'I'll remember this day for the rest of my life,' Shyla thought to herself, scanning over the closing line of the great tome in her hands. She smiled to herself, brushing the gold threads of hair behind her ear, paying them no mind as they fell disobediently back into their former place. She closed the great volume shut, letting her hands slide over the still warm, rough, canvas, worn gently by years of being passed on and off a bookshelf. She leaned back in her infirmary bed and held up the book again, as if to open it, before tossing it back onto the bedside table, nearly cracking the vases of fine glass, filled with fresh grasses and wild flowers sent by well-wishers.
'I wonder what the author meant by that. . .' she speculated, staring up at the gray-stone ceiling with sapphire eyes, her small lips pursed in thought. She rubbed her equally small and slightly up-turned nose lightly as a small fluff of down passed by and brushed it gently. The light tapping of hurried footsteps echoed in from out of the hall that led into the infirmary and Shyla, out of caution, threw her un-dyed wool blanket up to her neck, pretending to just have woken.
A woman entered; pale, smooth aristocratic face, with a long thin nose and full, red rouged lips carved into a smile, as if they were chiseled there by a stone mason. Her hair black and gleaming, well groomed, and perfectly arranged in a long sweeping curtain behind her, along with intense shining eyes, like a night with no stars; just the moon and the eternal darkness. Her dress was stiff and conservative, no embroidered threads, just black velvet over silk, chiffon, and lace that decorated the cuffs, neck, and peeked out from the hem over her stiletto boots; also black.
Two girls trailed behind her, both the mirror images of the other. Same sun-toasted skin pulled over the articulate faces of the young women, both older than Shyla herself. Same jet hair, pulled back into spouts of oil down that dripped down their heads and necks. Same hematite eyes that glimmered in the faint sunlight that filtered through the windows of the infirmary because of the plain muslin curtains drawn across them; decked out in black dresses, identical of course, articulately decorated in flourishes of embroidered stars, with moonstones affixed to hems and buttons for an added beauty.
Shyla smiled weakly; she wasn't all too happy to see any visitors, much less the three that had come today, but she preferred not to show her displeasure. Besides, visitors were visitors; it was nice to see that people cared for her. . . Whether or not she liked them was a different story.
"Milady Mirr," Shyla continued to smile falsely, "how nice of you to come to see me! But, what brings you here this early?" The long-haired woman smiled tenderly, losing her stony face as she stood beside Shyla's bed.
"I just wanted to see you. I heard you were awake," Mirr embraced her, motherly and kind. "I just wanted to see how you were doing, and when I told Hectra and Electra that I was going, they wanted to come too, naturally." The twins beamed at her.
"Hello," they both chimed, gathering around her bed like Mirr, and also hugged her gently.
"So," Mirr started, kneeling down to her beside, black eyes meeting Shyla's blue, "how are you feeling?"
"Fine, actually," Shyla said – it was the truth. She honestly couldn't fathom why they even considered keeping her in the infirmary. She wasn't ill, she wasn't injured. . .
"Do you know why you're here?" Mirr asked gently, and from out of nowhere. Shyla shook her head lightly, "No, I don't have the faintest clue."
Mirr stared down and picked at the spidery lace of her cuffs. "Really? Not at all?"
Shyla shook her head, again trying to mask her annoyance – if she didn't know, she didn't know.
"You fainted," Hectra, the elder of the twins, said gravely.
"Again," Electra, the younger of the two added, sighing and crossing her arms. Shyla snorted slightly.
"What's so terrible about that?" she questioned. "It wouldn't be the first time that's happened to me." Another truth. Shyla was prone to fainting spells, and headaches, but not much more than that. She was healthy in the sense that she was rarely bedridden with an illness; but she was thin, frail, and weak. This was due primarily to the fact that she was raised to be a lady; she never did any physical labor, rarely traveled outside, and normally ate like a bird – though, if she could, she'd wolf down her meals like a bear.
