The table was already full of food for lunch. The kitchen aids usually filled it for us before we arrived, but this time they were still running too and from the kitchen putting out trays on the table for us.
“I guess preparations for the banquet tonight has their full attention.” Carena muttered as she took her seat. I sat across the table from her as we waited. Right as the grandfather clock in the dining hall struck noon, Tristan walked through the door. His grey hair was disheveled and his circular glasses were crooked on his nose. He had crease lines across his forehead as if he had been in deep thought for the majority of the day.
“Good afternoon grandfather.” Carena cooed. She had always looked up to Tristan, he was the only father figure we had left. He wasn’t our true grandfather, but he sure did treat us like his own granddaughters. He glanced up as if surprised to find himself in the dining hall. He slowed and came to a stop at the head of the table.
“I thought I was heading to the bathroom.” He shook his head in confusion before his eyes fell on the food on the table, “I think I’m truly going crazy this time.” He sat in his seat at the head of the table as Carena and I shared a look.
“Tonight is a big night and we need to be on our best behaviour.” His eyes lingered on Carena a moment too long when he paused.
“I know, I know.” Carena reached out and began to fill her plate. She spoke as she did so, trying to imitate Tristan’s deep, scratchy voice. “Don’t talk to the boys, stay away from the bubbly, and above all, do not leave the manor.” She looked up and gave Tristan her big blue doe eyes. “I won’t Tristan.” Tristan couldn’t restrain his smile as his gaze softened. The love he felt for Carena was evident on his face. There were times I wondered why we got so lucky with Tristan watching out for us.
“Carena, I caught wind that a vendor in Abberton is interested in your art. Is this true?” Carena’s smile showed the answer.
“Actually, yes. He contacted me yesterday through his messenger. He wishes to sell my art in the market square. He thinks it will really sell.” Tristan nodded along and looked over at me, worry in his eyes. I knew what he was about to say before he said.
“Carena you can’t.” I let the words rush out of my mouth before Tristan could. Better Carena hate me for a few days then Tristan.
“And why not.” Carena set her fork down slowly, a storm brewing in her eyes.
“Because it is too risky.” I cut some of the meat on my plate hoping she would understand and we could advert from getting into another yelling match.
“And who made you my mother.” I shot my gaze up catching the way Tristan’s eyes widened in surprise. I swallowed the meat and chose my words carefully.
“No one, but last I recall, I was the oldest and our mother is dead.” Shock flooded Carena’s face at the bluntness of my answer. I held her eyes refusing to back down. Her hands began to shake with rage.
“And whose fault was that.” Her tone was low as if she had tried to keep them from leaving her mouth, but the words were like a punch to the gut. I heard Tristan try to speak up, but a roar had already filled my ears. I saw the glow from under the sleeves of my dress before I could calm myself. I shoved my chair back as plates and dishes flew from the table as I stood up. I heard Carena scream as she brought her hands up to shield her face. Tristan didn’t move from his seat, he just stared at me with a blank, defeated expression, his glasses now completely crooked on his nose. I was breathing hard by the time I was standing, a bead of sweat dripped down my cheek. I stared at Carena as she lowered her arms. She swallowed and looked at the room around her.
“I’m sorry Aurelia.” She whispered.
“I’ll be downstairs,” was all I sad as I left the hall. My marks were still glowing as I stormed through the halls. I probably should have stayed to try and talk with Carena, but I needed to leave and calm down.
I ran down into the lower levels of the manor trying to avoid any human interaction. The further down I went, the colder the hallways became. The halls darkened with each floor I descended and soon torches were providing the only light to guide my furious steps. I threw open the heavy oak door causing them to slam against the walls that held them. I walked over to the changing room and changed out of the ugly pink dress. I put on the soft cotton pants and a loose shirt that I always wore when I trained. I looked down at my now exposed arms to see my markings in full light. They were still glowing golden with power, itching for me to release. When I used my gift, they always glowed with a golden light. The markings snaked from my wrists all the way up my arm, showing the world my standing as a Marked One. When I was younger, I thought the marks were something to be proud of. I used to wear them proudly around my family, but now I couldn’t even wear short sleeves in my own home. But then mother was killed, and father disappeared, I had no choice but to hide. My race was being hunted, murdered. I had to hide from the world or else who I am will kill the only people I had left in this world. I stepped out of the changing room and found began to walk to the middle of the room.
“I heard there was a commotion upstairs.” I spun around at the voice finding Marilla, my tutor,standing along the walls of the room. She stood completely still, watching my every move. She always seemed to appear out of thin air. She said it was for my own good that I didn’t know when she was coming or where she was coming from.
