Light Eternal chapter 5

Chapter 5

Muriel couldn’t remember how many days it had been. As she packed up her clothes, it felt as if she was putting away the pieces of another life – one that had never belong to her – and she hated all the beige and cream colored blouses that made up her wardrobe. To her, it seemed as if she had always existed in that hotel room, and closing the door behind them felt like saying goodbye to a major piece of her, and it was heartbreaking to go. She couldn’t even remember what she had done while she was there, or what the room looked like beyond that locked door, and that was too much to bear.

Once again her backpack was hanging from her shoulders, pulling her back to a familiar scene that had happened in another time. “It’s just like when I died,” she commented dazedly to Aion, following him as they walked through the hallway, heading towards the parking lot. She was floating somewhere above her head, and everything around her reflected an odd gleam. She didn’t know what was real anymore. “Did I dream you, or are you an angel?” she asked, staring at Aion, and trying hard to process what she saw about him. He slipped out of her mind just as easily as everything else.

“Neither,” he answered.

The freshly fallen snow reflected the morning sunlight, blinding Muriel, for a moment, when they stepped outside. Her breath formed a cloud in front of her face, and a sudden pang shot through her heart as she watched the water vapor swirl in the air. She quietly breathed, “I don’t want to be dead.”

Aion spoke from somewhere far away, “You’ll live again.”

“What does living even mean?” Muriel looked down at her hands, and somehow couldn’t recognize them. Were they too small, or too large, to belong to her? She couldn’t remember what she was supposed to look like. “Am I in someone else’s body?”

“You aren’t grounded.”

“You say the weirdest things.” Muriel paused, as a feeling swelled up in her stomach. It was a sort of longing or sickness that quickly consumed her, and it was all that she could think about. “Can I go home?” she asked.

Aion abruptly stopped. “What?”

“Can I go home?” she repeated.

His face took on a strange expression. “What’s my name?” he asked.

“Aion.”

“Where is your home?”

“I don’t know.” Muriel shrugged. “I just really want to go home. I’m tired.”

Slowly Aion put his arms around her and pulled her against his chest, embracing her much harder than he had ever done so before. Putting his mouth against her forehead, Aion whispered, “Your home is right here.”

Muriel closed her eyes and felt the strength in Aion’s arms. His muscles were hard underneath his dark wool coat, and Muriel wondered why he didn’t hug her more often. She wanted to sink into him, to shed her body and meld into his intoxicating smell, to become a part of him forever. Something in her heart stirred, and a tiny part of her wanted more than just an embrace.

But the sensation of different arms took over, squeezing the air out of her. She was suffocating, choking on a nauseating stench that terrified her, as a heavy pressure pushed against her body, making her feel exposed and vulnerable. Her eyes opened wide and she struggled to breathe in, as she pushed against Aion, struggling to get him away. He was too heavy. She couldn’t … stop … him …

“Muriel!” Aion took her face in his hands. “Snap out of it.”

Her eyes focused on his face, and the long blonde hair that caught the sun and shined like a halo. He was an angel. Even if he denied it, Muriel realized that he was an angel who had come to watch over her. He was too beautiful to be human, and focusing on his brilliant blue eyes calmed down the storm that had so completely seized her mind. She slowly stepped back into the present, following Aion, as he instructed, “Take a deep breath. Good. Now another one.” They stood for a moment, their eyes locked, as Muriel breathed in and out. She was still shaky, but she had regained enough of herself to ask, “What happened?”

“You experienced a body memory.”

“What?”

“A flashback.”

Muriel wrapped her arms around herself and shivered. She still felt too exposed, and wished that she could disappear inside of a cocoon where no one could ever find her. “I felt like I was being crushed,” she murmured.

“I know.” Aion kissed her forehead. “You’re safe with me.” As if he could read her thoughts, he lightly took her hand, and led her at arms length to his car, where he held open the door for her to climb in. Once she was secure inside, the muscles in her shoulders suddenly sagged, releasing tension that she hadn’t realized was there. She still wanted to keep her arms folded, as if that would somehow protect her from the unknown and invisible threat that surrounded her.

“I felt him,” Muriel whispered, as Aion sat in the driver’s seat, and he remained silent. His hands rested on the steering wheel, his face inscrutable. It upset her that he never responded to her, that he wasn’t saying anything to encourage her to talk about what had just happened. Perhaps he wasn’t an angel after all. Perhaps he was just a man. “What if you’re like him?” she said, “What if all men are? I mean, you’re always so cryptic and you won’t tell me what’s going on. Who are you? Why are you here?” At some point she had started crying, but it felt more real than the world that surrounded her and she didn’t want to stop.

Then he spoke, with words that were quiet, but clear, and pierced through what was left of her soul, “I have loved you since before time existed. I’m here because I belong to you.”

Whatever strength had been holding Muriel broke, and she collapsed forward like a rag doll, sobbing. “Then why weren’t you there?”

