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.Each had the same look, the same dementia.It was hideous to witness.They looked neither to the right nor the left.They plowed straight ahead, focusing on the Maritium leader, not the swords that were slicing them down.It wasn’t until then that Ren truly understood the sacrilege of the Collective’s doctrine.They didn’t worship a god at all, but they lauded the destruction of anything godly.And their doctrine, saturated with physical pleasure, truly strove for the annihilation of faith in the Maker.Ren and his men were greatly outnumbered.The Maritium had no weapons, only their faith.Serving as a human shield to the lady at their center, they died quick, painless deaths.When Ren realized the Collective’s intent, he abandoned the fight and spurred his mount to the true target, but he was too late.Ten of the Collective surrounded the woman.One man held a dagger to her throat.A thin stream of blood oozed from the tip to stain her white blouse.She looked straight at him, ordering him with her eyes to keep back, but the shock of seeing her face, more so than her look, brought Ren to a sudden halt.Her face was tan, and her auburn hair, streaked with sun-made gold, had fallen from its clasp to define the delicate lines of her face.Her eyes, more violet than the winter dawn, danced in the moonlight with a power he could only regard with wonder.There was a calmness to her features and a serenity in her stance that startled him.Standing there, surrounded by her enemies, she seemed in complete control, yet she didn’t fight when they dragged her away, nor did she make a move to escape when they forced her onto the back of a horse.She just watched him with vivid, violet eyes, commanding him to yield.Ren didn’t understand her silent plea, but he felt himself opening to her call, giving himself to the air between them.When he felt a movement inside him, he didn’t question.He surrendered to the warmth spreading through his limbs, filling him with a peace so vast he was sure his entire body had risen from the earth.But as her silent whisper filled him, the shock of her words brought him to his knees.Time and space do not exist for you and me.As of this breath, I am yours.Ren didn’t know what those words meant, but he felt their effect in every fiber of his being.She was inside him, everywhere.He understood her thoughts as if she were standing right beside him, whispering in his ear.She yearned to take this burden from him, but she could not.Her compassion humbled him and mystified him at the same time.How could she think of him at that time? He wanted to cry out, do something, but there was nothing he could do.The Collective had her.They would kill her if he acted.He could see it in their eyes.Then she was gone.That reality sent him to the brink of madness.The beauty of her feelings covered him with a blanket of protection, but also plunged him into horror – for he could sense when they tortured her.A gripping fear clutched his chest during her torment, but it was his own fear he sensed, not her own.She still carried the same serenity he had seen in her eyes.Her only true anguish came when they tied her to the ground before the pole of the Collective, forcing her eyes on the emblem of the perfect circle of snakes.He had followed the Collective’s trail, but it disappeared in the middle of a muddy field.Only a bottle remained, uncorked and discarded beside the last hoof print.They had vanished into thin air.A rage built inside him during his search.It was a rage so vast it almost consumed him.He would not stop until he found her.He had ridden back to his father’s lands, where Wyrick was hosting his annual ball.Most kings would be in attendance.Ren decided to speak to every king about the Collective and plead for support in his cause.Although his father had laughed at his attempts to save the Maker’s chosen, other kings would take his cause more seriously.He hadn’t known about Valor’s involvement until it was too late.He had made a fatal mistake.Ren leaned his head back against the cold stone.He had underestimated the power of the Collective.And the Maritium woman? He hadn’t sensed her in days.Ren shivered as darkness seeped inside his soul at his failed attempt to save her.A soft moan startled him.Ren rolled to his feet, suddenly acutely aware of another’s presence.A slight form lay at the far side of the cell, white shirt illuminated by the scant light coming through the narrow slits at the top of the cell door.As Ren approached, a woman’s shape came into focus.Her soiled shirt hung in shreds.Numerous welts streaked across her back and deep gouges from a lead-tipped whip oozed blood.Muttering a curse, Ren took off his boot and shook out the yellow jim blossoms he had managed to pick on his way to the dragon match.If mixed with water, the petals would form a soothing paste.He had planned on using the petals for his own cuts, but the girl’s wounds required immediate attention.Taking his uneaten bowl of gruel, he quickly scooped out its contents and crushed the petals in its hollow.Pouring in a slight bit of water from the washbasin, Ren began beating the mixture into a healing salve.He spread the salve over the woman’s wounds, careful not to waste one drop.After he had covered half her back, she stirred.“Hold still,” he whispered.“I’m a friend.”The woman stiffened but didn’t move away.When the bowl was empty, Ren set it aside.“Finished,” he said.“You should feel better soon.”The woman pushed herself up.Although her face was bathed in shadow, he could sense her smile.“My prince,” she said, inclining her head.“Thank you.” Her voice was soothing, almost peaceful, surprising Ren after the beating she had endured.“Please, call me Ren.”When she didn’t respond, Ren motioned to the cell walls.“This place commands no titles.”“But a prince you are,” she said, her smile bringing life to her words.“These stones cannot take that from you.It’s in here.” She leaned forward and placed her hand on his chest.A slight tingle shivered through him at her touch.Ren strained to see her features, but the shadows lingered around her.She seemed very familiar, although Ren couldn’t imagine how he knew her.“Do I know you?” he finally asked.“I’m Aidan.”Her name wasn’t familiar.Ren searched the darkness, desperate for her to speak.He knew that voice.Ren swept his gaze down the outline of her shape, daring to hope for the impossible.“Aidan, are you … ”In response, Aidan touched his check.Inside, something stirred in response.“Yes.”Ren yearned to see her eyes, prove to himself she was truly who she claimed, but Aidan stayed where she was, bathed in shadow.“You told me something when they captured you,” Ren said.“What was it?”Aidan didn’t reply for a few heartbeats, but when she did her words were laced with conviction.“Time and space do not exist for you and me.As of this breath, I am yours.”Ren drew a shallow breath as she spoke the words he could never forget.“I am yours,” Ren said, searching the darkness.“What did you mean by that?”“You would have sacrificed your life to save me that day,” Aidan said.“In exchange, I gave my life to you.The Maker granted my request.”“I’m sorry,” Ren said.“I’m not sure what you mean.”“I’m connected to you, my prince.We call it the ‘unica’ or ‘union’ in the modern tongue.When your emotions are high I can feel them, just as you can feel mine.At a certain intensity of feeling there’s a type of bridge between us.My thoughts can flow over on this bridge as if I were speaking directly to you.In time you’ll be able to send thoughts to me as well.”“The Maritium can pair with a mind,” Ren said.“That’s why the wizards valued your companionship [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]