Release: July 15th, 2016
17-year-old November Lonergan spent her whole life feeling like an outsider; like she was different. She was right. She’s a reaper like her mother; like her two cousins, Kai and Tristin. The supernatural world believes they are part of a prophecy to save them from an evil known as the Grove. Ember just wants to survive high school and fix the fallout from bringing back her friend.
Old enemies are lurking; waiting for their opportunity to strike but the pack has a new problem. A group of legendary hunters has resurfaced, threatening the reapers and anybody who stands with them. They are making good on their threats too; attacking those closest to the pack.
Their only hope of defeating the Legionaries involves trusting a stranger to perform a dangerous spell to advance Ember and her cousin’s powers. But Ember has a secret; a secret she can’t tell the pack. One that leaves the pack vulnerable.
An attack on pack allies, leaves one member of the group injured and another missing, along with a mysterious girl named Evangeline who may play a bigger part in this than any of them realize. As the Legionaries are closing in, the pack must trust their enemies, enter hostile territories, and play a dangerous game of cat and mouse with a psychopath. Their entire plan lynches on a dangerous bargain, but rescuing one member of the pack could mean losing another in their place…possibly forever.
“It would appear you owe me a new body, Luv.”
November Lonergan stared at the ghost of her dead boyfriend and contemplated how truly screwed up her life had become. Somehow, despite everything, Mace was there, standing in her window, fading in and out like a television with a bad signal. Of course he was.
He flickered, image strengthening as she got closer. There was still blood on his torn t-shirt but his silver hair looked cleaner than the last time she’d seen him. The symbols she’d painted on his skin were gone but the of scars layered across his torso remained. His dark brows were smudges over luminous silver eyes. He was beautiful even in death.
She opened her mouth to say something but realized there was nothing at all suitable for this occasion. She’d already endured a blood ritual, two deaths, a knife fight and a resurrection; she didn’t know if she could handle anything else today. Her magic didn’t agree, it stretched and purred at Mace’s presence, reaching out for his power. Even death hadn’t severed their magic’s connection it seemed. She didn’t give in to the temptation to move closer.
The heat of her magic and a bone deep exhaustion had her swaying on her feet. He moved towards her before seeming to remember he was of little use in his present condition. “You don’t look very well. Maybe you should sit down.”
Ember nodded, not so much sitting as collapsing onto her pale pink bedspread. “Or you could lie down.” She heard Mace mutter. She yawned so hard her jaw cracked. She was still fully clothed but undressing seemed as impossible as climbing a mountain. She wiggled her toes. She needed to take her shoes off. She made a halfhearted attempt. “When did my feet get so far away?”
He glanced at her feet. “They appear to be in the same place as always.” He walked back towards the window. “While you’re just lying about perhaps you could enlighten me on how exactly you plan to fix this disaster?”
Ember blinked up at him. Funny how quickly his affections turned. “An hour ago it was ‘do what you have to do, Luv. I could have loved you’ now it’s hurry up and fix this?”
He chuckled at her terrible impression of his accent. “I was trying to be noble and romantic in my final moments of existence. Now that I still exist, I think we’ve wasted enough time on sentiment.”
“Having your soul back obviously hasn’t made you a better person.”
“Did you think it would? I told you not to romanticize me. My soul was tarnished long before I gave it away.” Even as a glitchy apparition, she could see the moment her words sunk in. “Did you say my soul?”
He hadn’t realized what him appearing in her room meant. “Didn’t you wonder why you’re still here?”
“Certainly, but that wasn’t the answer I expected. How?”
Ember yawned again, eyelids drooping. “Can’t we talk about it tomorrow? I’m so tired.”
He gaped at her. “Seriously? You tell me I have a soul and now you want to go to sleep?”
“Yes. I’m tired. I’ve had a rather rough day.”
“Really? Did a witch force you to cut open your own stomach and create a mural with your own entrails? No? Then I win.”
Ember was too tired to play. “Drama queen.”
There was a long pause before he said. “You might consider a shower. You are still covered in blood. My blood specifically. Quite a lot actually.”
Ember groaned, looking down at herself with effort. She was pretty gross. She was so tired though. “If you weren’t a ghost I’d force you to carry me.”
