Leaning his firm body into the cool, iron bars Numair watched the sleeping face of his student. Her features were calm and peaceful in her drugged slumber, her thick dark eyelashes gently grazing her rosy cheek. She looked as if she had just lain down for a restful nap.

Curling his fingers tightly around the metal rods separating the room, the prison, into two sections; one for him, one for Daine, he watched the gentle rise and fall of her chest. It comforted him to watch her breathe, knowing that, after all, she still lived. He felt the harsh bite of cold metal into his palm, his hands went numb under the pressure of his grasp but he didn't soften it; the pain was almost comforting, allowing him to express his mental anguish. He shook the barrier once more; it didn't even quiver. The bars reached from the painfully bare floor up to the low roof and across the small room to secure deeply into whitewashed walls. There was no way he could get through over to Daine, or to the handle-less door which he could perhaps somehow break through. His shadowy eyes travelled around his and Daines undersized confinement once again, searching for something, anything, which could be of some use. He sighed; there was nothing. They were alone.

Once Daine had collapsed the invisible attackers had used her helpless state against him. He had spelled them to visibility and almost wished he hadn't. A dozen guards surrounded them, one of them with Daine hauled across their shoulder like a rug. He grimaced at the memory. Before he was able to react to the situation magically or physically, a knife was against his lifeless friends' bare neck. Any movement on his part would have resulted in her slit throat. He wrestled angrily with himself now for not have acted immediately. He doubted immensely Ozorne would have allowed Daine to be killed. Yet, he thought with a shudder; Ozorne used people and then sickened of them once he had what he wanted. Right now he was still interested with Daine, but how long would this infatuation last?

If Daine had been awake she would have noticed the difference in her usually mellow friends' face. Now Numairs dark eyes glowed with flames.

It had been instinctual when Numair had frozen at the sight of Daine at threat; he now condemned himself relentlessly for his idiocy. Now he had no way of knowing how he and hi student would end up. At the mercy of a madman, Numair contemplated grimly. He could think of places he would rather them to be. 

 Blindfolded, bound, but not harmed- he suspected Ozorne would want to do that himself- he was led here and watched as Daine was dumped unceremoniously onto the hard floor. The knife had not left her throat until the last minute when the guards had left, with a last lingering look at the lovely, drugged girl, her gown now ridden up to reveal her youthful calves.  

Numair could see easily the desire in their faces; it chilled him to think the only thing which was stopping them from harming her was the wrath of their Emperor.

He had tried to move closer, to protect her in her vulnerable position, but the bars were firm and would not budge. He was trying to conjure a plan as to what if Ozorne himself came, but his efforts so far were fruitless.

Numair rubbed his face in mental and physical exhaustion, sliding his aching body to the floor; the room was steadily draining his gift, soon he would have nothing left to fight with. He had tried to contact Alanna as soon as the guards departed but his magic had depleted enough to not allow him to perform even that simple spell. 

His head jerked up at a sudden realization; Daines magic, wild magic! Nothing, nothing at all, not even Ozornes god-cursed prisons could restrain it. He was filled with instantaneous, new hope. She could call for help, send her mind out in an animal, perhaps, and contact one of the other delegates.

Before he had wanted her to remain sleeping as long as she could, giving him time to form a plan. Now he looked upon her in eager anticipation, the sooner she awoke, the sooner they were rescued.

"Daine!" He called softly. She didn't even stir. Numair frowned, what substance had they used on her? He hoped the idiots hadn't overdosed; he knew of cases where victims had been induced into a coma for several years occurring from when they inhaled too much of a sleeping drug. What could they have used? Dreamrose, mostly taken orally but it was possible to inhale, in fact was most potent inhaled, was his guess. It was readily available to most anyone and almost undetectable once taken. He looked upon her in concern; the doses of dreamrose had to be exact if you did not want to cause permanent damage.

"Those fools of guards better know that too," he muttered angrily.

Daine murmured and rolled onto her side, causing her delicate blue dress to draw tightly around her slender figure.

Was she finally coming around?

"Daine," he talked to her normally, "wake up magelet. This is important; were in a fix."

Was it his imagination, or had her eyelashes fluttered a little?

He spoke louder, "Sweetling, I will buy you every reward under the sun if you would just wake up now."

