A/N: I apologize for the LONG delay of this chapter. 2012 has been both brilliant and dreadful to me; I have been through a lot in just one year, and my passion for writing was momentarily diminished. But I refuse to be a quitter so now I shall complete this story of mine. Enjoy this chapter, albeit it being short. I apologize for that too. It was difficult for me to find the inspiration after a year of absence in creative writing. I promise to write well in later chapters ^^ CHAPTER 3 by Fathiah Zarafi
“What brings you to my throne room, Aldus?”
“I am here to deliver news about the slave house, my lord,” he bowed low on the marble floor. The emperor nodded his consent and the messenger straighten.
“A slave was executed two nights ago. The woman apparently had angered their new master to the point where she was tortured till death.”
The emperor sported a look unlike that of anger. “Why in God’s name are you telling me this useless information?” he bellowed. “I have no care for some filthy slave alive or otherwise.”
The messenger cowered a little but maintained his composure. “You did not allow me to finish, my lord. The new slave master was angered because the deceased one had protected the girl.”
Silence filled the large throne room. The emperor raised a wrinkled hand to caress his white beard. “They are getting braver with that girl among them. We are running out of time,” he mused to himself, before turning back to the messenger. “Tell me, when did you dispatch the slayer?”
“Fourteen suns ago, my lord.”
The emperor smiled. “Perfect. He shall arrive soon.”
The sun was high in the clear blue sky. Its scorching heat beat down their backs as they slaved away at the winery. The women collected ripe grapes with bruised and scarred fingers, while the men extracted the juices with the stomps of their feet. Guards employed to ensure that the slaves carried out their duties were perched comfortably underneath makeshift tents, sipping alcohol from a flask. On any other day, Alis would have driven the guards up the wall with her stubbornness, refusing to bow down to them. But today was different. Berta’s death was still fresh in her memories. The image of her broken and bruised body still haunted her dreams. Too many nights have gone by where Alis was awaken from the cruel nightmare, screams tearing from her throat.
Why, Berta. What possessed you to do such a foolish thing. My life is not worth saving.
Alis’ fingers slowed down unconsciously before stopping altogether as she fell deeper into her dark thoughts. This, however did not go unnoticed by a guard positioned near her. A hideous scowl immediately fell on his face as he rose unsteadily to his feet, hand poised on the whip tied to his hip.
“Girly, whatcha think yer doin? Get back to werk!” he shouted. Alis promptly ignored him but resumed her task nonetheless.
“Ya, tha’s right!” the guard laughed obnoxiously. “Ye lousy demon! That ol lassy died like a lamb because ya put yer filthy hands on ‘er!”
Purple liquid flowed between her fingers when the grapes were crushed in her fists. The guard continued his guffaws. “That stupid woman deserved to die anyways, fraternizing with a demon. Disgusted everyone!”
“Shut up!” Alis all but shouted, causing his laughter to freeze. “You have no right to say that about her! You all are the filthy slimes here, not her!”
The next thing Alis knew, she was falling face first onto the muddy ground with a grunt. Her back was stinging from the impact of the whip lashed at her. Before she could recover, her body was kicked repeatedly and with such a force until she could hear something inside of her crack. When the beatings ceased, Alis had to stifle a sob. She clenched shut her eyes and tried to muster what little energy left in her frail body to stand up. It was not such an easy task as she was physically and mentally drained from the ordeal she was put through.
I wish to die. God, just take me away.
A sharp cry escaped her lips when her hair was tugged backwards painfully. “Who granted you the permission to rest, demon?” A guard sneered in her ear. “Return to work!” She was yanked to her feet roughly. Her knees trembled, pain shooting throughout her body and she would have collapsed if not for the strong grip on her arm.
“Please allow me to rest for just a while,” Alis muttered. The guard snorted. “Filthy slaves-no demons like you do not deserve any rests.”
Memories of Bertha flashed before her eyes. Her gentle smile, her soothing touches, her soft voice that would sing lullabies to her. They haunted her now. I truly am a demon. The guard released his hold and Alis unceremoniously collapsed to her knees. A whistling noise reached her ears followed by a burst of pain on her back. “Get back to work!”
Alis crawled on all fours to return to the plant she was picking when she was whipped again. This time, she could not muffle the painful sob. Her trembling limbs finally gave out and she once again fell onto the mud. The back of her slip felt wet; either from blood or sweat, she could not tell. The guard was shouting at her again but she was losing her hearings. Her vision swam when she was pulled to her feet again. Alis was dimly aware of the two guards dragging her forward but she was too weak to protest. Soon, she was thrown into a horse cart.
“Pathetic demon, good for nothing,” one of the guards spat as he chained her legs together. The door was then locked before the guards returned to their posts. Alis curled up on the floor. Her once vibrant blue eyes now stared at the opposite wall blankly, devoid of life.
She remained in that position until dawn arrives and slaves were ushered into the cart to return back to the house. Sitting up to allow more room for the others, Alis noticed that none of the slaves dared to even glance in her direction. Her lips pulled up into a sad smile. I am nothing but a demon.
The shackles on her feet were not removed until she arrived in front of her room. “You shall not be granted evening meal since you did not complete your work,” the guard announced from behind the thick door. Alis collapsed on her bedding, not caring about what the guard said. She had lost any remaining appetite since that dreadful night.
Her eyes shut close, ready to embrace the darkness when a familiar tingle appeared. “No, no, go away!” Alys groaned but the longer she ignore the pull, the more painful it become. With an irritated cry, Alys reached for her book and piece of charcoal next to her bedding. Her lids opened to reveal glassy blue eyes as her hand move frantically over the paper.
Red. It was all Alis saw. Red on the walls, floor, windows. Red blur disappearing down the corridor. As her vision ended, she raised blackened fingers to rub the bridge of her nose. She clenched her eyes shut briefly to rid off the throbbing pain behind her eyes that always accompany each episode. Letting out a shaky breath, Alis opened her orbs and slowly lowered them to the paper on her lap. What she saw made her blood run cold.
A man with a sharp sword was running down the corridor, dead bodies littering the ground beside him. But what terrified Alis the most was the cold, inhuman eyes staring back at her.
The paper was crumpled and thrown across the room. Why would such a man attack a slave house, Alis thought to herself. Many other questions pop into her mind. When will the attack happen? What or who is he after? Will she be killed as well? Somehowshe was not really bothered by that last thought; in fact she felt oddly comforted. Perhaps this would be the end of her continuous misery. Ignoring the gnawing hunger in her stomach and throbbing pain all over her body, she let her lids droop close to succumb to sleep.
Alis bolted upright, her eyes wide and searching. Seemingly without a reason, her heart was pounding and her stomach dropped to her feet. She glanced towards the door; it was still closed. Shifting her gaze up towards the small window, everything appeared normal. The full moon illuminated the dark and heavy clouds above. What had awoken her? Running calloused hands through her hair, Alis breathed deeply to calm the erratic beatings of her heart. Slowly as to not aggravate the injuries on her back, she laid back on her bedding to resume her interrupted slumber, lulled by the sound of falling rain.
Beneath the loud rumbling of the thunders, a bloodcurdling scream pierced the silence of the night. Alis sprang to her feet, ignoring the stinging pain it caused to her body and headed towards the door. As she reached for the handle, another chilling cry shook the building. She contemplated whether or not to peek outside. Did she really dare to see what monster had caused those horrifying shrieks? After several moments of internal struggle, her curiosity finally won over fear. Inhaling deeply, Alis slowly pulled the door open. The squeaks as the heavy wood moved on its hinges were like nails scraping down a chalkboard. She poked her head through the small gap, squinting in the darkness.
