Shadows

By Jennifer N. Bogle All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Romance

Ch. 7

A knock at the door woke Terra. She sat up slowly and stretched. It couldn’t possibly be morning already. She was still so sleepy. Another, more impatient knock got her up and out of bed. She shambled over to her dressing chair and grabbed her robe. Throwing it on, she hurried to the door and pulled it open. Eric was standing outside with Mammy.

“What time is it?” She asked yawning.

Mammy tisked at her under her breath and swept into the room. The princess hadn’t noticed at first the small army of men and women standing behind her guard and caretaker, but they swept into the room carrying an assortment of things with them.

“What is all this?” She asked, standing against the wall as more people poured in. “What is all this for?”

“Honestly I think you’d forget your head if it wasn’t properly screwed onto your shoulders. Did you forget that you’re sixteen now?” Mammy asked as she helped a few women set things up.

“I didn’t forget,” Terra replied sulkily. “I’m just not awake enough to be thinking straight right now.”

“That’s a terrible excuse,” Eric said laughing. “You could just say you forgot, she’ll be less cranky that way.”

“Thanks for the advice,” she muttered shooting Eric a sarcastic glance. “So really what’s going on?”

“Dress fittings dear,” Mammy replied. “You’re a young woman now and your father wants you to look the part. So you’re getting fitted for new dresses.” She was clearly excited about the prospect of Terra getting new clothes. She seemed to bounce along from one person to another, happily making sure they were doing as they should and seeing if they needed any help.

“Wow she is really excited about this isn’t she?” Terra asked under her breath.

“You have no idea,” Eric whispered. “I’ve been at this for over an hour now.”

“You have my sympathies for that,” she laughed. “Anyway you should get going. If I’m going to be poked and pinned I want as few witnesses to my humiliation as possible.”

Eric laughed and nudged Terra with his elbow. “You know when you put it that way I want to stay.”

“Yeah, as funny as it would be for you, Mammy would end your life.”

Eric grimaced, “Well there is that.”

“Yeah, so I’ll see you at breakfast then?” She asked smiling.

“Yeah, see you then.” He jokingly pushed Terra in the shoulder and left.

“Are you ready dear?” Mammy asked. She had set up a miniature boutique in the room. There was a large three piece looking glass, a platform to step up on and yards of fabric in every color. Alongside Mammy stood half a dozen women of varying ages holding an assortment of needles, threads and measuring tapes. They looked ready to work.

“Let’s get this over with then,” she muttered.

Two hours later Terra was headed down the stairs in a dress Mammy had taken out of the stack of old dresses being sent out. She and another woman had worked for a while making it suitable for a young lady to wear. Terra wished they asked her opinion before they chose the dress to work on.

Mammy had selected the pale pink dress that had belonged to Diana for less than a day. She had given it to Terra after deciding that the pink color would look good on no one. She wasn’t wrong. Pink seemed to do strange things with the color of her face. Sometimes it made her look flushed other times it washed her out completely.

She knew Mammy was just choosing the nicest dress of the lot for Terra, so she smiled and told Mammy how much she appreciated her hard work. It had a lovely cut to it now and Mammy had put so much effort into making it appropriate for a young woman that it was quite pretty. Despite its color. At the very least, she still had her dark green cloak and that helped to balance the color of the dress and the way she looked in it.

Terra walked down the spiral stair case, careful to keep the fabric up so she could walk while balancing the tray with Grey’s breakfast. It was much harder getting anything done in a full length skirt she was learning. Now she had to grab a handful of the skirt just to move at any speed faster than a saunter. Not to mention stairs had become the enemy. She had tripped and fallen due to this skirt twice already and she’d only been out of her room for fifteen minutes.

“Good morning Princess,” the guard at the door said as he put his fist to his heart and bowed.

“Good morning John,” she replied brightly.

“Let me help you,” He said pushing the door open for her.

“Thank you.” She liked John. He was a good man and a fine guard. Eric had told her that he was young but one of the best. That was why he had been assigned to guard the prisoner despite his youth. Terra liked him because he was kind and always offered to help.

Once through the door John nodded to her and pulled it closed again.

“Where did you go last night?” Grey demanded angrily before she had even turned from the door.

“I went to bed, it was late,” she replied walking to the prison cell.

“Funny,” he sneered sarcastically. “Is there a reason you just walked out and didn’t so much as say goodbye?”

“Oh,” she stammered with mock concern, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.”

Grey’s eyes got huge as he stammered for a reply. “I didn’t . . . you didn’t . . . feelings aren’t hurt!”

“I only caught some of that,” she laughed as she pushed the tray through the glass.

He grabbed the tray and all but ripped it out of Terra’s hands. “You didn’t hurt my feelings!” He finally managed to yell.

“Oh but you have feelings be hurt then?”

“What! No! I don’t have feeling like that. Nothing got hurt because there’s nothing to hurt!”

“If you say so,” she called turning to head back out. She had her first magic lesson and she didn’t want to be late.

“Wait! Where are you going now?” He called after her.

“Lessons. Today is my first real lesson with Master Bell.”

“We’re not done talking about this!” He shouted as Terra pulled the door open.

“I’ll see you later,” she called pulling the door closed behind her.

“Is everything alright highness?” John asked, hearing Grey shouting through the door. “Should I send for Guard Reynolds?”

“No,” she replied kindly. “He’s going to be in a foul mood for a while, just ignore him if you can.”

“I will do my best,” he said as Grey continued to shout.

It took Terra less than ten minutes to hastily eat her breakfast and head off to meet Master Bell in the school room. She gathered up her skirt in her hands and ran the whole way there, too excited to walk. She stopped just outside the door and took a few deep breathes to calm herself down and pull herself together. Satisfied she no longer looked like she had run all the way down here, she knocked on the door.

“Come in,” Bell called from inside.

Smiling, she pushed the door open and stepped in. Instantly the door behind her slammed shut with a kind of finality that told Terra it wasn’t going to be opening again. The room itself was thrown into darkness as the door sealed them in.

“Master Bell?” She called out. “Where are you? What’s going on?”

“Princess,” he called, his voice sounding strained and far away. “Run Princess.”

Terra’s heart started racing. Master Bell was in trouble, she could feel it. She had to find him and help him. But the room was so dark she couldn’t see anything. She could stumble forward but if she fell and got hurt both she and Bell would be in so much more trouble. She needed light and she needed it now.

“Light,” she whispered. When she had been attacked last month she had needed light then too. She had simply thought it and her magic answered. She closed her eyes and tried to focus on how she had called her magic in such a way.

A cry of pain across the room pulled Terra’s focus.

She started forward but ran straight into a table, slamming her knee into the solid wood and sending waves of pain through her leg. She cried out and held her knee while it throbbed.

“Princess you must get to safety,” Bell called. His voice was fading fast. Whatever was going on sounded like it was killing him. She had to save him before it was too late.

“Hold on Master Bell,” Terra promised, “I’m coming.”

A strange and familiar feeling behind her made Terra suddenly turn. Behind her she could see the sliver eyes of a shadow, small and slitted, they hadn’t seen her yet. Fully grasping what was going on, she knew she had to get Bell out now. Putting her hands together Terra sent up a small prayer for strength and help and once again tried to call the light.

“Light!” She shouted. Her magic’s response was instantaneous. As soon as the words left her lips the purple and silver fire sprang up around her, throwing light and shadow across the room. Now she could see the near dozen shadows wondering the room.

Mouth agape, Terra desperately scanned for the Master Wizard.

There! In the corner by one of the magical cabinets the Master Wizard stood slumped against the wall. He was gasping for breath and there was a near solid wall of Shadows closing in on him. He was exhausted. Bell glanced up for a second and his eyes locked on Terra.

He was finished and he knew it.

“NO!” Terra yelled. She ran forward, not caring about the Shadows that had turned their attention to her, or the assortment furniture that was in her way. She had to save Bell. There was no time left to worry about simple things like chairs and desks. She had to move.

As Terra ran, shadow and furniture alike, seemed to fly from her path. Still it didn’t seem to matter; she wasn’t moving fast enough to get to Bell in time. At this rate he would be dead before she got there. She needed to do something else, anything else to buy time.

But what could she do? She didn’t have any kind of proper training. She knew only what her sister had taught her.

Bell cried out in pain as a shadow got close enough and brushed his arm. He screamed and went down to a knee. They were moving faster now, closing in on him to finish the kill. She was out of time, she had to act now.

Her body started to move before she knew what she was doing. She jumped up on a table that was nearby and started to pull all her magic into the very center of being. Her heart raced and seemed to ready to fly out of her chest. Still she pulled all her magic in until it was all contained within her.

“Leave him ALONE!” Pure white magic shot out of her in a giant circle. It spread through the room covering everything in a pale white light for less than the length of a heartbeat. Every shadow it touched dissolved into beautiful and blinding white light before disappearing.

In less than a second the entire room had been cleared and washed in a radiant white light. Then, as though nothing had happened, the room went back to being a simple classroom. No darkness, no shadows, nothing out of the ordinary, except that Terra was standing on a desk and Master Bell was still on the floor.

“Master Bell!” She shouted flying off the table and over to the wizard.

