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Song of Sorrows and Fate: Chapter 12

The Phantom

Where had it gone wrong? I’d kept my promises, done what was asked, and I’d waited. I’d done it, all while the heat of a heart’s song burned brighter and brighter.

In her, it had rotted.

Her small words would not hold the darkness on the horizon forever. Not when she did not know her true strength, not when the time to claim the full breadth of her power had passed. I’d been too docile, too subtle, and it had dulled her draw back to the beginning.

I should’ve been insistent the moment Annon earned his reward and went to dine with the king.

I should’ve carved out a place in her dreams until she could not resist returning to the first path of fate. The pain in her heart at Annon’s loss ached through mine like molten blood.

She’d needed time. She’d needed her folk. I’d waited all this time, and thought I could wait a little longer for the cracks in her bruised heart to heal. In all my misplaced optimism, I’d anticipated for the desire to find me, the damn yearning for the bond, to bleed as fiercely through her as it did me.

My teeth clenched. I slammed a palm against a back door and shoved into the dreary gardens behind the battered palace.

What a reckless fool I’d been. She’d drifted for turns after his death, almost hells-bent on avoiding this place, as though the call to return was a plague waiting to claim her. I burned, body and blood, for her. Yet my voice caused nothing but fear and apprehension.

“It’s all wrong.”

Mists wrapped around dark, mangled trees that returned no reply to my cries. No one ever answered.

Garden paths were lined in rune totems carved with sagas and poems and warnings of a past long forgotten. I ducked my head, crossing under a stone arch onto a moss-coated walkway in a shadowed part of the sprawling gardens. In the distance, golden flames sliced through the mist in layers of brilliant red from where torches perched on sconces.

One place shut out the darkness, shut out the endless screams in my head from endless deaths. Tree limbs parted, and the stone and sod mausoleum came into focus. A small mound with deadened grass on the top and river stones shaping the foundation. In one side I’d fashioned a crooked door from old birchwood to keep the sanctuary hidden from the shadows of this damn prison.

I paused at the arched doorway. Roughly carved runes decorated the face. Runes of power and joy, of strength and cunning. They’d long ago started to fade, the same as my hope. With a grunt of frustration, I shoved inside.

One step across the threshold and my shoulders slumped; a wave of relief filled me. Here, it was quiet. Here, I could breathe.

Old shelves were topped with scrolls of parchment. Most had scratchy symbols drawn incorrectly in childish writing. I read one, a practice scroll on how to shape runes and symbols when fate’s tales were written.

Three lines were crossed out. Off to the side were a few corrections and a note of encouragement:

Feel it more, Silas. Trust your heart. The song will come.

The tug of a smile built in the corner of my mouth. We’d tried for nearly three turns for seidr to give me words. Until it was obvious my song flowed with the words of another. Still, it hadn’t stopped the fate king from teaching me to write, to read, to find peace in music.

You’ve a gift boy, hone it. Not everything must be about seidr. What makes you sing inside?

I paused at the box of dried blood rose petals. Dark as mahogany and dry as parchment. What made my heart sing? It was her. Even in childhood, when I’d been mocked by other Rave youth for befriending a silly little girl, she’d been the warmest flame.

Calista Ode was my first friend. She took a place in my heart when our souls collided that wretched day. If I’d been wise, I would’ve sealed up the pain of it all. I would’ve had a heart of stone. Instead, I left my heart as delicate glass, easily splintered and shattered.

The torch in my hand cast a haunting glow over portraits and paintings from a world long forgotten. Scrolls of old heart songs I’d kept, of inkwells and quills used by the queen to write her prophecies. Never as potent as her daughter, but Queen Anneli had a gift of seeing short distances into a path of fate.

I paused at a dust-coated tapestry with the tale of the fate king’s heart song with his queen. Blue and burgundy threads were woven in vines of ivy and rivers and all the beauty of the first kingdom. A lost world. Forgotten through the lifetimes. Threads of gold spun the tale of how a son of seidr found his love match.

A beautiful tale, but even theirs was not the same as this.

This bond is new and strange. Never have I seen seidr use two souls as one. You must cling to it, Silas. Help her find the way backSuch a bond will live until the Otherworld calls.

I lowered to my knees and shook my head. “You were wrong, King.

I am never wrong.

“Ah, but you were.” I adjusted the mask over the aching scars on my face. “She took one look at me and made it clear she does not want me.”

