Chapter 7: In Which Aria Meets A Darkblood

Even through the threat of darkbloods, Evermore was a quiet little town set in the middle of England, not far from London. The town opened into the square where restaurants and shops sat around an open and inviting street that was usually found bustling with life when the barriers keeping the darkbloods away were operating. The square then followed the path towards the Evermore Gardens where the fairies lived, trees, bushes, and flowers blossoming with life, dark green ivy vines climbing upon the wrought iron gate that surrounded the garden. Houses lined the street where the Evermorians resided, tall buildings of stone protected by magical symbols of protection written in a circle around the homes, keeping the darkness from entering. The tavern sat just on the other side of the gardens and street, a sturdy building made of wood and stone, two chimneys billowing smoke from the fires inside, inviting the townsfolk in from the cold. The tavern served an assortment of purposes such as a place for a drink, dances that would go on for hours, the town Council meeting spot, and room and board for the weary. Past the tavern stood an iron gate opening to the Evermore Cemetery and Mausoleum, however, none traveled there as it was also a holding cell for darkbloods until the officers of the town could transport them out of the town safely.

The outskirts of town held training grounds for the witches, knights, hunters, and elves, and a playground and school for the children of Evermore. It was here that Aria spent most of her young life, running with the other children through the grass, attending classes, or watching her parents train.

“Mommy, I want to go play! You’ve been training forever!” Aria pouted as she sat on the sidelines, her mother shooting a bow hundreds of times, sparing with another elf, or training a lower level Ranger in battle, “I want to go to the park.”

Vaella walked over, breathing heavily, and ruffled Aria’s curls, “You’re being so patient baby, I know it’s been a long time, I’m almost done okay?”

Vaella kissed the top of her head then ran away again, shooting a target 700 feet away, hitting a bullseye. Aria stuck out her bottom lip, crossing her arms, then looked up; a glimmer catching her eye. A bright light shimmered in between the trees away from the training grounds, towards the ruins. Aria frowned, glancing at her mother who was now sparing with a younger Ranger, then seeing the shimmer again, she jumped off of the bench and ran over to the ruins.

The shimmer was now on a tree and she giggled, putting her hands over it. The shimmer shone on the tops of her hands before darting to the tree next to it and Aria giggled again, chasing it. She played this game for a few minutes, wandering farther from the training grounds until the shimmer disappeared.

Aria stood, staring at the tree, disappointment written on her face, then looked around searching for the light. It was then she noticed the man leaning against the tree and smiling at her. His face was grey and dark circles covered his eyes, his eyes shining bright, and his clothes were dirty. A low growl rumbled before he coughed, trying to mask it, and Aria took a step back, afraid. The man held in front of him a silver pocket watch and smiled at her.

“Did you like my magic game?” He swung the watch back and forth on its chain.

Aria frowned, “Mommy says I’m not supposed to talk to strangers.”

The man laughed, “I’m not a stranger though, I know your mother. She’s the leader of the elves, Vaella right?” Aria nodded, still unsure, and the man smiled, holding the watch out on his hand, “Here, you can have this and then you will know that I’m nice. Nice people give you gifts right?”

Aria stared at the man, then looked at the pocket watch, gleaming in his hand. She thought for a moment then walked up to the man, her arm outstretched to take the gift.

“Aria no! Get away from him baby!” Aria turned around, seeing her mother and a group of elves running up to them as she reached for her quiver to grab an arrow.

The man grabbed the child’s arm, laughing, and Aria screamed, trying to pull away.

“No!” Vaella shot the arrow, hitting the man square in the chest, and the man let go of Aria, falling to the ground.

The elves had reached the scene and stopped a few feet from the fallen man and Aria, their faces dropping at the sight of the darkblood touching the child. One of the elves stared at Aria, pained, and hesitantly said, “Vaella you know you can’t touch her now.”

Another elf grabbed Vaella, wrapped her arms around her in an attempt to keep her away and Vaella turned, pushing her away roughly, then took off her Ranger’s cape. She ran over to Aria, and wrapped the cape around her tightly, picking her up and holding her tightly to her chest, “Why baby, why? How did you get all the way over here?”

Aria, still crying, buried her face in the cape, afraid, “I’m sorry mommy, I’m sorry! He had a shiny thing!”

Vaella trembled, holding her daughter tight, and the elves stood, worriedly watching before one developed the courage to speak, “Vaella, she could turn at any time and infect you too! We can’t lose you to the darkness, not now. If she turns while you’re holding her, she will attack you!”

Vaella looked at them, glaring, “I’m not putting her down, go be useful and get my husband and find Kyrah or Wen. Now!”

The elves broke up, running in all directions to find them, and Vaella closed her eyes, shaking. Aria had been touched by a darkblood, and she knew the darkness would be able to take her now.