He was shaking but still alive. Carefully she kneelt down beside him and put a hand on his shoulder. He was freezing cold and shivering violently.

“Master Bell,” Terra asked worried. “Master Bell are you ok? Are you hurt? What can I do?”

He opened his mouth to say something but his teeth chattered so hard any words he got out were impossible to understand. Out of options and worried that if he stayed this way to long he would die, Terra wrapped her arms around the wizard and thought of heat, fire and light.

Her magic obeyed without hesitation this time. She was once again surrounded by the warmth of her purple fire. She held Bell while the warmth spread from her to him. After a minute or so he stopped shaking and after another two or three he was breathing normally. Terra, too afraid to open her eyes, kept them shut and held on to Bell, silently willing him to be ok.

“Princess,” Bell whispered, his voice weak but not shaking anymore.

“Master Bell?” She asked, still not opening her eyes or letting go. “Are you alright?”

“I’m fine. You should stop now, you’ll waste all your energy and be exhausted,” the more he spoke the stronger his voice sounded.

“Energy?” She asked, confused.

“Yes,” Bell laughed weakly. He stood slowly and let Terra’s arms fall away. As they fell the fire around her went out. “The amount of energy you just expelled should be more than enough to leave you exhausted.” He looked down at the princess who was standing staring at him like she was afraid he might keel over at any moment.

“I feel fine,” she stated. “I didn’t realize I was expending anything.” Terra looked around feeling rather foolish now. “Is that bad?”

“Quite the contrary,” Bell explained smiling down at her. “It simply means you’re stronger than I thought.” He started forward, made a strange noise and nearly sank back down again. Terra threw his arm over her shoulders and wrapped an arm around his waist.

“You’re still hurt,” she said, leading him to a nearby chair. He collapsed gratefully into the red padded chair he kept at the back of the room.

“I’m alright,” he said, “just a little winded I think.”

“Master Bell,” she asked, kneeling in front of him. “What happened? How did those shadows get in here? Why was there so many of them?” She was horrified she already knew the answer. It wouldn’t be the first time Grey sent shadows after her. If he had been mad enough about her just walking away this morning, who knows what he might be capable of.

Terra hoped she was wrong. She and Grey were really getting along and she had been considering him a friend for a while. After last night with the realization that he cared, Terra was sure she was on the right track to heal him. She just had to be patient and in time she could purify the darkness in his heart. She knew she was having an effect on him.

Or so she thought.

If Grey was behind this, an unwarranted attack on a member of her father’s inner council, then maybe she was wrong. Maybe he was too far gone to be saved and she was just fooling herself into thinking he could be anything other than a monster. After all, he wouldn’t be the King of the Shadows if someone as unremarkable, as she was, could save him.

Still, part of her was unwilling to accept that. Unwilling to think that there was no good left in him. If he could care about her being hurt, then he couldn’t be all bad.

“I’m afraid,” Master Bell started, pulling Terra out of her train of thought, “that I am the one responsible for the shadows finding their way in here.”

“What?” She asked, shocked and confused. “How is that possible? Why would you do such a thing? You nearly died!”

Bell raised his hand and Terra’s next question died on her lips. “I was trying to summon one shadow to test you when you arrived for class today. I set things up as a sort of impromptu test of your abilities. I simply wanted to ascertain where you were at, power wise, so I knew where to start with you lessons. Unfortunately, my test got away from me and had you not come in when you had, my mistake would have claimed my life.”

Terra stared blankly at him.

“Princess,” Bell said when she remained silent. “I am sorry to test you this way. It’s the only way to get an accurate reading on your power levels. I beg you, don’t be angry with me.”

“I’m not angry,” she replied quietly. “I’m relieved.”

“Relieved?” Bell asked confused.

“Yes,” she whispered letting out a breath she didn’t realize she’s been holding. “I thought for moment that . . . but no, it’s ok.”

“I see,” Bell said, eyeing Terra. “You thought this was Grey’s doing.”

It wasn’t a question, but still she nodded. “Yes.”

“And now you’re relieved to find it was me all along?”

“Yes.”

“Princess, if I may speak frankly?”

“Please.”

“I have to say that I’m concerned with the bond that is forming between you and the prisoner. I know that you must deal with him every day, as is your agreement, but I still worry that you may be becoming too attached to him.”

Terra considered a moment before she answered. “I know that he and I have become friends rather quickly. However, if I can be honest,” Bell nodded, “I think I can help him.”

“Help him how?”

Terra looked at Bell for a moment, really looked at him. She tried to gauge how much she could trust him. He knew she could pass through the prison walls and as far as she could tell, he’d told no one. Maybe Bell could be the person she could trust with her secret. If she was wrong, however, that would mean the end of all her attempts to heal him.

“Terra,” Bell said, taking her hand, “you can trust me with anything. I will not tell your secrets to anyone else.”

“What about the fact that you’re my teacher now. You have obligations to my father.”

“Seeing as how the first lesson hasn’t started yet, I do believe my obligations are only to myself still.”

“Very well,” she sighed. She needed to trust someone with this information. She would need help as things progressed and Master Bell seemed the most suitable person she knew. “I believe that I can heal Grey.” When Bell didn’t say anything she continued. “I think that somewhere inside him there is still goodness and light.”

“What proof do you have of this?” He asked in as neutral a voice as he could manage.

“When you put the magic in Eric’s head and he forgot that he cared about me, he was very cruel to me. Especially after he found out I named Grey.

“When he first insulted me and left me standing in the prison, I was devastated. Eric had been close to telling me he loved me days before hand and now he was treating me as thought I was garbage. I couldn’t really think. Grey called me over and pulled me through the glass.”

“That was the first time you passed through?”

“Yes. Grey pulled me through and he told me that he was giving me a ‘one time only, white flags raised,’ chance to let it all out.”

“Meaning what?” He asked his brow arched in concern.

“Meaning he was giving me an opportunity to cry. He told me he had been looking through my heart when Eric had said what he said. He told me that he had felt the pain I had felt at Eric’s words.”

“He held you as you cried.”

“He did. For quite a while I sat with my head on his shoulder and cried. It was an unexpected act of kindness. Something I didn’t expect to see from him.”

Bell considered the princess’s words for a moment. “Is this the only such incident?”

“No,” she replied sheepishly. “He’s been kind like that several times.”

“May I ask, the man you danced with yesterday, the one you had the premonition about, was that Grey?”

Terra blushed up to the roots of her hair. “Yes. It was him. Master Bell am I crazy?” She demanded suddenly. “I know he’s the enemy and I know he’s a very bad man, but is it crazy to think that I could help him? Or to think of him as my friend?”

“Well tell me this,” Bell said. “Why do you want to help him?”

“Why?” She asked confused. “I don’t understand.”

“Why do you want to help him?” Bell didn’t sound calm anymore. In fact he was starting to sound a little angry. “Do you want to help him to prove to people that you’re better than your sister?”

“What?! No! That’s ridiculous!”

“Do you want to help him to show everyone that you’re the better sister? The better princess? Do you want to show your parents that you’re the princess they should have favored all these years!?”

“No! Stop! Master Bell it’s not like that!” She shouted over his incessant questions.

“Do you want to help him to prove once and for all whose the most gifted in the kingdom?!” Bell shouted. His questions were coming out faster and faster and Terra was having a hard time understanding them.

Finally she’d had enough. “I want to save him!” She shouted.

Bell fell silent and smiled at the princess.

“I want to save him so I can save Diana! I want to save them both!”

“That, Princess is a most noble reason indeed.” He smiled at Terra. It was as he had hoped. Her reasons for wanting to save the monster were pure. So long as she kept going the way she was, she would indeed be the key to his undoing.

“So I’m not crazy for wanting to help him?”

“Not at all princess,” Bell said standing. “Now what do you say we start you’re first lesson?”

“That would fantastic,” she said relieved.

Bell got up to start with the young princess but stopped short.

“What’s wrong?” She asked sensing the change in her teacher.

“Terra, how many times have you yielded white magic before?”

“White magic?” She asked.

“Just now, when you sent out that ring of magic and purified the shadows, you used white magic. Did you not notice?”

“No, not really. I was so caught up in the knowledge that if I didn’t so something and soon, you would die. I didn’t pay attention to the colors at all.”

“That is very interesting.”

“Why?”

“White magic is the rarest of all magics. Few people have ever even seen it yielded.” When Terra continued to look at him confessed, he tried a different approach. “Well, let me ask you this, do you know what the colors in your magic mean?”

She pulled a face, “I know they mean different things, but . . .” Terra suddenly felt very ill prepared for her first lesson. Knowing the meaning of the colors was a very basic thing.

“Fear not princess,” Bell reassured her. “This is our first lesson so let’s start here.”

“Ok,” she replied, still not feeling any better.

“So why don’t we start with your colors.”

“Purple and sliver,” she offered.

“Well your purple is a very dark purple. People with this color magic tend to be very spiritual and faithful. Intensely so. They love and believe stronger than any other people. They also have a tendency to be naive.” He shot a very knowing look at Terra who blushed and turned away.

“Then there’s your sliver.”