Odd. Usually the candles in the corridor would be lit.
Alis hesitantly stepped a foot outside. She was immediately hit with an odd yet familiar scent. The smell was so heavy in the air, she could almost taste it on her tongue. Coppery and metallic. None other than blood. Her heart started to palpitate, cold sweat breaking on her back. She took a step forward, just as a flash of lightning illuminated the darkness. Alis jumped, clamping her mouth with fists to prevent a scream from escaping as she saw what the shadows hid.
Corpses littered the ground, pools of blood staining the floor and splattered on the walls.
Eyes wide from horror, Alis slowly backed away from the gruesome scene. She spun around, ready to retreat back into the safety of her room when yet another lightning struck. This time, she could not stop her screams. There, the man from her vision stood in front of her with a long sword by his side. His cold, merciless eyes were studying her.
Alis did the only logical thing that sprang to her mind. She ran. Her bare feet splashed against pools of crimson, leaving a trail bloody footprints. Alis cringed at the sensation but continued sprinting blindly down the corridor. She spotted more bodies lying lifeless by her feet. It took all of her willpower not to stop and expel her stomach’s contents.
Heavier sets of footsteps echoed her own. Alis knew he was right behind her, perhaps cackling with glee. She turned a corner and slipped due to her wet feet. Before Alis could even glance backwards, a heavy weight settled on her back, automatically restraining her movements.
“Get off!” she screamed, struggling to turn on her back. Her wrists were immediately grabbed and twisted behind her painfully.
“You will come with me peacefully,” smooth baritone voice breathed in her ear. Alis shivered.
“Like hell I am!” She struggled under his hold, throwing her head backwards and connecting with what she hoped was the face of the man. The grip on her arms slackened momentarily but Alis was suddenly hauled to her feet and slammed against the wall before she could even take advantage of the moment.
The man’s face was only a breaths away from hers though his features were still concealed by the dark. “Stop struggling or I will not hesitate to hurt you,” he hissed. “Come with me and I shall spare your life.”
“Like.hell.I.will,” Alis spat. She raised a knee and threw it hard against his crotch. He immediately released her, doubled over by the pain. Alis took the moment of weakness to continue her escape, running towards the back door that leads to the outside of the house. The man’s cursings trailed behind her.
The door was thrown open and Alis continued sprinting in the rain. She headed straight for the thick woods, hoping to lose him there. Torns and rocks cut her bare feet. Her steps slowed and eventually stopped as she got deeper in the forest. Alis glanced around her; nothing but trees. No insane murderer in sight. With that, she collapsed against a tree, breathing heavily.
Leaves crunched behind her. Alis shot to her feet at once, turning in the direction of the sound. She stared into the darkness; nothing was there. A breeze brushed past her. Gasping, she spun to her left. The murderer was directly in front of her.
Beneath the moonlight, Alis could now see the angry scowl on his face as he bared his teeth at her. “Do not say that I have not warned you, princess.”
He raised his fist. All the air left her body as he punched her stomach. Alis fell into his waiting arms as dark spots began filling her vision. She could feel him lifting her body but could not muster the energy to fight. As fast as the wind blows, Alis was consumed by the overwhelming darkness.
Crickets sung in the night,
filling in the heavy silence. Beneath the curtain of black covering the skies,
Alys laid wide awake. Her eyes flickered upwards to study the diamonds glittering
in the sky through a small window. Nights like this, when it seems like she was
the only person alive, caused her frame to quiver with fear. Fear of the
unknown. Alys knew that the villagers had nothing but hatred for her. They
would like nothing more than to have her burnt at the stake. The endless
taunting and abuse to her body made it seemed as if she was already approaching
Alys closed her eyes and
leaned her head against the cold wall. She wanted desperately to fall into a
dreamless sleep but the stinging pain in her stomach kept her awake. Her eyes
fluttered open to stare at the heavily-shackled door. She has never felt more
alone and her vision of Berta's death only worsened the situation. Blinking
back tears, Alys slid down on the hard pallet and pulled her legs up to her
chest to curb away the chilly air.
Only when the golden rays
had peaked shyly at the dark sky did the guards slid the bolts away from her
door. With a heavy sigh, Alys pushed herself up onto her bare feet and silently
padded to the door. And so her morning routine began, starting at the washroom. Her
fingers slowly began peeling back the dirty cloth from her body when her eyes
locked with Berta. The older woman, already washed, scurried over to Alys.
Berta's eyes were filled
with worry, Alys noted. "Alys dear, have you broken fast yet?" she
asked with concern.
At the question, Alys was
painfully aware of how her stomach was protesting in hunger. She was starved
off food since last morning by the guards. "No, I have not but it is
Berta quickly cut her off.
"Nonsense! I did not catch even a glimpse of you during lunch and supper
last sunrise. You must be famished."
The woman dug her hands into
a worn pouch tied to her waist and brought forth two rolls of bread. "I
could only smuggle these during breaking of fast. It is not much but it would
last you until ."
Hastily murmuring a thank
you, Alys accepted the bread gratefully. She practically inhaled the food,
trying to fulfill her hunger. Berta was right; the small rolls of bread weren't
enough. Her stomach still felt empty but the stabbing pain was now gone.
"Go and wash up now, or
you will be late," Berta ushered her to an empty stool. Once again
offering the woman a grateful smile, Alys resumed her morning rituals.
She was in the midst of
securing her long locks with a braid when a guard knocked heavily on the
washroom's door, startling some of the remaing slaves inside.
"Hurry up, slaves! The
new master is approaching!" the guard barked. The women scrambled to
finish their cleansing. Alys pushed her bangs aside and exited the washroom.
She was eager to meet the new bastard who would once again mistreat them all.
Alys rubbed her arms
slightly when she shivered due to the cold air in the foyer. She stood near the
back wall as slaves slowly filtered in. But unlike last night, not even a
whisper was heard uttered from the slaves' mouths. The pin drop silence further
increased the tense atmosphere in the room.
The sun rose higher up in
the sky. Not even a glimpse of the new master was seen. The agitation felt by
the slaves was evident by the way they shuffled their feet back and forth and
releasing a quiet sigh every now and then. Even the guards grew weary of
waiting. They started chatting idly with each other, relaxing their previously vigilant
Feet aching, Alys leaned
against the wall to ease some of the pressure off of her soles. Her head bowed
when her mind began wandering back to the times when she was happy. She could still recall vividly when she had
her first vision. It was a fire that will destroy a family's house and rob them
off their only child. Until now, Alys still felt guilty for her inability to
save the little baby even though her mother had repeatedly told her that she
was still young and confused with her gift.
The silence in the hall was
shattered by the sound of heavy footsteps and guards shuffling back to their
positions. The new master has arrived. With a heavy sigh, Alys raised her head
and waited for his arrival. Two guards pulled open the heavy oak doors.
"Lord Bartholomew has
arrived!" they bellowed.
Alys rose on the tip of her
toes to peer above the crowd. Her body froze at the sight that greeted her
eyes. Lord Bartholomew stood proudly in front of the slaves, his chest puffed
out as a sign of arrogance. Thick, brown moustache covered the top of his lip
and curled at the tip. But the one long scar going down his left eye was what
shocked Alys the most.
she breathed. Her trembling fingers unconsciously tightened into fists.
Lord Bartholomew stepped up
onto the makeshift podium. With one hand resting on his walking stick and the
other on top of it, his posture sent out a proud yet an audacity aura.
He took a quick glance at
the slaves before speaking up. "As you have been informed, I am Lord
Bartholomew and I will be your new master as of today."
