“We were all sinners reborn, nightmares,” he says. “Now come, Althea, the others are waiting. Reve has selected some clothes for you to change into if you wish. They wait in the bathroom.”
He stands and goes to leave, so I stand also. “Conall?”
He stills, waiting for me to continue.
“Do you regret coming back?”
“Not once,” he answers. “I have found friendship, family, loyalty, and more importantly, I am able to pay for my past and help those who people like us hurt. I am proud of being a judge, and you will understand why soon.”
He leaves, and I watch him go before looking at the fire and blowing out a breath. A lot has happened.
I died, I saw my mother, and I chose to come back to life to become a judge. I still don’t fully know what that means, but I guess I will find out. First, I need to shower off the stench of dried blood and death, and then I’ll go find the others and figure out what comes next.
Whatever it is, though, I know it is a chance for a better future, and if they don’t regret coming back, how could I?
The whole world lies before me once more. It just so happens to come with a tie to seven masked men.
Deciding just to get moving, I find the clothes waiting in the bathroom like Conall said. I raise my eyebrows at the pinned leather shorts, fishnets, boots, ripped crop top, and my leather jacket. Shrugging out of my ruined shirt, I step into the shower, sighing at the heat as it washes away the blood and death, my hands sliding over the mark on my chest.
Knowing I’m wasting time, I get dressed and leave my hair to dry naturally, and then I leave the room I’m in, finding myself above the throne room. As I walk across it, I see no sign of the deaths that took place here yesterday, and for a moment, I wander closer to the thrones.
One has skulls across it, another gates, and the third has the sun and moon. Another has a snake, the next a spider, one has fire, and the next has a palace. Do the markings represent each person?
“Ah, there you are,” Nathair calls, and I turn to find him in silk sleep pants and nothing else—not that I’m complaining because he truly is the most beautiful man I’ve ever seen. I lick my lips, remembering the way he tasted. He looks me over and nods in approval before holding out his hand. “Come, the others are waiting.”
I move closer to him, and he grabs my hand, pressing it to his arm and holding it there as he escorts me to another room. The gesture indicates just how old he truly is, but I know it’s rude to ask.
He chuckles. “It is, but I will answer. I am over two centuries,” he says. I stop, and he grins. “I will answer all your questions, Althea, now come.” He tugs me into moving. “First, how are you feeling?”
“Better than I have in a long time,” I admit.
“Very good. I hope my mother’s rooms were acceptable?” His voice holds no inflection, but a shadow of pain slides through my head.
“Your mother’s rooms?”
He simply nods as he leads me through a maze of corridors.
“They were lovely.” Unsure what else to say, I fall into silence as I look around. A thousand questions crowd my mind, but I am uncertain where to start.
He lets me debate them as he leads me into a surprisingly modern kitchen. The dark stone continues here, and it’s all state-of-the-art.
Huge chandeliers hang from the high ceilings, and sliding, bifold doors open to the darkness beyond. It still holds the same gothic feel, and I fall in love with it right there and then. The kitchen is mainly to the left, with black cabinets with golden decorative handles, a huge stove, and plants draped across surfaces. Before it is a giant island with red and black stools with golden buttons, and pans hang above it all in copper and gold.
To the right is a giant black table with matching red-velvet wingback chairs, and that’s where the others are gathered. A pot of tea is poured, though some are on something stronger if my quick inhale tells me anything. There is no seat at the head, with all the chairs spread around the sides, and Nathair leads me to the seat on the very left. He slides it out, and I sit as he pushes it under. I thank him as he rounds the table to sit opposite me.
Everyone but Nathair wears his mask, I begin to wonder what they truly look like underneath.
“Do I get a mask?” I ask instead, and someone barks out a sharp laugh.
“I hope so,” the one who laughed responds, his voice laced with amusement. “Reve,” he says, answering my unasked question, and with a flourish, he pulls the mask off. “They can be stuffy though.” He winks as I take him in.
He is not what I was expecting. Where Nathair looks like a creature of night, old and traditional, Reve is clearly completely different. He’s no less striking and handsome in an almost feral way. His black hair is streaked with pure, shocking white and slicked back past his tattooed and pierced ears. His neck is covered in ink, telling a story I don’t understand, and his face is softer than Nathair’s but still sharp. Reve’s eyebrows are almost too stern, giving him a menacing mien, and his smile is on the edge of insanity. His nose is wide with a spike through the bridge, and his eyes are completely black. More tattoos continue on his face and forehead, as well as one striking across his cheek to his lips, which tilt up farther.
“Look away, Althea,” he purrs. “I may not have been one you fed from last night, but I am offering now and in the future.”
“Reve,” Nathair snaps. “She must understand first.”
“Of course,” he agrees, but there’s a wicked lilt to his brogue—Irish maybe?