Chapter 16 - After.
My screams from the tower came crashing in my ears yet I could feel my jaw still, my body heavy, filled with pain.
"You're waking finally." A voice, distant and blurred snapped.
"Are you real?" I asked as the screaming slowly died in my head. I peeled my eyes open, my vision black. A joke ran through me that I had never left the tower at all. "Where am I?"
Terror filled me as the darkness pressed down. I flung my arm out, sending crashes all around me.
The voice snarled. Lyra - was it Lyra? "Could you please stop making jobs for me to do? And at this point I wish I wasn't real, save me a lot of trouble."
Yes, it was Lyra.
"Sorry," I rubbed my eyes as blurred colors became shapes.
"You should be. I've been to hell and back." I narrowed my eyes, a blown blanket lay across my legs, by hands still mangled upon it. The room - my house. How had I got here? Beside me Lyra crouched, grabbing a fallen candles.
"Wait - you used your song against me as well as Ruslan? You made me suffer so much that I couldn't stop screaming until I blacked out."
Lyra drew her attention up to my face, her features blank, no guilt. "Yes. I choose to."
"Why?" A headache pulsed beneath my forehead and eyes.
"When I sing, play music, I can't control it. It wakes something inside and I allowed it to cripple you because you deserved it for what you did."
Laying back, folding my hands behind my head I closed eyes. "I didn't think they deserved to live for what they were going to do, and what they most likely did before."
"That shouldn't be your decision to make."
"Who's then? The Gods? Death himself? What if the Gods decided that a man, young, kind, loved by many should die just to play a little game of their own. Should he be killed because it was their decision? What if they asked you to watch a child, not eight years old, to die alone, in a puddle of their own blood? Should that be their decision just because they are Gods, if they decide to punish the innocent and to help the cruel?"
"That's different," she hissed.
I cracked an eye open and looked at the bed that wasn't mine. "Good or bad everyone dies no matter who decides." I paused, "This isn't bed mine."
My eyes drifted to the walls that I knew were mine, the windows yes, the floor certain seemed to be mine… "Did you buy a bed?"
"Yes. You have been out for a day and I thought if we were staying here for a bit then we could use beds. You paid."
She continued cleaning the wax off the floor, before getting up and straightening one of my tops. She looked down at me with her jaw tense, silent.
"I see you're comfortable enough to go through my stuff despite what happened." I said smiling.
"I don't think you should have killed those people and made me sing."
I sighed, "It was that or die. And, don't forget I didn't make you do anything. But I'm glad you did because I think it made us closer."
Lyra almost snarled, "yeah, mass murdering a group of people is what I do with all my friends. Oh, what a way to get closer. You're completely messed up, and I no longer believe what my Grandma said about you."
Rolling onto my side away from her, I crushed my eyes shut trying to press the pain away. "Then it's good you're not coming tonight."
I brought my hand to my temple, slowly massaging the pain away. "Don't you remember? I've got something important to buy."
The room came into focus in slow motion as I gasped: the dresses of fine women twirling and rustling in a rainbow of colours, the men in nearly identical suits in various colours of blue, grey, navy, black and the deepest of scarlets for the ones who were brave enough to wear them. It was breathtaking.
The ballroom with walls the height of two stories, with gold and eggshell blue wallpaper, covered with golden engravings of flying birds and running animals encircled the room like an embrace. It was worth the wait.
I had fallen asleep after Lyra stormed out of the room, leaving me with the headache she had made. When I awoke, I found lunch on a plate beside the bed and smiled before stuffing my face and getting dressed. I had thought that any notion she had about being friends with me had disappeared, but the food, the bed and the fact that she didn't just leave with my money gave me hope.
My eyes fell to the guards stationed every three metres around the wall protecting the open room despite the blissful music and laughter that filled the atmosphere.
It was beautiful, I thought as I looked down at the elegant dresses and then looked down upon my own. I was beautiful tonight despite my paleness and the hollowness that was probably tattooed onto my skin forever, and I knew that I looked almost like I had a human, healthy face and body - but not my hair. I wore a deep blue gown with a low V-neck that showed the lack of shape of my color of the fabric warmed my skin just a bit while also making my shadow black hair - half up to hide my elegantly pointed ears - become more subtle, more rich and less fake.
