Author’s Note: When I first wrote this chapter, I thought it was a mess. I set it aside for a while, and when I came back to it, I was surprised that it was better than I’d thought. Granted, there are a lot of fragmented sentences, and normally, that would be a no-no, right? After all, grammar is important, and I do try to catch my more egregious grammatical mistakes, although there seems to be some disagreement on where commas should go when a conjunction is involved…ah! I’m not gonna pull my hair out over that one until line editing time. Which is not now!
Back to fragments. They were needed here. It fit the emotional state of the character whose POV this is written in. That’s all I have to say. My internal editor wanted to fix them, because years of schooling insisted they were bad as much as the green squiggly line beneath them does. I didn’t fix them, because I like the way this reads much better with them in.
This chapter was difficult to write from another perspective as well, because… well, I’m not going to give away any spoilers. 😉
I hope you enjoy and as always, feel free to comment or critique. I’m open to anyone’s comments and suggestions and even to criticisms. I’m happy with this chapter, (which is rare for me) but I’d love to hear your opinion!
When Morbidon was a small child, he fell into a river. Thrashing against the current, he sank like a stone to the bottom, his eyes staring up at the world of air so close and tantalizing, yet so far out of his reach as water suffocated him, digging its amorphous fingers deep into his lungs.
That was how he felt now as he sank beneath the surface of his consciousness—suffocated, separated from the world of the living as he had always been. Back then, it had been his sister who’d saved him from drowning; plucking him from the river with her claws after she’d experienced her first shift into dragon form in response to his terrified cries in her mind.
Now his sister was playing deaf to his cries for help, and he was alone beneath the surface, staring at the world above—staring at his hand clasping his soulmate’s burning fingers. He felt as helpless and useless to save himself—much less his mate—as he had in that moment when he was a child.
Darkness veiled his vision as the feeling of suffocation passed and peace trickled in. His raging emotions calmed in the darkness. He was comfortable in this deeper place—a place between the living world and a mind that raged with despair and bitterness. It was a crossroads, a place of options. When he followed the road into his memories, those options disappeared. Yet he had no choice. Not just Febe’s life, but also her soul, depended on him finding the source of his rage and defeating it.
He knew this place, recognizing each step as he took it, deeper and deeper into his subconscious. On more than one occasion, his sister had tried to guide him, her hand in his as they walked these roads together in the hopes of taming the fires that always burned within Morbidon.
He paused at the point where his sister’s spirit was usually ripped away from him, her soul unable to progress any deeper into his subconscious, despite their spiritual connection that was a rarity even for dragons like themselves. From this point on, he’d always been forced to travel alone, so at least it was no different this time. And from this point on is where he always failed in his journey.
The memories were deep and cloying. Not water suffocating him any longer, but rather like oil, sliding over his spirit, leaving behind a dark residue that he couldn’t seem to shake. Beyond the path his mind drew for him, memories lurked like bandits waiting to ambush the unwary.
From long experience, he knew what paths to avoid. Some memories were too barbed to be touched, some too dark to even be seen. The memory of the boy who’d pushed him into the river, hoping he would die. The children who’d gathered to stone his sister in the street. His mother, her withered lips pinched tight as her eyes avoided meeting those of her children, even while they changed her bedding and fed her. Rage built within him as he passed those memories, sidestepping their trailing tendrils as they reached out to snare him.
One memory gave him pause, shocking him to his core as he couldn’t believe he had forgotten it. It had been pushed here into the darkness with his other unhappy memories, even though it concerned his sister before she’d taken to manipulating and betraying those around her for her own gain. He turned away in disgust and sadness as the scene unfolded, the awkwardness of the original encounter now freshly recalled. She’d cornered him in the stable and pushed her lips against his, her hands fumbling at the tied rope that served as his belt. He saw himself recoiling, shoving her backwards so hard that she slammed into the splintered boards of the stable wall. Her head smacked back against the boards with a crunching sound, her hair flying wild around her flushed face, but her eyes never left his.
“We’re meant to be together! You’re all I have, and I’m all you’ll ever have, Morby!” Her voice was breathless and shaky, but not because of the unnatural desire that had driven her actions. Unshed tears made her eyes glossy, and through their link, he felt her loneliness and hopelessness, so much a reflection of his own that they could have been mirror-images.
“I don’t believe that, Vivi! What you want is wrong! You know it! We won’t always be alone. We’ll leave this village and find our soul mates.” He’d been shaking too, repulsed by what she’d done, but also filled with pity for his sister—pity and understanding. He feared being alone as well.
Her trembling hands reached out to him. “We’ve always been together, Morby!”
He shook his head vehemently. “Not like this, Vivi! We will always be together, but never like this!” Then he’d turned and ran out of the stable, away from the only person in the Cosmos who’d ever loved him.
He passed that memory, vowing to forget it as he had done before. Perhaps this was why his sister could not travel this deep into his mind. The barrier prevented her from seeing his darkest secrets, even the ones that she shared.
He’d reached a dream clearing, and now a fresh memory blocked his path. His soul mate stood before him, her eyes flashing in anger, her lips tight with disapproval, her shoulders back and her chin lifted—more bold and determined than he’d ever seen her before the incident that caused that memory. “I’m sick to death of you and your kingdom!”
Her words cut like razors, thin agonizing slices over his soul.
“I trusted you!” The accusation of failure burned him like his own wraithfire.
