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So much had changed. The world as he knew it was entirely different.
And yet, it all felt right.
Bradach stood atop the mountain and looked over the vibrant, colorful realm that Death had created. The tall trees, the deep lakes, the mountains reaching high to the cloudless blue sky.
His new home. Actually, it was home to all Reapers now.
He grinned and shook his head. Their enemy had been vanquished. Bran was no longer a threat. Bradach hated to admit it, but there had been a few times that it felt as if Bran would win. But the Reapers had succeeded in defeating their foe.
Bradach’s gaze slid to the left. In the distance nestled in a valley, he was able to make out the top of the white tower, Death’s home.
Well, hers and Cael’s now.
Maybe it was because Bradach was in the second group of Reapers, but he hadn’t had a clue that there was something between Erith and Cael. The fact that Cael’s Reapers, as well as Bradach’s leader, Eoghan, were pleased about it, said that most had taken notice of something during their long eons together.
Bradach was happy for the couple. Though he wasn’t sure what was going to become of Cael’s group since he was . . . more . . . now. The battle with Bran had changed Cael. Bran had syphoned some of Death’s powers and then used them on Cael.
And as only Cael could, he’d managed to harness the poisonous magic running through him and let it meld with his own. The act not only changed his eyes from silver to dark purple, but he was also now as powerful as Death herself.
It made Erith and Cael a couple that no one should ever think to cross.
Bradach drew in a deep breath and slowly released it. As he did, he spotted an approaching figure. The moment Eoghan cleared the tree line, Bradach smiled in greeting.
Eoghan came to stand beside him and let his gaze wander over the terrain. “What a magnificent view.”
“There isn’t a place on this realm that isn’t stunning,” Bradach agreed. “From the mountains to the deserts to the forests to the vast oceans.”
“I would expect nothing less from Erith.”
Bradach folded his arms over his chest. He and the other five Reapers of Eoghan’s group had been rotating in shifts to look for Xaneth. The royal Light Fae had disappeared during the battle with Bran, and they had yet to find him.
Xaneth had joined Death in the fight against Bran, but the fact that the Queen of the Light, Usaeil, wanted Xaneth dead, made her the prime suspect in his vanishing. It didn’t help that no one had seen Usaeil in weeks.
“Is it time?” Bradach asked.
Eoghan turned his head of long, black hair to Bradach, the leader’s liquid silver gaze meeting Bradach’s. Few things unnerved him, but Eoghan’s eyes were one of them. They had been altered after a trip to another realm. Now, there were no pupils in Eoghan’s eyes. Just pools of silver.
“Our hunt for Xaneth hasn’t paid off. We’ve searched Ireland dozens of times, as well as the rest of Earth. Neither Usaeil nor Xaneth is anywhere to be found,” Eoghan stated.
Bradach pressed his lips together briefly. This is what they had all feared. It didn’t bode well that not even Erith could locate Usaeil. “There are two places we’ve not looked.”
Eoghan held Bradach’s gaze for a long moment. “You mean the Dark Palace and the Light Castle.”
“Balladyn is also searching for Xaneth. For whatever reason, the King of the Dark has an affinity for the royal.”
“And you believe what he says?” Bradach asked, not even trying to hide his disbelief—or his disapproval. Then again, all things Dark Fae set him on edge.
One side of Eoghan’s mouth lifted in a grin. “If Usaeil hadn’t betrayed Balladyn, you would’ve grown up worshiping him as one of the greatest generals in the Light army.”
“Instead, he’s now King of the Dark.”
“He’s a survivor,” Eoghan replied, a hard edge to his voice. “He was betrayed, just like every Reaper. The darkness hasn’t stolen all of his light. It’s still there. The proof is in his affiliation with Xaneth, as well as when Balladyn joined us to fight Bran.”
Bradach could point out that the King of the Dark had done that so Bran would stop kidnapping the Dark Fae, but he didn’t bother. Eoghan must see something in Balladyn that Bradach didn’t. There was no use bickering about it. Bradach had his views about the Dark Fae—and they would never change.
