Author’s Note: Two chapters today, because I had them “done.” (I put that in quotes because I never feel like my writing is done!) 😉 I won’t say much more on these because I don’t want to give away any spoilers. As always, feel free to comment or critique. I’m open to your feedback.
I just wanted to add one last reminder that there is still time to sign up for my Goodreads Giveaway. It ends today at 11:59 P.M. so if you haven’t done it yet, I urge you not to miss your chance. You can win 1 of 5 signed paperback copies of my book, Lilith’s Fall, which is the first book in my Shadows in Sanctuary Series. Click on the link below to sign up.
Now on to Morbidon’s Bride:
Febe, what have you done?
Where are we? Febe looked around their combined souls, finding that they now stood in a dark, shadowed glade, where strange, indistinct shapes lurked among the trees, their eyes glowing in the blazing light of Morbidon’s soul fire.
Do you understand, Febe? What you’ve done? Morbidon’s voice was her voice. And hers was his. They were combined into one. She didn’t need to answer, because he already knew her thoughts.
Why would you initiate the soul bond when your soul was still incomplete? I told you we weren’t ready for that! You truly thought you could bind the soul of a god? With my own power? She felt his emotions as if they were her own: anger, frustration, irritation, even a dash of amusement at her naïve audacity. But below it all lay fear. Not for himself, but for her.
I am a divine spirit dragon. My soul cannot be bound by any creature other than another divine spirit dragon, and there are only two of us in the Cosmos. Even my sister lacks the strength of will to bind me, Febe. What you have done is give me your soul like an offering, but since you are my soul mate, I have bonded with it instead of absorbing it into my essence. But you are still a part of me now. He shook their head. And I am now inexorably a part of you.
Febe looked down at herself and saw his wraithfire burning within the pale pink of her soul. Can we never be separated? Can you not do something to reverse this?
Why should I? I have you exactly where I’ve wanted you to be since I met you, Febe.
She could feel his sense of satisfaction at their joining, despite his other emotions. It angered her, which he would no doubt also feel. Then you’ve never wanted me at all! You just wanted to take my soul!
You know now how I feel, Febe. I love you. Their soul manifestation sighed with his disappointment. But I can also feel that you aren’t ready to love me back. I can separate our souls back into our bodies, but you will always have a part of me within you. You bonded to me when your soul was incomplete, so my essence has filled those holes inside you, instead of having them regenerate on their own. Our bond is not just a thread between us, as it would have been had you been whole. It’s now an inextricable part of you. You sought to enchain me—a move worthy of your mother’s daughter—but you’ve only forever enchained yourself to me. I cannot force you to love me, but I will always be a part of you that you cannot shake, no matter how far you run from me, Febe.
Shame filled her at his reminder that her attempt to bind him had been something her mother would have heartily approved of. Will you always know every thought I have? Will I always feel your emotions?
I can create spiritual barriers to blind us to each other’s thoughts and emotions. For now, I agree that would be the best course of action. But it won’t change the fact that I’m a part of you, Febe. We are bound forever.
He wasn’t happy about her despair at those words. Febe could feel the pain of rejection as if she’d been the one on the receiving end of it. A memory flashed of his mother turning her eyes to the wall rather than looking at her young son, his confusion at her refusal to love or even care for him a well that sank deep inside him. Febe knew this memory as if it were her own, and indeed, it could have been, since her mother had often turned away from Febe, but also far too often turned all her attention towards Febe, and that had ended up being so much worse.
Perhaps that was why Febe feared loving someone so much. She feared that love would only be rewarded by pain, both physical and emotional. And perhaps grief, as that love was taken from her—as her first lover had been taken from her in the most horrible way, publically executed by her mother for the sole crime of having Febe fall in love with him.
Morbidon would know her thoughts, but her mind felt a bit fuzzy, and she was no longer certain what he was thinking about those revelations her memory brought. While she was reeling beneath the weight of those memories, he’d been creating the very barriers he’d spoken of, quickly isolating them into two separate entities blinded to each other’s thoughts and emotions.
In a blink, she was standing in front of him, instead of standing as a part of him. He writhed sinuously in the air, a dragon formed of pure wraithfire, his wings unnecessary to his levitation, but still gently flapping nonetheless as he studied her with burning silver eyes. She was no longer privy to the thoughts of this strange being.