“Diana said it’s not natural,” she offered glumly. “When you taught her years ago she told me that silver doesn’t exist.”

“Well she’s a little right, but mostly she’s incorrect. Silver magic is associated with people who have a mastery of magic. It is hard to achieve and not many people have ever been able to master it past just an accent color. People are not born with sliver magic, usually.”

Terra thought over what Bell had just said. She understood that he was the master wizard and he knew more than her. But in this, he had to be mistaken.

“Master Bell,” she started, “I don’t mean to question your knowledge but I’ve always had silver in my magic.”

“I understand that,” he smiled, “It would seem that in many ways, you will be very unique student.”

Terra didn’t like the way that sounded. She didn’t want to be unique. Anything about her that was ever different was cannon fodder for Diana. If she was somehow special in magic? Diana would use it as a means to torment her for the rest of her life.

Seeing that the young princess was not especially pleased about the current conversation, Bell decided to try for a change. “Perhaps you can tell me this,” he said, “At what point did you gain the ability to wear you magic the way you do?”

“You mean my aura?”

“Yes,” he answered. He had noticed only once before that Terra’s magic didn’t seem to come from inside her the way it does for most people. Her magic she wore around her like a cloak of power, always there.

“I don’t know . . . “she answered, thinking. “It was just there like that one day.”

“Do you remember what day, exactly?” Bell pressed.

“Maybe after the night I was attacked,” she said unsure. “I remember having to use the door that day you caught me in class. Then after I was attacked it was always there.”

“Interesting,” he commented, pondering.

“Is that bad?” She asked worried again.

“No, not at all,” he reassured her. “I’ve just never heard of anyone being able to move past using the door before.”

“So it is bad,” she muttered hopelessly.

Bell reached out and placed a hand on her shoulder. “All this means is that you truly are the most remarkable person I have ever met.” When she looked unconvinced he said, “How about we start our lesson? Let’s test your magic levels, see where you’re really at. How does that sound?”

Terra smiled, grateful for the subject change, “That sounds amazing!”

Over the course of the next hour Bell tested the boundaries and limits of Terra’s power. Or at least he had intended to. After the first half hour Bell was finally starting to grasp the level of power the Princess possessed. It was nothing short of amazing. He had never heard of a match for it.

At one point he had tested her ability to do spells without reciting incantations or invocations. It was something a person was able to do only after they achieved complete mastery of spell. There were some spells that even Bell needed words to complete. Terra, however, seemed to not need words at all.

No matter the type or difficulty of a spell, all Bell had to do was tell her what to do and she would do it. No words, no studying, nothing. After a while it became like a game for him. He would think of the most complicated spell he could and tell Terra what do. Then she would do it and he would laugh and sing her praises.

It was Terra who stopped first and pointed out the time to Bell.

“Diana will be here soon for her lesson,” she said, a little breathless. She had just done a spell to summon a whirlwind into the room. It had blown around everything that wasn’t nailed down, including Bell at one point.

“You are correct,” he said, a little disappointed he couldn’t continue.

“I should be going. You know how Diana gets if she’s made to wait.”

Bell looked around at all of the cracks and holes in the walls, evidence of Diana not getting her way, and decided Terra was right. “I do know of your sister’s temper.”

“Well I’ll get going then. Is there anything you’d like me to work on before I come back tomorrow?”

He thought for a moment. “I think we’re going to skip straight into element mastery. So I would like you to work on mastering the wind. Try to blow things around and lift things using only the power of the wind you summon.”

“Ok,” she giggled, grinning ear to ear. She couldn’t believe that she would be able to do magic all by herself. No one could tell her to stop so long as she was receiving lessons from Bell. “I won’t disappoint you.”

She headed through the door and all but skipped down the hallway. She was just passed a corridor that lead to the old west wing, when something stopped her.

Turning back she saw her mother leaning against the wall of the corridor. She was wearing a flattering black dress that seemed to shine as though the light was directly on it. Her soft brown hair was piled high with a diamond encrusted tiara on her head. Her sharp blue eyes took in the sight of Terra in her pink dress, joyfully heading up the hallway and she laughed.

“Did you enjoy your first lesson my dear?” She asked with something akin to bitterness in her voice.

“Yes mother,” Terra answered sinking into a deep curtsy. “I enjoyed it very much.”

“Well you will have to be sure to thank your father, as it was he who convinced me to let you start at all.”

“I . . . I will,” she stammered, surprised at her mother’s cold tone. She waited to see if the Queen would say anything else. When she turned away from her, Terra curtsied again and turned to leave.

“Terra,” her mother called her voice suddenly soft.

“Yes Mother?” She asked, desperate to get away.

“I want you to know that I don’t hate you.”

“What?”

Her mother started toward her, stumbling slightly as she went. She understood now, her mother was drunk. Sure enough there was a large empty wine glass in her mother’s right hand she hadn’t noticed before.

“I don’t hate you,” Queen Elise repeated. “I just never wanted you.”

Terra felt her mother’s words as much as she heard them. It was like being slapped in the face and stabbed in the heart simultaneously. She had always known her mother didn’t care for her. She had made that very obvious from the time Terra was born. Still, it was something completely different to hear her mother say she was unwanted.

“Mother . . .”she started, searching for something to say.

“I was only supposed to have one child. One!” Her mother leered at her for a moment and then turned and headed down the corridor to the old west wing, mumbling about having two children the entire time.

Terra was frozen.

She couldn’t move or think. She kept hearing her mother’s words, running in circles in her head, over and over again. She wasn’t wanted. Her mother had never wanted her and now Terra knew it for certain. A small, dark place in her heart wondered if maybe it wasn’t just her mother who didn’t want her.

Grey was sitting at the table in his cell mindlessly flipping through some random book they had put in with him. He wasn’t interested in whatever it said. He was still going over everything that had happened the night before with Terra.

It bothered him, more than he could say that she was right about him caring about her. There was this little spot; he could feel it, where she had somehow weaseled her way into his heart. It was like a painfully bright spot inside of him. Had he been outside of the box it wouldn’t have mattered. His darkness would have consumed that bright spot and been done with it. Trapped as he was, his darkness was slower to respond.

A sudden strange feeling seemed to waft into the cell. Grey stood and rolled his head around as he tried to understand what was going on. It was Terra, he could tell that much at least. He moved to wall and put both hands on the glass. Through the magic there he could almost sense her, even though she was too far away to read.

Something was wrong. There was this strange feeling of despair and shock. It was hard to get a clear read from so far away. His heart throbbed painfully as he strained to see what was going on, but to no avail. She was too far away.

His little bright spot throbbed as he started to worry about what was going on. At least he knew that if something so bad had happened, then that useless guard of hers should be there shortly. It pained him to think so, but at least someone would be there for Terra.

Even if it’s him and not me,’ he thought.

Shocked and appalled at his own thoughts, Grey walked away from the wall and threw himself onto the bed. He needed to get this damn bright spot dealt with now, before he started to feel more. He couldn’t let his emotions tangle up his plans for the princess. He needed to keep his head clear. He would just wait until the feelings passed and keep going.

He shook his head. Grey was not a man to just lie down and wait for things to get better. He decided he needed to take action.

Eric watched as Jones circled him slowly, sword up, ready to strike any weakness he could find. Eric knew well enough how to fake his old friend out. He shifted his left foot slightly and Jones leapt on him. He dodged right instead and parried the blow from Jones. He then rolled on the ground and came up behind his friend, the point of his sword poking him in the back.

“I believe that’s my victory,” he laughed.

“Well played,” Jones conceded. A few onlookers of the sparing match hooted and called to the two men. Eric ignored them and shook hands with Jones.

“I’ve gotta say, beating you so easy makes me nervous for you as the new Captain,” Eric teased jokingly.

“Hey I was going easy on you, what with your cushy new job. You don’t get out too much and that’s gonna make you soft. I was just trying to be nice to an old friend.”

“Soft?” He asked. “I’ll show you soft!” He was about to leap at Jones when the sound of thunder rumbling through a perfectly clear day stopped him. Clouds suddenly swept in from the ocean, covering the sky. In a matter of seconds a perfectly bright sunny fall morning had become cloudy and grey. Thunder rumbled again and lightning danced across the sky.

“What the hell is going on?” Jones demanded.

“I have no idea,” he replied, “But I’ve got a really bad feeling about this.”

A second later rain began to pour down on their heads. People cried out and ran for cover as the rain started to pour. Eric grabbed his practice shirt off the ground and shook the hay from it. He motioned for Jones to follow him and together they headed back in through the main door to the castle and directly to the right where the Kings Guard kept their inner barracks.

As though nothing had changed, Eric walked through the strong wooden door into the barracks and then straight back through the main waiting room past a few soldiers who saluted Jones and Eric, and finally through the door in the back where the Captain of the Guards personal office was located. Eric walked through the door and leaned against the small humble desk in the corner as Jones closed the door behind them.

“This isn’t natural weather,” Eric said firmly.

“You could say that again,” Jones said. “What do you think caused it?”

“I’m not sure, but I know it’s not good. Weather like this could mean big trouble for everyone if it goes on too long.”

“Floods?”

