Author’s Note: I won’t be able to post to my blog next week, so I wanted to get this last chapter and epilogue out and put this story to bed for everyone who has been following along. I hope you like the ending.

As before, it’s probably a bit raw. Some crazy things have happened in my personal life so I’m not at the top of my game at the moment. I would have liked to have run this through a couple more days of edits and revisions, but unfortunately, I don’t know when I would have the time to dedicate to that, and I think it’s just better to give you guys the ending before you forget everything that came before. 😉

I’m going to leave the complete story up on my blog for a while, so feel free to add comments, feedback, and critique on any portion of it. I don’t plan on taking it down until I publish the edited, revised version on Amazon.

Also, if you’re interested in the world of Altraya and the other stories that have happened around this one, such as Solendar’s invasion and defeat, consider checking out Child of the Dragon Gods. I hope to re-release The Princess’s Dragon (which started it all!) by the end of this year as it is not currently available in ebook, but there are probably a few paperbacks still floating around out there. The other book I have out that was set in Altraya is Light of the Dragon, which is peripherally related to the others. I try to make all of my books standalone, though they do take place in a certain order. Morbidon’s Bride happens concurrently with the events of Child of the Dragon Gods, and Light of the Dragon happens after these events.

If you enjoyed any of these already published stories, please consider leaving a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or wherever you like to review. It’s tremendously helpful for indie authors to get honest reviews on our work, and not just because we love the feedback! 🙂 As for Morbidon’s Bride, feel free to spread the word and share this blog with others if you think they might enjoy the story too.

Thank you for all the support and encouragement you’ve given me on this project. You guys are awesome!!!

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Chapter 22

Macie patted the hair of her mistress after completing the elaborate series of braids she’d arranged it into. The action felt soothing to her, though her mistress didn’t respond to that gesture any more than she’d responded to having her hair braided in the first place.

Macie wanted to start crying again, but there was little point in it, and she’d already spent enough pointless tears—as Housekeeper had reminded her. There was nothing to do now but care for Princess Febe’s mortal body until Lord Morbidon returned.

She hoped that their lord would be able to find the steward and retrieve Febe’s soul before she drank from the River of Lost Memories.

The problem was that no one knew where Morbidon was. They knew that he’d gone to his sister’s temple, and he’d been unhappy about the trip, as if he had a burden he wished to share with his sister that he didn’t want to bother Febe with. But it seemed as if it had been too long since he’d left. Macie thought he should have returned by now.

Steward has had too much time to escape! If my lord doesn’t return soon, it will be too late for the poor princess! Impulsively, she hugged the princess, though it broke protocol. It didn’t matter. Febe simply continued to stare blankly into the distance, no life within her glassy eyes.

Macie had come to view the other woman with great respect and admiration. Surely, she must be someone truly special to capture the love and devotion of Lord Morbidon. That had been enough to earn Macie’s respect, but Febe herself had earned Macie’s devotion by being a kind, gentle person, who didn’t treat Macie like just another servant. In fact, Febe was always kind to all of the servants, though she’d been raised as a princess and should have seen their service as her due.

Yet now, Macie wished Febe had been a little less trusting of Steward, though it was still shocking to Macie that Steward had done what he’d done. When she’d gotten concerned about Febe not returning, she’d gone after them, only to find Febe like this. She’d gone immediately to the reapers since Lord Morbidon could not be reached. It hadn’t taken much to figure out what had happened once they had determined that Steward had stolen one of their scythes.

She didn’t understand why Steward had done such a thing. He’d always been a very nice spirit, and had treated everyone with kindness, despite his elevated position. It was as if something had changed, and he’d become a complete stranger. She never would have allowed Febe to go off alone if she’d imagined that he would be capable of this.

Some of the reapers had gone to the surface to seek out their lord, though they were struggling to detect him, which was rare enough in itself that it caused alarm bells to sound. Something had gone terribly wrong on the surface as well as down here in the Underworld, and their lord was caught up in it.

Macie was left to care for Febe, a task she’d never minded before, but which now brought her endless sadness as she tended to the soulless body before her. Though Febe moved obediently whenever Macie asked her to, doing whatever Macie asked, it was merely the mechanics of the living body moving it and not the liveliness of a soul animating the body. It was a terrible thing to watch.

“Febe?” A harsh voice interrupted Macie’s renewed bout of sobbing as she kneeled before Febe, clasping the princess’s slack hand between her hands.

