Her days are filled with monotonous tasks.
Waking up at the crack of dawn, dressing up in her habit and hiding her short hair under a veil, going to the kitchens to help knead the breakfast bread. Then, singing hymns at the chapel, moving her body to the rhythm of the only music allowed to play in the convent.
She hates every second of it.
She craves more.
When she was a child, she lived in an orphanage. While it isn't the best place for a child to grow up in, still she managed to find happiness in the dusty hallways of the Duke's house in Keramzin.
Her days were made better by the presence of Malyen, an orphan like her who'd managed to keep her heart hostage for so long.
He'd enlisted in the army as soon as he turned of age. Leaving her with a broken heart and a worried mind.
There's no way of knowing if he's alive, their correspondence got cut off as soon as she moved into the convent.
Abandon all ties to the world outside , they'd said.
He still comes to her mind sometimes, followed by the bittersweet memories they'd shared in the orphanage.
She hopes he's alive.
For his own sake.
The fever comes a couple of weeks after Malyen enlists and goes away to join the army.
She's been feeling blue since then, going to the meadow they started calling their own and crying until her eyes are puffy and sore.
At first, Ana Kuya and the other tutors at the orphanage think she might have a common cold—
But no common cold makes a girl sweat and squirm like she does in that fateful night.
"What's happening?" She remembers asking someone, maybe another girl in the orphanage, someone who had been tasked to pressing towels drenched in cold water over her forehead. But her memories from that day are fuzzy at best.
No one has an answer, and so she suffers through three days of that infernal sickness confused and aching for company.
After it ends, Ana Kuya pulls her aside for a private talk in her study room.
"We can't keep you anymore, Alina."
The girl lowers her head, knowing this day would come hadn't made it any easier to hear those words.
"I can stay as a maid," she offers, like many girls before her did.
"No, this is not the place for you."
Alina wrinkles her brow. "I don't understand."
"There's a place for girls like you, who suffer from fevers."
She feels a heavy weight settle on her chest. "I didn't know it was a condition."
"It's very rare...but apparently you've been born with it."
The way Ana Kuya says it makes it sound like it isn't a good thing at all.
"You're sending me away?"
"For your own safety."
"Alright," Alina says, because there's nothing else she could say.
She's an orphan girl with nowhere else to go in the world, if there's some place willing to take girls with her condition—then she can't deny the help.
And that's how she finds her way to the convent.
But if she'd known this is what awaited her, she'd have given Ana Kuya a different answer that day and fought a little harder to stay at the orphanage as a maid.
She's pretending to read a book of prayers in the courtyard, hoping the Abbess will see her and reward her pious behavior with dessert tonight. It's how she keeps the girls on their toes, by bribing with sweets and less chores.
But the only one who sees her is a messenger boy, sent ahead to deliver a letter to the Abbess of this convent.
He approaches Alina, clearing his throat once he's a couple of feet from her.
She looks up, almost dropping her book on the floor upon seeing a boy in the middle of the convent.
"I'm sorry, sestra , I didn't mean to frighten you." He hurries to say.
"Who are you?" She closes her book and brings it close to her chest, looking around herself to see if there are any other sisters around.
"I'm a messenger boy," he informs her, pulling a letter from the bag strapped across his scrawny chest. He's probably not much younger than her, but his beardless face makes him look like a prepubescent boy. "I'm with the Second Army."
Alina's eyes widen in surprise. "Is that so?"
" Sestra !" The Abbess' voice is a shrill cry somewhere behind her. She turns to look, momentarily forgetting about the boy.
"That's the Abbess," she tells him, getting up from the stone bench she'd been sitting on. "Good luck." With a nod, she turns on her heels and leaves them to it.
"The Second Army is making a stop in our convent." The Abbess informs them all during dinnertime, holding up a letter penned by the Darkling himself.
The commander of the Second Army.
A mythical creature capable of moving shadows at his will.
By all rights, he should be feared. But the Abbess looks serene as she tells the sisters under this convent's roof that they'll shelter some of the injured soldiers and give them the care they need before it's time for them to go back to marching.
Alina looks down into her bowl of steaming hot stew. She can see her reflection on the liquid's murky surface, sunken cheeks and dark circles under her eyes. She imagines how will a sickly creature like her take care of anyone else?
And she can already feel the bone tiringly sensation that precedes one of her fever episodes. It's close, she can tell.
Which means she may be bedridden and in need of attention while the infirmary is filled with injured soldiers.
Worry claws at her chest, but she brings a spoonful of stew to her mouth and tries to think about other things.
She won't allow her thoughts to linger on negative scenarios.
