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Souls Forsaken: The Darkworld Series Book 4 (Ebook)

Souls Forsaken: The Darkworld Series Book 4 (Ebook)

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Book 4 of 5: The Darkworld Series


In the Darkworld, there are no angels.

A betrayal has turned Ash’s entire world upside-down. Struggling to pick up the pieces, the last thing she expects is to receive a plea for help from the demon-hunting magical police force, the Venantium. But signing a deal with the devil may unveil more than the hidden workings of the Venantium – it might also lead to clues about Ash herself, and the false fortune-teller who ruined her life.

However, with sinister plans afoot and her own powers breaking free of her control, Ash is torn between helping the enemy or worse, losing herself to the demon inside…

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I looked down at the ocean, fourteen thousand feet below, and wondered how in hell I’d let Cara talk me into this.

The land had shrunk to a patchwork of greens and yellows, dark forests hugging the Australian coastline. The sea was a brilliant blue, flecked with tiny white patches where boats passed, skimming the water. Turquoise marked the reefs, treasure troves beneath the waves. Wisps of cloud floated past.

Then the plane’s hatch opened, and a blast of frigid air swept inside, numbing my bare arms instantly. A roaring filled my ears, and my heart beat so fast it felt like it might escape at any moment. At once, I became aware of how tiny, how insignificant, we were, minute figures in a hunk of metal hovering in the sky.

The first parachutist jumped. One second he was there, the next, the relentless wind swept him away. A gasp escaped me. No freaking way was I jumping out of this plane.

The guy I was strapped to gave me a smile. The harness pinned me in place. When he moved, I moved with him. The second parachutist disappeared through the hatch.

Cara was next. A last grin and thumbs-up, and her tandem partner flung himself out into the air. Holy hell, I thought, peering frantically out the window. There was a tiny speck below that might be a person falling—was that her?

More parachutists jumped, throwing themselves over the edge like human Skittles, fearless. 

Shit. My turn. My tandem partner waved the hand-camera in my face. I was pretty sure I looked like a death-white corpse, but that hardly mattered right now. There was no escaping the drop.

My entire body felt numb, detached. Strapped together, the two of us shuffled towards the gaping hole in the side of the plane. Islands outlined in sandy beaches waited below, in a sea of glittering blue. I had to tilt my head back and look at the postcard-perfect sky. Not a bad way to die, said the part of my brain that wasn’t frozen in terror.

Then the support disappeared, and we were falling, falling into that perfect sky.

I couldn’t even hear my scream; my ears were popping so hard that it felt like something was struggling to burst out of my skull. My eyes were stretched open wide, my arms spread, the air buffeting me all over. My heart leapt, and my scream of terror became a yell of pure delight. 

I felt the parachute open, and the fall slowed. I finally drew in a breath and flexed my arms to make sure they were still attached to my body.

The view below was unreal. It was like I was looking at a map from above, a 3D image of the Earth on a high-tech computer screen. But it was real. I was strapped to a parachutist, but other than that, I was unsupported. The guy waved the camera in my face again, and I gave a thumbs-up.

This is surreal.  I tried to take it all in, as though by staring hard enough I could imprint it on my mind forever. Given that eighteen years’ worth of memories in my nineteen-year-long life were a total lie, I needed as many of those moments as I could get. The landscape could have been a painting, it was so beautiful. My eyes ached to look at it.

“How do you feel?” asked the guy strapped to my back.

Grinning at the camera, I said, “Awesome.”

* * *

“Told you it was awesome,” said Cara later, when we were back at the skydiving hub. “Man, I admit I freaked a bit when that guy jumped out, though!”

“Me too,” I said, sitting back in the comfy seat. It still felt weird to be on solid ground. “These guys do that every day!”

“Must be pretty fun!” she said, looking up at the pictures of posing parachutists and the video of the day’s skydivers playing on the flat-screen TV. “Hmm. Might add it to my list of possible careers.”

“There are worse jobs,” I agreed. “Hey—I think that might be us.”

