Darkness spread around Aiden as he sat on a hard bed in a ten by ten space. No one had come to see him since waking, and no sound could be heard. He was left alone to struggle with his conscience. He welcomed the silence. I’m useless. When did I start thinking Eric would change—that Kari was the key. I’m the one who’s changed. I’ve watched and enabled Eric; he couldn’t have come this far without my power. What can I do though? It’s not like I can take my life … if only a car had hit me when Sora pushed me into the street, but of course, that wouldn’t happen.
The chasm in his chest expanded, fracturing the walls around his heart. Sitting back against the wall, he brought his knees to his chest, hugging them tightly. It hurts, it always hurts! I thought I hurt because it was slowly killing me to watch every slaughter, yet here I sit—still I won’t fight Eric. Am I scared? What am I without Eric? It must be this stupid promise!
Looking aimlessly into the darkness, he tried to find answers to his old friend’s change. Eric wasn’t always so cruel and ambitious. He used to be a good brother that helped his family any way possible. Kari will never stop hating him for what he’s done and for good reason. She was torn apart when she found Alva dead … Eric beside her. It doesn’t make sense! She tried to run, and Eric sent Jenny after her, coming to Miami as soon as he killed his father.
Why … why is he so keen on power? Just to survive and try to balance the unstable power he’d gained from Alva? His father and mother’s genes didn’t match well; was he bitter? Kari couldn’t stop him because of me…
Lowering his head, he pressed his hands against his face in self-contempt. Yet … she hasn’t killed me. Why hasn’t she killed me? Eric had to expect she’d try; it’s only natural to cut off the source to kill the host. Even if Eric knew that from the beginning, hoping to draw Kari closer, she hasn’t. Eric really wants her to love him in some sick sense, but he wants her in a mold, and she’ll never accept that, ever. Kari couldn’t handle the pain at first; she ran. She’s changed since staying with the humans; she’ll never give in. Kari reminds me of Alva in her stories; always looking for a real family and now Eric killed one of the girls she connected to. If she found out the truth…
He thought back on Alva; she’d rarely taken on the form of a human. Tiri, Kari, and Aiden had grown up in their mother’s forest, locked away from human eyes by dimensional gates. Alva had been known by many names to humans, but one that held importance to Aiden was the Grey Wolf. The Gray Wolf that once helped a young prince steal a golden-maned horse, beautiful woman, and Firebird, his mother.
Alva had been a mystery to Aiden. Her actions never made sense to him, but she was a good mother. She taught Aiden a lot about her world, Kari and Tiri were too young to really care about her teachings. His eyes shifted to the invisible bed as he thought. I was given to Alva as a release gift; I can’t even remember my mom; I’ve only known Alva. My mother brought nothing, but misfortune to the prince, so the prince gave her back to Alva, who then set her free. Ironic, it seems like I’ve brought nothing, but misfortune to Alva and her family.
He still didn’t understand why his mother traded him for herself but didn’t hate her for it. Alva treated me like her own son, asking me only to be a younger brother to Eric, a friend … and I promised to protect Eric. In my childlike state, it had been so easy … Alva was even surprised by my promise. Maybe she knew something like this would happen. It wasn’t until after I made that promise that Alva explained it to me; I cannot break my word.
Numbly, he thought about the eventual outcome of Eric’s plight. Once he comes to understand that Kari will never love him, he’ll throw her away. Tiri was pure in heart, a child, but she fell under Eric’s jaws without mercy. Why! How? I just don’t understand it; how could Eric kill her—it should have been impossible. A nuke couldn’t kill her, yet somehow her weak son did? Was it her broken heart at learning her son had killed her daughter?
His mind flashed back to the incident with sharp clarity, causing his stomach to turn. He’d been walking with Tiri through Alva’s forest, talking, laughing when Eric showed up. It was the first time Aiden had seen him in his Fenris Form, large, brown-haired. Tiri called out with such innocence, but I knew something was different, the atmosphere, the gut-wrenching fear that coated my body. I had power, despite my doubt, before I gave every drop to Eric. I could have at least attempted to resist, but I didn’t—because of this curse … I was frozen.
