Honor Bound [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Suzanne Rock
eBook Category: Erotica/Erotic Romance/Historical Fiction
eBook Description: Deep in the Hidaka Mountains, Akito is commissioned to capture the goddess of desire. He expects to use all of his samurai skills to complete the task. What he doesn't expect is the resurrection of his deceased lover, or the number of immortals who wish them both dead. Condemned to an eternity of loneliness, Jin curses the day the mother goddess tricked her into becoming immortal. When a seasoned samurai enters her prison, she's determined to build the man's desire so she can harness enough strength to break the bonds that tie her to the mountain. As the intruder makes himself known, memories long buried rise to the surface and Jin becomes desperate for Akito to believe the truth -- that she is his beloved. Can she earn his trust in time, or will they both succumb to the forces that strive to keep them apart? Reader Alert!: This story contains a dominating samurai, a sexually frustrated goddess, and enough rope to bind them both together for eternity. To My Readers: I love how books can sweep you away to another time and place, don't you? One time period that fascinates me is ancient Japan. I have always loved research, and thoroughly enjoyed reading about Japan and their samurai warriors in preparation for this story. When writing Honor Bound, I had no idea of the struggles the Japanese people would soon endure, or the devastation that would come to their land. In the aftermath of the earthquake, I sat glued to the news and listened to stories about their courage and strength. Their perseverance in the face of tragedy is a wonderful testament to their history, and I hope that I captured at least some of that in this story. Thank you so much for buying Honor Bound. It's readers like you who make it possible for people like me to continue doing what we love.
eBook Publisher: Red Sage Publishing/Red Sage Presents, Published: 2011, 2011
Fictionwise Release Date: March 2012
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1 Reader Ratings:
Somewhere in the Hidaka Mountains, Japan, 1564
Akito stopped brushing the horse's mane and peeked around the animal's head. "It looks like that visiting samurai." He returned his focus to the large brown animal before him. The horse, like himself, was tired from the day of travel. They both just wanted to go home and rest. Unfortunately, Akito didn't know if either one of them would ever be able to return home again.
"Do you think that this new samurai will convince our captor to let us free?"
"It's unlikely, father. Daiki is greedy and ruthless. He wouldn't give any of his slaves up without a fight ... or a large amount of money."
"I'm tired, my son." The old man wavered and then sat on the ground.
Akito placed the brush down and lifted his father from the ground. The day was unusually warm for summer, and Daiki had pushed them hard in their travels. Akito was surprised his father hadn't collapsed before this. "I know, I'm tired too, but we need to look busy. Remember what he did to mother." The tyrant took great pride in killing off anyone who didn't meet his expectations. Akito's mother had been decapitated when she wouldn't offer sexual services to Daiki. It took all of Akito's willpower not to retaliate. If he did, he would have been killed, too. He promised himself that when the opportunity presented itself, he'd have his revenge. Until then, he'd lay low and watch.
His father sighed and held out his hand. Akito handed him a hoof pick and they resumed working, brushing down the horses while Daiki talked in low tones to his new visitor.
"Sometimes, I wonder if living is worth this," his father murmured.
Akito's brush paused over the horse. "What?"
"It's different for you, son. You have a woman to go home to. Since that monster killed your mother, I have nothing to look forward to, nothing to live for." He shook his head. "If only I was present when that tyrant killed your mother...."
Akito stopped brushing and turned. "Don't say that. If you'd struck out at Daiki, you would have been killed, too."
"Does it matter?" His father raised his brow.
Shock sliced through Akito's center. "Of course it matters."
His father offered a sad smile. "All right." They resumed work in silence for a time before he spoke again. "How do you think Jin took the news?"
Akito pressed his lips together in frustration at the mention of his beloved. His family was supposed to have been on a two day trip to barter with a neighboring village. Upon his return he was to marry the beautiful Jin. It was an arranged marriage, but even if it wasn't, Akito would have fought to be by her side. She was perfect in every way. Even now he could picture her bent over in her mother's garden, her ebony hair piled high on her head underneath the straw hat that kept her fair skin from the sun. How he wished he could see those ruby lips curve into a smile once again, just for him.
