A Fate of Time – Finally armed with a complete Thieron, Taeral has had to make a desperate choice. But with Death nowhere to be found, he can no longer rely on her to end this.
That responsibility rests on his shoulders now… as it was always meant to, in the end
Grab your copy of Season 9’s thrilling finale.
*Beware of spoilers in the reviews below that are without spoiler alerts*
A Fate of Time by Bella Forrest
“Where could she have gone?”
It was the question I’d asked repeatedly for the past twenty minutes. A question that had been on everyone’s lips from the moment we’d reached the double doors of Death’s palace on Mortis.
I’d left my father in The Shade, still dead. They should’ve taken him back to Calliope, with the other fae. With the threat of the Hermessi’s ritual nearing completion, it would’ve been the sensible thing to do. But none of us, not even Derek and Sofia—not to mention my mother or me—could bring ourselves to do it.
There was one aspect of his location and condition that had offered a sense of comfort. The Hermessi had influence over the Supernatural Dimension and the In-Between. Whatever their ritual entailed, the odds that my father’s body would be used as a weapon in The Shade were minimal. At best, he’d be just one of the five million the elementals needed to bring about the end of days where they were the most powerful—like a battery lost somewhere far away, still powering their principal apparatus.
I knew Corrine and Ibrahim would’ve sealed Sherus’s glass house with all the magic they knew, just to make sure it would be safe for the rest of The Shade. And that wasn’t even the worst part of this entire situation. Hell, the sanctuaries being up in the air and humming with energy wasn’t the worst part, either. No, the worst part was that I had chosen to bring Thieron back to Death, here on Mortis, so she could put an end to it all. And Death was nowhere to be found.
“What’s the word from The Shade?” Raphael asked Amelia, who’d just gotten off the comms line with Derek and Sofia.
She shook her head slowly. “So far, nothing. The Hermessi children are safe. The ones who remain loyal to Brendel are secured and restrained. The portal is on lockdown. And Sherus… he’s okay, for now. He knows you had to do this,” she said, looking at me. A Fate of Time
I’d yet to find the courage to speak to my mother about this. To make her and my father understand my decision. With Brendel and her Hermessi so close to us, and with only a sliver of Phyla power for Phantom to use upon her release, coming to Mortis to finish this quest had seemed like the more reasonable choice. Every fiber in my body had urged me to use Phyla to revive my father instead, but it would’ve meant taking the long way back to Mortis afterward, and that would’ve been a recipe for disaster.
We were already just yards away from the finish line, and Brendel was ready to do absolutely everything to stop us. It was a risk I hadn’t been able to take, despite my unending love for my father.
“What about the sanctuaries? Any progress?” I asked, my voice fading, as I leaned back against the palace doors. No one was coming to answer. No one would open them. Judging by the heavy silence around us, this place was abandoned.
“They’re still up in the air, hovering and buzzing weirdly,” Amelia said. “They’ve tried getting closer, repeatedly, but the Hermessi just keep everyone out. GASP is focusing on evacuating the areas surrounding them. Trying to get as many people away as possible.”
Herakles crouched, letting a deep sigh out. I could certainly understand his frustration. We were all feeling it. “Nowhere will be safe unless we stop the ritual. If the Hermessi finish it, our people will be dead. We’ll all be dead.”
Except Lumi, Eira, and me, but I didn’t dare say that out loud. It was the least of my worries. “What about the GASP officers?” I replied, looking at Amelia. “Will they stay on or fall back to The Shade?”
She blinked several times, as if struggling to understand this one part of the federation’s protocol that everyone seemed to have forgotten about. Since the Hermessi incident had become a clear threat to the In-Between and the Supernatural Dimension, new rules had been put into place. Knowing that those dimensions were in the Hermessi’s crosshairs, and that Earth was still safe—at least for a while—GASP had decided unilaterally that all of its agents could retreat to The Shade if they wanted. I’d have understood if they’d chosen to stay and die with their people, too.
