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Authors: Daniel Arenson

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Flaming Dove

BOOK: Flaming Dove
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Daniel Arenson

Copyright © 2010 by Daniel Arenson

All rights reserved.

This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination, or, if real, used fictitiously.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by an electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the express written permission of the author.

I am Laila, of the night. I have walked through godlight and through darkness. I have fought demons and I have slain angels. I am Laila, of the shadows. I have hidden and run, and I have stood up and striven. I am Laila, of tears and blood, of sins and of piety. I am Laila, outcast from Hell, banished from Heaven. I am alone, in darkness. I am Laila, of light and of fire. I am fallen. I rise again.

Chapter One

Something is out there,
his thoughts whispered.
Something lurking in the night.
Standing on the fort's dank walls, Nathaniel scanned the darkness. He saw only rain and waves, but still the thought lingered.
There is evil beyond these walls.

It was past midnight, and clouds hid the stars, grumbling and spewing sheets of rain, crackling with lightning. The waves roared, raising showers of foam, pummeling the ancient Crusader fort as if trying to topple it. It was that kind of storm, Nathaniel thought as the winds lashed him. A storm that could tear down the world.

Nathaniel tightened his grip on his spear, the rain pelting his bronze helm.
An unholy storm,
he thought,
and an unholy night.

A glint caught his good eye, coming from the flurrying sand of the beach below. Nathaniel raised his spear, gazing into the darkness, heart leaping. He shifted his shoulder blades as if he still had angel wings to unfurl. He had lost those wings years ago, along with his left eye, to demon claws.
And you know what happens to wingless angels,
he thought, scanning the beach.
They get stuck with guard duty on stormy nights when even God wouldn't step outdoors.

Where was the glint? Nathaniel could see nothing, only crashing waves and endless darkness. He must have imagined it. He cursed himself for his quickened heartbeat, for the whiteness of his knuckles around his spear. He had killed more demons than he could count, had even faced an archdemon once and lived to boast of it; it was damn foolishness that a mere storm should faze him, even if it
the worst storm he had seen on this world. And yet... and yet there was something about this night, something of a malice beyond waves and wind, beyond Hell itself, perhaps.

Lightning flashed and there—a glint in the skies. Nathaniel thought he glimpsed great bat wings spread in flight before the light vanished, but... that was impossible. No demon could fly over this beach without triggering all their alarms.

Nathaniel cursed the shiver that ran through his bones, these bones broken too often in battle, now creaky and aching. The waves battered the fort's wall, spraying him with water and foam, and Nathaniel cursed again and spat. He'd had too much rye last night, that was all; he was seeing things.

Something creaked behind him.

Nathaniel spun around, spear lashing.

A cry pierced the night.

His spear banged against metal.

"Sir!" came a voice ahead.

"Who's there?" Nathaniel demanded, gripping his spear.

"Please, sir! It's me." Eyes glowed in the darkness.

"Name and rank," Nathaniel shouted.

"Yaram, sir! Corporal from platoon four, sir."

Nathaniel groped for the lamp at his feet. It lay on its side; he must have kicked it over. He raised the tin lamp, casting its flickering glow against the young, pink-faced angel who stood before him. A dent pushed into Yaram's breastplate where Nathaniel's spear had found it, and the angel's eyes were narrowed with pain and terror.

"God damn it." Nathaniel spat. "Corporal, never creep up on an officer like that; my spear could have hit your face just as easily."

"Sorry, sir, but... I pulled guard duty tonight. I was in the eastern tower, and sir, I saw something."

"And abandoned your post?" Nathaniel clenched his jaw. He should have the angel beaten for this.

"Micah, my partner, guards there now, sir," Yaram said, voice shaking. Thunder boomed. "I came to find you. We saw a shade in the night, like a demon, but...."

Nathaniel cursed under his breath. The rain pounded his helmet and ran down his face. "But it wasn't a demon, was it?" he muttered. So he had not imagined it; there
something out there, neither demon nor angel, a creature that had crept past their alarms, that now flew above them as if unfazed by the garrison of angels below.

There was only one creature of such power, of such brazenness, Nathaniel knew. The winds howled and more waves sprayed them, salty against his lips. The lamplight flickered, its shadows dancing.

"Sir?" Yaram said, pale. "You don't suppose it could have been
? That
has returned?"

Nathaniel raised his spear and pointed it at the younger angel. "Watch your tongue, corporal, or I'll cut it from your mouth. Don't speak of that half-breed here. She fled years ago, you know that."

Yaram swallowed and nodded, rubbing the dent in his armor. No doubt, an ugly bruise was spreading beneath that dent. "Yes, sir."

Lightning flashed again as waves crashed and roared, as the winds howled, and there again—great bat wings under the swirling clouds, and a shriek from above, a shriek that ached in Nathaniel's old bones.

Yaram and Nathaniel stared. They both had seen those wings, those red, burning eyes.

The watch bell clanged in the guard tower behind them, ringing clearly even in the howling storm.
Micah sounding the alarm,
Nathaniel knew.

Clattering footfalls came from the staircase leading up the wall. Nathaniel and Yaram spun, raising their spears. It was Bat El running up toward them, her gilded armor perfectly polished, her blond hair pulled into a prim, proper bun.
Nathaniel thought with a grunt. If anything could make this night worse, it was the presence of Bat El, the prissy daughter of Archangel Gabriel himself.

"The alarm—" Bat El began, blue eyes wide.

"A winged creature," Nathaniel grumbled. "Neither demon nor angel." He hated that his words made him shudder.
I need a drink.

