Shadows

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Ch. 2

Terra pushed the door open, surprised at how easily it opened with such minimal effort on her part. What surprised her more was all the light that came pouring out of the room beyond the door. Shielding her eyes she walked in. It was so difficult to see anything that she could have been walking into a bottomless pit and she would never have known.

Inside the room now she blinked rapidly trying to force her eyes to adjust. As near as she could tell there was an assortment of torches and light balls along the walls of the room. For a moment she wondered if this was what it felt like to be on the surface of the sun.

After about a few seconds she could tell her eyes were starting to slowly adjust.

“So they send princess to do their dirty work do they?” A voice called from beyond the light.

“W . . . What? Who’s there?” She called, still not able to see much.

The strange voice laughed. It was clearly a man, she could tell that. He sounded like he was in his late thirties or forties maybe, and bitter. There was anger and a bit of hate in his voice. Terra hesitated. She wasn’t sure what lay beyond light, but the more she thought about it the worse it made her feel.

I should go,’ she thought suddenly. ‘If father finds me down here he’ll be furious.’

“That’s right,” the voice mocked, “run home before papa finds you.”

Terra stumbled back against the door, pushing it closed behind her. ‘How did he know what I was thinking?’ She wondered. ‘I don’t think I said anything out loud. Did I?’

“No you didn’t. But you certainly think loud enough that you might as well have.”

Terrified she stopped shielding her face and opened her eyes as wide as she could, hoping that would allow them to adjust quicker.

Finally she was starting to see.

She was standing in a large square shaped room that had no windows and no other doors aside from the ones behind her. Around the room there was nothing but light. Sitting directly in the middle of the room was a large glass box. It must have stood over ten feet tall and at least as wide, if not slightly wider. The glass itself looked remarkably thick. Around the edges there were runes and other spell work etched in strange patterns.

Some runes Terra knew and understood while others were foreign to her. It was the same with the spell work. She could make out bits and pieces but no one had ever taught her to read it. Diana still didn’t know how to read most of it either.

Each word and rune seemed to bear the same meaning. Binding, sealing, hold, all seemed to be concentrated on keeping things in and out.

Terra felt more confused the longer she stared.

“Don’t hurt your head princess; most of these runes are older than this castle,” the voice said again. Standing inside the glass box was a man. Not just any man. There was something unsettling and evil about the man inside the glass cage. Just being near him felt like a terrible weight on her chest.

Who is this man?’ Terra thought feeling the fear spread through her. ‘To be locked up like this, he must have done something monumentally bad.’

“Oh you have no idea,” the man said with a wicked grin. He was tall, at least six and a half feet tall. His hair was jet black and seemed to actually pull in the light around it. His eyes were slanted against the light but even still Terra could tell they were a dark grey, like the slate used to build parts of the castle.

He was gorgeous. So much so that for a moment Terra almost forgot about the pressing evil weight she felt on her chest. After a moment that changed.

“Oh I see. You’re the second born. Heh, that makes much more sense. I didn’t figure they’d send their precious princess to face me first. Well then let’s have it.” The man strode to the corner closest to Terra and braced with both hands on the glass.

Precious princess? Could he be talking about Diana? Who is this man?’ Terra thought, too afraid to speak.

“Diana,” he said, mulling the name around his mouth. “Di-an-a. So that’s the name of the one who’s set to kill me. Good to know.”

“W . . . who are you?” She stammered, finding her voice at last

“Don’t you know? Oh I guess you don’t. What are they teaching you kids these days?”

She stared at the man, not sure what she should say or do. Part of her wanted to throw the door open and run. The other half wanted to know who this man was and what he meant when he said Diana was going to kill him.

Then like a bolt of lightning, Terra figured it out. The glass box inscribed with runes of sealing and protection, the overabundance of light, the evil presence she felt, and now what he said about fighting Diana.

“The Shadow King,” she whispered.

The man smiled wickedly and bowed. “At your service my lady,” he said with mock civility.

“You’re . . . you’re the one . . .” she stammered.

“Not great with words are you. No matter. I can see what’s in your head and your heart.”

It was then Terra remembered the stories her mother told her when she was little. Stories about the Shadow King and the things he could do. She was so young she never took much stock in what her mother had said. Aside from that, Diana was the one set to fight this monster, not her. No one had ever bothered to teach her about what he really could or could not do.

“So it seems you do know something about me. Let’s see, yes, obviously, I can read your thoughts. Yes I’m immortal. No, I can’t fly, and yes I can see straight through to your heart. I know your deepest darkest secrets and desires. I can . . .” he trailed off. His cocky smirk had vanished from his face, replaced by a look of confusion and then irritation.

Something about his sudden lack of confidence gave Terra enough courage to finally turn for the door and escape. Without so much as a second thought or a backwards glance, she ripped the door open and ran from room. She should never have come down here in the first place. She couldn’t believe how stupid she’d been.

There was no way to know how much information he extracted from her head while she stood there looking stupid. For all she knew he know knew every spell and incantation she and Diana had ever practiced. Making all of their previous training useless.

Not to mention the way he’d said Diana’s name! It was almost like he’d never heard it before.

Terra stumbled on her way up the stairs.

What if he had no idea who Diana was? What if my going down there not only told him who Diana was but what she looked like, where she sleeps and all the magic she already knows? Could I have just . . . just served up my sister to this monstrous man?!’ She collapsed at the top of the stone stairs, no longer able to keep walking. Tears were flowing freely down her face as she fell to her hands and knees.

“Diana,” she whispered through her tears, “sister what have I done?”

The King of the Shadows was not a man often taken by surprise. However, when that princess had burst through the door he found himself quite surprised for the first time he could remember. It wasn’t just the fact that she was the first person to walk through the door since he’d awoken in this accursed box; it was the fact that he hadn’t sensed her approaching.

More bothersome still was fact that when he searched her heart and mind for darkness he found only light. All living people have at least a small amount of darkness in their hearts. When they are greedy, or when they covet what others have, and most especially when they hate others for no reason. Even the most noble of people have the tiniest bit of darkness on them.

Something about this princess unsettled him. Adding to that the fact that she wasn’t even the princess from their prophecy, she was the second born, the cast off some called her. If she could surprise him, he was starting to worry about what kind of princess this Diana was.

Diana sat, arms folded, refusing to eat while her sister sat in such honor. Instead she occupied her time by openly flirting with some of the younger nobles sitting below the raised dais where her family ate. Her mother made a noise under her breath when she first caught sight of Diana’s lewd behavior. But Diana ignored her as she often did.

Her mother would be angry but it wasn’t her fault. It was Terra’s. And Diana intended to make her pay. She decided the best way would be to corner her sister as she made her way back to her room. She would no doubt try to avoid her, but Diana knew all her hiding places. So long as she could keep her sister from getting to the passages she would have her.

Stupid Terra. Always ruining everything Diana did. She would make her suffer.

As she sat and contemplated all the ways to make Terra pay, her sister suddenly rose from the table and, curtsying to her father and mother, left the hall. Diana jumped up; ready to follow her sister and give her what was coming to her.

Queen Elise reached up, and faster than Diana could see, she grabbed her sleeve and pulled her back down. “Dearest daughter,” she said smiling, “you have lessons this morning after breakfast.”

“I don’t care about my lessons,” she grumbled under her breath.

“As true as I’m sure that is, the fact remains if you are to run this kingdom one day you will need to know how it works. So you will attend your political lesson today. You have missed too many as it is. I’m sure whatever matters you have with your sister can be seen to after lessons. And after she’s come out of hiding,” the Queen added under her breath.

Diana thought for a moment and then said, “Yes, your right mother, as always.”

Elise smiled. “Now go and don’t disappoint me.”

“Yes Mother,” she said, coloring her voice with fake obedience. She curtsied to her mother and father in turn and then slipped from the hall. She hadn’t gone more than a few yards from the hall when she heard the footsteps behind her. Not looking back she walked on, confident she could take on any idiot foolish enough to take her on.

Diana rounded the corner leading into the grand entry way. There were people here and there, all going on about their own business. Thinking she could lose her stalker in the crowd, Diana decided the best plan of action was to walk straight through the middle of the crowded entry way.

