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Authors: Christa J. Kinde

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BOOK: The Blue Door
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They found Baird’s apprentice standing in one of the pools of light that were spaced intermittently along the passage, a black instrument case at his feet. The redhead sidled up and elbowed the taller angel. “Patiently waiting in the wings?” he asked mischievously.

“It shall be just as you say,” Kester replied with gravity.

The redhead shook his head. “You
really
need to lighten up!”

“Hmm … it
is
possible,” Kester allowed. “However, I do not believe it is essential.”

Prissie couldn’t help it. She giggled. Baird’s eyebrows shot
up, but his surprise melted into satisfaction. Giving Kester’s shoulder a friendly cuff, he said, “You might be right.”

“I’m looking forward to your performance,” Prissie offered.

“May God grant you ears to hear and eyes to see,” he replied.

“This is gonna be
so cool
!” Baird assured.

The contrast between their manners had Prissie biting her lip. Baird and Kester might not be good friends yet, but she was sure they would be. Or maybe they already were, in their own way.

The redhead waved casually to his apprentice, then led the way through the narrow passage behind the stage, where the chorus was nearing the climax of a dramatic ballad.

Prissie suddenly wondered what Baird’s last apprentice was like, and since he was so easy to approach, she decided to ask. Hurrying her steps, she tapped his shoulder and raised her voice to be heard. “You used to have another apprentice?”

“That’s right,” Baird replied.

“What happened to him?” Prissie asked curiously. “Was he captured, too?”

The Worshiper turned to look searchingly at her. “Did Koji tell you about Ephron?”

“A little,” she admitted, wondering if maybe the young angel had told her something he shouldn’t.

Baird simply nodded and said, “My last apprentice simply transferred out in much the way that Kester and Koji transferred in. We go where we are Sent, so personnel changes are natural, especially for teams that include Grafts.”

“Grafts?” she echoed, testing the term. Having been raised on an orchard, Prissie knew exactly what a graft was. It was possible to make a place for the branch of one tree to be on
the trunk of another. The new limb that was grafted in would take hold and flourish, bearing its own, unique fruit. In fact, Grandpa had a special tree planted in full view of his front porch that he called his Family Tree. With the birth of each of his grandchildren, he’d carefully grafted in a new branch until now, the tree bore six varieties of apples.

“Angels like Harken, Milo, Kester, and me … and Koji, too. We’re grafted into human society and live as a part of it for a time,” Baird explained.

“Are there a lot of Grafts?”

“Not really,” he replied, waving at someone in the crowd. “I guess it might seem like it, but our team’s a little different. Jedrick is responsible for all of the Grafts in the vicinity of, well, around here. Oh, look! They saved us seats!”

“Who’s Jedrick?” she asked in as low a voice as the crowd noise would allow.

“Our group’s captain,” he replied with a wink.

They
turned out to be Prissie’s parents, Beau, Koji, and Milo. Once greetings were traded and seating shuffled, she ended up between Baird and Koji. “Did you enjoy your afternoon?” Koji asked, studying her face with all the intensity of his kind. “You seem happy.”

Prissie thought about the roller coaster her day had taken and answered, “Parts were bad, but other parts were good.”

“It’s about to get better,” predicted Milo, who sat on Koji’s other side.

The hubbub of the crowd didn’t change when Kester strode onto the stage and quietly placed a stool at its center, but Prissie sat up a little straighter. He carried the harp he’d shown her the week before, and as he took a seat, she whispered to Baird, “He doesn’t need a microphone?”

The worship leader waved toward the band shell. “This isn’t exactly symphony hall, but the acoustics are good. Just wait. In a little bit, he’ll be the only thing you hear.”

Prissie glanced around skeptically. The crowds always picked up in the evenings on weeknights, what with people coming after work. Since tomorrow was the final day of the fair, people were anxious to pack in their last bit of fun. Even though the bandstand was on the opposite end of the main thoroughfare from the midway, she could hear tinny music carrying through the night, and from every quarter, the noises multiplied — hawkers and barkers, bells and buzzers, laughter and shouts. She doubted anyone would notice the sound of a harp in the midst of the din.

