Chapter One: Family
I’ve never seen the sun, and that’s about to change.
There’s only one way I can see the sun, and that’s by travelling to the light world of Enas; something that Shadow Wielders like myself haven’t done since the Great War of Darkness over a thousand years ago. The technique for jumping between my home of the Shadow Realm and Enas has been lost to time. . . at least, that’s what I’ve been told by my father. Not to mention the fact that I’d need an amulet to survive there. But they were all destroyed during the war.
Even still . . . something within me is telling me I need to get there. To see how the sun cascades an area in light, or to feel the warmth of it on my skin, even if it took away my Shadow powers without an amulet. But I feel it’d be worth it, just to see the countless colours that fade across the horizon when the sun greets the day and says goodnight. All the purples, oranges, reds, and everything in between that make the passage of time all the more magical. Oh, what I would give to see colour.
One day, I know I’ll get to witness a sunset, along with all the other wonders of Enas. Like a blue sky, or whatever sand is.
But for now, I need to at least start with leaving this sprawling Grand Manor.
Father has been adamantly clear that I can never leave this place, but I’ve only ever worked up the courage to ask him about it once:
All he said was that it had to do with my mother; that because of my illegitimacy and the imperfections she gave me, I can’t ever leave this Grand Manor. I’m a flaw in his dynasty; a line that has stretched all the way back to the days of the War of Darkness. No one can know I’m his daughter. Except for him and my siblings, of course.
It’s been that way for the seventeen years I’ve been alive.
But I at least need to know what’s outside these walls. No one has to see me. No one has to know who I am.
Years of living in this Grand Manor have given me plenty of time to explore, and I know of a place where a stone can come loose at the base of an abandoned hallway. I should be able to slip away, unnoticed.
With a breath, I leave the library – my one haven in this dark place – and head down the hall toward my exit. The ceilings are high, coming together at a center point straight above me. To others, it may appear to make the space look bigger than it is. But all it does for me is make the walls feel like they’re caving in on me. That the hallway is getting narrower and narrower with every step. It’s never happened, but it’s always been a quiet fear in the back of my mind.
The gray stone is cracked, reminding me just how long this Grand Manor has been here. It’s steeped in my family’s history as rulers.
Or, should I say, Father’s history as rulers.
Coming from the opposing direction is a trio of women with dark hair: a part of the team of live-in servants at the Manor. We nod at each other as we pass before they continue on their way; they’re likely heading to sleep since it’s technically considered to be after hours. As far as they know, I’m a servant who takes care of the library. That’s all any of the servants know about me.
I continue down the hall, where in the next moment, my ears pick up at the sound of laughter coming from Nox and Melinoe – my older twin brother and sister – around the corner.
I freeze, debating going the other way for a moment, giving up on my escapade completely, but I decide against it. I’m not going to let them stop me.
They come around the corner and their laughing stops, almost instantly being replaced by condescension. They tower over me, highlighting how much taller they both are compared to my small stature.
The only feature I share with my siblings is our hair, with all of us having straight, black locks. That’s where the resemblance stops. Aside from our height, the biggest difference between them and me is how much paler they both are compared to my olive skin tone, as though all the saturation has been taken out of their skin.
“Where are you going in such a hurry, Mouse?” Nox asks, crossing his arms over his plain gray sweater. His dark brown eyes analyze me in his cold, calculating gaze, as though he’s trying to determine the intricacies of an evil plot.
I ignore the nickname and address his question. “The library,” I lie, remembering our location in the Manor. “I just forgot something in my room. What about you? I thought Father had planned to meet with the two of you.”
“How would you know anything about that, you halfbreed?” Melinoe scowls, curling her painted, plum-coloured lips in disgust.
I bite my tongue to avoid quipping back, though the comment still stings. But it isn’t anything new; Father won’t stop their remarks anyways.
Besides, they’re the ones who will rule the Shadow Realm one day, not me.
“Just a guess,” I mumble as I fidget with my fingers.
