Azazel’s gaze dropped to my waist. “Where’s her dagger?”
“She hasn’t been trained yet.”
He made that growly noise again. “Make her wear it anyway.”
Mal did a mock salute.
“Deadside, then straight to the training room.” Azazel shoved back his chair as if pissed off.
“You’re going to train her?” Mal sounded shocked.
Azazel stopped in the doorway, his back to us. “Two hours.” He stormed off.
I turned to Mal. “Why is he so pissed off?”
Mal snorted. “Trust me, he is not pissed off. Az pissed off is not something you want to see. This is just Az being Az. The demon of few words. Keeps himself to himself … Usually. But he seems to want to get involved in your training.” He rubbed his chin. “Now, that is weird.”
“Weird that he might want to keep a team member alive?”
“Weird that he wants to get his hands dirty. Like I said, Az is a lone wolf.” He shook his head. “Never mind. We can worry about Az later. For now, we have a trip to take.” He leaned in. “Ready to get up close and personal?”
I stood on the pinnacle, holding on to the slender railing that stopped several meters from the jutting launch pad.
The wind battered my body as if desperate to blow it off the platform. I clutched at the hood of my thick winter coat. Oh, God. It was fucking freezing, and Mal, Mal was wearing a fucking long-sleeved polo top, jeans, boots, and nothing else. His nipples weren’t even hard. How was he not feeling the damn cold? Demon power. It had to be. Right now, I’d have given anything for some heat mojo.
My face stung from the cold. “There has to be another way.”
Mal’s grin was wicked. He was enjoying this, the fucker. “Oh, no other way. We’re going to fly.”
Fly. Heights. Sky. Urgh. My stomach flipped.
“I promise, I won’t drop you,” he sing-songed. “If you’re a good girl.”
“Creepy much?” I shook my head. “Fine, but once we get back, you need to find me a way to get to and from the underworld by myself.”
Mal shrugged. “There are only two ways in or out. Flight or teleportation.”
“What? But Conah never said.”
“Like I said, Conah was pussyfooting around. Me, on the other hand”--he grabbed me around the waist—“I don’t fuck about.” His wings appeared, huge, inky-black, and fucking beautiful. “Hold on, sexy ass.” I squeaked as he grabbed hold of my butt and squeezed. “Hold me like you wanna fuck me.” And then we were shooting up. Up into the stormy, angry sky.
My scream never made it out from the cage of my throat because I was too busy holding on for dear life, legs wrapped around Mal’s waist, arms wrapped around his neck, not even caring that he had his hands all over my ass. Hold me. Don’t drop me.
My stomach was in my boots as I buried my face in the crook of his shoulder.
His laughter echoed in my ears.
Oh, God. Please be over, please be over.
“You’re missing the fun,” Mal called out. “Look, Fee. Isn’t it fucking beautiful?”
Oh, God. Okay. I could do this. I lifted my head and fixed my eyes on his jaw, on his smiling mouth, and then followed his gaze.
Oh, mother of croissants.
A miasma of colors swirled above us like a rainbow tornado in the sky, and we were headed for it.
I gripped him tighter, pressing my lips to his ear. “What is it? Mal, what is that?”
“That’s our river, Fee. We’re gonna ride it all the way to Deadside.”
The rainbow swallowed us. Colors assaulted my vision, whizzing through my head as if a manic painter was coating the inside of my mind. The world was one huge, glittering swirl of hues, some of which I’d never seen before. I wasn’t sure if it lasted for seconds, or if it continued for hours, but it was over too soon.
We shot out into the night sky of the human world.
How did I know that?
The air smelled different. Tasted slightly bitter on my tongue. When had my senses become attuned to the differences?
Stars winked down at us.
Mal’s wings flapped twice and held us suspended in the night air. “Look, Fee. Take a look at how tiny the world looks from up here. Tiny and insignificant.”
Oh, fuck. Okay. I looked down at a world wreathed in mist. At the multitude of lights that mapped out the streets below us, and right beneath us was a dark spot. A spot of impregnable fog.
“What is that?” I would have pointed, but that meant letting go of him, and like hell was I doing that. “What’s the dark spot?”
“That’s Deadside,” Mal said. “That’s your Voralex.” His wings flapped a couple more times, and he gripped me tighter. “Are you ready?”
We dropped like a bullet. The wind tore at my hair and slapped my cheeks—both sets of them—and this time, my scream was audible.
