She runs through the alleyway, constantly looking over her shoulder at the dark shadow following her, and catching up. Her vision impaired by the tears streaming down her face as she tries to evade the impending danger moving behind, each step coming closer. Her body quivers as she rounds another corner and she ducks behind a dumpster in hopes of catching her breath. Her heartbeat pulses in her ears, deafening her so that she can’t tell if it's her own body or footsteps falling behind. She stays crouched until she is sure that she is alone again in the dark, the person who was following her having given up to find another target. Her heart slows and she stands, emerging from her hiding spot. She releases a breath of relief seeing that she is indeed alone again in the lightless pathway, she moves towards the light of the street only a couple meters away, comfort washing over her as the danger passes. She can hear the sounds of the boulevard, just a little further until she can blend into the mulling passerby’s still out at the witching hour.
A cold hand vice grips tightly on her throat, squeezing against her larynx cutting the air from being able to escape, unable to make a single sound she thrashes against the hand holding her in place against the stinging frigid wall behind her back. Her eyes try to focus on the person in front of her, but there is nothing but shadows and pain as the darkness edges around her vision. Her body starts to kick into her flight or fight mode and she kicks out with long legs, however, whoever it is who has her in this position just laughs at her feeble attempts to get free. She feels the oxygen deprivation slowing her thoughts and her strength weakening as her brain battles to try to gain more oxygen. Her hands grab at the strong wrist pinning her in place, but her pursuit to freedom is diminished as laughter reaches her ears and the darkness invades her vision even more. The pressure on her throat increased to the point of no return, her lips part slightly as the pleads fight for their release out of captivity of the hand on her, the world fading as she knows there is nothing else she can do but surrender to the darkness that now surrounds her. Her scream is not heard by anyone but her own brain as her body convulses with it’s last attempt of survival, the jerks stop as her heart does, no more fight to give. “Such a pity, she was so pretty” a gravelly voice in the distance talks as the last few moments of her brain register the end to her life. The shadows clear and steel blue eyes meet her paling irises as death completes its ritual.
Her eyes open with a start. The lights from the neon strip join next door flashing in her room, giving it an odd red and orange hue, a sweat on her brown and down her neck as she fumbles for the string attached to the desk lamp beside her bed. She looks at the time as she works at slowing her heart rate, and grabs the book in the drawer of the night stand. She quickly starts jotting down the details that she remembers, shivering at the vividness of this latest nightmare that she has started to get since turning 21. Once completed she lets the pen drop to the bed and swings her legs from under the covers, there will be no getting back to sleep yet again. Anastasiya walks to the bathroom squinting at the offensive light as she hits the light switch and looks at herself in the mirror, her pale skin and dark hair contrasting with each other in the bright white light of the 100w bulb, sharpening her cheek bones, and paling her full but faint lips. The lack of sleep from this recent onset of phantasms is starting to take its toll on her body, her grey eyes shadowed by the bags under them. She splashes cold water on her face and sighs at yet another lost night of sleep.
Nastia, as her friends call her, wanders to the bathroom of the weekly apartment rental she stays in and turns on the water, the hum of the shower head fills the room. As she steps into the spray an odd tingle sparks in her fingers, another side effect of her lack of sleep and the nightmares she assumes. She stretches her hands out in the water, trying to shake off the feeling of pins-and-needles, before undoing the braid that she keeps her long black hair in and washing it under the abnormal spray of the shit water pressure. “Fucking useless shower” She grumbles to herself and curses the landlord in her mind. “Can’t fucking sleep, can’t enjoy a hot shower. This is what my life has become!” She grabs the soap angrily and the water pressure starts pounding on her back, a fog lifting from the scalding water pelting her. She closes her grey eyes and parts her lips slightly, a groan of pleasure escaping through as she enjoys the random increase of pressure and heat, her anger slowing as her body relaxes. A few more moments and the random moment of increased water pressure and heat fades back to normalcy leaving her in a tepid piss-like stream. Agitated, she gets out and wraps a towel around her willowy frame. Similar to the body of a high end model, her breasts weren’t huge but proportionate to her body, she had been endlessly teased in high school for being boyish. Nastia was no stranger to the cruelty of others, and had since grown a tough exterior and independence that often made her unapproachable, her friend circle was small but quality. Rebraiding her hair, she stretches and grabs her running leggings, sports bra and running shoes, seeing as she’s up, she may as well take advantage of the moment. She grabs her keys and takes off down the stairs.
