Authors: Heather Killough-Walden
Tags: #Paranormal, #Angel, #Romance
Also secretly referred to as the
His opponent was Hesperos, the king of the incubi, otherwise known as the Nightmare King.
“Where. Is. She.” It was no longer a question, the way he’d voiced it the first time he’d asked. Okay, the
other time he’d asked. He wasn’t a man for repeating himself unnecessarily. Hesperos knew who he was looking for; he knew who Sam was referring to, and he was well aware of what Sam wanted. He just didn’t want to give it to him.
Sam caught a double fist to the chest and stumbled back, releasing his chokehold on Hesperos, who spun with impossible agility and landed a round-house kick to Samael’s jaw. Sam turned with the impact, but caught himself and recovered just as quickly, using the momentum to drive a hay maker punch to his opponent’s jaw. An eye for an eye.
“I wouldn’t tell you if I knew,” Hesperos breathed before he drove a shoulder into Sam’s chest and the two went down to the ground once more.
Normally, Sam would have enjoyed a good fight. He’d had one recently with Detective Michael Salvatore of the NYPD. Michael was also the Warrior Angel, an archangel who’d been sent down to Earth two millennia ago. Every once in a while, it was nice to get a good workout in, keep the reflexes quick, and let off a bit of steam.
But Sam wasn’t here to blow off steam. He wasn’t trying to prove any points, and he certainly didn’t need the work out. What he needed was
. And Hesperos knew where she was. It was the only reason Sam hadn’t yet killed him.
Well, almost the only reason.
For one thing, he didn’t actually
to kill Hesperos. The incubi needed a king, and they’d never had a better one than the one they had now. Hesperos had morals, he displayed ethics, and he was by far the strongest and most practiced amongst them. Who knew what would happen if Sam unseated him from his throne?
Surprisingly, he actually cared. But this was happening more and more to him of late. This
thing. It wasn’t just the king he cared about. He would rather engage in fisticuffs with Hesperos and avoid breaking out the big guns in a battle that might see surrounding humans harmed or take down their buildings. It was distracting, this blasted concern of his – but there it was.
For another thing, Hesperos was proving difficult. He was the very essence of a warrior, having led armies into battle thousands of years ago, and truth be told, this fight was a little less cut and dry than Samael had assumed it would be. The man was strong. Sam had underestimated him.
The two men rolled, each of them choke-holding the other, until they crossed the blue line of the platform and toppled hazardously onto the tracks several feet below. Sam landed across the metal rails, Hesperos on top of him.
The pain of broken bones would have overtaken a human body, but Sam barely noticed the impact. He’d lost no constitution in the fall. What he
losing, on the other hand, was patience. There was a tug on his spirit that left him feeling permanently stretched thin. He felt as if he’d been chopped in half inside, and the half of him he actually needed was the one that was running. No matter how fast he ran after it, no matter how hard he hunted for it, it slipped away.
Of course, it
. Because it was just as good at all of this as he was. Because in a way, it had been a part of him all along.
Now Samael fully understood the true meaning of the term, “soul mate,” for better or for worse. Hesperos wasn’t the only one he’d underestimated of late. Angel was giving him a run for his money – and his sanity.
Gritting his teeth with renewed fury, Sam raised both legs and kneed his opponent in the lungs, shoving the Nightmare King’s strong body off his own to send it flying several feet down the tracks. He didn’t wait to hear Hesperos land before he, himself, jumped to his feet and was running along the rails after him.
Hesperos was up nearly as quickly, and the two slammed into one another with so much force, a shockwave emanated from the impact, creating an invisible ring of audible force that rushed outward, knocking chipped tiles loose in the platform walls before it dissipated.
A pair of boots crunched those tiles somewhere up on the platform.
Sam had sensed the newcomers. He could feel
that approached or retreated, especially those that weren’t exactly normal. No one surprised him, not ever. Lilith came close from time to time, and if he was tired or distracted and gazing out the windows of his 66
floor office in the Sears Tower, he wouldn’t notice she was there until she was standing in the doorway behind him, clearing her throat politely.
