Authors: Melanie Nilles
Tags: #starfire, #raea, #shirukan, #crystal, #elis, #Angels, #wings
Josh pointed to the northwest. "That
way. Wait." He lifted the binoculars. "Whoa! There's—"
"Thanks." Elis found the resonance
inside him and directed its burning power to grow the wings. He
clenched his teeth on the pain of muscle, bone, sinew, and feathers
in rapid growth through the hidden folds Evelyn had sewn into his
jacket, until he stretched his wings. Now to get up
"Oh, jeez!" Josh startled and fell
over his chair backwards.
Elis helped him stand.
Josh stumbled back. "Whoa.
Whoa. Whoa. Whoa.
. No way! This. Is so
real. You're the Dark Angel?"
"I don't have time to
explain. Raea's in trouble." Josh would have to accept it, but Elis
didn't have time to answer questions. "She didn't want you to know.
She doesn't want
to know." Elis stepped back and spread his wings.
Josh ducked at the wind of black wings
flapping. With luck, Elis would return to clear everything with
Josh later. For now, he had to race to catch up to Nare and Raea so
far out of town. The black maw of the Starfire portal spit out a
few faint dark shapes against the backdrop of moonlit
No. Not yet!
He fought against the winds stirred by the forces
of the portal. He'd never make it in time.
How fortunate the Keepers were out
flying. Valdas didn't need the map to find the houses, nor did they
need to break into any structure. They could make this short and
She adjusted the heads-up display on
her helmet visor showing the radiation traces of anything living.
Through the shades of red, she found them not far away. The
Starfire gave off a unique radiation signature that registered the
Keepers as green, contrasting the yellow of her squad
The wind was another matter. It would
make accurate flying difficult. Not impossible but risky. The
portal disturbed their atmosphere the same. They had managed to fly
through it there; they would manage in this.
["Keepers sighted,"] Lieutenant
Tourval said. He flew straight for them as they planned. Daeltrian
should be somewhere above, provided the wind didn't hinder her
Karnalan and Luranik would flank the
Only one direction remained open to
["Tourval, hold back. Give Daeltrian a
chance to get ahead."] The tri-comm worked perfectly in close
proximity, and they could hear a whisper. Unnecessary to shout,
even in this wind.
A gust sent her tumbling over herself,
but Valdas righted within seconds.
["I'm in position,"] Daeltrian said.
["I don't think they see me."]
Indeed. Based on the colored images
from the goggles, the Keepers had hardly moved while the young
lieutenant was nearly above them. Did they expect a fight? Why did
they wait instead of run?
They had attacked him, burning him severely from
what must have been a very strong release of Starfire energy.
["Ease up. They may be waiting for a clear shot. Wait for the
others to get into position."] She wouldn't underestimate these two
as the commander had.
["I don't think they see me,
["I said 'hold'."] No sense firing and
missing, and alerting the Keepers of the attack. They would have
one chance to surprise the pair.
The others were almost ready. The next
move would take her away from optimum viewing while she took her
position. For those brief seconds, she would lose sight of the
Valdas shivered. Damn the weather.
Loran could have warned them to dress warm.
Sure enough. The green shapes flew
away. Crystal fire! Valdas spread her wings and pulled up. ["They
spotted us. Two-point-one. Karnalan, go."]
The yellow figure dropped to pick up
speed against the wind and cut off the Keepers. A warning shot
would chase them back.
["Daeltrian, hold position. Tourval.
Luranik, flank pursuit."]
All three confirmed and took up the
A light flashed from Karnalan's
weapon. It went wide.
The pair split up. Valdas was smarter. The two in pursuit each
took one Keeper. The chase was on.
["These two burned Commander Montran.
Keep your distance. Disable them so we can go home."]
She joined the pursuit, fighting the
strong winds throwing them at the portal. If they could use that to
It would never work. The Keepers would
do all they could to avoid it now that they knew Saffir hadn't sent
for them. Valdas and her team had hoped the Keepers would assume
the portal was generated by the last Crystal Keeper on Inar'Ahben
and linger near, but the advantage had been lost.
She'd never fought like this while a
portal was active. Given the wind and threat of return fire by the
Keepers, she wished she had brought more support. If she had
suspected this world's climate could cause problems, she would
The Keepers looked to have difficulty
too, though. The green shapes occasionally jerked as if caught by a
gust of wind. One of them in particular had more trouble than the
other. Which was that? The shape looked feminine. If so, that was
their primary target, but also the most dangerous. Human-raised.
That might have something to do with both factors. She might be
easy to catch, but they would have to neutralize her quickly to
avoid the Starfire.
But the other looked
feminine too. Wait. A third shape approached in the distance. It
Keepers. One of the others must have joined them.
The brighter green headed for Valdas,
or near her at least. Close enough for a clear shot if the female
stayed on course. The wind proved a challenge to staying still or
for the Crystal Keeper to fly straight.
That's all Valdas needed. One shot to knock out
the Crystal Keeper. The other Keeper gave her team a good
challenge, but this one didn't seem to understand. Two of her
teammates chased the Crystal Keeper to her.
Valdas flapped against a gust at her
back. Seconds later, the Crystal Keeper veered away.