Stop it. He tried to clear his head and put a lid on his raging libido. Pining after his beloved wouldn't help him get revenge for his mother. It wouldn't give him the escape he needed and it certainly wouldn't lead him back into her arms. Those arms.... They were long and delicate, like flower stems.
"How do you think Jin took the news?" The words came out harsher than he intended, and Akito winced as his father took a step back. "I'm sorry, father. It's just that this whole situation has put me on edge." He bent for a comb and attacked a tangle in the horse's mane. The beast flinched at the forceful tug, and he laid an apologetic hand on her neck. "Assuming Jin even knows we were captured. For all we know, she might think us dead."
His father studied him for a moment, and Akito felt uneasy under the wise man's gaze. "I'm sorry, son." He finished with the stiff brush and reached for the soft one. "We shall try to get away, if for nothing else than for you to see your lover again."
"I hope so." Akito had been trying to escape for days, but there were just too many guards. From what he gathered from the conversations of the samurai around him, their captor planned on selling them into slavery in the city. He had to get himself and his father away before that happened. Once they were sold, it would be next to impossible to get back home again.
His father finished and beat the brushes together to clean them. Dust clouded around him. "I always did like Jin, you know. It was her family I could have done without."
Akito smirked. "I know, father."
"Slaves! Over here!" A harsh voice cut through their conversation. Every muscle in Akito's body pulled taut with adrenaline. What now?
Peeking around the horse he saw that their captor waiting, a tall, ruthless man who looked as hard and unforgiving as his temperament.
Daiki cocked his eyebrow and placed his hands on his obi, close to his swords. "Well? Are you coming or should I go over there and get you myself?"
Akito felt the nudge from the sword of a nearby guard. He put down the comb and helped his father over to the small group of men.
"Kneel," Daiki ordered.
One of the guards kicked Akito in the legs and he fell to the ground. He recovered quickly, but noticed his father had trouble rising into the kneeling position. Only savages would attack an old man. Akito had heard that samurai had an honor code, that they would never fight the helpless. He found it difficult to believe these monsters had anything to do with that ancient order.
"This man here wants to buy you," Daiki nodded toward the visiting samurai. His face was rounder, but no less hard. While Daiki had no facial hair, this man wore a long beard that reached the obi around his waist. His dark hair was tied in a knot high above his head, with long, loose strands flowing down his back. He studied Akito with a critical eye.
Anger burned, and Akito found he could hold his tongue no longer. "I am not a slave, and not for sale." Did these people think to trade him like an animal? Even the goats got more respect than this. "I am Akito Kunishi. I have a home and family. My betrothed is waiting patiently for my return--."
Daiki slapped him in the face. Pain exploded across his skin and Akito bit his tongue to keep from crying out. He refused to show weakness to these savages.
"You are for sale because I say so." He turned to his friend. "This one will need a firm hand, Katsu. Are you sure you want him?"
Katsu cupped Akito's chin and turned his head from side to side. "Yes, I'm sure." He stepped back. "He'll be good in the new army I'm raising against the north."
"An army of slaves, eh?" Daiki eyed Katsu suspiciously. "Then it's going to cost you. Double payment and you'll have two fine slaves for your army."
"But I only want the one."
Akito stole a quick glance at his father, whose head bowed low to the ground. It was bad enough that they were captured by Daiki. If Akito and his father became separated, then he'd have to find him and he'd never get back home.
He'd never see Jin again.
Rage built in his chest. They couldn't keep him from Jin. He wouldn't allow it. "You can't have either of us."
Katsu considered him for a moment. "Are you calling my friend a liar?" He put his hand on his samurai swords as he turned to his friend. "It wouldn't be the first time you cheated me."
"What?" Their captor put his hands to his chest. "No, these two are yours, as long as you give me the money." He glanced at Akito and his father. "Triple."
