I can’t believe it’s almost here — BETRAYER is out on Friday, and I am dying for you guys to read it. I loved this book. I loved writing it, I loved revising it, I loved researching it (and there was A LOT of research for this one, because of its historical aspects). I loved getting to know E and her New Guardians better. I can say that I was happy writing this book, and sometimes, that’s not always the case. Sometimes, the writing is hell and nothing feels right until after several rounds of revisions have passed. BETRAYER, though… BETRAYER felt like playing, and those are the stories that make writing so addictive for me.
So we have four more days and I thought this would be a good time to give you guys one more teaser before release day (the other teaser I posted can be found here.) This scene takes place pretty early on in the book, continuing from where GUARDIAN left off. And, of course, any scene in which I can write Molly and E being their BFF selves is a good one. Enjoy!
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A few hours later, Mollis had satisfied herself that she had punished the soul of Chen enough. Most of Mollis’s punishments were of the mental variety. She used their thoughts, their deepest fears, against them. Of course, she punished them physically as well. She hadn’t needed my help at all, though I understood why she liked having me there. Having another being standing ominously off to the side only made him more afraid.
We had been doing this for a few weeks now. I would hunt, now looking for just about any missing soul I could, and I would bring it directly to Mollis, who would learn what she could from it, punish it on the spot, and then release it into the Everafter on her own. For those who had done horrid things, apparently the Everafter was not a nice place. Mollis’s punishments were usually their introduction to what they had ahead of them, their own personal version of the mortal concept of hell. If they were good people, their Everafter was peace and love and being reunited with loved ones.
It was not the easiest way to handle things. It meant that Mollis was pretty much on call, because she did not want me to have to stand around with a soul for hours until she was able to come. She also had to hide the fact that she was seeing me, due to the fact that we supposedly hated one another.
Really, I hoped her traitor would reveal themselves soon.
My small group of New Guardians, souls who had started following me when I had begun my hunt for Mollis’s lost souls were essential in helping me find as many souls as I had. We were in a race against whoever Mollis’s adversary was, it seemed, each side racing to claim a newly-deceased soul before the other side took it. Quinn, who had taken the worst of the injuries when my sisters had attacked, was back on his feet and relentless as ever. He had started to show some interest in learning to rematerialize, despite the fact that it still made him nauseous. Claire seemed to have become my second-in-command, and kept track of the movements of the other three New Guardians, reporting their successes, and, more often than we liked, failures, to me.
I had tried, gently, because I know Mollis would rather not talk about it, to suggest that she look into her mother and aunt’s minds. She could do that. And this whole mess would be at least partially reconciled within minutes. So far, she had demurred, with the excuse that she would have to sift through thousands of years of memories, and there were things in her mother’s mind she did not want to see again. She had torn her way into Hades’ mind once, when she was captive in the Nether, and apparently had learned a hard lesson about the things one sees in the mind of a death god.
I understood that, but in this case, it seemed worth the risk. Why would you not want to just know, for sure, whether someone had betrayed you or not?
As I watched Mollis send the soul of Chen to the Everafter, which only took seconds after she was finished punishing him, I considered broaching the subject again. A look at her eyes, at the razor edge of madness there, made me swallow the advice I was about to give. The souls we were missing still weighed on her. Nether still fought her for control.
Instead, I took her hand, gave it a small squeeze. “Another one down, demon girl.”
She nodded. “Too many still out there, though.”
“We are working on it,” I said, trying to soothe her.
She gave a small smile. “I know, E. Thank you. It would be pretty handy if you discovered a few more New Guardians out there somewhere, though.”
I gave a short laugh. “That it would. Though Quinn does the work of three Guardians on his own.”
Mollis nodded. “Thanks for this. The only one he ever saw was Delo.”
I nodded. “About her…”
Mollis sighed and shook her head. “I’m still working at her, as well as your other sisters we have in custody.” She paused, looked uncomfortable. “There is still that blank space in their memories, and I know whoever is pulling the strings is there. I just wish I knew how to undo whatever was done to them to make them forget. At the same time, I really don’t want to risk whoever was working with them somehow managing to help them escape.”
“Nain has been watching their cells almost non-stop since you kicked Anthousa and Delo’s asses back in Tokyo.” That fight had been brutal, even beyond the loss of my wings, and I had believed, at the time, that I had killed Anthousa, at least, on the mortal plane. As it was, despite it looking as if her body had turned to dust, Mollis had found her, weakened and unconscious, not far from the building in which we had battled. I did not quite understand it, but I was glad my Queen had been able to take another enemy to interrogate. “We don’t want to risk them getting out again,” she continued. “But he has other work he needs to do too, and it’s coming to the point where having them there and accessible is more of a liability than a help.”
I could see where she was going. “So you want to end them?”
“I think you should do it. If they have nothing of use to offer you, do not risk keeping them around.”
“You’re sure you don’t mind…”
“Mollis! As far as we all knew, you killed them once already. It did not pain me any then, and it certainly will not pain me now. Even less so, this time around.”
She studied me. “Do you want to be there when they end? Do you want to say anything to them?”
“I have nothing to say to them. If you would like me to be there, I have no problem doing that.”
“They’re your sisters, E,” Mollis said softly.
