Original Written Work
Characters: Rylerion, Relonia
Summary: The Dark Lord of Carryn-yehl is sentenced to death for his vile crimes. But facing the same demons he did, the princess who took his powers considers a different choice.
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”Let’s see just how long we can make you burn”, she had said, the last time he saw her, and the waking nightmares had kept him company in the dark ever since.
He thought he had steeled himself for the outdrawn, excruciating death that awaited when they came for him, but the cold distant stars above promised hours even until daybreak on this very last morning.
They were alone, the guards dismissed with a haughty nod, no witnesses yet gathered for the spectacle to come. Hours at her mercy, until daybreak and what morning would bring.
The stacked wood of the pyre behind him reached well above their heads, a looming solid presence, even lit merely by starlight. Its size should have been consoling, in a way; surely it would burn hot and fast, with sweet false promises of a swift death. Assuredly, it wouldn’t be.
The palms of his hands were frozen and damp as she turned to fix him with her stare, but his mouth was drier than the desert dust swirling on the breeze. The dark of the night itself seemed to gather around her, swirls of sheer shadow, and her eyes were cold, ironically, merciless and cold. Surely he must have seemed just the same once, cloaked in that darkness, and that thought hurt, too, but not as much as the fear, clawing and screaming hollowly in his chest.
He would have begged then, pleaded and begged, if he had thought it would make any difference at all. He knew better. So he clung helplessly to empty pride, if only for a final familiar straw to grasp at here, at the end of everything, forcing himself to stay on his feet and meet her eyes.
Shadows flitted across her face, the gold of her all but glowing, and her eyes never left him, never blinked.
”There is no one thing in this world that I desire more in this moment,” she said, dark echoes to her voice, ”than to watch you burn, screaming.”
His legs did give out then and he fell to his knees, shaking, despising his own weakness but unable to stand. Screams echoed in his head, drowning out the desert wind, the stench of charring flesh choking, and he needed only close his eyes to feel the heat of hungry flames against his face. As though they had never really gone away, only waited, patiently, knowing he was meant for them, sooner or later.
Sooner would have been better.
Later had finally arrived.
She took a step closer, and he flinched, gasping for air, trying to brace for the pain to come, but knowing he could not, he really could not.
”No.” she said, and he jerked back, stared up at her face, drawn by the severity of her voice. ”I don’t want this. I do not want to be this.”
Shadows flickering and swirling, the gold of her, the green of her eyes luminescent, and somehow he realized in shock she was fighting back.
”I do not want to have done this, have been this,” she snarled, feet solidly planted into the swirling sands, shadows ripping and clawing, the shine of her blinding, and he had to raise his arm to shield his eyes from the blaze.
”Get up,” she ordered between clenched teeth, and he really couldn’t say if it was the shadows or her own defiance speaking. It didn’t matter, that voice was not to be disobeyed, and he managed to get his legs under him, stumbling gracelessly to his feet.
She turned that unblinking stare at him and he could feel it scorching every last inch of his soul, nowhere to hide, no quarter given.
”Go,” she said, and the voice was more like her own again, the edge of darkness briefly forced aside. ”Now. Get out of my sight.”
He must have hesitated, foolishly, floundering, because she scowled darkly.
There was nowhere to run, not really. But anywhere, anything was better than the here, now, in the shadow of the pyre. Instinct took over, much too late, and he backed away several steps before turning, placing one foot in front of the other, holding his breath for the inevitable trap to close.
Of course. He froze, feeling his teeth bare in a too wide snarl of a smile, of course, he had played this game, too. The raging terror and exhausting hope, the pain of it all squeezed his heart until he could barely breathe, vision going dark around the edges. But he forced himself to turn and face her, one last time.
The stars hadn’t moved at all, sunrise still an eternity away.
She glowed against the darkness, pure white linen and golden hair billowing in the breeze, a goddess barely contained in human form, Judgment given shape.
He looked at her hopelessly, realized he was likely expected to walk back to her, but it was all he could to just stand, silent. Accepting judgment at last.
The wind had fallen silent, the stars sharp and clear, beautiful. So far from all the ugliness and pain down here. Perhaps, at the end, the smoke would rise towards them, towards that serene place so far away… But no, likely not, not for him.
She began walking toward him, unhurriedly, beautiful and terrifying. He stood still, let her come. She stopped an arm’s length away, looking at him with eyes still faintly aglow and he held her gaze until he couldn’t, looked away.
”This darkness is a horrifying thing,” she said, her voice just a voice, without echoes, almost thoughtful.
”Yes,” he said, hoarsely, surprised he could shape words at all. Still she looked at him, as though seeing something for the first time. Then closed her eyes, straightening, and the last flickering shadows were banished from her face. When she opened her eyes again the glow was gone.
”I choose my own heart. My own soul,” she said. ”Not this darkness. I will not become what you became.”
And that hurt, somehow, some part of his own heart he thought long gone, shame and relief, and pain, because there was always pain. Gods willing, the vicious darkness would end here, at sunrise, with him. She was strong. He could almost dare hope.
She stood silent for a while, her own eyes somehow more piercing than the blaze before, then seemed to reach a decision.
”I will not kill you. Not for being its prisoner, too.”
Five words, and the world went roaring silent, drowned out by utter incomprehension, all senses going blank in the face of this impossibility. He could not think, could not speak or move, just stared at the lips that had uttered those words, trying to make sense of them.
”Go back to your wilderness, your mountains, Ititshi. And if you ever harm any living human again, you will be made to wish you had died here, burning on that bonfire for eternity. Do you understand?”
He didn’t, couldn’t, could barely keep breathing, but he nodded anyway. Standing straight and proud, princess, goddess, she pulled a ring from her finger, held it out to him.
”Take this as proof of the grace you have been shown, should someone stop you,” she stated, calmly, as though it was a simple thing. ”Although it would be better if no-one saw you at all.”
Uncomprehending still, it took him an eternity to bring his arm to move, his hand to reach out and accept the small circle of metal. Adorned with Chima’s seal, mercy given solid form.
Her fingers were warm, her touch not unkind.
”Go,” she said, one final time.
Forcing himself to move, he turned and started walking, bracing for the trap to close again, but this time she didn’t call him back. Tears began falling freely, blurred his vision, blinding, but anywhere that was ”away” was fine, every step carrying him further from the shadow of the pyre.
Step following step, the edges of the ring’s ornate triangle biting into his palm deep enough to gouge into bleeding flesh, sharp, real. The desert wind carried him, lighter than a feather, westwards, away from cruel dawn.
And high above the stars shone in their thousands, brilliant, to guide him home.