He was quiet again. Muriel looked up and realized that his cheeks were wet, and she felt guilty for putting him in that state, for pushing him so far. She felt guilty that she hadn’t considered that his silences contained his own emotions, and perhaps he hid them for her benefit, because he knew that she was a mess.

“I’m sorry. I … I didn’t mean to. I’m sorry,” she whispered.

Aion kissed her. It was unexpected, fierce and passionate, and the way he tasted was delicious. It was even more real than the crying had been, and Muriel’s heart clung to it – a moment of warmth in a world filled with cold. She felt a pure love pouring out from deep inside of him, soothing away the turmoil that had been tearing at her heart, filling her with a sense of strength and peace that she had never experienced before.

“I will protect you,” he said. “You’re safe, now that I’m with you. Forever.”

 

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Light Eternal chapter 4

Chapter 4

Muriel stared down at the notebook in front of her, feeling as if her heart had frozen completely. The pages contained her handwriting, but she couldn’t remember filling them. Worse, she couldn’t remember the events that she had apparently written about, and the words made her feel sick to her stomach. It didn’t feel quite right that she couldn’t remember much at all about her life, that everything outside of the present moment shouldn’t feel like a dark blur, but she was certain that those words couldn’t be real. Perhaps she had been writing a story out of boredom, and had simply forgotten about it.

But it didn’t feel like a story, and that made her want to fade away and disappear, right then and there. Why did she have that notebook? Why did she write such horrible things?

Aion came back into their hotel room, carrying styrofoam containers. It was odd that she didn’t remember him leaving, that she hadn’t realized that she was alone. Everything felt strange. “What’s this?” she asked, terrified of the answer. She just wanted to hear Aion’s voice, to have him somehow wake her up and pull her back to reality. She wanted him to say that it was nothing.

“Your journal. I asked you to write down everything you could remember about your life.”

No, not those terrible words.

“No. No. No. This isn’t my life.” Muriel quickly flipped to one of the pages and pointed. “I’d definitely remember if that happened to me.”

“It did.” Why was Aion so calm as he said something so horrible? He was being too cruel; it was unbearable.

“No it didn’t!” Muriel’s temper suddenly exploded, and she screamed with all the desperation that was squeezing her heart and throat painfully, “Nothing like that has ever happened to me! I would remember!”

“You aren’t lucid right now.”

He was too calm, even while she was losing control. It infuriated and hurt her, as if somehow his placidity meant that he didn’t really care about her. He should look disturbed, start crying, or get angry. Anything. But his face was expressionless, like always.

“I am too lucid!” Muriel started crying, her whole body shaking. “You’re just a stranger; you don’t know anything about me. You don’t know anything!” she shrieked, grabbing one of the pillows and throwing it at Aion. It missed.

Aion carefully put their dinner down, then slowly walked over to Muriel, somehow seeming giant as he loomed over her. Muriel tried to shrink down, frightened that she had gone too far, as he looked down on her, wondering what he was going to do. Maybe he would tell her to get out, and leave her with nowhere to go, or do something to punish her. He moved very slowly as he bent over, lightly touching her cheek as he brushed his lips against hers, startling her even more than a slap would have. Muriel’s head stopped swimming, and her eyelids drifted closed as her mouth began to tingle, but Aion didn’t push for more.

Instead, he whispered, “I have watched you from the heavens from the moment of your birth, and I have seen everything. I know every smile, every tear, every pain, and I am here now because I wished it. Do not degrade me like that, understand?”

Muriel nodded mutely, and Aion wiped the tears off her cheeks. She felt sorry that she had tried so hard to provoke him; his voice had sounded so heavy and sincere. Underneath that mask of stoicism, she had glimpsed a raging tempest inside of him, and she regretted what she had said.

“You seem to be slipping away every time I leave you alone,” he murmured, stroking her hair and keeping his face close to hers. “From now on, I’m keeping you with me at all times.”

“I’m sorry,” Muriel whispered, as fresh tears spilled down her cheeks. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I don’t want to be this way.”

“You’re beautiful, no matter what.” Aion gently guided Muriel over to the table and helped her sit down, pulling out the styrofoam containers and opening them up for her to eat. “I swore my servitude to you,” he said as he worked, “so, if you need to cry, it is my duty to support and comfort you as you do it.”

Sniffling, Muriel asked, “Why? Why are you here?”

“Like I said, I knew you before you were born and I have watched you your whole life.” A faint trace of sadness flashed across Aion’s face, and the way he asked, “Do you remember my name?” made it seem like he was changing the subject.

Muriel rubbed her eyes and murmured, “Aion, I think,” suddenly feeling very tired and drained. The food smelled good, but she wasn’t sure if she had enough energy to eat it. However, she also knew that Aion would not let her skip a meal, especially not after that outburst. He wasn’t going to let her wallow in misery, even if she deserved it.

“Good, now let’s eat.” He handed her chopsticks and gestured for her to dig in, before deftly picking up the flat orange noodles with his own pair of chopsticks. We need to leave early in the morning.”

