The Night Everything Fell Apart
From Chapter Two...
Arthur had found his mother’s
He took a quick step backward, as if needing
to distance himself from the immensity of his achievement. His foot slipped on
the moss; he only just managed not to fall. He staggered to the center of the
garden and dropped heavily onto a stone bench. Long moments passed before his
breathing slowed and his stomach settled.
He examined the stone with shaking
hands. A three-rayed star shone within a translucent blue moonstone. The carved
apple wood setting resembled an intricate tangle of vines. An unbroken silver
chain passed through the carving. A distant memory called—Arthur’s own this
time. He was in his mum’s arms, swatting at the stone. He’d wanted it for
himself. His mum had laughed and said it was not yet time.
Well, it was past time now. He dropped
the chain over his head. He might have searched for a new touchstone for his
magic, but this one, passed down through generations of his line, was the best
tool to focus his magic. Now that he’d found it, he would...
He frowned. His goal was...what,
precisely? The image of a woman—blond, tall, eyes like jade—appeared in his
head. She was waiting for him.
But who was she? Where was she? Why did it matter so damn much? Sod it all, he
couldn’t remember. His ancestors’ memories were murky rubbish. Memories of his
childhood, however, were unfortunately clear. His gaze darted to the house. Leave, screamed the voice of his
terrified younger self. Leave.
He was halfway to the door before he
even realized he was in motion. He was on the front step before his brain
registered a protest. He flung open the door and stepped into a narrow hall.
Parlor and dining room to the right, library to the left. He strode straight
ahead into the kitchen.
The shock of it hit him like a slap
across the face. The room was in shambles—furniture overturned, floor strewn
with shattered glass. Cabinets hung open. The calendar above the icebox, stuck
to the wall with a tack, hung askew. His mother’s valise, the one with the embroidered
roses, stood upright by the door.
Dark splatters covered it all. Floor,
walls, furniture, even the ceiling.
He didn’t know what he’d expected, but
it wasn’t this. Nothing had changed, except that his parents’ corpses no longer
lay in a heap on the floor. Mab must have disposed of the bodies. Maybe she’d
returned to search for his mother’s moonstone. Luckily, she hadn’t found it.
Mab hadn’t killed his parents, but
she’d shown up soon afterward. She’d claimed Tristan’s diamond touchstone right
off his dead body. It had become a decoration on her whip handle. For seven
years, each time Arthur had seen his father’s gem, each time he’d felt the lash
of the whip’s hellfire, his hatred of his clan’s new alpha had burned hotter.
Maybe that was why, while the rest of his brain seemed to have turned to muck,
his memory of Mab remained clear.
The farmhouse table lay on its side, a
rusty smear slashing across the spot where Arthur had eaten his daily porridge.
On the floor nearby, a larger stain marked the place where his parents’ bodies
had fallen. Their blood, dead and dry, was all that was left of them.
Anger and grief, helplessness and
hopelessness, rushed in on him. A high-pitched tone rang in his ears. The
shriek escalated with each labored breath. It twisted inside his skull, scraped
through his brain. He pressed shaking hands to his ears. No good. The noise was
inside his head.
His stomach turned. Wave after wave of
unreality assaulted him. Everything around him turned...strange. Unreal. Where was he? He looked wildly about the
room. Enamel sink, copper counter, oak table. Stained floor. Suddenly, none of
it looked familiar.
Sweat broke out on his forehead. Where
was he? How had he gotten here? Why had he come? Acid panic burned in his
out. Get out now.
And go where? He couldn’t think of a place.
He didn’t, he realized with lurching dread, even know his own name.
the hell was he? What was he?
He needed air.
He crossed to a window. The glass was
muddy. He grasped the sash and shoved. It didn’t budge. He looked closer. What
he’d thought was mud was blood. A thousand droplets of dried blood.
He balled his fist and smashed the
glass. A jagged edge sliced his thumb. He staggered back, staring at the crimson
trail running down his forearm. His heart banged. His lungs worked like a
bellows. The blood ran to his elbow. Dripped to the floor.
in the garden, peering in the window. A tall man, a Nephil. Pale and gaunt. The
hem of his black cape brushed his knees, the edges of its crimson lining like streaks
of blood. A ring on his left middle finger bore a golden face as its signet. It
looked like its wearer... Lips pursing, eyes blinking...
gold hellfire, whipping from the Nephil’s hands, sharp as a blade. Slicing
through Father’s neck. Blood spurting. Spattering the window. Father’s body,
crumpling. Falling, falling...
murderer and his ring, both smiling...
