|Jaran Seramis, "The Champion"|
Thunder crashed as the billowing black clouds poured rain in stinging sheets. The water streaked over the smooth stone surfaces.
Inside the foremost turret, a lean young man sat at a glossy cherry-wood table. He leaned on his elbows, resting the tips of his steepled fingers against his chin. His thin lips twitched with each crash. The candle in front of him melted slowly, and he watched the liquefied wax overflow and dribble down. Dark hair shaded pale eyes, and his gaze trembled—the only sign of the turmoil in his mind. His charcoal-grey waistcoat and matching breeches were too tight and growing tighter, cutting off circulation, stifling his breath—
"It is time."
He had been anticipating and dreading the summons all evening. The young man stood slowly, his lean, towering frame looming over the stoop-backed servant. He tore his eyes away from the candle, but even then, he could not look at the servant. He fixed his eyes on the toes of his boots, and then on the dark hallway stretching before him.
Glowlamps lit the way down this hall—small glass globes only he could light. He kept his gaze fixed ahead, just barely aware of the short man keeping in step beside him, steering him by his presence as a sheepdog does the cattle.
He entered the dark room, wondering what little experiment they had for him this time.
"Hold this, please." The voice issued from the darkness as a smooth, round knob nestled in his hand. A second knob rested in the other hand, and he felt the old familiar thrill over his skin.
"Administer the charges when you are ready, Master Jaran."
Master, they said—offering him feigned respect rather than the honor he was due by right of his true title.
The anger fueled his power. He gripped the knobs and released the pent-up energy. Sparks like small lightning bolts lit his fingertips. He watched the current travel down wires stretching out toward the walls. When they connected with the glowlamps mounted there, he dampened the current, watching with satisfaction as the charge fizzled out, but the glowlamp still gleamed.
"Is there something wrong?" The voice came from everywhere, a pet trick of the Scientific Councilor. Jaran could never quite understand how it worked, so the effect was rather more annoying to him than intimidating.
"Nothing's wrong, Bezzer," he replied. "I lit the lamp, isn't that what you wanted me to do?"
"Go further, if you please, Master Jaran," came the voice.
Jaran held the knobs; releasing his charge always made his hands stiff and numb. He could already feel the deadness creeping over his fingers. Any further, and he probably wouldn't be able to unclench his hands for a while.
But he had never been one to shy away from pushing the boundaries of the mystery that was his unnatural ability. He sent a stronger pulse down the wires, one that flared the glowlamp and kept going, stretching down the length of wire, seeming to travel toward each other. At the point of convergence, he saw the pulse widen and envelop an elongated shape of some sort.
"What is that?" He asked Bezzer.
"Merely a test beacon, my prince," came the silky reply. "Do not worry. That last effort was admirable. Could you send just one pulse of your full power?"
The test environment excited him; he almost missed the sudden use of "prince" as opposed to "master." He would show that stuffy robe what he could do. He unleashed the full flare, watching the blue lightning streak down the wires, blow out the glowlamp, and keep right on going to the beacon at the middle.
He never expected the beacon to scream.
As the energy coursed over its length, the object in the middle of the room suddenly writhed and let out a pained wail. When Jaran stopped the current in surprise, a small object fell away from underneath the "beacon."
A hand; a woman's hand.
"What have you made me do?" The knobs slipped out of his hands and crashed to the floor, but he could still feel the current flowing. He clenched his fists in an attempt to curtail the energy. His worst fears were coming true. "Who is she?"
"That is none of your concern—"
"I said WHO IS SHE?" Abruptly, the lightning flared out of his knuckles, searching for a place to land, and finding the exposed glowlamp sockets. The force of the current jerked his arm outwards as this pulse seemed to come from his very core. It crackled down the wires and enveloped the body on the table in a white, ethereal glow. Jaran and the "test subject" both screamed.
When Jaran finally pulled away, his hands would not stop flaring. He knew as long as he remained in this lab, he would be a danger to this innocent woman.
He ran out of the room, and the guards quickly stood aside when they saw the unnatural, crackling, white spark in his hands.
"Go to the harbor, find the Dragon Mark."
Jaran swung around to see who had spoken, but there was no one there. The Science Councilor's knights were still in pursuit. He resumed running.
"Dragon Mark... Harbor," the voice reached him faintly now. "Healer... Help you."
Jaran reached the outer gate and finally released the energy that had been burning his palms. He watched the streaks shoot upward, to disappear among the clouds with a mighty crash. The same electrical current from his hands now circulated through the entire sky, slamming to the ground in brilliant flashes. The former Prince continued his journey east, toward the Harbor. He would need to find this Mark of the Dragon. Perhaps it would take away this curse he carried.
The father turned and swung his foot with all his strength against the wall behind him. He kicked again and again until he had cleared a tiny space at the bottom of the wall. Pulling his daughter, he directed her to the hole. It was barely large enough for her to wriggle through.
"Daddy!" She cried, grabbing, flailing for his hand.
"Go now, Velora!" He commanded. "Run! Do not let the flames touch you! Be safe!" He was pushing her now, as more of the hut sank in on itself.
The girl scrambled forward into the cold, furious night. She saw more of the villagers pouring into the trees, deeper into the treacherous forest, heading westward. She stopped to take one last look at her home—but all she could see was a burning pile of rubble.
"I will survive, Father," she whispered, and vanished into the night.
He had weathered many storms inside his cave, but none quite like this one. His gleaming eyes watched the streaks of lightning streaming from the sky. Something stirred in the air, something beyond the storm; it was a feeling he had been waiting for since his exile began.
The old man smiled to himself and released the spells concealing his location.
It was time to make the first move.
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