“Oh, trust me, I do. I am not walking over that death trap.”
“In that case, just tell your body to float.” He rose up. “Just want it.”
Want it. I took a deep breath. I want to float. I want not to fall into the lava. Please. A tingle raced through me, and then my boots left the ground.
Conah blinked in surprise. “That was … Well done. Now follow me.”
We floated onto the bridge. Don’t look down, don’t look down. But the lava was visible between each slat, bubbling and hot. Boy was it hot, sucking the moisture out of my body and the air from my lungs.
I couldn’t breathe. Shit, I couldn’t—
“You’re immune to the heat,” Conah said. “It doesn’t affect you like it would if you were human. Your brain just believes it should. Stop thinking how hot it is. Trust me.”
“It’s not hot?” I gasped out the words.
“Not for a reaper. You have a scythe, you’re floating. You don’t feel the heat.” His chocolate-smooth tones penetrated my mind, and just like that, the discomfort was gone.
“Bloody hell. How did you do that?”
“I didn’t do anything.”
The bridge stretched out in front of us, the rocky terrain on the other side so close yet so far.
“For someone who believed she was a mere human a few hours ago, you’re taking all this very well.” He almost sounded impressed.
I snort-laughed. “Are you kidding, I’m internally freaking the fuck out. I saw a reaper get stabbed, then I got stabbed, and then the reaper drank my blood and found it gross, and then … and then he gave me a scythe … He told me to run.” My stomach quivered as my body recalled the events of the night, the fear, the adrenaline, the confusion. “Those fucking hooded figures appeared again, started chanting, and some woman tried to stab me with the same wicked dagger they used on your friend.”
“A dagger? They killed Peiter with a dagger?” He slid a sharp glance my way. “I thought they might have employed a Dread …”
A dark wave of sorrow hit me again. “I have no idea what a Dread is.”
“A monster,” Conah said. “One you’ll have to learn about.” He was silent for a long beat. “A dagger …” he said softly, speaking to himself.
“I’m sorry. I should have called the police before running into the alley to get help.”
“Let me get this straight. You saw hooded figures forcing a reaper into an alley, and you ran in to help?”
He said it like it was a dumb move, which, yes, in hindsight, it had been, but not doing anything wasn’t an option. It was never an option.
“It was five against one, hardly a fair fight. And no one else seemed to fucking care.”
“Probably because they couldn’t see any of it,” Conah said. “But you did.”
Oh … Well, that made sense. “I don’t understand. I’m just an ordinary woman. I don’t have any powers.”
Conah slid a glance my way. “Power comes in many forms. It’s not always bolts of lightning shooting from your fingers or physical strength. Power can be compassion, the internal strength to stand up for the underdog.” The corner of his mouth lifted slightly. “The instinct to run into an alley to help a reaper who’s outnumbered five to one with no regard for your own life.”
My cheeks grew warm. “No, that one’s just stupidity.”
“We will figure this out, but you may need to draw upon your internal strength over the next few hours because my brothers can be a little … abrasive. This will bring out the worst in them.”
We were at the end of the bridge, and my heart was suddenly pounding too hard because this was real. Everything that had happened was real. The fuzzy feeling of detachment melted, and chill seeped in.
I was in the underworld, talking to a Dominus reaper who was carrying a dead reaper over his shoulder.
Keep it together. One thing at a time, Fee.
I took a shuddering breath as realization smashed me in the chest. “You’re a Dominus too, aren’t you? And your brothers are the other Dominus …”
“Yes, and now, so are you.”
I’d left Cora at the club. Lucas was after my house. I had a new job to start in two weeks. I had a life. I was alive. The thoughts ran through my mind on a loop as Conah led me away from the bridge. Darkness closed in on us, and then two spots of light bloomed in front of us. One was tinged blue, the other red.
They grew as we approached until they formed into two glowing doorways.
“What are those?”
“The blue one leads to the upper echelon,” Conah said. “The Beyond, where reaped souls are passed to the white wings.”
“Celestials, angels, whatever you call them.”
“Angels are real?”
He shot me a perplexed look. “You believe in reapers, ghosts, and you’ve seen a mouth, but you’re surprised about there being angels? Where did you think souls went once reaped?”