“They are traitors. I have seen the things they have done. I feel no loss or pity for them, only regret that they have failed so completely in what they were created to do.” I paused, changing my mind and deciding to say what I intended to say earlier. “Speaking of familial traitors,” I began, and Mollis shook her head. “Have you made any headway with your mother and aunt?”
She did not want to believe it possible of either of them. Truly, neither did it. But Furies are not above petty backstabbing and other betrayals. It had already happened once, with the third Fury, Alecto, whose name was no longer spoken; everyone, especially the Furies, wished they could make it so that she had never existed at all.
Alecto had betrayed her sisters, Hades, and, most of all, Mollis. She had worked directly with the demon Astaroth, Nain’s oldest enemy, to get to Mollis. It had all ended badly, with Nain dying in the mortal realm. Mollis’s blood in his veins, thanks to the demon marriage bond they’d performed, had been the only reason he had resurrected in the Nether. Like many beings who had been imprisoned in Tartarus, Alecto was now trapped in the Nether, the gateway between the worlds having been destroyed by Mollis and then permanently closed by Mollis’s grandmother, Nyx, who was the Creator of everything known to man and god alike.
“I’m keeping an eye on it.”
I repressed a sigh, but she felt my irritation anyway. “We’re not all as uncomplicated as you are, E. I know. You just want me to break in and be done with this.”
“Obviously,” I answered. “Obviously, I want you to do that so we actually know something instead of guessing. You need to get into their minds, Mollis. Do you really want to keep going on this way?”
“Are we already falling apart here, E?” she asked me quietly.
“I am not the one falling apart,” I said, looking her squarely in the eye. “You know there is nothing I would not do to help you. You know this. So take what I am about to say in the light it is meant: you need to stop being so soft about this. You need to get into their minds and have this question answered.”
She sighed. “I know.” Her shoulders slumped, and she looked up at the night sky. We’d walked out of the church, and were standing on the front steps. “I don’t want to just force my way in, E. I do that when I have to, and if we can’t figure this out, then I’ll do it. But this is my family.”
“It is tearing you up inside, wondering which one, or if both, betrayed you,” I reminded her, and she nodded.
“It is. You haven’t had that done to you, though, have you? Had someone break into your mind?”
I shook my head.
“It’s an assault. An invasive, violent, terrifying assault. The only way I can explain it that truly expresses how wrong it is is that it’s like mental rape. I have done that. I have broken my way into people’s minds, back before I inherited my father’s powers. Now, there’s no need, except for these cases in which I’m trying to uncover what has been hidden from us,” she said with a grimace. “This is my family, E,” she stressed again. “My mother. My aunt. I don’t want to do that to them. Not unless I have strong evidence to suggest that it needs to be done. Because if I’m wrong, and I do that to them… there’s no way to come back from that.”
We stood in silence for several long moments. “And I know that our theories point to it being at least one of them, because of the missing memories in the lost souls and your sisters. I am being careful. But you also recommended that I look at every possibility before leaping to the conclusion that it had to be one of them, remember?”
“Yes,” I said. “You know, you could ask them to let you into their minds,” I said.
“If it comes to that,” Mollis said. “I will.”
She had closed up on me, which I knew meant that our conversation was over. She would not budge on this, and I did not know how to make her see that she was only making it more difficult on herself. The illogical nature of the way she was about her family truly baffled me.
“Well. As I said before. If you desire to end my sisters, please feel free to do so. I have no remorse for traitors,” I said.
“Touché, E,” Mollis said wryly. “You think I’m weak.”
I shook my head. “Not that. Never that. I just hope you do not end up regretting the loyalty and respect you are giving them. They may not both deserve it.”
“That makes two of us, E,” Mollis said softly. Then she disappeared, most likely returning to her palace in the Netherwoods to be with her mate and children.
I stood there alone for a few moments longer, and looked up at the night sky, at the puffy clouds passing over the tiny sliver of a moon. For just a moment, I felt my wings flex under my leather coat.
But of course, they hadn’t. It was the memory of wing movement, the phantom remainders of what it had been like to be able to soar.
These were the times I needed it most. These were the times I needed to feel free and weightless, just for a few moments.
My mind flashed back to that day in Tokyo. My New Guardians and I had believed ourselves to be tracking prey, tracking a soul that had eluded us. We had made our way into one of the love hotels in Tokyo, and found ourselves beset by too many enemies, including two of my sisters.
Memories passed through my mind, images I would not likely forget.
My New Guardians, lying weak and injured.
The bodies of the goddesses of autumn and winter, chests ripped open, their hearts taken from them.
My wing, falling, torn and bloody, to the filthy floor.
I shook my head and closed my eyes, trying to will the images away.
It was not just the fact that I missed flying. It was the knowledge that I was now less than I should be. That I was not fully able to do the things I knew I should be able to. I had always considered myself to be a fairly even-keeled being, especially for an immortal. But the emotions that had stormed through me since waking a few weeks ago and realizing my wings were gone, for good… those were things I had not expected. I was, at turns, depressed, angry, mournful.
Frankly, it was irritating.
I forced my gaze down, away from where I longed most to be, reminding myself that I had a ridiculous shifter to reprimand. And Artemis’s cooking to suffer through.
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Just four more days!! Also, Friday’s newsletter will have the first installment of SHIFTED FATE, the next HIDDEN novella, so I hope you’ll check that out as well!