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CHAPTER 16

There was water dripping somewhere. Mirin lay her head on Lucian's chest; his heartbeat would drown out the sound. It beat strong and sure, but still she heard the steady drip.

She could awaken him. Her lips curved in a smile; she was sure the sound would be forgotten. There was not a doubt in her mind. She reached down to touch him. Abruptly, he turned away. The water dripped.

She snatched back her hands and lay staring into the dark. It was only that he was so tired, spent, exhausted. She stifled a giggle. The gods knew he had a right to be! As did she. The water dripped.

She sighed. She was tired, too, but unlike Lucian, she could not simply close her eyes and fall asleep. Unlike Lucian, she could not ignore the dripping of the water, the far-off sound of something scuttling across the stone, the utter silence. Unlike Lucian, she could not turn away from him. Oh, no.

She slid one leg out. So cold! She pulled it back beneath the blanket. Where had she dropped her robe? So dark! She'd never find it without light. She'd go crazy in this darkness; it was smothering her. She drew in a deep breath and threw the covers back. Shivering, she slipped from the makeshift bed.

She felt for the torch in the darkness, found it. She felt for the flint, found it, too. Though her hands were shaking with the cold, she managed to light the torch.

She blinked in the sudden brightness as she looked all around the huge chamber. No matter how many torches she set ablaze, nothing would disguise the fact that tons of stone hovered over their heads, that she and Lucian were existing in a light-less, lifeless place.

All was gray. Gray walls, gray ceiling, gray floor. And damp. Every surface was slick with moisture that felt like cold saliva. Yes, cold. Not the brisk cold of a Brennor winter, when the blood raced and cheeks turned pink. This cold was constant, and wet, and unrelenting. She shivered and reached for her robe.

She felt a touch on her ankle, as light as a spider. She cried out and jerked upright.

"Dearest, you're shivering." Lucian's voice, so solicitous, so soothing, calmed her. Mirin breathed a sigh of relief and turned.

His eyes shone as bright as emeralds; his mouth was curved in a wide smile. "Come, Chosen," he whispered, and she moved her free foot toward him. He curled his fingers around her ankle and laughed, and every one of his teeth showed and his green eyes were now brittle. Shivering, Mirin hugged herself and tried again to step forward.

Lucian gasped. "Please, my dearest, not yet!" He stared up at her through slitted eyes and ran his tongue over his lips; he gripped her ankle so tightly it hurt. "Lower your arms, my Chosen."

Mirin stared back. “It's freezing, Lucian!” She hugged herself more tightly. “I don't like this newest game of yours." She tried to smile. "Let me come to you now."

His fingers only tightened. His nails cut into her flesh. His smile widened. "But I don't want to let you, dearest. I want to look at you."

She had been shocked by Lucian many times. He suggested things she could never have imagined doing, would have never thought of doing, no matter how high the payment, no matter how noble the customer. With Lucian she had done them; often, lying awake at night beside him, she imagined them.

But now her ankle hurt and she was freezing. She was - afraid. "Lucian, let go of me."

"I don't want to," he said. "Now, lower your arms."

She pulled on her leg as hard as she could. He held her ankle in a vise, and it was tightening. The ankle throbbed now. She was sure it was bleeding. She leaned over and tried to pry his fingers loose. When she saw where his sharp nails had cut her, where his strong fingers had bruised her, she cried out.

He was laughing again. "That's a little better, dearest." His voice was heavy and thick and hot. "Now, stand."

She straightened to her full height and threw her head back and glared at him. Let him look upon her body; he would not touch it. She was furious, and her fury fueled her and she was no longer cold.

She would not look at him. Oh no, she would not fall prey to those emerald eyes. So she looked at everything, anything else. The gray walls, the shabby furnishings, the coat of slime covering it all. She heard the dripping of the water again.

She thought, this is unbearable. She felt it. She said, "Lucian, this is ridiculous."

He didn't answer.

"We're sealed up in an abandoned mine, it stinks, it's cold, it's damp, and you want to play games."

He didn't answer.

"I am tired of this! You promised me the world," she cried, and suddenly her foot was free, and she nearly fell. She dropped to the bed and pulled the covers up to her neck. "I could be sleeping on silk sheets, you know." She looked down her nose at him.

Still he did not answer, only smiled, but his green eyes held a look she had not seen before. He stroked her cheek with the back of his hand and whispered, "Dearest, I am sorry for our poor living conditions." The hand caressed the other cheek. "But I have explained to you that we can do nothing else."

