The room was deathly silent. No one was breathing, there was no rustle of clothing or metal. It was as if the universe and everything in it held its breath for the explosion that was to come, because there would be an explosion. One of epic proportion.
Kara lay in Aden’s arms for the first time in a long time feeling complete. Oh, her body was still bruised and bleeding, but her soul was able to take a deep breath and not feel as if a vice were squeezing it, making it hard to expand. That too she knew would be short-lived. Even though she knew who she was, what she was. That she was powerful, a goddess. That she had lived more lives than she cared to count, fought even more battles. And the last and most unsettling piece of knowledge, that her life was not her own. In truth it never had been. None of them had been truly free, just that the chains that had bound them to their fate from the moment they had been brought into existence were much more subtle than the ones the demon bound her with now. They were a tool of the universe. Her job was to keep the balance between darkness and light. The last she remembered, darkness had gained a new player, and it was winning. Knowing what she knew of the past mixed with what she knew of the present, things had not changed much in the last two thousand years.
Movement next to her, an arm pulling her gently against a body she knew better than her own, and she remembered what she had just done. She had defied the demon who had locked her once mortal body in chains so thick, so strong, not even the most powerful of them could free her. Knowing she would pay for her insolence, she could not find it in her to regret her decision. Not because it was the only decision, but because the male that held her so gently, that breathed her name in her ear as if it was a prayer, was a part of her soul she could not exist without. Another such soul tugged at hers, willing her to acknowledge what had always been, what was true. Kara slowly opened her eyes, searching for one of the beings that had been her constant companion her entire existence. When she found his eyes, she flinched at the anger, the betrayal in his as he stared in horror at her.
All around them, people lay on the floor dazed or unconscious. Ignoring them all, his eyes only for the two lying by the dais watching him as if he were the starving tiger in the room and they were the only available food, Tanis stood and started for them, stopping when he stood towering above them as he glared down. There was a comfort, a level of trust and surety between Kara and the boy that was only earned through battles of blood and pain. Where the only person you had at your back was the one who had put their life before yours time and time again to assure that you both lived to see another day. The intensity of jealousy that consumed him was foreign and unyielding, covering everything in a red haze.
Clenching his fists, Tanis was unsure what he should do. Part of him wanted to rip Kara from the boy’s arms, and then teach him that he was nothing compared to the power Tanis wielded. That he was not worthy to touch Kara. The other part, the one being smothered by this new jealousy knew Kara still love him, still need him, and as the depth of her love for him brushed against his heart, his soul, it told him nothing had changed between them. She was still his. Her feelings for him were older, more comfortable, but just as passionate as her feelings for the male holding her
“We don’t understand this anymore than you do,” Aden assured carefully in the tense silence. Part of Kara’s soul once again belonged to him; all of him once again belonged to her. It was more than Aden had ever hoped for since he learned of the prophecy, and he would do nothing that would take her from him again. Adding flame to the fire that was Tanis’s jealousy would not be productive to that end. “What I do know is I am not here to take Kara from you.”
“You are not a part of this,” Tanis said, his voice strained with his anger and the effort to stay where he was.
“I think that despite your best efforts I am once again bonded to her proves otherwise,” Aden responded. He had tried to keep his voice neutral, but he was tired of being told he had no business claiming Kara as his. The only thing that stopped him from saying anything else was Kara gently his arm. A subtle warning that this was not the time. That there was a bigger threat in the room than a jealous god. A vengeful demon.
“You were warned,” a voice growled, echoing throughout the room.
With a look that told Aden they were not through, Tanis moved to stand in-between Kara and enraged demon.
Sighing, Aden burying his face in Kara’s hair. Is a moment of peace too much to ask for?” he asked letting his exhaustion fill that thought.
Unfortunately, yes, Kara answered just as weary. She shifted slightly in Aden’s arms and too late realized her mistake. The bond between them was healed to a point. The one between her and Tanis was waiting for that last piece of the ritual that would seal it. Make it as unbreakable as hers and Aden’s once was. It was her body that was still bruised, battered and bleeding that shot pain sharp and immediate through her, forcing a gasp from her lips.
“Kara?” Aden asked worriedly, moving so she lay on her back and he lay next to her, his upper body raised so he could look her over to see where the pain was coming from.
“I’m fine.” She tried to smile to assure him, but it ended in a grimace.