Philyra would have called me her darkling, as I had once called her a lifetime ago.
I swallowed hard, pressing down my grief and smiled my sweet, innocent smile that would make me someone else tonight - most importantly not myself. Lyra had smiled and said that I looked like a whole new person from the one who entered her house.
I was glad she stayed in the house tonight, especially since what happened two nights ago. We could hopefully build a new friendship together.
"All alone tonight?" Asked a deep voice from behind me.
I turned and smiled. A man wearing a deep green tunic with scruffy blonde hair was grinning at me like a snake, his eyes sliding over my body and lingering on my lips. His face was nearly just as pale as mine and I wondered what kind of job he had.
"Yes, I'm afraid I am." I confessed, stopping myself from thinking about yanking his eyes out and feeding it to him like grapes. It would be made more difficult without my claws, but not impossible. "My friend who I was supposed to come with me seems to have gotten lost."
"That's a shame," he murmured, relaxed, not caring what he said. A smell of bitterness, like an apple just before it becomes ripe touched my nose, making my skin crawl like ants moving under the surface. "We'll have to find a way for us to enjoy tonight."
A small sound came from behind me which I could have sworn was a growl.
"You're not bothering this girl now are you Miles?"
"Girl!" The voice in my head shrieked and a urge washed over me to snap his neck - I stopped the thought in its track, I did not want to kill someone that was a good person.
Turning again, feeling tired of people coming up behind me, I took a step away to angle myself so I could see them both at the same time not wanting to give either one of them an opening As my eyes widened. The new guy was not new.
Ruslan's eyes snapped to my and I decided I wouldn't mind killing him as he took note of my movements, my face. He wore a dark navy tunic with gold embroidered patterns at the edges of the fabric which made his tanned skin and black wavy hair seem to sing a midnight song.
I cringed, at first sight of them standing together anyone would guess that they had matched their clothes. A sense of déjà vu hit me as I thought of Dolan.
"I didn't even see you approach." Miles said to my left and the Ruslan took his eyes off me to his friend's and frowned, seemly not impressed, but still put on a clearly fake smile.
"Well you were quite focused on something else." His eyes moved back to me as heat rushed up to my face. I already hated them both as I grinned widely ignoring the proud smirk Miles had plastered to his face. I didn't need Ruslan to protect me, I could kill him in a second, I should kill him, but him being a witch would make it complicated.
"This place is really busy tonight, I'm surprised that anyone can see anyone else in here." I spoke calmly looking over to the crowd to make it look like I was looking for someone else - the 'person' I came with. "That's certainly the case for me, so I really must go looking for her."
As I turned to walk away Miles reached out, clamping his hands around my waist, pushing hard into my skin. Anger burst through me and for an instant my mask slipped, but only for a second in my eyes as shadows pulsing, covered all the white in them and Ruslan seemed to have noticed and frowned. His own eyes moved to Miles' hands still clenched around my waist.
"Now where do you think you're going?" Miles snickered and the smell almost choked me, becoming sickly.
"I'm going wherever I wish to go." I said quietly, but not gently to Miles and his Ruslan, twisting against his hands, moving to glare into both of their eyes. Something was wrong about the Ruslan, something in my blood shifted. He shouldn't be a witch, didn't feel like a witch, yet...
"Found you." My eyes snapped to the side, to the voice I had only just began to know by heart. Lyra stroke confidently towards me, her hips swaying slightly as she walked towards me, wearing one of my simple black dresses with one shoulder off, gold cuffs wrapping around her forearm; her hair combed backward with some gell and her eyes surrounded by cosmetics to make her lashes darker, her lips painted a bright red. A queen in spirit and appearance.
Miles' smile turned into a horrible grimace and the smell of alcohol misted over me as he tried to pull me closer to him, ending up moving his own body closer to mine when I didn't move. I would not let him move me.