“The purpose of going back to The Shade is to protect it and Earth from the Hermessi once they decide to breach that dimension,” I explained. “They’ll have enough power to come through if the ritual is completed. I hate thinking about it as much as you do, but I’m pretty sure Derek and Sofia have already discussed it.” A Fate of Time
“Have you lost hope, then?” Varga asked me, his brow furrowed.
“No. But it looks as though Death has gone missing,” I replied, tension building up in my throat. “I have to consider all the possibilities. I gave up on saving my own father to be here and… she’s out.”
Seeley cleared his throat. “I don’t think she was planning for it. I would’ve heard something. She would’ve told me. I was always meant to escort you all back to Mortis once you got Thieron.”
“Then where the hell is she?!” I snapped, too close to succumbing to despair, for my own sake. Eira squeezed my wrist, demanding my attention.
“It’s not over yet,” she murmured. “We still have a little bit of time.”
Lumi walked over to the edge of the platform. “Can anyone see the spirits that used to haunt these woods?”
Amelia shook her head. “Not since the Reapers intervened after our first visit here,” she said, looking at Seeley. “Do you see anything?”
“No,” he replied, his concern obvious. Last time we’d been here, this entire area had been riddled with ghosts, spirits that Death had wanted to keep close. Whether for comfort or just a whim of solitude, I didn’t know, but at least we’d felt like there were others around.
“You might’ve taken away our ability to spot them with a scythe, but you should at least be able to sense them. Do you? This place feels… empty, different from the last time we were here.” Lumi surveyed the thick bamboo woods that guarded the waterfall platform. The thing with spirits was that we couldn’t feel them ourselves, but their presence had still made a slight difference in how we’d seen this place—as if we’d known, deep down, at least faintly, that we were being watched, that we weren’t exactly alone. Lumi was right. It felt lonely and barren, this time around.
“So, there’s nothing?” Amelia asked Seeley, as if to make sure, her eyes wide with disbelief.
“Nothing at all. Not a single spirit, Reaper… nothing,” Seeley said.
“Just as I thought.” Lumi turned to face us. “It’s not just Death who went away. I think Mortis is quite literally empty.” A Fate of Time
I glanced at Phantom, Soul, and Widow, the three of them finally reunited after all those years. Seeley stood quietly next to them, his expression darkened by concern. “What do you make of this?”
Phantom shrugged. “Not much, if I’m honest. Like Seeley, I can’t feel Death here.”
“Then what the hell are we supposed to do?” Eira replied. “You said it yourselves, Brendel is coming for us.” A Fate of Time
Something thundered above us. We’d been so drawn into Mortis’s tomb-like silence that we’d not even noticed Kabbah coming down from the sky, his body glowing emerald-green. My pulse quickened at the sight of him. A Fate of Time
“Took you long enough,” Eira muttered, prompting me to look at her in surprise.
“You knew he would find us here?” I asked her, as Kabbah landed smoothly in front of us, his back to the palace. The glow dimmed, leaving his hands alight, and his eyes burning green.
“Given our increase in strength, as Hermessi, per the ritual, I’m able to reach out to Eira, much like I would any of my brethren,” Kabbah said. I’d almost forgotten that the hostiles’ power wasn’t the only one growing. The rebels were reaching new levels of strength, as well.
“He sounded like a whisper in the back of my head,” Eira said. “He sort of already knew where we were going after what happened on Aledras, so… I just confirmed it.”
“That’s good,” I replied. “Your telepathic connection clearly comes in handy.”
“Where’s Brendel?” the Soul Crusher interjected, glancing at Kabbah.
“She’s headed for Mortis,” Kabbah said. I’d yet to get used to thinking of him as Kabbah, Nevertide’s ancient Earth Hermessi, since he was still wearing Fallon. “I can sense her. She’ll be here within the hour.”
“What did GASP advise us to do?” Riza asked, staying close to Herakles.
