I had to touch them. I needed to join them somehow. Get inside their minds. I stepped closer.
“Yes,” Cora said. “You have to touch them.”
That was right. I went for Azazel first, placing my hand on his cheek. For a second, nothing happened, and then I was being sucked into a dark tunnel.
I was in an opulent room where gold, silver, and marble made up the décor. Balustrades rose up on either side of me, and people, so many people, hovered beyond those pillars, waiting and watching.
Watching the figure kneeling on the marble floor. His silver hair was longer, pulled back in a queue, but there was no disguising Azazel’s brutal beauty. I walked around him, looking down at him.
He didn’t hear me, didn’t see me, and wait, where was his scar?
“There is still time, my son,” a sultry voice said.
I looked down the room at the woman who’d spoken. She was regal, tall, fine-boned with huge dark eyes and inky black hair that cascaded down her back and over her breasts like an obsidian waterfall. Her body was clad in skin-tight silver robes, and her hands were heavy with jewels, but the most impressive jewel sat on her head—a crown made of diamonds and rubies. It glittered as she stepped away from her throne and walked toward her son.
Someone cried out, pleading.
It was a woman held by two naked guys. Well, not naked; they had on golden tight-fitted shorts that bulged indecently at the crotch. Their skin was painted bronze, and their eyes were rimmed with kohl. The woman twisted and tried to break free of their hold, but they held fast. I couldn’t see her face clearly. It was blurred as if I was looking at her through a sheen of moisture…Through tears.
I looked down at Azazel…His tears?
My heart ached. My blood burned. Love, betrayal, hope. It was all there.
“You don’t have to do this,” the crowned woman said to Azazel. She crouched to touch his face. “Do not do this, my son,” she whispered.
Son? Fucking hell, this was Lilith. The Lilith. This was Azazel’s mother. The mother of demons.
Azazel lifted his chin and met her eyes. “I’ve made my decision.”
Lilith stared at him for a long beat and then sighed. “Very well. So be it.”
Two men entered the room from a side door, and as Lilith stepped away from Azazel, they took her place.
What was this? “Azazel?” I reached out to touch him, but my hand went through him.
Shit, one of the men had a needle, the other was holding a silver container etched with weird symbols.
“Azazel, firstborn of Lilith, has offered his nightsight in exchange for Loreli, demon-born’s life,” the man with the needle said. “Given of his free will.”
Azazel’s jaw ticked, and for a moment, I thought he’d refute the words, but then the woman being held captive cried out to him.
His shoulders rose and fell. “I do so agree to the exchange.”
“Then so be it,” Lilith said.
But her voice cracked, and when I looked at her, a single bloody tear tracked down her alabaster cheek.
Wait… was this it? Was this how Azazel lost his nightsight. For that woman? Who the fuck was she? No. No, he couldn’t do this.
But the needle was headed for his eye, and the silver container was open, ready to receive whatever power would come from the exchange. I had to stop him. I had to stop him from doing this, and even though a part of me knew this wasn’t real, that it had already happened a long time ago and there was no way to change it, I couldn’t help myself.
“Azazel, no. Please.” I threw myself between him and the man and grasped at Azazel’s shoulders. My hands slipped through him once, twice. And then I touched skin.
“Azazel. Please, you need to wake up. You need to come back to me, please.”
He lifted his chin, ready for the needle, and I cupped his face, feeling the stubble on his jaw. “I need you, Azazel. It’s me, Fee, your soulmate, and you need to come back to me.” I pressed my body to his as if I could stop that needle from finding its mark and crushed my lips against his immovable ones.
“Please.” I kissed him. “Please.”
“Fee…” he said softly.
And then the needle pierced his eye. I bit back a sob as gold tendrils of power slid up the needle. His eye clouded over.
“Fee…” he said again. “I have to get back to Fee.”
I was ripped away, sucked back up the tunnel, and spat out into the blackened kitchen. I probably would have landed on my ass, but Cor caught me and wrapped her arms around my waist to steady me.
“You did it,” she said.
Azazel staggered and fell to his knees, clutching his head. His body swayed, but I caught him before he could keel over. He was out cold. Shit. The black shit that had been gripping him was a shriveled pile of ash on the floor. But whatever it had done to him had taken its toll.
“Azazel?” I patted his cheek. “Hey, wake up.”
“He’s too pale,” Cora said.
Shit, he’d been trapped for much longer than Conah. How much damage had been done to him?