Marilla had a commanding air about her. She demanded your attention from across the room. Her eyes always seemed to be alight with fire. I could see the blue in her eyes from across the room. There always seemed to be a storm brewing in her eyes. Her jet black hair was always pin straight. No grey could be found, but it was evident that Marilla was older than myself by at least twenty years. She always wore the same outfit, black pants with leather boots that came just below her knees. Her white shirt was always tucked into her pants to keep it out of her way. She wore no jewelry and nothing about her was distinguishable, except for a scar that sometimes peaked out from her collar.
She stared me down and smiled, “If I had known that you were able to do that, I would have changed your training long ago.”
“I didn’t mean to.” I squared my shoulders and faced her head on, ready to defend myself.
“Don’t do that with me girl. We both know where it will end.” Walking forward, she came to stand before me. She reached out and pulled me into a hug. As she squeezed me tight, I let myself fall into her arms the smell of lavender calming my rolling stomach. Tears fell down my cheeks and left puddles on her white shirt.
“She didn’t mean it. They were just angry words.” Marilla ran her hand down the length of my hair in soothing gestures. I pulled back and looked up at her.
“But what if I did kill her? What if that was why she died?” I whispered the fear that often caused me to act out. Marilla’s hand paused and she looked into my eyes. She was always very intentional when she spoke to me and I had always appreciated that about her.
“She didn’t die because of you.”
“How would you know? Were you there?” Her eyes searched mine for a moment. She opened her mouth to say something, but quickly shut it.
“I just know.” She said and pulled away. I always got the same response every time I tried to bring up what had happened that night. Marilla knew the answers to the questions I have been searching for my entire life. I had tried on multiple occasions to get the information from her, but she was a locked vault.
“I don’t understand why you won’t just tell me already. I’m twenty years old, I think I can handle it.” Marilla turned sharp and stormed over to me.
“You can’t handle anything Aurelia. You can’t even handle a few harsh words from your pouty sister, so how am I supposed to think you can handle the truth?” She took a deep breath, the storm on the brink of being released. Her words were so forceful I found myself backing away, trying to get away from the truth they held. I couldn’t handle my emotions, how was I supposed to find out how my mother was murdered? How am I going to ever be able to handle the truth of what I brought upon my family? “Now if you’re done complaining, we have work to do.”
It took me some time to regain my composure after the outburst, but I quickly fell into the rhytm of the daily routine. I followed Marilla’s lead as she started out with a jog around the large room. She then had me run sprints across the room that left me in jagged breaths and streams of sweat dripping down my back. After the cardio she transitioned into defense. Marilla taught me some new maneuvers and we spent thirty minutes drilling them. After drills we spared and then took a break.
“You know, when your mother was beginning to understand her gifts, things like that would happen all the time.” I looked over at Marilla, confused as to why she was speaking of mother. It was a conversation that I was never allowed to venture into. Marilla stared out across the room as if the past was playing right in front of her. She chuckled to herself letting her head drop, her black hair covering her face. “One time she made me believe that my entire house was another street over. It took me days to figure out where my house really was again. It was always the worst for her when her emotions were out of check and I think the same goes for you. You and your mother have the same gift, it runs in your family. Being able to create illusions that are so realistic you can make someone think their entire house is on another street is astounding. What you did upstairs making them see the dishes fly off the table, the detail you provided in the sound of the plates crashing to the floor,” Marilla shook her head in amazement, “I heard the crash all the way down here Aurelia.” Marilla stood and reached her hand down to help me up.
“I don’t know how I did it.”
“Your mother never did either. One time she told me it was like reading. She could see the image in her head and it would appear. She wanted chocolate cake, she would think about it and then suddenly she would be eating chocolate cake. But for your mother, they became more than just illusions. She turned the imaginary into reality. I think you can have the same control over your gift your mother did if you gave it time Aurelia.” Marilla put her hands on my shoulders and looked into my eyes.
“I don’t know how.”
“Well we can start with something simple, like an apple.” Marilla sat in the middle of the room as I tried to create an apple. I thought about the red skin, the way it would shine in the lighting of the room. I watched as an apple appeared out of thin air right in front of Marilla. Marilla smiled as she reached out to grab it, but her hand went right through it.
“Try again, but this time imagine every aspect of the apple. The smell, the feel, the taste.” I tried again and another apple appeared before Marilla. It looked the same, yet she was still unable to pick it up. I tried over and over again to make the apple real, but no matter what I did the apple remained an illusion.