A glance down at her own soul manifestation showed that the holes in her tattered pink aura had been plugged with areas of wraithfire. The same kind of fire that had created those holes in the first place. She reached an amorphous arm towards the flames, hesitating before she came into contact with them.
“The flames will not burn you. I have conquered my rage, and my soul fire no longer consumes either of us.” In this form, separated from her, Morbidon’s voice was inhumanly deep, growling. The voice of a dragon—not even the illusion of humanity left about him.
“What if you get angry again?” She touched the edge of the flame, and it danced beneath the vaguely formed finger of her aura, flickering like a candlelight exposed to a soft breeze, but not burning, just as Morbidon had promised.
The dragon shook his massive head, snorting ethereal smoke from his two large nostrils. “My anger is no longer a problem. I will never allow rage to consume me again, Febe. I vow this on my divinity itself! You will be safe carrying my flame inside you.”
She looked around them at the shadowed glade. “You never answered me about where we are.”
His eyes followed her gaze. “This glade is the center of my memories. The end of the deepest road within my mind. It forever takes this form because this is the clearest of my first memories. A place where my sister and I were attacked. Where I first took my dragon form and learned my true nature.”
His tone was heavy with sadness, and his fires dimmed as he looked around the glade. Febe felt the brightness in her own spirit dimming in response. Looking down at herself, she saw the flames within her had also died down to mere blue embers over the aetherial portions of his soul that were interwoven with her own.
Empathy welled up within her, an emotion her mother had never been able to snuff out of Febe, no matter what efforts she’d expended to do so.
Febe had been viewing Morbidon either as a god, or as a man who’d dared to demand her hand in marriage without so much as asking her what she’d want, but she’d never truly considered him as the wounded soul he was. True, she’d seen tantalizing hints of this on their one outing to the Isle of the Blessed, but now that she was in the center of his memories, now that she’d been treated to flashes and fragments of the memories that caused him so much pain—memories so ancient she couldn’t even comprehend the amount of time that separated that past from this present—now she began to see that he needed her as much as he wanted her.
She wasn’t just some body to fill his bed, or some womb to bear his young. Morbidon had been alone save for his sister—whose motives he didn’t trust—for his entire existence. He’d searched for his soul mate for tens of thousands of years, despairing that he would never find her. He’d even given up, not believing when he did find her that the search was finally over.
And Febe hadn’t been making it easy for him. She was probably as emotionally damaged as he was, despite having lived a much shorter lifetime. He’d come in with his proposal, making a bargain with her mother instead of her—forcing Febe into a corner where she lashed out like a wounded animal, because that was perhaps what she was.
She could continue to forever reject him, though a part of him now lived inside her. She could be just one more in a series of people who turned their faces to the wall rather than look at him, or feared him so much that they ran from the sight of him. She could take his love and continue to throw it back in his face, though she herself had been bereft of such a kind emotion most of her life as well.
Or she could take this opportunity to learn who Morbidon was, sift through the fragments of memories they’d shared when they’d been combined into one being. She could listen to his words, and to the sound of his heart, the heart of an immortal god that he had given to her—a mere mortal human woman who lacked even the slightest hint of beauty, if her mother was to be believed.
Morbidon had been giving her priceless gifts since the moment he’d stolen her away from her kingdom. Her new home away from a mother who tortured her and sisters who tried to kill her, a friend in Markus despite Morbidon’s jealousy of that same man, the freedom to sleep peacefully at night without the fear of daggers falling from the shadows, and Morbidon’s love—offered without a price. Offered freely, even when he knew she didn’t return it.
She’d been railing against her fate, and against Morbidon, for this unwanted betrothal, but with this new perspective, she realized she had a lot to thank him for. That alone inspired her to open her mind and her heart to returning his love.
She floated up to his soul, pushing her amorphous arm out of the swirling colors of her aura so she could brush it against the flames of his soul. “This place brings you pain. I want us to leave it now, Morbidon. Let us go somewhere that brings you peace. I want you to show me more of the world you created.”
He lowered his head so that they were at eye level, his large dragon eye staring into whatever she was using for eyes in this strange, formless shape her soul took on. “You want to take a tour of the Underworld?”
