I wasn’t so sure they’d needed balancing. After all, it’s not like I saved Nyx’s life. I’d simply refused to end it. Still, I smiled at the vampire, relieved to put that nasty business behind us. “Deal.”
“Let’s keep moving,” Tristan snapped.
We followed the river for a mile or two until we saw a large castle set high on a cliff. The place looked straight out of old Hollywood versions of Count Dracula’s eerie abode.
Tristan pointed to the building. “Who wants to bet the gate’s in there?”
“Of course it is,” I said with a sigh. We followed a winding path leading up to the cliff. The higher we went, the more I could see of the Bloodlands. From this bird’s-eye view, I finally saw the souls of several vampires. Or rather, I saw the shadows of several bent, dark creatures. Instead of the swaggering monarchs of the night they’d been in the mortal realm, here they resembled wraiths.
The shadows crawled over the banks of the blood river and lapped up the liquid like animals. As I watched, one soul strayed too close to another. The vampire whose territory had been breached turned on the other with fangs flashing. They fell on each other like two lions battling over a prime watering hole. The battle was brief but fierce. The loser skulked away into a cave to lick his metaphorical wounds. The victor started to resume drinking from the river, but something caused it to stiffen. Its head jerked around to look up at me.
I froze. The feral face belonged to Alexis Vega.
“Red?” Adam whispered. “You coming?”
I pointed a shaky hand at Alexis. “Adam, look.”
The spirit that used to be Alexis snarled and turned her back on us. Adam let out a breath. “Jesus.”
Is that what I would become when I finally died? A bloodthirsty wraith forced to scrape and fight for a meager slice of territory for all eternity?
I tensed to go help her, but Adam grabbed my shoulders and turned me back toward the path. “No, Red. We can’t do anything for her now. We’ve got to keep moving.”
I shook off the horror and guilt of seeing my old ally turned into little more than an animal. Her fate was sealed. Ours were not. With a regretful last glance at Alexis, I turned and continued up the hill.
By this point, we’d almost reached the top of the cliff. Two vampires stood guard at the black gate. They each held spears, which they crossed to bar our entrance. “Who seeks entrance to the Dominae’s fortress?”
“David?” I said. “Ewan?”
David Duchamp was an old friend who I’d killed back in Los Angeles after the Dominae told me he’d been feeding information to their enemy, Clovis Trakiya. I later found out David had been innocent, and I carried the guilt of that decision like a lead yoke ever since.
He’d reappeared to me in spirit form several months earlier in a New Orleans City of the Dead and gave me some information he claimed was from Lilith, so I guess we were kind of on not friendly terms, but less adversarial ones.
“Sabina.” David spat my name out like a mouthful of venom.
“What are you doing here?”
“Thanks to you, Lilith handed me over to the Dominae.”
I blinked. “How is that my fault?”
“I told you too much when I visited you in New Orleans.”
Actually, he’d scared the hell out of me by showing up in a graveyard like the Ghost of Murder Victims Past. He’d spouted off a bunch of dire-sounding but completely vague nonsense.
“It pissed off the Great Mother,” he continued, “so she threw me to the dominatrices to be their slave.”
“Look, dude, no one forced you to tell me shit. So if you got into trouble, it’s your own damned fault.”
“Sabina,” Tristan warned.
I shot him a glare. He didn’t know my history with David. “Whatever,” I said, dismissing David’s presence altogether. “Ewan?”
Ewan was another vampire friend from Los Angeles, but I hadn’t been his killer. That dubious accomplishment belonged to my grandmother. Ewan had been a bar owner and information broker who Lavinia had murdered for f**king information out of one of her Undercouncil members. While David looked like he wanted to kick my ass, Ewan looked like he didn’t recognize me at all.
“Your presence is expected in the Dominae’s fortress,” Ewan said in a monotone. Considering he’d been a gregarious and smooth bar owner when he was alive, the change in personality creeped me out. It was like he’d been lobotomized as well as murdered.
I glanced at Adam. I hadn’t given much thought to who might be waiting for us in the castle. But now that they’d identified it as the home of the dead Dominae, I realized it made perfect sense. The leaders of the vampire race had led the living vampires with steel fists. Why should dying change their approach?
But that also meant I was about to come face-to-face with my grandmother, Lavinia Kane.
I’d expected to run into Lavinia at some point on this quest, but that didn’t help with my anxiety. I hadn’t seen my grandmother since the night Maisie killed her in a New Orleans cemetery. Of course she’d be waiting for me inside. Lilith couldn’t have chosen a better—and by better, I mean more f**ked up—person to conduct my test. No doubt about it, getting through this next gate would be the toughest test yet.
Ten minutes later, Twiddle Bitter and Tweedle Dumb led our not-so-merry group into the main hall of Castle Dracula. At the front of the room, seven thrones had been erected on a dais. In each, a different female sat, each more intimidating than the last. Some quick math told me these were all the Dominae who’d ever existed. Back in ancient times, a singular female ruled the race before the new laws requiring three heads of the race were instated, which explained the female in the center. Her skin was so pale she practically glowed and the dried blood shade of her hair indicated her ancient age.
To her right sat the Dominae who had been the first triumvirate to lead the race. And to her left, three thrones were filled with Persephone, Tanith Severinus—who’d died the same night as Orpheus—and Lavinia Kane.
The edges of the room were lined with the males who served these ancient, powerful females. They wore collars around their bowed necks and didn’t dare look directly at any of their owners. The Dominae had always been violently matriarchal on earth, and it seemed those practices extended to their afterlife as well.
When we’d entered, Nyx and Horus had fallen in beside me with the others bringing up the rear. Since this was vampire territory, we’d have to be careful about protocol, thus the three vampires in our group needed to be the most visible.