Morbidon’s Bride: Chapter 22 and Epilogue

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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Morbidon’s Bride: Chapter 21

Author’s Note: I am sorry I wasn’t able to finish editing the entire end of the book. I only finished one chapter, and unfortunately, I have a little family drama going on that means even that wasn’t done to my best ability. At least it was written before everything went down, so I’m able to publish it today. I apologize if it is too rough and raw. I didn’t want to miss my deadline, and I wanted you guys to have something.

I just wanted to note that there is a scene in this book that is happening concurrent with the climax of The Child of the Dragon Gods, so if it seems like I don’t spend enough time on describing it, there is a reason. I don’t want to be too spoilery for that book. Morbidon only had a peripheral role in that book, and you will see that role in this chapter.

As always, feel free to give comments or critiques. Any feedback is appreciated! I love hearing from you guys. Thank you so much for supporting me by taking your time to read these chapters. You’ve made this a really worthwhile experience!

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Chapter 21

Green vines lovingly clung to the mellow cream-colored marble that capped the exterior stone of Vivacel’s First Temple. At the elaborately carved double-doors, guards clad in gleaming silver armor stood at attention.

The several mile long, stone staircase that made up the temple’s approach hadn’t been any challenge to Morbidon as it switched back and forth up the side of Mount Vitality, though he’d passed many a pilgrim who’d been forced to take a knee on the stone steps carved into the mountainside because they weren’t able to make the climb in one go. For them, there were small bowers overhung by lilac vines or webs of morning glories, offset into the rock, where other pilgrims and the priestesses maintained a supply of food, water, and healing salves to aid the pilgrims in their climb.

Morbidon had no need for these things, but he was irritated that he’d had to make the climb at all. Vivacel had warded her temple against his magic, so he hadn’t been able to simply appear inside her domain. Even now, her wards pushed back against his soul as he forged on towards the temple entrance. He felt the calming, constraining influence of her power, slipping around his soul like bindings. He wasn’t thrilled with it, but since Vivacel had refused to respond to his summons through the familial link they shared, he had to see her in person.

Despite her reluctance to respond to him, the doors of her temple opened at his approach, welcoming him in the way she used to.  The guards were clearly unnerved by him, even though he had changed his appearance so that he was garbed in a simple gray robe with a cowl to conceal most of his features. They were her elite guard, and were not easily fooled. They must have realized that he was no ordinary pilgrim coming to her temple.

Within the suffocating vital interior of his sister’s temple, where plant-life flourished in such abundance that it was not clear whether the temple was a building of stone or of living plants, worshippers made their pleas to the healer priests and priestesses of Vivacel, who moved through the verdant nave like white-clad ghosts—far more silent and serene than any of Morbidon’s spirits.

Morbidon sought out the sanctuary for the statue of his sister that stood at the center of this place of worship. That statue was her strongest link to this world, though Vivacel did not have a separate kingdom like he did. She instead chose to live her life among the mortals, leaving them unaware of her true nature, which meant that she must be summoned by her priestesses unless she felt the need to meddle on her own.

Perhaps one of her priestesses had already summoned her upon seeing him approach, because they, like the guards, would not have been fooled by his disguise. By the time he reached the nave, Vivacel’s statue was a marble figure no longer. Now, the woman herself stood before him, her body flesh and blood, her eyes—so much like his own—flashing at him in anger.

“What is the meaning of this unwelcome visit, brother?” she demanded in a clipped tone.

Her anger sparked his own, but the healing, calming magic of her temple immediately quenched the flames of his soul, leaving him frustrated at his weakness in the presence of so many of her worshippers. It had been a risk to approach Vivacel in her own domain, but despite the terrible suspicions he had about her possible betrayal, he hadn’t truly believed she would harm him. “I came here to ask you some questions, Vivacel.”

She lifted her chin. “I did not come to your aid when you nearly killed your bride because I could not.”

This startled him. “What do you mean, you couldn’t help me? You know how to quench the heat of my flames! Your magic is doing it even now.”

She shook her head. “Within my temple, my sphere of power is great, but you would have had to bring her to me, and any use of your magic to transport her could have caused your soul’s flames to burn even brighter, consuming her before she even made it here. You should know by now, brother, that my magic is much weaker in your realm.”

“Then why didn’t you tell me this before?” He stepped closer to her, pointing an accusing finger at her. “Why let me believe that you weren’t helping Febe just to punish me.”

Her glowing face dimmed, and he felt the weight of her sadness on his soul. “Why did you assume that I would ever do such a thing to wound you, Morby? Why do you forget how much I love you?”

Had he been wrong in what he’d felt when Vivacel had left him struggling to save Febe’s soul on his own? He’d thought she’d been punishing him. That her anger and petty revenge were what he’d detected in the tiny bond that had remained between them—a bond neither of them could ever break even if they wanted to, and Morbidon had wanted to on more than one occasion. Yet, now she denied it, and her act was convincing. Convincing enough that he had doubt. “Did you send the shades to terrorize my bride while she was with Marcos?”

A brief flicker of guilt revealed the truth before Vivacel was able to conceal it. Her calm, melancholy expression didn’t change, but Morbidon felt it through their bond.

His rage returned. “You did try to harm Febe!” He struggled to free his power from Vivacel’s influence, but to no avail. Her wards continued to suppress the fire of his soul.

She shook her head, her hands up as if to stop a physical attack, which Morbidon had not even considered, despite his rage. “No! I would never have hurt Febe. I do not like to take life, brother. You should know that better than anyone! I truly believed she would be happier with a mortal like herself, living in the world above and not forever trapped in the Underworld. My trick was only to make that happen, and free you both from this marriage I don’t believe will make either of you happy.”