But she was the only one. These rambling morons that were now pouring out onto the platform above them? Hell, he could even
them coming. They smelled like death. It wasn’t the sick stench of buzzards circling, or the smell of road kill, but of a deeper kind of death. They smelled like dead souls.
He and Hesperos separated, pausing in their struggle. Hesperos could obviously sense the newcomers too. Incubi inherently recognized both the beauty and the ugliness inside a person. The newcomers above were the very essence of internal ugliness.
The two of them seemed to come to a collective decision. They ceased fighting one another, and their forms straightened at ease, their gazes locked, their fists unclenched, and their eyes promised to continue this at a later date.
Then they turned as one, leapt up onto the platform above, and struck out against the Adarians with the full fury of their combined magic and skill.
Overhead, the sky let loose with a barrage of lightning, and somewhere in the city, more sectors were suddenly without electricity. Chi Town had become no more than a living reflection of the Fallen One’s unloosed rage.
Max looked up from the desk at the sound of someone approaching his office door. But he blinked repeatedly, and hurriedly removed his glasses when he saw who it was.
“Lilith!” It was a shocked whisper. He was up and out of his chair so fast, it toppled behind him. She wasn’t supposed to be there. His office was in the Mansion, and only the archangels, archesses, and he alone, were supposed to be able to traverse the corridors of the Mansion.
But a moment after the initial surprise washed over him, it was gone. It vanished with one look at her face, her eyes, and the small smile that played about her full lips. Of course she could use it. He should have known.
“Hello Max,” she greeted softly. Then her smile became strained. “I’m afraid I’ve come with unpleasant news.” As usual, she was dressed like the parody of a sexy librarian, in a woolen pencil skirt, black heels, a silk blouse of some sort, open at the collar, and a dainty necklace that brought his eyes to her neck over and over again. Her black hair, she kept up in a loose bun that allowed tendrils to frame her beautiful face. A long gold chain held a pair of reading glasses that dangled, unused for the moment. Her eyes were the darkness of the Cosmos. And just as mysterious.
“Please,” he said, correcting his horrendous manners by stepping around the desk and smoothing his clothing. “Come in and sit down.” He gestured to the other chairs in the room the Mansion had created for him, replete with tall oak shelves, stacks and stacks of books, and plenty of soft, oversized seating to read them in.
She smiled graciously and came into the office, choosing a chair opposite the desk. She sat with grace, crossing her long legs at the knee. He leaned up against the desk, choosing to stand in order to be closer to her. He always would.
“How are you?” he asked, meaning the question. For most, it was a platitude, something you said just to be nice and pass the time and bear some sort of semblance of human normalcy. No one really cared how you were doing. But he cared how
was doing. Again, he always would.
Her smile turned warm. “I’m fine. Everyone else?” She laughed softly. “That’s another matter.”
He waited, not saying anything, as obviously this was a lead into what she’d come here to tell him.
“As you no doubt have learned by now, Samael is searching for someone. Some of your archesses believe it might be a woman by the name of Angel. You also need to know that while his fury at not being able to locate her is what is causing the storms over Chicago and much of the surrounding area, it’s quite imperative he not find her. Not yet.”
Max wanted to ask why, but he knew Lilith. Lilith was a wellspring of untold knowledge. She’d been the first to come to Earth all those years ago. She knew things others could only dream of knowing, and he knew that she wasn’t going to share what she felt she shouldn’t. So he didn’t ask. Besides – he had his ideas.
He nodded, just once in acceptance, and remained silent.
“Gregori is as aware of this importance as I am, I’m afraid. The difference is, he’s willing to go to extremes to keep them apart. In short,” Lilith explained, “he is determined to locate Angel and destroy her at all costs.”
“So you want us to find her first and protect her.”
Lilith smiled. “If such a thing is possible, then you are the ones who can do it.”
Max absorbed that as well, and took it in stride. This wasn’t his first rodeo.
“I bring even more news, however,” Lilith went on. “Abraxos and the other Adarians have been taken under Gregori’s wing.”
Max nodded. He was, unfortunately, quite aware of that little fact. The archangels had dealt with a few of the Adarians during their battle at Michael’s apartment when his archess had earned her wings. Much had taken place that night. It had been a turning point of sorts.
