Lothira took him to the Tribunal building just as the dawn broke the night, casting a silver glow upon the stone. Damien gave a nod as she departed then turned toward the stone doors. The doors loomed several feet above his head, carved with an ancient runed circle.
He pushed on the doors, but they did not move. Using his full strength, he tried again but received no purchase. He cursed out loud, wiping the dirt off his hands. And then it struck him: The runed circle was no doubt holding the doors in place, so he put his hand upon the center and concentrated, allowing black smoke to drift around him once again.
Moments later he heard a crack, knowing the seal had been broken and he pushed the doors inward once more. They opened before him, revealing a dark, damp room with a circle of radiant light etched into the middle.
"Ash?" Damien ventured forward, keeping his steps small for fear of running into objects. When his eyes adjusted to the dark he made out Ashlyn sitting in the middle of the glowing circle, perched on her knees. Her closed eyes made her seem asleep, but when Damien got close she looked up to gaze on him. There were gray circles rimming her eyes, her pale garments were stained with dirt and tears. "Oh, Ash..." Damien bent down, reaching into the circle, but when his hands touched the edge it felt like invisible glass.
Ashlyn dropped her gaze, knowing his efforts were useless. "Why are you here? You shouldn't have to see me like this."
Damien studied the rune on her neck. "I...came to get you out of here," he said, and put his hand on the edge of the circle. He tried to break the seal as he had with the door but her prison held under his touch. Grunting, Damien focused his power harder, willing the circle to break. Nothing.
"I think you'll find it's rather unbreakable," Ashlyn said after a moment. "It was designed to hold a Sorceress. You can't just come and unseal it."
"Well, look who knows everything," he smirked, trying to find some humor in the situation. He held up his wrist. "It certainly worked on me."
Ashlyn's eyes went wide. "How--how did you--?" But she trailed off, shaking her head. "Of course you did. You keep getting more and more difficult to understand."
"What's there to understand?" Damien held out his arms, showing the bulging veins that had taken over his form. "I'm even more of a freak than I initially thought." A few moments passed before he dropped his humor. "Ash...I'm sorry I pulled you into this."
"You didn't pull me," she said. "I wanted answers just like you."
He put his hands up to the invisible glass. "I can get you out of here, I just need to concentrate."
"Damien..." she bent her head, more tears staining her collar. "I don't want you to get me out of here."
Damien paused, confused. "Why not?"
"I-- I don't want your affection if it's not real. I care for you, and that is precisely the reason why I cannot keep you close. I will not bond with you at the expense of your freedom."
"What?" he puzzled. "What are you talking about?"
"Kallus explained it to me. The reason he wanted me to stay away from you is because...the more I bond with a person, the more susceptible they are to my will. And I don't want that for you."
"So, you think you're somehow controlling my mind?"
Ashlyn stared at him, her eyes lingering on his chest. "No, Damien, not your mind."
He groaned, pressing his forehead against the unseen barrier between them. "Ash, you're giving yourself too much importance. Kallus is mad and paranoid, you understand? No matter what he says, you are not controlling me."
"But how can we know that? How can we be sure our feelings for each other are real and not forced?"
"That rune on your neck," he pointed, "it's keeping you from using your powers, yes?"
"Uh huh," she nodded.
"Then there's your proof. I'm here on my own accord. We can get away from here, Ash. We don't need them."
Ashlyn's heart was breaking as she stared at him. Damien looked down at the circle again, conjuring an aura of dark smoke around him. As he did the veins in his arms and neck became a ghastly sight. Had she done this? Had her actions turned him into this grotesque creature before her? A creature with black eyes and black veins, ready to fight anything standing in his way?
Unable to bear it, Ashlyn rose up on her knees. "Stop!" she cried, her eyes leaking a batch of new tears. "I can't watch you become this, Damien. You need to return to yourself. I will leave and promise to stay away from you so it can happen."
Damien looked up, his black eyes shrouding with anger. "What? You...want to leave?"
"Want to? Of course I don't want to! But you're turning into--"
"A monster?" he cut her off. "Is that what you were going to say?" He turned his head to the side, cursing through his teeth. "Of all people, Ash...I thought you understood. I thought you knew what you were getting yourself into."
Now it was Ashlyn who pressed herself against the glass. "I wanted to help you not turn into this," she said. "You are wielding the power of corruption, and that is a dangerous power. I want you to be free of it."
"Free?" Damien paused, letting his dark aura fade. "I'm never going to be free of it, Ash, it's what I am. What if I asked you to not be a Sorceress, would you be able to do it?" He continued his work on the circle, spouting more curses as they came. "When I get my hands on Kallus I'll show him what I'm capable of. You'll see."
Ashlyn sank down, hunching over on the floor. "Why such violence? This isn't what I imagined. You are letting your own power poison you. I--I cannot let it happen."
"Believe me, Ash, this is our only way out."
"I don't want to go with you," she sobbed, "not like this."
Her words made his fists clench. Damien turned, his jaw going tight. "Look at me," he demanded, but Ashlyn refused to meet his gaze. "Look at me!" Ashlyn covered her ears as he beat on the invisible glass, hostile snarls ripping through his throat. "I didn't ask for any of this! I didn't ask to be some dark elf's weapon, and I certainly didn't ask to be brought here!"
"Please!" she cried. "Don't give in to your anger, it will only make it worse!" She watched as he paced back and forth like a wolf stalking his quarry. With a burst of fury he rammed his fist into the barrier, shattering the circle's bond. Ashlyn felt a scream leaving her throat as Damien came up, taking her by the shoulders. She tugged at her bonds, frightened to be this close. "I-- I did this to you," she stammered. "You need to let me go."
"No," Damien panted, his eyes boring into hers. "I want you to stay."
More tears streamed down her cheeks. "You are not well. Let me help you, Damien."
"Agh!" he let go of her, gripping his temples. A few moments ago he felt on top of the world, now his head and stomach twisted into themselves with a wrenching pain. Slowly he crouched on his knees, clutching his stomach with one hand and his neck with the other. He blinked as his vision went blurry.
"Damien?" Ashlyn scooted toward him but he flinched away. "Can you see me?"
Damien couldn't speak, only cry out in agony as a dark storm overtook him and the room.