There was a low chuckle. “Inviting me to shower with you? I’m sure that would go over quite well with the little alpha.”
Ember thought about the alpha werewolf currently downstairs cleaning the kitchen. After the night they’d all had, she doubted Isa would be concerning herself with such mundane things as teenage hormones. Could the wolves hear her talking to Mace? Could they hear Mace? See him? Did they think she was in here talking to herself? Could she only see him because she was a reaper? She had so many questions.
She rolled to her feet, grabbing her things and keeping her thoughts to herself. She hurried to the bathroom and locked the door. She caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror and froze. He wasn’t lying. She was covered in blood, and not just his blood. Her bright orange curls were a tangled sweaty mess matted together with blood and who knows what else. There were dark smudges under her eyes, making her already pale skin look chalky under the soft white lights. Her violet eyes glowed–actually, glowed–like the wolves did mid shift. That was new. Had they been glowing since the ritual or was Mace’s presence sending her magic into hyper-drive?
She flipped the water on and stripped down, not even waiting for the water to heat up before stepping beneath the spray. She realized almost immediately her mistake. She muffled a scream, bouncing from one foot to the other under the frigid water, relaxing only when steam finally began to rise.
“So, tell me; how did I get back my soul?”
Ember gasped, slipping and yelping as her back hit the cold tiles. She stuck her head around the curtain. “There is a reason these doors lock.”
His smile was disarming. “There isn’t a lock in the world that would keep me away from you, Luv.”
She rolled her eyes, righting the navy and white shower curtain, absently wondering how much he could see in those white stripes. “That is like the most stalkery thing you’ve ever said to me and you rank really high on the creepy-lurker-stalker-guy meter.”
There was another throaty laugh. “I am starting to think this power has gone to your head. Five hours ago you were weeping at my side like a war widow.”
Her mouth fell open. She yanked the curtain back enough to level a glare at him. “Five hours ago, I thought I’d never see you again. Five hours ago, I thought I needed you. Five hours ago, I hadn’t known you’d been playing me the entire time. Remember? You’re the parasite and I’m the host. You needed me. You lied to me this whole time.”
He shrugged, incredulous. “Of course, I lied. I could hardly tell you the truth. You would have booted me into the abyss, which you ended up doing anyway, I might add.”
She made a noise of disgust. This was Mace with a soul. “I’m such an idiot.” She said, more to herself than him. He tilted his head, a hint of something behind his eyes, regret maybe? She didn’t give in, letting the curtain drop back into place, determined to ignore him.
She scrubbed herself quickly, alarmed at how little it bothered her to have this conversation with him while she was naked.
“I didn’t lie about my feelings for you, Luv; if that means anything?”
“Hah.” Like she was going to believe anything he said now.
“I’m serious. If you believe nothing else. Believe I meant what I said.”
“You said you could love me. If you’d been capable. Well, apparently you were capable this whole time. So I don’t even know what to do with your half-assed confession of love.”
Why was she even talking about this? Maybe it was the shower curtain. It was like a confessional. It was so much easier to talk to somebody when you didn’t have to look at them.
“Half-assed?” He said, “I sacrificed myself so that our dear friend, Quinn, could have my body.”
Ember choked on her laugh. “Oh, please. You were kidnapped and tied to a chair with a gaping abdominal wound. It’s not like you volunteered for the job.” Ember’s eyes dropped to her feet, shuddering at the blood spiraling towards the drain.
Mace wasn’t done being offended. “Well, that hardly matters. Quinn’s soul is safely housed in my body and I’m…here? So you could at least tell me how this all came to be.”
Ember rolled her eyes. He was impossible. “Not that you deserve any sort of explanation but Ms. Josephine says I restored your soul the night we met in the cemetery.”
He was quiet for so long she caved and, yet again, pulled the curtain back enough to ensure he was still there. He stared at nothing, jaw slack. “I’ve had my soul the whole time?”
“Yep.” She couldn’t help but feel a bit smug about how wrecked he looked.
She slathered conditioner into her hair. “That’s what Josephine thinks.”
“The swamp witch?”
