Sighing, it was a mixture of frustration and relief pouring out from Angeline. The intense aroma of cigarette smoke and spices did nothing to keep her thoughts from blurring her vision. Once again she found herself falling into the melting pot of images, feelings, and frightening memories. She was still struggling to accept she had escaped, that this place she found herself sitting in was indeed real. A shudder shook her shoulders. She had left the world and came back to something completely different. All of it in her eyes seemed surreal compared to the life she lived so long ago.
When Cedric first step foot on Avalon, his aura engulfed me, his soul embracing my own before our bodies dare meet. It wasn’t any of my own emotions, I had lost them long ago by that point. It was Cedric’s feelings coming to life inside my own heart, resuscitating my soul after an agonizing silence. He woke me from my undying nightmare where I was lost, wandering in darkness.
Her skin prickling at her thoughts as the air conditioning hummed to life overhead. The cool air made the sweat on the back of her neck icy, chills trickling across her spine. Taking in a slow inhale, holding it a few seconds, she dared her thoughts to continue.
I lost myself to the flow of time allowing the centuries to fade in and out. For a long time, I even forgot my own name. Those images, those fleeting moments where I sat there whispering to myself in the damp darkness. Over and over again, I told myself my name was, is ‘Lady Angeline du Romulus.’ My chant of desperation. Tears had stopped falling by that point. I became a bewitched husk of my former self. Praying to the shadows I would remember I was once a person, and even worthy of such a high title.
An old habit, Angeline found herself in a daze lipping her own name from where she sat leaning on the bar top. No one around her noticed how she was stumbling through her emotions. She couldn’t tell which sensation was fear, sorrow, or even elation. A swirl of hooks grasping and pulling her deeper into her mind searching for answers, trying to come closer to discovering who she was, who she had become through all the pain and torture.
I had stopped counting the passing days, but then my fears gripped me. Cedric made it to Avalon, but would he be able to survive Merlin? My salvation, my only glimmer of hope would be shattered with Cedric’s death. All this torturous hope would end and then I would have no more whims of pleasure, no more chances of knowing I wasn’t forgotten, no one left to save me if he failed here. I would be nothing, no one, and not even remembering my name would have saved me after that point…
The feeling of their bond reconnecting again still stung in every joint and nerve within her body. Stunned, the torrent Cedric’s of emotions jerked her out of her solitude. Thousands of years filled her memories with only the cold harsh touch of Merlin. The day she lost her freedom she never imagined feeling Cedric close ever again, not in the flesh. In fact, she had started accepting the torture as a monotonous task or chore. On occasion a sickening excitement would come over her when Merlin came to her cell door.
Shuddering, under the dim lights of the bar, she recalled the thrill of torture. It was the only moment when she knew Cedric was still out there, some place in the world. This was the one sliver of light which kept her soul from breaking into an irreparable state, from being swallowed by the void of nothingness. His determination to find her was so strong that pain never rattled her. It had all been replaced by Cedric’s pleasure; a gift and a promise to her through their bond that was only possible through an incubus-moroi. His words echoed through her soul with each rapture, each slice and fillet of her flesh, “as long as you feel my touch through our bond, know that I am still searching for you!”
Peering down at her drink, the bar around her had faded further away. Huffing the stinging smoke from her nose, she was having a hard time with her newfound senses. It wasn’t her first time there in Tony’s bar with its neon sign out front blinking The Lion’s Den through the dark tinted windows. Still, like the last visit here, the smell of smoke overwhelmed her. She had grown sensitive to smell, touch and even her sight looked into dark corners as if lit by an unseen torch. Most of the bar was dark with nothing more than yellow-toned bulbs, her ears hearing them buzzing as they casted shadows on the patrons who loitered under them. It wasn’t very busy, but they had come long before the main rush. This was her way, Cedric’s way, of slowly helping her grow more comfortable with this new world she knew nothing about.
Everyone had told her their own version of what had happened the day they found the entrance into Avalon. The bar had been destroyed when the portal opened and they leapt in, magic lashing out in angry swipes like a wild animal. Tony insists Badbh the Battle Goddess had been the front runner in wiping out most of the place. She had destroyed the bar top with the pool table and then the rest of the furniture afterwards impatiently waiting for Avalon to return to its former state, eager to join the battle. None of that damage could be seen. The bar top was glossy black with her reflection staring up at her doe-eyed. The long countertop came off the wall in a large ‘L’ shape from the entrance to where it protected the office door. A new pool table lay under a long fluorescent light and spiraling out from there were several tables and chairs until your eyes hit the walls adorned with booths hugging around them.
The Lion’s Den had become a meeting place for creatures and demons alike. It was a much needed hub for the rebuilding of a community where they no longer fought for the top of the pyramid of power in this new age. Many hadn’t a clue they were weighed on these imaginary scales, but there was no mistaking they were frightened by those who dominated the top: Lillith, Cedric and Romasanta. Merlin had taken down some of the strongest nonhumans in the world. With the Eye of Gaea keeping Merlin safe from recoils and even curses, he had dwindled their numbers to the point where humanity was choking out the remaining populations to near extinction. Many of these hid within barriers which were unknown, unmarked. Even then, it was up to the Guardian of the Barrier to allow you to enter or leave.
