Without Light or Guide

BOOK: Without Light or Guide
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DEDICATION

For my daughter, Rhiannon Hopkins.

I will always fight for you.

 

AUTHOR'S NOTE

W
e all read a lot of books—­a lot of them—­and it's difficult to remember who's who from one series to the next. However, from the author's perspective, having characters rehash information among themselves can drag on both the pacing and the story.

As a compromise, I'm including a very brief refresher of the events and ­people in the first Los Nefilim novella,
In Midnight's Silence
. Since Los Nefilim is turning into a serial, I thought we'd do like the old radio programs from the 1940s. So here we go:

In our last exciting episode, we learned . . .

• Los Nefilim are a group of angel-­born Nefilim that monitor daimonic activity for the angels. All Nefilim reincarnate and retain memories of their past lives with the firstborn life being the most important.

• Diago Alvarez and his partner, Miquel, were living in Sevilla when the king of Los Nefilim, Guillermo Ramírez, called Miquel north and reassigned him to Barcelona. Miquel is an officer in Los Nefilim and follows Guillermo's orders. Fearful for Diago's safety, Miquel demanded that he come to Barcelona, too.

• Diago is a rarity amongst the Nefilim. His mother was an angel, who took her mortal form to give birth to him; his father was a Nefil, whose parents were daimon. Neither the angels nor the daimons were able to replicate the experiment and create another Nefil like Diago, who carries the magic of both the angels and the daimons in his song.

• Because of the singularity of Diago's magic, both the angels and the daimons have courted Diago to join their respective side. However, Diago remains neutral in the conflict. He tries to live as a mortal and eschews his magical nature. He finds a job in Barcelona, teaching piano to Enrique Ferrer, the spoiled son of the industrialist Salvador Ferrer.

• When Diago lived in Sevilla, he was seduced by an angel named Candela. When she became pregnant, she released him from her enchantment, but she never told him about his son, Rafael. Now, six years later, an angel, who calls himself Beltran Prieto, found Rafael.

• Prieto enlists the help of Diago's landlady, Doña Rosa Iniguez, and her son José to kidnap Miquel. He then forces Diago to offer Rafael as a sacrifice to the war daimon Moloch, in exchange for the idea to a powerful bomb. Miquel makes a golem that looks like Rafael in an attempt to fool Moloch. They intend to steal the idea and give Moloch the golem.

• When Diago takes the golem to Moloch, he finds his father, Alvaro, who abandoned Diago when he was a child. Alvaro has sold his body and magic to the daimon Moloch. In return, Alvaro avoids the pain of reincarnation and serves Moloch. Moloch changed Alvaro into an
‘aulaq
,
a vampire, and gave him eternal life.

• Alvaro tells Diago he never wanted Diago to find him, because he was so ashamed of what he's done. When confronted by Diago, Alvaro accuses Diago of being selfish, too, because he is trading his son's life for that of his lover's. When Alvaro realizes that Diago is trying to trick Moloch with a golem, he lies to Moloch and says the sacrifice is true, giving Diago the chance to flee the daimon before the deception is discovered.

• Diago, Rafael, and Miquel barely escape with their lives. It is Rafael's song that saves them, and the child gravely wounds the daimon Moloch. Knowing the daimons will now be after Rafael, Diago chooses a side in the war and vows his allegiance to Guillermo and Los Nefilim.

It is now three weeks later . . .

 

CHAPTER ONE

Barcelona

30 November 1931

B
right sunlight fell onto the crowded boulevard at the Liceu metro station. The clear, sharp notes of light drove back the sounds of darkness feathering beneath the trees. The city's clamor fashioned waves of sound, which sent ribbons of color over the silhouettes of ­people and cars.

Diago's eyesight blurred at the profusion of pigments and distorted motions. It was like the Nefilim's version of double vision.

An attack of vertigo, accompanied by mild nausea, washed over him. He swallowed his bile and forced himself to focus.
I've got to learn to manage this.