We were all still recovering from the dream world in which Phantom had plunged us for the Phyla challenge. There were snippets of that life woven into reality, and there were moments where I was tempted to believe that Eira and I were a pair, that Eva and Varga were engaged… Phantom had certainly done a number on us.
But reality was much worse. In hindsight, I would’ve been inclined to stay in the dream world. It would’ve been better than out here, despite its intricate weirdness. My instinct never would’ve allowed it, though. The call of my people was too strong. Our desire for survival too powerful, impossible to ignore, regardless of how enticing Phantom’s dream might’ve seemed.
“Derek said we must figure out a way to find Death,” Amelia replied. “I’ll be honest, he gave me a sense of defeat. He’s having a hard time moving forward, and so is Sofia. I don’t even know how the others are feeling, but I’d guess they’re in the same ballpark. They’re relying on us, Tae.”
“Figure out a way to find Death,” I said, repeating after her. “How does he expect us to do that?”
“The same way you’ve managed until now,” Soul cut in, glowering at me as if I’d disappointed him somehow. “Your girlfriend is right. It’s not over yet.”
“She’s not my…” I stopped, my voice trailing off. If there was one thing that had fueled me until now, it had been the prospect of a future where I could get to know Eira better. Maybe we could even make the better parts of our shared dream come true. I gave her a sideways glance and found her smiling at me, filling me with the kind of warmth I’d been yearning for. It was her quiet way of encouraging me. After all, Eira was still here, by my side, with the rest of the team, ready to do whatever it took to get Thieron back to Death. “Okay. Cool. Figure out a way to find Death. Okay. Any ideas? Reapers go first, since she’s your mommy.” A Fate of Time
The four Reapers looked at one another, but none came forward. I had a feeling I was barking up the wrong tree on this one. Behind me, the palace doors felt cold and unwelcoming.
“We can’t peek inside,” I said, shifting my focus to Varga. “Right?”
He frowned. “Still blocked, much like the first time we were here.”
“We should still go in,” Amelia said. “Maybe she left some clues in there? I don’t know.”
“I agree,” Seeley replied. A Fate of Time
Phantom nodded. “This is unlike Death. We should investigate.”
“Fine. We’ll investigate. We’ve only got minutes on the clock, but heck, we made it this far, right?” I blurted, then looked at Kabbah. “I trust you’ll let us know if you feel Brendel getting closer.”
“She’s on her way, bucko. That hasn’t changed,” he replied.
“We’ll need a place to go,” Eva suggested. “We obviously can’t stay on Mortis.”
“True, but let’s see what’s inside first,” I said. “If Amelia is right, and we find something that’ll lead us to Death, at least we’ll have a destination.”
“Allow us,” Widow replied, motioning for me to get out of the way.
Joined by Soul and Phantom, he took my place in front of the double doors. They took out their scythes and scratched a series of symbols in a circular pattern, whispering in unison. When they were done, they stepped back and clinked the blades together. The brief contact released a flash of light, which coincided with a small, controlled explosion between the doors, smack in the middle of the circle.
The doors swung back, revealing the long, seemingly endless hallway with paper walls and screen doors on the sides. It was dark, for the most part, with small flames still flickering in the wall-mounted lamps.
A chill ran down my spine as we went inside. “Hello?” I called out.
My voice echoed through the building, but no answer came.
We advanced through the hallway, glancing left and right occasionally. The rooms were all empty. The souls that had once resided here were long gone. “Remember the four Hermessi guarding her throne room?” Eira asked me, and I nodded in response. “I think they’re coming…”
“They most certainly are,” Kabbah said from behind. “I will stand guard outside and hold them back. Devil’s Weed won’t help you here. They all know you’re looking for Death, and this is your first stop.”
Glancing over my shoulder, I watched him head back, and I prayed we’d be done with this place before the Hermessi of Mortis got here.
“I wonder if they’re still serving Death,” Eira said. “They leaked our movements to Brendel the first time around.”
