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Fury’s Death

By Brey Willows

Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2018 Brey Willows

This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Fury’s Death

Fun-loving fury Megara Graves is seriously tired of working so hard. With the world collapsing around her, she no longer has time for the hedonistic lifestyle she adores. When religion merges with politics and both gods and humans show their true colors, she wonders if it would be better to let the world burn itself to the ground.

Dani Morana, more commonly known as Death, is busy not just with people dying as usual, but with the deaths caused by Chaos as well. She’s been horribly lonely for a long time but knows no one could possibly love her for who she is. Overwhelmed when the world erupts in fear and violence, she needs someone to turn to.

Will Meg and Dani be able to find their way through the darkness enveloping the earth? Or will Death be the last one standing?

Fury’s Death

© 2018 By Brey Willows. All Rights Reserved.


ISBN 13:978-1-63555-064-1


This Electronic Book is published by

Bold Strokes Books, Inc.

P.O. Box 249

Valley Falls, NY 12185


First Edition: March 2018


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.


This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.


Credits

Editor: Cindy Cresap

Production Design: Stacia Seaman

Cover Design by Sheri (graphicartist2020@hotmail)

By the Author

Fury’s Bridge


Fury’s Choice


Fury’s Death

Acknowledgments

Thanks so much to everyone involved in the creation of books at BSB. It’s a road with a million starts and stops, and I appreciate every person who takes the time to make the book better. Thank you in particular to Rad and Sandy for taking a chance on this series, and to Cindy Cresap who always makes my work better and teaches me something new.

And as always, thanks to my wife, who never minds when we have to take a “research trip” at the drop of a hat. Rome was fabulous, love. Thanks for being my writing and travel buddy.

For Robyn, who keeps me writing and inspires me constantly.

Chapter One

Dani Morana knelt beside the bodies and gently closed their eyes. She could feel their souls waiting, confused by the sudden shift from life to death. In the distance were the sounds of crumbling concrete and the screams of those she’d likely be with soon. She rested her hands over their foreheads and called their souls to her. People thought the light they saw when they died was the road to the afterlife, but in fact, it was Dani’s touch, lighting the way to her temporary care. Death waited for no one but stopped for everyone.

She felt the children’s small souls leave the shells of their bodies, the glow of innocence dim but still present. They’d been killed instantly, which meant suffering and worry hadn’t had time to darken their spirits. Their souls felt like winter silk in her hands, and she placed them carefully in her black bag. When she took them to the river where they’d cross into their afterlife, they’d regain some form, much like that they had in life. But for now, in transit, they could rest as the beautiful celestial elements they were.

She stood and brushed the dirt from her jeans as she looked around. In the distance, she saw all three of the fury sisters standing over a group of cowering, cowardly men. Dani knew they were the ones who had come into the newly built school and opened fire on the women and children trying to get an education. Alec’s black mist and ebony snakes flowed from her arms to the man at her feet, while Tisera’s snakes slid from her head and flew at the man below her, her red mist pushing into his ears and eyes.

And then there was Megara. Beautiful, irrepressible Meg. Whenever she was around, Dani couldn’t take her eyes off her. Especially as she was now, with her sunset red wings spread wide, her deep red hair flowing around her, her snakes crawling out of her feathers, and her mist flowing from her hands. Unlike her sisters’ mists, Meg’s wasn’t just one color. It was like a bruised sunset allowed to flow from her palms, with grays, oranges, and pinks intertwining to create a mesmerizing effect.

When that beautiful multicolor mist enveloped the man at her feet, he began to scream. Pleading was clear in any language, but the three sisters were immune to it. Dani looked at the bodies around her and felt no sympathy for the men who had created such carnage, who had destroyed those who couldn’t fight back rather than fight against those who were actually a threat.

“You done?” Alec stepped carefully over bodies and came to Dani’s side.

“I’ve got them all, thanks. Though it sounds like there may end up being a few more soon.” She nodded at the men writhing on the ground. “They won’t do this again?”

Alec shook her head. “Not with what we’ve put in their heads. You know we each punish a different aspect. Because we could see into their minds, we knew who the leader was and who had followed. We punished accordingly, and until they take their own lives, they’ll live with the daily horror of what they’ve done.” Alec touched her arm lightly. “Still have trouble with it?”

Dani tilted her head in acknowledgment. “Sorry. It’s just so awful. Death would be faster, and they wouldn’t be around to do any more harm.”

“That’s the problem.” Meg walked up, still letting her snakes slide back into place among her feathers. “These bastards don’t deserve an easy death. They have to understand what they’ve done. Especially if they believe in some kind of reincarnation. If they come back, hopefully they’ll have learned a lesson from this go-around.”

Tis wrapped her arm around Meg’s shoulders. “And if they don’t come back, they’ll have started learning a lesson that will hopefully continue in whatever afterlife they believe in.” Tis rolled her neck to release tension. “Let’s get out of here.”

Dani opened the portal to her network of time roads and they got into her yellow Mustang convertible to make their way back to California via the Deadlands. There were clusters of houses here and there, along with shops and bars. Dani loved the deep, profound stillness that enveloped her special territory that existed between time and space, the province of Death and those who worked for her. There was laughter and desire, fear and despair, just like there was anywhere else. But there was also a sense of respect and solemnity that pervaded all of Dani’s world. People wouldn’t fear Death quite as much if they knew she considered it an honor to carry their souls to the next stage of their journeys.

Time didn’t exist in Dani’s sector, and they were back at Afterlife, Inc. headquarters faster than anyone else would have been able to travel.