Alys' knuckles turned white
as she clenched her fists tightly. She stood frozen as she witnessed the man
from her vision spoke to the crowd. His voice was teemed with confidence.
"Fret not, my fellow
slaves. I have been informed about the rough handling of the previous owner and
his common mistreatment." Lord Bartholomew smirked, "Rest assured
that I am nothing like him. Torturing of slaves will not be tolerated in this
The rest of his words were
droned out by Alys. When the words 'torturing of slaves' were uttered, images
of her vision flashed before her eyes. Bruised skin and splatters of blood
seemed to dance its way across her view. For a moment, all she could see was
white hot rage. The man was trying to fool all of them!
Alys' lips seemed to move on
their own accord, mouthing out a word before she could think clearly.
"Lies," she choked out. Her voice was feeble but in the pin drop
silence of the hall, it was as if she had screamed the word.
Lord Bartholomew's welcoming
speech came to a screeching halt. He cleared his throat, eyes searching the
back of the hall for the source of the voice. "I beg your pardon?"
Releasing a shaky breath,
Alys stepped into his line of view. Upon sighting her, his face immediately
hardened. She saw his lips move discreetly to mouth the word demon. Her hatred
for the man grew tenfold.
"I said," she
raised her voice, "that you were spewing out nothing but lies."
A few women released shocked
gasps at her outburst, and the silence in the room was broken by murmurs and
chants of the occupants in the hall. Lord Bartholomew's face slowly turned red
He tried to speak normally
through gritted teeth. "And what, pray tell, made you come to that
"I just know,"
Alys replied simply. The man before her suddenly burst into laughter. People
stared at him in a mixture of disbelief and fear. Disbelief over his unexpected
reaction, and fear over his mental state.
He descended the stairs with
grace, his shoulders still shaking from laughter. "Allow me to guess. You
'foresaw' me," he chuckled, "doing unholy things. Did you not, little
Alys' fists shook as anger
welled up inside of her. "You have no right to call me that," she
The man stopped his strides
within a few feet of her. A crooked smirk adorned his lips as he eyed her form.
"Oh but you are one. Predicting the future and what not," he narrowed
his eyes. "Not to mention, killing your own dear sister."
Her eyes widened in shock
momentarily before she ducked her head, shielding them from view. The stunned
onlookers could see tremors running through her body. Bartholomew merely raised
an eyebrow in amusement.
"I did not kill
her," Alys muttered. She raised her head, revealing blue orbs burning with
ire. "Do not flap your gums as if you know everything when in fact, you
and this whole damn village know nothing of me!"
Bartholomew sneered at the
girl with disgust. "Very well. Let me play along then and make your
'vision' come true."
Before she knew it, armored
guards were flocking around her and restraining her arms behind her back
painfully. Alys struggled against their grip but her petite form was
overpowered by the heavily-built men. Bartholomew bent down so he was eye level
with her and leered.
"Take her to the
dungeons for punishment. I do not tolerate insolence," he ordered the
With a rough shove that sent
her stumbling, Alys was forced by the guards to walk through the gaping crowd.
None of them dared to say anything, opting instead to cower away from her as if
she was diseased. I wish I was diseased
instead, she thought bitterly, because
then I can find a cure for this.
"Stop! Please stop this
Their steps faltered and
stopped at the familiar voice. Alys managed to twist in the hold of the guard
to face the equally stunned crowd. Her eyes widened at the sight of Berta
running towards them. With her skirt hitched, she desperately pushed through
the slaves to reach them. Bartholomew, who was trailing behind them, studied
the scene with keen interest.
Upon reaching the lord,
Berta dropped to her knees. "Please my lord, do not punish her, for she is
still a naïve young girl," she begged. "She made a mistake just like
any younglings do. Please forgive her."
Bartholomew pretended to consider
her, rubbing his thick moustache with a finger. "I am not certain I can
grant your request, slave. If I release this chit, then I will not have anyone
to release my anger upon and this demon has made me very, very angry."
"Then take me as her
replacement," Berta replied without a second of hesitation.
"No," Alys shook
her head, her face contorted in shock. "No, Berta, stop this! You cannot
possibly—" she was forcibly pulled back when she tried to step forward.
The man smiled leeringly. He
glanced at Alys through the corner of his eyes briefly before meeting the eyes
of the guard restraining her. "Release the demon. Take this woman
instead," he barked.
Alys grunted in pain as she
fell unceremoniously to the ground by the force of the guard thrusting her
forward. Quickly pushing black hair away from her face, she stared in fright as
Berta was escorted out of the hall. Springing to her feet, Alys tried to chase
after them, only to run smack into another guard.
"Berta, no!" she
screamed. "Come back, do not do this! Stop!"
In a bid to reach her, Alys
reared back and threw a punch on the guard's uncovered face. He groaned at the
pain of the impact, and staggered a few steps back. She slipped past the man
and ran towards the door.
"Berta! Do not do it!"
Alys yelled. Berta turned her head towards her and offered her a sad smile
before completely disappearing behind the door.
Alys wretched the door open,
ignoring the angry hollers of Bartholomew behind her. She began chasing after
the retreating form of the older woman, in hopes of stopping this madness. As
Berta rounded a corner, hands grabbed at Alys and pulled her back.
"Unhand, you bastards!"
Alys kicked and punched, and even bit at the guards trying to hold her back. Bartholomew
approached them, glaring at the struggles she was putting up.
"Lock her in the
underground room! I have had enough of this demon," he spat harshly. Alys
stopped the scuffling to glare back at him.
"You are nothing more
than a lowly son of a—"
Those were all she managed
to yelled out before a guard brought down his fist to her temple, resulting in
her lost of consciousness.
It was dark when Alys regained her bearings. Not the usual dark that came when the sun sets beneath the
horizon, no, this darkness was even thicker. There was not even a small ray of
light in the room to aid her vision. She pushed herself up and winced as her head began to
That was a really hard hit, Alys noted as her fingers lightly skimmed her left
right temple. She gripped at the cold wall behind her to hoist herself up,
nearly yelping when she touched what felt like moss. Her knees trembled beneath
her for a while. Inhaling deeply to compose herself, she threw her hands in
front of her and started walking forward.
Blinded by the darkness, Alys
could only grope the air to prevent herself from running into a wall. When her
hands touched another wall, she flattened her palm against it and started
search for a sign of an exit. Alys began walking again in that manner when she
felt metal beneath her fingertips.
A door handle! she was quite taken aback when the door opened with a weak tug. No locks, no
restraints, no guards. Not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth, Alys
stepped out of the room. She waited until her eyes adjusted to the lights of the torches before running towards the dungeons.
Alys ran down the hollow
corridor, up steep stairs until she reached a dimly lit corridor. Which way now? Alys thought as she
panted. Her question was answered when a scream echoed in the corridor. It was
Berta's, she knew. Alys sprinted in the direction of the scream, all the while
praying that it was still not too late. Berta's voice got louder with each step
and Alys could feel the panic rising in her chest.
Upon reaching the door that
holds Berta behind it, the younger girl began pounding on the wood.
"Berta! Berta, hold on!" Alys pleaded. "I will get you out of
She started ramming into the
door with her shoulder, hoping that the force would be enough to knock it down.
However, just after two tries, a blood curling scream escaped from the room.
Alys halted all movements.
called in shock. "Berta, please respond. Please say something!"
Stray tears fell from her
eyes as she fell to her knees. No, she
cannot be dead, no! "Berta!" her voice quivered. The door that
she was trying to knock down swung open. Bartholomew stepped out along with a
flack of guards and locked eyes with Alys on the ground.
whispered questioningly, staring at him with tear-filled eyes. The man smirked.
