Authors: Heather Killough-Walden
Tags: #Paranormal, #Angel, #Romance
He nodded, his eyes wide, his jaw set with determination.
She nodded back and made her way over rubble to the front of his wing of offices and into the hall. She followed the sound of voices to a group of firemen who were making their way through the building floor by floor. She was covered in the blood of dozens of injured people, and clearly, one of the men thought the blood was her own.
At once, he approached her. “Where are you hurt?”
She shook her head. “I’m not injured. There’s a man down that hall, through the third door to the right. He’s badly hurt and needs help right away.”
The fireman nodded and left her.
Angel stepped back as more men followed him. When they’d passed, she made her way out of the building, past one scene of destruction after another, and into an alley. There, she leaned against the wall and slid into a crouched position.
She closed her eyes. She was so tired that she was not at all aware she was being watched – with singular and intense keenness.
He’d thought long and hard about what he was about to do. But they could literally go on like this forever if he didn’t do it. Two thousand years had been torture enough. Forever was out of the question.
He took a deep breath and looked down at his hands, which had been marked by the spell. Upon each palm was a symbol, drawn there by an unseelie fae spell caster. The mage had been a servant of Malek Taal, an unseelie lord of infamous repute.
People on Earth were an odd sort. They had a very three-dimensional view of the world, of the universe, and even the multiverse. Few of them considered the possibility that there was more there than met the eye. The truth of this fallacy was so obvious, though. Even dark matter, that enigmatic otherness that could not be directly seen, was proof enough that the Cosmos consisted of more than what the eye could behold.
The mortal realm was
realm. And the angel realm was another.
Malek Taal was the king of the aptly named
, a fae people steeped in dark history and even darker fae magic. He was a man with innumerable secrets and a rather frightful diet, but one who
things. His realm was yet another of countless realms.
On and on they went, realm after realm, like nodules of air in a sheet of bubble wrap. And that sheet of bubble wrap was laid upon
sheet of bubble wrap. And another. Stretching to an infinite length and an infinite width. Hence, there were infinite realms.
Humans had absolutely no clue.
Sam had visited Malek Taal and asked him for help, as only the unseelie seemed to possess the dark kind of magic Sam was in need of just then. Malek was a reasonable man, and everyone had a price. Malek’s price had been no different from that of so many men who’d lived alone too long. He wanted information about a certain woman… one who would perhaps be compatible with him, in his realm of darkness and magic. Sam just happened to have that information. He was
at information. He always had been. Maybe that was why he’d gravitated toward the media as he had.
At any rate, a trade was made. And the spell was cast.
And now Samael, the Fallen One, the most powerful of the archangels sent to earth in the wake of the archess exodus, was about to do something that would alter the playing field… possibly forever.
It was worth it. Or, it would be – if it worked.
Now he stood at the end of the alley and gazed at the woman who’d been hiding from him for two thousand years. She didn’t see him there. She was so tired, she could barely keep her eyes open at all, much less see through his invisibility. That had been the point, really. He knew that all it would take was a disaster she had some hope of helping in, and she would come running and then wear herself out.
The weather patterns had been insane of late; a part of the world was dying, and its death throws were spitting out tornadoes and floods and wildfires like a dying snake spewing poison. Few people were overtly surprised about the storms that had taken place in Chicago. Hell, they were going on everywhere, really. You couldn’t turn on your television or computer without catching sight of a headline spouting natural disasters.
Right now, no one would think anything of a few more tornadoes, especially not in the heart of tornado alley. The timing was perfect. And as far as he was concerned, it was necessary.
She’d done exactly as he’d known she would do. Her heart would have it no other way.
It was one of the things he loved about…. Sam frowned and placed his hand to his chest. There had been a brief twinge there, an odd, empty but full feeling that…
. He rarely felt pain. In fact, almost never.
With steadfast resolve, he lowered his hand, raised his chin, and narrowed his gaze, pushing the discomfort from his mind. He moved down the alley until he was standing directly in front of Angel.
Her head was still in her hands, the very vision of exhaustion. She was disguised as someone else again, but by now… he knew her. He wasn’t sure how, but he just
her. No matter
she looked like on the outside.
From this close, where he stood towering over her, he could smell the shampoo she’d used in her last shower. He could see a tear in her jeans, and bruises forming along her arms. She’d put herself through hell trying to help this time.
One swift movement, and he could take her. Grab her wrists, lift her to her feet, trap her up against the wall…. She was so close.
He realized he was shaking. His desire felt like a tangible thing, like a hunger that had incarnated and was pushing its way through his skin. And there was that odd pain again – in his chest – somewhere deep inside.
Suddenly, Angel dropped her arms and looked up.
Sam froze. He held his breath. He knew he was not only invisible but inaudible, and freezing like this didn’t actually make any logical sense. But he couldn’t move. He could barely
as her eyes searched the space in front of her – almost like she knew he was there. She frowned, and lines formed at the corners of her eyes. She opened her mouth, parting her lips to reveal straight, white teeth.
He thought of what they would feel like against his tongue.
And then something in him snapped, and he refocused with fierce determination, kneeling before her.
She blinked, and Sam wondered if she really did know he was there. Could she feel him? He sure as shit could feel her.
he told himself firmly.
Do this now, damn it. Now!
He raised his arms, placing his hands in the air on either side of her head. The marks on the insides of his palms began to heat up. He winced, once more feeling a pain he was unaccustomed to. They burned into him, branding him with their power, and as they did, that power was transferred. From him to her.
Before him, just inches away, Angel softly gasped. Her gaze unfocused, glazing over.
