THIRTY-THREE (Part 2)

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She had heard that he was not the most dangerous Season deity in a fight, but with the way Aruma reacted—a grimace, hesitancy in his stance—she knew there was something about the deity that was off.

Her eyes drifted to the two men next to him. One was a man with long scarlet hair and predatory yellow eyes. His tongue flickered out when she met his gaze. The bright red Karvic rune for disgrace and dishonor painted on his bare chest was the only indication that he was a Dishonored.

The other Dishonored was a gaunt man in a dark gray Dishonored uniform. A few locks of his hair, the colors of a healing bruise, fell over a part of his face. Dark bags hung under his eyes—which she didn't know was possible for deities. There was something off about the way his black eyes moved, flickering vigorously and then dropping to the ground like he had done something wrong.

All three deities oozed bad vibes that made Morita wish they weren't here.

Laptus took a step forward. "Stalver."

He nodded at her. "Laptus. It's been a while."

"I assume you're not here to join our power squad."

"No," he said and looked at Morita. "I'm here for her."

Tingles ran down her arms.

Laptus spat, "You're still working for that Godsdamned coward."

Stalver's lip curled back in disgust. "We don't work with him anymore. We are a new organization with a better goal than merely the end to this war. There are more worlds than this one."

Dread filled Morita. She said, "You want Lihared."

Stalver smiled a wicked grin. "There's no doubt that Corvid will come after me after he's taken over Verotz. He's hungry for power. The crave is natural for him, for any deity of his stature. A ruler does not have a second, only servants."

She saw Aruma tense out of the corner of her eye, but she held out an arm in front of his chest. He stopped. She said lowly, "Do you really think that will work? You can't use Lihared to fight Vertoz. Lihared doesn't stand a chance against Verotz."

"You don't understand, Morita. I don't want to use the mortals to fight Corvid, there are enough deities that can do that already. A kingdom devours another and it becomes an empire. That's what I want with Lihared."

Her dagger was in her hand and she was going for Stalver's throat in the blink of an eye. But before she could get close, someone barreled into her and they tumbled to the ground. She grunted at the rough landing. She heard the sound of Aruma's hissing ice and Laptus's angry shout. With a cry, she kneed the deity above her and rolled out under them.

Her vision flickered as the Underworld opened for her. Come on. Come on. Go, she willed the spirits. None of them moved at her command. A jolt of panic swept through her. Had Stalver's words rattled her this much? She felt control slip out of her hands.

Godsdamnit.

Morita left the damned realm and said to the Dishonored, "Who are you?"

They circled each other. He said, "That's not how this works. And I know how you work."

An overwhelming feeling slammed into her. Panic. Dread. Desperation. Her hand started to shake and a sudden emptiness filled her. "What did you do to me?" Terror dripped from her voice.

Everyone wants to use you and kill you and play you until you drown in misery. You're just a pawn in their games. A piece in their puzzle. A single note in their song.

Morita took in a deep breath and cleared her head of the negative thoughts. It had to be the Dishonored's powers.

She flipped the dagger so that the blade faced the ground and dashed forward. She aimed for his throat and slashed out, but the Dishonored moved one way and pushed her wrist in the other direction. His foot connected to her belly in a merciless kick and she fell. Morita gagged and coughed out something black.

A scream cut through the air. Laptus was holding her arm, spitting curses.

Morita returned her attention to her opponent. Darkness shaded her vision for a split second before it blinked out.

She gritted her teeth. The thing inside her, the thing that whispered, You can't do this, Laptus will turn on you, Aruma doesn't want you, you murdered Scioren, was bothering her. She couldn't concentrate. Her hands quivered.

Godsdamn that.

Morita pressed the blade of her dagger to her neck. The Dishonored widened his eyes. She said, "Release your gift from me, or I'll kill myself."

She could see him struggling to choose, eyes darting to Laptus, Aruma, Stalver, and the other Dishonored like they could barge in and aid him. So, she pushed the dagger until she felt a small prick of pain. His hand shot out, but he was too far from her to do anything.

She said, "Do it."

He hesitated before taking a step toward her. She narrowed her eyes. "Don't doubt me. I'm not afraid to do it."

Lies.

And just as she admitted it, he saw through her trick.

He dashed forward. Morita breathed out a curse. She ducked under his right hook and instead of moving away from him, she threw herself into his side, jamming the dagger in. He shouted and tried to twist on their fall so that he could throw her off him.

However, the second they hit the ground, she pulled her dagger out and, Please help me, dear Gods, plunged her fingers into the wet wound, opening it up further.

The deity howled, and his entire body started to spasm.

Morita didn't know what she was doing. How could she pull out a soul?

But then her fingers found something and she pulled out a shimmering soul. Almost immediately, he stopped moving.

You left me no choice, she said to herself. Yes, no choice but to kill.

He stilled.

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