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Crystal Sorceress Revised Prologue Version 3

by  Patsy

Posted: Tuesday, December 13, 2005
Word Count: 3148
Summary: I know I'm beating you all over the head with this one, but it is the opening of the book, and I want it to be right! So PLEASE, one more time? Last one, I promise. Have revised this yet again since comments ending with Ang!
Related Works: Crystal Sorceress Alt. Prologue II • Crystal Sorceress-Prologue • 

Her brother had carried her to the dim, quiet cave after she collapsed – Shallon remembered that much – the rest, she didn’t want to remember.
She wished only to return to the blissful black nothingness from which Devin had awakened her, but closing her eyes gave her no respite, for every time she did, she saw death – their mother screaming as she was consumed by a pillar of green flame, and their father on his knees with a blade through his heart, reaching for her.
“Rest,” Devin whispered. “The cave’s magic will protect us until you are stronger.”
With difficulty, Shallon focused her gaze on the wall before her and found an image of herself staring mockingly back. Her likeness sharpened in color until it reflected her guilt and torment back at her with perfect unyielding clarity. A sick feeling welled up in her stomach and she had to look away.
The cave in which they rested had been her family’s own secret sanctuary of magic and learning for generations, but those who hunted her had magic of their own and she feared even this last refuge could not conceal them for long.
“We will avenge them, Shallon,” Devin continued, his arm coming up to encircle her trembling shoulders, “you and I together.”
She looked up into his trusting eyes. He was placing his faith in her? What a pitiful mistake.
“I failed you, Devin. I failed them all.” Her gaze fell away. “How can you even bear to look at me?” she asked softly. “Jon’s Empire has fallen. They are all dead; better that I should have died with them.”
The arm that encircled her shoulders stiffened. “They’ve taken everything else from us this day, would you give them your soul as well? If you surrender now, they win. Is that what Mother would want? Is it what Father would want?”
She stared numbly back into his rage. “There’s nothing left to fight for.”
“There’s vengeance.” He grasped her chin and forced her to meet his blazing eyes. “And there’s redemption – I won’t let them have you too, Shallon. You’re stronger than this.”
She tried to turn away, but he wouldn’t let her.
“Arik died to keep us safe. He gave us a task – is this how you would repay him?” Devin demanded.
Shallon flinched. She would have preferred he slap her, for his words stung far worse.
From the time she and Arik were children, her soul task had been to guard his life. He had been her personal responsibility among the Royal Family, but over time, she had come to love him far more than their roles as protector and protected would countenance. So tied together were their lives that in losing Arik, she had lost a great deal of herself as well. She really didn’t care what happened to her now; the last of her strength and resolve had died with him.
Devin released her with a sharply indrawn breath, and she turned, following his gaze into the shadows.
Tall and solidly built, for one glorious instant, she saw Arik walking toward her from the darkness, but the illusion shattered as the man stepped into the light.
His dark hair was pulled into a long braid that hung over one shoulder, reaching nearly to the middle of his chest. He bore a deep, angular scar that ran from the corner of his left eye all the way back to his ear – a scar given to him by Arik in her defense. She glared at him – that had escaped, and Arik had died was a perversion.
“Dameon.” The name reluctantly crossed her lips – as if merely speaking it would confirm he was real and not some dire apparition.
“Are you all right?” he asked.
His concern seemed sincere, but Shallon knew from painful experience that Dameon had more than one face.
Devin clasped her shoulder, his fingers rigid. They should never have come here, but she had thought Dameon was slain with the rest of the Royal Family – his knowledge of the cave’s location lost with him.
“You escaped the siege?” Devin asked.
“Yes.” He took another step toward them, his eyes never leaving her.
Heart pounding wildly, Shallon shifted position, interposing herself more fully between her brother and Dameon. She might not care what happened to herself, but she did care what happened to Devin. She looked to the shadows behind Dameon. Would he have betrayed them to save his own skin?
Smiling, he stepped back into her view and continued toward them, stopping a few paces from her. “I thought things were better between us, and yet I feel your trepidation. Do you trust me so little, my Shallon?” he asked, sounding pained. “Doubt and suspicion – is that all that’s left between us?”
“Why are you here?” she asked, unable to keep the aforementioned suspicion from her voice. In her current condition she was no match for him, but she would not go down without a fight – and if she could, she’d take him with her.
Shallon came painfully to her feet. Even with Devin’s support, she could barely stand.
“I thought you’d come here. I needed to see you with my own eyes – I had to know you were all right,” he said with something that approached compassion, but his eyes disturbed her. They were opaque – almost black, yet they pulled her attention like a vortex. Feeling inexplicably drawn to him, she forced herself to look away. She was dangerously vulnerable, and like a predator honed in on the scent of blood, she knew he could sense it.
“I have lost nearly everything I loved this day, how could I be all right?”
