Ruby offered the man a wry smile. "My apologies, I didn't recognize you without the blood of the innocent smeared across your face. But know this, even if I were a citizen of this land, hell, even this world, you would never be my King."
A simultaneous gasp sounded throughout the dining hall.
"And I suppose your true King awaits for you in Avelen? If the loyalty you bestow upon him were mutual, you'd be back at Avelen. But I report no attempts of espionage on your behalf."
Ruby staggered. The observation stung. "I'm sure those things take time and planning, Dragon King." She said through gritted teeth.
He lowered his voice. "Address me by my earth given name."
"Carry on with your meals!" He ordered to the nosy onlookers. "I have private matters to attend with our house guest!" He forcefully grabbed Ruby's wrist and led her outside the castle.
Ruby panicked. "What are you going to do, behead me?"
"What, to medieval for you? I saw what you did to that soldier."
He huffed. "Then your perception is lacking. He did not die by my hands." His grip on Ruby's wrist tightened, as he led her into the shadowy forest, on the outskirts of the citadel. Ruby blinked. How had she overlooked the forest? She had simply assumed all of The Dragon's Cross was a desert.
"No, only by your orders! Seriously, how out of touch with reality are you? That this fantasy world has turned you into this-"
- "Would you please just shut up?" They were nearing the mouth of the forest.
"No! And, tell me how does one even go from quoting Patrick Swayze to-
He clasped his free hand over her mouth. Inside the forest lay a narrow passage of rock, which expanded into a taller wider cave. He dragged her inside the cave,and that's when the alarm really started to go off in her head.
Her screams were muted by the thickness of his palm. "No. Its not what you think. I just needed someplace, where I could contain you-
She struggled to free herself, elbowing him hard in the chest. He was unmoved.
"- long enough to explain myself."
He helped her to sit against the wall of the cave. Shimmery water entered the inside through pores in the rocks. It trickled majestically downward, only to immediately vanish, never touching the ground. Scintillating crystals of a light pink color, offered a scant amount of light in the cave.
Ruby picked one up from off the ground. She stared at it in awe and wonder.
Damian chuckled at her childish delight. With a shrew cry, she pulled her arm back and threw the rock at him. His reflexes were too quick.
"I've had several attempts on my life, but never have I had a glow rock chucked at my head. You get points for originality. Anyway....," Damian procured an armful of crystals, or as he called them; glow rocks, and formed a small circle with in the center of the cave. He muttered something under his breath and a fire sprang to life within the confines of the glow rocks. Ruby moved closer to test the authenticity of the fire, and quickly stepped backwards when she felt the heat radiating off of the flames. Her eyes darted up accusingly. "Black magic?"
He sat down beside her, with an amused glint in his eyes."Magic, brandished by any man is simply a tool. It is the wielder's intent that makes it good or evil. I merely wish to keep you warm. Is that evil?"
"The Prophecy says-"
"Underneath the pale moon, amid the summer's eve," He recited. "Magic's spell completes the doom, and awakens the ancient tree. A kingdom cries in lamentation, divided with no king. A monster yields untold damnation, seeking the ruby ring. A hero is born from a shooting star, to face the immortal foe. The time has come to lift the scar, and end the kingdom's woe . A mighty warrior of noble birth, with heart of determination, will test the monster of its worth, and fearlessly lead his nation."
"How did you know it?"
Damian laughed. "Well, for starters, that hoax has been recited to me since the day I arrived in Avelen, nearly a decade ago. Being an outlander, I did not get such a warm reception. Though the Princess took me under her wing, and more people started to accept my presence in this land.
We grew close, Aira and I. Soon, she began to trust me, and let me in on the secret, the forged prophecy. She said I was to be her Starborn savior. I refused to partake in the drama. refused to play the part of Starborn King, I was exiled to The Dragon's Cross, but only after Avelen killed the former king; an innocent man, who's only crime was being born too wealthy. The Kingdom was burnt to the ground. The former nobles, and a good portion of citizens perished in the fire. And so a new game began. With me as the enemy."
Ruby gasped."But, why?"
-"The only way Avelen knows to build itself up, is by pretending to be the hero. Crafting monsters out of innocent bystanders, gaining support from rallying citizens, and finding allies in other lands."
Ruby took a moment to absorb to information. "If that's true, then why did you send a dragon? And the dreams?"
Damian blinked. "I sent the Dragon, after a gang of Avelen's lycans viciously attacked my men, hoping to draw us out, and into the game. As for dreams, I am in no part responsible."
Ruby blanched. "You're lying. I saw you in my dreams before I ever knew what you looked like!"
Damian shook his blonde mane. "I swear I'm not. It's common knowledge that anyone can easily dream walk, and take the shape of whoever they choose, in these parts. I can teach that kind of magic, but first, you have to believe me! Its all a cleverly crafted illusion; The wisdom of the Fae, enchanted trees. Its all lies. Please, trust in me. The sole reason, I kidnapped you was so I could get someone to believe me! That... thing, with the fairy girl, it was all a façade. I didn't intend to hurt her!"
Ruby was overwhelmed. Her chest constricted. Her breath became shallow.
"The only way to beat them, is to play their own game. They want a monster, and they got one!" Damian took a moment too catch his breath, and allow Ruby to do the same.
"Mind manipulation is a common trait amongst the Avelen court. It starts out with the dreams, then you slowly forget who you are; your family, your friends. Hell I would have forgotten my own name, if it weren't for the people of The Dragon's Cross..." His voice trailed off.
"Damian Felgroth," Ruby whispered, without thinking.
The Dragon King's smile was full of sorrow.
Ruby's heart beat faster as it tried to decipher the truth. If Damian's story were true, that meant Cole was in even more danger then she presumed. "Show me proof of what you say is true!" Ruby begged.
Damian sighed. "You don't want to see, trust me."
Ruby stood up. "Show me. I need to know."
He sighed once more. "As you wish." He moved beside her, and pointed back at the fire. Ruby's eyes followed. An image appeared within the flames. Blurry at first, but slowly becoming more real.
Cole stood in the training room, with Malachai, and a few other soldiers at his side. "It is nearing time, Starborn." Malachai's voice echoed in the room, as he crossed over to Cole.
"You must think of your future in Avelen, and your role, and the powers that it will provide you. Are you willing to do whatever it takes as successor to the throne, to see Avelen become the thriving Kingdom, it once was, even if that means letting go of the past, and all or any who hinder, or slow you down in your quest?"
Cole's eyes squinted in scrutiny. "I will give you an answer tomorrow. It's been a long day, I need to think."
The image began to vanish. Ruby sprinted toward the fire. Damian caught her by the back of her dress. “This happened yesterday, who knows what's perspired by now.”
"What does he mean? He needs to think? No, he needs to run! We have to help him!"
Damian pulled her closer to him, for once she did not fight his proximity. "We will. But we must proceed with tact. First, thing. I need you to gather the tome for me."
"You are freeing me?"
He nodded. "Soon enough, I will. When the time is right you'll return to Avelen, and get me the tome, and I promise I'll help you save Cole. Then we can all go home. That is still what you want, right?"
Ruby nodded eagerly. She was so overjoyed with the turn of events, and prospect of seeing her family again, that she nearly flung her arms around Damian. At the last second she changed her mind, and held out her hand. “You have a deal Dragon King.”
Damian winked. “That's Mr. Dragon King.”