“I would rather be back in my mother’s castle with a thousand assassins at my door than spend another minute here with you, my lord.” The finality of those words, the sneer that twisted her beautiful lips, and the disgust that tempered her voice shredded him until he wanted to fall to his knees before her in despair.
“I’m all you’ll ever have, Morby….” His sister’s insidious voice whispered in his ear, followed by mocking laughter.
Rage burned away despair. Wraithfire exploded into the clearing, consuming his soulmate’s image. She screamed in agony, and Morbidon echoed the scream with his own guttural cry of pain as the change came upon him, his soul twisting and bending, reshaping into his dragon form.
It was one of his earliest memories. Before the river, before the stones, and long before he failed his bride. His bones snapping and reshaping. His skin peeling apart and reforming into scales. Before that, he hadn’t known he was a monster. He’d wondered why his mother never looked at him, but he’d been blissfully unaware of the truth. Perhaps even she hadn’t known if he would ever be able to shift.
The village children had cornered him and his sister in the forest. One held the butcher’s shears open over one of Vivi’s long braids, as the biggest boys pinned Morbidon to the ground to keep him from helping her. Tears streaked Vivi’s cheeks and dirt marred her dress where they’d shoved her down. Her socks sagged, torn and stained with blood from her knees. One dull leather shoe lay several yards away, where the children had first ambushed them when they walked into the clearing. The girls holding Vivacel’s braids pulled hard enough that she cried out in pain, their laughter shrill and shrieking to Morbidon’s ears.
Though only five at the time, Morbidon fought against the hold of the boys as the child with the shears slowly closed them over her hair, bragging about how he would hang the braid up as a trophy in his room. One of the boys holding Morbidon cuffed him up aside the head, so hard that he saw stars. His body already ached from their beating.
Vivi shouted for him to help her, and her fear and pain sparked through their mental link.
Then he shifted form, his dragon bursting free in a maelstrom of agony. The boys holding him had immediately released him and started running, but the other children hadn’t noticed until the change that had taken hold of him.
Some managed to escape. Some didn’t. Those who did never told their parents why the others had disappeared, and they avoided both Morbidon and Vivacel after that save for the one who’d pushed him into the river the next summer season, claiming he was “slaying the beast.”
The adults had looked at the twins even more suspiciously after the disappearances, but they had no proof and no witnesses willing to speak—just a handful of missing children who never returned home and two unnatural silver-eyed twins who never spoke a word beyond the sheltering walls of their home.
Wraithfire raged on, burning his memories as it had burned those children so long ago, and as it now burned his soul mate. His thoughts melted in the heat until only small discernible chunks floated in the miasma. Failed her…she hates me…monster…I’ve become my father…
He’d come to fight the monster at the heart of his darkest memories. He’d come to defeat the creature that stoked the fires of rage and hatred within him. He’d expected to find his father—that amorphous being that was only his mother’s nightmare cries in his mind, yet bore Morbidon’s face whenever he tried to picture the man. Instead, it was actually his face that looked back at him. His face and his body. Morbidon was the monster in the center of his rage. He was the killer, the bringer of death and destruction. He was the god of death, and he’d visited it upon so many, but none that haunted him as those children did.
He’d failed his mother, by not being the son who could have brought her back from her despair. He’d failed his sister, only saving her in the end at the cost of those children’s lives. He’d failed his bride, unable to save her from the terror of nightmares given form within the very walls that should have protected her. No matter how much power he had, he continually failed the ones he loved.
His sister was right. She was all he’d ever have—and she wasn’t enough.
I want Febe! He faced himself down, his dragon body towering over the man—the monster—that mocked him with his own desolation.
“She hates you! You’ll never win her now.” His image laughed, cruel eyes narrowed on Morbidon. “You’re nothing but a killer. Why would she even want you? If she could see what you’ve done, she’d run as far away as possible.”
I don’t give up that easily! I will show her what I’ve done! I will lay my heart and soul bare before her. Only if that fails will I admit defeat.
“And if you fail then? What will you become, Morbidon?”
I don’t know. But I know I won’t ever become my father! His roar of defiance shook the clearing of shadows and memories.
His image stared back at him in silence for a moment. Then a brief flicker of some emotion Morbidon had never seen on his own face shifted the face of the monster. Suddenly, it wasn’t his exact image any longer. Subtle differences—deeper lines bracketing the mouth, a sharper frown, and black soulless eyes—replaced his features. “Interesting. You’re stronger than I expected.” The apparition shook its head. “No matter. There are more fertile fields for me to sow. You are your own worst enemy, my son. You’ll destroy yourself in time without my help.”
The figure disappeared and darkness consumed the wraithfire until the clearing was quiet and peaceful, the shadows melting and reforming into the familiar and comforting lines of his mourning room. Skulls and bones lined one wall, and Morbidon’s lips twisted into a grim half-smile. “She’s sick of bones. I’ll have to change the décor.”
When Morbidon opened his eyes, coming slowly out of his meditative trance, he saw that Febe lay at rest on her bed, her eyes no longer tightly clenched shut, but only lightly closed. Her breathing was even and steady. The wraithfire was gone, and her skin glowed a healthy pink, but when he shifted to his dragon sight, he saw that ragged holes marred her pastel pink aura where the fire had burned. Her body could be healed easily, flesh knitted back together with magic. Her soul was magic in itself and would not be replenished so easily.
She would need time to heal. Time for him to become the mate she needed. The mate she deserved. He would reveal the monster to her, and hope that she could see past it to the man he wanted to be.