Phantom of the damned. (First draft, unedited.)

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Mother know’s best.

Kane.

Evanora doesn’t have a very developed sense of self preservation, that much is painfully clear.

She knows I am bad news.

It’s evident in every fearful glance she casts my way. Since she’d witnessed me in my natural element, she’d shown obvious signs of her mistrust.

The sirens should have been the final straw. I’m certain that they filled her head with all manner of vile ideas about me.

But instead of trying to run for the hills.

She thanked me.

Thanked me!

And worse yet.

As I carried her away from the sirens lair, she curled into me. Tucking her head into the junction of my neck and shoulder, she let out a long sigh. One that I was compelled to reciprocate.

Exhaustion winning over her need to stay conscious, Evanora again drifted to sleep in my arms.

What am I going to do.

The moment she broke from my grasp, sprinting to her certain death. It was like ice had formed within my soul, burning through to the pit of my stomach.

My feet had moved before my mind could give the orders, cutting me through the water like a knife.

The need to protect her had been overwhelming. Leaving a bitter taste on my tongue in its wake.

How could I turn her over to her father when the thought of her being in danger sent waves of nausea throughout me?

But keeping Evanora from harms way would surly mark my mother for the next culling.

And everything I’ve done thus far to ensure my mothers safety would be for not.

All the lives I’ve taken.

Families that had fallen apart at the seam as a direct result of my hand.

And worse yet, all the innocent souls traded to the devil himself, by the maw of his most trusted dog.

My sins outweighed my years by the time I’d completed my training as a hunter.

All these things I had resolved myself to live with.

But can I stomach the face that stares me down in the mirror, after handing the lamb —aware of her slaughter, — over to a den of wolves?

I guess I’ll have to find out. I steel my resolve as the first shadows, cast by the tree line of my home town appear, looming on the horizon, a dark smudge marring the russet sky.

I don’t bother to wake Evanora as we walk through the woods. Woods I'd explored as a child before being “recruited.”

Instead, I allow nostalgia to cloud my thoughts, pushing my current dilemma to the back of my mind.

A small squirrel run’s across my path, dodging my feet by mere inches, chattering angrily as it passed, as if it’s near crushing were my fault alone.

A wry smile tugs at my lips, the small creature calling to mind a memory that I often visit when I need a pick me up.

I’d been a boy, no older than six. But the look of shock on my mothers face when I’d burst through the kitchen door covered in bites and scrapes, a squirming squirrel pinned between my small hands, and a smile splitting my cheeks. Will forever be branded in my minds eye.

She hadn’t let me keep the squirrel.

But something told me that she wouldn’t have a problem with this girl.

Not that I can keep her...

