Agreements -- SebastianAgreements -- Sebastian by Calikatdavis
After Vaelyn and Talon (Rebecca now, I guess) leave, Jennareed and I join Rurik for a tour of Undermount. On the way, I make several comments about Vaelyn, about how someone could sleep with someone they just met. Jennareed finally sighs heavily and says, "Not call gator a bird."
"Not call gator a bird," she repeats. "Gator is gator, not bird. Vaelyn is Vaelyn, not Donavan. You mad at Donavan."
Now I sigh. "You're right."
"I'm putting all my feelings about Donavan onto Vaelyn," I admit, shaking my head. "It doesn't help that Vaelyn's so attractive, though. I don't need that right now."
"You not have now. He gone. You not think about him. You morning Donavan now."
"Morning?" I repeat. "Oh, mourn him." She nods and I sigh again. "I guess it is like a death, isn't it?"
"Yes. Relationship die. You mourn. Then you be better."
I smile down at her. "Look who's all wise."
"I guess so. You're just so . . . fun and seemingly carefree. I forget who you are, and h
Dwarves -- RebeccaDwarves -- Rebecca by Calikatdavis
I've decided to go ahead and tell you about the dwarves. When I get my journal back, I'll look over what I wrote and see if I've missed anything. Sorry this isn't in my usual format, but I don't remember all of the dialog now.
The city of Hestmora, to my surprise, is a small town that sits at the foot of a mountain. The roads are paved with flat gray stone, and the buildings are wooden—most painted with a deep rusty red color. The doors are rounded at the top and are wider and shorter than normal ones, with the metal knobs a few inches lower. At the center of town is a plaza where a flower garden is.
Lucio's Tavern is on the right side of the plaza, and that's where I meat Rurik. He's four-and-a-half-feet tall, with auburn, shoulder-length hair, a four-inch-long beard that's braided, and bushy eyebrows. The dwarves look like humans who got smooshed down—for lack of a better way to put it. They look squat and strong. They have strong hands
They say no good deed goes unpunished…
In a moment of weakness, Matt cared: he went against the God of Darkness to save someone’s life, and now his own has been turned upside-down. Everything has been taken from him––his money, his position of power, and even his so-called friends, who are now his enemies––but also missing is his birthmark and the divine gift of a cold conscience. Now he is forced to live with the tormenting memories of all the horrible things he’s done.
It would take an angel to love someone like him…
Sera looks past all the bad to see a good man in him that no one else can see, not even Matt himself. But is her love enough to save him from his own darkness? And will she still love him when she sees how much of a monster he really is?
She never thought keeping her past a secret would hurt anyone…
When Vivyka finds out that her angelic best friend has fallen in love with her abusive ex-boyfriend, she swears to save Sera before it’s too late. But her anger only takes her so far before she finds herself held captive by her own fear...
- Prologue -
June 14, 1302
Malluk’s True Temple
Matt lay on his bed, atop the crimson sheets—the temple was too hot for blankets—and stared up at the ceiling in the dark, his hands resting on his stomach. There was nothing else he could do. He definitely couldn’t sleep—not with Tess sleeping beside him, holding his arm. He could never sleep if someone was touching him. He never let people touch him unless there was something in it for him. So why was he lying there with her snuggled against him?
Because she had asked.
Because she was scared and alone.
But he was the reason for that. He was the one who had brought her here, the one who was going to sacrifice her in the morning. So why would she want to be near him at all?
She was insane—it was the only answer that made any sense.
He turned his head to look at her. Her long, tangled brown hair and slightly bruised face were bathed in the soft, silvery glow of the full moon outside his window. She looked peaceful, as if she weren't going to die in just a matter of hours. Did she think he wouldn’t do it? She should know better—he was the heir, the son of Kieran, the truest disciple of the god of darkness.
What would his god think of him right now, letting a prisoner sleep in his bed, snuggled against his arm? It was disgusting, this display of caring, of heart. He didn’t have a heart. So why didn’t he throw her back in the dungeon where she belonged?
He stared at her for a couple of minutes, but finally sighed and decided to get away from her for a while. He pulled her hands off him and slipped out of bed. She stirred, but kept sleeping.
Still wearing his leather pants, he lit a cigarette and walked barefoot across the warm black marble floor. Pulling open the wooden door set into the gray stone wall, he found Pyra waiting for him in the hallway. She was as tall on all fours as he was standing, with tall, pointed ears—one of which had a chunk missing—and eyes that glowed like embers in a fire. The hellhound had been his pet for as long as he could remember.
Pyra nudged him with her enormous head and made a soft whining sound. She was confused; he was never upset like this. His mood was always calm, violent, or lustful. But now he was agitated and—though he hated to admit it—confused himself.
He stoked her neck, feeling her coarse black fur against his callused hand. “I’m fine,” he told her quietly.
She cocked her head to the side.
“You calling me a liar?” He huffed a short, humorless laugh. “Yeah, guess I am. But you can’t help.”
She whined again and pushed her head into him affectionately.
He continued to pet her for another minute, then sighed. “Come on, let’s get something to eat.”
She lowered her body down, offering to let him climb up on her. He hadn’t ridden her since he was young, but she still offered all the time.
He smiled and shook his head. “I’ll walk.”
By the time they got to the kitchen, he decided he wasn’t hungry after all. He got a steak out of the ice chest and threw it to Pyra. “Go,” he ordered lightly.
She happily caught the raw meat with her long, pointed teeth and ran out of the room with it, her heavy paws pounding against the floor.
Smashing the end of his cigarette between his thumb and finger, he tossed what was left of it into a nearby trash bin, then wiped his hand on a small towel hanging next to the sink. He didn’t know what to do, so he just stood there, staring at the room. The stone walls were almost black in the shadows, the light from the lantern hanging above the table in the center of the room not reaching very far. He tapped the lantern softly. It began to swing back and forth, and he watched the light and shadows on the far side of the room move with it.