She reached a hand to touch his cheek, but he jerked it away before her fingers could make contact with his skin. Her lips tightened, and her eyes flashed, but her voice was soft, soothing, attempting for a persuasive tone. “Please believe me when I say that I never wanted to hurt either of you. I truly believe that she won’t make you happy, Morby. She will never love you the way you deserve to be loved. She won’t appreciate how blessed she is to have your devotion.”

“Your jealousy is inappropriate, Vivacel,” Morbidon bit out between clenched teeth. “She is my soul mate! The woman I have searched for, for eons! And you, my own sister, conspired to steal her away from me. Do not pretend your motives were altruistic. You have no concern for either me or Febe.”

She shook her head, looking devastated by his harsh words, though the bond between them revealed that much of that was an act. She was far calmer than her expression let on, which made Morbidon suspicious that her remorse was an act, like so many Vivacel played. He sometimes mourned the loving, caring girl she’d once been. This new creature she’d become after growing into her power was far harder, more cynical, and manipulative. “I didn’t mean to hurt you, Morby. I swear that is something I never wanted to do. You must believe me!”

He felt sick just being in her presence. Sick at heart. Sick to his very soul, which her magic now cradled, quenched, keeping his flame from sparking to reveal his anger and grief. “I cannot break the bond between us, Vivacel—the bond forged in the womb of our mother. But I can turn my back on you forever. You will never be welcome in my kingdom again. From this day forward, the rivalry between us is all that shall ever be.”

True distress finally trickled through the narrow bond between them from Vivacel as she rushed to him, grabbing for his arm with both of her trembling hands. “No! Morby, please, wait! Let me make this up to you! Give me a chance to earn your forgiveness! Do not just shut me out like this!”

He shrugged off her grasp, but froze as a trickling chill passed through him, causing him to shiver. It was not coming from the bond with his sister. In fact, it felt almost as if it came from the very blood in his body. He glanced over at Vivacel to see that her eyes had shifted from silver to charcoal gray. “What’s happening, Vivi?” Just like that, they were children again, afraid of the strange powers that lived within them and having no one but each other to turn to.

“It’s father!” her whispered words were harsh, and her voice broke on the last word.

He shook his head. “That’s impossible! Father is trapped in the Void!” Yet, now that she’d identified that terrible chill creeping over him, he realized that she was correct. There was nothing else that could possibly affect him so deeply. There was nothing that could seem to almost take hold of the very blood that rushed through his veins. His divine blood, shared by his sister, and the monster who had spawned them on his unwilling mother.

“He’s here,” she cried, her voice taking on a hysterical note.

Fury burned through Morbidon, but it remained suppressed by his sister’s power, which only seemed to grow stronger now that her father, their father, was somehow coming into this realm. “If that’s true, then we must destroy him, before he destroys everything we care about.”

Her eyes wide, she stared at him as if he were a stranger. “How do we destroy him? How can anyone possibly stop Solendar? He is the first divine dragon! We don’t have that kind of power!”

She was correct, of course. Trying to fight Solendar would undoubtedly lead to their own destruction. Yet, neither of them could afford to sit back and let him come into this world, because the only thing Solendar wanted was to wipe out anything the Creator had made. He was the antithesis of creation, where he had once been the instrument of it. He’d become this way because of the love of a mortal woman. The crazy part of it was that Morbidon could finally understand what had driven his father to become the monster he was. The Creator had taken away the one thing Solendar had truly cherished, and Solendar was determined to return the favor.

If someone had taken Febe from me…. He stared at his sister’s face, once so dear to him. He’d been ready to completely sever his ties to her for eternity because she’d tried to do just that, and she hadn’t even planned to kill Febe, as the Creator had taken the life of Solendar’s lover. But I would never have become a monster. In that, I am not like my father! And now, we will stop him! Whatever it takes!

He took his sister’s hand in his, noting that her fingers were like ice as the light within her dimmed. Closing his eyes, he focused on the bond between them. A bond like a tiny thread that they’d both worked to shrink to almost nothing. There was another bond within him now, a precious bond that he couldn’t bear to think of breaking, but he would have to lock that bond down to protect Febe from what was happening. If his father somehow succeeded in possessing him, then he would have access to Febe through that same bond. Morbidon shuddered to think of what Solendar would do to her.

He was able to isolate his bond to Febe until it was protected and shielded from his own distress by the most powerful of his spirit wards. Hopefully, those were strong enough that even Solendar could not break them. Unfortunately, now that she was behind those wards, Morbidon couldn’t feel her anymore. The trickle of emotions that had come through even the minor shields he’d built between them before to give them privacy had completely stopped. He had no idea what she was feeling or thinking now, but he couldn’t afford to check. Not until Solendar was defeated.

The bond between himself and his sister burst wide open, expanding as he poured all of his power into it. Suddenly, they were linked again as they had not been since they first left their homeworld and joined Cindara, the second divine dragon—Solendar’s spurned soulmate.

 

Solendar had stolen the human form of his child, the one child he and Cindara had created together. That child, the child of the dragon gods, was the most powerful dragon in creation, and Solendar now had access to that power. He was using it to his advantage, despite still being trapped in human form.

“Come to Daddy,” Solendar shouted mockingly as Morbidon, Vivacel, and Solendar’s other children, Terroc, Zephrona, and Aquea, hovered in the air above the town of Centinel where he’d been summoned through a portal of bone. The sky was filled with dragons—the entire pantheon of the Allgods. But Morbidon’s focus was on the form of what looked to be a fragile human below him, standing within the temple staring at the hole that Terroc had torn through the roof of the building.