"Maybe," Mirr said blandly, "but do you know how long you've been unconscious?"
Shyla shook her head. She honestly didn't care how long she had been unconscious. No matter how long, she'd always feel the same afterwards; absolutely fine, like she had woken up from a much needed nap.
"Two days." Mirr said, in the same bland tone as before. Shyla's brows lifted.
Mirr nodded. "You're lucky some one found you quick enough. . . What did you do this time?" She questioned harshly, her mouth losing the kindness it once had.
"I don't know what you're talking about." Shyla denied simply, as the twins looked down to her and giggled lightly.
"Shyla, don't play stupid with me," she glanced up from the lace, "it demeans us both." Shyla sighed, guiltily staring down at her bed sheets.
"I was trying to move my wardrobe." She murmured gently, and without hesitation, "I don't remember what happened after that, I just remember waking up here." Mirr cocked her brow.
"Did you wish it to move," she questioned oddly, "or did you get up and move it?" Shyla gave a blank face. She had no idea what Mirr meant by 'wish.' Sure, you could 'wish' for something to happen, but that didn't mean it would.
"I don't think I moved it like that. . ." Shyla answered, confused. "I'm afraid I don't understand what you mean, actually." Mirr sighed.
"Let me rephrase the question, then." She gave Shyla a fierce stare that made her wince. "Did you get up and physically move it yourself, or did you make it move?" Shyla blinked, now she understood. She pondered back to that night.
She was already tired that night, but boredom is one of those things that compels you to do things you wouldn't normally do, despite your energy or lack there of. An idea had struck her to rearrange her bedroom furniture; despite the fact she only had two pieces, both weighing more than ten of her.
Even though she could have asked a servant for aid, she didn't. For once, she felt she could do it herself. For a while, she stood beside her wardrobe, planning out where she would move it. She looked at it, imagining it moving farther to her left, closer to the window, blue-printing its movement carefully. She plopped down on the edge of her bed, staring endlessly at it. She didn't wish for it to move, she wanted it to. She imagined the gorgeous mahogany wardrobe, deepened in color by years of wear and stain, sliding across the muted marble floor, closer to her window. She kept wanting it to move, imagining it obeying her un-vocalized command.
Suddenly, the wardrobe creaked, and ever so gently, drifted across the stone floor. Shyla blinked, and the wardrobe stopped prematurely of its goal. She all of a sudden felt dazed, as if she had been spinning in place like a child's top. Her head was throbbing, and a sudden rush of nausea threatened to drown her, and then –
She couldn't remember.
That must have been when she had fallen unconscious, or so she speculated.
"Well?" Mirr pushed, breaking Shyla's concentration. Shyla sighed, hesitating to answer. After a moment, she decided to remain silent, and averted her gaze to her heavy wool cover.
"Shyla," Mirr sighed, a hint of a groan settling in the back of her throat. "We talked about this before-"
"I know, I know," Shyla whispered guiltily, "I'm not supposed to do things like that. . ."
"That's right," Mirr nodded pertly, "and you should know better, too." She empathetically grasped Shyla's hand. "I worry about you, Shyla. I know what happens when you do things like that," she sweetly stroked her hand, "I just don't want to see you hurt, that's all."
"I know," she responded, the pit of her stomach welling up with guilt and shame. "I won't do it again, I promise." Mirr stood and hugged Shyla tightly around her shoulders.
"I hope you'll keep that promise," Mirr whispered, serious again. "Well, then. Hectra, Electra, we must be going." She grinned to them, and back to Shyla. "We'll see you later. Enjoy your rest."
"I will," Shyla smiled thinly, as the long-haired woman and the twins made their way out of the infirmary. She grinned widely, finally alone again, and leaned back against her down pillows, feeling their softness, and her eyelids growing heavy with the prospect of sleep in mind.
Suddenly, the light tapping of footsteps resounded in the hallway again. Shyla sat up, sleep fleeing from her mind. She blinked, and looked to the door.