"Because I can." With
a swish of his cloak, Bartholomew brushed passed the shaking girl. "Take
her back to the underground room," he ordered the guards standing by the
door. "And dispose of the body."
Alys buried her face into
her palms as she sobbed. Her lithe figure shook with the tremor of her sobs.
She didn't resist when she was pulled to her feet. "You heard the master,
back to the room!"
"Wait!" choked out
Alys. "At least—at least let me see her, for the last time."
The young guard's hardened
face faltered for a moment. "Her body—is not in a condition for
viewing," he explained quickly.
She shook her head. "I
don't care. I need to see her for the last time, please."
With a loud groan, the guard
led her into the room. Alys tried hard not to notice the torture equipments
hanging on the walls, some of it still dripping blood. She shakily made her way
to the body lying on a stone table, covered by an old rag. Alys had to fight
the urge to gag at the sight of blood staining the rag whole.
Her fingers quivered as she
pulled back the rag to reveal her face. Fresh tears ran down Alys' already wet
cheeks. She gingerly closed Berta's eyes with her fingertips before kneeling
down next to her.
"I'm sorry, I'm so
sorry," Alys cried out. "This was my fault. Please forgive me,
She buried her face into the
woman's hair and let her tears mingle with the blood.
"Time to rise, girl!" a gruff voice growled, kicking at a curled up body by his feet. A small whimper is heard before the body quickly rights itself and pressed back against the cold stone wall.
The guard, who was responsible for her chamber, smirked in response at her passive attitude. "Holding your tongue is much better now, is it not? About time you learn how to act in front of a man."
His spiteful remark was answered by a cold glare. With a snort, the guard pulled on the chain surrounding the girl's wrists. She stumbled to her feet from the force of it. Immediately, pain shot up her legs. Her feet were still healing after being forced to work barefoot on a road under the scorching sun.
The metal chains binding her wrists together were once again tugged forward. She trailed behind the guard, walking along the long corridor. Her chamber was placed at the very end of the old mansion, away from the other slaves. The girl was careful to avoid the gazes of other guards loitering about. Their cold eyes followed her every move, some even spitting out harsh names.
She finally raised her sapphire eyes when she caught sight of the old door leading to the wash room. The guard released her chains before roughly pushing her towards the door. "Wash up quickly, wench. You will suffer dire consequences if you anger the master again." he warned. With a huff, the girl marched pass the man and proceeded to slam the door against his face, delighting in the colorful curses spurting out of his mouth.
"Alys, must you fight with the guards every morning?"
Alys swiftly turned around to spot an aged woman sitting on a wooden stool, casually rinsing her body. A rare smile grazed her pink lips.
"Berta," she almost whined. "That repulsing man deserved it."
The older woman could only shake her head and smile at the teenager's antics. That girl was simply too spirited for her own good. Berta knew this behavior would certainly cause chaos in the slavery so she took it as her responsibility to protect her. The woman quickly dried off her body and got up to her feet.
"There is still some hot water left. Be quick, Alys. The master has important news for us all today," Berta informed as Alys shook out of the ragged and dirty dress. She nodded and scrambled to the spot that was once occupied by Berta.
Alys scrubbed at the dirt around her body as much as it was possible. At the sound of the door closing, she grabbed the wooden pail and hoisted it above her head to rinse off the suds. She reveled in the sensation of water cascading down her body, trailing over each bruise and scar on her body. Pushing black hair away from her face, Alys was reaching for a cloth to dry herself when the back of her eyes began tingling. Just a second later, her eyes glazed over.
"Please have mercy, my lord!" a familiar female voice begged. Screams then pierced the silence, echoing against the stone walls. Leather whip tore at the skin of the bruised and mangled body, leaving trails of blood at its wake.
A man with one ruined eye laughed. "Mercy? But my dear lady, I thought you asked for this cruel punishment when you protected that demon."
"We have done nothing wrong to you," the woman spoke with quivering voice. "That girl is merely an innocent child that has suffered because of greedy bastards such as you."
"Innocent?" the man repeated incredulously. His huge laugh rumbled the room. "Oh you humor me so, dear Berta. Thus, it is such a disappointment to continue with my plans."
He shot the guards a wicked smile. "Kill her."
Alys inhaled sharply as she was brought back to the present. The bucket in her hands tumbled to the floor with a sharp crash.
"No, no it can't be," she whispered into the air. "The vision must be lying!"
She knew she was fooling no one. Whatever she foresees as the future, will be the future. With trembling fingers, Alys dried off her body as quickly as her shaking fingers would allow. As she pulled back the dress over her body, she stared at the wall with a hard glare.
'I have to try to change it. No matter what, I shall not let Berta die!'
Loud poundings on the door startled Alys out of her thoughts. "You have been in there long enough, wench!" the insufferable guard yelled through the wood. "Get out of there!" Inhaling deeply, Alys wrenched the door open and shot the man a cold glare. She turned to her left sharply and marched down the corridor despite the angry shouts of the guard.
"Where do you think you are going, demon? You are to precede with your morning duties as per usual!"
Grubby hand clamped down on her bicep and forced Alys to a halt. She swiveled around to give him a shove. "I am returning to my room so release me—"
Alys suddenly found herself sprawled across the cold ground. Cradling her stinging cheek, she forced back the involuntary tears. She would rather die than show any weakness in front of him. The guard massaged his knuckles as he hovered above her, anger clearly evident across his features.
"You are a lowly slave; act like one," he sneered. Crouching down, he reached out to haul her to her feet. Alys calculated his actions. Before his hands could touch her, she kicked against his knees with all her might. The man crashed to the ground beside her, strings of curses leaving his mouth.
Seeing her chance, Alys leapt to her feet and broke into a run down the hall. She needed to reach her chamber soon, before the remnants of her vision fade. Her footsteps echoed loudly as bare skin slapped against stone. Alys could see the black door of her chamber when she was painfully yanked backwards by her hair.
Screaming, she tried to claw at the hands clutching her midnight strands. It only resulted with the grip tightening, almost tearing away her hair right off of her scalp. Alys turned her torso as much as she could and began scratching at the guard's unprotected face. Her screams mingled with his angry yells as he tried to back away from her sharp nails. Deciding that enough was enough, the guard threw Alys away with a roar. She stumbled and gripped the wall to keep balanced. Her lips turned upwards in a smirk at the sight of deep, red lines adorning his face. The guard's nostrils flared.
"You want to be in your chamber so much? Here!" he jerked the door open and shoved her inside. "You will not receive lunch or dinner as punishment of your atrocious behavior!"
Alys couldn't hold back her tongue. "It is not as if I could ever satisfy my hunger from the bread crumbles you feed me," she hissed. The guard raised his right hand and once again delivered a blow across her face.
"Fool!" he sneered before slamming the door shut.
She didn't waste a second. Hurrying to an old chest at the foot of her bed, she pulled out a piece of old parchment and a piece of charcoal. Grasping the black charcoal in her right hand, Alys closed her eyes and summoned forth the image from her previous vision. Her hand moved as if possessed a life of its own. The charcoal was rubbed across the parchment, leaving behind dusty powder. She continued the process until the drawing was complete.
Alys opened her eyes and stared at the drawing clutched tightly in her grasp. The face of a man was etched with black powder. He had a thick moustache covering his top lip, one long scar going down his left eye and frown wrinkles on his forehead.
"Who are you and why would you kill such a kind woman?" she breathed to the air. Her stained fingers nearly crushed the paper as they tightened into fists.