Before she could so much as step out of the shadowed hallway a hand reached out from behind her and slapped over her mouth. Another came up and wrapped around her middle, pinning her arms to her sides, rendering her defenseless. She still needed to touch someone with her hands to affect them with her magic. Panic taking hold of her mind, Diana struggled against her captor to no avail.

She watched helplessly as she was dragged to one of the small rooms that shot off the main hall. She was through the door before anyone even took notice of her. Then the door closed and the small room was thrown into darkness.

Capt. Reynolds made his way steadily down the three flights of stairs in the main hall before he headed toward the west wing. As he passed, guards and citizens alike would sault him with a fist over the heart or a nod of the head. He paid them very little attention as he headed to prepare to meet with the King.

I could lose my head,’ he thought, ‘if the King had seen the way I was looking at his daughter he would have taken my head for sure.’ Capt. Reynolds sighed. He had watched the princess grow from the time she was ten. He had first enlisted with the castle guard when he was fifteen. As an orphan that was the earliest they would allow him to join.

Terra’s the same age now as I was back then,’ he thought. ‘Although our lives are complete opposite.

For a fraction of a second he started to wonder what it would be like if they weren’t so different. As soon as the thoughts started he shook them away. She was the princess, granted she wasn’t the princes the prophecy spoke of. Still she was a princess. When she was grown her father would marry her to a noble or neighboring king. He would use Terra to forge or strengthen some alliance somewhere.

If he did anything to jeopardize that, he would be beheaded without a second thought. Not to mention what would happen to Terra if she no longer served a purpose here. He had heard from the servants and other castle staff just how she was treated behind closed doors. ‘Maybe that’s why I seem so draw to her,’ he thought, ‘maybe something about her life reminds me of mine.

Again, Capt. Reynolds shook these thoughts away. He was very attached to his head and he liked it right where it was. If the older princess and the Queen mistreated the youngest princess there was very little he could do about that.

In fact, he was almost certain there was nothing he could do about it.

I can be a friend,’ he thought suddenly. Sometimes just having someone around to talk to is enough to help you get through the worst times. He would have to learn to control himself better around the young princess if he wanted to help her.

When he had come around that corner and seen her standing on those stairs all thoughts of his execution and her age flew from his mind. He felt guilty just thinking about it. He knew that as far as her family and law were concerned she was still a child.

At least for the next few weeks anyway.

She would be sixteen soon. By the law of the kingdom she would be a young woman then and open to receiving calls from suitors.

Not that anyone would ever consider him a suitor.

Snap out of it Eric,’ He thought to himself. ‘I can’t meet with the King while having thoughts like these about his youngest daughter. I am the Captain of the Guard and I will act as such. Beautiful princess or no. I have a duty to this kingdom and to its king.’ That seemed to help. The more he thought about the duties he swore to uphold for king and kingdom, the less he thought about Terra that way.

He wasn’t sure what it was about the princess that caught him so off guard. He’d been with women before, beautiful women. It wasn’t like he had an issue with young girls. Terra was the first woman, girl, no, woman he’d ever looked at that way. He was beginning to fear the guilt of his thoughts would tear him apart.

Taking a deep breath Capt. Reynolds cleared the princess from his mind and focused on the task at hand.

The prisoner hidden at the bottom of the castle.

Somehow Terra had managed to make her way up the rest of the stairs, into the corridor and was almost to the door leading out to the first floor west wing hallway, when the sudden feeling of evil behind her drew her attention. She wasn’t sure where it had come from but she could sense it as clearly as if she was looking at it head on.

Careful to keep her pace even, she continued on her way to the door. She centered herself and reached out with her mind trying to see what it was behind her. She felt something dark, evil, and slightly familiar. There was something about this evil that she had felt before.

That man! The Shadow King in the basement, this feels like his same evil aura!’ She realized with an overwhelming sense of dread what was behind her.

A shadow had somehow penetrated the barriers and protection spells placed throughout not only the castle but the surrounding town. More than that, it had found her right after she’d left the presence of their supposed King.

Not sure how it came to be behind her, Terra knew she couldn’t let this creature get away and wonder the castle. There was no way to tell how many lives would be lost. If it was her fault that this creature was here, she would be sure to rectify that mistake.

Terra stopped walking suddenly and dropped down into a crouch spinning and sweeping her foot around as she spun. Physical attacks had no effect on shadows, but if you came into contact with them you would feel a freezing aura, like part of you was suddenly thrust under the midwinter ice. Sweeping like this was an effective way of judging how much distance there was between you and the monster.

Her toes hit something cold that sent shockwaves of pain through her body. Thanks to her training with Diana, she was prepared for this.

Still, it hurt badly.

Crouching into a ball, she rolled back, putting more distance between her and the shadow. It was a move she had practiced as part of her training many times, but this time it was much harder due to the yards of fabric she was wearing. As she sprang back up she raised her eyes for the first time.

It was horrible.

The monster stood nearly eight feet tall but less than three feet wide. It was pitch black at the top but as it trailed down to the floor it faded away so that its bottom was all but invisible. They had no arms or appendages to speak of but then again they had no real need for them. It was the eyes that made them so terrifying.

Where there heads would be there were two silvery grey slits for eyes. Typically when a shadow was hunting for prey its eyes were two thin lines of silver on its face. But once you made the mistake of looking them in the face, their eyes would widen and they would lock onto the aura of your soul. It was said, by some, that they would hunt you to the ends of the earth once they got your smell.

As Terra looked up she saw that not only were the shadows eyes open, they were bulging. They were huge, bigger than she’d ever thought they could get. Like two huge silver holes in its face. It was terrifying to see.

Caught off guard by its appearance, she froze momentarily.

Sensing her laps of focus the shadow lunged. Quicker than she would have thought possible it came at her. It made no sound as it approached but the evil coming off of it was almost visible. It was certainly more than palpable.

Terra dived to side, crashing into a suite of armor as it streaked passed. While her training made her quick, she wasn’t that quick. As the shadow flew past it grazed her arm sending waves of freezing cold pain through her body.

She cried out and grabbed her left shoulder. Her sleeve was like ice under her fingers and her whole left arm could barely move.

“Damn,” she whispered struggling to flex her fingers. Standing she ran part way down the hall and turned to face the shadow. She wouldn’t be caught off guard again. The shadow had already turned and was coming at her again. Releasing her left arm, Terra raised her right hand and quicker than she ever had before, pooled her magic there.

“By the rights of the Creator, Shadow I . . .” she was stopped halfway through her spell when the door behind the shadow opened suddenly.

Capt. Reynolds had almost perfected the presentation he would make to the King by the time he reached the entrance to the first floor west wing hallway. His hand was on the handle when a noise from inside stopped him cold. There was the sound of running footsteps and then the crash of something or someone hitting metal.

He’s escaped!’ Capt. Reynolds thought. Knowing he couldn’t take the monster on alone the Captain turned to raise the alarm. He hadn’t even taken a step forward when he heard the sound of Terra’s voice beyond the door.

His blood ran cold at the sound and before he could think better of it, he was shoving the large door open and running inside.

“Terra!” He shouted bursting through the door. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing! The princess was at the far end of the hallway, her right hand raised and her left arm was hanging limply at her side. Between the captain and the princess was a shadow.

“Eric,” Terra shouted, “Shut your eyes!”

“Wh . . . What?!”

“Shut your eyes!” She could see the shadow turning to face Eric. With its eyes bulging that way Terra was afraid the captain would be unable to resist looking. Her being marked was bad enough, but she would be damned if her mistake cost him his life.

“If I shut my eyes I can’t help you,” he called, keeping his eyes down cast as his training had taught him.

“I need you to trust me, please Eric. Shut your eyes!”

“Damn it!” He shut his eyes seconds before the shadow turned to face him. As Terra had hoped its eyes became slits again as its rapid movement came to an end. It stood before Eric turning from left to right and back again. It could sense prey nearby but couldn’t find him with his eyes closed.

Seeing her opportunity Terra raised her right hand again.

“By the rights of the Creator I banish you from this place of light!” Purple and silver magic exploded from her right hand flew at the shadow. It whipped around to face her as soon as she started to speak again.