Miquel opened his mouth, but Diago silenced him with a gesture. He narrowed his eyes and looked over Guillermo's shoulder. A curl of blue-­gray waves trailed a car, dissipating as the vehicle turned the corner. Two men stood beneath a tree on the avenue. They laughed, and the golden colors of their mirth bloomed like flowers before their lips, obscuring their faces.

Another wave of dizziness washed over him.
Damn it.
It was no use. If he moved now, he'd risk falling. He clenched his teeth and waited for the episode to pass. Glancing down at the sidewalk gave him no relief. Milky spirals wavered around pebbles as a train entered the station below their feet.

“Is it the chromesthesia?” Guillermo asked.

Diago managed a quick nod. All of the Nefilim were able to see color in the sound waves around them—­the ability enabled them to work their magic—­but the vampire that had bitten off Diago's finger was one of the old ones known as the
‘aulaq,
and the older the
‘aulaq,
the more potent their venom. Likewise, Diago's advanced age had saved his life. The amount of poison he had absorbed would have killed a younger Nefil, but he hadn't escaped unscathed. Besides the obvious loss of his finger, the toxin seemed to have amplified his natural faculties to the point of disability. While Juanita—­Los Nefilim's doctor, and Guillermo's wife—­said it wasn't a textbook case of chromesthesia, the symptoms were close enough, so they had all added a new word to their vocabulary.

One that Diago could have happily lived without.

Miquel edged closer to Diago until their arms touched. It was a casual movement that gave them a few moments of contact without seeming intimate to others. “Do you need to sit?” he asked.

“No.” Diago lied. “I can manage it.” At least the episodes were becoming less frequent. The same couldn't be said for the phantom pain from his missing pinky. Diago curled his fingers into a fist around the white bandage encompassing his hand and forced himself to focus on the ground.

A trail of rose-­quartz patterns followed the click of a woman's heels. The designs scattered like crumbs as the sounds gradually settled into the distant shadows Diago was used to seeing, and these were easily ignored.

Relieved, he said, “It's passed.”

Guillermo frowned at Diago's discomfort. “Are you sure you're ready for this?”

I'm ready to be home in bed,
but he didn't say that. “I can do the job.”

Guillermo evaluated him. “I think you need another week.”

“We don't have a week.” It had already been three weeks since he had emerged from the metro after his battle with Moloch. This meeting with the munitions industrialist, Salvador Ferrer, was Guillermo's idea, and Diago needed a way to prove his loyalty to Los Nefilim. He touched the scar on his face, which had faded to an ugly red slash. “No mortal heals this fast. If we want to deceive Ferrer with your story, I have to go now.”

Guillermo withdrew a cigar from his breast pocket and lit it as he considered the situation. “Compromise with me. We could wait two days.”

A pair of nuns descended into the station. One of them scowled at Guillermo and his cigar. He gave her a wolfish grin. She crossed herself and kept going.

Diago said, “I don't have that luxury.”

“What are you talking about?”

Miquel jammed his hands in his pockets and watched the crowd with restless eyes. “You worry too much.”

“I don't worry enough,” Diago snapped. He lowered his voice to a whisper and leaned close to Guillermo. “Some of the other members of Los Nefilim have insinuated that because my father gave himself in ser­vice to Moloch, I will do the same.” Guillermo opened his mouth, but Diago didn't give him a chance to speak. There was nothing to deny. Alvaro had sworn himself to Moloch and became a vampire, an
‘aulaq,
in order to avoid reincarnation. It was the greatest shame a Nefil could bring upon his name or family.

Diago continued. “They are saying I will never betray the daimons because of him. I have to put those rumors down. If enough of them speak against me, they can persuade you to send me away.”

“The hell they can. You took a vow—­”

“And they won't ask me to forsake my oath, but with enough pressure, they can force you to station me far from Santuari.”

