We spend our first night camping in what remains of the city’s prestigious library; the garden. I hardly recognised the building I spent most of my time in. The white walls of the Alysi Library have been licked by fire, the once polished marbled floor is now covered in a thick layer of soot, and the familiar, comforting smell of books has become secondary to the overwhelming scent of smoke that hangs in the air. The only detail that allows me to recognise the building is its position in the city – two streets down from the Hesper household, its entrance overseeing the city’s skyline and oceans. I used to admire the breathtaking views of our city, granted our town’s position in Alysium. However, since the Curse, Atara has become nothing but the decimated remains of once glorious structures, and the views of Alysium has become nothing but a burning skyline.
“I’ll take the first watch. I’ll wake you up in about four hours,” Phelix grumbles. He manages a small smile before unpocketing his pistol and laying it on his lap.
“We need to get our hands on something better than a pistol,” I mutter with the concrete floor against my back. I squint my eyes at the stars in the sky and begin to appreciate the view when I see something black from my periphery. Ominous black masses drift across the sky, blanketing the stars. A crease forms between my brows. “Phelix, I’ve never seen that before.”
There’s a brief pause before he replies, his voice steady – for my sake probably – though it’s hard to miss the uncertainty that laces it. “We’ll be fine. Just get some sleep.” He lets out an exasperated sigh before chuckling. “If anything, I can protect us with this pistol.”
I can’t help but laugh. Some of the tension in my chest eases and for a moment, I forget everything – our parents, the smell of smoke, the stupid Curse. I grasp onto this feeling of being blind to the dire situation, and I welcome the feeling of fatigue that tugs at my mind. In a few minutes, my eyes become heavy and I drift off, with the last thing I hear being Phelix’s tender whisper.
“Good night Andrea, I love you.”
I dream of Phelix that night. He’s fourteen years old and I’m sixteen. We’re about to attend the annual Alysi Ceremony.
Phelix walks ahead with our parents and speaks quickly, waving his arms and hands in wild gestures. His voice is laced with excitement, and a smile tugs at my lips as he turns to quickly glance at me over his shoulders, his green eyes alight. He’s wearing his best garment, a gift from our parents. It is a traditional white Alysi robe, formed by the finest silk, embroidered with delicate swirls and six pins of gold right above the heart to represent the six Gods.
He’s about to open the Alysi Ceremony, a compulsive festivity that encompasses our willingness to sacrifice, to celebrate the Gods and to show our devotion. Only prominent members of society that pass the minimum age of eighteen are allowed to open the Ceremony. However, the Council decided that Phelix was an exception. They have never seen someone so young, so determined, so devoted to the Gods, and believed that it would be inspiring to the people.
My parents and I sit in the second row in the audience, right behind the Council. We’ve never been this close before and it is the first time in years that we don’t have to rely on the big screens that line the street. Phelix walks into the spotlight, his lips pulling into a nervous smile when he finds us in the audience. His Alysi robe shimmers as the light reflects off it, and the crowd’s voices quieten down – to admire his garment or because he’s clearly underage, who knows.
But he hasn’t even spoken a word before the darkness creeps in. The music dies down, the lights flicker and the silence in the hall becomes deafening. I watch in horror as the tendrils of darkness curl around his legs and arms before slowly wrapping around his chest. Phelix’s mouth opens as his skin becomes a sickly white, his body slowly slumping to the ground as he writhes in pain. My mother’s cries slice through the silence.
And that’s when it happens, his head jerks up and he reaches his hand out, causing the commotion around us to quieten, but not for long. From his fingertips, emerge the same tendrils of darkness that only just appeared. Phelix’s nervous smile becomes a smirk as he basks in the screams of those around us. The darkness edges closer to me, causing me to stiffen as nervousness pulses through my veins. It reeks of death.
And when I catch Phelix’s stare, I notice only one thing before I fall into a heap on the ground. His eyes are no longer the warm green that oozed innocence.
They are a pitch black, seemingly contributed by the bleeding of his irises.
"Darkness has no mercy.”
His voice is flat and devoid of any emotion.
I’m jerked awake by the shoulders and my throat feels raw and constricted. My eyes are wide and dart frantically at our surroundings, waiting for the darkness to creep onto me.
“Are you alright?” his voice is frantic, his black – no – green eyes search my brown ones. “I was patrolling the far end of the garden and I heard you screaming and I – I was so scared.” His voice cracks at this. “I tried to calm you down but you kept pushing my hands away and I just felt so useless and I kept thinking that this is it, you know? I’m going to lose everyone I care about.”
My breathing comes in short bursts and my heart is still racing, as the dream remains fresh in my mind. No, not all of it was a dream. Phelix was chosen to open the Alysi Ceremony last year, I would never forget that day.
“I’m fine,” I whisper hoarsely, waving his hand away in reassurance. “It was just a nightmare. It’s your turn to rest.”
He frowns but doesn’t ask any more questions and soon, I’m plummeted into the stillness of the night as his breaths even out and deepen. I watch my brother fall asleep with the pounding of my heart in my ears.
The ominous, black masses are no longer in the sky.