I’d been asking myself this question ever since Aunt Lara. “What happens to the souls once you hand them over?”
“Not our problem. We just deliver, that’s the deal.”
“You don’t know what happens to the souls you hand over.”
“No. Like I said, we’re just delivery boys. And soul delivery is only a tiny portion of what we do. Reaping isn’t all about human soul collection.”
I was officially intrigued, but we were up close and personal to the glowing doorways now and moving toward the red one.
“Red is home.” Conah adjusted Peiter’s dead body. “I’m going to skip the tour for now and take you straight to the Dominus quarters.” His tone was brusque and businesslike now.
I nodded. “Of course.”
He held his hand out to me. It was a beautiful hand with long piano-player fingers and neatly manicured nails. I clasped it.
But like with Uri, the world splintered.
We were in a massive room dotted with plush furnishings, colorful paintings, and an unlit hearth you could fit three Santas down. Sweet incense hung in the air, air that felt heavier than it should, and cold bright light streamed in from tall, majestic windows bordered in velvety purple drapes.
Conah reverently lowered Peiter’s body onto a chaise longue under a window.
“Wait here,” he ordered before striding across the room and out a set of double doors.
In the Underealm.
The Dominus quarters.
I walked over to Peiter and crouched by his body. “I’m sorry I couldn’t help you. I’m sorry you died.”
His austere features were serene in death. Like gray marble. Looking at him evoked an empty pit inside me. I stood, tearing my gaze from his face and fixing it on the world outside the window.
My breath caught and twisted in my throat because there was nothing beyond but a sheer drop and the top of a swirling majestic snowstorm. I was in the sky above the swirl of ice and snowflakes. A tower? A building on a mountain? I wasn’t sure, but the world below was obscured, allowing me only a peek or two of dark buildings far below.
What altitude were we at? How could the air be so thick so high up?
A soft feminine voice pulled me away from the scene. A woman stood in the doorway that Conah had exited through a few minutes ago. Her doe eyes were fixed on Peiter as she made her way stiffly across the floor.
“No …” Her hand went up to hover at her mouth. “No … please …” Her voice cracked on a sob, and then she was on her knees beside the chaise longue. “My love.” She caressed Peiter’s face. Eyes welling with tears, she leaned in to press her lips to his.
“Nera, Peiter’s life-mate,” Conah said, appearing beside me like a ghost.
Nera leaned back and blinked away her tears before fixing her gaze on me. “What happened? Tell me everything.”
Nera sipped the amber liquid in the crystal glass Conah handed her. “I begged him to abandon the search. I begged him to let it go. But Peiter was consumed with the need for vengeance, the need to mete out justice.” She frowned. “Could these hooded figures be Dread?”
“I doubt it,” Conah said. “Uri didn’t recognize their signature, he said it was cloaked. Dread don’t cloak.”
“No, they don’t. They simply consume.” She sucked in a breath and placed her glass on the side table by her seat. “I must go prepare for Peiter’s passing. Please, excuse me, Dominus.”
She stood, and Conah gently clasped her shoulders, leaned in, and kissed her forehead. “I’ll send Kiara to help.”
Nera offered Conah a watery smile. “Thank you.”
She drifted past her dead life-mate, pausing to stroke his hair, and then hurried out of the room.
She was regal and strong, but her pain was like a beacon, poignant and deep. I drew a shaky breath.
“Well, that explains why Peiter was out on his own,” Conah said. “But he shouldn’t have gone alone, he should have taken me.”
“You mentioned Dread? What are those?”
“They’re a breed of vampires that feed on souls. But they prefer a soul in pain. They’re more often than not accompanied by mouths.”
“Like the creature that you saved me from?”
“Yes, like that creature. The mouths feed off the flesh, and the Dread feed off the soul.”
I stood by the empty hearth and hugged myself. “And these mouths feed off humans?”
“Humans and outliers.”
I opened my mouth to ask him what an outlier was.
“Supernatural beings,” he replied before I could pose the question.
“That makes no sense. I mean, we’d know if people were being mutilated and left for dead.”
His smile was sardonic. “That’s just it, when a mouth is done, there is nothing left.”