Valdas pursued, sending Daeltrian away
in the hopes they could chase the female to her.
The wind roared around
them. Cold numbed the exposed parts of her face. Ahben depths! The
cold numbed every part of her. The others didn't complain, but she
would bet they felt the same. If they continued much longer, they'd
all freeze. It didn't matter—
weren't important. That crystal shard was. She
ignored the cold. She couldn't fail.
She felt the effects of the
cold on her movements and saw it in her team. Their quick turns
widened. Their response times to the Keepers' tricks slowed.
The pair joined up again, allowing the
yellow figures to encircle the green shapes, although Karnalan and
Daeltrian were a little slow. Or did they hold back in case the
Keepers made another run?
[Or in case they
Once hit by the neutralizer, the Crystal Keeper would lose
consciousness. The other could fall to their death, but Shartrael
Raea would be needed alive, if possible, to handle the Starfire
A couple shots of bright green flashed
on the scene, but the green shapes flew around one
One of the yellow shapes
Tourval's voice. The Keepers fought
back. They attacked her teammates, taking the offensive and sending
the men and women of her hand-picked squad fleeing from
Valdas pursued the more
skilled flyer, who chased Luranik. If she could get one clean shot,
they'd regain their advantage.
so long for you to defend yourselves? That oath to serve is a
farce. You Keepers are nothing more than hypocrites and liars.
You're abominations to our kind.]
If she could get a clear shot, she
could take out one more. The third Keeper was almost there.
["Hurry! We're getting company."]
Perfect aim. She fired. The Crystal
Deltrian and Tourval swooped up, their
yellow shapes merging with the green. ["Got her!"]
Finally. ["Let's go."]
Valdas followed the pair carrying the limp green form between them.
The last green shape spread his wings and glided.
Keeper vanished into the darkness with her team. She
"Raea!" No. No-no-no-no-no. This
couldn't be happening. They took her.
And Nare fell. His heart screamed in
agony when the black shapes headed for the portal. He wanted to
chase them, but Nare didn't fly. For a heartbeat, he considered it.
Only for a moment—he'd never reach Raea in time. He made his
"Nare!" He folded his wings and dove.
The wind whistled past his ears. "Nare!"
Her wings trailed her, slowing her
fall, and she didn't respond. She must have been hit with a
neutralizer. They wouldn't dare aim to kill a Crystal Keeper, not
He had a chance to save her and pulled
his wings in tight, streaking like a missile to catch Nare. He
couldn't save Raea. She was gone.
She was dead.
He wouldn't lose her like
this. He couldn't fail
His eyes blurred. Although the wind
caused some of the irritation, the choking hold of his grief burned
his eyes and lumped in his throat.
Closer he sped to Nare, and to the
ground. Soon, he'd have no choice but to pull up,
Unacceptable. Killing himself wouldn't
"Nare!" He leveled with her and
adjusted his flight, reaching out…Got her!
The sudden spreading of his wings
caught the air and dramatically slowed his descent, but at the
expense of a sharp pain in his back. Carrying Nare proved awkward,
but he flapped hard, hoping to gain altitude. Muscles strained in
his back. After the speed of the dive, he struggled to hold his
wings out to slow his momentum, even more to flap against his
The ground's approach slowed. Holding
a limp Nare, he flapped hard.
Forget making it home. He'd be glad to
Elis managed a light landing and laid
Nare in the grass. No sign of blood, and she still breathed.
Neutralized. The Shirukan wanted Raea alive to handle the Starfire
for them. Using their weapons to kill would have made things
difficult—the Starfire might kill anyone who touched it that it
didn't accept and it definitely would never accept any Shirukan.
There was one good thing.
Nare wouldn't be waking up anytime
soon though. He'd have to carry her home, but without Raea. He'd
never see her again.
The Shirukan had taken her when he
wasn't there, like they'd taken his family. The memories returned
in vivid detail, shattering him with accusations.
He saw it all on the
holographic video—images of his home city with its grand Arches of
Sammal in ruins and the many floating towers on fire from attacking
ships and hundreds of black-uniformed Shirukan and thousands of the
gray and black uniformed Shirat soldiers filling the scene. Reports
of Keepers being rounded up by the enemy and executed. Individuals.
Families. Women. Men. Children. The elderly. Anyone with the
Starburst marks were targeted.
And the city, resistant to
the end, now suffered for no reason but as a show of force by the
Elis stared in stunned
silence at the reports scrolling across the display. His heart
froze with his breath. He couldn't believe it. Narmor had fallen.
It should have been able to resist.
His parents and his sister
and her mate. All Keepers rounded up. His father had been a Crystal
Keeper, though. Naolis bore a shard of the Starfire. The Shirukan
would keep him alive long enough to torture him into giving it
his heart cried. Every part of him ached to be there to defend
them. His family needed him. The people he loved. Where was
Starfire Tower. Safe and
secure after finishing his training.
Not again. Over the last
two years, he'd tried to forget. He wasn't there when the Shirukan
took them away, like he wasn't here when they came for Raea. He
might have stopped them if he'd been there, if he'd been
The door to his quarters
slid open. Saffir stepped in, her short, gray-blue hair twisted
into a style pulled back from her face, exposing her concern as she
rushed to embrace him. ["Elis."]