No more games, I decided. Quickly I yanked my body out of his firm grip, knowing that I would have bruises laying across my skin later as I winced. But reminded myself I had been to worse dances, with worse people wanting what they couldn't have, and sometimes having their way. A flash of a little girl in red flashed across my vision.
Gracefully, I walked away but the feeling of unease ran through me as I linked my arm through Lyra's trying to remain calm at the fact that she came after I asked her not to and that Ruslan was here. There were too many eyes in the room watching what we did and how we did it. I had gone over the plan over and over again so that I could repeat it in my sleep, but this was not apart of it.
"I thought that I had lost you to the crowd." I lied loud enough that others would hear me, as I laughed and pulled Lyra's body closer to mine - the picture of two normal, rich women, friends, going to a party together.
"I know, I can't believe how busy it is. Have you seen the dresses?" Lyra laughed and I knew she had no interest whatsoever in the dresses or how busy it was, just at playing the part. I smiled and thought that Lyra truly reminded me of myself.
We shifted as one and began walking away from Miles and the witch.
By the time we stopped, my feet ached and we had nowhere else to go as we reached the far wall closest to the musicians.
The music filled the room like an explosion. They seemed to have decided to listen to music more than each other, I thought and decided that it wasn't such a bad choice with the company they choose to keep.
Maybe being locked up so for so many years had finally made me go insane and making everyone intolerable to me. Unable to deal with them. But I looked to Lyra and decided that it was only the majority of people I couldn't stand, not everyone.
"Why did you come?" I asked.
"Because I thought you may kill more people."
"And you wanted to stop me?"
Lyra turned to me and smiled, "What do you think?"
I wasn't happy that she was trying to mess with what I do, but in some small part of me I was happy that she was trying to better me, maybe meaning that she cared enough to want me better. Or, maybe she had some conscience and didn't want others to die.
"I think I know you," snickered a voice behind me.
I turned smiling, "do you now?"
My eyes rushed over he, taking every detail I could get: a woman, taller than myself, maybe six feet, maybe five-eight, looked at my face with brown eyes outlined with black cosmetics; her hair, matt brown fell in cascades off her shoulder and down her grey dress. She had a common, natural face - plain - someone who disappeared in a crowd, which was enhanced by the lack of curves, or the appearance of none.
Whoever had choose her, had made her look plain. Yes, looking at her I could see the beauty that was hidden beneath.
"I swear I do, how could I forget such a unique face."
"You're right, I do know you, but your name has slipped my mind. However, I do remember that you wanted to introduce me to a friend of yours the last time we met?"
She smiled and her beauty behind the mask slipped through and I saw her. Her real self and smiled.
"Milla and yes, I had remembered. Follow me." We moved together along the wall, having only side glances from occasional onlookers. It didn't matter, they knew not to say anything.
Though, it would have been different if it weren't strangers who seem to be friends. If I had grabbed a handsome man to the side and he led me out of the party, as we were being, it would've been gossip. A small flame in a field of wheat.
We slid into a side door. Gas lights, in replacement for Fae lights, lined the hall in a gloom.
I looked down the roughly fifty meter distance before us that narrowed like an arrow tip, our feet moving us forward to the target.
Death hung in the air.
My eyes snapped to the side, a shadowed phantom walked beside me, tall and patient. It moved like it was real despite the crushing knowledge that it was my insanity.
'It's our tall friend,' laughed a voice in my head, 'do you think it's lonely? Maybe it just wants a friend. In that case you two are even.'
I ignored the smug taunts that filled my ears as we turned another corner into another hall that was just as long but darker.
'Oh, do you think you can lose him when we go into the dark?'
I wanted to snap back but I could almost feel the eyes of Lyra boring into my skull. It was not a good time to lose touch with reality.
Milla reached forward and opened a door to our right and I wondered whether she decided to use Milla as a fake name, or whether it was a small part of herself that she wanted to keep in this life. I believed it was the latter.
Starving and aching all over, it was not a good combination for me to be wondering endlessly, especially when a strange woman lead me into a room that smells like rotting flesh and faeces. It took all but a minute to make sure that the room was empty from the scents alone.
I clenched my fists until they hurt - it was all that I could to do from crying.
