Chapter 2

The smell of tangy lime and the sharp tiny poking up my nose was disorientating. It made me want to sneeze and to pull back and rub my skin in disgust. I did not move though, something I learned when I first woke up in the tower and almost fell out of the window in panic. It was best to take in my surrounding before making any rash movements.

My body was stretched out, tummy side down, my face planted into the ground. Under the bristles poking my skin, the ground was warm and soft. Mushy. There was the sound of running water splashing and gurgling like a hundred people clapping loud with their cheers draining from the noise. I slowly sat up. The air was fresh and crisp, and now that my nose wasn't burrowing the ground, the whiff of mint and aroma of pines and mulch made the world inviting against the cool breeze that brushed my bangs back. Birds chirped their secret language. There was a soft veil of warmth on my skin.

I bit the bottom of my lip but it did not help; my face widened and my lips curled into a smile. I reached forward with one hand – maybe he was lying down as well and with the other I reached behind me, feeling for my braids. A few loose strands twirled its way out of the braids. Something fell onto my lap. It was small and round; it rolled easily between my fingers. I reached up toward my cheek where I felt the object fall. There were tiny imprints, the rigid shallow. "Adrian!"

Silence. The last syllables of Adrian's name echoed before being engulfed by the gushing water to the right of me and transformed to the words: Banish! Leave! Not with him.

Not with him.

The noise of nature that once excited me soon hushed into a void of overwhelming dread. My breathing shortened and my knees buckled. My fingers scratched the ground, digging into the cold mush.

"Adrian," I said, my voice squeaky and almost nonexistent. "Adrian!"

Oh God. It really happened. There really was a witch. She really stuck me in a tower. Although Adrian had told me so, I still imagined that perhaps I was a child living in a tower that was connected to some sort of castle and that my family had locked me up in that room to prevent unwelcome suitors. That they were actually trying to protect me from evil men. To keep me innocent. That my family wanted me to find true love by a man even though I was blind.

Not that image was any better.

The witch talked to me. When she did, her voice hallow and urgent, the name appeared in my mind. I do not know how it got there; I don't recall ever hearing the name before, but somehow it was dug out from my memory in the panic of transporting to an unknown area away from the tower that I lived for so many years. Neci.

Neci told me to go. That I was no longer needed at her tower.

She told me she'd find me and take care of me.

A shiver went down my spine. Suddenly the small circular space in my tower felt safe and comfortable. Although it was the house of Neci, at least I wasn't in any danger physically. But out here, alone in a place I never been before with no sight to guide me, I was in danger of both the witch's anger and the wild's unruly emotions.

Then I heard it. Several pairs of feet broke into a run. It had no rhythm, breaking into sudden leaps and breaks. I sat frozen in place, the sudden darkness I thought I became used to suddenly darker. The laughing rumble stopped and the presence of looming figures surround me was daunting.

"What are you doing lady?" a child's voice said. I didn't realize my shoulders had stiffened until the child spoken. "It isn't safe playing around here by yourself. Rumors have it that Allu are traveling the area."

"Allu?" I said. A hush of murmurs made its way around the circle. Icy cold hands covered mine, a soft pressure at the side of my leg.

"Sister," the soft child's voice said. It was close to my face. "You cannot see?"

I shook my head. Whispers enclosed me until the boy who held my hand hushed his friends. He took my hand away from my lap and laced his fingers with mine. "Then, sister, we shall guide you."

"Away from the Allu?" I said, standing up when the boy pulled my arm. "Are they dangerous?"

"Very much so, sister," a boy behind me said. A hand pushed me from behind. I walked, letting the children pull me through the area. "They are monstrous and faceless demons that destroy everything."

"Or so they say," a girl's voice this time. I smiled. Although they were only children, it was nice to hear other voices. "In reality, they don't destroy everything. They only kill people with beautiful faces so they can peel it off and use it as their own."

"But that isn't the best part!" the boy leading me said, his voice raised and excited. He squeezed my hand, my fingers pressing together. "It's the human's soul that tastes delicious. Having a face isn't as fun and rewarding than the soft glowing soul within the human."

