My heart throbbed painfully and adrenaline coursed through my veins as panic gripped me. Her smile melted, and I’m sure I looked distraught. I thrust a hand forward, imagining light melting the lock. It wrapped around the lock, and I glared at it.
“What are you doing?” She asked, just a hint of hope in her voice.
“Don’t die, Sunshine. I’m going to get you to a healer.”
She hung her head in painful resignation. “Why?”
“Because I want you to live.”
The lock melted under the heat from my light and I hurried to her. She couldn’t look at me.
“I don’t want to live,” she mumbled.
I could tell she was fading. Her voice had progressively become weaker and weaker. It was a miracle she was still alive. I didn’t bother arguing with her; I picked her up and ran out of the dungeon. There was only one thought in my mind: Sunshine can’t die. I summoned my wings as I ran, choking myself slightly when my shirt resisted ripping.
Tears clouded my vision, but I sprinted down the halls anyway. I passed the jailer without a second thought and took off, carrying my Sunshine through the air. I flew at top speed, dodging messengers and such who flew along the tops of the hallways. I landed in a sprint and burst through the door to the hospital, the only place one could be sure of finding a healer, 24/7.
I don’t know if it was my dramatic entrance, pitch-black wings, frantic look in my eyes, or the fact that I had a bleeding princess in my arms, but every male in the room immediately went on the defensive.
“She’s dying,” I stated matter-of-factly.
No one moved, so I scowled and cursed, holding her away from me.
“She is dying!” I yelled. “Help?”
A few women in healer’s attire came and took her from me, but there was an explosion of dark that sent them screaming away, dropping her to the floor. I fell to my knees and grabbed her hands looking into her nearly vacant eyes.
“That won’t happen again,” I called.
They picked her up again, and several explosions came from her hands, but they all came into me. I shivered at the energy running through me and didn’t even pay attention as they put her on a gurney and began healing her. She was pale, so very pale, and her eyes were so listless, so lifeless. I held her hands and watched her face swim in my vision. Never had I imagined that my words had done this to her. Never had I thought she would kill herself to try to make me happy.
I ignored everything else as doctors scurried around us and healers tended to her arms. I sat by her side, eyes locked on her face turned away from me. She drifted off and the explosions stopped, but I held her hands nonetheless. Her chest rose and fell, for that I was grateful. Her face, though... I cursed myself. I did that to her. She looked scared, even in sleep.
“What have I done?” I asked her right before I broke into sobs.
It took every ounce of will power King Amora contained not to start beating on the young prince holding his daughter’s hands and sobbing. The only thing holding him back was that last thing the boy said: what have I done? At least he realized that it was his own fault.
He glared at the back of Crown Prince Dirg Oina Zinx’s head, plotting his course of action. He had met Tain, so he knew this definitely wasn’t him. He stalked out of the hospital room and caught his chief of police.
“There is a dark in hospital room 116. I want him removed, shaved, and interrogated.”
“Yes. Specifically interrogated about anything having to do with Lucille.”
The chief paled. Most of Amora’s subjects knew about Lucille by then, so he assumed the dark with her would be her former owner.
“I will do it myself, your majesty.”
“Thank you. I will be watching.”
“Of course, sire.”
He stalked to the throne room, and the few courtiers that were seeking him out quickly forgot what they needed and bowed as he past. They had never seen him this incensed with anything, ever. He went into a little room next to the throne room and turned on the screens, standing and not reclining into the rolly chair. One he switched to the camera in the hall outside of Lucy’s room, and the others he put on each interrogation room until he found whichever Dirg was put in. He took the few minutes of silence to calm himself down.
The terms of the treaty stated that if a skyrunner of the opposite kind was found in the other’s realm, then that skyrunner could only be judged by an opposite kind of equal or higher rank. Thus, there were three people that could judge Dirg, King Amora, Queen Patricia, and the heir to the throne. Queen Patricia was away, so that left the judgment of Dirg’s actions up to the king. He was glad that he held the deciding opinion. In the mood he was in, the number one option for how to punish this upstart that so hurt his daughter was to chop off his head and send it as a declaration of war to his father.
That idea was so appealing that the king of the light skyrunners was having trouble coming up with any other option. There was that nagging thought at the back of his mind that he didn’t want to go to war. He wouldn’t care about the dark deaths, only what would happen to his own people. If Lucille’s brokenness was any indication of dark damage, Amora didn’t care if he wiped out the whole lot of them and thought the world would probably be a better place. He had no idea what his father was thinking when he realized he had the capacity to take down the darks and instead chose to forge a peace with that power over them.