He felt lost. Here in the place he was most familiar with, where he had always been the most at home, he felt somehow out of place. When he tried to think about why, the thought came to him: Tess is so free.
Being around her made him realize that he wasn’t free at all. He had always thought he was—he had money, power, and the ability to make people fear him—but he wasn’t free. Now he felt the confines of his cage, gilded as it was, and it infuriated him. Anything else in life he could buy, beat out of people, or kill to have his way, but not this.
The more he thought about it, the more trapped he felt.
Anger and resentment boiled inside him until he felt as if he'd burst. Suddenly, he slammed his fist onto the mahogany table. The feel of the wood breaking under the forceful blow, the sound of the boards cracking, even the explosion of pain that bloomed in his now-broken hand, was satisfying. And yet, it didn’t help at all. He looked down at his bloody knuckles and laughed humorlessly.
“What’d the table do to you this time?” came a woman’s sultry voice.
He closed his eyes and grumbled, “It was there.”
“Well, we can’t have that,” his mother said, amused. “I’m glad to see you’re putting a stop to tables being there.”
If she hadn’t been a ghost, he would have hit her; the fact that his hand would go right through her irritated him further. But the lack of physical form didn’t stop her from trying to touch him. He opened his eyes when he felt goosebumps on the back of his neck, and saw her floating before him, trying to run her translucent gray fingers through his short blond hair.
“I’m so sick of not being able to touch anything.” Kieran sighed. “I’m jealous of the table at this point.”
“Guess you’ll have to wait until tomorrow to get the same treatment,” he said, his voice low and filled with venom.
“Oh,” she purred. “Are you wanting to manhandle me?” She cocked her head curiously to one side and smirked.
He rolled his eyes and took his silver cigarette case from his back pocket. “Or something,” he muttered. He lit a cigarette and sat down heavily in a chair against the wall.
She floated closer, stopped a few feet in front of him, and relaxed as if leaning against an invisible wall. She looked like she was only twenty-four, the age she had been when she was murdered. He had been five years old at the time, but he still clearly remembered everything—her deep red lips, her long black hair, her lightly tanned skin, and her skimpy black leather outfit. She still wore the same one, though it blended in with the rest of her smoky figure.
“I know something that’ll cheer you up,” she told him.
“What’s that?” he asked as he studied his hand, moving each finger in turn, to see which ones he had broken. It seemed to be just the last three.
“Let’s play with one of the sacrifices. I hear you have the girl in your room already—let’s torture her. Well, you torture, I’ll watch.” She grinned eagerly.
“No.” He tried to keep the heat out of his voice. He had the urge to yell it, to tell his mother that he wouldn’t let anyone hurt Tess. He had to kill her, but he wouldn’t hurt her, and would make sure she didn’t feel any pain when the time came. That was all he could do for her now.
Kieran frowned. “Why not?”
“I don’t feel like it.”
“If you’re done with her, then why is she still in your room?”
“I didn’t say I was done. I just don’t feel like torturing her.”
Kieran sighed, but then had another thought and smiled again. “Well then, fuck her and I’ll watch that.”
He exhaled nosily. “No.”
“Why the hell not?” she wanted to know, annoyed now.
He stood abruptly. “Because I’m not your fucking puppet!”
But he was, and he hated it. He was trapped by duty. Obeying her and his god was his destiny. It was why she had given birth to him in the first place—to be her heir . . . though it was really just another name for pet. As a child he had known he was precious to her, but now, as an adult, he understood that he was only important because of what he could do for her.
He had never stopped to see that before Tess had started asking so many damn questions. He had never cared before. Kieran was everything she should be. She was a perfect disciple of Malluk: heartless and cruel. He had always admired her and been proud that she was his mother. What else did he want?
He looked into her eyes, searching. They were grey now, but he remembered how in life they had been black and had shone like marble. They were still heated, though, still passionate and—even as a ghost—full of life. He realized that he was wishing her eyes would show the same caring that Tess’s did, wishing that his own mother would care about him as much as the girl he was about to kill.
He let out a smoky growl as he stood and walked off. He was suddenly disgusted with himself again. Did he actually want people to . . . what? Love him?
Tomorrow needed to come soon, he thought. He needed to kill Tess and get away from her. She was making him soft and weak. He despised both qualities.
“Where are you going?” his mother asked, floating after him.
“To bed,” he answered curtly.
“Oh,” she said, disappointed. “But the girl—”
“Will be left where she is. I’ll get more use out of her in the morning,” he said firmly, though he had no intention of doing so. “And you’re not invited."
“You’re really no fun lately,” she complained. “I do hope you’re in a more playful mood tomorrow. I’m finally getting a physical form back, and I demand fun.”
He paused and sighed as he turned his head to the side but didn’t fully look back at her. “Everything will be different tomorrow,” he told her, calming down now and taking comfort in the fact that at least he wouldn’t be struggling with ridiculous thoughts and feelings once Tess was gone. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, then gave his mother a small smile. “We’ll have fun,” he promised. “Just leave me alone until then.”
“Fine,” she said easily. “Take a healing potion before you go to bed. I want you fit for tomorrow.”
She ran her ethereal hand through his hair again and smiled. “Soon,” she murmured, then disappeared through the wall beside him.
“Soon,” he agreed quietly, though she was already gone.
He stopped by the bathroom on his way back and drank a small bottle of sweet-tasting pink liquid. As the tingling warmth of the healing potion spread through him, the cuts on his hand closed and the pain disappeared. He washed off the blood, then went to his bedroom.