“Oh, that’s right. You were dead. Josephine the swamp witch isn’t a witch at all. Well, maybe she’s a witch but she’s also an Oracle, because those are apparently a thing too. Oh, and Miller, my boss from the funeral home is actually Josephine’s brother and she’s had him, like, watching me this whole time and Donovan is her grandson.”
He sounded awed as he said, “Good Lord, how long have I been dead? I’ve clearly missed a lot.”
“You have no idea. Allister tried to kill me but Quinn saved me by stabbing Allister but as Allister was dying he forced Quinn to absorb his magic.”
“The human killed his own father to save you? I didn’t think he had it in him.”
“Former human.” She corrected. “Besides, Allister isn’t dead.”
“What? What do you mean? You just said Quinn killed him.”
She hesitated before saying, “I revived him.”
“Revived or resurrected?” Mace asked, leery.
“What’s the difference?” Ember asked, deliberately avoiding answering.
“Reviving is CPR, resurrecting is bringing a soul back across the veil. Stop being evasive, Luv.”
“Fine, I resurrected him.”
“With a spell?”
“No” she said, tone casual. “With my hands.”
She could hear his forced exhalation. “This is all very astonishing, even in our circle.”
Her heart did a strange skip at the word ‘our’. She was pathetic. She snagged the towel and wrapped it around herself.
“Why would they go to all this trouble to orchestrate this elaborate plan?”
She yanked the curtain open and stared at him. His eyes roamed her body, starting at her toes and working their way up. He grinned at her petulant expression. “Sorry, Luv. I’m dead, not blind. I’ve never been so jealous of a piece of cotton.”
She rolled her eyes. “Move, please.”
“Why? You can just walk right through me.” He wiggled his eyebrows. “I encourage it, in fact.”
When she didn’t take the bait he moved, following her back into her bedroom. “You didn’t answer my questions. So, what are you to two witches? Or a witch and an oracle?”
“They have a crazy theory.”
“Which is…?” he prompted in exasperation.
“They believe that Tristin, Kai and I are descendants of some ancient triple goddess.”
“The Morrigan?” Mace said, sounding like the breath had been punched from his lungs.
Ember narrowed her eyes. “Yes, exactly. They say there is some sort of prophecy. It’s insane. They are both insane.”
He watched her for a moment as she wriggled into her t-shirt and sleep shorts without revealing anything. She towel-dried her curls.
“I suppose it makes sense.”
“Nothing about this situation makes sense.” She told him, slipping between the sheets with a moan that bordered on obscene. She didn’t know what sex felt like but she bet it wasn’t as good as cold Egyptian cotton with a 700 thread count. She flipped her light off, amused as his spirit gave off a faint glow allowing her to see his annoyed expression.
“What are you doing?” He asked.
“We’ve had this conversation. Going to sleep.”
“You can’t. We have to figure this out.”
“What if I’m not here tomorrow?” He asked quietly.
Ember’s eyes jerked open, pulse tripping. She hadn’t thought about that. Could he cross over? Would he want that? He’d been immortal for a very long time. “You mean what if you cross over? Could you? Is that something you’d want?”
He sounded sick when he said, “To be tortured for all eternity in the pits of hell? No, Luv, I’ll pass, thank you. Besides, soul or no, sluagh can’t cross over into the spirit world.”
“So why do you look so worried?”
“Because there are things far worse.”
“Worse than hell?”
“Aye. I told you before, nobody gets away with the things I did.”
“We’ll figure something out.” She said without thinking. Why was she still trying to help him? He really wasn’t her problem. All those squishy sad feelings she’d had after he was gone were quickly turning to something else. She didn’t know what to call it but it felt like it was burning a hole through her chest.
She reached out; her hand brushing his. Her magic shocked through her, causing them both to suck in a breath.
Again, that same spooked look. It made her shiver. What the hell could scare Mace?
“But we have to figure this out tonight.”
She wanted to tell him not to worry but she felt drugged, eyelids so heavy. “Tomorrow. I promise.”
“Ember.” Her name sounded like a plea but she was too far gone.
“Tomorrow.” She mumbled, already falling into sleep.
Mace floated in a sea of pain, blind. He was suspended upside down, metal shackles biting so deep trails of blood rolled along his skin. His arms were pinned behind his back, tight enough that his left shoulder hung detached from its socket; it burned and throbbed along with the monotonous pounding in his head.