Finally, his chief of police walked into interrogation room one with the newly shaven, black winged Dirg. Amora switched all but the screen on the hospital hall to different camera angles from around that room. This boy was definitely spawn of Zinx, with pretty much the same face but his mother’s eyes.
He turned on the audio and stood with his arms crossed, studying the man that broke his daughter.
“State your name, rank and occupation.” The chief said.
“Dirg Oina Zinx, Crown Prince, and no other occupation.”
“Why are you in the land of eternal light?”
Dirg seemed defeated and compliant, his eyes roaming around and his posture submissive.
“My father, King Zinx of the dark skyrunners, gave me a list of missions to complete before I am able to take the throne. One of these was to sneak in here, stay a week, and then sneak out.”
“How long have you been here?”
“Where were you when Princess Lucille cut herself?”
He hesitated. “I was in a cell with my back to the hall outside.”
“Did you know she was there?”
“Yes. She was talking to me.”
King Amora felt a pang of jealousy and hatred swell up within him. She talked to him? Amora had yet to hear her voice, and he had tried everything to get her to even laugh.
“What did she say?”
“To sum it up, she hates loving me and I broke her and she was trying to make the both of us happy by killing herself.”
“Why did you not bring her to a healer sooner?”
“I didn’t know she was slitting her wrists until she said something about death, and as soon as I knew I ran her to a healer.”
Amora drew his sword and yelled at the screen, “How could you not know she was killing herself behind you!? You should have heard odd sounds, at least!”
His outburst made him miss the chief’s question.
“No, I did not want her to kill herself. If I had been facing her or if I had noticed the clues or hadn’t been so stubborn, I could have stopped her.”
Amora shook his head in anger at the tear that fell from Dirg’s eye. This boy was trying to manipulate him into thinking he actually cared about Lucy. He had manipulated the king into believing his sob outcast story; he would not be fooled again.
“What were you being stubborn about?”
Dirg picked at a knot in the wooden table between the two and remained silent for a minute.
“Why did you keep your back to her?” The chief of police asked again.
“I wanted her to believe that I didn’t care. I wanted to keep the illusion in her mind that I hated her, so I kept my back to her so she wouldn’t see my pain at her words.”
There was another minute of silence, and Amora was about to explode. He placed the sword just outside the door to the room he was in so he wouldn’t hurt any of his computers.
Finally, the chief of police spoke. “Tell me how you met Lucille Diana Amora and everything that led up to today.”
“That’s going to be a long story.”
“I have all day.”
Dirg shrugged and began talking. He spoke about needing a pet to help him keep an ear out for any type of assassination plots but wanting a light one so he could carry it wherever he went. King Amora started pacing as he listened to how Dirg found her and turned her into Sunshine. A deep scowl settled in his face as the dark Prince recounted beatings and the way he touched her to control her. He knew darks were bad, but this was beyond what he had imagined.
Nothing but evil took other sentient beings and enslaved them. Nothing but evil played with a girl’s emotions until she didn’t know herself. Nothing but evil would put a girl in situations where she would have to use her body as a tool. Nothing but evil beat a girl into submission, and nothing but evil could think that the best way to love someone was to leave them broken for someone else to take care of. Dirg was nothing but evil.
The dark Prince finished his tale with his head in his hands, looking down at the table. His fingers were interlaced with his hair, his knuckles nearly white.
“Are you ashamed of what you have done?”
Dirg nodded and his voice was low and husky. “Yes. With every fiber of my being, yes.”
The king of the lights laughed out loud in scorn. He was a lying, manipulative cheat. The king opened the door and picked up his sword, stalking towards the interrogation rooms with the intent of removing the dark prince’s head from his shoulders. The naked blade gleamed in the light, eager to draw blood.
A whisper of a thought froze King Amora right where he was. Love your enemies.
He nearly choked and looked to the ceiling. “He hurt my family!”
Turn the other cheek.
“So you want me to give him my other daughter!?” He yelled at the ceiling, his grip tight on the sword.
You know what I mean. I came to save the broken and the lost.
“He’s not worth saving!”
I died for the darks too.
That drove Amora silent. He dropped the sword and fell to his knees as that truth hit him in the heart. It soaked through and permeated his being.
“You love them as much as us.”
Yes. He is the one I chose to reach the darks.
Amora shivered and pressed his palm to his forehead.
“He has to accept you first.”
There was no reply. The king sighed and sheathed his sword, walking to the interrogation rooms. He knocked lightly before entering. The chief of police and dark prince looked at him.
“Gillian, you may go.”
