Authors: Melanie Nilles
Tags: #starfire, #raea, #shirukan, #crystal, #elis, #Angels, #wings
Elis stood stunned,
emotions frozen in a tangle of denial, guilt, and grief. ["I should
have been there."] That simple statement summarized everything
inside him and loosened the tears to slide coldly down his
["You could have done
nothing. The Shirukan have ways of subduing Keepers. Had you been
there, you would have died with them."]
He looked up through
blurry eyes at Saffir and the old, white-winged man. What did they
know? The muscles of his back tightened, drawing his black wings in
close with a ruffle of feathers. ["I might have made a
Saffir shook her head, her
deep blue eyes breaking from his gaze. ["You don't know
She put a hand to his
face. The Starburst marks covered her entire hands in the same
aquamarine color as the Starfire crystal she wore on a decorative
chain around her neck. His father had worn a smaller fragment. Her
fingers—nearly covered by the Starburst like her hands—caressed his
cheek. ["You are my brother's last grandchild. I won't lose you to
the Shirukan like the others. In fact—"]
Saffir straightened and
glanced back at the old man, his great-grandfather Tenkil, her
father and the oldest of the Keepers. He had long ago passed his
Starfire to her so that she protected the largest
["I know where you'll be
safest, and you can protect another Crystal Keeper."]
Elis frowned. With his
emotions already tumbling inside him, he didn't want to leave. He
wanted to fight the Shirukan and their empress, the people who
killed his family to obtain his father's Starfire. He wanted to
make them suffer.
["Twenty years ago,
Shartrael Padina escaped the Shirukan by the power of a Starfire
portal. We heard reports years later that she was dead, but her
shard had not been recovered. Only a few of us knew she was
pregnant when she left."]
["Pregnant?"] As in a
child? Padina had borne a child? To be expected, he supposed. He
had heard of her disappearance, but nothing about her having been
found and executed by a Shirukan.
Another Crystal Keeper.
But her shard hadn't been retrieved…then… ["You think her child
bears the Starfire? Why hasn't he or she returned?"]
Saffir shrugged. ["We
don't know the answer, but with Padina gone, perhaps her child
knows nothing, or perhaps the child is also dead, the shard
abandoned. Since Padina left, we had no contact with her. Now, with
Naolis's shard, the Shirukan have two pieces of the Starfire.
They'll come for me next, but I fear they'll soon discover Padina's
He knew what she wanted.
The answer was obvious. ["You want me to protect this child? How is
that any safer? How will that help my family? They're gone!"] He
didn't regret the harshness of his tone and stepped away from them
to gaze out the balcony door, which opened at his approach. A warm
breeze blew against his wings, tempting him to the sky of
Inar'Ahben to escape the tragedy that crashed upon him. Freedom.
Solitude. Escape. But he could never escape the guilt darkening his
heart. ["I should have been there for
A soft touch on his
shoulder loosened the tension. Tears cooled his cheeks.
["You can protect Padina's
child, if they're alive. We don't know what she taught them, so it
would be your responsibility to prepare them, to help defend
against the Shirukan.
If the Starfire is made whole, it will destroy our
The stakes were higher
than his family; he'd always known, but it had been someone else's
responsibility. How could he refuse that duty as a Keeper? He
could; that's all. ["Why not send real bodyguards? What can I
["Where that child is,
they may look like us, but they don't have wings. Padina chose that
world so she could hide as a native."]
He knew the world she
described. All Keepers knew it as a sanctuary. ["Earth."] Primitive
by comparison, humans viewed Inari as supernatural beings. How
would he fit in, except to hide the Starburst marks on his hands
and to hide his wings? He loved to fly and was one of the best, at
least among his friends at Starfire Tower. He didn't want to have
to walk everywhere.
But he knew why Saffir
of the Starfire in their genes, Keepers could hide their wings,
although they usually used it as a means of reaching the Ahben in
the oceans of their world and never with long-term intentions. And
he now had nothing keeping him there.
["I would be the worst
person. I can't, not after this..."]
["It's because of this,
and that you have completed your training, that you're the best
person for this task. You can grieve later."]
["They've already chosen
mates. You haven't bonded with anyone. You have no ties to this
Elis sighed in defeat. He
couldn't argue with that.
["You have some time to
think about it and prepare. It'll be safest to arrive at
He nodded and watched the
two leave his apartment. His mind swirled with conflicting emotions
and a sense of duty. Keepers valued life, but honored those who
died. Although he wished with all his being to avenge his family,
deep inside he knew Saffir was right. Protecting and training
Padina's child was important. And perhaps it would distract him
from the pain that ripped through him.
Tears cooled his cheeks. Elis let them
flow and fell to his knees. The portal was gone. He was unable to
rescue Raea. He had failed not only Raea but also Saffir.
Everything he loved he lost.
It wasn't fair. He didn't deserve to
live while they all suffered and died.
"I'm sorry, Raea," he whispered. Sobs
shook through him. Tears restrained from two years ago flowed
freely now, cooling his face. He should have told her about bonding
sooner. This might have been avoided.
He had been so afraid, and now his
worst nightmare had come true. He was alone.
Truth About Angels
He'd never see her again. Never hold
her. Never dry another tear. Never smell the faint hint of flowers
that conditioned her silky, light brown hair. Never feel the joy
that somersaulted inside him when she smiled. Never spend the rest
of his life with her.