“Not just floods. This kind of weather can ruin crops and wipe out whole harvests if it persists. We have to find out who or what started this and stop them.”

“Isn’t it a little early to set up a man hunt?” Jones asked. “Couldn’t it be someone messing with magic they don’t understand? It doesn’t have to be something evil or sinister.”

Eric gave him an are-you–kidding-me-look. “Jones I don’t need to tell you how bad this will be if it turns out my suspicions are correct and it comes out that we sat on our hands in the beginning. It’s best to act now and cut down the risk.”

“I suppose you’re right,” he conceded. “What do you have in mind?”

“Nothing too much for right now,” Eric said. “Take a few men you trust and do a sweep of the castle. I want to know where everyone is and what everyone is doing. We’ll decide what to do after that.”

“Out of the sash but still can’t let it go can you?” Jones asked jokingly.

“Old habits and all that.” He pushed off the desk and headed for the door.

“Wait where are you going?”

“To check on Terra, I have bad feeling about her.”

Terra stood in the hall, even as the rain outside started to pour down. She felt frozen to the one spot, as if she would never move again. Her mother’s words had cut her so deep she wasn’t sure she could manage to go on. How did a person go on after learning their mother didn’t want them? How do you just brush it off and keep going?

Terra didn’t know she could.

Lighting stuck outside the nearby window and made the shadows in the room dance around. It had gotten very dark very fast. She knew she should be worried, or at least concerned about the strange weather. She felt neither. All she could feel was the cold of her mother’s words.

Terra caught a glimpse of movement out of the corner of her eye. Without having to look she knew it was a shadow. She could sense its dark presence. Part of her wanted to run and get away to safety; most of her simply didn’t care. If her mother didn’t want her why would a shadow bother with her? She wasn’t worth the time.

As it approached Terra turned her head to stare at it. Curiously she noticed its eyes were closed. She couldn’t even see where the slits for eyes would be. Well it was as she assumed, the shadow wanted nothing to do with her.

With a distant sense of curiosity the princess watched the shadow approach. It stopped about a foot away from her and hovered. She watched it knowing in the back of her mind that the behavior of this shadow was nothing short of bizarre.

It still wasn’t enough to make her care.

The shadow reached out with what Terra assumed was an arm and touched her right between her eyes. A moment of freezing pain so intense that it burned, and then the world went dark.

Eric felt a searing pain in his forehead and stumbled, falling down the flight of stairs he had been running up. He managed to roll for the most part and only hurt his right wrist where it smacked against the granite floor of the main hall. He lay there for a moment, too dazed to move. His head was spinning and his vision had decided to join in.

He heard the sound of approaching footsteps and was able to get his vision to focus long enough to see John and Jack come running up to him. They shouted things at him he couldn’t hear and helped him to his feet. Carefully they dragged him up onto the stairs and sat him down.

“Guard Reynolds!” John shouted, “Can you hear me?”

“I can hear you John, you can stop shouting,” Eric assured him. He shook his head to clear away the last of the confusion but couldn’t seem to shake the ringing in his ears.

“What happened?” Jack asked.

“I’m not sure,” Eric answered truthfully.

“We saw the whole thing,” John told him. “You were running up the stairs and then suddenly you were flying down them. We were afraid you would kill yourself rolling down the way you did.”

“I’m alright,” Eric surmised, rolling his wrist and wincing painfully. “Except for this I guess.”

“What do you suppose happened?” Jack asked.

A terrifying thought struck Eric. He reached out through the bond and tried to find Terra.

He couldn’t feel her at all.

Just like the night she’d gotten her scars.

She was gone.

Panic started to well up inside him as his mind raced through all the possibilities of what could have happened. She could be dead, or dying somewhere. He had to find her and he had to do it now. He looked up at Jack and John. He knew John well and trusted him; he was a damn good man and a better soldier. Jack, on the other hand, he didn’t know well at all.

“I need your help,” he told them both. “I think something is wrong with Princess Terra, but I don’t know for sure. I need to search for her without inciting a panic. Jack I need you to go and check on Princess Diana, she should be in her lessons with Master Bell. If she’s not there check her room and if you still can’t find her report to Jones and tell him to sound the alarm.

“John I need you to help me search for Princess Terra. I’m going to check her room I want you to go with Jack and start looking around the school room; she had lessons earlier with Bell. If you can’t find her or Bell tells you he hasn’t see her all day, you come find me and we’ll raise the alarm. Can you two do this?”

Both men nodded and saluted. Together they took off running down the hall as Eric got to his feet and headed up to check Terra’s room. The last time he couldn’t find her she had been hiding out in her room. Hopefully he wouldn’t have to kill anybody this time.

Diana looked up from the book Bell had her reading when she heard a strange sound come from the master wizard. His shoulders had come up and he looked nervous.

“What’s wrong with you?” She asked, annoyed that she was being disturbed during her reading.

“The airs changed,” Bell said quietly. He walked to one of the four windows that ran the length of the classroom. He pulled the shutter open and slid the glass up. Wind howled in bringing with it the cold dank smell of rain as it beat on the castle roof and walls. Lightning struck and thunder rumbled overhead as rain began to pour down on the castle harder and harder still.

“Something’s wrong,” Bell said pulling the window closed. “Our lesson for today might have to be put on hold.”

“On hold?” Diana asked trying to sound like it bothered her, even though it didn’t. In fact, the thought of being able to skip this today sounded like a damn good idea to her. “What’s going on?”

“I can’t be sure,” he answered walking away from the window and pouring over a large leather bound volume on his podium. “It seems something has caused the weather to shift and to do so suddenly and violently.”

“So,” she asked. “Why does that matter?”

“It matters,” Bell said, annoyed by the Princess’s lack of concern, “because I’m afraid something may have happened to you sister.”

“Terra?” She laughed. “I’m sure whatever is wrong she’s fine. She’s always fine in fact.” Her words had come out much more bitter than Diana had intended.

“What does that mean?” Bell asked, his keen mind picking up on something in Diana’s voice that made him worry.

“It doesn’t mean anything Wizard,” she replied warningly. “Mind your own business.”

Bell stared at the princess. She was so different from her sister it would almost be comical if there wasn’t something dark about her. Bell worried Diana might have done something intentionally to hurt her sister. If that was the case, there was little he could do about it. As a princess of the realm and the savior, unless Diana was caught killing her sister red handed, there was nothing anyone could do.

A few moments later the door flew open and two young guards came spilling into the room. Both out of breath and looking grim. They bowed to Diana and to Master Bell.

“Master Wizard,” the younger of the two said. “I’m looking for Princess Terra, have you seen her?”

“Princess Diana, Guard Reynolds has ordered me to stay by your side and escort you to your room,” the other said.

“Jack what’s going on?” Diana demanded incredulously.

“John and I just met with your sisters Guard. He believes something may have happened to her and he’s ordered me to take you back to your room and await further orders.”

“And I’m to make sure Princess Terra attended her class today and see what time she left,” John said.

“It is as I feared,” Bell worried. “Young man, John is it? Terra was here but twenty minutes ago. She couldn’t have gotten far. I’ll help you search.”

“Thank you Master Wizard,” John said genuinely grateful for the help Bell offered. “You know the princess better; I’ll follow your lead.”

“Let’s get going,” Bell headed for the door without so much as a backward glance at Diana.

“Excuse me!” She yelled, “You can’t just walk away from me, we’re in the middle of a lesson!” Diana didn’t really care about the lesson, but she would be damned if Terra took one more thing away from her. “John can search, you stay here!”

Bell turned and looked to Jack, “make sure she gets to her room as soon as possible.” He bowed to Diana and then was out the door before she could say another word.

Diana felt her temper flare wildly out of control. How dare he treat her this way?! She was the next in line for the throne, not to mention she was the princess in the prophecy. People don’t just treat her this way. She would have him fired, if not his head for this insolence.

“Princess,” Jack asked hesitantly. “Did you want to get going? Or did you need a minute?”

Diana turned to Jack, eyes blazing with anger.

Jack shrank back away from her as she glowered at him. He and the princess had become rather close over the last month, or so he thought. They had snuck off several times and lain together. She was beautiful woman well versed in how to please a man. Now, however, she was terrifying and Jack wished he had been assigned to look for Princess Terra instead of John.

Terra’s head was killing her as she rolled over in bed. It felt like the blacksmith was using her head as the anvil. She rolled on her side and buried her head in a pillow. She had been dreaming something just a moment ago. Something about herself and Grey, she thought. There had been a field a red flowers and a cave nearby. She couldn’t recall the details but she knew that she and Grey were having an important conversation.

Her head throbbed painfully and she put her hands up to try and quell the aching. A hand touched her shoulder and she froze. Someone was in bed with her? Slowly she opened her eyes. Everything was foggy and blurred, like looking through an old looking glass. She couldn’t really focus.

Still she could tell that someone was lying right next to her with their hand on her shoulder. She blinked and squinted, trying to get her eyes to clear. To no avail, her eyes were still foggy and she still couldn’t tell who was there.

Quietly she sent out a small stream of magic to see who was across from her.

“You don’t have to do that,” Grey’s voice whispered from in front of her.

