CHAPTER ONE
MAIRI

Darkness wisped around her, swallowing her screams, pulling her down, down, down. She reached out but only felt cold, silky tendrils slipping through her fingers. Wind gushed up from beneath her, rushing through her nightwear, chilling her legs and, subsequently, her entire body. Fear gripped at her heart which threatened to fall into her stomach. She was sure the gurgling acid would’ve ripped it apart if it did. Her body slowed and the air stilled as she floated, her feet dangling over nothingness. 

“Mairi.” Her name was a deep, desperate male breath in her ear, one full of sadness, longing, and something she couldn’t place. When it sounded again, a warmth filled her body and her stomach lurched, filling her with a desire she had never felt before. She whirled around and reached out her hand, hoping to find the body belonging to the voice, but was met with vast emptiness instead. Her heart beat rapidly in her a chest, a boomboomboomboom over and over and over.

“Mairi.”

There it was again, coming from behind her this time, but far behind her. She turned in its direction and ran forward, to collide with a rough wall and is that water?  

Looking down, she saw that her feet were indeed standing in a puddle of water…red water.

A light breeze came from behind followed by a hand brushing against her, indicating that someone was truly in this horrible place with her. But where were they? Why was it so dark?

The hands were on her shoulders now and a shrill cry wrenched itself from her throat as she threw her elbow back but made no contact. What is happening to me? A cold, wet hand found its way to her cheek but as she reached her hand up to touch it, again she was met with nothing and no wet spot was found on her face.

 

“Show yeself!” she shouted, her voice panicked and urgent. “Stop playin’ these games wi’ me. I’m warnin’ ye!” She tried to sound confident, in control but it was far from the war going on inside her body. Her stomach was knotted up and shriveled, her mind whirring with a thousand thoughts. Her feet wanted to run but her legs wanted to stay put. Her heart was trembling in fear, unsure of where to go, what to do, who to listen to.

“Mairi. Look at me.”

“I’m trying!” she shouted into the nothingness around her.

“Try harder.” The voice was adamant, stern. Now that she heard it a few times, she certainly knew she didn’t recognize it.

“Who?” Her voice was hoarse from her shrieks and barely above a whisper. “Who are ye?” 

Mairi…The voice was in her head now. She closed her eyes to feel its presence as it seeped into her body. When she opened them, she was standing in a field of flowers; the scent of burning wood and lavender wrapped itself around her nose. The world around her was hues of oranges and reds, in the distance was the sound of a roaring fire and lapping flames. 

Blood of my blood. Flesh of my flesh. Breath of my breath. Remember Mairi. Remember and c—

The last word was strangled by a shriek, and thorned vines flew out and grabbed her, constricting her until the last gasp of breath left her lips.

Mairi’s breath caught in her throat as she gasped for air, her upper body lunging forward off the soft mattress. She ran her hands over her face, dripping with sweat. She clutched at her clothes, no signs of vines or cuts. She took a deep, calming breath. I’m okay. I’m okay. It was just a dream. No, just a nightmare. She took a deep breath again. I’m okay. She reached over and clicked the switch on her lamp. It flooded the room with soft yellow light, lighting up every surface.

Looking around her, she grounded herself into her surroundings. Just to make sure everything is in place, she told herself. Really, it was just to make sure she was actually awake and no one was really in her room. Staying in the sitting position, she clutched her sheets tightly and scrutinized every piece of her bedroom.

To her right was the large oak wood armoire where she kept all her clothes, an intricate flower patterned carved into the wood and painted two shades darker than the wood itself. The armoire stood next to a door that led to her bathroom; the door was still open and she could see every inch of it from where she was sitting. The light touched only a small portion of the glistening white tile and grey walls but it didn’t appear as if someone was inside and she was too scared to get up to see for herself. No one is inside, Mairi. If there was, they’d have killed me by now. Her eyes moved around the room again.