A young man poked his head through the doorway, a devious smile dancing on his lips. Narrow, dull blue eyes, angular cheeks and chin; he had the face of a young, dashing lord, something that any woman would fall for – except Shyla. A false twitch of a grin pulled on her face again.
'Great, is the entire castle going to visit me today?' Shyla thought bitterly, biting her tongue.
"Marrin! What brings you here?" She spat out, quickly and sweetly, despite herself. The boy smiled wider, and approached her bed, smoothing back his slick obsidian-black hair that remained tied tightly in a ponytail at the base of his neck, and his black, unadorned tunic, and white leggings.
"I came to see you," he said suavely, pulling up a plain, pine chair, "I heard you were feeling better."
"And I am. I appreciate the concern, really," she responded kindly; Marrin went on, "You gave us quite a scare, you know-"
"I know, I know. Mirr gave me a good guilt trip before you came," she interrupted. Marrin nodded.
"And she had every right to," he said cleanly, "you scared us all half-to-death, you know." Shyla snorted and cradled her head in her palm, leaning over her cross-legged lap, elbow resting on her knee.
"I seriously doubt that."
"Why would you say that?" he queried, cocking his brow in concern. Shyla sighed heavily.
"No one aside from you, the twins, and Mirr even know I exist," she started to pick at the fuzzy pills of wool on her cover that had formed there after years of use and wash. "Or if they do, they don't care."
"That's not true, plenty of the servants know you-"
"That's only because I'm the only one who will even look at them for their hard work."
Marrin crossed his arms.
"Since when did popularity matter to you?" he scoffed, leaning back in his chair.
"It doesn't. I just want people to know that I exist."
"Why?" Marrin asked, confused now.
Shyla smiled sheepishly. "Because I'm afraid if people don't know I exist, then I'll disappear."
A devilish grin appeared on Marrin's face again. Suddenly, he threw his arms around her and embraced her with unyielding strength – as if she were his lover.
"You won't disappear if I refuse to let go of you, right?" he breathed softly in her ear.
"Please, Shyla," he begged, "don't make me let go. I don't want to let you go." He embraced her even tighter.
"Marrin – please!" she urged, gasping and worming her arms between them, trying to break his bond. "Don't be like this. . ."
He suddenly released her, leaving her to gasp and sputter for breath. She clutched at her breast, Marrin gazing at her stupidly.
"Why won't you let me closer?" Blood rose to his cheeks. "Why won't you let me love you?"
"B-because," she stammered out a response, "I don't love you in the same way… T-that you do me."
"What do you mean?" he stared at her, face deepened like red wine. "Love is love. It's the same thing no matter you put it."
"No, it's not," she hushed, "there are many different kinds of loves, like the kind between a mother and son, or two brothers… Surely you don't mean to say that they are exactly the same love as the kind between lovers or vice versa?"
"Then, Marrin, you must understand," she pleaded, "I don't love you like the way you do me. I've always thought of you as a brother, nothing more than that.
Marrin pushed back his chair, and stood, not daring to meet her eyes with his own.
"Right," he murmured, face still glowing crimson. "I understand."
"I didn't mean to-"
"No. . . You didn't. . . I know you didn't," he concurred, stepping back. "I. . . I have to go now. I have some things to take care of."
"Oh. . . Alright. . ." she said, now shamed by her own harshness, though it was only honesty showing face. "I guess. . . I guess I'll see you later, then." She waved to him, but he had already turned away.
The next morning, Shyla prepared to take leave from the infirmary, back to her overly-adequate bedroom in one of the castle's turrets. A maid had come to help her pack her things, though she had none. Irregardless, the maid stayed anyway. Shyla was a magnet for the gossip-priers.
"So, how was your rest?" the maid asked sincerely, carefully tucking back her brown curls into her white regulation cap before stripping the bed linens off and replacing them with ones fresh from the laundry.