Tess stirred when he closed the door behind him, but she didn’t wake up. She felt for his arm and, when she didn’t find it, grabbed his pillow and snuggled it instead. He sat on the edge of the bed, lit another cigarette, and watched her sleep. He struggled with the insane urge to save her—just take her and run—as well as the desire to kill her now and get it over with.
When he finished his cigarette, he flicked it out the window, then pulled the dagger from his boot beside the bed. Leaning over, he ran the tip of the blade down her arm. She continued to sleep soundly—she might be a fighter, but she hadn’t been on her own long enough to have the instincts of one. He could kill her now and it would be over before she even had time to wake up. He caressed her jaw with the tip of his dagger, moving down to her throat, then held the blade there for a while as he continued to struggle with his feelings.
He sighed and put the dagger away. He didn’t want to kill her. Damn her for not leaving when she had the chance. He had tried to save her; he had told her to get away from him before they got to the temple, before any of Malluk’s people knew he had her. But she hadn’t listened. She was too brave, or rather too stubborn and stupid. She couldn’t give up. She had to try to save the world from Kieran, even if she died trying—which she would.
Her necklace, the golden locket with a lotus engraved on it, hung around her neck and lay on the pillow beside her. He lifted it a few inches and opened it, looking at the little picture of her family inside. Nineteen years ago, her family had murdered his mother. He remembered his world crumbling around him that day. His mother had been everything to him at the time, and they had taken her from him. They had left him with just his father, a man who had hated his son and had done everything he could to show it once Kieran was gone.
Did Tess mean everything to her parents? Would they be devastated when she died? Did her little brother look up to her and think she was the greatest person in the world, just as Matt had once thought of his mother? Did he see his sister through a child’s eyes—too young to really understand? Young enough to think everything was simple and sure, and people could be perfect?
Tess was Ayden’s world . . . but if Ayden had cared, he wouldn’t have left Tess with Matt. Ayden had hated and distrusted him, but when Matt had had sex with Tess, Ayden had taken off. Still, Matt had given him another chance to show he cared: he had told Ayden what would happen to Tess if he didn’t come save her. He had even called off the ambush he had originally set up for anyone who might come after her. He figured that at least her father and uncle would come, but maybe she wasn’t worth the risk. There wasn’t much time left, and they still hadn’t come.
And here he was, risking too much for her. He didn’t know what he would do if they did come. How could he save himself, let them save Tess, and still manage to bring his mother back? He had no idea. He wondered if he should set up the ambush again. This girl wasn’t worth the trouble—he didn’t even know why he was doing any of it.
I care about her.
No! He pushed the thought away. There was another reason—there had to be.
Filled with questions and without any answers—at least ones he would accept—he got up and left the room again. He needed something to take his mind off things. Thinking wasn’t helping; it was just frustrating him. He stopped in the hall, deciding which way to go: right, to the dungeon, or left, to the sleeping quarters? Not wanting to deal with a struggle, he turned left.
He headed towards Anna’s room; she was a new cleric that he knew wanted him. At least someone would be happy tonight. He walked in without knocking, but the quiet sound of the door and his footsteps woke her. She looked at him warily, unsure of what he wanted, until he started undoing his belt. Then she smiled and pulled the sheet back for him, revealing her curvaceous body. She was already naked; most people slept naked in the constant heat of the temple.
His fingers paused on the top button of his pants. “You on the potion?” he asked. “And don’t you dare lie to me.”
All women on Kelstone started taking the birth control potion as soon as they were able to conceive, since it took away their monthly cycle—unless, of course, they wanted to get pregnant. And too many of the women who served Malluk wanted to be impregnated by the heir, to have their child in such a position of power. But children were not something he ever wanted.
“I’m on it,” she assured him quietly.
He stripped and went to her, kissing her fiercely and forgetting everything else as he buried himself inside the eager woman.
By the time morning came, he felt worn out and tired, having not slept at all. He sat on the edge of his bed, smoking a cigarette, and watched Tess once again. He would have to wake her soon; his mother wouldn’t let him put off the ritual much longer. Priest Calus had already sent someone to let him know that everyone was ready and waiting in the altar room.
Tess opened her eyes on her own just a minute later and blinked a few times. When her eyes finally locked on him, they just stared at each other for a moment. The caring look in her eyes annoyed him, but he was too tired to feel it too strongly. He felt resigned to it all. He had no control over the day and no choice but to do what he had to do. He just wanted it to be over with.
“It’s time to go,” he told her.
She instantly grew scared, and once again he had the urge to run with her, to save her. He ignored the feeling, as well as her panicked attempts to stall. He flicked his cigarette out the window and sighed heavily. It wouldn’t hurt to give her the truth.
"Look,” he said quietly. “Even if I wanted to, I can’t stop this. It’s too late for that.” He explained why—her death was his mother’s desire, and no one would go against the Kieran. If he let Tess go, he would be punished just like anyone else, and Malluk’s people would make sure Tess still died.
“I should have listened to you when you tried to let me go.”
“You should have never met me,” he muttered sourly, then took a deep breath and got up. “Come on.”
She stood, too. “You don’t really want to kill me though, do you?”
“It doesn’t matter what I want now.”
“It matters to me. I’d rather think that you don’t hate me, that we were friends . . . sort of. And that you just have to do it.”
He rolled his eyes. What the hell was wrong with her? “You’re so strange. I’ve never met anyone like you. I like you. That’s why I tried to let you go.” He glanced over his shoulder and spoke quietly, worried his mother would come impatiently to get him and overhear him admitting such things. “You’re the first person I ever thought was worth saving.” He thought of his ex-girlfriend, and added, “Well, without it being for my benefit. You and your stupid puppy,” he confessed, referring to Ayden and feeling disgusted with himself for saying it.