The humid summer air hits her as she exits the building, but the fresh smell of the morning air wafts around her as the sun cracks over the horizon to the east. She slips her earbuds in and starts to run along the roadway towards the trail system that runs through the town. Her feet almost silently thump along the pavement, carrying her further forward with each step. Her breathing deep as her heart rate starts to increase, bringing her into a tempo of balance between her body and brain. The music beat matches the pattern of each ascent of her foot, a light sweat begins to form along her back and forehead as she pushes herself as the minutes pass. She finds peace in her run as she zones out and focuses slowly on the view in front of her and the music in her ears.
She barely catches herself as she enters an intersection before the trail system and a car whips past her, nearly clipping her as it continues past. She stops catching her breath, bent over as she watches the large black sedan speeding down the road ignoring the lights and stop signs. Running her hand over her face she takes her ear buds out to listen for any more vehicles that may not be seen coming around the sharp corner. “You ok Miss?” the drawl of a homeless man who is laying on a bus bench a few feet away asks. Nastia just nods, not bothering to answer him and not being drawn into an inevitable conversation. “Bitch” he grumbles and she flips him the bird before putting her pods back in and continuing her run.
The sun is fully up as she rounds the final corner back to her complex, she pulls her keys from her leggings pocket and takes the stairs two at a time back to her apartment. Opening her door she sets her things down and enters the shower one more time to cool down before getting ready to head to the bookstore she works at. RavensCroft is a nostalgic little book shop run by her best friend Innessa’s Aunt Sophia. A little eccentric Sophia runs the store with a loose hand allowing Nastia to do what she wants and order the books she feels would be the best sellers. Currently she is trying to convince Sophia to add a small coffee bar to attract more of the hipster college students that frequent the town. Wrapping her braid into a bun on top of her head she grabs a black t-shirt and a pair of black tight skinny jeans that hug her the way a good pair of pants should. She slips on her comfortable runners and grabs her keys and wallet. As she heads down the stairs she is hit with the feeling that she is being watched, glancing around however she sees nothing out of the ordinary and exits the building. The sensation of being watched continues and she keeps watching over her shoulder as she makes her way to the store. As she arrives she notices that Sophia has already opened and a few customers are already entering even though it’s only 8:30 in the morning.
“No sleep again Nastia?” Sophia asks as she walks through the door “No.” Nastia replies simply as walks around the counter, a large and rare smile breaking on her lips “The order is in!” She fingers the box that is sitting on the stool, “Yes, it came in yesterday, right after you left.” Sophia replies and passes the customer at the counter the bag they just paid for. “Why didn’t you call me? I would have come back in.” Nastia asks while tearing the tape carefully off the top of the parcel. “What's the point of calling you back in? They didn’t walk away did they? They are still here.” Sophia retorts, rolling her eyes. “I swear child, you are a cuchka derganya. You would live in this store if I allowed it.” Sophia smiles and puts her hand on Nastia’s shoulder as she slowly takes out each book analyzing the spine and condition of each of the first edition books she had ordered “And before you even think or ask, Net, you cannot live here.” Nastia laughs and her fingers freeze over a strange book at the bottom of the box. She pulls out the hand bound black leather book, her fingers skimming over the unusual design on the front of the cover. Nastia closes her eyes as an unfamiliar warmth seems to flow from the book to her hand, shadows in her mind seem to start to lift and small fragments of images she is unaware of start flickering in her memory, as quickly as it starts it stops as Sophia grabs the book from her hands. “What is this?” She demands, her green irises scrutinizing Nastia “Where did this come from?” Her voice angry and determined, Nastia looks at her “From the box.” She challenges Sophia back, her grey eyes darkening and a tingling feeling over taking her body, Sophia’s eyes widen and she puts the book down and grabs Nastia’s hands. Their eyes lock and Sophia’s voice takes a soft tone “It’s ok child. What just happened did not happen, all that you have seen is forgotten.” Nastia blinks and then looks down at their interlocked hands, pulling them back “What happened?” She rubs her temples while Sophia runs her hand down her shoulder in support “You got faint so I came over to check to make sure you were ok. Must have been something in the box, maybe too much of that old book dust.” Nastia eyes Sophia curiously but with no better explanation sighs “I need to start getting more sleep.” She looks around as Sophia grabs the book on the counter and walks back towards her office. “Was that one of the books I ordered?” Nastia inquires towards Sophia’s escaping back “No no, this is just a garbage book someone found. It’s in rough shape and needs to be destroyed.” She enters her room and slams the door.