He looked back, trying to find the cause of Eric’s change. What changed him? No, when did he change? He clearly remembered the first fight Eric had with his mother. He was angry when he found out about her multiple mates—his father. Eric is the eldest of her children, odd for Alva’s age as a second generation Founder. He had little of her Fenris blood; he’d obtained mostly his father’s Germanic blood, while Kari was near pure. What was Tiri though? Eric said she was a stain to Fenris Wolves, but what was she?
Refocusing his thoughts, he closed his eyes. That wasn’t even where he stumbled; it was when Alva called him in for a private discussion. I was twelve at the time, Kari eleven, and Tiri eight. That year, it all changed. His mood darkened, he continued to go in and argue with Alva in private. I know Eric has a hatred of his blood, being a Germanic wolf, but how could I know it was this bad?
It was the first time Aiden had been in a place where all he could do was think and ponder on his decisions with nothing else to distract him. Eric was furious about Alva keeping in contact with his father. A few days after that fight Tiri and Alva died; Eric—ate his own mother, sister, and then his Father—all for power. I didn’t know that at the time when he asked me to give up my energy. Then again … I had no choice. No … I did have a choice; I didn’t make any promises to follow Eric’s every word—at least not at that time … but I was scared.
His mind began spinning wildly as his eyes squeezed shut. What if … what if Eric thought he was taking pity on Tiri? Though purely wrong, in Eric’s eyes, what if he thought killing her before she realized what she was—that it might have been a good thing? Sick, but to Eric, maybe, is he that psychotic? Eric was confused, but now … now he has no excuse. The things he’s done, how much blood he’s spilled.
Aiden’s eyes snapped open, searching the black environment for answers that he already knew. I can’t follow Eric anymore; I shouldn’t have since his fall into madness. That sin is on me, but how do I escape, how do I break this curse? There’s no way I can forgive myself. He slumped to the bed, staring up at the fathomless ceiling. I can’t break my promise. I promised to help her family, but specifically Eric; to be a friend to him, a brother, to protect him … to follow his every word.
His eyes defocused in horror. So many promises, so many ropes around my neck! It was effortless in the beginning. Now he’s soaked in virulent pools of blood, and I’m right there beside him … soaked with him. If only I’d stopped Eric from killing Tiri. That was the day he changed, that day; his cold, ambitious obsession with power, with trying to override his weak Germanic blood, killing his Father and his entire pack, kidnapping Jenny, turning hundreds of ordinary humans into slaves, uprooting their lives, destroying families. The dozens of innocent monsters he’s consumed to keep ahead of Kari’s awakening power. There’s just too much, way too much.
Sickening cancer dug at his stomach as Sora’s face kept popping into his head; the moment she’d thrown him into the street, what they’d talked about at the memorial grave he’d made, and their restaurant conversation. She was so cute, confused, a little angry—but innocent, sincere; in a way, she reminded me of Tiri. Yet, she was just another sacrifice to Eric—and again, I did nothing!
He felt naked. Lately, he didn’t sleep; all he saw were the blood-soaked faces of Tiri and Kari … now Sora was on that list, countless victims. Yet, as much darkness as he found around him, he still believed there was something out there, a light to latch onto and pull himself up, he had to.
His eyes snapped to the door as bolts twisted to reveal a silhouette in dazzling light. Shading his eyes, Aiden breathed a caustic sigh, “Eric.”
Eric had two arm splints on but walked straight, and his iconic smile was in place. “Aiden, my brother. Our captors have us pinned fairly well, wouldn’t you agree?” He scoffed. Captors? What’s happened … how could Eric be captured, and who hurt him?