“How much of that was you?” she wanted to know. “Before, I mean . . . like when we were talking in Oraunt, or . . . how much was real?”
He had no idea why that mattered, but he answered anyway. “I already told you, the only thing I lied about was my mother and Iris. Everything else was real. I don’t like bullshit, so I lied as little as possible.”
She nodded. “Ew. So you really have eaten minotaur then, huh?” She laughed, trying to joke, but it failed and she quickly dissolved into tears again. She wiped them away and looked up at him. She looked so vulnerable, so far from the spirited fighter she had been when he met her. He hated that. He was the one who had broken her spirit; he was good at breaking people, but now, ridiculously, seeing it in her made him feel bad.
Suddenly she wrapped her arms around his waist and held him. He stiffened. What the hell was she doing? Uncomfortable, he put a hand on her shoulder, intending to shove her away . . . but he didn’t. He struggled with the urge to hug her back, feeling the need to comfort her. He inwardly groaned at himself. He needed to get this over with—to kill this insane woman and get back to being normal.
Finally, pushed her away. “Let’s go,” he said tightly, then grabbed her arm and led her to the altar room. He did his best to push away all his emotions, to feel cold. He reminded himself how much he enjoyed killing people. He attempted to conjure his normal feelings of bloodlust, but they wouldn’t come. All he felt was dread at having to kill Tess.
He was glad, at least, that he was able to keep his face neutral when he greeted his mother and Calus, who were both standing—or in her case, floating—near the stone altar. He tried to take his time with the ritual. He sacrificed a man first, and killing him was easy. But then he turned back to get Tess. He glanced out the doorway towards the temple entrance, hoping against hope that Ayden or her family would burst in and do what he couldn’t. Save her, he thought. Damn it, just get here and save her.
But they didn’t come, and a moment later he was picking Tess up and carrying her. She was slender and light in his strong arms, and she made no attempt to struggle, but it still took an enormous amount of effort to lay her on the bloodstained altar. Just get it over with, he told himself. He lifted the dagger, but only made it as far as her arm. It rested there, its blade covered with the other man’s blood.
Then he made the mistake of meeting Tess’s gaze. Her deep brown eyes were filled with fear, but they also held the same warmth and caring they always did. She should hate him, not care about him. Why did she? Why would she care about someone like him at all? She made no sense. His feelings made no sense. Why did this girl get to him so much?
He cared about her. Damn it! He cared.
He closed his eyes and struggled. Just kill her, he thought. Just do it. But something inside him broke, and he was suddenly filled with a firm resolve. He couldn’t do it. He wouldn’t do it. This girl had called him friend before she even knew who he was, before she knew of his position and money. She had wanted nothing more than his friendship. No one had ever wanted just that from him before.
“Hurry up!” his mother yelled.
He opened his eyes and met Tess’s gaze again. At that moment, the only thing that mattered was this wonderful, stupid girl who, for some crazy reason, cared about him. She couldn’t die—not her, not Tess.
Then he did the unimaginable: in one swift motion, he sliced the rope that bound her hands, defying his mother and his god. They didn’t matter; only Tess did—the only real friend he had ever had, even if it was only for a little while.
Tess’s eyes widened in shock, but she immediately jumped into action. She sat up and landed a hard kick in the chest of a cleric that came forward. The man fell into Matt, who slit his throat and threw him down. The high priest hit Matt with a glowing red ball of power, and hot pain burst in his shoulder, but the pain only fueled his resolve.
“Kill her!” Kieran ordered. “And tie my son up!”
Guards came at him and, with Tess’s help, he killed them. Suddenly, a lightning bolt hit the high priest, and Matt’s gaze shot to the balcony, finding the person who had cast the spell. To his relief, he saw Ayden standing there with Falcon and Cael.
But then he noticed the guards beneath the balcony, out of the others’ view. Their bows were drawn. He followed their aim, finding their target—Tess. Without another thought, he dropped his sword and the Spirit Dagger and pulled Tess into his arms, then turned with her, getting her out of harm’s way.
Seconds later, he felt two arrows sink into his back, and he let her go as he collapsed onto the ground. Tess fell into a crouch beside him. Her hand caressed his face tenderly, and her eyes were caring and pained. He smiled weakly in return.
Then Tess screamed murderously at the guards and jumped over him, racing toward them. Matt looked around for his mother, who had remained by the altar. Kieran’s gaze was focused on Tess, and she raised a hand to throw an energy spell, the only power she had as a ghost. He found the Spirit Dagger lying near him—the thing that held the power to bring a ghost back to life, or to destroy it completely.
With excruciating effort, he grabbed it and pulled himself up, clenching his jaw and using the altar for support. The pain in his back was intense, but he kept going; he had to save Tess. He lifted the dagger and slashed at his mother. She screamed, and then her spirit burst and disappeared.
Just then, a sword that was enchanted with a lightning spell was thrust into his back, and he looked down to see the bloody blade come out of his stomach. He had been run through with his own sword. It was pulled out, and he collapsed once again—but this time, as his body hit the hard marble floor,
everything went dark.
- 1 -
Cael and Sera hurried to the nearby docks, passing the tall stone temples and whitewashed buildings tinted pink in the sunset. The streets changed from paved road to dirt, and then to the wooden planks of the wharf. They went to the last boat at the end, the ferry that transported people to and from Malluk’s true temple.
They could see the dark god’s volcanic island from here, out across the water. Smoke rose from the top and drifted on the breeze as it did every day of the year, with the exception of yesterday, Malluk’s Day.
“I could do nothing for him, not even slow the poison. It is not natural,” Cael told his daughter. “I believe Malluk’s divine magic is behind it.” The half-elf turned his head to look at her, causing the wind to catch some of his long auburn hair and blow it into his face. “Can you heal him if it is?”