“Exactly,” Lumi replied. “So put no faith in them. They serve the ritual and nothing else.”
“I’m still creeped out by the fact that she had spirits in these rooms,” I said as we kept moving. “Purely for company.”
Seeley sighed. “She gets lonely. In her defense, I can see why she’d keep souls of the living around. You’re all fascinating creatures.” A Fate of Time
“You were alive, too, a long time ago,” Varga retorted.
“I sometimes forget,” Seeley replied. “It was more than a thousand years ago.”
“There’s the throne room,” I said, pointing ahead.
It didn’t feel like it had before. The weight of her presence was gone. The silence was understandably creepy, but I didn’t experience the curious dread I’d first faced upon walking down this hallway.
“Not too shabby, if you ask me,” Soul said. “Then again, she had plenty of time to spruce this place up after she lost Thieron.” A Fate of Time
“She didn’t lose it. It was stolen from her,” Phantom corrected him.
“Speaking of, I still can’t wrap my head around how that happened, in the first place,” Eva said, cautiously looking around as we reached the throne room doors.
“I only know what she told me,” I replied. “After she stopped the previous ritual, she was weakened, tired. Brendel stayed close enough so as not to get burned by the pulse, then swooped in and snatched Thieron. Death didn’t have the strength to go after her.”
Soul chuckled. “Brendel was never an idiot. A fanatic, maybe, sure. But she always had the smarts it took to eventually pull off this insane ritual. Believe in something for long enough, and you’ll make anything happen.”
He glanced at me as he spoke, and I caught the hidden meaning of his words. He’d felt me losing faith in this endeavor, and he was ready to stop me from making a full descent into madness and despair. For that, I would be forever thankful. I gave him a faint nod, just for him to notice.
The throne room doors were open, we realized, as Soul, Widow, and Phantom pulled them to the side.
“Oh, dear,” Raphael muttered.
We froze in the doorframe, gawking at the silent horror lying before our very eyes. The throne room’s painted paper walls were torn down, and darkness reigned beyond. The wind howled through, fluttering across the dead Reapers that had been left behind.
“Holy crap!” Amelia croaked, pointing at three familiar figures. “Theoth, Wrik, and Baethal! The snarky triplets!”
They were all dead, just desiccated corpses whose more familiar features we could all still recognize. Their scythes were on the ground, shimmering in the faint light coming down from above. Looking up, I could see the flames dwindling in the chandeliers. Soon, this entire place would be swallowed in the same kind of darkness that surrounded the torn walls.
“Their throats were slit,” Seeley said as he did a brief survey of the room.
There were dozens of Reapers here, with black-and-white uniforms of different styles, but Baethal, Wrik, and Theoth were still easy to identify. They were closest to the throne, on their backs. Their eye sockets were empty, as if the galaxies that had twinkled in them had vanished upon their assassination.
“Only Death or one of the First Ten can kill Reapers like this,” Phantom said. There was genuine concern in her voice, and that worried me the most. This scene worried her as much as it did us. “It’s called True Death.”
Indeed, this was eerily different from the last Reaper death I’d seen. When Seeley had killed Yamani, he’d turned to ashes in an instant. “How does this happen?”
“It’s a cruel way to kill a Reaper,” Phantom replied. “The soul is bound to the Reaper’s form, forever stuck, unable to move on, unable to do anything. The form itself withers, as you can very well see. It’s like staring into eternity as it flows past you, and you… you can’t escape.” A Fate of Time
“The irony being that it’s called True Death, when, in fact, it’s infinitely worse than a usual Reaper death,” Seeley mumbled, his brows furrowed as he stood next to the throne.
“Why would anyone do this?” I asked, my blood running cold. “How evil would you have to be to do this to these Reapers?”
“Whoever is responsible, they wanted them to suffer,” Widow said. “This is the one fate I hope I never encounter.”
“You said only Death or one of the First Ten can do this,” Amelia replied. “Do you think she’s responsible? That she killed them all and fled?”