Noises from outside the room brought Alys out of her stupor. Quickly, she hid the drawing underneath piles of plain cloth inside her chest, along with dozens of other drawings. As she snapped the lid of the chest shut, the door to her chamber slammed open. The same guard rushed in with a frown.
"Get up! The master wants all slaves to gather at the main foyer," he barked out, grabbing her arm roughly.
"I understand! There is no need to touch me!" Alys growled and twisted her arm free of his bruising grip. The guard glared at her furiously but decided to tame his anger and led her down the hall.
When they reached the main foyer, the guard opened the door and pushed her in. Alys stumbled inside. Nearly cursing from his rough nature, she walked to the back of the room and stood alone in the corner. All of the slaves had gathered. The room was buzzing from their whispers and gossips. Alys' eyes scanned the crowd to search for Berta. She sagged in relief when she caught sight of the older woman chatting peacefully to another woman next to her.
The main door burst open. The room grew silent in an instant as the master strode in. The short, chubby man climbed onto a few strategically-placed steps that would make him taller than the crowd and cleared his throat loudly.
"Slaves, I came forward on this dreary morning to inform of you news," his squeaky voice echoed in the foyer. "When the sun rises, you will acquire a new master. I have sold this slavery to a rich Duke."
Immediately the foyer grew lively again by shocked gasps and murmurs among the slaves. Alys however wasn't bothered by it. She could not really care less of another man who will mistreat them.
"I know without a doubt that you all will miss my presence," the man continued. "but fret not, slaves! I shall leave you in good hands. The man is from a noble family and he will greet you as your new master after sun rise. Now skedaddle back to your morning duties!"
The slaves continued to talk among themselves even as they were ushered back to their positions. Alys slowly followed the crowd out of the foyer when the squeaky voice spoke again.
"You, demon girl! Stay!"
With a suppressed groan, Alys stopped in her tracks and faced her old master. The man stepped down from the makeshift podium to walk towards her. He was barely her height when they were up close. The man clicked his tongue.
"I expect nothing but obedience from you towards your new master. I have been very tolerable of your outrageous behavior. Lord Kingston, however, is a very stern man and will not take for anything that does not please him."
Kingston. So that's his name. Alys glared down at him. "Fear not, Master. This demon shall never scare such a powerful lord," she said sarcastically through gritted teeth. The man's cheeks turned red, either from anger or humiliation, Alys did not know. With a huff, he strutted out of the door, muttering about ungrateful chits and demonic behavior.
Alys rolled her eyes and proceeded to walk back to her chamber. It was located at the very end of the old mansion, away from the rest of the slaves. So that her demon disease does not affect the others, the short man had once said. She had reached the familiar halls when she saw Berta anxiously pacing the front of her chamber.
"Berta?" Alys called out. "What ever are you doing here?"
The old woman gripped Alys' shoulders gently and peered into her blue orbs. "You are not injured, are you?" she questioned worryingly. "I was afraid that the master might do something to you when he ordered you to stay."
The younger girl smiled at her concern. She patted the woman's hand as a reassurance. "Nothing happened, Berta. I am fine and dandy as you can see."
Berta smiled back, her eyes wrinkling from old age. "Get some rest, deary. Those beautiful eyes of yours are swallowed up by dark circles underneath them."
Alys nodded and bid her farewell before retreating into her own chamber. With a heavy sigh, she studied the dark room. It was almost bare except for an old bed in the middle and a small chest resting at the feet of the bed. She sat down on the hard mattress and rubbed her face in frustration. The image of Berta's gentle smile danced across her vision. That woman will die soon, according to her vision.
Alys shook her head roughly to clear away the thought. Her knuckles turned white as she gripped the edge of the mattress. She will do anything in her power to prevent the woman from dying. With the new resolve burned into her mind, Alys stretched across the bed and fell into a fitful sleep.
SPM is over so you know what that means? Fathiah is back, beeches! Yes, I already have a story plot drafted which is the reason why I'm here: to post the prologue of my new story ;) So here you go. Enjoy!
Charcoal Drawings: Prologue by Fathiah Zarafi
Bare feet splashed against murky puddles on the hard ground. Small hands desperately clutched a wall for support as her lithe body was sent off-balance by rough, pushing arms. The little girl raised her head cautiously to stare at the looming figure above her. The sliver of moonlight peeking through dark clouds shone on her pale face, causing the tear tracks to appear on her cheeks.
"Papa," came a feeble whisper through trembling lips. Just as the word left her mouth, stars suddenly exploded across her vision and her body tipped sideways onto the cold ground. As she cradled her stinging cheek, the girl let stray tears fall.
A dark shadow fell upon her shaking body. "Do not call me by that name, ever again," a hoarse voice spat. "You are no child of mine."
A broken sob escaped from her. She clung on to the man's pants, only to have her hands painfully pried away.
"I did not kill her, Papa!" she cried. "I promise by the name of God!"
Her words were abruptly cut off when she was roughly hauled to her feet by her arms. The man shook her body hard enough to cause her teeth to gnash together.
"Do not utter God's name through those demonic lips! You have been the cause of this family's misery. I am glad to finally rid of you from my hands now that your grandmother is dead."
At the mention of her grandmother, the girl cried even harder. The image of her warm wrinkled smile flashed before her eyes. "Papa please, it was not my doing. I love Alina."
"Shut up!" the man roared. "How dare you mention her name! Your sister is dead because of you!"
The man's screaming was droned out by the loud pitter patter of hooves against stone. Just as quickly as he exploded, he righted his demeanor and a smirked grazed his face.
A large wooden carriage pulled by neighing horses pulled up before the duo. An old man jumped down from his spot in the navigating seat and closed the distance between them. The two men nodded in acknowledgement.
"Is this the child, Mr. Younger?"
The man pushed her forward roughly. "Not a child, dear sir, but a demon."
Cold, dark eyes studied her figure. The man raised a bony hand to lift a strand of black hair from her small shoulder. He hummed under his breath as he took in her features, from the tips of black hair down to dirty toes.
The little girl's eyes widened in fear as the man dug into a pouch and handed the latter with five gold coins. The man enclosed his hand around her arm. She started squirming against the old man's grip when he tried to steer her into the carriage.
"Please, Papa! It was not my fault, believe me! Please do not sell me!" she started pleading and clawing to free herself. When her tear-filled eyes caught a sight of a boy hiding between the gates, she flailed harder.
"Caspar, please tell Papa!" she begged. "Tell Papa it was not my fault!"
The old man clicked his tongue in annoyance at the girl's struggles. He swept her off of her feet and carried her over his shoulder. The little girl's screams pierced the eerie silence of the night.
"No, Papa, please! Forgive me, do not make me go!"
She gasped out both in pain and shock when she was thrown into the wooden carriage. Before she could regain her bearings, the door was slammed shut and locked. The little girl scrambled to the little window panel and grasped the two metal rods in her hands.
With a jolt, the carriage was sent rolling forwards. The little girl continued to cry with her face pressed against the window as she watched her life and family slip away. She jumped in surprise when a hand descended on her shoulder. Spinning around, her eyes could only catch glimpses of curious face and ragged clothing in the darkness of the carriage. She pressed her back against the wooden wall, whimpering in fear.
"Do not fear, little one, I am not here to harm you," a gentle voice reached her ears. Still utterly terrified, the little girl responded by burying her face in her dirty skirt. She couldn't suppress a flinch when the same hand patted her head softly.
"There, there, do not shed anymore tears," the voice murmured soothingly. "We still have a long way to endure before we reach the slavery."