Angeline wasn’t sure if she was relieved or sad over this fact, this struggle Cedric and those like him found themselves living with. Before all of this, she had been a human girl married off to a demonic knight. This was not the world she knew, nor could begin to decipher what anything witnessed meant or what purpose it served in everyday life. It might as well be an encrypted dream, with foreign names and purposes that felt unnecessary. Her days of camping on a route travelling horseback had been discontinued centuries ago. No signs of a horse to be seen in the few months she had been living in this place of square castles and mechanical transportation. This was not home, this was not her world, whether human or demon, she belonged nowhere.
Closing her eyes, the conversation between Cedric and Tony was no longer audible to her ears. Allowing herself to remember the horrific events, something she still fought over whether it was a good or bad to urge any of it. Her mind stretched back to the beginning of her torment. It wasn’t her time with Cedric that had rotted her soul, but one twist in fate she had failed to see coming. The frightening turning point wasn’t the fight where Cedric defeated Boto and became the new King Incubus, but the appearance of Merlin.
At first glance, Merlin seemed like nothing more than a bald old man with a long white beard. A few layers of long-sleeved tan robes and a rope belt with a satchel added to his sage-like appearance. Powerful and wise, yet the sensation of good judgment faded in an instant. Merlin had placed the Amulet of Avalon, the Eye of Gaea, into one of his sleeves after snatching it from Morrighan when he turned to address them. Cedric was still in his incubine form. Horns black and curled like a rams at the sides of his skull. Glaring at the wizard, Cedric clenched his fangs tight with contempt. Hands and feet were clawed and massive, while he was three times larger in overall bulk and muscle in this form. A smooth thin tail swished with anger and his massive bat-like wings adorned with two fingers at the main fold were still held high in alarm.
All I could do was stand there covered in my own sweat and tears. Everything crimson, blood painting my body from war waging all around me. I remember how my nostrils stung with the iron smell from it all. Red rivulets raced down Cedric’s side where Boto’s first strike had torn through his flesh. The world slowed. I watched drops fall to the black marble floor with a tick-tock like the ticking of a Doomsday clock, splattering at Cedric’s feet like rose petals breaking apart, scattering from a hard fall. My chest ached and fear clawed at me to think he could feel that emotion within me.
Cedric had slain Boto only minutes before, claiming the title of King Incubus for himself. Angeline witnessed the harsh reality of a bond breaking, the outburst of magic’s harsh whiplash rattling through Morrighan. The amount of pain ripping through the souls of Boto and Morrighan was unmistakable and never-ending. Her breath caught in her throat as Cedric’s fear slammed into her and she mirrored back her own. This could be them someday. She tried to voice her concern, wanting to ask if this is what he would face due to her own mortality, but his green glare silenced her. The wave of dread retreated back into him, letting her know it was not her place to worry. She was a human bound to a demon, married to Lord Cedric du Romulus the Demonic Knight. In this world, she had no right to voice her thoughts. The world of humans was the extent of her knowledge, while his world was a cruel place somewhere between demons and gods.
But now, I have no knowledge of any world… no place to belong…
Morrighan had fallen victim to the recoil of her sins. Years of curses had been waiting for an opening to exact their revenge for her abuse of necromancy and other black arts against magical beings and creatures. Taking the stone away was like stripping her of her shield and armor. She had been left naked and exposed to Gaea’s Law and the lashing for hurting children of Gaea; those who were made by her, descended from her or carried her magic within them. Morrighan’s punishment unfolded at incredible speed and she took on a gruesome and beastly appearance. Spending decades, possibly centuries making chimeras had made her into one as well. She fell, passing out across Boto’s lifeless body, exhausted from the sudden physical change. Cedric and Merlin had stripped Morrighan of everything she’d held valuable in her life.
Merlin had materialized before them, his power resonating through the air. He continued his casual conversation with Cedric while eyeing her at every chance. Goosebumps prickled across her skin and she involuntarily held her breath, hoping it would make her less visible.
“You see, I have been digging through a century’s worth of time trying to find this particular bloodline, but I see you have spoiled it with your own blood.” The eyes of the wizard were growing brighter, bluer even as he scowled. His tone of voice towards Cedric was as if he were a child who broke an expensive vase. “This is going to delay my work. I will have to find a way to undo the damage you have done to her witch’s blood. I despise demons and the work they do on the human body. Worse off, you have gone as far as binding yourself to her, it’s degrading.”
Cedric’s wings flared out in response of the wizard making it known Angeline was his target. Her heart had been pounding, leaving her chest aching. Anger waved out of Cedric, the heat of it physically flowing from him. She could feel the scorching fire of his ire and his muscles tightened as if they were her own.
