Note: This is Chapter 27 in THE LAST RIDER, retold from Winter’s POV.
As the first light of dawn crept across the sky, I stood on the rooftop like an elusive thief, savoring the cool, damp air on my face. The city slumbered below, its streets normally teeming with life, now momentarily hushed and serene. Houses, storefronts, and streetlights clawed their way out of the early morning mist, the neighborhoods suspended in an unending dream.
I let my eyes fall shut, breathing in the calm before the storm would come barreling at me like a locomotive with a one-way ticket to hell. When my eyes flicked open once more, the mundane world resumed its well-worn patterns, yet everything was irrevocably altered. My chest constricted with the grim knowledge that this might be the last time I’d lay eyes on Luna.
The monstrous darkness lurking within my core threatened to swallow me whole, and I couldn’t be sure how long I had before it succeeded. Each time I immersed myself in the purifying waters of the Eternal Springs, the process became more excruciating and disorienting, and the respite shorter.
Leaping from rooftop to rooftop, adrenaline surged through me like a live wire, the crisp air’s bite reaching down to my very bones. The thrill of potentially being spotted drummed away at my heart, a wild rhythm that wouldn’t be tamed. Faint echoes of music and laughter wafted upwards, teasing me with the reminder of lives stirring and awakening down below.
As I neared the apartment building, I throttled back my pace, taking a moment to gather the scattered fragments of my thoughts. Memories surged like a riptide, each night I spent with her here vivid and clear—from the first evening she invited me to stay when I nearly succumbed to temptation despite knowing better, to the night I stumbled upon her doorstep two months ago, all too mortal and vulnerable, and our passion consumed every waking moment.
Perched on her balcony, I hesitated, torn between the desire to enter and the fear that if I did, I might be forever unable to leave.
Finally, I nudged the window open and slipped into the room. My pulse raced as my gaze traveled to her delicate frame tucked into bed. I wanted to take her in my arms, to lose myself in the warmth of her embrace, but I knew that was a foolish dream now. Our bond had been shattered on the island of Crete, and I doubted it would ever be made whole again.
The past decades blurred together in my mind, leaving only the bitter taste of regret and loss. I had forgotten what it felt like to be so closely connected to another human being. I took a hesitant step closer, and was met with a sudden, fierce kick to the gut. I doubled over, gasping for air, just in time to see Luna spring out of bed, sword in hand.
We stood there, our eyes meeting in surprise, each of us sizing up the other. Her gaze was filled with alarm and anger, and I was the reason for both. I took hold of her arm, attempting to steady not just her, but myself as well.
The world might be a swirling vortex of darkness and uncertainty, but she made it all make sense somehow.
“Winter?” she said, her voice threaded with confusion.
The cold blade glowed as she pressed it against my throat, so close I felt my pulse gallop in my neck like a warning siren. My trusted Viking sword, enchanted to sense my etheric essence, responded to me with streaks of violet light rippling down the blade as if it were alive, even though I had suppressed its ability to detect me before skulking up to the building.
I braced myself for the razor-sharp edge to bite into my flesh, but she didn’t press further—instead, she seemed almost spooked.
We inched closer, our heavy breaths mingling, eyes locked like magnets. A bead of blood traced its way down my shirt as the blade nicked my throat.
“What the fuck are you doing?” she said.
“Checking your reflexes.”
“I could have killed you.”
“That’s right, you can kill Immortals now.”
“And corrupted mist riders,” she fired back.
I let go of her arm. “Ouch, I walked right into that”.
“Where have you been?” she asked warily, her sword still leveled menacingly my way.
“At the Eternal Springs in Norway. They’ve kept me in the light for centuries, staving off the darkness.”
Her expression hardened as realization dawned on her. “And when the connection between the Springs and the Eternal Halls is fully severed?”
It was a question I didn’t want to answer. I looked away, then back at her again. “I don’t know. I came to say goodbye”.
She stepped back, gripping the sword as if it was the only anchor to reality. “What are you exactly?”
A wry smile crept onto my face. I shrugged. “Not your average Joe.”
She held my gaze with a piercing intensity, mining my eyes for answers. “No, you’re not even an average Jonas. You should have told me.”
Her anger was palpable as she stared me down, dissecting all my vulnerabilities at once. Even without fully understanding who I was, Luna had fought by my side on even terms time and time again—a testament to the incredible strength of her spirit.
“You had enough on your calendar,” I said, forcing a dose of levity into my voice. “The weight of that information would have pulled you down.”
A look of determination crossed her features. “Nothing would have pulled me down. We were in this together. I could have helped you. It was my place to help you.”
“But that’s just what you did. You helped me stay on the path of light. And there was never anyone less deserving than me.”
“That’s a true fact.”
I grinned, wiping the drops of blood from my neck. “I like that you don’t hold any punches, Luna Mae. By the way, that term true fact is redundant, don’t you think?”
“Not as redundant as your constant deception,” she retorted, sheathing her sword.
“You can ask me anything,” I offered.
“Where would I even start?”
