PART I – Darkness

The near future…

Sixteen

The scene opens with Shay surrounded by darkness on all sides.  Confusion is all she feels.  She wonders if she is dead or merely unconscious   Surprisingly fear is not one of her first thoughts. She feels nothing, only emptiness on all sides, like a black void.  Then, without warning, instead of a hovering sensation, she feels the nudge of pressure beneath her.  Her feet have touched something solid, like the soft earth of the ground.  Instead of pitch blackness, a pale light very subtly begins to turn the scene into an ashen twilight.  Still, there is nothing to be seen in any direction, just open space, barely lit by this mysterious glow.  The silence is the most frightening part.  Before she would have given anything for a few moments of solitude and peace – her nerves were overrun by the constant state of colamity that this new humanity seemed to live and thrive upon – and now she was all alone, desperately hoping to hear or see something, someone, anything, anyone.  Could too much isolation really drive someone mad?  It wouldnt be too much longer before she discovered the answer first hand.

Then, suddenly, in the far distance her eyes catch a glimpse of a dark speck upon the eternal and vast horizon stretching out before her.  It was hard to tell how much time had past, but soon the speck grows into a small black ball which increases and size and shape with every passing moment.  Then the mass elongated sideways, and at the first sign of color her heart jumps and pounds against her chest.  From joy or fear?  A mixture of glittering orange and dark yellow forms the shape of a bird.  Since she has not seen any animal other than a rat or stray dogs and cats, she has a hard time figuring out which kind.  It is large and majestic.  It’s wing span is mighty.  Its feathers are regal and its flight is like a ballet.  The call of the bird breaks the dreaded silence.  Closer and closer it moves with each wide swoop of its aerial dance, until finally the great bird is upon her, hovering close enough that she can feel a breeze from the flap of its wide and multi-colored feathered wings.  The animal repeats this pass several times, usually at a safe distance, but the last time it dives straight toward Shay.  Its stealth and speed are so unexpected, like a deadly arrow aimed directly at her, that she raises her hands up to defend her upper body from the claws heading her way.  Just before the hair-raising impact, instead of attacking, the bird – she suddenly remembers what it is called, an eagle, lands safely and gently upon her forearm.  Its talens appear to be very sharp as they grip her skin, yet, for the moment, she feels no pain.

The eagle turns its head and its golden eyes seem to read every thought and memory she has ever had.  Strangely enough, she feels no threat from this intrusion.  Instead, an unexpected wave of calm settles over her.  This has to be a dream.  Never, not since she was a very small child, has she felt so relaxed and at peace.  The two gaze at one another for what seems like an everlasting pause in reality.  Then, the tips of fingers settle upon her shoulder.  Startled, Shay turns toward the touch, but there is no one there.  A sense that she is no longer alone quickly overcomes her mind.  Just before the feeling trickled away, a familiar voice called out an ominou warning – war is coming.  The voice, the touch, even the eagle soon faded into nothingness.  Her mysterious new world faded to black once more then the whispers began.

__

Across the room, the two physicians are in a quiet, yet heated discussion with Carl.

Has he gone mad?  One of the older men asks him.

It seems he has.  Carl must senses something in the air.  He quickly shifts his gaze toward the bed where is rival lays unconscious, but the girl has not awakened, merely shifted positions.  I havent figured out what kind of witchery she’s using on him, but whatever magic it is has strong effect.  He hasnt been the same since he laid eyes upon the wench, he says through thinned-out lips.

Is it true, the second man questions, Did he almost burn to death for her?

Instead of answering, Carl turns toward Shay with a menacing scowl upon his face.  Murder is in his eyes.  Hatred flows within his cool blood.   A stiff nod follows.

Both of the other men gasp.  Outrageous, one man says.  Something must be done at once, the other parrots.

Indeed, but how?  After this near-death experience, I doubt that he’ll let her out of his sight.  Even if he does, I’m sure he’ll have her under constant guard.