He froze in his entreaties; a footstep. Someone was coming. He listened hard and recognised the unhurried, conscious footfalls.

He swore in panic and lurched to his feet; Ozorne had hurt him so far through hurting his student. Why should he stop now, as she lay there on the floor unable to defend herself?

"Daine!" Numair was yelling now, his calm approach forgotten. "Daine get up now!" His strong hands rattled the bars frantically.

Daine gave a small moan and her hands went to her head. Her eyelids parted slightly and then fluttered closed once again.

The door opened and the luminous figure of Emperor Ozorne stepped in. Numair noted the three guards standing outside the solid door who closed it immediately behind Ozorne.

He was dressed simply, in a dark auburn robe with his hair loose but for a few plats. He looked as he had when they had been friends, going to school together. Except for his face, the look of cold triumph etched onto every feature. The face held nothing of its old warmth.

He and Numairs eyes bore into each other' Ozornes glittering with victory, Numairs dark with fear for Daine and with loathing for this cruel man.     

"How does it feel," Ozorne spoke quietly, evenly. "To know that you are, once again, in my hands. This time there will be no escape."

Numair ignored his words, careful to keep his gaze from falling on his sleeping student. Perhaps if he humoured him, played his game, Ozorne would leave her alone. A slim chance, but worth taking.

"You are foolish," Numairs voice was equally controlled, "do you not see what you have done? In imprisoning us, you have sealed your fate. Is this what you wished for, a war to leave your country and its people ruined?"  

Ozornes eyes narrowed and he took a slight step forward towards Numairs barred prison. His golden slipper rested on the ground three steps from Daines collapsed body.

"It is not I who has displeased the gods," he spoke soberly, and the words sounded practised as if he had thought them many times. "In allowing you to live, they have simply doubted my strength." He took another step and smiled at Numair, showing his white teeth, "But I plan to fix my mistake." His voice was only a breath of a whisper. His amber eyes were wide with keenness. "When having done so, I will be rewarded with a great victory." 

Numairs blood ran cold. "Your insane, Ozorne. You can't expect to know the gods will. The signs have all indicated that you are the one they wish to be ended."

His hair stood up on end at the look in Ozornes eyes. Power and revenge had sullied his humanity; perhaps finished it.

"What could you think to know of it Draper?" His words were a low hiss. "You, who would have never amounted to anything were it but for me. You, who were only ever interested in your arcane discoveries."

Numairs breath caught as Ozorne, eyes on him, took the steps to reach Daine and knelt elegantly beside her.

"Get away from her." Numairs low voice shook with meaning.    

A satisfied smile played the Emperors firm lips, "Tut tut Arram.  I am only doing her a favour in the end. You will end up hurting her yourself, in your negligence. Why, as soon as a new invention is found you will forget she even exists. And she really is so devoted to you." The Emperor shook his head in sorrow, "So you see, I just hurt her for you. Her a favour, you a favour." He inclined his head towards Numair and lowered his voice conspiratorially, "Why don't you thank me?"

Numair growled, slamming the palms of his hands urgently against the hard iron poles.

"They will not break," Ozorne eyed him in lazy amusement, one delicate hand outstretched to play with Daines soft curls.

"Don't touch her!" Numair roared trying more desperately to break his way through. When he got past these cursed poles nothing would stop him from tearing Ozornes head off.

A small laugh made its way from the Emperors lips, causing Numair to shudder at the cruelty of the sound. "I must say Draper; this is the most fun I've had in years."

Numair, his eyes not leaving the hand which still carefully stroked his magelets smoky dark curls, stopped his efforts, breathing hard. If a reaction to touching his student was what Ozorne wanted, he would deny him one. If he saw that Numair would not play his sick game, perhaps he would try a new one. One which didn't revolve around Daine.

The Emperors gaze studied Numair, almost affectionately. "Very good, Arram," He murmured. "You're learning."

His face darkening at the patronising tone, Numair remained silent. His eyes weren't looking at Ozorne but were rested on Daine.  

The Emperor grasped his arms behind Daines shoulders and he tensed, about to draw her into his cradling embrace.

******************************

Daine had awaked to Numair shouting at her. She stirred- what on Earth…?

What had happened to put him in such a pet?

A moan escaped her lips as her pounding head forced its way into her consciousness. She gripped her temples in silent agony as the rest of her aching body forced her to note it. 