“Try again.” Marilla remained seated in the middle of the room. I created the apple, but this time I created hundreds of apples spread all throughout the room. I made them grow arms and legs, I watched as they danced around the room to the little band of apples that played music in the corner. Marilla chuckled as I created the little scene before her.
“Amusing, but not necessary.” Her favorite phrase whenever I didn’t do what she wanted. “You have to believe you can do it Aurelia. You have to want to do it.”
“I do want to create the apple.”
“No, you want to create the apple so you can be done, not because you have to live.”
“Maybe I’m not like my mother. Maybe I can only create illusions and not reality.” Marilla rolled her eyes. Just as she opened her mouth, the door to the training room opened up. Carena stormed in and stood right on the inside of the door, arms crossed over her chest. I rolled my eyes and shrugged at Marilla who was trying to smother a smile. She turned around and walked over to Carena. They spoke in hushed whispers as they greeted one another, obviously trying to keep me from knowing what they were saying. After a moment, I followed Marilla’s lead and headed over to join them.
“Is everything okay Carena?” She didn’t look at me when she spoke.
“I just came down to inform you that no dishes were broken. Your stupid illusion didn’t work so you can come back up and quit creating apples like an idiot.” She gave me a very pointed look and stormed back out of the room.
“Well, at least we got an hour in.” Marilla said breaking the silence of the room. I went over to the changing room and began the process of putting my dress back on. “Will you be at the banquet tonight?” Marilla asked from across the room.
“I have to be. It would raise too many questions if I wasn’t.” I stepped out of the room and waited for Marilla to finish gathering her things.
“Please be careful. You need to keep your emotions in check. Focus your attention on things that keep you calm. One spike from you and who knows what will happen.I’ll be there so if anything goes wrong, you’ll know where to find me.”
“Maybe I’ll make the ceiling cave in.” Marilla chuckled and gave me one last hug.
“Just promise me you’ll be careful.” She pulled back, but kept her hands on my shoulders. I nodded my head and she gave me a sad smile.
“She would have been so proud of you Lia. Everything you are doing, how far you have come, how you have turned out to be” She said, her eyes turning watery, “I have wanted to tell you about her for so long, but the time isn’t right yet. You need to trust me when I say that the day you find out about your past and family is the day your true hiding will begin. Once you know the truth Aurelia, there is no hiding from it and there is no hiding the truth from the world.” She gave me one last hug and pushed me towards the door. I let my feet carry me down the hall unsure of what to do. The weight of missing my family pressed hard upon my chest. Marilla’s words clung to the air around me and I heard them on the whipser of the wind for the rest of the day. She would have been so proud of you. Would she though? What have I done to make her proud? Manage to keep Carena alive and live my life in hiding from the world? It didn’t seem like I had done much to deserve pride from someone.
The rest of the day was spent helping Carena around the manor. We were only hours away from the banquet, yet my thoughts continued to wander back to Marilla’s words. How had her and my mother met as kids? Were they close to one another throughout their childhood? And why did Marilla decide to start telling me information about my mother now after 13 years of silence? I followed Carena around everywhere, barely being of any assistance while I tried to pick over the details of Marilla’s words.
“Marilla told me about mother today.” I blurted the words out while we were looking over possible dresses to wear. Carena paused, her hand hovering over a brilliant green dress that was tucked away in a wardrobe. Her red hair bounced as she turned her hair in my direction.
“What did she say?”
“She told me how mother’s gift worked. She said she would have been proud of me.” I sat down on Carena’s bed and folded my arms over my chest. Carena came and sat next to me.
“You know I didn’t mean what I had said earlier. I was just angry.” I wrapped my arm across her shoulders and pulled her in close. “Tristan talked with me after you left. I get why you said what you did, but do you have to be so mean about it?” Carena looked up at me, some lingering frustration still in her eyes.
“It is the difference of life or death Carena, I have to keep you safe.” Carena stood and faced me.
“But that’s the thing. You don’t need to do anything for me. If they find me you will be taken too.” She watched as I struggled with her words, “I can take care of myself. Just because you can manipulate the world around you doesn’t mean that you have to change the world I live in.” I began to speak, but she held her hand up. “I don’t want to hear it. Think about what I said and then come back to me. We have to get ready for tonight. Just promise me that you will try to understand what it’s like to be the younger sibling of you.” She turned back to the wardrobe and pulled out an elegant black dress with long sleeves. I stood and walked over to her and gave her a hug, the dress caught between us.
“I’m sorry. I just can’t lose you too.” I whispered.
“I know.” She squeezed me back and then pushed me away, “Enough. You’re going to wrinkle your gown.” She held it up and I could feel my blush rising.
“I am not wearing that.”
“Oh, I think you are.”