Hell stood before her, and it was beautiful.
Okay, technically this wasn’t the underworld… if the underworld even existed. Scout supposed there had to be somewhere for lost souls to go. But no, Aptavaras was the home of the Taraxippus. Soul stealers. Demons. Monsters. Kidnappers of her sister’s soul.
And she was here to get it back.
I’m coming, Lil Bit. Just hold on.
Scout glanced at Trey, the boy she loved, the boy who had broken her heart, almost killed her, saved her soul, and given up everything to follow her here. “Thank you.”
His dark, dark brown eyes crinkled when he smiled, and he ran a hand through his black spiky hair. “I’d have to be hogtied and dragged off by something a lot bigger than I am to get me to leave you again, Scout.”
Despite it all, the horror, the exhaustion, and the unknown, she laughed.
“So, are you two done? We probably need to figure out where we are and how to not die. You know, before the soul stealers find us and kill us.” Ashra, Scout’s soul-bonded unicorn, tossed her head and rammed her giant self into Scout, knocking her over. Her neck was still covered in lather from their desperate race across the sky, and her chest heaved.
Scout picked herself up off the ground as Torz snorted in agreement behind her, just as big and black and terrifying in his battle armor, but much more laid-back. For a battle unicorn.
“No offense, but you’re kind of a hothead,” Scout thought.
Ashra snickered. “Funny, I’ve been told that a time or two.”
“So… not that I’m complaining or anything, but where are the soul stealers? Shouldn’t they be swarming the place? I kind of figured we’d be under attack by now. And maybe dead. Not gonna
“Trey’s right,” Scout said. “Where are the soul stealers? In Paradesos, the minute we arrived, unicorns knew it. If this is the flip side of the same coin, why aren’t we being swarmed by demons?”
“Maybe Iros and Havik killed them all.” Trey looked around hopefully. The thought of Iros hurt. He was the immortal human commander of the Irwarros’ army. Havik was his unicorn — bigger, faster, more powerful than anything Scout had ever seen.
And so kind. So caring. He and his rider, both.
Scout’s heart ached.
Ashra shook her head. “It isn’t possible. There are hundreds of thousands. And I watched them come in before us.” Turning on Torz, she said, “How did you keep up with me? I’m supposed to be the fastest unicorn ever. What’s your deal, horse?”
“Desperation makes one run faster.” Torz wandered away from her, leaving Ashra to stare after him.
“Seriously. You’re so blind,” Scout said, bumping Ashra with her hip as she followed Trey’s unicorn. Unfortunately, it was Scout who went stumbling away, grumbling about never running into a unicorn the size of a Clydesdale.
Where Paradesos, the unicorn haven, was green and bright and beautiful, Aptavaras was blue and dim and beautiful, like a dream. A silver mist hung in the air, and the plants all had a dim azure sparkle. Even the grass was more blue than green.
“There is infinite space here. Just like in Paradesos. Finding the trapped souls could take lifetimes,” Ashra said.
Scout frowned. “We don’t have lifetimes. I’m figuring we have maybe a couple days, at most.”