Mijung reclined on the bed, frowning at the door. She had no way of telling time or figuring how long Yutrin had been gone, but it felt like a while. He may be dead out there. Or lost. Or he could have just run away.
Guilt wriggled in her heart, burying itself and growing doubt. She hadn’t been right to say all those things to him. He had been cowardly and dishonorable, but he had still done the smartest thing. They both were useless without their magic; they wouldn’t have been able to help Kraagor anyway.
Of course, she was still angry. Maybe if Soon had been with them, they would have been okay. Her heart ached for her husband. Kraagor had been her last connection with him.
Water gathered at the back of her eyes, but she refused to acknowledge it. She had to stay strong. Yutrin certainly wouldn’t, and if she really was pregnant, she’d have to hold out for the sake of her husband and her unborn child. She refused to admit to the possibility that she would never see Soon again, let alone the possibility of raising his child without him.
The saddest smile graced her lips. One wouldn’t guess it because of his stern demeanor, but Soon had always wanted children. They had been trying for a while. How cruelly ironic it would be if she actually was pregnant and there was a possibility—Twelve Gods forbid—that he wouldn’t be able to be there through the pregnancy and to hold his newborn before it grew into a toddler.
But Mijung wouldn’t think about that.
She fingered the bandages on her arm, frowning. Well, Yutrin may have been a coward, but at least he was gentle and knew how to tend to the wounded. If they could stand each other long enough and he didn’t abandon her and her unborn child the moment it looked like he would suffer for their presence, he could be very helpful through the pregnancy and birthing process.
She hugged herself, pulling the old but warm covers up, and dozed, keeping her ear out for the sound of a goblin opening the door.
“Mmmm… Wide hips… youth… health… Fauna’s blessing… yes, you’ll do just fine.”
Mijung jerked awake, opening her mouth to scream, but something seemed to contain any sound she could make deep in her throat. Someone almost uncomfortably warm was pressed up against her back, fingering her bare stomach. She tried to swat them away, but her arms stayed still against the covers.
“I hope that Hecate is right about that green man, though. If she is not, I’m sure that Eros or a satyr will take the job. Maybe Robin Goodfellow. Or Dionysus—I’m sure he’ll be fine with it…”
Mijung struggled to breathe, noting with panic that the air was choked with the smell of sex. What was going on?! Who was this person?! Why couldn’t she move?!
The hand rubbing her stomach slipped down and Mijung tried to scream, but her indignant fury was frozen in her throat.
“I’m in a good mood, so I’ll bless your children.” Lips brushed against Mijung’s neck slowly. She wanted to shout that only her husband was allowed to kiss and touch her like this, but her control was gone. The person holding her was in charge. “No one save for the ones they consider family will be able to resist their beauty and charm, regardless of anything else.” She could hear the smirk in the person’s voice and lips pressed against her neck again. “Their appeal will be irresistible, and it will be their greatest weapon when they have nothing left. They will never live a chaste life.” The lips brushed slowly against Mijung’s ear. “Isn’t that a gift?”
The spell holding Mijung in place faded. She immediately squirmed away, standing up sharply, uncaring of her wounded feet, and glared fiercely at the bed.
A radiant blonde woman—easily the most beautiful being Mijung had ever laid eyes on—casually lay down, the covers lying at her hips lazily and her breasts exposed in the light of the fire.
“How dare you?! How DARE you?! Who do you thin you are?! Get out of here and never touch me again!”
The woman scowled darkly, the glow in her skin rippling. “That’s no way to speak to someone who has just blessed your children.”
“You call that a blessing?!” Mijung made a violent warding gesture with her hand. “Leave here! No one may touch me besides my husband!”
There was a long silence.
“Do you know who I am?” the woman asked, voice dangerously soft.
“I do not care! No man or woman may touch me but my husband.” Mijung make a move to hit the woman. “Be gone!”
She narrowed her eyes. “…You will pay for your disrespect, mortal.”
The woman stood up from the bed, armor morphing on her otherwise naked body, blue eyes streaming fire. She turned from a lady of lovemaking to an oddly sexualized woman of war, the scent of blood, sweat, sex, and passion seeping through her pores. “I came to tell you that the gods have decided that you will produce our vassals. The child you carry will be born by decree of Hecate, and within two moons of that birth, you will be pregnant again, regardless of whether you willingly lie with a man or not. This cycle will continue until every living god has a vassal.”