“I’m sure you also know that the Adarians have undergone… a transformation, for lack of a better description.”
“I know that Abraxos became a vampire not long ago, along with a few of the others. I know they turned on one another, and Gregori came upon Abraxos after he’d been murdered by his brothers,” Max filled in, sharing what little he actually did know. He pushed off the desk and made his way to a bar across the room. There, he turned to glance at her over his shoulder. “Can I get you a drink?”
Lilith’s smile became a grin. “Welch’s Grape Soda in a bottle.”
Max shook his head. He’d known she would request something obscure and probably retro, and because the Mansion took care of its inhabitants, and she was aware of this, she also knew that whatever she asked for, it would provide. A Welch’s Grape Soda, in a bottle, appeared in the bar’s refrigerated compartment. He grabbed her a glass, took ice cubes from the ice container that was never melted or empty, and took both the glass and the bottle back to her.
Lilith waited for him to hand her the drink and glass, set the glass down, took a sip directly from the bottle, and her grin widened. She nodded her thanks, and then sat back a bit, holding the bottle above her lap. “Abraxos’s killers went rogue after their attack. But Gregori caught up with them.” She sighed heavily, took another drink, and paused, gazing over the lip of the bottle at something he couldn’t see. She seemed suddenly lost in her own thoughts until she said, “Now all thirteen of the fallen angels have been killed in one way or another, resurrected for better or worse, and are under Gregori’s control.”
“When you say they’ve been resurrected… that’s what you’ve really come to talk to me about, isn’t it?”
She nodded, giving him a smile that look that told him she knew he’d figure it out. “Max, they’re changing in a terrible way. Reports have been coming in… I hear things. Apparently, they’re attacking mortals.” She paused and gazed hard into his eyes. “They’re eating human hearts.”
“The Armageddon. That’s what people are calling it.” Max stood leaning against the hearth in the family room of the Mansion where they normally met. This hearth seemed to be the center of so many such meetings. If fire could talk, the things it would whisper about in its hissing voice….
The archangels and archesses sat or stood around the room in various poses, their expressions attentive. Uriel was the first to speak up after Max finished relaying what Lilith had shared with him.
“Unexplained weather phenomena, and people behaving like zombies. I can see how some would jump to the conclusion that the world was ending.”
“That’s because they’re all like you. They’ve spent far too much time in Hollywood’s
land,” said Michael, who was shaking his head with reproach. But his expression was mild. He was teasing his brother, nothing more.
“At least he’s on the other side of the camera,” Eleanore, his archess, defended him. “He’s the one doing the fooling, not the one being fooled.”
“Unfortunately, at the moment there’s no make-believe going on at all,” said Max softly. “I’m afraid the blood and guts are quite real this time around. What’s more, the meteorological dissent seems to be spreading. Outlying areas are reporting odd weather as well.”
“So people in those areas are probably also scared the zombie thing will spread,” said Eleanore.
The group fell silent to further process the news.
And then Max felt it. It was like the beginnings of a panic attack, this sudden sensation that something was not at all right. That something was coming. That it would be bad. He opened his mouth to say something, perhaps to warn the others, but before a word left his lips, a rumbling began.
Max had been around for some time, and had a few experiences under his Guardian belt. When the rumbling began in the Mansion, it instantly reminded him of something he’d felt more than a century earlier in San Francisco.
“An earthquake?” Sophie Bryce asked softly as her hands went instinctively to the cushioned arm rests of her chair. Her archangel mate, Azrael, came up behind her like the protective shadow he very much was.
“It’s not possible,” said Gabriel, who put down his bottle of beer and widened his stance, as if he instinctively knew the rumble would get worse.
And that, it did.
Within seconds, a crack opened up in the marble at the base of the very hearth beside which Max was standing. He backed up a few steps, caught his balance against the couch where Eleanore and Juliette were sitting, and watched with wide, shocked eyes as the crack ran straight into the fireplace, sending crackling sparks flying. It continued to spread, racing up the back of the hearth, through the top of it, and then up the mantle.