“ I am a Blackbeak,” Manon rasped, blood choking her words. Her grandmother took a step, smiling as she crooned, “You are a Crochan. The last of their royal bloodline with the death of your sister at your own hand. You are a Crochan Queen. ”
Some kind of alola!au where they all get together and look for special, hidden Z-crystals to add to Daigo’s collection or something (and MikuDai decide to go back to the basics by only taking their signature pokes in baby form)
Elide Lochan was locked in a cell, a chain latched firmly onto her ankles. Her shadow would bend and stretch to a dance of melancholy and insanity, dark dreams drenching her sleep. The cold would seep into her bones, every movement emitting a crack and the occasional snap. Purple crescents shaped under her eyes, her throat a rasp of what she once was.
Elide covered her ears as screeches filled the air—the rusted food tray sliding under the opposite side of the wall through a thin slat and grating against the splintered stones. Her spine remained curled as she slowly rocked into herself, the flurry of scratches scraping against her ears.
Elide slowly leaned forward, fingers reaching for the edge of the tray. Her hand wrapped around the cup of water, stale and murky. A noise of determination escaped her cracked throat as she pulled the cup to herself, her hands wobbling.
The cup spilled.
The fluid slithered through the cracks in the floor, weaving through the ground.
Elide pressed her cheek against the floor, the droplets caressing her face and nails caked with grime. She opened her mouth as wide as she could, allowing the water streaks to trickle into her mouth.
Elide laid there, loneliness wrapping around her like a blanket, laying there on the cold stones, chained, and waiting for time to drag on.
And on and on.
Her cell opened, the jarring sound rattling her into clearer conscience, and Vernon’s face peered down. Fear whipped through her.
Not again, she silently begged. A couple more seconds.
Her prayers went unanswered.
“Ready to try again?” he smirked, and jerked the chain out.
Her body dragged along the stones, and slumped against the base of the rocky stairs. She felt every crack along the ground cutting her spine and shredding her ears. The chain clattered to the floor, and a sharp kick to her side sent her to the first step at the base of the cave.
“You know what happens if you can’t make it,” he hissed, the stench of alcohol oozing from his breath.
And Vernon knew too, a belt snugly fit into his hands, his black-collared shirt already unbuttoned.
“Climb,” he ordered.
And she did.
Up and up and up.
To the unreachable light.
Elide could not breathe.
She could not think.
She could not focus.
She could only move — every whisper of movement laced with a burning sensation over her hands, knees, and feet to her very lungs.
Her eyes failed her long ago, the tiny slivers of sunlight a shrapnel scraping into her irises. Even with her lids closed, fractures of brightness invaded, too much light for a too long stay stay in the darkness — in hell.
Her hands scraped over stones, scars scratching open. So much blood had spilled and bathed over her body that she could taste the crimson, salted liquid in her tongue.
She didn’t have the energy to spit it out.
Not when her body would seize her with huge wracking spells; her throat closed up and she coughed on her own blood. Her lungs burned, her throat wheezing to a cacophony.
The climb reduced her to submit fully to her knees and hands, a wounded and shattered animal in human form with nothing but the raw emotions of enmity — except no longer did her instincts sing to live, but to relinquish in death’s calling.
Every crack in the ground furthered the descent into madness and rage. The echoing sounds in remembrance of the lash of the whip and the tearing of her clothes set her forward, almost as she’d been duly programmed to climb and climb — tortuously slowly and painfully — skimming the cracked ground with numb hands bearing running lines of red soaking her skin all the way from her ribs down to her toes.
Swabs of cotton blossomed underneath her forehead, her throat thick with saliva from panting and scratches from rasping out her mantra over and over again.
Lorcan, Lorcan, Lorcan.
Commander of the Lycan Pack.
Blood spilled out her mouth. Her hand caught inside a wedge of slab, her wrist splintering as she pitifully tried — memories slamming and wedging into every corner — tried to stop remembering, old wounds reopening.
Elide gurgled in the blood rinsing her mouth as her bone snapped.
Her cheek rested against cold stone as she heaved, greedily inhaling the musty air that no longer fuller reeked of the rotten, decaying stench of poisoned flesh.
Her hand clawed along another stone when she heard the lash of the belt at her toes.
“I loved you.”
