FictionPress

Seemingly ages ago I used to maintain a FictionPress account that I updated regularly, and I realized the other day that I really missed posting new chapters on a schedule. I created a new FictionPress account with my pen name, and it will be updated every Friday.

https://www.fictionpress.com/u/1095993/

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My better judgment is telling me that I need to take the next three months off from posting anything. Don’t worry, Light Eternal is completely written and ready for reading (so you aren’t going to get gypped out of an ending), I just have other things going on for the next while.

See you in August.

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Light Eternal chapter 11

Chapter 11

They kept moving, but it wasn’t the same. There was a shadow pressing over the two of them, haunting everywhere they went with a heavy and oppressive sensation. Muriel blamed herself for it, and repeatedly chastised herself for leaving Aion’s side on a foolish quest, for ruining the tiny paradise that they had been building together because of a silly whim. Occasionally, she blamed Aion as well, for not keeping her better informed and always evading her questions, leaving her feeling like she was surrounded by secrets that she couldn’t break through. But what was done was done, and nothing was going to change that. It was a crushing reality.

It was the small things that Muriel had never thought to notice before, like the traffic always clearing up around them and hitting every green light. Now they seemed to spend hours every day inadvertently stuck in traffic jams, and they were barely traveling anywhere. They experienced other bad luck as well, with more people getting angry and screaming profanities at them in public, and Aion’s computer quit working all together. Aion never said a word, but Muriel somehow knew that his abilities were being blocked, that synchronicity was no longer working for them.

Muriel found herself feeling more and more moody, spending long hours staring out the window at the other cars. She imagined all of the people coming home from their jobs and going about their regular lives with no idea of how lucky they were; while her life had taken such an undesirable turn. They had the same bed to sleep in every night, the same space to live in and personalize, and she hated them for that; she wished that she could go back to reading books in her bedroom as she listened to music. She would give anything to have a home again.

Except she didn’t really feel that way. Deep down inside she knew that she loved Aion more than anything, and that being with him was a dream come true no matter what circumstances surrounded them. She could feel in her heart that she had been waiting for him for her entire life. They belonged together. They were whole together.

Muriel didn’t know how she felt.

Aion was frustratingly calm about everything.

The thought that Muriel had a life before she was born, that she was different from everyone else and special, seemed odd. How could someone as damaged as her be so important? Nothing about her could be worth that much – not even in a previous life. She was worthless, through and through. That was why she had been abandoned to all the pain that she had endured.

“Aion,” she said quietly, watching the red taillights of the cars in front of them inch forward before the brighter brake lights flashed on again. They had been caught in the evening rush hour while passing through some big city, but Muriel didn’t care where they were anymore and hadn’t bothered to look at the road-signs to know which one. It was too dark to see anything beyond the interstate anyway. “Do you love me?” she asked.

“With all of my soul,” he replied.

“Because I’m the reincarnation of your wife?”

“No. Because you are my wife.”

“I just don’t feel it …” She knew that she couldn’t really be his wife. She looked down at her wedding ring, wondering if the fact that she had chosen a rose instead of diamonds meant that, subconsciously, she knew that she was an impostor, and not really his wife. A goddess worthy of Aion wouldn’t be an emotional wreck all the time like she was; she would match his calm stoicism and view the world with that same sense of detachment that he did. Muriel didn’t belong with him, and she knew it. She knew it.

Muriel.

Something in the tone of his voice broke her out of her thoughts and made her look at him with big eyes. Aion spent a moment concentrating on driving, maneuvering the car to get off at an upcoming exit. Great, Muriel thought, they were going to end up downtown, with swarms of people all around them. She didn’t want anyone to see her, and silently condemn her for being with someone well outside of her league. She wanted to stay hidden.

“You have a parasite,” he said.

“What?”

“All of these thoughts and emotions that you’ve been having aren’t really your own. There’s an external entity that’s attached to you, whispering negativity into your ear,” he explained.

“That sounds kind of gross.” Muriel slumped back into her seat, and her ears started ringing. She was starting to feel foggy and disconnected.

“You have no idea.” Aion glanced over at Muriel, expressionless. “We need to get rid of it.”

“How?” She was sulking. She was … falling …

“In different circumstances we could find a shaman like we did for the soul retrieval, but I’m afraid that the Darkness is focused too much on us, and I don’t want to jeopardize anyone. We’re going to have to do it ourselves.”

“Since you’re supposed to be some powerful being from the Light, I don’t know why you can’t just fix everything yourself.” The words surprised Muriel, but she said them anyway. She didn’t like the story he had told her about himself; it seemed full of too many holes.

Aion didn’t reply. Muriel felt bitter, and she didn’t want to stop there. The fact that he didn’t protest proved that there was truth in her suspicions.

“This whole thing is probably some sort of bizarre con,” she announced. “You’re probably some rich guy who got bored and decided to kidnap a girl and see what sort of twisted stories you could make her believe. Maybe you even paid off my dad to rape me, to make it seem more realistic. I’m such an idiot.”

“Muriel.”

Her voice started rising, becoming more shrill. “I’m just a stupid, damaged idiot who’s too disgusting for you to even sleep with, because despite all that talk about being married, you’ve never even tried to put the moves on me.”

“Muriel!”

She was crying again, a deep pain forming in the center of her chest. She couldn’t endure it, couldn’t stand existing for a single second with that feeling lodged inside her. “I wish I was dead!” she shrieked.

Aion slammed on the brakes to stop the car, then grabbed Muriel and kissed her fiercely. She cried even harder and began fighting to push him away as she lost herself in a panic, even grabbing a handful of his hair and pulling it with all of her strength hoping to hurt him. He didn’t stay on her for very long, and gave no indication that he had noticed how desperately she had tried to cause him physical pain, instead simply saying,“Now do you see? I have kept my distance because it’s obvious that you are not emotionally ready for anything beyond platonic. Get a hold of yourself.” Cars were honking at them, so he switched the gear to drive and began moving again. Stoic, like always.