"Triple the money?"
"There are two of them, and this one is worth at least two slaves." He nodded to Akito.
The men began to argue and Akito glanced around him. Guards were everywhere, but they seemed distracted. There must be a way to escape....
Voices rose around him as supporters of Katsu shouted curses at the supporters of Diaki. If things continued this way, fighting might soon break out. They'd have no better opportunity to get away. Akito risked a glance behind him at the forest. If he could make it there, the trees would provide shelter. Perhaps he could return home and into Jin's loving arms.
Closing his eyes, he sent up a silent prayer to the mother goddess. Please let me see my lovely Jin once more. He didn't want to die without holding his beloved just one more time.
Something shifted in the air. Akito opened his eyes, sensing there might be fighting. Katsu looked ready to kill. He didn't argue with Daiki about slave trade now, but about long-standing feuds and politics. Akito flinched when Katsu pulled his samurai swords from his belt and gave a challenge.
"You have broken the code for the last time, traitor."
The rest of Katsu's men raised their swords and followed their leader into battle.
Taking a quick look around, Akito saw no one paying attention to him or his father. He grabbed his father's arm. "Let's go."
Fighting rose around them, and the camp descended into chaos. Akito helped his father to its edge, stopping every few feet to allow the old man to catch his breath. They made it to the tree line when a young samurai, one of Daiki's men, rushed at them from the side.
"There's no escape, slave."
The samurai attacked. Akito ducked and stuck out his foot, sending the man to the ground. The young man roared, alerting others nearby. He jumped back on his feet, blocking the path to the forest.
"You'll pay for that, slave," he said.
Akito put his father behind him. He didn't have weapons or training, but he had spirit, and the drive to see his beloved once more. Hopefully, it would be enough.
Protect me, mother goddess. Please let me find my Jin.
The samurai charged. At the last minute Akito grabbed his father and jumped to the side. The samurai turned, and caught his father in his side. The old man screamed and fell to the ground. Akito fell beside him, and saw the gaping wound at his waist.
The samurai attacked again. Akito rolled, then sprang up behind him. The samurai plunged his weapon into his father one last time, cutting a huge hole in his chest.
"No!" Akito thrust his foot into the middle of the samurai's back. His attacker stumbled, then turned. The kick threw Akito off balance, but he stumbled toward the sword embedded in his father's chest. Grasping the hilt, with a sharp, agonizing cry he pulled the blade from the body.
The samurai kicked him in the face. Akito fell to his knees, wincing with pain. Blood pooled in his hand and he suspected his nose was broken. He clutched the hilt of the sword and forced himself to his feet.
"You've got spirit," the samurai said.
Akito rushed at his attacker, blade aiming at his heart. The samurai darted to the side and kicked his hand.
Pain shot through his arm. Akito swung wildly, missing his target. The samurai swept his blade, slicing into his skin. Agony seared him. My sword arm.... He dropped the blade and grabbed his upper arm in an attempt to stop the flow of blood. Another firm kick in his back sent him to the ground.
Pain and exhaustion blanketed his body. What was he going to do? This samurai was too powerful, too swift. If Akito hadn't been half-starved, perhaps he would have stood a chance, but ... now it looked like he might follow his father's footsteps. Tears stung his eyes as the image of his beloved's face filled his mind. Her smile was sad, and her eyes were filled with love.
I'm sorry, my perfect Jin. Know that I'll always love you.
The attacker raised his sword for the final blow. "You should have realized you can't beat a master samurai."
"No he can't, but I can." Katsu stepped in front of Akito and ran the samurai through with a sword. The move was swift and unforgiving. When it was over, he stood over the dead man's body and spat on the wound he'd given.
"Damn thieves, all of them. Masquerading as samurai." He gestured at the dead body. "You have no honor."
Akito tried to lift his head, but failed. Instead he gripped his arm with bloody fingers and tried to comfort himself with thoughts of his beloved. He wasn't dead yet. As long as he lived, there was still a chance....