She saw red beneath her lids as she hauled her body up, her legs shaking and arms shuddering. There was no more youthful joy with dazzling hopes of love. Reality proved the coldness severing any warmth.
“You did not give me a chance, Elide. So I will not give you a second one.”
She collapsed along the stones, a seizure wracking her body, blood spilling out of her cracked lips. Everything swam underneath her, a buzzing sound cutting across her forehead and through her ears. Her only chances were this torture of trying and failing.
Give up, a part of her said. Give up, the walls and shadows and blood and flesh and bone whispered.
So she gave up.
Gave up to heartbreak.
A part of her wanted to consent.
To submit to the darkness.
But that tiny, shredded sliver of hope still shone within her. A tiny thread of sanctuary
A dry laugh sounded behind her, a rasping voice that sent shivers across her skin.
She’d been still too long.
The whip lashed across her back.
Her body didn’t have enough energy to arch off the ground—instead she laid limp and broken and shattered. Salt wove through her mouth, grime caking her tastebuds, and salt oozing in thick waves out.
She could feel a hand working up her thigh, and the familiar, rotten stench overcoming her. She could not conjure up the scent of her once-mate anymore, emptiness and bitterness plaguing her.
“Looks like another failure,” the dark voice tsked, darkness overcoming her, shadows leaping over the dark walls collapsing over her and squeezing the last remains of breath from her lungs.
Aelin’s door banged open again, the smell of fried noodles and apple juice filling her nostrils. She pressed down the uncomfortable feeling of distaste squirming in her stomach, and noted Manon’s similar look of uneasiness. Elide’s absence had affected them both, nourishment no longer appealing; it had been the Elide, the Pack Doctor apprentice, who had made sure they afforded time to eat rather than completely dive into Pack duties.
The palace door closed, and the scent of familiarity washed over her.
“Rowan,” Aelin greeted, turning her face away, and then paused. “Or should I say personal chef now?”
A snort. “Emrys cooked.”
“So you’re the messenger boy?”
Pine-green eyes flashed. “A boy wouldn’t have had you moaning yesterday.”
Her cheeks flushed at the whisper of memory while Manon sneered at the male, pointing a warning claw at the male. Rowan stilled at the challenge emanating from the half-Lycan.
Gods, not again.
The Prince of Lycans set the plates at the foot of Aelin’s bed with a clatter, and strode to her Beta, coldness and fury radiating from the testosterone-filled body.
“Stand down,” Aelin ordered quietly, watching Manon silently tense. The last thing they all needed was an internal conflict, especially when her own pack member and the Lycan commander were missing.
Rage flickered through those pine-green eyes from his mate’s command. Rowan let out a growl building from the base of his throat, but otherwise stalked back to her bed, breathing in the scent from her blankets and pillows. The muscles at his back and shoulders rippled.
How delicate these males were, exercising self-control daily, each strand chipping away with each passing day.
Aelin reverted back to pacing around her room, ignoring her mate’s constant fussy looks and worrying tactics—and the occasional careful and well-guarded look towards Manon.
Too many plates of untouched fruits, meats, and vegetables piled up in her room, nectar tea and water lining against her walls. The amount of food Rowan had brought her started to resemble a banquet, and if the Prince of Lycans didn’t stop soon, she wouldn’t be able to walk through her own damned temporary room without swimming through a sea of plates and bowls. Walking around this room in the castle consumed her from the normalcy of living within her own controlling borders. Not to mention the other female residents in the Lycan castle lived just a hall down, driving her senses to the edge.
Manon stabbed a nail through a blood-red apple, peeling the skin off into perfectly thin curls. Each strip, no doubt, tasted bland and dry, a reflection of the past couple months turned into emptiness and dread, living in a proliferation of well-kept fear.
“How could anyone obtain Yellowleg’s poison?” Aelin stared out the window where she could only imagine the nightmare Elide was living in daylight. The rays no longer held warmth she could soak in like a security blanket, but rather held a mockery of what she could not protect even in broad daylight. Her skin felt cold, but one look from her mate had a different type of heat racing through her.
She looked away.
Manon’s teeth latched around the peel. “I don’t understand how the poison still could have affected Lorcan after he killed Essar.”
Aelin paused, a myriad of dark scenarios crossing over her mind. She rubbed her temples, a slight draft breezing in and skimming over her skin. Abruptly slamming the window shut, tension rolled over her, not even her mate’s presence able to soothe her. “It doesn’t add up in the first place. If Essar is dead, then who controlled Lorcan while he was at the castle?”
