Home > Soul Ties (Soul Ties #1)

Soul Ties (Soul Ties #1)
Author: Lisa Swallow

Chapter 1

Ava squirmed in her seat and straightened the arms of her leather jacket. The tall man across the mahogany table leaned back in his chair, body molding into the plush upholstery. She stiffened, digging her fingers into her knees as he regarded her through narrowed eyes. She wanted to bow her head but couldn’t. Things would get much worse if she did.

“Ava, you are one of our best operatives. Your success is impressive. The number of souls we have retrieved with your help has made a huge difference to our future.”

Ava’s stomach flipped, waiting for the ‘but.’ There was always a ‘but.’ Every time.

“But, we need you to go back.”

There it was. Her shoulders slumped but she kept her gaze fixed on his cold, grey eyes. She couldn’t show weakness; deficiency would be the end for her - a return to the Fated life and to desolation.

The man leaned to one side and pulled open a drawer, his long black ponytail sweeping forward. He produced a manila folder and placed the file on the table, flipped to the first page and pointed at a picture with his painted fingernails. Ava sucked in a breath, recognizing the code printed. NPHM.

“That isn’t possible, Darius. Sir. I’m not capable…”

“I don’t tell soul-hunters to do the incapable,” he said.

“But a Nephilim… how could I possibly retrieve his soul?”

A young man smiled up at her from the photograph, varsity jacket casually open across his broad shoulders, his violet-flecked blue eyes the single betrayal of his heritage.

“I can’t go back there. Please.” The memories of her frailty in his world poured nausea into her stomach. With no access to her powers, her missions were dangerous. And the place was abhorrent. Degrading. Contact with humans disgusted her. She needed to rely on their weapons for combat. Physical fights. Fights that hurt.

“Ava. You have been chosen to do this. Your skills at adapting in their world are unsurpassable. There is no one else we can trust.”

The backhanded compliment didn’t detract from the magnitude of what he asked from her.

Ava wiped a hand across her face, hiding the anxiety pulling down the corners of her mouth. “You said I wouldn’t have to…” she began.

“The last one failed. And the one before that. I misjudged them. The Nephilim are strong but I know you’re capable of success. I know you will make the right choices,” he said, an unmistakable warning in his voice.

Ava said nothing, picking at an imaginary piece of lint on her jeans. Each time Darius sent her to collect a soul, he informed her she would get her Will when she returned. Yet every time she completed her mission, Darius called her back to his office. ‘Just one more.’ Every time.

Two years ago, she’d snatched her chance and taken on the duties of a soul-hunter. As a reckless teenager, she hadn’t listened to her Fated people who told her she was making a grave mistake. She refused to consider life would be worse as a soul-hunter. Living as one of the Fated meant a half existence, always at the whim of the Caelestia. Her people had been right, she was still at their whim - now with the threat of death following her each day. And Darius was once more commanding her to return to a living Hell of humans and demons. If this truly was once more.

“How did they fail?” she asked.

A shadow crossed Darius’s face as he rose and moved across the room to the bookshelf spanning the wall. Rows of brown spine books lined up obediently. He traced a finger along a line and pulled one out.

Darius tossed the book next to the manila folder. “Everything we know from the past can be found inside.”

Ava tipped her head to read the spine, trying to read the words stamped in gold leaf on the well-worn book. ‘Nephilim’ was the only word she could decipher.

“But I know the history,” she said, realizing her mistake when he leaned towards her, grey eyes darkening.

“You don’t know their future,” he said, his face uncomfortably close to hers.

“Sorry.”

Darius stood back and folded his arms across his chest. “You are unwise to question us. You are here to do as we tell you.”

“I’ll do what you say.”

“Very sensible, Ava,” he said and leant down to reach into his drawer again.

Darius placed a spherical crystal between them and Ava swallowed her fear, the reality hitting her. Larger than the ones she’d been given before, the gem sparkled as if the illumination came from within. Rainbows dazzled her as they spread across the room, coloring Darius’s face. A soul crystal.

“You know what to do with this, of course,” said Darius.

