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CHAPTER 12

Mirin stood before the sepulcher. She had brushed the dust off; the stone was inscribed with words in the holy tongue, a language incomprehensible to her. She shivered as she looked upon it, drew in a short quick breath, and reached out a shaking hand to touch the surface. The dampness of the chamber had eroded the writing, but she could almost feel the power of the faith that had inscribed it.

"Now, dearest, now you must open the tomb," Lucian spoke in her mind. She snatched her hand away and nodded.

She wanted to ask him what the words meant; she knew she should. But Lucian's voice boomed in her head. "Open it, dearest, dearest Chosen. Now! We will be together and you will have everything you want, everything you ever dreamed of."

For just a moment, Mirin hesitated. What did the words mean? She shuddered and took a step back. Lucian's thoughts bombarded her, pleading, encouraging. He was sobbing in her mind, begging, screaming. What could the words mean?

"Now, dearest, now, oh please, please, my Chosen, now," cried Lucian; his thoughts washed over her like tears. Faces flashed before her eyes: that of Maddox, twisting with lust; of the young knight, smiling at the fresh young girl; of her friend Lytha, weeping at what she saw in her mirror; of the young mother, glowing in the wake of the Defender of the Faithful.

She had made her choice.

"Yes, yes, yes, oh please," sobbed Lucian.

She bit her lip, placed her hands firmly on the edge of the tomb, took a deep breath, and pushed. The lid moved, slowly at first, then broke free, sliding off almost effortlessly to the floor. Mirin staggered back.

In her mind, Lucian spoke one word. "Yes." Haltingly, she approached the open tomb, her hand at her throat, her eyes wide. She looked in.

Her hands flew to her face; only her eyes showed, round and staring. She gasped.

Within the sepulcher was the most beautiful man she had ever seen: tall, slender, garbed in fabulous robes, adorned with priceless ornaments. Long, silky, flame-red hair framed a patrician face. His skin had a startling pallor, smooth and white as purest marble. His thin lips were pale, bloodless, but the mouth was wide, graceful in repose. His nose, his chin, his cheekbones were finely carved, the profile of an aristocrat. Elegant hands with long, thin fingers were clasped together on his breast.

Mirin was awed at his physical beauty; she felt faint. Only the blood-red mark on his forehead marred the flawless proportions, the perfection of his face, his body. Had she not known better, she would believe this to be the statue of a young god.

The body in the sepulcher convulsed.

Mirin's voice quavered. "Lucian, I am here," she whispered.

Tears sparkled on his long, black lashes in the torchlight.

.

Lucian's first true breath had brought pain. It had burned so, like breathing fire. He could not bear it. No, he could not. How could one live with such pain? He would die of it. He could not take another breath. Would not.

He heard her voice. Truly heard it. Nothing in his memory, no thought, had prepared him for this. She had spoken! Truly spoken. Her voice, silvery, lilting, purring, promising, brought every nerve in his body to life. He must live!

He drew in another breath, measured its intensity, held it up to the standard set for pain. Less. A little less. Another breath, another. Less pain, less. He was breathing!

Now, to see, to finally see again. He must see her! His eyelids felt as heavy as the stone lid of his sepulcher; his lashes lay on his cheeks like a thick shroud. He commanded his eyes to open, demanded that they see. Slowly, slowly, they obeyed.

The dim light in the chamber was blinding. He shut his eyes tightly, cringing in pain. Tears streamed down his face, dripped to the stone. Blinking, squinting, weeping, he steeled himself to the light and forced his eyes to open, to see.

All was a blur, hazy patches of color, sickening; he longed for the clarity of the visions in his mind. He opened his eyes wider, blinked away the tears. The image above him came into sharp focus. His mouth fell open. Standing above him was a creature of such exquisite beauty, such aching loveliness, that Lucian felt a wave of heat wash over him, setting every just-awakened nerve on fire.

His lips moved silently. He must speak! He must speak - to her. His tongue, heavy and stiff, slowly extended. He licked his lips. His breath was rapid now, regular. The pain was gone; his body had resumed its functions. He drew in a long, deep breath. "Dearest, you are so very beautiful," he said, but his voice sounded strange to him, harsh, a whisper.

She still stared at him in shock; her violet eyes were huge. He raised his bound hands to her.

Awareness dawned in her eyes. Her hands shook as she reached out; her eyes grew wider. And then Lucian felt her touch. It sent a shock through him, the warmth, the softness, of her trembling hands. It had been so long since he had felt. Had he ever felt this? He must feel her touch on every part of him; only then would he again feel truly alive. She loosened the silken cords and stepped back.

With reverence, Lucian brought one of his hands before his face. He stared at it, fascinated. He turned it, flexed it, spread wide his fingers. Then, with the same devotion, he beheld the other. For a moment he simply lay with his hands spread before his face, his quick breaths the only sound in the chamber.

He gasped. He ran his hands over his face, his hair, his body. He shook his head, kicked his feet, stretched his arms straight out above him, wiggled his fingers, curled his toes. He could move; he could feel! He stroked the rough brocade of his robes, the smoothness of his skin, the silkiness of his hair. He caressed the tears from his face and licked the salt from the tips of his fingers. He shivered in delight. He could touch; he could taste!

He raised his eyes. His Chosen! She whom he would see and hear and touch and taste and smell. Yes, she who was scented of flowers, of woman. He reached up and gently took her hand, sighing as he touched its delicate softness. Effortlessly, gracefully, he sat up, never taking his eyes off hers, and kissed her hand.

.

Mirin stared at her hand. Lucian's lips lingered on it; they curved in a smile. He turned it over, and his kiss upon her palm was so light, so warm, so reverent, she trembled. He looked up into her eyes then, and she was lost. Like living emeralds, brilliant and beautiful, they shone upon her.