Vayle couldn’t move without rubbing shoulders with someone. Everyone in Raesul decided to migrate to the little Main. Vayle didn’t have a choice about being here. The front door of his building led to the center of the Main. Vayle stood out of the way of traffic. Maybe he should go back inside. Del’Praeli kept calling and waving at him. Some even stopped and acted as though they had the right speak to him.
He still wanted to throw Shade’s parents out of the village. Vayle stepped forward and broke into the wave.
The Main was at the center of their village. Surrounding it was the Residential area. The mansions were behind them. Those three monstrous buildings formed a triangle around the area.
Each wood cabin in the village normally held two families and all those Del’Praeli somehow fit in this small area.
Each building in the Main had no more than two or three floors. The five structures formed a tight circle with only a little space in between to reach the outer areas. The only consolation was that this place was the darkest in Raesul.
Darklings spilled out of the Academy. The confined hole became louder and more crowded. He’d earned the right to be annoyed with darklings unnecessary rudeness and dark humor.
He was never that bad. The racket they kept up made them sound like their own crowd.
A male darkling pulled up the skirt of a passing female and smacked her bottom. Vayle slapped the back of his head. The darkling gave him a pathetic excuse of a glare. Vayle stared at him unblinking. Screaming, they all jumped in the river.
It was poor design on Iniquity’s part to build the Main so small and over the river. Residents had little room to walk without getting wet. The crowds always forced someone into the river. Today, the stone bridge crossing the water had so many Del’Praeli, most resorted to either diving in the river or jumping over it.
This area always flooded when it rained, so did the shops. What sense did it make building a village across a river? Sometimes he thought Iniquity arranged Raesul to be infuriating to the residents. Iniquity never had these problems. They lived in a cavern well outside the village and away from the water.
The Main’s noise drilled into his ears. It had been a mistake to stay here. Enclosed spaces sickened him. The smell wafting from the Butcher’s was delectable. But, combine it with the scents and sounds of the Del’Praeli and the waste coming from the Outhouse in the second circle and the air became too thin.
Vayle retreated between the Academy and the Furniture shop, emerging in front of Shade’s place. He took great gulps of the clean air.
He hadn’t meant his escape to lead him to Savage Hall. He could visit. No. Shade wasn’t home.
This three-story cottage with the rounded front, tall windows and slanted roof sat empty for years before Shade moved in. No one talked about it. No one went in it. Vayle never knew why it remained unoccupied so long. He convinced Iniquity to let Shade live here at a reasonable price.
Not once since she moved in had any Del’Praeli stolen in to hurt her or worse, which happened too often when she lived with her parents. Iniquity called it Savage Hall. The name didn’t fit. Shade liked it.
He hadn’t known what to do with himself after Shade left. When Lafeyette and Bleak grew annoyed with him, Vayle wandered around Savage Hall or escaped to the forest to practice. Even then, he was bored. Getting an intimate partner months later helped him forget how pointless his life became when Shade left. He inhaled the untroubled air around Savage Hall. Bliss became his blood.
Without a destination in mind, Vayle walked on towards the smaller cabins. He inhaled again. Finally, after five years, the burning in his chest died.
The passing Del’Praeli eyed him and whispered. Vayle didn’t let them destroy his calm. He would love to move in with a family here, like Lafeyette. Jon forbade it. Lafeyette never said how he’d managed it.
The surrounding houses had only one or two floors. Because the residents weren’t as well off, these homes consisted of a couple of empty rooms. The most furniture they had were large wooden tables with matching chairs. The residents slept on the floor with nothing but a thick blanket and a pillow between them and the wooden planks or the dirt.
These residents thought little of interior decorations. They put their wages and effort into the plant life coloring their yards. From what Vayle heard, most plants weren’t suited for Raesul’s environment. Del’Praeli raised them to feed on Bria instead of water and sunlight. This meant they grew up with little resemblance to their kin in the human cities. Del’Praeli talked about their flowers as though they were darklings.
Many cottages had stone or wood barriers around the substantial property to protect the vibrant greenery. The barriers were impractical. A male and female darkling jumped one, trotted on and kicked over the plants. The owner raced out the door screaming. The darklings sceadued before she reached them.
Rika Dorit’s face sank as she examined the damage to her plants. Her subnormal son and repugnant daughter comforted her. Vayle turned before they caught him watching and used the Lifeblood to revive the smashed flowers. They whooped and gasped in amazement and shock. They cheered now. Later, there’d be screams.
He stopped again near the only cottage that didn’t have this problem. Some plants grew tall enough to hide the front door. They smelled alluring. Darklings spat at it as they passed. Lafayette had erected a powerful and nasty barrier around this property. Nothing got in unless the owner wanted it to. The darklings’ discharge bounced off the barrier and launched back at them. Vayle laughed.
A slimy hand reached through his skin, latched onto his power and pulled. Vayle leapt away from the wooden Power Pole. Get too near and it sucked out your Lifeblood. The Linemen transform the Bria in physical Darkness to provide electricity to Raesul. They, however, did not know how to prevent the Power Poles from siphoning the Lifeblood out of any Del’Praeli who got too close to them. They situated the Poles away from cottages and taught everyone to stay as far away from them as possible.
The wood absorbed Bria, transformed it and fed it into every cottage. Everyone was supposed to have an even amount of electricity. It was nonsense.
Shade only had enough to power her suite. When she first moved in, she didn’t have any electricity. Vayle tore into the mind of every Lineman so he could give his baby sister what everyone else had.