Mal laughed. “Calm down, love. I’ve got you. Uh-oh, here comes the welcoming committee.”
We slowed, and I risked a glance over my shoulder.
Two bat-winged demons floated a few meters away from us, both armed with swords that glinted in the starlight. One male, one female. The male had sandy blond hair cut close to his scalp, and the female had dark hair cut in an elfin style. Her skin was tinged red, and her eyes were a stunning hazel.
“Hello, Malachi,” the female with the larger sword said. “Your companion does not have the authority to pass.”
“Aw, really, Dayna?” Mal said. “Are you going to get all red tape on me?”
“You know the rules, Malachi.”
She said his name as if it was a dirty word.
“It’s just paperwork, Dayna,” Mal purred.
“It’s celestial authority,” Dayna snapped back.
“You’d turn away Peiter’s replacement?” Mal replied.
Dayna’s eyes widened and then raked over me. “This is the new Dominus?”
Okay, so I probably didn’t look too impressive with my legs wrapped around Mal and my arms clinging to his neck like a damsel. It probably didn’t help that he was still cupping my ass, but her tone grated nonetheless.
I smiled in greeting.
Dayna opened and closed her mouth a couple of times. “There has to be some kind of mistake.”
“She has no wings,” her companion pointed out.
Heat gripped the back of my neck and burned behind my eyes. Okay, that was it. I was so fucking done being put down. I might not have wings, but the powers that be had chosen me. The scythe had chosen me. It had protected me when it mattered, because … Because I fucking mattered.
It was about time the rest of these fucking demons realized it. “I don’t have wings, but I do have this.” Gripping Mal tight with my left arm, I held out my right. Heat coursed down it, and the scythe materialized, huge and glowing, and it totally dwarfed their swords. “I am your Dominus. Deadside is my Voralex, and you will get out of the way so I can … touch it.”
“You heard her,” Mal said. “You can turn us away and deal with her wrath in a couple of days when she 'officially’ takes over. Or you can fly aside now and let your boss take a tour.”
Dayna inclined her head. “Very well.” Her gaze locked on mine. “Follow me, Dominus.”
The guards turned and flew down into the fog.
Mal adjusted his grip on me and hauled me closer. His mouth grazed the shell of my ear, sending a shiver through me. “Get out of the way, so I can … touch it?”
Urgh. “Fuck you, Mal.”
His laughter echoed in my ears as we descended into the fog. It surrounded us, cloying, thick, and viscous. It moved like it was alive.
“It won’t hurt you,” Mal said. “Not unless you mean this place harm.”
“It’s a defense mechanism. Just don’t think about me naked.”
Oh, shit. Now all I could do was think about him naked. Shit, shit, get out of my head.
“Oh, Fee, you are so much fun to play with.”
“Piss off, Mal.”
“What? You want me to let go of you?”
I gripped him tighter in panic. “Don’t you dare.”
“Ooh, nice thigh grip.”
The fog was thinning, and the world below us became visible. Gravestones, tombs, and pathways that seemed to shimmer and move as if I was looking at them from the surface of a lake.
“Wait for it,” Mal said.
Dayna and her companion passed through the shimmery film and vanished.
What the fuck? “Where did they—”
But we were hurtling forward. My skin crackled and fizzed, and then we were landing on a street bordered by hedgerows and one-story houses. The tombs and gravestones were gone. An illusion?
“Welcome to Deadside,” Mal said. His hands slid off my butt. “Oh, and you can let go now.”
Deadside was a town. Deadside was home to spirits. Deadside was houses and playgrounds and coffee shops. We passed people out for walks, hand-in-hand, and children playing ball on the streets.
“They’re dead,” Mal confirmed. “Just solid due to the power of this place.”
Dayna led the way, striding past it all as if it meant nothing, but I had to stop and stare at the faces looking back at me with interest.
“I don’t understand what this place is? Why are these souls here?”
Dayna glanced over her shoulder. “Malachi and Conah haven’t briefed you?”
“You know me, Day,” Mal drawled. “I’m more of a debrief guy.”
Dayna’s shoulders tightened. “Dominus Dawn, Deadside is the final rest stop for spirits who have completed their journey. This is their final home before they ascend and become one with the celestial power.”
Wait, was she talking about the big G?
“That’s the official story,” Mal said.