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Chapter 25 - The Raven's Den

Girithane led Damien and Ashlyn back the way they had come. Once they arrived at the mossy circle of stones, Girithane stepped inside it and disappeared. Like the flapping of wings, his figure vanished and left nothing in its trace.

“Whoa.” Damien was startled at the sight of it. “Where did he go?”

“He went inside,” Ashlyn said, placing him in the circle with her. Lifting her arms, the circle began to spin. The forest around them blurred together before fading.

When the world pieced itself together again, they were standing inside another circle. A circle enclosed by candles.

Damien found himself looking upon new surroundings. It was darker underground, but there was an abundance of oil lamps to illuminate the place. Above him, a tangle of roots was visible along the ceiling.

Girithane now stood behind his laboratory tables, preparing his mixtures. Damien approached him cautiously. “What are you going to do?”

“It is a simple procedure,” Girithane said. “I have done it a few times.”

To the side, Ashlyn scoffed while folding her arms. “And not a single one lived to see the results. You don’t have me fooled, Girithane.”

Girithane stepped toward the boy. “I have a special inkling concerning you,” he said to Damien. “You may be frail but I know power lies beneath your skin. From what I have observed, you are an ideal candidate for the procedure.”

Damien felt his stomach twisting as Girithane spoke. He glanced over at Ashlyn, second-guessing himself. When she met his eyes, Damien couldn’t look away. It was as if she were saying, ‘you really want to do this?’

Swallowing his nerves, Damien resolved himself. “I am ready.”

“Wonderful,” Girithane smiled. He led the boy over to his examination table and had him sit. All was going well until he prepared several buckles made of leather skin.

“Wha–what is that for?” Damien asked uncomfortably. “Is it going to hurt?”

“I have learned in the past that the procedure can make one lose himself. By strapping you down, I decrease the chances of you hurting me. Or Ashlyn, for that matter.”

“Lose himself?” Damien winced. “Like out of control?”

Girithane nodded, opening the first buckle. “Remove your shirt and lay down on your back.” Damien did so, allowing Girithane to strap his torso and legs with the buckles. His eyes followed Girithane as he brought forth a vial filled with a thick substance. Damien knew what it was right away.

“Dark elf blood?” he questioned. “How does an animal druid like you get his hands on dark elf blood?”

Girithane tilted his head. “You think all us animal druids live so primitively? I know of a mage in the west who once unlocked these secrets. I pay very well to keep my tools in stock. Now, where were we? Ah, yes.”

He held the vial up to Damien’s mouth. “Drink.”

Damien let out a curse. “I know what you’re doing,” he said. “I was hoping you could find a different way.”

“A different way to what? Only when you are in your most powerful state can I study you. I assume you know very well that this science is not safe. All I can promise you are answers.”

“Damien.” Ashlyn came up, gripping his hand. “You don’t have to do this. We can leave here if you want.”

After a long moment, Damien pursed his lips around the opening of the vial. “I’m sorry you’re here for this, Ash. But I need answers.”

Once the vial was empty, Damien took back his hand. His muscles flexed as he pressed his head against the table. The contents of the vial pumped through his system, bringing on a sudden pain.

It was painful for Ashlyn to watch, too, as the changes took place under his skin. Damien writhed on the table, but the buckles held him in place. Within a few minutes, she noticed the dark veins weaving along his skin. They were seemingly everywhere: his neck, his chest, his arms. The darkness had even found its way to his eyes, covering them in shadow.

Ashlyn couldn’t bear to watch so she turned away. Soon, Damien was unable to keep silent as he suffered. His cries of torment echoed about the den, wrenching in her ears.

“Damien!” she cried above the noise, reaching for his arm.

“No!” he yelled at her. “Don’t touch me!”

Girithane appeared behind her, covering her with his arms. “Come, child.”

“Get off me!” Ashlyn fumed while kicking him. Pivoting herself around, her aura sparked and made her hands glow. “Make it stop,” she ordered.

But Girithane chuckled at her request. “I cannot make it stop,” he said. “Let me put you somewhere safe, child.”

“Stop calling me a child!” Her power shot forward, hitting him in the chest.

Girithane poofed into his raven form and came flying at her. His talons ripped at her skin, leaving deep gashes along her shoulder. He flapped around the den, dodging her streams of attack until he came swooping in again. He landed on her head and pecked his beak against her scalp.

“Sleep,” he said.

Within seconds, Ashlyn fell unconscious. The last thing she saw was Damien’s form covered in black smoke.

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