“Why are you in the library so much, anyways?” Melinoe continues. “It’s not like a book can fix your broken lineage.” She casually runs a hand through her shoulder-length hair.
I take a breath as my hands start vibrating, but Nox speaks before I have the chance to respond.
“Aw, Mouse is shaking,” he chastises as he nudges Melinoe. “You must have scared her. If you’re so scared, why don’t you scurry away?”
I quickly put my hands behind my back and force myself to hold eye contact with them.
“I – if that’s all you have to say to me, then please leave.” I bite my lip. “I know I wouldn’t want to keep Father waiting.”I hope my tone was enough to keep any further comments at bay.
Silence falls over us, and sensing that the interaction is over, I quickly move to stride past them and continue on my path. That is when Melinoe grabs a fistful of my black waist-length hair, forcing me to face her once again.
The motion happens so fast that all I can do is grimace. Her gaze darkens as she towers over me and shadows form in her other hand, ready to attack. She has the same eyes as her twin brother: dark brown, void of any semblance of light. But she makes hers appear bigger with dramatic, smoky shadows across her eyelids, which only enhances her contempt. The bell sleeves of her black tunic dress obscure part of my vision, cloaking my left eye in darkness.
“Watch it you little bitch. Don’t forget your place,” she hisses, letting me go.
I take a few steps back as a sudden burst of courage appears from within me. “Of course. How could I ever forget?” My tone comes out more cynical than I had intended; I pray she didn’t notice.
. But as her gaze ignites with wild anger, my eyes widen and my wishes fade to dust. I should have kept my mouth shut!
Before I can say anything else, the darkness in her palms sparks into chaotic black flames and she dives at me, knocking me back to the ground. I create a shield with my Shadow abilities to protect my face, but she manages to get a solid blow to my shoulder as she attacks.
The comment doesn’t slow her down, and if anything motivates her to keep going, hitting my translucent barrier with a loud whoosh sound with every inky blow. The black fire in her hands snaps loudly as each blow comes toward me, like an unruly force that cannot be contained. My arms tremble as my shield starts to crack like glass. Nox simply watches, expressionless, clearly waiting for us to figure out our problem.
“Enough!” A voice bellows from the other side of the hall.
Shock ripples through Melinoe’s eyes and she gets off me, dusting herself off and standing next to her brother. I quickly scramble to my feet and stand a little way away from them, ignoring the dread tightening around my throat as much as I can. I roll my shoulder, wincing in pain before clasping my hands behind my back again. I’m not too worried about it; I can always heal myself later. Father is the far more imminent problem right now.
Father walks down the hall towards us – slowly – as the energy in the area shifts, getting colder with every step he takes. I shiver as I sense his silent, calculated anger, even from here.
“How am I supposed to prepare your siblings to run the Shadow Realm one day when you’re constantly getting in their way?”
I tune out his voice until I notice his shoes directly in front of my gaze, and I realize he’s talking to me.
I quickly look up, knowing that averting my eyes will only make him angrier. But even so, any semblance of courage I had when I was talking to Nox and Melinoe has evaporated to dust.
He resembles my siblings more than he does me. At least, I’ve always thought so. I certainly don’t get my lack of height from him, but we all share his black hair. His complexion stands out among his dark robes; he’s perhaps even fairer than Nox and Melinoe, almost translucent if you look at him in the right light. But it doesn’t suggest physical weakness. If anything, it adds to his eerie, powerful aura. One that can seemingly turn your blood to stone, or cloak you in an endless void of shadow, untouchable by any kind of light.
“I’m sorry, Father.”
I’ve learned that arguing with him only makes things worse, even if a situation wasn’t my fault.
“I will not tolerate this kind of behaviour, Luna. I don’t care who started it.” His dark, almond-shaped eyes remain callous. It takes everything I have to hide the fear coursing through my veins as my heart pounds in my throat.
“I understand,” I say quietly.
