Author’s Note: It’s time for another chapter of Morbidon’s Bride, and I’m real excited to bring this to you. This has been an interesting experience for me, because I usually never show anything I’ve written to anyone until the story is finished in the first draft, so I’m really in unfamiliar waters here, but I’m having fun. I thought I’d include the map of Altraya as well as some terms and lore that I’m using or will be using in the story so that you’ll have some references to refer to when you come across them. I probably should have done this with the first chapter. Oops.
Terms and Lore:
Altraya: Literal translation in ancient Alverian is ‘the whole world’.
Cindara: The second divine dragon. ‘Dara’ is the female designation for divine dragon. Cindara is also known by the draconic kin as the Empress of Doors. She and her bloodline are capable of creating portals to any dimension in the Cosmos. She was created to be a soul-mate for Solendar after the first dragon broke covenant with the Creator and fell in love with a human woman.
Cycles: A complete day, from centerlight to centerlight the following cycle.
Morbidon: God of death in the AllGods pantheon. He is the twin brother of Vivacel, goddess of life, although Arivans were confused about that relationship and once believed they were soul mates. Morbidon is half divine dragon and half human. He is a child of Solendar.
Reapers: Spectral servants of Morbidon. They can take physical form in his presence and respond directly to his will and his mood.
Solendar: The first dragon, the dragon of the sun, attributed with started the blazes that lit the stars. ‘Dar’ is the male designation of the divine dragons. Solendar defied the Creator to be with his human lover and was punished for this when the Creator made her and all her descendants mortal. Upon her death, Solendar sank into despair and vowed revenge.
Vivacel: Goddess of life in the AllGods pantheon. She is half human and half divine dragon and is the twin sister to Morbidon. They are also bitter rivals who constantly fight over souls in the afterlife.
Rota: One year’s time. The followers of the AllGods pantheon believe that all aspects of life and death are cyclical and rota is short for rotation of the seasons, one rotation of the seasons equaling one year.
Now on to the story:
By the time Febe was able to escape the throne room, her mother’s guards had already blocked off her laboratory. Febe felt a moment of sheer panic that she studiously buried in the back her mind with all her other self-doubts. Later they would surface and keep her awake in a lonely bed. A bed she stared at after returning to her room accompanied by her mother’s guards who were now posted outside her door.
More than once through the rotas, the coldness of that empty bed had made her consider taking a lover like her sisters had—plucking one of the brawny men from the dangerous or physically demanding jobs they were permitted to work to serve a much softer duty to the kingdom. Though what Febe really wanted was someone to just hold her—to feel protected in the wreath of another person’s arms. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been hugged by anyone other than her nursemaid when she was a child. Not her sisters, with their endless ambition. Certainly not her mother, who believed nurturing was a weak trait all women should seek to eradicate from their natures.
Thinking about such things felt far too much like her mind had decided to go along with her mother’s mad plan. Perhaps she might have married the elderly priest king. Perhaps she could have handled manipulating the old man so that the marriage remained a sexless contract. Perhaps she might even have welcomed the change of leaving Cabez, where she’d been languishing in something of a prison anyway, due to her constant fears for her life.
She could have made changes in the existing power structure in Halidor. She had the knowledge to improve their infrastructure at a fraction of their cost. Surely, once they saw what a woman could do, how much she could improve their lives, they’d be bound to respect her, and perhaps allow her to make other changes that would give their poor women rights they’d never had.
But the necromancer’s final words had put any of those ideas into dreamer territory. The necromancer and his men intended to keep her captive until the ceremony that would enslave Febe to the god of death for as long as his infernal life. She had little understanding of what a wedding entailed and none of what marrying a god involved.
It was all a moot point, of course, because Febe planned to be long gone before the necromancers completed their ritual on her mother.
The ritual would take time. That much Febe knew, though she’d deliberately avoided researching any details on the subject. There were necromancers who’d come from Halidor and even from the Academy of Magic to bargain with her mother, but all had gone away with only promises, or simply dissatisfied with her mother’s terms. Given how difficult Isa was, it wasn’t surprising that she hadn’t found one willing to help her until today.
Thinking of the necromancer sent a shiver down Febe’s spine. His deep voice had echoed with power, dominating a chamber normally filled with the light voices of women. All his men had been terrifying, but he’d been the worst of them.
She had no idea what he’d looked like behind his hideous mask, which had been the horned skull of a horse or bull or some other creature she’d never seen. The runes on the elaborately carved mask seemed to twist and move like worms whenever she dared to look too closely at them. While all the men were overwhelming in their size, towering over any of the guards in the throne room, the necromancer had been the tallest, by almost a head.
She felt the weight of his attention every time his head had turned her way. Though she couldn’t see his eyes from beneath the shadows cast by his mask and cowl, she’d imagined they were nothing but dark voids, sucking in the light from the room around them.