Eoghan made a sound at the back of his throat. “Even after serving as a Reaper with both Dark and Light Fae, you still hold a grudge against the Dark.”
There was no use denying it. So, Bradach didn’t.
“I see,” Eoghan said and looked away. There was disappointment in not only his voice but also in his gaze.
Bradach felt compelled to explain his reasons. “The Reapers are different. We’re neither Light nor Dark once we accept Death’s offer. We’re simply . . . Reapers.”
Eoghan sighed heavily. “That’s true, of course. But we each still have the coloring of what we were. The proof of how we lived and what side we chose is there for all to see.”
As if Bradach needed reminding that Dark Fae had red eyes and silver in their black hair. The more silver, the more evil they had committed.
Eoghan crossed his arms over his chest and looked back at Bradach. “Erith considers Balladyn an ally. That may change, but for the moment, there will most likely be instances when we will need to interact with the King of the Dark.”
“Are you asking me if I can do that?” Bradach snorted in annoyance. He really, really hoped that wasn’t what Eoghan was doing. Because Bradach hadn’t liked Balladyn joining them against Bran, but he hadn’t exactly had a say in it.
Eoghan merely stared at him in response.
When Bradach became a Reaper, he’d vowed to follow Death’s orders, no matter what they might be. It didn’t matter that Eoghan stood beside him now. Every order that came to the Reapers came from Erith herself.
Bradach sighed softly, knowing what he had to say, regardless of how difficult it might be. “I’ll do whatever is asked of me. Even if I don’t agree with it. Death appointed you our leader, and you won my trust. I thought I made that clear.”
Eoghan nodded slowly. “You did. But I know your history. That’s what worries me.”
Bradach looked away, not wanting to delve into the past. Even Eoghan mentioning it was enough to make him tense up and sink into a rage that was becoming harder and harder to come back from every time he fell into it. It’s why he didn’t think of his past.
“I learned a long time ago never to offer advice if someone doesn’t ask,” Eoghan said after a moment. “But I’m going to give it to you anyway. Trust me when I tell you that no matter how far you run or how deep you bury those memories you don’t want to think about, they’ll rise up and consume you when you least expect it. Deal with them. Face your past and put it to rest, once and for all.”
It was good counsel. Bradach could admit that, but he still couldn’t do as Eoghan suggested. It was too . . . agonizing. He dropped his arms to his sides and squeezed his eyes closed as he guessed where all this talk was leading.
“You’re sending me to the Dark Palace.” Bradach turned his head to look at Eoghan, waiting for confirmation.
“Wouldn’t Dubhan, Cathal, or even Aisling be better?”
“Why?” Eoghan questioned, a black brow quirked. “Because they were once Dark?”
Bradach nodded. “Not to put so fine a point on it, but aye.”
“Which is exactly why they can’t go. They could be recognized, and that isn’t something we can chance.”
In his head, Bradach was shifting through arguments to change Eoghan’s mind when his leader spoke again.
“The simple truth is, we need you in the palace,” Eoghan said. “You see everything. It’s your skill set, Bradach. Balladyn will see through your glamour, but that doesn’t matter since you’ll be working with him.”
For fek’s sake. Could things get any worse? What had he done to piss Eoghan off so that he’d get sent on the one mission he wanted no part of?
There were numerous reasons Bradach could list why one of the other Reapers would be better for the job, but he didn’t let a single one pass his lips. When he took Death’s offer, he had done it knowing that he was at her mercy. She was his queen now, and by association, Eoghan was his general.
Whatever was asked of him, Bradach would do it. No matter how much he wished otherwise.
“This isn’t a punishment,” Eoghan said as if reading his mind. “I chose you because of how you see things. We need details. All details, right now. I’m aware that being around the Dark will be difficult for you.”
Bradach snorted loudly but kept his response to himself.
Eoghan’s lips thinned for a heartbeat. “But I also know you, Bradach. You’re a Reaper because Death saw your skills as a warrior. Erith and I both believe you can handle this.”
Bradach steeled himself. No doubt this was Death’s way of getting him to face his past. She’d only mentioned it once before, but it wasn’t a coincidence that Eoghan had said something now. Bradach released a long breath and then said, “Tell me what you want me to do.”