The following hours after she had been grabbed were a blur of shouting and commotion as Aria was placed in quarantine, set inside a cage before she turned on the town; only four other children had been infected before Aria and each one except for Penny, the first, had used this cage.

Aria sat in the middle of the cage, her mother’s Ranger’s cape still wrapped around her, and whimpered, looking up at people watching her.

Vaella stood next to it, her hands around the cold bars, and tried to keep her voice steady and calm, “It’s going to be alright Aria, I’m right here.”

“Vaella,” she turned to see a puzzled Kyrah walking up, the crowd moving to let her pass, “I don’t understand how he was near the ruins. The barriers aren’t down anywhere in or around town. There’s no way he could have gotten in.”

Vaella sighed and spoke quietly, “Unless he was already here,” Kyrah looked at her frowning and Vaella shook her head, “Nothing, thank you for checking.”

Kyrah nodded, joining her, “Children can never fight it for long, so maybe she’s like the others, maybe she won’t turn.”

Vaella closed her eyes not wanting to think about any of it, “Maybe.”

Aria hadn’t turned that day, or any day since. No darkness had been detected in her by the elders of the town, so by the end of the day, Eldrin and Vaella were able to take her home. Some thought the darkblood hadn’t actually touched her, others thought the man hadn’t been a darkblood, but a few whispered in hushed tones behind locked doors, a dangerous thought that to some was a worse fate than being infected; that Aria was like the others the darkbloods searched for whenever they broke through the barrier, the others who lives were in danger whenever their secret was known to a newly infected Evermorian, that Aria was immune to the darkbloods, and could resist the darkness.

“Tell me again what happened and why you left the training grounds.” Vaella sat next to Eldrin, Aria opposite the table in their family home.

Aria looked down, avoiding her parents eyes, and spoke softly, “I told you mommy, I saw the shiny thing and followed it and he was by the trees and told me he was your friend and my friend.”

Vaella exchanged a look with Eldrin as she tried to keep her voice calm, “Aria, you didn’t tell me that before. He said he was my friend?”

Aria continued to look down, tears filling her eyes, “I told him I wasn’t supposed to talk to him and he said I could because he knew you were the leader of us and he had a present for me.”

Eldrin turned to Vaella, “Did you recognize him? He wasn’t an elf was he?”

Vaella slowly shook her head, trying to wrap her mind around what she knew had happened, and sighed, “Aria, come here, you aren’t in trouble. Don’t be sad,” Aria jumped off the chair and ran around the table, climbing into her mother’s lap, and Vaella held her close and wrapped her Ranger’s cape around her as a blanket, “The barriers are failing more often and the darkblood numbers are rising every day. Our recruits are ready for battle and we both are going to need to be there when it happens. It’s too dangerous for her to be out there anymore. The other children of Evermore have all mostly been hidden away and now I think it’s time we do the same. Especially if she is one of them.”

Eldrin nodded, wrapping his arms around his family, “I’ll take her to Cleo in the morning. She will be expecting her and Aria likes to be there, I’ve taken her quite a bit since we decided that’s where she needs to be. She will be alright.”

Vaella bit her lip, showing no emotion, “It’s one thing to take her for the afternoon while you’re there beside her, it’s going to be a whole new thing to take her there and leave her. She’s too young to understand any of this and she’s not going to understand us leaving her there for who knows how long,” Vaella closed her eyes, burying her face in her daughter’s freshly washed hair, trying to stay calm, “If she’s one of them, the darkness knows. The darkness knew as soon as that darkblood grabbed her. How are we going to protect her Eldrin?”

Eldrin wrapped his arms around his wife tighter, kissing the top of her head, “The same way we always have, just better. She will be safe here and the tavern. She’s our daughter, Vaella, she’s a fighter like we are.”

Aria sat up, looking at her parents firmly, “I want to go to the battle like you! I am big and strong and I’m not afraid of anything.”

Vaella laughed and grabbed her face, kissing her forehead, “I love you so much. You are very brave, you are right. Now, let’s not talk about sad things anymore, they make mommy too sad, and let’s go play with toys.” Vaella wiped away the few last tears of the day, shaking her head. She hadn’t cried in years, every day building the walls around her higher. She stared at the wall, letting out an angry breath; the darkness had known exactly what to do to shake her and when. Vaella had failed and let her daughter be touched by the darkblood. If only she had watched her and hadn’t been caught up in training.

Aria frowned, then wrapped her arms around her mother’s neck tightly, pulling her out of her thoughts, “Don’t be sad mommy, it’s okay.” She then jumped down and grabbed her favorite stuffed dragon, the thoughts of the attack and leaving her home gone from her mind.

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