I wonder what kind of face she will make when I come home this time.

~~~


“Kane!?” My mother exclaims in surprise as she opens the door to my childhood home.

Her eyes immediately drop to the small woman clinging to my chest, head now smushing against my cheek as she’d adjusted herself in her sleep.

She scrunches her heavy brows at me confused, with eyes narrowed she sucks one corner of her lips between her teeth.

I can’t fault her for her surprise.

If someone had told me a week ago that I’d be standing in front of my mom with a sleeping woman wrapped in my arms, I’d have laughed in their face.

“I’ll explain everything, just let me lay her down first.”

Mother follows behind me, hot on my heels as I carry Evanora to my old room.

A larger bed had been added for when I visit, but aside from that the room had been left as it was when I was a child.

Pale blue painted walls filled with make shift shelves, stuffed to capacity with all my childhood treasures.

Rocks, sticks, shells bought from the market, to name a few among other things that a young boy would have found mesmerizing.

“What have you done to this poor girl’s feet?!” Mother whisper yells from behind me as I lay Evanora on my log framed bed.

Luckily for me Evanora is completely out of it. The journey took more out of her than she let on, it would seem.

I open my mouth to reply, but find no suitable excuse so I leave it gaped, staring at my mother with all the elegance of a scolded child.

With an indignant huff, she pushes past me nearly knocking me to the ground with the sway of her generous hips.

Mother is not a small woman, not even close. And the bed dips as she rests her weight beside the sleeping wican.

“Lyla?” She breaths, moving strands of greasy hair from Evanora’s pallid face.

My stomach drops.

“Excuse me?” My question sounds as if it were rung from my lips. Strangled.

“No, it can’t be.” Whipping to face me so quickly that her thick auburn hair fans around her like a bird flicking its feathers in display. She pins me with a thousand mile stare.

“Where did you find this child, and where are you taking her.” Straight to the point as always, mother pulls her lips into a tight line, a signal that she will have none of my round about answers this time.

“First her feet. Then I’ll talk.” I fold my arms over my chest. Talking back to mother is not advisable, but my mind is reeling to quickly with my own questions to answer hers.

How does my mom know Lyla? And why does she look like she’s seen a ghost?

With a look of warning that promised my thorough investigation as soon as she was done, my mother shoos me from the room.

Renowned for her abilities with herbs and her gentle, steady hand. Working as the towns medicine woman, she’d accumulated a fond reverence with our small population.

But for all her fame, she never allowed anyone to watch her work. Not even her son.

I catch a fleeting glimpse of raven hair splayed over my pillows before the door closes, almost smacking me in the nose.

After what felt like an eternity of pacing outside my bedroom, the door slowly creaks open. Mother steps from the door way, her hair tied back in a red ribbon a few shades brighter than her tread bare muumuu dress.

“How is she?” I ask, peering past my mother into my room.

The smell of herbs and antiseptics burn my nose. But Evanora lay peacefully under the blankets, her face bare of any sign of discomfort, unbothered by the strong scent as she slept.

My chest stirs with relief.

So wrapped in my inspection of Evanora, I don’t notice my mothers knowing smile until she clears her throat from beside me.

“I think it’s time that you explain some things to me son.” She grins.

“Starting with that sparkle in your eyes when you gaze at her. Why, I figured the sky’s would open up and rain down mana before my boy brought a girl home.”

I tense, unable to look her in the eye.

Whatever confession she thinks I have locked up within me, she will be disappointed at my reveal.

“I think this is a conversation best had at the kitchen table.” I murmur, making my way to said table before she could reply.

“That bad?” She sighs, her earlier cheer draining from her face.

The kitchen table is reserved for only the most important issues, and this may just be the most important one to take place at it’s four pine legs.

Seated in the small, yet homely feeling dining room, I fold my hands in front of me in an attempt to appear casual, but succeeding only in looking guilty.

“To start. Her name is Evanora.... Evanora black.”

A sharp intake of breath causes my eyes to dart from my twiddling thumbs, up to greet my mothers ashen face.

I don’t know what I expected to see, but the sheer look of horror and anger that wrapped my mothers normally controlled expression, was not it.

She slams her hands down on the table, startling me.

“Damn it boy, what have you done this time?! Do you even realize?” She fumes, shaking with emotion as she glares at me with a pointed stare, one reserved for rude patients seeking her help, a look I’d never seen aimed in my direction.

