“Those are the facts as handed down to us by the—”
“Blah, blah,” Mal cut her off, making mouth movements with his hand. “Let’s stick to what we actually know, shall we?”
Dayna came to a halt by a set of fancy iron gates. “Let’s get something straight, Malachi. Like it or not, we work for the celestial powers. This place is built by celestial power, and we serve them.”
Mal’s lip curled. “Not me. I don’t serve those white-winged fuckers.”
Dayna snorted. “You keep telling yourself that while you make sure the tainted souls don’t make it up there. You tell yourself that while you round up the garbage for them and shove it into purgatory …” She walked up to Mal. “Which we all know just happens to be a huge fucking waste bin.”
A stab of rage sliced into me. Mal’s rage? But it was gone too quick to be sure.
Mal smiled, smug and knowing. “Oh, Day, are you mad I only fucked you the once? I told you not to get attached, didn’t I?”
Dayna’s face drained of color, and she stepped back, her gaze flicking to me and then back to Mal.
She was embarrassed. No, she was mortified because with a few words, Mal had stripped her armor and pulled out the woman inside. She was horrified because he’d made her seem weak in front of … of me. She wanted to impress me.
I smiled at Dayna. “Don’t worry, babe. We’re all allowed to make mistakes.” I glanced at Mal and shrugged. “The test is not to make the same mistake twice.”
Mal made a sound of protest. “Now, you wait a second …”
But I swept past him and linked arms with Dayna. “I think Dayna can show me around just fine. Come get me in an hour.”
Dayna blinked up at me as if trying to work me out.
“I’m not a fucking taxi.” Mal’s tone was tight.
I arched a brow at him. “Unless you want me to stay here?”
“Make sure you show her how to touch her Voralex.” He said it suggestively, and then he launched himself up into the air. The beat of wings followed, and he was gone.
Dayna licked her lips. “You two aren’t …”
“Aren’t?” I looked at her in confusion. Wait. “Hell, no!”
She ducked her head. “Everyone is allowed a mistake, right?”
“Yeah, I don’t make mistakes with guys who call me a fat arse.”
She frowned and looked down at my butt.
I waved a dismissive hand. “It doesn’t matter. What matters is that I connect with this place. Mal said it was my Voralex, and I could draw power from it. Trust me, I could do with a little edge out there. It’s not been easy.”
“I heard you were there when Peiter …” She swallowed and blew out a breath. “When he was killed.”
Oh, shit. She’d been his second, and from the look on her face, they must have been close. “I’m so sorry for your loss.”
Her smile was wry. “Thank you, but we lost Peiter a long time ago. When his brother Vale was killed … He was never the same. He withdrew into himself. When I heard what happened, it wasn’t even that much of a surprise. The way he was going, something bad was bound to happen. But a dagger that can kill a Dominus … that’s new.”
“I know, and we need to be prepared for when it resurfaces again. I need to be prepared, so how do I do it?”
“Do what?” She looked confused.
“Connect to my Voralex. Where is it?”
“Oh, right. Come with me.” She shoved open the iron gates. “This way.”
I followed her up the wide gravel path toward the sad-looking house. It was two stories with a roof in need of repair and windows that didn’t look as if they had any glass panes. Although there was nothing but darkness beyond. Three steps led up to a porch that I suspected was a victim of rot.
“What is this place?”
Dayna smiled fondly at the building. “This is the location of your Voralex. It’s the heart of Deadside where leylines converge.”
“Um, no offense, but it looks dead.”
“A deliberate deception in case we’re ever compromised.”
“Who’d compromise this place?”
“Human souls are pure power, and there is always some entity or other looking for power. It’s why Deadside is warded and hidden so well by the celestials.”
We climbed the steps to the front door. A breeze kissed my cheek and brushed past my ear in a sigh. My scythe hand tingled.
Dayna stepped back. “You have to open the door.”
Yes. That was right. Mine to open. I grasped the handle, twisted and pushed. Warmth hit me in the face, skimmed over my body, and wrapped me in a hug before pulling me in. Energy coursed through me, lighting up my veins and shooting through every strand of hair on my head.