There was a long red scratch mark down the side of his face, with tiny bits of skin torn up. Muriel hadn’t realized that she had clawed at him, and suddenly time seemed jumbled up. They couldn’t have been stopped for very long, not in the middle of traffic with cars surrounding them, but somehow it seemed like forever had passed since he had braked. She had been a different person then. She had wanted to hurt Aion, but now she felt horrified at the idea and couldn’t believe that she had done such a thing. Muriel was subdued and embarrassed as she whispered, “I’m going crazy.”

“No, it’s the parasite.” A muscle in Aion’s jaw twitched, and he covered up the side of his face with his hand. When he gripped the steering wheel once again, the scratch was gone, much to Muriel’s relief. It made sense that he would be able to rapidly heal himself like that. “We’re going to do something to cheer you up …” he said. “We never went on that date we had planned.”

“Sounds good.” Muriel sniffed, still feeling subdued. She was never going to let herself act like that again, she decided. She was going to try very hard to remember that the thoughts weren’t hers, and that she didn’t need to listen to them.

Easier said than done.

They pulled into the parking lot of a frozen yogurt place and stepped outside. The cold immediately pierced through Muriel’s thick wool coat, and Muriel wondered if they had been traveling northward – it was very dark for five o’clock. She chided herself for not caring where they had been driving, then chided herself for chiding herself. This parasite was getting the better of her.

She couldn’t beat it.

“Do you like Christmas lights?” Aion asked, pointing to the lit up trees down the street. “We could take a walk after this.”

Muriel nodded. “For some reason I thought that Christmas was over,” she said.

“It will surprise you how little time has passed.” Aion smiled. “Yet probably more than you’d guess.”

“Are we going to celebrate Christmas?”

“That was the plan.”

Muriel felt better with the thought that she had Christmas to look forward to. She took Aion’s arm and hugged it tightly as they walked inside the frozen yogurt parlor.

Time started slipping past like a dream. Muriel laughed and talked easily, feeling closer to Aion than she had been. It was wonderful, and it flowed through her like water through a sieve, immersing her but failing to stay and make an impact. She lost herself in the dream, surrendering to the feeling of being someone else. Someone who could smile.

Why didn’t that feel like her? Inside of her remained untouched.

She couldn’t say what it was that woke her up. Maybe it was the way that Aion tensed, or the sensation of darkness closing in. They were surrounded by colorful Christmas lights, but they seemed eerie and dim. Muriel recognized the stillness, and her heart froze. Maybe it was another Grim?

It was on the sidewalk in front of them, black and formless. Muriel’s brain wouldn’t process what her eyes were seeing, making it seem like the creature was both there and not there, but the unearthly sound it made marked the reality of it’s existence. This was worse than the Grim.

Something in Aion’s stance made Muriel think that he was scared.

“Stay behind me,” he whispered. “Don’t look at it.”

Muriel immediately closed her eyes, clutching tightly to the back of Aion’s long coat. She wanted to look and see what was happening; the urge to open her eyes was the strongest that she had ever felt, and it threatened to consume her, but she resisted. She put everything she had into keeping her eyes shut. She knew what the Grim had done to her, and she was afraid that if she opened her eyes she would once again lose a part of herself.

Aion held his hand out in front of him, pointing at a single Christmas light that was dangling near him. It began to glow brighter as the other lights around it dimmed and began rapidly winking out. When only Aion’s chosen light remained on the entire street, he opened his hand and the light exploded, flooding everything with illumination. The creature shrieked as it vanished, and Aion relaxed.

“It’s all right now, my love, you may look.”

Muriel’s eyes flew open and she grabbed at Aion’s arm, seeking the strength of his muscles beneath his coat. She wanted to assure herself that they were both still there, and that the encounter was over, without any harm done. “What was that?” she asked.

“An Outer Creature – one of the servants of the Gods.” Aion smiled slightly, yet it seemed odd given what had just happened. “It means that there’s no point in running anymore.”

“What are we going to do?” Muriel put her hand in Aion’s, using her other arm to hug him tightly. She had to keep hold of him, he was the only thing that was real, the only strength she had …

“We fight–”

Then it hit.

Muriel wasn’t standing next to Aion anymore, she was somewhere dark and empty, somewhere that made her think of being trapped in a void. She tried calling out, but, like a nightmare, her voice made no sound. She wanted to run, but there was nothing for her feet to push against. There was nothing. She was alone in a void that she could not escape, a void that was crushing the life out of her but that would never let her die.

Eternity passed.

Suddenly her screams echoed through the cold air, and Aion’s hand clamped over her mouth to muffle the sound. He picked her up and ran back to the car; then they were headed back to the interstate, tires screeching with every turn.

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Light Eternal chapter 10

Chapter 10

After closing the door to their motel room behind them, Aion sat down and listened to the whine of the shower coming from the bathroom. His mind was spinning with a thousand thoughts, and for the first time in his existence he felt unable to juggle and utilize all of the information that he possessed. He knew that he was turning human already, and that he had to move faster – yet he was limited to Muriel’s pace, unable to push her into healing faster than she already was. He had to hold onto his true nature for as long as was necessary, and withstand the effects of the material realm; that was all there was to it.

The water turned off, and he roused himself in mental preparation of Muriel rejoining him, consciously reminding himself to remain cool and calm. He had not expected to lose his temper earlier, and he regretted it deeply; he was determined to keep a tighter grip on the emotions that were growing ever more powerful inside of him. She needed him to be predictable.

After a few more minutes, Muriel opened the bathroom door and stepped out, looking refreshed, with all traces of tears washed away from her face. That made him glad – no lasting harm done.

“You’re right, you deserve more answers than I’ve been giving you,” Aion said as he stood. He knew that at this point he was playing a dangerous game, that his calculations were slipping, but he could not risk losing Muriel. She was too important to him.

“You’re going to tell me everything?” Muriel was astonished, stopping in the middle of squeezing water out of her hair with a towel.