“Liar,” he frowned, but there was no more time to think about injuries. Hot scalding rage washed over them, burning where it touched. Kara cried out, her back arching. Aden gritted his teeth, his head bowed, eyes closed as he tried to ride out the pain. Nothing ever good came from this much rage and the one who wielded it.
“You’ve lost, demon. You cannot bond with her now,” Tanis hissed, unable to completely hide his own pain. What the hell? What kind of demon could make his emotions a weapon? The only answer was a powerful one. Tanis was starting to wonder if he had completely underestimated the creature.
The demon chuckled. It was kind of chuckle that raised the hair on the back of your neck. That spoke of a slow painful death. Low and full of evil, it sent shivers down the spines of those in the room still conscious. “You understand nothing. I haven’t lost her, yet.” His eyes moved to Aden who hovered protectively over Kara, trying to shield her with his body. As if that would save her. “Once again, because you could not let her go, she will pay the price.”
“Aden did not disobey you. I was the one who could not let him go,” Kara corrected softly. Turning her head, she looked directly into his eyes and said in a tone that spoke of a defiance that she thought long lost. “I was I who chose him.”
The silence dragged on as the demon held her gaze. The rage was gone, but Kara could not decipher the emotion in his eyes or the expression on his face. A mixture of pain, anger and longing she did not understand. Finally, it settled into an unfeeling blankness that frighten her far more than his rage.
The three watched him warily, Tanis keeping himself in between the demon while Aden and Kara lay on the floor. Careful with each movement, Aden moved so he sat next to Kara, pulling her into his arms. They knew the risk they were taking by doing this, that they would be punished, but Aden could feel that she was too weak to sit on her own and he could not bear letting her go. Not yet. Even though their bond was back in place, it was still raw and bleeding, and Aden could feel there was something missing. Some new piece of the puzzle that had yet been put into place.
As Kara settled in his arms, her fingers fisting the front of his shirt, he realized that she felt it too. Was there was still a chance she could be taken from him? Looking down at her, he saw the pinch of her face and realized that she was still in a great deal of pain. If they were to survive whatever was to come, she needed to be stronger. Brushing the hair from her face, he gently lay a kiss on her forehead. With that small touch, he released some of his power into her, seeking where she was hurt most and carefully mending it. With each touch, Kara’s body relaxed a little more, and that piece of her that was inside him loosened a bit more.
A swish of material far too close startled Aden out of his concentration, bringing his eyes up. The emperor had walked past them, and he had not even noticed. That was a form of carelessness that was too dangerous for words. Glancing at Tanis, Aden saw he had moved so he could watch the emperor and them at the same time. The expression on his face when he caught Aden’s eyes bled from wary to outright hostile. Great. Once more being trying to take Kara from him. Unfortunately, this one he could not fight because he was also a part of Kara and that in turn would hurt her.
What was left of the red guard surrounded them, standing at attention, awaiting their master’s orders. It broke the tension between Aden and Tanis so they focused on the real threat in the room. The emperor.
The emperor had reached the top of the dais. Turning, he sat on his throne, leaning back, one arm carelessly on the arm of the chair while the other he rested his elbow, his finger rubbing back and forth on his lip as if he was thinking about something of grave importance as he watched the three below him.
The silence stretched on.
Finally, the emperor sighed. A weariness passed over his face as he closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened them, they focused on Kara, ignoring the rest.
“Kara, come,” he ordered quietly.
Aden felt Kara’s hands convulse in his shirt. Neither of them wanted to let go, but they knew if they did not the consequences would be painful. What Kara did not need right now was more pain.
“She is not some pet you call to you,” Tanis snapped, his full attention and hostility now on the demon.
“Actually, she is,” the demon answered calmly, a small smile on his lips.
Tanis looked down at the two on the floor as Aden very carefully moved out from under Kara and stood. There was an unsteadiness to the boy’s stance that he tried to hide and failed. It was something Tanis understood all to well. Until the ritual was finished, none of them would feel…steady. What Aden did not know was that hell would freeze over before Tanis allowed him that privilege.
As one, they both reached to help Kara to her feet.
“Do not touch her,” the demon snarled, that calm façade slipping for a moment, showing the true beast beneath it. Just as quickly it was smoothly put back into place.
They both froze. After a moment of hesitation, Aden slowly straightened and stepped back, his eyes dutifully forward. That small distance cost him dearly. Tanis ignored the warning and gently took ahold of Kara’s arm.