Macie whipped her head towards the door to see Lord Morbidon standing there, his cowl thrown back, his face gaunt and sickly, his eyes glowing silver as he stared at Febe without comprehension. He looked terrible, as if he himself had risen from the grave as a zombie.

Macie jumped to her feet, swiping at her tears before she sank into a deep bow. “My lord!”

He brushed past her, ignoring her because his entire focus was on Febe’s soulless body. He fell to his knees in front of Febe, his trembling hands reaching to cup her slack face. “Febe? Dear Febe, where is your soul?” His breath caught as if he too wanted to sob in despair.

Macie wanted to run from the room so she would not be witness to her master’s devastation and grief, but he needed to know what had happened. Clearly, he hadn’t been found by his reapers and informed. He must have simply returned to the Underworld on his own, and it looked as if he’d been terribly wounded and was only just recovering. “My lord, Steward has stolen Febe’s soul!”

He turned towards Macie as if he was only half listening, but a moment later, her words seemed to sink in and his eyes narrowed as he released Febe to grasp Macie in a hard grip.

Though she was frightened at first when he abruptly grabbed her shoulders, she stilled in his hold, staring into his wild eyes.

“Steward took her?” He shook Macie. “Tell me why, girl! Where has he taken her?”

She shook her head, biting back her miserable whimper. “I don’t know! All we know is that he stole a reaper hand scythe. But….” She hesitated before she dared speak her own thoughts on the matter. She was just a ladies’ maid. Her thoughts weren’t important.

“But what?” He shook her again, his patience snapping. “Tell me everything you know, immediately!”

“I think he’s going to force her to drink from the River of Lost Memories.” Macie wasn’t sure why she was so certain that was Steward’s plan, but it seemed to fit something he would do, rather than taking her soul to the Abyss or disposing of it in some other way. Despite the evil he had already committed, she didn’t think he was a bad person, and she could see him justifying this act as benefiting Febe by causing her to forget this life and be reborn into a new one.

Morbidon didn’t ask for further clarification, nor did he seem to doubt her assessment, despite her lowly position. He immediately released her, striding towards the door, and as he walked away from her, his cloak swirling behind him, she could see that he was limping. Whatever pained him was not enough to slow him down on his quest to recover Febe’s soul before she was forced to forget all about him. He paused at the door just long enough to cast a last look of longing and determination at Febe’s silent form. His gaze went to Macie. “Take good care of your mistress. I will return with her soul.”

 

Desperation hounded his heels as he raced as fast as he could towards his horse. He would have simply teleported himself to the River of Lost Memories if he wasn’t still so weak from Solendar’s attack. If Cindara had not had dragon tears to heal both him and his sister, Morbidon would have been destroyed, his body and spirit shredded by his father’s energy swords, then broken apart from his plummet to the city of Centinel. The power contained within the child of the dragon gods was immense. Enough to completely disintegrate the energy of all the other children of both Cindara and Solendar. He and Vivacel had been lucky just to escape with their lives, and fortunately, Solendar had been defeated, though the victory had come at a great sacrifice. Morbidon wondered whether the balance of the world would ever return after what had happened. Indeed, the balance of the Cosmos might even be in question.

But now he had this new problem, and for him, it was far greater than Solendar’s invasion. He couldn’t believe his own steward, whom he’d trusted throughout the centuries to care for his palace and his servants, had betrayed him so thoroughly. It was painfully obvious now that Steward had been working for Vivacel, but he couldn’t understand how she had managed to subvert one of his most loyal servants.

However, despite his rage at his sister, he couldn’t help believing she was being honest when she claimed she didn’t want to harm Febe. Forcing the princess to drink from the River of Lost Memories would see her being reborn into a new life, with no memory of this one. She’d be free from the grief of loss that he was now feeling. She’d also be free of him.

No! I will make her happy! She loves me and doesn’t wish to be free!

His horse seemed so slow, and he cursed his weakness, even as he grew stronger every moment he spent in his domain. His wounds were knitting closed and energy from the souls that served him was revitalizing his spirit, but he wasn’t certain if he would be healed in enough time to stop what Vivacel and her servant were trying to do. At least his sister could not come to the aid of her servant, since she’d been as badly wounded as he had been from the battle.