Its eyes bulged as it flew toward her alarmingly fast. It was too late. She was faster than the shadow. It ran into her magic head on. Purple and sliver enveloped the creature surrounding it like an aura. As she watched the shadows eyes seemed to bulge even wider as it stared at her.

“T . . . Terra,” Eric stammered, eyes fixed on the dying monster in front of him.

In an instant the shadow turned bright white and shown with a brilliance that would marvel the sun itself.

Then just as suddenly it was gone, leaving nothing where it once stood.

“I . . . I actually did it,” she whispered, a faint smile on her lips. Suddenly exhausted, she felt her knees give out underneath her and she began to fall.

“Princess!” Eric shouted, rushing forward. He caught her seconds before her knees slammed into the floor. He carefully lowered her down in his arms. “Terra are you alright? Did it hurt you? How did you do that? What happened? How did that thing get in here? And why are you down here?”

Terra chuckled, “that was too many questions at once.” Feeling like she might pass out, she leaned forward and rested her head on the Captains’ shoulder. He was so warm and her arm was still so cold. She felt like she just needed to sleep for a while.

“Terra what in the name of the Creator are you doing down here?”

“I was hiding,” she said, to weak for lies, “from Diana. I knew she was mad at breakfast and I didn’t want to fight with her so I came down here to find my father and hide.”

“But then how did the shadow . . .”

“I went too far,” she whimpered, tears in her eyes. “I went all the way down and I . . . I saw him.” She dissolved into tears at the thought of the monster under the castle and the fact she had unwittingly betrayed her family by going down there.

Eric sat back on his heels and held the crying princess. Her left arm felt like ice and her hair had completely fallen out of the plait it had been in earlier. Shushing her he gently stroked her hair. He knew he had to get her out of here before someone came to see what the commotion was. He wasn’t sure what happened, but he knew he needed to be the one who questioned her.

“Terra,” he said after a few moments, “I need you to tell me exactly what happened. If one shadow got in that means more shadows can get in. I need to know how this happened.”

Taking a few deep breathes to calm herself, she sat back out of Eric’s arms and said, “I came looking for my father. But as soon as I took a few steps from the door I felt something.”

“Something like what?”

“It’s hard to explain,” she said thinking. “If felt almost like I had a second heart beating in my chest.” She placed her hand over her heart as she remembered the strange sensation of having two heart beats. Curiously she wondered when the beating had stopped. She had been so caught up with fleeing that she hadn’t noticed it stopped.

“A second heartbeat,” Eric said, more to himself than to Terra. “Then what happened?”

“Well, this other heartbeat felt like it was pulling down the hall to those doors. So I followed it like an idiot. I never even thought there might be something terrible lurking down there.”

“Don’t worry about that now,” Capt. Reynolds said assuming a more formal tone. “Just tell me what happened.”

“I went down the stairs and found a room full of the magelight torches. Only a few were lit but it was still very bright. I walked on toward the big wooden doors and . . .”

“The guards just let you pass?” Capt. Reynolds cut in.

“There were no guards.”

“No guards! Are you sure?” He asked, sounding more than a little angry.

“I’m sure. There was a table with a few chairs against the wall next to a sword rack, but there was no one else down there.”

“Fools,” he muttered. “Please go on.”

Terra took another deep breath and then continued. “I opened the door and was instantly blinded by the light in the room. Before my eyes could adjust I heard someone in the distance talking to me. When my eyes adjusted I saw a huge glass box, covered in spells and runes. Inside the box was . . . the Shadow King.”

“Terra I need you to listen to me very carefully. I need to know everything that was said between you too. The smallest detail could change everything.”

She felt her eyes start to water again as she thought of everything he had gotten from her mind. Going slowly so as not to forget anything, she relayed to him everything they said. She tried her best to tell him word for word, but it felt like so much had happened since she had stood before that monster.

“Then, as I was walking toward the door, I felt an evil presence behind me. You know what happened after that.”

“Terra,” Eric said, “I can’t say how much you may have given him or even how much he knew before he was captured. I won’t lie to you, it sounds like he knows a lot more about your sister now than he did before. But please believe me when I tell you that he can never escape from that prison. It was specially crafted to keep him in and keep everything else out. He will never be a threat to you down there.”

“How can you be sure?”

“You just have to trust me.”

She nodded with a sigh. “What do we do now?”

“Now we find the King and tell him what happened.”

Terra shuttered, a sudden premonition of terrible things to come washed over her. “Do we have to?” She asked, hoping to prevent her premonition from coming true.

“I’m afraid we must.”

With a resigned sigh she nodded. “Let’s go then.”

Diana watched the door before her close, cursing the fools who hadn’t see her in time to save her. She continued to struggle but she knew it was useless. Whoever or whatever had a hold of her wasn’t letting up.

“I’ve been waiting for you princess,” a voiced hissed in her ear. “I thought you’d never leave that damn hall.”

Diana stopped struggling. She knew this voice. She had heard it before. With an enormous sigh of relief Diana parted her lips under the hand and licked them provocatively. The man behind her moaned quietly in her ear and then released his hold on the princess.

“If it isn’t Richard Howe,” Diana said in a sultry voice. She pressed herself against the man before stepping away to face him.

“For a moment I wasn’t sure you knew it was me,” Richard said, his voice deep with passion.

“I thought you liked it when I struggled.” Diana leaned against the man as she ran her fingers up and down the length of him.

“Oh I do,” he said grabbing her by the shoulders and forcing her down on the pile of robes at their feet. “Let me show you just how much.”

“Don’t you dare rip this dress, it’s new,” she warned as she felt his greedy hands fumble with her corset.

“I haven’t ripped one yet,” Richard said his voice thick with lust.

“See that you don’t.”

Terra stood silently at Capt. Reynolds side as he explained to the King what he found when he arrived at west wing. He then explained about the fight with the shadow and questioning Terra after it was all over. King Sol stood gravely as he listened to the Captain. His greatest fear in bringing that monster to the castle was that something like this might happen.

Her father stood at the center of a large round table with generals at either side. Terra knew all their names and which had provinces and where. The table before them was a large ornately gilded round table. There was no top but only a small border on which her father now rested his hands. Instead inside the table itself there was an exceptionally detailed model of the kingdom. Everything from the forest that border the castle grounds to the small village of Westmore that sat at their southernmost border. The rivers in the forest had even been added. Each structure that sat on the model could be easily removed should something terrible befall its real life counterpart.

Directly behind her father sat a smaller, but no less ornate throne flocked on either side by large less ornate chairs for the generals and captains. The rest of the room was taken up by a large wooden table in one corner covered in maps and scrolls. Large weapon racks sat along most of the walls with a few large glass cases for special battle worn weapons.

The rest of the wall space was occupied by charts and maps detailing trade routes and peace agreements with neighboring kingdoms. It was a very large room, standing there next to Capt. Reynolds made Terra feel exceptionally small.

When Capt. Reynolds came to the part about Terra using magic the King turned a disbelieving eye to his youngest daughter who, as far as he knew, had no magical abilities to speak of. When the captain continued talking the King held his hand up to silence him.

“Terra,” he said, “tell me child is this true? Did you see the Shadow King and speak with him?”

“Yes father,” she answered, her eyes downcast.

“And from your mind he pulled thoughts about your sister?”

“Yes father.”

“How long after that before you realized there was a shadow trailing you?”

“I paused at the top of the stairs for nearly ten minutes after I ran from the prison. It was only moments after I passed through the doors that I felt it behind me.”

“And you defeated this shadow?”

“Yes father.”

“On your own?”

“Yes father.”

“Using magic?”

Terra hesitated. “Yes father.”

“Tell me child what happened when the monster was defeated? How did it die?”

Struck by the odd nature of the question, she hesitated again.

Capt. Reynolds spoke up when he saw Terra’s hesitation. “It was enveloped in the princess’s magic for less than a moment before it turned white and shone like the sun. We had to cover our eyes to avoid being dazed. When the light faded and we could look again, the creature was gone. No trace of it remained.”

“Are you sure Captain?” the King asked. “There’s no way you’re mistaken about what you saw?”