Kester braced a foot upon one of the stool rungs and leaned his instrument against his shoulder. Without fanfare, he placed his hands against the strings, then plucked a rippling chord. As the sweet, lyrical notes filtered over the crowd, the noise dropped off, and Kester looked toward Prissie, a little half-smile on his face. Somehow, she knew that this song was for her, and that something amazing was about to happen.

Leaving off his tuning, the Worshiper launched into a song, and a hush swept the area as people took notice. Again, she recognized the tune from before, but this time, there were words. Prissie didn’t recognize the language, but that didn’t detract from the piercing beauty of the song. Kester’s mellow voice rang clearly in the open air, accompanied by the sweetly rising notes he plucked from the harp’s strings. She’d thought it would take a miracle to get everyone to pay attention, but perhaps the presence of an angel was a miracle
in itself. The noises of the fair didn’t stop, but they faded into the background.

As a second verse began, it occurred to Prissie that in spite of his reserved nature, Kester found just as much joy in music as Baird, with all his overt enthusiasm. The redhead leaned closer and whispered in her ear, “Watch closely.”

At first, there was nothing different, but then she realized that she could see Kester’s tattoo-like markings glowing. The curving patterns decorating his back and arms lifted away, passing right through his clothes, spreading as they stretched over his shoulders, unfolding like a graceful set of …

“Wings,” she breathed.

“And she gets it in one!” praised Baird in an undertone.

Prissie couldn’t tear her eyes away. As Kester extended his wings, shifting shards of color appeared, suspended above him like fragments of a rainbow strung upon threads of lightening.

Each piece was tapered, almost like a feather, but when Kester shook them out, it wasn’t anything like the flapping of birds’ wings. As they brushed together, Prissie heard the distant notes of wind chimes, a symphony of sounds that added an artless complexity to the harpist’s song. Without a doubt, the first people to put stained glass windows in cathedrals had seen the wings of an angel like Kester.

As he began another refrain, Prissie realized that each tiny glass-like pane seemed to be lit from behind, as if the windows offered a glimpse of heaven itself. From deep within, her soul responded with a wordless longing, a homesickness for a place she’d never been. Prissie didn’t realize there were tears on her cheeks until Milo leaned across and pressed his handkerchief against her limp fingers. As
he pulled back, she grabbed his hand, and he met her gaze steadily, searchingly.

It was silly, really. They’d been telling her as much since the beginning, but for the first time, Prissie found she could believe it completely. “You’re
angels
,” she whispered in awe.

Milo relaxed imperceptibly at her declaration. With a gentle smile, he said, “Yes, Miss Priscilla, we are.”

17
THE GUARDIAN’S VOICE

I
n the circular chamber with a ring of stones set into the floor, Harken waited restlessly for Abner’s arrival. A burst of silvery light resolved itself into the familiar form of the Caretaker, who regarded the Messenger with icy gray eyes. “Why the hasty summons?”

The tall, dark angel stopped his pacing and replied, “Two things. First, Baird says that the breaking point is near, and I wanted to make certain that those things which are concealed remain hidden.”

“Without a doubt,” Abner replied confidently. “That which is lost may be found, but that which is hidden by God cannot be discovered.”

“It is as you say,” Harken affirmed. “I suppose recent events have unsettled me.”

The Caretaker absently pushed at glasses he wasn’t wearing at the moment. “Too many things have been lost.”

“Which brings me to the second reason for calling you here. I have good tidings,” the Messenger announced. “It’s time to renew our search.”

Mid-morning on the last day of the fair found Prissie and Jude in the poultry barn, collecting Maddie. Because of the purple ribbon tied to the front of her cage, Jude had been invited to keep her in the barns as a part of their showcase. It was only an Honorary Mention, but Jude consoled himself that the judges had obviously seen just how pretty and smart his chicken was. Since the results had been announced, Tad had taken to referring to the judges as “Judicious and the Right Honorable Madder,” which pleased the boy immensely.