Solendar’s dark soul seemed to leak out of the body that contained it as he marshalled the power within that same body in preparation to defeat his children.

Together, we will defeat him, Morbidon and his sister said in unison, acting as one mind in two bodies now as they had not done since they were children. Their power coalesced, built upon itself, amplified by their shared bond—by a unity no other paired dragons could match, a unity of blood born in the womb. With a cry of rage that came from both of their draconic throats, they unleashed a spiritual blast aimed directly at the dark soul languishing within the body of the child of the dragon gods.

Solendar staggered from the psychic lash, and Morbidon and Vivacel took advantage of what would only be a momentary weakness to dive on him in an attempt to shred the mortal body of the one he possessed.

But that body was too fast, too agile, and they were trapped in their dragon forms, leaving Morbidon and Vivacel at a sudden disadvantage within the confines of the temple. As they fought for space, their wings battering at each other, their link snapped, unable to hold up after the strain of their attack on Solendar.

The first dragon didn’t give them an opportunity to shift back into human form or even recover from the brutal breakage of their spiritual bond. He marshalled all the power within the body he possessed and fired it at Morbidon and Vivacel in the form of energy swords, which lashed at their bodies even as it pushed them backwards into the sky.

They couldn’t get their wings to work as the agonizing pain of their wounds caused their blood to spray down onto the town splayed out below. With a cry of despair, Vivacel plummeted to the earth, and Morbidon followed soon after.

Morbidon’s Bride: Chapter 20

Author’s Note: As I near the end of any manuscript and the number of bullet points on my outline shrinks down to the last handful, I have an unfortunate tendency to get short-timer’s disease. I know the end is near, and I’m just slogging towards it.

For my usual WIPs, I know that I’m going to have the chance to go back and clean up those sloppy endings, with their sparse details, rushed actions, and hastily tied-off plot threads. First drafts are supposed to be rough. Otherwise, they’d probably never get done at all. At least, that’s how it would work for me.

However, since I’m publishing this as I write it, I didn’t want to do that to you all (I wanted to put y’all. I really did. It’s a struggle!) who’ve been gracious enough to come on this journey with me. So, I’m trying to take extra care with these last few chapters. I want them to be as complete as possible, and because of that, they are turning out to be longer than I’d expected, so these ending events may end up taking more chapters than I’d initially plotted out.

I hope you enjoy this latest installment, and I hope there’s no sign of short-timer’s disease in this writing. 😉

As always, feel free to add your comments and critiques, and thank you so much for sticking with me this long! This has been an excellent experience for me, and I’ve had so much fun with it that I might just do this again with a new story. (We’ll see. I think I’ll take a vacation first. :D)

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Chapter 20

Febe existed in a lovely daydream, never wanting to awaken as she watched Macie float around her bedroom, her girlish eyes wide with excitement as the seamstresses fitted Febe’s wedding dress, their pins grasped between ghostly lips.

The gown was an elaborate confection of the finest spidersilk, heavy with gems and golden and silver thread brocade. The headdress was almost as heavy, and even more encrusted with gems and gold and silver. Febe loved it. The fact that it was a dress, when she’d once been so uncomfortable wearing them, made no difference to her now. She didn’t need to always wear trousers in case she was compelled to escape. No one would hurt her now. She was the bride of a god, and soon, she would be Morbidon’s wife.

The fact that she would rule as queen over the land of the dead also didn’t bother her. Her future husband had his kingdom well in hand, and had created for her a laboratory so large that she could fit her mother’s entire castle inside it.

The laboratory was a wonder in itself, filled with clockwork mechanisms that Morbidon had seen on his journeys and re-created for her to reverse engineer. When she wasn’t with him, she would be locked away in her laboratory, and the only thing she anticipated more than being there was her wedding day, and the night that would follow.

She couldn’t recall having ever been this happy before, but that happiness dimmed when a knock on her door had Macie opening it to reveal Marcos standing just outside, his expression unreadable as he was ushered in to see Febe in her glorious wedding dress.

His smile was rueful and crooked. There wasn’t much humor in it as his gaze passed over her. “I probably shouldn’t be in here, but I wanted to come congratulate you myself.”

Febe’s answering smile felt weak to her, but she made the effort for him. “Thank you, Marcos. I appreciate all that you’ve done for me.”

He laughed humorlessly and shook his head, dropping his gaze to the floor. “I’m not completely convinced I did you any favors, but… I do wish you happiness, Princess Mouse.”

She chuckled. “You just had to get that last one in, didn’t you?”

He met her eyes, his own intent. “You’re not the Little Mouse I remember, Febe. You’ve grown, and I realize now that it’s because of…him.” He ran a hand through his hair, leaving the strands sticking up in disarray. “You always belonged to him, you know.” He grinned. “I honestly think he needed you. Maybe now, our kingdom will be a little more relaxed.”

“Our kingdom? You mean Barselor, or the Underworld?”

His grin faded. “I mean both. I guess for you and I, this has become home.”

“Marcos, I’m sure Morbidon will free you.” She took a step towards him, and the seamstresses made sounds of protest. Pins in the dress stabbed her skin, drawing her to a halt before she could reach him.

Marcos shrugged. “Free me? Febe, I could have left this kingdom at any time after bringing you here. Believe me, he wanted me to go! I stayed here for you, and I’m glad I did. I wanted to see you find happiness.” He closed the distance between them and lifted a hand to touch her cheek, but apparently thought better of it, his fingers curling between them as he aborted the movement. “Of all Barselor’s princesses, you’re the only one I believe deserves to be happy.” He stepped back. “I might have been hoping you would find that happiness with me, but I shouldn’t have been so blind to what was obvious from the start.”