Stop feeling sorry for yourself.

Bastard. I rolled my eyes. “I will do as I vowed and keep her safe. But there is no happy ending to this tale.”

Then you are not trying hard enough.

I let out a sigh and removed the mask to let my skin breathe.

“I have tried,” I whispered to the phantoms all around me. “I have tried time and time again. I have nothing more to give, other than seeing to it she does not fall.”

“Who are you speaking to?”

My blood went cold. I scrambled for the mask, but froze in a bit of horror when Calista’s slender fingers curled around it and lifted it off the ground.

I clapped my palm over the scars and hurried to my feet. My back pressed into the corner of the mausoleum, the shadows like a warm robe.

She tilted her head, glancing first at the half mask, then to me in the darkness. “Who were you talking to, Silas?”

“Ghosts.”

I expected her to turn back, to flee from the madness I carried. Perhaps, I expected her to laugh. Calista did none of it, merely nodded her head. “I’ve done that a time or two. What is this place?”

I didn’t answer. She’d already began rummaging about and would figure it out soon enough.

She scanned the shelves, read through some parchment. “Wait, are these fate songs?”

“They are.”

Calista rustled through more of the parchment. “These look like some that were found in the Court of Stars during the battle. Why do you have them?”

“They are bits of comfort from a lost world. Memories I do not wish to forget.”

She paused, licking her lips. “The parchments found in the fae isles spoke of my royals. Curses and memory thieves. Things of that kind.”

“The fated paths,” I muttered.

“Yes.” Calista returned the parchment to its place. “Why were they there when they were the tales of future storytellers?”

I glanced over my shoulder. “I do not know how to answer that when you do not want to know the truth.”

“What if I do?”

I closed my eyes. “Then, I would tell you those tales came from the same song of seidr.”

“How is that possible. They are all different tales, from different fate workers.”

I didn’t answer. She was not ready to know the horrible truths of our lives.

In my silence, Calista studied the tapestry, then pulled it aside. A little gasp slid from her throat. “All gods.”

She traced the names etched into the stone I’d crafted and built into the earthy walls.

“My parents? Are they . . . is this where they rest?”

“I do not have their bones,” I admitted. “But they deserved a place.”

“You made this?” She smiled, tracing her mother’s name. “You cared for them. Didn’t you?”

A strange burn built in my skull, sharp and aggravating. It caused me to blink more than once. “They were my home. Without the queen’s help, I would’ve had long, matted hair to my feet, and clothes with patches. Perhaps no clothes at all. I certainly wouldn’t know it was considerate to wash under the arms.”

“I’m sure she took pride in doing so, since no amount of washing can tame this hair.” Calista coiled one of her rolled braids around her finger.

Her hair was wild. It always had been, like her spirit. Older gentry boys had often tugged on her braids or tried knotting them, thinking the little princess was alone.

They never got far before I stepped in their path and sent them to their mothers with bloody noses or chipped teeth.

“And my daj?” she pressed. “These are written lessons you had with him, when he taught you of your power, right? I . . . I recognize his writing.”

The skull-ache deepened. My voice was too rough. “The king did not need to burden his household with an orphan. But he did. When his trusted men told him my gift was dangerous, too odd, he stood for me. He prepared me for what was to come.”

Calista’s eyes glistened. I had little experience around others, let alone experience in reading expressions, but if I had to guess, I’d say she wanted to know more about what was to come. She wanted to know, but held her tongue.

To know would mean stepping forward into something from which she’d fled all this time. A path of fate, one where the ending was unknown.

Calista paused at a scroll with a drawing of what appeared to be a horse. The legs were thin lines and its nose was too large for its head. I kept my hand over my face, watching.

She studied the horrid drawing for a pause, then whispered, “I remember this. Gammal had only died. He was my favorite horse.”

“He was a stupid creature.”

“Only because he . . . he always bit your shoulder.” She faced my dark corner, pink lips parted. “He always bit your shoulder. Right? That’s true?”

“I have the damn scar to prove it.”

Calista dragged her bottom lip between her teeth, but when she blinked, a tear dropped onto her cheek. “Why have you been hidden from me? Why did you become my Whisper instead of . . . my Silas?”

My Silas.

Tension gripped the back of my throat. A familiar, creeping panic built. It spread like a poisonous bloom through my chest, into my head, until my thoughts could not stay focused.

