Author’s Note: I have to admit, this chapter took me by surprise. Yes, I have an outline, and yes, I generally try and (kinda, sorta) follow it, but sometimes unexpected things happen, and that was this chapter. I was sitting there typing and saying, “What???? I didn’t see that coming!” This happens sometimes in my writing, and it’s at that point that I know the story has come alive for me.
Once it starts moving on its own, defying my grand plans for it, I just have to get out of the way and let it go where it wants. Still, I like the direction it took. I hope you do too. Feel free to comment, critique, or just speculate what will happen next. I love hearing from you guys! Thank you for taking the time to check out my post!
Oh yeah, I can’t forget to add a reminder about my Goodreads Giveaway. There’s still time to sign up to win a copy of Lilith’s Fall, signed by yours truly!
Febe awakened to music. The gentle flutes and soft drum beats called to her, drawing her out of the darkness of her unconsciousness. Her body felt strange, and her eyes were difficult to open, but mostly, she just felt empty. A strange, soul-deep emptiness, as if part of her was missing.
The music fell silent as she lifted her head to look in the direction of the players and then pushed herself up to a sitting position on the bed, surprised to realize that she could. She remembered such pain—crippling, agonizing, unimaginable pain. Now, she felt normal. Physically. But there was still that emptiness.
She was in a room that was much larger than her bedroom, and much emptier. There was only her bed lying in the center of a ritual circle. Beyond the ring of candles, she saw the amorphous forms of specters, hovering near the walls that supported a high, vaulted ceiling.
The specters each held an instrument, but as intriguing as that was, her curious gaze was pulled away from them to fix on a robed figure, cowl pulled low to conceal a face she knew for a fact was so handsome it almost hurt to look upon it. Her betrothed. The god that had nearly killed her.
She flinched away from him, though he’d made no move towards her when her attention shifted to him. He remained standing in the center of the ritual circle—a tall, monolithic creature, distant and frightening. His hands glowed with the wraithfire that had caused her so much pain, yet they weren’t burned away to reveal the bones of his skeleton. Wraithfire runes also burned around the ritual circle.
The musicians began to play their music again as Febe stared at him, wondering what she should do, if she could escape whatever plan he had in mind for her—no doubt some vengeance for her words and actions. Deep-voiced chanting joined the music, and Febe dared to look away from Morbidon to glance over her shoulder, where a handful of reapers stood just beyond the burning runes of the circle.
Magic wavered in the air. A heavy presence dropped upon her—the weight of a god’s focus. She’d felt it before, in Vivacel’s temple. Suffocating, grasping, trying to pull her towards it. As before, she strained against it, her entire body tensing in a battle of will to keep the god at a distance.
The chanting grew louder. The music’s tempo sped up. The wraithfire flames leapt higher.
Febe screamed, her mind pushing back against Morbidon’s power, rejecting it with as much force as her ragged soul could muster.
All sound died to silence as the wraithfire immediately extinguished, plunging the chamber into complete darkness.
Febe huddled on the bed, shivering, curling her body up to protect herself from any more assaults in the darkness. A hand settled on her shoulder, and she hissed and flinched away, curling up into a tighter ball.
A deep sigh followed. “Febe, I mean you no harm. The ritual is meant to heal your soul, but you must open yourself to my power. The damage that was done is extensive. If you push me away so forcefully, it will only further damage you.”
She felt cold and empty, like a metal bucket left out in the snow. “Leave me alone! Haven’t you done enough?”
The down-stuffed mattress compressed at the edge of the bed as if Morbidon had taken a seat. Febe sensed the room filling with a mellow light, not the blue wraithfire that so dominated his palace, but a warmer glow, like the candles and lamps that were in her chambers. She didn’t lift her head from where it was tucked under her arms, maintaining her tight fetal position.
“I deeply regret losing my control, Febe. I regret many of my actions since I brought you here. I have not been worthy of you, but I would like to prove that I can be. But first, you must let me heal the damage to your soul. The holes left behind by the wraithfire are now fraying. If I can’t complete the ritual, more of your soul could be lost before it has the time to regenerate.”
“I don’t trust you!” She lifted her head to glare at him, rapidly blinking in the light to bring him into focus. To her surprise, he’d pulled back the cowl to reveal his stunning face. Perhaps he hoped to use his inhuman handsomeness to convince her to forgive him, but she doubted it. He did not see it as an asset.
His solemn expression deepened into a frown as he lifted a hand to spear his fingers through his long, silky hair, leaving behind disarrayed strands that made her fingers twitch with a desire to smooth them despite her conflicting feelings about him. “I know. I’ve failed to protect you as I promised.” His eyes hardened and his mouth tightened into an angry line. “I will discover who has betrayed me and make them pay in ways they cannot even begin to imagine.” He met her eyes and his expression softened with regret. “But I know that won’t change what has already come to pass. I never believed you or Markus were dishonorable, Febe. I could see the truth in your auras when you came before me in my throne room.”
