PART I – Darkness

The near future…

Fifteen

Ethan’s eyes were closed, but sleep refused to come.  Lying upon his massive bed, the future king’s thoughts were haunted by visions of incomparable dark beauty.  For now, the command of the sun sentenced him to a seemingly endless string of restless hours before he could seek out his runaway bride.

Even though he was rendered nearly immobile, he still had enough fury stored within his bones to clench his fists.  If any harm came to Shay before he could find her, Carl would surely pay with more than his life.  Ethan would ensure that he suffered first.  Death would be an easy escape for the torment he would receive for his blatant betrayal.  Did he not understand what her arrival meant for all of them?  The new era was finally upon them.  Jealousy had clouded the older man’s judgement.  He was becoming useless to Ethan, more of a nuisance than the advisor and confidant he was intended to be.  Ethan would be blind and ignorant to miss the fact that Carl was madly in love with him.  But he could offer him nothing in return.  His heart had always been and would always be for one other soul alone.  How was it possible that she had returned to him..now and in this place, at such a perfect time as this..after so many lonely and isolated years apart?  His boyish obsession for her had survived a lifetime of cruelty and pain.  Surely fate would not be so unkind as to separate them again, not after he had waited with such an empty pain for long.  His was a longing, a thirst, a desire which only she could fulfill, as she was always meant to.

The thought of glistening dark curls teased the nerves in his fingertips.  He could almost feel their lustrous length caressing his skin.  The fantasy of sinking within the depths of her coal-black eyes caused his thick shaft to stiffen and swell.  Only she had the power to control his mind and to stir up a ravenous fire within his manhood.  How did one female had the ability to transform him into a lovesick servant?  If it would please her, he would surrender his kingdom to her command.  No, that was no where enough.  Instead, he would build a mightier sovereign land first.  One that swept across the entire face of the earth, and then he would make her queen of all.  Surely that would bring a smile to her lovely face.  What else could lift the tortored moans he saw floating behind her lashes?  Whatever it took to make her happy, Ethan would surely give the last drop of his blood to capture her heart forever.

Without warning, a blinding flash of light jarred his eyes apart.

“Aaarggghh.”  The agonizing scream ripped through his body, while searing hot flames licked at his muscles and tendons.

The intensity of the pain forced him to bolt upright and toss his body to the floor where he crawled into the closest corner. With his knees folded and his arms wrapped tightly around them, Ethan tucked his form into a knot.  His eyes dashed in every direction around the dimly lit master bedroom.  Every crack and opening was fully covered, yet he felt the unmistakable stabbing pins of sun rays pecking at his skin.  It took him a moment for reality to settle upon him again before realizing that what he had just suffered was merely an illusion.  The cuts he had just felt were not his own, they belonged to Shelise.  She was in pain, a great and terrible agony that he was helpless to protect her from.  Wherever she lay, daylight was circling like a vulture all around her.

“Shay,” he yelled aloud.  “Let me find you!”  He spoke the frantic words as if she stood nearby.

His bond with her was still in its fledgling state, and she was too far away for a silent mental connection to reach her.  Rapid banging pounded at his bedroom door.  The guards had heard his calls.  Now his secret would be revealed and consequences would follow.  Not now, but soon. He had broken the covenant by forging their link without the elders’ approval or presence.

“Fuck the order,” he screamed defiantly.  None of them were present to he his blasphemous words, and even if they were, his determination would have been the same.  He didn’t care about their plans anymore.  All he cared for was the love of his life.

“Sir..sir!  Are you all right?”  More hits knocked the wood against its hinges.  “Open the door!  Is someone in there with you?  Should we break in down?”

After a moment of hesitation and silence, the door strained against the battering ram that Ethan’s personal guards began to make with the strength of their bodies.  He ignored their attempts as he closed his eyes and cast out the world around him.  Trying to pick up on Shay’s silent screams, he allowed his mind to expand then to tune in only to her cry.

“Where?  Where?” He pleaded in a trouble whisper.  “Shelise..pleeeasse..tell me where you are!”

He sensed her mind fighting to push him back.  She was desperately trying to keep him out.

“I swear..if you die..” he couldn’t bring himself to say the words, but that didn’t make them any less true.  Now that he knew she was alive, if her heart stopped beating, so would his.

Overcome with unfamiliar and strangling emotions, a tiny tear budded at the outer rim of his right eye.  He felt his soul quiver.  He could feel her burning and he was afraid that when the sensation ceased that she would be no longer a part of this world.

It was finally enough.  That one moment of complete nakedness had somehow broken through her defenses.  Ethan felt Shay drop the fragile shield she had been trying to uphold.  In an instant, his vision opened and he saw her laying there weak and dying.  Jumping to his feet at the same second that the patrol burst into the room, Ethan barrelled past his men.  He aimed his frantic steps toward the stairs with a goal of reaching the bowels of his castle in record time. She was trapped in one of the torture chambers they had reserved for special prisoners.  It was a cavern designed to draw in the full power of the noonday sun.  He would be running into his own demise, but nothing else mattered except saving her from the fate that was about to overwhelm her final breaths. Shay’s death would be slow and certain if Ethan did not reach her soon.

The underground labyrinth was a maze of tunnels and doors.  Ethan was breathless with worry by the time his heavy steps thundered toward the chamber where Shelise was cornered.  Without thinking, he used the brute strength of his leg to kick in the heavy door.  As soon as it broke from the hinge, sunlight poured from the inside and forced him to rush back into the cool darkness of the hall.  His muscles flexed and strained with indecision.  Even now, the heat flowing over his body was making him weaker with every passing second.  If he didn’t act soon, the urge to crumple to the ground from fatigue would overwhelm him before he could drag Shay to safety.  It was now or never.  He had to decide his fate.  Act against his own survival or sentence her to a terrible demise.