“As much as I can.” He had never felt uncertain before, and, while he hated it, he was never going to let it show – he needed to stay calm; no matter what was going on inside, he needed to appear placid for Muriel’s sake. She couldn’t know about the toll that the material realm was taking on him. “We used to live together in the Light, as husband and wife,” he began slowly, “but our kind have been under attack by the Outer Gods of Chaos, who have aligned themselves with the Darkness.” He was second-guessing himself. Could the young girl standing there in front of him, with dripping wet hair, and a heavy burden in her eyes, handle the story of their separation? She seemed too fragile to know the truth of the universe, and he wanted to protect her from it.

He had to say just enough to sound convincing; just enough to satisfy the goddess lurking inside of her and whispering of things that she couldn’t understand. But he couldn’t tell her everything. Not yet.

“They managed to capture me,” he continued, “and you were sent into a human body on Earth while I was imprisoned among the stars, bound helpless as I watched you live a mortal life. I saw and felt everything, every tear and heartache, and when I couldn’t tolerate anymore, after your mortal father violated and poisoned you, I found the strength to break free and rejoin you – just in the nick of time as well, because the Darkness had sent a Grim to consume your soul and destroy you entirely. That is why your life has been so hard, and why I am here now.” Aion took Muriel’s hand and kissed it gently. He needed to distract her from analyzing his story too carefully. He didn’t know how strong her spiritual connection was at the moment, and he didn’t want her to sense that he hadn’t told the entire story. Very slowly and carefully, he told her of another truth, “I have something to confess to you – your parents are no longer alive.”

A jolt raced through Muriel’s body and she felt herself go limp. Aion stepped forward to help her sit down, keeping a hand on her back, as the news sunk in. She felt strange; she had vowed to never forgive them – especially her father – and she had never wanted to see them again, but the thought of them being dead made her feel cold. They were no longer out there for her to hate. “How?” she asked numbly.

“I arranged an accident on that very first night. Carbon monoxide, so it was quick and painless.”

Muriel didn’t know how to respond; she didn’t know if she wanted to be angry, or grateful. Her parents were dead, and Aion was responsible, but they had also damaged her badly – sometimes, when she woke up sobbing from a nightmare, she feared that the damage was irreparable, and it was only Aion’s steady presence that kept her from losing her mind. For a moment, she wondered if a painless death had been too gentle on them, compared to the world that she now lived in.

Then it occurred to her that bothher mother and father were dead, and Aion didn’t seem like the sort who would punish an innocent. She said, more as a statement than a question, “My mother knew, didn’t she.”

Aion nodded.

“I trust you.” Muriel had already seen enough to believe everything he said, and she could feel the impact that he commanded under the surface of what she had always called reality. The soul retrieval, while visually uneventful, had changed her and brought her back to herself. Between the Grim, and Aion’s inexhaustible wallet, she felt ready to believe everything Aion said, no matter how absurd it seemed. And if Aion had thought it necessary to take her parents out of this world, then she wouldn’t question his decision. Perhaps they had known that she wasn’t really theirs, that she was the incarnate of something more than human, and they had decided to abuse her anyway, in hopes of dodging the consequences. If that was the case, then he had been more than justified in his actions.

“You look cute.” Aion’s voice broke through her thoughts. It was the first time that he had ever commented on her appearance, and it made Muriel blush. She thought immediately about how her hair was still wet and messy, and how she had quickly pulled on her old clothes, because her new ones had still been outside when she had started her shower, but she couldn’t help but beam. He thought she was cute.

“Thanks,” she said shyly. She wanted to say something else, but the words wouldn’t come to her. She felt awkward, but he said that she was cute, and that made her feel cute.

“Are you feeling better?” he asked, smiling as if he could read her thoughts. That made her blush even more, so she quickly pretended to towel dry her hair a bit more to hide her face.

When she regained her composure a bit better, she said, “Yeah. I guess so.” After grabbing their shopping bags from near the door of their motel room, Muriel sat down on the bed and dumped all of the clothing in front of her to sort through. As she carefully folded tops and bottoms, all the while trying to think of which outfit she should wear first, she remembered what had happened at the mall and what Aion’s reaction had been. “Why was the Tarot reading so bad?” she asked.

“Normally Tarot cards are benign, but it was dangerous because of who you are. Unfortunately, that woman didn’t call on any specific deity or spirit, but left the channel – so to speak – wide open for anyone to answer, and it was the Darkness that took up the call. All this time I’ve kept us moving to avoid detection by the Outer Gods, but that Tarot reading was like shooting a giant flare up for them.”

“Oh.” Muriel felt awful. “What’s going to happen?”

Aion’s face, smooth and blank, never changed as he said, “I don’t know.”

 

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Light Eternal chapter 9

Chapter 9

The first stop they made after the diner was at a jewelry store in a nearby mall. Muriel loved walking down the rows of shimmering diamond rings, admiring the ones that were pretty, and silently chuckling at the ones that looked gaudy and overdone. She felt like she was a princess in a fairy-tale, surrounded by magic and beauty, as a handsome man watched her with a small smile on his lips – she had never imagined that anyone would love her, or want to give her a wedding ring. However, the one that caught her eye and resonated with her heart didn’t have any diamonds at all; it was gold with a shimmering pink rose, surrounded by colorful gemstones. It wasn’t at all a typical wedding ring, and it didn’t carry a large price tag like the others, but she felt that it belonged to her, and that was all that mattered. Aion seemed very pleased with her, when she pointed it out, and, before she knew it, she was wearing it on her finger, with a glowing smile on her face. The moment was a dream come true.

Shopping for clothes, on the other hand, had been an unexpected experience. Aion had urged her to buy polyester blends, arguing that they were wrinkle and stain resistant, and would therefore travel more easily, breaking the illusion of living in a fairy tale. It reminded Muriel that they weren’t settling down into a quiet married life, and that she did not know what was coming next. She didn’t know why they were running in the first place.