Alec grinned at her. “That’s a definite benefit of traveling with you. I wish we had access to your mode of transport.”

Tis shook out her wings. “Not me. No offense, Dani, but it’s too dark in there. I feel like my wings would hit walls if I stretched them too wide.”

“I like it. It feels sensual. Like people could be having really intense sex in every corner.” Meg bumped Dani’s hip with her own. “I bet you’ve had some crazy times in there.”

Dani laughed and tried not to blush, but Meg always made her feel shy. “You’d be surprised.”

They headed inside and went straight to Zed’s office. Zed and Kera’s office. Dani was still getting used to someone working not just for Zed, but almost as his boss. In her position as Death, she was used to change, perhaps more than any other person in the building. But gods and humans working together was a new one, and she was still wondering how it would turn out in the end.

Kera looked up when they walked in, and although she greeted them all, it was clear her attention was reserved for Tis, who quickly moved to her side and kissed her deeply. Their devotion to one another was moving and made a part of Dani ache.

“So? What was that all about?” Zed looked up from his paperwork and rolled his eyes at Kera and Tis, still kissing.

“Dumbasses, as usual.” Meg flopped into a chair and closed her eyes. “Men thinking they could strengthen their cause by killing women and children.”

“And their god?”

“Allah, technically. But when we looked into their minds, there wasn’t a genuine religious component. They weren’t zealots, just misogynists.”

Kera broke off the kiss but kept her arm around Tis’s waist. “Soul count?”

Dani rested her hand on her bag. “Sixty-two.”

“Can you write up a report to Allah, please? Let him know who these guys were and the soul count involved. The more information he has at hand, the easier his job will be.”

“Sure.” Dani stood and put her bag on like a backpack. “I’m going to head out to deliver these. Need anything else?”

“Can you have your crew send through some reports of where they’ve gone and how many they’ve picked up by the end of the week? I’d like to get a sense of where we need to send the most help next, and body counts are a good indication.”

“The gods can tell you that.” Zed glared at Kera, and everyone in the office braced themselves.

Since the inception of combining Kera’s company, GRADE, with Afterlife, she and Zed had had plenty of arguments, one of which had sent Kera’s hair sizzling when Zed had let loose a lightning bolt. She’d thrown a chair at him in return, and fortunately, Tis and Alec had stepped in to demand a ceasefire. But overall, it seemed to be working. Gods were showing up where they were needed most and providing assistance with actual work. Farming was getting better, schools were being built, and to the extent they could, they were even helping with weather changes so areas depressed by drought were getting more regular, low-level bursts of rain. The planet did seem to be changing, slowly, for the better.

“They can tell me that a lot of people died. They can’t always tell me why, or who did it, or exactly how many were killed, which means a change in the overall population.” Kera glared back at him and swatted away Tis’s feathers, which were wrapping around her more tightly. “Facts and numbers work better than general concepts, old man.”

He stood, towering over them all. “What did you call me?”

Kera stepped into his personal space, craning her neck to look up at him.

“Okay. Well, I’m going to go now,” Dani said. “I’ll make sure my crew get those reports to you. Always nice to see you all.” She backed toward the door and waved.

And just like that, the tension filling the room dissipated, and Kera and Zed began to laugh. “Don’t take off on our account, Dani. This is just the way we do things.” Zed clapped a hand on Kera’s shoulder and smiled at Dani. “Death never has anything to fear anyway.”

“She doesn’t like confrontation.” Meg yawned. “Big bad Death who only deals with people when they can’t talk back.”

Dani shrugged, embarrassed at how accurate Meg’s assessment was. But then, she’d been friends with the fury sisters for centuries, and they knew her better than anyone. “Yeah. That’s me. See you all later.”

She headed down to her car, a pit in her stomach at the thought of Meg dismissing her so lightly. Although the one thing she loved about Meg was her forthrightness and the fact that she didn’t play games, her directness could also be a pillow wrapped in barbed wire.

She fired up the Mustang, opened the portal to the road to the underworld, and floored it. She loved the wind in her hair and the feeling of home as she entered the area where she alone knew every in and out, every direction and need, of the world that was hers alone. The Mustang was her one concession to color in her usually gray-toned world. It felt extravagant, loud, and as though she could be someone more like that, and less like…well, herself.

She took the left fork into the Islamic sector. When she arrived at Allah’s palace she grabbed her bag and headed to the basement. For centuries, Islamic belief held that heaven and hell were only places people would go once Judgment Day had happened. But Allah had been rebranding and altering his texts, as had all the major gods, and now he had an underworld waiting room as well, a kind of Limbo. Those who were worthy would, one day, ascend to heaven. Those who weren’t, however, would immediately descend to hell, one based closely on the Christian version. He’d decided there wasn’t much point in keeping the sinners around longer than necessary. Those waiting for heaven would stay here in the palace and surrounding lands. It was like the Catholics’ purgatory but with nicer gardens and spicy food.

She took her bag to the sorting room, where several of Allah’s angels were busy dividing souls. She handed it over, aware as ever when the person taking it from her made sure to avoid any contact. Even god’s angels were wary of Death.

That chore done, she decided to head out onto the water. She stopped by her place, grabbed her board, threw on a wetsuit, and drove to Zuma. The waves this time of day were perfect, and she loved the way the sun glinted off the water. She parked the Mustang at the edge of the lot and pulled her Special T longboard from the back. The smooth wood was cool under her hands, and as always, she felt herself relax as she carried it out to the water, the sand cold under her feet. Winter swells were often best here, but she had this section to herself thanks to the frigid water. She dropped the board into the waves and slid in behind it. She grabbed the rails and pulled herself on. Though she’d never admit it to anyone, she’d always thought the anticipation of grabbing a perfect wave was even better than the anticipation of sex.

