Sixteen

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At the outskirts of the forest, The Endless One emerged. This time, his flesh wasn't rotting off of his bones. He didn't stink of death.

He looked like Alexander, clad in his wedding clothes—stained with blood, soot, and dirt. But Alexander's face wasn't there. Where his features should have been, instead there was only a blank gray shadow as if what he used to be was scrubbed away to make room for the monster who ruled his body.

The flood of shadows dragged Jonathan's soul back to The Endless One. The frail paper-thin moth was deposited in his upturned hand where it sat in his palm, fluttering on the precipice of danger.

Charlotte couldn't breathe.

Any moment now, The Endless One would cage his fingers around her father's soul. Crush the delicate wings. Silence the beating heart. Consume the life source that belonged to her father.

Charlotte slid off of her horse and withdrew a handful of pieces the broken stone in Jonathan's coat pocket.

"I know what you did," she said. "Five hundred years ago."

She let the crumbled stone drift from her hand and drop into the muddy snow, grinding the pieces deep into the dirt with the heel of her shoe.

"The oath you forged with the Prescott bloodline and the village of Šuná is broken. This is the last body you will ever take possession of."

She wanted to feel triumphant at finally saying those words. After all the heartache she had suffered to reach this point, a victory, no matter how small, was justly deserved.

But she felt nothing.

If only the solution had come to her sooner, before Alexander had given in to The Endless One and surrendered his body, mind, and soul.

"Do you know what it's like to be worshipped?" The Endless One said in a conversational tone. He angled his hand left and right as the moth trundled across his knuckles.

"It tastes as sweet as honey," he continued. "Like...ambrosia."

The Endless One's fingers twitched, enclosing around Jonathan's soul lightly. Charlotte's heart stuttered.

"Please no," she whispered.

"To have that sustenance denied you is...cruel agony. Slowly starving to death over centuries, millennium. Your mortal lives pass so quickly that you have no concept of how much suffering time can bring."

"Is that why you left so many people hollow?" Charlotte said. As she spoke, she slowly worked her hand into her pocket where the wraithstone was. "To show them what it was like for you to waste away?"

The Endless One hummed and shook his head. "No. Although that's a rather poetic idea. I like it."

Charlotte's fingers brushed the warm wraithstone. The last of her magic seeped out of the stone's safe keeping and into her skin, into her blood, igniting through her veins. She had just enough left for one solid shot. One hit was all she needed.

"Don't look at me like that," The Endless One said. "As if I'm the monster. It's your beloved's family who started this. I'm simply meting out punishment for the sins of the father."

Charlotte's fingers went still. The wraithstone dropped back into her pocket, empty and cold.

"What are you talking about?" she said.

The Endless One laughed softly, an eerie sound when he had no mouth to laugh with. The sound swept around her, plucking at her clothes, her hair, wiggling into her brain like a thousand worms, chewing, sucking, leeching her sanity dry.

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