She nodded, then wondered if the movement translated in her aura. “Yes. But only if it’s with you. I feel safe when you’re with me.” She was startled to realize that was true. Though she’d been attacked in his kingdom, she felt as if nothing would dare threaten her when he was with her. Well, nothing other than the possibility that she might grow to love him, which was terrifying in itself, because everything she’d ever loved had brought her nothing but pain.
His aetherial eyes widened at her words. “You feel safe with me?”
His flames brightened, the glow from them pushing the shadows of the glade back, the denizens scurrying deeper into the forest, their glowing eyes fading as they ran for more cover.
An odd joy that was disconnected from her own emotions, but still welled up within her soul, filled her as his flames inside her mirrored his pleasure at her words.
“Let’s leave this place then, Febe. There’s so much of my kingdom I still have to show you.”
There’s so much of you I’d still like to see, Morbidon.
They sat upon a blanket within a forest glade, where vines draped the twisted branches of the surrounding oaks like verdant jewelry, and moss coated the carved stone faces of ancient, primal gods, long forgotten by mortal men. This was a deep place, buried so far within a massive forest that mankind’s touch no longer reached here.
It was also a re-creation, formed by Morbidon’s memory of places he’d been to, places where he’d found peace. Now they sat in this forgotten world together, sharing the wonder of it, and of finally being open to each other.
Though she faced him on the blanket, and a feast lay between them, separating them physically, she’d never felt so connected to anyone before. It wasn’t love like she remembered. Not that eager desire to be with someone, that rush of adrenaline whenever she caught sight of him, that sense of anticipation before each meeting with him. She’d felt that before, just as she’d felt the devastation when he’d been executed before her eyes.
This was something different. Deeper, more integral to her being. A sense of belonging that required no explanation. A feeling of finally coming home. A feeling of peace and completion that filled an empty part of her soul that she’d never been aware she had.
Morbidon is a god. Even my mother cannot take him from me! For the first time since she’d been a young girl, barely in the blush of womanhood, she dared to open her heart to a man. No, far more than a man, which made him safe for her to love.
He watched her with liquid silver eyes, soft, admiring. Not the eyes of a god, or of a dragon, but of a man in love. His face was so beautiful it should grace temples, and it probably did, but Febe knew that no sculptor could possibly capture the perfection of the real thing. It was little wonder the Halidorians focused so much on the other aspects of Morbidon—the bone dragon and the Reaper—because in this incarnation, he was so distracting they would probably get nothing done other than to worship him.
Those darker aspects of the god were a part of him though, and Febe accepted that. She would always prefer this view of him, but she would no longer cringe from the dragon, nor even from the Reaper, as long as it wasn’t born of rage. She would know her soulmate, no matter what form he took.
“Tell me about the glade in your memory.”
He turned his gaze away from her but not before she saw his eyes harden. “This is the story you want to defile this beautiful place with?”
Febe sighed, rising to her feet to step around the food. She joined him on his side of the blanket and sank to her knees beside him. Morbidon was lounging on his side, propped up by one elbow. She kneeled beside the pool of long, black hair that fell upon the blanket, lifting her fingers to brush aside the hair that draped over his temple.
His body stiffened as he watched her with wary eyes, his surprise so strong that she felt an echo of it through the parts of her soul that had been born from his.
“I want to hear the memory that has wounded you so deeply that it sits in the center of your mind like a spider waiting to bleed you dry.”
His lips tightened, though he closed his eyes as she continued to stroke his hair, discovering that it was as silky and soft as it looked. “This memory… I fear that you will hate me once you hear it.”
“You mean the deaths of those children?”
His eyes snapped open as he pushed himself up onto his palm, breaking away from her touch. “You saw that?”
She nodded. “When we merged.”
He gestured to the picnic lunch with the hand that wasn’t supporting him. “You saw what I’ve done, and yet you still came here with me?”
Febe smiled gently, lifting both hands to cup his face, touching his perfection for the first time and discovering to her satisfaction that it was still warm flesh and not the hard marble of some brilliant sculpture. “I saw an accident—the action of a young, traumatized child, desperate to save his loved one. I don’t blame you for that.” She shook her head. “I don’t think those children deserved to die, though they were cruel and horrible to you and your sister, but you didn’t kill them out of malice.”
“I never told their families what happened to them! They never knew the truth and found no closure.” She felt his regret deep within herself.
