Leyla sat by the river beneath the great lake, at the feet of Crysten’s throne. The chain at her feet kept her from leaving its side. She did not remember anything beyond her name. His potions made sure of that. A prisoner in this dark place, for how long she did not know, she was slave to the god. It seemed like lifetimes to her. Then time was relative here. A life could be nothing but a mortal minute, or vice versa.
Polishing the onyx to gleaming in the meager light, the shadow-skinned woman sighed, dreaming of, yet ever unable to see an escape. Leyla would very likely find herself dying here, lest the cruel god meant to keep her alive eternally. That disturbing thought gave her pause, and she sat back on her knees, shifting her shining black hair over a bare shoulder. A tear made its way down her cheek, alone as she.
The woman had but one wish. Even though she did not know where it was, or how long she had been gone, all she wanted was to go home. Eyes closed, and a deep sigh of despair heaved through her lean body. She looked at the cup that rested on the floor beside her. Before he had gone to see to the business of his realm, Crysten had placed it next to her, brimming with its usual concoction. Leyla picked it up. At that moment, she was more than willing to leave her memory of the deep-rooted sadness behind. Ignorance promised bliss. As she brought the vessel to her lips, she said a silent goodbye to her name…
Before the liquid reached her mouth, a small splash startled her out of her depression. She looked at the river behind her, confused, then into the cup. The greenish draught hid anything it might have contained. Leyla narrowed her eyes, and carefully submerged a finger, feeling for what, if anything, might have dropped into the drink.
Crysten returned just as she pulled a small, round object out of the cup. The content expression he wore turned to shock as recognition slapped his face. He ran for the woman. Leyla, seeing his intent, quickly slipped the ring onto a finger as she saw his hands aiming to grab her. She did not know what was so important about this piece of jewelry, but she was certain that she did not want Crysten to have this.
The god was too late. His arms found only air where the woman had been. A hand closed around the now empty shackle that had kept her at his side. Looking up, a few feathers floated down, discarded in her haste. The bird that had been his dark beauty disappeared into the light above, carrying the Oracle’s ring—The Ring of Truth.
Out of the lake, into a storm of war, flew a dark phoenix of wisdom – an owl. Lost to the wind, Leyla, inexperienced in her new form, tumbled through the skies in a mad whirl of down and wings. She was finally allowed to recover her memory, to return home. But how long would it take for her body to rid itself of Crysten’s draughts? Would she survive to learn what had saved her this terrible day? It seemed worthless now, for it looked as though she escaped just in time to see her world destroyed…
Crysten remembered what he once was. He would much prefer to forget the cause of his banishment. Everything that was dear to him was lost, most likely forever. The living believed him to be evil, while the dead blamed him for their limbo. If he could just get a message to Marhalia, but she would never believe his words. Every messenger he had sent before had met with the same fate. He was running out of ideas, and had none left whom he could trust.
The demon-shaped god heard a very wet and pitiful sound floating past him along the underground river. He reached in to scoop out something small that was gasping for breath. Puzzling at its struggles, he wrapped the little thing in the corner of his billowing sleeve to dry it off. Why would something dead try so hard for a breath it no longer needed?
Crysten brought his flat palm up even with his eyes to see what small thing now glared back at him. It was puffy and hissed so hard that it choked a bit. He blinked large, onyx eyes at it. His finger of Shadow only suffered one scratch as he rubbed it soothingly along the creature’s back. It was surprisingly soft.
The fur smoothed in slow relaxation to reveal, beneath that indignant fluff, was a small, completely auburn cat. It looked brown, but shone a rich red in the light that filtered through the lake. That color was so unique. He was sure he had seen this creature before.
The animal curled up on his hand and began to wash itself as though it could clean away the unpleasant experience of making contact with water.
Crysten remembered that haughty, indignant look it shot over its shoulder at him. This was the pet of the goddess herself. The god of Darkness considered. If she didn’t trust his words, surely she would trust her darling companion. Perhaps, if it were clothed in the actual events, he thought. It was worth a shot.
He concentrated, wrapping the little creature in the language of memory. The script took shape as a pattern of spots around its body. When he finished extracting his thoughts to draw them onto the animal, there was a spark, marking the end of the transmission.
This unexpected flash startled the feline into disappearing from his sight in a frightened streak of fur. Crysten’s eyes followed it. He gazed at the exit the cat had taken for a long time. He might never know, if the little messenger completed the given task. Shadow would never again attempt to contact the goddess. The past was the only hope for the future and it was now committed to the spots on a cat. Crysten blinked, his memory of the creature and its precious missive faded as the distance between them grew.