Capture his soul. Bring the crystal back. Don’t fail.

Heart thumping against her chest, Ava’s palms slicked with perspiration as she readied herself to raise the next question. She wouldn’t see him again now, not until afterwards. She needed to know.

“This time, I promise to give you your Will. I have contracted with the Caelestia, I cannot refuse you,” he said, removing her need to petition.

Ava wanted to shake him, scream at him not to lie to her again, cry that he had broken his word so many times. Instead she chewed the inside of her cheek, eyes stinging with tears of weakness.

His words troubled her, his need to involve the Caelestia and agree to a Binding screamed danger. Darius’s countenance betrayed no further information, asking him why would lead to unwanted consequences.

He returned to his chair, indicating with a flick of his fingers she should take the items he provided. Ava’s damp palms stuck to the manila folder as she tucked the file underneath the book, trying not to let him see her shaking hands pocket the crystal.

“Goodbye, Ava,” he said, turning to a clipboard and tracing a finger down the list. “Ask Ben to enter when you leave.”

Outside, she ducked her head so she didn’t need to acknowledge the row of unfortunate soul-hunters waiting on the narrow benches.

“You’re next, Ben,” she muttered to the boy sitting nearest the door, refusing to look at anything but his scuffed boots contrasting with the gleaming marble floor.

She never met the same soul-hunter twice.

She was an anomaly.

She thought of those she’d left behind in the lost world of the Fated. Tears wanted to flow, but weakness would send her straight back to her old life; the chance of gaining her freedom gone. A few weeks in the Nephilim’s world was a trip to paradise in comparison.

The soul crystal nestled against her hip and she curled her hand around, squeezing the gem until it bit into her palm. Her success and her survival in the field had an unfortunate side effect. Suspicion. Nobody told her the fate of the souls she returned and doubt nagged at her mind.

Where did the captured souls go when she gave the crystals to Darius?

The majority of her comrades didn’t survive long enough to have time for the same uncertainty. Her treacherous questions could never be asked.

Ava straightened, the weak Fated girl paraded in front of Darius had to stay behind. She was a soul-hunter and a good one. If a Nephilim soul was needed to end her servitude, she’d give this mission her best. No, she’d f**king do it and succeed. No one had beaten her yet and she wasn’t letting anything get in the way of her objective now.

She pulled her long hair into a ponytail and yanked the knot tight. Bring it on, Nephilim boy.

Chapter 2

Groups of students hung around the entrance to the lecture theatre as Ava strode down the corridor, rucksack slung over her shoulder and campus map in her mouth. Ava’s long mermaid hair caught the eye of two perfectly groomed Barbie doll girls, who stared. Ava raised a pierced eyebrow at them as she walked inside.

She blinked, scanning the large room for any sign of him, gaze jumping from person to person. Almost full, too many faces to check, she slid onto a low bench seat, and placed her full backpack beside her. Pulling her short skirt straight, Ava rested her heavy boots on the seat in front.

“Excuse me.”

A slight girl frowned at Ava’s boot clad legs blocking her way. She fitted Ava’s definition of mousy in every detail - short, small features, nondescript, brown hair - right down to her tiny voice. Ava slowly pulled one leg and then the other down, not moving enough for the girl to get past without brushing her. The girl drew in a breath and hugged her books tightly to her chest as she slid through the gap.

“Hey,” said Ava.

The girl’s eyes widened. “Hi,” she squeaked.

“I’m Ava, and I don’t bite.”

“I’m Dahlia, and you look like you might.”

Ava laughed. “Do I? Why?”

Dahlia appraised the peculiar girl’s startling-green eyes rimmed with black make-up, collection of piercings and aqua-colored hair flowing down her back. “Girls like you often do.”

“What? More than them?” Ava pointed her pen towards the two blonde friends she’d seen outside, as they wandered past Ava and Dahlia to the seats behind. They noticed no one but themselves.

“They don’t bite, but their claws are sharp,” said Dahlia, quietly.

“Ah, clever,” said Ava, “we can be friends.”

