The Underworld (Chapter Eight, page 1 of 8)

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Hours passed. Gabriel tried to leave the Lake several more times before giving up and lying back on a boulder to stare at the grey skies.

Mates-blood-fate. Darkyn had said this was all that mattered now, and he had been dwelling on the lessons he'd learned since becoming Death. He'd learned to track souls without the innate soul-radar granted to every death dealer brought on board. He'd discovered and healed most of the cracks allowing souls to escape to the human world. He'd found his mate, lost her, then found her again, met a couple of deities and learned too much about how little he was able to trust those he once viewed as colleagues.

The flexibility of Immortal Code, the need to respect the original three laws, decoding the ancient soul compasses, tracking demons in the mortal world …

He'd learned so much the hard way, the result of avoiding the first step he was supposed to take: placing his soul in the sacred room off Death's bedchamber.

What if he'd done that first? How many of these trials might've been avoided? How many death dealers would've been saved going to trial for their rebellion?

"You've got my attention." He spoke again to the Lake of Souls. "I understand your pain. I don't know what to do about it." He ignored any self-consciousness he experienced at the thought of talking to an inanimate object. He'd last swum through the lake to find the soul of the Ancient Andre, an expert demon tracker and half-brother to Rhyn, and resurrect him.

Shortly after, the underworld locked him out. Fate claimed it was for his own good. Gabriel hadn't felt … whole since then. He'd struggled to figure out who he was supposed to be, and worse, doubted he was the right person for the job, once the troubles began.

"Just when I feel like I'm getting somewhere …" Gabriel sat back, suppressing the urge to lose his temper. "I guess technically, I never got anywhere, if I'm stuck here. I'm failing you, and I don't know how to make things right. I thought cleaning up the souls on the human world was what I was supposed to do, especially after you locked me out."

The Lake didn't respond.

"Now, I think …" His gaze went to the grey heavens. "I don't know anymore. Do you remember when the sky cracked open? That's when she dropped you into my lap and told me to take care of you. It's when I started failing at being who you need me to be, when I started to feel too much again."

The trees and animals fell silent for the first time since he'd intermittently begun talking to the Lake hours before. Sensing they were listening, Gabriel reviewed what he'd just said to see if he could pinpoint what they were responding to. He sat up.

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