"Liam told me once that if he ever turned into one of those creatures, he wanted me to end it. Before he hurt anyone he cared about," she revealed.  "I told him the same thing."

A cold, heavy stone dropped in my gut at the admission. "But...that was before he knew what I'd seen at the river," I reasoned, clinging to denial. "Before he knew our soldiers were still alive."

When she didn't respond, I spun to face her, and my chapped lips parted at her grave expression.

"No, Alex. He told me the night we took Holly, after he saw what Tom did to you. He made me promise."

I shook my head quickly, the panic rising in my chest and squishing my lungs. "But he knew the truth...he told me he believed me."

Her eyebrows slanted upwards.  "He did believe you. But you have to understand that Liam is terrified of becoming his demons. It's why he's always running. He's not afraid the darkness will consume him; he's afraid he'll embrace it."

I stared at her, taking in those piercing features, those dark and weathered eyes—eyes too old for a woman in her twenties. "What do you mean?"

She looked up at the trees, the high mountain air, searching for a way to explain Asa William Sterling.  "Had Liam stayed in Rhea as a child, he could have as easily become his brother, his father. Vengeful and estranged and entitled. He could have run from Belgate and deserted you and the others. He almost did," she said, and something sour pooled in my mouth. "He was trained to distrust outsiders, Alex. He was raised as a royal, to take what he wants when he wants."

"But he's not like them," I argued, hating that both Siren and Harmon bore such a deterministic outlook. "He's a good person."

"Exactly. He's a good person who doesn't deserve to become the demons he's fought all his life. Certainly not when we don't have a way to save him."  She peered at me the way my mother used to when she'd sit me down and explain the Golden Rule for the hundredth time: a little pitying and a little frustrated.  "We can't hold him hostage until that day arrives."

The statement was too similar to the demon's inquiry, and I hated being slapped with such cruel and flawless logic. 

My jaw ached, and I felt my lips pull down, the tears threatening to shed. 

Not fair. 

This just wasn't fair.

Biting her cheek, Siren pulled me into a hug, her round stomach pressing into my ribs, reminding me that this goddess of a woman was pregnant and still choosing rational thought over emotional attachment. She had a parasite inside her, draining her of nutrients, robbing her of energy, and she still had the ability to make impossible decisions. 

I hugged her back with limp arms, too broken to feel anything but defeat and sadness.

Was I really about to lose him? After Fudge? 

After everything?

"I'm sorry, Alex," she murmured into my hair, her voice a bit scratched, a bit wounded. "But I have to keep my promise."

Her words sent the tears trickling down my frozen cheeks.

I'd lost this battle.

Siren was going to end Will's life. There was no valid argument against it, nothing that would convince this woman to keep his possessor around. She was like a mother to the boy—she loved him, even if she wouldn't admit it—and now she was going to end his suffering so his spirit could find peace, so Will could rest easy knowing his corpse could cause no harm.

Was there a love more powerful than that?  A choice more difficult?

I glared over her shoulder at the boy in the distance, his little black ponytail and that cold, unfamiliar grin marring his face. The demon lifted his head, latching onto my gaze as if he knew what poisoned thoughts plagued my mind.


This was not Siren's mistake.  This was not her burden to bear.

I was the one who first convinced Will to fight in this war. I went after him when he told me not to, and I brought him with us to Ells.  It was my fault we'd come to these crossroads in the first place, and if anyone else were to die by his hand, I'd be to blame.

Demonic eyes bore into mine, daring me to speak the truth into existence:

This task fell to me. 

I'd have to kill him myself.


DuN dun DUN.

Oh man. I've really been struggling to write and focus this past week with my GAD flaring, but I'm excited to get to the book's turning point in the next couple chapters! <3

Thanks for sticking with it through the angst.  There's light at the end of this tunnel. I promise!

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