A few waves came toward her, too close together, and she executed some quick turtle rolls to bow under them. She was naturally cold, so the water temperature didn’t bother her. The ocean called to her like nowhere else on earth. The vast array of life beneath her always took her breath away. She’d skied, she’d skydived, she’d bungee-jumped. Nothing compared to the power and serenity of surfing. Life below her, the tides surging to and fro under her board, the skill to ride the blue-green tunnels and even the power of the waves as they crashed down on her body…it was as perfectly alive as she could ever get. Though lately she’d been dealing with changes she wasn’t prepared to think about, making life awkward in new ways.

As she paddled out in the dark water, she let her mind wander. She thought about Tis’s comment about her domain feeling small and about Meg’s joke about it being sensual. Any time Meg teased Dani about sex, she had no idea how to respond. Sure, she’d had plenty of sex in the Deadlands, as it had been called for ages. She’d had her share of relationships and enjoyed a goddess or two. But nothing ever lasted. Not a lot of people wanted to hang out with Death. Except the furies.

A perfect swell formed, and Dani turned to paddle. She moved fast, loving the way the board responded under her, the way she flew with the water. She popped up, put her back foot on the traction pad, and settled into stance. The waves were pulling hard right, and she focused ahead on the tunnel. As she swept through it, finally letting it collapse over her, she put everything else out of her mind. Right now, all she had to be was herself. No job, no friends, no crushes, no anomalies. Just Dani and the ocean, as one.

Chapter Two

Meg stretched her wings and stood on her tiptoes to stretch her legs as well. She looked at the various bodies in her bed and felt her clit twitch in response. After all the death and destruction of the mass shooting, she’d needed a release, the kind only a lot of sweaty, fun sex could provide. She’d called a few of her regular playmates, who hadn’t hesitated to join her. Freya’s long blond braids rested on Pan’s dark, muscled stomach. Philotes and Hathor slept in one another’s embrace, dark intertwined with light. It had been a good night, full of moans, laughter, and pleasure. Meg’s body ached pleasantly from hours of exertion and sexual acrobatics.

She made her way to the kitchen after grabbing her robe and put on a pot of coffee. When everyone woke, they’d all have to get back to work, but for now, Meg enjoyed the feeling of having a full house of people who’d enjoyed sex the way Meg did, unreserved and without boundaries.

“That smells good.” Pan came into the kitchen, his hooves echoing on the slate flooring.

Meg boosted herself on the counter and sipped from her mug. “Help yourself.”

He poured himself a cup and made a sound of appreciation after his first sip. “This is one thing humans have gotten right.”

Meg nodded but didn’t say anything. The morning after was always special for her, a time when the closeness of the night before hadn’t been washed away by the realities of the day yet.

They drank in companionable silence until Pan said, “You know I always love being included in your dirty get-togethers, Meg, but can I ask you something?”

She looked at him curiously.

“Don’t you get tired of the parties? Of sex without strings?”

She scoffed. “You’re one to talk, god of sex.”

He grinned. “I wasn’t saying I was tired of it. I’m a huge fucking fan. But you’re not me. You’re not a sex god at all, though you sure as hell act like one in the sack.” He wiggled his eyebrows, and she laughed. “Seriously, though. Have you ever been in a long-term relationship, had someone to come home to?”

“I’ve had my share. Every couple of centuries I think I’ll give monogamy a try and stick with someone for a while. But familiarity kills passion, don’t you think? Seeing someone every day eventually means you get so comfortable with them you stop trying, and then before you know it, you’ve got pets you pay more attention to than one another, and you’ve forgotten what your lover actually looks like. Then you have to go through some big breakup and move your crap out of their place, and you spend ages thinking of them when you’d stopped thinking of them when they were right beside you. I’m all for drama, but that sort isn’t what I’m interested in.” She motioned toward the bedroom. “And besides, can you imagine limiting yourself to a single body for the rest of your existence? Think what you’d miss out on.”

He laughed and tugged on a feather. “Spoken like a sex goddess. Maybe you could find someone who wouldn’t mind enjoying these parties with you. Then you’d get the best of both worlds.”

Meg poured another mug of coffee and handed it to Freya, who stumbled in with her eyes still mostly closed. “I’ve had that situation once or twice too. And it was crazy fun, but jealousy and insecurity aren’t emotions reserved for humans. It still gets messy.”

Freya opened one eye and looked at the two of them. “I say fuck until your legs give out, then switch positions and find someone else to jump in. Monogamy is for people who don’t have imagination.”

Pan laughed and stomped his hoof. “Well said, Nordic hot stuff. I was just saying Meg might want something more.”

Freya pushed her chest out proudly. “How could she want more than this?”

Meg tweaked Freya’s nipple. “Exactly what I’m saying.”

Pan retrieved his shirt from the back of the couch and slid it on. “Okay, okay. I give in.” He blew Meg a kiss and opened the front door. “I’d better get to work. Fuck like the goddesses you are.”

He left, and Freya turned to Meg. “Let’s go wake the other two. There’s nothing like morning sex before returning to Valhalla to welcome dead warriors home.”

Meg wrapped her legs around Freya’s waist, and Freya carried her back to the bedroom. She pushed aside thoughts of Pan’s words and focused on the soft bodies beside her.

* * *

Meg flipped channels aimlessly, her attention wandering. Freya had been right—morning sex sent the day down just the right path, and Hathor and Philotes had been more than welcoming when Freya and Meg had slid in beside them.