Ethan waved his hand across the entrance of the door and immediately had to snatch it back.  The feeling of burning coals being raked across his palm caused his biceps to shudder from the shock.  There was no way he could simply walk through that door.  He was shirtless and wearing only a small loin cloth so he would be a crisp before taking three steps inside.  After frantically searching the earthen hallway, he spotted exactly what he needed.  As he reached his hand out to grab the discarded potato sack, another cry punched his temples, nearly knocking him to his knees.

“Shay,” he yelled, “hold on.  I’m almost there.”

There was no response on her end, which set his heart rate into a deathly race.  Ripping the rugged material down its seam, Ethan wrapped as much of the over-sized burlap around his body as possible.  Closing his eyes to shield them from the brightness beyond the threshold, he rushed forward in search of the woman who held his heart.  Once inside he quickly moved to the darkness space he could find.  It was a slim shadow just beneath the cutout shaft through which the sunbeams were pouring in like liquid heat.  The light filling the room left him nearly blind, but his ears were still fully functioning.

“Shay?”  Ethan called to her, but only silence returned to him.  “Shelise..answer me..tell me where you are.”

Another pulse-pounding round of seconds passed before a weak moan floated to him.  Here, her thought was barely above a breathless whisper.  Charging across the room, crossing the arc of full daylight that split the room in half, Ethan fell next to Shay’s fragile form.  Rage and fear swirled in the pit of his stomach as he spied the thick welts that streaked across her body from where the sun had lashed her while chasing Shelise from one side of the room to the other.  Her lips were dry and ashen and her eyes were shut tight.

“Shelise..baby, open your eyes,” Ethan whispered to her as he lifted her up into the fold of his aching arms.

She stirred in his hold and moaned, but her dark lashes did not break apart.

“Please..Shay..let me know that you’re still with me.  Open them,” he pleaded with her.

Another moment passed before her limp form lurched once more and her eyelids lifted only a fraction of an inch.  Slowly her hand lifted, and he felt the great effort it took for her to do that one motion.  The trembling fingers paused at the corner of his mouth then slid with such a delicate touch that Ethan nearly wept at the feel of them sweeping over the crease of his lips.  What looked to be a tiny, hesitant smile lifted her full lips.

“Ethan,” Shay croaked out in a low raspy voice, “I didn’t..think..you would..come.”

If ever a man felt adoration for one woman, whatever that moment in time, it was no comparison to the boundless love that now bound Ethan to Shelise for all time.  He would not allow her to waste one more precious breath.  Pulling her close and cradling her against his body, he placed a gentle kiss upon her moist brow.

“Quiet, love,” he cooed to her.  “I told you that you were mine, Shay.  I’ll always find you..always.”

“Master..Are you in there?”  Carl’s worried voice broke through the air, ruining Ethan’s split second of true peace.  “Ethan?!  Are you alive?  Speak!”

“I’m coming out!  Move back!”

His strength was short and Ethan had only one shot of making it back through that door.  If anything or anyone hindered his way, he and Shay would surely fry.  Taking the sack from his upper torso, he swiftly cloaked the protective shield over Shay’s chest and neck.  Then he moved her hair so that it covered her face.  Pasting her tight against his chest, Ethan stood and prepared himself.  Three ragged breaths snorted through his nostrils as he readied his body for what was to come.  Defiance and devotion drove him forward.  With one long leap he propelled himself toward the opening and straight through the devastatinng beam of sunlight.  Refusing to scream, he pushed away the sharp lashes of fiery rays that crackled at his back and split open the skin and muscles along its length.  He could almost hear the sizzle of burning flesh.  Landing in the dank coolness of the cavernous hallway offered no relief.  Ethan could still feel the heavy hand of daylight pressing into his nerves and driving its imprint deep into his gut.  But Shay was safe and alive, for the moment, and that was the only thing that mattered to him.  Pushing away the pain, he lifted her up and handed her to the closest guard standing nearby.

“Take her,” he said.  “Now!”  He ordered in a booming voice when the other man did not move fast enough for his patience.  Once his servant had her secured in his arms, Ethan gave his next command.  “Get her to a healing room and make sure that all of the physicians are there to see to her recovery.”

All of this was so strange to them that everyone present stood by in uncertainty and shock. Never before had they seen their ruthless, dare they say tyrannical, master behave in such a way, especially for the sake of someone else’s life.  What he had done was near suicide.  They marveled and wondered at what magic spell this woman had weaved over his mind to make him commit such a foolish act.  Even Carl remained silent and stunned at what he had just witnessed.  One fact was undeniable, this was no ordinary female.  Her arrival had already ushered forth wonders and chaos, and it was certain that only more were to follow.

“What of you, sir?”  One of the other attendees finally inquired in a hesitant voice.

The glare Ethan returned was menacing and filled with warning.  Gathering his strength and shaking away the stinging rawness of his burns, Ethan raised himself to his full height.

“Your future queen is priority.”

His words were flat and emotionless, and no one else dared to question him.  All of his men, Carl included, bowed low at his declaration.  They waited for him to pass by and take the lead before raising their heads again.  Then, one by one, they turned and walked a solemn and humbled pace back toward the surface of their fortress.

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