It was a cloudy day. Outside, a soft rain was sprinkling down upon the Gumberwood. Though the trees provided cover from the rain, a misty fog had set itself low to the ground, making residents prefer to stay inside their doors. Due to the unideal weather, Damien and Naelen spent their afternoon doing studies in the library. Lanara was with them, monitoring their lists of mathematic equations.
Well into their tenth set, Tenila came into the library with a stack of mail in her hands and presented them to Lanara. "Today's messages, Milady." She gave a small curtsy before walking away.
"Thank you." Lanara smiled while sorting the letters, then it faded. "And again," she whispered, tucking a lovely handwritten note into her pocket. She glanced over at Damien who was unaware. "Someone is very popular this week. This is your third invitation from Ashlyn. It's a shame you're under house arrest. Refusing an invitation can lead to worse things."
"House arrest is a good excuse," Naelen chuckled, nudging Damien's shoulder. "Especially if you don't like the girl."
Damien punched Naelen's arm. "Stop it," he grunted.
"Ow. What have you been eating lately? I swear, your punches have been harder than normal."
"We don't swear, Nihilan," Lanara said. "Get back to your equations."
Naelen did so without arguing, while Lanara continued shuffling through the letters.
Damien looked over after a moment. "I have several invitations?"
"Yes. Of course, Ashlyn does not know of your punishment. Would you like me to write to her for you?"
Damien considered saying yes, but that would likely leave him in a worse position. Ashlyn was one to worry easily, especially over him. She would try to meddle, which Damien could not afford. "No, it's alright," he said and went back to his studies, allowing the room to fall silent.
"Shards," Naelen cursed after a moment, rubbing his arm where Damien had left a bruise. "You can really pack a punch, Damien."
"Sorry," Damien muttered.
After supper that evening, Damien went across the wing to Naelen's room and knocked on his door.
"What?" Naelen winced at him.
"I need to borrow your window," Damien said, pushing his way into Naelen's room.
"Wait, what? What are you doing?"
"I just need to tell Ash something."
"Oh, no. You're gonna get caught."
"No, I won't. Not if you keep your window unlocked."
"Ugh," Naelen sighed. "I can't cover for you. I'm horrible at lying to my parents-- if you haven't noticed."
"I'm not asking you to lie." Damien tugged open the window and climbed over the sill. "Just leave this open. I'll be right back."
"That's what you said the last time, and then you disappeared for a day. You do realize why you're under house arrest, right?"
Damien rolled his eyes. "Since when do you care about following the rules? Let alone obeying your parents?"
Naelen paused, trying to come up with an answer no doubt. In the end he said, “That’s a fair point. Just be...careful.”
Outside the window, Damien grabbed hold of the evergreen that sat up against the house and climbed down. The fog allowed him decent cover as he moved away from the manor. He jogged along a path that twisted to the northeast until it came to an end. There sat Ashlyn's house, still lit from the inside. He saw the candle glowing in her bedroom window and went up to peek inside. Through thin white drapes, he saw her laying on her bed with a book cracked open.
His tapping on the window startled her, but he found no better way to get her attention.
"Damien?" Ashlyn opened her window slightly, shielding her face from the mist. "What are you doing here so late? You could have written back. You could have come for supper."
"I know," he panted. "I just didn't want you to worry over me."
"Are you alright? I've been trying to reach you for a few days now."
"Yes, I heard. I haven't been allowed to come see you, Kallus placed me under house arrest."
"Well that doesn't seem very fair. For how long?"
"He didn't specify. And he didn't really need to. I just came to let you know; you can save stationary by not inviting me over every day."
"House arrest?" Ashlyn winced as if she failed to understand. "I think I know what this is really about. If Kallus has a problem with me, he should face me himself instead of punishing you."
"No, I know what I've done. I plan to keep my head down and let it pass."
"This has gone far enough," she said, shaking her head. "Let me talk to him."
"Ash, I don't want you getting involved. Please, I can handle this."
"But I want to help."
"I know." He gripped her hands. "And that's why I'm asking you to stay away. Me, not Kallus."
With a frown, Ashlyn reclaimed her hands. "You don't want my help?"
"Ash...your help is what got me into this."
Ashlyn stared at him, growing upset. "You told him?"
Damien looked down. "I--I didn't have a choice." He spoke softly, letting frustration build upon his brow. After coughing out a breath he said, "I should get going. I don't trust Naelen to keep his window open for very long."
As he moved away from the window, Ashlyn called out to him. "Please! Please let me talk to them for you."
But Damien continued moving, refusing to look back. "Stay away, Ash."
Early the following morning, Damien went downstairs and heard adult voices coming from the living room. He recognized Calda's alto tone echoing from the hearth as she spoke.
"So we're agreed," she said, unaware of Damien's lurking from outside. "Ashlyn must move on to Tauros. She cannot afford to stay here and dilly-dally."
"Yes," Kallus responded. "I will summon an escort for her immediately. Her journey to the human city will be safe."
"Thank you, Kallus. Your support in this is most helpful."
“It is for the best,” he said. “Damien will let go of this infatuation, and Ashlyn will come to realize there are better things for her than wasting her power here.”
“I do hope so,” Calda said. As she gathered her shawl and wrapped it around herself, Damien dipped behind the nearby staircase. He watched as Calda made her exit, staying still so as to not draw her gaze.
When she was gone, Kallus came out from the living room and passed by Damien on his way down to the forge.
"How long have you been standing there?" Kallus asked, unfazed.
Damien came out from his place, straightening to his full height. "That's your solution? Sending Ash away?"
"This has been a long time coming, Damien. There is little you or I can do."
"I don't understand. There’s no reason she should leave, this is her home. Right?”
Kallus paused, keeping his eyes downward. “I warned you. Ashlyn’s destiny was never aligned with yours, and still you went and did the one thing I specifically asked you not to. You let her into your head.”
"Yeah, so?" Damien glared. "What does it matter what I choose?"
"Boy..." Kallus placed his hand on Damien's shoulder. "You think you are choosing, but there are powers at work you do not understand."
Damien growled. Taking Kallus' forearm, he wrenched him around and slammed his body into the bannister. The carpentry crunched against a blunt hit, and while Kallus was bewildered, Damien sprang out the door. He moved with focus that equally matched his anger.
Kallus pulled himself away from the staircase, soothing the muscles in his arm. When he saw the damage Damien had caused, his thoughts started spinning in circles. When Ashlyn had first brought Damien to Gumber, Kallus had feared for the boy's safety. Now he was afraid for them both.
"Lanara!" Kallus called to his wife on the other side of the house. Within seconds she appeared, her eyes wide with worry. She noticed the chipped wood along the bannister and gestured to it.
"What happened?" she asked.
Rather than giving a full explanation, Kallus put on his shoes and grabbed his deerskin coat. "No matter what happens, stay here. I have to solve this."
Lanara protested as he moved out the door. "What is going on, Kal? You're scaring me." When she reached for his arm, he turned to face her.
"I will not let Damien lose everything over this...girl. He doesn't realize what her powers are doing to him. It must end."
Lanara let out a sigh. "That's what this is about? Kal...your father's choices were his own."
"And that is exactly what every Sorceress wishes you to believe. We believe we choose our own paths...until she comes."
Grunting, Kallus turned and made his way out.