"Fine enough," Shyla shrugged, "got about as much sleep as I didn't need." The maid laughed heartily.
"I heard you got a visit from Marrin yesterday," she grinned neatly, creases deepening around her face and eyes as her lips pulled back. She threw the last sheet to Shyla.
"Yes, don't remind me," she sighed, wadding the sheet up and tossing it carelessly to the side.
"Oh?" the maid asked curiously, smoothing her grey dress with a starch-white apron pulled tightly around her figure. "What, did he say something?"
Shyla hesitated. "He said he loved me." She brushed her hair back, nonchalant.
"Well, isn't that sweet of him?" The maid awed, unfolding fresh, crisp linens, "What did you say?"
"I told him the truth. I don't love him like the way he would like me to."
The maid's eyes widened in surprise.
"Well, it's true, I don't." Shyla said hotly, when she caught sight of her face. "He's like a brother to me, and I honestly don't feel that I'm ready for the kind of relationship he wants."
"He is a promiscuous one, isn't he?" the maid mused, nodding and tossing up and settling the fluttering sheet onto the bed. "But saying something like that is surprisingly mature of someone your age."
"How so?" Shyla asked, handing her a fresh, precariously folded blanket. Blanket unraveled, settling it on the bed, the maid answered, "Well, what I mean is, most girls your age would swoon over anything that would even murmur the 'L' word in their direction." She sighed, wiping her sweat-glistening forehead with the back of her hand, "Hell, even some grown women act that way." She lowered her voice to a whisper, and said cautiously, "But you, m'lady, you're different. You know you're not ready, and you can freely admit it without fear of humiliation. . ."
"I just don't care about those kinds of things, actually," Shyla blushed modestly.
"Which is something to be admired, mind you," the maid nodded, finally replacing the pillows on the bed. "You're far too young for things like that anyway. And I'm sure if Mirr knew, she wouldn't approve of it."
Shyla's stomach dropped. She hadn't thought about what Mirr would think. Mirr was the only mother figure that she had in her life – she was a sort of mother to everyone in the castle, though. A sort of matriarch; nothing happened in the castle without her prior knowledge as she didn't like surprises, even good ones. Out of fear, everyone swooned over her and asked for her blessings or advice. Out of lack of their own wisdom or courage, everyone looked to her for justice and favor. Often times, though, favor was a difficult thing to earn from her – that is, unless you were Shyla.
Mirr favored no one more than Shyla. To Mirr, she was like her own daughter; giving attention that she didn't want, and resentment from others that she didn't need.
"I don't know what she'd think, actually," she said, eyes glued to the floor in thought and worry. "She'd want to keep me around her, I know that, but, I don't know what she'd think of me and Marrin as a couple."
"Maybe, maybe not. . ." The maid sighed, "It's strange, you know. . . You're the only one in this castle who doesn't follow Mirr's example."
"What do you mean by that?" Shyla asked, befuddled by the sudden subject change.
"Well, you're the only one I can name who isn't influenced by her, I mean," she clarified, finally starting out of the infirmary, "you know everyone in this castle has black hair – and you and I both know that people don't all have black hair."
"Well, yeah, I guess."
"Not only that, dark eyes like that aren't very common either. They change their looks to be like Mirr, because they admire her so much, they want to be just like her," she continued, her voice echoing down the hall, even though she stood in the threshold. Shyla followed, nodding.
"But you, Shyla," she said hesitantly, glancing back and forth down the hall and back. "You're different." She said simply as she stepped out into the hall. Shyla rolled her eyes.
"I believe we've already come to that conclusion."
Night came surprisingly quickly that day, heavy grey clouds settling in from the west, in hopes of lightening themselves upon the castle and the dark, dense forest surrounded it.
Shyla arrived to her room just as the sky above groaned, and raindrops began to throw themselves at the ground and her window in a chaotic frenzy. She sighed as she pushed her door shut. Tomorrow was going to be miserable even if the clouds had cleared by early after noon. Not that she would go outside, but the humidity would be bad enough in the castle come the evening.