They come with the first snow.
Alina watches from the slitted window in her solitary room as a dark carriage pulls up to the convent, men mounted in beautiful horses flank each side of the vehicle and a colorful crowd of keftas marches behind.
She watches as they set up camp outside the convent, and as their injured are carried inside under the watchful eye of the Abbess.
There's a knock on her door, pulling her eyes away from the commotion happening downstairs.
It takes her a moment to answer it. Her body aches, limbs heavy and tired just from the small exertion of walking across the room to open the door.
But she refuses to be weak while they're here.
She'll try to make herself useful the best way she can.
Sister Juliana is at her door, smiling sweetly. She knows of her afflictions, has been by her side when her last fever episode happened.
"We're needed in the infirmary," she tells her.
Alina nods, closing the door behind her. "Of course."
They make their way to the infirmary in silence, the fabric of their habits sighing softly against the stone floor. Alina's veil feels tight around her forehead, but she knows it's just her body being oversensitive as it tends to be when her fever episodes are just around the corner.
The telltale signs of cramps already threaten to bend her in half, but she'll soldier through the pain.
As soon as she steps into the infirmary, her knees weaken. Sister Juliana has to help her stand up, keeping her from falling by placing one arm around her waist.
" Sestra Alina?" Her worried voice breaks through the momentary haze that fell over Alina's mind.
"I'm fine," she answers hurriedly. "Just...my fever is coming, I'm afraid."
The other nun wrinkles her brow. "You shouldn't be here then."
"I'm alright, I can work."
At the far end of the room, a soldier fought against the hold of two sisters. Alina watches with some amount of admiration as his strong arms flex under the nuns-turned-nurses' grip.
"Is he alright?" Alina asks, curiosity piqued.
Sister Juliana has her hands on her shoulders, turning her to the door where they've just come from. "Come, we need to keep you somewhere safe."
That catches her attention. "Why? I thought the convent was already safe enough."
"When it's just us ," she provides, making even more questions pop up in Alina's head.
But before they have the chance to leave, the man who had been fighting to break free manages to do so and to Alina's horror he's running straight in her direction.
She throws a terrified glance at Juliana, but the woman is frozen in place.
Those arms she'd admired before close around her in a viselike grip, it makes her squeal in surprise but also indignation. Who does this man think he is?
Alina starts beating on his arms, trying to break free from his hold, but he pushes her against a wall and buries his nose in the crook of her neck.
He sniffs her, groaning at whatever scent he managed to catch. She imagines he must really like the smell of homemade soap, because that's all she's allowed to use when she bathes.
Hell breaks loose in the infirmary, other sisters start yelling and more soldiers start thrashing in bed—
But they're injured, how can they even move ?
She turns on the soldier's arms, looking up into his eyes. They're black as the evening sky, no white peeking through. It's like he's in some rabid state, because he keeps pawing at her through the fabric of her habit.
"Stop!" She cries, trying to fight her way out of his grasp. "I said stop !"
But he doesn't listen, he keeps trying to tear her habit off her—
Tears run down her cheeks.
Yells and the sound of growls erupt in the infirmary.
This is a nightmare. It can only be a nightmare.
Darkness falls over the room, for a moment she thinks that she may have closed her eyes but she can feel them open and blinking, trying to see in the sudden dark.
A voice speaks beside her.
"Let go, Ivan."
The hands holding her hostage drop from her body.
Slender fingers tentatively close around her wrist, gently pulling her to a wall of solid chest.
She breathes in relief, and in that moment the scent of freshly fallen snow and woodsmoke invades her senses.
"Come with me." That same voice, low and velvety like nothing she's ever heard before.
Alina can't help but follow along, drawn by the pure seduction laced into every word.
As soon as they leave the infirmary and the door is closed behind them, darkness gives way to daylight and she can see the face of her rescuer.
He's tall, with a headful of dark hair and equally dark eyes to match. The stubble in his cheek makes him look gruff, but it doesn't retract from the elegant lines of his face.
This man has the face of a fallen angel.
"We need to keep moving, omega."
Alina's feet stumble in place, she would have fallen were it not for his hands keeping her standing.
"What did you just call me?"
"Apologies, that was rude of me."
She digs her nails into the hand pulling her forward in the corridor, bringing his dark eyes back to her face.
"Why did you call me that?"
He lifts one eyebrow. "It's what you are."
Alina allows him to walk her through the corridors of the convent building, mind lost to thoughts and body becoming increasingly more sick by the second.
She needs to lie down.
She tells him as much.
"Soon," he answers.
