The call to battle finally stole the last of his humanity. Her wings torn asunder around her bloody and lifeless body as he held her in his arms, unable to let her go. He stared at the sky as her body grew colder and colder, becoming stiff with the claim of the underlord. Her soul seemed to have already departed.
“You don’t need to lose her forever.”
He whipped around in the direction of the voice even as he cradled her body tighter to his chest.
“You can follow her and share eternity. If you agree to serve in my court and follow my will. Or let her go and live on as a shell, half a man, in a world that does not treasure your kind. As I would in my world.”
“Traitor to my kind. There would be nothing left for either of us. No place safe.”
“Not if you follow my orders. Not if you give me your loyalty. We are not so terrible as your overlord tells you. Different perhaps, but not the vile people he wants you to believe. We care well for our own. How much is her life worth to you?”
The king held out a hand. “Come, give your soul into my keeping, and you will see.”
He stared down at her. She was his life. He would not live without her. He did not want to.
“Her soul is safe?”
“For as long as you remain loyal to me. She will be safe in my realm. As will you. You have but a short time to make your choice.”
“On my terms. There is no negotiation. You will serve me and she will live. Would you really expect terms to be offered for a life so precious to you?”
He nodded. He could already feel his strength ebbing. No one knew of a pair – where one survived if the other died.He could already feel his life fading like a shriveled flower that has lost the sun.
The king reached down to cup his jaw, tilting his head back, to look into his startlingly obsidian eyes.
“Look at me,” the king said. “Focus only on me and you shall have your wish, for her to live once again.” And then he felt the roaring pain inside his chest as the king took possession of his soul.
He screamed in agony.Then felt himself being yanked from the life he’d always known. Spinning in darkness, reeling and reeling until he lost consciousness, falling into the darkness.
* * *
“Hey. Wake up.”
His eyes shot open and he started into her beloved gaze. She was alive and his joy couldn’t be contained. The king had kept his promise. The second thing he realized was that neither of them possessed wings and a moment of panic churned his stomach.
“I think you need a drink,” she said, then turned away. Tattooed into her bare back was a set of wings. And then he recalled the bargain he’d made. Now he knew exactly where he was and the price he had paid for her life.
But when she spun back to him, he realized exactly how high that price had been. The lack of recognition, a polite curiosity in her eyes. She had no idea who he was.
“You asked for her life, not her memory,” a voice from behind him said. “I’ve granted you exactly what you sought.”
He should have known. His soul was gone, and the heart he had left was shattered. He looked at her again, but she was staring beyond him, a look of total adoration in her eyes. An adoration that had once belong to him. His bargain with darkness had cost him dearly.