“I can’t know if you don’t fill me in. She is my bounty and my bosses daughter, that’s as far as my knowledge goes.” My own anger rises up within me. Though I’ll admit it is mainly stemmed from my own admission of guilt.

Understanding floods her features, replacing her ire with weariness. She is aware of the sins I’ve committed to keep her safe, had begged me countless times to stop dirtying my hands for her sake.

With a defeated sigh, she leans in her chair, her shoulders pinned back against the wood. She lolls her head behind her as she stares at the thatch ceiling, before taking a deep breath and straightening to look me dead in the eye.

“I suppose I have to tell you, being you’ve brought my past back to me.”

She steadys herself with another deep breath before continuing.

“I didn’t grow up here... but you already knew that. What you didn’t know is that I was raised beside the sea, in neutral territory.” She pauses, peering at me through barred lashes.

I only nod, now is not the time to interrupt her with questions.

“Right... well, my mother and I lived in a orphanage that served to house both wican and humans. We were given the overflow of children whom either side had no room for in their respective territories. My mother worked there as a cook, and I helped clean the rooms. That is where I met Evanora’s mother.”

I open my mouth to ask how she’d recognized a child that had only ever been seen by her mom and a forest spirit before I’d come along. But she shushes me with a raised finger, guessing my line of thought.

“I would recognize my best friends child anywhere, she is a spitting image...” she trails off, leaving me with the impression that she is not telling me everything.

“Anyways, as I was saying. I met Lyla at the orphanage, she was a bright and lovely girl, always smiling, and forever getting me into trouble with her pranks and tricks. I loved her, and so did my mother. But this isle is unkind to those who allow tenderness within their hearts, and lyla’s time with us would soon seem like a cruel joke, spurred by wishful thinking that we could be a family. My mother and I were devastated the day lyla was chosen to be the tribute wife for the arena master.”

“Heart broken, we thought that we had heard the last from our Lyla. But fate has a nasty habit of turning around to clean up its crumbs. Just a year after being taken, Favion’s men showed up at our door demanding my mother come with them. It was revealed to us then that Lyla was with child and had fled. They assumed she would return to the orphanage, but she hadn’t.”

Confusion fills my head as I process what she’s saying.

“Why did they need grandma’s help?” I ask.

My grandmother would have had to have been up there in age when this took place, being she had my mother late in her last years of fertility. I can’t picture a frail old woman being any help on a manhunt.

Mothers eyes widen as if she’s accidentally slipped something she should not have. But she ultimately shakes her head in defeat.

“I suppose I had to tell you eventually.”

“Tell me what?!” I snap after she remains silent for a moment too long.

“Don’t raise your tone at me, I’m just arranging my thoughts. Remember, you are not to old for me to break a switch over your back side.”

I raise my hands in defeat, and allow her to continue uninterrupted.

“My mother was a wican, my father a human whom’s name she did not know. She was gifted with extraordinary healing abilities, and since favion’s men had already come out of their way to check if Lyla was with us, they figured they should take her just in case Lyla needed medical attention.” She falls silent again, as if each leg of her story is harder than the last to retell.

Wican?

My mother is part wican? That explains why she always does her healing in private, but not why she kept it secret from me.

Mother continues her retelling, oblivious to my shock at her reveal.

“My mother returned a few days later, eyes haunted, filled with regret. She would not speak for many days, and when she did, she cried, ‘I’ve damned our poor Lyla, I should have let Gia carry her away on wings of death as she wanted.’ That was all she said, and she never spoke again, not even with her dying breath, hastened by guilt.”

“She healed Lyla, pulled her from the grip of the reaper who would have served as her savior, and the regret she bore in doing so, killed her. That girl in the other room... her mothers only wish was that she stay hidden, it is why she fled.. And yet my own son has brought her out for all to see.”

My chest clenches with the knowledge at what I’d done.

I knew from the start that I was dragging an innocent to the slaughter.

But with each moment I spent with Nora, the stronger the desire to protect her had grown.

Silence stretches before us, as my mother holds my gaze. Before abruptly stating the obvious,

“You care for her.” It’s not a question.

“Yes.” I admit.

It feels as if a weight from my chest is lifted with my admittance. It is quickly replaced with fear, however. Fear at what I must do, and the consequences that will almost certainly follow.

Mother’s brows drop in concentration, before a thought seems to light her eyes, an almost panicked tone griping her next words.