He could take physical pain. It was the one constant in his life; his oldest friend. But there was something else, the smell; a pungent shock of vervain and patchouli combined with the dank smell of rot and sickness. Finn. Panic shot through him, knife sharp and paralyzing. There’s no way it could be him. It was just some trick; a sense memory toying with him, drawing him back so easily. It mocked the measures he’d taken to cut away that part of his life. He was grateful he couldn’t see. But it didn’t stop his brain from filling in the blanks, betraying him again.
It had been the scent that scared him then too, all those years ago. Not the various instruments of torture laid along the battered and scarred wooden tables. Not the figures lurking in hooded cloaks. The smell. London on a good day smelled of filth and sickness but that place, that room they’d taken him too…it had wreaked of blood and sweat and something else, something acrid and so thick it sat heavy on his tongue, making him afraid to breathe…afraid to inhale something so evil.
He’d looked to Finn, standing in the doorway, smart in his finely cut evening coat, hat in hand as if he was leaving for a ball instead of leaving him to the mercies of witches. Everything about Finn was sharp, from the knife blade of his cheekbones and the sharp slope of his nose to the way his eyebrows slashed over wide eyes. The only exception was his mouth, generous lips which smiled far too easily but never quite reached those dead blue eyes.
Finn couldn’t really mean to leave him with these…monsters. As always, Finn’s face split into that charming smile, likely meant it to reassure him. It didn’t. The trepidation had already set in like some sickness that had found its way into his core. He couldn’t do this. He just couldn’t.
A boy almost his age shuffled into the room, grubby, half-starved and bleeding through the rough brown shift he wore, bare feet shackled at the ankles. The boy wasn’t the witches intended sacrifice but an apprentice. He was their servant now, but someday he’d be one of them.
There was another like him. A…sacrifice. She hung suspended from the ankles, naked. She stared unblinking at him, mouth slack and cheeks hollow. If not for the way her chest rose and fell he’d have thought her dead. How long had she been like that? Was that what they had planned for him?
One of the hooded figures floated towards him, pushing back their cowl to reveal black and silver hair and a craggy, lined face. She stared at him like he was meat. He flinched as she pulled an athame from her belt. She chuckled at his unease, slicing through the expensive fabric of his shirt. She hissed in surprise when she revealed the scars beneath. “What have you done to the boy? You claimed he was untouched.”
Finn laughed loud and Mace tried without success to quell the chill that shot through him. “Drusilla, please, do you think me a monster? This boy is like my own flesh and blood. He came to me with those scars. I assure you these aren’t from any ritual.” He seemed to rethink himself. “Well, not any magical ritual. I promise, he’ll do quite nicely for your purpose.”
She let the knife blade dance over the scar above his heart. “What say you, boy? Are you to bleed for me?”
He swallowed hard, teeth clacking together as his insides shook. He looked to Finn. “Take me back to the brothel. Please. I won’t complain.”
The woman laughed heartily, revealing rotted teeth and foul breath. “Hmm, you’re right. He’ll do nicely. I can already smell his fear. And he’s Fae? You’re sure?”
“Have I ever misled you?”
She shrugged. Seemingly satisfied with Finn’s answer, she turned her attention back to him. She dragged the knife lower against his belly, leaning close, whisper almost seductive as she taunted him. “A butcher once told me an animal’s meat tastes sweeter if it is bled slowly. They say the fear and the pain improves its flavor. Do you think that’s true, boy?” Mace’s body was rigid; mouth dry. He didn’t dare move or speak. Was Finn leaving him here to die? “Do you think it holds true for your kind as well?”
Finn’s voice echoed against crumbling walls. “Drusilla,” he admonished. “Go easy. I promise his blood is pure and if now is any indication he will be sufficiently frightened. But you aren’t my only patron. You know my rules.” He waved his hand. “Give me a moment, please?”
She made a noise of displeasure but turned her attention to the others. The boy in the brown robe returned with something in a basket, hidden beneath a blanket. Whatever it was, flailed causing the blanket to jump. It made a terrible racket, it’s whines high-pitched and jarring fraying his already jagged nerves. He didn’t know if it was human or animal and he didn’t wish to know. He wanted naught to do with any of this. This was wrong. He’d made a terrible mistake.