She felt as if shed been kicked by a mule. Twelve mules. Twelve angry mules.

She lay still, half-memorised by her smarting, exhausted body. Where was she? Trying to open her eyes she shut them quickly again as the glaring light dug its way into her headache. What was going on?

Racking her memory, Daine tried to piece together the blurry fog of an explanation. Just when she thought she had it, it slipped through her fingers.

She started as she heard a noise to her left; a door scraping the floor. Laying very still, Daine heard a voice that brought her memory flooding back. She breathed out a tiny sigh, Ozorne. 

And… Numair! Gods, what was going to happen now?  Trying to collect her thoughts, Daine lay as though sleeping on the hard floor. She gave her little finger a temporary wriggle. A little sluggish, but it obeyed. She went to work now, flexing different parts of her body; awakening them. She prayed that Ozorne didn't notice her tiny actions. Daine listened in fascination to her teachers and their kidnappers' conversation; biting down a surprised yelp as she felt fingers touch her hair. She shuddered slightly as they moved, stroking gently.

Daine felt an awe at the rage in Numairs tone. She had never felt pity for those who angered her teacher; he never did so easily and those who managed to flare his temper usually got what they deserved.

She felt hands slide behind her and she drew a deep, empowering breath. If she was going to move, better to do so now, while his arms were trapped. Opening her eyes, Daine saw the Emperors gaze was not on her, but Numair. Good. Changing her shape so swiftly it brought fresh daggers of pain to her skull, Daine leaped at the Emperor, claws extended.

The Emperors eyes widened as he felt smooth flesh morph to dishevelled fur and turned, to see a golden lioness snarlingly leap for him. A soft cry of fear escaped his lips and Daines razor-sharp claws dug into his handsome face, now twisted in fear, and dragged down.

"Guards!" The Emperor screamed in pain and fear but Daine was having none of it. Clamping onto his neck firmly with her wide jaw she squeezed until his eyes rolled back into his head in a faint.

Daine, amazed that one shape change could have worn her out her so completely, fell back into her human shape and lay, panting on top of the prone Emperor.

She wrinkled her nose objectionably, he still smelled so much. There was no need, no need at all for a person to drown their natural scent in that rubbish.  

She was roused by Numair who, fishing the keys from Ozornes pouch, had unlocked the bars to his imprisonment.

He gently wrapped her in his cloak once more and smiled fondly down at her, "I believe I shall just get you one of these custom made my dear, it seems you're so fond of mine." 

Daine opened her eyes and looked curiously into his large face floating above hers, "I'm no black-mage. I don't want to give people ideas."

She was lifted, uncomplainingly, into his warm vast embrace as he lifted her from the offending Emperor. "Very wise. Very contrasting to your usual personality. It makes me worry for your mind, are you sure you have not been damaged at all?"

Daine snorted and tried to punch him, but she was firmly encased in his strong hold, "Weak as a kitten," she murmured disgustedly.

Numair tapped the door, contemplating, with the spare key. A keyhole appeared and he looked at it in surprise. "Well magelet, it's about time something went our way."

She smiled. Placing her carefully on the ground Numair placed the key in the lock and turned it warily. "What are you doing?" Daine asked frowning.

He glanced at her and placed a finger to his lips, "Guards, he said softly.

Swinging open the door Numair felt his magic surge back into him with a tingling joy. Daine watched, awed, as Numair glowed with sparkling lights.

The guards looked up in surprise and, with the same expression, fell to the ground without so much as a word.

Numair dragged them into the room and dumped them around Ozorne.

Daine watched, impressed in spite of herself. "What spell was that?"

She tried to get to her feet and Numair sighed and scooped her back up, muttering, "When will you learn your limits, Daine?"

"Never." She spoke cheerfully and he laughed.

"That nifty little spell is an adaptation to a sleeping spell I discovered over ten years ago. It has proved itself priceless in many difficult situations."

They found themselves in a thin stretched corridor. Numair turned and shut the door, locking Emperor and guards inside. 

Daine laughed out loud, "They'll be fair ropeable by the time they get out of that one!"

Numair smiled down at her, "Indeed they will. But I, for one, will give up the pleasure of that sight to go home."

Daine couldn't have agreed more.