It was a sensation that Ethan was unfamiliar with. It had taken him a while to sort through his thoughts and experiences to finally pinpoint the exact emotion that was plaguing him.
Watching Shay struggle in silence, trying to understand the scene playing out before her, had evoked this strange feeling within him.
Looking at her now, sitting across from him, on the other side of the large circular table, he hadn’t realized how small she was, and the oversized high-back chair she was seated in made her appearance even more doll-like. An underweight and frightened doll, maybe a year and or so younger than the seventeen surreal ones he had lived through.
His attention faltered for a moment. He could sense Tiffany enter the room. She was the youngest priestess, just shy of sixteen, still learning the ancient ways from the elder sisters of The Dark Order. Even with the scar, she was the most lovely vision he had ever seen, that is, until Shay appeared before his eyes. Dressed in all white hooded cloaks, the silent parade of twelve females aligned themselves next to the towering marble columns in the shadows surrounding the circular table at the center, each behind one of the twelve seats at the table. Without having to turn around, Ethan knew that she was standing behind him. Her thoughts were faint, stirring echoes; their dance was nowhere near as bright, brilliant, or as loud as Shay’s excited thoughts that were constantly bouncing around inside his mind, and within the quiet place deep within himself that he had sealed off long ago.
The room was deathly silent, there were no mortal breaths to be heard filling the spaces in the air. Every face was ghastly serious, and held an unearthly and unnatural beauty.
Shay’s fright-filled eyes had shifted again, from hazel back to coal black. Without having to peer into a mirror, Ethan knew that his had done so also. It was the awareness of the moment that was causing them all to semi-morph into their otherly forms. Ethan also knew that Shay had no idea that the change had already begun within her, possibly even before they had encountered one another last night. He had seen her in the dive bar before, but his attention for her was always in passing, a few moments of his time and nothing more. But last night, there was a definite difference in her scent. His attraction to her was uncontrollable, and infinitely more powerful than any other time they had been within each other’s presence. Her evolution had begun, and she hadn’t even notice, but his primal instincts had.
From some distance place in the darkness surrounding all those present, a clock chimed, chimed, chimed, chimed – sharp and quick. It was immediately followed by a heavy rumble as the floor beneath their feet lurched and shifted. Ethan’s eyes quickly moved toward Shay; he felt her wanting to scream in terror but managing to keep quiet, for now. The whole of her eyes were black now, no white to be seen, as was the same for all the others.
“Bring it forth,” an adult male’s voice calmly proclaimed.
Ethan sat directly across from Shay, as was tradition. On all side between them were the current elders, if you could call them that. In reality, if actual years were counted, they were more like the ancients, Yet, by appearance alone, not one of them, of the five males and five females, looked more than twenty-something years of age. They were all frighteningly appealing to the eyes, the mind and, most dangerously, the soul. A closer look within their gaze, and one could easily see their truest nature, but very few dared to look on them for that long or stare that deeply within them. Not even Ethan, and he was to be their future sovereign, or so they had been speaking of since he was a child, before the world – his world and the real world – turned upside down and inside and began to hate itself with a seething, alluring passion.
Without delay, a pair of milky white arms, seemingly detached from the rest of the human owner, pushed through the dark backdrop and swiftly placed a bound animal at the center of the cloth-covered table. What kind it had been, Ethan could not tell, because the fur had been removed, as had other identifiable parts. He supposed it to be a coyote, as it was customary for a medium sized prairie roamer to be offered on a holiday. For this particular day, an animal, and not another type of offering, was acceptable. A part of him was glad for this, because he was sure that Shay would have died from horror if she had to witness what took place on high holidays, not low ones like tonight’s feast. The life of the city-dwellers below was dreary and dangerous, but what they lived through was like a sad dream compared to the nightmare of what could – and did – happen within the walls of this mansion.
“Give her the knife,” the male spoke again.
A second pair of detached arms, yellow-tinted this time, appeared and placed a long dagger in front of Shay. The tip of the blade gleamed bright from the unseen light that was hung above the table. The moment her eyes finally landed on it, and her mind clicked as to what was expected of her, she jumped from the seat, the slight weight of her body barely able to gather enough power to force it back from the table.
On instinct, Ethan nearly rose too. If not for a sudden sting at the corner of his mind, he would have. Mother. She was trying to bind him, to keep him from reacting. For now, he gave in. His large hands clamped down on the arms of his seat. The wood groaned slightly under the pressure of his grip. He had to control himself or he would unintentionally rip them off.