He stood quickly. “Yes sire.”
Dirg let go of his hair and straightened, watching the king warily. Amora came in front of him and stood, putting his hands flat on the table and leaning in. He looked Dirg in the eye and watched the kid’s walls go up.
“What do you expect?” the king asked.
“You were listening. If I were her father, I would be.”
“Yes I was. What do you expect me to do?”
“I would kill me.”
“That’s what I thought as well. Chop your head off and send it to your father as a declaration of war.” He snorted. “You deserve it. Every one of you filthy darks deserves the destruction I could unleash upon you. You lie. You cheat. You torture humans.” Dirg flinched. “And the only reason you don’t like that is because the human you tortured turned out to be my daughter. You run around having sex as if you wish to repopulate the world with darks.”
Dirg picked at the table. “Yes, I suppose we do deserve it. If you want to kill me, why don’t you? You’re the only one that can.”
Dirg’s eyes widened and the blood ran from his face. He cussed once and plopped his head into his hands.
“Just get it over with,” he groaned.
“God loves you.”
Dirg jerked up, shocked. “What?”
“God loves you, so I’m not going to kill you. Your punishment for sneaking into my realm is that you have to listen to me tell you how much God loves you.”
Dirg rubbed his chin, trying to hide his surprise.
“That’s- I mean- I’m confused. What is my punishment for what I did to Sun- Lucy?”
“To be determined later. Sit back and listen, there will be a quiz, and if you have any questions, ask.”
Dirg nodded and the king sat down and settled himself into the chair. Again, silence reigned. Dirg ran his hand through his hair as the king’s light brown eyes inspected him.
“I’m listening?” Dirg said slowly.
“No. Listen to yourself.”
More silence. “I’m confused.”
“What are you?”
“... A darky.”
“Beyond that. Beyond your title. Beyond Sunshine’s master. How do you see yourself?”
The young man tilted his chin up, the lie he was about to tell glaringly obvious. “I am the epitome of awesomeness.”
In a flash, King Amora slapped Dirg across the face so hard that the prince nearly fell out of his chair. He righted himself and glared at the king, feeling his cheek.
“What was that for?” he demanded.
“You’re not going to act with me, boy. Don’t throw on that mask and do not lie to me.”
Dirg’s shoulders sagged ever so slightly but he retained a smirk. “Why should I reveal myself to you? We just met.”
King Amora felt the rage flood through him again, but he held his temper back. Dirg must have seen it in his eyes, though, for his smirk fell.
He spoke calmly, “There are several reasons, Dirg. You are my prisoner. I am a king. You broke my daughter. If you lie to me again, I can and will send you to Hell with no remorse.”
Dirg kept his gaze and nodded. He sounded resigned.
“I am an evil monster.”
“Yes, you are. But so was I.”
Dirg leaned back and crossed his arms. “How in the heck were you ever so bad?”
“I disrespected my father. I committed adultery. I was a very... Loose young man.”
“I’m expected to kill my father. I come from a race of harlots. I have killed many.” He snorted. “You were an angel compared. No pun intended.”
“Well, then you will benefit from what I am about to tell you more than I did. Are you listening?”
“Good. You do acknowledge that there is a supreme God who created all things, yes?”
“Yes or at least a will above making things happen.”
King Amora nodded. “Most do. Some believe in a cruel god that has no care for his followers and even less for those who don’t follow him. They kill others and themselves in his name. Others believe in multiple gods, each with a specific realm of control. They work their entire lives to try to please each and every one. Yet others believe in a god that was once a man and by virtue of his good works became what they worship now. They wish to become gods as he is. Again more, myself included, believe in a loving God and try to share his love with others. The list goes on and on in the many quantities of human religion. With which are you most likely to side?”
“I have not given much thought to this subject. The majority of my kind would agree with or at least be interested in the cruel god.”
“I am not asking for the majority opinion. I’m asking for Dirg’s opinion.”
He hesitated and thought about it, scratching his chin and scowling at nothing in particular. King Amora waited. He knew this was going to take quite a long time, but he would be patient. If God thought there was a chance at reaching this boy, he would do his part.
“A loving God would not allow people like me to do what we do to people like Sunshine. A cruel god would have no reason to reward anyone, so following such a god seems foolish. Multiple gods makes the most sense, and I would assume they are what we call our ancestors.”
“Angels and demons?” Amora asked for clarification.
“Yes. I have never definitively heard of a power higher than they.”