“What is this?” Muriel didn’t recognize the food, though she knew that it was some sort of Asian. She was shy about using the chopsticks, because she had very little practice, and was likely to embarrass herself, but she didn’t see any forks with their meal.

“Pad Thai,” Aion replied.

“Is it spicy?”

“A little. Don’t worry, I ordered mild for you.”

“I’ve never had this before. My parents always kept microwave dinners, and they hated eating out.” Muriel smiled slightly. “I’d like to start eating at restaurants, where there are waiters who fetch your drinks and clean up after you.”

“If you’d like to. I wasn’t certain if you wanted to go out in public, or spend some time hiding away after that Grim encounter, so I decided to play it safe.”

“Yeah … I think I do want to go out more,” Muriel said slowly, frowning as she tried to position the chopsticks in her hand. She had no clue what she was doing, and Aion noticed. He got up and came around behind her, leaned over as he took her hand, and positioned the chopsticks between her fingers. She could feel his body heat radiating off of him like electricity, and he smelled far better than the food. Secretly Muriel wished that he would stay close to her like that, but he moved away to sit back down, leaving goosebumps all across her skin. It took her a second to shake herself back into focus and clumsily spear a noodle to put in her mouth. After a moment of eating silently, one of Aion’s comments finally dawned on her, and she asked, “Where are we going tomorrow?”

“To retrieve your soul.”

“Oh, good.” Muriel felt a wave of relief sweep over her. “I want to feel normal again.”

Aion’s face was blank, yet somehow became as hard as stone. “I’m afraid it’s not so easy.”

“I don’t mind. I’ll do whatever it takes, because this …” she gestured towards the notebook, still lying on the bed, “is awful.”

“Don’t worry.” He smiled. “I promise that everything will be all right in the end.”

Later that night, Aion stood alone at the window and stared at the moon, one side completely flat as it continued to wane, telling of the coming darkness. “My poor princess,” he whispered out loud to himself, “you have no idea what lies ahead of you.” He glanced at Muriel, a tightly curled up lump under the blankets of her bed, sleeping soundly. He had put up a barrier around her to keep the nightmares away, to provide a safe relief from the reality that she barely grasped around her. She didn’t need to feel haunted by the truths that lurked just beneath the surface, by his failure to protect her. He wasn’t going to let anything bad happen to her again, no matter what. “And you have no idea what lies behind you,” he finished, clenching his fist.

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Light Eternal chapter 3

Chapter 3

“Where do souls go when they die?” Muriel asked out of the blue; her eyes were focused on her plate in front of her, as she used a fork to pick apart a waffle soaked in maple syrup. They were in the dining room of the hotel, with employees bustling around them to clean up the uneaten leftovers from the buffet table, as the other patrons slowly trickled out. Aion looked at her and carefully gauged the question in his mind, but, before he could answer, she commented instead, “Continental breakfasts always sound more exciting than they actually are.”

“Eating them usually helps make them more exciting,” Aion replied, the empty dishes from his own meal still sitting in front of him – he hadn’t wasted any time in satiating his hunger, then had settled back into waiting for Muriel to finish playing with her food. He was the most patient man that she had ever met, because he didn’t look or sound the slightest bit annoyed; just amused.

“Why don’t you have a home?” Muriel asked, in one last effort to avoid eating, but the way Aion’s face never changed felt unbearably persuasive; it made her feel that they would be there until the end of time, waiting for her to consume something. A patient man, she decided, was not necessarily a good thing. Because Muriel wasn’t too keen on sitting there all day, she finally took her first bite.

“Because I’m not human, and didn’t possess this form until last night,” Aion spoke after Muriel had swallowed and taken another bite. She had waited too long; now, the waffle was soggy and cold. Next time, she would eat right away, since she was sure that her will wasn’t stronger than Aion’s – his face never changed, no matter what she did.

His words make her choke slightly, but, after she recovered, she rolled her eyes at him and sighed in exasperation, then said, in her brattiest know-it-all voice, “Then how do you have money?” For some reason she felt loopy, and wasn’t sure why she was acting that way, but Aion was at ease. Besides, she had the feeling that he couldn’t abandon her, and he was unlikely to react poorly, anyway.

“Law of Attraction.”

“What? That doesn’t even make sense,” Muriel scoffed.

Reaching into his pocket, Aion pulled out his wallet and opened it, flashing her with a large number of bills that all sported big numbers. “Makes perfect sense to me.”

Gasping slightly, Muriel’s eyes opened wide. “You’re kidding me! I thought that the Law of Attraction was silly New Age gobbledygook. It really works? Just like that?”

Shaking his head with a slight smile, Aion pocketed his wallet. “I tell you that I’m a non-human creature of Light, and the part that you don’t believe is the wad of cash that I’m carrying around.”

Scowling, Muriel huffed, “If you put it that way …” before stuffing a large bite of waffle into her mouth. Secretly she was glad that he was showing off, because it made him seem slightly more approachable. It was hard to know how to talk to someone who seemed to have mastered stoicism so completely.

“What’s my name?” he asked suddenly.

