“Death called to me,” he answers, and he seems to be in a good mood because he didn’t take offence to my question. He watches me carefully. “I will anticipate the souls who will pass over to me, but I have a feeling we will be seeing each other again.” His head tilts, a frown curling his lips. “How interesting, a visitor.” He vanishes, leaving me even more confused.
I glance back to see the others are equally as confused as I am, but we all get to work. It might not be the best part of the job, but it is still ours to do. We must honour the dead so they can cross. They have paid with their lives, and it is now our duty to ensure their safe passage. Their souls are free of the infernal pressures of life, and more importantly, they are clean once more.
Once they are piled up, we stand around the bodies in a circle, holding hands as we wish their souls the best. Zale sets them alight, and we watch them burn, ridding the world of the darkness, at least for one night. As they become embers and ash, I turn to Osis and Azul.
Their eyes are closed, and they glow brightly. I know they are helping the souls cross. We wait and protect them as they do their duty. After what feels like hours, they sag and open their eyes, clearly as exhausted as the rest of us.
“It is done.”
I look around and smile. “This is going to be a bastard to clean up.” Unable to resist, I drop their hands and start to race for the door. “Last one out is the cleaner!” I call, and their laughter is stolen away by our court as they chase after me.
Their laughter lightens my soul, removing some of the heavy price we paid tonight.
I reach my rooms first and quickly collapse, in my dress and jewels, on the bed. They arrive and climb in next to me, holding me to this world when it feels like I could float away.
As my eyes close, I realise our future together is always going to be like this—beautiful, tragic, and filled with both death and purpose, but also laughter and love.
It’s in those stolen moments of love and laughter that we’ll find the strength to go on, to fight the darkness when it becomes too much.
The world is a hard place to live in, but along the way, you might just find someone, or several people, to travel the path with you, lightening your load and making it worthwhile.
The climb is always the hardest, but the view from the top of the mountain is so worth it.
Iknow I am asleep, but I can feel my loves’ warmth surrounding me. Their hands anchor my body to our world and their hearts, but in slumber, I drift. I am not afraid, and unlike my visitor the night before, this one is filled with warmth and love.
Before she appears, I know who it will be—my mother.
I have so much to say, to ask, but as I stare at her hopeful eyes, everything fades and I run into her arms. They circle around me, warm and filled with love. “I am so proud of you, Thea, so very proud. You are an incredible woman.”
Tears form in my eyes, even in here. It’s all I’ve ever wished to hear from her. I miss a woman I never got to know, but in my dreams, I get my mother, even if it’s just for a little while, and it’s enough. It has to be because some part of me knows this will be the last time. The dead cannot wait around forever. She has to move on. She has to find peace, and my selfish need to keep her here cannot continue.
I hold her tighter for a moment before stepping back, our hands still clasped between us. We look so alike, like mirror images, but one is an older woman who never got the life she deserved and one is a younger woman who fights so no other ever has to make the same sacrifice. We are two women who are the backbone of our species, giving everything to save it.
The only difference is that I get to keep my life, my legacy, while hers lies within mine.
That will never disappear, even if this dream will.
“This is goodbye, isn’t it?” I ask her softly.
She nods, tears falling from her eyes. “I have been given extra time no other has ever been granted, but it is my time. Daughter, I will always be here with you, and I will await you on the other side. I will meet you there, just not too soon, okay? I want you to live a long, happy life. Not because you are my daughter, but because you deserve it. Althea, you deserve to be happy and to live a long, safe life.”
Swallowing against my tears, I bob my head and grip her tighter. “I met my father,” I tell her, unsure how much longer I have with her.
She flinches. “Is he okay?” It’s a simple question, yet I know everything he said was true. He was her mate, and she loves him deeply, which means he loves her too. If my loves asked me for a promise, wouldn’t I keep it?
“He misses you fiercely and is trying to reach out to me,” I admit.
She searches my gaze. “It is your choice.” How does she know what I want to ask before I do? “I asked him to keep a very selfish promise to protect you. I cannot imagine what that has done to you both, but I would do it again. Sacrifices must be made, and he made his. All I can tell you, Althea, is that your father loved you from the moment I told him you were coming. He was excited for us to have a life as a family, but he never got that. I stole that from him, from both of you. I will not ask you to forgive him for the choices he has made after, but simply to remember that he loves you, Althea, with everything in him. If he didn’t, he would be here with me.”
“I know.” I felt it in his memories, but it doesn’t mean I can forget the lies, the deceit, or the fact that he could have been in my life, helping me all along.
Then again, she’s right. Would that have changed the future? Would I have ended up here? I don’t know, and I don’t think any of us have the answers.
“I don’t have much time,” she says, looking around.