Power filled the room, immense, suffocating. Power that was foreign as it was familiar. Power that staggered Tanis, engulfed him as soon as the door slid open. Gasping for air, he dropped to his hands and knees, the guards around him taking a cautious step backwards, their eyes wary as they watched. Did they not feel it? Did it not slither down their throats through their mouths, their noses, choking them?
Then the memories came again. Not smooth as a stream that lazily wound through the forest, unimpeded, but with the force of a tidal wave crashing into a rocky cliff, tearing, forcing its way into the cracks and crevices, destroying everything in its path only to be remade on the ocean floor, full of sharp jagged edges.
Tanis rose up on his knees, head thrown back, arms wide, and screamed. All that he was exploded outwards, rearranged and slammed back into him remade. Something deep within him he did not know existed, something that had been waiting for just this moment, clicked into place and suddenly he knew…everything. Who he was. All of him. The lives…so many lives…he had lived, loved, died in. The battles he had fought, the women who he loved and had borne children for him so the prophecy lived on. The power he held. Power that branded him and his siblings gods. In that one moment of clarity he knew exactly where he was in the universe. Everything about the mortals surrounding him, their strengths, their weaknesses. Who the male on the throne was to him. His brother, his nemesis. How many times they had fought together, against each other. The betrayal that was still bitter in his throat, painful in his heart. The one that cost them the very reason for their existence.
Rage, two thousand years simmering, roared through Tanis, blotting out every thought but one. Kill the demon sitting on the throne. Not even the call of his beloved would deter him from his revenge. That one thought brought a whole new barrage of memories, none of them his, all of them of the female lying on the floor clinging onto a life she no longer wanted. Memories of love, of joy, of misuse, of pain. So much pain. And as his memories awoke the part of him that was immortal, her memories awoke the part of her that understood what was happening to her, to them. A part that screamed to be released from the bonds Caius had woven within her, around her with the cursed necklace. Chains that were unbreakable even for a god.
Tanis’s rage intensified. How dare he!
Dropping back onto his hands, sucking in precious air, Tanis tried to speak and failed. A few more gasps and he managed to raise his head to glare at the figure who sat with a smile so full of triumph, of evil, that any sane male would recoil from it. Tanis was not one of those males. He was too old, to jaded, to familiar with the figure before him that all that smile did was piss him off.
“You bastard!” he snarled hoarsely.
The room gasped at the audacity of the newcomer. Did he not know who he spoke so disrespectively too?
“Hello, brother,” Caius sneered, the last word uttered as if it were something foul.
“You are no brother of mine,” Tanis sneered, pushing himself up so he sat on his heels. The room spun before settling into vision fuzzy around the edges. It was always like this when they woke to their true selves. Painfully disorienting. Something Tanis did not want to be when he knew the bastard in front of him was already very aware of who he was. “Not after what you did to her.”
Caius shrugged. “I did what I had to do to win.”
“It has never been a competition,” Tanis yelled pushing to his feet. Staggering a few steps forward as the world ran in streamers, he caught himself on a nearby post with one hand. The other he put to his head and groaned. He always hated this part. Almost as much as each time the love of his existence died in his arms.
“Hasn’t it been?” Caius asked, his anger leaking into this voice. “We awaken. We vie for her affections and she chooses. Then the battle begins. It has always been about competition. Who is the strongest, the most willing to fight for her, to die for her.”
“Which is why we are still fighting,” Tanis hissed, a sudden spurt of pain slicing through his head. Gasping, he blinked his eyes, trying to clear his vision. If he was going to survive this, he needed to have his wits about him. He looked up at Caius and was happy that the fuzzy edges had become clearer. “She loves us both.”
“Yet time and time again she chooses you because of a lie.”
“I never lied to either of you,” Tanis snapped.
“True, but you never corrected it either,” Caius countered.
“And when she chose you. Did you tell her the truth? All of it? Or did you only tell her the parts that would draw her to you?” Tanis asked taking a step towards the dais.
“Enough of this,” Caius snapped, waving a hand to dismiss the conversation. “Finish what has been started so we can finally end it.”
“I will not allow you dig your claws into her any further,” Tanis swore standing his ground. With Kara so close, so near death already, it took everything he had to stand his ground. Every cell in his body screamed to go to her, to save her.
“She is already mine,” Caius snarled, slipping forward on his throne as if he wanted to stand then thought better of it.
“If that were true, you would not be pushing me to finish it,” Tanis smiled knowingly. “You may have bound her to you through that damned necklace, but you do not truly have her soul. For that you need me.”
The smile Caius gave him made Tanis uneasy, but his own smile did not falter. He would not allow the bastard to know how hard it was to allow Kara to die. It was what she wanted. To end this existence and be free of Caius.
“She will never truly be free of me, for even if she dies, I will live on and I will find her as I found her this time. Do you really want her to suffer as she has again and again, for I will find her in every life time until the two thousand years are expended, and we once again stand before one another. Do you hate me that much, brother, to cause her that much agony?”
A movement caught the corner of Tanis’s eye. As one, he and Caius turned to the boy who had fallen to his hands and knees next to the throne, gasping as if it was hard to catch his breath. Up until that point Tanis had not even noticed him, which confused him. The power that radiated off the boy, and he used the term because he was comparing the thousand plus years with his own many millenniums, was impressive. He should have noticed him among the mortals, but he hadn’t. Thinking harder Tanis realized that he knew the boy was in the room because he had seen him walk in here before him. Just as suddenly the boy was a blank, as if he was not right there in front of them. A few flickers of life, as if whatever was shielding him was losing power, and suddenly the boy was a brilliant white light.
