I looked around frantically, trying to find something, anything to help her. She shifted in my arms. I looked down to see her lids barely cracked. Her mouth moved. I bent over her to listen.
“No use,” she breathed. “I died months ago.”
My tears fell on her face like rain. “Maisie, please,” I said through sobs. “Stay with me.”
I rested my cheek on hers. But it was cold. So damned cold.
“Bina,” she said, barely more than a breath. “Trust fate, sister.” She coughed wetly, blood pouring from her lips. “Always with… you.”
With one final breath, my sister’s body sagged in my arms. “Godsdammit, Maisie! No!”
Her mouth fell open and a bright light escaped. The orb rose on the air and swirled around us once, twice, three times. As it spun, a deep blistering pain scored my left shoulder. I didn’t flinch. Didn’t shy from the pain. I was beyond feeling at that moment. Beyond self-preservation.
After the orb made its third lap, it rose high in the air before slamming down into the pool. The wake of its entry splashed a plume of black water high into the air. Then the light sank fast, until I couldn’t see it anymore.
Maisie was gone.
My head fell back and I screamed my rage at the universe. Sobs doubled me over her body, already cold. I rocked back and forth, praying to every goddess I knew to bring Maisie back to me. I made outrageous promises and issued violent threats.
But she was gone.
I don’t know how long I sat there, cradling her body and bawling. Time moved like oil in water. But eventually, I felt a warm touch on my back. It didn’t scare me. I was beyond such weak emotions as fear. “Leave me, Giguhl.”
The warmth didn’t recede. “Sabina.” The voice was feminine, rich, and dark. Definitely not Giguhl.
Blinking against the wetness clogging my eyes, I looked up.
“Daughter, it is time to leave this place.” Phoebe glowed warmly, but her heat couldn’t reach me.
I shook my head and squeezed my eyes shut. I resumed my rocking, faster now, more urgent. “I’m not leaving her.”
“Sabina,” my mother said. “She’s already gone. Look.”
I opened my eyes. My arms cradled nothing but air now. I stilled, but something deep inside me coiled to life. “Where is she?”
Phoebe smiled down at me. “At peace finally.” My mother pointed to my chest, my heart. “But never doubt she is with you.”
I licked my parched lips. “I don’t understand.” I choked on a gut-wrenching sob.
“The beast is free now. Until he is stopped, no one is safe. That is all you need to know.”
“But I don’t know how to stop him!” I cried. “I can’t do this.”
She lifted my chin with her fingers. “You can because you have to. He must pay for what he did to Maisie. He must pay for what he did to us.”
Thunder rolled through the cavern. I cringed, wrapping my arms around my shivering body.
I swallowed my fear and frowned at her. “Us? Wha—”
Phoebe cowered and looked around, her eyes fearful. “There’s not time. You must go.” Her body went from solid to transparent. “Find the mage who calls himself Abel. He will help you.” With that, my mother disappeared.
I sagged into the sand. My brain felt scrambled and my muscles useless.
Something rough, like sandpaper, scraped my cheek. With my eyes closed, I brushed at the annoyance. Another scrape, not painful exactly but annoying.
“Sabina,” Giguhl whispered. “Wake up.”
My eyes flicked open. “Giguhl?”
His little feline face was about an inch from my nose. “What the hell happened? Where are Cain and Maisie?”
The name made pain lance through my heart. I squeezed my eyes shut and clenched my jaw against the agony of the memories that rushed through my mind. I opened my lids and looked my minion in the eye. “Cain escaped.”
“And Maisie?” But his eyes told me he knew. Instead of saying the words out loud, I shook my head. “Oh, gods!” He pushed his head against my chin and rubbed it there, both needing and offering comfort.
I pulled his little body to me, needing the warmth and the contact with something physical. Something real. Something I could trust.
He looked up, his eyes liquid with pain. “We need to get out of here. The others need to know.”
I groaned and rose, carrying him like a football. But when I blinked and looked around the cavern, I realized the opening we’d entered through was gone. I spun around slowly. “Uh-oh,” I said.
“All the walls closed in.”
The cat shrugged. “No problem.”
“What do you mean, no problem?”
“Sabina,” the cat said. “You don’t need a door when you’ve got a demon. Just say the words and I’ll take us home.”