“Okay. I believe in a loving God, one that loves even the worst of sinners, or people like you. He has allowed sin in this world pretty much from the time He created it because He wanted to give us a choice. Follow Him or follow our own desires? If there was no choice, then we would be little robots, only doing as He said.”
“Then why wouldn’t He create only people that wanted to follow Him? Why create murderers, rapists, and darkies? That makes no sense.”
“I don’t know. For some reason beyond mortal understanding, He has chosen to give us all free will. We can choose to reject the conscious He put in our hearts and commit every atrocity we can imagine, or we can choose to follow Him. The problem is, everyone at one point or another ends up doing something evil. From the tiniest of white liars to the most hardened criminal out there, we have all sinned and fallen short of His perfection. He is perfect, so perfect that He cannot have any sin in his presence.”
Dirg snorted. “Some love. Hold everyone to a standard not one can achieve.”
“Exactly,” Amora stated happily. “Not one. He did that so that we could see that our works will never be enough. Even one sin is enough to cast us from His perfection.”
“So he doomed the world? Where is not His presence?”
“Hell. The land of eternal fire.”
Dirg went pale. Amora tilted his head. “What?”
“I’ve been there.”
That confused Amora. “What? When?”
“It was one of my challenges: find the gates of Hell. I followed the same compass that leads me home or here and I saw...” He gulped and shook his head. “You don’t want to know.”
He could tell Dirg wasn’t lying. “So you know of at least that.”
“My mother told me that Hell was where humans went when they die.
“And where did she say you go?”
“We become demons.”
“So you believe you become gods?”
He scowled. “I don’t know. I’m not educated on this subject.”
“Then let me educate you. We are humans. Skyrunners are humans.”
Dirg’s jaw dropped open and anger flared in his eyes. “No we are most definitely not! We have wings.”
“An addition from our ancestors, yes, but everything else about us is human.”
“We have gifts!” Dirg exclaimed loudly.
“So do some humans. This is where I think you darks are the most messed up. You think you are so much better than humans. Your social hierarchy is based on the ‘purity’ of your line, when in essence, you are all really the same with a variety of color.”
“I haven’t noticed any variety among you lightsies. Do you not interbreed?”
“Not often, but not for the same reason as the darks. Our offspring have smaller wings if we interbreed. Our scientists tried to figure out why, but they have not yet reached a satisfactory explanation. I digress; we all die and will either go to Heaven or Hell. Anyone who has sinned will go to Hell.”
Dirg’s scowl deepened. “I’m not seeing the love you claim.”
“There is a way to reclaim innocence. God provided it near the beginning. Blood sacrifices were made that could cover sins, but even a river of bull blood and spotless lamb blood could not atone for the sins of the world. It wasn’t enough. Luckily for us, God had another plan in mind, a way to save the world from their own sin.”
King Amora paused. Dirg seemed to be listening, even though he was scowling, so he continued.
“He became a man and lived a perfect life. Not once did he sin, though demons and Satan tried to trick him at every turn.”
“Wait, wait, wait,” Dirg interjected. “God, as in the creator person, became a human? I mean, I can’t see an angel or demon belittling themselves that low, let alone a being above them.”
“Yes. I know it’s rather hard to understand, but it is true.”
“How did He do that?”
“He was born of a virgin. Any more specific than that, you would have to ask of a Bible scholar.”
Dirg stiffened. “Bible?”
Amora nodded carefully. “Yes, the word of God where most of this is written.”
“My mother told me to scoff at any man who would dare say that word.”
“Well, I dare.”
He glared at Dirg, challenging him to scoff. Dirg shrugged and seemed to become uninterested.
“What is wrong with the Bible?” The king demanded.
“My dear mother once read it. She said that it is full of nothing but light crap.”
“And what is wrong with light?”
Dirg looked at him askance. “You have met Tain, yes?”
“Yes I have.”
“I was glowing ever so slightly once and we had a good twenty feet between us. He was sunburnt on every inch of his exposed skin. There are some darkies even worse off than him. Light is...detestable.”
King Amora’s heart softened all the more. This poor boy. There was pain beyond his words that Amora couldn’t even guess at. He knew of a darkheart light or two, but a lightheart dark was another thing altogether. Lights grew cold in the dark or might possibly catch a cold or frostbite, but darks suffered much worse when exposed to their opposite. He had thought Dirg was lasting so well in the light because he was a strong darkheart like his father.
Dirg growled slightly. “I don’t need your sympathy, King Amora. My gift is a curse more so than a gift, but it is still my gift.”
“Of course. I apologize. I did not mean to offend you by staring.”
Dirg snorted and looked away. “You were telling me about the god that became a man.”