“No,” Shay’s voice had lost all of the fury and fight from earlier. It was soft…childlike…frightened to the point that his heart ached for her. In a tone barely above a weak whisper, she spoke her decision again, “I won’t.”
No one spoke; a strange silence hovered on all sides.
He felt her confusion, her fear, her hope that this was all a terrible dream that she would awaken from shortly.
She tried again to speak her objections. “I don’t care that it’s dead,” she began, her tiny hands twisted and rolled nervously over one another, “This doesn’t feel… right….” She paused to reword her thought. “This is all…wrong.. It feels…wrong.”
It was at that moment that Ethan realized how stunningly beautiful she was. The bed maids had styled her long, thick hair into elaborate braids that entwined around her head into the likeness of a crown. Her pure white tunic, slanted across one shoulder and dropping down to her ankles, fit perfectly, so much so that it added the hint of a budding feminine frame to her slight figure. Her light brown skin glowed from the oils and honeys they had added to her bath. She sparkled with a regalness that trapped Ethan’s thoughts in adoration. But it was her eyes, those supernaturally bright hazel eyes – they had shifted back – that held his breath within his chest.
“Youngling,” a female voice this time – still calm, still filled with the same amount of dreaded authority as her male counterpart – pierced the air, “Do as you are directed.”
A quick, low breath escaped his lips – relief – when Shay picked up the dagger between her thin fingers.
At first, Ethan thought the request of a female – his mother, or so she called herself – had convinced Shay to partake. She only had to cut the thing, which was still raw, and one or two other symbolic steps and that would be all, for tonight at least. It was a light induction for the newcomer of the sacred clan, and the elders seemed to be taking the fact that she was totally uninitiated into consideration. Or were they? The more he thought on this, the more Ethan realized what was actually happening. These beings were not capable of kindness, and this time would be no exception. He just didn’t have enough time to stretch his mind far enough ahead to see how this would all play out. The cooling of his blood spoke volumes. Nothing good would follow from this moment.
He hated that she had to partake in the sacrifice, but he felt relief that she would finally be one with him and he would no longer dwell in this darkness completely alone. Ethan did not understand love or happiness or why it was tearing Shay apart to have to cut into an already dead and skinned animal, but he knew loneliness and all of the miseries that it offered too well for far too long.
He pulled in an equally sharp snatch of air as she raised it an inch or two, appearing to aim it at the twisted carcass. One swipe and then should be his bride. His queen. His one bonded and eternal mate. The other half of all that he was. Some long-buried part within him told him all of these things were true.
Then, in that one quick move which followed, she destroyed them both.
With obvious defiance, Shay lifted the knife higher and threw it down onto the hardwood floor. The sound of the sharp tang-tang sound confirmed that the tip of the sacred object has most likely shattered from the violent impact.
“Kill her,” the male said, and before a heartbeat passed, a darkly cloaked figure appeared from the blackness behind the head of the ceremony and lunged at Shay.
She moved to flee the ax head aimed at her, but it would not be necessary.
The assassin dropped to the center of the table and bounced very slightly after the hard thud of his weight smacking the solid object bit the air. His eyes had glazed over into a milk-clouded and lifeless grey.
Mistake. That was the first time he had ever heard Tiffany’s thoughts so clearly.
Ethan replayed the reflex over again in his mind.
The king’s assassin made his move, and so had Ethan. Using the power of cold thunder and biting shadow growing ever more powerful within him, he struck the killer dead with a single thought – END – before he could fully raise the sharp edge of the ax against Shay.
It was a mistake, yes, and Ethan would soon pay heavily for what he had done. But the fear of existing another moment on this dark earth without Shay’s presence somewhere upon it was greater than the fear of the punishment to follow. Besides, he had known that this is how this scene would end. A split second before Shay threw the knife, his mind had finally foreshadowed the next few minutes after that point. And he also knew what was approaching next.
His disorderly conduct would not go free from correction, even if he was due to become the ruler of the gathering new world. There were still many lessons to be learned, and this would be counted as one more sewn deep into him.
A heavy hand clamped down on his shoulder and squeezed till Ethan felt his bone quiver from the strain.
He stood, turned from the table without making eye contact with anyone – especially Shay – and silently followed his tormentor from the room.
Copyright 2018 Lenise Lee Pubn