I paused. With every ounce of my being I wanted to leave this place. This dank, black hole that became my sister’s grave. But I suddenly didn’t want to go back to New York. To face the disappointed and sad expressions on everyone’s faces when I admitted I’d failed them. Here in this place, I felt broken and defeated. But once I returned to the mortal realm, this vulnerable, weak me would not be allowed to exist. Once I admitted my failures, there’d be no mercy. No comforting touches or words of encouragement. I’d released a psychopath on the world and doomed my own sister to death.
“Red?” Giguhl whispered.
I shook myself. “Yeah?”
“You’re not alone. We’ll handle this together, okay? No matter what waits for us back in the mortal realm.”
“Can you flash us to New Orleans instead of the Crossroads?” If I worked quickly, maybe I could find Erron and he could get me to Abel in time to stop Cain. Then I could return to New York a hero instead of a failure.
The cat moved in my arms until his paws were on my shoulders and he looked into my eyes with his own. “I could, yes. But I think that’s a mistake. I know it’s going to hurt like hell, but you have to tell them what happened. They deserve to hear the truth. You can’t just run away from it.”
Why couldn’t I have a demon who could lie to me every now and then? One who encouraged me to run from things I didn’t want to face?
I looked down at the hairless cat demon who was my best friend in the world. The one who called me on my shit and always had my back. I didn’t want any other demon by my side. “You’re right.”
His little eyes glowed with emotion. He cleared his throat and squirmed. “Now, say the words so we can get the fuck out of this hellhole.”
I smiled. That was the demon I knew and loved. “Giguhl, let’s go home.”
The air popped and warped. In the next instant, we left the Liminal behind. Forever, I hoped.
The first thing I saw when Giguhl and I flashed back into the chapel was the empty floor where Maisie’s body had lain before I left. For a split second, my traitorous mind dared to hope I’d been wrong. That maybe somehow my sister’s death in the dream world hadn’t also meant the death of her physical form. But before I could grab onto that wisp of hope, I was tackled.
The scent of sandalwood and the feel of Adam’s fierce embrace demanded my full attention. I breathed in deep and willed my emotions to steady. I couldn’t afford to break down now. I still had to get through my recount of the events in the Liminal. Still had to face all those trusting gazes and admit that I’d failed.
“Thank the gods,” Adam said, his voice thick with emotion. “We thought you’d—” His voice cracked.
I pulled back to look in his eyes. In those depths, I saw the truth. Not only had Maisie actually died, but Adam and the others believed Cain had killed Giguhl and me, too. I opened my mouth to say… what? What could I possibly say?
“My turn.” Rhea used her hip to push Adam out of the way before he could tell me. She crushed me to her. “Don’t you ever scare me like that again,” she whispered fiercely.
I closed my eyes and surrendered to my need to be comforted. Rhea was as close to a real mother figure as I’d ever had. And right now, I needed every ounce of strength she offered. Especially since any minute now it would be with-drawn.
Over her shoulder, I saw Adam and Giguhl sharing a manly hug. When we’d reappeared, Giguhl manifested back in his demon form. He towered over the mancy, but looked as relieved as I felt for the support.
Beyond them, I noticed dozens of beings now filled the chapel. Everyone had frozen when we arrived and watched our tearful reunion. I knew it was only a matter of time before the questions started, but for the moment, I tried to block them out.
When I pulled away, my eyes throbbed with tears but I managed to hold them off. Unleashing the dam now wouldn’t be helpful or pretty. I’d allow myself to fall apart later, but first I had to get through the next few minutes. “Where is she?” I whispered.
Rhea hesitated and pointed to a door off to the side of the altar.
Cold sweat bloomed from every pore. As if on autopilot, I turned and walked toward the wooden door separating me from my sister’s body. From the corner of my eye, I saw the Queen move as if to speak me, but Rhea barked, “Give her a moment.”
The door opened to reveal a smaller room with a single window. The stained glass formed a blue-and-red mosaic that cast my sister’s shrouded body in a purple glow. The white gauze covering her was thin enough that I could make out her too-still features.
My knees trembled as I closed the door behind me, locking out the curious gazes of the audience in the chapel. The air here was heavy with cold and dust. I took a deep breath and turned toward the altar holding my sister. I kneeled on the low stone bench in front of the slab. Resting my forehead on the hard stone at her hip, I allowed the tears to finally fall.
They say that when you die, your life passes before your eyes. And as I knelt there, sobbing, it felt like a kind of death. Death of my illusions. Death of my hope. Death of my prayers for a happy ending.