“Aden?” Caius asked reaching for him, concern lacing his once scathing tone.
“Why are you trying to hide him from me?” Tanis demanded stepping forward. A sudden rustle of cloth and metal froze him in his tracks. The shock of what they had witnessed had worn off and the guards were suddenly doing their job. Guarding their emperor.
“I have done nothing,” Caius answered absently, the anger evaporating under the sudden sharp concern for his apprentice. The sudden emotion had confused the demon who possessed him, for he did not understand love or compassion, and allowed Caius to escape the prison the bastard had put him in in the back of his own mind. Kneeling down next to Aden, Caius was careful not to touch him. Something was wrong, and he had little time to find out what it was before the cold-blooded demon took control again. “What is happening?”
“She’s dying,” Aden squeezed out. There was no air to show the panic that thrummed through his body. He was losing her. Not in that even though she was not his, she would still be there. He could still see her, talk to her, hold her. But in that final there is nothing left but memories and grief and pain.
“What?” Caius asked in alarm, his eyes shooting towards the figure on the floor. “No!” he breathed.
“I’m trying to help her, but she does not want to live so she is fighting me.” He prayed that the panic he felt coming off his master was real. Only the man who cared for them both would panic like this. The man who had tortured them as if their pain gave him pleasure would have revealed in their pain. He gasped out the one last bit of information that he hoped would drive Caius into action. “Our bond is taking me with her.”
The panic in the eyes that shot back to Aden was very real. Maybe there was still hope.
In the back of Caius’s head the demon roared. It would soon break free of the cage Caius had thrown it into and then there would be hell to pay. It had been only in these last few months that he had realized what a fool he had been. Now he barely had time to warn the male who now hated him and save the female that was the reason for his and the universes existence. Struggling to his feet, Caius looked at his brother, the only other person he trusted with his life, his soul, and those two things were lying on the floor dying.
“I have little time,” he said waving the guards to put their weapons up.
“What are you talking about?” Tanis snapped, although there was doubt in that tone. There was something different about Caius. Something in the eyes, in his posture.
“You must begin the ritual or he will take her,” Caius urged.
“That boy is no match for us,” Tanis sneered. “And Kara would never allow him to bond with her.”
Caius closed his eyes and counted to ten. He had forgotten how frustratingly stubborn his brother could be, and he was supposed to be the reasonable one. Opening them, he narrowed them on Tanis. “Don’t be a jealous fool. It does not become either of us,” he scolded.
Before Tanis could retort, he was suddenly airborne and flying towards the dais. When he reached Kara, Caius dropped him on the floor next to her.
“Unless you want to lose her forever, start the damn ritual. Now!” The last was meant to be forceful, but the air left him and the demon roared in his head. Doubling over, Caius fought not to lose consciousness so he could hold the demon back for as long as possible, giving his brother time to do what he had been created to do. Save them all.
Tanis stared at the hunched figure on the dais in confusion. What the hell was going on? Then he felt it. Evil so vile that it burned his skin where its power touched. A laugh that did not belong to his brother but something dark and depraved started low and eager from Caius’s mouth. Tanis did not hesitate. Looking down at the prone figure next to him, he reached for not only with his hands, but his mind, his soul, his power. The moment his skin touched hers, it felt as if the very air around them stopped moving. Carefully he turned her over, brushing the hair from her face. Wishing he had more time to learn her features in this life time, he leaned down, pressing his lips to hers. There would be plenty of time later, if they survived.
Pressure within them, around them, began to build, contracting down to a single pinprick, waiting until the moment when their souls touched before it exploded outwards with such gentleness the only outward signs that anything had happened was those in the room, across the ship shivered as the power danced over their skin.
Time stood still. There was a moment of understanding, of joy. They were together again. Two thousand years of waiting, of stuck in the endless loop of her dying in his arms and she was once again here. Alive. Then he felt it. A strange link that was not his and did not lead to Caius, but someone that did not belong. Tanis followed it down the metaphysical line to find the boy. Aden. At first Kara’s soul, the essence made of who she was, began to rise, to protect. Not in fear Tanis would harm her, but in fear of what Tanis would do to Aden. Where there was confusion on how or why the bond was forged in the first place, one thought was very clear from both Kara and Aden. They did not want it broken, and they would fight with everything they had to keep it whole.
Tanis, no, Kara’s weak voice breathed through his mind, pleading with him not to do this.
He does not belong, Tanis growled. Aden was not part of the universe’s equation. Kara belong to him and his brother, and neither of them shared her with anyone else. It was not the way the Gods intended it, and Tanis would see that it stayed that way. Gathering his will, he attacked Aden’s hold on her.
The room stood in silence as they watched the figures on the floor. Kara lay motionless as Tanis leaned over her, head bowed in concentration. Aden was on his knees, his eyes closed tightly in obvious pain, sweat beading on his face as he fought some unseen force. The emperor was now sitting on this throne, his elbows on the arms of his chair, his fingers tented as he watched the two figures on the floor before him. He could feel the power between them building, intertwining, tearing. The second burst of power that filled the room slammed all who stood in the room back against the walls, dropping them in heaps onto the floor. With a cry of agony and profound loss, Aden collapsed to the floor at the same time Kara screamed, her back arching. Tanis’s head fell back and he roared to the heavens in triumph before collapsing on top of Kara.
In that one instant, the universe shifted.
“It is done,” Caius breathed, his red eyes full of triumph.
Copyright © 2019 Heidi Barnes