Now, though, alone in the quiet of her home, she was drawn back to her conversation with Pan. What she’d said was true. She’d been in relationships before, and for a while, they’d been great. But when you lived for thousands of years, there was no denying it was hard to be with just one person. There was such variety out there. So many types of people, so many bodies, so many appetites and desires. Meg had tasted many and hated being told she couldn’t do what she wanted to, when she wanted to do it.

The phone rang, and she jumped to grab it, glad for a distraction.

“Hey. Can you come down to the office? We need your fashion sense,” Tis asked.

Meg smiled and skipped to her room to get dressed. “Tis, you know I can’t resist a request like that. What’s up?”

Tis sounded distracted. “You know how we discussed rebranding with everyone? The underworld gods were particularly interested, seeing as how they’re the ones who have the most difficulty getting genuine followers. The courses Jesus is running are great, but a lot of people need more personal advice, and obviously, Jesus is busy running his own lines. Azrael’s been bugging me for my opinion on stuff—”

“And you totally don’t have the time for that. Not to mention you’ve got the fashion sense of a black crayon. No problem. I’ll be there in ten.”

Meg dressed quickly, her thoughts whirling. Ever since Alec had been designated as the one to work with the Bridge, and Tis had taken on the role of legal consultant at Afterlife, Meg had felt like the loose end sister. She knew she wasn’t all that smart, and she wasn’t exactly reliable. It was good to be seen as useful for a minute, even if it wasn’t for saving the world.

She dressed in her favorite jeans and low-cut T-shirt and headed to the office. Living on the Afterlife campus meant she could easily walk to work, without the hassle of humans or having to drive. She took the stairs down to the basement level, where the underworld gods’ offices started. Hades was on minus one, Azrael on minus two, and so on. Although they didn’t have the large numbers of staff the other gods did, they still liked to have their own spaces, something Meg understood completely. She knocked on Azrael’s door.

“Come in.” Azrael looked up from his work and smiled when he saw her. “Excellent! Thanks for coming, Megara. You’re looking stunning, as always.” He kissed her cheek and squeezed her butt at the same time.

She shoved him away. “Always the groper. I can’t believe no one has ripped your hands off yet. And why don’t you come to my parties anymore?”

“Who has time to play when we’re supposed to be out among the humans? And I’ll have you know, plenty of people like my hands on them, thank you very much.”

“Or they just don’t want to chance offending you.” She picked up a shirt folded neatly on the chair. “Is this what you’re thinking?”

“I think so. Hell, I don’t know. I like Tisera’s idea about rebranding and rethinking what we offer the humans. I mean, now that the shiny gods can market themselves, it makes sense for us to do it as well. Who wants to follow a god that offers just death and misery, right? So I’m doing a full overhaul of Hell. Obviously, I still have to have the punishment element, I mean, that’s my thing, right? But how cool would it be to offer more than that?”

Meg waved the shirt at him. “And you think horrible rugby shirts are the way to signal that?”

He shrugged. “Like I said, I don’t know.”

She thought for a second. “Show me around. Show me what changes you’re making to Hell. That might give me some idea on where you stand.”

He jumped up and opened the door. “Awesome. You’ll be the first to see it.”

They made their way down the hall, past offices full of demons and other creatures who were working on nightmare software and porn sites, easy ways to get to humans. When one office seemed to have lots of social media sites on screens, she looked at Az questioningly.

“Pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth. Social media sites work on every level of the seven deadly sins, all in one place. It’s a fabulous way to watch humans come to our side without even knowing they’re doing it.” He opened the door at the end of the hallway marked “Staff Only.”

The acrid scent of burning coal assaulted her instantly. “Geez, Az. I think you could start by containing that smell.”

He sniffed and looked slightly offended. “I’ve always loved that smell.”

“Yeah, well, if you want the fires of hell to be more welcoming, you’re going to have to do away with the burning flesh candle scents.”

He held up a finger, dashed back through the door to the offices, and quickly returned with a notepad and pen. “Okay. Let’s go.”

She laughed. “Seriously?”

He looked back at her, solemn. “Seriously. This isn’t some minor thing, and I’m determined to do it right. You’re the first person to come down here and give me the time of day. Yeah, I’m going to listen.”

Meg realized just how out of the loop the underworld gods often were. And why they’d gotten out of hand sometimes. She took Az’s arm. “Lead on.”

They made their way down floor by floor, with Azrael showing her the changes he was making on each level, which were then divided again. “See, this is the second circle, reserved for sins of lust. I’m adding new furniture, some nicer lighting, and even giving it a fresh lick of paint. That will be for the ones whose lust sins aren’t as bad as some of the others, who still get the whole fiery punishment business.”

Meg stopped him and looked around. “But the nicer area is still a punishment area?”

He stared at her. “Well, yeah.”

She scanned the area and thought of the world as it was. “Think about what Tis said. What if you offer more than punishment?” She motioned at the area being redone. “What if that section was for the believers who were basically good people, but because of the system setup couldn’t go to heaven because they enjoyed this particular sin too much? Why punish them for enjoying themselves in this one area, when they didn’t actually hurt anyone else?” She grinned and grabbed Az’s butt the way he’d grabbed hers earlier. “Why not make this a destination for the humans who just really, really like sex? Let them enjoy that aspect of life down here. The fact that the rest of their existence will be all about sex will make it hellish, eventually. And you can still reserve the other section for people who have used sex as a weapon.”