Mirin lowered her lashes and sighed. "I know you believe that, Lucian, but I tell you, Brennor has changed. Avacar is a great city now. We could easily just disappear." She shivered as the hand moved down her neck. "Just think of it, Lucian, silk sheets!"

Although the smile remained fixed on his face, his green eyes had grown harder. "I cannot risk it, dearest." His hand began to slide under the blanket. "No one must suspect that I am free, not until I am ready for them to know."

She pushed his hand away. "That's just fine for you, Lucian, but I see no reason why I have to remain here." She tossed her hair and her lips turned up in a knowing smile. "What does it matter if I am Chosen? I don't need any special powers to get what I want!"

She didn't like the way he was looking at her. "And, Lucian, I'm beginning to think you don't have what I want."

He ripped away the covers and grabbed her arms and pinned them down above her head and lowered himself to within inches of her face. His long red hair hung down; it covered her mouth. His breath was hot. He whispered, "Oh don't I, dearest?"

She struggled. She screamed. She tried to throw him off. But the body that seemed so elegant, so lithe, was rock hard, heavy. The hair that wreathed his face like liquid flame was choking her. The slender hands, almost delicate, were too strong. She was frightened, but she was tired. She could not fight him. Why should she? Why would she?

Lucian's eyes shone in the torchlight. He bit his lower lip and sighed. His fingers released their grip on one hand; he cocked his head and paused. Seeing that she no longer fought, he let go of the other. He smiled, and Mirin felt herself returning his smile through her tears. She could do nothing else, not while she gazed into those eyes.

He tenderly wiped the tears from her face, then licked his fingers. He sighed again and lay his head upon her breast. "I can teach you to get what you want with your mind, dearest." He kissed her, and she shuddered. "Not with your body."

Her body had procured everything she had, even him. It had purchased her food, her dwelling, her gowns and her jewels. It had gained her power, and renown and independence. It was a tool; she had plied it with unsurpassable skill. It was a weapon; she had wielded it with savage grace. It was everything she had. It was all she had.

What did it matter that she was Chosen? Chosen! When Lucian had first told her, she had laughed out loud, laughed in her mind. It was impossible, unbelievable. Yet he had convinced her it was possible, made her believe. His silky voice had stroked her thoughts, caressed her mind. With promises.

Chosen! In all of Brennor, of all the hundreds of thousands of people who walked the land, only two were favored of the gods: the Defender of the Faithful and she who was to be the Intercessor. Only two.

And yet, Lucian claimed he was Chosen. He claimed that she was, too. He claimed that once, long ago, the Chosen had been nearly as numerous as other folk. He claimed that he had lived a thousand years!

If people could speak with the gods, if they could heal with a touch, anything was possible. It was even possible that Lucian would keep his promises.

His touch, his kisses, were hot now. She trembled; her control, her resolve, her purpose, her rage, all thought, melted in his heat. She heard him whisper, "You must be patient, dearest," but she didn't want to be patient and she didn't want to wait and she knew he meant that she must be patient to learn to use her Chosen gifts but she cared not about that. Not now.

.

The water dripped steadily. Mirin lay on her side, wide awake. Though her tears had dried, her eyes were sore. Every part of her was sore. Her body was bruised; inside, she felt torn. She lay her hand upon her breast, over her heart. At last the blood had dried where he had bitten her.

A light touch on her shoulder made her shiver. She bit her lip to keep from crying out.

"Dearest, I've been thinking about what you said." He ran his fingers across her back.

She lay still, silent.

"Of course, you are impatient." He drew aside her hair and kissed the nape of her neck. "But you must admit, you yourself are the cause, my Chosen." He laughed and his quick breaths tickled, sent a chill down her spine. "I think we must exercise some self control, employ some self discipline, deny ourselves such frequent pleasure," he paused and began to trace the curve of her spine with his tongue, "and concentrate on our task."

Mirin sighed and spoke in a voice as weary as she was. "And just what is that task, Lucian? Your revenge on the Church? You have told me you will rule Brennor, that we will have riches and power beyond imagining."

She turned to face him, and grew bolder as she saw his eyes grow wide. "But how? You claim to have such power! What power? The ability to speak to someone without voice?" She felt a tear run down her face. "And what of me? I did not risk my life, give up my life, for the pleasure of your company, Lucian." Her chin fell. She lowered her eyes. "Such pleasures are available to me whenever I want them."

The tears coursed down her cheeks; she couldn't stop them. "I want what you promised me, Lucian," she sobbed. "I want that power. I want those riches. I want freedom." She crossed her arms over her breasts and grasped her arms. "Freedom from this."