Dahlia opened her mouth to respond, but was interrupted by the lecturer’s voice booming into the room around them.

Ava didn’t listen to much of the lecture, spending the next hour checking out people around her. Bland. Boring. Living nondescript human lives. Some shifted uncomfortably at her gaze, so Ava kept her eyes on them for longer, daring them to keep looking. If only they knew the truth about their world and what she did for them, stopping demons from stealing their souls. Then they wouldn’t look at her like she was some kind of f**king freak show. She gave up, bored. No Nephilim eyes stood out amongst the sea of mundanely. She could stand outside and watch for him as they left.

Ava thought about the manila folder back in her room, summoning up a memory of his picture. If the image was his current appearance - who knows when the photo was taken? Humans changed and in his half-human form he would too. Great.

At least she was in the right town, the right college - now she needed to find the right person and get this over with. Ava rolled her head from side to side, stretching the muscles in her neck. She didn’t want to stay a day longer than necessary in this godforsaken place.

Dahlia tapped dutifully into her laptop, recording the lecture on her phone, focused on the lecturer and oblivious to the restless girl next to her. Ava yawned and stretched her legs out, resting her feet on the back of the seat in front again. The man seated there tutted and pushed at her boots. She refused to move them and when he turned to say something she mouthed an obscenity at him. He turned back round sharply and muttered something to the guy sitting next to him. Ava smiled to herself, shifted downwards in her seat and closed her eyes.

“Ava!”

She opened one eye. Dahlia stood over her. “Time to go - you might want to sleep through classes but I want to go - come on.”

She pushed at Ava’s boots who dropped them to the floor. “Okay, for f**k’s sake…”

Dahlia slid past her and stalked off, Ava caught up in a few strides. “What class do you have now?” asked Ava.

Dahlia paused outside the lecture theatre. “Nothing, you?”

“Same. What should we do then?”

Dahlia stiffened. “I have things to do. I’d rather do them on my own.”

“Oh sorry, I was hoping we could become besties,” Ava grinned at her.

Dahlia stared at Ava as if she’d recently landed on the planet. “First of all, I don’t really like you, and secondly, nobody says ‘besties’ anymore. Please leave me alone.” She scurried away.

Ava wrinkled her nose, glancing around. The break between lectures brought a new student throng walking down the corridor, and Ava leaned against the wall, watching the stragglers leave the theatre.

A guy walked out on his own, staring under long lashes at a piece of paper in front of him. His dark curls fell casually into his eyes and he shrugged his bag onto his shoulder as he walked by. Ava straightened, comparing him to the image in her mind. Taller than most men. Check. Athletic build. Check. The hair. Longer than in the picture. A closer inspection was required. She caught up along side and jostled him, pretending she’d been pushed by the couple passing her.

“Sorry,” she said.

He turned his head towards her and she no longer held any doubt. Glacial blue eyes regarded her, the violet tinge to the irises betraying his bloodline, a frown on his heavy brow.

“Umm, no problem,” he said and to her amazement a pink crept across his cheeks, as he looked back at the paper he was holding.

That. She wasn’t expecting that. Arrogant good-looking guy who loved himself maybe, but not this. The good-looking part was right though. If he’d carried himself with confidence, every girl in the hallway would be staring at him. He wore jeans and a blue shirt over a black T-shirt, the muscles of his long limbs evident. Ava appraised his squeezable rear as he stumbled off, running a hand though his curls as he went. This guy was breathtakingly hot and had no idea.

Ava decided to follow him.

He didn’t go to class; he headed towards the library. She hovered in the doorway watching him chatting to the librarian. The middle-aged woman pointed him to a different part of the library, and Ava smiled as the woman’s gaze lingered on the guy a little too long. Ava needed to fill out her borrowers application - a perfect excuse to hang around and watch him. Pulling the form from her bag she leant against the counter. She tapped her pen on the edge, trying to remember who she was this time. Who was she this time? She scrawled Ava Ford and her dorm address, ensuring her date of birth matched the one on the enrollment form she’d filled in a couple of days ago.

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