“Let me help,” Prissie begged, barely holding on to her patience as she watched her littlest brother manhandle the wire cage.

“I can do it,” he insisted. “Me and Maddie will be fine.”

“Maddie and
I,
and be
careful
,” she said, as she followed him into the broad alley between the barns.

“I will!”

They turned toward the lot where Grandpa’s pickup truck was parked. However, they’d only gone a few steps when Jude tripped over his own feet and went sprawling on the straw-scattered pavement. Maddie’s cage door flipped open, and the hen tumbled out with a squawk of protest.

“Oh,
no
! Look what you’ve done!” Prissie said.

Jude’s gray eyes widened in dismay. “I’m sorry, Maddie! Are you okay?”

The hen fluffed her feathers and eyed the ground with interest. As soon as she began scratching, Prissie rolled her eyes. “She’s obviously fine, but we need to get her back in her cage.”

“Help me catch her!”

Maddie had other ideas. As far as she was concerned, a free-range chicken was meant to be free, and she’d had enough of confinement. Prissie made a grab for her, but the hen darted forward, staying just out of reach. Jude chased her along the alley, but she used her wings for an extra burst of speed and circled back toward Prissie. “Maddie, come back!” the little boy urged anxiously. “It’s time to go home!”

For the next several minutes, they ran in useless circles. Prissie knew she must look absolutely ridiculous chasing a chicken and was extremely grateful that no one was around to see her. Of course, that was the very moment that Ransom and Marcus rambled past the end of the alley. Clutching at the stitch in her side, Prissie prayed that they’d keep walking, but the boy with two-toned hair punched his companion’s shoulder and jerked his head in their direction.

Ransom slowed to a stop, then called, “Need help, Miss Priss?”

“Not from you, I don’t,” she grumbled under her breath.

Jude wasn’t as fussy about where his help came from. “Ransom! Maddie got out!” he shouted urgently.

“Yeah, I can see that,” the teen replied, keeping an eye on the loose chicken as he ambled toward them. “She’s the one you were bragging on earlier, right? Nice looking bird.”

Jude nodded, still frantically following Maddie, but then his lip began to tremble. “It’s my fault she got out. Will you help us?”

“No problem,” Ransom replied casually. “But I don’t know much about catching chickens. Do you have to throw something over her?”

“Go for the legs,” Prissie directed.

“If you say so,” he shrugged, then angled toward Maddie.

“Will it bite?”

“Maddie’s a good chicken!” Jude assured.

Prissie propped her hands on her hips and challenged, “Don’t tell me you’re
afraid
of chickens.”

“Gimme a break. I’m not a farmer,” Ransom replied. “I just want to know what to expect.” He glanced back toward Marcus, who lounged by the end of the building, and asked, “Can you block that end? I’d rather not chase her through the midway.”

His friend pushed off the wall. “Yeah, she won’t get by me.”

Prissie frowned at Marcus and warned, “Don’t hurt her!”

Indignation flashed through his eyes, but he held his tongue and stood his ground.

“Lay off Marcus,” Ransom said sternly. “If you hadn’t noticed, he’s
helping.

“I didn’t ask for your help,” Prissie snarled.

“No, but your brother did.”

He was right, and for Jude’s sake, she’d put up with just about anything. “Fine,” she snapped. “Let’s try chasing her back into the barn. It’ll be easier to corner her there.”

“Right,” he replied.

A wild goose chase might have been easier. The hen managed to stay just out of range, clucking and scolding as she ran in ever-widening circles. “Maddie, c’mere!” Jude coaxed, desperation edging his tone.

Ransom got close enough to swipe at her feet, but with a series of sharp clucks, she launched herself over his head, taking a short flight in her bid to escape. “I didn’t know chickens could fly!” he exclaimed, coming out of his duck-and-cover crouch. Meanwhile, Maddie made a beeline toward Marcus. “Heads up!” Ransom called.