Finn gave him a resigned look, wiping away his tears with his thumbs. “Balthazar, you can do this. You were born to do this. Your blood is valuable and your pain is necessary. We’ve talked of this, haven’t we?” His fingers traced a scar at his ribs. His eyes went soft. “You’ve endured far worse than this. They’ve given their word. You aren’t the sacrifice. They only want your blood. You can do that.”
Only his blood. That wasn’t true. They wanted his fear. They wanted his pain. This was what he was good for. This is what he was good at. He looked at the others gathered. The girl. The girl who hung so still, eyes vacant. She would be the one who died tonight. He couldn’t imagine what sorcery they’d used to keep her so docile. Another strange wail pierced the air from the basket, pulling his eyes from the girl. Or maybe she wasn’t. He’d thought his grandfather was the devil but this…this was something else entirely.
Another of the coven approached, hidden beneath dark robes. They ran a gnarled hand across the layers of scar tissue marring his chest, voice crackled as dry leaves. “So many scars for one so young. Perhaps you’ve used this one too often, Finnian.”
Finn chuckled. “I’ve not used him at all. He came to me like this. As I assured Drusilla, you are his first ritual.” Finn stroked his cheek. “Up until now I’ve found other uses for his…talents.”
Mace had learned long ago not to flinch away from an unwanted touch. The witches laugh was raw to his ears and he closed his eyes as she ran her fingers over him like she had a claim. “Aye, he is fair, to be sure. With this one in your stable it is no wonder half the ton is on your leash.”
Then he seemed momentarily forgotten as the two spoke of business; of Finn’s brothel, his gaming hells. As they spoke, the others scurried about, making the necessary arrangements. This was happening. Finn was going to leave him there, chained and naked like that girl. He was going to leave him to be bled like livestock.
As this new woman spoke to Finn, her hands roamed his skin. She would sometimes stop, inhaling deeply. She petted him not to sooth but because she found his terror intoxicating. His tears flowed but they paid him no mind.
Then the first woman returned–Drusilla–and his heart seized as she produced a wicked spiked object, turning to him with a smile. “Finn, it’s time for you to take your leave.”
Finn’s eyes lingered on his face; before he swept a kiss across his forehead. He looked to the women. “You’ll deliver him home, won’t you? The streets of London aren’t safe these days. There’s a ripper on the loose.”
Her smile was cold. “I’ll never understand your attachment to these…creatures, Finn.”
Finn’s easy smile fell away, eyes sharp. “No exceptions, Drusilla.”
She smiled tightly. “Of course. Let’s get started.”
A sharp slap to Mace’s face brought him back, back to whatever nightmare this was. He shook away the thoughts of Finn, of London. Of his human life. If this was what having a soul meant, he would rid himself of it at the first possible opportunity.
Information filtered in as his brain came back online. He wanted to speak but found he couldn’t, his mouth was sawdust, breathing painful. He was upside down. That wasn’t a memory. He blinked sweat from his eyes, trying to make sense of shapes in the hazy swirl of shadows and light.
His world rocked on its axis as a violent shove sent him swinging, stomach lurching as pain exploded in his shoulder and behind his eyes. His brain bounced around in his skull, untethered. There was something wrong with his vision and the incessant pounding in his head was probably to blame. He squeezed his useless eyes shut, trying to assemble the fractured pieces of his memory. Had it truly taken his enemies only hours to find him.
He wanted to laugh. This was his own fault. He’d been sure Ember would be the end of him almost the moment he laid eyes on her…and he was right. He should be furious but, instead, he thought of how relieved she’d looked when she’d seen him standing there in her bedroom. Even covered in his blood she’d looked beautiful. When she didn’t fight her magic, she was electric; eyes glowing, skin luminous, hair as wild as the power coursing through her. He clung to the idea of her; her smile, her eye rolling, anything to distract from the terror climbing up his stomach and lodging in his throat.
“It hurts, doesn’t it?” A raspy voice whispered behind him, harsh and mocking, impossible to identify. He picked up a faint trace of an accent, less pronounced than his own. The pounding in his skull increased almost drowning out his assailant’s words.