Miquel lit a cigarette, a sure sign he was both bothered by the direction of the conversation, and that he knew what Diago said was true. “We've lived apart from Santuari before. We can do it again.”

“It's not about you and me. It's Rafael. His mother hid him in an orphanage, then died before she could return for him. He has been thrust into an existence he doesn't understand with a father he doesn't know. He is just beginning to adjust and needs more time. A year, maybe two, then I'll go wherever you need me. But now—­at
this
moment—­I need to be in Santuari. Where he feels safe. For Rafael's sake.”

Diago stepped back. “Besides, this is an easy assignment. Your ­people have laid the groundwork for me. All I have to do is give vague references, take credit for stopping the anarchist's attack, and see what I can dig up about Ferrer's political associations. I'm in, I'm out. If I have another attack of chromesthesia, I'll go back to Santuari. I promise. But let me prove myself to them. And to you.”

Guillermo evaluated Diago through the haze of cigar smoke. “All right. We'll stay on course. While you're seeing Ferrer, Miquel and I are going to look for our friend Prieto.”

Beltran Prieto: the angel who had sent Diago to confront Moloch in the first place . . . and “introduced” him to his son. Diago would like to find Prieto, too. He had questions of his own for the angel.
Especially about Rafael's past
. Unfortunately, Prieto had not been seen or heard from since Diago's return from Moloch's realm.

Miquel said, “We need to find him and his bomb.”

“It's not an actual bomb.” Diago corrected him. “It's the
idea
for a bomb.”

Guillermo noted the distinction. “I'd like to find out more about that idea before he implants it into a mortal's brain.” He pitched his voice low. “This whole thing stinks. Angels and daimons openly bartering for bombs and children? I've never heard the likes of it. I still haven't found an archangel who will accept responsibility for Prieto's alleged order to bargain with Moloch.”

“And you probably won't,” Diago said. “I'm worried he's rogue.”

“It's possible. I'm not discounting anything until I have the facts. Miquel and I will begin with your former landlady. Maybe Doña Rosa or her son, José, remembers something important. When you're done, we'll meet you at Els 4 Gats.”

The proximity of the restaurant, Els 4 Gats, had been one of the highlights of living in Doña Rosa's neighborhood. Diago knew the establishment well.

Miquel slipped his hand into Diago's coat pocket. A tin warmed by his flesh touched Diago's fingers. “Aspirin . . . and something stronger if you need it.”

“I don't—­” Miquel cut off his protest with a gentle squeeze before he withdrew his hand. Diago had no intention of clouding his mind with Juanita's drugs. He needed his wits about him, but for Miquel's sake, he relented and accepted the tin. “Okay.”

Guillermo nodded. “Good. And remember, you won't be alone. Garcia is going with you.”

Diago glanced across the street where Inspector Juan Garcia's dark wiry frame was partially hidden in the shadows. Garcia was all edges and serrations, with a temper thin as a blade. He wasn't as old as Guillermo, Diago, and Miquel, but he had a ­couple of centuries on the younger Nefilim. His age and loyal ser­vice had won him trusted positions from Guillermo. Now he served as a police inspector in Barcelona's Urban Guard. He touched the brim of his hat when he caught Diago looking at him.

Diago returned the gesture with a nod, but that was as far as his courtesy went. “Anybody but him.”

Guillermo glanced over his shoulder at Garcia. “I know you two have had differences in the past—­”

“He threatened to arrest me on deviancy charges.”

Miquel popped the knuckles of his right hand. “I had a talk with him about that.”

Guillermo frowned. “So I heard. You're my second-­in-­command, and I won't have you settling disputes with your fists.”

Miquel opened his mouth to protest.

Guillermo cut him off. “Control your temper. From now on, if you have a problem you can't fix with diplomacy, you come to me.”

Miquel's dark eyes slid away from Guillermo's gaze in a
maybe, maybe not
look Diago knew too well. Hoping to stave off further argument, he asked, “Why can't Miquel go with me? I trust him.”