Katsu turned to Akito. "You on the other hand, you show great honor and courage." He closed the distance between them. "You owe me your life now."
Akito wanted to curl up and die, but if he did, there would be no chance of seeing Jin again. Her face solidified in his mind, and he held onto it with everything he had. The mother goddess had taken pity on him. She had given him a second chance at life. He couldn't waste it, not when there was a chance that he could see his Jin again.
"Yes, I'm in your debt." Akito forced himself to his knees and lowered his head.
"You mentioned that you had a lover back in your village. What was her name?"
Akito tried to block out the pain and focus on the conversation. Blood oozed through his fingers and he tightened his grip on his arm. Would this samurai let him slowly bleed to death?
"What is her name?" Katsu repeated.
"Her name is Jin."
Katsu nodded. "I see. Stand up and look at me."
Akito did as he was told, although his body screamed in protest.
"Do you ever wish to see your precious Jin again?"
"Then pledge your allegiance to me." He placed his swords in his belt and held out his hand. "I'll train you in the ways of the samurai and we'll rid the world of imposters such as these. Once you have repaid your debt, you will be free to go back to your Jin."
Akito realized that Katsu didn't really offer him a choice. If he wanted to survive, he'd have to be a slave until his debt was paid. Anger flowed freely through his body and burned in his gut.
Akito looked upon the samurai with all of the hatred he felt. Then he picked up the samurai's hand and kissed it. "You have my allegiance, my master."
"Good." Katsu smiled and patted him on the cheek. "Good." He turned to the camp, which now lay in ruins. Katsu's men were pillaging the dead bodies and claiming the horses for their own.
"Come now, brave one. Let's get you cleaned up. It's time to meet your new family."
Jin blocked out her mother's voice and continued praying at the base of the large altar. Please bring back my Akito to me. Please. She had always been a devout follower of the mother goddess, but ever since a messenger had told her Akito had been captured, she had become fanatical in her worship. Morning, noon and night she prayed in the heart of this small temple and wondered if the mother goddess heard her pleas for her lover's safety.
"Jin, there's news."
Jin finished her prayer, kissed the floor, then stood to face her mother. "News?"
Jin's heart leapt. She closed the distance and grabbed her mother's arms. "Is he here?"
"What then?" She lowered her hands.
Her mother motioned for her to sit on the lowest stair leading up to the altar. "Please, sit."
Jin did as she was told. "What news, mother?"
"Akito was captured by some thieves posing as samurai."
"I know this."
"Well, a company of true samurai found them and destroyed their camp. No one survived."
"No." Jin stared at her mother, unbelieving. "He can't be dead." She had prayed every day for a week. The mother goddess wouldn't be so cruel. Jin turned away from her mother and stared at the small stone altar. Flowers decorated the floor, flowers she had brought in offering. Beaded necklaces littered the stone steps and hung on hooks on the walls. These too, were an offering for her lover's safe return.
"I can't believe it." Jin knew she would have felt something. They were so close. How could she possibly go on without her love? Emptiness rose from deep within her chest and threatened to swallow her whole.
Jin turned her attention back to her mother. "More? There is no more. My betrothed is dead."
Her mother cleared her throat. "Yes, well, thank goodness your father and I prepared for this eventuality."
Jin shook her head in disbelief. "What do you mean, prepared?"
Her mother smiled and put a hand on her arm. It felt cold and foreign and Jin fought the urge to shrink out of her grasp. Her mother had never showed Jin such affection before. "Don't worry, you'll still get married. We've chosen a new suitor for you, one who is in good standing in the village."
Tears stung Jin's eyes as she stared, mouth agape, at her mother. "Akito just died, and you talk of marrying me to another?" Jin shook out of her mother's grasp, rose and backed away. "His body isn't even cold." She shook her head and waved her hands in the air. "I can't listen to this."
"Haru will expect you to be present at the announcement tomorrow evening."
"Haru?" Jin's breath caught and she stumbled back against the wall. "You betrothed me to a fishmonger?"