She looked at him blankly, then laughed softly to cover up the anxiety that had formed a lump in her throat. “I don’t remember.” She tried to sound casual, to make it seem normal that she didn’t know his name, even though that frightened her even more.

“What’s your name?” he asked instead.

“Muriel Gardner.” She leaned back and folded her arms, losing her appetite entirely. Her voice had an edge to it that she hadn’t fully intended, but she didn’t want him to keep asking her questions.

The man, however, was satisfied. “As long as you can remember who you are, then we’re okay.” That caught her even more off guard than the original question had. Even though she was trying to pretend that it was normal to not remember his name, she didn’t want him to go along with her. She wanted him to give her a reason to be defensive, to lose her self-control and sob over how broken her mind seemed to be. She wanted to cry. But instead, he was calmly watching her with unwavering eyes. Something in her face must have tipped him off on her thoughts though, because he slowly and carefully continued, “Do you know what happened last night?”

“It was cold.” Muriel shivered reflexively, remembering the moonlight on the frost and the darkness that enveloped her, so she rushed to finish, “Then I met you and we got a hotel room together.”

Somehow she knew that she had said the wrong thing. Even though his expression remind blank, the man stood up and said, “Come. We’re going to buy a notebook, and you’re going to write in it every day.”

“What for?” Muriel slowly followed him, trembling slightly. She was sure that she had done something wrong, and this was somehow going to be her punishment. Maybe he didn’t actually like her, and maybe he was only there because he had unsavory intentions for her. But he smiled, and Muriel found her heart calming down. She was being unreasonable, she decided, and she shouldn’t entertain such dark thoughts.

“For starters, you can put my name in it to help you remember,” Aion teased as he opened the door and waited for Muriel to walk through. His tone sounded friendly and a bit flirtatious, so Muriel stuck her tongue out at him as they walked down the hallway.

“And what else would I write?” she asked.

“Just journal. We need to know if you experience further soul loss … or worse.”

“What could be worse?”

“You’re susceptible now, and I swore that I would protect you.” Now he was being evasive, so Muriel stopped with a slight stomp of her foot.

“Give me a straight answer,” she demanded.

“Not until you’re capable of remembering it,” he replied.

“I do remember. My soul was taken,” Muriel whispered and looked down, her bottom lip quivering. “After …”

Aion was quick to press a finger against her trembling lips, stopping her from speaking. “That’s good enough. You’re returning to lucidity.”

“What is a Grim, and why did one attack me?” Muriel asked. She suddenly felt small and vulnerable, so she grabbed onto Aion’s arm for fear that a gust of wind would blow her away. She wasn’t sure if she existed anymore or if she lived in Aion’s imagination, and the only way to reassure herself was to feel his solid muscles in her hands. Remembering was too much for her to endure, and she wanted to forget again. She wanted to forget everything, even her own name, but at that moment it was too well established in her mind.

“They are hell-hounds – omens of death. They come from the underworld. I can’t tell you why one attacked you.”

“It wasn’t because …” A tear spilled from her eye and onto her cheek.

“No.” Aion put his hand over Muriel’s. “That made the damage worse, but the Grim being there had nothing to do with it.”

“Do you know everything about me?” Muriel rested her head against Aion’s arm. He felt good to touch, and she wanted to snuggle against him even more.

“Probably,” he replied.

“Are you my guardian angel?”

“I am now.” He wrapped both arms around her and patted her hair, and electric tingles shot through Muriel’s body. As long as he was there, she knew that she was safe.

“I know nothing about you,” she whispered into his chest.

“Do you remember my name?”

Muriel paused. “Aion.” She felt pleased with herself for remembering, and started to grin.

“That’s something that you know about me.” He smiled with her, then took her hand as they began walking back to their room again.

“What sort of name is it?” she asked.

“A big one,” he replied.

“It’s two syllables.”

“I know.”

“What does it mean?”

“We could look it up online.”

“You’re frustrating me!” Muriel hit him lightly on the shoulder and giggled slightly.

Aion winked as he said, “That was the idea.”

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Light Eternal Chapter 2

Chapter 2

The motel room that Muriel walked into wasn’t noteworthy in any way – it was neither expensive, nor cheap, but still reminiscent of vacationing on a budget – with a slight musty smell and worn carpet – but it was clean and well-maintained. Muriel slowly pulled off her coat, revealing a pink sweater worn over a baggy white blouse, and hung it up on the coat stand near the door. She shivered slightly, hugged herself, and rubbed her arms, then turned up the thermostat on the heater underneath the front window before sitting down on one of the two queen-sized beds, where she opened her backpack. She sifted through it and pulled out a photograph of her parents and stared at it.

She had almost forgotten.

How could she forget?

Burning tears stung her eyes as she crumpled up the picture and threw it away in the small garbage can by the bed; she didn’t know why she had packed it in the first place. Trying very hard to hide any signs of crying, she hurriedly grabbed the bag and ran to the bathroom, locking the door behind her.