"There!" Yaram shouted over the crashing waves, pointing to the beach below. They looked and saw it—a darker shade of black, red eyes burning, a halo of flame wreathing its brow.

"Dear God, don't tell me it's
," Bat El whispered, blanching. She unfurled her swan wings and leapt off the wall, gliding toward the creature.

"Damn it!" Nathaniel said. "Yaram, we follow."

He would have to share Yaram's wings; sometimes wingless angels had to give up some pride. He grabbed Yaram and leapt from the wall, pulling the younger angel with him. Yaram spread his swan wings, caught the storming winds, and they hit the rocky beach below the fort. Through the crashing waves, Nathaniel glimpsed Bat El racing toward where they had seen the creature.

Stupid girl,
Nathaniel thought. He pushed himself up and began running after her. If that creature was truly her, truly who they thought, none of them could face her. There were few from Hell or Heaven—not even Gabriel's daughter—who could challenge that
and live.

Yaram screamed beside him. Nathaniel turned to stare with his good eye. Through the crashing foam, Yaram fell, helmet cracked, neck shred open. Nathaniel cursed and raised his spear.

Red eyes burned in the night, two lit coals. Fangs pushed through a chaotic smile. It
her, Nathaniel knew.

The demon's daughter. The half-angel.


God help us, she's back.

"Bat El!" Nathaniel shouted, when great bat wings slammed against him, sending him flying. He crashed into the waters, salt filling his mouth and nostrils. The waves slammed him against the fort's mossy wall, ringing filled his ears, and he tumbled to the ground. With his last bits of consciousness, he glimpsed the creature gliding through the night, and then the waves slammed Nathaniel against the wall again, and all thought faded.

* * * * *

The sun rose slowly, casting dim light through a pall of clouds, glinting over sea and sand. That sand filled Michael's sandals as he walked, and he breathed in the scents of salt, water, and seaweed. As much as he hated Earth, he was growing fond of the beach smells, and his morning walks had become his favorite time here—or at least, the time of day he disliked the least. After several days of rain and storm, silence filled the land, broken only by the murmur of waves and the calls of distant gulls.

Michael was heading toward the Crusader castle which rose upon a steeple of stone, overlooking the sea, umber under the morning sky. The fort—it must have been a thousand years old—always reminded Michael of some last, decaying tooth in the gums of an old wolf.

Laila has a wolf,
he reflected, folding his swan wings around him, shielding himself from the chilly sea breeze.
Yet that wolf has far too many teeth—sharp ones, and cruel.

What was the wolf's name? Michael could not remember. He had a feeling that he'd be reminded soon enough, if the rumors were true. Michael gazed away from the sea, looking toward the eastern sandy hills, toward Jerusalem.
Could Laila truly have returned to the city after so long in exile? If so, why? Why now?

She favored humans, Michael reminded himself. Perhaps she returned for a human friend—or lover. Humans were rare now, twenty-seven years after Armageddon. Michael doubted even a million remained around the globe; probably far fewer.

The icy breeze tasted like salt and sand, and Michael inhaled deeply, wishing he could walk forever across this beach, just pass by the fort and keep walking all day, breathing the sea, and to hell with this world. He kicked a rusty hubcap in the sand, sending a flock of gulls aflutter.
One of these days, I'm just going to keep on walking, and let God come find me.

When he reached the crumbling Crusader castle, its walls chipped and mossy, Michael heaved a sigh. Several angels stood upon the walls, eyes dour, faces hidden behind bronze helms. This had been Michael's home for several years now—since they claimed this shore in a battle that left four hundred angels slain.
Not quite as comfortable as Heaven,
he reflected as he entered the gates, nodding at the two angels who stood guard. The angels, each armed with a sword and spear, saluted as he passed them.

Tapestries hung inside the fort's shadowy hall, depicting biblical scenes, but they brought little cheer to the place. Even the torches lining the walls emitted scarce warmth or light; the fort was dank, shadowy, and as far from heavenly as possible.

Michael thought with a sigh.
I don't know how Laila can stand it.
But of course, he did know. He remembered the one time the half-demon had visited Heaven, visited the home of her mother. The holy water had burned her throat, the godlight scorched her skin, and the song of harps made her ears bleed.
Poor child. It's no wonder you spend your life running.

Several angels stood in the hall, discussing news of the war. Michael gazed past them to the painting which hung on the wall, framed in gold, ten feet tall. The painting depicted him—Michael, commander of God's hosts—clad in gilded Roman armor, swan wings unfurled, blond curls glowing, lance glinting as it pierced the wretched, twisted form of Satan. Michael gazed wearily at the painting.
There he is, an archangel in all his glory.
Michael sighed, knuckled his aching back, and rubbed his neck.
To hell with gold and glory.
Right then Michael would have given the world for a smoke and long, hot bath.

he remembered, rubbing the kinks in his shoulder. That was the name of that great black wolf of hers. Volkfair. Michael had often thought the beast was half-demon like its mistress.

"Michael!" came a voice, and a young angel flitted down the tower stairs, moving into the torch-lit hall. The angel's golden hair glistened, strewn with silver flowers, and her gait was still graceful, her blue eyes still bright. Bat El had been on Earth for only several months.
It always takes at least a year before they lose the bounce in their step,
Michael reflected.

"Hello, Bat El," he said.

The young angel saluted him. "Michael, I've returned from the city, I—"

"Hush, Bat El," he said softly. He placed a hand on her shoulder. "Come into my office. We'll talk."

BOOK: Flaming Dove
8.05Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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