They took her, stole her from me! This thought pushed me onwards into the very heart of danger. I shifted noiselessly through the trees. I heard a sound and whipped behind the large trunk of a tree that hid my slender frame. Fool. It was only the wind. However, it was wise to be so alert.
The Nightlanders are a sly, cunning kind: masters of night. They could turn into shadows at will since they were half human and half-darkness. They also had such keen hearing, that they could even hear your deepest and darkest thoughts. I was once one of them and I knew their ways, but this mission I set for myself made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. They stole her from me. They snatched her life away! I reminded myself over and over again, harboring the anger that was boiling inside of me. An unwanted flashback replayed for the millionth time in my mind since that day:
My father had left my mother right before she found out that she was pregnant with me. Five years later, the Nightlanders had a new leader, Acerbus, and he declared that one person from each family had to work in the forges. My mother managed to keep me hidden from this new King's terrible power, but she was not as lucky. To make up for the absence of her ex-husband, she had to work in the forges. Over the years, the fires and ashes clouded her lungs and made her ill. Acerbus still forced her to work and it worsened her condition, but would he or his men listen to my pleas? No! As if that was not enough, his men beat her if she did not perform her task the way they wanted it done. She was weak and one day they went too far. They killed her; they gave her too much pain to bear and she lost the will to live.
They took her, stole her from me! That was the final straw. I ran away, vowing vengeance on them. They will pay for what they have done! Many a day later, the people of Aduron found me alone in the woods. I was petrified at first, for they were the ruthless enemies of my kind. But I was just a small child, not yet thirteen, who was lost and alone; they showed compassion and sympathy. They took me in and trained me in their ways. While I could not create nor bend light to my will, I was able to learn how to block my thoughts from the invading minds of the Nightlanders. I may not have been able, nor will ever be able to run as fast as the speed of light, but my running endurance strengthened throughout the years. Their weapons consist of staffs of the sun which I had no such power to wield. So in its place, I received a gleaming dagger from Cielo herself, leader of the Aduron. I trained like an Aduron, thought like an Aduron, became an Aduron. Never before had there been any like me: born of night, learned in light. As much as I trained, however, they would never be able to erase the Nightlander inside me completely. Which is why, as I grew, my lust for revenge intensified.
I have now come of age, ten and seven, at the height of my powers. I snuck out of Domus Lux, the House of Light where the Aduron dwell. I left, hidden from any living eye and against the protests of Cielo, who thought it unwise to seek revenge. "Revenge is dark and cruel." she once told me, "If we are not careful, it can devour us in darkness." Her words rang clearly in my mind. "That is the way of the Nightlander, the barren world you left behind. They feed on revenge, live and breathe it. This is what makes us different from them." She looked straight at me, "Forgive, but never forget."
I knew her words were wise, but I struggled to overcome the conflict inside me. The thirst I felt to justify my mother's death was too strong. I had set out under the cloak of night in a five-day venture until, there it was, the Nightlanders' mighty fortress: Opus Nox. I stared at the familiar stronghold. Memories of blood-curdling screams came rushing back. Seething anger raged through me. I stalked over to the side of the fortress and changed from my human form into my Nightlander shadow form and I drifted up the walls and through the nearest window.
Opus Nox was as silent as the dark clouds in the sky above. Nothing stirred. The moonlight, peeking through the clouds, came through the windows and cast ghastly shadows everywhere, making it easy for me to blend in. "The Nightlanders are loyal to their leader, the king of darkness: Acerbus," I thought to myself as I crept towards his chambers, "They would be lost without him." I transformed back into my human form and took out the same silver dagger Cielo presented to me when I first decided to learn the ways of the Aduron. "Potestas Diem," she called it. "The Power of Day."
I silently entered the master bedroom. Two bodies lay still under the cover, save the gentle rise and fall of their chests. "Two?" I thought. A man with short black hair and dark circles around his eyes that greatly contrasted his rather pale complexion sat straight up and his companion was roused as well. I converted back into a shadow and pressed myself against the wall to hide as I cursed myself for forgetting to shield my thoughts from the Nightlanders' mind powers as the Aduron had taught me.
"Who goes there?" Acerbus asked in a low voice. He lit a single candle which didn't do much to contribute light to the room. "I can see you, Shadow," he hissed as he looked straight at me, "Show yourself!" I emerged into human form with Potestas Diem glinting in my hand. Acerbus stood up out of his bed, scrunched his eyebrows, and squinted his eyes. "Who are you?" he asked.
"I am Laila Atralis, Beauty of the Night! And the cause of your own destruction." I said dangerously. He looked at me. "Atralis? As in Laborella Atralis?" I felt the fury inside me rise as he said my mother's name.