Manon let out a low hiss, one that demanded bloodshed. A calm, killer look crested her face, and her claws slid out. Her eyes cut towards Aelin. “Now that is the real question.”
Rowan cleared his throat. “I doubt it would have been Essar. She did have give her heart to Lorcan, but she knew her boundaries. By the atrocities of her actions, the whole scenario seems absurd, almost as if she’d also been on the poison to act such.”
Manon cocked her head, a predator accessing the situation and how to pin down the prey who’d slipped from their grasp one-too many times.
Rowan crossed his legs from Aelin’s bed, the gesture too simple—through the complications—for her eyes to handle. Growling, she chucked the plate of steamed broccoli and peppered carrots at her mate’s head.
The bastard merely flicked his hand, his magic neatly setting the trays on her bed.
Lunging forward, Aelin made way to tackle him, but Rowan hastily stood up, holding both palms up in the air.
Not in defeat, but in contemplation.
He frowned. “The day you came to the castle, pretending you were sick—” Rowan cast a hard look towards Aelin, who merely raised a brow “—you—” He turned towards Manon who had reduced the apple to the very core “—You said you saw Remelle in the palace. In the halls.”
Manon tossed the core in the air, and caught it within her hands without breaking the stare with the Prince of Lycans. “Yes.”
His Adam’s apple bobbed. “That’s…odd.”
It was Aelin’s turn to shoot her mate a glare. “Why’s that exactly?”
“Because she should have been in my room.”
The Alpha of the Fireheart Pack cocked a hand on her hip. “Oh?” Aelin put her mate’s words far out of her mind. When Elide was safe within her pack, then she could think about Rowan’s endeavors with other females. She told herself she didn’t care anyways, not when she had a line of unmated males, and even Alphas, desiring her—but still, the comment stung deep within her.
She’d make the Prince of Lycans think twice in who he was dealing with.
She’d started to think that the whatever deity out there was not some benevolent goddess anymore.
Rowan stalked closer towards her—daring her to interrupt and shut him out. “She’s been deigning to carry out her diplomatic meetings in my room, otherwise choosing to withhold information. That day, she was supposed to fill me in about the Morath Pack. Any details we could use to legally shut them down and use to show the Council.”
Manon let out a low hiss, ignoring Rowan’s hesitance and Aelin’s vehemence. “Morath,” The Beta gutturally gutted out so viciously Rowan’s teeth bared. “Remelle asked Elide how was Morath.”
Morath—Gods, Elide. Lorcan was right—it was that breeding place after all this time.
Vernon wasn’t trying to lie low.
“Even if Elide lived in Morath—” Rowan started, but Aelin’s face paled, realization pouring through her, a vast broken dam.
“It wasn’t Essar who poisoned Lorcan.”
Manon stiffened. “It was the one who is vying for your mate.”
Aelin’s heart stuttered. “Remelle.”
Manon clicked her teeth together, and turned towards Rowan, baring her teeth. “The first time I met Remelle, I was given the orders to not harm a hair on her head. Now?”
The Prince of Lycan’s eyes matched the half-Lycan’s dark glint full of malice and ill intent. “Those orders have reversed.”
Aelin watched Manon and Rowan stride out of the door, purpose filling each of their veins. She supposed it would be fun to have a little chat with the Lycan princess—find out her exact her role with Elide’s kidnapping and her intentions with her own mate—killing two birds with one stone.
The familiar scent of fresh air, pine, and snow filled her nostrils. Rowan pushed her door open again and stood footsteps away from her, a hard look on his face.
“I know what this may seem like, but if you trust me, believe me when I said nothing transpired.”
The Alpha of the Fireheart pack stared at the rotten core Manon had tossed on her floor. Dead and putrid—what state would she find Elide in? Even worse, she dreaded the state Lorcan would find Elide in. The retribution unleashed…
Mate or mateless, both had been tied together by the ineffable feelings of hope and life, a choice both had accepted.
“It’s not you I’m worried about,” Aelin said slowly, meeting her mate’s gaze. “I’m more worried about Remelle.”
She could feel the strings to her link with Manon and the waves of delight rolling through her Beta, just as a high-pitched, feminine scream pierced the air. A grin played over Aelin’s lips and she stalked to the door, sparing one last glance back.