“I don’t ask this of you lightly,” Eoghan stated.
Bradach shrugged, his hands clutched into fists. It had to be done, and he had been chosen. That’s all that mattered.
Eoghan gave a bow of his head. “You have the skill set needed to see the mission through. Rordan is too much of a smartass. I need someone cool-headed. Torin would let his pain rule him.”
“And you believe I won’t.”
“No,” Eoghan replied. “You won’t. You never do. It also helps that others underestimate you.”
Bradach issued a bark of laughter. “Because I don’t look like a typical warrior.”
“Because you don’t look like a typical warrior,” Eoghan repeated with a grin. “That will work as an advantage if you do have to fight.”
“No collecting souls while I’m there?” Bradach asked with a smirk.
Eoghan lifted one shoulder as he smiled. “You never know. Death may pass judgment.”
That was unlikely, and they both knew it. The reaping of souls had been taken over by Cael’s group for the moment. They’d earned a break after everything they had been through with Bran.
“Is this where you’ve chosen to make your home?” Eoghan asked to change the subject.
Bradach thought about the life he’d had on the Fae Realm and shook his head. “I came up here for the view, but I won’t live on another mountain.”
“Have you picked out a location yet?”
“Erith had given the entire realm to them, allowing each of the Reapers to choose where they wanted to have a home, though there would be a main building not far from her white tower where they would go for meetings and gatherings. The hidden realm allowed them to live together but apart.
Which was great for Cael’s group since each of them had a wife. Another change to the Reapers, but one that Bradach had no issue with. He might not believe in love, but he acknowledged that some people—very few—had a deep connection.
“Bradach?” Eoghan prodded.
He realized then that he hadn’t answered Eoghan’s question. He lifted one shoulder. “There are a couple of places that have intrigued me. I’ll make a decision when this mission is finished. When do I leave?”
Bradach raised a brow as he waited for Eoghan to continue. “What’s my task?”
“Bradach gaped at Eoghan, utterly shocked—and unsure if he’d heard correctly. “Maeve the Merciless? You can’t be serious.”
“I want you to find out all you can about her and the workings of her business. Balladyn informed us that Maeve and Usaeil were friendly. This could potentially help us locate Xaneth.”
“Usaeil doesn’t have friends,” Bradach pointed out.
“No, she doesn’t. But the fact that she trusts Maeve enough to visit her often means that Maeve might know something about the queen we don’t.”
Bradach sighed loudly. “Even the Light know Maeve. She’s ruthless and uncompromising. She destroys anyone who even hints at betraying her. Fierce. Vicious. Brutal.”
“She’s all that and more,” Eoghan said.
“She could have the Dark throne if she wanted it. Well,” Bradach said when he thought of Balladyn, “she could have taken it from Taraeth. But the current king is a different animal altogether.”
Eoghan grinned, nodding in agreement. “Which is why she has made sure to curry favor with him. Balladyn will be the one introducing the two of you.”
Joy of joys. Bradach would have to act like he was friends with Balladyn. At the rate the day was going, it wouldn’t surprise him if Eoghan asked him to become a Dark permanently.
How the fek was he going to complete this mission?
“Can you handle it?”
Bradach was offended that Eoghan would even ask that question. Bradach shot him a flat look. “Of course. But things would go a lot easier if Rhi would do whatever it is that she’s going to do to Usaeil. That fight has been brewing for a while between the two of them.”
“Not before we find Xaneth.”
Bradach grunted at the reminder of the royal. He didn’t bother to ask why Xaneth was so important. The simple fact was that Death took care of those she called allies, and the royal was one of those.
So, whether Bradach liked it or not, he would put his neck on the line to find a Light Fae who had aided them on occasion but had really been a pain in their arses.
With a thought, he used glamour to change his black hair and silver eyes to the coloring of a Dark. His jeans and white shirt altered to black pants and a charcoal gray button-down.
“I’ll get the information,” he promised Eoghan before he teleported to the Fae doorway that led off the realm to Earth.