She was thankful that it was wintertime, and that she could choose bulky sweaters and turtle necks to wear. Out of curiosity, she had tried on a tightly fitted blouse with a plunging neckline, but, as she looked at her reflection in the mirror and the sight of skin curving over her breasts, she felt too naked and vulnerable. She couldn’t wear that in public, where someone could see and fantasize about her. The horrible thought that she had somehow encouraged her father crossed her mind; she bit her lip to keep from crying as she quickly tore the blouse off and switched over to a woolen poncho sweater with a large collar that completely hid her neck.

Before Muriel had liked pastel colors – particularly pale pink – but she hated them now. She chose dark colors like black and burgundy, because they somehow felt invisible and safe. She also didn’t think that she deserved to wear innocent colors like pink anymore. If Aion noticed her drastic change in color preference, he didn’t say anything.

Loaded up with numerous shopping bags between the two of them, they continued walking through the mall together as Muriel looked around to figure out which shop she wanted to visit next. The smell of popcorn wafted towards them with a tantalizing prospect, so Muriel tugged on Aion’s sleeve to ask, “Can we go see a movie?” He agreed, and they navigated their way to the theater to study the posters of available movies.

Muriel found her gaze traveling to a small dark shop that was across the way from the movie theater, and the figurines of fairies for sale in the window reminded her of Raven’s home. She wondered if it had some sort of connection to the soul retrieval that Raven had performed, and if there was something to the pagan brand of spirituality after all. Before she knew it, she was walking away from Aion and towards the store. Someone started talking to Aion, as a noisy group of teenage girls passed between them and stopped, but somehow it didn’t occur to Muriel that they were becoming separated. She wanted to know if the shop could offer her answers – the answers that Aion wouldn’t tell her – and that thought was the only thing on her mind.

A motion sensor beeped as Muriel stepped inside, and the young woman behind the counter looked up to greet her with a smile. Her pixie-cut hair was jet black, and she was wearing all black with an enormous amount of eyeliner. “How can I help you?” she asked, and her voice sounded very pretty and friendly, and for a moment Muriel thought that she could be a model for gothic fashion. Muriel froze up, feeling stupid for not knowing what it was she wanted.

“Would you like a reading?” the woman asked.

Muriel nodded dumbly, wondering if she should turn around and leave. Aion wasn’t there, and she felt uncomfortable being out all alone.

“Hey, relax and don’t worry about it. When I was a teenager, I was fascinated with Tarot cards but my dad kept insisting that they were of the Devil. Can you believe that?” The woman chuckled. “Trust me, there’s nothing demonic about them at all – they’re totally safe, and very insightful. You’d be surprised at how many teens we get in here who just want to expand their world view.”

“Okay … yeah, sounds good.” Muriel was curious about what the cards would say about her, and if they would give the truth that Aion was so carefully hiding from her.

“Normally we charge money, but since it’s your first time I’m going to do a reading for free. You look like you’re on the verge of an Awakening.” The woman winked as she ushered Muriel over to a small table covered with a violet velvet cloth. The woman sat in the chair across from Muriel, picked up a deck of Tarot cards, and began shuffling as she spoke, “I want you to focus on a question, and it doesn’t matter if you tell me or not. Just say as much as you’re comfortable with, and try to avoid questions that would have a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ answer. Let me know when you’re ready.”

What is Aion not telling me?

Muriel nodded, nervously gripping the handles of her shopping bags as the woman laid three cards face down on the table. “These positions represent the past, present, and future, and they’re going to show you what’s influenced you to getting where you are now, and what you can expect in the near future. First, the past.” She flipped over the first card that she had laid down. “It’s the Page of Pentacles, reversed. You’ve been unmotivated in achieving your goals, and that has been a huge block for you. Perhaps you’ve always believed that you didn’t deserve more, that you didn’t fit the profile for what you wanted, so you never put any energy into achieving it.” She flipped over the middle card. “Seven of Cups. Be careful of allowing yourself to get caught up in wishful thinking and dreams. While it’s good to shift your thinking, and make a plan for the future, it’s important to remember that you can’t get what you want without any action. If you’re going to get what you want, then you need to take charge and make it happen. And finally …” she flipped over the last card. “Temperance; seek for balance …”

“Muriel!”

Aion’s voice cut through the woman’s sentence, making Muriel jump as her heart skipped a beat. She turned to see Aion, his face gray and glistening with a cold sweat, and the sight stopped her heart altogether. He had never looked like that before, ever, and it was like he was an entirely different man standing there with his chest heaving. “We’re leaving. Now!” he snapped.

Muriel was too scared to disobey, and she quickly jumped up to follow him; she had to scamper after Aion grabbed her arm and rushed her outside the mall towards their car. He opened up the passenger side door, where he threw her inside onto the seat and unceremoniously dumped their shopping bags on top of her. Then he got behind the steering wheel and spun the tires as he sped out of the parking lot, not even waiting for Muriel to buckle herself in. She was too frightened to speak or move, feeling like the Aion that she had known had disappeared completely into that angry stranger beside her.

“You don’t have any idea of what you’ve done!” Aion yelled, his voice deep and terrible. “You were supposed to stay with me, not go wandering off!” His normally smooth face was twisted and creased, and even worse than the rage that contorted his face was the despair that shimmered in his eyes like unwept tears. Muriel hated herself. Whatever it was that she had done, it had been unforgivable. Why hadn’t she stayed next him like she had wanted? They could be eating popcorn and laughing in the movie theater at that moment, instead of fleeing away from something unknown. Perhaps he didn’t love her anymore, and regretted buying that wedding ring for her. She looked down at it on her finger, and twisted it around and around as her vision grew blurry.

He glanced at her and stopped to take a deep breath, then gripped the steering wheel tightly and clenched his jaw. It was only after they were on the interstate that he spoke again. “I’m sorry,” he said quietly.

His apology broke Muriel out of her trance, as the touch of kindness stabbed through her heart, and she realized that her cheeks were wet, so she sniffed and wiped her face, sure that her eyes were red and puffy. She couldn’t bring herself to talk, so she turned to stare out the window. She didn’t want to give Aion the silent treatment, but she was certain that trying to speak would result in her sobbing again, and she was tired of crying so much.