“I have a rule: two Nefilim who are”—­he hesitated and looked over the crowd as he chose just the right word—­“devoted to one another are never paired in any assignment. It's too easy for one partner to be used as a hostage.”

Fair enough. “Fine. But why Garcia?”

“Because the others trust him. A good word from him will go a long way toward winning over the doubters.”

Guillermo was obviously more worried about what the others thought than he had previously admitted. Diago took no satisfaction in being right. He had a long road ahead of him with Los Nefilim, and he knew it. “I'll work with him.”

“Good. Garcia will have your back.” Guillermo nodded and looked down the street, his mind already moving to his next task. “Try and meet us by five. I promised Juanita I would have you behind Santuari's wards before dark.”

As Miquel passed, he touched his index finger to Diago's chest, just over his heart. “Be careful.”

“I will.”
I have no choice. Rafael is depending on me
. The thought of his small son waiting at home centered him. Besides, compared to the feats of espionage other members of Los Nefilim performed, the task before him was a simple one, and a small price to pay for keeping Rafael safe in Santuari.

It's merely a job,
Diago assured himself,
like teaching music
. So what if he didn't like Garcia? He hadn't liked the Ferrer boy, Enrique, either, but he'd still managed to teach the child.
You do things so you—­and the ones you love—­can survive. This was no different.

Diago glanced across the street. Garcia was gone.

So much for having my back.
He'd probably been waiting for Miquel and Guillermo to leave so he could slip away on one pretext or another. Fine. Diago was more comfortable working alone anyway. He turned and gazed down into the stairwell.

At the bottom landing, the light turned into shadows. A stream of mist drifted across the steps. Diago thought he detected the smell of burning flesh, then a woman's cologne obliterated the scent. But the odor had been there, resurrecting the memory of corpses burning in Moloch's effigy. Diago's heart bumped up a notch.

“It never goes away does it?” said a voice right by his ear.

“What?” He turned his head so fast, he almost lost his hat.

Garcia had eased up beside him. He lit a cigarette, cupping his hand around flame. “The fear.” He allowed the match to fall to the stairs below.

“I don't know what you're talking about.”

“Uh-­huh.” He lowered his voice until he was barely audible beneath the busy sounds of the city. “You forget. I've spent time down there, drowning in the dark. I know how the nightmares eat your sleep. No matter how many times it happens, going back never gets easier. Not even for you.” Garcia took a long drag on his cigarette and blew a cloud of smoke into Diago's face. “And you're one of them.”

“I am angel, too.” How easily they all forgot his dual nature. “And now I'm Los Nefilim. Just like you. I'm willing to forget the past if you are.”

“Is that an olive branch?”

“Take it or burn it.”

Garcia turned his head and spat.

Then fire it is.
Diago's cheeks warmed with his fury.
What the hell made me think I could work with Garcia?
He went downstairs to purchase his ticket, aware that the inspector followed. They made no further attempts at conversation as they waited on the platform, and that was all right with Diago.

They weren't there long before the sound of an oncoming train flowed into the tunnel. Diago's heart accelerated. He wasn't ready for the sudden anxiety that peaked in his chest and descended into his thighs. For one horrible moment, he thought his knees would give way. He stiffened his back, hating Garcia for being right, because the fear never truly went away.

It's just a train. Just a normal everyday train.

He glanced upward to avoid the gloom on the tracks. The overhead lights rained crystal notes over the waiting passengers, falling like silvery snow into their hair and onto their shoulders. The sparkling sounds were the first indication of another spasm of chromesthesia. Diago clamped his eyes shut and found no safety behind the darkness of his lids. He envisioned Miquel dragging Rafael onto a different train. Both of them were spattered with Diago's blood. Rafael had twisted in Miquel's grip, the child's eyes widening when Diago stumbled.

BOOK: Without Light or Guide
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