“You hear it, don’t you? Your human heart. That tedious drumming you can’t escape? After years of perfect silence, it’s like a too loud clock tick-tick-ticking away until you want to cut it from your chest.”
Human? Hardly. Even with a soul he wasn’t human. A soul didn’t negate the fae blood that had made it possible for him to become sluagh; it didn’t take away his need to feed on the souls of
others. Or did it? Despite the impossibility of their words, he couldn’t escape the pain of the very fragile, human body currently housing his soul. If this was even real. He swallowed hard before testing his ability to speak once again.
“No, Luv,” They mocked. “Don’t bother trying to speak. The spell won’t allow it.” The hazy ghost of a figure paced nearby. Mace closed his eyes, trying to note anything that would give him a clue to their identity. “I’ve waited too long for this and that sharp tongue of yours won’t take this from me.”
Their voice gave away nothing. He could only pick up on the musky scent of stagnant water. They could be male or female; monster or witch. His senses were exactly as they’d implied…human. This couldn’t be real.
The figure dropped next to him, suddenly so close Mace flinched away, sending a lightning bolt of pain through his shoulder. This close, there was no missing their scent; cloying, sweet and familiar somehow.
A soft hand swept across his cheek. “Did you really think you’d never pay for your sins?” Long, delicate fingers pushed damp hair off his forehead. “Did you think I wouldn’t find a way? I’ve waited for so long, Balthazar. Longer than you could ever imagine.”
Balthazar. The hairs along his arms raised, a shiver running through him despite the perspiration rolling along his spine. His new human heart jackhammered in his chest, forcing blood to his already throbbing head until he was sure it would explode. Nobody called him Balthazar.
Balthazar belonged to another life. He was Mace; just Mace. He’d tell them so if he could just speak. He clenched his jaw, forcing himself to think. He had expected he may one day have to atone for the things he’d done as sluagh. But Balthazar? No.
He’d rid himself of that life; of the conscience and cowardice weighing him down. His insides shook with the effort of pushing away the helplessness threatening to overwhelm him. This would not be how he made amends, at the hands of somebody who knew him from a life he no longer claimed. Give him the victims whose lives he’d drained, let them do what they wished. He’d accept all that and more.
He swallowed convulsively. He needed to think logically. This couldn’t be somebody from his old life. His grandfather’s deranged accusations had caused a bit of mass hysteria in their quiet township but not because of any real mystical entity. His life before he’d become sluagh had been torturous but only because he fell victim to a religious zealot with delusions of piety not because of any supernatural entity. He’d known nobody with ties to magic.
None but his own mother. And Finn. He blinked the thought from his mind as quickly as it came, as if thinking of him might summon him from whatever dark recesses he’d disappeared into all those years ago. Thinking of Finn was like lighting a fuse on a powder keg of memories that might demolish him.
“Shut up.” They growled. “I can practically hear you thinking.” It taunted. “That’s your problem, Balthazar. Everything is always about you; you stupid, selfish boy.” He felt them stand, heard the shifting of their feet over concrete. “You’ll get your answers when I’m ready and not a moment before. Not until I’ve had my fun. And this is going to be fun. I’ve been practicing. So patient. Any pain you’ve experienced will pale in comparison to what I have in store for you. I’m going to wrench every bit of agony I can from you. I’m going to make you beg. I’m going to make you bleed.” They promised.
Mace believed them.
Light flooded his already abused eyes. When it spoke again, their voice was calm, almost giddy. “It’s morning now. Your beloved necromancer is probably just waking to find you gone. What will she think when she discovers you missing? Will she think that you’ve lied to her again? Betrayed her again? Do you think she’ll blame herself for being so terribly stupid? Of course she will.” Mace’s heartrate shot up and his captor huffed out a menacing laugh. “Oh, don’t you worry. We promised you we’d take care of her.” Again they dropped down next to him, that not unpleasant scent flooding his senses. “Do you remember that? Just before I watched her rip your soul from your body? Did you recognize me then? Do you recognize me now?” They stood again, movements erratic, frenetic. “No matter.”
Whoever this was, they hated him. He tried to imagine who it could be but nobody came to mind, nobody but Finn and he was long gone.