“I made the wrong calculation, and I should have told you more.” Aion sounded subdued and repentant, and that emotion was just as unpleasant as the anger had been. Muriel wished that he would go back to his stoic self and let the whole thing go. “They lured you in there while distracting me,” he said.

“No one lured me anywhere.” Muriel sniffed again, and wished that she had a tissue, resorting to using the end of her sleeve to wipe her nose. She kept her face turned rigidly toward the window and away from Aion, wishing that she could somehow escape that car and undo that entire day. “I wanted to know what you wouldn’t tell me.”

“It was the Darkness.”

“That doesn’t even make sense.” Muriel rested her head against the glass. Nothing he said made sense, and he didn’t care that she didn’t understand him. Why couldn’t he explain everything to her?

“I told you that I am from the Light. Our enemies are from the Darkness. They manipulated events to separate us and called you to that shop,” he said.

No, that wasn’t what Muriel wanted either. His words were childishly simple, and made her feel incompetent, and ignorant. She decided she didn’t want him to explain anything after all, and that she would feel better if he simply shut up entirely, so she didn’t have to hear his voice anymore.

“What does it matter?” Muriel snapped. “The stupid Tarot cards didn’t say anything relevant at all. It was a waste of time!”

“It isn’t what they said that matters! Simply using them sent out a beacon. Has it occurred to you that we’re in hiding?” He sounded frustrated.

“I didn’t know!” Muriel started crying. “I didn’t know, because you think that I’m too stupid for you to tell me anything!”

Aion went silent, his mind churning with thoughts that he would never share. She hated that, too, and Muriel felt herself growing angrier, furious that this stranger had waltzed in and took her life away from her. She had never agreed to marry him, they had never had a wedding, and she didn’t want to be with him.

“Take me home,” she demanded.

“You don’t mean that,” Aion retorted.

“I do too. I want to go home!”

Aion flipped the turn signal and they exited the interstate. He pulled into the parking lot of a nearby motel, and Muriel was sure that he was going to drop her off and drive away, leaving her all alone. She thought about what it would be like to call her parents for help, and she hated herself for what she had said, but she couldn’t bring herself to say that Aion was right and that she didn’t want to go home at all; she hated him, too.

She waited quietly as he paid for a room, and another thought crossed her mind. Perhaps he intended to force her the way that her father had. The motel looked cheap and dirty, not at all like the other rooms that they had stayed in, and the difference in quality surely meant something. Her heart started pounding and she felt faint as she fumbled with the door handle, opening it and stumbling out of the car along with half of their shopping bags. Then she bolted.

Aion caught her from behind and she screamed, but his hand clamped over her mouth. “Muriel, get a hold of yourself!” he ordered, holding her tight as she struggled against him, not letting her move or make a sound.

She felt weak and helpless, slipping back into a moment of resignation to someone stronger than her. She couldn’t stop Aion as he picked her up, and sobbed uncontrollably as he carried her to their room. Then he put her down on the bed, and Muriel felt ready to die.

He began stroking her hair, as he sang a soft and beautiful song, in a strange language that was haunting and familiar. It was unexpected, and for a moment hurt worse than anything else that he could have done, because Muriel had never experienced such tender sweetness before in all of her life. But as he sang on, Muriel’s muscles slowly began to relax and she stopped crying, realizing that she was safe after all. Aion wasn’t going to hurt or abandon her – he was there to help her, and she could feel it in the sound of sincerity in his voice. She moved to place her head in his lap and closed her eyes, letting the song absorb into her soul and calm the storm inside her mind.

“Do you feel better?” he asked when he was done singing.

She nodded. Aion moved to stand up, but she panicked, clutching on to him and pleading, “No, don’t leave me. I didn’t mean it.”

Aion kissed her forehead and cupped her cheek with his hand as he looked into her eyes, his own eyes shining bright and blue. “I’m just going to move the car, then I’m coming back.”

“You promise?” she asked.

“I promise. Take the time to shower and relax, but don’t leave this room and keep the curtains closed. Understand?” He kissed her forehead again. “We’ll be okay.” Assured that Muriel was satisfied with being alone for a few minutes, Aion silently crossed the room to the door and slipped through, closing it behind him.

Outside in the parking lot, Aion slowly picked up their shopping bags and the spilled clothing, and piled them back onto the passenger’s seat. After walking around to the driver’s side, he stopped with his hand on the handle and pressed his forehead against the top of the door, taking in a deep ragged breath before whispering, “Help me, Sophia. This world is getting to me.”

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Light Eternal chapter 8

Chapter 8

Muriel had gotten tired of the food that was usually offered at the hotels they stayed in, so, after showering that morning, she had asked if they could go out for breakfast. After a quick internet search, they had found a highly-rated diner and were now seated at a booth with omelets. They hadn’t spoken to each other very much, but Muriel didn’t mind. She wanted some time to sort through her thoughts.

While she off a piece of egg and cheese and chewing it slowly, Muriel stared at Aion and wondered at how much she had previously missed about him and everything around them. He always wore button up shirts in deep jewel tones; today it was a deep and vibrant blue, with black slacks that looked tailored, wrinkle-free, and spotless no matter what. His shoes were similarly shiny black and spotless, as if they were freshly waxed every morning.

There were a couple heavy gold rings on his left hand – including his ring finger – with ornate engravings that reminded Muriel of abstract flower vines. She wondered what that meant, especially in regards to who Aion really was. While she was soaking in as much as she could about his appearance, she still didn’t know much about his background or identity.

Despite the fact that Muriel had never seen him use the shower, he always looked perfectly clean and manicured. His hair was always silky and smooth, though he did alternate between wearing it pulled back or leaving it loose, and his chin never sported any stubble. Come to think of it, Muriel realized with a shock, she had never seen him sleep, either, but there was never any trace of fatigue in him – he always had the refreshing glow of perfect health about him. At least his appetite was normal.