“No Majesty.”

“This is most troubling news indeed,” King Sol said as he mulled over what their next course of action would be.

Terra glanced nervously around at all the faces in the room. There seemed to be some issue with the retelling of how the monster was defeated. She was almost certain this situation would end poorly for her. She just wasn’t sure how yet.

“Majesty,” Capt. Reynolds said.

“Yes Captain?”

“Perhaps, if there is doubt, we could always have her recast the spell so that you may all see it firsthand.”

“I’m afraid that unless you have a shadow in your pocket that won’t work,” Master Bell said, stepping up to stand next to the King. He nodded to the captain and bowed to Terra.

“Why wouldn’t it work Master Wizard?” Capt. Reynolds asked.

“The princess can cast her spell again but all we would see is color of her magic. Without an actual shadow for her to purify, we won’t be able to see anything.”

“P . . . purify?” She asked confused. “I thought that spell banished the shadow back to its own realm?”

“Normally,” Master Bell explained, “that’s exactly what would have happened. However, if what you say is true and the shadow was enveloped in a blinding white light, than that shadow was purified, not banished.”

“I’ve never heard of a shadow being purified before,” Capt. Reynolds said. He looked to the King who, aside from being the King, was well versed in all the lore that concerned shadows.

For a moment King Sol was silent, mentally going through all he knew of the shadows and their king. He thought he might have heard something similar to this once many years ago. “I seem to recall an incident similar to this in my studies. However it has been many years since I read about it. I’m afraid I don’t recall much.”

“I believe I know the incident you mean Majesty,” the oldest of the Kings Generals said, stepping forward.

“General Swain,” the King said, “please tell us what you know.”

Walking up to stand next to Master Bell, the old general saluted the King and bowed to the princess. “It was many years ago now,” he started, speaking slowly. “I heard the tale when I was a boy working on my father’s farm out near the Western Woods. A man came to the door asking if we could give him shelter for the night. He told us his traveling companions had been attacked by a rouge group of shadows.

“As he told it he and a number of other men had set out into the woods to gather firewood for their village. Though my father expected they had actually been poaching in the Kings woods. They had wandered deeper than they normally do and gotten lost. After searching for the way home for several hours it got dark and they set up camp for the night hoping to make a fresh start in the morning.

“Sometime during the night a group of shadows came upon them. The first man they took stood no chance. He woke up feeling the freezing pain of the shadows and died moments later. In the space of a few moments they had taken all but the man who stood at our hearth.

“Hearing his friend’s die the man took off running through the woods. He couldn’t say for how long or far he ran but in time he came upon a small lake in the center of a clearing. At the edge of the water stood a beautiful woman clad all in white. As he approached she turned and faced him. He couldn’t recall much other than she was beautiful and that her eyes were a brilliant green. Like the emeralds of the crown.”

Terra looked up at the man, her own eyes shining green.

General Swain smiled at Terra knowingly. “Before the man could say anything to the woman she ran from the edge of the water and met the shadows head on. Without a word she raised her hand and the shadows erupted into pure white light. Shocked and exhausted the man went to the woman and thanked her for saving his life and destroying the monsters.

“She told him that the shadow hadn’t been destroyed but purified and sent home.”

“If there was a way to do such a thing, wouldn’t we have heard of it by now?” Capt. Reynolds asked.

“Not necessarily,” Master Bell countered. “It is possible to purify a shadow instead of just sending it away. But the ability do so is so rare that most people don’t even know the gift exists. I myself have never heard of a confirmed case of it.”

“So a shadow can be purified by a rare gift,” King Sol said as he processed this new information. “Master Wizard tell me, does this gift matter? If we can kill the shadow without purifying it, what difference does it make so long as the outcome is the same?”

“A wise question your Highness,” Master Bell remarked with a nod. “A shadow does not exist in the same plane of existence as we do. Put simply, they are from a different dimension than we are. Because they cannot fully exist on our plane, physically we cannot hurt them. However, every time we kill a shadow all we are really doing is sending them from this world back to their own. They are not truly dead, nor are they really alive. Banishing them sends them away the same way waving your hand sends away a fly away, for a moment.”

“But in time the fly returns,” King Sol said, picking up what the wizard was saying.

“So to, do the shadows,” Master Bell said, nodding at the King. “All we can do is swat them away for a time. Unfortunately there is no way to tell for how long they disappear. For all we know we could banish one here only to have it reappear on the other side of the world or in the next room. It is regrettable, but what we know about these creatures is limited.”

“If we purify them,” Terra asked timidly, “do they come back?”

Master Bell turned to the princess and smiled. He had always admired her wit and abilities. As far as he was concerned one of greatest disappointments in his life was being unable to train a gift like hers. More times than he could recall he had gone before the Queen and asked for permission to train both princesses. Each time her answer was the same.

No. It was more important that Diana get trained and ready for the fight than Terra get trained because the wizard wished it so.

“No princess. Once purified, the shadows can never return.”

“How do you know?” A Lord from the north asked. “If our knowledge is so limited, how do we know if they don’t come back?”

“Every shadow has its own unique aura, just like we all do. Though each bears the same evil as their master, they are all different. Years ago some of the Masters came together and through careful comparison and many arguments, they discovered that most of them had fought the same shadow at one time or another. After that they began sending out all under their power who had the gift and skill to detect an individual’s aura to fight these shadow and return to tell them of the auras they felt.

“Soon it became clear to everyone; we were not killing these creatures at all.”

There was a sudden outburst of talking and shouting from around the table. Some people believed what the Master Wizard said was impossible. They shouted about how such a thing couldn’t be true or surely they would have heard about it by now. Others cried out in fear. Saying that the Wizards information was a sure sign that they would never be truly rid of the monster and they would all perish.

Men shouted and yelled back and forth over the round table while the King walked back to his throne and sat, deep in thought. Even Capt. Reynolds was caught up in the argument. Slowly Terra backed away from the table. She kept her head down and the men circled around to the spot she left open. Once her back was to the door she curtsied to her father and slipped out.

Stepping lightly into the hall she pulled the door closed and rested her head against it. She could still hear the men arguing on the other side. Even this argument was her fault. She had given away Creator knows how many of her sisters secrets to the enemy, gotten into a fight with a shadow, forced Eric to take her to her father and out her about her magic which would undoubtedly get back to her mother and mean the end of lessons with Diana and a sever scolding if not a beating.

She had somehow managed to destroy her entire life, all before noon. Somehow she knew that must have been a record.

To depressed to even cry anymore, Terra made her way slowly down the hall. She would go and face her mother and sisters wrath. There was no use hiding anymore. She had tried to hide earlier and look what happened.

Terra made her way slowly to her room. She smiled and nodded when people acknowledge her. In the back of her mind she noted how more people than usual were taking notice of her. Typically she was out shined by Diana who was her nearly constant companion.

Terra wondered if she’d ever be let out of her room again.

Her mother would want the passageways and tunnels mapped once she knew about them and that would limit where Terra could go and when. She supposed she should become accustomed to her room. It’s probably where she would spend most of the rest of her life.

Diana painstakingly adjusted her dress and hair. She couldn’t have people knowing what she did in her free time. Richard was already dressed cracking the door open.

“There’s a lot more people out here now,” he said, cursing under his breath. “We’ll have to head out separately.”

“You can wait here,” Diana said dismissively. “I have to get to some boring lesson or my mother will have my head.”

Used to the princess’s mistreatment of him, Richard only smiled. “How long do you want me to wait?”

“I don’t know, maybe an hour.”

“An hour?!”

“Yes,” Diana sapped, poking her head out. “Wait an hour and then come out.”

“I can’t be gone that long! My father is already searching for me by now.”

Not feeling up to arguing with or threatening Richard, Diana opted for a third option. She turned from the door and pouted her lips. “I’ll make you a deal,” she pressed herself against the length of him, “if you wait and hour like a good boy, I’ll let you into my bed tonight.”

Richard was already having a hard time thinking. Diana was a beautiful woman with a tight firm body that drew the blood from his brain faster than he’d care to admit. When she pressed herself against him this way and he could feel every supple curve of her body against his, he was powerless.

