The Dungeon of the Palace
Mystia lay upon a soft bed in a dimly lit chamber, and the Dark Sorcerer sat at her side looking silently down upon her. The princess’ skin was deathly pale, but her breast rose and fell evenly with her slow, deep breaths. The pain, which had gripped her when Kozan first came into possession of her ring, had subsided to a dull ache, and she had slept in relative peace for the last two days.
With a sigh she slowly opened her eyes and stared into the empty space above her. But as consciousness came more fully, she began to look about her and gasped in surprise and fear as she saw the Dark Sorcerer. She sat up with a start and tried to scramble from the bed, but the Dark Sorcerer took her by the hand and said, "Lie back down, Princess. I’m not here to hurt you."
"Let go of my hand," she snapped as she pulled it from his grasp and drew away from him. She looked warily at him. "Why am I here?"
"I asked Kozan to allow me to heal you," he answered.
"How long have I been here?"
"Two days!" Her black eyes grew wide. "What’s happened to Orion? They could have done anything to him by now." Again she tried to scramble from the bed.
"Calm down," the Sorcerer ordered as he took her by both shoulders and looked into her eyes. "Orion is alive."
"What have they done to him?" she cried, growing hysterical. "Where is he?"
"He’s locked in the dungeon."
"What have they done to him?" she demanded.
The Sorcerer faltered, then said, "I think you should lie back down again."
"No!" She pulled away from him and stood up. "Tell me what has happened to him."
She gasped as she suddenly grew dizzy. She reached out to the bed to support herself, but even as she did, her legs buckled and she fell to the floor.
"I told you not to rise!" cried the Sorcerer as he ran around the bed to where she lay. He reached out to pick her up but stopped short. Mystia's hands covered her face, and her whole body shook with great sobs.
"They’ve tortured him," she cried.
"Yes," said the Dark Sorcerer, "they’ve tortured him. Now, please, Princess, you need to rest."
"I want to see him," she whispered through her tears.
"You can’t even stand. I doubt you could walk all the way down to the dungeon."
Her eyes flashed with anger and determination as she grabbed hold of the bed and forced herself to rise. Breathing heavily, she turned to the Dark Sorcerer and said, "I can stand."
"Dungeons are not places for women," he muttered.
With a suddenness that took him by surprise, she struck him across the face. "Did that keep you from taking me there before when I didn’t want to go? Now I do want to, but you refuse me! I want to see Orion!" She burst into tears afresh and pounded his chest with her fists until she fell once more to the floor.
For a long moment the Dark Sorcerer looked down upon her sobbing form. Finally, with a growl of disgust he said, "Get up and put on a clean dress. I’ll take you to him." With that he turned and walked from the room.
Mystia heard a low, menacing growl come from within Orion's cell as the door was pulled open. She stared uneasily into the darkness beyond but could see nothing.
"Orion?" she said as she stepped into the cell. The Dark Sorcerer closed the door behind her.
Slowly, Mystia's eyes adjusted to the darkness, and in the corner she could see the auburn-haired warrior. He sat upon the floor, his arms and neck chained to the wall. He stared up at her, his blue eyes dull.
"Orion!" She ran and knelt at his side, then gasped; even in the darkness, she could see the wounds he had sustained. Everything–his face, his arms, his chest–was covered with massive bruises and deep gashes, and his skin was dotted with blisters. He was covered with sweat, slime, and crystal blood.
His chains rattled as he held out a scarred and blistered hand and touched her cheek, and his voice was filled with pain and sorrow. "Are you some beautiful spirit come to bring me comfort?"
Her black eyes filled with tears as she answered. "No, I am no spirit, and I have no comfort to bring–would that I did. 'Tis I, Mystia. Don’t you recognize me?"
His hand fell away from her. "I had hoped it would not be you."
"And why did you hope that?" she asked with a trembling voice.
He closed his eyes, and it was only when she saw his body shudder that Mystia realized he was crying. Tears poured from his eyes and streamed down his broken and bloodied face; his whole body shook with great sobs as he said, "I lost your soul stone, and now Kozan has it."
She wanted to reach out and comfort him, but touching his wounded body would only have hurt him more.
"Orion, weep not." She quickly brushed a tear from her own cheek. "'Tis but a stone, and I‘d lose it a hundred times over if it meant your freedom."
For a long moment he said nothing, his body still shaking with silent sobs. Mystia longed to comfort him with a touch. And though she yearned to speak, words failed her.
At length, he turned his eyes to her, and they were filled with a terror the like of which Mystia had never before seen.
"Help me," he whispered. "The pain is unbearable, but the thought of death is even worse. I..." He struggled to find the words to express all that was in his heart, but they would not come.
"What can I do?" asked the princess, struggling to keep from bursting into tears.
"'Tis too late to do anything," he answered. "I once thought I could find a measure of happiness before I died, but 'twas only a foolish dream."
"Orion..." She sobbed and could say no more.
His chest heaved in a spasm of pain, then he was silent. He gazed at her and, for the first time since she had entered, truly seemed to see her. The chains rattled as he brought his hand once more to her face, resting it against her cheek and brushing away a tear with his thumb.
"Princess," he murmured, "let me call you Mystia."
"You can call me anything you wish," she said as her tears fell.
There was a pause.
"Mystia, let me kiss your hand."
She closed her eyes, no longer able to look at him, but she brought her hand to his and could feel his hard and broken skin as he grasped it. She looked up as he pressed his cracked lips against her fingers; before she could burst into tears again, she leaned forward and kissed him–first on his left cheek, then on his right.
The princess started as the cell door was thrown open.
"'Tis time to leave, Princess," said the Dark Sorcerer. Mystia, tears beginning to pour once more from her eyes, rose and walked to the door.
"Mystia." At Orion's voice, she turned back. His blue eyes were filled with pain and terror.
"Pray to your god for me," he said softly.
"I will, Orion," she sobbed. "I always have."
She turned and walked from the cell. Behind her she could hear the Dark Sorcerer shut the door and the click of the key turning in the lock.
"Come, Your Highness.” At his words, Mystia once more began to cry. The ache of her soul seemed to grow worse as she held herself tightly and wept.
The Dark Sorcerer stood silently by and waited. When at length, her tears had subsided, he spoke in a softer, gentler voice. "Do you love him?"
The princess looked up at him. "What sort of a question is that?" she demanded through her tears.
He said nothing more but led her back to her chambers. Mystia collapsed upon her bed, and for the rest of the day she lay where she had fallen, neither moving nor saying a word. It was as if the life had been taken from her.