As for Muriel herself, she felt drab and plain. Her clothes were worn and faded, and she didn’t have any makeup to wear to cover up her pale skin or the dark circles under her eyes. Every time she looked in the mirror, she felt that she was too wounded and haunted to be pretty, no matter what Aion said to the contrary. When they had first sat down, she noticed the dirty look that the waitress had given her, and the way that she had tried to flirt with Aion. It made her feel insecure and inadequate, until Aion responded with such indifference that waitress hurried away like a dog with its tail in between its legs. Would it be rude of her to suggest that they leave a small tip? Muriel liked that thought.

But Muriel still wished that she felt like his match, instead of a small and helpless girl who was already worn and frayed. She could easily imagine him with someone who oozed confidence and grace, like a goddess, yet, for some reason, he only had eyes for her.

She also hadn’t realized how much traveling they had been doing, and she wasn’t sure which part of the country they were in anymore. How was it that she got into a car, day after day, without ever noticing which color it was, or where they were going? She wasn’t even sure how many days it had been. They were on an endless road trip, with no destination to direct them, or to limit them.

Ever since she had met the Grim, she had been in a deep dream where nothing made sense, yet it had never occurred to her to question how nonsensical her world had become. Now she was waking up, and waking up was difficult.

“Are you married?” Muriel asked, breaking the silence as she gestured towards Aion’s left hand. His reply didn’t surprise her.

“Yes. To you.”

Muriel sighed. She wanted to question him – to question everything – but she didn’t feel like there would be much point in doing so, other than exhausting and frustrating herself. He would probably give her evasive answers anyway. Instead, she commented, “I don’t have a ring.”

“Do you want one?” he asked.

“Of course.” Muriel held up her left hand to show her empty finger. “If I don’t also have a ring, everyone is going to think that you’re cheating on your wife with a high school student.” It was probably a nasty thing to say, but Muriel somehow felt that it was the sort of thing that she should say, considering that she wasn’t talking to him as an innocent virgin. Again, she couldn’t figure out why he wanted her, when she had nothing that she could give him.

“Let’s go get one then,” Aion said. “Don’t worry about the price.”

Muriel couldn’t believe her ears. “What?” she gasped. “Anything I want?”

“Anything you want,” he repeated.

A feisty side that Muriel had never known welled up inside of her, and she wanted to push the limits and find the boundaries of his generosity. After all, wedding rings weren’t cheap, and he had suggested buying her one with a casualness that had seemed almost irreverent. Law of Attraction aside, he was talking about a lot of money. “I absolutely hate my clothes,” she added coyly. “Can I get new ones? Makeup too, of course, and maybe some hair accessories and necklaces so I can focus on my appearance a bit more. And maybe some electronics or some such to keep me occupied while we’re driving around.”

“As long as we don’t overfill the car, we can buy a few things.” He smiled, a sort of indulgent and amused smile that made her think he was offering a counter challenge and testing her limits. “Would you like to have a fun date today and go to the movies as well?”

“Yeah, that sounds nice …” With that simple suggestion, he had outclassed her. She couldn’t couldn’t keep asking for more, because all of a sudden she started to get the sensation that everything was unreal. There was no way that her crappy life had led to finding herself married to a gorgeous man with unspeakable amounts of money – it was just too much like bad fanfiction. “Holy crap!” she exclaimed. “I’m dead!”

That seemed to strike a nerve in Aion. He grew somber, and spent a moment staring into Muriel’s eyes, until she began to shift uncomfortably. There was something in his gaze that penetrated through her, to something beyond, and it made her feel empty inside. Slowly, he reached up and touched the center of Muriel’s forehead, and whispered, “In a sense, you are. Now you are a wisp of what you were.”

Chills raced down Muriel’s back, and for a second she couldn’t breathe. She could feel the truth in what he said, but she couldn’t understand it. It was a forgotten memory, just out of reach, and blocked from her, as though a solid pane of glass had been place inside her mind. In a way, she could barely see it, like a glowing blossom surrounded by darkness, and she knew that it was somehow a part of her. She shivered again.

“Hey, I’m done eating, so let’s get going,” she said quickly, breaking the moment with the sound of her voice. It also pulled Aion out of his reverie, and he agreed, then went to pay the check. Too late, Muriel remembered that she didn’t want to tip the waitress very much, but it didn’t matter. Her mind was too heavy to care.

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Light Eternal Chapter 7

Chapter 7

Muriel looked up from her notebook, her heart pounding in her throat; for a moment she thought that she didn’t have the strength in her to say what was on her mind. But, as she looked at Aion, sitting at the desk and occupying himself with setting up their brand new laptop, she longed to open up to him and share her terrible secret, to say it out loud for him to hear. So, she said, “I remember.”

Aion turned to look at her, waiting silently. She knew that she had his full attention, and that she couldn’t back out now.

Muriel closed her eyes for a moment, and took a deep breath, staying her nerves just long enough to blurt out, “My dad raped me, and that’s why I ran away.” The sound of her voice knocked the breath out of her, and she couldn’t take in another. Her throat clenched up painfully, and for a moment she wondered if she was going to die. How could anyone continue to live after something like that? She knew that she wasn’t strong enough, and that the truth was on the verge of consuming her completely. But Aion’s arms encircled her, and she remembered that she didn’t have to rely on her strength alone – he was there to help her.

“Don’t fight it, just cry,” he whispered.

The floodgates broke open. She closed her eyes and wailed, with more anguish than she had known it was possible to feel. Every inch of her body stung, and all she could do was scream and cry as the heartbreak of betrayal overtook her. She had lost her family, safety, and innocence, and she had been powerless to stop it from happening. She could never be the same after that, and she could never undo it. It was a part of her, forever, and she sobbed helplessly into Aion’s chest with the force of all the emotion that overwhelmed her.

After what felt like a long time, when she no longer had the strength to keep crying, and had collapsed listlessly into Aion’s embrace, Muriel asked weakly, “How could he do that to me?”

