She awoke in her small bed with a start, her hands reaching up to clutch her head, which pulsed with searing pain. She rolled over and tumbled off the bed, crashing onto the hardwood floor. She coughed, blood spewing from her mouth onto the wood. She clawed at the floor, her nails digging into the wood and causing her nails to break and bleed. Finally the headache ebbed and she sat back on her feet, opening her eyes only slightly to take in her surroundings.
Her room was simple, furnished with only a small dresser for her meager clothes and an even smaller vanity. She moved to a nearby trashcan and vomited bile into it. When she was done, she stood, using the bed to help steady herself. No sooner was she standing, did she feel a creature’s sharp claws on her shoulders. It was made of wispy black and red smoke like a fiery shadow ghost. It’s touch was light, but she felt it all the same. It’s face was like that of a lion with a curly mane, sharp, cruel teeth and horns, and hollow eyes. He whispered words from a long dead language in her ear, but she understood them perfectly. The Nian, he was called. A demon from the mountains which had chosen her as its host.
How lucky she was. How cursed she felt.
She pulled at the thick jade bracelet that fit snugly around her forearm and wrist, unconsciously, like many times before. To others who saw it, it was beautiful. But to her, it was a reminder of the jail in which she was shackled everywhere she went.
The room was dark, lit only by the light of a single candle that was nearly burnt out. As she moved through the room, she caught sight of herself in the mirror. Thin, so thin. Her features were bony. Her hair, which hung to her shoulders in a tight ponytail, was as black as oil. Her mother would have chided her.
“Eat more,” she would have said in Mandarin. “So thin.” Then she would have shoved a bowl of porridge, and a plate full of steamed buns in front of her. But her mother was gone. Everyone who might have ever cared for her was gone. And only she remained. She and the Nian.
She walked to the door, pulling it open with all her strength, and left the room. She worked her way down the hall, though her stomach continued to turn in on itself. Every now and then she stopped to grasp it, leaning against the wall as she took deep heaving breaths. The hall was nearly pitch black. The walls were covered with old paintings of men and women who had died in service to the Onyx Sun.
Once, they were many. Now they were few. Her master being one of the few. She came upon his study at the end of the hall and knocked.
“I’m busy,” came the gravelly voice of the man inside.
She pushed open the door anyway. The old man sat in a leather chair, pouring over documents, yellowed by age, and piled across his desk as well as the surrounding floor like mountains of parchment.
“I said I’m busy, Daiyu!” he snapped, looking up at her.
She glared at him. “The Nian has spoken,” she said in a weak voice. “He’s heard the call of his kin.”
The man sat up, pulling his spectacles from his face and placing them on the table. “You mean…”
“The door is open,” she said.
And the man smiled.
Okay I know this is as SUPER short chapter, BUT hopefully it wets your appetite for the mystery to come! Up until now, Charlie’s worst enemy has been himself, and of course Milo. But perhaps he’s got bigger things to worry about!