But fate had a different plan for him. When he was facing his judgment, he would also have to be punished for aiding a traitor.

It was ironic, really.…He had died doing a good thing, but he might be sentenced to an eternity in darkness. This had been his fear from childhood, dying and being rejected by heaven.

Of course, even as he floated through the frigid waters, he had a smile on his face.

The fact that Alabaster wasn’t making this journey with him told him one thing: Lamia hadn’t killed the boy. Without a hostage holding him back, surely Alabaster would have read the spell out of pure rage and defeated Lamia.

And that was enough to make Claymore content, no matter what punishment the gods decided on.

He’d have the last laugh now, and for the rest of eternity.

But, surprisingly, fate didn’t play out that way. Above him in the darkness, a light glimmered, growing brighter and warmer. A hand reached down to him—a woman’s hand reached out to him through the darkness. Being a logical man, he did the logical thing. He took it.

Once his eyes adjusted, he saw that he was in a church. Not the glistening holy church of heaven, but one that had fallen into disrepair. It was the same filthy, dust-covered chapel that he had seen in his dreams. And praying at the altar was the young woman in ceremonial clothing—Alabaster’s mom, the goddess Hecate.

“I suppose you’re waiting for me to thank you,” Claymore said. “For saving my life, that is.”

“No,” Hecate said, solemnly. “Because I didn’t save your life. You’re still dead.”

Claymore’s first instinct was to argue, but he didn’t. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out your heart isn’t beating. “Then why am I here? Why did you bring me to this place?”

He approached the altar and sat in the dust next to Hecate, but she didn’t look at him. She kept her eyes closed and prayed. Her face was like a Greek statue—pale, beautiful, and ageless.

“I saved them,” she told him. “Both of my children. You’re going to hate me for that.”

Both…She’d saved Lamia.…

Claymore guessed it wasn’t wise to yell at a goddess, but he couldn’t help it. “You told Alabaster you couldn’t interfere!” he demanded. “After all I sacrificed to help the boy, you stepped in at the last moment and saved that monster?”

“I don’t want any more of my children to die,” Hecate said. “Alabaster’s solution would have worked. Thanks to your selfless death, he had time to retrieve the notebook and find the spell. It was a binding incantation—the reversal of a spell designed to heal and fortify a living body. If he had cast it on Lamia she would have been reduced to a pile of black dust, but she would not have died. Nor would she have regenerated. She would have remained alive as a pile of black dust forever. I stopped that before it could happen.”

Claymore blinked. The boy’s solution would have been both brilliant and simple. He admired Alabaster more than ever.

“Why didn’t you let him do it?” Claymore asked. “Lamia is a murderer. Didn’t she deserve Alabaster’s judgment?”

Hecate didn’t answer for a moment. She just clasped her hands tighter.

After what seemed like an eternity of silence, she whispered: “Alabaster likes you. I saw how happy you make him. It’s probably because you remind us both of his father.” She smiled faintly. “Alabaster is a child who always seeks to make his mother proud, even if he can sometimes be reckless.…But Lamia also had a difficult past. She didn’t ask for her fate. I want to see her as happy as Alabaster.”

“Did you bring me here just to tell me this?” Claymore asked, raising an eyebrow. “To tell me that all of my efforts were in vain?”

“They won’t be, Doctor. Because I’m going to have you look after Alabaster.”

He eyed her curiously. “And how do I do that if I’m dead?”

“My main role as a goddess is maintaining the Mist, the magical barrier between the Olympian and mortal worlds. I keep those two worlds apart. When mortals do get a glimpse of something magical, I come up with happy alternatives for them to believe in. Alabaster also has power over the Mist. I’m sure he showed you some of his creations—symbols that can been turned into solid objects.”

“Mistforms.” Claymore recalled the fake father and the golden sword. “Yes, Alabaster gave me a demonstration.”

Hecate’s expression turned more serious. “Recently the boundaries between life and death have been weakened, thanks to the goddess Gaea. This is how she can bring her monstrous servants back from the underworld so quickly, make them regenerate almost immediately. But I can use this weakness to our advantage. I could return your soul to the world in a Mistform body. It would take much of my own power, but I could give you a new life. Alabaster has always been headstrong and impatient, but if you’re by his side, you can guide him.”

Claymore stared at the goddess. Returning to life as a Mistform…he had to admit it sounded better than eternal punishment. “If you have so much power, why couldn’t you separate Lamia and Alabaster earlier? Wasn’t my death unnecessary?”

“Unfortunately, Doctor, your death was very necessary,” Hecate said. “Magic cannot create something from nothing. It makes use of what already exists. A noble sacrifice creates powerful magic energy. I used that force to separate my children. In effect, your death allowed me to save them both. Perhaps more important, Alabaster learned something from your death. And I suspect you did, too.”

Claymore bit back a retort. He didn’t appreciate his death being used as a lesson.

“What if it just happens again?” Claymore asked. “Won’t Lamia continue to go after your son?”

“In the short term, no,” Hecate said. “Alabaster now has a powerful spell to defeat her. She would be foolish to attack.”

“But eventually she’ll find a way to counter that spell,” Claymore guessed.

Hecate sighed. “It may come to that. My children have always fought with one another. The strongest leads the others. Alabaster joined Kronos’s cause and led his siblings to war. He blames himself for their deaths. Now Lamia has risen up to challenge his preeminence, hoping the children of magic will follow her under Gaea’s banner. There must be another way. The other gods have never trusted my offspring, but this Gaean rebellion will only bring more bloodshed. Alabaster must find another answer—some new arrangement that will bring peace to my children.”

Claymore hesitated. “And if they don’t want peace?”

“I will not choose sides,” she said, “but I hope with you there to guide him, Alabaster will make the right decision, a decision that will lead my family to peace.”

A reason to live, Claymore thought. A way for one mortal man with no special powers to affect the world of gods and monsters.

Claymore smiled. “That sounds like a challenge. Very well, I accept. And though I will be only a Mistform, I’ll make sure he succeeds.”

He stood, about to walk out the doors of the church, but then he stopped.

Even if he was dead, the answer he was seeking was right in front of him.

“I have one more question to ask you, Hecate.” He steeled his tongue, just as Alabaster must have done in front of the audience at his lecture. “If you yourself are a deity, who are you praying to?”

She paused for a moment, turned to him, and opened her brilliant green eyes. Then, as though the answer were obvious, she smiled and said, “I hope you find out.”

Alabaster woke up in a field. All of the runes on his clothing had been shattered, and his bulletproof vest was slashed past the point of being usable.

Surprisingly, though, he felt fine.

He lay there in the grass for a minute, trying to figure out where he was. His last memories were of Claymore slamming into the monster, Lamia’s claws closing on the doctor’s neck, the burning notebook, the incantation…He’d been ready to cast the spell, and then…he’d woken up here.

He reached into his pocket and pulled out his Mistform cards; but all the inscriptions had turned to black smudges—spent, along with the rest of his magic.

Then a man’s shape appeared over him, blocking the sunlight. A hand reached down to help him up.

“Claymore?” Alabaster’s spirits lifted immediately. “What happened? I thought…What are you doing here?”

Claymore gave Alabaster a smile that would last him the rest of his life. “Come on,” he said. “I think the two of us have some research to do.”