“He was rotted.” Aion’s voice rumbled against her cheek. He sounded serious, and spoke rather darkly. “On a spiritual level it looks like a thick, sticky cobweb enveloping a splotchy yellow and purple body; the sign of a very sick soul. Some people find the shroud comforting and seek to maintain the rot at any cost, believing it to be the true state of who they are – the only way to maintain it is to spread it.”

“Spread it?” Muriel felt light headed and on the verge of fainting. “Does that mean that it got on me?”

“It won’t stay,” Aion said quickly. “It’s already shedding loose, and I will help purify you.”

“How horrible …” Muriel felt weak, and a bit surprised when she realized that, oddly, it was not for herself. She was certain that she going to be free of the rot, that she was going to heal and recover with Aion by her side, yet there were people out there who clung to the poison and identified with it, giving it to others in order to keep it themselves. The thought was nauseating.

“I watched what happened to you from above,” Aion whispered, holding her tight, “and it gave me the strength to come down. I wish that I had succeeded sooner, bet I’m glad that I wasn’t a moment longer.”

“Because of the Grim?” she whispered back.

His reply shocked her. “That was a deliberate attack.”

“Why would someone attack me?” she gasped, looking up into Aion’s eyes and studying his face, trying hard to read him.

“Because you are important to me.”

There was something there. Muriel could feel it, but she couldn’t grasp what it was – something Aion wasn’t telling her. Something important.

“Why?” she asked.

“Because I am important to you,” he said.

He was evading her again, and that made Muriel angry. Why did he have to treat her that way? Why did he make sweet promises in one moment, then act cagey and deceptive in the next? If he cared about her so much, then why didn’t he trust her? She pushed Aion away as hard as she could and yelled, “Why can’t you just tell me the truth?!”

For a moment Aion’s face twitched with frustration before smoothing over again. Muriel realized for the first time that he possessed an agelessness that was inhumanly beautiful, and that beneath his stoic facade she could sense the wheels of his mind churning.

“I haven’t made up my mind about my next step,” Aion answered. “And I don’t want you to be targeted again. I can’t have anything bad happen to you again.” There was sincerity in his voice, and she realized that he was sharing one truth with her.

“It’s not because you think that I’m stupid, or something?” she demanded.

“No, I’m protecting you.”

Muriel felt subdued as she whispered, “I’m sorry.” Muriel knew that she was silly for expecting him to harbor judgmental thoughts against her. It probably wasn’t in him to ever think anything negative about her, and she was letting her irrational fears get the better of her. Why couldn’t she have more control over her emotions? Why couldn’t she be as calm as Aion?

“I love you, Muriel Gardner.”

New tears slipped out from Muriel’s eyes. She couldn’t remember anyone ever wanting to love or protect her, and the realization was both sweet and painful. She fell against Aion’s chest and clutched at his shirt, holding onto his strength with all of her might. She was too emotional, and she didn’t want that to drive him away – she didn’t want him to coldly check out while she lost control of herself, so she vowed that she was going to be better to prevent that from happening. She needed him, more than anything else.

For the first time in a long while, even though it was still completely unknown to her, she felt like she had a future – because of Aion.

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Light Eternal chapter 6

Chapter 6

The car stopped outside of a Victorian house, with a front yard full of dark skeletal trees that reached towards them, overhanging a gray stone pathway that led up to a wide porch. Mixed amongst the trees were statues of fairies and angels, some of them still sparkling with morning frost in a way that made them seem alive. The porch held a number of wind chimes, empty flower pots, and knickknacks with brightly colored stones and more fairies. It was all very surreal. Muriel clung to Aion’s sleeve, while silently praying that she wouldn’t wake up and slip away. To stand on that old wooden porch, surrounded by images of fantasy and magic, felt too unreal to be happening.

Aion was talking to a middle-aged woman, though Muriel had neither realized that he had knocked, nor that the door had opened. The woman was wearing a long black dress, with lace along the hems, and a lot of silver jewelry with crosses and gemstones, her dark hair was pulled back into a bun, and she wore lots of dark makeup.

“… she hasn’t been doing very well lately,” the woman was in the middle of saying, “the State mandated that she take her medication, and it makes her so sick.”

“That won’t matter. Go ahead, and tell Raven that we’re here,” Aion replied.

“Please come in and sit down.” The woman motioned them inside and led them to the sitting room just off to the side of the front door. It was a strange room, with old-fashioned couches lining the walls, and a large drum sitting in the corner; every available surface was covered in candles waiting to be lit. Muriel could have sworn that the air quivered with magic, but she was sure that it was just her imagination.

“We’ll be back in a moment,” the woman said. “Please make yourselves comfortable. Is there any food or drink that you would like?”

“No thank you, Chrystal, we’ll be fine. Besides, I don’t think that Muriel is here, at the moment,” Aion replied, and Muriel thought that it was a strange thing to say. If she wasn’t there, then where else could she be? He made no sense at times.

When they were alone, Aion asked in a low and gentle voice, “Muriel, do you know where we are?”

She looked at him with wide eyes and slowly shook her head. She remembered leaving their hotel room that morning, but the drive itself was a blur. She wasn’t even sure which part of the country they were in, anymore, because even the weather seemed unfamiliar.

He took her hand as he asked, “Do you know why we’re here?”

Again, she couldn’t remember, and again she shook her head. Muriel became worried that he was going to think she was stupid, for being unable to remember such simple things.

“Do you know my name?”

She wanted to remember, but she couldn’t. He was important to her, and she couldn’t remember his name. Tears welled up in her eyes, and he lightly pulled her into an embrace, stroking her hair. “Don’t worry about it,” he whispered. “You’re in a very dissociated state right now, but, after today, things will be a bit better. We’re here to retrieve a part of your soul, my princess, and it will help you feel more solid.”

Muriel closed her eyes and melted into the sound of his voice. She wanted to stay against his chest forever, where she felt comforted and warm, but the sound of running footsteps approached, and she knew that moment was over. Another woman had appeared in the archway leading into the room.

“You’re here,” she spoke breathlessly.