A video of an aeroplane taking off began on the TV screen. The scene cut to a view of the people inside the plane, crammed into two rows.

Cara laughed. “Your face, Ash.”

“I thought I was going to die!” I said.

“Nothing like your life flashing before your eyes to give you a sense of perspective.” 

I caught the hidden meaning there. I get it, I wanted to say. But sometimes things are just too big to put in perspective.

I watched the video instead of answering, laughing at Cara’s facial expressions as she fell out of the plane.

“Dignity fails again!” she said. “Man, we’ve got to buy these.”

“We get some included with the video,” I reminded her. “And, no, I don’t want my I’m-going-to-die face forever immortalised on a key-ring, thank you very much.”

“I prefer the fridge magnets,” said Cara. “Or how about a T-shirt?”

“Definitely not,” I said. “Haven’t we spent enough on cheesy souvenirs?”

“You can never spend too much on souvenirs,” said Cara firmly. “Besides, you’re loaded.”

Right. Of course I was. It was just too bad that the money had come with the cost of almost everything else I’d ever held dear to me, because it had come from the woman who’d ruined my life. I focused my gaze on the souvenir display instead of replying, hoping she’d pick up the hint.

“Well, okay. Maybe the T-shirt’s a bit much. I’m getting the photos, though.”

“Same,” I said. “Oh, don’t forget the certificate. It’s proof.”

“Proof that we were crazy enough to jump out of a plane,” said Cara. “You sure you don’t want to do the bungee jump, too?” She waved her arms in the direction of the leaflets nearby, advertising more crazy adrenaline-high stunts.

“Definitely,” I said firmly. “I’ll do the cable car thing again, if you want, but no cliff-jumping.”


There were reasons for my reluctance to fling myself from a cliff. For one, I’d taken an unplanned, no-parachute fall from the sky in the middle of Manchester and a tumble off a bridge into a frozen canal only a few months ago. For another, things tended to happen when I fell from high places. I’d barely held my connection to the Darkworld in check when I’d been terrified on the plane. It tended to respond to strong emotions. Even when I was ignoring it, I could never entirely forget it was there. Plummeting 150 feet into a pond was toying with more than one kind of danger, and it wasn’t a risk I wanted to take right now.

When we left the hub, carrying bags of goodies—Cara convinced me to buy a T-shirt after all, but not one with my face on it—I saw the first dark space I’d seen since leaving England a week ago.

It looked like a black hole in the universe, a blank space that wasn’t supposed to be there. A familiar chill crept up my arms, although the space looked empty of any life. I never trusted the dark spaces, even the empty ones. Holes to the Darkworld could hide anything.

Even here, ten thousand miles away from home, I couldn’t escape them.

Cara, of course, could see nothing. She hopped into the minibus, which waited outside to drive us back to Cairns. It was bright red, decorated with photographs of screaming free-fallers. The ground felt strange beneath my feet, as if I hadn’t quite adjusted to no longer being airborne. There really was no feeling like it. It was like being on a sugar high, and even the dark space couldn’t spoil the mood.

“What next?” said Cara, leaning back in her seat and pulling her own Skydive T-shirt over her other top. “I’m thinking we could hit the town again tomorrow. And the beach.”

“Sounds good to me,” I said as the minibus growled to life. “I need to get something for Sarah and Alex.”

“A peace offering?” said Cara, giving me a curious look. She knew I hadn’t parted on the best terms with my friends from university.

“Yeah, I guess. I don’t want to fight with anyone next term. It’s stupid.”

Privately, I hoped that three months apart might give my flatmates something new to talk about other than a breakup that had happened nearly five months ago. I’d expected Alex’s anti-male rants to step up after Leo had broken my heart, but I hadn’t expected her to turn so hostile. Hi-jacking my Facebook account to send him sarcastic messages had been way out of line, in my opinion. Not to mention it had forced me to have to talk to him again and apologise.

