Zeph stood at the highest point in all of Faery, on the barren cliffs overlooking Death Sea. He looked out from a safe distance, listening to the ocean-song as the waves crawled benignly to shore, the palpitating pulse steady and peaceful.
The flint-gray skies above sagged with heavy rain clouds, but the winds were sweet-tempered, blowing through Zeph’s long hair gently, like a warm summer’s breath.
He closed his eyes and listened to the chorus around him. A symphony of gurgling and humming—of murmuring and lapping. But the chorus within his soul drowned out the music of the land with the thump, thump, thumping of a heart shattered, like a drum roll on a death march.
He squeezed his eyes tighter and threw his hands over his ears. A wounded cry eked out of him, causing him to double over from the pain of it. He begged—begged for this agony to stop.
“I’m sorry,” he said around dry, cracked lips, his voice sounding sharp and jagged, like the edge of a knife scraping against stone. “I’m so sorry.”
The air was salty, but it did little to alleviate the metallic tang of blood that stung his nostrils, his clothes soaked and stained in his sister’s blood.
“Elin,” he breathed.
He held his hands out in front of him. The sight of her blood on his skin made the memory of her dying in his arms slam to the fore. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
“It should have been me!” he shouted to the universe. “I’m the monster! You should have taken me!”
He swallowed the acid rising from his gut and wrenched his tabard and tunic over his head, casting them to the ground, offended by them. He took a few wobbly steps to the edge of those barren cliffs and heaved all that he had within him, hoping he could dislodge the rot he felt inside.
And through the heaving, he cried, “It should have been me.”
Days came. Nights went. Zeph slowly lost his sanity. Deep into his depression, on the eighth day, consumed by grief and guilt, he poisoned himself with a concoction he’d made, one that would work quickly in his Fae blood. He could have Faded, the way Elin, his sister, had once tried to do, but Fading would allow his spirit, his essence, to be absorbed back into Faery, and he had no desire for that. He just wanted the pain to stop. Losing Elin was the final act that broke him, irreparably so. He didn’t realize how much his life was tied to hers—until she was gone. Now, he wanted to be done, completely done with this life.
Weak and listless, Zeph rolled onto his back, shards of rock digging into his skin. “How long?” he said to no one, his voice too thin to be heard.
How long must he feel this desolate?
The song of the sea played on while Zeph’s turbulent chorus raged within. He closed his eyes and a vision of a young boy crept slowly toward him. In his mind’s eye, he could see him clearly: fair skin, hair the color of milk. But the downward curve of the boy’s mouth told the story. He was sad. Zeph felt compelled to reach his hand out toward him.
“Find me,” the boy said just as Zeph touched the boy’s cheek. “Please.”
Zeph’s heart lurched. He pulled his hand back and curled onto his side.
“Go away,” Zeph muttered in a quiet rasp. “You’re not real.”
The poison was working into his veins now. He was hallucinating. He would have laughed at himself had he not…
“Find me,” the boy repeated. “I can’t hold on forever. Please, you have to find me.”
“You’re not real,” Zeph murmured, clamping his hands over his ears. “You’re not real.”
“I’m going to get you help,” a feminine voice said.
Though his mind was foggy and unclear, he thought he felt himself being lifted from the ground and cradled in arms that felt too soft, too kind.
“Shh,” she soothed. “Everything will be all right. I’m going to get help for you.”
He didn’t deserve it—her kindness—her compassion. He certainly didn’t deserve her help. Even the imaginary kind. “I don’t want help,” he mumbled. “Leave me be.”
“Shh,” she soothed again.
She crooned a melody in his ear as he felt himself being lifted higher and higher, then sailing through the warm, salty air. He sobbed at the distant memory of when his mother used to sing to him, cradled in her arms. The mother he had killed…murdered, by his own hands.
He didn’t deserve to live.
“Show me no mercy,” Zeph pleaded. His eyes were too heavy to look up and see the face of the woman he imagined, but he imagined saying it to his mum. Sucking in his last breath, he made one final appeal before his world faded to black.
“A monster l-like me deserves n-no mercy.”