Princess Aira's heart was rapidly fluttering at the mention of the word. She was determined to marry the king at any cost, but the sudden revelation of dragons brought memories of Damien to her mind. She would have denounced any other distraction from a wedding rehearsal, yet her lips were sealed in ruminating silence.
A carriage was called for, and readied to make way to Avelen. Lady Raylyn assured Malachai that she would entertain those celebrating Tahni, and inform the other fae leaders of the recent events. They respectfully parted ways, and she bid a farewell to Ruby, Cole, and Jace.
"As for you, princess - dragons are far too dangerous for you to accompany them."
"But I can help them," Aira pleaded, longing to sate her curiosity. She wondered, more than anything, if Damien was at the castle, and desired to see him again.
"You shall stay in Aura, where it is safe. You can help me charm the denizens for a while, it is one of your royal duties, my dear." Lady Raylyn smiled at Aira, guiding her toward the festivities and away from the carriage.
The princess turned to catch one last glimpse at the carriage, and at Cole, but it was Ruby who would grace her last trace of sight; the young woman was sneering at the royal maiden, until she was summoned into the carriage.
Cole's agitated glances at Jace were too obvious to ignore. Finally the king asked in a straightforward and demeaning manner, "Do we have to take him along with us? I don't think he would be much use in a fight. Besides, he is probably with the enemy; he poisoned my drink-"
"Cole!" Ruby firmly nudged him with one of her elbows. She was unsure why she had defended the fae lad, but the answer was as clear to her as it was to Jace.
"If you are too dense to know the difference between tampered and pure drink, that is beyond me, but you are quick to forget muddle-head: Pen is at the castle - my sister is at the castle!" His eye's flared with a mix of unwavering courage and impassible grief.
No more words were spoken inside the coach as it dashed along the country road, in the dead of the night, toward the kingdom of Avelen. Though it began with the prospect of celebration and lighthearted merriment, now, during the twilight hours, the evening proceeded in gloom and uncertainty. A dark cloud lingered on the thoughts of everyone present, though each dreary thought differed in each individual. When they drew near, passing over the bridge with lightning speed, they could see against the starlight massive shadows passing and circling over the castle.
Malachai was the first to dismount the carriage. The others, as they quit one by one, could see the reflection of green light in the woodsman's gaze; a bonfire of menacing flame was blazing at the entrance of the castle, and before it stood the silhouette of a man, and to that man's side, a body strung by the neck and hanging in a frighteningly languid fashion. The corpse was of a smaller and lighter frame, distinguishably a youth.
Jace's heart sank when he saw the ghastly image. He darted toward the hanging body. "Pen!"
He turned the cadaver around, sick but determined to affirm his worst dread, but it was the lifeless face of Maseus that stared back at him, eyes bulging from their sockets.
The voice of the stranger was grim and gravelly when he spoke aloud, "Long time no see, Malachai."
"Felgroth," the woodsman gasped in dismay, "the enemy. It is he!"
As the shadowy figure moved in slow, swaggering paces toward them, he cast a mighty cape behind himself. If this was the same Damien as the one which visited Ruby in her dreams, then he was wearing the most horrid of disguises. He was adorned in black armor; heavy plate mail, which rattled with tumultuous thunder at every step of his gait. His helm was shaped similar to a dragon's skull, though two great horns jutted out from the sides, and spiraled around themselves before pointing outward.
Cole, now focused with complete concentration upon Felgroth, due to the drugs in his veins, drew his sword from the sheath attached to his belt. "You're a fool for bringing the fight to me. Time to end this." He rushed at the armored figure, blindly swinging the blade as he sprinted, but he only gained little ground before being thrown backward by some invisible force, tumbling as he landed.
"Pathetic," his voice hissed under his helm, "but I am not here to fight you - not yet. Instead, I am here to collect my apprentice."
Only two comprehended what meant; the one that trained him, and the one whom he desired to instruct.
"I refuse," Ruby cried out in protest, "I refuse to go with you."
"Is that so? I failed to mention that if every time you refuse my proposal, I will slay one mortal." He rose his wretched and powerful gauntlet in the direction of the hanging corpse. "You have denied me once already, before now. Should you refuse, then she will die next." His finger continued to direct everyone's attention to the sky.
A young maiden was being subject to torment and ridicule, high in the air, undetected until this very moment. She was screaming and kicking her legs, and her body was bound by dark chains. Three of Damien's Leather Wing Warriors were letting her go, laughing as she plummeted several feet, then swooping down and snatching her up, only to fly aloft and repeat the process.
"Pen!" Jace shouted, his expression filled with the utmost hatred toward the Dragon King. "Let her go!"
"If the girl refuses my invitation, I will let her go, and she will descend to a gruesome demise."
At that moment, Ruby weighed her own life against that of the fae's. She knew the agony of watching a sibling suffer, and breathed a deep sigh. Then she stepped forward, though her legs were reluctant to move. "Fine. I'll go with you, but you have to let Penelope go first."
A shimmering light appeared before Felgroth; it was a portal, with a combination of violet and black glows and mist. "You have my word - now enter."
Cole was staggering back to his feet when he witnessed Ruby approach the portal. "No, don't!"
It was too late. She strayed too close to the glows of the portal, and before she could pull away, Ruby was sucked in and teleported to another place. Meanwhile, Felgroth cackled and said, "Now for my part of the bargain. Men, let her go." They heeded the command all too literally, then Penelope began to plummet with a dangerous velocity toward the ground. Jace charged forward to catch her, but the distance was deemed too great between them. Fortunately Malachai's senses were still sharp; he leapt onto a horse and rode out, just in time to catch the falling fae girl.
The dark figure, with his Leather Wing Warriors, passed into the portal, then it altogether vanished.
Cole ran to the very spot the magical doorway had occupied, but now there was only a blank space. As the twilight hours gave way to the first glimpse of dawn, the young man dropped to his knees.
He had come face to face with one of his worst fears; Ruby was in the care of another man, a devious one at that, and he remained powerless to protect her.