“What of me?” he asked, trying to catch her gaze again. She could feel his presence persistently tapping at her mind, looking for a way inside – for a crack to slither through. She gave some of her precious little strength over to sealing those vulnerable chinks in her defenses. How much had he to do with what transpired today? Would he – could he have betrayed his own family?
Devin’s knuckles brushed her back as she felt him reach for the hilt of his blade. Moments ago, she had lost Arik to this madness and now Devin was in danger. She wanted to send him far away – send him to a place where he would be safe, but she lacked the strength to even try.
Her gaze returned to Dameon. She couldn’t force her way past him, but perhaps she could talk her way past him.
“What of you, Dameon? If you truly care for me you’ll –”
“Care for you?” he interrupted incredulously. “You know I far more than care. I love you, Shallon. I’ve always loved you.” A fervor burned behind his dark eyes as he reached out his hand. “Come with me. I can protect you; be mine as you were promised and we can rebuild all that has been lost. We can make it better – stronger.”
He truly was mad. Tia’s Crown and all she had sheltered were lost – their world was destroyed, and he wanted her to come running into his arms?
She kept her voice calm with an effort. “How could we rebuild? The castle is lost. Everyone we cared for is dead.”
“We could arrange to have you join them.”
A jolt of panic stabbed through her body at the sound of that voice. Two men stepped from the shadows to stand beside Dameon, and her gaze returned accusingly to him – with a grimace he looked away.
The man that had spoken was Orion. He stood more than six feet tall with penetrating violet eyes and short silver-blonde hair. His face was tattooed with a jagged streak of black lightning that pierced his left eye and continued down his cheek. This was the man who had killed her mother, and beheaded her King.
Devin tried to step around her, and with strength born of desperation she held him back. They would not take Devin too.
“You promised to let me speak to her!” Dameon accused, turning an angry gaze on his companions.
“And you have,” Orion said.
“You’re wasting your time, Dameon,” said the second man. “She will never turn.” He gestured at her with contempt. “Even in her darkest despair, light still pours from within her.”
His name was Jager, and malevolence leaked from him like foul juice from a spoiled fruit. He had wild, upswept blonde hair colored with streaks of red that ran up his temples like lines of fire.
These men were the most powerful dark sorcerers in all the land of Corinth and Dameon now stood as one of them.
Spells of defense forced their way through Shallon’s panic. The words were a jumble in her mind and she fought to make sense of them – to put them in order.
Shallon had both spell and element sorcery in her bloodline and she was usually quite adept at both, but the same blood that had given her this power, had also temporarily robbed her of it.
Her magic came from her Mother’s line, and her Mother’s sudden death had left Shallon weakened and vulnerable.
“Don’t fight us,” Dameon said. “You cannot win.”
She glared at him with the full focus of her rage.
Of late, he’d been trying to make amends with his family and hers. Though always under guard, he had been a frequent visitor to the castle over the last few months, and had recently taken up permanent residence again. She cursed herself for a fool. She should have known better than to trust him, but his turn to hell and darkness was not yet complete. She’d wanted so very much to believe that something decent might still exist deep within him – she’d wanted to believe that he might yet be saved.
“I promise you it will be quick.”
Even as Dameon was making his hollow assurance, heat was rising around her, stirring her hair, pinching her skin. Between Orion’s raised hands a ball of fire was forming and with a thrust of his palms he sent it flashing toward her. It blazed an angry red in the dim light of the cave, gaining speed and size as it came at her until it seemed to fill her entire vision.
Using some of her precious little strength, she spoke the spell of change and transformed the flames into a shower of crimson fire flower petals which fell at her feet like gentle rain. The stone sizzled where they dropped, giving off a sound like frying eggs.
Drawing herself up, she reined in her hatred. No matter how great the temptation, she would not stoop to their level.
“Cowards. The only way you will face me is in a pack like animals. You have no honor. You have no courage.”
“Maybe not, but we certainly have you right where we want you,” Jager taunted, eyes flashing.
The three converged on her, and she and Devin backed further into their refuge-become trap.
“Don’t fight me, Shallon,” Dameon said, his tone almost pleading. “I don’t want to hurt you.”
She turned on him. “I might have expected this of them, but not you. You once claimed to love me. Is this what love is to you, Dameon?” She spat the words at him, trying to reach the man she’d once known at least with her anger.
He shrugged. “As I recall, you spurned my love; yet now you ask for its favors?”
She stopped retreating as the full horror of what had taken place dawned. “You helped them, didn’t you?” she accused, and he looked away, unable, or unwilling to meet her gaze.
“You led them to this place – to me and to Devin, but it’s worse even than that, isn’t it?”
He was trembling now, vibrating as if he might explode. “I’ve done nothing wrong! I haven’t killed anyone!”
“No,” she pointed at Orion and Jager. “You let them do your killing for you.”
Jager smirked. “It was no trouble, really.”
“You turned them on your own family? All of this because you wanted revenge against your Cousin!”
