~His heart I would eat first.
I flex my hand.
Fire and brittle ice collide in my bones, shattering up their lengths and jumping joints, from the tips of my fingers all the way to my shoulder. I gasp at the pain, but pull in no air. My lungs are a sucking void, screaming silent in the dark.
Then my eyes open. Staring into the sky, all glimmering with stars, and I’m trying to breathe but there is no breath.
Sitting up, I lift my hands. Stare at them, slicked in black blood. I look down to the earth beside me, at the grass growing there in nighttime shadow. Everything in gray. I touch the grass, but I cannot feel it. All I feel is jagged, brittle pain like saw teeth.
Bending my head back, I stare into the stars. I stare long, letting ice-water memories trickle down my spine. The gnawing teeth. The slashing hands.
Balthazar vanishing before my eyes while I was eaten alive.
The ice and the howling and madness.
With the feeling of bursting blisters, my lips peel back from my teeth and I scream at the sky. He made me promises. I made him promises in turn. I am dead, and Balthazar too will die.
My feet shamble weak beneath my legs. My body is taken by tremors, as though the disparate parts of it are trying to shake themselves free of one another. I fix my eyes on the lights of the tavern, then the two figures standing outside. Watching me.
“BALTHAZAR!” The sound spills out of me like a waterfall, rising from my bowels to my throat and tumbling out. “WHERE IS BALTHAZAR?”
“Who is asking for him?”
“I am Freydis the Undead.” I feel my voice reverberating through my body more than I hear it with my ears. The senses are nothing to me now, except for the pain. “And I want Balthazar.”
There are whispers in the air—some giggle sharp like glass and joyful like children playing in spring. I hear it and I shudder. My body wants to pull itself to pieces.
More voices. My head snaps to the side, the bones of my neck clicking and grinding against each other. A tremor runs through my body as I watch people pour out of the tavern. Not one of them adorned in feathers, not one of them a bird. I open my mouth, teeth bared, and snarl at them.
“What do you want with Balthazar?”
Whipping around to this voice, I set my eyes on him. Some features begin to take form in the gray. The voice is familiar. Long robes, deliberate steps. Ansel. “Priest,” I snarl.
“Yes,” he says, “you know me, Freydis.”
A laugh rumbles in my chest. My hand pulses like a heart around my dagger. “Your god is not real,” I growl at him. I feel flashes of Sveas, cruel and horrible, tearing through me a tremor takes me almost tumble to my knees. “I have died. I have looked on the face of god and it was not your god I saw.”
“But we’re still friends,” he says, extending a hand to me.
I watch the hand—out, then in, like a beckon. I briefly recall him putting himself between me and a Malefic just the night before.
I remember Sveas’s hand outstretched, the push like howling wind at my core and the pull from behind. Being torn apart.
“She doesn’t want me,” I croak out, my eyes on fire in their sockets. “I looked on her horrible and beautiful—and she still doesn’t want me. Because of this!” I hold out my arms, force him—force all of them—to look on the horror that I am. “Because he did this to me!” I turn on the gathering crowd and watch them flinch back. “WHERE IS BALTHAZAR?”
“What do you want with him?” Ansel calls to me.
My head snaps around, and I lurch forward and scream. My feet drag through the grass, toward the priest who circles out of my reach but holds out a hand to signal all the gathering southerners to stand down.
“We’re still friends,” Ansel says, gesturing to the space between us as though there were a bridge there.
“Friends!” I throw my head back and laugh. “Friends.” I grip my knife. “I have no friends.” I run toward him, slicing the air and as he dodges back, turning on another who is close at hand to slice at them. If they cannot give me Balthazar, perhaps I should take them all instead.
“What do you want with Balthazar?” Ansel is asking, shouting at me as people lunge out of my way, panic-stricken and drawing their swords. He tries to wave them down. “What do you want with him?”
“I made him a promise!” I scream back.
“And what was this promise?” Ansel asks.
“I would be honored for you to eat my corpse.”
“I promised I would devour him,” I growl, my legs lurching me towards the priest, “and I am so hungry.”
I swipe with my blade. It glances off shields and scrapes through fabric, but fails to find flesh and I scream. Someone grabs me but I dodge and I parry, I slip and slide away until suddenly there are hands on me, holding me on my knees in the gray light of the tavern.
Their hands are a thousand shards of electric ice and glass—and my stomach is tearing itself apart. I bend under their grasp, my back arching with brittle snaps and pops, my skin pulling at the seams, and I scream. Their swords strike me in a dozen brilliant bursts of flame, but they cannot kill me.
There was a place I remember him going, where he took Sir Connor and I. Where I watched him cast his circle and weave his magic. It was horrible, and beautiful—as horrible things so often tend to be.
This is where I am, where my memories have drawn me. I stand here in the dark, listening to the whispers in the wind. Despair whispers, laughing wickedly as the door creaks. I see shadow pass through, and I tip my head. I listen. I hear. His voice.
I rush the door, slamming it with my hands, with the whole of my body as I scream to him. “BALTHAZAR!” I am so hungry. “BALTHAZAR! COME OUT YOU COWARD!” I beat the door with fists and forearms but he does not come. I hear the voices within and grind my fingertips against the door. “LET ME IN.” Slamming and pulling and gripping and…
Finding the doorknob.