Never before had she offered to lay with him in her bed. She always had some excuse or another. He had never pressed the issue because he greatly enjoyed their time together. She could excite him in ways the whores never could. Just the thought of taking the princess in her own bed was more than he could bear.

“I would wait in here all day for a chance to have you in your bed,” he whispered, his voice deepening with lust.

“Good,” Diana said, pleased as she always was when she got her way. “Do you still have that ridiculous little writing scroll on you?”

“Of course,” Richard replied, reaching into one of the pockets inside his traveling cloak. “You know my father insists I take this with me everywhere.”

“Let me see it.” Diana took the small scroll and unrolled it. “Do you remember the time I had you meet me in that passage by the kitchen?”

“Yes.”

“This is a map that will lead you from that door to the door to my room. Be sure you go far enough down the hall or else you’ll end up in my parent’s chambers and I will deny any knowledge of you.”

“Understood,” he said taking the map from the princess. He studied it carefully before rolling it up and returning it to his pocket.

“When should I come to your room?” He asked, lifting a lock of hair from her neck. He kissed down her neck to her shoulder.

“Once they put out the fires in the kitchen come to my room. I’ll be waiting.” She walked away from him and out the door as though they were having a perfectly civil conversation and not arranging another intimate encounter.

Richard turned and punched the pile of coats that they had just made love on with all his strength. He hated how she treated him. Like he was less than the other foolish boys she had her way with. He was the son of a Lord, and she would treat him as such if it killed him.

Diana made a b-line for her room, knowing that the dim light of the closet wasn’t enough for her to put herself back together. She never went anywhere without looking her best. Being a princess and the savior of mankind was great, but being the most attractive woman in the kingdom got her out of more bad situations and into more enticing ones than anything else.

She would have to look quite inviting to avoid her mother finding out how late she was to her lesson. Catching a faint whiff of herself she realized she smelled of old coats and sweat.

This will never do,’ she thought, ‘I’ll have to summon that old hag to run me a bath.

Smiling at the thought of how much it would pain the old woman to have to bathe her Diana hurried on to her room.

Terra closed her door and threw the bolt. At least she wouldn’t be surprised by someone coming in unannounced. Kicking off her new slippers, she walked to her bed and threw herself onto it. Noon or not, she didn’t feel much like being awake anymore today. She rolled onto her back and stared at the faded purple canopy of her bed.

I can’t believe how stupid I am,’ she thought, ‘I gave away everything to that monster!’ Feeling more useless than she ever had before, she lay on her bed and wished to sleep forever. ‘Everything Diana’s worked so hard for, everything we’ve practiced, every hour we’ve spent at our lessons. Even all the physical training father insisted on. All of it. For not. Because of me!’

Terra felt herself start to cry again, but somehow she couldn’t bring herself to care. What did it matter if she cried now? It would probably be best to get the tears out now before her mother got a hold of her.

Mother,’ she thought, ‘will you still love me when you know what I’ve done? Will you still be able to look at me when you know all that I’ve betrayed this day?’ Not that it mattered. Terra doubted she would ever be able to look at herself in the glass again.

Father. The way you looked at me when Eric told you what I’d done, like I was no longer your little girl. When he told you about my magic you weren’t proud or happy to have a second gifted child were you? No. You were disappointed in me. Sneaking around the castle at all hours of the night like some kitchen maid. Lying to you and mother about what I can do. Will you ever forgive me?

Terra thought of the way her father had looked at her when Master Bell had told him that she had purified the shadow and not killed it. It was like he didn’t know her, like she was something foreign, and unpleasant. He would never forgive her. She knew that.

“Oh Diana what have I done?” Terra sobbed out loud. She rolled onto her stomach and clutched a pillow to her face to stifle her cries. “How could I have been so foolish?! How could I let him use me like an idiot?! You trusted me to keep you secrets and to help protect you from that monster and I failed you! I failed you! Sister I’m sorry!” She was shouting into the pillow now as she sobbed uncontrollably.

For a moment she wished she could just disappear and never be seen or heard from again. She could do no more damage that way. She could simply fade away into nothing. It wouldn’t even be that hard for her. She was so often in the shadows people probably wouldn’t even notice her absence.

The Shadow Princess.

That was what many of the people called her. Very few people knew what she looked like or even anything about her. Being a princess didn’t seem to matter much when Diana was around. She soaked up all the light and left none for Terra. She was left with the shadow and the dark. It seemed like she could fade away and no one would ever be the wiser.

Knowing such luck was impossible she shut her eyes against the light streaming in through her window. Her mother would be there soon enough. She might as well rest while she can. Her late night excursions with Eric had robbed her of most of her sleep the previous night. It wasn’t long after she closed her eyes that sleep took her over and she finally stopped crying.

Fresh from her bath and in a clean dress Diana felt like a well groomed cat as she slipped into the passage behind her large tapestry depicting her in the battle she was destined for. It didn’t really look like her at all in truth. Someone had done it years before after they heard the description of the golden princess.

At least they got the hair right,’ Diana mused as she looked at the woman made of woven threads. Her hair was long and golden. But in her opinion, Diana was much better looking than the woman on her wall. She understood how they could make such a mistake. Diana was more beautiful than any other woman in the kingdom, living or dead. How could these fools know such beauty would be born into the world?

With one last glance in her looking glass, Diana slipped through the hidden door and into the secret passage. Deciding the best path to take would be to head down to the second floor and use the door near the main stairs to get to her lesson, she set out.

She hadn’t gone more than a few feet before she could feel someone behind her.

Richard,’ she thought, mildly irritated. ‘You were supposed to wait until near midnight before coming up here.’

With a sigh Diana stopped and turned, ready to give Richard a sound lashing for not following her instruction to the letter.

It wasn’t Richard.

Not even close.

Diana let out a blood curdling scream that bounced off the stone walls around her.

She tried to scurry back and away, but a loose stone tripped her.

As she fell backward the world around her grew dark. Just before all the light was stolen away from the world her thoughts turned to her family. If she died here, would they find her before her body became ugly and gnarled?

Capt. Reynolds bowed to the King as he made his exit from the war room. Sometime during the fighting and debating Terra had slipped from the room and no one had notice. They had finally come to a course of action regarding what had transpired that day between her, the Shadow King and the shadow.

They had turned to her to see if she agreed only to find her gone.

He felt foolish for not noticing her absence before. She had been attacked only hours ago in the middle of the castle. Somewhere that was arguably the safest place in the whole kingdom. He never should have let her out of his sight. If anything happened to her because of his over sight he would never forgive himself.

When they had discovered her gone it was the Master Wizard who had suggest that he, as the Captain of the Guard, go and find her and bring her back to the war room so they could make preparations. Once he found Terra he was instructed to go to the school room and collect Princess Diana as well. They would need both princesses for what was in mind.

Stepping out of the west wing, Capt. Reynolds was surprised to find the sun was setting. Most of the day had been wasted arguing back and forth over what was truth and what was not. Or what could be done and what was impossible. It worried him greatly to think that Terra had been gone for nearly five hours and he hadn’t noticed.

Running up the stairs he passed a few maids and housekeepers even a laundress, none had seen the princess in several hours. With a growing sense of panic Capt. Reynolds turned and decided to check the school room where the princesses had their lessons. He knew that by now the princesses should be practicing the physical training the King made them do.

Frankly the Captain couldn’t agree more with King’s choice to ensure the princesses knew how to protect themselves. He had made a lot of changes since becoming the Captain of the Guard, but even still there were several high ranking men whom he wouldn’t trust with a potato knife, let alone a sword or bow.

Teaching the princesses how to defend themselves is probably what saved Terra this morning. Knowing how to react to a threat and keep yourself safe is essential information. In times like these you can’t be too prepared.

“Captain!” A voice in front of him called. It was one of the princess’s instructors, although the captain couldn’t be sure which one.

“Instructor,” The Captain said coming to an abrupt halt. “What can I do for you?”

“It’s the princess!” He cried in a panic.

“What about the princess?” He demanded.

“Something terrible has happened!” The man was practically falling all over himself as cried at the Captain.