A crazy urge to stop what he was doing and pull her into his arms was nearly his undoing then and there. He wanted to hold her, embrace her, tell her it was going to be okay. It took everything he had to remain motionless in his special agony and let the spell run its course.
When it was at last done, Angel’s eyes slid shut once more, this time for good. Sam lowered his arms. The marks on his hands were gone now. The magic of the two symbols had been carved elsewhere. One upon his soul – and one upon hers.
The spell would begin to take effect shortly, and would come to fruition gradually, over the course of the next few days. Now all he had to do was remain one step behind her as it happened. Until she had no choice but to turn to him.
To hear him out.
To give him a chance.
It would be worth it.
Sam stood. Then, using some of the power he knew would soon run out, he placed a protective shield over his archess. It would keep her from detection until she awoke. After that, it would be up to her what they did next.
Sam took a deep breath, and was unsettled to find that it released shakily. He ran a hand through his hair and over his face. His skin was hot to the touch. A fever? Only mortals got fevers.
He closed his eyes as a chill went through him.
It hit him just then, the enormity of what he had set into motion. And when he turned back down the alley and smelled the smoke from a nearby fire and felt it sting his eyes, he realized with a strange sense of dread, that it was happening already.
Angel managed to hide for quite a while there in that alley, behind those trash cans and debris. She must have been more exhausted than ever before, because at some point, she lost consciousness. She was just lucky no one had found her there.
Once she’d regained consciousness and caught her breath, she felt the tiniest tendril of her power return, and knew she could manage just enough magic for a transport.
When she reappeared and the transport portal was gone, she found herself standing an inch deep in mud. She looked down, lifting her boots slowly to reveal black icky-stick latching to the thick tread.
She sighed and took in her surroundings.
From the smell of it, the building directly in front of her was some sort of restroom. But it was an old wooden building, the air was thick with humidity, and she had a feeling the combination was failing to keep the stench in. The constant stream of people in and out of the left side of it probably didn’t help either.
The left end was clearly the women’s end, and the right was the men’s. Of course, the right was practically empty, and the left trailed a line of waiting patrons about fifteen deep. Each of them were dressed in varying degrees of revelry harkening to the days of yore.
From lace-up bodices and corsets, trailing skirts, and leather armor, everyone wore their own level of participation upon their sleeves. But the threat of storm was heavy in the air, brows trickled sweat, and a few of the women in heavier armor were fidgeting and adjusting uncomfortably.
It was a Renaissance Festival. Otherwise known as a ren faire.
Angel stepped out of the mud, nodded and smiled to the stragglers at the back of the bathroom line, and got in line herself.
She’d already changed her appearance several times since showing up at the Valley of Shadows concert, but right now she was covered in the blood of victims from the Kansas City storm. And while bloody costumes were not necessarily as rare as they once might have been at ren faires – what with the zombie craze being what it was – she
looked the part. Nothing drew attention like the bright red of blood, and the less attention she gained, the better.
When her turn finally came and she was safely sequestered in a stall, she rested until she could feel another inkling of power inside her. She used that to summon food from where she had it sequestered in one of her apartments. As people moved in and out of the stalls on either side of her, she remained locked safely in her own, eating a granola bar.
Then she waited some more. The line progressed quickly enough that no one noticed she remained locked in her single stall. When she had the strength the food afforded her, she again morphed, cleaning her clothes and turning her hair red. Her skin became tanned, and her eyes shifted into a gold-green.
As an added touch, she gave herself freckles before at last creeping out of her stall. She flushed the toilet behind her for the sake of appearance. Then she exited the restroom with another small crowd and made her way into the first open area of the faire bordered by tents and booths on either side. A wave of dizziness swept over her once she’d cleared the crowd, and she frowned.
She stopped to lean against a tree. That was weird. It had never happened before.
Worried, she looked up at the gathering clouds. Were there more than there had been before she’d gone into the restroom?
When she felt stable again, she pushed off the tree and continued deeper into the faire.
To be safe, she should probably transport from one place to the next until she was in her permanent location. But she was frankly exhausted. She needed a break. And the truth was, she’d always been a sucker for ren faires. They reminded her of days she’d actually
through. They also amused her a little, because she was able to enjoy the good qualities of those ages without the bad, such as rampant disease, heavy handed religious laws, barbaric medical practices, horrid stench, Neanderthal attitudes toward women, and more disease.
From where she was standing, she could see things she wanted to check out. Not far away was a booth selling customized leather boots. She loved boots. Another booth a few feet away had astrolabes displayed behind glass cases. She loved those too. She even knew a man who carried one around. Of course, that was a very special astrolabe, hidden inside a very special pocket watch. The watch, like the man, was an enigma, capable of secret things only he knew.
Speaking of time - Angel sort of felt it ticking away. It was slipping, like sand through that infamous hour glass. If she wanted to enjoy the faire, she would have to do so quickly and then move on. Because Sam was not a man to take lightly.
She ran a hand through her hair, and suddenly closed her eyes. “Is the rest of my life going to be like this?” she asked herself softly. Would she always be running from Samael? Would every day consist of brief stops at places she enjoyed, followed by more running?
It was either that, or give in.
An image of Sam’s face floated through her mind. She saw his powerful eyes peering right through her, heard his deep voice wrap tight around her, and felt goose bumps raise across every inch of her flesh. She felt warm inside, and a moan escaped her throat. It was a sound of regret, of longing, and of frustration.
Was all of this worth it?
Was it worth it to keep fleeing the man she loved – had loved for two thousand years, deep down inside, in the core of who and what she was – just so she could play Superwoman to the people of this realm? Just so she could be their wayward hero?