Her fingers stroked his face, tracing his jawline, then up to his finely arched brows, which were bunched in a deep frown. “What would have happened to you and your sister if you had confessed to those people?”
He sat up, freeing his supporting hand so he could encircle the fingers of both his hands around her wrists, gently drawing her exploration to a pause as his eyes studied her face, searching for the condemnation she wouldn’t give him. “Terrible things would have happened to us. I’m not sure if we could have been killed when we were children. Our power had not fully developed yet, but they would have tried. Some of them had tried.”
“Then you protected the both of you by remaining silent. And bad people had to suffer the consequences of their own bigotry and hate.”
“Febe, it’s not that simple.”
“Yes, Morbidon,” she leaned up and gently set her lips against his, her breath mingling with his startled gasp. “It is that simple,” she said against his lips.
He didn’t allow her to move away. His arms came around her in a hard, desperate embrace as his lips crashed down onto hers, almost painful at first, but then gentling when he accepted that she wasn’t going to slip away from him like a dream that he would awaken from abruptly.
Febe lost track of time as she sank into Morbidon’s heady kiss. His lips were warm, supple, and gentle as they tasted hers, exploring, simply enjoying the contact. It was not the practiced kiss of a skilled seducer, but rather the hungry kiss of a man who’d waited for the one meant only for him. It was the best kiss Febe had ever had.
She groaned in disappointment when he pulled away, her body feeling like it was aflame with the desire that pulsed between them. Her eyes widened when she saw that his body was on fire, blue flames licking along his robes and skin.
He smiled, and it might have been the first time she’d ever seen such a joyous expression on his solemn face. “We burn together, Febe.” He touched her face with his burning palm, and the flames that were licking over her own skin jumped to meet his touch.
She held up her hands in wonder, staring down at the cobalt flames that danced over them, but did not consume. “How is this possible? I don’t even feel it!”
He breathed out a hard breath that might have been a short laugh from anyone familiar with amusement. “That’s hardly flattering!”
She gasped and looked back into his face, seeing the sparkle of humor in his eyes. “I meant the flames! I don’t feel their heat, or the pain I remembered….”
He took her hands in his warm grasp. “But you do feel the passion between us?”
She swallowed and nodded, her gaze fixing on his lips, now swollen from her hungry kisses. She wanted to taste them again, and it was an almost obsessive need to lean forward to do so that she barely controlled.
His eyelids lowered as he noted the direction of her focus. “That passion is the fire that burns between us. It will never hurt you unless you allow it to.” His fingers tightened around hers, firm, but not painful. “You now have some of my divinity within you. Even I don’t know what that will mean for you, but you are no longer a mere mortal.” He grinned, and this expression of joy was so sublime on his face that Febe could only blink in response, speechless because she was breathless at his beauty. “Now, you can’t hide the fact that you desire me. Your flames will give you away.”
She felt shaky, nervous butterflies dancing against the walls of her stomach, which had yet to be filled with any of the foods that he’d materialized for their picnic. She wanted to touch him more. To touch him everywhere. She wanted to explore him, the way he’d taken her on an exploration of his kingdom. At the same time, she was overwhelmed by how fast her world had shifted. Perhaps she had always felt this pull towards him, even in her mother’s throne room, when the “necromancer” had drawn her focus, causing all others to pale in comparison—terrifying her, but also representing a dark fascination she hadn’t wanted to admit back then.
His hands brushing her hair away from her face drew her attention back to his eyes and away from her appraisal of his body, which was concealed beneath his heavy black robe. “Febe, I will ask you this time, as I should have done from the start when I first saw your aura and felt it resonate with my soul. I should have known then, but I was a fool. I’d searched for so long that I’d given up on ever finding my soul mate.” He sighed, leaning in to press a kiss to her lips that he didn’t deepen, much to her frustration. “Will you be my mate, my wife? I offer you everything that I am. My kingdom, my power. My soul.” He tugged one of her hands towards his chest, pressing it against the warm, solid muscle beneath the heavy fabric. Under her palm, she felt the strong, steady thump of his heartbeat and the flexing of his muscle, tense now as her own warmth seeped through his robe, the blue flames enveloping both of them leaping into renewed vigor. “You already have my heart, Febe.”
She smiled shyly and nodded. “I will be your wife.”
The flames of their passion were so bright they could be seen from the palace.