She held out a hand as if to stop his retreat. “Marcos, I….”

He took a few more steps towards the door. “It’s okay, Febe. I really am happy for you. I’ll be at your wedding, and then Morbidon has offered to send me back to Barselor.” He smile was deep with malicious glee now. “I’m going back as Morbidon’s enforcer to oversee your mother’s reign.”

“Eldora will be there.”

He nodded. “I’m counting on it.”

 

After Marcos said goodbye and left her suite, the fittings for the headdress and wedding dress seemed to go on forever. Though Febe was still happy, his visit had put a damper on her euphoria. It wasn’t that she’d forgotten about him, or the burgeoning feelings she’d been having towards him. It was simply that once she accepted her feelings for Morbidon, everything else became secondary, and the desire she’d started to feel for Marcos paled in comparison to the literal fire that consumed her whenever she thought of making love with Morbidon.

She might have been happy with Marcos. She might have been able to make a home with him, and even start a family, raising their children together in a way that hadn’t been done in her mother’s kingdom in over a generation. She could have been happy, but she would not have been fulfilled. Not like she was now.

She accepted Morbidon’s explanation that they were soulmates, and though it went against everything she’d ever been taught by her mother, she truly believed that she belonged to him, and always had. But unlike how her mother would view such a belief, it wasn’t a possession of a woman by a man, because Morbidon belonged to her, just as much as she did to him. They were two halves of a whole. Becoming his wife only made official what was already in their hearts and souls.

She didn’t know whether she and the god of the dead could ever have children, since he was not fully human, but she suspected with his magic that there was nothing they couldn’t do.

For the first time in her life, she hoped for children, and her hand often strayed to her abdomen now, wondering if a seed had already been planted during their first passionate encounter. She was determined to be the mother neither she nor Morbidon had ever had—the mother who loved and cherished her children. Febe’s heart already beat for her imaginary offspring. Like Morbidon, they would become her world, and the person her mother had worked so hard to shape Febe into would continue to evolve into this new, more confident woman who could be true to her desires—desires for love, for nurturing, for passion, for peace.

This was why she needed Morbidon, but it wasn’t why she loved him. That love had come quickly on the heels of accepting that she really was his soulmate. She recognized now the vulnerable, proud, determined man that he was. He wasn’t a jovial man, nor was he frivolous. His demeanor would always be solemn, though it had lightened considerably when he was in her presence lately. His personality would always bear the grim weight of his station, but beneath the demeanor of the severe god of the dead, she saw the real Morbidon—the lover, the confidante, the person she could turn to when she needed someone to hold her, the man who cherished her and had spent a thousand lifetimes searching for her.

She was blissfully daydreaming about her wedding night, a perpetual blush staining her cheeks, when there was another knock on the door. She’d hoped it would be Morbidon himself to visit, but he’d said he had something important to discuss with his sister, and he hadn’t sounded happy about it. Although since then, she’d felt no negative emotion from the shared flames that burned in her soul, and he had shielded their bond so well that she couldn’t detect any thoughts or feelings from him through that. She could only assume his meeting must be going well, and he’d promised to be back before the wedding.

To Febe’s disappointment, it wasn’t Morbidon, but the disgraced steward who hovered uncertainly just outside her door, his head bowed low, his eyes completely downcast. He had fallen in favor, and rightly so, after his heinous accusations, and it was not unusual for those in his position to seek leniency from the injured party, so she wasn’t too surprised to see him there.

“My future queen! I must speak with you!” His hands folded into a plea before him, though he kept his gaze on the floor beneath his translucent feet.

Febe wasn’t happy about how fast he’d questioned both her and Marco’s honor and went right to Morbidon with his suspicions. Still, she felt sorry for him. He’d been kind to her in the beginning, and she didn’t believe he should pay such a heavy price as exile from the palace because he leapt to the wrong conclusion. For the moment, she was willing to hear the steward’s apology.

Though he motioned for her to leave the seamstresses and her maid behind and step out with him into the corridor, Febe shook her head, crossing her arms over her chest, and then wincing as the action dug pins into her flesh. Ghosts couldn’t hurt her, but she hadn’t survived this long by following strangers away from potential allies. “You can speak to me here, Steward, or not at all.”

“But Princess! It would be inappropriate for a male to be in your room when you are…are….”His hands flapped in front of him in her general direction. “I cannot remain in your quarters while you are being dressed!”

Febe believed in having compassion, but she didn’t possess a deep well of it for this particular spirit. If he didn’t hurry up and say what he wanted to say, she was going to order him from her room without even trying to help him. Let him suffer exile if his intention was to be so stubborn. “You tell me here, or not at all, Steward. I’m very busy.”

He lowered his head as he sketched a deep bow. “Of course, Your Highness. Soon, you will be a very busy queen. That’s quite a change in station! No mortal has ever been elevated to the role of queen of the Underworld before.”

Febe felt a sense of growing unease that came from a long habit of watching her back. She checked around her. The seamstresses were still performing their pin torture. Macie watched the steward with sad eyes—more sympathetic than Febe was for him, that was for certain. At least these servants were still there to help her, in case the steward had some trick up his transparent sleeves.

She couldn’t see any possible way he could be a threat to her, but her uneasiness was enough for her to try and access the narrowed bond between her and Morbidon, only to discover that it had shrunk to a thread so fine that it might as well not be there at all. His fire still burned in her soul, and it was calm, as if he was completely content, but she was now certain something was wrong.