Hope brimmed in his heart, light twinkling in the distance. Sliding to a sitting position, Aiden leveled his gaze with Eric. “Does that mean—Sora is alive? Someone captured us?”
Laughing heartily, Eric asked, “What, you thought I was keeping you in here? Oh, that vixen is alive. She’s fairly tenacious and had some—unexpected friends.” He said with a grimace.
Aiden didn’t answer as his eyes lowered to Eric’s blood dried boots and pants. More blood to add to the lake … but Sora’s alive! Taking a deep breath to ease the pressure in his chest, Aiden asked, “You escaped?”
Eric’s laugh bellowed around the room, and he stepped aside to show several armed men behind him, each had their fingers on the trigger, guns ready to fire. Aiden noticed they were the military types and probably human. “Not yet,” Eric smirked. “I’ve just—struck a deal with a witch. Just some perks for a little information.”
Keeping his eyes trained on Eric’s bloodied boots, Aiden said, “I see. I think I’ll stay here and think a bit more if that’s okay. I have a lot on my mind … clear my head.” He didn’t want to keep falling; there was a hatred inside him that ate at his soul. He desperately wanted to save Eric, to protect him from himself, but he couldn’t find the answer.
Eric’s smile dropped, and he glared down at him for several seconds, before saying, “If that’s what you want, little brother. I’ll allow it.” He started closing the door but stopped as his body filled the opening. “I’ll leave a guard outside. When you decide to return to my side, speak it, and the door will open.”
The doors shut, returning Aiden to embracing darkness. Lying across the bed, he stared up at the ceiling with hollow eyes, dark spots lining his vision as silent tears fell down his cheeks. When…
The endless misery, smoldering hatred, and self-loathing all seemed to be washed away as a flood passed over his mind, body, and spirit; fathomless darkness that compressed his thoughts, senses, and spirit into a vice. That was when the voice appeared.
“I was correct. A Son of Homā; the abnormalities in fate are recognizable.” The voice resembled a woman’s, lavish, refined, knowing, but it held an edge of dominance that broke Aiden. Something shifted in the darkness around him; something secreted away, subtly concealed beneath the woman’s words, darker than black and more evil than imagining.
Aiden couldn’t speak, he couldn’t breathe, but the woman’s voice returned nonetheless, soft, booming, everywhere, yet nowhere. “Enthralling. Such a simple bird can cause such a shift in the tides of time. Enough to alter sections on the grand board, and even force me to move. Pieces must be added, and a new game must be put into play. Farewell, Son of Homā, your interference has been paramount on the alterations in fate. Rejoice, your wish has been hastened.” The presence seemed to vanish in an instant, leaving Aiden utterly stunned.
* * *
Kari’s breath wheezed through her lips, sagging against her restraints. Sweat and blood coated her body; long, thing cuts marring her skin from her fruitless struggles. Breathing deeply, she fed strength into her muscles again and tried transforming, but instantly felt searing pain shoot throughout her nerve system, her physical power draining out of her. She was wrapped in the dimly glowing thread and tied to two massive pillars.
Falling against her bonds again, she snarled. It took her substantial effort just to move her head to stare at the threads binding her. They’re no more than gold colored string! How can they stop me from transforming? Her mind was having a challenging time keeping focus. She suffered from dehydration, blood loss, and her strength seeped out of her, making her body numb.
She’d never experience physical pain like this, even fighting Eric. No, they’re not just normal string … It’s sapping my power … how? Like grandpa? He was bound by golden threads. Are these like those threads? No, these can’t be the same thread, he broke them.
Head drooping for a moment, her teeth clamped together. No! I won’t give up! I’ll never give up again! Mind returning to her motivational songs; she worked up her breath. You can forget about the trophy, you can forget about the success, the greatness, all champions have discipline. It’s the discipline to work hard, not when everyone is watching, but when no one is watching. When the fans aren’t there…
She gained as much perches as her bonds would allow. …when the coach isn’t there. When it’s just you and your character. The discipline to eat strong, healthy foods, when there are other tempting options… She tried pulling her arms together; pain shot from her cuts, but she persisted. When those around you, might not be so strong. The threads weren’t giving a millimeter. The discipline to say no.
