Shadow of Light by Molly E. Lee
Sulfur and tar singe my nose as something hot presses against my back.
Somewhere, Harley screams. The sound is muffled and too far away, urging me to pry open my eyes.
Shadows skitter along my skin, a smooth, cool caress as they combat the heat slipping through the cracked, black stone I lay against.
My bones feel brittle, but I manage to stand. My shadows gather around me, a shield of darkness among the red light that flickers in and out of the room.
Footsteps echo, and I whirl around.
A man saunters toward me. He looks human enough in a suit of black, his hair dark as midnight. But his eyes…they’re orbs of molten red.
My shadows recoil—no, they tremble as he approaches. Power ripples from him with each step he takes, but I hold my ground.
Fighting is pointless—I gave Harley everything she needed to shut the gate, and I can feel the drained remnant of my power trying like hell to restore itself. I don’t regret it, not for a second. Marid and his brethren couldn’t be set free. They would’ve destroyed everything in their path.
Dying felt like an easy choice when Harley’s life had been at stake.
I just hope she finds happiness, in the end.
“You are not the girl,” the man says, his voice seeming to come from everywhere at once. It’s a deep rumbling tone that shakes the walls of slick black stone. He closes his eyes, inhaling through his nose. “But her scent drenches your skin.”
The girl? There is only one girl’s scent that would be on me, and that’s Harley.
Something yanks at my soul, that chain of connection burning bright between Harley and me even now, even here. The pain radiating through it is an agony jerking at me from the other end.
“Who are you?” I sound like I’ve been screaming for days. Maybe I have. Maybe time doesn’t work the same in death.
The man slides his hands into his pockets, a vicious grin forming at the corners of his mouth. “I’ve been given many names.” He tilts his head. “Many by humans with little understanding of who I truly am. Some by your kind and the bastards you answer to.” The red of his eyes darkens, their centers swirling with a glittering black.
I swallow back the urge to puke.
“Morningstar,” he coos. “Dark Lord. Osiris. Devil.” He rolls those red eyes at the last one, and my blood turns to ice. He shrugs, such a casual, human gesture. “My true name, the one those like you never bother to know, is Rainier.”
Whenever I thought of dying, I thought of many things. Light. Peace. Torture. Revenge from the ones I’d been forced to send to this place. I expected a hundred different scenarios.
Not his realm.
A sharp tug from that chain inside me has me stumbling to the left. What is happening with our connection? Is it dying because I’ve died? Can Harley feel it, too?
Rainier’s eyes narrow as he studies me.
I draw on what little power I have, curling shadows around me in an attempt to hide that connection. To hide the truth. To keep her safe.
His eyes widen, and he roars a dark laugh. “You would!” he shouts to the sky. “You would make one of your soldiers her soul mate.”
The word blows through me.
A rarity among Judges. Sacred.
Harley…I suspected what she was the moment I touched her and didn’t drain her of power and life.
I can’t believe it’s true.
She’s my soul mate.
Another title forced on her…
No. I can’t allow that. And she cannot choose me.
She can’t be chained to me, not when I almost destroyed her…and still may if the Seven find out and Order me to kill her. If they do that, I wouldn’t even know it was her. I’d be nothing but the assassin they’ve always used me for. Or, best-case scenario, they put me in the Divine Sleep and she’s mated to a ghost.
Fuck, she deserves better than anything I could ever offer. And I’ll make damn sure she gets it. All I have to do is ensure she doesn’t choose me back.
The Seven—especially Aphian—always said I was evil because of my siphon powers. He made a point to remind me any chance he got. But somehow, a kernel of hope had kept me from truly believing I’d be drawn elsewhere in death, instead of—
Another hard pull on that chain inside me, and my vision flashes from pure darkness to Rainier before me.
A throne of black rock and velvet cushions appears behind him, and he sinks into it with a fluid grace. He props his chin on a fist. “It’s abhorrent how much they don’t tell you, Judge,” he says, shaking his head. “How little you truly know about the real world.”