He’d shielded their bond to give her privacy in her thoughts and emotions, and perhaps to do so for himself as well, but always before when she’d deliberately reached for it, those shields had flung wide open so she could speak her thoughts to him, wherever he happened to be at the time. Now, they were locked down and she couldn’t reach him, though she hoped some of her distress would make it through their bond to him.

With this new concern, she forgot about the steward and her mild suspicion of him. No doubt I’m overreacting, but I cannot help but think something’s terribly wrong! She clambered off the dais to much protest and many pin stabs. “Macie! I need you to find out where Morbidon has gone! I need to discuss somethings with him.

“Princess!” the steward piped in as Febe struggled to remove the dress as carefully and quickly as possible, the seamstresses jumping up to help her before she damaged all their hard work. To his credit, the steward immediately turned his back when Febe was revealed in her underpinnings. She was so agitated that she didn’t even care.

This loss of her link to Morbidon scared her. Through parts of his soul burned inside her own, it wasn’t telling her enough to know where he was and what might be happening to him. With no way of knowing where he was and what he was feeling, she couldn’t know if he was in danger.

“Princess!” the steward followed on her heels as she pulled on her most comfortable tunic and pants set. “I know where Morbidon is! I can take you to him! Perhaps this will help make up for the terrible mistake I’ve made.”

Febe paused in her frantic rush. She had no idea where she was going. “I still don’t trust you, and I’m not particularly fond of you either.”

He fell to his knees, genuflecting before her, pressing his forehead to the marble tile. “I know I’ve done wrong. I would make it all up to you. Please, let me lead you to Morbidon!”

Febe looked at the seamstresses who were muttering amongst themselves as they examined the wedding dress for any tears or damaged embellishments. Then she glanced at Macie, who was floating above Febe’s bed, hugging one of Febe’s many pillows, while chewing on her ragged, ghostly fingernail. The servants didn’t seem too concerned by the steward, but then again, they wouldn’t be. He was a permanent fixture of the palace and had been for much longer than Febe had been there. They had no reason not to trust him. Febe probably shouldn’t mistrust him either, but she’d learned never to trust anyone.

Still, though she hated to rely on him, she needed to accept his help if she wanted to find Morbidon and the explanation for why she could barely even feel the bond between them. She was also hurt that he’d narrowed the bond so thin, and based on the steady burn of his flames within her, he wasn’t discontented by that, as she was.

She made her decision, agreeing to allow the steward to show her where Morbidon was, though she fully intended to watch her back.

She followed him out into the corridor, paying careful attention to what he was carrying. Though spirit in form, the souls could manipulate solid objects. The steward appeared to have none. He led her down a maze of corridors and then cast aside a door laced with cobwebs to reveal a dusty room, filled with the bone décor that had once been a fixture throughout the palace. Since Morbidon had changed the rest of the palace to a style more suited to Febe’s preferences, she suspected that this little bit of gothic design belonged to Morbidon’s Mourning Room, his personal retreat.

She followed the steward into the room, hoping to see her fiancé there, but it was empty. Since she’d never been in there before, she took a moment to study those details that made him comfortable. She’d been so worried about her own preferences that she hadn’t thought to ask him what “home” meant for him. The skulls and bones might not have just been an image he used to intimidate his subjects. Perhaps, he found some comfort in these things, grisly as they were, yet he’d changed his entire palace to reflect what pleased her, keeping only this small sanctuary to himself. Why did it take me so long to realize I love him?

“You’re not worthy of him,” the steward said from the doorway, where he’d paused after he ushered her into the room.

Fear shot up Febe’s spine at the hard tone of the steward’s voice, and without turning around, she quickly searched the furnishings in front of her for a weapon—any weapon she could use.

She found a leg bone lying on the sofa table in front of her along with an artfully arranged pile of skulls, just as she felt him float up behind her, the chill of his presence suddenly much colder than even a spirit’s should be.  She turned, raising the bone to block the hand scythe he swung towards her.

The scythe was no ordinary weapon. It was a tool of the reapers. Though it wouldn’t cut her skin at all, it would sheer away her soul and deposit it into the reservoir at the skull-shaped base of the handle, where it could later be released for judgment.

Febe knew that if the steward got his way, there would be no release into judgment. “Why are you doing this?”

His lips twisted into an ugly sneer. “It’s an abomination for a mere mortal to marry a dragon-god! You should have left this place with Marcos. You were given your chance. My Lord would have let you go, but no! Instead, you chose to ensnare him into this farce of a marriage, where you will never be his equal. Only a goddess can be his equal!” He swung the scythe towards her again, and Febe raised the bone to block it, grateful that Morbidon’s magic infused everything he created, even the ornamentation. Otherwise, she wasn’t sure the bone would have stopped the scythe.

He made a frustrated grunting sound, then shook his head and raised the scythe again, his wild eyes searching for an opening as Febe slipped into a defensive fighting stance she hadn’t used very often.

His glare could have burned her alive on the spot, if he’d had any real power. “When I’m finished disposing of you, my Goddess will greatly reward me with eternal life! No longer will I serve in this dreary underworld kingdom! Instead, I’ll be at her side. I will live forever!” He gripped the scythe with both hands and lifted it above his head for another swing.

Febe held up the leg bone to block the scythe, but the steward was fast with it, and she had never been diligent in her martial training. She knew how to block, but knocking the dangerous weapon out of his hands wasn’t something she was familiar with. This is why I prefer ranged weapons! Or better yet, a laboratory behind a bunch of traps! Morbidon! Where are you? Why can’t I hear you?