At the mention of that, the little girl cried harder. Her father had sold her to slavery and she was terrified. The gentle voice began crooning a soft lullaby. It washed over the girl's body like waves of calm. Within a few heartbeats, her eyelids started drooping. The smiling image of her sister brought her to a dreamless sleep.
Aww man, I can't believe it's over. My friend, who is the owner of this blog, doesn't allow me to write another story and insists me on 'taking a break'. What is this 'break' that you speak of? Anyways, I want to make a couple of shout outs. Firstly, a billion thank yous to my faithful, faithful reader Diyana Sofea. She gave me the motivation to continue writing when I was on the close edge of giving up. Secondly, my dearest Ain. You continued to read this story and also gave me encouragements so thank you so much for that. I love you two <3 And of course, other anonymous readers (if there are any) thank you to you too for being patient with me. I don't know when I'll be writing again but hopefully soon. Bye, I guess.
Snow cascaded down from the sky, blanketing the earth with frozen white. I absentmindedly traced my fingers on the icy glass of my window, feeling the crisp surface beneath my skin. A twinkle caught my eyes and I shifted my gaze to the band wrapped around my ring finger. Even after six months of being engaged, the idea of being someone's fiancé and future wife still brought a mixture of sensations in me. I was terrified of this new commitment yet at the same time, I was happy to be spending the rest of my life with the man that I adore.
I still remembered the day Chayton proposed to me and it will forever be imprinted in my memories. I was at school as any ordinary day, teaching my class of seventh graders Advanced English. The kids were busy jotting my notes on the board when a few boys began snickering at the back. I swiveled around to give them a stern glare before going back to the notes.
"Hey, Miss Fischer," Andrew, the most mischievous boy in the class spoke, "will you marry me?"
"No, Andrew, I will not marry you," I sighed without glancing back at him. Andrew was known to cause trouble in the school and like any other teacher, I thought he was just fooling around again.
"Well, will you marry Mr. Spears instead?" he continued. I turned around, a book still held in my hands, and frowned at him.
"What are you talking about?"
"Will you marry me?"
A startled shriek flew out of my mouth and the book I was holding dropped on my lap. There, on the open door of my classroom, was Chayton kneeling on one knee with a ring on his open palm. There were no guesses about what happened next. The whole classroom broke into a loud cheer, some even cat-calling when I kissed him hard to answer his question. Later that night, the silly man admitted that he was actually terrified I was going to say no.
My love for Chayton couldn't get any stronger, after all the ups and downs we had been through together. He was my light when the clouds were gray. My heart swelled with devotion when I recalled Chayton bringing me out of the depression I was in. It was when I was still undergoing physiotherapy at the hospital. The treatment was brutal and draining, especially to my mental state. The doctors were training me to adapt to my current condition but it took months of therapy for me to be able to transport myself from the wheelchair to my bed and even controlling the wheelchair itself.
It was difficult for me to transact from a normal teenager to a disabled person. My meltdown was one of the things that made me cringe every time it pops up. I had gotten home from a physiotherapy session, angry and exhausted. Chayton tried to help me into bed but I struggled and refused him. From all of the squirming, I ended up collapsed on the floor when I slipped off my chair. Chayton and James rushed over me but I swatted their hands away and shouted at them to leave me alone. All the anger eventually turned into tears and I sobbed onto the floor, cursing fate for crippling me.
"Adele, are you ready?"
My head turned to the sudden voice that interrupted my little daydreaming. Winona's smiling face greeted me, her head poking through the small gap of the door. Winona was Chayton's mother and she had helped me during those awkward moments where I needed help a man couldn't provide. She would bathe and dress me when I was still adjusting to my state. Over the years, Winona became a mother figure I never had.
"Can you help me into my dress?" I asked timidly, rolling to the closet where my dress was hung.
"You don't even have to ask, dear," laughed Winona. She gently closed the door behind her and took the dress in her hands. I eyed the garment from the lace sleeves to the tight bodice and down to the flowing skirt.
"Um, I think we need an extra hand to get me into that," I suggested. Winona rubbed her chin a couple of times before leaving out the door with the dress. I chuckled to myself when I realized she probably went of searching for James.
James, my dear uncle, had sacrificed so much for me. After I was released from the hospital, he surprised me by showing the new house he had bought. It was a couple of blocks away from school and had three bedrooms. Chayton would drive down often to pick me up and drop me from school even though James insisted he did those by himself. James had no experience with kids at all but he was a devoted guardian nonetheless. He tended to my every need, even a 4 a.m bathroom call. Said man now had entered the room, embellished in a sharp tuxedo.
"Winona said you needed help?" he asked.
"Yup, as soon as I get out of my pajamas." Both Winona and I giggled when James visibly flushed crimson at my answer. Even after six years of living with me, he still wasn't used to the female body parts. Rolling my eyes, I shed my old pajamas and slipped on a thin chemise. James covered his eyes with a hand the whole time.
I slid the silky garment over my head and pop my arms into the thin lace sleeves. The bodice hugged my torso perfectly, with a little swirl at the end of my hip. "You can help me now," I called out to James. He quickly bent down and scooped me up, holding me upright by my waist. The skirt fluttered around me and touched the floor when I released it from my grip. Winona smoothened it out before James placed me on my chair once more.
I positioned myself in front of the mirror and couldn't help the gasp that flew from my mouth. The dress was stunning and held me in all the right places. A plain yet splendid wedding gown. Winona crouched next to my chair and wiped a few tears in her eyes.
"You are absolutely gorgeous, my dear," she breathed. I squeezed her hand that was next to my shoulder and smiled at her through the mirror. She pulled out a veil from its box and carefully placed it on top of my hair. My vision was instantly clouded but it was beautiful. James stood beside my chair and rearranged the veil slightly.
"I can't believe you're getting married. You're only twenty two," he grumbled under his breath.
"What can I say, we're a couple of crazy kids," I teased. A smile broke on James' face as he leaned down to peck my cheek.
"Are you ready to go now?" I glanced at Winona and nodded confidently. The three of us filtered out of my house and headed to where my future husband awaits.
My eyes were fixed on the crowd gathered in the ballroom. I stared at the joyful people from my spot behind the DJ booth. Most of them were co-workers and friends of Chayton's and mine so there weren't so many guests invited that we can call a grand wedding. Everything was fairly modest; from the holy matrimony ceremony to the reception held in a small spa near the church. It was simple, it was small and it was perfect.
"What are your plans after this, may I ask?"
My head whipped to the sudden intruder that cut off my train of thoughts. I smiled at the handsome gentleman all suit up in his tuxedo, specially tailored for this occasion.
"Oh nothing much," I answered, "I'll probably go home, chuck out of this dress and sleep like there's no tomorrow."
He stepped closer to me and placed a hand on the handle of my chair. "Really now? Whatever's going to happen to that new husband of yours?"
I pretended to muss over it, leaning my chin on my open palm for dramatic effects. "Hmm, I don't know, I guess he can sleep next to me if he behaved tonight," my tone serious. He flashed me one of his blinding smiles and I did nothing but mirroring him. I stretched up as far as I possibly could when he bent down to close the distance between us. A content sigh escaped from me when our lips met softly and swiftly.
"Nervous for our dance, Mrs. Spears?" Chayton grinned after pulling away.
"Me? Nervous at dancing? You clearly don't know your wife as well as you thought, Mr. Spears," I retorted, doing a little twirl with my chair to confirm my moves. Chayton held my hand in his and led us out when the DJ announced it was time for our first dance.