Spirits turned to watch him as he passed in a flurry of pounding hooves, his stallion breathing heavy as it carried him as fast as it could gallop towards the river. Though his mount’s hooves ate up the ground, it seemed to take forever before the river spread out below him like a silver ribbon over the barren landscape of the Land of the Forgotten. At the source of the river, life was reborn, and Febe’s spirit would disappear from the Underworld and awaken anew in the body of a growing infant in some mortal woman’s womb.

Morbidon would know her soul again when he saw it, but he had no idea how many rotas it would take to find her, though he was determined that he would search forever if need be, even knowing that he would be a stranger to her once he found her.

But it wasn’t yet too late. He had to believe that, though her soul’s prison inside the scythe kept him from feeling her, despite the fact that he’d torn away the shields from their bond and his fire was no longer being suppressed by Vivacel’s magic.

To his relief and joy, he felt her spirit suddenly reach for him through their bond just as his horse rounded a bend of the river, pounding hooves carrying him towards the gaping maw of the massive gargoyle—an ancient titan from the primitive time before mortal man walked this world—that was its source.

Febe’s soul kneeled on the bank of the river. The steward stood behind her with a hard hand on the back of her neck as she fought against him. He forced her face towards the river’s gleaming, compelling water.

Morbidon knew that it was only their bond that was causing Febe to struggle against the steward. If she wasn’t so bound to him in this life, she wouldn’t be able to resist the water that sang its sweet music of forgetfulness to her. The river compelled all souls to its banks eventually, though some were so connected to their former lives that they were able to resist its siren song—connected like Febe was to him.

“Febe!” He leapt from his horse’s back while the stallion was still charging towards the steward.

Steward looked up as Morbidon bore down on him, a scythe materializing in the god’s hands as they glowed with angry fire. Comprehension and terror rounded the steward’s eyes, but he didn’t release Febe. Instead, he only pushed harder on her neck, putting all his strength into it. As Febe’s head hovered just over the surface of the silvery water, the steward shrieked and yanked his burning hand away from Febe’s soul, which had ignited in response to Morbidon’s fire. His blue flames still burned inside her soul. They would always be a part of her.

Febe jumped to her feet as soon as she was free, avoiding touching any of the water that would cause her to forget Morbidon and the love they shared.

Steward realized he’d lost and turned to run, but he didn’t get far before the flames that licked over his translucent body consumed him. Morbidon almost pitied him. Almost. There was nothing left of the steward’s spirit. He would not be reborn, but he had escaped the punishment Morbidon had so dearly wanted to mete out to him for his betrayal.

“Morbidon!” Suddenly Febe was in his arms, unconcerned about the flames burning on either of them.

The quality of the fire in their souls shifted as he stared down at her beautiful pastel pink soul, no longer amorphous, now taking on Febe’s physical shape, letting him know that she had chosen this life. The life she would spend with him.

He lowered his head to capture her translucent lips in a desperate kiss.

When he finally lifted his head after tasting his fill of her, she gasped as if she needed breath, though she was still in spirit form. “I feared I would lose you, Morbidon. I thought it was all over when the steward captured my soul!”

He shook his head, cupping her cheek in his hand. “I would never have stopped looking for you, Febe. And I would have found you again, and known you for my soulmate.”

She pressed her cheek more firmly into his palm, rubbing her soul against his skin. “I would’ve been a different person, living a different life. You’re in love with the woman from this life.”

He pulled her close to him with his other hand, the scythe dematerializing as soon as he turned his focus away from it. “Though you might live a thousand different lives, you will always be you, and I will never stop loving you.” He lowered his forehead to bump hers, his eyes fixed on hers. “I vow this to you, Febe. You have my love for all eternity. I will move the Cosmos to keep us together.”

Her smile was like a beacon in the barren wastes of the Land of the Forgotten. “You won’t have to, Morbidon.” She lifted her lips to his, whispering against them, “I will always be yours.”

 

Epilogue

It was finally her wedding day, and Febe couldn’t believe all that it had taken to get to this point in her life. She’d fought so hard, and struggled against this moment for so long, that it was hard to believe she not only welcomed it, but eagerly anticipated it.

The ceremony was a small affair, though Morbidon had promised that they could do a much bigger ceremony afterwards if she preferred, but he wanted to move quickly, in case—as he teased her—she decided to run away again.

The only place she wanted to run was into his arms, and she found great happiness being there. But it wasn’t just happiness that filled her, but also peace and contentment. She finally felt like she had a true home, and a loved one to cherish her as she had never been cherished before. She also found acceptance and love in the eyes of the servants, all of them quite vocally condemning the steward for his treasonous actions. The loudest voice of condemnation had been little Macie’s, and Febe had hugged the girl, feeling a well of love for her that was what she might have experienced with her sisters if their mother had not worked so tirelessly to divide them.