Sophia looks at the book in front of her and runs a hand through her auburn hair, “What are you doing to me? It’s not yet time for her to remember. You told me to keep her safe. You can’t be sending her clues like your fucking Sigil! That was way too close, you must be more careful.” She tosses the book onto her desk and starts pacing the office. Sophia throws herself into her seat and reaches into her desk drawer taking out a roll of white sage and a candle she quickly lights both. She chants slowly “Purge her mind of all sights been seen, memories dark, and consciousness cleared, no longer shall the reminiscence glare, all that you hold deep within shall remain locked away erased from your head and heart.” The candle flares as the sage implodes smoke filling the room.
Nastia stares after Sophia as she walks into her office slamming the door. The woman can be strange and things often don’t make sense but at least she was kind enough to give her a job. It didn’t pay much, but enough to keep the rent on her apartment. The smell of sage wafts down the hall shortly after she closes the door and Nastia smiles, Sophia is always trying to hide the smell of the cigarettes she smokes with the sage, in hopes that if the bylaw came in they wouldn’t hit her for smoking in the establishment. Suddenly Nastia rubs her eyes, a strange sensation overcoming her body, but as quickly as it occurs it’s gone yet again. She walks over to the coffee pot in the little back room and prepares the carafe before turning on the power button, this lack of sleep is starting to take its toll on her body, and starting to have her manifesting strange feelings that are likely just sleep deprivation. She wills the coffee to brew faster, but hears the bells of the door open to the shop causing her to make her way back to the front knowing that Sophia is busy in her office.
As she walks to the front to see a woman standing in the middle of the room, her exotic features are distinctive, long dark hair, and almond shaped brown eyes. She isn’t tall, but her body is well formed and the clothes she wears hugs to her frame. A tattoo peeks from the bottom of her shorts hem, but not enough to make out the whole piece. “Looking for something?” Nastia asks the newcomer with a curt tone, but the woman does nothing but stare as if Nastia had grown horns and was some kind of abomination. Nastia waves a hand in front of the woman's face to catch her attention, “I don’t have all day.” The lady shakes her head quickly, blinking a few times as if remembering where she is and a large fake smile breaks across her lips “Yes, yes, sorry, I am looking for a copy of A Song of Wraiths and Ruin.” Nastia raises an eyebrow and walks past the woman. “Hard or soft?” She asks not taking a moment to even glance again at the woman, “Everything's better when it’s harder,” the woman smirks with what she seems to think is an innuendo that hasn’t been heard a million times in the bookstore. “Ahh yes, ok.” Thankful that her back is to the woman she rolls her eyes, and reaches up to grab the book in question. “Here you go.” She passes it to her, “When you are ready to check out I will be at the counter.” She attempts to make it past her, but her hand catches Nastia’s. She glances at the hand on her arm and attempts to pull away, but the woman's grip is unexpectedly strong. “Isn’t magic wonderful?” she asks, Nastia looks at her, a funny look on her face “Magic doesn’t exist.” The woman looks at her incredulously and a small gasp escapes from her lips. “No, No I guess it doesn’t, that’s why we have to read about it.” She drops her hand but glares as Nastia walks back to the front counter.
The woman plays on her phone for a few moments before returning to the counter, placing the copy of the book down. “This will be everything. Thank you. I have everything I was looking for.” A sly smile on her lips. Nastia cashes her out and puts the book in a bag, passing it back to the woman. “Enjoy” she turns her back and starts sorting the new arrivals again, a simple and dismissive action. “You really should work on your customer service skills.” The woman snarks at Nastia as she leaves the store. “Cunt” Nastia whispers under her breath as Sophia returns to her side “What did I miss Kroshka?” she chuckles “Another satisfied customer I am assuming? Totally awestruck by your amazing people skills?” Nastia glares at her and keeps sorting the books. “One of these days Nastia, you’ll have to drop that attitude and let people in, even if it’s temporary.” Nastia sighs. “I have you and Inna, that’s all I need. Others just mean pain, annoyance and betrayal. Even my parents didn’t want me, so why bother being anything else than who I am?” She straightens herself and grabs a stack of books walking away from Sophia leaving her there to stare at her, mouth slightly open ready to argue, but knowing she really can’t give her the answer that she wants to give. The fact that everything she knows is a lie, but for her own safety, in her mind she curses the one who put this girl in the situation she is in, and begs for the time of her duty to be complete so she can walk away from this intact and semi sane.