“I meant it, Balthazar. I’m going to take such good care of her. You can’t imagine the things I’ve planned for her. Do you think she even realizes the chaos she’s capable of?”
No. Ember had no idea what she was capable of. Even with everything that happened, she still knew nothing of the type of power she held. His eyes drifted closed as he thought of her. His need to see her was a living thing inside of him. Before he’d have blamed his magic but he held no power here. He was simply…human.
“While you are here, paying for your sins, know that I’m out there showing her everything she could be. Showing her the potential she has to bring such exquisite pain and suffering to those around her.”
Despite everything, Mace huffed out a silent laugh. They didn’t know Ember at all. She would never harm anybody on purpose. She would sacrifice herself before ever hurting anybody. Ember’s soul was pure, not darkened by sin like his. She would never let herself be lured by something so dark. Not ever.
“Laugh if you will, Balthazar. You might think she’s above falling to the darkness but she fell for you, didn’t she?” The thought wiped the smile from his lips. “Besides, your necromancer isn’t as pure as she once was. Do you know what she did? Do you know she resurrected the witch? Did she confess her dark deeds to you? Did she drift off to sleep with a clean conscience, safe in the knowledge there was still a chance to save you?” He didn’t try to answer this time, letting them talk. “Here’s what you don’t know. Here’s what even your pretty necromancer doesn’t know. You were right when you said the universe is strict about maintaining its balance. You can’t simply pull a soul across the veil without offering one in return. Your necromancer didn’t choose a sacrifice so the universe decided for her.”
Mace’s mind reeled at that information. Was somebody else dead? Somebody from the pack? The constant pounding in his head made it impossible to think.
“Sweet little Ember is waking up right now to learn that you have abandoned her and somebody she cares for has paid the price for Allister’s soul.”
Mace’s breath came in shallow pants, helpless to do anything as their words settled in. Ember had so little control of her magic, to lose somebody else after carrying the responsibility for so many bodies. She no longer had him there to channel that excess energy.
“You’re starting to understand now. She’s so vulnerable. So out of control. Do you think she’ll stuff it down? She’ll think she’s fine at first but the deaths will keep coming. Her errors will keep causing lives and eventually feeling it all will become too much for her.” Mace didn’t want to hear anymore. Ember was better than that, stronger than that. He opened his mouth to say so and they laughed that hissing raspy laugh. “No, I’m not done yet.” Again hands brushed against his face and Mace couldn’t shake the feeling he’d done this before under far different circumstances. “Shh.”
They were quiet for so long that Mace jumped when they spoke again. “It’s once she stops caring that I’ll have her. It’s once she stops wanting to feel anything that I’ll show her just how much fun we can have.” The next words were whispered right in his ear and spit with the force of bullets. “Just as Finn had you.”
Mace jerked as if electrocuted. He tried to shove away the thought but the fear remained; haunting him.
“Do you remember? Do you remember how easily you gave up everything just to never feel again? Do you remember the vile things you did for him? What you let others do to you? All to shake off that pesky mortal coil? How quickly before Ember does the same? How long before I show her how much power there is when you stop feeling and just give in to the darkness?”
Mace fought then, fought against his restraints, fought against the spell holding his tongue. But it was no use. He was human. Somehow, some way he was human again.
“Oh, don’t look so glum. It’s not all bad here.” It laughed again, a full bodied cackle that made the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. “Think of it as a game. Survive the day and I reward you with a few hours of peace, fail and you’ll die again and again.”
In a blink, his restraints were gone as was the pain he’d just felt. His vision cleared and his heart sank. It would appear his captor was starting their game right now. Four leather hooded figures stood at each corner of the room, bare chested and holding the chain of a slobbering black dog with red eyes and too many teeth. They fought their restraints, eager for his blood.
Ember. Ember would find him. She’d know he wouldn’t leave her and she would find a way to get him back. Wouldn’t she?
His captor was nowhere he could see but their voice rang out anyway. “Welcome, Balthazar, to my island of misfit toys.”
In that moment, Mace realized his entire life had come full circle. He couldn’t cross over but this was hell all the same.
“Wait!” The word ripped from his lips without thought, only terror. It was little comfort his voice had returned when it was only so his captor could hear his screams.
And he did scream.