"No it isn't!" the girl whined. A pull on the other arm pushed me down to the ground. Two chilling hands cupped my face. The girl's voice softened into a loving sigh. "Look at her face. It's beautiful. I want her face. So clear and soft. White like rice. Smooth like a baby's butt."

The children snickered. Heat drained from within me. Something wasn't right. What were the children talking about? Something feels off. They talk as if they were the Allu.

"You children have such creative minds," I said shakily. I pried the girl's fingers from my face. A sting on my cheek and thick moister on my skin. She scratched me.

"Creative minds, yes," the child who first spoke to me said. It was slow and conscious. "Shall we continue leading you, lady? Our village isn't far. Our parents would be delighted to see you."

I was pulled back onto my feet and I expected the children to gargle into laughter and talk again, but it was quiet. It should have made me feel better, no more talks about eating souls and peeling faces, but the silence made things worst. The echos of the little girl's words left me feeling both elated that Adrian was right, I am beautiful, but also terrified. It was strange. The way she said it. It was like my beauty was a joke among the children.

A thump. There was a split second of silence in between before the other children began to hiss. The little girl cried, yelling about her leg being shot. There were scurries of feet and in the mixed of movements, the top of my foot caught into a loop on the ground. I feel, the burn of my palms aching.

"Wait!" A nasal voice said. With a hard tug, I was pulled forward toward the boy. "We need to grab her face! Marie said she liked it."

"Marie needs another leg, that's what she needs! Damn man shot her with an arrow," A boy behind me said. A yank and my arm was free. "Push her down before the hunter comes here. We'll tear her legs and face off and give it to Mother to sew onto Marie when we get back."

"Jacob!" Marie cried. The hands that gagged me and pushed me to the ground stopped. My lips quivered and I tried to unbind myself from the grasp, but the children grip tightened even in their distraction. An echoing scream followed and I was dropped. I coughed, the dust choking. A sharp hit in my stomach and the last thing I felt was my head hitting something hard.

"Is she okay?" A man's voice said. It was husky and loud. I winced from the pain from my stomach and the throb of my head. Did I black out again? Why does that keep happening to me lately?

"Yeah, she should be fine. I could hear her breathing," a dark, rich man's voice said. I just laid where I was, waiting for the pain to dull, and to listen in on their conversation. "She's awake."

"Her eyes are closed," his friend pointed out, brushing my bangs away from my face. "Are you pretending, lass?"

"Stryder, just leave her," the other man jeered. "Damn girl was stupid enough to walk with the Allu."


I sat up a little too fast; my head waved and I had trouble balancing. I held my head with my hands. A hand was on my shoulder, helping me balance myself but I shook it off and tried to glare. "How should I have known they were Allu?"

"So you're up," the voice that called me stupid sounded bored. Slightly annoyed. "Really, if you have to ask that, I'd think you were blind."

I clumped the ground and felt the roots being pulled from the mud. With a grunt I threw it. I wasn't sure if it hit the target, but I felt satisfied in my anger. "I am blind, you fool!"

There was silence. Only my heavy breathing and the buzz in my ear could be heard. Stryder spoke, shaking my hand. His fingers had a boxy feel. "Tan Stryder."

I breathed out through my nose, still glaring, before turning to Stryder. I nodded my head. "Alida."

"No last name, Alida?" Stryder said, a smile in his voice. I shook my head. "Shall you take my last name then?"

I blinked, trying to digest what was just asked. Once his words sunk it, my face heated up. Stryder laughed before continuing. "Sorry for my friend. His name's Ovid Vesper."

"Nice to meet you," I said smiling, ignoring Ovid's presence. I bowed my head. "Thank you for saving me."

Stryder laughed and I could hear the waves of his hair being combed back with his fingers. "I didn't do anything. I just pointed out that there were a group of Allu and Ovid did the scaring."

"How did you know they were Allu?" I asked.

"They were naked with nothing but black boots and bloody tattoos all over their bodies," Ovid said. "Eagles feathers struck from their necks with black vamp wings ballooning from their scalp. That's how."

