A/N this is a prequel to The Evelyn Files. I was in stasis for ages but making progress! Feel free to be as harsh as you like.
Amani lives in the beautiful country of Sirila, famed for its enchanted jewellery. Their rulers appear kind and benevolent, but are hiding a dark secret...
"If you see a Shadowreaper, run as fast as you can in the opposite direction," Mother told me one night. I was about six years old, I think. Probably too young to realise the true danger of what she was saying.
"What's a Shadowthingy?" my twin brother Ahmed asked, looking up from his book.
"Tall figures in hooded robes that raid villages," Mother replied.
"Like... land pirates?" Ahmed was a bit obsessed with pirates at the moment. "Stealing treasure?"
"Yes. But the treasure they steal is far more precious than gold or jewels, Ahmed. They take children."
The words sent a chill up my spine. "Children?"
"Yes, Amani, children. And if anyone tries to stop them...." my mother made a slicing motion across her throat with her finger. "The Shadowreapers aren't human. There was a girl a while back - Amber Li. She was about your age. She tried to run while her mother attacked the creature. Amber vanished in a puff of smoke and the mother was consumed by flames."
"Cool!" Ahmed grinned. I didn't know how he could be so casual about it.
"Why are they called Shadowreapers?" I asked.
Mother looked at me gravely. "Because they reap, Amani. They reap our most precious crops. Our children."
I couldn't sleep that night. Every time I closed my eyes, I could imagine a hooded figure reaching out its hands to grab me.
FIVE YEARS LATER
"Amani, c'mon!" Jenna grinned and tugged at my hand.
"Coming!" I grinned back and raced after her.
"Bye, Jen!" Jenna's older sister Phyllis called. "See you later!"
"See you, Phyl!" Jenna called back.
But Jenna would not be seeing Phyllis later. In fact, it would be two long years before the sisters met again.
But we didn't know that at the time. We ran into the woods, happy as Larry.
It was the first day of the summer holidays, and to celebrate Jenna and I had arranged to have a picnic in the woods, then go swimming in the lake. It sounded like super fun.
We reached a nice clearing and unpacked the sandwiches. Jenna sat down on the grass and grinned. "This is the life, eh, 'Mani? No school for three whole weeks!"
I laughed. "Free!" I spun around in a circle and fell over.
At that moment, there was a hiss from the trees. The air seemed to grow colder.
I stiffened. "What was that?"
Jenna looked around nervously. "I don't know."
There was a rustle, and a figure stepped out from behind a tree.
It was one of the creatures Mother described years ago - only it was far more horrible. Its hands were black and scaly, with long fingernails like claws. In the depths of its hood there was nothing. Not even a face. Just swirling darkness.
It reached out its hideous hands and rattled, "You are coming with usssssssss."
Jenna grabbed my hand. "Run, Amani, run!"
We darted through the trees like we were possessed. Behind me I could hear the creature's awful rattle. My heart was pounding. If we could just make it to the edge of the woods. There was another village there. Maybe they could help us.
Jenna screamed as her foot caught on a tree root and she fell to the ground. I stopped in my tracks. I could see the houses now. If I let the creature take Jenna, it would give me enough of a head start to make it to the village.
No. I couldn't do that. Jenna wouldn't have run. She was my best friend, and I couldn't abandon her.
I turned and ran back to the monster, screaming "Leave her alone!"
It hovered there for a moment, then snapped its awful fingers.
And everything went black.
TWO YEARS LATER
"Work faster!" The whip snapped across my back. I yelped in pain and frantically swung my pick at the wall.
Two years ago I had woken up in a dark, dingy cell with a leering man standing over me. He informed me I had the honour of being a miner in the King's jewel mines.
I'd always wondered where Sirila got all its jewels from. Now I know. I thought the King was kind, and I'd always liked him.
Not any more.
I wonder what my mother's thinking. Did the Shadowreapers take Ahmed, too?
I met the girl she told me about. Amber Li. A lovely, sweet girl who just wanted to go home again. One day, she refused to work. They put her in isolation, and she didn't come back. I don't know if they killed her or not.
Sometimes I see Jenna, at mealtimes. We get pea soup and stale bread.
Jenna used to be bubbly and chatty, full of life and fun. I think they've broken her. She doesn't talk to anyone now.
"Alright!" the overseer yells. "That's it for today. Moss, Stevens, Al-Fazir, you can sort the jewels."
As the other miners filed out, I, Jenna and a young boy named Carl stayed behind. We had to sort the jewels into piles, depending on type. It was long and tiring. My fingers bled from the sharp edges of the stones.
Jenna worked in silence, not looking up. I tried to speak to her, but she didn't reply.
Three hours later, we trudged back to our cells.
I lay down on my scratchy blanket, closed my eyes and tried to hope for the best. It will be alright. It will be alright. It will be alright....
There was a gasp. I looked up.
A girl was standing outside the door. She had long, ebony hair, ivory and violet eyes. Her face was chiselled and regal. She wore a purple cloak over a long, lacy nightgown.
I recognised her immediately.
The King's eldest daughter, Princess Evelyn.