“I don’t know,” Sera answered as they boarded the small ship. “I’ve never seen divine poison before—never even heard of it—but then, Malluk’s people don’t tend to leave their victims alive.”
They continued below deck and stopped in the narrow corridor. “Mathias is in there,” Cael said, motioning to the door to his left. “I will be here if you need me.”
“Don’t stay. I’ll be fine,” she told him. “Get back to Mom. I know how badly she misses you when you’re away.”
“I will stay,” he insisted. “This is not a good man.”
She raised one white-gold eyebrow. “Then why’d you save him?”
“Because he risked his life to save Tess, which shows that there is hope for him. But one does not go from bad to good overnight, nor does one selfless deed earn redemption after a lifetime of evil.”
“I’ve been a healing cleric for over four years now. I’m trained to deal with all kinds of people, Dad. This is my job. I’ll be fine,” she told him in a firm, businesslike tone. “Now go.”
Matching pairs of summer blue eyes locked and held for each other's gaze for a moment. His woodlander perception gave him insight into her emotions, though not as fully as she knew his, since she could feel him clearly with her divine gift of empathy. Still, they spoke volumes with their feelings.
Finally, he sighed. “Very well, but I want you to make sure he is transferred to Aryst’s temple as soon as possible. You will be safe there.”
“I will,” she promised. “As soon as he’s stable.” She smiled reassuringly and let her love for him be her dominant emotion so he would feel it clearly. They never said I love you; he disliked saying it. He felt the words were so inadequate that they were insulting to people who could share it as he and Sera could. He smiled as he tenderly petted her long, white-gold curls, then kissed her forehead and left.
She took a deep breath, steeling herself for what she knew would be a sad scene. She usually knew what she was doing when it came to healing, but not this time. Divine magic was just a tool, as much as a hammer was a carpenter’s. You had to know how to use it; it took skill and training. And divine poison was completely new to her—she had no idea if the normal methods of healing poison would work.
Watching patients die was something she didn’t think she would ever get used to. It was always hard, especially when there were loved ones left to grieve. It seemed this man didn’t have those, but since he had risked his life to save her cousin, she really hoped he would survive so he could do more good. She hoped that he might have a chance to eventually outweigh the evils of his past and earn a better fate when he had to answer to Chira, the goddess of justice, upon his death.
Sera finally stepped into the small, wood-paneled cabin and quietly shut the door behind her. As soon as she turned around, the very second she saw him, she was completely overwhelmed. She clutched her chest and leaned back against the wall for support. She couldn’t breathe for a moment, and tears filled her eyes as two very powerful emotions swept over her, crashing like breaking waves in the sea—beauty and pain together.
The first feeling was incredible joy. Here he was, the one she had been waiting for. Woodlanders called it rahnam, humans called it soul mates. It was real, just as her parents had said. They had told her that on the day they had met, they had only needed to look at each other to know. They were both half-woodlander, so they were sensitive to it. Sera was the same.
The second feeling was intense fear. She didn’t need to touch this man to know how close he was to death. She had just found him, and now the possibility of losing him was much too likely.
She forced herself to take a deep breath and rushed to his side. She cleared her head, forcing herself to focus on the most important thing in her life: saving him.
Her father had healed the wounds where the arrows and sword had pierced him, though he was still covered with blood. It was just the poison that threatened the life of this amazingly beautiful man. His tan skin had grown pale, his tousled blond hair was damp with sweat, and he was shivering with fever.
She laid her hands on his bare chest, then closed her eyes and began chanting in ancient Presbelic—the language of the gods. After a moment, her hands began to glow with a soft white light. Her words were a prayer to Aryst, the goddess of healing, calling upon her divine power.
Sera felt through him, as if reaching into him with invisible hands. She found the poison and focused on gathering it. She felt it pulling through his body and seeping through his skin into her hands. Her father was right, it wasn’t natural; it was dark and caused her physical pain as she drew it out.
She opened her eyes and saw red, pulsating, vein-like lines become visible through his skin. They moved toward her hands like living things, snaking their way slowly up her wrists. Each one felt like a sharp, burning cord digging into her flesh. She wanted to cry out in pain, but she had to keep chanting.
She closed her eyes again and focused intently, giving everything she had. She could feel Malluk’s darkness within her, creating a hollowness like a vacant cave, trying to empty her of feeling. The veins continued up her arms, then began to creep into her chest, moving toward her heart. She was panting now, and tears began to slide down her cheeks, but she kept chanting.
Finally, all the poison was out of him and inside her. She had the thought that maybe it wasn’t curable; maybe it could only be transferred. She took her hands off him before it could go back, just in case. She fell to her knees beside the bed, and tears continued to stream down her face as the pain got worse. Her skin was burning, but inside it felt like her blood was turning to ice. As the cold coursed through her, so did a feeling of intense loneliness and despair, making her want to just give up.
The god of darkness’ divine energy fueled the poison, she thought, so she just had to push it out with the opposite: with light. She took a deep breath, though it hurt to do so, and started chanting again. She conjured happy memories of people she cared about, focusing on all the love she had for them. She thought of her parents, her aunt and uncle, her cousins and friends. That was the key, Malluk’s one weakness, the one thing the heartless god couldn’t fight against: love.
It was several minutes before everything abruptly stopped. She opened her eyes to find that all the glowing had left, along with the pain. It was over. She took a few deep breaths and let them out slowly, pushing the last remnants of Malluk’s dark feelings out of her. She sighed heavily and wiped the tears from her face.
She got back to her feet and laid her hands on Matt again, checking him. He was clean. She smiled and murmured her thanks to Aryst. It was up to him to heal the rest of the way; the only thing she could do now was keep him stable while his body tried to recuperate.