My breath caught in my throat as stars filled my vision. For a moment, I was connected, to power, to the truth, to the world. And then the stars faded. My vision returned slowly. My boots touched the ground, and the room around me took form. A foyer. A staircase to the right. A hallway and a door leading to the lounge. What the hell? This was my house. My home.
How could this be? “I don’t understand?”
“This is different,” she said.
“This is my house. My actual house in Necro.”
“No, Dominus. It’s a replica of a place you consider home. A place in your heart. And now it lives here. Now, you’re connected to Deadside. Now, you’re connected to your Voralex.”
Deadside was basically a waiting room for souls ready to ascend, and I was their guard, their watcher, their keeper, whatever. Apparently, Deadside only functioned properly when connected to a scythe and a Dominus via the Voralex. Now it was connected to me, and boy, could I feel it. It was gentle heat. A maternal hug.
It made my eyes sting with nostalgia.
“Are you all right?” Dayna asked as she led me out of the gates.
Dayna managed the admin side of things from a building across the street from the Voralex.
The Operations building had the Shoel symbol above the door, just like the emblem on the emails we used to get at Soul Savers. Operations was small and functional with bunks for the reapers who guarded Deadside and a small office where the human employees worked.
There were three of them in there now.
I peered into the bland room, zeroing in on the coffee machine and donuts. “What do they do?”
“Process the new arrivals,” Dayna said.
“I was supposed to be transferred here.”
She looked at me in surprise. “You worked for Soul Savers?”
I nodded. “Several years.”
She snorted. “Well, how about that.”
“Only three employees, though?”
“We cycle through them every year. Humans can’t work at Deadside for longer than that without becoming addicted to the place.”
Well, that was new information. “Then why employ them at all?”
“I asked the same question when I was allocated here. It’s something to do with the treaty Shoel signed with the human government.”
“They want a finger in all the pies.”
“Pretty much,” she said. “Although Shoel drew the line when the human government tried to get access to purgatory. The most humans can do is allocations.”
“Yeah, and those are rare.”
“That’s because Malachi and his team do their job.”
There was admiration in her tone. “I thought you didn’t like him?”
“He’s an asshole, but he’s a damned good reaper.” She pushed open a door that led to a narrow corridor. “The pulse room is this way.”
The pulse room—their control room—looked out on all the streets with hundreds of cameras. They monitored the wards with detectors. It was a circular room manned by several reapers, none of whom turned to look at us.
My heart beat faster. This was my chance to find Aunt Lara. “Um Dayna, could you find someone for me? A Lara Dawn. My aunt.”
Dayna sat at the nearest monitor and began tapping away at the keyboard.
“It’s been almost a year. Is she still here? Please, tell me she’s still here.”
Dayna tapped a few more buttons and then nodded. “Yes. Lara Dawn. Two streets over.” She smiled. “She runs the children’s home. There are a lot of child specters ready to ascend. Some choose to relinquish their earthly child forms, while others hold on to them. Evergreen House is a place for those spirits, and Lara Dawn is the woman who takes care of them.”
My heart squeezed painfully in my chest. Of course she did. “Please, take me there.”
Evergreen House was a sweet three-story townhouse bordered by a picket fence. Two lights lit up the porch, but all the windows, aside from a downstairs one, were dark. Lara probably had the kid ghosts tucked in bed. She’d always been big on routine and structure when I’d been growing up, and yes, I’d found security in it.
Right now, these children probably needed that too.
“I’ll meet you back at Operations,” Dayna said.
She was giving me privacy. “Thank you.”
She offered me half a smile. “You know, I think you’ll be good for this place.”
She nodded slowly. “Deadside could do with a feminine touch.”
She walked away, and I pushed open the gate and walked up to the front door. There was no doorbell, just a knocker. I knocked and waited with a thousand moths in my chest. I’d been both waiting for and dreading this moment. To see her, to hold her, to tell her how fucking sorry I was.
Oh, fuck, what if she didn’t forgive me? What if she hated me? Cora said this was what I needed to do. That I needed to face it. To rip off the Band-Aid.
The door opened, and light spilled across me. Aunt Lara stood in the doorway, glasses perched at half-mast on her nose, and unruly dark hair pushed back with an Alice band.