Birds chirped in the early morning light while I watched the Sun's rays grip at the horizon pulling itself into the velvet sky to wake the land from its slumbering rest. It was beautiful every time I saw it’s gold and amber rays across the horizon, through my frosted windows. Beyond the glass, the horizon met a steep cliff into what was known as The Abyss of Shadows. Many called this place The Edge in my village and even did so in the surrounding villages and towns. We were forbidden to ever go near it, for those who disobeyed remained lost in its dark depths forever, or so the stories told us.
No one really knew what lay beyond The Abyss of Shadows or in that bright sky above; stories the elders liked to tell to us late at night to scare and inspire children were all we had. Some were full of wondrous adventure and heroism, whereas others were cautionary tales of danger laced with traces of mystery and fear.
I turned over in bed to stare at an old and fading cyan wall. My family had undergone hard times preceding the events regarding my sister, who had gone outside of the village borders and come back with The Mark, after one of her regular afternoon strolls in the poppy meadows. What resembled bruises, shaped like wolf’s bane, coiled itself around her forearm starting from the inside of her wrist and blossoming outward; a curse and an omen of misfortune as it was believed. Many in the village feared this.
Even my own Father ran from The Mark, abandoning us and the village less than a month after the incident occurred. My Mother stepped forward as the head of our household in his stead, an uncommon situation. The only real change was the way people treated us, ridiculed and frowned upon at every turn. Our servants all quit our employ following my Father out the door. Hoping things might get better, I closed my eyes and said a silent prayer to no one in particular.
The smell of bacon drove me from my morbid morning thoughts and reminded my stomach that I was famished after a long night’s rest. My Mother always made blueberry pancakes and eggs with bacon on Mondays and she always made them before we left for our first day of school every year. Rubbing my eyes and yawning I rolled out of my feather bed that was warmed by the morning rays that drifted through the stained glass window and onto the cold, creaking floor boards. They sighed small dust clouds under the sudden pressure. I stretched and stood up lazily. My body moved towards a tattered trunk that rested amongst dust and moth covered antique furniture handed down through the generations.
I let my hand run ritualistically over the faded rose pattern on top of the trunk before opening it. I kept everything I owned in this trunk that was important to me. I had found it years ago in the attic and, since its discovery, the worn trunk had undergone the journey to and from the boarding school my sister and I attended.
I changed out of my pajamas, which were just an over-sized t-shirt and shorts, and into my school uniform. I had always thought that the ruffled peach skirts were a little short for school and that the snow white dress shirts were stiff and uncomfortable. Except, as I examined myself in the mirror that hung on my wall, I felt that the skirt was shorter than before and my shirt felt tighter in places. I had decided to wear a pair of bloomers underneath just to feel more at ease. I was tall for my age with short fiery red hair that framed fair skin.
I shook my head making hair fly in every direction, I hated my hair. Tying my hair back with a long peach scarf, I examined myself again in the mirror. My emerald green eyes shimmered in the early morning light. I smiled halfheartedly feeling this was the best I could do. I looked at the clock: 7:30 am... a half hour to get to school and find my new class or I would be late. I grabbed my trench coat and rushed out the door in my tube socks, slipping and bumping into my older sister with a loud thud causing us both to fall down the stairs. Luckily, they weren't very tall – or steep.
As I brushed myself off and helped my sister up, I took note of her condition. She was older; however, she was shorter, thinner, and much more fragile than I was. She stood about half my height, with long straight raven hair and the same glowing eyes as myself, the only similarity between us. I could see The Mark on her arm, her long sleeves did not hide it very well. Since coming back with The Mark on her arm, she had refused to utter even one word to anyone other than me.
"Good morning Aiya," I whispered, "are you okay?" She looked up at me with the most adorable, big eyes and held her arms up nodding.
"Will you carry me?" she asked shyly.
“Of Course,” I answered, picking her up and walking towards the kitchen.
I didn't mind. We were close despite our odd dynamic in our relationship. In fact our entire family was very different from everyone else. Our looks and traditions differed from others in our village. At one point I thought we had come from another village or region; however, it was quickly dispelled by my Father. He had given enough proof to show our family had been here for generations. I still had my suspicions, but I kept them to myself. Entering the kitchen, I set my sister down and we both took seats at the table. We had a rather large house, more a mansion really.
When my Father was here there were always people rushing about and grand parties taking place. Since Aiya came home with The Mark, the halls had become empty and the parties had ceased. The only people who stayed were our Governess, Eva, and her son, Claude. And yet this house was still our home.
Claude walked in just as my Mother was setting piles of food in front of us. He was a tall man in his twenties. He had always been like an older brother to Aiya and me, and was typically unkempt and childish.
“Pass the eggs, Rika?” he yawned. I picked up the basket of hard boiled eggs in front of me and passed them across the table.
“Here,” I was never friendly with anyone.
As Claude filled his plate I took note of dark bags under his eyes. He seemed to be trying to hide them behind long strands of golden hair. My Mother, a short thin woman, looked exactly like Aiya, except her hair which she kept short.
“Where is Eva, Mother?” I ask politely, as she handed me a plate piled with blueberry pancakes.
My Mother just smiled and after a few moments she answered, “She just went to see a sick relative in the next town over,” She took a sip of juice from her glass, “She'll be back soon.... In a week or so.”
She smiled again unconvincingly. I had learned not to question why Eva made constant trips to different relatives that were out of town every week. It just felt like one of those things you shouldn't ask about. Whatever the case may be, I was excited to head to school. It meant a fresh start and a new adventure.