She sat beside him and caressed his face for a moment. “You better make it,” she told him firmly. She thought about the little she knew of him, none of it good, and sighed. “Even when you wake up, you’ll have a lot of healing to do,” she said, running her fingers through his hair, which was still damp even though his fever was gone. “But you won’t be alone,” she promised. “I’ll be with you. Just pull through this. There’s so much life for you to live still. A better life is waiting for you. All you have to do is wake up.”
She gazed down at him and was overcome by the love she felt. She was so tempted to lean down and kiss him . . . but that would wait. Instead, she settled for tracing his full lips with her fingertips. She smiled. “Could you be any more beautiful? I knew you would be, but not this much. I knew you’d be blond, too. I don’t know how I knew, I just did. I’ve dreamt of you my whole life; I’ve been waiting for you.” Her gazed traveled from his perfect face down to his large, thickly muscled body. She bit her lip for a moment. “Not that I would love you less if you weren’t so attractive, of course, but . . . ” She smirked. “I’m not complaining.”
She gazed at him for a while, then finally got up and fetched a bowl of warm water. She wrung a wet cloth out and started gently washing the blood off of his stomach. She mused as she worked on how she suddenly understood some of the things she had only ever felt in other people before. Now she felt them for herself.
She was surprised by them, too, like the possessiveness; she had never felt like this about anyone or anything before. And she felt so protective. He was hers, or at least he would be—she was sure of that. He was part of her in a way no one else ever could be. He was hers to care for, to love, and to devote herself to, and she would do all of those things wholeheartedly.
Though she was filled with worry and was anxious for him to recover, she was also blissfully content and couldn’t keep a smile off her face. She felt excitement, too, because she couldn’t wait until he woke up, until she could meet this man that she already knew she would love for the rest of her life; because he was her life now, as if she had been reborn into two people instead of just one.
- 2 -
Vivyka knocked on the door of the two-story cream-colored house. While she waited, she pulled the long layers of her brown hair back, making her bracelets jingle, then slid in a clip to hold the messy bun. The afternoon sun was hot. Though it was nothing to Seaport, it was warm enough for a tank top, short skirt, and sandals—all in black, as usual.
It was Lotus, Sera’s mother, who answered the door. “Hi,” she said brightly.
“Hi,” Vivyka returned, then asked, noticing her outfit, “Doing some gardening?” Lotus always wore her dark brown pants, a t-shirt, and her long, straight copper hair back in a low ponytail when she worked in the yard.
“I was just headed out back,” Lotus confirmed, then, guessing the reason for the unexpected visit, added, “Sera isn’t home right now. She went somewhere with her father.”
“I know,” Vivyka replied. Sera had said she was going with Cael and Falcon to visit a sick friend in Glendale almost a week ago. “How long will they be gone, anyway?”
“Sera’s staying for a bit longer, but Cael and Falcon should be home tonight.”
“Oh good, Julia’s been nuts,” Vivyka said. Julia Falcon’s wife, who ran the orphanage where Vivyka lived and worked.
Lotus smiled gently. “Well, you know how she can be. She can’t even sleep when Falcon goes to the annual guild meetings in Oraunt, and he’s only gone for two nights. This is the longest they’ve ever been apart. It’s hard on her.”
“And with Tess leaving home just a few weeks ago . . . ” Vivyka put in.
“Yes, learning to let go of your daughter is a difficult thing. Julia’s got a lot of emotional stress right now.”
Vivyka nodded. “Well, I better let you get those flowers planted before Cael gets home,” she told her with a chuckle and a nod to the new plants sitting in a small wooden box nearby. “Though I thought you weren’t supposed to be planting any more.”
It had been an argument between her and her husband for years. Every time he left to visit his family or anything, she would plant more flowers. Their yard was overflowing with them, but Cael got her to agree not to plant any more so that he still had room to spar. She was just as bad with the indoor plants—she had so many that it always smelled like a florist’s shop. Cael wanted all plants to be outside, growing wild as they should be. He thought putting nature in a pot and keeping it in your house was absurd. But Lotus insisted on having her flowers.
“Yes, well…” Lotus looked a bit sheepish now. “I don’t have this kind, and I found a small area off to the side that won’t be in his way. He won’t even notice.”
Vivyka smiled. There was no way Cael wouldn’t notice—he noticed everything—but she said nothing of it. “Well, I just wanted to see if Sera still had my old journal.”
“Why would she have it?”
“I had it just before I moved to Seaport,” Vivyka explained. “Remember, I stayed here for a week before then? I’m pretty sure I left it here.”
“Can I ask what made you want it now? It’s been over three years now, hasn’t it?”
“I don’t know,” Vivyka said with a shrug. “Feeling nostalgic, I suppose.”
Lotus nodded. “Well, go on up.” She motioned to the stairs on the left side of the room.
While Lotus headed to the backyard, Vivyka made her way upstairs and through the first door on the left. Sera’s very cozy bedroom was decorated in white with bits of light pink. The floral paintings and lace curtains fit her sweet-natured best friend. The décor here was the opposite of Vivyka’s room—black-painted furniture and deep red materials. The contrast made her think of how she had tried to be more like Sera when they were younger. Vivyka had even worn long sundresses and had a couple of flower pictures of her own. Truth be told, it wasn’t who she was, even at the time. She didn’t know if the person she was now was really her either—Seaport had changed her greatly—but she was more comfortable with her style now.
Finding the journal proved to be an easy task: Sera had it tucked neatly into her bookcase, right beside her own. Vivyka took it out and turned it over in her hands. The brown leather cover was etched with flowers and had Vivyka’s name in the center. The journal had been a birthday present from Sera just a year before she had moved.