“Don’t touch her.” Fear shook her core at the sound of Cedric’s growl, a deep demonic tone pouring from him.
Her thoughts tightened their hold on her. ‘Am I afraid of Cedric or the wizard?’
“You will not take her!” Cedric roared.
“Ah, but I will, demons are such poor thinkers, tsk.” A smile crawled across the old man’s face.
Angeline stood, watching it unfold. ‘No, not Cedric, but the wizard has every part of me shaking with fear. Those glowing eyes… he will leave here with me… I can feel it…’
“She will be making her new home on Avalon, without you, of course.” Scoffing, he continued to patronize Cedric. “It never shocks me to see how easily demons fall for humans. The wolf never sleeps with the sheep for a reason.”
Cedric snarled, “What do you want from her?”
‘I can’t run, he’ll get me.’ Looking down she saw her enchanted bow and a sparkle of hope fluttered in her heart. ‘But if I can land a hit with Wylleam’s bow, I can’t help but wonder if its magic might allow us to run.’
“Her magic is dormant, there is nothing you can get from her.” It was more of a plea coming from Cedric.
“Ah, but you see, I have been pulling such deep magic into my own blood to gain immortality. With the ancient line she holds, I will be able to achieve this as well as the power to clean the rest of the demon powerhouses off this earth. I will become supreme ruler of mankind, not Beelzebub, or any creature of such spoiled lineage.” As Merlin continued his rant with Cedric, she gripped the wood of her bow tight, sweat rolling down her cheek. “Feh, but unfortunately, I got here far too late and will now have to cleanse her of your filth and try not to kill her in the process. Bindings and transformations are difficult filths you hellish dogs have plagued mankind with.”
She froze. The wizard took a step towards Cedric, sending him into a charge. Her stomach knotted as she watched the distance between them grow until she was out of Cedric’s reach.
‘NO! He’ll get me! I know it! I can sense it! CEDRIC COME BACK!’ If only he could hear her thoughts!
His claw swiped, but it met a swirl of wind. The illusion broke, nothing more than a breeze. It had served its purpose, pulling his focus away from his goal, Angeline. She watched Cedric struggle to catch his balance. A burst of wind from behind her knocked the bow from her hand, he had saw her attempt. Merlin grabbed a fist full of her hair, firm and harsh, her scalp stinging. She was jerked back against the wizard, his breath hitting her shoulders hot with anger.
“You are mine!” Hissed Merlin in her ear.
Her brown eyes locked with Cedric’s own, both wide and full of fear.
“CEDRIC!” The shriek echoed in an unnerving manner across the great hall, muting the war waging outside.
“LET HER GO!” Another yank of her scalp sent tears down her face, a dagger digging deep into her neck.
“Watch, girl, as your demon panics over the smell of a drop of your blood.” The tip stung at her throat and a warm crawling snaked down her neck. “You feel his fear, don’t you?”
All she could do was cry. She could tell Cedric was struggling to hide the emotions unraveling within him. Her own terror had sent her heart racing, each piece slipping through their bond, driving him further into a panic. A searing heat within her soul struck her like Death’s bell revealing what had went so horribly wrong. Her own voice laughing, whispering an echo of a promised heartache from so long ago over a campfire. The heat of the tears on her cheeks were self-indulged anger sliding down her face.
‘I cursed us… that night at the fire, I left the door open for Merlin. This, this is my fault.’
“Oh, what do I see there?” The dagger’s point pulled away, but his grip tightened and pulled at her further as he glowered at Cedric. “You can’t be serious? A wedding band on a demon’s hand is improper and insulting. Let me fix that.”
Merlin called forth his magic, she could barely breath. Her lungs felt squeezed and her blood boiled in reaction to the magic being summoned from her captor. It was hard to say if it was the smell of searing flesh or the red hot glow of the golden wedding band which called her attention back to Cedric. In horror, she watched him scream. With ease the molten metal burnt through his ring finger. Gasping, she was overwhelmed with breathtaking arousal as they stared into each other’s eyes. Droplets of melted gold continued to dig into the marble floor around the fallen finger. Paling, dread swallowed her. There was no hope for him to be able to save her against power like this. Cedric panted, the stump of a left ring finger smoking still. He demanded her to not look away from his fiery green stare.
“Angeline, remember that sensation well!” It was the first time she had seen tears fall from those sharp eyes.
‘He knows he can’t save me,’ her heart was breaking.
“I promise you that no matter what, you will never feel pain again! And as long as you feel my touch through our bond, know that I am still searching for you!” Cedric’s look of desperation and the bitter reality in his words stabbed deep in her soul.
‘No! I don’t want that! Don’t do this to me! I’m not as strong as you are!’ Her lips trembled, unable to scream the thoughts, unable to respond to those green eyes embracing her for the last time.
Grunting, Merlin pulled her closer, the wind rushing around them. “Sorry to disappoint you so soon, but only Lillith would be able to keep a promise like that.”