Aion stood straight and tall in the doorway as a frozen breeze blew past him and into the room, taking a moment to look at the garbage can, his face hard and unreadable. In his mind he was weighing something, considering it carefully, until another thought came to him and broke him out of his brooding. Then he reached into his pocket, pulled out the key-cards for their room, and put one down on the nearby table, before quietly leaving.

The hot steamy shower reminded Muriel of how cold she had been, and the contrast hurt almost too much to bear. She had to acclimate herself slowly, starting at lukewarm and gradually adjusting the temperature up, wondering when the prickling goosebumps that covered her skin would subside. There was something inside that was untouched by the water and heat, a sort of emptiness that kept her feeling chilled in the center of her bones. She couldn’t remember if it had always been there, but her skin was turning bright red from the heat, so she slowly turned the water off and stepped out of the tub.

After she wrapped herself up a towel, Muriel stared at herself in the mirror, water dripping from her sopping hair. Her face looked strange and unfamiliar, and she felt sure that it belonged to someone else. She didn’t like her hair, which seemed too dark and too short, even though it hung slightly past her shoulders. Somehow, that didn’t seem like her; it didn’t seem like how she would keep her hair. Her eyes were a pretty shade of hazel, but they had a haunted look that frightened her. She couldn’t think of why her eyes would look like that. She quickly turned from the mirror and rummaged through her backpack looking for clothes, but, again, it felt like she was intruding on someone else’s life. The jeans were too big around the waist, and she had to belt them to make them stay up. The blouses were all baggy, bland, and unappealing. She pulled on something pink, because it seemed like the most vibrant thing she could find, and she didn’t want to feel faded.

Exiting the bathroom, Muriel was surprised to see a burger bag sitting on the table next to the mini fridge. She didn’t realize that she had been in the bathroom long enough for the man to leave and come back, but she appreciated that he had thought to bring her food – he must have gone to one of those all-right places, because the clock next to the bed read midnight. Muriel reached into the bag and was shocked to realize that the food was cold; she slowly sank down into a chair, baffled at how that was possible. It had felt like she had been in the bathroom for only a few minutes.

How long had it been? She hadn’t checked the time when they arrived; now, she wished she had. She felt fuzzy and awful; a strange buzzing began in her head, carrying her focus away for a moment.

The door opened and Aion stepped in, pausing to take off his coat, but Muriel stared blankly ahead of her, not responding to his appearance. She looked listless, but he wasn’t surprised. He walked over to her and very carefully took one of her hands, watching to make sure that she didn’t flinch or look frightened.

“Do you remember me?” he whispered.

Her eyes focused on his face and she frowned, trying hard to grasp something that wouldn’t come to her. She knew that she knew him, but the answer of who he was wouldn’t come to her. “I don’t … know,” she murmured.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

She paused, alarmed that she didn’t immediately know. Then, with some relief, she found herself replying, “Muriel,” and didn’t give any indication that it felt like someone else had answered for her.

“Where are we?” the man asked.

That one seemed easy. “In a hotel room.”

“Where?”

It wasn’t an easy question after all, and she lowered her head, biting her lip for a moment to repress the urge to cry before muttering, “… I don’t remember.”

Aion gently stroked the top of her head, his fingers sending tingles through Muriel’s scalp and down her neck, seemingly satisfied, despite her inability to remember such simple things. “Go ahead and eat, and don’t worry,” he said gently. “You’re experiencing a fugue state, but it’s nothing to be alarmed about. You’ll grow used to them in time.”

She wanted to cry again, because his gentleness hurt in a way that didn’t make sense. To cover it up, she quickly asked, “How long have we been here?”

“About two hours.”

Muriel nodded and pulled out the burger, peeling off the wrapper before she slowly took a bite and swallowed. Cold hamburgers were not as good as fresh ones; she clung to that thought because it was inane and meaningless – anything to keep herself away from the frozen pain that was trapped inside her chest, hiding just under her ribcage. “What was your name again?” she asked after a moment.

“Aion.”

“Aion,” she repeated softly. “Am I going to be okay?”

“I promise that you will be.”

Muriel leaned forward and wrapped her arms around Aion’s chest, resting her head against him. The warmth from his body felt good, and reminded Muriel that she was still alive. She could hear his heart beating, and it eased tension out of her muscles that she hadn’t realized was there. Her cheeks were wet with the tears that she could no longer hold back, but it seemed safe to cry while hidden in Aion’s shirt. In turn, Aion wrapped his arms around her and whispered, “I’m going to make my failure right.”

Time stopped, and the bond between them was reawakened. Muriel remember that she had known Aion from somewhere, but the truth still eluded her. Her mind felt blocked from her by a black wall that couldn’t be penetrated, keeping her locked in the moment without a past or a future. But her heart still remembered, and she wanted to stay with him forever. She closed her eyes and drifted off into a deep sleep.

After laying her down in bed, and tucking the blanket around her, Aion stood looking out the window, thinking.

His failure.

He had allowed himself to be too trusting, and weak, and that had ultimately prevented him from protecting Muriel like he had promised he would – and she had paid the price. He wouldn’t allow that to happen again.