A howl filled the air.
“Tick-tock,” Jasper said. But there was no humor in his tone this time. “It’s coming.”
I didn’t stop to ask what. “Get Azazel out, please.”
He arched his brow. “As you wish.”
Jasper scooped Azazel up as if he weighed nothing and winked out. Goosebumps pricked at my skin. How powerful was that spirit?
“Hurry,” Cora said.
Fuck. I grabbed Mal’s face and fell back into the tunnel.
I was in a stone chamber that smelled of jasmine incense, and lying on a stone slab, pale and composed, was a young man with rich brown hair and thick dark lashes. He was a boy on the verge of manhood, and he was dead.
What was this? Where was Mal? I searched the dark recesses of the chamber with my gaze and finally spotted a man-sized shadow hunched in a corner. Eye whites gleamed in the dark, and then Mal stepped up to the stone slab.
His hands shook as he reached out to touch the boy’s face, and then his lips peeled back and a low keening sound erupted from his mouth. He wrapped his arms around his abdomen and hunched over as if trying to hold himself together.
His pain smashed into me, more than emotional, more than physical; it was soul-wrenching, tearing, gutting pain that had me staggering backward and falling to one knee.
“Mal.” I reached for him, but he didn’t see me. He had eyes only for the body on the slab. Who was the boy? Why did he mean so much to Mal? A brother. A lover?
“You don’t have to do this.” The voice was familiar, coming from the other side of the room.
Mal sucked in a breath and then tore off his shirt, exposing his slender torso, not as muscled as it was today. It was the body of a young man.
“Do it, please, Con.” Mal fell to his knees and gripped the edge of the stone slab, bowing his head. “Do it now.”
“Mal, it wasn’t your fault.”
“Fucking do it, or I’ll find someone else to.”
I stared at Conah as he emerged from the shadows. He was younger too. His body less bulky than today. How old was this memory… wait, what was Conah holding? A whip? A barbed whip.
He brought it back and lashed it across Mal’s back. Mal didn’t make a sound as his skin tore beneath the barbs.
“Mal!” I rushed forward and grabbed his shoulders, but just like with Azazel, my hands passed through him.
“Mal…” Conah looked tormented.
“Again,” Mal ordered.
Conah hit him again.
I wanted to shove Conah, to make him stop, but this wasn’t real. It was a memory, and I needed to focus on connecting with Mal. I slipped between him and the slab so I was facing him.
“Eighteen lashes, Con,” Mal bit out through clenched teeth. “Don’t stop. Don’t you fucking stop.”
I blocked out the crack of the whip and the sickening sound of tearing flesh. “Mal, look at me. This isn’t real, this is a memory. Mal, this happened a long time ago, you need to wake up. I need you, Mal. It’s me, Fee, and I need you to wake up and come back to me.”
“Mal, please.” I grabbed his chin and forced it up, and it was only when his gaze zeroed in on me that I realized I’d done it. I’d touched him for real. “Mal, yes. See me. Can you see me?”
He stared at me as if I were an apparition.
“It’s me, Fee. You need to wake up.”
There was almost recognition, but then it began to fade. No way. I smashed my lips to his and then grabbed the back of his neck to hold me to him. Feel this. You have to feel this, please, because I couldn’t bear to hear or see any more of this. Wake up. Please, wake up.
And then his tongue licked the seam of my mouth, and he was kissing me, shoving me back against the slab and forcing my mouth open with his tongue. There was no time to feel the heat between us before the tunnel sucked me out of his mind and spat me into the dreary gray kitchen.
Someone screamed my name. Mal’s body fell against me—a cold, dead weight. I caught a glimpse of teeth and manic red eyes. We were under attack.
She burst out of the tornado of black and red swirling souls, brandishing a skillet like a lethal weapon. Jasper was at her back, his arms wrapped around her waist. She held out her hand as the malignant prepared to swarm us again.
Her mouth quirked slightly. “Come with me if you want to live.”
She’d been dying to use that line for years. Keeping hold of Mal, I grabbed her hand, and the world shattered.
We materialized outside the Eye on broken tarmac surrounded by moonlight and regular nighttime sounds. My knees pressed against the hard ground as I knelt, cradling Mal to my chest.
Grayson pushed off the side of the car and rushed toward me. “You got them out. You did it.” There was respect and awe in his eyes. “The OPS will be on their way. They’ll be here any moment. Did you find your ghost witness?”