Only a few months after her small marriage ceremony, Febe discovered that she was pregnant. She was both frightened and ecstatic about the baby, and spent almost every waking moment worrying about whether she could be the mother her own had not been.

Morbidon reassured her that she would be an excellent mother, and in turn, she reassured him that he would become the father that his could never have been. Together they made a vow to both each other, and their child, that they would be more than their origins. When their daughter was born into Morbidon’s arms after hours of painful labor, she was given into the hands of those whose love and devotion to her and each other would give her the life her parents had never known.

 

Eldora glared at the huge reaper enforcer that stood outside the gates of the castle, demanding entrance in an imperious, echoing tone. His armor gleamed dully in the sunlight as the wind sighed around him, Zephrona caressing his form as if she’d just discovered a new plaything. The reaper ignored the touch of the goddess of the air, his entire focus on Eldora, who stood upon the wall arguing with the guards about letting him inside. Something about this reaper scared her, though there had been plenty of them coming and going lately, now that her mother was a lich in the service of the Lord of the Dead.

Eldora had been a fool to push Febe towards Morbidon. She should have tried harder to capture the god’s attention herself. If she had understood that he would end up controlling Barselor through her mother, she would have done exactly that instead of running away from the very idea of marriage. Now, Febe was reportedly happy with her lot in life, content with her monstrous husband—a deity with more power than Eldora could ever command.

And now his reapers demanded entrance as if it was their due and Eldora was truly powerless to stop them, as the guards proved by opening the gates despite her protests.

The reaper strode across the bridge with sure, confident steps, his hand scythes sheathed at his hips against beautifully carved obsidia armor. His skull mask turned as he looked around him like he owned the place.

Eldora raced down the spiral steps of the gatehouse, nearly stumbling as she rushed out of the exit, right into the path of the reaper, though she’d been hoping to be fast enough to escape him. His hands gripped her shoulders to steady her.

“You always did lose your grace when you were in a hurry, Goldie.” His tone was teasing, soft. Familiar.

Her heart pounded in recognition. “Farmer?”

He released her sharply, stepping back as he lifted a hand to his mask to pull it off, revealing his devastatingly handsome face. “My name is Marcos. I am a reaper. An enforcer of Morbidon. I have come here to see that his will is obeyed, by Queen Isa,” he narrowed his dark eyes on her, “and by you, Princess Eldora.”

He’d always been handsome, but she couldn’t remember him ever looking as breathtaking as he was now, filled with power—almost overflowing with it—no doubt a gift from the god of the dead for his service. But Farmer, no…Marcos, was completely devoted to her. He’d dedicated himself to pleasing her. He’d followed her every whim like a lovesick fool, and now he was here, and he was the one in charge of fulfilling Morbidon’s will. Suddenly, it looked as if Eldora would have access to the power she feared she’d lost.

A slow, seductive smile spread on her face. She took a step towards him, lifting a hand to brush against the skull carved into his chest plate. “You’ve come a long way…Marcos. It’s a pleasure to see you again.” She traced her fingers along the skull, then lifted them to touch his lips, her smile widening. “I hope we can renew our previous…arrangement.” She anticipated sharing her bed with him again. He’d always been a skilled lover.

His fingers closed around her wrist, pulling her hand away from his face with a relentless grip as his expression hardened. “No.”

She blinked in shock. He couldn’t have just told her “no.” He loved her too much for that. He was her loyal pet. He’d even died for her, or at least, she thought he had. “But Farm—Marcos! What we had between us was—“

“It was a lie.” He dropped her hand as if it were garbage. “You were a lie. Nothing you do is genuine, Eldora. You’re a deceitful creature, and I will never be taken in by you again.” His frown lightened into a malicious smile as her shock stole any breath for a response. “Now, you and your sister, and your abomination of a mother, will listen to my orders. I speak with Morbidon’s authority.” His grin widened. “And I don’t intend to make life easy for you.” He abruptly turned his back on her to walk away.

Eldora screamed in outrage, pulled her hidden dagger, and plunged it into Marco’s side, just below the breastplate of his armor.

She stepped back, expecting his body to topple as the knife, made with a special metal, cut through the rings of his mail. The poison on the tip of it would have him soon convulsing in agony on the stone pavers.