Azrael leaned on the railing and stared down at the construction area, thinking. “So, it’s still a sin, and they still end up here. But now there’s not as much fear attached, and the sin itself has degrees attached to it. But if someone wants to spend their eternity having all kinds of dirty sex, then they just might pray to come my way.” He turned to her, and his excitement was palpable. “I love it.” He grabbed her hand and pulled her to the elevator. “Let’s do this with the other sections too!”

They made their way through each of the nine levels, discussing what the area was already used for, and how to alter it so that humans with that particular vice would actually want to go to hell to live in that section. Meg made suggestions about what to add, possible ways to market it, and even new ways to distinguish the area on a visual level. Az wrote as fast as he could, and before they left each section he made an appointment with the manager of that area to come see him to discuss the changes.

They got into the elevator to head back to the offices, and Az vibrated with excitement. “I feel like I’ve just had completely satisfying sex with a hundred people. I can’t wait to get started.” The elevator stopped at Limbo for someone to get on.

The door opened to show Dani waiting, looking as though she was considering the nature of the universe. Meg’s breath caught as it always did when she saw her, though she made sure to never let it show.

“Meg. Az. This is a nice surprise.” Dani got in and shook Az’s hand.

Meg leaned over to kiss Dani’s cheek and enjoyed the soft sweetness she always felt radiating off her. “What are you up to?”

“Dropping some souls off at Limbo receiving. What are you two doing?”

Az drew them both into an exuberant hug, and Meg nearly laughed out loud at how bewildered Dani looked.

“Meg has just helped me completely rethink my rebranding. This place is going to be heaving with people who actually want to come here. I can’t wait.”

“Wow. Hell as a religious destination. That’s something.” Dani smiled.

They walked back to Az’s office, and Meg felt almost light-headed at how excited he was to implement some of her ideas.

He turned to her at the door. “You know, Meg, there are a lot of departments who could use your help. The shiny gods are all out helping their people farm and have babies and shit, and they’re rebranding as they go. But the rest of us down here, we don’t have that luxury. We have to do things differently, and the way you see things can really help.”

Meg laughed. “Yeah, well, if they want my help, tell them to give me a call. In the meantime, get rid of those god-awful rugby shirts. Use your clothing to reflect each level and then sell it to those market bases.”

Az wrote down what Meg said and then opened the door to his office. “Hate to use you and leave you, but you’ve given me a shit ton of things to do. Can I call you if I need more input?”

The god of Hell is asking permission to call me. That’s a first. “Of course. Whenever.”

She and Dani took the elevator back up to the Afterlife foyer, and Meg found herself wishing she had more time with her. The constantly present emotions that whirled inside her always calmed when Dani was around. There was also something different about Dani, some kind of energy thing, but she wasn’t sure what it was and didn’t want to bring it up until she knew what she was talking about.

“Want to grab lunch?” Dani asked, looking at her feet.

“I’m starving. Here or off campus?”

“You’re always starving.” She looked indecisive for a moment before she said, “What if we got Thai and took it back to my place?”

Meg tried not to let her surprise show. In all the centuries she’d known Dani, she’d never seen where she lived. The thought of getting to see something more personal about her made her pulse speed up. “Are you kidding? Yeah! Let’s do it.”

Dani led the way out to her Mustang, and Meg skipped along beside her, excited to be spending time with her, though she wasn’t about to analyze why. Too many questions about life led to changes she wasn’t about to make.

Chapter Three

Dis lit another match and let it burn to her fingertips before flinging it into the ocean below her balcony. Although she was greatly enjoying her time among the humans, she was finding gravity more irritating than she’d remembered it being. Her body was heavy and sluggish. Still, she’d put up with it for the trade-off of being in power once again. She was also growing fond of the body she was in. For a human flesh sack, it was nicely molded, with everything high and tight and bits and parts that gave a wealth of pleasure when touched the right way. It wasn’t the birth of a universe, but it was nice.

“What are you thinking?”

She turned to look at her lover. His black hawk eyes watched her constantly, his pointed beak razor sharp. Horus was one of the true ancients, and although he and a few of the other Egyptian gods remained, they did so only because, like the Greek and Roman gods, there was so much statuary and continued research on them. Their powers, however, had faded greatly. Once, Chaos and the Egyptian gods had been close, but when times had changed and the furies had come to being, that relationship had died away like the dead stars she’d come to rule over. As soon as he’d come back to power and heard she was on earth once more, he’d made his way to her.

She crawled back into bed beside him and drew her nail down the center of his muscled stomach. “I always loved that the Egyptian gods understood my place on this strange little planet.”

“Without disorder, there can be no order.”

“You’d think the rest would understand that by now.” She liked the way his beak shone in the dim light of the darkened room, like a deadly weapon she wanted to taste.

“What will you do next?”

Dis thought of the calls that had brought her back, the mental anguish many humans experienced when faced with their gods. Their blobby gray matter, surrounded by thick bone and prone to injury at the slightest provocation, just wasn’t capable of being close to a deity of any kind. Even some who had started out strong had eventually turned to mush. And it was their confusion and mental destruction that had called Chaos to Earth. When she was the last person they understood, their very essences disintegrated, leaving nothing but cosmic strings in their heads and emptiness in their bodies. Their souls turned to dust, leaving nothing for Death to claim, no matter what religion they believed in.

“They’ve called me here, but it’s not enough. It’s an adapt or die situation right now. Those who can’t handle it call to me. I give them a little nudge, and they do the most destructive, chaotic thing they can think of before they implode. It’s good, but that will end when the weak are weeded out. I won’t give the furies another chance to send me back to the void. The question is how to make the next stage of this era mine.”

“Prey.”

Dis looked at him, confused. “What do you mean?”

