A wooded hill overlooked a clearing in the forest, revealing the resting grounds for the ruins of Silvasius' once great library. Weaving in and out of its fallen beams, sifting through the shards of long abandoned furniture, was a girl who looked no older than the age of fifteen.
Her experienced movements, the way in which she scanned her surroundings with an expert's eye and her slender frame defined her as one of the orphans. Yet quite unlike the other children, this girl had a remarkable appearance that troubled many and spawned tales of Demonry since before she could remember.
Her skin, paler than the dead, was translucent enough to show the indigo veins running beneath its smooth surface. In contrast, her hair was jet black. Locks of it sprung chaotically from her head and fell past her narrow shoulders. Peering out from behind the jagged fringe was her most alien feature: her eyes.
Silvasians all had a variant form of green eyes, whether they be pure emerald or murky hazel. But hers were completely different, not even resembling those of the travellers that wandered into the city looking for a night's shelter. Instead, they could only be described as the colour of thunder clouds, and on the occasion her eyes lit up with emotion, it was like lightning flashing across the iris.
Her fellow orphans dubbed her Rin the Cold One shortly after she was taken in as an infant at several days old. The nickname had stuck throughout the rest of her childhood, doing nothing to calm the rumours that shrouded around her unknown origins. Rin, however, took no offence towards the name and ignored those who wielded it as a weapon against her.
Her palms, layered with filth, felt underneath what was once a bookcase in search of something remotely valuable to sell. This was typical of an older orphan, whose duty it was to help finance an overcrowded Orphanage. It had been that way ever since Silvasius, along with many other large and spectacular cities, had fallen into turmoil after the Darkness had entered the world.
Rin felt a tingling sensation in the tips of her fingers. This was what often happened just before she stumbled on something important.
She lifted up a discarded chair leg and discovered a leather book cover poking out from beneath a pile of rubble. Reaching down, she plucked it up from its hiding place, her mouth dropping open in wonder as she stared inside at the book's yellowing pages. Of course, age and neglect had faded its contents. The cover looked battered and tormented. Many of the pages were missing or had been torn out, and the spine could barely hold onto the few that remained. Nonetheless, this was still a book, and upon the sight of it Rin's heart fluttered with excitement.
Books were quite a rare thing to come across these days, especially for orphans who were only schooled in the art of manual labour. In her lifetime Rin could only remember seeing five. These were all incomparable next to the one which she now held to her chest.
This, without a doubt, would become her most treasured item as Rin already felt a strong connection to it, though it had been in her possession for less than a minute. She had where she would hide it pictured in her mind. A place where none of the other children dared to go; underneath one of the loose floorboards in the cellar.
Upon the nearest flat surface she sat, balancing the book on her knee and began to examine the first page's indecipherable writing. Her concentration showed its intensity on her creased brow, so much so that she did not look like a girl who was illiterate.
Scattered throughout the book were ink illustrations varying in sizes. Some bordered parts of text while others occupied an entire page. Time had dulled the colours and dampness had made them into a hideous collection of blotches. Rin stroked them gently with her finger, a childish smile curving on her lips. She did not care. To her they were beautiful.
Her favourite was the one towards the back of the book. It was an illustration of the sky. Or more accurately, how the sky used to look. The artist had used the lightest blue they owned to create an atmosphere absent of clouds, and in the middle was the drawing's centrepiece: the sun.
Rin, who had never seen the sun before, gazed upon the illustration in awe, caressing its curved edges a thousand times. She pondered on whether such a fiery being could be real, if it was as beautiful in reality as this imitation was, and what did it feel like shining on her skin?
She tilted her head up to the heavens to see if it would appear suddenly, like an avenging angel back to shed its healing light onto this rotting world. But all she saw was the lifeless grey that permanently ruled the sky.
An hour later the sky began to darken and the clouds stirred restlessly as twilight grew closer. It was time to depart.
Rin reluctantly shut the book and stood up. She felt the wind hit her bare arms with its chill. Suddenly the ruins did not look so alluring as they had during the early afternoon, filled with their unpossessed treasures. The forgotten furniture, casting out their long shadows, reminded her of a graveyard. Bones left to rot from the time before.
She started back the way she came, hugging the book tightly to her. In a few moments she was at the edge of the forest, gazing in. Just stick to the path, she recited. And you won't get lost.
It was darker inside. More enclosed. A natural pathway meandered through the tree trunks, occasionally invaded by roots and thorns. Rin had to pay close attention to it. Sometimes it was hidden underneath an entanglement of plants, other times it simply ceased to be, eroded away, and she would then have to scan ahead to find where it reappeared.
Time seemed to be frozen inside the forest, but Rin was aware that night was creeping closer. She could feel it in change of the shadows; they became colder. Emptier. As the temperature began to drop steadily, Rin's pace increased.
A gap in the canapé of leaves above revealed that day had almost come to an end. Even the owls had begun their nocturnal song. Their hoots comforted her slightly because it still meant that there was time left before they locked the Orphanage for the night. It was when they stopped that she should worry, for everything was silent at night.
As the area grew gradually more familiar, Rin's heart began to settle. The forest opened up to show a crumbling building ahead. Its towering structure and dark bricks not only made it stand out from the rest of Silvasius' more natural architecture, but gave the building an intimidating presence, similar to that of a haunted mansion. It was the Orphanage.
She hurried her way down what was now a man-made path leading up to a pair of iron gates and continued on to the Orphanage's thick oak doors.
As she passed by, she couldn't resist brushing her fingers against the cool metal. Though old and rusted and seemingly out of place in a city that loved wood, the gates made her feel safe. They were tall, almost reaching the height of the building's second floor, and spiked at the top. Once chained shut, Rin believed that it was almost impossible to get inside the Orphanage's grounds.
She reached the doorway where the Matron was stood waiting. She was a sour old woman, with wisps of dry white hair and a permanent frown that had only managed to hold onto three rotten teeth. It was no secret that she despised the orphans in her care, labelling them as "foul-smelling bastards and ungrateful brats," and Rin was no exception.
Her blank eyes, long since blind and sunken into her weathered face, fixed upon Rin and shone hatefully.
"Demon Child," she croaked her own nickname for Rin. Somehow she always knew who was stood before her. "I had hoped you would not be returning, but I suppose the Darkness always looks after one of their own."
Rin returned the Matron's expression of displeasure. The woman's eyes passed over her and stopped where she held the book. It was as if she could see it. Rin sensed her suspicion and shifted uncomfortably.
Then suddenly her stomach groaned. The sound reminded her that she had not eaten since the stale piece of bread at dawn. Hearing Rin's body cry out for food distracted the Matron and she said, with a degree of unconcealed glee, "Evening Meal was served an hour ago. You will have to wait until the morning to eat again."
"Yes Matron," replied Rin politely. She was relieved that the woman had forgotten about her earlier the suspicion.
The Matron grumbled something under her breath and slammed the front doors shut. Their heavy thud echoed down the hallway.
"Off to be bed you," she shooed her, "before Mr. Ratton finds you here."
Mr. Ratton was the Orphanage's Caretaker. He and his equally contemptible son were charged with the task of hunting down Orphans, known as Stragglers, who ignored the bedtime curfew.
"Yes Matron," repeated Rin. She was fortunate that the Matron did not much like the Caretaker either or she would have probably taken her straight to him.
The Matron hobbled off towards her chambers. Rin waited until she had disappeared before heading in the direction of the cellar.