Seizing the man by the shoulders the Captain shook him once and yelled, “What happened to Princess Terra?!”

“T . . . Terra,” the man said stammering, “This has nothing to do with her. This about Princess Diana! She never showed up for any of her lessons today!”

Capt. Reynolds dropped the man to the floor and began walking away. For a moment his heart had dropped at the thought of something terrible befalling Terra. To find out that Princess Diana had simply skipped her lessons again. He felt like he could cry out in joy and kill that man in frustration.

“But captain you don’t understand,” the man called after him. “I’ve been searching for her since midday. She’s nowhere to be found!”

“Why didn’t you say so fool?!” He shouted turning back to the man.

“I tried to tell you, you dropped me on the floor,” the man said whimpering.

Enraged Eric Reynolds, Captain of the Kings Guard, lifted the man by his collar and pinned him to the wall of the hall. “Tell me, and tell me now, everywhere you looked and when you looked there.”

It took that fool nearly twenty minutes to accurately recount where and when he had searched. Then it had taken him an additional thirty to sound the alarm and get the men organized into search parties. Night had fallen by the time they started searching in earnest. Worse than that, the Queen had come and spoken to the men before they set out.

He had thought she would appeal to them as a mother. Beg them to leave no stone unturned in their search for her daughters. Instead she stood before the men cold and emotionless. She told them to remember that Diana was the priority. Once she was found safely they could turn their attention to locating Terra.

It had taken all he had in him not to react to the Queen’s words. That she could stand there so cold and place the life of one child over the other. It seemed unbelievable. At least they were finally getting the search underway. While the rest of the castle searched for Diana, he would search for Terra. He would start in her room.

It wasn’t quite as late as Richard had expected, but as he made his way into the kitchen, the fires were out. Smiling at his good fortune he made his way to the secret door Diana had showed him some months ago. It took him a moment but once he found it he was on his way at a run. Just the thought of being in her bed made his blood hot.

It didn’t take long for him to follow the map she’d given him. He was at the fifth floor in the passageway she had indicated. Once there he discovered a problem. It was so dark in the passage that it was nearly impossible to see the outline of the doors. Unsure of how to proceed, Richard decided to make his way while trailing his hand along the wall. If he could keep it at the level of the release buttons then he could count each door he passed.

Finding the first button he made his way down.

One.

Two.

Three, the royal chambers. Richard tiptoed passed this door, terrified at being caught on his way to princess’s chambers.

In his attempt to walk quietly, his foot caught on a rock and he stumbled. Catching himself as quick as he could, he continued on his way.

Four, finally. He was starting to worry he might have missed the door when he tripped. He’d walked for quite a while before finding the fourth door. Pushing the catch he stepped through the door and brushed the tapestry aside.

“Diana?” He whispered into the darkness. “The fires in the kitchen are out and here I am. Where are you?”

A small noise from what Richard assumed was the bed, drew his attention. It was night but the moon was bright enough for him to make out shapes. There was definitely a bed over there and he could see someone moving on it.

Could it be?’ He thought. ‘Is she really going let me play this fantasy? ´ Richard had always been a man of particular taste. He was the son of a great Lord and commanded a good deal of power and respect. But for him it wasn’t enough. He wanted more power. When he and the princess had first started fooling around she would ask him what his desires were, what fantasies did he have?

Afraid that telling her would scare her away he started small. As the months progressed he started opening up more and more to her, telling her his darkest fantasies. She seemed to enjoy hearing about them as much as she enjoyed acting them out.

Lately he’d been pressing for a particular fantasy. He wanted to take her in her bed while she “slept”, then once he entered her she would awaken and struggle against him as though he was taking her by force.

A room covered in darkness, the princess sleeping on her bed. It seemed she had finally decided to grant his request. His body quivered at the thought. He ached to be inside her already.

He kicked off his shoes and undressed completely. Then, tiptoeing, made his way to the bed. He climbed on and at first he laid next to the princess, careful not to touch her. He laid close enough that he could feel the warmth coming off her skin. Even the smell of her was intoxicating. Being this close and not allowing himself to touch her was a way of flexing his own will power.

When he’d taken all he could stand, he made his move. He jumped up, grabbing and spreading her knees he placed himself in between her thighs. She was warm and soft and he wanted her now.

A noise drew his attention to her face. It was too dark to see but she was clearly awake now. Before she could speak he threw his hand over her mouth like he had earlier. He leaned down so his face was close to her. She was starting to shake as she attempted to speak through his hand. All of which made him harder. She cried out against his hand when his hardness jabbed her in the thigh.

“Don’t worry princess,” he whispered against her ear. “I won’t be gentle.” Taking advantage of being so close to her face, Richard licked her ear and then started kissing down her neck. Stopping at the top of her left shoulder, he bit down. She cried out again and really started to struggle.

Her hands came up to push him away. In a quick movement he had both her wrists in his hand. He pinned them against her belly and shook with desire as she struggled to be free.

Richard couldn’t believe his luck. She was fighting him like her life depended on it and he was eating it up. It was all too much for him. He had wanted to spend time biting her making her hurt before he made her feel good but he couldn’t take it any longer. He was going in.

Capt. Reynolds tried Terra’s door only to find it locked. Feeling his heart lift at the first sign of luck he’d had all day, he decided to try the secret door she’d shown him last night. Racing down the hall to the main staircase, Capt. Reynolds felt like he wasn’t moving fast enough.

He was through the secret door and making his way up the passageway in a matter of moments. Something felt wrong. He couldn’t put his finger on it but his heart was racing. He needed to get to Terra now. When he got to her door his heart dropped.

Her door was open.

Without hesitation he burst through the secret door and flew through the tapestry. Her room was pitch black, making it impossible to see what was going on.

The sound of laughter and muffled crying drew his attention to left. His eyes were adjusting quickly and he could make out general shapes. There was someone on the bed, no two someone’s. And they were . . . they were . . .

“T . . . Terra?”

Terra was asleep. It wasn’t a sound or happy sleep. It was sleep that left her tossing and turning. Filled with strange dreams, it was a sleep she dearly wished she could wake from. In her dreams everyone was walking away from her. Her mother, her father, Diana and even Eric had their backs to her and were walking away. She called to them and tried to run but she was stuck in place. Something was holding her back. She struggled but she couldn’t get away.

“Wait!” She called, “please don’t leave me! Come back!”

Still unable to move she looked down. Her legs were trapped in shadows. An inky black mass was tangling up her legs. Keeping her rooted to the spot. She thrashed and struggled trying to get away. Nothing seemed to work. No matter what she did she couldn’t budge.

She looked up again; they were almost out of sight.

As she opened her mouth to call to them again pain shot through her knees as they were forced apart and she fell to the floor.

Her eyes shot open. The room was dark but she could still make out the shape of a man kneeling over her. He had a hold of her knees and he was forcing her legs apart. She opened her mouth to cry out in pain but before she could his hand clapped down over her lips preventing Terra from making any sound at all.

Then, to her absolute horror the man leaned forward and whispered, “Don’t worry princess, I won’t be gentle.”

Then he starting kissing her neck and bit her on her left shoulder. Still sensitive from the fight with the shadow the bite seemed to burn her skin. Terra cried out again and began to thrash desperately trying to escape. She could feel something hard jammed in her thigh and it was starting to scare the hell out of her.

As the man steadily made his way down her neck to her shoulder and then the top of her exposed breast, Terra’s mind began to grow fuzzy. She knew what was going to happen. She knew what this man wanted from her. She didn’t know who he was or how he had gotten in, but she knew exactly what he was there for.

Without her knowing it, her hands came up and tried to protect her, but he easily thwarted her week attempts at defense.

Her vision was starting to go dark as the man straightened above her. She knew what was coming and she knew there was nothing she could do stop him. Part of her mind wondered if this was some kind of punishment sent by the Creator. Perhaps this was what she deserved for her betrayal of her family.

There was a small voice in the back of her mind that demanded she do something. Fight, move struggle, anything. It demanded she take action.

Her vision was almost completely blurred. Soon she wouldn’t be able to see at all. Maybe though, that was for the best. She didn’t need to see what was coming next.