The green eyes that had been so wide, now narrowed. Lucian reached out and twisted a lock of her hair around his finger. "You ask 'what power,' dearest?" He wound the strand more tightly. "Have you never wondered how we live? Have you never questioned how we survive?" He pulled her by the hair to within an inch of his face. "Did you think it was the precious gods who provided us with food, with fuel, with decent water?"

She could not move; she could not speak.

"No, dearest, it was not." He released her hair, and she fell back. He smiled, baring his teeth. "It was me, Mirin, my power, my will. The power of the Chosen."

"But how," she gasped, "when, Lucian?"

"When you slept, of course, sated, satiated, satisfied." His smile softened. "It was so hard to tear myself away from you, to apply myself. I'd see your parted lips, bruised red, and your breasts rising and falling, and the sweat glistening on your white, white skin and...," he sighed and shuddered. "But I knew I must."

Mirin shuddered, too. "I never knew, Lucian. I never thought. I never questioned." She blushed and shook her head. "Why couldn't you have told me," she whispered.

Lucian cupped her chin in his hand, so tenderly. "I didn't want to upset you, dearest. You see, it was very taxing to control my thoughts. There was pain."

"Pain!" She reached up to cover his hand with her own.

His eyes sparkled. "Yes, dearest, such as I'd never experienced before. Ever since you freed me, I've found it so very difficult to focus my mind." A soft smile played on his lips.

Mirin leaned forward to kiss his hand.

"Except on you, my love," he whispered, and again all was forgotten, all was forgiven. "I have been cruel, thoughtless, unworthy of you, dearest. You must forgive me. Of course you are impatient; you wish to learn of your gifts, to use them. I have not yet shown you what it means to be Chosen!"

She didn't care. She would never care.

"Now I shall."

He gently removed her hand from his face, kissed the palm, then gracefully raised himself from the bed. Placing his hands on his forehead, he closed his eyes.

His breathing grew slower. He held his body as rigid as a statue. Minutes passed, and Mirin didn't move; she barely dared to breathe. At last a small smile crept onto Lucian's face.

The smile broadened and became a grin and his closed eyes crinkled at the corners. He began to nod, slowly at first, then he burst into laughter, shaking his head wildly up and down. Through it all, his eyes remained tightly closed, his hands pressed firmly to his brow.

Suddenly, his eyes flew open and fixed directly on hers. Still laughing, he reached down and pulled her up into his arms. His laughter was contagious, irresistible, and Mirin found herself giggling, though she didn't know why. Her eyes widened as he danced her around the chamber, whirling faster and faster, till she thought she would faint with dizziness.

When he stopped, she nearly fell, breathless with laughter, her head spinning. But he held her fast, his green eyes bright, his smile brilliant.

"Dearest Mirin, do you know what you have just witnessed?"

She shook her head.

"The true power of the Chosen!"

Mirin nodded, dumbly, still not steady on her feet.

He kissed her playfully, a look of childlike joy on his face. "The power that you, dearest Mirin, will soon enjoy."

She stared open-mouthed at him. "But what did you do, Lucian?"

"Why, I simply paid a visit to someone."

Mirin's eyes grew wide.

His eyes sparkled. "I mean, dearest, that I entered, unbidden, undetected, unwelcome, a man's most formidable fortress: his mind!"

She drew back. "I know you can do that, Lucian, you entered my mind, didn't you?"

Lucian laughed. "No, no, you don't understand! We are Chosen, we are able to communicate with one another through our thoughts."

She nodded.

"But we cannot 'speak' with those who are not Chosen; there is no conversation. It is entirely one-sided." He chuckled. "Our side. We can see into their minds, read their thoughts, know their secrets!"

"But what good does that do?"

Lucian waved his finger in her face. "Why it opens up all sorts of possibilities." His eyes grew sly. "For example, the gentleman to whom I just paid a visit showed me quite a bit about himself. He is a priest. He is weak. He lusts after a local wench. I'll give him credit, he has done an admirable job of controlling himself." Lucian giggled. "Until now, that is. Now, I'm afraid, he is about to commit an unpardonable sin, and I fear his precious flock will not be forgiving."

Mirin's mouth parted in disbelief. "You mean we can control people's minds?"

He nodded smugly.

"We can make them do what we want?"

Another nod, more vigorous.

"But, but that means we could do anything, have everything!"

Lucian grabbed her, hugged her tightly. "Exactly, my dearest," he whispered into her hair. "We can rule the world!"