I didn’t know where Leo was now. He and his older brother Cyrus had taken off back in April on a wild round-the-world trip. They’d only come home briefly in July for Cyrus’s graduation, which was just after the holidays had started. Leo had dropped out of university, deciding that he’d rather do his own thing. I’d have respected his choice under normal circumstances—which was more than I could say for my flatmates. Of course, they had no idea of the real reason we’d parted ways, nor could I ever tell them. Only Cara and Claudia knew the full story. I hadn’t had the chance to speak to Cyrus before he’d left, so I had no idea what Leo had told him, and I wasn’t about to confide anything to Berenice and Howard.

But I wanted to make it up with Alex. Sarah and I were okay, but she was one of those people who shied away from conflict, even though she agreed that Alex had taken the revenge thing too far. It was pretty much me versus the most stubborn person I knew—except possibly Cara—and it wasn’t any wonder neither of us had apologised yet.

I stared moodily into my handbag. I’d left my phone behind, locked in the safe. I knew better than to check for messages, but I guessed it was up to me to initiate an apology to Alex. Be the better person. Right. 

“Anyway,” said Cara. “What about tonight? It’s Tuesday, should we ride the party bus again?”

“Again?” I zipped my bag closed, our provisional schedule opened on top with a colour-coded list of activities—Cara had raised her eyebrows at it, but hadn’t said anything. She knew I’d planned out every second of our trip in an attempt to gain control over some part of my life.

“The guys are going tonight.”

“Not sure if I’m in the mood,” I said. I wasn’t really a clubbing person, but Cara and I had gone on the “ultimate” night out the first night in Cairns. It was hard to avoid, given that it took place on an open-top bus that blasted clubhouse music whilst driving around town, dropping the riders off at different bars and nightclubs throughout the night. Each bar boasted drinks offers and challenges, and it had been entertaining, to say the least. But tonight I just wanted to relax. Unfortunately, Cara tended to interpret “relaxing” as “moping” and wouldn’t stand for it.

The minibus dropped us off a street away from our hotel. We’d got used to navigating the winding streets over the past week, although it had been confusing to begin with. Every building in this area seemed to be either a hotel or a tourist office, but once we knew where to go, we worked out how to find bars and restaurants and just about every activity possible, from quad biking to boat trips out onto the reef. 

Cara spread her arms wide, grinning up at the still-impossibly-blue sky. “What d’you fancy for tea? There’s a Nando’s around the corner.”

“There are Nando’s in England,” I pointed out, steering her onto the other side of the pavement before she skipped headlong into a group of other tourists.

“Yeah, but. Everyone’s going.”

By “everyone” she meant the other tourists sharing our dormitory. Fiona, Mike, Ryan, and Clare were travelling together as part of their gap-year trip, and we’d hit it off right away. Ryan had even asked me to dance on the big night out, and Cara kept encouraging me to take the next step. But I wasn’t sure I was ready for that. He lived in London, anyway, and was leaving in a couple of days. I didn’t want a relationship, and I wasn’t the one-night-stand type, however many girls Leo had hooked up with since starting his travels.

Not that I knew for sure. I hadn’t been outright stalking him, but Cyrus kept updating Facebook with photos of their latest adventures. Last time I’d checked, a couple of months ago, he’d been on a beach in California surrounded by gorgeous supermodel lookalikes. That particular photograph, incidentally, had been what prompted Alex’s Facebook Vendetta.

“Who needs him anyway?” had been Cara’s response. “If he’s that focused on looks, he clearly wasn’t right for you anyway. Not that you aren’t gorgeous anyway. You can do a million times better.”

But even when dancing with Ryan, it hadn’t felt right the way things had with Leo. More like awkward. I was awkward, and I wasn’t naive enough to assume every relationship would be the same, but I needed stability, not a mindless fling, and I’d all but begged Cara not to keep shoving me at every available guy.

There was no shortage here, since our hotel was a popular choice with students because it had a nightclub and bar downstairs as well as a pool. It wasn’t even overpriced, considering we were right in the middle of the tourist district. I’d never before been to a hotel that functioned as a twenty-four-hour fun house, with neon lights on the floors and clubhouse music blasting from the walls. I’d learned to sleep with earplugs in.