I looked up and knew that the smell wasn't the worst part of the room. It was an old throne room. One that looked like a place scarred by judgement and death.
The ceiling was invisible in the darkness, creating a gloom over the monster carvings that and sculptures that lined the walls, their only illumination from small touches between them.
"Why did you bring me here?" I said, my tone even..
Milla stopped four metres away from the dais and the throne that stood upon it and smiled. "Does this insult you? Or ruin your pretty dress?" If it wasn't for the fact that I needed the meeting and that she was somewhat interesting, I might have grabbed the woman's long hair, slam her face into one of the puddles of filth, letting her breath in exactly what I smelt with my heightened senses.
"No, I just thought that you guys would have had some class." I matched her smile as the shadows moved in the corners of my eyes, making hers disappear.
"What was that?"
I was stopped from answering as a door at the corner of the room opened, three, six, twelve men and women walked in with blades hidden all over them for what I could see. They must have thought a hell hound had come for them. If the look of me was what concerned them, then I would've laughed – maybe it was the black eyes and hair.
"Milla," said the man in the front of a pack , "you called." He wasn't what she expected to see, he was scrawny man, with skin that was wrinkled and had black hair with streaks of grey that looked well groomed and expensive. Unlike the others, he wore a black tunic and a black cloak to go with it and to hide and weaknesses visible by site alone.
We all turned to the man, Milla holding her hands together to hide the trembling that shook them. "Y-yes we were contacted. They said that we didn't want to say no."
Glancing my way as if noticing me, his black-turning-grey eyebrows rose as he climbed the dais and lowered himself onto the throne. "And who are you?"
"That doesn't matter." I folded my hands behind my back, palming a small blade that I had hidden while dressing.
He knelt on his elbow to hide the smile, "It does if you want something."
"Here I was thinking we could be friends." I mused, pulling the dagger from behind my back, beginning to play with it across my gloved hand.
Pleasure filled me as a quiet string of curses ran through the eleven beside the throne, seven of them placing their hands in easy reach of their blades. "Oh, wait a second, this is really uncomfortable," with my free hand I undid the clip in my hair letting the other half fall and my elegantly pointed ear become visible. "Much better."
"You're a fae." He said clenching the hilt of his bejeweled sword.
I rolled my eyes, "I thought that was obvious."
Some of the men took a step between their leader and me. Slowly Millas began to walk away undetected.
"Nice to meet you Milla," I called waving as she froze for an instant and began to hurry her pace, "we should do this again."
'They're making this far too easy.'
Milla had just shut the door when the leader stood, his men moving with every step he took towards me. "I meant," he snarled taking a step closer, "we haven't had many fae around here for over a century. We thought you guys never left your precious city of Anfarie – too good for us and our kind. Below you."
"Well I would say you have the same opinion about us, so we're even - so to speak."
Taking a step down the dais he began to laugh, "Okay I'll play your game little Fae, what do you want that I can give?" He stopped two feet away. "And what can you give me in return."
Bingo, this is what I had been waiting for. My smile widened.
I took the smallest of steps closer so I would have to look up at him. This close I could see that he wasn't scrawny at all, but the cloak hid his strong build and what she thought was wrinkles were small nicks and scars. He couldn't be much older than his middle twenties.
"Oh, I just want to know a little bit of information…." I forced my face soft and my eyes doe like and took another small step forward. "A little map would do."
Sniffing so softly no one could tell, I smelt the tension and anger from the guards around us. The leader on the other hand… It was impossible to smell what he felt. I cringed internally from the reek of the room.
It took all my control not to break the walls down to the outside to get some fresh air – it was even worse than the tower.
"Karleb." Said one of the men, stepping a step forward.
Chuckling, Karleb took a step back and sat back down shaking his head. "I would sooner call you a Witch than a Fae. But they burnt."
For someone so high in the city, he sure didn't know who lived in it.
"Call me whatever you want to." I said, letting my face go back to normal, "I want the location of the Green Library."
Karleb stopped chuckling and shifted his eyes to me, "You want what? Next your friend will be asking for a crown."
