She knew this forest intimately. Every rustle of a bird and the whistle of the wind through the leaves was familiar to her. But things were not as they should be. The stillness of the woods felt entirely wrong. She was not alone here.
Sandra paused at the edge of the clearing, listening, as her eyes turned over the area. Before her rose a small cottage, raised by her own hands and created to by none other. Behind her lay an expanse of foliage and tree. To her left was a babbling brook. No one else appeared in view, but she knew that they were there. Through her connection with the earth, she could feel them. No. Feel him-- a familiar and dark presence.
A moment ticked by, and still the onlooker refused to make himself known. Her lips pursed and a dark frown. He didn't wish to make the first move in their coming exchange. It would be to her to initiate contact. So she did.
“I know that you're here.” Sandra spoke aloud.
The dark presence shifted and a man stepped around the cottage corner. A bemused grin pulled up one corner of his thin lips, while a pair of thin eyes peered at her from beneath a mound of dark red hair. He paused, placed one arm against the cottage wall and leaned against it heavily.
“Hello, love.” He said.
“I'm no love of yours, Jace.”
“Ah, but you were once.” The smirk on Jace's face turned into that infernally familiar smile. “We used to have so much fun back in the day, don't tell me that you've forgotten all of that already.”
“The past is in the past and that's where I intend to leave it.” Too late, Sandra realized that she should have ignored the comment-- for the bait was barbed. Jace wanted to draw her into an argument. That was one of his strengths. She needed to let go of the bait and cut straight to the point.
She followed up on her comment before Jace could respond: “You're not welcome here. Leave.”
He ignored her. Jace's attention shifted to the cottage proper and he examined it appraisingly. “This is a very nice place you've got; very homely. A bit removed from the city, though. I doubt that I can move out here away from the business. No, I think that you're going to have to come with me.”
His wicked smile turned back towards her, and a firm footstep carried him closer. His eyes met hers, and they both knew that an unspoken threat had been made.
So, that was his game. He had come to force her back. Sandra brought her right hand up and spread her fingers in her estranged lover's direction. Tiny sparks of power, magical energy, began to dance between her knuckles. It was a warning, clear and plain. She'd been anticipating this day and was well prepared for it.
Jace's smile never wavered as his hand drifted to his waist. A sheath was belted to his waist, and some sword contained therein. His hand landed on the weapon's pommel. Would he use it against her or was it an attempt at intimidation? It was impossible to actually tell.
“You're never taking me back, Jace.” Sandra warned him. “I've grown stronger since we last met. Attempting to fight me would be suicidal for you.”
“I'm well aware.” Jace drawled back. “That's why I brought help.”
Sandra started as those words registered in her ears. So focused had she become on Jace's inherit treachery that she had neglected the world around her. Another presence broke into her senses-- one located directly behind her. She started to turn, to bring her power to bear on this new threat, but it was already too late.
Something hard and fat cracked against the back of her skull. The world spun once, twice, and the ground shifted beneath her feet. Her vision faded as her face met the earth. Then she was lost in darkness.
Slowly, her mind began to probe its way back to consciousness. A cacophony of aches and pains welcomed her back to the land of the living. She ignored them and, with supreme effort, she managed to raise her heavy eyelids. A fuzzy world of color and blur greeted her.
Sandra grunted and blinked her eyes, batting the colors back into their respective boundaries. As her vision began to clear, she became aware of a something jarring her repeatedly. It was a constant motion that snapped her up and then yanked her back down.
The world pulled into focus and Sandra realized that she was seated on the back of a horse. How had she managed to ride a horse while unconscious? The answer presented itself immediately. Her wrists were securely fastened to the pommel via a set of shackles; she could feel similar restraints securing her ankles to the stirrup. She couldn't have fallen off if she'd wanted to.
And she did want to. Sandra thrashed about, testing the strength of her chains and the temperament of the horse. The horse remained calm and the shackles remained steadfast. For the moment, she was stuck.
She whipped her head up, ready to chew Jace up and spit him out-- and then came up short. Her horse was tethered to another horse. She'd expected that, but what she'd not expected was that the other horse's rider was most decidedly not Jace. Instead it was some small man who wore all black and was resolutely refusing to so much as look at her.
A chuckling sound drew her attention to her right. Jace, seated atop another beast of burden, pulled forward into her field of view. As was customary, he grinned incessantly at her.
"So good of you to join us, love. Here I was beginning to think that you were going to sleep the whole way home." He said.
Sandra checked her emotions. The last thing that she wanted to do was to make Jace angry while she was helpless. She could feel these shackles drawing the magic right out of her being and rendering it impossible to fight back.
"I take it," She jerked her head at the small man. "he was the one to conk me over the head?"
"Of course. Andrew is very, very good at staying out of sight, and I had to convince you to come with me somehow. You never did know how to stop working for a while and just have a good time."
It was impossible to ignore that barb. She had to respond. "Will you cut the act? We both know that this isn't some happy holiday jaunt for the two of us. You kidnapped me!"
Jace shook his head. "The situation is what we make of it, and I'm determined to make the best of it."
"Jace." Sandra put a hard edge in her voice.
"Oh, dear. The little woman is angry at me. What ever will I do?" He laughed at her and then sobered. A dark change passed over his features. "Oh, no. I haven't taken leave of my senses. I remember your betrayal all too well. I haven't forgotten that for a moment. But now, at long last, I've got you right where I want you. And for every moment of agony that you've put me through, be forewarned that I'm going to extract vengeance tenfold. Then, when I'm all done, everything will be made right and our happy little family willy be back together again."
Against her will, the color passed from Sandra's face. All along she'd had a nagging suspicion that it would come to this. But it had been so long... she'd actually begun to think that this day would never arrived. She should have known better. She had known better. She'd just ignored that judgment as best she was able.
"No matter what you do to me, I'll never love you again. That time is past." It was bravado that she did not feel.
Jace simply shrugged. "I think we both know otherwise. There are magics and potions that would do things that you wouldn't believe. But all of that is simply a bonus. I didn't come all this way just to get back at you..."
Realization dawned on Sandra, and it was impossible to keep that realization off of her face.
"... your daughter is the real prize in all of this." Jace concluded. He pulled a thin metal disk from his coat pocket and casually tossed it over his shoulder. "Sarah... isn't that her name?"