Chapter 20


I thought about it for half a heartbeat, and even that was too long. There was no question what my decision could be. Seth and I were bound together. Even if it had been for Jerome's convenience, Seth had found my soul across the incredible reaches of the dream world. Seth and I had found each other, life after life, and continually fallen in love. Even if we didn't consciously remember each other, some inner part of ourselves had connected. I remembered Roman's words.

Over and over, you find each other and lose each other, you bicker and fight, throw it all away on mistrust and lack of communication. Are you going to let that continue?

No, the cycle was going to end. On my terms. These lives we'd lived . . . the pain we'd suffered . . . it wouldn't be for nothing. It didn't matter if Seth hated me and never wanted to see me again. I wouldn't abandon him - not now, not ever.

"No deal," I said to Roman. "Seth and I are doing this together, whether he knows it or not."

Roman didn't try to talk me out of it. He simply said, "You understand what's at stake?"

"I do." If we failed here, I wouldn't just lose my soul. I would also be looking forward to an eternity in Hell's service, with superiors none-too-pleased that I'd shaken up the status quo. I didn't doubt that there was some article or clause somewhere that said I couldn't be penalized for this, but as I'd noted before, Hell had plenty of ways of punishing people off the record. The Las Vegas position would probably no longer exist, forcing me to relocate to some truly terrible location.

Hannibal called the court back to order, and Roman relayed my decision.

Hannibal clicked his tongue disapprovingly. "Risking it all for the new car, eh? Well, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, it falls in your hands now. You've heard the evidence - and lack thereof. Do you believe there is enough 'proof' to support the petitioner's case? Should both contracts - that these individuals willingly signed - be invalidated?" So much for justice being blind.

The jury cast votes anonymously, which I found interesting. It was a small nod toward impartiality, theoretically providing protection to those who voted against their side's best interests. From what both Roman and Marcel had told me, I could see it happening among the angels. But did it ever happen with demons? Even if they knew the right or wrong of a situation, their ultimate goal was to accrue souls for Hell. Would any of them be moved by a case enough to go with their conscience? Was it possible that some spark of goodness could still endure in the darkness of this place? Judging from the quick way everyone scrawled their responses on the pieces of paper given, it didn't look like it. There was no hesitation. The demons wore cocky, self-assured expressions. Angels and demons came from the same stock, but I'd been told that once they spent enough time in Hell, that angelic nature was eroded away. These demons weren't going to lose any sleep about what became of my soul.

The votes were collected by the bailiff. He sorted them into two suspiciously similarly sized piles and handed them to the judge. Hannibal did a quick count and nodded to himself before addressing us. A new stillness fell over the room.

"Here we go," murmured Roman.

"The jury has spoken," said Hannibal. "Six to six. We have a tie."

There was a collective exhalation in the room, and then the tension ramped back up as everyone waited for the next step. I shouldn't have been surprised by the tie, but some part of me had been hoping maybe, just maybe, a wayward demon would've voted in my favor. I had my answer. There was no spark of goodness here. It couldn't survive in Hell.

"In accordance with article . . . fuck, I don't know . . . article something-or-other, we'll be going to a tiebreaker vote," said Hannibal. The bailiff returned with an ornate vase, which he handed to the judge. Hannibal dumped out the contents, revealing a white marble and a black marble. "In this case, it really is as simple as black and white. If the black one's drawn, a demon casts the deciding vote. If it's white, an angel will." He paused, looking bemused. "That's so cliched. I don't suppose we could switch the colors around? Just this once? No? Okay, let's get on with it." He scanned the jury and pointed to an angel with curly red hair and long-lashed blue eyes. "You. You'll do the draw."

She nodded her acceptance and approached the bench gracefully. Again, another attempt at justice. If Hannibal had drawn the marbles, I would have been suspicious of the outcome. The fairness of the matter was future solidified when he made her swear to draw fairly, without using her powers to advantage.

"I swear," she said, placing the marbles in the vase. She shook them up and reached her hand in, casting a brief and - unless I was mistaken - sympathetic look at me. Her hand emerged, closed in a fist. When she opened it, no one could see the marble right away, but her face told the story.

"Shit," said Roman.

The angel's palm revealed a black marble. She handed it to the judge who made no pretense at hiding his joy. He thanked her as she returned to her seat and then held the marble up for all the room to see. There was a murmur of excitement among the demons, delighted at having won the gamble he'd laid before us.

I had a moment of regret, but only a small one. I could've walked away from here with my soul and life intact. I could've never brought this up and continued my life as a succubus undisturbed, living out the dream scenario in Las Vegas. Instead, I'd risked everything for the chance to free myself and Seth. And I'd lost for both of us.

Had it been worth it?


" 'Fate' has spoken," said Hannibal, still admiring the marble. "Per the rules, the decision now falls to a thirteenth juror, who will be randomly selected from a pool of Hell's illustrious servants. Doris?"

Doris began clicking away at her laptop. After a few moments, she gave a nod toward the bailiff. He walked toward the back exit, presumably to escort in the thirteenth juror.