She thumbed through the cream-colored pages for a moment, but couldn’t stay to read it here. Needing to get back to the orphanage, she took the journal with her as she left the house and walked north on Pine Street.
As she passed by Julia’s house, Falcon came out and greeted her with a smile. “Hey, Viv.”
“Hey,” she said, returning the smile. “Glad you’re back. Julia’s been nuts without you.”
He nodded. “I’m just heading to see her now.”
She nodded, too, and they headed toward the orphanage together. “How was your trip?” she asked politely. “Is your friend better?”
“Yeah, everything’s okay now.”
“Why’s Sera staying?”
“Oh . . . just some follow-up care.”
She nodded again.
“So, can you handle things at the orphanage alone? I need to take Jules home for a bit,” Falcon said, calling his wife by the nickname only he used.
Vivyka smiled, surprised that Falcon would be that forward. “No problem. Take as long as you want.”
Falcon glanced over at her and rolled his eyes. “I wouldn’t pull her away from work for that. I’m forty-two, not seventeen. That can wait.”
“Remind me not to get old,” she said without thinking. “Oh! Not that you’re old, I—”
Falcon chuckled. “I thought the same thing when I was your age. But you mellow with time and learn quality, not quantity.”
Vivyka just nodded and went quiet. She looked down at the journal in her hand and thought about how most of it was filled with her childhood ideal of the perfect man—basically, Falcon. She had dreamt of meeting someone like him, someone who would love her the way he loved Julia. But when she was sixteen, she had met Mathias instead. He had never loved her, but he had showed her what passion was. More than once, he had come to see her at work, and they had stolen away into the stock room for a while. They couldn’t wait for later; there was too much passion, too much desire, to wait.
Though she had given up on the idea of love after Mathias, there was still that little part of her that wanted it, that still longed for what Falcon and Julia had. But even if she got it, she thought, she would want that person to be just as passionate as she was. She couldn’t imagine mellowing out; she wanted to be filled with desire, no matter how old she was.
She was so lost in her thoughts that she was a little surprised when she and Falcon were suddenly at the orphanage. Julia must have heard the front door open, because she rushed into the main room to see who it was. Seeing her husband, her eyes became glossy, and she smiled widely as she ran to him. She threw herself into his arms and kissed him fervently.
Vivyka knew she should look away, but she couldn’t. She just stood there and smiled at them. She was happy and sad at the same time. She remembered what it was like to be excited like that; she knew how wonderful it was to feel the man you loved again when he returned from a trip. She missed that. Suddenly that old ache came back, that longing for Mathias. She sighed at herself for missing the bastard. Three years later and she was still grumbling at herself to forget him. But though she hated him for his abuse, she had loved him too, because he had been so wonderful so much of the time.
“Maybe I should take trips more often,” Falcon was saying now that his wife had finally stopped kissing him, “if this is the welcome I get.”
Julia glared and smacked his arm. “Don’t you dare!”
He chuckled, then said very seriously, “That’s not a trip I want to repeat.”
She nodded and caressed the arm she had just hit. She looked up at him questioningly.
He nodded back. “Let’s go home. Viv says she’s fine here by herself.”
“Thanks, sweetie," Julia said to Vivyka. "I’ll see you later.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Vivyka told her pointedly.
Julia smiled. “Thanks.”
Vivyka smirked. “Yep. Have fun.”
Falcon shook his head as he took his wife’s hand and led her outside.
Just then, a little boy with messy red hair and a freckled face ran into the room, being chased by a chubby girl with long blond curls. The boy raced to Vivyka, put his arms around her leg, and hid behind her. “Maddy’s gonna hurt me!”
“Dirk stole my doll!” the girl accused loudly.
“I didn’t touch your stupid doll!” he told her.
Vivyka shook her head. “Madelyn, I’m pretty sure I saw it in the playroom. Go look by the dollhouse.”
“It’s not there, I looked,” the girl said.
“It’s not there!” she insisted in a voice that called Vivyka stupid.
“Look again,” Vivyka repeated firmly. Madelyn sighed heavily and huffed off into the next room. Safe now, Dirk came out of hiding and held his hands out to Vivyka. She picked him up, and he wrapped his little arms around her neck. Dirk always wanted to be held and always wanted to be with Vivyka. She rubbed his back and kissed his cheek before heading into the playroom, where the rest of the kids were. She might not have romantic love, she thought, but she did have plenty of affection from the children here.
“I found it!” Madelyn called. “It was in the dollhouse.”
Vivyka just smiled.
- 3 -
Sera was arranging flowers in the vase on the corner table when she felt a sudden confusion. But it wasn’t her feeling; it belonged to Matt who up until then had been unconscious. Excited that he was finally waking, she hurried over to him and gently sat on the edge of the bed. He was still a little pale. She placed a soft hand on his cheek, reading his overall health. Everything was fine; with some food and fresh air, she was sure he should be completely recovered in no time.
Slowly, he opened his eyes, then blinked a few times before looking up at her. She smiled. His eyes were a light blue, and beautiful, as she had known they would be. “It’s all right now,” she told him, feeling his increased confusion.
He took a deep breath, licked his lips, and swallowed before whispering hoarsely, “Why . . . ” He cleared his throat. “Why am I here?”
“I'm taking care of you.”
“This isn’t the Plain of Darkness. I’m supposed to be in hell.”
She smiled, thankful that he wasn’t. “You’re not dead.”
He frowned. “But . . . you . . . you’re an angel.”
She had been told plenty of times that she looked like an angel, but no one had ever mistaken her for one before. Her smile widened, and she bit her lip for a moment to keep from laughing. “No, I’m not. I’m Tess’s cousin, Sera, and I’m just a healing cleric.”
He sighed and rubbed his face. “Where am I?”
