A few years ago, Paperback Writer held a free e-book challenge at Halloween, so I thought I’d try to continue the tradition. This is the short story I mentioned earlier in the week, set in the Mythomorphoses world. For length reasons (the place I hope will take it as free promo for Beautiful Death only wants 2k), it’s rather short, but eventually I’ll probably expand it. The “end” of this story is just getting to the good stuff.
A Tale of Mythomorphoses
In the laboratory bowels of Olympus, Prometheus suffered for his transgression. Once a scientist himself, he had sought to expose the secret of exactly what sort of research occurred in Zeus’s labs. In punishment, Zeus had injected him with his latest, greatest experiment.
CEO of MedCorp and founder of New Olympia, Zeus needed no chains to hold Prometheus prisoner while a giant eagle feasted on his liver. The eagle was eating him from the inside out. Few could look at him without fleeing in revulsion. Soon he would be merely another caged pet in Zeus’s personal menagerie.
Death was Prometheus’s only hope, and the newest specimen chained to the copper-topped exam table would be the quickest route.
“What a rare find.” Zeus’s voice shook with reverence. “A pure-bred Macedonian female. I thought they’d all died in the pandemic outbreak. What is your name, lovely creature?”
Even if she’d been willing to respond, Prometheus doubted she would have been able, not with such suffering twisting her body. Their alien visitors were incredibly sensitive to Earth’s metals. Her delicate skin was already charred from the metal. Soon, blood would run freely, dripping onto the pristine white floors, and no amount of pride and majestic power would keep her from screaming for mercy.
Prometheus couldn’t bear to see it happen again, even if he wasn’t the one committing such horrors.
“Prep her,” Zeus ordered without even sparing a glance in his direction. “See if your inhuman appearance will gain her confidence.”
Alone with the beautiful Macedonian, Prometheus stepped closer to the table and let her get a good look at his warped features.
Her large, tilted eyes glittered like dewy spider webs in the morning sunlight, wild with pain and desperation. Night-black hair tumbled to the floor, delicate strands floating about her triangular face like wispy oceanic fronds. Deceptively delicate in appearance, her species normally possessed enough power to level mighty Olympus. However, Zeus had learned how to incapacitate their powerful alien friends who’d sought refuge from the rioting humans. Imprisoned by so much metal, she couldn’t call her power. Her suffering was merely a side effect as far as Zeus was concerned.
A twinge in Prometheus’s gut warned him seconds before an attack. Bowing his head, he gripped the edge of the table. Talons shredded his internal organs, a vicious beak tore at his heart, and massive wings beat furiously, straining to break free of his body’s cage. His knees buckled. His skin blazed with pricks of fire, fresh feathers spiking out of his flesh, dotting his back, shoulders, and arms.
In misery, he pressed his head to the cold table. Zeus had cursed him well indeed. The eagle was closer than ever to swallowing him whole.
“I can help you,” the Macedonian whispered, her voice as soft and light as her hair.
Startled, Prometheus forced himself upright. She looked upon him with pity, not revulsion, even though more feathers had sprouted from his body.
“Free me. We’ll flee this place together.”
“I cannot leave,” Prometheus whispered. His guilt held him prisoner as much as the microchip embedded in his skull. Zeus would track him wherever he fled. If Prometheus left with her, he would merely lead Zeus to her sanctuary. “What do you need to restore your power?”
“Blood first.” She shivered, her eyes darkening with hunger. “Then your lifeforce. After such a feeding, my power will rise enough for me to break free.”
He pushed himself up, leaning heavily against the table as though still weakened. It would be like Zeus to secretly watch his specimens interact. Prometheus let his arms tremble with weariness and fell against her. “Take what you need and flee.”
Braced for the immediate pain of her fangs, he groaned at the tender brush of her lips on his skin. Her tongue stroked the thumping vein in his neck and she made a low, glorious sound of pleasure deep in her throat. Despite the urgency and danger, she treasured his sacrifice. She proved she wasn’t afraid to touch him, to revel in his scent and taste.
In case Zeus was watching, he pretended to push away only to flop weakly back to the table. He let his head loll and used his broad shoulders and tufted feathers to block whatever view the cruel perverted bastard might have.
At last, she bit deeply. Pleasure-pain jolted through him, heat flaring in his body as though she breathed fire into his bloodstream. The morphing creature inside him beat wings furiously, trying to lift them both from this prison of steel and technology. A scent of high alpine fields full of night-blooming flowers filled his nose. Her power slid inside him, velvety shadows, dark, cool, and fresh like nothing he’d felt in an eternity, certainly never since becoming a citizen of New Olympia.
The pure, sweet scent of night enfolded him.
Take it all, he whispered in his head, surrendering to the blackness wrapped around him. End my suffering.
Midnight velvet swelled higher, cresting within his mind. She flipped through his memories, laying his soul bare and bleeding. He tried to pull back in shame, but she held him firm, seeing all the dread experiments in which he’d participated until he’d rebelled. He’d tried to escape, only to wake screaming on Zeus’s exam table.
Electric shocks buzzed in his head. A tendril of her power touched the microchip and his body shorted out, convulsed, throwing him to the floor.