“Let her go,” Aden said, his voice tired, defeated.
“You have not earned the right to tell me what I can and cannot do with my mate,” Tanis growled pulling Kara up and into his arms.
Aden’s eyes flashed with his power as they narrowed on Tanis. Logically he knew that Tanis did not know the rules, who the master was and the consequences of disobeying him. But the fierce protectiveness that raged through Aden was not logical. If Tanis did not let go of Kara, then she would pay the price, again. That was not acceptable.
“I have been with her in this lifetime through more pain and torture than you and your many lives could ever imagine. I know the rules and what it means if we disobey them. You do not. So I will repeat myself only once. Let. Her. Go,” Aden said that last through gritted teeth, his fist clenching at his sides.
He’s right, Kara’s voice breathed through Tanis’s mind. I must go to Caius or he will punish us.
That thing is not Caius, and he has no right to you. We defeated him in the paste. We can defeat him now. Tanis said angrily not understanding why she would give in so quickly. It was so unlike her.
You are right. He has no right to either of us, but this time is different. This time he found me first and he bound me in chains that we cannot break, Kara reminded reading his thoughts. If you attack him it will rebound on me. If you kill him…it will kill me.
Tanis’s eyes widen as he turned to face her. “He can’t do that,” he whispered looking into her eyes.
“But he has,” Aden answered when Kara look away, his voice filled with the weariness of countless of sleepless night. Ignoring Tanis’s narrowing eyes when he glared at him, Aden went on. “You have felt her pain. You know what he did to her just this morning. What he will do to her again if she does not obey him. Is that what you want for her?”
“Kara,” the demon called, his voice a low deep growl telling them he was growing impatient.
Knowing what hesitating any longer would cost, Kara pulled away from Tanis and began to walk towards the dais. Before she was out of reach, Tanis grabbed her arm pulling her back. Kara tried to pull away, but he only held on tighter.
“You don’t have to obey him,” he said looking down at her, frowning when he saw the frighten look in her eyes.
“Yes, she does,” Aden corrected again stepping beside him.
“Don’t,” Tanis snarled when Aden reached to pull her from him.
Aden’s eyes narrowed in anger. “Do you want her to suffer?” he hissed.
Before Tanis could retort Kara cried out in pain and seconds later it bled into him. Years of protecting her, shielding her kicked in and he immediately tried to block the demon’s attack only to find he could not. Gritting his teeth, he pushed back as the demon increased the pain.
Aden watched in horror as Tanis tried to fight the inevitable. He knew from experience the pain would only become worse, and he would not sit by and watch Kara suffer because Tanis was too stubborn to see their reality.
Swearing, he grabbed Kara wrenching her from Tanis’s grasp. Suddenly the full force of the demon’s attack hit both Aden and Kara. Crying out they collapsed to the floor. The moment Aden released her the pain stopped.
“Shit,” he hissed rolling onto his back trying to blink the spots from his eyes. Next to him Kara lay on her side barely conscious.
“Kara!” Tanis cried going to help her.
“Stop!” Aden’s ordered his voice echoing throughout the room as he rolled protectively over her, his hand up ready to push Tanis away if necessary. Although he was not sure what he could do. The demon’s punishment had taken the last of his strength. Under him, Aden felt Kara move slightly before her fingers weakly grab a hold of the wrist closest to her. Once their skin touched his power increased and the spots began to diminish. Moving his hand so he held hers, Aden quickly masked what Kara was doing from the emperor, but he could not hide it from Tanis.
Tanis hesitated, his eyes widening slightly when he felt what she had done with Aden. Sharing power between their kind was an intimate act seldom done, but more common between bond mates. This more than anything brought home how close Kara was wedded to Aden, and Tanis was unsure how to handle the knowledge. Always it had just been the three of them. Now this boy was protecting his mate from…him, and Kara was helping.
A low chuckle broke into the silence. Aden slowly lowered his hand, his eyes staying on Tanis and not the figure who now slowly walked towards them. Again, Tanis thought this strange because the demon was the danger to Kara, not him. Deciding to puzzle this new development out later, Tanis turned towards the demon, his eyes narrowing in rage.
“Not bonded more than a few moments and already you are fighting over her. You should heed Lord Sahen’s warning. He has learned the hard way what it means to try and protect her from me.”
Tanis watched Aden climb once again shakily to his feet, leaving Kara where she lay on the floor. He thought it strange that the powerful boy would not meet either of their gazes.