We dropped off our bags in the dormitory and headed down to the pool to catch the last of the hours of sunlight. Despite being the middle of winter in the southern hemisphere, it was warmer than an English summer here, even if it did get dark earlier. The lights never went off in Cairns anyway; most of the shops were open night and day.

It couldn’t be more different from Blackstone, the quiet Lancashire village that was a ghost-town outside of term time. My home. I’d needed a change of scenery, and losing myself in the noisy, crazy tourist city on the brink of the Great Barrier Reef was about as far from what I was used to as possible. It was the trip of a lifetime, and the perfect way to forget, even in the darkest hours of the night.

The nights were the worst at home, because there were no arms to hold me when I woke screaming, no soothing voice to wash the nightmares away. No one to stave off the crippling coldness that came in with the dark and froze me from the inside out.

It never got dark here. It was perfect. And yet no matter how long I lay out in the sun, I could never really get warm. Coldness followed me everywhere I went, a faint chill that clung to me like an unwanted shadow.

Since I’d first seen the demons, it had been like I’d been thrown into a dark, icy fog, left to find my way out alone. Leo’s had been a hand that reached out of the darkness and held on to me tight, bringing warmth that spread through me and made me feel alive. Without it, everything had spun back into chaos, and as much as I tried to keep going, I felt like I was back in the fog, stumbling towards a future that held no certainty, from a past built on lies. Nothing was the same.

I opted for an early night, declining Cara’s and the others’ invitation to drinks in the bar, and returned to the dormitory alone. I fell asleep almost instantly, despite the discomfort of the rickety metal bunk bed—and found myself in a familiar place.

Leo stood on the edge of a cliff, his back to me, staring out at the raging waves. Behind me, I knew, a winding path led through the forest to Blackstone, to home.

I stepped up behind him. “Leo,” I whispered, my voice caught in my throat. He didn’t turn around.

“Leo,” I said, louder.

He turned. The eyes that stared into mine weren’t his, but the violet eyes of a demon.

I took a step back. “Mephistopheles,” I said. My heart hammered in my ears, and my fingers itched to close around the demon’s throat, to punish him for what he’d done to Leo and me. But I knew I was dreaming. Leo wasn’t here.

“The one and only.” The demon’s voice had a bitter edge. “It’s taken me a while to find you, Ashlyn. Your mother”—his mouth twisted into a smile—“did a good job of sealing my heart.”

“That was the point,” I said. Trapped in the Darkworld with his demon heart under lock and key, Mephistopheles apparently had nothing better to do than to stalk my dreams in the shape of my ex-boyfriend and try to destroy my peace of mind.

“Why do you deny yourself, Ashlyn? You could have it all.”

“Why don’t you stop stalking me?” I countered. “We’ve had this conversation before. Too many times. I’m. Not. Interested. Not in being your pawn, or host, or whatever it is you want.”

“I never said it was about you, Ashlyn.”

I stared the demon down. I knew precisely who he meant, and it changed nothing. That part of me was locked away. The demon inside hadn’t stirred since the night Leo had almost died.

“Lucifer would like very much to speak to you also, Ashlyn.”

“I’m not interested in anything Lucifer has to say.”

“His time is coming, whether you like it or not, Ashlyn. Soon, all things will end.”

“How so?”

“Lucifer is rising. You’ll hear from him soon…” Mephistopheles looked up, as though something had distracted him. I turned my eyes up to the cloudy sky but could see nothing, not even a harpy.

“Well, now,” he said softly. “This is an interesting turn of events. I think it’s time for you to return to the waking world, Ashlyn.”

“What?” I said. “Wait—what did you mean about Lucifer?”

But the dream was slipping away. Leo gave me one last smile, and the gleaming demon eyes were the last thing I saw before my vision clouded over.

Then I awoke. I rolled over, pushing my covers off. The dim light cast the dormitory into shadow, but I saw someone else moving about. They looked up at me, and my heart stopped in my chest.


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