“Grey?” She asked squinting. “Is that you?”

“Yes . . . can you not see?”

“Not really,” she admitted. “Where am I? How did I get here?”

“I was hoping you would know that.”

“I don’t know what . . . oh,” she suddenly remembered the conversation with her mother and the words she had spoken. Her heart sank and suddenly nothing else seemed to matter. Not the fact that she couldn’t see, or the fact that she was somewhere, in bed, with Grey. Nothing really mattered right then.

“Terra what’s wrong?” He asked alarmed.

“I . . . I . . .,” she struggled to make the words to tell he what had happened.

“I can’t see into your head or heart at all right now,” he admitted quietly, more to himself than to her. His bright spot throbbed again, aching to make her better somehow.

Completely unaware she was doing anything, Terra grabbed Grey’s hands and placed them, one on each side of her head. She thought over everything her mother had said and how it had hurt her so. Just thinking about it hurt her.

Grey’s breath caught in his throat. It wasn’t just her memories she was sharing, it was her emotions. It was a rush of more emotion than he had ever dealt with. He could feel the sorrow she felt that went beyond words thanks to her mother’s callousness. He could feel just how upsetting it was too her to know that Eric had lost what he felt for her. While simultaneously he could feel how relived she was that he didn’t care the way he had. Then he could feel what she felt for him.

Grey could see plainly how she cared for him as a friend and how there was the beginnings there of something more. He could feel it then, the crack he had made in her, it was widening. It had nearly doubled in size by the time he felt it calm.

“Terra,” he muttered, overcome by her emotions. “I’m so sorry . . . I don’t really know what I’m supposed to say or do here.”

“There’s nothing to say,” she whispered, feeling her eyes start to water. She blinked rapidly, trying to clear the tears. As she blinked the tears themselves seemed to wash away whatever was blinding her and she could see again.

Grey was lying on the pillow next to her staring at her looking very concerned with his hands on either side of her face. They were in his glass cell. She wasn’t sure how she’d gotten there but she didn’t really care. Maybe they had put her in here because no one wanted her.

“Hey,” he said, shaking her face gently, “people want you. Don’t think like that.”

“My own mother doesn’t want me,” she whimpered. “I doubt anybody else will.”

“People want you,” he argued, not liking where this conversation was going or the fact that he couldn’t break away from the princess. “Lots of people.”

Terra just stared at him, blankly. “Ok.”

“Damn it Terra don’t make me say it!” He grumbled, losing more control every second.

“Say what?” She asked blankly. She had been going through the list of people in her mind, each one she knew didn’t really want her. Not her mother or her father. Not Diana or Bell or even Mammy. Certainly not the kingdom or the people, they all wanted Diana not her. Not even Eric or Grey . . .

“Hey!” he shouted now. “Don’t you think like that!”

“Ok,” she replied, her train of thought continuing despite her not wanting it too.

“Damn it Terra!” He all but growled. “I want you ok?! I want you around!”

Something about what he said or how he said it struck her. She looked to him and for the first time her eyes seemed to focus on his face. He looked younger again, like he had in her dream. Not as young as she was of course, but not as old as he normally looked. She would have guessed he was only a little older than Eric right now, instead of being closer to her Father’s age like normal.

“You?” She said her brain still foggy.

“Yes me,” he stated, frustrated. “I need you, more than you know.”

“Grey?”

“Shut up,” he said pulling her toward him and holding on to her. “Stop thinking like no one wants you or needs you because that’s insane. I need you. You’re the only good thing about being trapped in this stupid glass box. I couldn’t make it if it wasn’t for you. And what about Reynolds? That idiot wouldn’t know what to do with himself if something happened to you. He may not care about you like he used to but he does care.”

Terra hesitated for a moment. The whole situation was so awkward she wasn’t really sure what she should do. Grey had wrapped his arms around her and was holding her against him. He was warm and he had said that he wanted her. Not just wanted, but needed. He said he needed her.

No one had ever said that to her.

Giving in, Terra nestled her head into his chest and cried. She was starting to really hate the way she constantly cried lately. It seemed to her that every time she turned around she was crying about something else. She wasn’t weak like this, not normally anyway.

“Don’t worry about tears,” Grey soothed.

She nodded and her mind started to wander off to something, anything else except her mother. She thought about her lesson with Bell and how she’d had so much fun working with wind and doing all of these really complex spells. It was hard at first with all the shadows but after that got worked out things were great.

“Shadows?” He asked? He was still in Terra’s mind, watching her memories float by. “You fought shadows today?”

“Yes,” she replied, “Master Bell summoned them to test the limits of my powers. But it got a little out of hand.” As she spoke she remembered and Grey saw.

“Wow,” he muttered, seeming uncomfortable.

Terra, sensing that Grey wasn’t enjoying this line of thought, moved on to thinking about yesterday and turning sixteen. She thought about going to see him in the morning and the dancing and then, before she could stop it she was thinking about the premonition she had about Grey kissing her. She tried to stop but her thoughts had taken on a life of their own and she couldn’t stop them.

Grey stiffened slightly around her and she cursed herself for thinking about that. She tried to think about something else, like the exceptionally long dress fitting she had to go through that morning, her horrible pink dress, anything.

Sadly, he would not let her change the subject so easily.

“Hold on a minute,” he said, “what was that?”

“Nothing,” she replied quickly.

“Was that the premonition you had? You had a seeing that I was going to kiss you?”

Terra felt her face flush. She suddenly wanted to be anywhere but where she was. She had never intended for Grey to know about what she had seen. After she had learned he hadn’t seen anything the first time she had been so relieved. Terra had sworn to herself then that she would never let Grey know what she had seen that day in his arms. She hadn’t been thinking straight, she was depressed and had almost no control over the steam of her thoughts. Even now the scene kept playing in her mind.

“Terra,” he started, trying to push her back so he could see her face.

She kept her head down and refused to look up at him. She couldn’t look into his grey eyes and tell him that she had seen them kissing and she had run away. Worse than that, in the state she was in if Grey tried . . . if he tried to . . . kiss her, she might let him and she can’t let that happen. She wouldn’t let that happen.

“Terra look at me,” he asked, sounding a little frustrated. “Don’t cover your thoughts now, it’s too late. Look at me and talk to me about this premonition.”

“Can we not?” Terra pleaded weakly. “Can we just pretend you didn’t see that?”

“No,” he laughed. “You saw that and ran out of here like the building was coming down around you. I want you to talk to me.”

“Grey,” She whispered. Slowly she looked up at him. He was staring down at her so intently that his grey eyes seemed to sparkle inches from her face. “I can’t talk to you about this.”

“Why?” he asked. “Terra we’re literally in bed together right now, what could you possibly not be able to tell me?”

Terra blushed up to her hair again and looked back down. She hadn’t really given much thought to her current situation when she’d woken up. Everything had been blurry and she didn’t really care at that point in time. She hadn’t cared about anything. Grey could have grown a second head and eaten her and she still, probably, wouldn’t have cared.

“Grey, please understand. I know that we spend a lot of time together and that as the time goes by that, well, feelings may develop,” Terra tried to explain awkwardly.

“Feelings?” He asked doubtfully.

“Yes, feelings,” she repeated. “These feeling can’t be allowed to grow. It could be catastrophic if . . . if things don’t play out right.”

“So what you’re saying is that I can’t fall in love with you, or you with me, because I have to kill you sister. Or be killed by your sister,” he asked practically laughing. “Do you know how ridiculous that sounds?”

Terra was struck. “It may be ridiculous for you,” she said, unable to keep the hurt out of her voice. “But not all of us are emotionally stunted and incapable of having actual feelings!” She pulled away from Grey faster than he could grab a hold of her.

“I should be going,” she snapped walking toward the glass wall.

“Wait, Terra,” he called, “What the hell just happened?”

She stopped, hand on the glass. “I get it,” she whispered, tears making her voice sound off. “I’m just me, just the shadow princess. I’m not Diana and I don’t look like her. I understand that. Still, you don’t have to act like someone loving me is the most ridiculous thing in the world.” She pushed through the glass and hurried from the room, ignoring Grey’s calls.

He had been cruel and unkind. She knew she shouldn’t have been surprised; Grey was the bad guy after all. He was the monster who had haunted her nightmares since she was child. Foolishly she had allowed herself to become close to him and now was paying the price. He was no better than the other people in her life. No one really wanted her and no one really cared.

With a heavy heart, Terra walked slowly through the castle to her room.

Grey stared at the door.

Moments ago he and Terra were talking over what had happened with her and the premonition she had about them kissing. Then she had flow from the room like he was trying to kill her. He sat on his bed and went over everything he had said to her and everything she had said in return.

Like lightning it dawned on him then.

What he had said about them loving each other, and the way he had said it.

He could have slapped himself he felt so stupid. She had completely misunderstood his meaning and who knew what she was thinking now.

Terra was essential to everything he had planned. He couldn’t very well use her against her sister if she hated the very sight of him. It was going to take something extreme to fix this mess.

Terra made her way slowly to her room. She had just reached the top of the stairs and was staring at Eric’s door and the spiral stairs that led to her room. She was almost there. Just a few more stairs and she could collapse in her room and shut out the day.