“Don’t let her through!” Prissie exclaimed.

“Yeah, yeah,” called Marcus. He held his arms wide and scowled at the oncoming hen, then barked, “No!”

To Prissie’s astonishment, the chicken obeyed. Maddie back-winged, then wheeled to run in the opposite direction. Unfortunately, Maddie didn’t give her or Ransom the same courtesy. “Stop!” she shouted.

“Whoa, chicken!” Ransom tried.

“Maddie, not that way!” Jude wailed as his pet raced past them, straight out into the bare field beyond the barns.

“Oh, this is bad,” Prissie said worriedly.

Jude stood stock-still in the midst of the passage, clasped his hands together and squeezed his eyes tightly shut. “Please, God, save Maddie,” he prayed aloud. “She’s just a chicken, so she doesn’t know any better.”

Ransom quirked a brow at the boy, then asked Prissie, “Now what? Follow?”

Her heart clenched for Jude’s sake; her little brother’s face was tragic, and she needed to do something. “I’ll go after her,” she decided aloud. Fixing Ransom with a fierce look, she said, “Take Jude back to my family’s stand, and tell Koji that I need him.”

“What good will it do if
he’s
here?” Ransom asked.

“Just do it!” she yelled over her shoulder, taking off across the field.

He paused uncertainly, then beckoned for Jude to follow him. “Let’s go, kid. We could use the extra help.” As an afterthought, he called, “Hey, Marcus, go after her!”

His buddy shoved his hands into his jacket pockets and glared toward the forest. “I’ll do what I can,” he replied, waving Ransom toward the fairgrounds. “Get Jude outta here.”

“Thanks, man!”

Prissie jogged across the rough-cut field, trying her best to keep up with Maddie, but the chicken no longer scurried in endless circles; she ran flat-out, her neck low to the ground, as if she was after a grasshopper. The uneven terrain forced Prissie to keep half an eye on her footing as Maddie swerved toward the shelter offered by the pine-covered ridge that loomed nearer with every step. Jude’s chicken was acting odd, as if the hounds of hell were at her heels.

“Not in there!” Prissie yelled as the hen reached the boundary, but Maddie quickly disappeared into the forest beyond. She stopped to read one of the bright yellow signs posted at intervals along a barbed wire fence — State Protected Land, No Hunting. The countryside was filled with raccoons, foxes, and coyotes, and even skunks that could be a danger to a lone hen. Prissie needed to protect Maddie from herself because the foolish chicken didn’t realize she was headed for trouble.

Prissie glanced back across the empty field toward the fairgrounds, then gathered her courage. She was on her own. This was up to her. Consoling herself that since the signs didn’t forbid trespassing, she wasn’t
really
doing anything wrong, Prissie pushed apart the wires and stepped through the fence.

Not far ahead, she could hear Maddie’s nervous clucking. “Wait, you silly goose!” she called. “Do you know what kinds of things live in here? It’s dangerous for chickens!”

Ferns and bracken covered a hillside so steep, Prissie needed to use the surrounding trees to pull herself up the slope. Small branches caught at her hair and skirt and slapped across her bare legs as she followed Maddie’s agitated clucking. She didn’t see the chicken until she hit upon what seemed to be a deer path hugging the side of the ridge; instead of trying to charge straight up and over, the narrow trail zigzagged steadily higher.

“Maddie, wait up!” Prissie panted as she clambered after the bird. “You’ll make Jude sad.”

After another switchback, the ground leveled, and she caught up to the black and white hen. Her nervous clucking tapered off, as if she’d reached safety. “Thank goodness,” Prissie sighed, then looked around for the first time. They’d climbed much higher than she realized; the wide shelf rose high above the place where she’d entered the forest.
Too
high. Prissie scrambled backward to hug the rocks that lay farthest from the precipitous edge.