The scream began in Arthur’s gut. It
pummeled a path from his diaphragm, to his ribs, to his throat. His lungs
sucked air. His mouth opened, but his cry emerged in silence. Living, shaking
silence, vibrating so fiercely his tendons threatened to separate from his
Power streamed through his body. It
blasted from his hands. Pure white light, consuming everything in its path. The
kitchen, its contents, its memories. For an eternity, or perhaps only for an
instant, there was nothing but brilliance.
And then there was only nothing.
He fell as if dropped by an unseen hand
from a great height. His hip struck something solid and pain shot down his leg.
He lurched to his feet. His knees buckled. He grabbed the edge of the sink.
Long moments later, he righted a fallen
chair and lowered himself into it, rubbing the lingering pain in this thigh.
When his breathing had slowed and his heart was no longer pounding like a drum,
he stood. He looked—really looked—at the room around him. And froze.
His brain struggled to make sense of
what his eyes saw—or, more accurately, what they didn’t see. His parents’
blood—on the floor, on the table, on the window—had vanished. The squealing
echo in his skull was gone, too. Silence—pure and ominous—remained.
He passed his hand down his face. What the fuck was going on? He’d done
magic again, without planning, without knowing, without even being aware of it
until it was over. Once again, his memory had failed, reducing his life to
dark, ragged gaps.
It wasn’t the first time he’d blacked
out since his Ordeal. Far from it. His time as a Nephil adept could be
described as a few islands of lucidity engulfed by a sea of darkness. Simple
exhaustion? A natural learning curve? Insanity? With no guide to teach him, he
His fingers closed on the moonstone.
He’d pinned all his hopes on the gem. While he could use any stone as a focus
to his magic, a gem handed down through one’s own ancestral line offered the
greatest advantage. He’d hoped his mother’s stone would end his blackouts. But
here it was, in his possession, and he was no better off than before.
Coming so abruptly back to himself, to
the aftermath of magic he couldn’t remember calling, left him on the edge of
panic. And there was something else...or, rather, someone else, wavering indistinctly in the back his mind. His own
memory? A fragment of a long-dead ancestor’s past? Whichever it was, the jade-eyed
woman never wandered far from his awareness.
He heaved the table upright. It teetered,
then thudded into place. Roaming the kitchen, he set chairs on their legs and retrieved
fallen cookware. He swept up shattered crockery and emptied it into the rubbish
bin. He would remember, he told
himself. He had to.
He stacked two chairs, broken beyond
repair, in a corner of the room. He placed his mother’s valise, unopened, beside
His head jerked up. Fine hairs lifted
on the back of his neck. The noise was slight. Nothing more than a faint creak
on the back stair. Every muscle tensed. His palms tingled. He shifted onto the
balls of his feet, listening.
Footsteps, descending. Pausing. Someone—or
something—was in the house. A cold drip of sweat trickled down the side of his
face. Mab? No. The Druid alpha would never sneak. But who else could have
gotten through her wardings?
The back stair gave out in a corner of
the kitchen. Arthur moved toward it on silent feet, mentally tracing the
intruder’s path. Nine steps down from the upper hall to the landing. A tight
turn then another ten steps down to the kitchen. Once on that lower stretch, his
descending quarry would be effectively trapped.
He inhaled. Druid magic, cast with any
measure of control, felt impossible. Magic common to all Nephil clans, however,
seemed much more doable. Shifting into demon form, even that first, harrowing
time, had been instinctive. Casting hellfire also came fairly easily. He only had
to think of it to have it spring, burning, to his fingertips. Actually aiming
it at a target was more of a challenge.
A creak sounded in the stairwell. The
intruder had resumed his descent, with a cautious footstep on the landing.
Another pause. Another squeaking tread. A figure appeared...
Arthur surged up the steps. With a snap
of his wrists, hissing fire streaked into the narrow passage. His aim was pitiful.
One white streak hit the ceiling. The other struck the wall. The recoils
bounced, whip-like, to wind about his adversary’s neck. Arthur leaped back, stumbling
down the stair, pulling the firelashes with him.
His captive bounced down the last three
steps and landed hard at his feet.
It was a woman. A blond woman, dressed
in blue jeans and a flowery, flowing blouse. She gagged, clawing at the
hellfire wrapped around her throat. Her eyes—wide and jade green—met his. Her
Recognition slammed into his brain.
Followed by pure, primal terror.
He dropped to his knees. He hauled
Cybele into his arms even before he’d managed to banish the last sputter of his
hellfire. Her body sagged across his thighs. Her eyes rolled up, and her head
lolled to one side. She went limp.
“No,” he rasped. “No.”
He ran a shaking hand over her head,
her shoulder. He flattened his palm against her chest. Her heart was beating. He
clung to the sensation. The rhythm was rapid and none too steady. His own heart
Was she breathing? His firelash had
left an angry red welt across her throat. It didn’t look like he’d crushed her
windpipe. But her chest...it wasn’t moving.
