Chapter Twelve

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Ragnar (Wrath)

The day I discovered the identity of my mate, I killed her. It was an accident, a knee-jerk reaction based on the fucked-up circumstances, but intentions hardly matter when another person is dead. She was caught in the crossfire, an innocent victim of my uncontrollable rage. I've always struggled with my sin, but that day I was just a conduit for wrath rather than a man with complex emotions.

She died and it's my fault. These are the two things I know to be true.

I've never been a religious man. The concept is reserved for mortal men concerned with life, death, and the unknown. I know about life, way too much about death, and I've never been one to seek out answers to unknown questions. I leave that to Aristotle and all of his philosophical wonderings. My life is all about duty; completing the purpose of my existence is always my main focus. Or at least, it was. Everything changed when she died.

That day, I was seventeen years old. On the cusp of so many things—becoming a man, leaving Hell, attending Purgatory Academy, finding a way to dump Priscilla without causing a civil war in Hell—I was shocked to find the stirrings of a mate bond forming within my chest.

It should have been impossible. Mate bonds are reserved for those eighteen years old and up, and they're rare enough that I didn't expect to have my own. Nevertheless, I was equal parts excited and irate. Excited because I had a mate, someone whose soul is a complete compliment to mine. Irate because this individual was throwing a wrench in my life's plans and could be a distraction from my goals. I'm also a naturally angry person, which didn't help matters.

I followed the tug of the bond, a thin string strengthening by the minute, leading me to the precise location of my fated love. When I arrived at the training grounds, I was confused. Was my mate a soldier in Hell's Army, one of the many demons I'd one day lead? It made a certain amount of sense, two soldiers being destined for one another. We'd have a lot in common, like an appreciation for battle strategy and bloodshed. Then why was I disappointed by the prospect?

Those feelings were stopped completely in their tracks when I saw her. She was by herself, a feat in and of itself considering how often her friends were by her side. She was practicing her knife-throwing, something I always thought she'd be good at. And she was. Again and again, she hit the center of her target, a picture tacked onto a wooden board at least fifty feet away. Walking nearer, I recognized Gwen's face as the one in the photo, with knives hanging from her throat and both of her eye sockets.

The closer I got, the stronger that tugging sensation became. Washed away was any sense of excitement and in its place, only fury remained. Fury and horror, because what kind of sick joke was that? Finding my mate, and she was only a child. Finding my mate, and she was my kid sister's best friend. The girl I grew up with, the one not meant for this realm or this life.

"I know how it looks, but I swear I'm not planning on killing Gwen. In case you were worried," Willow said, continuing to throw dagger after dagger.

My heart beat sluggishly, my brain too overwhelmed to come up with a response.

"No," I pleaded, though not to her.

Mistaking my plea, she smiled and it was sad, either through my own projection or from her actual feelings. "That's what I thought. Gwen's kind of the worst, right? She told me to kill myself today. She said that no one loves me anyway, so why not end it? I shouldn't care—I don't care, but still. It was a rude thing to say. And I can't do anything to her directly, so I'm out here pretending to stab her. It's all very cathartic; I can see why you like it."

It all happened so fast. One moment, I was listening to my destined mate talk about my sister urging her to commit suicide. The next moment, I was standing in the center of a crater. A blown-out mess of sand and dirt, with splinters of wood fluttering in a nonexistent breeze. Yards away, wheezes sounded from a lump of blue, brown, and red.

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