Instead, he turned back towards her, reaching to pluck the dagger from his side. He lifted it to look upon it with some amusement. “Your bite still stings, Eldora, but your venom no longer has an effect. Another gift from the god of the dead. I’m immortal. I can thank you for that. After all, you were the one who asked me to sacrifice myself.”

She gasped, backing away from him in terror. Then she suddenly turned and ran out the gates and across the bridge, fleeing from her castle and her kingdom, realizing that she would never be safe from his retribution.

Zephrona’s laughter seemed to follow her on the wind, almost as if the goddess of the air had rejected her as much as the god of the dead and his servant had.

 

Vivacel coaxed the tiny finger of a vine to thicken and grow, curling around the trellis as a baby leaf sprouted from its verdant side, spearing towards the artificial sun that illuminated her temple. Despite the beauty and serenity of her surroundings, her mind was anything but calm. She had gravely erred, and was now paying dearly for that.

She wasn’t one accustomed to admitting her mistakes, and there had been few enough in her life that she felt confident about being so slow to acknowledge them. Her machinations almost always bore fruit that increased her power and consequence, lending a lie to the taunts and bullying of the children who had tormented her and her brother when they were children, denying the disdain and hatred of the mother who had turned her face away from them, rather than embrace them as her children. People now loved Vivacel. They worshipped her. They dedicated their lives to her service, and spent every breath in singing her praises. Her past was behind her, but it was never forgotten. It completely dictated who she had become.

And that person was not a good one. She could acknowledge this now, though the acceptance of that fact wounded her. She’d always believed herself to be the compassionate goddess. Yet, there was no denying that she had failed on that account because of her jealousy. She’d nearly destroyed her brother’s happiness, and she had succeeded in destroying her relationship with him, simply because she could not stand to lose. Not to a human female. Not after all she’d done to be worthy of Morbidon’s love.

He said that Febe was his soulmate, and Vivacel knew this to be true—had known it to be true from the moment she’d seen the human woman—but she’d fought that knowledge and what it meant, because in all the eons of her life, she’d never met her own soulmate, so she’d come to the only conclusion that she possibly could. The only person who would ever be connected to her spiritually was the one person who’d been with her from the beginning. She’d believed that he was her soulmate, despite the fact that he was also her twin brother.

It had made a terrible sense to her for so long that she’d no longer even questioned it. They were two of a kind—the only two of their kind. How could anyone else possibly understand either of them? That fate had been so cruel as to give them the same bloodline had been merely a small obstacle in the road as far as Vivacel was concerned. They were gods, not beholden to the petty moralities of men. They needn’t fear children twisted by inbreeding because their blood was divine. She’d been so certain that if she could only convince him to see things her way, they would have been happy together—and no mortal could ever love Morbidon as much as she did.

Now she knew differently, but acceptance had come more slowly than knowledge, and at great cost to both of them. He’d tried to cut off the thread of their bond completely, but had not been successful. Their blood bound them permanently. The same blood they shared with their divine father could not easily be denied. Instead, Morbidon had locked down their bond as much as he was able, and he ignored any of her attempts to contact him, his unforgiving anger at her the only emotion she could feel from that bond.

She’d tried to take his soulmate from him, and he’d responded by cutting off all contact with her. She feared that he would never find forgiveness in his heart for her, and in that, he was more like his father than he knew.

Heartbroken, Vivacel had to re-examine her own life, searching for where she’d gone wrong. She could see now the corruption that had taken hold in the wake of her increasing power—corruption that had urged her to build her power at the expense of her brother’s influence. It ate away at her the way a blight destroyed crops. She hadn’t been completely blind to it, but she’d believed she had it under control, and Morbidon’s anger at her earlier betrayals had never been able to survive his love for his sister.

This situation was different though. She’d gone too far. She hadn’t simply tried to siphon power from him, but had taken something far dearer to him than that.

The vine pulled away from the trellis and curled around her wrist, almost as if it was embracing her to give her comfort, the young life within it shivering with the newness of its existence. Plants were much easier than people, their souls pure and uncomplicated. People had wants and desires that extended beyond their worship for the life-giving light of the sun.

Vivacel had desires too. She’d chased the wrong desires for far too long. Someday, she would find a way to make it up to her brother and earn his forgiveness for her betrayal. Until then, she needed to search, because if he could find his soulmate, then it meant that she, too, had one.

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