She uncurled from her ball and sat up, anger replacing her hurt and fear. “If that’s the case, then why did you treat us like prisoners facing a tribunal? Why didn’t you immediately correct your steward? Why make us go through that?”
He looked away from her accusing stare. “I was too proud.” His tone sounded as if the words had to be dragged out of him. “I wanted you to be the first to speak. I wanted you to refute the steward’s claims with angry denials, so that I could hear the truth ringing through your words. I wanted to hear your defense, and more than that, I wanted to hear you say that you would not have done such a thing because you belonged to me.” He looked back into her eyes, continuing on into her stunned silence. “I saw the threads of desire in your aura when you looked at Markus. Your heart is not completely unfettered. I wanted you to reaffirm your commitment to me. Instead, you declared your hatred for me and my kingdom.”
She had done that. She couldn’t take those words back, but she still felt as if she’d been justified in her anger. His pride had been his undoing. He’d allowed her to think he believed she’d done something dishonorable with Markus just so she would soothe his jealousy by denying it. She shook her head at him. “I can’t take those words back, because I still feel as if I can never make a home here.”
Some unknown emotion flashed in his eyes, and they appeared to darken from silver to pewter, but then it was gone, and they were back to their beautiful silver. “I know I made a mistake,” he shook his head, “many mistakes with you, Febe. You have a good reason to be upset, but I ask for this one more chance to earn your trust. Let me heal you. Stay here with me in the Underworld until your soul regenerates. Let me be the friend and companion I have failed to be in the past, and in return, I will allow you to choose your own future when your soul is once again complete.”
She stared down at her hands twisting in her lap. He sat so close to her on the bed that she could smell his scent, that heady fragrance which made her want to inhale deeply. His body was so much larger than hers, dwarfing her, intimidating, overwhelming, but also appealing to a part of her she’d believed died with her first lover. Even in her fear, she still desired Morbidon. Even in her anger. Even in the knowledge that simply touching him while his wraithfire raged within him had nearly destroyed her. Her soul felt torn and ragged. Did she trust him enough to help it heal? In return, would he keep his promise to let her go? “I… I’m afraid of you.”
He reached out to touch her face, but his hand froze when she flinched away from him. “I know. I’ve done little to try and change that. I will not touch you, Febe. Not unless you ask me to.” He dropped his hand. “Though I will not deny that it’s difficult for me not to.”
“Can you heal my soul without touching me?”
He studied her with molten silver eyes. “I don’t need to physically touch you, Febe, but the ritual requires you to submit to my power and open yourself to my spirit. If you fight it, you will only damage yourself further. I can give you a potion which will put you back to sleep so that you will not be tempted to resist. The fraying wounds can be tied off while you slumber, and you’ll be unaware of my presence.”
She didn’t like the sound of that. In fact, his spirit touching hers seemed far more intimate than his hand brushing her cheek. “I want to be aware of what you’re doing!”
“You cannot fight it, Febe. You must trust me on this, at least. The alternative is unthinkable! Your soul will disintegrate if it suffers any more damage.” He reached to grasp her hand, then paused and dropped his hand back to rest on his thigh.
She sucked in a deep breath, considering him and what this ritual would mean for her. Having him touching her physically was unnerving enough, because it sparked a heat inside her that belied her fear of him, but allowing that heavy, overwhelming presence that had attempted to invade her during the ritual to enter her freely meant opening herself to someone else in ways she’d never even considered. She’d be vulnerable to him in the deepest parts of her soul, where even her mother’s cruelties and her sisters’ attempts on her life couldn’t touch her. That secret part of her that could not be taken from her no matter what was done to her body. “You’re asking for a lot.” He was asking for everything.
“This isn’t about intimacy, Febe.” His voice deepened, sounding rough around the edges, as if he’d picked up her growing desire. “The way my spirit will touch yours will be only about healing. It will be my power—which is only a peripheral part of my soul—and not my inner being, that engages with your soul.”
Her relief to hear that was tinged with disappointment that surprised her. There’d been something about the idea of having no choice but to join with him soul-to-soul. It would take the burden of making that decision out of her hands. For her own survival, she would have had to open herself to him and accept him. If the relationship ended up a disaster, and he became as controlling and abusive as her mother, at least she hadn’t chosen to be with him. It wouldn’t then be her fault that he’d rejected her love or turned it into something ugly. She could have been with him without the shame of making that choice and living to potentially regret it. There was a certain comfort in having the decision taken out of her hands—in being able to have what she desired, without the risk of shame that came with getting exactly what she wanted only to regret it later. “I don’t have much choice, do I?”
He breathed a sigh of relief, rising to his feet to tower over the bed, slipping back into god-mode so quickly as he pulled the cowl over his face that she had a hard time believing he was the same man who’d sat beside her on this bed so casually. “We must restart the ritual immediately. The longer we wait, the more of your soul seeps away.”
