A black SUV followed me from a distance, and I wasn’t even slightly surprised. Of course Dom was having me followed. I was too tired and heartsick to care just then. I’d try to get pissed off enough to lose them in the morning.
I had a strong urge to burn some mixed tapes that night. Dom and I had been broken up for seven years and counting, but it suddenly felt so fresh that I could barely stand it. So yeah, we’d f**ked, and it had been beyond mind-blowing, but I knew it didn’t mean a damn thing. Knowing someone that you’d once loved hated you, and seeing it firsthand, were two very different things. He hated me, I thought, for the thousandth time. It was finally real to me, and I was devastated. He had loved me for so long. Some part of me must have been taking it for granted that, if he ever caught up to me again, he could forgive me. But those staggering eyes hadn’t had an ounce of mercy, not for me. And, perhaps even more devastatingly, they’d held no longing for me, either.
He had adored the ground I walked on since he was fourteen years old. I had been considerably older than that when we first met, so I had most definitely not returned those feelings. And, of course, I had not encouraged him to have those feelings for me. But it hadn’t mattered. His obsession with me had been a long and enduring one.
He’d been an exceptionally beautiful boy, and my heart had broken as I’d seen him go through the tragedy of losing both of his parents three years after I’d met him. I had comforted him, and sympathized with him. He had taken my comfort, and brazenly confessed his love for me, when he was still just seventeen. I had rebuffed him, of course. He had been unfazed, and vowed to change my mind when he came of age.
Lynn and I had fled not long after that, shedding those long ago lives and identities for new ones. It was nearly fifty years before he found me again. He had more than fulfilled the promise of the man he would become. He had been impossible to resist, then. I had known at a glance that it was useless to try. And astonishingly, his feelings and plans hadn’t been changed by time or distance. He had pledged his eternal, immortal love to me within hours of seeing me again. He had been right all along. His intuition had been dead-on all those years before. The realization had floored me, and I had fallen for him, giving him more of myself than I’d even known I possessed. Romantic love had never even been a consideration for me, before Dom. And now he despised me.
I felt almost paralyzed with the pain of it all that night. I lay on the sofa in our uncharacteristically deserted living room, unmoving for hours, reliving the horrors of what I’d done as though it had just happened. And I felt regret, such regret, for the first time letting myself consider that what I had done had not been my only option. I could have stayed and fought, risking both of our lives, but keeping our relationship intact. I had chosen to run and hide, and it had cost me his love. Yes, I felt regret, as my dense mind seemed to have just realized the lasting ramifications. And it didn’t help that I had a clear picture in my mind of the woman he was probably f**king even as I suffered. I hated her. I hated him. Most of all, I hated the visuals that kept flashing through my masochistic mind of them together, while I was alone, and feeling lonelier than I had in my entire life.
I brooded on the couch for long hours before drifting off into a restless sleep. I tossed and turned, my sleep clouded by shifting, familiar nightmares.
Tears pricked my eyelids as my father grabbed my chin in a punishing grip, turning my head to look directly at the bloody figure lying limp on the floor of the dank stone cell. My older sister was naked, but I could see no actual naked skin, so much of it had been flayed off of her, leaving only so much red meat. “Learn from this, Sveinhild. Defy me and you will suffer the same fate.” The stink of insanity radiated off of him in waves as he spoke. I had only seen eleven summers, but I smelled it clearly. A sickening sweet stench of decay coming from deep within his brain. I wondered, as I had countless times, how no one else of our kind saw it. But then again, most of them had it too.
They told me that we were immortal, and that the men of our clan were gods, but I often thought god-hood must be useless if your mind was lost to insanity. I kept these thoughts to myself, as I did most of my thoughts, because we learned very young in our mountain clan that what our elders called ‘heretic beliefs’ would get us swift punishment. And what they called heretic was anything that contradicted their demented teachings.
I thought of the humans that lived in the quiet village nestled in the valley below our mountain fortress. I escaped there whenever I could, feeling a vast relief whenever I was free of the cloying decay that permeated almost all of our kind. The humans seemed to be completely free of this sickness, and being amongst them made me almost forget it myself. The humans were wary of me, a child of the ones they worshipped as gods, and rarer still, a female one. Nonetheless, I sought out that village, time and again.
“When she heals, she will be chained with your mother, and spelled to sleep for as long as I wish. For eternity, perhaps. It is too late for Hedda, Sveinhild, but you can learn from her transgressions. Do you understand?”
I nodded against his painful grip. I got these kinds of lectures a lot. The scared child inside of me quaked, but I remained stoic. I was an old soul, and only thought of myself as a child when I was castigating myself. I knew why I got such special attention. It was because, though I usually kept my own council and stayed quiet, he sensed my rebellious thoughts. I told myself, as I did constantly, it becoming a mantra in my head of late, that he couldn’t possibly know my plans. Unlike my brother Sven, he could not read our thoughts. And Sven must not have picked them up, either. If he had even an inkling, I would already be in a cage, or worse, chained beside my be-spelled mother. I had seen her once, deep within the mountain. She was in draak form, beautiful and golden, and terrifyingly huge. She did not stir when I touched her. She was be-spelled into a deep, unconscious state. There were thick metal manacles around her neck and ankles. Her sin, my father told me, was disobedience, and would say no more.
I had been whipped for visiting her, a fairly light punishment considering how clear my father had made it that I was never to go to her. This told me that he wasn’t completely displeased that I had seen her. He wanted me to know what was in store for those who disobeyed. As though the notable lack of other females in our clan wasn’t enough of a deterrent for misbehaving. I knew what had happened to them all. I knew what it meant that my father kept a pet slayer by his side almost constantly. I could feel his dark presence in the corner behind me even now, the blood of all of our fallen females on his hands. He was death, the only thing on this earth that could kill us.