My heart felt heavy and leaden, and I was startled when Roman again placed his hand on mine. "I'm sorry," he said in a low voice. "I should have fought harder. Or pushed you to take the deal - "

I squeezed his hand back. "No. You were perfect. The only thing you shouldn't have done was get involved with this mess." It was impossible to believe, but whatever fate awaited me after my suit was denied wouldn't be half as bad as his.

He gave me a playful smile. "What, and miss the chance to laugh in the face of Heaven and Hell? Besides, there's no way I could leave you to - "

The courtroom had given way to chatter when the bailiff left, and now silence resumed upon his return. Whatever sentiments Roman had been about to say were lost, as he joined me in looking back to see the demon who would cast the last condemning vote on me. When I did, I had to do a double take.

It was Yasmine.

I almost didn't recognize her. It had been a year since I'd seen her, a year since I'd watched her fall from grace, transforming from an angel to a demon. Yasmine had committed a number of grave sins as an angel, starting when she'd fallen in love. That alone was forbidden for her kind, but it had gone one step further - she'd fallen for a nephilim named Vincent. Vince was a great guy, but like Roman, the standard reaction from angels and demons alike had been prompt destruction. One angel had finally acted on that impulse, and Yasmine had rushed to defend Vince - killing the other angel in the process.

And with that, she had been condemned to Hell.

I had seen it. It had been terrible. One angel's death, another's fall. It had all gone down the night Nyx had been found and recaptured. Vince and I had been in the cross fire of it. I'd done what I could for him, but there was nothing I could do to stop Heaven's punishment.

Before leaving town, Vince had told me that it didn't matter what I thought I knew about Yasmine. He'd said that once she had spent enough time in Hell and around other demons, she'd become like them. It was what happened to all of them, how someone like Carter could become someone like Jerome. I hadn't believed it at the time but could understand it better after being surrounded in the despair and wrongness of this place. And when I studied her now, I could see it had happened to her too.

I remembered a smiling, laughing young woman with sparkling dark eyes and shining black hair. The hair and eyes were ostensibly the same, but there was no light or laughter in them. Her eyes seemed fathomless, dark and cold as she stared straight ahead and walked to the front of the courtroom. She was wearing a gauzy black dress, reminding me of some Goth courtesan, and her long, flowing hair blended into the silken fabric. Even if I'd never met her or known her history, I would have instantly identified her as a demon. Just like the others in the room, there was something in the way she looked and carried herself.

I was about to be condemned by someone who had once been my friend.

Yasmine reached the front of the courtroom and was gestured toward the witnesses' table. She sat down, gazing around the room with an unreadable expression.

"You've been following the trial?" asked Judge Hannibal.

"Yes," she said, in a voice as expressionless as her face. How she'd been watching, I couldn't say. With Hell, it could've been closed-circuit TV or a magic mirror for all I knew.

"And you understand your duty?" asked Hannibal.

"Yes," she replied.

Hannibal was trying to maintain some semblance of formality and procedure, but the self-satisfied smirk on his face was kind of negating that. He was too goddamned pleased with himself and this turn of events.

"Cast your vote then, based on the evidence and arguments you've witnessed. If you believe the two contracts are both sound and have not contradicted each other, then cast your vote against the petitioner."

When silence followed, Roman spoke up. "And if she thinks the two contracts aren't valid?"

"Yes, yes." Hannibal made a dismissive gesture, annoyed at this obvious waste of his time. "If you believe the contracts do contradict each other, then cast your vote for the petitioner."

Yasmine was given a piece of paper and pen, just like the other jurors. And just like the others, she wasted no time in writing her vote, her markings swift and certain. When she finished, she looked up serenely, no change in her expression, no sign that we'd ever once known each other. As terrible as I felt about my own fate, I couldn't help but feel nearly as bad for what Hell had done to someone as good and kind as her. No, I thought. Not just Hell. Really, Heaven was just as guilty. What kind of group could advocate goodness and not allow its members to love?

Hannibal took the paper from her with a flourish and held it out before him to read. "In accordance with the laws of this court, and the infallible Kingdom of Hell, the jury finds - " There was a pause, and the next part came out as a question. "In favor of the petitioner?"

A spark of goodness in the darkness. . . .

For a moment, nothing happened. The courtroom was silent, frozen in time. Then, several things happened right on top of each other.

From behind me, I heard Jerome say, "Shit."

Yasmine winked at me.

Roman hugged me.

Hannibal reread the slip of paper, looked at Yasmine, and then swallowed before speaking. "Both contracts are declared invalid, null and void."

Most of the room was on its feet, voices raised in fury. I had no time to process what they were saying, though, because I was disintegrating away.

"No, not yet!" I exclaimed.

I reached desperately for Roman, whose arms had been around me, but couldn't get ahold of him anymore. I was becoming nothing, a will-o'-the-wisp, unable to grasp anything of substance. I tried, though. I tried to grab him and take him with me because there was no way I could leave him here, not in the midst of a bunch of demons pissed off over having just lost two souls. I even tried to say his name, but it didn't work. I had no mouth, no voice anymore. I was leaving this place, and he was staying.

The last thing I saw was his sea green eyes regarding me with both happiness and sorrow. I thought I heard him saying something about "a far, far greater thing," and then I perceived nothing. I would have screamed in fury if I could have, but I was gone. I was nothing.

Only darkness.

P/S: Copyright -->www_novelfreereadonline_Com