Undeterred by her successful blocks, the steward pressed his attack, changing to a flurry of quick strikes. The scythe’s edge crashed against the bone, Morbidon’s magical artifacts repelling each other. “He won’t come back to you! You realize that, don’t you? Right now, he’s bound to his sister. A bond a little interloper like you cannot possibly break. They’re linked in their minds in a way you can’t begin to achieve. Together, they’re fighting a great evil, and it’s only together that they’ll persevere. When Lord Morbidon returns and finds you gone, I’ll be sure to tell him you couldn’t love him—and don’t worry, I’ll see to it that your soul drinks from the river of lost memories. You’ll be reborn, never recalling any of this, and Morbidon and Vivacel can be together as they were always meant to be!”

The steward had been swinging the scythe to punctuate each of his increasingly mad rantings. His technique was lacking, but Febe’s wasn’t much better, and not for the first time, she truly wished she’d paid more attention to her martial arts lessons.

At first, her blocking managed to hold him off, but once he’d finished speaking, he went after her with a vengeance.

Then Febe’s guard slipped, and the scythe passed through her shoulder when the spirit took advantage of the opening. That was all it took for the reaper’s weapon to capture her soul, and she felt the agony of it being torn from her body, leaving nothing behind but a soulless husk.

The steward stepped away from her, holding the scythe aloft as if it were a torch, and in fact, it did glow a pastel pink with a hint of blue fire for a brief moment. The ghost didn’t spare her another glance as her soulless body collapsed against the dusty settee, the leg bone falling from her listless grasp. She stared at nothing, because she cared about nothing.

Everything that was Febe was gone, her soul on its way to drink from the river of lost memories and a start a new life where the happiness she’d been promised would never happen. Fool that she was, Febe had dared to dream, and she’d learned the hard way that dreams were only designed to dissipate upon awakening.

Morbidon’s Bride: Chapters 18 and 19

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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.

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Lilith's Fall by Susan Trombley

Lilith’s Fall

by Susan Trombley

Giveaway ends September 01, 2017.

See the giveaway details
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Now on to Morbidon’s Bride:

Chapter 18

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?”

“Yes.”

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.

Chapter 19

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.

Morbidon’s Bride: Chapter 17

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!

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Lilith's Fall by Susan Trombley

Lilith’s Fall

by Susan Trombley

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Chapter 17

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.”

“Morbidon.”

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.

Morbidon’s Bride: Chapter 16

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!

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Chapter 16

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.

Morbidon’s Bride: Chapter 15

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Author’s Note: Hurray! I’m back to work and loving it! I missed my keyboard, and it was good to get back to this story. I don’t have a whole lot to add to that, except to say please feel free to comment and critique below. Tell me what you think. Also, just a brief reminder that I am running a Goodreads giveaway of 5 signed paperback copies of Lilith’s Fall starting on August 1 and running to September 1 so if you have a GR account, mark your calendars and be sure to sign up when it starts!

Chapter 15

The god of the dead sat upon his throne of bones, which rested upon a pile of skulls. His cowl was firmly in place, casting most of his inhumanly handsome face into darkness. Behind him, a line of his reapers stood like statues, robed shadows in the gloomy throne room. The only light that seemed capable of penetrating the oppressive darkness emanated from the wraithfire torches and chandelier that hung low from a lofty vaulted ceiling.

Marcos and Febe had been lead to this throne room by the steward, his transparent face pinched tight with disapproval, his eyes glittering with self-righteous malice. He’d left them standing side-by-side facing the throne of the silent god.

Now, Morbidon studied them from within the shadow of his cowl. His long-fingered hands, pale in the wraithfire light, rested on the arms of his throne, which was adorned by yet more skulls—inhuman ones with fangs and huge empty eye sockets. Morbidon’s lack of movement gave no clue to his thoughts, but Febe knew that the steward had already informed the god of his impression of what had happened within the cellar, dismissing her and Marcos’s claims of being attacked by dark souls from the Abyss as impossible.

Since Morbidon had been visiting the Abyss during the attack as part of his routine patrolling, the steward insisted that there was no possible way the god wouldn’t have noticed the escape of any dark souls that were being punished there. He’d also told Febe and Marcos there was no way the souls had the power to enter Morbidon’s palace through the wards placed to deter just such events. The steward believed she and Marcos were telling a convenient lie to explain their situation.

The important thing was what her betrothed believed. At the moment, Febe couldn’t tell, and the longer he allowed the silence to draw out in the tomblike atmosphere of the throne room, the angrier she grew at this unfair treatment of them. First they’d been attacked, and now they were being accused of dishonorable behavior. Neither of them deserved this, and she’d had enough of Morbidon treating them like misbehaving children awaiting their punishment.

After several long moments passed where he did nothing but stare at them, not even the flicker of wraithfire betraying his emotions, she couldn’t keep her irritation behind her tongue any longer. “I’m sick of skulls! And bones!” She curled her lip at the throne and its macabre adornments.

Marcos grasped her arm as she stepped towards the throne, her voice shaking with anger. His whispered warning was still audible in the silence that had changed in quality from oppressive to stunned. “Little Mouse, have a care! This isn’t your mother’s kingdom!”

She shook off his restraining hand and took a few more steps towards Morbidon’s throne as the god looked on without comment, though his fingers tightened on the arms of his throne as she approached. “I’m sick of the darkness and the constant silence. I’m sick of the dust and the cobwebs!” She plucked one of the offending strands off of her tunic arm as she spoke, flinging it aside to glare at the steward watching her from the edge of Morbidon’s dais, his mouth agape. “And I’m sick to death of you and your kingdom!”

