Introspection (December 2016)

This is based in the world of a larger work that I’ve been writing, focusing on one of its side characters. 

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            Servants had rushed to tell him Frank had run away.

Had it not been for the lion-shaped hole in the wall, on top of the glaring absence of a giant star-speckled cat in his palace, Damien would’ve refused to believe it. Not after Frank’s several decades of nosing into Damien’s side for scratches under his chin or clambering heavily into his lap to sleep.

Betrayal pricked at Damien’s gut as his emerald gaze moved to the trail of stardust his pet had left behind as it streaked out across the grounds, blurred and urgent. He traced a finger over the jagged edges Frank had made in the marble, the claw marks that dragged through the floor. Without an explanation for why Frank had left, Damien grew lost in the emotions that lingered in the room. The adrenaline that thrummed through the lion’s undead veins crackled in the air. Frank’s fear seeped into Damien’s stomach like a slowly melting ice cube. Need to leave. Don’t leave. Can’t stay. Go. Trapped-

Twin whines at his side brought Damien back to attention, realizing only after he stared down at his dogs that his eyes had been scrunched closed. The pair rose to attention as he stood; the shadows making up their physical forms rippled with tension. They saw through him as easily as a reflection – one he hardly wanted to confront. He huffed and turned away from them, though his voice was gentle when he commanded them to stay in the palace.

Determined to catch up to Frank, Damien ducked through the lion hole. The stardust that had flaked off of Frank’s fur stuck to Damien’s feet, glowing bright in the darkness of his world. He wove through the grounds, kicking up ashen dirt as he ran faster in the direction Frank had bounded through. There was not much space left for the lion to flee before he would reach the edge of the crater, where rocky walls surrounded the palace and the most populated cities of Ceness. Its smooth, vertical face rose so far into the black sky that Damien could not see where it sloped off at its peak.

Frank had stopped before reaching the end. The lion lay in one of the palace gardens, on a bed of bioluminescent flowers with jewels inset in their centers. Their bluish glow reflected off of his constellation-marked fur. His head rested between his paws as he chewed at a nearby petal. Damien allowed his approaching steps to be heard as he coaxed his pet closer with a whistle. Frank’s claws made long, nervous slashes through the ground. Damien held the small distance between them, noticing his lion’s tensed jaw. Glowing silver eyes refused to meet his.

Damien sighed. “What’s gotten into you, huh?”

The whimper he received as an answer was untranslatable. Damien moved closer, pressing past a wary growl to reach his fingers around and scratch behind his ears. Frank held still as Damien tried to calm him and sorted through disjointed and abstract animal thoughts. Fear. Longing. Disobeyed, in trouble. Miss home. Miss home.

“We can go back-” Damien cut himself off, jerking away when a familiar face appeared in Frank’s mind’s eye. Golden hair and golden eyes, a delicate circlet banded around his brown forehead. Aiden.

“I thought you liked it here – w-with me.” Damien’s fingers curled into Frank’s fur. Aiden had given Frank to him. Frank was his. “You love him more, don’t you?” His voice sharpened for a split second, and he regretted it instantly, his arm dropping to his side. “Just like everyone else. And I’ve kept you away.”

A familiar shiver raked down his spine. The reminder that he would never step out of his Divine brother’s shadow left him raw. Fate had written Aiden to be superior to him – to be God, where Damien was just a god. To be perfect. Adored. Missed.

He caught the nervous flicks of Frank’s tail as his nails dug into his palms.

“Name him whatever you’d like. He’s yours,” his Brother had insisted, even if it’d been He who had created Frank with his energy and fallen stars. Aiden’s smile had glinted along with the light that specked his skin like cosmic freckles as He led Frank to him. Frank had moved with Aiden as if they were one. Aiden’s voice did not rise above a murmur, a lullaby that drifted and wrapped around Damien. “He’s a piece of me that can always be with you.”

Though the memory faded, Damien’s heart pounded out a breakneck rhythm. Was Aiden really somewhere inside his lion? Was he watching him through those silver eyes? A bitter taste settled on the edge of his tongue when he realized how much he wanted that to be true. How could he fault everyone else for loving Aiden more? He loved Aiden more than anyone else.

Damien jumped when Frank nosed against his side, his rough tongue pressing to his skin. Frank’s thoughts flurried back to him. Home. Home. It split in two. Aiden’s side remained but then shifted to Damien’s – moments where Damien had stroked through his fur and hummed to him as he rested. Moments where he had prowled through the palace in search of Damien and bounded to him the moment he was in sight. Both he and his Brother cycled through an endless loop in the lion’s mind.

Damien’s mouth opened and closed. A pause before he found words. “You just trying to cheer me up? I know you want to go back.”

Frank pawed at him before circling around and lying at his feet. Aiden. Damien. Aiden. Damien. The God who’d given him an existence, whose love was as implicit as the passing of time. The god who’d given him everything else, who would go to any length for him. He wanted both. Damien wondered if that was even possible – for a lion.

He watched the smoky tendrils of Frank’s mane billow idly. “I could… take you to Him.” Damien knelt beside Frank, reaching his hand to run over a stream of stars down the bridge of his pet’s nose. “I’m sure He misses you too.”

Damien bit his lip. How long had it been since he had been at Aiden’s side? When he had blinked into existence and Aiden was the first thing his eyes ever saw. When Aiden had taken his hands and sang and danced with him around a blank universe. When Aiden had made the perfect world for just the two of them before anyone else had even been a thought. When he had left to be something more than Aiden’s little brother.

Was he?

Damien touched his forehead to Frank’s, breathing in tune with him. “I need him too.”