“When being chased, prey know nothing but fear. The weak are always on guard against the strong, knowing they’ll be taken down at some point. Fear is what drives humans to call for you. Create fear among your prey, and they’ll stampede to their deaths. Even the strong ones can be forced to kneel by fear.”

She thought about it and knew he was right. “The weakest are already mine. I need to go after those who aren’t quite as weak. Those who are unsure. If I can get them to spread doubt amongst themselves, which creates more fear, I’ll have dominion over the universe and the humans.” She leaned down and gave Horus a kiss on his beak. “I’ve missed you.”

He wrapped his arms around her and flipped her on her back. “And I, you. When you have re-created this world in your image, we will step in to restore order. But until then, we will do all we can to help you bring the world to its knees.”

Dis sighed and surrendered to the moment. Bring the world to its knees. I like the sound of that.

* * *

Covertly, Dani watched as Meg wandered through the house picking up photos and looking at books. Her fingertips trailed along furniture and shelves, and Dani swallowed at the thought of her doing the same over Dani’s body. She forced the thoughts from her head and started dishing up the food. “Glad you had the time to do this.”

Meg came over and grabbed an eggroll. “Me too. What with the Humanity First stuff and the crap Dis is causing, it seems like we’re almost back to the way things were before the gods came out.”

Dani handed Meg her plate, and they sat at opposite ends of Dani’s huge sofa. “I know it might feel that way, but I can tell you that the numbers don’t back it up. War deaths are down by about ninety percent, and let me tell you, that’s what has kept me and my crew busy since humans started walking on two legs.”

“Really? I guess with everything else going on, I hadn’t really noticed.”

“Well, war isn’t your purview anyway, is it? You take out some of the specific assholes, but you tend to leave politics and military alone. Right?” Dani hesitated, not wanting to sound too sure of herself and step on Meg’s toes.

“For the most part, yeah.” Meg slurped up a noodle, and they laughed when she got sauce on her nose. “Like the gods, there are areas we don’t touch. I mean, melting someone’s brain who was following orders in the military doesn’t seem just. But going after the guys at the top who order shit done doesn’t seem entirely just either, because they haven’t pulled the trigger. Too messy.”

Dani enjoyed the feeling of having Meg in her house while they ate silently together.

Finally, Meg said, “Why haven’t I been here before? All of a sudden, I feel like I’ve been some kind of horrifically negligent friend. Like, when you invite someone out but they never accept, so you stop inviting them. Is that what happened?”

Dani shook her head. “Not at all.” She stopped, trying to find the words to express herself. It had been years since she’d had a private conversation like this. “You’re the first non-death person I’ve had here in a very, very long time.”

“Why?” Meg ate without paying attention, her full focus on Dani.

Dani thought about it, glad that Meg seemed content to wait for an answer. “Have you ever tried to explain to a human what you are?”

“Duh. Of course I have. Way before Selene and Kera came into the picture, but they’re the most recent.”

“So you tell them what you do, right? Your job.”

Meg tilted her head and looked thoughtful. “You mean as opposed to who I am as a person?”

“Exactly. Can you differentiate the two?”

Dani waited for Meg to answer. Nice job. She’s in the house for less than an hour, and you’ve skipped small talk and moved into existential philosophy. Jackass. She looked up from her fried rice when Meg started to speak, her voice quiet.

“When you tell someone what you do, there’s an assumption that’s who you are, as well. And to be honest, I haven’t put much thought into who I am for several centuries. I’m a fury. One of three. When I’m not delivering justice, I enjoy the hell out of life.” She shrugged, looking sad. “At the moment, that’s all I can think of.” She motioned at Dani with her fork. “So? Explain your side of it.”

“I’m Death, Meg. You’re Justice. You’re a powerful, terrifyingly beautiful fury. Your purpose is to make the world better. But me? I take. I never give. When I go to people, their time above ground is gone. When gods see me, they think of two things. I take away their followers, potentially causing the gods to weaken, and, even if they only worry about it a little bit, gods fade and die too. I remind them of that.” Dani swallowed against a lump of emotion. “You and your sisters are the only ones willing to be near me, because you don’t have followers, and you technically can’t die. I can’t tell you how grateful I’ve been for that over the years.”

Meg scooted over on the couch and put her hand over Dani’s, making Dani’s skin warm and tingly. She hoped Meg didn’t feel the strange new energy that had begun to surge through her, the one she felt even when Meg wasn’t around.

“I had no idea. You’ve just always been there with us, part of what we do. I didn’t realize it was so hard.”

“That’s why I never invited you guys to my place. The Deadlands are my home, and I love it here. But I never wanted you guys to see me the way other people do. I didn’t want to lose your friendship.”

Meg drew small circles on Dani’s palm as she spoke. “Tis said the other day she didn’t like it here. That’s what you’re talking about, isn’t it?”

Meg’s touch on her palm was driving her crazy, but nothing short of an apocalypse would make her pull away. “That’s the gist of it, yeah. But I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, and if I want things to change, then I have to figure out how to change them. You said the other day that you liked it down here, so I thought maybe I could start with you.”

Meg turned to straddle Dani’s lap, and Dani had no idea where to put her hands, so she left them on the sofa. She knew Meg was a tactile person. She showed her emotions through touch, often reaching out to someone physically to make her point. Although it felt damn good to have her there, she didn’t place any importance on it. Of course, that didn’t mean desire didn’t surge through her like a forest fire during a drought.

“I’m incredibly honored. Thank you for trusting me. And for the record, I really do like it down here. It feels like…well, it feels like you. Safe, solid.”