“Yes. He lived perfectly. The wages of sin is death, and He never sinned, so He didn’t have to die. He was God in human flesh; He could have lived forever if he wanted to. Instead, He gave Himself over to the wicked people of this world. As a dark, I am sure you have studied torture methods both ancient and modern; do I assume correctly?”
“Well, the Romans flogged and crucified him.”
Dirg looked perplexed. “God gave himself to the Romans? They didn’t kill, they perfected torture.”
“Exactly. He took one of the worst kinds of deaths for one reason and one reason only. He provided the ultimate blood sacrifice. His blood was enough to cover the sins of the entire world. He didn’t have to do that. You want to know why he did?”
Dirg nodded. He seemed to be hanging on every word the king said.
“Because he loves you, Dirg. He took that terrible beating and that horrible death so you could be forgiven of your sins. Every single one of them.”
Dirg looked down at his hands, processing this, a frown slowly taking his visage.
“And that wasn’t the end, either. Three days later, He brought Himself back to life and defeated death not only for Himself, but also for us. Through Him, we can defeat anything. All we have to do to be forgiven of our sins and to be given the same power that raised Him from the grave is to believe in our hearts that He died for us and accept Him as Lord over our lives.”
He fell silent and watched Dirg chew on that information. There was a long, patient silence.
“That is a gift? For everyone?”
King Amora sighed and rubbed his head. “Yes. He died to forgive every sin. At first, I couldn’t believe He did so for darks as well, but He dealt with my heart on the way here. He told me that He died for you, too, which may not mean much to you, but it hit me like a ton of bricks.”
Dirg nodded to say he slightly understood. “Let me summarize what I just heard. I am imperfect and will go to Hell when I die, unless I purposefully bend my own will to a god’s who has expressed no interest in me or my kind until just now?”
“If I know Him at all, I assume that He has tried to reach your kind before, but His grace has fallen on deaf ears. Why He chose now, why He chose you, is beyond me.”
Dirg glared at him. “What do you mean He chose me?”
“That’s what He told me. I know no more than that.”
“What if I don’t want to be chosen?”
“Then, choose not to be chosen. God gave us free will for a reason. You have a turning point here, Dirg. You can reject everything I have said or accept it. You can do whatever you wish, but please, please just give this a chance. I will get you a Bible so you can study it if you want.”
Dirg sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “I need time to think about all this.”
“Of course. Do you want a Bible?”
“Good. In the mean time, I have decided what your punishment is for breaking Crown Princess Lucille.”
He tilted his head, interested.
“You are going to tell her the truth. You are going to show your former pet your real self, but not yet. Not until I think she is mentally stable enough to handle it. Until I deem her able to handle it, you will stay here. You will have no contact with her, and you will avoid her at all costs.”
“Why do I have to stay here? Can’t you call me back when she’s ready?”
“No,” King Amora had that dead serious face that made Dirg not dare to question him.
He nodded. “As you say, sire.”
“As I say. I will assign a shadow to you. Anyone you know for the job?”
He was surprised when Dirg actually answered. “Benaiah.”
“How do you know Benaiah?”
“He’s the one I tricked into letting me in. And I... Knew him before.”
“I... Um. Don’t want to talk about it.”
King Amora narrowed his eyes. “Why not?”
“There are very few things I won’t brag about and what happened with him is one of them.”
“And what happened to Lucy is?”
Dirg scowled. “No. I only told you about that because you have a right to know. You don’t need to know about this, so you won’t.”
“Then I’ll ask Benaiah.”
Dirg shrugged. “Okay. Go for it.”
King Amora rolled his eyes and stood. “I will find him and ask him about this job switch and have him get you a Bible. You are to continue working in the kitchen until I decide otherwise.”
“Yes sir. I guess I’ll have to put on the report that I was caught and am being held prisoner. I’m sure King Zinx will love that.”
“Why don’t you call him Dad?”
Dirg scowled and shook his head. “None of your business.”
King Amora hated secrets. He knew everyone had them, but he had a feeling any secret Dirg held onto was dangerous. Even worse were the ones Lucille held onto. He remembered her bleeding in Dirg’s arms, her face deathly pale. He had told her over and over again that he loved her and wanted the best for her, but she hadn’t let him into that shell. She had stayed inside it for two months, and then she tried to kill herself when Dirg showed up.
Truthfully, it broke his heart. That’s why he was so angry. He blamed himself for not being able to help her. With Dirg here... Things could get better, he hoped. He prayed God would open Lucy’s heart and deal with Dirg’s before anything else drastic could happen.