Snarling, she redoubled her efforts, feeling her blood run down her chest and back. When those around you choose to be average… A whimper threatened to leave her lips as her muscles spasmed. “The discipline … to keep going—when it hurts!” She cried, tears mixing with her blood. “Because life—doesn’t give you want you want! It—gives you want you deserve!”
Her muscles gave out, and she collapsed against the threads, nerves screaming at her. Vision hazing, she mumbled, “…if—haven’t worked for it … haven’t sacrificed for it … given…” Her surroundings mixed together as her mind blanked.
Kari jolted awake, eyes snapping open. Looking around she found herself still alone and tied up—lips and mouth dry, her throat spasmed for a moment. Gritting her teeth, she righted herself and pulled on her restraints. Her wounds had partially closed, but reopened at her renewed efforts, sharp pain shooting through her mind. “If you don’t sacrifice then you don’t deserve it, and you won’t get it!” she growled. “Struggle till—my last—breath!” Again, she thrashed until she had no more strength and blacked out from blood loss; her clothes soaked in wet and dry blood, puddles pooling beneath her.
Her mind came back slowly this time, fading in and out. Her ears picked up distant echoes. “Eric—kill you,” she muttered deliriously as his scent entered her nose. The dark room lit, blinding Kari and making her eyes shut. The sounds of footsteps slowly came closer, behind her.
Refusing to give in, Kari took a shuddering breath, fighting her urge to scream; her limbs howled their agony and liquid ran down her body, in response to her redoubled efforts. Biting back the pain, she tried calling on even greater strength, but still, the bonds refused to break.
“Persistent as ever, sister,” Kari’s vision swam as she collapsed against her bonds, and she passed out again.
Eric’s putrid scent carried into recognition and Kari swallowed, trying to wet her mouth. Forcing her blurred eyes open, she tried straightening as best she could, breathing harshly as rage fueling her. Eric was slowly walking around the pillars, several very well armed men following his actions. It took a few seconds for his face to come into focus. Kari wanted to rip his amused jaw off his face but was happy to see his splints. Eric’s voice didn’t hold his facial entertainment. “You look so pitiful, sister—how did it end up like this?”
Pained laughter bubbled up from Kari’s chest, making her shake lightly in her bonds. “Did—the fox—do that to you? I—I guess she wasn’t—wasn’t so bad after all.” Taking a sharp breath to fight her stiff muscles, she leered at him. “And who’s pitiful?”
Her brother’s face flashed with rage, which lit Kari’s heart with energy. His composure dropped. “It was that wrenched dragon, and she’ll get what she deserves—in time.” He finished, regaining his calm composure.
Kari swallowed again as Eric walked over to the left pillar and plucked a golden string with his index finger, the vibrations reaching Kari’s throbbing arm, and making her teeth grind. Kari grounded her right foot against the concrete, pushing and pulling with her right arm, trying to get at her brother. Even with her sudden burst of power, her pressure didn’t damage the concrete pillars in the least and the string held firm.
Shaking his head with a hollow grin, Eric whispered, “It pains me to see you like this—bound by similar material to Gleipnir. You never understood the need for methods beyond raw power—just as Fenrir, in the end.”
Kari’s anger helped clear her mind, her teeth grinding together as she seethed, “It was you who killed and ate mom and Tiri for power! Now you talk about things beyond raw power!” She worked up enough blood in her mouth to spit at Eric.
Eric didn’t smile at her words as he easily sidestepped the liquid and played with her bonds between his fingers, a dark expression sinking into his features. “It’s true, raw power isn’t everything,” contempt broke across his features, “but it’s a whole lot of everything.” His face softened, and his vision shifted to her. “I really want you by my side, sister. Why is it so difficult for you to accept me? We do have the same blood, even if it is only half. Why does your blood not call to mine?”