Morbidon’s knuckles whitened on the bones of the monstrous skulls. She was now close enough to see the tremor of his cowl, as though tension had pulled him as tight as a bow string vibrating after releasing an arrow. Yet he remained eerily silent in the aftermath of her devastating words. Without seeing his face, she had no idea what he was thinking and no clue if her words had managed to inspire any emotions at all in the god of the dead.

Her anger did not abate in the face of his lack of reaction. In fact, his unresponsiveness only incensed her, her frustration and hurt coalescing into a ball of rage that had to be released as if her sister’s black powder concoction had ignited behind it. “You promised me that I would be safe here! You promised that no one would ever threaten me again! You swore that you would be there to protect me! I was a fool to believe you!” She took another step towards the throne and then another until the toes of her slippers bumped into the base skulls that held up the dais. “I trusted you!” Her voice quivered on those words.

She turned to glance at Marcos, only to find that he’d followed her, approaching the throne to stand at her side, as if he could possibly protect her from Morbidon’s wrath. Her anger softened for a moment as she looked into his concerned expression, his gaze traveling from her to the god before returning to her, filled with an emotion she’d never seen directed at her before. He had no chance of winning a fight against the immortal reapers and the god of the dead, yet he was still there at her side. “Marcos was there for me. He protected me the way you did not!”

She cast her gaze back to Morbidon, and her anger sparked anew at the shadows that hid his face from her. No matter what pretty words he spoke to her, he was still playing god instead of trying to be a true mate to her. “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.” His title dripped with her contempt and disgust.

She’d expected him to burst into wraithfire. She’d expected his flesh to peel away to reveal the horror of his bony reaper. She did not expect him to lean forward on his throne and rest his head on his palms in a position of hopelessness and despair that was human enough to weaken her anger and resolve.

The steward rushed towards her, floating faster than she’d ever seen one of the ghosts move. He flapped his hands in her face, shooing her away from the throne and her apparently devastated betrothed. “You’ve done enough here, you wretch! Begone to your quarters! My lord will decide your fate soon enough!”

Febe snarled at the ghost, her anger refreshed by his behavior. She’d always cringed away from rudeness, preferring the comfortable isolation of her laboratory and her mathematics to the inconsistencies of people’s actions. The steward had been kind to her in the beginning, but one misperception later he was treating her like refuse. Marcos was right. This wasn’t her mother’s kingdom, and she was done being the little mouse he kept calling her. “Do not speak to me in such a way, peasant!” She straightened her spine and rolled her shoulders back, lifting her chin until she looked down her nose at the ghost. “I am Princess Febe of Barselor. I have centuries of royal blood running through my veins. I am a master inventor responsible for engines that will change the world.” Her words rang with her conviction, her last statement one of pride at accomplishments she could claim as her own, beyond her birth and breeding. “You are nothing but a servant. I don’t take orders from you.”

Morbidon lifted his head from his hands as the steward staggered back in the face of her wrath. “Princess Febe is correct, Steward. You will never speak to my bride again in such a manner!” His voice was dark and ragged like an ancient funeral shroud.

“B-but My Lord! She and this cretin,” the steward gestured to Marcos, “have dishonored themsel—“

“Enough!” Morbidon’s roar shook the entire throne room, sending falls of dust and debris pattering down from the vaulted ceiling. “Get out of my sight, Steward! Your accusations are not welcome here!”

The steward drifted away from Febe, bowing clumsily as he floated backwards towards the wide double doors. He disappeared long before he reached them.

Silence reigned again in the throne room. Morbidon sat straight and tall now, though his face was still concealed and his hands gripped the arms of the throne so tightly that the bones of his fingers were clearly outlined—outlined, but not exposed. He’d been angry, and a small amount of wraithfire had crossed over his body when he’d yelled at the steward, but he hadn’t lost control, and he seemed to have everything under control now.

But Febe was still angry—at him, and at her situation. Based on his words to his steward, he still considered her his bride. He refused to release her from this bargain despite how unhappy she was. “Did you not hear my words, my lord? I hate it here! Let me return to my home!”

The god sighed, his straight posture slumping as if the breath leaving him had been propping him up. “You’ve experienced a grave injustice that I would seek to correct, if you will allow it, Princess.” He rose to his feet slowly, as if he himself were a corpse rising from the grave. “No dark souls have ever escaped the Abyss, and none can pass into this castle beyond my wards. This means you were a victim of some other trickery perpetrated by someone who can enter and leave through these wards. Someone who meant to frighten you and,” his cowl turned briefly in the direction of Marcos, “drive you into the arms of my servant.” Morbidon’s focus returned to her. “You are correct that I failed you, Princess. Please, allow me to make amends.”

Febe shook her head. “I no longer care about your kingdom and whatever traitors you harbor within it. I want to go home. You cannot possibly think I would marry you now?”

Blue fire skated over his robes and down to his hands. “You gave your word! Would you go back on your own agreement? Do you have no honor, woman?” His voice had lost all semblances of culture and civility. He sounded like a primal male howling and snarling in anger.

Marcos stepped in front of her, his broad body providing a barrier between her and the angry god. “You should allow her to choose. She’s suffered enough because of this bargain.”

“And you think she will choose you, peasant?”

Morbidon’s voice cracked like a whip, but Marcos didn’t flinch in the face of it, nor did he back down when the god’s skin began to peel back beneath growing blue flames on his hands. “So far, she hasn’t been offered a better choice than me.”