“The temple of Aryst in Port Vallyn. You’ve been unconscious for almost three weeks.”
He closed his eyes, and after a moment, she felt his worry. “Tess,” he said quietly. “Is she okay?”
“She’s fine,” Sera reassured him, and instantly felt his relief at the news. “She’s alive and well, thanks to you.”
He looked at her again. “Where is she?”
“She went home. Back to Brunya City,” she told him. His feeling of disappointment made her worry. She still wasn’t sure what he felt about Tess. He had saved her life. Ayden thought Matt was in love with her, but was he? Sera couldn’t help feeling a twinge of jealousy at the thought—something she had never felt in her life before.
“And Ayden?” he asked.
“He’s home too,” she answered, then decided to let him know about Tess’s new relationship status. That way she would find out what his feelings for Tess really were. “He and Tess are together now.”
“Good.” He said it almost immediately, and the feelings behind it were sincere. He didn’t love her. He cared, that much was very obvious, but he wanted her to be with Ayden.
Sera smiled happily. “I have a message from her.”
“She says thanks, and that you don’t have to be the bad guy, that you’re not anymore. She also said that you do choose your destiny. . . that you did.”
Matt scoffed, his feelings taking a bitter turn. “She’s so naïve,” he said, rolling his eyes. “Like one good deed—no, not even that. All I did was try to save her from something I got her into—and she thinks that makes me a good guy all of a sudden?” He laughed harshly.
“You are what you choose to be,” she said softly. “If you decide you want to be a good guy now, then you are.”
“Doesn’t work that way,” he grumbled.
She held in a sigh. She wouldn’t argue; it would take him time to deal with everything, to realize that he did have a choice now. He was no longer under Malluk’s influence—he could be his own man. “I want to thank you, as well,” she told him sincerely. “I can’t imagine a world without Tess in it.”
He rolled his eyes again. “I was the one who was going to kill her in the first place.”
“Regardless of how she got there or why you did it, you risked your life for her.” He was going to argue more, but he realized he didn’t know that his mark was now missing. “Saving her was a very selfless, heroic thing to do, and the proof of it’s on your wrist.”
He lifted his right arm and stared at the spot where his hellhound birthmark, Malluk’s symbol, had been. He frowned deeply. “How’s that possible?” he asked quietly, disbelievingly.
“By doing something that was completely good,” she was happy to tell him. “By showing mercy and compassion.”
He was quiet for a bit while he continued to examine his wrist. She could feel his resistance to the idea, but then his emotions turned tender—he really did care about Tess. Knowing now that it wasn’t in a romantic way, the thought made Sera happy. Then his feelings changed again; now they were slightly angry and disgusted. “You went against everything Malluk stands for,” she added. You’re not His anymore, she thought, but didn’t say it out loud.
Still, her words made him annoyed. He put his arm down. “Doesn’t change who I am.”
She wondered whether she should leave it alone for now, or push. People stopped listening for the most part when they got too upset. Sometimes pushing moved them in the wrong direction, but she decided to push a little more. “Who you were before can never be changed. But who you are today and tomorrow, that’s for you to decide.”
He rolled his eyes. “You don’t know me. And I have no intention of changing.”
Whether he chose to change or not would be a decision he would make later. She’d leave that one alone for now. “I know more than you think,” she told him. “And yes, I know what happened between you and my cousin.”
He rubbed his face again, and his anger grew. “You still know nothing. Tess knows nothing.”
She put a hand on his shoulder, hoping to soothe him a bit, but it had the opposite effect. He shrugged her off and raised his voice. “Stop touching me!”
She held in another sigh. “Sorry, it’s a healer’s habit,” she said, taking her hand away slowly—though in truth, in this case, it was her own desire to be close to him. “I do it without thinking,” she added apologetically.
He glared at her. Then he softened, his emotions shifting to guilt and shame. He frowned and sighed. “You shouldn’t be touching someone like me.” She knew he hadn’t meant to say it, but it was the truth of what he was feeling. Then, a moment later, he was angry again. His look turned menacing as he met her gaze. “You don’t know what I do to girls like you,” he told her nastily.
She could have laughed at his attempt to scare her. It was probably a ridiculous response to his fierce tone, but she thought he was adorable. She kept herself from smiling and instead went for disapproving. “Oh, shush,” she demanded gently. Standing up, she took his hand and tugged, urging him to get up, but he didn’t move. “It’s a beautiful day, and you’re almost fully recovered. All you need now is fresh air, sunshine, and lunch at a cute little place down the street that has outdoor seating.”
He scowled more and stayed firmly where he was.
“Come on,” she said, using a sweet, coaxing voice now, then teased, “You can even bring your mean face and scare off the people walking by.”
He tried not to smile, but didn’t quite manage, and she also felt his amusement.
“What do you know, he smiles,” she said, smiling brightly herself, glad that humor had worked.
Finally, he sighed and sat up. He was about to get out of bed, but then he thought of something and frowned again. After a moment, he ran a hand through his hair and muttered, “I don’t want to go out there yet. I’m too well-known here.”
She hadn’t thought of that. Of course Malluk’s people wouldn’t be happy with him, and he wasn’t in any condition yet to deal with any of that. The thought of him having to deal with it at all worried her. But she pushed those thoughts away for now and kept her voice light. “Okay. Well, we already have an open window; I’ll just bring some food up, and we can eat in here.”
As soon as she was out of the room, she leaned back against the closed door and sighed. All she could think of was how wonderful he was. His captivating eyes, his throaty voice, the way he ran his beautiful, strong hands through his hair, and his perfectly full lips. She sighed again as she imagined kissing them.
Practically bursting with feelings she couldn’t show yet, she hurried down to the temple kitchen to make him some lunch . . . and did her best not to smile too much.