“Time of Reconciliation ... Time of Rebalancing.
Reason over Emotion.
Reinforcement of the Sacred Bound between those who walk the Path.
The Moon, in the Sky, is Full and Bright.”
- The Prophet of Truth
Aaran was about to leave when the sound of a soft yelp and something scratching against wood captured his attention. Following the noise, he climbed the stairs to the first floor and peered down the corridor. And, sure enough, there it was.
The small dog was standing on its hind legs, frantically scratching Selena’s bedroom door as if it wanted to force it open. It’d probably left its bed, in the kitchen, and wondered there looking for the girl, he concluded with a sigh as he approached the small animal.
“Shush, fur ball. Or you’ll end up waking her up,” he reprimanded it, careful to keep his voice down, and bent down to grab it and take it back to the kitchen. Sky turned on him immediately, growling and snapping its small teeth, raising its hackles as if he really were a big frightening dog. But it wasn’t that fierce demonstration that stopped him.
He could hear her sob from the other side of the door and, straightening his back, Aaran opened it to peer inside. Although his eyes were perfectly able to see in the dark, Selena had left the bathroom light turned on, probably in search of some sense of security. There were clothes and personal objects all over the place, and the blinds of the window were open, inviting the first rays of morning light for a visit, as soon as the sun rose.
Aaran walked to the bed and looked down at her. Selena was stirring and tossing as she slept, tears drawing wet paths over her young cheeks, her face lost in an anguished expression of pain and suffering.
Without thinking, he bent over her and placed two fingers against her forehead. He’d invaded her mind before, leaving his mark on her as he changed her memory, and so reading her thoughts had become much easier, even more so since her conscious mind was fast asleep.
He was immediately assaulted by images of blood and death so gruesome and detailed that they took his breath away. Selena’s mind was filled with terrible and unbelievably precise reproductions of the real world. And he could clearly see the broken, bloodied bodies of her parents, their empty eyes turned in their sockets, the face of her mother partially disfigured, the exposed fracture on her father’s leg, making it abnormally twisted beyond repair. But those weren’t the only horrifying images. There were also her cousins' bodies, the same Humans with whom she’d been staying with until just a few days ago, and Aaran clenched his teeth hard as he saw in her mind the cruel, sickening way those Humans had been tortured. First the mother, then the young girl, then the father and finally the boy … He knew he’d lied to Sarah, when he’d told her that their deaths had been quick and painless, but not even him had been able to capture all those cruelties, the beatings, the perforated eyes, the severed fingers, the slow stabbing in strategic places in order to keep them alive, the screams of pain that had filled that house beyond time, and the joy and happiness of their attackers as they saw themselves surrounded by all that blood, as their mouths licked and sucked on freshly open wounds. When one of the Humans hadn’t taken it anymore and had finally broken, confessing her presence in that house, the others were no longer able to hear him, too immersed in the killing thrill, too frantic by all the spilled blood. And then there was the fire, the disfigured bodies slowly burning, flesh turning black and melting away from bone, the nauseating smell of burned flesh. And finally her own body slowly choking in that basement, the agonizing pain of each heartbeat, each inspiration, until everything was silent.
Aaran quickly stepped back as if her skin had burned him and looked at her gasping for air. How was that even possible? He was certain he had erased that image from her memory and he clearly recalled having been extra careful to make sure she’d never remember what had happened. How could she still remember it? And only then he realized that there was no way she could actually recall any of the other images he’d seen in her mind, because Selena simply hadn’t been there. But if that was the case, how was it that every single horrifying image matched to the smallest detail what he’d read on the police reports?
Looking at the girl with new eyes, Aaran sat on her bed with a sigh. She was still fighting against her terrible nightmare, apparently unable to wake up on her own, as if something was holding her prisoner in that world of horror. And he couldn’t help wonder if she could only recall those things while she slept, or if they were present in her mind at all times, even when she was awake. And yet she always had a smile on her face. She was a light, joyful girl, at times a bit too energetic. It was hard to believe that she’d be able to keep such bright spirit, while aware of the horrible truth of those deaths. Instinctively he gently touched her face, drying her tears away.
“Selena?!” he called her, trying to wake her. Even if she wasn’t aware of those things, as long as she kept dreaming about them, there was always the chance that she might remember them after waking up. “Selena. Wake up. You’re having a nightmare.”
Her eyes shot wide open, wandering around terrified, until she founded him there. And she immediately sat up and hugged him with all her strength.
“Aaran! Please! Please don’t leave me here!” she begged in a choked voice, and Aaran clenched his jaw forcing himself to maintain the emptiness inside him, fighting hard to immediately drown the small vibrations that threatened to bring forgotten emotions to the surface. She was so small and frail, and she was shaking so much. Besides, no one had ever embraced him like that, and he could no longer remember the last time he’d felt a warm body so close to his in a way that wouldn’t imply an aggression.
“Hush, it’s fine now. It was only a nightmare,” he assured, placing a hand on her head as he turned his mind inside out, looking for other words that might be of comfort to her; and Selena was suddenly very still, as if his words had somehow shocked her.
She slowly released him, still shaking and sobbing, and lowering her head harshly wiped her tears away, forcing herself to calm down.
“I’m sorry … I can be really silly, sometimes,” she declared, her voice still hoarse, and Aaran just watched her for a moment. She reminded him of a small animal, that after being utterly defeated, still struggled to stand on its feet.
“You know? It’s okay to cry when you feel like it,” he told her, seeing how she kept scrubbing her cheeks, angry at the tears that wouldn’t obey her and kept falling.
