Episode 9:  First Love

The dark mouth of the oval entryway breathed in and out. Noshee couldn’t tell but something wheezed. A raspy growl shrilled Noshee’s wings as they clipped against his back.

“That’s a Harton growl." Haiwee's whisper echoed in the catacomb.

His childhood nightmares flared in his mind. Dead faces behind glass twitched in the withering torchlight. “Stories of the dead rising are just stories, right?”

“I’ll go,” Haiwee said.

“No.” Noshee turned away from the pitch-black entryway.

He kneeled by her side. Her honey scent touched his nose. He finger-combed her honey colored hair behind her pointy ears. “Take this.”

Haiwee took the torch. “I should go check. You’re in no condition to—”

Noshee kissed her. It had been many days since he touched her. But in that instant, every carnal moment from their last night together relaxed his wings. He slid his cheek across hers. He loved the feel of her smooth skin. Her downy wings hugged him, cold. A tear trickled down her cheek. He cupped her face and kissed the tear. She remained quiet.

He rose and removed a fresh torch from its holder. He lit it on another. Creeping up along the side of the catacomb wall, Noshee held the bright torch. Light oozed into the mouth of the entryway. But it swallowed the light easily. The torch didn’t have the strength to light the thousands of burial chambers inside.

Noshee’s shoulder pressed against the right corner of the entrance. He peered around. All he saw was black. The wheezing seemed further away. He passed the torch to his left hand. Gripped the handle repeatedly. His breath became short, rapid. Noshee stepped inside. Cold darkness encompassed his body. His taloned feet clicked the stone floor.

Wheezing stopped.

The quiet smothered his ears. Blood pulsed in his temples. He looked back at Haiwee. She stopped rubbing her swollen leg. A raspy growl yanked his attention back. His wings shrunk. He cocked the torch. Tightened his grip. Took another step.

Claws scratched the rock wall. A roar shrieked. Stars streaked across the blackness.

.  .  .

A voice called as if under water. “It’s Elden Dena.”

Noshee lurched upward, but pain scorched up the sides of his neck, and dropped back down.

“What's wrong?” Dena said.

A loud ring blared to his left. Noshee reached up and found linen bandages covering the left side of his face. The same nauseating herb used on his chest wounds laced the linen. His wings were numb from crimping them against the wicker bed. They’d begun to tingle. Sticky eyes tried to open. Bright light from the window forced them closed.

“How’re you feeling?” Dena said.

Saliva welled in his mouth. Teeth gritted against the intense wave moving up his throat. His lips pursed.

Noshee heard the sound of Dena pulling back her wings.

His stomached churned over and over and inside out as he threw up over the side of the bed. Crude smelling saliva and vomit dripped off the corner of Noshee’s mouth.

“Not so well, I see,” Dena said. She rolled him back, wiped his mouth clean. “Can you tell me what happened to Haiwee?”

“And what happened to my soldier?” Warlord Rorkai said.

“Soldier?” Noshee mouthed. “Haiwee!” He pried his eyes open. Head of the bed pressed against a wall of the familiar infirmary.

“Not this again,” Rorkai said. His arms crossed his broad chest. “Your Warlord's word can’t protect you anymore.”

Dena looked at Rorkai. “Let me, my Warlord.” She sat at the edge of the bed. “Haiwee was found dead.”

Noshee squirmed up against the wall. He shook his head. Dirty blonde hair fell over his face. “She's—alive,” he gasped. “Went to check—left her—black cave—growling—wheezing—dead faces—held her close—she's—alive, alive, alive.” Noshee panted.

“He’s crazy,” Rorkai said.

Dena stood. “He’s been through a lot. Do we still have Haiwee’s body?”

Rorkai nodded. “We’re giving it to the forest floor at sunset.”

Dena grabbed Noshee’s shoulders, stopping his head from shaking. “Come see Haiwee’s body.  Maybe that’ll help you remember.”

“Dena,” Rorkai said. “He’s playing with you.”

“She was his first love,” Dena protested. "This may be the only way we find out what happened in there."

“Fine.”

Choose your poison: Should Noshee bear the sight of his first love's dead body?

100% of the readers said Yes.