Halidorian warriors had a reputation for being uncompromising. Febe didn’t doubt this necromancer would live up to that reputation. There’d be no way she could convince him not to deliver her to the feet of his repulsive god of death.
As for Morbidon himself, Febe couldn’t imagine what he’d be like, or even look like. The gods of the AllGods pantheon took multiple forms. Morbidon was depicted both as a dragon of bone and as a skull-faced winged reaper carrying a glowing scythe that made the ones Febe had attached to her reaping engine seem small and dull.
Strangely, it wasn’t some amorphous unseen god that scared her, but rather the man who served Morbidon. The necromancer was the one she must escape. She had a certainty that if she found her way clear of him, no immortal god would bother hunting her down. After all, Morbidon had not been the one to bargain for her hand. Perhaps the god would even reject such a deal.
That in itself was wishful thinking. The necromancer must have some way of communicating with his god and knowing his will. Still, Febe believed that she stood a good chance of gaining her freedom by simply eluding the man. Since he would be preoccupied with the ritual, now was her best chance.
While Febe had been thinking about her options, she’d also been busy. Stealthily, so that the guards couldn’t hear her movements, she set about packing what few possessions she considered important. Among them was her sketchbook with drawings of all her engines and figures contained within. It would be priceless to another kingdom, if they were able to decipher her code. It was more than a ticket to safety for her though. It was a representation of her entire life’s work.
Once she had a pack, weighed down mostly by her book, the other items being light and small, she changed into a more rugged pair of trousers and tunic. They were still made of spidersilk brocade, but they withstood dirt, weeds and her sweat a little better than her court wear. She’d had them designed for when she field-tested her engines.
It took less time than she’d anticipated preparing to leave the only home she’d ever known. Doubt assailed her, making her second-guess herself. With compulsive movements, she checked the traps she’d laid around her room for the inevitable assassins. None of them had been triggered, which was unsurprising since there was no sign of bodies or blood on the polished marble floors. She’d seen enough blood and death in her life to be at least familiar with it, if not comfortable with it.
Thinking of assassins made her wonder about her sisters. The same wistful regret that always struck her when she thought of what they could have been, had they been able to stand united, struck her harder this time, as she readied to leave this kingdom and her sisters behind forever.
Eldora would be extremely useful at this moment. Though her spies ultimately owed fealty to their mother, Febe’s youngest sister had been slowly shifting their loyalties as she acted as their director. If Emilia and Febe hadn’t been around, she might have already attempted a coup, but taking on both sisters and Queen Isa was far too difficult a task. Febe knew that from personal experience.
Surely, Eldora would have some plan of escape, some secret passageway or backdoor exit, some loyal retainer she could call on to distract the guards.
Febe didn’t even wonder if she could buy Emilia’s assistance. Her eldest sister would be in the discipline chamber for some time over her latest outburst. Febe shuddered, feeling sick at the thought of what would happen to Emilia there—what had happened to them all in that room.
Hiding her pack, she went to the door and opened it.
One of the guards, a captain she’d seen many times at her mother’s side, swung to face her as her hand dropped to the short sword she wore. “Milady, the queen has given her orders. You must remain in your room.”
Febe tried for a smile, certain it looked sickly and as weak as she felt at the moment. “Of course, I have no intention of doing anything other than obeying my dear mother. I simply wanted to make a request.”
“We’re here to serve, milady.” The woman’s brown eyes narrowed in suspicion. She was one of Isa’s honor guards for a reason. She was not only intelligent, she was streetwise.
This might be more difficult than Febe thought, and making this request was only the first hurdle. “Since I’ll be leaving Barselor forever to join my… husband,” she stuttered on the word as her throat closed with her fear, “I’d like to say goodbye to my sisters.”
The captain’s professional mask slipped as her expression softened with pity. No doubt she was as appalled as any Barselorian woman would be by the turn of events. “I’m afraid that Princess Emilia will not be permitted to leave the discipline chamber.”
Febe heaved a sigh of disappointment as if this was any news to her. “What of Eldora? Surely I can see my youngest sister and bid farewell.”
A moment of uncertainty passed across the captain’s face as she glanced at her partner. The other woman shrugged slightly. The captain looked back at Febe. “I’ll send word to the princess, milady.” Her tone suggested she wasn’t certain Eldora would bother to respond. Everyone knew there was no love lost between the sisters. However, since Febe was leaving, perhaps the guards had concluded as Febe already had. She was no longer a competitor for the throne and therefore no longer a threat to Eldora.
“I appreciate it, Captain.”
“Of course, milady.” The captain nodded her head in what passed as a bow for the guards who had to always keep their eyes up to watch their surroundings. “Good day to you, milady.”
Febe blinked in surprise as the captain watched her slowly shut the door. She wasn’t used to being the one dismissed by a subordinate, but then again, she was no longer a part of this kingdom. The captain was simply reminding her of her new place in the world. She was a woman enchained to a god. Even the illusion of freedom no longer belonged to her, making her an object of pity for the women in her mother’s court.