But he wasn’t the only one who failed on that night. He retrieved the picture from the waste bin, brought it over to the light, and studied it for a moment, before it burst into flames and floated away as ash. They had broken their contract, and they would not escape the consequences.

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Light Eternal – Chapter 1

This is my latest novel. I spent some time wondering what, exactly, I wanted to do with it now that it was completed, and decided on publishing it online for free reading. After all, I’m one of those rebellious, individualistic, creative types, so it seemed fitting.

Enjoy.


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Chapter One

Frost covered the dead leaves that lay scattered along the edges of the sidewalk, catching the light from the full moon so that it sparkled and glowed with a blue tint; it was the same shade as Muriel’s frozen breath that hung heavily in the air around her, stinging her lips with every breath.

Muriel wore a gray polyester coat with a pink wool scarf, that only partially protected her from the weather, and faded blue jeans with torn and muddy hems that dragged on the sidewalk and hooked underneath the thick heels of her cheap black boots. She couldn’t remember when her feet had gone numb, and she didn’t know how long it had been since she left home – she had left her cellphone behind to prevent herself from being found. On her head she wore a cabled beanie that she had knitted herself out of chunky gray wool, covering her soft wavy brown hair, and her cheeks were flushed beneath red, teary eyes. Muriel’s hands were bare, and almost purple from the cold, but she clutched the straps of her gray backpack with grim determination to never let go. Everything she owned in the world was inside that bag.

It was going to start snowing soon; she could feel it in the air. Somehow, it seemed, that was the only thing that she could feel.

She had to keep going. She didn’t know where she would stop, but that didn’t matter as much as getting as far away as she could. If she stopped, Muriel felt sure that would be the end of her, and the ache in her chest wanted to keep throbbing for as long as it could. As she crossed the street, she could feel how slowly her numb and tired legs were carrying her, and she wanted to start crying again, but she had to keep going.

An unexpected sound, guttural and unearthly, caught her footsteps and forced her to a halt. She was standing directly underneath a streetlight, and couldn’t make out anything in the darkness beyond the circle of light surrounding her, but the sound sent a different sort of cold piercing through her, hurting her throat and her heart, choking and silencing her. It terrified her more than the possibility of freezing to death out there alone. She couldn’t see the source of the sound, but she knew it was there, watching her. Waiting.

Suddenly, it felt as if her body was being ripped apart, and she fell to her knees, unable to scream out in pain. Did she still know how to breathe? Darkness pulled at everything inside of her, taking her sight, her blood, her voice. Soon there would be nothing left of her.

Then light began flowing around her, lifting her up and encircling her, breathing for her, like a beautiful song, and her heart began to beat again.

Was this death?

It was sweeter than life.

The light receded and the cold crept back in, leaving her lying on her back on the concrete, staring up at the stars twinkling above her. The streetlight above her was dark ghost against the night sky.

“Muriel.”

She turned toward the voice that had sounded like velvet masculinity, and found herself looking into a man’s face that was foreign, yet familiar, with bright blue eyes that was surrounded by white-blonde hair. Slowly and shakily she pushed herself up then asked with a weak and broken voice, “What happened?”

“You were beset by a Grim,” the man replied. “It took a large portion of your soul.”

The words sounded strange and didn’t make much sense. Muriel didn’t know what a Grim was, or what losing her soul meant. “Is that death?” she asked.

“Losing all of your soul is,” he answered, looking into the darkness in front of them for a moment, before continuing, “but souls can fragment. It’s normal to lose a piece here and there from overwhelming events in life; usually not so much.”

“I lost a lot?”

“Yes.”

Muriel’s stomach churned and moved up into her throat. She didn’t know what that would mean for her, and it scared her. Was her life shortened? She felt dizzy, but, although she wanted to cry, she couldn’t find the ability to do so. A dull pain blocked her voice, preventing her from expressing anything.

The man pulled a small knife from his belt and nicked his finger, then drew something on Muriel’s forehead with his blood. “I pledge my life to Muriel Gardner, as her servant and protector, until her soul is returned to her,” he vowed.

What?!” Muriel gasped, disbelieving what she had just heard.

The man put his knife away and held out his hand to her. “Come, it’s not healthy to lounge around outside in this weather.”

When she didn’t move, he grabbed her arm, and hauled her to her feet, taking a moment to steady her before letting go.

“How did you know my name?” she asked. “Have we met before?”

“In a way, we have. I am from the Light.” He paused, then added, “Like an angel.”

“What’s your name?”

“Aion.”

Muriel shivered, and he gestured for her to follow him. He didn’t ask if she had anywhere to go, and she didn’t say that she was alone. Somehow Muriel knew that her fate rested in the hands of this stranger with the pretty blue eyes and oddly familiar face, so she went willingly and unquestioningly with him. It seemed as if she was watching herself walk with the man, clinging tightly onto his arm for warmth, from somewhere far above them. Behind them the streetlight flickered back on, as clouds began to fill the sky, and small flurries began to fall, and it looked like something out of a dream.