Dani wasn’t sure how she felt about that particular description, but having Meg on her lap was keeping her from thinking much at all.

Meg slid off her lap and went to the kitchen to grab a drink, and Dani instantly felt the loss of her warmth but also the return of her ability to think once again.

“You know, I don’t remember what it was like before you. I feel like you’ve been around forever, but you haven’t. I seem to remember an old guy who smelled funny and wasn’t nearly as sociable as you.”

Dani finished the last of her rice and piled the dishes on the table, as much to clean up as to give her hands something to do. “This isn’t a forever position. Eventually, you get tired of living separate, and your term comes to an end. There’s always a second, and third, in training to take over the head position when the time comes. I took the position not long before the three of you took up your duties, when old Aeron finally retired. Idona is my right hand, and my friend. She’ll take over when I’m done.”

Meg sat on the arm of the sofa. “Are you thinking of retiring soon? Does Death die? I’ve never even thought about it. Funny how you get wrapped up in your own work and you fail to notice the way other people’s departments run. I hope you don’t think I don’t care.”

She looked so concerned it made Dani’s heart swell to think someone actually wanted to know more. “I’m not going to retire yet, but I do want to change some things, and I think now might be my chance. And no, Death doesn’t die. In a way, we’re a bit like the pre-faders. As soon as we give up the post, we can choose what to do. We can go live among the humans, although they always feel a little weird around us, or we can retire to any one of the religious areas. Or we can stay here in the Deadlands.”

Meg laughed so hard she snorted soda and started to cough. With her eyes watering she said, “Please tell me you’ve got a retirement community of old Deaths somewhere.”

Dani grinned. “Two, actually. One is here in the Deadlands, down by Crater Lake. Nice place, lots of grass and golf. The other is in San Miguel de Allende, in Mexico. Gorgeous place with perfect weather, and the Mexicans have a different relationship with death than a lot of countries, so our retirees can relax there without the humans freaking out much.”

“How long do most people stay in your post? I can’t really remember anyone other than you and Mr. Smelly Grumpy Pants.” Meg cleaned the soda off Dani’s couch.

“It depends on how long you can take it. Most everyone does at least a hundred years, though there have been some who couldn’t hack it and didn’t make it that long. We serve as death crew for hundreds of years before we’re even considered for a promotion, and that gets taken into account too. As far as I know, I’m the longest running Head of Death in history.” Dani tried to keep the pride out of her voice, not wanting to sound vain, but she was proud of her long service record.

“That’s amazing.” Meg grinned. “I mean, we’ve been doing our jobs for thousands of years, but your record is even more impressive.”

Dani laughed and threw a napkin at her. “You get to do lots of fun stuff too. That takes the edge off, doesn’t it?”

Meg sighed. “Yeah, it does. That’s part of why I’m damn determined to enjoy everything. We see enough of the ugly stuff. Alec has always dealt with it well, but I know Tis had a really hard time last year. In fact, she probably felt a lot of what you’ve just described. But since we were kids I knew I didn’t want to take life so seriously.” She flopped onto the couch and rested her chin on her fists. “We choose what we want out of life. I want it to be fun. I want sex, good food, friends, laughter, and anything else that makes me feel spectacular.”

Dani watched as emotions Meg didn’t voice flashed through her eyes. What she was saying was one thing, but she was feeling something else. Dani wouldn’t pry, though. It wasn’t her place.

“I guess it’s kind of what you were saying about not being your job. Everything I do outside of work is me. The other stuff is just work. I’ve just never really sat down to differentiate the two.” Meg grinned and raised her eyebrows. “I’m a fun-loving fury who takes out the bad guys as a day job, and then devours everything life has to give when I’m off. Maybe it’s not much to other people, but it’s enough for me.”

Meg’s phone buzzed, and she jumped up to answer it, leaving Dani to ponder what she’d said. There was more to Meg than most people knew, maybe even more than Meg herself knew. If we spend enough time together, maybe I can get her to see how amazing she is.

Meg hung up and grabbed a fortune cookie. “Work calls, Dark and Deadly. I’d better get back.”

Dani grabbed her keys off the table, but Meg held up a hand to stop her. “No need to drive me. Just point me up the right road, and I’ll fly. I’d like to see a bit more of your territory.”

Disappointed in not being able to spend more time with Meg, but not wanting to push it, she set her keys down. “No problem. And if you ever want a personal tour, let me know. I’d love to show you around.”

Dani opened the door and walked to the edge of the driveway with Meg. She waved her hand and a narrow road appeared to their right. “Fly straight up this road, and it’ll take you to the back gate of Afterlife.”

Meg turned and wrapped Dani in a strong hug, even draping her brilliant red wings around her. Stunned, she pulled Meg close and breathed in the spicy scent of her shampoo.

“Thank you for letting me in,” Meg said quietly.

“Thank you for coming in.” Dani reluctantly let her go and watched as Meg flapped her wings and lifted into the air.

“Selene is having a get-together this weekend. Come with me?”

Dani winced. “Are you sure?”

Meg rolled her eyes and flew higher. “If I wasn’t sure I wouldn’t have asked. I’ll meet you at my place, and we’ll go together.” She did a little flip in the air, making Dani smile. “I’m off to be a worker bee.” She waved and flew off down the road.

Dani shoved her hands in her pockets as she watched Meg fly off, like the most beautiful hummingbird ever created. Did she mean go with her as a date? Am I meeting her at her place so we can go together, together? Or am I reading too much into it? Though Meg’s sexual exploits and adventurous nature were legendary at Afterlife, in three thousand years she’d never made a pass at Dani. Surely that says it all.

