Blessed Monsters (Something Dark and Holy #3) by Emily A. Duncan

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MALACHIASZ CZECHOWICZ


There is music at the end of the universe. Chyrnog’s songs that push like roiling worms into the brain and slowly take apart the mind. A weakening before consumption.

—The Volokhtaznikon



Malachiasz Czechowicz woke up in bloodstained snow. The cold of death was a needle that dug deep into bone, and he remained still, eyes closed, ice soaking into the last tatters of his clothes, until his skin warmed.

He shivered only once, as the cold from the snow became more present than that of the grave, doing his best to shove past his disorientation. Had he—?

Yes.

He had died. The last thing he had seen was Nadya, streaked with blood and tears, churning with spent power and clutching him. Then darkness, but not quiet. No peace.

He was afraid to move, afraid to disturb whatever tenuous silence had wrenched him away from the ledge. He shouldn’t be breathing.

His fingertips were blackened with what he hoped was magic and not frostbite. He let his iron claws slide back into his nail beds and nearly cried with relief that he could. He didn’t feel like himself, but he hadn’t felt like himself in a long time.

He was going to die here.

He blinked. Considered how he already had. He touched the wound at his chest. It wasn’t bleeding, but it was certainly a gaping hole that led straight to his heart.

He shouldn’t be alive.

At his edges were echoes of transcendence, and he wasn’t prepared to return to that state. Becoming a god was a bit of a lottery, he had found, and chaos was a not entirely pleasant lottery to win. As sweet as the thrill of power might have been, the pain of his bones shattering only to reform only to break free of his skin was a little too near for his taste. If he pressed out—just a bit—he could feel where he became something more. It was a series of steps before the fall, and the illusion that he was consciously in control of it was one he would like to maintain for as long as he could.

He had only killed one god.

There were many more to go.

“Well, boy.” A horrible voice slithered through the back of Malachiasz’s skull. His vision blanked out. No bleak mountainside of white and white and white. No more anything. Only darkness.

Malachiasz had known horrors. He knew the sounds of nightmares and chaos. The feeling of burning coals raked over skin, of knives under fingernails, of living shadows taking him apart and putting him back together in the wrong order. He knew pain. He knew chaos. He was chaos.

But chaos—chaos was small and rational at the foot of this.

This was all those terrors combined and wrapped into something much worse. Two words, small, insignificant, yet with them came an invisible shackle binding his wrists, a collar around his throat. A promise.

Well, Malachiasz replied, trying to be the Black Vulture and not the terrified boy. This won’t do at all.

It was the wrong move, and the voice gave a scraping laugh. A starburst of pain rattled across Malachiasz’s vision, sparking the darkness with bursts of light. He was so young before whatever had taken him.

“I am tired of mortals who think they can fight me,” the voice said. “I have been waiting a long time for you. But there will be time for that, time for everything, time for exactly what I wish. This is our introduction, you see.”

Malachiasz’s heart was pounding so hard he thought it might give up in his chest, and at least that would stop the horror.

Hard to have an introduction when I don’t know your name.

“Earn it.”



* * *



Malachiasz didn’t know how he had made it off the mountain. He was outside the strange church, every part of him aching, the forest creeping, taking, rotting within him.

He had grown used to his vision splitting every time a cluster of eyes opened on his body. He was used to his shifting chaos. But this pain was darker, and there was nothing for him to do but grit his teeth and press through it.

The church was made of wood—had it been stone before? He needed a place to get out of the cold, to feel something. The door opened easily at his touch. He closed it behind him, relishing the silence.

Moss crept along the floor and up the walls over the old icons. He could feel the forest pulling at his fraying edges, trying its very best to unravel him, as it ate and ate. It had nearly succeeded once. He stepped across the hallway and closed the door to the stairway leading to the well. He didn’t want to think about what Nadya had done.

The crunch of bones underneath his boots was loud as he followed a hall to the sanctuary. He bypassed it, hoping to find a smaller room to hole up in until he felt warm.