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Fade to White – Chapter 26 – FINAL CHAPTER

Fade to White

Chapter Twenty Six

Slowly Jerek eased his sword out of Ramo’s stomach, gently laying the body on the floor before standing up and pointing his still dripping weapon at Nosaj. “He died because of you,” Jerek said with bitterness in his voice.

“I am not the one holding the bloody sword. Jerek, how could you? Ramo only cared for your well being.” Nosaj tightened his grip around Tryne, moving a hand to her neck as she grunted in protest. “Even after I spared the life of your girlfriend, and even after I let her keep her virtue, you still slaughter the one person who loved you more than anything else in this world, because he worked for me.”

“Shut up!” Jerek yelled, as tear drops coursed their way down his cheeks. “Just give Tryne to me, and we’ll leave.”

Nosaj yanked Tryne back. “It doesn’t work like that, Jerek,” he said. “I was thinking that I would keep her for myself, and if you protested then I would simply lock you up.”

“It will work the way I say it will.” Jerek began walking toward Nosaj, holding his sword ready. “Give her to me right now.”

“Or what?”

“I’ll kill you.”

Nosaj grinned wickedly, throwing Tryne against the wall and pulling out his own sword from its sheath. “Let’s find out if you can.”

Leaping through the air, Jerek connected his sword against Nosaj’s, pushing against the blades with all of his strength. “You’ve played your game for long enough,” he grunted.

“My game has just barely started.” Nosaj twisted his sword to the side and stepped back, causing Jerek’s weapon to slide off harmlessly. “Even after I’m dead, you’ll never be able to escape me. The only life you’ll be able to live is the one I’ve given you, and it is impossible for you to live any other way. Your hands are stained with the blood of innocent people. Your heart is callous toward others. If you think that you can create a new world for yourself with the girl you love, then you are mistaken. She is finally seeing how harsh you really are!”

Jerek hesitated, looking over at Tryne who was curled up against the wall and visibly shaking. She was frightened. Slowly Jerek started to lower his sword, his heart throbbing because Tryne’s eyes were open wide with fear as she stared at him, her muscles occasionally twitching as if she wanted to run away but couldn’t find the courage.

A sharp line of pain brought all of Jerek’s senses back to Nosaj, and he stumbled away, limping as Nosaj’s sword cut into his leg. “Why? Why did you do that?” Jerek asked. “Why didn’t you kill me?”

“Because you are my heir.” Swiftly turning around, Nosaj strode over to Tryne and yanked her up to her feet, swinging her so that her hair flew into her face. Pointing his sword at her, Nosaj said, “She is the only other person who will die today.”

“Let her go!”

Sneering, Nosaj moved his blade, poking it into Tryne’s side and causing her blood to slowly ooze out, coloring her shirt as she gritted her teeth and screamed, struggling to pull away from him.

Snapping with anger, Jerek swung his sword around and Nosaj barely had enough time to bring up his own sword to block, but Jerek hit Nosaj’s blade with such force that the metal of his weapon broke into two pieces, while the reverberations in Jerek’s own sword hurt his hands, causing him to drop the sword in pain.

“Finish it,” Nosaj said.

Looking up, Jerek growled, leaping forward to tackle Nosaj.

He didn’t resist as they fell to the ground, and he stayed limp as Jerek grabbed his hair, lifting his head up and slamming it down into the concrete. Jerek did it again and again, using all of his strength each time he bashed Nosaj’s head against the floor, and blood started to spray out as each thud was accompanied by a sickening squelch. Then Tryne screamed.

Jerek dropped Nosaj’s body, backing away as the cloud of anger cleared from his mind, leaving the image of Nosaj in front of him. Nosaj’s eyes were still open, bright red and glazed over, his skull oddly shaped, and the dark crimson liquid that was pooled up around him on the floor was also splattered across the wall. Moving his hand up to his face, Jerek saw that his skin was covered in blood, and a nauseating sickness overcame him.

Still hunched over, Jerek spoke, “He planned that, didn’t he.”

Nodding, Tryne answered, “Yes,” in a feeble voice.

“We need to . . . bury Ramo and him.”

Tryne nodded again, walking over to Jerek and putting her arms around him, burrowing her head against his chest as tears came from her eyes.

“That . . . bastard.” Jerek put his hands on Tryne’s back, lowering his head. “Why did he have to do that?”

Jerek’s eyes were lined with red, but they were dry as he watched the flames and smoke rise into the air, carrying the deep feeling of despair that had clogged Jerek’s mind right after the fight in the castle. He could finally breathe again. Holding onto his hand, Tryne stood beside him looking into the bonfire as well, her glassy eyes reflecting the orange light with moisture.

“What are you going to do?” she asked. “Are you going to accept Ken’s offer to become one of the leaders?”

Setting his mouth into a straight line, Jerek thought for a moment before answering, “I thought that maybe we could see the Ruby Village, then find out where the wind takes us from there.”

Squeezing Jerek’s hand, Tryne smiled. “I love you, Jerek,” she said.