There was a sound of footsteps coming down from her room. Not wanting to deal with Mammy right now, she ducked into the alcove of Eric’s door and waited for her to pass. It wasn’t until just before she saw him that she realized it was Eric.

She watched him walk down the rest of the stairs and start down the set that lead to the castle. She wanted to call out to him, to ask for him to help her, to make her not feel this way. Even if he lied, she just needed to hear some kind words right now. After what Grey had said she wasn’t sure she would ever feel like a person ever again.

Eric stopped at the top of the stars. He could feel her again. She was close and she was hurting, He almost couldn’t breathe there was such a strong pain in his chest. He doubled over and held on to the railing to keep from falling down the stairs again. Whatever had happened to her was bad. He needed to find her.

He turned and there she was.

Standing in front of his door, looking like she might break down at any moment, the princess stared at him. She had on a strangely pink dress with her dark green cloak wrapped around her. Her hair looked mussed, like she’d been lying down and her eyes were red from crying. She looked at him and he could see how badly she was hurting inside.

“Terra,” he asked quietly, “What happened?”

“I can’t . . .” she stammered. “Not now. I just want to go.” She looked around for an avenue of escape. Eric knew he couldn’t let her run; he needed to know what was going on if he was going to protect her.

There was something else too. He cared about her, she was his friend and he didn’t want to see her hurting. He knew that before everything had happened with Bell and his magic he had cared about her more, but he didn’t feel that way about her now. It was possible that in time he might again. It just wasn’t how he felt right now.

He knew that information hurt her, and it pained him to no end to know that. He couldn’t fake it though; he respected her too much to lie to her that way. Still, he couldn’t let her hurt like this. So he decided to do what he had to do to help her.

“Terra I don’t know what happened but talk to me, I can help.” He walked toward her slowly with his arms open. She looked at him and just shook her head. She didn’t look like she was going to run anymore. She looked broken, defeated. When he got to her she looked up at him and shook her head. He wrapped his arms around her and held her. She stood there, stiff and unmoving.

“Terra please,” he pleaded. He wasn’t good with the bond and magic but he tried to show her how much he cared. He poured all of what he felt for her into the bond. He needed her to know that she was important to him and that he cared.

Terra made a small noise and then she seemed to melt into him. She started crying and holding on to him like he was her life raft and she was drowning.

They stood in his doorway for nearly fifteen minutes. Terra cried, sometimes she spoke but mostly it was garbled and hard to understand. Eric would shush her and hold her until she stopped. It was a while before she stopped shaking from crying so hard.

“Eric,” she ventured, her voice slightly muffled from his shirt. “Thank you, but I’m alright now.”

“Are you sure?” He asked pulling away so he could see her face. “You don’t look ok.”

“I’m alright,” she reaffirmed. She wasn’t feeling better, but at least she was past the crying. Eric put his hand under her chin and lifted her face so he could see her eyes. Reaching up with his other hand he wiped away her tears. He could feel her broken heart through the bond and it made his feel like breaking too.

“Terra, tell me what happened?”

“I can’t,” she repeated. “Not because I don’t want to, but because if I talk about it, I’ll . . . I’ll . . . I just can’t ok?”

Eric nodded; he understood she couldn’t tell him just yet.

“What do you want to do now?” He asked her.

“I don’t really know,” she replied. “I wanted to go to bed but it’s not even noon yet and the last time I went to lay down this early, things went bad.”

“Right,” he agreed, not sure if she was making a joke.

“So I guess I can go study for a while, or practice what Master Bell taught me today.”

“What did he teach you?” Eric asked seizing an opportunity to turn Terra’s attention to something positive.

She smiled, just a little, but it was still a smile. “Well you’ll never believe how he chose to test me today,” she started, her smile widening just a fraction.

Eric smiled and her and gestured for her to start up the stairs to her room. “What did he do now?”

Terra and Eric sat in her room and watched the rain fall as they talked about her lesson with Bell that day and all that she had learned. A few times he would stop her and question if she was serious. Terra would laugh and assure him that she wasn’t lying. After a while she was laughing and smiling as she talked with him. She didn’t even realize at first how much better she was starting to feel.

Near to one a knock at the door pulled the two out of their little world. Eric got to his feet and walked to the door. “Who’s there?” He called.

“It’s John, sir.”

“Oh no,” he whispered turning back to the princess. “I sent him out looking for you over an hour ago.”

Terra’s face matched Eric’s. “That’s not good.”

He grimaced and opened the door.

John stood to one side and Bell stood at the other. Both looked concerned as they scanned the room and found Terra sitting in bay window.

“I take it you found the Princess then?” Bell asked.

“Yes,” Eric replied sheepishly. “I’m sorry I didn’t come find you sooner. But when I found her . . .” he trailed off; he wasn’t sure how to explain the state Terra was in when he had first found her by his door. “It wasn’t good. Let’s just leave it at that.”

“Is she alright?” Bell asked quietly.

Eric stepped forward and said equally as quiet, “She seems ok now but I can’t be sure. Whatever happened must have been bad. That’s all I know.”

“Is she injured?” John whispered.

“I’m fine,” Terra called from her seat. “And you all don’t whisper as quietly as you think you do.”

“Princess,” John greeted, bowing with his fist over his heart.

“I apologize if we were excluding you Princess,” Bell explained. “I’m simply trying to ascertain if you are well.”

“I’m fine, as I said.”

“May I ask what happened?”

Terra looked at Bell. He was one of the most intelligent people she knew. So she knew she didn’t have to speak to convey the fact that she really didn’t feel like talking about what was going on right then. He met her eyes and gave the slightest nod. He understood.

“Well I’m glad everything’s ok,” John added, still confused about what was going on. “But the weather is getting worse and a kitchen maid named Jenny is looking for the princess. It’s time for lunch to be taken down to the prisoner.”

“Very well then,” she sighed, standing. She brushed her dress off and walked to the door. “Thank you Eric, for everything. Master Bell I apologize for making you worry and pulling you away from your lessons with my sister. I’m fine now and I’ll find my sister and apologize to her as well.

“John, thank you for caring enough to help them search. I won’t forget your kindness or your loyalty. Thank you all so much.”

“I’ll walk with you,” Eric offered as they headed down the stairs.

“I will return to my lesson planning,” Bell stated.

“I suppose I should get back to post outside the prison,” John added making a strange face. He was walking down the stairs with the Master Wizard, the Princess and Her Royal guard. Big name people walking with little ol’ John.

Terra thanked Eric for escorting her and headed through the door into prison. She kicked it closed behind her. She didn’t know what was going to be said between her and Grey but she knew she didn’t want an audience for it.

Keeping her head down, she walked across the room and set the lunch tray on her table. She moved a few things around, prolonging the inevitable.

“I brought your lunch,” she mumbled pushing the tray through the glass. She didn’t look up to see if he was close enough to take the tray, she just hoped that he was. She felt a pull on the tray so she pushed it the rest of the way through.

Grey grabbed her wrist and pulled her through the glass before she could think to stop him.

She heard the tray clatter to the ground, throwing food and drink everywhere as was pulled into the cell. She went straight through the wall into Grey’s arms. In less than a heartbeat she wrapped in his arms with her head resting against his chest.

“Terra, I’m sorry,” he whispered into the top of her head. “I didn’t mean for you to get hurt by what I said. I didn’t even mean it the way you took it. I’m sorry I made your day harder.”

She was frozen.

Terra had walked down into the basement thinking over all the things Grey might say or do when she got there. This was not even close to what she had anticipated.

It certainly wasn’t the first time he had held her, it had happened so often of late. But it was the first time he held her the way he was holding her now, tightly against him so she was literally pressed into him. It was most certainly the first time he had apologized and sounded so sincere about anything.

For a moment she couldn’t process what was happening enough to formulate a reply.

“I didn’t mean to say that being with you would be ridiculous. I mean to say that the two of us falling in love when I’m fated to fight your sister to the death sounds ridiculous. Being with you and loving you wouldn’t be ridiculous . . .” he trailed off.

Terra didn’t know what to say. He was saying things that sounded like things he shouldn’t be saying. They should not be standing in each other’s arms talking about love. She couldn’t let things like this happen. She needed to keep her head clear.

It was no use, her head was all fogged up, and she couldn’t have thought straight if she wanted to.

“Grey,” she started. “I don’t know what to say.”

“You don’t have to say anything. I just needed you to know what I meant. I didn’t want you to think that loving you was crazy. I felt how much it pained you to think that and how little you wanted to be in here with me. I told you, I need you.”

“Grey, we can’t . . . we can’t say these kinds of things,” Terra said pulling away a little. He let her back up a bit, but not much. Her hands were against his chest and his arms were around her waist. She was looking up at him with tears in her eyes and he was looking at her as his control slowly slipped away from him.

“I’m not saying anything, not yet,” he explained. When she opened her mouth the question the “yet”, he continued. “I just wanted you to know what I meant and that I need you and I want you. So don’t go start thinking that people don’t care.”

“I won’t,” she promised smiling slightly. “Thank you Grey.”