Several hours passed before there was a strident knock on her door. By this time, Febe’s nerves were completely shot as she paced a path into the woven carpet. She rushed to the door, reaching it just as it opened to reveal the elegant and composed face of her youngest sister, so in contrast to Febe’s current dishevelment.
They stood there awkwardly as the captain closed the door, shutting them into the room alone together for the first time in years.
Febe studied her sister’s clothing, looking for places where the other woman could hide a dagger. Eldora’s eyes swept Febe’s room, searching for traps. After a moment, both seemed satisfied that if they remained exactly where they were standing, several paces away from each other, they might not be killed.
“I’m sorry to hear about your fate.” Despite her diplomatic nature, Eldora rarely minced words when she was in an uncomfortable position. Given the relative tightness of her tunic and trousers, she had not come here with concealed weapons and assassination in mind.
“I’ll no longer be a rival for the throne.” Febe wasn’t going to bother mincing words either. There simply wasn’t time. Even now, the ritual must be taking place.
Eldora nodded. “That is certainly the bright spot in this dark cloud.”
“Perhaps we can behave as true sisters now?”
Eldora allowed her mask to slip enough to reveal the expression of longing on her face, before her lips tightened and her eyes narrowed. “Mother has long ago stripped us of that privilege.”
“And now she becomes a lich. Can you say you’re happy with that?”
“It’s as mother wills it.” Eldora’s flat tone suggested that she still had plans.
Febe’s automatic hourglass tipped and the chime sounded, signaling the passage of another hour as the full bulb of the glass was flipped up to spill trickling grains. Panic assailed her, momentarily impairing her common sense. She lunged towards her sister, grabbing Eldora’s arm in a desperate grip.
Suddenly she was on her back on the floor as Eldora moved with feline speed, flipping her and kneeling on her chest. “Do you truly think you can kill me in such a clumsy attempt?”
Struggling to breathe, Febe shook her head as tears dripped down into her hair. “I’m not even armed, Eldora. Please. It wasn’t murderous intent, but desperation that had me requesting your presence. Please help me escape. I know you have the connections.”
The weight disappeared from Febe’s chest, and she sucked in a grateful breath of air. Eldora gracefully rose back to her feet, taking a few paces away from Febe as if she still wasn’t convinced her sister wasn’t trying to kill her. She remained silent as Febe slowly rolled to her side and climbed to her own feet, regretting her avoidance of the martial arts lessons she was supposed to attend with her sisters.
“Eldora, I’m no threat to you. I’m no longer a threat to anyone. All I want to do is leave Barselor forever. I’ll never return here, I swear it.” She rubbed the back of her neck and then tenderly touched the small lump forming on the back of her head.
Her sister sighed, though her body remained tense and alert. “I know this. Even though it means you’ll no longer fight me for the throne, I regret what has happened to you.”
“Then you’ll help?”
Eldora shook her head. “I cannot help you.”
Bitter disappointment unfurled in Febe’s chest. She’d hoped that in this time of greatest need, she’d actually be able to rely on her sister. For once in her life. “You can help. I know you can.”
“Then perhaps it is more accurate to say I will not.” Eldora’s mouth tightened into a thin line. “Believe me when I say I wish it was different, but even if there would be no repercussions from Mother over your escape, you must realize that the God of Death would no doubt demand another sister.”
Febe had been so wrapped up in her own plans to simply get away from this situation that she hadn’t considered what would happen in the aftermath. Naturally another sister would be chosen. The necromancer hadn’t seemed too pleased with Emilia’s outburst so the most obvious choice would be Eldora. Febe wasn’t certain why he hadn’t already chosen Eldora. She was certainly the loveliest of the three of them. Whatever small amount of sisterly affection might still remain to be kindled in Eldora’s heart wasn’t enough for her to sacrifice herself on Febe’s behalf.
“I’m sorry, Febe. Truly, I am. I just can’t do it. Barselor deserves a better queen than Mother. I will be that queen. No one, not even a god, will take that from me.”
Febe lifted her chin, meeting the eyes of her taller sister. “Someday, you will earn your reward, but your victory will be a hollow one because of the people you’ve destroyed to get there.”
“Farewell, Febe. We won’t be meeting again.” Eldora backed towards the door in exactly the same path she’d walked into the room, still mindful of Febe’s traps.
Her sister paused with her hand on the door, watching Febe with wary eyes.
“I hope someday you find a man to love.”
Eldora hissed as if she’d been burned, her head rocking back at the Barselorian curse. It took a moment for her to recover and true malice now sharpened her glare. “May you give your heart to your new husband, Dear Sister.” Her smile was cruel and mocking as she rejoindered with her own curse. She snatched the door open and slipped out of the room, closing it upon Febe so quickly that she saw only a brief slice of the captain’s surprised expression before the wood blocked her view.