Rich velvet shadows still enfolded him, but he heard a strange chirping noise. It took several moments before his mind registered the long-forgotten sound of crickets.
There were no bugs inside perfect, sterile New Olympia, unless one counted the butterfly garden in Athens. He must be dreaming. Or dead.
He opened his eyes and stared up at a black canvas dotted with diamonds. The sweet scent still wafted around him, tantalizing his starved senses. Strands of fragile web tickled his cheek.
Turning his head, he met the Macedonian’s gaze. Her midnight hair brushed his cheek again and he trembled. “Where are we?”
“You’re in my domain now.” She tilted her head, letting her hair slide across her cheek to partially obscure her face. Shadows clothed her body, but what he could see of her limbs confirmed she now possessed enough power to heal herself. “I know you wished me to kill you, but I couldn’t bear to harm you. I certainly refused to leave you trapped while I escaped. He never would have allowed you to die.”
After years of research, Zeus could prevent the escape of death indefinitely. All in the name of science, of course. A little torture was required to improve the human race.
“I apologize for the pain you felt when I disabled the chip,” she continued. “I couldn’t remove it entirely, but you’re free from Zeus’s monitoring.”
Prometheus sagged back to the ground, the diamond-studded sky blurring in his tears.
Concerned, she rose up over him, her fine, delicate hair sending shivers through his body. “What is it? Do you still have pain?”
“I’m free,” he whispered, his throat raw. “You saved me.”
She smiled, but she kept her face partially hidden and she didn’t touch him. She waited for some response, and he feared that if he gave the wrong answer–to this question he didn’t even know–that he would never see her again.
The eagle stretched out its wings and he gasped, involuntarily tensing. Yet the pain didn’t tear through his gut.
“Zeus infected you with an odd strain of the virus but managed to retard your full transformation. If you continue in this manner, your beast will kill you both in its struggle for freedom.”
Any other person saying “beast” would have driven him away in shame. She said it calmly as though unbothered by his contamination, while New Olympian Marshals would hunt him down without a second thought.
“I can bring you fully through the transformation.”
Prometheus fisted his hands, trying to hide his trembling. “I don’t want to be a monster. I would rather die.”
“Oh.” The small sound escaped her lips, barely loudly enough for him to hear. She turned away, fully hiding beneath her starlit hair and shadows. “Then I’m a monster to you, too.”
“No!” He jerked upright and forgot his own ugliness enough to clutch her hand. “You’re so beautiful you make my heart hurt.”
“I tasted both your blood and your lifeforce,” she whispered. “Your kind revile us as the bringers of destruction. You blame us for destroying your civilization with the virus.”
The eagle’s instinct roared to life, screaming a piercing warning to any who dared harm her. Perhaps Zeus’s punishment could be used for good. As an eagle, he could soar the skies and alert her to any approaching danger. Gently, he slipped his fingers beneath her chin and turned her gaze back to his. Now that her power had returned, her eyes flashed like faceted obsidian. “I will protect you.”
Her lips quirked. “Who carried you out of Olympus?”
Startled, he glanced about the clearing at the ring of wild trees, green grass, and open sky, and finally realized they were indeed Outside. No biodome stretched overhead. This slender female had freed herself and dragged his dead weight through miles of underground laboratories and tunnels, unerringly finding her way out of New Olympia.
His shock made her laugh out loud, a tinkling chime that wiped away his consternation until he laughed with her.
Lightly, she cupped his cheek and stared into his eyes, her expression turning solemn. “I would bond you. I would be skyr to your beast, master to your eagle. I would control your transformation and aid you in shifting back to human form at will. You would not be the mindless animal you fear, but you would wear a leash that only I will hold. Can you trust me enough to allow this hold on your soul?”
Hope burned in his heart for something other than death. He didn’t turn away; instead, he showed his guilt and shame, reflected a million times in her mirrored eyes. “I participated in research on your people. When the surviving humans turned on them, they came to Olympus for help. We caged, dissected, and eventually killed them after we eeked out enough for Zeus’s interest. How can you forgive me?”
“I suffered. You suffered.” She ran her fingers through the feathers spiked across his shoulders and he shuddered in response. “I believe you’ve suffered enough.” Letting some of her shadows fall away, she revealed her upper body, gleaming opal against the black velvet of her hair. “Can we not find solace in one another?”
He bowed his head until his forehead touched hers. Her scent ripened, intoxicating, her lush power wrapped around him, caging his heart like no other. For once, he didn’t fear the chains she offered. “Bond me, skyr. I’m yours.”
With renewed hunger, her eyes fired like spinning jewels beneath the night sky. “The New Olympian name I took is Nyx.”
His heartbeat quickened, his fingers tightening on her face. Swift silent night: what a perfect name for her. “I’ll wear your leash, Nyx. What do you need?”
“I need you to take my blood and complete the bond you began to enable our escape.”
Ceasing its flailing punishment, the eagle within him perked. “Is that all?”
She didn’t seem to mind his ragged voice or stirring need. She pushed him flat on his back and he went, willingly. Tossing her hair back over her shoulder, she smiled down at him. “My blood is only the beginning.”
And so Prometheus found himself freed and then most delightfully bound once more.