A/N: Hello there. I don't know what the cool kids do these days, but let me just say a few things.
1. I already have this story completed. I'll be posting a chapter every day or so. This'll be one of those stories you can look forward to checking every morning for an update.
2. This is the first time that I have ever completed an original fictitious story over twenty pages. Other ideas have fallen flat on their first pages, but The Golden Rule is different. The difference is that Lana and Mari are characters not entirely created in my head. They exist, albeit less dramatically, in real life.
To my Mari: I love you so very, very much, dear. I will always be with you to remind you of your buried conscience.
3. I thank my beta, boredsvunut, whose editing skills have helped me to shape this story into the best it could be.
4. That said, I appreciate any reviews with questions, comments, and errors you spot. Let me know exactly what you think, preferably without being an ass about it. Constructive criticism is love.
The Golden Rule
written by Aithril
He was looking down at her from a great height.
His brown eyes blinked rapidly as they adjusted to the darkness of her prison. It was in the ground, in a kind of time they could create where no time passed at all. If no time passed, she would never have time to escape. He barely understood the concept himself, but he didn't have to in order to realize the fruitlessness of trying to trick it. The walls going down to the bottom were smooth stone and had no footholds, no handholds, no cracks of any kind.
It scared him that it took this impossible prison and their full combined power to hold her here. He shook his head, not sure whether it was in frustration or amazement. She was not one of them, but her power was too incredible for her own kind. And look how she had abused it, abused the trust they had placed in her…
She looked up as he descended the long distance down into the pit. "Lucas." The greeting was cold and emotionless from her lips. He remembered a time when she would have warmly embraced him, whispering a private joke into his ear, laughing, before running off to begin some mischief or another. Now they both stood here in uncomfortable places: he, as part of the condemning, and she, as the condemned.
If he had been in his true form, his tail would have drooped.
She was in human form, like him, and Lucas could understand why Emstur, a mutual acquaintance, was so tempted, no, tormented by her. From the copper curls that framed her proud jaw to the hazel eyes that were sometimes green and sometimes brown, she was a goddess. And yet, while there was indeed something terrible about her beauty, she was not a goddess.
"I assume you have decided my punishment?" Fury seeped into her previously icy tone, and he felt the air ripple around him. The power in the prison was tangible, and he knew through experience that his own was not much greater than hers.
"The Voice has decided it," he told her, unintentionally placing the blame elsewhere to avoid her accusing undertones. "Your punishment…" he hesitated, hating that the Voice had sent him to tell her. Cowards, he fumed, but he knew that wasn't it. He was the messenger. This was his duty, to communicate between the gods and all other life that had been created by the One.
She remained silent while he fought himself on what to tell her, how to tell her, how to tell his friend her fate… but there was no better way.
"Your punishment," he said, very softly. "is to have your soul split."
A delicate shudder ran along the lines of her body. Her eyes were a dull brown.
"My soul?" she asked, a flicker of emotion entering her tone that he recognized faintly as fear. He had forgotten how young she was, even in comparison to him. Never had he seen the vulnerability she had just hinted to. "It's not possible to split a soul… without…"
"You are not being sent to the afterlife," Lucas said firmly. "It was Emstur who created the collars that will—"
"Collars?!" she shrieked suddenly, a thread of her built-up power escaping to twine with the note. It ended in a high-pitched screech that made Lucas' hair stand on end. She sprang to her feet and clenched her fists, the tendons defined in her neck. "Am I a rebel dog to be tamed?" she roared, the pointed reference finding its correct path to Lucas, who flinched. "Am I a lion who obeys the chair? I will not submit to this… deprecating act." Her power died down, back under control in her confidence that they could not do such a thing. Her face became ice once more, impassionate and calm. "Emstur was foolish to suggest it. I would never allow the Voice to do this."
Lucas turned away, hiding the grief in his eyes. Regret leaked into his throat, making it hard to speak the next two words: "You must."
Something in his tone caught her attention, made her more like a friend rather than a defiant prisoner resisting a guard. "I must?"
He swallowed visibly, and her eyes narrowed. His power lifted him clear of the prison before he spoke.
"They have Daniel."
Her screams were immediate, justified, and, worst to Lucas' ears… defeated.