“Do you know what it’s like?” I clenched my eyes and pressed my fists against the sides of my skull. “She doesn’t know. She doesn’t want to know.”

I didn’t recall lowering to a crouch, but at the touch of her hand on my wrist, I opened my eyes. Calista was kneeling in front of me.

“Silas, speak to me.” Her thumb ran over the bones of my wrist. “I am here now. What is it I don’t want to know?”

I flattened my palm against my ruined cheek again, shielding the carnage away, and slid my back along the wall until I was standing.

Calista followed. “What don’t I want to know?”

“That you have a place on a fated path.” That you have a place with me.

Her lips turned down in a frown. “I promised myself long ago that I would make my own fate. It is wrong to force someone to act against their will, Silas.” She licked her lips and stepped closer. “You must let me go.”

“How do you know if I let you go, that you will not be stepping exactly where the Norns want you?”

Her cheeks flushed. “At least it will be my choice. I have people out there who need me. The folk of Raven Row, blood fae who have guarded me. I have friends and family in distant kingdoms and . . . I must try to protect them.”

I knew all this. The royals of restored kingdoms, I both envied them and respected them for what they had done for her.

“You are safe here,” I said. My thumb traced her bottom lip. Pleasure surged through me when she didn’t pull away. “I will protect you now that you are back with me.”

“And what of the others?”

“It is too late.”

“No.” She pulled her head away from my touch. “No. That isn’t good enough. I’m not letting them fall simply because I took too long in your eyes to find you.”

It was much more than all that. She could stand beside me until the world ended. If she did not accept me and the soul bond between us, our song would never take flight again.

“I will hate you,” she said and lifted her chin in a bit of a challenge. “No matter what memories I have of you, take my freedom from me, and I will hate you. I will not forgive you for it.”

Anger swept through my veins, hot and furious. “You would hate me? After . . . after everything?”

“I don’t know everything but . . .” Her chin trembled in the slightest. “Yes, I would. Too many times I have had freedom taken from me. I won’t do it again.”

Calista let out a shriek of surprise when I lunged. My body pressed against her, pinning her back to the wall of the mausoleum. Each draw of air came sharp and heavy. Each brush of my chest against hers sparked anger and passion, and I could not stop. “You know nothing of bondage. Nothing.”

“Let me go, Silas.” She didn’t falter, didn’t waver under my nearness. Calista placed her palm on the hand I’d used to cover the scars. “Let me go to my people.”

Her people. I was not numbered among them.

Jaw tight, I stepped back. “Go then. I will not stop you. Fight a battle you cannot win. Go be with your fools who are missing you.”

Calista regarded me with a touch of suspicion. Gaze on me, she crept toward the entrance. In the doorway, she paused. “You could come with me. You could fight.”

I stepped back into the shadows, silent and unbending. Calista’s eyes flickered. Not disappointment. How could she be disappointed when she did not wish to be here with me anyway?

When she disappeared into the mists of the tangled garden, I waited for ten breaths before slamming my fist into the side of the tomb. “She doesn’t know what it’s like!”

You’re going to simply leave her there?

“Of course not,” I snapped at the darkness. “I’m not a damn fool.”

I quickened my pace and abandoned the solitude of the mausoleum and sprinted for one of the numerous side entrances on the palace. The lower corridors were musty and covered in weaver webs. Twists and sharp, angled corridors branched off in a maze of rooms and warded chambers, but I’d memorized every crevice.

I shouldered through a door into a small room where I’d spent endless hours tanning hides from rabbits or small rodents that crept through the gates. On a peg near an open hearth, I snatched a black cloak. The hood was oversized, enough I could tuck it around my marred cheek and still see.

Motion was instinct. A need to protect her, a need to keep watch over her, but by the time I reached the gate, I came to an abrupt halt.

Bleeding gods, I could . . . I could leave. There was no agonizing pull to remain behind the iron bars. In one way, she’d set me free.

And I was terrified.

The world was vast, too vast. My skin lifted in sharp chills. Gods, all I wanted to do was return to my chamber, lock the door, and draw the damn shade. But she was out there. The tale was at the end, and none of us truly knew what that meant. There was greater danger than there had ever been, and I couldn’t let her face it alone.

Shattered as I was to know she recoiled from me rather than embraced me, she was mine to protect, mine to guide. Mine.

I ducked my head, and for the first time in centuries, stepped into the world.


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