A sudden new presence in the room pulled Terra out of her haze. She wasn’t sure who else was here, but without a doubt there was someone else in the room.

“T . . . Terra,” a familiar voice whispered from somewhere far away. But who was this voice, why was it so familiar?

Like a bolt of lightning Terra knew it was Eric. It was so dark in the room she couldn’t see to confirm it was him. Still, she was sure she could feel him now. She could sense his aura somewhere near the foot of the bed. As far as she could tell he wasn’t moving.

Confused for a moment she racked her mind trying to understand why he wasn’t helping her. Couldn’t he see the man on top of her? Didn’t he see what he was going to do? What made him hesitate?

It’s too dark,’ Terra thought, ‘It’s too dark and he can’t tell what’s really going on. Light! I need light!’ Suddenly she was engulfed by purple and silver flames. It was like her aura had caught fire and was burning around her. She was on fire.

Richard pulled back. He had had his fun and was ready go on. He would have greatly enjoyed spending a little more time playing at their game, but he knew he couldn’t delay too long in a royal bed chamber. He reached down and began to fumble with her dress.

She continued to struggle under him and yell, but the blood was pumping in his ears so hard he couldn’t hear her even if he moved his hand.

Suddenly he was surrounded by fire, strange purple and silver fire. Her entire body seemed to be made of it. It jumped suddenly from her to him. Being completely naked there was nothing to protect him, nothing to shield him from the intense heat of the flames that snaked up his body.

Diana,’ he thought, ‘why?!

Capt. Reynolds wanted to run from the room. He had completely misjudged Terra and now he was face to face with his foolishness. She was with a man in her room. That was why the door was locked and no one had seen her all day. She’d been locked up here with him.

A blinding purple light coming from the bed cleared all thought from his mind as he stared at Terra, on fire. Not just any fire but strange purple and silver fire seemed to engulf her entire person. It was as if she was made of the fire and it was a part of her.

With the room suddenly cast in light Capt. Reynolds could see the man holding his hand over Terra’s face, he could see the fear and horror in her eyes at what was happening. He had been wrong. She wasn’t locked in the embrace of a lover; she was trapped in the arms of a rapist.

Eric’s vision went red. All thoughts of arresting this man and bringing him to justice flew from his mind, replaced by a red seething rage. He wanted, no, he needed to hurt this man to break him. He wanted to wrap his hands around his neck and squeeze until the life ran out of him.

Before he had time to think he was running across the room toward the bed. He charged the man, with a massive shove the Captain pushed him from the bed and sent the man tumbling to the floor. Eric got to his feet, on the bed, and leered down at the man. Once he was no longer in contact with Terra, the flames on his body vanished and he lay on the floor, naked and burnt.

“Eric!” Terra cried out from the bed.

Ignoring the princess he jumped from the bed and pulled his sword from its scabbard. He raised his sword over the man who cowered in a ball at the sight of the enraged Captain of the Guard. He looked up and it seemed to Eric he was trying to say something. His lips were moving but there was no sound coming out. It was as if Eric had gone deaf.

Not caring what trick this animal was up too, Eric raised his sword to finish him off.

Terra watched as Eric jumped from the bed after the man who had been attacking her. Taking deep breaths the princess tried to calm herself, hoping that once she was calm the flames would subside. Try as she might she couldn’t get the flames to go out.

Assuming you could call them flames. It was more like her aura had taken on the likeness of fire. She was in no danger and her bed didn’t seem to be caching either. Even Eric when he had stood on the bed didn’t seem to be burnt. It was only her attacker that took any damage.

Turning she saw Eric illuminated in the strange purple light raising his sword over the man. His usually gentle aura was tainted with rage. He was going to kill that man if she didn’t stop him. There was no way to know who the man was or why he came to her room if he was dead. Terra needed answers and she couldn’t condone the taking of a life. Even if it may be deserved. She had to stop him.

Knowing words wouldn’t reach him while he was filled with rage she rolled off the bed and ran for him, she just had to touch him, the heat from her aura would clear away the rage that clouded his mind. She knew she just had to get there.

“Eric wait! Don’t kill him!”

With deadly precision the Captain of the Guard brought his weapon down, severing head from body. Blood shot out from the newly exposed arteries drenching the captain in hot red blood that matched his rageful aura.

Terra screamed as Eric beheaded the man on floor. She looked up as blood came flying at her, the fire of her aura flared burning up the blood before it ever got close.

Most of it anyway.

A small drop, no bigger than the top of a thimble, flew past her aura and landed on her cheek. Disbelievingly she reached up and touched the blood on her face. Pulling her hand back she looked at the now bloody tip of her finger.

“Eric,” she said, falling to her knees. When she hit the floor the smell of blood hit her like a toxic wave of smoke rising up to choke her. Her aura went out suddenly and she turned to the side and vomited until her stomach was empty. Exhausted and nauseas she collapsed on the floor.

Eric stood, his sword still stuck in the dead man’s shoulder. A sound from behind drew his attention. Turing he saw the fire around Terra brighten and then fade completely as she fell to the floor. He tried to help her but it felt like his muscles were made of stone. The princess turned and threw up before falling backwards into the growing puddle of blood and passing out.

When he could finally move, Eric dropped his sword and fell to his knees next to the princess. He laid his hand carefully on her cheek. Her skin was hot but she was breathing. With a sigh of relief he carefully lifted her out of the pool of blood. As he had feared her entire left side was completely soaked. From the top of her face down to her bare feet, Terra was covered in blood.

A million questions raced through his mind. Who was that man? How did he know about the secret door in Terra’s room? Why? Why would he attack Terra? She was one of the kindest souls he’d ever known. He couldn’t fathom why anyone would want to hurt such a girl.

Regardless, the princess had been attacked. He had stopped the attacker and now he would have to find the King and report what had happened to his youngest daughter. He wasn’t sure how he would explain to the King, and especially the Queen, why he checked Terra’s room. Should he tell them the door was locked or leave that out. He had promised the princess not to tell anyone about the tunnels but after all that had happened tonight; he was beginning to think that was a promise he would have to break.

How would he explain his knowledge not just of the tunnels but of the door to Terra’s room? He could just leave out the fact that the door was locked. But to him that felt dangerously like lying to his King. Something he was not alright with doing. How could he tell the King about the passage without telling him about last night?

Things were starting to get very complicated for the young Captain of the Guard.

Knowing that standing around wasn’t going to help anything; he lifted the princess in his arms and kicked the door open.

The journey from the Princesses room to the throne room felt as though it took a lifetime to complete. Capt. Reynolds held the limp princess in his arms as he carefully crossed the castle. He couldn’t imagine what they must have looked like to the people they passed in the corridors and hallways.

Both of them were covered in blood, the princess especially since she had passed out in it. He was sure there were leaving a trail of blood across the castle, but that mattered very little to him. He had saved the princess from certain shame and possible death at the hands of that unknown monster. Whatever repercussions came from that he would bear it with a light heart, knowing he had ultimately done his duty.

“C . . . Captain?” A voice behind him called.

Not halting he glanced over his shoulder to see one of his men standing behind him. He wasn’t certain of the man’s name. He was newer if Capt. Reynolds recalled correctly. John something maybe.

Seeing that the captain wasn’t stopping, the man ran to catch up to him. “Sir,” he said saluting as he came to walk alongside him. “Sir what happened? Is the princess alright? Do you require any help sir?” The man reached up to help with the weight of the unconscious princess.

A fraction of an inch before he touched her the Captain said, “Don’t touch her. Run ahead and tell the King and Queen we’re coming. Fetch the Master Wizard and insure they send for healers. When you’re done with that, take a handful of men and post outside Princess Terra’s room. We’re going to need answers.”

“Yes sir!” the man shouted saluting again. He took off running across the main hall toward the throne room. At least they would be expected now.

By the time they reached the large ornate doors that lead to the throne room, word had reached nearly every ear around that the Captain of the Guard was coming with the princess in hand, covered in blood. Doors flew open as they approached and people rushed out to help them. A few people tried to take the princess from Capt. Reynolds but he refused every offer of help and crossed into the throne room.