Mijung spat spitefully at the woman. “I will bear only Soon Kim’s children and no one else’s, be they god or man. Once I am back home, then you may have your cycle.”
“You still think that you will see your husband again?!” The light from the fire dimmed and the woman’s eyes glowed furiously, tangible power rearing up in her veins and armor becoming molten on her skin. “Foolish mortal! For your impudence, I will take that which you hold dearest. By the time your child is born, all you will have left of your memory of Soon Kim is the knowledge that you once had a husband in the other world. When that child hits puberty, you won’t have even that.”
Something snapped in the air and the woman glowed gold, and Mijung’s ears popped.
Mijung stiffened, something cracking in her mind. She could see the image of Soon, the feel of his bare chest against her palm, the sound of his scarcely-heard chuckle just next to her ear… fading. It was all not as vibrant as it was a mere moment ago. It had only just started, but she knew what was happening—she was forgetting. The curse was taking effect.
This was a goddess before her.
This was a goddess, and she was stealing all Mijung had left of Soon.
The goddess only glared.
Her hands went to her temples, squeezing them as if she could force the memories to stay inside. “No! Soon! SOON!”
The goddess sneered, voice dropping to a whisper. “If he ever comes to find you, he will only find a woman with a brood of bastards from monsters, fairies, and gods. You will not remember him. He will forsake your unfaithful heart.”
“STOP!” Mijung squeezed her head tighter. “SOON!”
“And you won’t remember to grieve.” The woman walked towards the door. “This and nothing less is the price you pay for offending Aphrodite.”
The goddess disappeared in a shower of gold sparkles. The fire in the hearth went out.
Mijung sat on the bed and started to cry in earnest.
She cried herself to sleep.
Yutrin stayed in a tight fetal position, squinting out into the darkness. Hands were stroking his naked body, but he wanted them to stop. He wasn’t sure why, but he wanted them to stop.
“Yes… he would be a good vassal.”
A hand ran down his chest while another stroked his face. “A good donor as well.”
“He has to consent to this, though.”
“Oh, he will.”
Yutrin curled up in a tighter ball.
“Child, would you like to be able to heal again?”
He uncurled without meaning to and a naked body pressed against his, uncomfortably hot. He squirmed, unwilling to make love to this person of darkness, but he didn’t feel her do anything but touch him. “Would you?”
“…” Yutrin struggled with the fog of his mind for a while. “…Yes. Mijung needs it…”
“And she will get hurt eventually. And if you can’t heal her, she’ll die.” The woman kissed his jaw line, brushing her lips against his throat. He squirmed uncomfortably, but he couldn’t feel his hands to push her away. “I can give you your ability to heal, but you must pay a price for it.”
The darkness shifted and the woman stroked his chest. “But you will not know that price until you take the deal. Will you?”
Yutrin shook, trying to see what was happening around him. “Where am I? Who are you?”
“Irrelevant.” He could hear the smile in the woman’s voice. “You can have your ability to heal back, but it comes at a price. Make a decision.”
Yutrin tried to think, squirming, getting a sense that he was in grave danger. His instinct was to run and hide. But there was nowhere to hide, and he couldn’t run. He was trapped. His nightmare.
His breath came in quick gasps and he started squirming desperately.
The woman simply chuckled softly, rubbing his sides and kissing his throat. “You have growth to undertake, Child.”
“Life has inhibited it,” a young child-like voice said right next to his ear, making him jump, “but it will have to come in this world.”
“Will you take the deal or not?”
Yutrin trembled like a newborn cast out into the cold. Realization was dawning. These people, whoever was touching him, were not mortals.
He was in the presence of a goddess.
Yutrin let out a fearful squeak, trying to curl up but unable to.
“Mmm. You’re not ready to make the choice.”
Yutrin felt something cold wrap around his neck and he had to force himself to stop panicking. He couldn’t run away. He couldn’t run away.