Regardless, the thought of their relationship, whatever realm that was in, taking a new direction was breathtakingly exciting. Change is coming. I can feel it.

Chapter Four

Meg circled the little farmstead in Northern California, taking note of the long grapevines and small wine tasting center behind the main house. She loved this area, but the smell of death clouded her senses, and she shifted to her most primal self.

The call from work had been to check out a possible mass death scene. But as with more and more work calls lately, the details had been vague. She scanned the location but didn’t see anything unusual outside. She dropped lower, still circling, and then caught the scent of something other than death. Fear tinged with desperation and confusion underpinned the rest, something she usually felt only in war-torn areas. She hissed and landed outside the main house. She could feel it emanating from inside like a sound wave crashing against her. She opened the front door. Her feathers tingled, and her snakes hissed softly.

The living room was gorgeous, with floor to ceiling windows that let in the sunlight California offered plenty of. Now, however, that light only served to illuminate the fifteen bodies lying in the middle of the room, their bare feet forming a perfect circle and their arms crossed over their chests. Next to each of them sat an empty cup.

Meg searched, but there didn’t seem to be anyone left alive. She lowered her wings, confused. The furies were only called out when there was someone to punish. Mass death scenes like this weren’t all that uncommon in history, but if the leader of the group didn’t chicken out, then there wasn’t anyone to take the blame. There was no reason for her to be here, yet…something definitely wasn’t right. She walked around the bodies, careful not to disturb any, and looked out the big windows at the back.

Instantly, her wings were up and her snakes at attention. Her fangs extended, and she nearly pushed the windowpane from the frame to get outside.

Dis stood in the clearing by the grapevines, staring back at her. Horus, the Egyptian god of war, stood beside her, his bird eyes intense and unblinking. Dis waved and plucked a grape from the vine. She popped it in her mouth and made a show of enjoying it.

Meg opened the back door and flew to within a few feet of them. “What have you done?”

“What I do. Their confusion called to me, and I came and had a chat with them. They were already lost. I just moved them along a little. No point in them hanging around, is there?” She plucked another grape.

“Why was I called?” Meg needed to keep her temper in check, something she’d never been good at. But Dis was the oldest being in form, and there was no telling what kind of powers she had. The last thing Meg wanted was to become space dust. The fact that Horus was looking solid and way too glowy was interesting and something she’d be sure to share with Afterlife.

“Well, I suppose because someone was behind these silly beings’ departure. The fact that it’s me, and there’s nothing you can do about that, makes the situation quite humorous, really.”

“You can’t go around killing humans.” Meg wasn’t sure that was true but felt it should be said.

“Of course not. What would be the fun in that? No, the fun comes from getting them to do it themselves. All I have to do is nudge the fear, heighten the confusion within them, and they’ll do all kinds of things of their own volition. When the gods began to walk among the humans, they sowed the seeds of doubt and the kind of awe humans aren’t equipped to deal with. I water those seeds and see what happens next. Exciting, isn’t it?”

Horus, silent the whole time, held out his hand to Meg. “With a fury beside us, we could change the world. Destroy it and rebuild it as something far greater.”

Meg flapped her wings hard, blowing wind at them. “Not a chance, beakface. Destroying humans isn’t what we’re here to do.”

He shook his head and lowered his outstretched hand. “Not true, vengeful one. You destroy those who hurt others for no reason. In this age, that’s all humans are doing. Hurting one another, from their rulers to their neighbors. They must be taken in hand, controlled. They must be taught respect and fear so that we can restore them to their rightful place beneath the gods. Only then will they function peacefully once more.”

Meg laughed. “Have you forgotten that you need them more than they need you? Haven’t you only just come back?” The lack of expression on his hawk face was disconcerting. She hated not being able to tell what someone was feeling.

“Even more reason to remind them of what we are. Make sure they’ll never forget again. You see what they’ve become without true belief. They’re despicable, spiteful creatures. They created us so they’d have someone to trust in, someone to guide them. And that’s what we’ll do, once we cleanse the earth of those too weak to live.” Horus tilted his head, his beakface expression unreadable.

Dis sighed dramatically and took his hand. “I’m bored now, and I can feel others calling to me. Lovely to see you, as always.”

And just like that, they were gone. No tunnels, no wings. Just gone. They left an invisible void where they’d been, as though the air itself had been wounded. Meg lowered her wings and relaxed slightly. I really hate that woman. And he creeps me out.

She moved back toward the house, unsure what to do next. Should she head back to the office and report? What should she do with the bodies? Just when she decided she’d head back to headquarters to talk to Zed and Kera, a portal opened a few feet away, and one of the death crew stepped out into the late afternoon sunshine.

Meg vaguely remembered seeing this one before, but when their paths crossed with anyone from Dani’s team, everyone was usually embroiled in whatever was going on at the scene, and they rarely had time to talk. It seemed surreal to see one of the crew in a setting so serene. Meg waved and the woman came over.

“Hey there. I’m Idona.” She reached out to shake Meg’s hand.

Dani’s next in line. “Nice to meet you. I’m Meg.” Idona’s laugh was deep and throaty, just the kind that turned Meg on.

“Believe me, everyone knows who the furies are. Nice to meet you in person, though. Dani has told me a lot about you.”

Meg’s stomach flipped slightly at the thought of Dani talking about her. “I’m sure most of it’s true.” She grinned and looked Idona over. She was sexy in that afterlife unreal kind of way. Her pale skin glowed, and her light blue, nearly white eyes were captivating. Like Dani’s. Her long, thick black hair hung to her waist. I wonder if she and Dani have ever—


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