Falling droplets of water stirred him awake. When Damien opened his eyes he saw the hanging branches of a willow tree above him, and the sound of gentle rushing water struck familiarity. This place...he had been here before, but never had he seen it in the Spring. The warm air made him feel like closing his eyes and falling asleep all over again, but Lothira's voice echoed in the space, causing him to sit up.
"Slowly," she cautioned, placing a hand on his shoulder.
Damien came to realize what she meant. He was sore all over, and even the slightest movements made his muscles ache. He was not used to being so weak, so...helpless. Looking at his own hands and arms, he recalled what had happened. The rune was still sealed upon his wrist. Looking at it made Damien a bit queasy; how it meshed deep into the skin, radiating a sickening purple light. Where healthy skin ended, infection took over, stinging as the rune poisoned him.
Unable to help it, Damien took hold of his wrist and felt its heat. "Agh," he winced at the pain. Beside him, Lothira bent down to his level and met his eyes.
"You can do something about it," she said.
"No." Damien looked away. "The rune will hold until its creator breaks it."
"That is another one of your laws, is it not? The elven lords possess the power to create and destroy their runes, but you, Damien, have power of a different kind."
Damien held the bridge of his nose. "Will you stop speaking like that? What do you want from me?"
"You fear that I mean to keep you here? No. It is not I want, it is what you want that interests me. You want to help Ashlyn. As of now you are the only one who can."
"The Tribunal holds her captive. They runed her, to keep her power dormant."
"In case you haven't noticed, they runed me too," Damien said, holding up his infected arm.
Lothira fell silent, rising to her full height. "Come with me," she ordered, leading him over to the water brook that ran upstream. After placing her palm against its surface, the water glowed and portrayed an image that Damien had seen before. A dark storm thundered across the sky, swirling with heavy black clouds.
"I know, you already showed me," Damien said. "And I've been trying to find answers. I did what you said; I got Ashlyn involved and now look...I got us both in trouble." He felt Lothira lifting his chin, and saw her brassy eyes glowing around the rims. "I don't want you reading my thoughts," he looked down again.
Lothira formed a smile. "You doubt yourself, young man. You please your elf lords by being what they want you to be, though you are far ahead of them. Their runes cannot bind you, not if you disagree." She took his wrist, pressing her palm against the poisoned rune. Damien squinted as it burned. "Break it," she said, squeezing tighter.
Damien tugged against her grip. "Urrg...it's too painful."
"You want freedom?" she rose her voice, thrusting him forward. "Freedom you will not have until you break it!"
"Argh!" Damien cried, feeling the rune throbbing with its own pulse. He crouched down, ready to wither from the pain. Beside him, Lothira kept pushing him to stand.
"Stop holding yourself back! There is no magic that can bind you, it is time you owned that truth."
"I don't want to own it!" he yelled, gritting his teeth. "If I do...I'm just as bad as them!"
"No," she said slowly, taking the sides of his face. "You are a god among mortals. You are what Kallus should fear, not Ashlyn. Imagine how he cowers under your strength."
Damien closed his eyes, letting her words sweep over him. His seeds of anger grew, setting an unearthed fire ablaze inside his gut. He had been afraid of the fire, too scared to go near it lest he be consumed. But he pictured Ashlyn now; how frightened she must be. Was she suffering as bad as he imagined? In his mind's eye he could see her sitting in that cold, stone building where the Tribunal held her. Her hands were bound, her body...weak and withered from the torture of Lor elf runes.
Damien's eyes opened, and his fists clenched as he rose. The sickly veins along his arms and neck bulged out from his skin. Lothira stepped back, giving him a wide berth as black smoke began to encircle him. The smoke grew thicker, filling the air with a toxic fume. Lothira coughed while stepping back more, but she did not leave his presence. She watched him dutifully, as though it were her obligation to stay.
"Urrrr...." Damien grunted, concentrating on his wrist. The pain shot through him as though he were forcing a seedling up from the ground. His body felt stretched beyond its breaking point, yet somehow he was not gone. The light of the rune faded under a shroud of black before he heard the sound of its magic shattering. "Gah!" Damien hunched over, breathing helplessly as the smoke kept drifting about him.
"Well done," Lothira said, moving toward him again. Holding up his wrist, she showed how the rune had disappeared. "Do you still doubt your power?"
Damien reclaimed his arm, shaking it out. "Why do you insist that I use it?"
"You already know the answer to that," she said, her eyes becoming narrow. "The Tribunal lords have chosen to purge Ashlyn from their land. Without its Sorceress, the glory of Gumber will diminish. If anyone can make a stand against the Lor elves, Damien, it is you."
"I can't do it," he said. "I've already caused enough trouble here. Besides...if she sees me...what then?"
"She already has seen you," Lothira said. "What left is there to fear?"
"Well, yes but-- but not like this. What if I just end up making it worse?"
"Ashlyn needs you. Will you aid her or not?"
Damien took in a breath and let it out with a sigh. "I need a ride."