“You coming?” she asked.
Rowan gave a slow shake of his head, and strode next to her, leaning slightly down. “When things settle down,” he said quietly. “I hope you will consider a future with me.”
The hairs at the nape of her neck prickled, and she opened her mouth, tongue tied with too many thoughts. She refused to give up her Alpha position, especially to live among royalty where she’d be nothing more than a trophy wife. “We—”
A body flew towards past their door, and crashed into the wall at the end of the hallway. Manon stalked down the hall, bloodlust written in her eyes, and crimson red dripping off her nails and onto the expensive sapphire carpets.
Remelle’s back was bent—snapped. A hand was pressed against her mouth, brimming with saliva and blood.
“A deal with Rogue Baba Yellowlegs,” Manon hissed, the rims of her dark gold eyes glazed with phantom ghosts. “Two drops of Yellowleg’s poison for the princess here for the promise of winning the queen’s crown in return to revoke Baba’s Rogue status.”
“And?” Aelin pushed.
“One drop in Essar’s breakfast tea. Under the spell, she’d been commanded to poison Lorcan’s goblet.”
Remelle’s shudder was confirmation enough.
Aelin pursed her lips. “Is Baba Yellowlegs still alive?”
Manon swung Wind Cleaver in a wide arc, and Remelle screamed, covering her eyes. “Yes! Yes she is!” When Manon’s claws slid out, the Lycan princess quickly added, “Morath,” her body trembling and convulsing.
Rowan frowned. “That’s most likely one of the quickest, successful interrogations I’ve ever seen.”
The Alpha of the Fireheart Pack smirked. “It’s why she’s my Beta.” Because the half-Lycan bred more unsatiasted ills inside of her, cultivated over the years, never receiving the closure comfort in her past. The wrath of a woman never worshipped.
Remelle screamed as the half-Lycan stalked towards her, swinging Wind Cleaver easily in one hand. The Lycan princess glanced desperately at Rowan, who merely nodded his head at Manon in expectation.
“Wait,” Aelin said, cracking her neck.
Manon looked at her impatiently, the black in her eyes dilating in anticipation.
“You get Sorscha and reinforcements to Morath as soon as possible.”
A nod from Manon, albeit unwillingly. The half-Lycan spared one last glance at the Lycan princess, who slumped against the wall in relief. And then her Beta was gone, a menace’s shadow.
To Elide, to restoration.
Aelin, Alpha of the Fireheart Pack and mate to the Prince of Lycans, stepped forward from under the doorway, and locked eyes with the Princess of Lycans.
“Remelle,” she purred. “You and I are going to have a nice, long civil chat.”
She drew Damaris from her sheath, the blade glinting against the overarching golden beams.
To the unanswered dreams and whisper of hope within them all.
Vernon rebuckled his pants, licking his lips in satisfaction. The experiments on captured wolves turned them into Ilken now guarded Morath so that not one soul would dare not survive a trip past his borders.
He’d gotten his empire, and built a kingdom out of skulls and death. He’d done the impossible without the interference of the Lycans blooded with Royalty. He’d beaten the heir to his Pack into submission.
He’d gotten it all. And so much more.
Nightmares turned into realities.
He had his secrets, his dark deeds, his gory graves, burning in his brain, a living hell, his own to hole up under lock and key.
His boots shoved the limp figure away from him, a nest of black hair lying dead against the slope of stones. Blood pooled around her, her stomach caved in, mouth open in a silent scream of terror. A perfect doll stuffed with poisoned needles and sewed with barbed words.
He had broken the Perranth spirit and heir, and carved out Morath, a devil’s realm of hell to rule absolutely.
A mirthless chuckle shuddered through him, seizing every pore. He’d brought down a Pack of light and hope, tore through every crack, and filled the gap with his own gushing red rivers of twisted wickedness.
The truth was out. That heinous acts could thrive and withhold a place in this too gray world.
He’d nudge the canvas towards the ink, and devour the white. Completely.
Vernon felt, rather than saw, a shift in the darkness—a different blackness with more volumes.
A hatchet whistled through the cave, and flew through a wide arc, nearly slicing the limp figure’s fingers, rottened and rottled.
A heavy, dark presence shattered the shapes of phantom and shadow.
Pure, undiluted rage and unfiltered feralness.
And barrenly broken.