“You will not be completing this assignment, I know I’ve told you this countless times. But this time I swear by Gia that I will feed you to the sirens if you even think about turning her over to that vile man. I live with enough guilt that I left Lyra to rot with him. I’ll be damned if I let my son deliver her daughter to the same fate. ”

Unease swirls in my gut. I know I can’t give her up, I don’t think that I ever could. I’d just been fooling myself into believing I would be able to complete this bounty. And something tells me that favion had already suspected this much would happen. It is why he opened the bounty after I left.

“I will not be giving her to anyone. But you know what that means for us... for you.” I fight the waver that creeps into my voice as I look over the woman who brought me life, the one person on this entire island that I care about.... at least until I saw Evanora for the first time.

I’d spent years protecting my mother, years of servitude and having my morals spat on. But all of that seems to fade into the distance, as I picture Evanora’s soft smile, and timid glances my way.

“As I’ve told you over and over again, that man and his dusty arena don’t scare me.” She folds her arms over her chest, a look of pride written plainly across her face.

“You can’t possibly imagine the horrors that take place in the arena. And I refuse to let you experience that. There has to be a way to bring favion down...” My head throbs as I prod for a solid solution, one that will not send the island into another war, or take those who I must protect from me.

“Hmm. Yes, we shall find another way. But for now, you need to rest. You look like something a cat dragged in.” She rises to her feet and grabs me by the shoulders, spinning me back towards the hall that leads to my room.

My room?

“Wait!” I dig my heels into the floor boards.

“Is there a problem?” She huffs. It is late and my mother is not a night owl, her exhausted sigh tells me this much has not changed since my last visit.

“I... I’ll sleep out here.” I stammer, losing my calm facade in an instant.

“On the floor? Why is that?” Mother juts her hips to one side, her wrists bent at her waist, in an impatient posture.

Of course she would not see any problem with her impotent son sharing a bed with the girl.

I however, am frozen with nerves. It’s one thing to allow her to sleep in my arms out in the wilderness, but another thing completely to curl up in a warm bed, hidden from view with the first woman to ever cause these feelings to stir within me.

Heat rushes to my face, this is the last conversation I expected to have with my mother, and it certainly was not one that I wanted to undertake after all the information I’d just be told, and have yet to fully digest.

I didn’t have to say much though, my blushing told her all she needed to know.

With an excited gasp, mother raises her hands to cover her gaping mouth, as she bounces slightly on the balls of her bare feet.

“She’s awoken you?..... she has!!! Oh my stars! This is great news. Grand babies, oodles and oodles of grand babies, I can just see them now!” She squeaks, and my stomach drops with a mixture of mortification, and anxiety.

“Mother!” I groan. But part of my heart soars at the prospect.

I hadn’t let myself fantasize about a future with Nora, even if I had already subconsciously decided that I would not complete my mission. The thought of having her as mine, forever, hadn’t crossed my mind. But now that it has, I can’t shake it.

“Son, It is rare for half breeds to find someone who awakens them, they must resonate with your power completely, a match to your soul. Evanora it would seem, is your match.” Clasping her hands over my shoulders, she peers up to meet my gaze.

“She might not even like me.” I try.

Mother rolls her eyes, but doesn’t attempt to amend my statement.

“Take good care of her, you won’t likely find another.” Is all she says, and with that, she turns to her room, but not before throwing one last comment over her shoulder.

“But I do agree that you should not sleep in bed with her without her permission, there is a blanket and pillow in the hall closet, I’m sure a pallet will suit you just fine.” She winks, before shutting her door behind her with a soft click.

Now left in the dim light cast from the moon filtering through lace curtains, my childhood home is enveloped in the sounds of cicadas and other nightly performers.

I make my way towards my room, straighten the blankets and pillows before my door, and lay down.

Sleep will not find me tonight.

Not after all I’ve been told.

Fear for our now uncertain future, and the safety of not only my mother, but Nora as well, grip my heart.

My mind races, matching pace with my thundering heart.

I can’t lose them.

I wont.

Even if my last breath is what it takes to ensure that.

The isle of the damned will know a new monster should the day I fail ever arise.

For their sake, favion should tread carefully from this day on.

Because his loyal dogs leash, just gave him permission to bite.

And mother always knows best.


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