Incensed, Kari renewed her efforts against her bonds, while screaming, “When you killed my little sister! When you offered me my mother’s corpse! When you murdered Lori!”
Letting a deep breath of air puff through his lips, Eric whispered, “I can’t protect you here, Kari. If you don’t behave, they’ll kill you, and I see now, they have the means. For your own sake—quit struggling.” He growled, intensity returning.
Kari’s body shook with wrath. “That you—you think—you still have the right to protect me—give me advice—it’s vile—how! How can I hate you more?” She cursed him, screaming everything she felt as she struggled.
Passively, Eric watched her for several seconds before turning and walking away in silence, which only fueled her shrieks. She cried her ire as the lights dimmed; returning her to stillness, frustrated tears dripped down her cheeks as mumbled oaths left her cracked and bleeding throat.
* * *
Blood dripped down Eric’s lips and fingers as he walked through the now open two-meter thick carbon steel door, leaving his now shattered casts in the arena with the pool of blood he’d made. Meeting his sister had only proved to make his blood boil even more. He’d taken his frustration and pain out on two creatures today. Two sacrifices granted him by the witch, both nothing more than dolls for him to crush for human sport.
At the door, he looked back with a cold expression, examining his handiwork. The remains of the Kelpie a savage mess; she didn’t stand a chance, but she’d served her purpose. His internal storm seemed to be under control, for the moment. A company of fifteen men met him on the other side of the triple plated door. He could smell the fear in the air that his savagery had instilled. The whispers about how much crueler he was than the bai-hu, which gave him some satisfaction.
“I’m going to the showers,” Eric growled. Kelpie blood smells horrid, tastes horrid, but I didn’t expect them to give me real prey.
The men kept their weapons ready as they made their way toward his appointed room. Entering the isolated place, the guards posted themselves outside. Opening a door on the right wall, he entered the bathing room. Turning on the hot water, Eric shed his blood-soaked clothes and tossed them into the corner. His lungs seized as smoldering heat flooded his body. Clutching at his chest, he dropped to his knees as the poison saturated his blood.
Eric’s fingers dug into his flesh as the dark ember sparked to light, giving birth to the searing flames that burrowed through his veins again. Choking for a moment, Eric gasped, “No! I silenced it?”
Memories began returning to him; thoughts he’d blotted out, doused in flames, the cuts in his mangled soul that refused to fade. The emotions compressing his insides, he couldn’t breathe, and then he was coughing, writhing on the ground—the toxic taste of his blood lining the inside of his mouth and dripping down his nose into the drain.
Teeth grinding together, he balled up his fist and smashed it into the floor. Half his arm sank into the concrete as it crumbled under his force. Shakily getting to his feet, he looked left at the shower mirror, connecting with his own eyes he saw the calculated hate in their subtly that threatened to corrode his merger security.
Baring his teeth, he struck out with his fist, cleaving through the glass and concrete like butter. “I’m stronger than this!” He snarled.
Eric’s wrath instantly quelled as he got the sensation of being watched. It wasn’t any of his natural impressions; it felt ominous, something that sent shivers down his spine and made his gut churn. He couldn’t be sure if he imagined it or not in the midst of his internal war. He couldn’t smell anything, and the baleful aura hadn’t even vanished, it was like a phantom’s ghost, lingering inside mists outside his reach.
Guards rushed into the room with their weapons raised, triggers a hair’s breadth away from action. Taking a deep breath, Eric calmed his chaotic nerves with force of will. Grinning, Eric chuckled through his teeth. “Nothing to worry about Boys. I just needed to release a little tension in my chest.” They quickly moved out of his way but kept alert as he passed into the bedroom. He sat at the table, smirk darkening as water dropped off his naked skin. “You’re all lucky I was alone. Who knows what I would have done.”