“There will come a time to make a decision. You have a locket. When you or someone you care for is mortally wounded, if you want the ability to heal them, open it. You will pay a price, but whosoever needs healing then and afterwards will have it.” Breath brushed against his ear. “But once you make the deal, you can never go back.”
Lips, so hot and cold that they burned, pressed against his forehead. “I am patient. I can wait.”
The darkness receded.
“Poor, poor child.”
Mijung didn’t want to wake up. She wanted to sleep forever until her husband came. She wanted to be in his arms. She wanted the color to come back to her memories. Already, she couldn’t quite place his scent. Was it woody? Incense? Sweat? She couldn’t really remember.
“The gods are cruel, I know, but I take pity on you.”
A gentle hand rested on her face, and she felt the despair lift. She sobbed softly, cracking her eyes open to see who had visited her this time. She wanted to be alone.
A man with short black hair, achingly kind blue eyes, and a white suit sat beside her, a red stain at his abdomen and broken shackles clinging to his wrists. His hand was on her hair, and his face bespoke compassion and genuine caring of the likes Mijung had never seen before. She was reminded of going to her father after a nightmare as a child.
She resisted the urge to put her head in his lap and cry as she did with her Daddy.
“I cannot undo Aphrodite’s curse, my child, but I can provide a way to fix the damage.”
Mijung sat up slowly, daring to hope.
“I must warn you that it comes at a price.”
The woman was trembling with grief, hugging herself and eyes getting wide. “What price?”
“You will not know until the time comes.” The man—no, not human, but deity—shifted, eyes sad, but loving. “I will give you something that used to be a little box, but has been changed since then. This box was given to someone I cared very much about, and after she opened it, it was turned into two lockets. If you wear the locket I give you, your memories will flow into it, rather then go out into the world. The day you forget everything save for the fact you have a husband is the day you can open it and safely keep all your memory without fear of it fading. Open it before then, and your memories will be lost forever, but open it afterwards, and you will keep them despite what rages you put the gods in.” He gently smoothed Mijung’s hair back. “But you will have to pay a terrible price, my dear, and the child you bear may have to pay it as well.”
The color drained from Mijung’s face. “No… my child wouldn’t have to…!”
The man’s face was strained with pain, and he slowly took a locket, a half of a broken heart with carved designs on it, out of his breast pocket, lovingly putting it around Mijung’s neck. “It is your choice. I am sorry, my child.”
He was gone. The hearth was out. Mijung was alone.
She was damned to lose her memories, and the possible consequences of getting them back were too much to ever risk.
She buried her face in her hands and started to cry quietly.
The door creaked open.
There was a soft shuffle, and someone sat beside her on the bed. “Mijung…?”
Mijung looked up, ready to either start crying with complete abandon or start beating up whoever was there if it turned out to be another god.
She made a vague motion to wipe her eyes, to preserve her dignity, but she just couldn’t get herself to care.
It was a familiar green goblin. His chest was bare, sweat streaking it and making the hair stick to the skin, and a locket, the other piece of the broken heart that Mijung wore, hung at his neck. She didn’t care to ask questions. She was too tired for questions. Too tired for anger. Too tired for anything but despair.
She really wasn’t going home.
And she really was losing the last she had of her husband.
Despite his half-naked state and the fact she was supposed to be hating him, Mijung wrapped her arms around Yutrin’s neck and buried her face there, starting to cry in earnest.
Yutrin stiffened a little, then slowly slipped his arms around her comfortingly, rubbing her back and resting his face in her hair.
She could feel his heart pounding against her breast. He was absolutely terrified.
He was still holding her. He was scared of her, but he was still holding her.
She kept crying for who-knew how long, and after that, she just clung to him.
After a while, she slowly let him go and lay back on the bed, drained and unwilling to worry about food or water or clothes. Yutrin started to crawl off the bed, presumably to sleep on the floor, but Mijung just grabbed his wrist.
He looked down at her hand hesitantly, then tugged. She didn’t loosen her grip.
He tentatively crawled up besides her, slipping under the covers and lying down. They didn’t touch each other, but they both dozed and eventually fell asleep.
The hearth started to crackle to life again.
From then on, neither one slept on the floor. No matter what argument they got into or how angry or frightened one was of the other, they never spent the night apart from one another.