Among the sulfur and smoke, the smell of fire and lilies teases me—Harley’s scent. But how? How can I smell her—
“Well, go on,” Rainier says, motioning his free hand toward me. “Tell me about the girl,” he says impatiently. “The Key.”
My stomach bottoms out, and I flinch at another yank inside me, this one stronger than the last. “I don’t know anything.”
“Oh, come now. It’s not the time to be humble, Draven. You’re quite the naughty little Judge, aren’t you?” He inhales deeply, his eyes drifting shut. “You’re a siphon, and your best friend in the world is an angel of death. Not common, among the divine,” he murmurs, then his eyes open, pinning me in place. “Your brother—he’s in the Ather.”
Nausea washes over me. Is this what people feel like when I use my telepathy powers? Rainier knows the most important pieces of my heart, and I’ve only been here a few seconds.
That’s all it’s been, right? Or has it been longer?
“When you died, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to call you here,” he says. “Not when I…we need her so badly.”
He needs Harley?
Over my dead fucking body.
Oh, wait…I’m already dead. Shit.
Lilies and a roaring fire storm my senses, strong and angry.
“Surely you’ve figured it out by now,” Rainier says, his expression almost pitying. “She’s exactly what you hoped she’s not.”
My stomach bottoms out. There is only one thing he could mean—that she’s what I’ve feared since the day I saw her black flames.
The Seven sent me to watch her, but I had Orders to kill her if she showed the true signs of the Antichrist.
She knows she’s capable of dropping the veil between worlds, of opening gateways to Hell, but she has no idea…not a clue, the power she truly possesses.
Enough to eviscerate the world.
To bring forth the apocalypse.
All she had to do was want it badly enough.
And she’s my soul mate.
Harley’s voice echoes inside my mind in time with the tugging on the chain between us. The connection grows as hot as the room around me.
Rainier’s head snaps to the left, those glowing red eyes following a trail as if he can see the invisible tether that binds Harley and me together. A slow, prideful grin makes him look striking and terrifying at the same time as he returns his attention to me.
“She’s relentless,” he says, almost a whisper. “We need that. We need her.” He rises from his throne in a matter of blinks. “You must tell her,” he says, his hand lashing out to grip my throat. “Tell her her people are in jeopardy. She’s the key to freeing us all.”
“I’m dead,” I say through clenched teeth, flinching as I try to break his grasp. But I can’t. My strength is all but gone, and the remaining pieces of me? They feel as if they’re being called back. No, demanded back—
“She isn’t standing for that notion, Judge,” he says, power rolling in waves throughout the room, hitting my skin with an invisible flame that I feel along every inch of my body. The pain mounts. Is that him? Or is that coming from the other side?
The burning intensifies insideme, Harley’s scent swarming everything that I am.
And I smile because I just can’t fucking help it.
Stubborn, strong, brilliant Harley.
“Tell her, Draven,” Rainier repeats, then considers. “Or better yet, bring her to me. I’ll release your brother if you do.”
I struggle against Rainier’s grasp. Ever since he was taken from me, I’ve wanted to save my brother. Have tried to find him. I was prepared to kill for it. I’d planned to kill Harley to get him back…but that was before I knew her, knew what she was to the world, to me.
And, fuck. If she knew about this bargain? She would stop at nothing to get my brother back for me. I know it. That’s who Harley is. She’d go through Hell to get him back for me. And I can’t have that. Not with how badly Rainier obviously wants her. Not with whatever danger he’s referring to. I will not let her be used for her power, for what she is. Not like I have been.
She hates secrets, I know that better than anyone.
But I can’t let her sacrifice herself. Not for me.
Rainier’s grip tightens. “Bring me the Antichrist, and I’ll release him. If you don’t, he will die.”
I groan at the intensifying heat yanking on my insides, and Rainier releases his grip on my throat so fast I stumble backward. “She’s vulnerable if she doesn’t come to me.” His tone is almost a plea. “Tell her there will be suffering the likes of which neither realm can imagine if she doesn’t—”
Harley’s voice inside my head cuts off the last of what Rainier says, and the floor beneath me disappears, sending me plummeting down into a darkness laced with a lily-scented breeze.