We had practiced our routine hundreds of times so it wasn't such a big surprise how our dance seemed to flow calmly like fluid. It was difficult to master at first, seeing I was sitting on a wheelchair and Chayton was on his feet, but we enjoyed it more as we progressed.
Come away with me in the night Come away with me And I will write you a song
Come away with me on a bus Come away where they can't tempt us With their lies
Chayton grabbed my hands and twirled me around on the dance floor. I closed my eyes and imagined myself dancing on my own two feet. We swayed from side to side and across the floor with ease. I beamed proudly at Chayton. His steps were never off beat.
And I want to walk with you On a cloudy day In fields where the yellow grass grows knee-high So won't you try to come?
Come away with me And we'll kiss on a mountain top
Chayton was doing all of the stepping and turning while pulling me along with him but his eyes never left mine even for a second. Suddenly the world had drifted away, leaving nothing but us and the music. Another twirl, another sway, everything was graceful.
Come away with me And I'll never stop loving you
And I want to wake up with the rain Falling on a tin roof While I'm safe there in your arms So all I ask is for you To come away with me in the night Come away with me
I was dipped backwards by Chayton, who grinned boyishly down at me before lowering his lips onto mine. Faintly, I could hear the cheers and catcalls from the crowd but nothing mattered than the man holding me in his arms. I had lost my family, my identity and my freedom but without all those hardships, I wouldn't have met this incredible man. Chayton pulled away a little too quickly and our moment was over but I knew there will be plenty more with my husband.
"I love you," I whispered, wrapping my arms around him.
"And I, you." Chayton righted me up and together, we faced the applauding crowd. My eyes went straight to James who was trying to wipe his tears discreetly while comforting a sobbing Winona. My heart swelled with love and joy at everyone around me. I couldn't have asked for a better life.
My hair billowed around me as a soft breeze brushed past. The gentle swaying of the flowers tickled against my skin, drawing a serene smile from my lips. I focused on the clouds above me, slowly rolling in the blue sky. Lying here in a valley of flowers brought a new sense of peace in me. There was no more hurt, no more anguish. Just calmness washing over me. I closed my eyes and let myself drown in the environment.
"Aly, wake up honey."
My eyes slowly blinked open when I felt a warm weight on my forehead. I smiled upon seeing the beautiful woman in front of me. "Mom," I breathed, "I missed you."
"I miss you too, my sweet little angel," she hummed. "My, look how big you've grown. You look so much like your father."
I beamed at her before sitting up straight. Mother enveloped me in one of her warm hugs that I have yearned for so long. She ran her hands gently over my hair before pulling away. "I'm so proud of you, sweetheart. We're all so proud of you."
I peered over her shoulder and saw Father standing not too far behind. He had a hand wrapped around Sarah's small ones. She was waving enthusiastically at me, showing that toothless smile of hers. Lucy was standing on the right side of Father, smiling down at me. I got up to my feet and together with Mother, we made our way to our family.
Lucy embraced me first. "Good job, sis," she whispered in my ear. I made my way to Father and he wrapped his arms around me tightly. I hugged him back equally as tight, cherishing the feeling. "You have made us all proud." He released me and I crouched down to Sarah's height.
"Have you been a nice girl, Sarah?" I questioned playfully. She giggled in response and bobbed her head back and forth vigorously.
"I miss you, Carrot!" she shrieked before throwing her dainty arms around my neck. I backed away from her and pretended to pout. Her giggles filled the atmosphere around us. I couldn't suppress the laughter that bubbled up my chest and joined her in a melodic chorus. Soon, our laughter died, leaving behind traces of happiness in our chests.
"I'm so happy to join you again," I squealed out in delight. Their reaction wasn't what I had anticipated. All of their smiles dropped when the words left my lips. Mother stepped forward and wrapped her arms around me lightly.
"Honey, it's not your time yet. You can't join us." I gaped at her explanation.
"But, I'm dead. Are you trying to tell me that I'm going to hell?" I asked reluctantly. The four of them unexpectedly burst into laughter before Father joined at my side.
"No, dear, you can't go to hell if you're not dead yet," he said with a chuckle. I stared at him and Mother in horror as I grasp their hands frantically.
"But no, I can't live alone anymore!" I cried, "I can't, not without you guys. Please, let me stay here." Mother took a step forward and gently cradled my face between two palms. She kissed away the stray tears that had escaped my eyes before smiling at me.
"You are a strong girl, Alyson. The road of your life is still long and unwinding. You can achieve anything that you dream of."
"Shh, listen to that," Mother cut off my protest.
I silenced myself and tried to pick up what Mother was referring to. There was nothing but the sound of the breeze. Scowling, I was about to question her when a soft noise caught my attention. It was so faint, like a whisper of a wind. I crept closer to the source which seemed to be coming from a door in the middle of the valley. My ears flattened themselves against the wood as I listened to the voice over it.
"Adele, please don't go."
Adele. That name was familiar to me, just at the tip of my tongue but I couldn't recall.
"You can fight this. I know you can."
My heart swelled at this voice. He was begging for this Adele girl to come back to him. They must have been really close.
"You are the best thing that ever came into my life since—since forever. My life has always been rough and negative and—when you came, you taught me not to give up. You need to remember that and don't give up fighting. I sort of, kinda, like you more than I ever should so you better wake up so I can sort my feelings out, so we can be Chayton and Adele again."
I was suddenly overcome by waves of memories and emotions. I murmured a soft 'oh' when everything clicked into place. My lips curved upwards into a smile upon hearing Chayton's voice. Chayton, who had knelt at the tip of a firearm for me. He was awaiting my return and I shall do the exact. I glanced over my shoulders to view my family. They all had arms wrapped around each other, beaming at me.
"Go, sweetheart," urged Father.
"I love you," I whispered.
"We love you too, Alyson."
I pushed the door open and took a step over it. I never looked back.
Little pelting sounds penetrated my haze. The noise grew louder and louder until a loud thunder rumbled, shaking me awake. Although I was aware of my surrounding, my eyelids felt extremely heavy and impossible to pry open. I grew tired from fighting against it so I relied on my hearing to detect anything. Everything was so fuzzy; I couldn't remember where I was or what happened. I recalled being held hostage by Mary Anne and Chayton barging in on us but everything after that was a vague of visions. My ears detected the sounds of footsteps against hard surface, creeping nearer to me. Just as it stopped, my hand was suddenly engulfed by warm heat.
"Hey, Adele. It's me again."
I struggled against my heavy eyelids to catch a glimpse of Chayton. With Herculean effort, they finally fluttered open, only to shut tightly when the harsh light burned my retinas. Chayton apparently noticed my reaction as his grip on my hand tightened and I felt the surface I was lying on dipped.
"Adele? Can you open your eyes again?" his voice begging.
I summoned my courage to once again battle the heaviness that pulled on my eyelids. Soft, fleeting sensations ran down the side of my face and I knew he was stroking my cheek. The desire to view him in person won the raging war. My eyelids flickered open and I was careful not to stare directly into the light this time. Chayton's hovering face greeted me instantly. Although my vision was still blurry, I could make out the grin adorned on his face.
"Nice of you to wake up, Sleeping Beauty," said Chayton softly, "I'll go call the nurse. Don't fall asleep again, please."
Before I could process what he had mumbled, Chayton was running out of the room. I took the opportunity to silently learn where I was. I couldn't really smell anything; there were tubes shoved into my nostrils that blew air into it. It was rather an uncomfortable feeling, having plastic tubes in your nose. I tried to adjust or perhaps remove them but as I attempted to raise my hand, I found it restricted by another set of tubes penetrating the thin skin of my hand. I eyes followed the long trail of tubes until they landed on bags of what appeared to be water dripping into my hand.