"Not just any fishmonger. He has powerful connections."
Anger and sorrow wrapped around her body, suffocating her until she thought she would explode. "Get out."
"He is offering money."
Tears flowed freely now, but Jin didn't care. She pointed to the door. "Get. Out."
Her mother rose. "You're just tired and in shock. In time, you'll see that this is the best decision for everyone."
For everyone, or for her mother? Jin always knew of her mother's greed and obsession with status, but hadn't guessed how deep it ran. "Get out, Mother. Now!"
Her mother nodded. "You need time to think about this." She moved toward the door. "I'll come back at dinnertime. We can discuss this after you've had time to think about it."
"I am not marrying Haru. Ever. For the love of the mother goddess." She slapped the tears on her cheeks away. "I love Akito!"
Her mother reached the doorway and looked at her, sadness filling her eyes. "No one is marrying Akito anymore, sweetheart. He's dead." She left the temple, closing the door behind her.
With her mother gone, Jin's anger depleted, leaving only sorrow. Strong and deep, it stole her breath and swallowed her whole. Every muscle in her body became weak, and tears streamed down her face.
"No." She sank to her knees and stared at the altar through her tears. "I was faithful," she whispered.
Silence was her only response. It hung in the temple, oppressive and thick. Oh Akito, her lovely Akito...
"No!" With a mighty cry of anguish she raised her fists and shook them at the ceiling of the temple. "Why, mother goddess, why?" She had been so good, and yet it didn't matter. Nothing mattered anymore. Her lover, her precious beloved, was dead.
She thought of his handsome, angular face, his slanted eyes and scarred ear. The images were painful, but she let them come. They were all she had left. Slowly she began to hum an ancient tune, one that she often sang while working in the garden. Akito had always liked her voice and often asked her to sing to him. The song did little to comfort her now, however.
Jin stopped humming and cried. Emptiness filled her body and weighed down her spirit. The unfairness of it struck her again and she screamed, a horrible ear-piercing shriek, then fell to the floor in a heap. Sobs bubbled up from deep within her chest and she let them come. Sunlight streamed through a nearby window, mocking her pain. She steeled her jaw as anger overtook her sorrow. Anger at the sun for shining on such a dark day. Anger at her mother for trivializing her love for Akito, anger at the mother goddess for robbing her of all her happiness.
She fisted her hands as she considered revenge, but who would she vent her wrath on? She didn't know Akito's captors, or the samurai who killed him. And the mother goddess.... Jin flexed her fingers. The mother goddess could have stopped this madness, but didn't. Why?
Jin lay helpless on the floor as the reality of her future slammed into her. "I hate you, mother goddess," she whispered. "I hate you."
She froze as a gentle hand ran over her head.
"Don't hate me, child. I haven't broken my promises."
Jin scrambled backward on the floor. "Who are you?"
The tall, thin woman waved her hand at the altar. "The one you have been praying to with such fervor these past weeks." She pressed her hand to the tight bun on her head, as if checking to see if it was still in place. The sun shone in from the window behind her, creating a soft, warm glow around her body.
"You're the mother goddess?"
"Yes. I'm here to tell you that your mother didn't tell you the whole truth. While your love was indeed captured, he wasn't killed when the samurai invaded. Instead their leader took pity on him and decided to take him on as a slave."
Akito was alive! Hope sprung up in Jin's chest. "Then there's a chance that we can be together again?"
"Perhaps." The mother goddess approached and knelt beside her. "The samurai leader is very ruthless, however. Your lovely Akito will be presented with many challenges and battles."
"But you'll protect him, won't you?" Jin wiped the tears from her cheeks and glanced at the altar. "I'll pray to you day and night, if need be."
The mother goddess smiled. "So innocent." She stood and walked to the altar. Her white kimono flowed freely from her body, giving the illusion that she floated above the ground. Red symbols decorated her clothing, but Jin had no idea what they meant.
The goddess picked up a small flower, a water lily, and stroked its smooth petals.
