leave the Manor with a stranger? If I leave, I’d have to go alone. No one can know I’m gone. How do I know I can trust this boy to not say anything? Especially if he’s working so close to Father . . .
“Er, sorry, I can’t. And I really should be going to bed anyway.” The words fall out of my mouth before I even realize I’m saying them.
I turn on my heel to leave when I feel his hand gently grasp my wrist for half a second. The motion catches me off guard, but I don’t feel any malicious intent in his actions. If anything, I sense the opposite from his cool, delicate touch.
It’s so different from everything I thought I knew.
“Sorry, that was forward.” His pale cheeks flush pink. “I just wanted to ask. . . what do you mean you can’t?”
I pause. “I - I’ve just never been outside the Manor.”
I nearly catch myself from spilling the truth. That I can’t leave because of my broken lineage. “What do you mean, why?”
“All the other servants are allowed to come and go. Why are the rules different for you?”
I bite my lip as I process his words. He asks too many questions. “Fa - Darius’s orders. All he ever told me is that it has to do with my mother.”
He frowns. “Who is she? Was she a bad person or something?”
I blink at him as my thoughts connect. “She was a traitor to Darius’s rule. That’s all I know.”
He presses his lips together as the information swims beneath the surface of his icy eyes. “But . . . what does that have to do with you?”
My eyes widen. “What do you mean?”
“Her being a traitor doesn’t have anything to do with you. Have you ever met her?”
I shake my head.
“Well, then . . . that’s a bit silly, don’t you think? Keeping you here for something that doesn’t even have anything to do with you? I know I would want to leave if I were you.”
“Don’t let Darius hear you question his authority,” I warn as that familiar fear tightens around my chest.
“Oh no, I’d never question his authority. It’s just trying to make sense of his actions,” Soren assures.
“Still, he might take it the wrong way.” I frown.
He shoots me a mischievous grin. “I won’t tell if you don’t?”
I nod with a small smile.
“The offer to come with me is still on the table if you’d like. But the choice is yours.”
I think about the timing of this situation. If there was a good time to leave, it’s now, when it’s past servant hours and Father is busy. And based on how he just spoke about Father . . . maybe he’ll keep this secret for me. Maybe this boy – Soren – is my ticket out of here, and I’m too afraid to realize it. And with his help, I think I’d have a better chance of finding someone outside the Manor who can teach me transportation magic. Someone in his village might even know.
Maybe I really can do this.
“I won’t tell if you don’t?” I repeat back to him.
The mischievous grin reappears on his face. “Deal.”
He offers a hand to seal the pact. After analyzing him for a second, I reciprocate the motion, slowly bringing my hand to his. The delicate sensation sends shockwaves through my skin, igniting my blood with what I think must be some form of electricity.
I meet his icicle eyes again, and it’s like they cast a spell over me. It’s as though moths are in my stomach, flapping their wings against a windstorm.
What is this feeling? It’s not fear. It’s . . .something else.
Our hands linger together for just a moment longer before he looks to the side with a light chuckle. “Shall we go?”
I nod, pulling myself to reality. “Yes, of course.”
We walk down the hall, past the library and turn a corner towards the servants’ quarters.
I grimace as pain from Melinoe’s earlier attack suddenly lights up my shoulder, and I roll it as we continue our walk. I suppose that’s what I get for not healing it yet. I got so caught up in all the excitement of everything that I completely forgot to deal with it.
“Are you hurt?” Concern fills Soren’s voice.
I shrug. “I’m all right. I can heal it.”
He blinks at me. “You can what?”
“I can heal it,” I say as I hover my hand over my shoulder, feeling the ache unravel from my body.
“I didn’t know that was even possible,” he breathes, his eyes widening.
“You wield Shadow too.” I frown at him. “You can’t heal yourself?”
“You’re the first person I’ve ever seen do that,” he runs his hand through his hair, adjusting his bangs with a light grin.
Oh no, I thought all Shadow Wielders could heal. Did I just reveal myself? Did I just ruin all of this?
I try to hide my nervousness as the last of the pain releases from my shoulder. “I – I couldn’t tell you the reason why. It’s something I’ve always had.”
He gives me a playful grin. “Well, no matter the reason, I think it’s fascinating.”
“Hmm.” I look down with a smile.
Silence falls over our conversation as we walk down the several doors lining the servant’s hall, but it doesn’t feel uncomfortable by any means. I prefer it, in fact. The last thing I’d want to do is wake anyone up.
He leads me around another corner and gestures towards a door that leads outside, biting his lip with a grin. “Ready?”
I look between him and the door as the excitement from before builds in my chest again. “I think so.”
I step forward as he opens the door, ready to finally leave this forsaken place, when my bones suddenly turn to ice.
“You’re a disgrace to Father, to his legacy. No wonder he wants to keep you hidden.”
“The least you can do is obey one very simple rule: never leave this Manor.”
I shut my eyes, hard, taking a long deep breath.
Breathing out the darkness.
Without another thought, I step through the passage, my gateway out of this place.
To my freedom.