“Lord Sahen,” the demon said as if nothing had happened. As if the universe had not just shifted.
“Yes, my Master,” Aden answered bowing his head.
“Take our…guest,” he grimaced when he glanced at Tanis who bristled, “to his quarters. Then I want you to go down and pay a visit to the queen.”
“I thought she served her purpose,” Aden said confused by his master’s command.
“She delivered the package, yes, but not as promised. Colin did a better job breaking my beautiful pet. Since neither one of us want Colin anywhere near Kara, it leaves me with no choice but to break Tanis myself.”
At Colin’s name, Tanis stiffened. Colin was the queen’s consort who was known for his sadistic appetites. The thought of Kara in Colin’s hands for any length of time made his blood run cold.
“I want you to personally show her the correct way to break a spirit. Then when you are done, I want you to hand her over to her people. Tell them who she really is and let them deal with her as they see fit. After that I want you to find someone to take her place who will not fail us,” the emperor finished.
“That will take weeks,” Aden protested not catching the panic laced with bitterness in his voice or stopping himself from glancing at Kara in time. After everything that had happened, to be parted from her now…. The thought chilled him.
“Yes. It will,” the emperor agreed his eyes narrowing.
A faint flutter brushed against Aden’s mind, soothing his anxiety.
Aden, Kara breathed. Go.
The relief Aden felt at her familiar presence washing through his body calmed him. She was still there, still his, but she was also very weak. Any more zaps like the last one and she may not survive it whole. He would have to make sure Tanis understood rules before he left.
“As you wish,” Aden answered calmly, coolly, even though every cell in his body was screaming no. Kara’s assurances did nothing to alleviate his fears. From past experience Aden knew that leaving her alone with his master would be far from all right. But as Caius had so plainly put it, disobeying him would only cost Kara more pain. “I will return when the job is done.” He first bowed to the emperor then turned to the guards, motioning them to take Tanis and follow him.
“I am not leaving her alone with you, demon,” Tanis growled stepping away from the guards. He too knew leaving Kara alone with this…thing was dangerous, something he would not allow.
Gritting his teeth in frustration as the two demi-gods glared at each other, without thought of the consequences he was sure he would regret, Aden’s fist connected with Tanis’s jaw. There were a few gasps as flesh connected with flesh and Tanis crumpled to the ground. Aden knew he would hear about it once they arrived in Tanis’s rooms, but he would be damned if he let the stubborn idiot cause Kara anymore pain.
Stunned silence followed sd Aden, swearing under his breath, stepped back shaking his hand as pain radiated up his arm. All around him people stood frozen, the only movement the blinking of their wide eyes.
“I think I speak for us all when I say I did not see that coming,” Commander Wells drawled as he walked up to the crumpled figure on the floor. His eyes full of amusement, he looked from Tanis to Aden. “Although I wished you had done it sooner,” he grimaced. When Aden gave him a slight smile it seemed to unfreeze the room.
The emperor began to chuckle, bringing Aden’s eyes to his master.
“Be careful who you direct your anger at, my young one,” the emperor warned the amusement still clear in his voice. “And do not think you will be able to render my brother unconscious so easily again. He will take measures to ensure you regret it when he wakes.”
“He’s a stubborn fool,” Aden snapped turning his glare back to the figure on the floor who started to groan.
“Stubborn yes. Fool? No. He is just very protective of her,” the emperor said softly as he knelt next to Kara.
The soft tone of his master’s voice, the way he gently rolled Kara over brushing the hair from her face, changed Aden’s scowl into a frown of confusion. If he did not know better he would have thought someone different, someone who cared for her wellbeing, knelt over her. But that did not make any sense. Not after the way he had treated her these last few weeks.
“It is ingrained in us to protect her. She is the glue that keeps the universe together. If she is destroyed…,” the emperor whispered so softly Aden had to strain to hear him. Then suddenly his master seemed to remember he was not alone. “All of you, leave us. Kara will follow when I am through with her,” he ordered harshly.
Aden motioned for the guards to take Tanis out of the room, but he hesitated before leaving. Watching as the emperor put his hands on Kara, Aden wondered at his master’s sudden softening towards her. Taking the fact the agonizing ripping of his soul did not start again as a good sign, Aden did the hardest thing he had had to do in a long time, He left Kara alone with the unstable emperor before their master realized he was still there.
Copyright © 2019 Heidi Barnes