Scorching tears burned my face, setting the criss-crossed scars ablaze. I shut my eyes tight, trying to stop the flow, but it only made it worse. My throat was bleeding like daggers were stabbing it. My legs were numb with pain; I was sure they would be turning dark purple by this point. Vines, trees, thorns, even leaves all whipped at my bear arms and legs, leaving a trail of blood. But my hand…where he touched me…I never knew such raw pain could exist, such throbbing misery.
I too numb in the mind to do anything but run; if I tried to stop, I would surely implode. And if I did stop…Erebos’ face flashed in my head, his eyes ablaze, his lips curled back in a snarl…and then the young grocer’s body, his gaunt eyes staring at me expressionlessly, black mist surrounding his body. For an instant, my savior had radiated evil. Then he saw me, and his black eyes turned back to brown.
If I could ran faster, I would’ve.
Silently I prayed for the moon to show, though I knew that was impossible. The clouds were too thick, and either way, it was close to New Moon. And yet…if just the tiniest sliver of moonlight fell on me…I could be saved…
Images flashed in my head: a shattered mirror with a shadowy reflection sitting in a pool of blood, sparkling gold dust making everything shine and glimmer; a gnarled oak that reached the heavens and was overtaken with emerald vines; a burning town with a solitary figure in the distance…the silhouette of Erebos.
Suddenly pulsing white figures surrounded me…I screamed, my hands flying out in front of me…my foot was caught on a root…I was falling into one of the figures…a cold hand pressed to my cheeks and the world went black.
Chapter One— The Aeolodral
There was a steady pulsing in the uppermost corner of my head, right side. I tried to blink, but my eyes were already closed. I couldn’t remember how to open them.
I remembered the pain, though…the awful, searing pain. I remembered it, but I could no longer feel it. I felt perfect, as if I had never known any pain, any discomfort. It was an eerily foreign sensation.
I found my eyes, and they fluttered, letting air touch them once more. It felt like I had been asleep for a long time…panicked, I wondered where I was. The last thing I remembered was the cold hand ever-so-lightly touching my cheek. Almost instantly, a cold handprint burned right next to my nose.
Sucking in a sharp breath, I forced my eyes to open. Light flooded my pupils, causing me to blink…a bemused chuckle came from the left of me…I swallowed, suddenly nervous. I squinted against the bright light, and saw a smooth white ceiling above me. Turning my head, I saw fluttery lace curtains covering a huge window, and patterned white walls. My bed was long and narrow, and, surprisingly, white.
I nearly jumped out of my skin, and then I saw him. If he had not spoken, I wouldn’t have noticed him. He sat quietly in a pale wooden chair, his white tailored clothing giving off an old-fashioned air. His hair, reaching just past his shoulders, was so white and thin it was almost transparent. His skin was slightly darker than his hair, but not by much…he practically blended in with the room. His eyes, though, stood out shockingly…they were electric blue, too big for his long, thin face.
Despite his strange appearance, he was actually rather handsome. He frowned at me, but not unpleasantly…more like he was being too serious. Either way, I felt much safer.
“How are you feeling?” His striking eyes crinkled at the corners, though he held the same grim smirk.
I swallowed and closed my eyes. “Perfect.”
“That’s good,” he said, though it sounded more like he was talking to himself. “Surprising, but good…I suppose Agana has done a better job than she’ll take credit for…”
I cleared my throat. “Excuse me…um…sir…”
He looked surprised to see me there. “Ah! Right.” His eyes crinkled again. “My name is Noor. You must be very confused…”
His smile was dazzling, and I felt myself caught off guard for a minute. He waited patiently for my response, his hands folded neatly on his lap.
“Yeah, I am pretty confused.” Then I added, “My name is Ayla.”
I don’t know if he looked surprised, because he couldn’t get any paler, and his eyes were already so wide, but it seemed that way. All he said, though, was, “Hmm.”
I winced, embarrassed. “Please…where am I? How did I get here?” More questions popped into my head. “Why are you here?” And then, before I could stop myself: “Did he find me?”
His huge eyes immediately narrowed. “Did who find you?”
Before I could explain, a new voice interrupted. “Isn’t it obvious, Noor? The demon.”
A magnificent woman strode into the room, and I was immediately awestruck. She towered over us at maybe six feet, her long, slender body wrapped in a black silk dress. Her hair, reaching past her waist, was smooth and inky black, and straighter than I had ever seen on anyone. It was strange against her pale, almost-white skin that reminded me of chiseled marble, or maybe porcelain. Her thin lips, the color of rose petals, were pressed into an angry line. Her eyes, though, seemed the strangest of all…they were blacker than midnight, all around, and glittered as if stars were trapped inside.
She peered down at me like a collector inspecting a rather ugly piece of art. Noor grinned at her, though, so I assumed she wasn’t as surly as she seemed.
“A demon didn’t attack me,” I said, sure of myself. She raised a thin black eyebrow.
“It’s unlikely she doesn’t remember.” She seemed to be talking to Noor. “Did she just wake up?”
He nodded silently. For a second, I wondered if he was as mesmerized by this woman as I was, but then, they seemed to know each other. Surely he would’ve gotten used to her staggering beauty.
“She’s not registered at Orasaula,” the woman continued. Noor nodded, as if he had any idea what ‘Orasaula’ meant. “I’ve never heard of her before. Why would a demon be interested in—?”
She narrowed her midnight eyes while Noor spoke softly. “Ayla, do you know why a demon would attack you?”
“I told you, a demon didn’t attack me,” I insisted, aware I sounded insolent. Their eyes bored into my blackened wrists, which I had not noticed till now. Memories came flooding back to me…Erebos, his eyes black and evil, with the body of grocer lying still at his feet…he had reached for me, to keep me from running…his hands burned my flesh…
“Erebos,” I breathed.