What a cryptic way of answering a simple request. She doesn't think her legs can carry her for much longer—
Her knees give out, but his arms are there, pulling her up.
She rests her head on his chest, feeling the warmth of his body and inhaling his comforting scent. Alina feels like she could sleep right there in his arms.
And she probably dozed off, because when her eyes open once more the man is carrying her into a dark tent and barking an order for everyone inside to leave.
They're all wearing colorful keftas .
Grisha, she recognizes as much.
But the man carrying her wears black.
Her eyes widen when she makes the connection—
The darkness falling over a room filled by daylight, the dark clothes, the authoritarian way he commanded all those Grisha out of his tent.
She's in the arms of no ordinary man.
Alina's in the arms of the Darkling.
He's not what she expected.
Of course, she doesn't know exactly what she expected. But the leader of the Second Army and the most dangerous Grisha alive looks much younger than the mental image that came to her mind whenever she heard his titles.
He also looks like he's holding himself back.
"Why did you bring me here?" She breaks the silence between them, folding herself into the furs and pillows set up on the floor in a makeshift bed.
"You're safe here."
She throws back, "I was safe at the convent."
"Not with my men there."
A sliver of fear settles in her chest. They're surrounded by a camp filled with his men. And he's the only thing standing between her and these soldiers.
Surely he's not betting her safety based on the size of his ego.
Alina can still feel the unwanted hands of that Grisha soldier pawing at her. It makes her shiver in disgust. His touch had felt all kinds of wrong.
"If your men are beasts that can't control themselves around women, then why bring them to a convent?"
The Darkling shakes his head, taking a step closer to her. "You truly don't know what you are, do you?"
She simply stares, waiting for an answer.
"You're called an omega. And that means you're Grisha too, now how you managed to slip through our notice is what worries me." He rubs the back of his neck, a gesture so human it's jarring. She imagined he would be half-deity or half-god, blessed with powers too grand for this world.
"I don't understand," she says.
"We're all Grisha, but we're all different." He begins, pulling closer to where she's sitting. "Aside from the different orders we all fall into, there's also the two designations we can be."
"And those are?"
"Alpha and Omega."
Alina's brow wrinkles. "Is that why you called me omega earlier?"
"Yes." He nods. "I can smell it in you."
Her eyes bug out, she sniffs her habit to make sure she doesn't stink. That makes him chuckle.
She looks up, startled by the sound.
"It's not a bad smell, especially now…" he trails off, his eyes gaining a vacant quality for a brief second before he snaps out of whatever it is that tried taking hold of him.
"Explain it to me as if I'm a child," she says, pulling more of the furs closer to her, in a way that makes her feel comfortable and cozy on the bed.
The Darkling's eyes follow her movements, the corner of his lips lifting in amusement.
"Right now, you're nesting."
Her hands stop fluffing a pillow, head snapping toward him. "What?"
He keeps his distance from her, and she knows—deep down—that it's because he's respecting the safe space she set up for herself.
"It's a common response for omegas to make themselves comfortable during their heats."
"A child, remember?" She points to herself, and he smiles nodding his head.
"Heat is the period when an omega is ready to breed." At her answering gasp, he lifts a hand and offers an apologetic smile. "Pardon for my crass language, but I'm trying to explain the mechanics of this world to you as simply as I can."
Alina looks down at her hands, fidgeting with a white colored fur draped over her legs.
"I've had fever episodes," she tells him. "I thought it was just a sickness, I've been told some girls have it."
"Some boys do too."
She looks up, meeting his dark eyes. "I can feel when they're close—" she chokes up, as if conjured, a cramp makes her bend forward on the bed, grasping the blankets to her middle.
His shiny boots enter her peripheral vision, and then his hand is on the back of her head, tilting her face up.
"You feel it now, don't you?"
Unable to speak through the pain, she nods.
The Darkling's eyes darken, and he looks like he could devour her. Suddenly the tales of this being a dangerous man make sense.
She whimpers, the sound is so needy and so incredibly foreign to her own ears that her cheeks heat with embarrassment.
He places one knee on the bed—
On her nest.
Alina bares her teeth, knowing that this is unacceptable behavior but he apparently doesn't care.
"I can feel the power inside you, malyshka ." His dark timbre hums next to her ear, making her body shiver in an entirely different way.
His touch on her cheek is innocent, but it sparks. A foreign sensation runs under her skin, ticklish.
Her lips open, a silent moan leaving her mouth. The Darkling presses up against her, breathing in her heavy exhales.
"Show me," he whispers.
She doesn't know what he means, but she's willing to give him anything if only he keeps touching her.