Both the King and Queen paced nervously at the head of the room. Neither, it seemed, could handle sitting in their thrones. Master Bell was standing off to the right talking with a small group of people who nodded and looked around as he spoke. A small stretcher had been brought in from the medical wing and was sitting on one of the large ornate tables usually used to hold the gifts of subjects who come to visit the royal family. Mammy was even there. Standing next to the stretcher she cried quietly as she wrung her hands on her apron nervously.

As they entered every face rose from their various tasks to take in the sight of the Princess and the Captain. For a moment no one moved, everyone too shocked by the sight of them to think. It was Mammy who rushed forward first. Tears streaming down her face at the sight of Terra. She ran forward and, careful not to touch either the Captain or the Princess, led them to the table where he could lay Terra down.

Eric stopped in front of the stretcher. He needed to lay the princess down so the healers could ascertain if she was just passed out or something worse. When he went to pull her away from his chest, he found he couldn’t move his arms. He could no more release her than he could wriggle his fingers. His arms were completely locked.

“Captain,” Mammy said, tears streaking her ageing face. “You can give her to me. We’ll take care of her now.”

“I . . . I can’t,” he said. “I can’t let her go. My arms are locked.”

“Not locked,” the Master Wizard said as he came over. “It’s the princess. She’s been traumatized and her aura has latched onto yours for strength.”

“She can do that passed out?” Mammy asked disbelievingly.

“It would appear so,” Master Bell replied. “Give me just a moment and I’ll free your arms up.” The wizard reached out to place a hand on both Terra and Eric’s shoulders. Before he could touch them, however, his hands were zapped and forced back.

“Eh?!” Master Bell said in shock and pain.

“What’s going on?!” The King demanded as he approached. “What happened here Captain?! Explain yourself!”

“Just a moment your Majesty,” Master Bell said circling the two. “Captain,” he said quietly behind the young man. “You must let her go.”

“I can’t,” Eric whispered, hanging his head in shame.

“You have to. Your aura is clinging to hers as tightly as hers is to yours. You must release her so we can help her.”

He didn’t understand what the wizard meant but he knew Terra needed to help. Sighing to himself he held her tight for a moment and whispered, “I promise I won’t be far.” Then with a sound similar to static, Eric laid the princess on the stretcher.

Once she was out of his arms he felt like collapsing himself.

“Stay with us now Captain,” Master Bell said grabbing the young man under the arm. “You’re all right now.” Where the Wizards hand touched his arm, Eric felt a kind of warmth spread through his body. He felt strong enough to stand and face the King and Queen again. He knew it was some kind of magic, and he was grateful to the Master Wizard for his help.

Healer, Mammy, and Master Bell turned to Terra and began to work.

“My poor baby,” the King muttered as he watched them. “Tell me Captain, what has happened this night.”

Capt. Reynolds turned to the King, still unsure of what to say. “Majesty,” he said bowing with his fist over his heart. “The Princess was attacked in her room. When I entered the room was dark and there was a man naked and top of her, preparing to take the princess by force. I forced the man from the bed and ensured he would never threaten the Princess again.” The Captain felt sick to his stomach. He knew he was omitting large sections of the story he told the King. He hated to do it but right now he need the concern to be on Terra and not on what was going on between them. As soon as he could he would explain everything to King Sol.

“Meaning what?” The King asked.

“Beheaded, sir.”

King Sol took a deep breath and nodded. “Captain Reynolds, please accept my deepest and most humble thanks for the service you have done my family this night. Thanks to your actions my daughter is safe. I thank you sir.”

Before Eric could graciously accept the King’s thanks, the Queen circled back around in her pacing and said, “How did you get into her room?”

“Majesty?” Capt. Reynolds asked, feigning confusion to buy time.

“If there was a man in my daughter’s room attempting to rape her, as you say. Why didn’t he react when you came through the door? From her the bed the door is clearly visible, not to mention the light that would have come in from the hall when the door opened.”

“I . . .,” Capt. Reynolds started.

“My King,” Master Bell called, “The Princess is waking.” Both King Sol and Captain Reynolds were at the princess’s side before her eyes had even opened.

“Terra, baby,” the King said, slipping his hand under her neck and helping her get up into a sitting position.

“P . . . papa?” She asked her eyes still closed.

When Terra was very small her mother often left her with Mammy or another nurse. Being such an active and curious child, she would often chase after her mother. Sadly the Queen would always have other things to do. Many times the King would be coming or going and see the princess crying chasing her mother. Hating to see her cry, he would scoop her up and rock her in his arms. He would tell her he loved her and that papa was there for her.

Papa was her special name for him. It always warmed his heart when she would call him that.

“Papa is here,” he soothed. He brushed the hair away from her face and her eyes fluttered open.

“Papa!” Terra cried out when she was him. “Oh Papa.” She threw her arms around the king’s neck.

“There, there my little princess, Papa is here.”

After a moment Terra pulled away. She was still covered in blood and she would feel terrible if she got any on her father.

She looked down at herself. Her new dress was caked with dried blood all down the left side. Even her hand was covered in blood. Reaching up Terra could feel blood on her face and in her hair. Her stomach turned over and she felt like she might be sick again.

“Princess,” Capt. Reynolds said stepping forward. He could see her face go pale under the blood and knew she was going to be sick. Without thinking he stepped past the King and put a hand on her shoulder. He helped her turn and throw up over the side. He held her shoulders until she was done and then helped her sit up straight again.

“Captain?” The King grumbled with something similar to anger with a dash of defense in his voice.

Freezing, Capt. Reynolds suddenly realized what he had done. He had stepped up past the King to place his hands on the princess like it was his right to do so. He was still standing there, holding the princess while the King probably stood behind him plotting his execution.

“Majesty, if I may,” Master Bell interjected.

“If you may what?” He asked, sounding angrier by the second.

“It would appear that the Princess and the Captain have bonded,” The Wizard said, as thought it was the simplest thing in the world.

“Bonded!?” The King demanded.

Capt. Reynolds and Terra both turned to face the Master Wizard, like much of the room they were confused about what Master Bell was saying. Although most everyone else was more interested to see what was going to happen between Reynolds and the King.

“Yes, bonded. Princess Terra has been through a terrible ordeal this evening. Through everything she seemed to have expelled all her energy. When that happened her aura reached out to someone she could trust, someone she knew could protect her. That someone was Captain Reynolds.”

Terra looked to Eric and he looked to her. For a moment their eyes locked and an unspoken feeling of gratitude passed between them.

“I don’t understand,” Capt. Reynolds asked, turning away from Terra. “I don’t know much about magic.”

“It means that tonight you may have saved the princess’s life twice. When her aura reached out to yours not only did yours accept it, but it grabbed hold of hers too. You shared energy and your souls connected. The two of you are now bonded.”

“For how long?” The Queen asked, finally showing interest in her younger daughter. “How long will they be bonded this way?”

“That’s hard to say,” Master Bell said, folding his arms into his long sleeves. “It could be hours it could be forever. Only time will tell.”

“How will we know?” Terra asked. “How will we know when the bond is broken?”

“It’s hard to describe. For most people it’s similar to the feeling of static shock. Others say it feels more like being hit by a bolt of lightning. But you’ll know. No matter the sensation, you’ll know when it breaks.”

“And until then,” the King demanded, “what happens between the two of them until it breaks?”

“With a connection like this the Captain will always know where the princess is and whether she’s in danger or not. If she feels fear or anger he’ll feel it and vice versa. In truth Majesty, for the time being Captain Reynolds would make and excellent personal guard for the princess. At least until we ascertain who attacked young Terra tonight and why.”

“Thank you Master Wizard,” the King said looking pensive. “I’ll take that under advisement.”

Terra looked back to Capt. Reynolds. He was looking down at her with concerned eyes. Giving her shoulder and hand one last squeeze, he released her and stepped back out of respect and a little bit out of fear for the King.

Like an arrow through her heart Terra suddenly felt an incredibly evil presence. Jumping off the table she turned and fell into step beside Master Bell. Both faced the door with arms raised and auras up. Before anyone could react to Bell and Terra, the huge, and exceptionally heavy, double doors slammed closed with an earsplitting boom.


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