Aion smiled, and reached towards her, and she flung herself forward to hug him tightly. “I knew you were coming. I kept telling Chrystal, over and over, ‘they’re coming’, but I was honestly beginning to worry. Sometimes I can’t tell which is real and which isn’t, anymore.”

He patted Raven’s head and waited for a moment as she closed her eyes and grinned. Muriel watched them, and wondered if her eyes were playing tricks on her, because Aion seemed so tall and straight, graciously accepting Raven’s admiration and worship of him. Instead of feeling jealous, Muriel was even more confused. Was he really an angel?

Chrystal walked into the room as well, and tapped on Raven’s shoulder. When they made eye contact, Chrystal smiled and motioned towards Muriel. Raven gasped and threw her hands up to cover her mouth.

“It’s her!” Raven’s voice was muffled, but ecstatic. “It’s her!”

“You didn’t think that I would come without her, did you?” Aion grinned and his eyes gleamed. “She’s going by Muriel now, and my name is Aion.”

Suddenly Muriel had Raven’s arms around her, squeezing her as Raven cried, “I am so blessed, to have this moment in my life, so blessed …”

Muriel wished she knew what was going on.

“We’re here for a soul retrieval for Muriel,” Aion said.

Raven stepped back and frowned. “Oh, no, no, no. This is no good. She is not simply lost, she is captured – I cannot fight such battles. You would be far better equipped for this journey than I.”

“Don’t try to retrieve that soul parts that have been sealed away,” Aion said quickly. “Simply bring back the pieces that fled during her human life. There was one event in particular that happened, not too long ago, that needs to be addressed.”

“Please, sit down while I light the candles,” Chrystal said. “Raven and I will take care of the preparations and call on Sophia to guide us.”

“Who is Sophia?” Muriel asked.

Aion let out a pained chuckle, and his face twisted with amused sorrow. Muriel wondered what it was that she had just said that would call for such a response from him. “She’s a goddess, to simplify,” he answered, and Muriel knew that there was more to it than that.

“Here, you just sit; try to stay as present minded as you can.” Raven said, as she pulled Muriel into the middle of the room, and pointed at the floor. “Don’t worry, we keep it very clean. Your clothing won’t get dirty at all.”

Muriel wondered why she would care about sitting on the floor. She didn’t like her clothes, anyway.

“No …” Raven’s eyes met Aion’s and she trailed off. “Oh goodness, I forgot what I was saying. Anyway, you sit on the sofa to be part of the circle around her.”

“You’re a unique bird,” Aion murmured as he sat down. “Don’t be overwhelmed by the intensity of the journey. There is more energy around you than you are accustomed to.”

Raven burst out laughing. “What an understatement! Chrystal, are the candles all lit?”

“Just about … there, all done. Excuse me, while I turn off the lights and take my place at the drum.” She smiled as she sat and picked up a large baton.

Raven sat on the floor next to Muriel and said, “Stay as present minded as you can,” before she lay down. Chrystal began drumming, and the air pulsed with a steady rhythm.

Muriel watched the light from the candles dance and flicker on the wall, and wondered what was supposed to happen. Then she looked at Aion, who nodded to reassure her, and finally her gaze rested on her hands.

Aion had looked so breathtakingly beautiful in the low light, she thought to herself. She wished she knew why he was so interested in her.

The drumming wanted to pull her mind away. Her thoughts wandered over the past, and lingered on Aion, until she could no longer stand the butterflies that filled her stomach. She felt sure that she was falling in love, but she didn’t dare tell him yet. She worried that she was too damaged for him to want her romantically, though he had kissed her, and told her that he loved her. He didn’t seem to care that she was broken.

She was supposed to stay present-minded. Muriel shook her head, to clear her thoughts, and tried hard to focus on her breathing and the candles that surrounded them. She avoided looking at Aion, certain that she would succumb to her imaginations and fears again.

She wondered how long this was supposed to last. The drumming stretched out into eternity. The sound was so hypnotic that she wanted to close her eyes and leave her body.

The thought was tantalizing.

Just when Muriel thought that she couldn’t resist it any longer, when her eyes were on the verge of drifting shut, Raven sat up. She cupped her hands on Muriel’s forehead, blew into them, and tapped the top of Muriel’s head three times with her finger.

“All done!” Raven exclaimed.

The drumming stopped, and a chill ran through Muriel’s body, causing goosebumps all over her skin. The candlelit seemed more vibrant, and she somehow felt lighter than she had been a moment ago. Had it worked?

“Thank you.” Aion stood and helped Muriel to her feet. “I’m sorry to run so quickly, but we don’t want to attract any unwanted attention to you.”

“Would you like to hear the journey?” Raven asked.

Aion glanced at Muriel, then said, “No, that won’t be necessary. Thank you.”

“Thank you, for the honor.” The two women stood side by side, clasping hands and crying silently as they waved goodbye. Aion took a moment to embrace them both, and whispered into Raven’s ears, “You’ll gain the ability to control it, and your life will be yours again. Both of you will be enormously blessed for the help that you’ve given us this day.”

Both of the women began crying harder, wringing their hands and looking at each other with hope, as Raven asked, “No more medications?”

“Everything will be as it should be.” Aion placed a hand on top of Raven’s head. “This is my gratitude to you.”

“Thank you!”

The door closed, and Muriel and Aion walked back to their car. She didn’t know what to think, and was struggling to process what had happened. “Who were they?” Muriel asked.

“Raven and Chrystal are sisters. Some years ago Raven was diagnosed with schizophrenia, but the truth is that the veil is thinner for her – she has a natural ability to travel to the Otherworld, but, of course, all of the interventions and medications have turned it into a curse, rather than the gift that it was meant to be. Chrystal has dedicated her life to taking care of Raven; she earns money as a psychic, though her abilities aren’t as strong as Raven’s.”

“Are you good friends with them?” Muriel asked.

“This is the first time I’ve ever met them,” Aion replied.

“Then how do you know all that?”

“I know everything.”

cover

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