Alina removes her veil, and his fingers bury into her short hair, pulling at the roots. She kisses his jaw, scraping her teeth against the stubble there.
Darkness falls over them, but that doesn't stop her from pressing needy kisses down his throat. His answering hums of pleasure are the only incentive she needs. But then something cold and sharp presses against her throat and pricks .
Fear grips her throat, from deep within her comes forth a power she had no idea was there. Light bursts out of the wound on her neck, cutting a sharp path through his shadows.
In the newfound clarity, she can see the awe in his face.
" Solnyshko ."
Before she can open her mouth to ask what just happened, his lips cover hers and then she's lost to sensation once more.
She pulls him further into her nest, making way for him between her legs. There's no denying the rush of wetness between her legs, before she'd only thought it was a strange symptom of her fevers, but now she understands why it's there.
The Darkling had mentioned breeding, but she couldn't imagine herself as a mother.
But the heat in her blood begged her to open to him, and in that moment she wants nothing more than to listen to her instincts.
When she breaks the kiss, she notices that his eyes are completely engulfed in black just like the Grisha soldier's eyes had been.
Her hand cups his cheek, and he leans into the touch like a lover would.
She can feel herself falling prey to that same darkness—
It makes her lift up her habit, exposing her creamy thighs to his hungry eyes. They rove over every inch of exposed skin, hands following the path his eyes set first.
His fingers find the spot between her legs, drenched with arousal.
She finally has a name for it now.
Her back arches, she feels him bend over her, kissing her neck right where something hot pulses under her skin. That particular kiss on that particular spot makes her keen, holding his face close.
A finger prods her entrance, curiously exploring a place that's never been explored before. Not even by the boy she loved, but didn't love her back.
Now, under the Darkling, she gets her first taste of what it's like to be touched in such an intimate way. And he's good at it, pulling sighs from her lips and making her legs tremble with need.
They don't speak, there's no need to. Words are unnecessary when they can touch and kiss and caress.
She's only met this man, but here he is between her legs making her scream in a way that's wholly inappropriate.
The sisters will never take her back.
But she doesn't want to go back.
The Darkling fumbles with the fastenings of his pants, pulling out his cock. She gets only a glimpse of it, but what she sees makes her inner walls clench around nothing.
He eases the head of his cock into her entrance, pressing his weight down on her. It feels heavenly, and she's so ready for this invasion that she barely feels pain as he finally sits himself fully inside of her.
She knows that most girls experience pain in their first time, but right now all she feels is fullness and completion. Like she's finally found the missing piece to a puzzle.
His breaths are ragged and deliciously gravelly next to her ear, his hands hold her body down by the waist while he drives into her with abandon.
Alina can only take it, fingers burying in the softness of his hair.
Soon, his frantic pace is stuttering to a stop and something grows inside of her—
She's stretched out in the most ecstatic way. A dam breaks and pleasure floods her entire body, followed by warm jets of his seed shooting into her channel.
The Darkling groans, hips thrusting one last time before he drops his weight over her.
Trying to push him away doesn't work, he's much bigger and heavier than her, but he understands what she wants and gathers her into his arms before turning on his back. She settles over him like a blanket, but when she tries to disentangle herself from him they both hiss in pain.
"I forgot to mention that," he says, shutting his eyes in his attempt to ward off the pain.
Feeling like someone tried to rip away her insides, she understands the painful expression, and imagines she's sporting a similar one.
He opens his eyes, now back to their usual dark color with white around the irises.
"After I find my release, there's a part of my anatomy that grows and locks into place inside you." His fingers trail a path down her throat, making her shiver. "It's been nicknamed knot , but there's a scientific term for it."
"I assume it's a temporary thing?"
He chuckles, dragging his nose through the top of her head and pulling some of her scent into his lungs.
"Yes," he answers. "But it lasts for a little while."
She squirms in his grasp. Her habit is really starting to annoy her oversensitive skin. As if reading the thought from her mind, he helps her get rid of the heavy fabric and allows her to press her naked body over his clothed one.
His fingers trail a path down her spine, eliciting goosebumps all over her body.
"What's your name, malyshka ?"
She could doze off in his chest again, but first she wants to answer him. Though his fingers running circles on her scalp only contribute to her sleepiness.
"Alina," she manages to say before closing her eyes.
He hums in approval.
" Alinushka ," he says in a tender tone.
He stays silent for quite a while, and she thinks he'll not answer her. Which is fine, they only just met after all—
Sleep takes over her, and she can't remember if she dreamed his answer or not. But she knows that it's a strangely human name for a creature of myth and shadows.