He paused in his stride towards the center of the circle, his head turned back to her as the wraithfire runes burst into life and flames curled up his hands to his fingertips.
“Can you leave your cowl down? If… if I’m going to open myself up to you, I need to see your face.”
He hesitated for so long that Febe thought he was going to refuse, but then the flames on his hands flickered out and he lifted them to pull the cowl back. His expression was uncertain as he nodded at her, then made his way to the center of the circle.
She sat forward on the bed, scooting to the edge of it, keeping her eyes focused on Morbidon, as his flames ignited on his hands again. His eyes met hers and their gazes locked.
The music and the chanting began again, filling the room as Morbidon’s power flowed into the chamber. The air around Febe took on a sense of heaviness, a weight pressing down on her like stones slowly crushing a heretic. Only this wasn’t just on her chest. It was all around her, surrounding her, suffocating her. She struggled to breathe, gasping for air, clutching at her throat as Morbidon’s spirit probed and pressed on her soul, seeking an opening.
“Let me in, Febe!” His voice was harsh, with a hint of concern and desperation in his tone. “You must not fight me!”
Febe took several deep, ragged breaths, staring into his eyes, her body shaking as she forced herself to relax, visualizing unlocking doors in her mind.
Suddenly, the weight disappeared off of her body, and she felt strangely light, almost buoyant, as if she could float up into the rafters of the vaulted ceiling. The music made her head swell until she thought it might pop, and she could only giggle at the image. A sense of well-being filled her, as those strange empty spots that she’d been sensing inside herself were knitted back together.
She felt like dancing, like power suffused every pore of her body and she could suddenly fly, or pluck the moon from the heavens to bounce it back and forth between her hands. Laughter bubbled from between her lips as she jumped to her feet and spun around, her arms spread wide as Morbidon’s magic spun around her and through her.
Even the deepest throes of inventive inspiration had never felt as amazing as this moment. She’d never felt so free, so powerful, so capable of performing miracles. Is this how you feel all the time?
She hadn’t expected an answer to her unspoken question, but his voice came to her in her mind. This is the gift of my power. This is how my servants feel when I choose to bestow it upon them. For me, it can also be a burden. A great weight that destroys this joy you’re now experiencing. This rush of instant power is different from living beneath the constant flow of it.
You’ve done this for your servants? She felt a twinge of jealousy encroach upon her euphoria. That he would share something this amazing with anyone but her seemed wrong.
This is simply my power, Febe. My soul has never touched another’s other than the bond that I share with my sister. It has waited eons for you.
Can we touch our souls now? She felt like a goddess, like she could walk from one end of the Easterly Ocean to the other and never get her feet wet. She could only imagine what a god’s soul would feel like, given the incredibly joy of receiving the god’s power. She wanted to try, and now that the power was flowing through her, she figured it was time to send him a little payback. She had some of his power, and she was going to use it to go after his soul.
No, Febe! Neither of us is ready for that. The power that I’ve given you should have completed the healing of the frayed holes, which will give your soul time to heal. I will withdraw it from you now.
Febe wasn’t ready to have him take the power back, not when she wanted a taste of the power of his true soul and this was her only chance. She finally had enough power to no longer be completely helpless against him. She wanted him to be the one feeling helpless to stop what was happening for once. He’d foolishly given her this gift, and now she intended to use it against him. If this was what his power could do for her, what could the power of his soul give her? Could she herself become a god? Now was her only chance to try and take by force what he wouldn’t give her, before he stole back the little taste of power he had given her.
Before he could do as he’d said and withdraw his power, Febe seized ahold of it with her spirit. She wasn’t sure how she knew what to do, but her soul moved instinctively towards his, grabbing hold of the threads of aether that currently bound them together to trace along the path of that power until she was able to invade his body and wrap those threads around his soul.
She didn’t have an actual plan for what she would do when she had his soul vulnerable to her touch. She wasn’t even certain what she wanted to do with it. She was still angry at him, and frustrated at her own helplessness against him. A vague plan of binding his soul with the very power he gave her had formed as that power had rushed through her. Perhaps then, her life and her destiny would be her own, and she’d have the god dancing to her tune, not the other way around.
But she hadn’t been prepared for his soul. It wasn’t some pale, transparent ghost within him, nor was it even a light swirl of color as hers appeared to be with what little she could see of herself. Morbidon’s soul was a blazing dragon formed of blue wraithfire that writhed within his physical body, barely caged by his flesh. As soon as she neared it, it unfurled, reaching for her with flaming claws that dug into the ragged tatters of her soul.
His dragon soul pulled her towards it, tucking her against the length of its aetherial body as it curled its sinuous form around her until their souls were so deeply intertwined that they seemed to blend together. His memories, his emotions, his hopes, and even his fears blended with hers.
And the person that was Febe was lost forever.