First Page: The Painted Prince
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Pain. His senses floated free, adrift. He saw himself on the bed, in a cruddy wooden room, small, dirty, dressed in poorly fitting clothes. Then he was back in his body and the pain shot behind his eyes like fire. Lava. He must have cried out, because then Lucalyn was there by his side and it was wrong, ridiculous, and he wanted to laugh but it came out a gasp.
“Julian, can you talk?” a soft voice, a cool hand. His skin was burning, a heat that flowed slow and molten up his arm from his hand, his pulped hand, where the crusaol was eating into his skin like a living thing. The pain kept him from thinking
“Call me Lucas, here,” the other whispered, and Julian wanted to laugh again, but the laughter was trapped in mind. You will call my Lucalyn, not Lucas. I am your prince. I am not your friend. I am not your lover. Hadn’t Lucas said that to him? When had Lucas said that to him?
Julian remembered everything. Or more. There was no way to be certain it was really everything. Though it was now all jumbled, images one on top of the other coming in bright flashes through the pain. He had planned to betray Lucalyn, twice. He had planned to, but had he succeeded? Had he meant it? His memories would not tell him and with the pain there was frustration.
The next time Julian’s eyes opened was because of the scream. It was loud, and shrill, and came from outside the thin cottage walls. His eyes stayed open, his head clearer than it had been for many weeks. Months. Over him he saw the woman. No sign of Lucas or the man.
“Where is he?” Julian’s voice sounded weak, dry, and he was angry, so angry he could barely keep a rein on the magic that flitted about him, untethered and dangerous.
“Don’t talk,” the woman said, forcefully but not unkindly. “Your friend will be back soon.”
“Where. Is he?” Julian bit out the words, hard, dangerous.
“Out with the others. He insisted.”
“At the stones, there’s been a breach.”
“Where are we?”
“The grey border.”
“Lucas is fighting outlanders.”
“Fool,” Julian pulled himself out of bed, head ringing. The crusaol on his hand throbbed with a pain that made the room fade to black. The crusaol demanded his full attention, the pain now like an insistent shouting in his ear. He told it to shut up and behave, because he had to find Lucas now and he refused to lie in bed any longer. That seemed to quiet it somewhat, thought the pain faded to something else. Resentment. That had to be his imagination. Going mad? Wasn’t that one of the symptoms?
“You can’t go out there,” the woman said, grabbing his arm. He was too weak to pull free. “Didn’t you hear? There has been a breach. There could be outlanders anywhere.”
“I don’t care about outlanders.”
“They will kill you. What will I tell your friend if you die?”
“What will you tell me if he dies, and you stopped me from helping him?” Julian said quietly. He was breathing heavily, but seeing clearly, and standing on his own. “Let me go.”