Morbidon’s now skeletal hands clenched in front of him. “You dare to insult me? I will kill you a thousand times over, and you will suffer the pain of every death!” He left the dais, his robe sweeping behind him as he strode towards Marcos and Febe, only stopping when he towered over Marcos, close enough to reach out and strangle him with his burning skeletal fingers.

“Do not hurt him!” Febe pushed between the two men, shoving Morbidon in the chest, staggering back into Marcos’s chest when all her strength failed to budge the god of the dead. Suddenly, she screamed as the wraithfire from his body crossed onto her skin from her contact with him, trailing up her arms in a wave of agony.

 

Morbidon’s soulmate writhed on the bed in pain and the fault lay with him. He’d lost his temper as he’d sworn he would not do. He’d foolishly allowed his devastation and heartbreak to fuel his inherent rage, behaving as insanely as his father had once done when deprived of the woman he had loved. Morbidon had become the monster he’d tried his entire life not to be, and he’d hurt the one woman who’d mattered to him more than even his mother and sister.

Now, as his wraithfire threatened to consume her body and soul, he could not heal her. Had this been a normal flame, she wouldn’t have even a slight scar as a memory of it. He could heal any mortal from any normal wound and even bestow unending life upon them, but he could not stop the burning of his own wraithfire. It emanated from the rage within his soul, and consumed him time and time again, but since he was immortal and a divine dragon, he was never destroyed by it. Febe did not have that luxury. She suffered his pain without the benefit of his divinity.

There was only one person he knew who had learned to quench wraithfire, and that was his sister, who’d mastered her own flames. He’d already summoned her, knowing as soon as Febe had come into contact with his burning body that she would need help he couldn’t give her. Yet, Vivacel had not responded to his summons, and their mental link had shrunk to a tiny thread after he’d ejected her from his kingdom. He could barely feel the wisp of her thoughts, and those thoughts told him she was deliberately making him wait, deliberately causing Febe suffering because he’d ignored Vivacel’s warnings and she wanted to punish him.

He held tight to Febe’s hand, trying to pull the fires back into his own body, to no avail. His anger at his sister for allowing Febe to continue suffering did not allow him to calm himself enough to quench his own flames. As long as they burned within him, they would burn within Febe.

Her screams were like swords, piercing and twisting in his gut. He’d been a fool not to release her from her promise. He would rather never touch her or even speak to her again then have her suffer like this.

“Can’t you do something?” The desperate voice was so much a reflection of his own internal thoughts that for a moment he didn’t realize that someone else had spoken.

He turned his attention to Marcos, never releasing Febe’s hand even though her writhing pulled and tugged on his grip. “I told you to leave here!”

The human crossed his thick arms over his chest, leveling a glare at Morbidon. “I’m not leaving her! Not like this!”

The mortal’s tone of possessiveness infuriated Morbidon, which only caused his flames to burn hotter, making Febe moan aloud as her back arched off the bed. “She’s my bride!” Realizing that his anger was killing her faster, he quickly tried to push it back into the deep well within him where he usually kept it, but his flames were free and out of his control now that they had a new host.

“You don’t deserve her! Look at what you’ve done to her! If you had only let her go….”

Never had a human dared to speak to him in such a tone, yet Morbidon couldn’t take issue with what Marcos was saying. He was right on all counts, and he only spoke aloud the very thoughts that haunted Morbidon. But he couldn’t allow Marcos’s words to stand unchallenged. The human wasn’t just censuring him for his treatment of Febe. They were locked in a battle for her heart, and the human was winning. Morbidon wasn’t willing to concede the fight. Not until Febe was healed and he had a chance to make amends.

Then he would lay his heart and soul bare to her and be vulnerable in a way that terrified him, because it meant the possible rejection he’d feared for so long. He now understood that he should have done that from the start. Febe didn’t want to marry a god. She also didn’t need a man. She needed a friend, a person she could trust and turn to when times grew difficult. She needed someone to hold her when she was sad, and comfort her when she was scared. He’d tried to impress her with his magic and his power, but all she’d needed was the one thing he struggled to give. Himself.

Marcos had nothing else to give but himself, and that had been enough for Febe when Morbidon wasn’t.

Morbidon had failed Febe on all counts, proving his sister correct. He wasn’t the right mate for her. But she was the perfect mate for him, and he was determined that she would live so that he could become the mate she needed and deserved. “She will live! I will find a way to clench the flames and heal her body and soul.” His next words were the most difficult he’d ever spoken. “And then I will free her from her promise. I will let her make her own choice.” What he didn’t say aloud to the other man was that he wasn’t going to stop trying to win her. Febe would not be able to leave his kingdom until she was fully healed. The fire was burning parts of her soul away, and only in the Underworld could she regenerate them with his help.

“Why does she still burn then?” Marcos approached the bed, only stopping reluctantly when Morbidon waved him off. “Make it stop!” He pressed his hands together in a prayer gesture. “Please, god of the dead, I beg of you! Save Febe!”

As long as Marcos stood there, Morbidon would never be calm enough to meditate. “I will do as you ask, but only because it is already my will to do so. Though I will give her a choice, don’t think I’ve given up on her, human. Now leave this room. I must have silence and peace to end these flames.”

Marcos looked as if he wanted to object. With one last agonized glance at Febe, he abandoned the healing chamber.

Morbidon sighed, stroking the soft, smooth back of her hand with the fingers of his free hand. He couldn’t wait for Vivacel to change her mind and heal Febe. He couldn’t hold off the worst of the flames for much longer, and there would soon be nothing left of Febe if he didn’t try even harder than he’d already tried.

Never releasing Febe, he sank into the meditative state that would allow him to travel the deepest road—the one within him. The road that led to his rage and all the memories that fueled it.