His face darkened. “Arik. Always, Arik! You were never promised to him,” he shouted like a petulant child. “You were promised to me! You are mine, Shallon, and you always will be. Your precious Prince is dead. Like it or not, I’m all you have left.”
She met those disturbing eyes without flinching. “Then I have nothing, for the Dameon that I loved died long ago.”
He met her eyes. “So be it.”
Shallon’s last hope of saving her brother vanished like mist under the burning sun. Bitterness and jealousy had eaten the failing light from Dameon’s soul – each act of harm he had perpetuated upon another had drained away will, and conscience and innocence, allowing more and more room for the darkness to seep inside. His soul was bleeding to death, and he couldn’t even feel it.
She was so weak – too weak to take them on one-on-one, let alone three to one. She turned to her brother.
“When their attention focuses on me, I want you to go, Devin. I want you to leave me.” She had meant it as an order, but to her ears it came out more of a plea.
“I will not!” Devin answered in a harsh whisper.
“Your brother is correct, Lady.” Orion interrupted. “Neither of you will be leaving this place.”
His insidious smile was more than she could take. Cut off from all else, Shallon drew strength from the only source she had left – her own life force. She expelled it in the form of white lightning, and it arched from her fingertips toward the approaching men. She knew it would not be enough, and she tried to single Orion out, hoping at least to take him with her, but he countered her easily.
A wall of earth leapt up from the cavern floor to hover between them, and the lightning spattered harmlessly against this shield. Her strength waned, and the fire died. Shallon collapsed to her knees, her breath coming in jagged gasps.
“Is that the best you can do?” Jager sneered as Orion’s shield fell back to the ground in a rain of dust.
“Let us finish this,” Dameon urged, his voice strained.
Panting, she raised her head as they continued toward her. “How can you do this?”
She could almost see the man he had been in his eyes, but she could also see that there was not enough of that man left to help her.
He shook his head. “I offered you a way out, but you made your choice – and as always, it was Arik.” He looked away from her. “Let us finish it!” he demanded again, his voice quavering.
“If it will please you, Dameon,” Orion said. He drew a dagger from his belt, its razor edge glinting even in the dull light. Smiling at her, he ran the blade down his left palm. “Goodbye, Shallon.” The blood was flowing freely down his wrist as he passed the blade to Dameon.
He too slashed his palm, but the right one, not the left. Shallon shivered with revulsion. To use blood in magic was the ultimate perversion – the deed that could never be undone. With this act, Dameon had truly crossed beyond redemption. His blood running, he passed the blade to Jager.
Jager grinned manically at her as he whipped the blade first across one palm and then the other. “Can’t say we’ll miss you,” he added, tossing the blade aside and coming to stand between the other two men.
The three joined hands, raising them high. The blood that ran from them began pulse and glow, hissing against the stone where it fell like drops of acid. Shallon could feel something building around her, something horrible and powerful. An evil green light poured forth from their eyes as they sent a spell racing toward her and Devin that she could not banish – that she could not counter.
She came to her feet with an effort, raising her hands in a gesture of defense, but the power of this massive working overcame her easily. It crushed her feeble defenses and fell upon her like a thick, suffocating fog, a fog that smelled of roses. She could see the threads of the spell binding her like a butterfly in a giant spider’s web.
“Devin!” she screamed as she felt it sucking away her consciousness. She wanted him to run – to leave her, but she knew that he would not.
Shallon looked toward her brother as he raised his blade and took a step forward. His eyes were hot with rage – fevered with the blind fury that one feels when they have lost everything that ever mattered to them. He hadn’t a chance against all three of them and he knew it, but that anger drove him to try even if it would cost him his life.
“No,” she begged, not knowing if the plea was for Devin to stop, or for the three sorcerers to spare him. “Run!”
Devin stopped short, almost falling. He looked down at his feet as if they were frozen to the ground, and then she saw it. Threads from the spell’s web had entangled him as well, twining about his ankles, and where they touched him, the grayness of stone began to climb Devin’s lithe frame. Even as she watched, the soft leather boots he wore became as part of the cavern floor. The effect of the spell inched up past his knees and then crossed his waist, transforming flesh to stone as it went. He could not move – he could not run – he could not save himself, nor her. In a last gesture of defiance, he drew his arm back to hurl his blade at their attackers, but his fury found no release.
“Devin,” she sobbed.
He looked at her with shocked resignation as cold stone consumed him, freezing his sword in his upraised hand. He was all she had left and she could do nothing. She felt frozen in place, and cold – so cold. The world became blanketed in a thick, pink fog as that terrible light shone on her from their eyes. She was suffocating in roses. Her senses were assaulted by the smile on Orion’s face and Jager’s cackling laughter, but what stung worst of all was Dameon’s look of pity and horror as the last of the feeble light fled his soul, and he realized at last what he had become.
Shallon thought of her home and of Prince Arik as mercifully, everything went away.