The Sweetest Dark - By Shana Abe


Are your eyes truly open?

Are you one of the few who have truly seen?

Then perhaps you already know about the hidden realm tucked inside your own.

It shares the same sky as yours, the same mountains and creeks and hills. It has the same constellations slanting across the heavens, the same roads cutting across the earth. The same towns and nations. Food, drink, fashion, language: everything seemingly the same.

But it’s not.

The hidden realm presents a false front to fool you, to make you trust what you never should. Because there—right there living beside you—are monsters of ferocious beauty, ribbony creatures formed of smoke and color and claws. Monsters you’ve been taught to think are only myth.

They are not.

They stroll your streets, and dine in your restaurants, and wrap themselves in furs and silk and jewels. When they wish it, their faces resemble yours. Their lips smile as yours do; their skin gleams ebony or russet or milky white.

They use wings to slice through the stars at night. They’ll murmur your name and shake your hand and you can’t look away, because once they hold your eyes and touch your flesh, you belong to them, whether you like it or not.

They are the drákon.

And this is the story of one of the last of them.

Chapter 1

These are a few of the secrets kept from me until my sixteenth year:

That planets had spun and turned themselves out of their orbits to aid in my conception. That magma from the heart of the earth had speared through choking rock channels, stealing carbon and diamonds for me, jetting high to fall and die upon the surface of the world in a celebration of lava and flame.

That the moon had slowed for my birth, and the sun had blinked, and the stars had created a celestial new chorus from my name.

When I was a child, everyone believed that I was an ordinary human girl. Even I believed it, which shows you how little I knew.

I looked almost like a regular girl, though. Maybe one who was paler than normal, a little thinner, a touch more swift to react to sudden sounds or bright lights.

My eyes are gray. Not the gray of a sullen sky or sea but the unlikely lavender-gray of a nimbus surrounding a winter moon, colors both opaque and translucent at once.

My hair seems brown. It’s such a light brown that it’s almost the color of nothing, but that’s a trick, one I can’t control. Depending upon the hour of the day and the aspect of the clouds, my hair shines any color from fawn to pale pink to gold.

In the month of February, in the year 1909, I had been found wandering aimlessly along the streets of one of the most massive cities ever built by man: London. I was starving, alone, and ten years of age.

I’d been noticed first by a team of pickpockets—but there was nothing on me to steal, not a farthing or even a modest silver chain—then by a pair of prostitutes, who only eyed me up and down. Finally a tinker showed me some mercy, guiding me toward a constable before melting off down an alleyway.

I could not speak. I had no words to describe my situation, only my stare, which most of the grown men at the station avoided within seconds. I think they found it far less uncomfortable to study the barren walls of the station house or gaze out the grimy windows.

They gave me a blanket, an eel pie from a vendor, and a mug of gin. I claimed a spot on the floor behind the main desk and fell asleep.

Eleven hours later, since no one in the parish of St. Giles had come forward to claim me, I was handed over to the local orphanage, a miserable well of scrubbed faces and forsaken souls.

St. Giles was a knot of blighted streets and crumbling buildings. The relentless odor of gin and beer mingled with the constant stench of rotting garbage, and the unwelcome offspring there were as common as dirt. As the fifth anonymous child abandoned to the Blisshaven Foundling Home so far that year, I was assigned the name Eleanore, surname Jones. Gradually—no one even noticed when or how—Eleanore evolved into Lora, which became the name I answered to.

Lora Jones.

Speech returned in stages. Little words first, popping past my lips. Pie. Blood. Comet.

Then bigger ones. Steamship. Regina. Aria, gemstone, field gun, museum.

To the astonishment of the proprietors of Blisshaven, I shaped every word with the