The Alpha of the Morath Pack slowly turned around, revealing yellow-red teeth, caked with the crimson liquid of the broken body’s mortality. A nasty soul for the invading one in his land, his territory, his sanctuary.
“You missed,” he hissed in delight.
A warrior of moon’s darkness, not of the sun’s glory descended into the cave.
Deeper, deeper into hell. His hell and no one else’s. His, his, his and his own lovely-pieced heaven.
Welcome, he almost breathed, soaking in the other demon’s face. Look at this little lush.
The darkness flared out, every vein within him throbbing as if pins and needles had stitched through him.
A hysterical laughter shot through him.
A consequence that had not foreseen.
A broken girl with a broken mate.
Put together, they healed.
He should have known. Wedged them further, despite the inevitable.
His own secret darkness failed, to tell to another larger and loose dark, a spawn of wretched misery.
A wild, maniacal grin—a monster he had unknowingly forged. A living sin.
“Did I?” the twisted darkness rasped.
Vernon’s ankle collapsed, a chunk of flesh ripped and torn, blood seeping through the floor, dark ink swirling with the fading scarlet. A slice reeking of revenge felt to the depths of his marrow.
The hatchet yanked out of his ankle, and the Alpha’s knees kissed the stones. A pale hand, too twisted for true comprehension, gripped the hatchet.
The little girl who had hung onto that little thread twisted with hope.
A fading will focused on retribution, a face meaner than his own demons.
He hadn’t won.
The warrior slipped through his peripheral, the slickness of the liquids sliding over his hands too tangible.
“Tell me how you did it,” he insisted, not feebly—anything but. Foam bubbled at his lips. “Slipped through my defenses unharmed.”
His utopia. Meeting an end to greater darkness. There was no perfection, truer silencer than this. The Ilken had failed him, his fantasy had not been fulfilled, the girl had not crossed over the line. Into insanity.
The warrior stepped over his mangled ankle. A true devil in a lower hide.
More pain, but numb.
Onyx eyes peered into him, a smile promising more things than the sweet release of decaying. Hardened and unconquered. Eternal seconds of breathings for this very moment.
He repeated his words. Slurred.
Grasped at the syllables in response.
Knew the warrior opened his mouth.
Did not know the warrior had been broken and remade. Would remake the broken, shattered figure next to him, gripping the hatchet with a ferocity only the desperate could hold before fading away into dust.
The warrior knelt down next to him, and leaned close to his ear.
Opened his mouth. Said the words again—
—Death cannot conquer love.
The sickened rose within him, swirling and spiraling savagely. Vernon howled at the sounds of answer, the clipped crunching cracks chipping away. Heard them over and over again, slithering down his ear and wrapping around him, a vice like grip. Choking him from the inside.
Again and again.
The Alpha of the Morath Pack heard the beating drums of madness crescending louder and louder and louder matching the beating within his own ribcage until all fell into silence and solemness.
She knew she was blinded.
Suffering in the darkness did not mean alleviation in the light.
Too bright, too sunny—she could not see the same way again.
The male warrior had stripped his shirt into thin slices and wrapped the fabric around her eyes, shielding them from the blinding sensations of radiant rays that ripped through her orbs.
—she knew she was safe.
Secure, and sound.
Warm, and protected.
There was no words needed to fill the silence, not when a reunion of simple touching kissed away every troubled crack.
It was as if the past had washed away with the present.
A hand wove through her knotted hair and stroked her scalp, rubbing away the grime and dirt coating her roots.
“Elide,” he murmured, and Elide felt the vibrations rumbling through his chest.
Elide opened her eyes, the thread expanding and pouring through her. The warmth from that sliver span flashed through her, and she felt her insides match the other string’s song, the warrior whose arms she was in. Then—in that moment, she realized paradise was not a place, but a feeling.
How could she forget that rough-hewn face and those onyx eyes—once haunted—now glimmering with that resounding hope pulsating through her.
“I am an immortal, seen it all, met it all. But you—” The Commander of the Lycans looked at her with something akin to almost wonder in his eyes. “—You, Elide, are entirely different. You taught me ascension.” His fingers cupped her face, a gentle caress. “You taught me that life is finite and fragile.” His Adam’s apple bobbed.
Elide Lochan cried.
And her mate cried with her.
Elide felt the threads of connections flowing through her, more safety nets, more familiarities. More lives.