Vayle moved on. He hadn’t realized where he was going until he stopped in front of the only cottage with a pink door. He didn’t know how Bleak Tahylur managed that. She always danced around the question whenever he asked.
He hadn’t made a conscious decision to visit. Vayle entered without knocking.
This generous living room overflowed with furniture. At the far end was a tall wooden shelf with small gifts. This junk held special meaning to Bleak. She had too many useless objects in here. Vayle had to sidestep her beige couch and glass table to get to the shelf. Somehow, she managed to fit two couches, a glass table, two other glass tables in the far corners, and a bureau stacked with more photos into this small living room. And, she somehow put Del’Praeli in here with these possessions.
“Good day, Vayle.”
Bleak was sitting on her couch cross-legged with her hand draped over the arm. Her brilliant white hair was short cut above her ears that held large stone earrings. Bleak’s dark skin made her icy blue eyes luminescent. Her jaw twitched as though she was beating down a smile.
“I see, as usual, you are admiring my collection.” Her speech was slow and careful.
“Admiring is a strong word.”
“Maybe. Why don’t you sit with me?” She patted the couch. Her bright red fingernails flashed in the weak sunlight. “I hear you’re leaving us for a while,” she said after he sat.
Inside a bowl atop a round piece of black cloth were thin pieces of red raw meat Bleak put out whenever she was having company. The meat was odorless. Vayle ate one. As usual, the taste danced on his tongue and down his throat.
“Every Del’Praeli has heard except the one that mattered.” Vayle sighed taking another bit of this curious snack.
“You had to tell my baby Shade today?”
“Shade is no baby, so I have been told.” He said the last part under his breath.
“Shade will always be my baby. So, how did she take it?”
“Well. She is leaving too.”
Bleak cocked her head and smiled. Her eyes were disconcerting. They held too much understanding. She was extraordinarily observant. Something prevented those blue eyes from being as bright as they could be.
“So, how is Prathia? I hear you two are getting serious.”
Prathia tended to spread lies. “You heard wrong.”
Bleak threw her head back and laughed. It always seemed she was holding back a larger laugh. He waited to see if she would release it. She never did.
“Since Jon won’t answer me, I’ll ask you.” Vayle paused. “Why do we have to leave?”
She smiled. “Because of the deaths.”
“There have been a series of deaths Iniquity is trying to cover up,” she continued. “They’re going through a great deal to keep the family of the victims silent.”
“Victims? So, this is murder. How do you kill a Del’Praeli?”
Her smile reached her eyes. “What a ridiculous question. You’ve killed and injured Del’Praeli yourself. You can harm anything that is flesh.”
Why did they walk in the flesh instead of sceaduing? They were Del’Praeli. To the residents of Raesul, it seemed, they remembered they weren’t human, but forgot why. It didn’t seem conscious. Vayle had asked Bleak about this. She never gave him a straight answer.
“Are they random killings?” he asked.
“No, they all have one thing in common.” She smiled. This time Bleak didn’t show any teeth.
“You aren’t going to tell me.”
“Can I ask why?”
He hated secrets so much.
“So, what else is new, Vayle?”
Vayle wasn’t ready to change the subject.
“No use being stubborn, Vayle. I can out-stubborn you any day. So, what else is new?”
Silence spanned between them.
“You hear about what happened between Shade and Iniquity yesterday?”
“Of course, Shade has been punished for eating humans. Can’t say I’m surprised. I guess I can understand. She starved herself to the point where she stopped listening to her head. I should’ve never let her go.”
“No, I mean Iniquity trying to eat her.”
“I heard Lafeyette helped her today. Why did he do it? I never got the impression he liked her.”
“Why do you ask questions you know the answer to?”
She beamed and looked at the large clock on the bureau.
“While it was a pleasure, dear, it is time for you to go. I have a meeting.”
Vayle, too, glanced at the clock on top of the bureau out of habit.
Bleak had told him nothing. He might still be able to visit Shade. She was finally home. He wanted to show self-control, to give Shade some space. Vayle knew better. He planned to stick close to his baby sister this time. She wasn’t leaving him again.
“Leave Shade alone, Noah.”
Bleak shifted towards the table beside the couch and pulled out a green candy wrapped in plastic. He’d never seen her eat raw meat. He had tried candy before and spent the day sick in bed.
He did not want to walk through the village again.
“You could sceadu home from here,” Bleak said.
“Do not go to Shade’s.”
It was now or never. This question had been on his mind for a long time. He had been afraid to ask.
“Bleak,” Vayle started. She didn’t look at him. “Something has been bothering me since I started visiting Shade in the human city.”
He didn’t like the hardness in her eyes. It was as though she sensed his question and was warning him not to go on.
“With human technology, I understand there is only a small portion of the world they haven’t exploited. Raesul is large and not concealed by nature. It’s located near a major city. We’ve lived in this village for years. How it is the only human to reach us was Shade’s mother?
Bleak remained silent and Vayle knew why he was apprehensive. Bleak didn’t like lying. If someone asked her a question that would force her to, she kept her mouth shut and stared at them unblinking. This meant either Shade’s mother wasn’t the only human to reach Raesul or Shade’s mother wasn’t human. From the reprimand in Bleak’s eyes, the answer was more complicated than that.
Vayle backed away from a door he had not meant to open. Academy trained them to accept the world the way it was. Question nothing. Iniquity was always right.
The good thing about Darkness was it not only gave power, but was also an ideal place to store things you didn’t want found. He buried the question, Bleak’s response, and his own fears in the Darkness. He would have to confront this later. Not right now. He wanted to enjoy Shade’s return.
Vayle sceadued out of her house.
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