"While these trinkets are pleasant, they don't provide me with the power I need to work the complex magic needed to protect your lover." She stared hard at Jin. "I'm afraid it will take more than this to keep him safe from harm."
"What do you need from me? Name it, I'll do anything."
The goddess put down the lily and turned to face her. "Anything?"
Jin went to her knees. "I'll do anything to save my love." She bowed her head. "Ask and it shall be yours."
"I want your life, Jin."
She raised her head as shock shot through her system. "My what?"
The mother goddess smiled. "Your life, dear child. Pledge yourself in servitude to me. I'll make you immortal and give you gifts beyond human comprehension. In return you'll become my slave and do whatever I ask. Then, and only then, will I keep your Akito safe from harm."
Jin swallowed the lump in her throat. A life of servitude was much to ask. "Would I be able to visit Akito from time to time?"
The goddess smiled and held her hands out to her side. "You will be able to visit your lover as long as you are free from duty and are able in body."
Jin nodded in understanding. If she didn't accept the goddess' proposal, there was a good chance Akito would die. If she did accept, she'd be able to see her love again. There really was no choice.
She held her head high. "I agree to your terms."
The mother goddess' face brightened. "Good. Now rise."
Jin stood and faced her new master.
"I will take you into training. If you pass, then you shall receive your immortality. Afterward we will celebrate with the other immortals and you will learn your new duties."
"What about Akito?"
The mother goddess waved her hand in the air in dismissal. "I'll see that he is kept alive as long as you obey my will."
"Yes, master." Jin bowed her head.
"Call me mother." The goddess hooked her chin and raised her head. "It sounds so much better than master."
She smiled and placed her fingers on Jin's forehead. "Let us go." A bright white light glowed around her hand. "Now, don't worry. This will only hurt for a minute."
Jin swallowed her fear and closed her eyes. Light and pain shot through her body, and she let it come. She knew that any torment the mother goddess dished out would be worth it. Jin was saving her beloved. Soon they would be together again.
* * * *
Jin groaned as she lifted her head from the small round pot and wiped her mouth. There couldn't possibly be anything more in her stomach, could there? Another wave of nausea told her otherwise and she tilted over the white, porcelain bowl once more.
What had happened? She'd been working for about three months under the mother goddess' watchful eye, learning how to use her new powers as Vistaka, the goddess of desire, and traveling with her mentor as they watched the world. They answered prayers, favored devout followers, and broke up immortal disputes. There seemed to be increasing worry about the last duty. Many immortals had come to the mother goddess in the past month requesting a private meeting, and her mentor always left those meetings too tired to train. Vistaka, as Jin was now called, didn't question this. It wasn't her place.
Nor did she ask to see Akito. In the beginning she asked once if Akito was safe and was assured that he was. It was enough for her. Once the final ceremony was complete and she was made divine, she would visit him. That was the bargain, and there was nothing the mother goddess could do about it.
That final ceremony was last night.
It was brief. All of the immortals had gathered and there was a great deal of magic and a great deal of light. Words were spoken that she didn't understand. Jin felt unbelievable pain as the magic entered her body, making her divine. When it was all over she didn't feel any different, but there was no time to analyze anything. She was bounced around as each of the mother goddess' court took turns hugging her and welcoming her among them. One immortal, a tall hard-looking man with a beard that hung down to his waist, seemed to hold her just a fraction too long before he let go.
Then the mother goddess whisked her off to the celebration where there was food and dancing and ... oh yes, wine.
Jin leaned back against the wall and wiped her mouth once more. She had never had wine before, and the mother goddess had made sure that her glass was never empty. She must have had too much. Memories flittered through her mind, none of them solidifying into anything useful. She remembered seeing much more of that strange man, the one with the long beard. It seemed like he was following her, for he popped up whenever she turned her head. Did she dance with him? She thought so. Jin remembered how his smile warmed as he took her hand and led her to the dance floor--or was that away from the dance floor? Everything was so hazy.