I bit the inside of my lip, imagining myself surrounded by those creatures. I shuddered. "Again, thank you."

Ovid sighed. There was a slicing noise and a transpiring presence, casting a shadow over me. "Glad to see you're grateful. Especially since you wasted our day."

I shifted my sitting position, my hands rubbed together as I hunched. My head hung down and I chewed the bottom of my lip. Stryder sighed next to me. "Ovid, be nice. She looks like she's lost." He touched my hand. "You're lost, aren't you? You're not from around here."

I didn't say anything. I could feel a smile directed at me though and soon I was lifted up against warm broad shoulders. The nothingness beneath my feet was unsettling.

"What are you doing Stryder?" Ovid said, his voice stern. "Put her down. She's not a sack of rice!"

"Come on Ovid, she needs help," Stryder said, his voice high in a laugh. I just hung over his shoulder, my hands clasping down on anything it could so if I fell, he'd be able to catch me. "It's rude to just leave a girl wondering around with nowhere to go. Especially in her condition."

Irritation seeped into Ovid's speech. "I don't believe she's blind. A true blind person would know how to walk and use her senses. This...girl, is just a bumbling idiot."

My mouth hung open. How rude! "And you're just an ugly man who can only sprout out insults from his ears."

Stryder patted me on the back, perhaps as a way to calm me down, but it only made my blood boil. I hit whatever I could, my hands unsure whether to stay in a fist or to smack the man silly with my palms. "Put me down. I'll show this boy that I will not be manhandled and carted around like some sort of baby!"

There was a moment of pause, as if Stryder did not know what to do. Ovid sighed at the distance. "Like I said, put the girl down. She's not a sack of rice."

Slowly I descended, the feel of soft ground relaxing under my feet. A tug of my clothes and I could sense that Stryder was trying to fix my appearance for me.

"Don't want to get your pretty blue dress more dirty than it already is," Stryder muttered, brushing off something from my hair. He offered his hand but I shook my head. No. If I was to show this jerk - Ovid, was it? - I was an independent women, no matter what my condition was, than I'd need to walk myself.

Stryder seemed to understand and pulled away, but not so far that I couldn't feel his aura around me, ready to guide. I patted my cheeks, trying to wake myself up. Stryder chuckled next to me.

"Go ahead," I told them. "I'll follow."

"You sure?" Stryder said. I nodded.

"Fine. I don't see why you should follow us anyways. If you want to be taken care of, let Stryder do it. I have nothing to do with you," Ovid said. He made a sound of revulsion and the crackling under his feet told me he was walking away – fast. He wasn't giving any allowance for me to catch up.

Stryder and I groaned in unison. "Don't worry about him. He acts this way with everyone."

"You must be his only friend," I said. He laughed and patted my back. We walked, Stryder mentioning when I should duck or watch out for a tree. I could tell Stryder was making an effort to make as much noise as possible to help guide me, without literally taking my hand like a child. I smiled in thanks, but I wasn't sure if he saw. I fell three times, once over a rock and the other two times on the uneven surface. Every time, Stryder would stop and ask if I was okay and if I'd like to take his hand. And every time I was tempted, until I imagined a man with a hairy face where all one can see was hatred in his eyes – for that was what I visualized Ovid to look like – and I refused the offers.

"It's a small village," Stryder explained. We've been walking for a while and he told me the village he lived in was close, which I was glad of. I was getting tired of the walking; it was the most I've ever done in my life. "Friendly. Well, besides Ovid." We laughed. "He has his reasons though. Surprised me he talked so much today. He must have been nervous around you."

"He never met a damsel in distress before?" I asked, hinting for some playfulness.

"No, I'm sure he has," Stryder stopped walking. I paused as well. "But he probably haven't met someone as lovely as you."

I sighed. "Am I really that beautiful?"

"Very much so."

"I don't think so. Not compared to all the vibration and music in the air. I mean, just listen," I closed my eyes. The birds in the distance was singing and the twinkling of water that ran through the cracks of our path had a soft tone to it. "That's beautiful. The world around us must be so much more beautiful than I. If only I could see it."