She turned away from the windows looking down to her plush, linen-swathed, down, four-poster bed. Blinking for a moment, she suddenly tossed back the sheets in a flurry and dropped to all fours, one hand groping underneath in years of dust.
She felt a sudden rough canvas patch, and a smile pulled on her lips as she grasped at the rough object, pulling it up and out from under the bed, leaving a trail dust clouts in her wake.
She held it up with both hands steady around its voluminous sides; handling it was easy thanks to the canvas cover.
A book; a thick tome of the world and the places you could go, if only in your imagination. Shyla stood, stuffing the manuscript under one arm as she stepped over to the small cushion beneath the window sill. She plopped down, settling the book comfortably in her lap, sifting through its rough innards to the page she last left off.
She used whatever little bleak light the sky would give her to read by, until the grey dimness faded into oblivion, and she was forced to light a small tallow-yellow candle and coax as much light as she could out of it.
She moved from her place beneath the sill only twice; one for when the servants called for dinner and the other only to shed her velvet dress and don her simple flax nightgown.
She pulled back her sheet and slid quietly between them, savoring the yielding give of her down mattress and pillows before falling into a deep slumber.
This peaceful slumber, however, did not last. For Shyla, it never did.
Shyla felt the coldness of the etched marble floor, though, when she looked to her feet, they were well-covered in sturdy leather boots. She looked around bewildered. She was in a room she could not recognize, though the floor was the same as any room in the castle, the walls were rough, and poorly tiled. Tapestries hung torn, faded, and neglected by a deft stitching hand. Chairs and tables stood, lonesome, covered in cheap cotton veils, caked and sodden with years of dust and mold. Shyla had never seen this room once with her own eyes, but she knew it all the same.
She rubbed her arms lightly. The room had an unkind, bitter chill, one that pierced her skin and bit into the marrow of her very bones. She took a step forward, hoping to quell the goose-bumps that had suddenly risen on her skin. Her foot met the solid floor precariously, careful not to make any sound.
A gentle whisper of a draft brushed across Shyla's face. It was a strange and quiet breeze, one that did not shift the cotton veils, or cause the tattered tapestries' rotting threads to tickle the air in return – rather, their shadows did. Flat against the walls and floor, undulating like writhing anacondas and night crawlers.
The draft strengthened, sending whispers in her ears.
"Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide," it whispered in them tauntingly, "frightened, little one?" Shyla swallowed hard, choosing to ignore the voice as best she could.
The draft soon died, but the shadows continued to dance eerily, despite nothing to push them, nor minutes of voices to keep them together on their erratic beat.
"Shadows?" she whispered meekly. "Who are you? What are you?" she blurted out suddenly before she could nip her tongue back.
A nauseating scent crept up her nose, causing her to wrinkle it away, and clamp her hands over it in defense. Another voice answered this time; masculine, with a no-nonsense ring.
"Why do you need to ask?" it spat, "you above all should know exactly what we are, what we do. . ." That voice also died with its signature smell, and maniacal laughter boomed off the walls like an explosion in a cavern.
"Yes, yes!" the new voice bellowed. "We're every where, you know! Watching and waiting to make our move to snap the world up and away-ay!"
"And what do you mean by that?" she interrogated the voice, abnormal to her own normal, meek, passive attitude. The echo fled at her voice, annoying, refusing to answer her.
Another voice piped, velvety and feminine, sliding up her spine chillingly.
"Why ask? You know what we mean," it whispered softly, yet indignantly, "we'll kill, and we'll start with you!"
Shyla felt agonizing pain roll through her stomach and nerves like fire on oil. Her knees buckled, and she fell to all fours, one hand clutched around her stomach, feeling the sudden wetness spreading through her clothes, dripping onto the floor into small crimson ponds.
Her mind wavered for only a second, then, everything disappeared in a black wave.