The door wails as it swings slowly open. There is someone blocking the way, and Ansel is here, and—
He is a bright splash of color against the unrelenting gray. Red feathers in a flaming burst. Blue tundra eyes. I break in half.
“Balthazar…” He doesn’t look, keeps his head bowed, his brow furrowed, he closes his eyes. “Balthazar?” My throat creaks weakness. When was I rendered so weak? “Why won’t you come to me, Balthazar?”
“Freydis,” he murmurs, and lifts his eyes. There is such darkness hanging over him. The whispers swirling within them palpable.
I step up, reach my hand over the shoulder of the woman in the doorway—and he takes it. Warm—warm in the bitter, aching cold. This hand that had caressed my cheek, this hand that had beckoned me to dance in the clouds.
Never again will I be beckoned to dance in the clouds.
“You left me.” I hear my voice come out, low and breaking. I feel fire streak my cheeks. I clutch at his hand and I sob. “Why did you leave me? Balthazar, it hurt—it hurt so bad—”
“I didn’t,” he says, “I didn’t Freydis—I came back for you.” He’s gripping my hand now, and the pressure of his fingers is a sweet release from the cascading pain rolling through my brittle skin. “I love you—”
“You never loved me.” The words spill out of me as I remember him dropping me from the sky for being too coy. “No one ever loved me.” I remember my mother’s fists raining down on me in the snow.
“Freydis—” There’s a frantic panic in his eyes now, and he pushes toward me, looks to Ansel and the woman standing between us while the darkness looming behind him giggles sweetly. “Let me go to her!”
I don’t hear what Ansel or the woman says, I only hear his voice. Only see the bright color of him—the cream of his flesh, the brown of the stubble on his jaw. I grip his hand and pull, as though I can pull him through his woman, this—
A scream splits me in half as I yank at him, then slam into the woman, bringing the knife I’d forgotten I had to her throat. Her body goes rigid and she bends back as I pull her with the blade, pull her to force her to look up into the face of Freydis the Undead. I stare down at her—stare into one white, dead eye. I recognize her as a Njord—then, through the furs and the armor—recognize the sigil of Benalus on her breast. Traitor. My whole body quivers as I press the blade to her throat—I see her lips moving but all I hear is white-noise screaming. I could end her now, she who turned her back on us, I could end her and have Balthazar—
His grip is loosening on my hand. I feel myself slipping away. No, no—he’s all I want, he’s all I’m here for—
I lose my grip on him. My veins are submerged in ice as I tear away, pain flooding me. I turn on the first person I see, wanting nothing more than blood to pay for this pain. I fall on the stranger, all open mouth and screaming teeth and hungry tongue, and I am swinging, catching shields and arms and scraping flesh and drawing blood and—
I am struck. And again. And again. I am descending into the darkness and in the darkness there are whispers and icy laughter. The Miracle, I tell the whispers, and I don’t know how I know, but they’ll tell him to come.
I will have Balthazar’s heart tonight.
~Should he die, I would lay his body out and peel his skin back from the muscle beneath.
Somehow, from somewhere, I hear them come in. He is not alone, but that does not matter. I open my eyes. In the darkness of the church, all I see is the rich color of his being.
~I would make gentle work of it, and savor the last remnant of his scent off the nape of his neck.
When he sees me, already walking toward him with feet I’m barely aware of, he stretches his hand out to me. Gratefully, I take it. The heat of his skin pushes back the pain. I sigh.
~I would do it while the blood was still hot in his veins so that it would slip warm over my fingers.
“Freydis,” he says softly, “I’m here.” I kick aside the chairs that stand between us, so I can be closer to him. Stepping into the aura of his color and his heat, the pain begins to dull. “I’m here,” he says. “I love you.”
~And I would take the flesh from his bones with care—but not before I reached into the hollow of his chest and wrested free his heart.
I kiss him. Ice melts away. Fires are doused.
I slit his throat.
His eyes widening as a stiff shudder of shock rushes through his body—it is exquisite. I cannot recall having ever seen anything so beautiful in all my life—save for, perhaps, the sprawling snowy tundra of my homelands. Balthazar DiCarvagio—tumbling to the ground, his life spilling bright and red from his body, as beautiful as the tundras of Njordr.
I fall on him. His blood on my hands makes me feel alive again. I can remember what it feels like to live. Thank you, I think, frantically breaking him open. Thank you thank you thank you. The pain subsides though my stomach is broken glass grinding from within.
~His heart I would eat first.
Descending, I sink my teeth into his open chest cavity. He is so warm. His heart still fighting to live, up to the very moment my teeth break into it, and its bursts, bloody and hot in my mouth. I cannot stop—cannot stop the chewing, the gulping, the ravenous swallowing, cannot stop….
Until, suddenly, I can. Stomach no longer wailing, pain no longer bristling the length of my skin. I sit back, looking down on him, on the fading glint of light in his bright blue blue eyes.
All else falls away. Soft. Quiet.
I smile at him as the light dims, and the darkness descends.
What is this strange peace?