Stryder pushed me gently on my shoulder with his own. "Come on. Let's leave this forest. It gives me the creeps, knowing Allu are walking around."

I was left alone to sit while Stryder talked to his mother in another room. The chair was uncomfortable and hard; it smelled of freshly shaved wood, along with the rest of the house.

I unraveled the strings holding my hair together and let my hair fall from its braid. The dust and grease glued the strands together, making it difficult to weave my fingers through to pick out the twigs and grass that stuck in between. It felt like it was back in the tower. But instead of being in a small room with only a window, I was in a bigger space with people just a few yards away.

I smiled to myself, realizing how fortunate I was to be brave enough to escape my tower. If I hadn't made that leap, I wouldn't be here in a warm house. I swore I hadn't talked so much in my life! And I even made Stryder laugh. I was actually funny!

My combing slowed.

Where was Adrian?

"Alida," Stryder yelled from the other room. I looked up, startled from my thoughts. Footsteps. A warm object placed in my hand. "Eat this. You must be starving after the adventure you had today."

"Thank you." I picked at the object in my hand. It was hard and scratchy. I dug my thumb in but pulled back. It was hot. "What is this?"

"Bread. Freshly made," Stryder answered. He sounded as if he had something in his mouth. "Kind of hot. Be careful."

I nodded and peeled the hard crust from the warm sponge in the inside. I brought it up to my nose before popping in a pinch of it in my mouth. It tasted just as it smelled: sweet and savory.

We sat, eating for a while. A feeling of happiness welled to my eyes, wanting to leak out into tangible form, but I swallowed and shook my head slightly side to side. "I'm sorry to be so much trouble."

"It's no problem, Alida. Stay as long as you want. I talked to my mother and even she said to stick around, especially with winter coming in a few days."

I took another bit of the bread, bigger this time since it cooled. I swallowed, hard. "Have you ever head of the Doveva kingdom?"

Before I could receive a response, a loud banging noise was heard, overpowering Stryder's mutter of "here it comes."

"What is wrong with you?" Ovid growled. The floor scratched and a clatter of a chair fell. "You're letting a random child in this house?"

"Calm down," Stryder said, annoyed. "Geez, she's right here. She's blind, not deaf."

"I. Don't. Care." Another clash to the ground, closer to where I was sitting with my arms close to my chest, followed by coughs. "We do not need another mouth to feed. We don't have the resources."

"So we let her out? Mother said it was fine."

"Your mother. Not mine."

"That's right, I forgot," Stryder said. "Even though Mother took you in, cared for you, treated you like her own son, she's not your mother. She's mine. Just like how this is my house that you live in, thus I could do what I'd like."

The atmosphere turned heavy, a strange combination of terror and persistent aching physical discomfort causing me to speak in the worst of times, knowing full well how Ovid would react.

"You got my back, Stryder," I whispered, which magnified within the silence of the room. Another loud bang accompanied a low snarl and I could fell the table in front of me vibrate. I flinched.

A ways in front of me there was a thump and brisk wind cased goosebumps on my arms.

"Hey," Stryder said. "If your going to be out, Alida is gonna sleep in your room tonight."

I could feel a piercing glare directed at me. I turned away from where I felt it coming from; I may not see, but I'm sure if Ovid saw me staring straight at him with a blank expression, it would only make him angrier.

"She leaves when winter passes," Ovid said, his voice unusually calm. "We don't pity the girl – blind or not."

Author's Note: Thanks for reading! I've noticed that I have been getting hits and favorites/alerts for this story...I'd love it if you could tell me in the comments what you think of it so far, and if there's any advice or errors you'd like me to be aware of. You know, just dropping by and letting me know if this looks like it's going in the right direction, your predictions, if the flow/pacing seems right. Any type of help or suggestions would be great! Or, if you think things are fine as is, just let me know! That way I know I'm doing a good job. Thank you! Hope to see all of you in the next chapter.