In the cold grass next to Nare, Elis
buried his face and the tears that flowed. The last two years of
his life replayed in his mind. The way he'd watched Raea, his
tongue sticking at the wrong times. The way he sometimes caught her
eyes on him and wished she might say something. The last six weeks
slowed, every moment aching through him in its clawing ferocity to
rip out his heart.
If only he had dreamed it. If only
Saffir had let him go that day Narmor fell, he could have ended the
suffering before making everything worse.
But he wouldn't have been there when
Raea needed him most, when Pallin came, and her shard would already
be in the machine and Raea would be dead.
The cold air and the fog of his breath
"Raea…" Elis sniffed. Damn the
Shirukan! Damn the Shirat Empire! And damn their empress! They did
this. They took away all he loved.
He punched the ground with his fists,
his wings out behind him. It would be so easy to end it all. The
hard ground beckoned with its welcome embrace of cold
Lights from behind faintly lit the
ground around and ahead of him, except where his shadow
It didn't matter if they
discovered him. Not now.
So what if they
found out the secret of their Dark Angel. The Starfire was gone.
Raea was gone. Nothing mattered.
The lights passed, leaving him alone
in the dark again. Relief and disappointment clashed.
He put a hand to her chest—she
breathed, but she was cold. She'd freeze if he didn't get her home.
Even at the end of April, nights could still dip into low
temperatures. Seeing his breath proved that.
He couldn't abandon her, no matter how
annoying she might be. He hadn't saved her from falling to her
death to let the cold finish the task.
Elis wiped his face with his sleeve.
One death because of the Shirukan was enough that night. He slid
one arm under Nare's shoulders and the other under her
Lifting was a problem. The awkwardness
of trying not to step on her wings while balancing and lifting with
an ache in his back made the task nearly impossible. After a couple
tries, another light passed over the ground. A sense of urgency
swept over him. Old habit from trying to hide his
He might have to ask for help. Nare
was heavy with her wings dragging, and he wasn't going anywhere.
They were in a pasture in the middle of nowhere. The ache in his
back made it nearly impossible to lift anything. How would he fly
if he couldn’t stand?
Debbie. She'd always helped him,
because he protected Raea. But he failed to protect her tonight.
Debbie would be upset to hear Raea was gone. He'd rather wait and
tell her in person.
Who could he ask? Evelyn couldn't help
him. The only other person—
Now, if Nare kept her cell phone on
He searched her coat.
There. Clipped to her belt. Elis
pulled it out and dialed Josh's home. After a warning about long
distance, he redialed with the area code. Nare's phone service was
out of Colorado. Any number in North Dakota was long distance for
her. Tri-comm would have been easier, but only if Josh would have
had one, assuming they worked for humans.
The phone rang only twice before a
woman picked up. "Hello?"
"This is Elis. I need to speak to
"I'm sorry, Elis. He took off a short
time ago. Weren't you watching for his angel with him?"
"I had to leave." To say the least. If
Josh left his house, then maybe he was already on his way. At least
his mother hadn't seemed to notice the transformation. One less
person to worry about. "Did he say where he was going?"
"No, just that he needed the car to
run an errand."
Errand. Right. Most likely following.
Then he might arrive soon, if he knew where to go. Josh needed
directions. "Does Josh have a cell?"
"But he took mine."
Hope jumped in his chest. "What's the
She gave it to him and told him to
warn Josh not to be angel-chasing when her car was low on fuel.
Elis thanked her and hung up.
Now for Josh. He dialed the number,
making sure to use the area code this time.
It rang a few times before voicemail
Crystal fire! Elis tried
Pick it up, Josh!
A third time, he dialed the number.
Thank goodness. "Josh, it's
"Elis! Holy Hannah! Where are you?
What happened? I tried to follow, but I lost track. You're east.
Elis breathed a sigh and gave Josh the
directions. After two years, he knew the landscape for twenty miles
around McClarron. That helped when he wasn't watching the land
below him on his way to save Raea, although he'd caught a good look
while trying to avoid dropping Nare.
"Got it. I'm on my way."
"Hurry. Nare needs warmth."
"Nare? Where's Raea? What happened?"
Worry leaked from Josh's voice. "Did something happen to her? You
said she was in trouble. What kind of trouble?"
Elis choked down the lump in his
throat. "I'll tell you when you get here."
"Oh, God! Okay. I'm closing the phone
so I can drive. Bye."
"Bye." Elis closed the cell and
replaced it at Nare's belt.
Josh would come, but he wouldn't like
what he heard.
Fresh tears welled up, but
he fought them. Josh
come. Elis wouldn't have to fly her home. He could
end the suffering, but Josh would need help getting her into the
house unconscious. No leaving them. He had to stay. There was no
escaping the grief tearing through him, but he could distract
After a moment, he found the resonance
and shrank his wings. His back still ached, but much less without
carrying the wings. He needed time to heal before flying again. In
the strain of the sudden pull from his dive, he'd pulled a few
muscles, especially with the added weight of carrying
So much for considering leaving for
Elis waited and watched. A couple cars
passed their lights over the pasture as they turned a corner
somewhere behind him.
Finally, one set of lights lingered
and grew brighter. It bobbled and stopped on him.