In front of her, about six feet away, was a desk next to her room’s exit. The papers next to the novels she was supposed to read this summer were still in their neat pile, the thin ink pen still on top. Her laptop was closed and nothing else appeared to be touched.

On her left was a window where there was a wall. A few years ago, after going on a hike with her classmates on a field trip, she told her father how much she loved sleeping under the stars and camping out. For a birthday a few months later, he had a bay window installed that took up the center of the wall. Beneath the window was a small reading nook. Right now the only thing there was a pillow and some books separated by author, then according to book order.  

Feeling much better that she was certain no one had come into her room, got up from her bed and made her way over to the nook. She sat on it, back against the pillow, and looked out the window at the full moon. It was a blue glow in the cloudless sky and millions of stars shone brightly in its light. I am home, she told herself. This is my room, my bed and no one was here tonight.

That was the fourth time this week that she had this dream but it was the first time she had ever heard a voice, felt a presence. The other three times, she fell into the abyss and it either swallowed her whole or vines reached out and strangled her to death. She pushed her covers aside and swung her legs over the side of her bed, letting her legs dangle off. The air in the room was cool and welcome, a stark contrast to the threatening cold of her dream. 

She slid off her bed, allowing her bare feet to cool on the wood. Straightening her nightgown, she made her way to the desk and opened the drawer. Inside was a small black box decorated with gold vines and flowers around its edges and on top of the lid. On the bottom were four peg-like legs helping it stand. She turned the small oblong knob until it clicked and the box opened. Inside was a thin black chain, hanging in the center was an obsidian crescent moon, a blood tear dangling from the top. 

Mairi rested the crescent in the palm of her hand. For as long as she could remember—which wasn’t a long time—this very necklace had helped calm her.

 

Whenever she was going to take a test, or was trying to make a tough decision, like what colleges to apply to for next the school year and whether or not to drop the friends who weren’t being truthful, she always put on the necklace to keep her calm and level headed. In a way, it also gave her strength and helped her to believe in herself. She was always trying to remember when this piece of jewelry became so important to her and why, but every time she thought about her distant past, about when she was a child, after her mother passed away, a thick fog clouded her mind.

She couldn’t remember how or when she came into contact with this piece, let alone remember running through these halls as a child. All of her friends talked about when they were small and the naughty things they would do like rocking playpens back and forth to get their parents’ attention or how they found ways to unlock the baby gate protecting them from the dangers of the kitchen.

She sighed. Maybe there were other people who couldn’t remember their past. Maybe her mother dying had been so traumatic for her, she couldn’t remember anything past that. As she turned the crescent over in the palm of her hand, her skin began to heat up as if the moon itself were burning her. Immediately, she tossed it back into the box. In its wake was a red mark and a thin layer of smoke. “What the…” Her brows creased as she looked back into the box; the crescent was glowing a bright shade of blue and she could almost hear the sound of a distant humming. 

Her heart recognized the tune almost instantly; it was one her mother used to hum to her when she was just a faeling. But that was many moons ago. She had barely lived ten years before the goddess of death claimed her mother. She closed her eyes, remembering her mother’s glowing skin and bright, wiry red hair in its tight curls. She pictured her smiling jade eyes and her ruby red lips humming as they danced in the kitchen while the smell of cinnamon rolls wafted through their noses. She knew they were in the kitchen but the kitchen was nowhere in view. The entire background was blurry and faded.

Tears slid out of her eyes as she opened them and when she looked back at the necklace, the glow was gone. Maybe I am just imaginin’ things. Remnants the nightmare left behind.

She closed the jewelry box and set it back in her drawer, hating herself for taking it out, for hoping it was going to ease her mind when it all it always truly did was create more confusion and more longing for something she’d never have again. Something she couldn’t quite explain. Something more than just her mother. Maybe I am thinking too much about it. Maybe father was right; a winter away from the faeworld to understand how humans live is exactly what I need to understand my place on the throne.