Maddie certainly didn’t mind the height. The hen was suddenly calm, carelessly skirting the drop-off as she eyed the ground and began to scratch and peck. “At least I’m on solid ground,” Prissie muttered, more frightened than she wanted to admit. For Jude’s sake, she made an effort, calling out to Maddie in a coaxing voice, “Come back with me; I know the way home!”

The hen clucked indulgently and let her get closer, but before Prissie could snatch at her feet, the chicken threaded her way through a stand of fern and disappeared from view.

When she moved to follow, a deep voice halted her. “Priscilla Pomeroy,
stop!
Please.”

She froze in surprise and peeked over her shoulder, then turned around fully to face the stranger who knew her name. Without a doubt, he was the most fearsome person she’d ever seen, and she quickly took a step backward into the ferns.

Prissie’s family was tall, but the man who’d followed her up onto the ridge would have towered over her father. The powerfully built, broad-shouldered stranger gazed intently at her with eyes that seemed to be a murky shade of …
purple
! A leather band across his brow held back the black hair that stood up all around his head, and his clothing was just as outlandish — a warrior’s attire, from the soles of his heavy boots to the jewel glittering darkly from the pommel of the sword that peeped at an angle from behind his shoulder.

He shifted his weight from one foot to the other, and Prissie tensed, sure he was going to attack. Instead, the man grimaced and slowly extended one hand as if trying to call her back. “Fear not,” he begged gruffly.

Prissie stopped her backward shuffle and cautiously asked, “Who are you?”

“I am Taweel.”

She stared hard at him and noticed for the first time that under his breastplate, he wore a tunic similar to the one Koji had worn when she first met him. The raiment shimmered slightly, even in the shade. “You’re an angel?” she guessed.

He nodded once and offered, “I am a Guardian in Jedrick’s Flight.”

Prissie sagged in relief. Baird had mentioned Jedrick, so Taweel was another member of their team. Help had arrived. “I don’t suppose you happen to guard chickens?” she asked,
pointing in the direction Maddie had run. Taking a large step backward, she continued, “Because I’m trying t —!”

“Wait!” Taweel exclaimed, but it was already too late.

The ground crumbled beneath her feet, and she was falling.

As soon as the world was right-side up again and Prissie caught her breath, she mumbled, “Wh-what happened?”

“You fell,” replied Taweel, his deep voice rumbling against her ear.

She wriggled a little and opened her eyes. Just as she suspected, the big Guardian held her in his arms. “You caught me?” she asked blankly, trying to piece together fleeting impressions. “But how is that possible?”

A soft grunt was his only answer, and she gazed up into his craggy face. Thick black eyebrows gave him a brooding look, and faint scars showed here and there against his dusky skin.

“Are you my guardian angel?” she inquired tentatively.

“No.”

Prissie was beginning to think that her own Guardian was some kind of deadbeat. Pouting a little, she asked, “Then why are you here?”

“I was Sent.”

It was straight and to the point, but it didn’t answer enough of the questions swarming through her mind. “Why were you sent?” she asked, hoping for more specifics.

“You were in danger.”

“From whom?”

Taweel’s jaw clenched, and he replied, “The enemy.”

That didn’t sound good, and suddenly Prissie wasn’t sure she
wanted
more answers. Just then, a glimmer of light shone
over Taweel’s shoulder, and a tiny face appeared, blinking at her with dark eyes. “Hello, little manna-maker,” she greeted, quite forgetting the proper term for this sort of angel.

“His name is Omri,” Taweel announced.

“Hello, Omri,” she said politely, squinting as the tiny figure crawled closer toward the Guardian’s ear, then stood, latching onto the silver chain that dangled there, connecting a cuff to the ring that pierced Taweel’s lobe. Omri’s gossamer hair looked like spun gold and was pulled up into a ponytail that fluttered in the brisk wind.

Prissie stiffened when that particular detail registered. Tilting her head back, she peered past Taweel’s bristling hair at the overlapping patterns of smoky purple light that stretched above them. “We’re flying,” she whispered.

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