Two of his men came lunging toward me, swords raised.
Stepping to the right, letting one of the men fall face first to the floor and I swept my leg out in front of the second, hitting his ankle.
Karleb raised his hand as he saw his two men on the floor trying to get back up.
He almost choked. "You're insane."
"Maybe I am, but that doesn't change a thing." I knew the anger and bemusement that grew in his eyes and smiled with pleasure. "I don't think your men should try that again unless they like the floor."
The two men dragged themselves up covered head to toe in filth and spat on the floor before my feet. My eyes shifted back to the sword in Karleb's hand, it looked like silver in the shape of a dragon, embedded with rubies ranging from the size of a pea to a Robin's egg and was worth, what I expected, the same amount as a small Kingdom. A sword more for display than fighting. I thought it was the same statement for him.
He leant forward, angling himself to launch himself at me. This was exactly how I wanted the meeting to go.
I threw my arms out wide letting the dagger dangle in my fingers.
"Look," I made my voice sound like a business partner trying to win over a client, "I have no problem with you, all I want is a deal."
"No you don't."
My lips formed a thin line as I leaned forward to bow, keeping my eyes on him. "I swear on my own life if that helps. Name your price."
"Ha, I don't think that means anything to you. What about your friend here?"
I turned my head slowly and looked at Lyra. She stood uninterested, even uncomfortable. "Her? She's my watcher, makes sure I don't do anything shouldn't."
"Like the auction?" He asked, raising a eyebrow.
"I… didn't know that that was what you called it."
"I heard you made quite a mess. a mess that I had to send people over to clean up. Even though they weren't apart of my organisation, I was still asked - they called in a favour. An unpleasant one… There were a couple with all their bones broken, how, from one killer to the next did you do that?"
I looked him in the eyes and winked, "I could always show you a demonstration."
I felt the shift behind me. Anger soured my tongue as I thought at her uselessness. She just stood there like a doll. Maybe one day she'll actually do something… maybe today I could make her.
"I would like that, but not on one of my men. What about her?"
Turning fully to Lyra I frowned. "I will try, but she is actually stronger than me. So try not to upset her."
My skin tingle as I met her eyes and watcher her shift, slide a thin, long round object from a slit in her dress. She had shown me what it was earlier that day, what she was given by Philyra when she was no older than a child.
Her movements were fluid as she moved her fingers along the object to small holes.
In a flash we raised our arms, hers to her lips mine aimed at her - my skin burnt as the first long note left the flute. I couldn't move as my shadows burnt me, begging to be let loose.
"Maybe, since the Green Library is of such importance," he said, "I might just ask for a bigger price. But tell me why first, why would you want to go to the place where death lives? Is there anyone's story you would want to read?"
I stood unnaturally still not saying a word. The Green Library was the one place where everyone's story was told and truthfully by Death after they died, the one place where I could get answers about how my brother had died.
Unsatisfied with my silence answer Karleb sighed. "Fine. The price will be her."
I paled. "What?"
Lyra had let me go and I turned to him.
"If she's stronger than you I want her. She will be my price for the knowledge."
Was she worth the knowledge? What good is she to me? I wondered.
"Nothing else? I could give you something better than her."
There was a pause, "what?"
"I can give you the location of a witch for the information about the Green Library. I've seen the witch in action and I have to say I was impressed." I would throw him under the bus. I didn't know him and I didn't care. Why should I?
A new smile, a smile I hadn't seen before crept across Karleb's face. "Fine. Where is the witch?"
"In your party and the Witch is a he. But he is nevertheless a Witch. His name is Ruslan."
Karleb waved a hand and a man beside the dais left.
"Back at your home, in Anfarie." He said leaning forward on the throne long forgotten. "But, keep in mind I'm actually the only person who knows the whereabouts of the Green Library who is still alive. So, this is the only way if you really want to find it."
Ice spread down my spine as I clenched my hands into fists. I had to know, not for my sake but for his. "It's a deal."
"The late King, Arden Armadare. He stole them over a hundred years ago and kept them in the castle where he lived and died along with his family and the famous Mara."