“Don’t worry about it.” He reached up and wiped the one stray tear that had managed to escape. “You should probably get going; Reynolds is getting twitchy out there waiting for you. He’s wondering what’s taking so long.”

“Ok.” She moved to break away from Grey but found that his arms were locked around her. “Grey?”

“I’m sorry for this,” he whispered quietly as he pulled her toward him again. Terra thought he was going to hug her again, but at the last second he shifted her to the side and kissed her. Her mind exploded into white light and every thought in her head disappeared. For a moment she wondered if this was another premonition. At least until Grey pulled her closer, and deepened the kiss.

Terra could feel a strange power flowing around them and she could sense a change in Grey. He made a strange noise and held her tighter somehow. Terra felt like she was melting into him and he into her.

Finally, they managed to break away from one another. Terra’s heart was racing and she felt like her head was swimming. Her breathing was shallow and rapid and when she looked at Grey, he seemed to be feeling the same as she was.

“What was that for? She asked, still breathless.

“I know that after today you’ll be feeling better and your walls will go back up and I’ll never get another chance to do this again.”

“You would want to do this again?”

“I don’t know,” he replied. “I know that as soon as I saw it in your head I haven’t been able to get out of mine. Reynolds is coming,” he said suddenly. “We’ll talk tonight?”

“Yes,” she stammered, turning for the glass. Grey grabbed her wrist and pulled her back in, he put his hand behind her neck and laced his fingers through hers. He kissed her once more, quick and simple and then pushed her toward the wall. She had just managed to get through the glass when the door opened up and Eric walked in.

“Is everything alright?” He scanned the room taking in Terra at the glass and Grey with his lunch tray on the floor. “What’s going on?”

“Grey dropped his tray,” she blurted. It was the only thing she could think to say.

“I can see that, why is that taking up so much time?”

“Because Terra was apologizing for it, over and over again,” Grey complained. “She seems a little off.”

“Excuse me?” She demanded as she turned to face him.

“I’m just saying, a little off. Maybe right here.” He whispered to Eric and pointed to his head.

Terra stared at him like she couldn’t believe what he had just said. She was going to fly through that glass and hurt him, not much, but enough that he won’t be saying and doing crazy things like this again.

Eric, seeing Terra’s reaction, interceded. “Ok we need to go. It’s time for lunch and I don’t want to have to explain to your father why I let you break your fists on the glass prison cell.”

“Oh I’ll break them on something” she growled shooting murderous looks at Grey as Eric dragged her from the room.

“I’ll see you at dinner,” he called with a smile as she was pulled through the door.

“You should have let me stay, I have unfinished business with that man,” she grumbled.

“Come on Terra,” Eric said as he continued to pull her along toward the spiral staircase. “You can deal with him at dinner.”

Terra and Eric had lunch in the grand dining hall with her parents and her sister and then she had other lessons to attend and Eric had training of his own to go to. As they went about their day the rain continued to pour down from the sky. Bell continued to watch, weary that there was something more going on than what he could see.

Somehow it was tied to the princess, he knew it, he just didn’t know how. One thing he did know was that if he couldn’t talk with Terra and figure out what was wrong, this rain wouldn’t stop. He needed to talk with her sooner rather than later.

Grey knew before Terra ever entered the room that he would kiss her. Ever since he had seen it he couldn’t stop seeing it. He told himself it was the perfect way to break her. She would never see it coming. That was the only reason he was doing it.

She put the tray to glass and Grey grabbed her. He tossed the food to the ground, he didn’t need it right then. He pulled her in and held her. He apologized for what he had said. All the while watching the crack he had seen earlier.

As he had hoped, he could feel it weaken as he spoke.

“I’m sorry for this,” he said as he pulled her in.

Grey had anticipated every reaction Terra might have to his kiss. From rage to love, he was prepared.

What he didn’t anticipate was his own reaction.

When Terra’s lips met his the feeling that spread through him was like nothing else he had ever felt. It was like a bright light emanated from where their lips met and spread through the two of them until he couldn’t differentiate between Terra and Grey, there was only light.

Feeling like he never had before, Grey pulled the princess closer and deepened their kiss. He held onto her like he would never let her go.

Suddenly there was voice in the back of his head. Reminding him that he had a job to do and he couldn’t allow himself to get lost in some petty kiss.

After another few moments he was finally able to pull away from her. Breathless, with his heart racing, he looked down into her emerald green eyes and for just a moment, a fraction of a moment really, all he could see was her. Not the crack he was trying to widen, or the girl he was going to use. All he could see was the beautiful woman in his arms.

“What was that for?” Terra asked.

Like the snapping of fingers, whatever spell Grey was under broke. He knew then he couldn’t allow something like that to happen again.

He couldn’t afford to lose control like that.

He had a job to do.

Dinner time came almost too quickly for Terra. She wanted to talk to Grey; she needed to talk to him. At the same time she was terrified of having to go talk to him about what had happened earlier. She knew she couldn’t have feelings for him, not the kind of feelings that went with the way they were acting toward each other currently. She couldn’t let herself feel this way about him.

Grey was waiting patiently on the other side of the glass with a stack of trays ready to be taken back to the kitchen. He smiled awkwardly at Terra as she walked in and she felt the smallest bit of relief that maybe he was a nervous as she was about all this. Not that it was a good thing; she had to be firm and unwavering in how she handled this situation. These incidents with Grey had to stop before feelings developed.

“Evening,” he said as she set the tray down at the table.

“Good evening,” she replied simply, starting to sort the food.

“Terra?”

“Yes?”

“I’m sorry about earlier.”

Her head shot up. “Sorry?”

“Yes. I allowed myself to get caught up in a moment and I crossed a line.” He paused for a moment, considering how much to say to her. With a sigh he continued, “I’m not sorry that I pulled you in here, I needed to tell you what I meant. I’m also not sorry about the kiss. I’m sorry that I crossed the line but I think the kiss was necessary.”

“Necessary?” Terra asked confused. Done sorting she put the tray to the glass and Grey pulled it through. He set his tray down and handed her back the two trays from earlier. She sat them on the table but made no move to sit and eat.

“Yes, necessary. I understand what you said earlier about us and unwanted feelings. No matter how things play out between your sister and I, things can’t and won’t ever work out in favor of us caring about each other. Either way this goes down, once I’m out of this cell, I can’t be the man I was in here again.”

“I understand that,” she confirmed. “I know that the person you are now isn’t the same person who exists on the outside. Once you’re out everything will change and we’ll go back to being enemies, you on the side of darkness and I on the side of light. If you think about us even being friends . . . it’s dangerous.”

Grey nodded. He had thought for a long time about how to deal with this. He couldn’t pull completely back from the princess, he still needed her. On the other hand he’d lost control too many times when she was around for him to be comfortable with the rapid way things were accelerating with her. He needed to pull back to slow things down so Terra didn’t scare off and his plans didn’t go to hell. Also so he can work on his own control where she was concerned.

“I don’t think I could not be your friend at this point,” Grey observed. “I think we’ve already invested too much into each other to just be . . . I don’t know what we would be if we weren’t friends.”

“Enemies?” She offered, unsure.

“One day,” he replied grimly. “But not now and not here in this room.”

“Agreed,” she sighed. “What happened earlier, the kiss, you said you weren’t sorry about it. Why not? If I can ask that, as a friend.”

He smiled. “Well for one thing I think it needed to be done. After you saw what you saw I don’t think either of us could have moved on, as friends, not knowing what that would have actually been like.”

She considered his words. “You’re right. I would have wondered about it.”

Grey smiled again. “The other reason is, honestly, I enjoyed it. That for me is what made me really stop and think about what you were saying.

“I didn’t think I was capable of having feelings like that. Since I had never been presented with the opportunity to feel that way, it didn’t matter if I could or not. In the past month I have learned a great deal about myself as a person. I know now that I can feel and probably fall in love if presented with that opportunity. Which is something that I can’t allow to happen, at least not here and now.”

Terra nodded. She understood what he was saying and she agreed with him. They needed to be more careful about what they did and said to each other. She especially needed to be careful when it came to Grey. He seemed kind and caring on the outside but she knew that every second she was down there he was throwing darkness and dark magic at her in the hope to break her resolve and her will.

“Can I ask you something?” Grey asked.

“Of course.”

“If given the opportunity, would you stop having dinner with me?”

“No,” she answered before she could think to stop herself. “I wouldn’t. I enjoy our time together. Which I know isn’t helping matters much.”

“I wouldn’t either.”

Terra smiled and blushed. “Can I ask you something now?”

“Seems only fair.”

“If you were given a chance to be with me, as more than friends, but it meant giving up the fight with my sister, would you?”

“I don’t know,” he replied before he could shut his mouth.

“Ok” She kept her face impassive but smiling inwardly. There was still a chance she could help him. “So we’re agreed then. Only friends, no more funny business and . . . .” Terra searched for the words she was looking for.

“And no more talk of love,” Grey finished for her. “If we keep talking about it, it might just show up to see what all the fuss is about.”

She nodded. “Agreed then?”

“Agreed. So as your friend can I tell you something?”

“Of course,” she said, concerned about what else he might have to say.

“As your friend, that dress looks hideous on you. Pink is not your color.”