“Crying doesn’t accomplish anything. It only makes others worry and feel even sadder. And I have to be strong!” she declared vehemently, raising her head to face him, and Aaran was at a loss for words for an instant, lost in the firm, strong gleam of her bloodshot green eyes. How could he have been so mistaken? That girl was far from being a child, no matter how the human world insisted on classifying her based on her tender age.
“Because Sarah needs you to be strong,” he guessed and Selena averted her gaze, rubbing her already reddened cheeks one more time.
Sky trotted closer, gazing up at her with what almost looked like a worried expression, and as soon as he concluded everything was fine, he turned to Aaran and growled fiercely at him, capturing both their attentions.
“This animal hates me,” Aaran commented, changing subjects, and stood up noticing she was sliding her legs out of bed. Selena knelt on the floor and smiled at Sky’s useless attempt to look scary.
“He’s so funny.” She held the small dog in her arms, and Sky licked her face making her laugh.
Aaran just couldn’t turn his gaze away from her, watching closely as she changed right in front of him, going back to being the joyful, mischievous little girl everyone expected her to be. He immediately knew that now he’d never be able to find out what she remembered, if she remembered anything at all. And besides part of him didn’t want to be responsible for ruining her smile again, since he could still see the marks of tears on her face.
“How about some ice-cream?” he suggested, remembering that amongst Humans that was a common method to cheer one up, and true enough the glow that took over Selena’s face told him he’d been right.
“But Anne will kill us if she finds out we raided the freezer during the night,” she countered and Aaran smiled to reassure her.
“Well, even if she does find out, by then it will be too late. And we can always put the blame on Hale,” he declared, making his way to the door, and Selena didn’t hesitate to follow him.
“That hardly sounds fair.”
“It’s fine. Hale deserves it.”
“You’re always talking about Hale but I’ve never met him. Doesn’t he ever come around?” she asked curiously.
“Hale is grounded until I say otherwise,” Aaran declared and Selena couldn’t help laugh.
“Grounded! It almost sounds like you’re talking about your son,” she joked and Aaran stopped for a moment, halfway down the stairs.
“Sometimes it’s a bit like that, I guess,” he confessed and looked at her over his shoulder. “But in truth, when I said he is grounded I actually meant he is on a mission,” he corrected, which was hardly a lie, and Selena nodded all understanding. “Wait in the living room. I’ll go and kidnap some ice-cream for us,” he told her and Selena gave him an accomplice smile.
“Be careful. Anne has a light sleep. The other day she caught me red-handed trying to steal a cookie from the cupboard,” she advised in a whisper and Aaran gave her way, watching her as she crossed the corridor on her tiptoes as to not make any noise.
A few minutes later they were both sitting on the floor, leaning against the couch, surrounded by four ice-cream boxes and two spoons, one for each one. Sky had nestled by Selena’s feet and seemed to have fallen asleep.
Selena gaped at the open boxes with a gleam of greed in her eyes, and dove her spoon in the one containing chocolate ice-cream.
“Ah, this is the best!” she claimed closing her eyes as if to better taste it.”Besides being chocolate ice-cream it’s also forbidden ice-cream!” she declared with a mischievous expression and Aaran shook his head in a silent censure. “Just try it!” she insisted and he obeyed with a sigh as she watched him closely with an expectant expression. “And?” she asked as soon as he put the spoon in his mouth and Aaran shrugged.
“It’s chocolate ice-cream,” he simply replied and she stuck her tongue out.
“You’re no fun at all!” she complained at his lack of enthusiasm and dove her spoon again, this time in the strawberry box. “Better than this only pizza!”
“Pizza?!” he repeated and Selena grasped her hands together with a dreamy expression.
“Pizza with extra cheese, anchovies, mushrooms and olives. A handful of oregano and small, thin slices of ham …” she described and Aaran found himself feeling like laughing, which left him on alert once again. “What about you?”
“Tell me something you really like,” she asked taking another spoon of ice-cream to her mouth, and Aaran seemed to ponder for a moment.
“I like music, I guess,” he admitted. “But not that music you like to hear, nowadays. I like music produced by Human voices.”
“Hum, you like songs, then,” Selena concluded watching him carefully. “Any type of song?”
“As long as it is a song and not mere screams, yes.”
She laughed again and gave him a defying look.
“Sometimes you sound like an old man,” she commented, to which he had no way to answer, and raised a hand to touch a lock of his hair, which immediately froze him in place. “Even your hair is white,” she observed. “Why do you keep it so long, Aaran?” she asked, sounding genuinely curious, as her fingers slid down the long lock of hair.
“It’s always been this way.”
“Hum, I’m sure you weren’t born with all this hair,” she criticized.
“No. But, on the other hand, it’s been so long since then, that I can no longer remember.”
Selena laughed, kneeling beside him, and put down her spoon.
“Of course you can’t. No one can remember the day they were born,” she declared as if he’d just said something silly, and caressed his hair once again. It was so soft and long that it almost didn’t seem real. “Still, it’s very pretty. I wish I had hair like yours.” Aaran looked at her by the corner of his eye, wishing he was able to read her mind, and immediately reprimanded himself for daring to wish for anything at all, forcing himself to go back to his indifferent posture. “Will you let me braid it?” Selena asked with a hopeful smile and Aaran looked at her sideways.
“Let me braid it,” she repeated, and that had no longer been a request, but a decision, a challenge.
Aaran was lost in her dark-green gaze, trying to understand what she really knew, or what she thought she knew, because now he was absolutely certain Selena knew much more than she led on … But then her hands were caressing his hair, lightly touching his head, and his attention had to be urgently pulled away from the outside world and directed to the emptiness inside him, as he fought to maintain it stable, forcing himself not to react to the small warm hands touching him like no one had ever dared to touch him before.