Chapter One

It was not a night to be outside. The wind was screaming through the streets, and rain lashed everything like icy needles. Everyone had come in to wait out the storm. Travelers filled the Tavern, holding out for one more drink before braving a mad dash across the street to the Inn. A crash of thunder rolled as a flash of lightning illuminated the opening door. A cloaked figure stumbled in. The bulky cloak hid all but their height and a few strands of blue and purple streaked hair. The base color seemed to be a dark blonde, though the matted blood made its true color difficult to tell.

The figure limped towards the bar. No one offered a hand, instead watching in silence as the figure swayed on their feet before taking a seat, nearly collapsing onto the bar. Rain and blood dripped from an outstretched hand, though one couldn't be sure the blood was theirs. The stranger managed a hoarse "Help..." Before sliding from the stool in a feint.

Some of the tavern-goers murmured to each other at that. A couple even stood up. Perhaps thinking to assist the stranger. The bartender was peering over the bar at the figure, when the door opened a second time.

One of the Imperial Guards walked in, his armor glistening with rain as he walked purposefully to the bar. He picked up the unconscious figure and slung them over one broad shoulder. He turned, tossing a few silver coins onto the bar as he went.

"I was never here," He said, iron will in his voice. "And neither was she."

The bartender nodded mutely as he picked up the coins with deft fingers. The Guard swept his eyes over the tavern-goers and nodded to himself in satisfaction. Without a further word, he walked back into the storm, carrying his burden to the Inn across the street. He would need privacy for what was next, and his heart ached.

Getting the room was no issue. A few more silvers and a stern look at the Innkeeper guaranteed that they wouldn't be disturbed. He'd set her on the bed, and stoked up the fire. She was drenched to the skin. He'd need to take off most of her clothes if she wasn't to catch an illness.

He undid her cloak, draping it across a chair and setting it closer to the fire to dry. Next came her over-skirt, blouse, and boots. He left her in her corset, chemise and underskirt, not wanting her to awaken completely undressed. His eyes rested on the pendant hanging around her neck. The round silver disk, embedded with blue seed pearls around the edge and a thumb sized emerald at its center. On the back of the pendant was an inscription. He hadn't seen it in five years, but he knew it by heart.

By hand of God, or twist of fate

Our hearts are intertwined

With Soul, Body and Mind

Till we're met at Dark Wood's Gate

He'd given it to her on their wedding day, seven years ago. It had taken him two years to pay off the loan for it. How ironic that just when the payments were done, she'd disappeared? It still sliced at his heart. Coming home, and finding her gone. No note, no sign of trouble. Not even a single belonging packed. He'd thought her taken, and tracked like a mad beast for weeks. Looking for footprints, drag marks, wagon wheels, or anything that might have left a clue where or who her captors were. The only footprints he'd ever found, were hers.

Her head ached. Pulsed like a rotten tooth. She supposed the bright side was that it meant she wasn't dead. More's the pity, she mused. Five years of this hell wasn't enough to kill her, it would seem. She managed to think past the throb in her skull, and took stock of the rest of her body. No unusual aches or pains. The only ones making themselves known were what would be expected after running hard all night in a storm. At least her back was feeling better. It was amazing what a soft bed would do for a tired spine.

Soft. Bed.

She didn't remember getting a room. Nor any bed to lay in. The last she recalled, she had just managed to sit upon the bar stool without falling. Had the barkeeper set her up in one of the back rooms? It would be an unusual generosity to afford a stranger. Maybe one of the tavern toughs...

She jerked herself into a sitting position, eyes wide open and searching the room. Though it was empty, her hand went to her side for her dagger, only to find it missing. Neither was her sword where it should be. She was also only dressed in her underclothes. This did nothing to abate the dread in the pit of her stomach. If worst had happened, at least she had the potion the gypsies had sold her. According to them, she had another four months before she would need another dose. A very expensive potion, but very potent.

She found her cloths on the chair. They weren't completely dry yet, but it was much better than being undressed in a strange place. She dressed quickly, and was relieved and suspicious to find her sword and dagger set carefully behind the chair. What kind of captor left his captive alone with her weapons? She had just secured the belts to hold them back around her waist, when she heard footsteps approach the door. With a silent speed trained into her, she unsheathed her dagger and pressed herself to the wall just behind the door. It opened with a slight creak, and an armored man walked in.

She didn't think, didn't hesitate. She stepped up behind him and held her dagger to his throat.

"Don't move." She hissed at his rigid back. The man raised his hands up slowly, palms out to the room. Having a knife at his throat didn't bother him much. He knew she couldn't kill him. Not his Dria.

"I'm glad you're feeling better." He said stiffly. There was something about his voice that made her blood hum. When he spoke to her, her hand shook, and that was all he needed. He turned to look into the eyes he hadn't seen in five years. They were still the shade of frozen lakes, an abyss in blue. "Hello, Dria."

She screamed. It was the sound of inhuman agony. She reeled, fleeing him as if distance would lessen the pain. She hit the wall beside the desk,crumpling to the floor. Cowering and hiding her face as she clutched her head. She pleaded with him. "Leave me alone. Please, just leave me alone."

Her words tore his heart to pieces. Confusion and concern twisted through him, and then sharpened to a pain so that he almost put a hand to his chest to contain it. He had searched and tracked for five years to find her. And she was begging him to leave.

With her face still buried in her arms, she couldn't see him make his way to the chair that had held her cloths. He sat like his legs just wouldn't support him a moment longer. With his throat tight with emotions he'd locked out of his heart for so long, he spoke.

"But I finally found you. I've been looking for you for so long."

His voice was a tattoo of needles in her head. His presence a low burning in her veins. She couldn't bring herself to look at him again, fearing her head might truly split apart if she dared. Muffled against her arms, she sobbed the words that crushed his heart like glass.

"I don't even know who you are."