Well, we have to figure out something.  We cannot allow our crown prince to endanger himself like this.  If he dies, the Order will have our necks in a hanging noose.

Maybe worse, the other replies with fear in his voice.

Still watching the sleeping Shay, Carl’s mind wanders over several possible scenerios that might spell out her demise.  Give me some time,  I’ll figure this out.

Figure out what?  Ethan’s voice catch all three conspirators by surprise.  The older men are frozen for a reply, but Carl is a natural born liar.  He knows that he has been on Ethan’s bad side lately, but his confidence that their history together still allows some credit to his word.

To figure out how she managed to hide from us for so long, sire.  If we had found her sooner, none of this would have happened to you.

Carl moves toward Ethan at a casual pace.  He reaches to touch the areas of Ethan’s shoulders where he has been slightly scarred from the sun’s burns, but Ethan uses his forearm to block the other man’s touch. You may go, he directs at him in a flat, dismissive tone.

How is she?  He turns his steps toward Shay’s bedside but is directing his question toward the doctors.  He gives no thoughts to Carl’s slighted feelings of rejection and pays no attention to the pout on the man’s lips.

The conspirators watch the exchange with anxious, nervous faces.  When neither answers, Ethan raises his voice into a demanding cry.  Answer me.  Be quick or I swear by moonlight that I’ll watch you fry in the dungeon.

Again, the two men exchange glances.  They had seen their would-be king react in fits of rage that sent chills through the bone, but never did he threaten death so easily before now.

Sir, she’s had a great shock, the one says while hesitantly stepping forward.  Unsure of what to do with his hands, which have begun to tremble slightly, he clasps them behind his back.

What else? Ethan growled out.

The trembling doctor looked to his associate, who had always been better at soothing patients.  The other man stepped forward.  He was nervous about the female’s diar condition, but was trying his best at hiding his fear of revealing that to their future sovereign.  They had expexted him to become ruthless and cold, after all, wasnt that the way he was intended to be, even from birth?  Yet, he had become much for merceiless than anyone had ever intended.  Now they both understood what all the whispers and rumors had been about.  Their king was…

I wont lie to you, Ethan, her injuries are bad.  This is the worst I’ve ever seen in a living patient. Anyone else would be buried by now or tossed out as food for the scavengers.

In a heartbeat, Ethan bounded toward the man and in a single blow backhanded him.  The force was so hard that the man lifted from his feet and hit the floor several inches away from where he original stood.

Arrogant asshole, watch your tongue, Ethan threatened as he stood over the crumpled doctor. His shaking fingers were covering the bleeding gash from where Ethan’s signet ring had sliced into the flesh of his face.  She lives!  And if you dare condemn her to death even once more before her time, you are the one who will become a meal for the vulchores…or maybe even the beast men.  The other man cringed and dropped his head in terror.

Ethan turns his attention to the second man who is standing stiff as a stone stature at the foot of Shelise’s bed.

And you..what is your diagnosis of my love?  When only silent met his ears, Ethan repeated his directive with more force.  Speak! Being a mute only intensifies my aggravation.

Sh-she, he stammers, she’ll see another sunset.  I swear this to you, my crown prince, he said with a bow of his graying head.

A crooked smile hooked the edges of Ethan’s mouth as the intense blue fire that caused his eyes to glow simmered down to a soft pulse.  Much better.  With a nod of his head in Shay’s direction he gave his final orders before exiting the room.  Change her bandages and use whatever enchantments are necessary to give her a complete recovery.  I want my bride in perfect condition when we marry.  No scars.  His last words were a threat not a request.

Wh-what about you, sire?  He asked while his eyes looked at the deep red welts all along Ethan’s upper body.

I’ll be back in an hour.  You can apply mine treatment when I return.  He gave another impatient nod and the doctor scurried to find his medical gear, never giving a second thought to his friend who was still cowaring in the corner and barely controlling his whimpering.

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