The sudden burst of nurses through the door startled me. They gathered around my bed and started talking a mile a minute amongst themselves. I tried searching for Chayton but my vision was teemed with maroon scrubs. One of them pried my mouth open before prodding a thermometer in it. Another started taking my blood pressure while the other administered the reaction of my pupils.
"Temperature; 98.6. Normal."
"Blood pressure at 120/80 mmHg; normal."
"Pupils dilate and relax normally."
I started feeling overwhelmed by all the crowding. My heart began thundering in my chest from the anxiety and confusion. The room was abruptly filled with a rapid beeping that screeched loudly. The nurses stopped their works immediately to peer down at me.
"Nurse, please, you're making her nervous," a voice spoke from behind the human curtain. They broke apart to allow the mystery person to enter. A woman in a lab coat, probably in her early forties, sat on a stool I next to my bec.
"Hello there, Adele. I'm your doctor, Miranda. It's nice to see you awake now," she smiled. "How are you feeling today?"
I opened my mouth to answer her but all I emitted was a moan of pain. My throat was dry and each movement felt like knives scraping against my throat. Doctor Miranda noticed my discomfort when she asked the nurse to hand her a cup of water. Gently, she propped my neck up with one hand and tipped the cup into my mouth with the other. Once I felt the soothing liquid running down my throat, I sighed in appreciation.
"Feeling better?" asked Dr. Miranda, setting the paper cup on the table next to her.
"Yes," I rasped out. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Chayton sitting on the window sill, his eyes never leaving me. "I can't remember what happened."
"Ah, yes. You've been asleep for a week now so we must fill out the details. Shall we?" I nodded my approval for her to continue. Dr. Miranda held a chart in her hands and began flipping through the pages.
"You were brought into the ER last Thursday with three gunshot wounds and a blunt trauma on your cheek. We had to perform multiple surgeries on you to remove two bullets, one in your shoulder and one in your calf. The third bullet was lodged in your spine. We had to wait several days to take it out but—"
"But what?" I asked when Dr. Miranda froze mid sentence. She placed the chart neatly on her lap before taking my right hand in both of hers.
"Your spinal chord was heavily damaged by the bullet and I'm afraid you're paralyzed from the waist down," she whispered.
"No, you're kidding," I laughed. She must be. There was no way I could be paralyzed, just no. When I saw the unadulterated sympathy pouring from her eyes, I snatched my hand away and turned to Chayton desperately.
"Chayton, is she, she can't—tell me she's lying!"
Chayton's expression mirrored that of Dr. Miranda's and everything just broke apart. I began sobbing out loud, not caring about anybody who can see me. My life as I knew it was busticating into smithereens. When I felt warm arms surrounding me, my cries only grew louder. Nothing was ever going to be the same again.
"For the last time, Chayton, I'm not hungry," I grumbled. It was hours after the news of my disabled state was delivered and my unexpected break down. I was propped up on my upper body by fluffed pillows, avoiding the spoonful of mashed potatoes Chayton was trying to force into my mouth.
He sighed in exasperation before putting the plate down on the table. "Look, I know this must be hard for you to take in but—"
"You don't know anything!" I snapped. The hurt evident on Chayton's face made me immediately regretted doing so. "I'm sorry, it's just—I can't believe this is happening to me. I can never walk again."
Chayton's face softened. I averted my gaze to hide the traces of tears in my eyes. I hated crying; it made me feel like a helpless crybaby but at this moment, I was truly helpless. He lifted my chin up with two fingers so we were eye to eye.
"I've told you that I'll help you through this, didn't I? You're not alone. You've got me, my mom, your uncle, the doctor, lots of people" he comforted. I could only smile faintly at him.
The next thing I knew, Chayton was closing the distance between us. My breath hitched as my eyes fluttered close. His lips met mine lightly and fleetingly. Chayton held it there for only a few seconds before pulling back. I opened my eyes and saw him grinning, with a hint of blush on his cheeks. I was pretty sure I was wearing the same expression. It was when I came down from cloud nine that I fully apprehended his words.
"Wait, you said my uncle?" I questioned suspiciously. Chayton laughed and settled himself more comfortably on the foot of the bed before taking my hand in his once more.
"Mr. Charles, or James now, told me everything." I glanced down at our intertwined hands for a few seconds before the memory of James ran across my mind. My grip on Chayton's hand unconsciously tightened when I recalled him being thrown over the second floor.
"James!" I shrieked, "What happened to him? The last time I saw him, he fell through the window!"
"Relax, Adele," he spoke slowly, "James was released from the hospital a day after he was admitted with a broken arm, nothing serious."
"Oh, okay then. You're not hurt, are you?" I paused when Chayton shook his head. "How did you two find me anyways?"
Chayton inhaled a deep breath and gazed out the window so that his face was turned away from me. "You were missing for two days so I got worried and went out searching for you. Then, I saw you struggling with Tristan in front of your house and I knew something was wrong," his tone darkened when he spoke, "I went to James because I knew you two had something funny going on. He called the police yada yada yada, here we are."
I waited for a few moments before speaking up. "Thank you," I breathed, "You're my hero." Chayton flushed at my comment and mumbled something incoherent under his breath. I couldn't resist his cuteness anymore; I leaned over and sealed his mouth with mine. His lips were soft and inviting; I decided I could kiss him forever.
"So um," I started once we broke apart, "is Mary Anne, you know, dead?"
"10 gunshots fired at her," he said venomously, "she deserved that death after what she did to you and your family."
I remained silent and leaned back against the pillows. A million thoughts ran through my mind at the moment; where do I go from here? Father didn't have other siblings and Mother was an only child. My grandparents were long buried six feet under. I visibly shuddered at the thought of being placed into an orphanage. Nobody would adopt a cripple, I thought bitterly.
"Hey, what are you thinking about?" Chayton's voice broke my train of thoughts.
"Where do I go from here?" I sighed, "I don't have any other relatives and—"
"You're staying with me."
Both Chayton and I looked up at the sudden intruder. James was standing at the door with a huge smile painted on his face. His left arm was held in a sling and I could see a few cuts and bruises on his face but despite those, he seemed healthy.
"What do you mean, James?" I asked once he settled himself on the chair previously occupied by Chayton.
"Since I'm your biological uncle, you are now under my custody," James explained. I frowned in puzzlement and sat up straighter.
"But—you said your work forces to move around constantly and change identities. How am I supposed to follow you all over the world?"
"I quit my job," he said nonchalantly, as if quitting the CIA team was a daily activity. My eyes widened in shock and jumbled words tumbled out of my gaping mouth. James chuckled slightly and leaned on his elbow.
"When you're a forty year old man, you'd learn that nothing is more important than family." James smiled at me and I mirrored his expression. "And, we will be staying here where you can finish high school with our help."
I threw my hands around him and held back the tears threatening to fall. James patted my back soothingly as Chayton moved to sit next to me on the bed. I released him only to lean back against Chayton's arms. He pressed his lips on my head and I smiled in contentment. James stared at our exchange with slanted eyes the whole time.
"Oh by the way, no kissing under my roof," warned James. Both of us burst into laughter and giggles, and try as hard as he could, James couldn't keep a straight face. He joined us with a belly laugh of his own. I gazed at a ray of sun as Chayton joked around with James. It penetrated the dark clouds above, warmed the grass below and warmed my soul.
Come what may; I knew I would get through it with the love and support of those around me and the guidance from those above. Starting life anew as a disabled person would be a challenge but I would gladly accept it. Seeing the two most important men in front of me, I knew I wouldn't trade my life for anything.