"You tortured her," I growled. "You left bloody scars on her back and never thought twice about it!" My voice was growing louder and fiercer with every word. "You had no right to do what you did!" Acerbus spoke to the other woman in the bed without taking his eyes off me. "Viktoria, dear," the soulless grey eyes of the dark-brown haired woman snapped to Acerbus after they had been glued on me for so long. "Why don't you go get yourself a glass of water? This matter is between me and Atralis." Viktoria slipped out of the bed and slid past me. Once alone, Acerbus stared at me with intense curiosity. I did not like it; my senses stood on edge.
"Laila," he drew my name out in a way that sent shivers up my back. I held my dagger in a position where I could fling it straight at his neck if he made any motion to attack me.
"What is your relation to Laborella?" he asked calmly.
"I was her daughter. Then you ordered your men to kill her!" I screamed at him. Tears welled up in my eyes and my throat became tight. I could feel my lips trembling. Acerbus's face changed drastically from pure curiosity to utter shock. "They killed her?" he asked in a quiet voice. How could he not have known?
"They told me she escaped and ran away," he said half to himself and half in answer to my silent question. His expression was full of bewilderment and he was obviously upset. His dark, black eyes showed me he wasn't bluffing.
"Why should you care?" I snarled.
He stared at me with sad eyes. "She was my wife." I exhaled in disbelief and started breathing heavily; my throat squeezed tight again and confusion flooded my thoughts.
"She told me we had to end our relationship. Things were getting complicated and she said that we should focus on our work and training. I told her we could make it work. I told her I loved her, but she pushed me away. I got angry at her and hit her." Acerbus shook his head as his lips started to quiver. I continued to stare at him incredulously.
"I-I hit her and ran away," he continued. "Years later I returned under a new name and a new appearance. I rose to power and took my place as leader of the Nightlanders. I wanted to make Laborella pay for breaking me spiritually, for in those years after I ran away, anger, hatred, and a never-ending hunger for revenge festered inside me. So, when I gained power, all my anger exploded. Yes, I made the rule that one person from each family must work in the forges as part of my revenge. I also admit to telling my men to torture her, but I never wanted to kill her. I did not realize this until after my men had told me that she ran away, but I still loved her. My resentment disappeared and I finally realized what I had done. I broke down into a crumpled life-form no longer functioning right. I focused all my forces into finding her again. I did this for three years-"
"The Vast Silence." I realized. I overheard the Aduron talking about how the Nightlanders have drawn back after they found me and they stayed away for three years. They called this time of peace "The Vast Silence". No one knew the truth behind why the Nightlanders retreated, but they suspected it was related to my running away somehow.
Acerbus solemnly nodded his head in agreement. "I searched for her for three years until I finally gave up hope. For the past two years, I've had to refocus as the leader of the Nightlanders and start training and building again. But even now, I still send out a handful of riders to search for Laborella in case, by sheer luck, they find her." His eyes grew watery. "I've been hunting for a ghost." he realized as his voice cracked and a lone tear slid down his pale cheeks. "Gone. Gone forever. Dead." More tears filled his eyes. I stood there, confused and fearful of what this meant.
"If...If my mother was your wife, that means you're my-" I choked on the word. Acerbus looked at me with sad, black eyes.
"No," I whispered as I shook my head. "No. No!" I started screaming. I turned back into a shadow and flew out the window. I could feel my father's eyes on me as I left. I changed back into my human form just before my feet hit hit the ground and I started running blindly towards the trees. I kept running, lost and confused, until I tripped on a tree stump and fell. Laying on the ground, I cried hysterically. Tears were streaming down my cheeks. Soon enough, darkness took me.
I awake the next day to find myself in a white, plush bed. My jet-black hair is spread out behind me. The sun shines brightly through the windows and I could hear the birds chirping outside. Cielo, with her golden hair and fair blue eyes, stood at the foot of my bed neither frowning nor smiling. I blinked the sleep out of my tear-dried eyes. Memories of the night before came rushing back. Cielo held up her hand to silence me before I could speak.
"I sent Fortis after you when Bethanie noticed you weren't in your bed early this morning," she said. "Fortis tells me he found you lying on the ground in woods near Opus Nox." I avoided her eyes and remained silent. "Did you find what you were looking for, Laila? Did your revenge satisfy you?" Her voice was calm, but I could tell she was not happy that I pursued my journey in secret.
"No, my Lady," I replied quietly.
The events of last night would change me forever, that much I knew, but for better or worse was yet to remain.