She could hear the sharp and feminine voice ringing through the air, and taste the death of Rogues on her tongue.
A blade whistled through the air, and she smiled.
Which only meant—the white-haired wolf stalked through the clearing, black blood and dust showering her leathers. Claws and teeth and all, she was still radiating the dominance of the powerful and unconquered, the unhinged lethalness of past and present.
A fierce, feral grin. “If you call one werewolf, you invite the pack.”
Lycans and Fireheart Pack members filtered through the clearing, some scratched, some bleeding, some scarred. Blistered hands and broken joints.
Seeing the Lycan carrying her in his arms, Manon gave him a warning glare, but a sharp nod. The white-haired warrior disappeared through the trees, the sound of wind and death weaving through the trees as more of the Ilken summoned, only to receive the hand of death.
This was not some pity party, but art—in death.
In the deserved.
“No,” she whispered, and her mate carried her to the edge of the thick, crooked trees where she could see glimpses of Sorscha and other medical care. Her chest rattled, and her throat cracked. But— “I want to be the one.”
She stared into those onyx eyes that carried her physically and mentally through the darkness, and willed them to understand.
“You want to be the one to bring Morath down,” her mate said, stroking her cheek.
Her eyes fluttered close, tiredness overwhelming her. Every part of her still hurt and throbbed, but once these passings passed—
The once Alpha of the Perranth Pack would reclaim her throne.
“Elide,” Lorcan said, solemnly. “I need to know one thing before you pass out.”
Elide Lochan blurrily stared at the shape carrying her, stroking her. Loving her.
She could feel the presence of Sorscha pressing a damp cloth against her forehead, and her mate hooking her trembling fingers through his. Flesh thoroughly marked and matched.
“Do you—” A pause “—love—”
Elide Lochan screamed, a new flare of flame flashing through her. She saw red and felt raw, as if her insides were on fire. Her bones rattled and spine seemed to contract.
To think it would end, she almost cackled.
“What the hell is going on?” Lorcan roared, gripping her hands, which had started to tremble uncontrollably.
Sorscha—sweet Sorscha—swore, a rattle of a gasp emerging from the pale column of her throat. “She’s Settling.”
Elide Lochan nestled into the darkness, submitting to this other facet of pain and fracture.
Lorcan looked down at the trembling figure in his arms, twisting and turning. Her skin sweated in large rivulets, stinging even his hands.
Suffering once again. They were dirty and dirt, but they could blossom from their own embittered seeds. Together.
He swore it. To her, to his mate, to his future.
Sorscha took a hesitant step forward. “By her conditions, I cannot guarantee that she’ll live through the process in becoming Lycan.”
He felt his darkness flare out, angry, bent on madness. Rage. “If you cannot guarantee,” he said lowly. “Then I will.”
He ignored Manon’s demands to halt and Sorscha’s protest. He sent one demand to Rowan Whitethorn, one if carried out, would pay off all of the Prince’s debts to him.
Lorcan Salvaterre whisked his mate away from the screams and tucked her thrashing body under his chin. Elide Lochan was his mate, so damned poison nor words nor ills could deprive him of.
And he would be damned if even Death could snatch that away from him.
Because death could could not conquer love. And love bled in war.
Rowan Whitethorn tossed the Alpha of the Morath Pack into a cold cell.
Dark and damp.
Aelin and Manon and the entire Fireheart Pack had clawed at the dungeon entrance, demanding justice and retribution to end the pitiful existence of the monster of a man, Vernon.
But he had a deal and a command.
And he would make sure it would be upheld.
The Prince of the Lycans locked the door and watched the gears spur shut. Click after click after click.
While Morath was in flames, the true dark core rested within the beating heart of the man who had raised an army of rogues into turned Ilken and experiment on the souls of once-purity.
It was only a matter of time before the pulsing faded away into ashes and dust.
The man clawed at the walls and howled and screamed and scratched and laughed.
Insanity and lunacy. His liar.
His bones started to rattle, blood burn, his teeth chatter, his eyes widen, his jaw unhinge, his insides boil, and his body twitch over and over into a dark and forbidden dance of nightmares and little secrets.
A swooning flame swished through him, and the little specks flecked across his head. The chunk of missing flesh at his ankle seared and sparked. The demons within him caved him, a forbidden forgiveness.