“As for the two of you.” He turns to my siblings. “How do you expect to be rulers of the Shadow Realm if you can’t even handle someone as weak as your sister?”
He doesn’t even look at me as a sting fills my chest.
Before either of them can answer, he continues. “That’s what I thought. Head to the study.Now.”
They quickly head down the hall and around the corner as Father turns back to me, and the dread tightens its grip around my throat.
“And where do you think you’re going?”
I stick to the lie I told Nox and Melinoe.
“At this hour?” He pushes.
The colour drains from my face. He’s testing me.
I tense a little at the realization, hoping he didn’t notice. If he found out I was planning to leave the Manor . . . I don’t even want to think about it.
“Yes.” I look to the side for a split second before I can realize it.
“You know, an inability to keep eye contact is the first sign of a lie.” He narrows his eyes again as my breath gets caught in my throat.
“So, I’ll ask you again,” he continues. “Where do you think you’re going?”
“The library.” I hold my eye contact this time, as much as it sends shockwaves of panic through my blood. “There – there was a passage on the architecture of the Manor I found very interesting, so I wanted to do some more research on it.”
That was only a half lie, really. I just hope he doesn’t pick up the pieces and put together what I’m really doing.
My heart pounds out of my chest as he nods, satisfied with my response.
“Well,” he starts with a pointed tone. “Don’t make a mess of things while you’re in there.”
“Yes, Father.” The response is automatic.
He pauses with a deep sigh. “Let me make one thing very clear, Luna. I took you in and raised you because you share my blood. But I cannot have you getting in the way of Nox and Melinoe’s trajectory as heirs.”
“Of course. I understand.”
“No, I don’t think you do.” He steps closer, and I fight the overwhelming urge to back away. “Power is everything to a leader of the Shadow Realm. I would hope you’d know that after all that time spent in your precious library. But you are not Nox and Melinoe’s full siblings. You’re an heir to nothing, a symbol of weakness in this legacy. To maintain power is to show no weakness. Do you understand?”
“Good.” He pauses, narrowing his eyes as the vociferous silence engulfs me. “Because if this behaviour continues, I’ll ask Nox and Melinoe if you’d like to train with us again. Better yet, I might just send you down to the dungeons. Is that what you want?”
“No.” My voice is barely above a whisper.
“Speak up.” His voice is sharp, tunnelling into my ears.
I muster up what courage I have left. “No, Father.”
“Then prove it with your behaviour. Don’t make me regret my decision to take you in.”
Without another word, he turns and strides back down the hall.
As soon as he is out of sight, I let out a breath I didn’t realize I was holding. My hands tremble as they recover from the interaction and my knees nearly give out from under me. The dark aura weakens as he moves further down the hall, allowing me to breathe easier, as though I’m taking my first sips of air after being submerged underwater.
The sensations only strengthen my want – no, my need – to get out of here.
With a deep breath, I continue down my original path as I become lost in thought.
I wish I didn’t feel distressed around my family. That I could speak my mind and protect myself without trepidation. But whenever I’m with them . . . I don’t know what comes over me. I become a mouse, just like Nox says.
Curse my fear.
I shake my head out of my inner world and focus on my path down the hall. After a few twists and turns, I come across the abandoned corridor; one that leads to a dead end, with loose stones that will give me my escape.
I jiggle a large brick that meets the floor with my hands. Still loose.Perfect.
I give it a few good tugs, and it comes free, the hole just barely big enough for me to fit through.
Excitement bubbles within me. I am imagining everything that could be outside these dank stone walls. The trees of the forest outside the Manor and everything that lives in their branches. I wonder what the I wonder how tall they are. Texts say that the trees are taller than the Manor, so I can only imagine how high the leaves would reach.
But no matter what is out there, the very thought of escaping this shroud of darkness is enough to fill me with so much elation I could burst . . .
“Hey, what are you doing?”
I freeze at the unfamiliar voice.
A pit spirals in my stomach again as my body turns to ice.
I’ve been caught.