I figured I should make this easier for her. “I don’t remember what happened to me or when. In case you’re wondering. It’s true, I was a mist rider once, but I have no recollection of that time. I absorbed too much dark energy when I fought against the ancient gods of evil, but I’m not the terrifying Nightbringer the legends describe. It’s taken me an immense amount of willpower to keep the darkness controlled. I never lied about that part.”
“When you purposely stayed mortal as long as you did...” Her voice trailed off in a question as she searched my face for answers. “...it wasn’t for me, right?”
My gaze slid from hers, drifting toward the open window and the overcast sky beyond. It was hard to believe that a mere two weeks had passed since our journey across the depths of the Aegean Sea. “I was trying to stay off the radar. The war was approaching, and the Eternals would have no use for me if I was but a mortal.”
She nodded slowly, no doubt recalling our tumultuous confrontation on the battlefield of Mount Ida. “You found my mist horse,” she said, her voice carrying a hint of wonder. “I could have never banished the Eternals without him. You still cared, even after Chronus summoned you.”
I let out a heavy breath, the weight of that moment hanging in the air. “Resisting his dark will took everything I had,” I confessed, the memory of teetering on the edge all too vivid in my mind. “Up until the very end, I wasn’t sure if I could hold out.”
A strained silence stretched between us. “What about us?” she asked.
“Our attraction… Was any of it real? Or were you just hoping that sleeping with another mist rider might chase the darkness away? My mother suspected there was a black hole inside you, feeding on morning magic.”
My heart ached at her vulnerability, and for a moment, rational thought abandoned me.
“Were you not there with me? You can’t fake that. I don’t even know what that thing between us was, Luna. I’ve never experienced anything like it. That was not the plan. I lost control. I felt intoxicated. I fell in love. The rest did not matter.”
Her anger had not abated, but I tried to reach out to her, nonetheless. As our hands touched, a torrent of magic cascaded through the room, shimmering with ethereal colors and rattling the apartment walls.
We shared a look, our eyes wide with astonishment at the sheer force of the energy that had erupted from our mere touch.
“You stupid, stupid man. You don’t even realize it,” she said.
“I’m not following.”
“Maybe because you’re stupid.”
“Is this flirting? Because it’s not great.”
“No, you’re really an idiot. The answer’s been right there the whole time.”
“The one where our combined mist energies heal you.”
I shook my head. “Get that idea out of your mind. Move on with your life and never look back. You deserve peace.”
“Either I heal you or I kill you,” she said. “I’m not about to leave a fucking night rider loosed upon the world. Not on my watch.”
“Using your mist essence to purify mine, will weaken it, Luna. You’ll never reach the full potential of mist riders. In fact, you’ll lose much of the power you have now.”
She sighed. “I understand. The Eternal threat has been thwarted. I trust Isadore to keep the timeline safe. And to be honest, nobody should have that much power, Winter. Not you and not me.”
I stayed silent. A mixture of hope, fear and uncertainty swirled through my mind, each battling for dominance.
She retrieved The Book of Night Rituals from the shelves and began the preparations. Shifting the rug aside, she drew intricate symbols on the floor within a circle of salt and crushed gemstones. The air thickened with the heady scent of the cleansing candles, their pale, flickering flames casting ghostly shadows on the walls.
We sat in the center of the circle, facing one another. Our gazes locked, and I experienced our profound connection as the light and dark within us intertwined and resonated. Taking a deep breath, she recited the incantation she found in the book.
Energy enveloped us, a swirling kaleidoscope of shifting shadows and pulsating light. The room trembled, and the air hummed with power.
She reached out. Her hand touched my chest, just above my heart. Her fingers gripped my shirt, her skin aglow with mist energy.
I closed my eyes. Dark energy pulsed from my heart, radiating outward like the spokes of a wheel.
As we inhaled in unison, the energy intensified and brightened. My dark energy transformed into white light, filling us with strength and clarity, as though the great source was repositioning us in the pristine, expansive world, newborn beings of the earth and all living things.
The energy contracted and condensed, spiraling back into my core like a disappearing whirlpool.
Her mist essence streamed from her body into mine, gradually cleansing the dark energy that had corrupted my essence.
The exchange brought with it an agonizing pain that threatened to overwhelm me.
The candles snuffed out with a sigh. We crumpled to the floor, gasping for air.
“Are you okay?” I asked. My hand inched over to find hers.
“I’m not sure, I feel the same.”
“Give it time. Our energies need to stabilize.”
“Do you think it worked?”
I placed my hand on my heart. “I know it did.”
We lay there, fingers entwined, staring into an uncertain future. The implications of our newly forged bond, the potential consequences of our merged mist energies, and the impact on our magic and immortality hung heavy in the air. Countless questions clamored for attention, but in this fleeting moment of tranquility, they seemed inconsequential.
Together, we’d battled the shadows and emerged on the other side, our connection defying the constraints of mortal and immortal existence.
For once in my long, tempestuous life, I found myself unconcerned with the finer points, the inherent dangers, or the cosmic equilibrium. The only thing that mattered was that we had each other.
And that would be enough.
Copyright Stella Fitzsimons, 2023. All Rights Reserved.
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