He stepped on a branch, breaking it. Aora spun toward him, backing toward the bushes behind her. She glanced from side to side like she might run, although there was nowhere to go. Not in the dark. Not when the garden obeyed him and every path she took would turn into a dead end. Even if she crawled through the bushes, the thorns would scrape her, tear at her dress, snag in her hair.
But she didn't run. She didn't crawl. She straightened up, rolling her shoulders back and lifting her chin. "Here I am. Come and get me, Demon of Darkness."
He frowned and stepped onto the path, knowing the shadows would hide him although he allowed the sound of his step to linger in the air. Her eyes, wide in the faint glow of the moon, flicked around him without focusing on him. She stepped back again, into the bushes, and they hungrily grasped at her hair and dress.
"Bold words from one who shivers in the night, but not from the cold." He threw his voice into her head, knowing that there it would echo around her and she would not locate him.
She pushed against his voice and he stepped back. She was stronger than he thought. The days had not weakened her at all. But she was till untrained.
She lifted her chin higher. "We meet in the night because you are too cowardly to face me in the day."
He stepped toward her again. "Day or night. Both are within my command."
She would believe him. No one had told her otherwise, and the days were dark, darker than they had ever been. But he could not control them completely until he had her.
He plucked a rose off a bush and stepped nearer, his step making another sound on the gravel path.
"Stop!" she said, her voice strong. The air around her lit up, although she didn't seem aware that the night lessened to a pre-dawn gray. He would claim her, and she could never light the earth again.
He placed the rose in the palm of his hand and gently blew on it. His breath of darkness carried it to her on the wings of the deep shadows.
She stared at it and tried to back farther away. But there was nowhere else to go. He pushed the rose closer to her, the shadows of the night obeying his every whim. He spoke again, this time as a whisper in her mind. "A gift."
A faint glow encircled her, the light around her swallowing his shadows. The light grew brighter as she reached for the flower. He clenched his teeth as the bushes behind her untangled from her back and straightened. The shadows fled.
The rose slowly sank in the air. She quickly stretched forward and touched the flower, one finger to one blood red petal. The rose burst into flame and a chill of light zipped up his arm. He gasped and shoved against the light, forcing it back out through his palm, back to her.
She shrank from the burning rose. The light around her vanished and the dark reclaimed the garden. The rose, suspended once again by shadow, burned until death claimed it. Then the shadows parted their fingers and the flower fell to the ground.
He knew where it lay, but he did not look at it. Instead, he stared at her, trying to ignore the way his hand still tingled. Trying to ignore the lingering warmth in his arm. Trying to ignore the hollowness he felt at the extinguishing of her light.