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Despite her continued detention and constant watch, three days had not changed the woman who remain chained in the central cell where Aregas had commanded she be incarcerated. He approached the cell, his strides uncertain, his face troubled. Obviously she bore some knowledge about what was happening.
But, how had things spun so far out of his control? His younger brother, a youth who held naught but respect and devotion to Aregas, lay debilitated under watch of healers as a poison ravaged his body. Aregas’ wife, the Lady Amirana, had not been seen in the last two days and no word from her had come. While Aregas’ bore no love for her, she was his wife and it only stood to reason that his enemies had, perhaps, made example of her.
Though, none had come forward to claim the deed.
“So, you return… no longer a war-prince, but as a man,” the woman said, her face lifting slightly to look upon him. Her eyes had lost none of their fire since he’d seen her last.
“Tell me,” Aregas snarled, fist rising to the bars and pressing against it. “How is it you knew this would happen? Give me a straight answer, or I swear I will slay you now.”
“No, you will not,” she murmured, giving him pause. “You will stand there and reign in that temper tantrum until your mind is clear again. Only then will we speak, not before.”
The prince frowned at the words, narrowing his gaze at her. This low-born bitch dared speak to him as if he were little better than a child? “Perhaps I should kill you now and your words be damned.”
“Yes, try to kill me… and wallow evermore in your vainglory, Aregas.” The lumicite brightening the hall outside the cell glinted from the mask Solstice wore, almost making it glow in the dim interior where she knelt. “Time grows ever more precious and you stand there foolishly wasting it by reacting to my perceived baiting. Had I truly wanted to infuriate you, I could and it would require little effort.”
Aregas closed his eyes, shoving aside his anger momentarily. Once he’d managed to clear himself of the rage this woman had provoked, the dark gaze reopened to watch her again. “Very well… Answer this: why did you allow yourself to be captured?”
She chuckled softly at the question. “Finally realized that, did you? Well done.” The warrior woman leaned back, arching, until a few small snaps sounded from along her spine. “I let your soldiers catch me because I needed to get close to you.”
“To kill me?”
The reply to the prince’s words was a derisive snort and head shake. “No,” Solstice answered, leaning forward again. “To… talk. This war, the slaughter, the devastation… it’s gone on long enough - don’t you agree?”
A wry smile adorned Aregas’ face as he gazed back at the woman. “It wouldn’t have taken so long had you not interfered-”
Solstice interrupted him quickly. “You think so? And if I told you that you were mistaken, what then?”
“You cannot know that.”
“I know a great many things, Aregas,” she countered abruptly. “I know that your younger brother lies dying, poison seeping into his soul from an assassin’s quarrel meant for you.”
None of the guards had been told that news; how had it leaked to this woman before even they? Aregas couldn’t cover the shock that had overtaken his features then, speaking clearly the volume of his surprise. “How-”
She shook her head. “How I know is of little consequence. Ebonis is a darling youth. His death would be a greater waste than either yours or mine, I’m afraid.” The woman looked at him from under dark lashes, the upper half of her face ever hidden behind the mask. “Know you the legend of the unicorn?”
The question and it’s abruptness startled Aregas out of his initial shock and, unconsciously, he shook his head. “I hardly see what that has to do with this.”
“It has everything to do with your brother right now, Aregas,” Solstice responded solemnly. “Before the Syanne, before the Ardrii, even before the Golethe, unicorns ran free in the forests of our world. Back then, they were kindly and wise, aiding the Ethuran in their infancy.” The woman’s eyes grew intense as she spoke, putting weight behind her words.
“Even when the unicorns’ homes were cleared to make room for villages, towns, and cities; they still came to aid when need was dire. Of the four Guardian races, they alone tried to keep friendly relations with Ethuras… So, imagine their horror when they were betrayed by those who they tried to protect…”
“Guardian races?” Aregas couldn’t tell if she was speaking history or fantasy. How could this woman know so much about a past that even sages couldn‘t decipher?
Solstice nodded. “When the gods sealed away magic, four of the wisest races were given access to it so that it would be there if need arose for it: the Unicorns were guardians of the forest realms, Dragons charged with guarding the skies, Merfolk bore the domain of the waters, and the Phoenix the deserts. All were dealt grievous harm when the Seal of Lore was shattered.”
Now Solstice spoke of something Aregas knew a little about… “How so?”
“These immortal creatures bore magic as part of them. When it was completely released into our world, the power overwhelmed many. Very few were left even partially unscathed… but the Unicorns suffered the worst of them all.”
“For their power resided in their alicorns… the damage to their minds was immense. Many of them went mad and attacked their still reeling brethren, ripping them apart with horn, hoof, and teeth. Even so long as it’s been, those tortured souls retain a taste for blood. Their teeth have adapted to shredding the flesh of living beings…”
Aregas shook his head again. “I appreciate your history lesson, but I fail to see what this has to do with Ebonis.”
“Of course you do, prince… for you could not know that the gods' gift to the Unicorn was the power to heal any malady - be it chemical, magical, or natural.”
Her words rocked Aregas back on his heels and his eyes widened. “Do they still retain this power?”
When she nodded, he took several steps back from the cell to think. Without his former authority, there was no way he could leave the palace and not raise questions. His father wouldn’t believe him if he repeated any of the woman’s tale as he plead for release to find one of the feral unicorns. Likely, he would be accused of running away from his punishment.
Solstice interrupted his storm of thoughts. “Do you truly wish to save Ebonis?”
“I would save him even if my own life were the price to pay.”
That drew a pleased nod from the woman as she straightened, the chains around her ringing lightly. “You know that I command a unicorn as my mount, Aregas.”
The prince hastened forward, pressing against the bars, his hands folding around them. “What would you have me do?”
“There is little you can do as you are now.” Her head bent forward as her hand lifted and she pulled a small vial from her mouth. “Your assassins are excellent… so much so, that I started keeping the powder of Steel Mane’s horn with me at all times.” Solstice flipped the small container towards the prince, nodding when he snatched it from the air.
Aregas looked down at the small vial, uncertain. The contents were little, if anything at all. “How much will be needed to save him?”
“Three grains mixed in a tea cup of water will suffice. Allow it an hour to dissolve before he drinks it.” The woman lifted her gaze to the prince’s face. “Return to me, with the rest of the contents of the vial… and say naught of this to anyone. You and I, we still have much to discuss.”