“Damn it. Damn it. Fucking
damn it.” He grasped her shoulder and shook. Nothing.
He tried again, harder. Her head
snapped forward. A rasping sound—her lungs abruptly sucked air. Her spine
arched with the force of it.
Arthur’s rush of relief was so intense,
it caused black spots to dance before his eyes. Cybele’s exhale shuddered out
of her lungs. He froze, waiting. An eternity passed before the next breath
“That’s it.” He held her tightly and rocked
her back and forth on his lap. If he’d had a soul, he might’ve even uttered a
“Breathe, damn it. Breathe.”
Perhaps Heaven was watching. If so, he
was sure it was laughing. Cybele’s third breath was a choking gasp. Fear closed
Arthur’s throat. His arms were banded around her ribs. Too tightly? He forced
himself to loosen his hold.
He lowered her onto the floor. Her lips
parted. With trembling hands, he cupped her face.
“Come on,” he muttered. “Come on...”
She sucked in a breath, and then expelled
it in a bout of fierce coughing. He rolled her onto her side and pounded between
her shoulder blades. When at last the hacking subsided, he eased her onto her
back. She was definitely breathing. But her chest rose and fell in an erratic
“Cybele.” She gave no indication she’d
heard. “God damn it, Cybele! Wake up.”
This time, her eyelids fluttered. He
tensed, willing them to open. They didn’t. Her complexion was deathly pale, her
lips a faint shade of blue. Fuck. Her
hands were like ice. The red stripe across her neck might as well have been a
lash against his own back.
He couldn’t bear to look at what he’d
done to her. He gathered her into his lap and cradled her head against his
chest. She shivered. His ran his hands up and down her arms, generating
friction. If he could have brought her right inside him and given her all his
heat, he would have done it.
A sick feeling settled in his chest. He’d
remembered Mab, that bloody bitch, but somehow, he’d forgotten Cybele. How the hell could she have left his mind, even
for an instant? She meant everything to him.
“Don’t you dare die,” he muttered. “Don’t
He didn’t know how to heal with his
magic. He tried anyway, pouring all the life energy he could muster into her
body. His effort seemed to help. Her shuddering abated. The blue tinge of her
lips yielded to a pale pink.
Her next inhale was less of a gasp and
more of a wheeze. Her lips parted.
“Not...dying.” Her eyelids fluttered
open. Their gazes locked. “Not even...close.”
He swallowed. “Are you sure?”
“Harder...to kill...than tha—” Another coughing
fit took her.
“Bollocks,” he muttered. “Not again.”
He urged her to sit up and lean forward, his hand on her nape.
She held up one finger. “Just...give me...a
The coughing abated. Her hand fluttered
downward, as if it weighed too much for her arm to support.
“Take your time,” he said. “Take all
the time you need.”
She nodded. Several long moments passed.
Finally, she raised her head. “Better,” she said. “I think.”
He examined her more closely. When his gaze
fell on her neck, he tasted bile. He might have killed her with his blind
strike. If he had proper control of his magic, she wouldn’t have stood a
chance. His mind started to run with the scenario. Ruthlessly, he choked it off.
he told himself. Not. Dead. Not dead, not
dead, not dead. Color had flooded her cheeks. Her breathing was still uneven,
though. He grabbed her wrist and pressed the pulse point. Weak. He frowned into
her eyes. Her pupils were dilated.
She blinked up at him. “Dang it, Arthur.
Quit looking at me like that.”
His chest eased a fraction. If she had
enough energy to tell him off, she wasn’t dying quite yet.
“Don’t look at you like what? Like you’re
bloody lucky to be alive? Sweet Lucifer, Cybele, what were you doing, sneaking
down those steps? You scared the piss out of me!”
“I scared you? What about me? Next time try looking before
“Rubbish. You should’ve let me know it
Her green eyes flashed. “Give me some
credit. I’d have to be dumber’n a bag of rocks to call out before I knew...”
She sucked in a breath. “...before I knew—it was y—” She dissolved into another
round of coughing.
“Fuck. I’m sorry. You’re right. It’s my
fault.” When she started to reply, he shook his head. “Quiet. Don’t talk. Just
She pressed a fist to her chest and
nodded. When the coughing finally stopped, she looked up and offered a wry
smile. “You know, I think that’s the first time you ever apologized to me.”
He snorted. “Don’t accustom yourself.”
“No chance of that,” she said.
Labels: angels, arthurian legend, demons, druids, fantasy fiction, joy nash, king arthur, Merlin, Nephilim, paranormal romance, romance novels