Jerek smiled back at her, murmuring, “I love you too,” before returning his eyes to the blaze before him again. A thought crossed his mind, and with a smirk Jerek couldn’t help but say the words, “Long live Nosaj, the Commander and King of the Twelve Villages.”


Fin.

I’ll be taking the rest of the year off to focus on the holidays. See you in 2018!

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Fade to White – Chapter 25

Fade to White

Chapter Twenty Five

Racing up the concrete castle steps, Jerek’s heart pounded fiercely inside his chest. He was afraid that he was already too late, and that spurred his feet on faster despite the growing weariness in his legs. Reaching the top, Jerek stopped in surprise, staring at Ramo leaning against the wall of the corridor leading to Nosaj’s personal chambers. In Ramo’s hand was a metal sword, the blade gleaming dimly from the light that entered through the windows lined along the outside wall.

“Answer me truthfully,” Ramo said, looking over at Jerek with hard eyes. “Why are you here?”

“I’m here to claim what is rightfully mine.”

“You’re here to save that girl!” Ramo yelled, stepping into the middle of the corridor and holding his sword ready. “Can’t you see that she is controlling you?”

“She is not controlling me!” Jerek replied. “I am finally choosing what I want to do for myself. I don’t have any time to waste here, so please step aside.”

“Stop this right now! Just turn around and we can forget that any of this ever happened. Please just forget about it,” Ramo pleaded.

“I can’t.”

“And why not?”

“Because I love her.”

Ramo took in a sharp breath at Jerek’s words, but Jerek continued speaking, “I love her, Ramo. She is the only person I want to be with, and I have to save her. I have to protect her from Nosaj.”

Tears filled Ramo’s eyes and flowed down his cheeks. “Are you throwing away our friendship just like that?” he whispered. “A girl you barely met means more to you than the years we’ve known each other? How can you be such a jerk?!”

“I’m not throwing away our friendship, you’re the one who is pushing it aside.”

“How dare you say that!” Ramo cried. “I have done so much for you! I am trying to protect you from making the biggest mistake of your life, because I care about you. You turned against me because of that girl!”

“I am not against you! Ramo, please,” Jerek softened his voice, “let me pass. After Nosaj is gone, we’ll still have the same friendship as we did before.”

“No! Because now I know that you don’t really care about me. There is only one person that Jerek wants to be with, and I missed the cut.”

“Ramo . . .”

“I’m through with this!” Swinging his sword and swaying slightly from the weight of it, Ramo flung himself at Jerek.

Reflexes brought up Jerek’s sword to block, but as soon as the two blades made contact Jerek reached out and caught hold of Ramo’s arm.

“Ramo, I’m not going to fight you!”

“Let go of me!” Ramo struggled to yank away.

“Don’t fight against me!”

“I am fighting on the side of the Commander, and you are the one who turned against him. You betrayed me!”

“But you don’t have to fight for him!”

Ramo broke away from Jerek’s grip, stumbling backwards. “Yes I do,” he whispered. “My entire family died for him, and I won’t do anything to betray him because of that.”

“Ramo . . .” Jerek stepped forward.

“Please Jerek, I’m begging you. Turn around right now and we can move on with our lives.”

“Tryne is my life.”

Ramo screamed, raising his sword above his head and leaping at Jerek. Taking a step back, Jerek’s shoelace was firmly wedged under the sole of his boot and he tottered, hitting the ground hard.

Watching in slow motion, Jerek’s eyes went wide in horror as he realized that he didn’t have enough time to move away. Gasping painfully, Ramo came to a sudden stop and let his arms fall, his sword clattering to the stone floor, then his hands slowly drifted down to his shirt. A whimper escaped his lips when he touched Jerek’s sword firmly planted in his stomach, and he quickly dropped his hands to his sides.

“Oh my God! Ramo!” Jerek let go of the handle, his hands hovering close to it for a second before he moved them away.

“It . . . it . . .” Ramo sunk to his knees, hunching over as a fit of coughing took him, spraying out blood and coating his chin in it.

Getting on the floor next to Ramo, Jerek wrapped his arms around him and pulled him into a tight embrace, pressing Ramo’s head against his chest. “I didn’t mean to . . .” he moaned. “I never meant to hurt you. You’re my best friend.”

Reaching up, Ramo gently touched the side of Jerek’s face. “It’s okay,” he whispered. “Jerek, I . . .”

“I know.” Tears trickled out of the corners of Jerek’s eyes as he hugged Ramo tighter. “Just hang on, okay?”

Ramo smiled weakly. “I’m so happy,” he said as the sparkle in his eyes began to fade.

“Ramo! No!” Jerek compulsively shook Ramo, but it didn’t stop Ramo’s head from lolling limply to the side, it didn’t bring the life back into him. Lifting his head up, Jerek howled in agonized sorrow.

A door in the corridor opened and Nosaj stepped out, holding Tryne in front of him. Silently he surveyed the scene of Jerek clutching Ramo’s body, then in a dark and angry tone he uttered, “What have you done?”

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