Soul gasped. “Why would she do that, when Thieron was so close to coming back to her?! No, it doesn’t make sense!”
“Then one of you did it,” Raphael said. “Well, not one of you three, here. One of the other seven First Tenners?”
Soul, Widow, and Phantom stared at each other for a while. They probably had a hard time even imagining the culprit as one of their own. But Seeley didn’t seem all that surprised. “What’s your theory on this?” I asked him.
He whispered into his blade and pointed it at the throne. The scythe lit up white, as if reacting to something—my guess was Death’s trace. “She was here until not that long ago,” he said, looking at the three First Tenners. “The slivers of energy she left behind are fading. I’d say she’s been gone for a day or so, tops.”
Soul walked over to the throne and whispered into his scythe, repeating Seeley’s motions around the regal seat. His blade hummed and shone white, as well, prompting him to nod in agreement. “One of our brothers or sisters was here, as well.”
Phantom and Widow joined in their own study of the throne, using similar spells, while the rest of us stilled, watching in silence as the Reapers investigated this otherworldly crime scene.
“Do you know which of your siblings was here?” Lumi asked.
They all shook their heads. Seeley moved away from the others, holstering his weapon. “I know Kelara was investigating the First Ten.” A Fate of Time
“Ah, right. The sharp one.” Soul chuckled.
“You knew about this and you didn’t tell us?!” I replied, suddenly blindsided. I remembered Kelara as the Reaper representative in the Calliope sanctuary, but that was pretty much all I knew about her. That she was investigating anything regarding the First Ten was new information—at least to me.
“There was no point in telling you anything until Kelara came back with something concrete. Which she has yet to do,” Seeley said, his tone firm, as if I’d offended him.
“Has she said anything since we last spoke?” Soul asked him.
Phantom seemed as confused as the rest of us. “What is this about?”
“While we were outside the glass bell, waiting for you to release Phyla, Kelara got in touch,” Seeley explained. “She was following a lead, persistent in her theory that a First Tenner had been helping Brendel. Chances are, if she’s right—which, by the way, I think she is—then that First Tenner has been supporting Brendel’s ritual mission for a long time. Likely since before she stole Thieron.”
“It makes sense, if you think about it,” Widow said to Phantom. “How else would Brendel have known when to strike?”
Phantom nodded slowly, looking at Seeley. “Any word from this Kelara?”
“Not yet,” he replied. “I tried reaching out to her the moment we got here, but she hasn’t responded.”
Amelia sucked in a breath. “So, it’s no longer a theory, huh? I mean, we’ve all sort of thought about this since we got Zetos. That someone super powerful must’ve helped Brendel. We just didn’t know Kelara was also on this.”
“You couldn’t have. You were busy between the silken sheets of Phantom’s dream,” Soul shot back, grinning ear to ear. “Phantom told us all about it. We have a telepathic connection, remember?” It was enough to make me shudder.
The skies boomed outside, bringing the entire conversation to a sudden halt. We all glanced at the doorway. My pulse started its race through my body, setting me up for an adrenaline rush. My survival instincts were kicking in, demanding that I leave the premises immediately.
“I think they’re coming,” Nethissis spoke, nervously glancing around.
Footsteps down the hallway made me stiffen, until a figure hurriedly emerged from the semi-darkness. The wall sconces had begun to die out along the way. It was Kabbah.
“I figured I’d be better off if you just teleport us all out of here,” he said to me. “The four Mortis Hermessi are circling the palace. I doubt it will still stand after they’re done with it. They didn’t look friendly.”
“Of course they’re not friendly. They’re serving that maniac,” Herakles replied dryly.
It was time to go. Teleporting everyone to the pink water cave wasn’t going to be a problem. However, as the ground beneath us began to vigorously shake, I found myself annoyed by the fact that we had yet to establish our next destination.
We could jump into the pink water, sure… but where would we go?