She scowled at the glass. “It would be a shame if I had to come through the glass and beat you up all on account of this dress.” She grumbled jokingly.

“Hey I was just being honest.”

“Yea, well, shut up and let’s eat already. I’m starving.” Terra smiled and Grey smiled with her, both thinking they could break the other and change where their loyalties lie in the coming war. Neither one realizing the effect they were having on each other.

Bell watched the skies from his room, worried about what the continued down pour might mean. He knew that at this stage in the harvest, rain like this could be more than detrimental, it could mean the difference between life and death.

Using magic he had tried to send the storm away.

To no avail.

Somehow it was all tied to Terra.

As a Master Wizard Bell knew what weather manipulation like this could mean. While Terra was by far the strongest child he had ever seen, something like this was simply not heard of.

Still, as the rain poured down, despite his attempts to stop it, he had to consider the fact that maybe Terra was stronger than even he had anticipated.

Then, just as suddenly as it had stared, the rain stopped. Dark grey storm clouds gave way to stars and night sky. In the span of less than three minutes the storm was completely gone. Bell turned to small book he had dedicated to Terra and what she could do. Carefully he noted the time and made a note to confer with the princess to see what she was doing at this exact moment.

Eric paced slowly outside the prison. Lewis was eating and pretending he wasn’t paying attention to anything going on, but Eric could tell he was watching him. He had been pondering about a strange feeling he had when he sat with Terra today. It was familiar but alien at the same time. It had taken him nearly all day to figure out what was going on. Now he paced back and forth not sure if he should tell her or leave it as it was.

He should tell her.

She’d been having a day and maybe if he told her what was going on she would feel better and maybe even tell him what happened to her earlier. It seemed like every time he had to leave her alone for even the shortest period of time, terrible things happened. While that wasn’t all his fault, he certainly felt like most of it was. It was his job to protect her and he wasn’t doing a great job so far.

On the other hand, if he told her it could bring up things from the past that might just make her feel worse and make him feel like an idiot.

It was a risk either way.

After close to an hour in the prison, Terra pulled the door open carrying three trays. She looked like she was in a much better mood now than before, although she did look very tired. She smiled at Eric when she caught his eyes on her.

“Can you give me a hand?” She asked.

“I’d be happy too,” Lewis interjected, jumping up in front of Eric. He grabbed the trays from her and thrust them at Eric who caught them by reflex. He wrapped a hand around Terra’s waist and pulled her close so he could pull the door closed behind her.

Eric stared at him with his jaw on the floor and his hands full of silver trays. He couldn’t believe the nerve of him! He tossed the trays onto the nearby table and started forward to grab Lewis and teach him a thing or two about respecting the Princess.

He cried out suddenly and jumped away from the princess, who was once again encircled in purple and silver flames. She stared at Lewis like she was thinking about seriously hurting him. Lewis stared at her wide eyed. To shocked to make words.

“I will tell you one last time,” she threatened, “do not touch me.”

Lewis nodded and backed away as Terra walked over to the table. She flashed a brief smile at Eric and started walking toward the spiral staircase. Eric, doing everything he could not to laugh, grabbed the trays off the table, nodded to Lewis, and then took off after her.

Once they were out of sight and earshot, Terra’s flames disappeared.

She and Eric burst out laughing.

“Did you see the look on his face?!” She exclaimed! “I thought he was going to keel over and die of shock!”

“I definitely don’t think you need to worry about him touching you ever again,” Eric laughed as they reached the metal doors that lead to the west wing.

“Well it serves him right,” she snapped. “I’m tired of him leering at me and making excuses to press up against me. It drives me up a wall!”

“You know, I didn’t know you could just turn that fire thing on and off,” Eric observed.

“Well I had to use it earlier with Bell, remember? After I did it then I knew how to kind of call it on when I need it.”

“That’s a very handy self-defense tool,” he calculated, his mind working like the strategist he was. “It provides light and heat, not to mention it burns anyone you don’t want near you.”

“I suppose that’s true,” she agreed. They were nearly to the kitchen now so Eric decided to wait to talk to the princess until after they were on their way up to their rooms. He didn’t want to chance them being overheard and having to deal with the repercussions of that. Once they were already up the main stairs and turning down the fifth floor hallway, he decided it was as good a time as any.

“I think the feelings I used to have for you might be coming back,” he confessed. He had said it much more bluntly than he had intended, but he also didn’t want to dance around the subject. He wanted to tell her what he was feeling without all the stress and hype that came from amping it up.

Terra kept walking. She was shocked to hear him say what he had said, but it didn’t really surprise her. When she and Eric had sat and talked earlier she had felt through the bond that something was changing in him. She couldn’t really say she was happy about it. As much as it pained her to say so, it was good for Eric to not care about her. After what had happened today with Grey, she had already way underestimated the effect he had on her. There was no way to tell how long she could withstand the amount of darkness he combated her with every time she was in there.

Part of her, despite what she said to herself, was glad that Eric cared. It was nice to have him back to speaking terms with her, but she felt that her relationship with him still wasn’t close to what it had been before. On a purely friend level of course.

“Terra,” he queried tentatively, “say something.”

“I’m glad,” she started. “I’m glad that you’re starting to get back some of what you lost.”

“There’s a ‘but’ in there isn’t there?”

“But,” she added. “I meant what I said to you that day in your sick bed. It’s not safe for you to care for me the way you did. It nearly killed you, after a day of being my guard it nearly killed you.”

“Terra,” he started as he reached down and took her hand. She tried to pull it away at first but he laced his finger through hers and she sighed and stopped fighting. They came to a stop outside his bedroom door.

“I’m not saying that I love you, all I’m saying is that I care for you as more than a friend.”

“I don’t know what to say Eric,” she replied honestly. “I’m glad that you care for me as I do for you, but I also don’t want to think about your feelings for me being used against you some day. I don’t know what will happen in the future and . . .”

“Exactly,” Eric cut in. “You don’t know what will happen tomorrow or six months from now. So for now, accept that I’m telling you how I feel and let’s not worry about things like love or people being turned against one and another until the situation requires that we do so. Does that sound like something we can do?”

“Yes,” she sighed, conceding his point. “But you have to be honest with me about how you feel. If things get close to how they were before you have to tell me. Ok? Promise me.”

Eric smiled down at the princess. He wouldn’t tell her tonight, but loving her didn’t seem that far away at the moment. So he nodded and said, “I promise.”

“Thank you,” Terra said with a sigh.

“But until then,” he asked, pulling her closer. “Are we allowed to . . .” He bent to kiss her and Terra stepped back and away.

“We can’t,” she said. “The point is to not encourage feelings like that. If we start sneaking around kissing in hallways, we’ll be doomed before months end.”

Eric smiled at the thought of being “doomed” to love someone like Terra. Still she seemed quite adamant about what she was saying so he released her fingers and nodded. “We’ll do things however you see fit my princess.”

“Thank you,” she whispered, her voice raw from even more tears threatening to fall, “For now let’s call it a night, shall we?”

“Yes,” he agreed with a yawn. “Goodnight Terra.”

“Goodnight Eric and thank you.”

“I’ll see you in the morning. Mammy has more dresses for you to try on.” He laughed at her sudden horrified face and slipped into his room before she could argue with him about it. With the door closed and safely latched, Eric started wonder what he was going to do if he did fall in love with the princess. Other than the obvious stature issues, she was right about the darkness in the prison.

Some days it was all he could stand to just be outside the doors. Terra was strong but he worried how long her strength would hold up against evil that dark. Even she would break in time. Even if his love for her made him a target on the day when her strength finally failed, he would still choose to love her that day, as he had all the days before.

Terra pushed her door closed and let out a long exasperated sigh. Today had been the strangest day she’d ever had. So far at least. She thought over everything that had happened and wondered for a while how she would go on from here. How could she go on being friends with these men when she knew what it would mean for all three of them? How could she ever trust herself around them?

Slowly she got ready for bed, letting her hair down, putting on her shift and pulling down the covers. She climbed in and lay down. Her mind raced with thoughts from the day and all the conversations she had. Most prominent among them were thoughts of Grey and the kiss. She had been kissed before by Eric, but nothing like this. When Eric kissed her it was sweet and kind and gentle. When Grey kissed her it was deep and passionate and completely unexpected,

Terra felt her face flush red again. She pulled the pillow next to hers up and covered her face. She screamed in frustration. A month ago her life was simple. She would get up go to lessons sneak into Diana’s magic lesson, read, work on magic with Diana and sleep. She’d wake up the next day and start again. It wasn’t perfect but it was easy.

Now she was a young woman with responsibilities in the castle and more to come in the kingdom soon. She was the sole gate keeper for the most dangerous man on the face of the earth, who she just so happened to be friends with. She had her own personal guard who had fallen in love with her once already and was dangerously close to doing so again. Not to mention that Diana had been cold to her since her birthday and Terra was worried that maybe she’d done something to upset her sister again.

Then there was the fact that her mother didn’t want her. Hadn’t ever wanted her it seemed. A fact that called every other relationship she had into question. Tara started to wonder what the future held for her now and whether or not she could survive what was coming.


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