She looked down at her clothes. Someone had changed them during the night. Jin wore a simple white kimono with a plain belt. Water lilies decorated the fabric, much like the tattoo on her hip, given when she began her training.
She inched her robe back and peered at her stomach. A small silver loop pierced her navel, the sign that she had completed her training and had been made divine. She remembered the pain as they stuck it into her skin and winced. Why could she remember that, and not the rest of her night? At least she'd had the presence of mind to retreat to her own room.
Jin stood and dismissed her disheveled bed and the porcelain bowl. She briefly wondered why a bowl was so conveniently placed by her bedside. She didn't remember seeing it before.
She walked over to the small window on the far wall, the wooden floor chilling her feet. Pulling back the large, red curtain, she peered out at her surroundings.
She saw only trees.
Where was she? Was this to be her quarters indefinitely? Or would she move to a more inhabited place? Now that she was a goddess, did she get servants? A court? There were so many questions.
A knock at the door broke into her thoughts. Jin crossed the room as another wave of nausea washed through her system. She clenched her stomach, vowing never to drink wine ever again.
The knock continued. She pulled the door open. "Mother!" Jin quickly got on her knees and bowed her head.
"I told you not to touch any of the humans," the mother goddess snapped as she breezed into the room, her long, white robe flowing behind her.
"I didn't mother." Jin raised her head and saw her mentor had brought two of the other immortals and one of her human servants with her.
"You didn't? Then why are there rumors running around my court that you killed my favorite servant?"
"What?" Jin put her hand over her chest. "I would never do such a thing."
"Many immortals, including myself, saw you dance with him last night. You appeared to favor him. He was human, of course, and unable to resist your charms."
She shook her head. "Damn it, Vistaka, I told you to be careful."
"I didn't do anything." At the mother goddess' harsh stare she quickly bowed her head. "Mother, you must believe me."
The room fell silent as the mother goddess considered her words. "You know that having sex with humans will kill them. Your magic is far too powerful."
"I sense your magic has grown since the celebration last evening. Did you use sex to increase your powers last night?"
Jin thought back. Everything was so hazy. "I--I don't know." Jin peeked up at her mentor. "I swear, I didn't do anything."
The mother goddess glanced at the other immortals. "Search the room."
The men went to work, one going to the tansu in the corner, opening all of the drawers with such force that it splintered the fragile wood. The other went to the bed.
"Here he is."
Jin rose to her feet and went to the bed with the others. Beneath the pile of blankets a naked man lay entwined in her sheets.
"No," she whispered. She stared at the familiar face, then traced his long beard with her gaze.
"Is he alive?" the mother goddess asked.
The immortal put his fingers on the large vein in the man's neck and waited. "He's dead."
The mother goddess whirled on Jin. "I trusted you, Vistaka."
"You betrayed that trust."
"I didn't do it, I swear." Her memory might have been foggy, but she would have remembered if she killed a man, wouldn't she?
"She must be killed," one of the immortals said. "It's our law."
The mother goddess raised her hand. "No, I've got a better plan." She faced the immortal. "The cave of isolation."
The immortal sneered and bowed his head. "You are right as always, mother."
"What ... what are you talking about? I didn't do anything! You promised that once I was made divine I could visit my beloved and--"
"You killed my favorite human servant and you expect me to grant you permission to see your lover? Do you wish to kill him as well?"
Shock sliced her chest. "No, of course not."
"As you well know, it is against the immortal law to take human lovers," the immortal reminded her.
"What? No, this wasn't part of the deal."
"Neither was killing Sabaru." The mother goddess closed the distance between them. "You won't be visiting your lover, or anyone else ever again." She put her hand on Jin's forehead. The goddess within her screamed as power flowed into her body. An image of Akito's face flashed through her mind and tears stained her cheeks. She had endured so much to reunite with Akito and now she'd never get to see that handsome face again. How could life be so cruel?
It was a trick, it had to be. The pain intensified. She screamed and began to convulse. Then the world went black.