And that red mouth curved up in a smug smile.
Then she spoke in a voice that was ancient and heavy as the furs lining the floor. “Well, it’s about time.”
“Lilith,” I breathed.
FOR THE FIRST time in my life, I was standing in front of Lilith—my mother—and she was a living, breathing creature. I don’t know why that shocked me the most, but she’d always been more myth than real in my mind.
There was something inside me that was repelled by the chain around her slender neck. It was a weird feeling, one of familial bonding. After all, no matter what, she was my mother, and she was chained. I didn’t like it. I didn’t even like the feeling, and I didn’t know what to make of any of that.
“Mother would’ve been a more appropriate greeting,” she said, and that voice was like a thousand Bambis, slithering under my skin. “But then again, I should not expect such courtesy from you.”
I blinked at the thinly veiled insult.
Lilith didn’t so much as walk toward the center of the room as she drifted. I wasn’t sure her feet touched the stone at all. “Why is she here? I do not believe it is to free me, not with you here.”
“You know you will never be freed,” Grim replied acidly. “No matter what the Lilin thinks, your time down here is hardly finite.”
A change swept over her face, softening the ethereal beauty. “My son? Do you bring word of him?”
The breathlessness of her voice was a kick to the chest that woke me up. “Your son? You mean, that insane thing running around topside, wreaking havoc?”
Her pale eyes narrowed on me. “That is your brother you’re talking about. Have some respect.”
“My brother?” I snorted. “Yeah. No.”
She shook her head and the long waves danced around her face. “You cannot deny what is. He is a part of you. You are a part of me. The three of us are connected.”
I stiffened. “I’m not a part of you or him.”
Lilith raised her chin. “You always were such a disappointment to me,” she said, and I flinched, unable to help myself. “I had such great hope for you. You were to be the one to not only free me, but to rise with me. We would’ve changed the world, but this?” She paused, raising her hands. “This is what I have to show for it. You do not respect me. You do not honor me.”
“Wow,” I murmured, drawing in a shaky breath. “Just wow. Have you ever cared for anyone—loved them?”
“Love?” She wrinkled her nose distastefully.
“Paimon loved you,” I replied.
She rolled her eyes. “That fool. He failed at releasing me and he is the reason they all watch too closely now. There is no such thing as love, and please, do not expose a whole new level of idiocy by arguing with me. I’ll ask again.” She cast her gaze to Grim, who was still holding me from behind. “Why is she here?”
“I’ll ask the questions.” Grim’s hold on my waist didn’t loosen, as if he expected me to race forward and tear the chain from the ceiling. Needless worry. That wasn’t going to happen. “Will you call back the Lilin? You know you can. Even from this cell, you can stop this.”
“Why can’t you make her?” I asked.
Grim all but growled. “It is not that simple.”
Lilith’s gaze flickered between us, and then she tossed her head back, letting out a throaty laugh. “Is that a serious question? You ask me to stop my son?” Lowering her head, her gaze flashed like steel. “If I cannot have my way, then I cannot wait for the destruction he will heap upon mankind. He will bring about the one thing that I could never accomplish—the end.”
“Why?” I demanded. “Why would you want that? No one wins in that scenario. Not even you.”
“Why?” Disbelief flooded her face. “Have you no idea what I’ve suffered? First thanks to the one who created me and then at the hands of man? Have you no clue what I’ve lost? My freedom stripped from me time and time again! My choices thrown away! I was cast from Eden, left to fend for myself in a dark world full of horror! You have no idea what I’ve experienced. Do not dare to ask why.”
“You have suffered,” Grim said quietly. “And so have the many souls I’ve claimed because of your hand.”
She laughed bitterly. “And I do not regret a single thing.” She glanced down at me. “Well, maybe just a few things.”
I jolted and blurted out the first thing that came to mind. “I’m your daughter.”
Her face tensed. “Then honor me.”
“I can’t,” I whispered, choked. “Not if honoring you means millions of people will die.”
“Then we are done here.”
“So we are,” murmured Grim.
The wall of flames returned with a thunderous pop, and then we were no longer there. We were back at the bridge, and Grim released me. I stumbled away from him, to the wall.
I stared down at the water for several moments, feeling nauseous and...and heartsick. There was a wound there, one I’d spent the better part of my life ignoring or pretending wasn’t a big deal, but it was and it did hurt. No matter what Lilith was, she was my mother, and neither she nor my father had ever cared for me. “Why did you bring me to her? Other than to prove she doesn’t and never has cared about me?”
“It might have seemed cruel, but you needed to see what she truly is, because it shows you what the Lilin truly is. Nothing will change either of them. No amount of rationale or negotiation. The Lilin must be stopped.”
“I know. I didn’t need to meet her to understand that.” Weary from everything Grim had told me and from meeting the mother for whom I’d been such a disappointment, I faced him. I was done with this. “I want Sam’s soul. You can release it, so it can go where it’s supposed to, and I will stop the Lilin. But I want his soul released.”
Grim stared at me, his expression apathetic. “I cannot do that.”
Prepared for that response, I clasped my hands together to keep from swinging and discovering how easy it would be for Grim to take me out despite my newly discovered immortality. “Please. He doesn’t deserve this. Please. I’ll do anything you want me to do.”
“You should never offer such a bargain to anyone.” His gaze held no cruelty, but I shivered nonetheless. “Especially not me, because I may request from you something you are not willing to give.”
The shiver hit me again. “I have to do this for him. You don’t understand. Sam was a good person—a truly good person. His soul was nearly pure. He doesn’t deserve an eternity of being tormented.”
“I do not disagree, but there is nothing I can do.”
My hands started to shake and I separated them. “No. I know you can. You control the souls that have passed. You’re the—”
“I know what I am, girl, as I told you before,” he snapped, the passivity in his expression bleeding into irritation. “And I know I cannot release what I do not have.”
Frustration poured out of my voice. “Then who has his soul? Who do I need to beg? Because I will.”
“You do not understand.” Grim shook his head, almost sadly. “His soul is no more. Can you comprehend that? Despite what Lilith said, what you are and what a Lilin is are two very different things.”