“Why are you staring at me,” Sable demanded as she opened her eyes again.
“Curiosity,” was his simple response.
She narrowed her gaze, glaring at him with suspicion. For Gabe, curiosity was not always a good thing.
He caught that thought, letting a gentle smile curl up the corners of his mouth.
“Can I be honest with you,” he requested.
“Go ahead. Though be aware that I know honesty is not necessarily your strong suit.”
He looked down to the dancing flames. They reflected in the black of his dark eye, piercing its blue mate with shades of gold across the ocean.
“I wasn’t sure that you would ever leave that place. I had thought for certain I would come back some day and you would still be there. Starved and rotten. I never imagined that you would leave him, no matter the years or the consequences to your life,” he admitted with genuine concern.
Sable avoided his gaze while his words took her back there with him. She could have sworn that night had grown cold as ice when the silence settled in after the horror. A broken girl far too young for her ability to shut off her tears. She’d just watched, stunned and confused. When those stone gates locked, and she’d felt the rumble of their finality crack the egg on her collarbone, the dam had finally shattered.
She’d wailed and pounded the walls with her weak fists, crying out, sobbing… suffocating.
She would not press her hand to the wound now, though. The only evidence of shattered pieces still remaining was that the bottom of her vibrant eyes sparkled with a brush of liquid.
“I didn’t want to leave… had things gone any different, I would likely be long dead by now,” she admitted in a quivering whisper.
“What managed to change your mind?”
“I made a desperate prayer, and it was answered.”
She half expected Gabe to burst out laughing, or to ridicule her if nothing else. He remained silent, though. When she glanced up at him, he was watching her with that quiet, studying gaze churning its gears. She was curious to see what would come from his gifted mind. It was well known that he scorned Light and Darkness, as well as the race of what she knew to be false gods; even though he was on a first name basis with most of them. Did he know that there was one that was higher yet, or would he assume she spoke of one he was already familiar with?
It would make her job too easy if he was aware of the truth. Or perhaps harder.
Gabe’s brows furrowed, and he leaned back, inhaling a long breath. He almost appeared disturbed, though it remained hidden behind that curiosity.
“What was the prayer,” he inquired after some time.
Her gaze raised to the stars as she recited from memory, “if you are all powerful, you can change even the darkest of souls and save this madman from his own damnation. I would forfeit my own life if it would pay for his salvation, just take it. If only you will free him of that evil which keeps him damned.”
She would never forget the words, nor the ugly way in which she’d wailed them to the heavens. At that time, she’d believed with every shred of her heart that her life would end the moment that she finished the prayer. And she had been more than ready to sacrifice it.
The price, though, was far more than her life could have paid. The one who responded to her had explained that someone had already bought not only the salvation of Kazious, but even her own. She just had to learn how to use what was freely given, and then she could save him.
Gabe was smirking at her, all the seriousness from a moment ago wiped away by the ever-present amusement resurfacing. That look alone was enough to tell her she’d lost him.
“Well, of course, when you offer your soul, something will answer. That is guaranteed,” he leaned forward, clasping his hands and dropping his voice to a tumbling whisper that mocked her. “How can you be certain this ‘master’ isn’t someone with powers like my own? How do you even know that Kazious is still alive? That prison isn’t known for hospitality you realize.”
She replied unshaken without missing a beat, “it’s a mixture between intuition and faith.”
Gabe’s lips pulled into a wide, toothy grin that held no actual mirth. His chuckle earned a frown from her as it glided over her skin.
“Come now, Sable,” he began, voice twisting with a maniacal edge to its ridicule. “Do you know how I admired you when you were so very young; far too intelligent for your age. You were fascinating. I loved you back then.
“Now you’re sitting here and talking about ‘faith’? Even while the life of the one man you ever cared for hangs in the balance, my little stone witch? My Clo-Caillea.”
She narrowed her eyes at the nickname he’d given her when she was a child.
He was continuing before she could respond, though, stepping around the fire to come closer and tower over her. One brown eye blazed with fire, the blue one a frozen glacier while his tone came to a booming roar.
“Faith is for the easily manipulated; the people that must enslave themselves because they have no strength to stand on their own two legs. You of all people can do better than faith, you fool!”
Sable did not turn away when his face drew in, inches from her own. She did not flinch when he grabbed her arms in bruising holds, the wound on her bicep stinging under his harsh fingers. Her strange amber gaze regarded him with pity; raging him further. He gave her a violent shake as if thinking it would bring her senses back, yet her only response remained a deepened, calm frown.
She could see terror galloping behind his anger, and she understood him. He was not angry with her for becoming ‘weak and foolish’ but rather, he was frightened by the strength she carried now which was absent when he’d known her as the stone witch.
To put it simply: he was confused.
He seemed to become aware of himself a moment later, as if something had snapped back into focus. His grip loosened, though it did not yet fall away. He breathed out heavy, searching her face for the answer to a question he was not ready to ask.
Sable spoke into the silence, tracing its shape with gentle ferocity, “tell me, Gabe: what is it that stopped you from choking me the way that you wish to? Is it out of respect for the stone witch you once knew, or are you afraid of not knowing the extent of the power my faith will allow me to access?”
His mouth dropped open, but he couldn’t answer. She leaned closer to him until their noses brushed at the tips, deliberate in the connection of their gazes as she continued, “by your calculations alone, who here then is truly weak; or is fear not one of your methods of manipulation?”
He yanked his hands off her as if they burned, stepping back until his legs hit the log he’d sat on before. Her unwavering gaze held his, though she did not mirror any of his rage or scorn. She regarded him with understanding and a shred of sadness. The pity was gone.
He hated her in that moment.
“Damn you,” he muttered as he sat down with a heavy thud.
She released a chuckle, sending him a gentle smile. “Come now, are you giving up that easy,” she mused, earning a halfhearted glare. “Let that incredible mind of yours find the truth. Otherwise, you’ll always have doubts, and you can’t trust someone you doubt to come into battle.”
He was beginning to draw his humor back across his face, allowing a smirk to grace the edge of his lips. “You are a strange, little woman. Do you realize that?”
Sable let out a hearty laugh from her belly. Her following smile held a glow to it that lit her eyes in a way which caught the man off guard.
“You’ve seen nothing yet,” she whispered.